Title: Dog Stars
Author: Sullen Siren (adena(at)direcway(dot)com
Summary: Serenity gains a new four-footed passenger.
Disclaimer: I don't own Wash, Zoe, or any of these crazy kids and their spaceship. I just play here. Please don't sue.
Feedback: Nicer than candy
Notes: Written for the Firefly Ficathon Challenge for brigid31 who requested a Happy Zoe/Wash story.
"The dog was created specially for children. He is the god of frolic."
-- Henry Ward Beecher
"I say we name it Mal."
She slanted a look at her grinning husband. "That ain't gonna convince him to let you keep it. You know the Cap'n - he ain't got patience for animals on board that ain't for profit."
"But . . . just look at it! How can he say no? It's a veritable fountain of cuteness. It's overrun with adorability. It's precious and unmatched in its ability to -"
"Honey, you do what you wanna do - ask him if you want. Just don't be surprised at the answer ya get."
Wash sighed and looked down at the small canine face that smiled up at him from the crate. An old woman stood next to a barbecue, cooking large and fatty slices of some dubious smelling meat and Wash winced, looking deep into dark-brown eyes. "Zoe . . . what meat do you think that is?"
Zoe sighed. It had been a long day, and the nice, relaxing evening she had planned - dinner with her husband planetside - was rapidly becoming a thing of the past. The puppy turned its head - sensing weakening resolve - and made a small, whining noise. Zoe closed her eyes. Damnit. "I'll talk to Mal."
Wash made a whooping sound of pleasure and kissed her soundly, scooping up the puppy and beginning a haggling session in Chinese with its former owner. Zoe rubbed at a temple. This wasn't going to go well.
"No. I ain't having a dog on board and that's the end of it, Zoe! We got enough trouble on this boat without bringing a four legged flea infestation on."
"It's just a little dog, sir. Kaylee and River'll help look after it - might even give River somethin' to do. Girl needs to be kept busy. Gets into trouble when she ain't." Her tone was placating, cajoling - but it held an undertone of iron that told him that he was not likely to win this argument.
"River gets herself into all kinds of trouble - we don't need a dog givin' her new ones to dream up."
"She won't, Sir. I ain't asked you for much you know - follow your orders and tow the line and all. It's just a dog." Zoe rarely used guilt. She considered it a feminine ploy, and that generally made it beneath her. Desperate times, however . . .
He ran a hand over his face, knowing when he was defeated. "Just keep it out of my way." He peered at the puppy in Zoe's arms. The dog looked back placidly, tail wagging and ears pricked. "What's his name?"
Zoe smiled. "Mal."
"Sit." The puppy looked back, grinning and panting and squirming and looking nowhere near sitting. "Sit . . . please? Sit now? Here - like this." Wash sank into a squat to demonstrate, making panting doggie noises for good measure. The puppy cocked his head and mimicked the pant happily, wandering over to lick at his new master's face. But he didn't sit.
Zoe chuckled from her spot cross-legged on their bed. "Dogs don't learn from 'please', honey."
"It's a radical new technique I'm trying. Because so far, he doesn't seem to learn from anything."
"That ain't true. River has him fetching things for her already." Zoe scooted to the edge and dangled long bare legs over, feeling her husband's eyes on her and smiling. "C'mere, Picasso." Wash made a noise of frustrated disgust as the dog ambled obediently over to her. She caught his collar and stood next to him, speaking firmly. "Sit." The dog looked at her with liquid eyes, judging how serious she was, and then obediently sank onto his haunches.
Wash sighed and moved to stand next to her, running a hand up and down her arm. "Tell me again why we let River name him?"
"'Cause Mal said he'd boot you out into deep space and let the Doc learn to fly the ship if you tried to name it after him?"
"Oh right. It's all coming back to me now. Still. Picasso? Why some old painter?"
Zoe shrugged and leaned to pat the puppy approvingly. "Who knows. Ain't no one can say why River does the things she does."
Picasso, freed of their attention momentarily, made his way over to a corner of the room where some interesting smelling shirts lay in a messy pile. He snuffled happily and then squatted on top.
Zoe burst into laughter as Wash cried out in dismay and rushed across the room. "No! Bad dog! Very bad dog!"
"Damnit Zoe, I ain't havin' it! Gorram dog made off with half the things in my bunk! Found 'em shredded in the hold. Stepping in piles he leaves 'round everywhere. Ain't proper havin' no half-witted mangy dog on a space ship!"
Zoe sighed and looked to where Picasso - tail tucked and eyes large and miserable - sat next to what looked like a multicolored pile of rags. Presumably, it had once been Jayne's wardrobe. Granted Jayne's clothes weren't' far from the rag pile anyway, but she didn't think pointing that out would go over well. "He's just a pup, Jayne. He'll be fine once he -"
"Yeah, once he's trained. 'Cept he's dumb as a box a'rocks, and wreckin' half the ship in the process! We don't' need no dumb beasts on this ship!"
"Of course we don't - we already have you." Wash swept forward and swept Picasso up in his arms as the puppy licked happily at his face. "There there, did the big mean man scare you? I bet his clothes tasted awful anyway. Come on - we'll feed you some of the doc's - bet they smell fresh and clean and are all stiff. Just like him."
Zoe smothered a laugh as Jayne glared at Wash's back. "Next port town I'll buy you some new threads, Jayne. For now you can borrow some of Mal's stuff. Won't even know it's missin', I'm bettin'." Which was true. Clothes and fashion were an abstract thing to Mal, most of the time. He wore whatever didn't smell too badly and was within easy reach.
