Title: Race of the Pilot
Date Posted: 14 February 2006
Author: Van Donovan
Pairing: Zoe/Wash
Rating: PG
Word count: 5,047
Warnings: pre-Firefly, slight AU
Original Love Story: Greek myth of Atalanta
Written for: the LiveJournal "Shiny Hearts" challenge, to retell a "classic love story" using our Big Damn Heroes.


“So, tell me about this marriage thing again?” Wash asked, pulling a chair up to sit across from Mal, who was cleaning his guns, at the kitchen table.

Mal lifted his brows, staring at Wash. “Thought we already discussed this. And, as I recall, th’answer was no.” His expression darkened. “That ain’t changed.”

“Well, see,” Wash prefaced, “when I asked your opinion on my marrying Zoe, it was more common courtesy than actual request.” He nodded, thoughtfully. “Yes, I’m a firm believer in a woman’s right to choose her own destiny. So, when I get the courage up, I intend to ask her myself.”

“And if she knows what’s good for her, she’ll say no.” Mal glared at Wash for a few seconds before resuming his work on his gun.

“Why do you say that?” Wash whined. “Are you really that paranoid about Zoe finding happiness? I’m not going to take her off the boat, Mal. Hell, I doubt she’d leave you even if I asked. It’d be just like we are now. Only more legal. And with a bigger bed.”

Tai duo xiao xi, I don’t need to know that,” Mal muttered. He snapped parts of his gun together. “I ain’t worried s’much about what ya’ll’d be doin’ while you were married. I am worried ‘bout how shipboard romances complicate things.”

“Only if you let them,” Wash intoned. “Which we won’t! We haven’t yet, have we?”

Mal finished snapping his gun back together. He cocked the hammer and raised it to point at Wash. “You ask her to marry you, you’re gonna die.” He fired the empty chamber and smirked as it caused Wash to leap to his feet.

Wang en fu yi fei!” Wash cried, alarmed. “You gonna kill me if I ask her, Mal? Is that what the problem is? Because . . . because I’m not afraid of you!” He warned, wagging his finger at him. “Stop pointing that gun at me!” he protested. “It’s unfair! Stop being so threatening. How can I be manly when you’re always out manlying me?”

Mal pulled his gun back, getting to his feet. His slipped the revolver into its holster. “I ain’t gonna kill you, Wash.” He studied the other man for a few seconds, considering. “Well, leastways, not for proposing t’Zoe. Woman sure does deserve a piece of happiness, and I ain’t like t’be the one t’get in the way of that.”

“Then why all the threats to kill me?” Wash protested.

Mal shrugged. “Ain’t me who’ll kill you. It’s her.” He stooped to pick up his gun cleaning kit off the table. “You want t’do right by Zoe, then, suggest you keep the marriage question under wraps.” He pushed away from the table and sauntered away.

Calling after him, Wash said, “I hope you know that makes no sense!”

“Gosh, Wash,” Kaylee said as she looked up at him. She was on her back, half under the engine, contemplating what he’d just told her. “I don’t know why the cap’n thinks Zoe’d kill you for popping the question.” She sat up, slipping the protective goggles she was wearing off her head. “I think it’s sweet, you two being all married.”

“Yes, well, so do I,” Wash agreed. “Only, in my picture of things, we’re both still alive.”

Kaylee sighed, clearly torn on how to respond to him. “Well, have y’tried hintin’ ‘bout it ‘round her? See what she thinks?” She got to her feet, wiping her dirty hands off on her trousers.

Wash leaned against the doorframe to the engine room. “I’ve mentioned it a few times. But you know how Zoe is. She just nods, all closed mouthed, and moves right on. I’ve never gotten more than that from her.”

“Y’don’t think she’s maybe got a husband already, somewhere?” Kaylee ventured.

Wash shook his head. “No. I know she doesn’t. I asked her. She laughed.”

Kaylee’s brows furrowed, concentrating. “Well, that don’t seem right. Maybe she just ain’t the marrying type?”

“But I am the marrying type,” Wash pushed. “I really, really want this.”

Kaylee bent to pick up the tools she’d been using. “Then you need to ask her. Just gotta do it, Wash. No one says things gotta change if she says no.”

“But there’s the whole idea of her killing me if I ask,” Wash protested.

“She ain’t gonna shoot you, Wash.” Kaylee put her hands on her hips.

“I’m . . . not so sure about that.”

Sighing, Kaylee dropped the tools into a bucket. “Well, I ain’t so sure what y’think I can do ‘bout it. Zoe don’t hardly even like me.”

Wash pressed his lips together tautly. “But you’re a woman!” he cried. “You can . . . go be womanly with her.”

Kaylee laughed. “Well, thanks, Wash. But I don’t think Zoe’d go for it. I tried that when I got on. Thought I could befriend the only other girl on the boat.” She shook her head. “Guess Zoe had other plans though.”

The look in Wash’s eyes was desperate. “She won’t shoot you,” he insisted.

Kaylee’s expression softened as she gave in. “All right,” she sighed. “I ain’t guaranteeing you nothin’, but I’ll give it a try.”

Kaylee found Zoe in the cargo bay, lifting weights. She was dressed in just a tank top, and she was covered in a thin sheen of sweat. Her hair was pulled up, off her face, in a tight knot at the back of her head. She noticed Kaylee’s timid approach and put the weight on the bar and sat up. “Something wrong?” She picked her towel up from where it was draped over some hand weights, and moped her brow.

“Oh, no,” Kaylee quickly said, waving her hand for emphasis. “Everything’s shiny.”

The look Zoe gave her proved she was not convinced. She waited several seconds, expecting Kaylee to volunteer more information. When she didn’t, Zoe got to her feet. “Captain wanted to see me?”

Kaylee swung her arms out in front of her, lackadaisically. “No. Just thought, y’know, we could chat. We don’t chat much.”

Zoe gave her a flat glare.

“Well, we don’t,” Kaylee protested. “And that ain’t right, seein’ as how we’re the only women on this boat.”

Zoe turned around and began resetting the weights. “Woman or not, I ain’t one for much talkin’.”

Kaylee wandered around the weights. “Yeah, but how come?”

Zoe looked at her, and then shrugged. “Don’t enjoy it much.”

Grinning, Kaylee replied, “Y’seem t’enjoy talkin’ t’Wash, though.”

That caused Zoe to straighten up, and fix Kaylee with a steady gaze. “What’s between me and Wash is private.”

“Oh, I ain’t tryin’ t’do nothin’, Zoe. I’m just sayin’. He gets y’talkin’ where there ain’t no one else could.” She waved her hand, for emphasis. “Why, if I found a guy like that for me, I’d be off marryin’ him fast as I could!”

Zoe snorted, but said nothing.

“What was that?” Kaylee prodded, genuinely curious now. “You sayin’ I shouldn’t ever get married?”

Shaking her head, Zoe draped her towel over her shoulder and looked Kaylee directly in the eyes. “Ain’t got a problem with marriage none, Kaylee. Just ain’t something I see as ever happening for me.”

Kaylee’s face broke into concern. “Well, why not? Don’t y’wanna get married’n’all that? Get a real union, all official and sanctified?”

Zoe rolled her eyes. “Ain’t nothing official ‘bout marriage I’d be in it for. Don’t hold so well t’them things.” She appeared wistful, if just for a moment. “Admit I’d entertained the thought.” Shaking her head dismissively, she started past Kaylee, towards the stairs. “Seein’ as how it ain’t never gonna happen, though, I don’t bear on it too much though.”

Kaylee followed her. “Well, why not? I mean, I’m sure loads of guys’d wanna marry you, Zoe. You’re all kinds of shiny. Know one felle’ on this boat as might have his eyes set on you, in fact.”

Zoe glanced at her. “Know two,” she replied. “All the same, ain’t worth it. I like a man, he don’t need t’prove his love back in marriage. Just too messy, with me.”

“What d’y’mean it’s too messy with you?”

They reached the first level of the catwalk, and Zoe put her hands on her hips, looking down at Kaylee. “You ain’t gonna give this a rest, are you?”

Kaylee shook her head. “Not now that y’got me all intrigued like.”

Zoe sighed, walking away from Kaylee, but the mechanic just happily followed. “This is gonna be a long story,” Zoe muttered.

Kaylee went to Wash on the bridge several hours later. Zoe and Mal were in the galley, going over job plans together, while they cleaned their guns. Since they were so close, she was quiet as she slipped onto the bridge. “Heya, Wash,” she said in a cheerful but quiet tone.

Wash swiveled the pilot’s chair around, grinning up at her. “Hey!” His eyes darted to the stooped form of Zoe he could see bent over the table in the kitchen, and lowered his voice. “You get me some good news?”

Kaylee fidgeted. “Not so sure ‘bout that, Wash.”

He hesitated. “Not so sure that you got the news, or that it’s good?”

Kaylee bit her lower lip, leaning against the console beside him. “The news ain’t good, Wash. Zoe likes you lots, anyone can see that plain as day. She got reasons for not marryin’ though. Ones y’can’t do nothin’ ‘bout, I’m afraid.”

The suspense was killing him. “Get on with it, Kaylee! I’ll be the one to decide whether or not I’m man enough to make Zoe my wife.”

Kaylee didn’t meet his eyes. She studied her hands, where she was busy picking dirt out from beneath her fingernails. “Ain’t nothing y’can do ‘bout it though.”

“Well, how do I know that unless you tell me? I’m completely confused. What, is she already married? Because if that’s the case, and I’ve suspected that it is despite what she’s told me, then we can seek a divorce. Annulment! Hell, Mal’s got no qualms about killing people, and, while usually I’m opposed to violence, I can make amendments for Zoe.”

Kaylee shook her head. “It ain’t like that, Wash.” She lifted here eyes to look into his. “Y’see, Zoe . . . we’ll, she’s a goddess.”

Wash grinned, wistfully. “You’re telling me.”

Kaylee’s brow furrowed. “No, really. She’s a goddess. Or, part one, anyway. I didn’t really understand all of it.” She waved her hand, dismissively. “Don’t matter none though. Fact is, ‘cause she’s a goddess, she got folk all planning her marriage.”

Wash blinked, hard. “Wait. Go back to the part where Zoe’s a goddess?”

“Yeah, she is. Goddess of hunting and like, athletics, or, y’know, descended from such. It didn’t make a whole lot of sense, and she didn’t seem t’want t’talk ‘bout it much.” Kaylee reached out, putting a hand on his shoulder. “She likes you though, Wash. She really does. And that’s sayin’ something, ain’t it? Getting’ a goddess’ love?”

Wash stared at her. “I . . . what . . .” He closed his mouth and furrowed his brow. Then he opened his mouth. “How does . . .” He closed his mouth again. “She’s a goddess?” He echoed. At Kaylee’s gleeful nod, he got to his feet. “Y’think she could’ve let on about that a little sooner, huh?”

He pushed away from the flight deck, stalking down the stairs into the galley.

“So, what, goddesses can’t go marry mere mortals, is that it?” Wash announced to Zoe’s stooped back.

She stiffened and straightened, but didn’t turn to face Wash. Mal lifted his eyes off their weapons display, fixing his glare on Wash.

“Wash,” Zoe began, warningly.

“Just weren’t gonna tell me that one, huh? String me along, thinking I was on the path to happily ever after?” he pressed.

Mal’s eyes narrowed. “Y’don’t want t’go down this road with her, Wash.”

Wash’s eyes flickered to Mal, noticing him for the first time. “What, even he knows?”

“Know a lot of things ‘bout Zoe. Most of ‘em things you ain’t ever gonna know,” Mal replied. “She ain’t told you, then she got a reason for it. Thought we had this conversation, already. You think I like you goin’ behind my back?”

“Going behind your back?” Wash asked incredulously. “I had Kaylee run some reconnaissance, just to test the water. I didn’t expect her to come back to tell me that my girlfriend can’t marry me because I’m too low class.”

Mal started forward, toward Wash, but Zoe raised her hand and halted him. She turned around slowly. Her arms were crossed defensively in front of her, but one hand played self consciously with a curl that hung over her brow: she knew she’d been caught in a lie, and cornered. She kept her eyes off Wash. “Ain’t that I don’t want to, Wash,” she started. Her eyes lifted, to look at him. “Just can’t.”

Wash stared her down, defiantly. “Can’t ‘cause you’re betrothed to some god?”

“Can’t ‘cause you’d die if I said yes.”

The reply confused Wash. His brow furrowed, and then he blinked. “Are you threatening me?”

Zoe sighed exasperatedly, glancing to Mal. Mal pursed his lips, shaking his head forlornly back at her.

Wash watched the exchange slowly. “Wait, what? You’re engaged to Mal?”

Zoe and Mal both froze up. They then exchanged looks and burst into laughter. “No,” Zoe said, chuckling. “Ain’t like that.”

Mal shook his head. “Hell, Wash. I ain’t that insane.”

Kaylee stood on the bottom step, a scowl on her face. “Why don’t y’just tell him, instead of bein’ so mean?

Wash turned to look at her. Zoe and Mal were both grinning now, but neither seemed about to start talking. “Tell me what?”

Kaylee exhaled. “Zoe’s pa don’t want just anyone t’marry her. ‘cpects it t’be someone real noble, and righteous. Said he wanted her husband to be her equal.”

Wash turned to look at Zoe, for confirmation. The way she was now studying the floor as she leaned against one of the chairs was affirmation enough. “I can be an equal,” he stated softly.

Kaylee shook her head, even though he wasn’t look at her anymore. “She’s a goddess of athletics, Wash. Y’gotta beat her in a race.”

What?” He spun around, staring at Kaylee, waiting for her to amend her statement. “A race?” He looked back to Zoe.

She was nodding her head. “She’s right. Stupid as it is, them’s the rules.”

“Well, screw the rules! I wasn’t informed of any rules! When did we start following rules? I didn’t get the rule handbook!”

Zoe silenced him by crossing the distance between them, placing a hand on his cheek. It was rare for her to be openly affectionate toward him in front of others, but she didn’t seem hindered by it now. Her hand curled on his cheek. “They’re not the sort of rules you can break, baby.”

Wash’s brow furrowed as he looked into her eyes. “I just can’t accept that. If I have to race you, then I’ll race you.”

Zoe shook her head. “I can’t go slow just because I want you to win.”

Wash nodded, softening. “Wouldn’t expect you to. I’ll win on my own.”

Mal stepped closer to them, raising a hand to address a point. “You forgetting something, Zoe?” he asked.

She took her hand off Wash’s cheek, glancing to Mal. His expression was grave and she nodded at him, sadly. Her eyes, when she returned them to Wash, were determined. “’Cause I love you, I can’t let you race,” she said.

“That doesn’t make sense,” he replied.

Zoe reached out for his hands and held them. “Wash, baby,” she began, “you can’t risk it. The reward for winning is marryin’ me, but the penalty is death. They’ll kill you.” She shook her head. “Ain’t no paper says we’re one as worth that.” She squeezed his hand, lovingly.

Wash shook his head. “You don’t understand, Zoe. I want to marry you. If that means facing death to get the chance, it’s a risk I’m willing to take.”

“It ain’t a boat race, Wash. Y’gotta run it on foot; can’t out fly her,” Mal chimed in.

Wash shot him a dark look. “I’ll appreciate you not getting involved in our personal lives, Mal,” he snipped, sharply.

Mal drew himself up to his full length. “You’re my pilot, Wash. Ain’t in no hurry t’see you killed by some angry gods.”

“It’s my decision, Mal,” Wash replied. His eyes focused on Zoe. “And I’m going to do it. Nothing either of you can say will talk me out of it.”

“You’re mad,” Zoe breathed.

Wash nodded, agreeing. “Madly in love with you.”

The racetrack was located in the city of Atlanta, on Persephone. Wash had never been there, but apparently Mal and Zoe knew it well. He had landed Serenity at the Atlanta docks against Mal’s will, but no one had greatly protested his attempts. They knew he had his mind set on this race.

Zoe was angry with him. She had pulled him aside after they’d landed, and given him an earful. “I left with the captain after the war to get away from all this,” she had said. “Do you know how hard it was to watch suitor after suitor vie for my affection, and then to see them put to death for failing? Some of them boys I even liked?” She had pulled on the lapels of his shirt, almost desperately. “Don’t want to see that happen to you, Wash.”

He had just smiled at her, kissed her, and told her it would be all right.

She had kissed him back, believing it was probably her last chance to do so. Then she had left, upset with him. He couldn’t even explain to her how he felt.

Only Kaylee stayed with him, helping him prepare for the race. She had brought in a large crate of fresh fruit, provided by the race officials for the contestants. “I think it’s real noble of you t’do this and all, Wash. I just don’t see why you gotta. Zoe don’t need no marriage t’know she loves you.”

“Neither do I,” he replied, bending to tighten the laces on his borrowed racing shoes. “But I can’t stand back and not do anything about it, either. What if someday some guy comes up and wins the race? I just accept that I’ve lost Zoe, like that? ‘Cause it’s gonna happen, sooner or later.” Shaking his head, he straightened back up. “I can’t do that. I know Zoe and I are meant to be together. I know I’m going to win this race.”

Kaylee pulled an apple out of the fruit basket and munched on it. After she swallowed, she nodded thoughtfully. “Well, I hope you’re right. Just, there’s been an awful lot of talented folks as been killed racin’ against Zoe, and you ain’t ‘xactly known for your running none, neither.”

“I’m very good at running races, Kaylee,” Wash explained, pointedly. “Well, I’ve run before.” He amended. Then he sighed. “Okay, I’m good at running away from things. But I’m not going to run away from this. I’m going to do this, and I’m going to win.”

Kaylee looked hopefully at him. “Just wish we knew for sure you could.”

Wash stared at the apple in Kaylee’s hand. It was a golden apple from a relatively famous nearby orchard. His eyes flickered from her to the rest of the fruit in the box. “Maybe we can,” he mused, starting over toward her. He reached into the box and pulled out three more golden apples. “Maybe we can.”

The trumpets blared, announcing the set up for the race. Wash came out onto the track field and stood beside Zoe. She was in a dark grey jogging suit, and wore black training shoes. Wash felt awed standing next to her. In the morning sunlight, her hair shone. Her face was stern and determined, but beautiful. He saw her in the confines of the ship so often that he sometimes forgot how much more beautiful she was outside of it.

If he had to die today, he was glad he’d die seeing her like this.

She caught him staring at her and glanced over. Despite her anger at him earlier, she smiled. “Hope you win, mister,” she breathed.

Wash nodded and bent to take his place on the track, beside her. “I aim to, sweetcakes. I surely do aim to.”

Seconds later the flare went off that started the race. Wash hadn’t thought to do a practice run, so he had no real idea of how fast Zoe actually was. He’d seen her in action before, but never quite like this. Her hair whipped around behind her, shimmering in the sunlight. Her legs seemed to barely touch the track as she sprinted away. She was leaps and bounds ahead of him before he even realized it.

He forced himself to stop watching her, focusing instead on his own speed. Up in the stands he knew Mal and Kaylee were cheering for him, and he wasn’t going to let them down. He wasn’t going to let Zoe down either.

He pressed himself forward, hitting his hardest, fastest stride. Zoe was still effortlessly skimming the track in front of him, truly living up to her goddess side. His lungs already ached from the effort, and he didn’t feel like he was gaining on her at all.

Biting his lower lip, he reached into the pouch at his side, and withdrew one of the apples he had taken. It felt cool and firm in his hand, which was somehow reassuring. He looked at Zoe in the distance, then pulled his arm back and hurled the apple toward her, but angled to go off the course.

It skimmed through the air and shot past Zoe, bouncing on the track in front of her. He could see, even from where he was, that it had attracted her attention. She veered to the right, to chase it down, and he pressed his eyes closed and forced himself to run faster.

She recovered quickly. With the apple in her hand, she detoured back on the track and continued her pace. She still led by a wide margin, but it wasn’t as big as it had been, and for that, Wash was grateful.

He pushed himself harder, trying to catch up on his own. For a short period of time he succeeded, and then he began falling behind again. He had brought all three apples with him, and now drew the second from his pouch. She’d fallen for the apple the first time, which he had figured she would, owing to her love for the fruit, but he wasn’t sure she would a second time.

Taking as careful of aim as he could whilst running, he hurled the second apple. It skittered past her on the track, and she spied it and veered off after it, again. Wash let out a whoop of delight and found another burst of energy reserve.

This time he actually passed her before she returned to the track. It wasn’t by much, though, and she soon caught up with him. She glanced to him as she ran and grinning brightly at him. She seemed luminous in that moment, and thoroughly elated. She was in her element, even if this was a race she didn’t want to be running.

He felt he was going to die, soon. His heart was pounding in his chest, and it was all he could do to remember to keep breathing. His legs felt like jelly beneath him and he wasn’t sure he could make it. She was taking the lead by a margin again, and he felt terrified that he might be unable to keep up his end of the bargain.

They turned the final corner of the race, and in the distance the finishing banner waved in the wind at him. The sight of it propelled him on. He forced himself to listen to the cheering in the spectator stands, and he pressed on. The pounding of his heart in his ears soon became the pounding of his feet on the track. He charged on, picturing Zoe and his love for her, in his mind.

He watched her as she neared the finishing line. Then he took a deep gulp of air and hurled the last apple out. It didn’t go as far as the others, but she chased it anyway.

Wash squeezed his eyes tight, not willing himself to look at her, as he charged forward, toward the finishing line. The noise from the crowds dimmed away, and even the pounding of his heart seemed to fade. All he heard was Zoe’s voice, in his head, urging him on. All he saw was the sad look in her eyes at the thought of losing him.

He swallowed hard and opened his eyes. The finishing line was in sight. He ducked his head forward and charged at it. To his right he felt Zoe returning, catching up to him. She held three apples in her hands now, though, and they seemed to be cumbersome. He looked at her, and she met his eye and smiled briefly at him.

He found a last reserve inside him and sprang forward at the very last moment, bursting through the finishing ribbon just moments before she did.

The crowd erupted into cheers around him as he collapsed to his knees, panting and crying in joy and relief.

They were married immediately after. Wash took several minutes to recover his breath and composure. During that time Mal, Kaylee and Zoe were changed into different clothes for the ceremony. When Wash got back to his feet, he found a suit waiting for him. It was musky and old, but nice. It was an ivory cream color but had teal accents, along with a teal bow.

It was rather hideous, but very fitting of him, and he bet Zoe had picked it out for him. He slipped it on, running his hand through his hair before bouncing out to the track field again. There he found Mal and Kaylee both in formal wear. Kaylee wore a simple pink dress with a white crocheted knit shawl over it. Mal wore his Sunday best: a black suit with a red ascot.

The spectators of the race were still seated in the bleachers, and they all stared down expectantly on him as he appeared. His chest swelled with pride and he took his place at the back of the procession.

The music began that signaled Zoe’s arrival. She appeared behind him and then slipped into place at his side. She wore a shimmering black dress that had a plunging neckline and a long train. The dress seemed to sparkle in the light. With the heels she was wearing, she stood a good two inches over him. Around her neck was a thin rope necklace he’d never seen before, that completely complemented her outfit. Her hair was long and flowing, framing her beautiful face perfectly.

They linked arms and he led her up the aisle, toward where Mal and Kaylee stood, playing best man and bridesmaid. Between them stood a shepherd, holding an opened Bible. The shepherd watched them approach, grinning brightly at them as they did.

They came to a stop and so did the music. The vows were exchanged, and Wash found himself flying up in the clouds, even though his feet were firm on the ground. When Zoe looked down at him, after saying her vows, he wasn’t sure he’d be able to contain his happiness. His heart filled with such joy that it ached more than it had during the race.

The shepherd told him he could kiss her, and he snapped to. One of his hands shot out, wrapping around her waist. He tugged her in close and kissed her roughly in front of the entire audience. Cheers and applause erupted around them, and Zoe draped her arms around his neck, kissing him back.

They enjoyed the moment longer than most couples did, and when they broke the kiss, the shepherd was staring at them, looking embarrassed. Wash flashed him an apologetic grin. The music cued back up and they turned, as one, to march back down the aisle together.

Kaylee and Mal moved faster, picking up wedding baskets as they did. They hurried in front of Zoe and Wash and began tossing up parting gifts. Kaylee threw Persephonian sand up, which shimmered iridescent white as it glittered and rained down upon them. It was so they’d have a good foundation to build their love upon.

Mal threw downy feathers, which floated and wafted in the air around them, swirling up with the breeze, curling back around their faces. It signified their growth into the future, and gave them wings to see it together. The sand and the feathers mingled in the air, creating a beautiful, misty white effect as it fluttered down upon the newly married couple.

They hurried through the final door that took them inside, away from the crowds. As soon as the doors shut behind them, Zoe turned and flung her arms around him, kissing him deeply. When she broke off again, she smiled down at him, glowing. “That was so good, baby.”

Wash quickly kissed her again, squeezing her tightly to him. “Told you.”

Zoe was all smiles and nods. “Smart thinkin’.”

“So,” he said, grinning brightly. “My very own goddess,” he mused, jovially. “What do you suppose I ought to do with you now, Mrs. Washburn?”

Zoe laughed, delightedly, and looked affectionately down at him. “Well, Mr. Washburn, think we ought to go find ourselves a hotel room fit for a god and his goddess, order room service, and have very hot sex all night long.”

Wash broke into a ridiculously bright grin. “I’m not seeing any reason to complain about this suggestion.” He turned, keeping a hand around her waist. They walked off together, both still smiling, and shining as brightly as though they were stars.

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