She left Jayne fuming and turned to make her way down the hallway, meeting Wash and the puppy at the end of it. "He's right you know, much as I hate to admit that about Jayne. Pup's getting to be a menace - we don't get him in hand soon and Mal'll . . . "
She trailed off as her husband pushed the puppy into her arms. "I'll work with him more. I promise," he offered earnestly, idly playing with the dog's over-large brown ears.
She sighed and refrained from saying that Wash's "training" invariably devolved into prolonged sessions of play that ended with both of them curled up on the bed asleep. The puppy almost always on HER side, too.
"Don't know what you're wantin' me to do about it. Back home, Pappy always took care of our huntin' dogs. I could break a good cow horse for you, but I've never trained up a pup before. And ours stayed outside, anyway." Kaylee absently rubbed at a spot of grease on her elbow, eyes trickling restlessly back over toward the engine she'd crawled out from underneath when Zoe came in. "Could give it a try, I guess, Zoe."
Zoe shook her head. "Actually I wasn't looking to you." She looked over toward where River sat, silent as a wraith in a dress three sizes to big for her, barefoot, long hair falling messy and stringy down her back. "You got enough to do 'round here, Kaylee. I thought maybe River. . . "
The girl looked up with her too-aware eyes and Zoe automatically suppressed the shiver that always wanted to run down her spine when she met River's gaze. For a moment, the girl seemed to look through her, and then something in her eyes shifted and changed and a broad, girlish grin drifted across her features. "You want me to train Picasso?"
Zoe nodded. "You seem to have a knack with the pup, and Wash don't know much of his way 'round animals. He tries hard, but he always ends up just playin' with him. And if the dog don't get trained up proper then Mal'll have him off the ship at the next port."
"Unspeakable tragedy. Homeless and lost. Some people eat dogs. The nearest planet is seven point three days of high-speed travel away, and Picasso wouldn't be welcome. Dionysus is a small planet that specializes in the production and cryogenic shipping of chickens. Dogs would be unwelcome."
Zoe cleared her throat and shared a glance with Kaylee. "Right . . . so we're all for havin' that not happen. Think you can help?"
River nodded affirmatively. "In Earth that was, in the year 1995 Dr. Reginald Carsis published a thesis on behavior analysis of canines and proper training methods to bring about maximum trainability and attachment. He hypothesized that canines could be made to perform nearly any service within their physical abilities so long as they enjoyed what they were trained to do. His theories were proven out over the next few centuries, and is still considered one of the primary methods of training on the core planets."
Zoe hesitated as River walked in her quick, graceful way up to her and took the dog from her arms. "Where'd you learn all that, anyway?"
She shrugged and smiled. "Mother would never let me have a puppy. I tried to prove what an asset it could be, but she was unperturbed by my logic."
"I see." Zoe glanced at Kaylee again as the girl shrugged cheerfully and turned back to the engine. "Well, you and Wash can work on it together, maybe."
"I like Wash. He's funny. Even when he doesn't intend to be."
Zoe grinned. "Yeah. Always liked that about him too."
Mal squinted at the dog. "It's WATCHING me again." He complained. Inara rolled her eyes and Zoe bit back a smile. She looked to where Wash sat, his head bent as he whispered to River, gesturing toward the dog, a familiar impish look on his face. "Zoe, you listenin'? That damn dog is-"
"Watchin' you. I heard, Sir. Ain't deaf."
"Can't you DO something about it?"
Zoe ignored the muffled laughter from the others and looked at the dog with a deeply serious expression. "Stop watchin'." The dog continued to stare soulfully at the Captain as a high, squealing peal of laughter ran from River's mouth. "He ain't stopping Cap'n. Reckon it's out of my hands."
Mal threw a dark look toward Wash. "Don't think I don't know you're doin' this on purpose, trainin' that dog up to follow me about."
Wash protested quickly, but Zoe could read the mischief in his eyes. "All we've trained it to do is use the box in the hold, sit, stay, heel and fetch."
River chimed in, cheeks flushed with excitement. "And to come, and to go, and to roll over, and to push the buttons to open the -"
"What? No buttons! There will be no dogs pushing any kind of button! Zoe!" Mal's voice rose in dismay.
She sighed. "Give over, Sir. Ain't none of us wants to die from a dog pushing something he oughn't. I didn't marry me a stupid man - they ain't teachin' him anything bad."
"That's debatable." At her questioning look Mal elaborated. "The 'I didn't marry a stupid man' part, I mean."
"Hey!" Wash feigned an offended look which sent River into giggles again. Simon smiled, a gratified expression on his face as watched his sister acting like the child she so often wasn't. Zoe didn't miss the fact that his knee was brushing Kaylee's, or that the mechanic sometimes reached beneath the table to squeeze his thigh. She smiled faintly to herself, ignoring Mal's continued ranting. Was about time those two were on the mend again.
"I mean it Zoe. That dog is a nuisance. Next planet we hit, he's out. We can stay an extra day, find him a good home, but he ain't stayin'. No room on a workin' boat for dogs."
"Right Sir." She offered, obviously placating.
"Don't 'right sir' me. I mean it this time."
"Don't be so crabby, Cap'n. It's just a little dog. Look at that sweet face - how could you even try to send it off?" Kaylee called Picasso over and the dog ambled over, licking her hand sweetly.
"Same way I can sees YOUR face and threaten to throw YOU off if you don't get that filter runnin' right." Kaylee stuck her tongue out at him and Mal pointedly ignored it.
"I hardly think one dog is going to make things terribly difficult around here, Captain. It's not as if we don't already have our share of troubles, and River certainly seems happier having it running about." Book offered with a smile for the dark haired girl, who paused and looked back with that unreadable expression that said she was thinking about something the rest of them would likely never understand.
"Don't make things no easier, either. And what happens when somethin' goes wrong and it dies? She ain't gonna be happy then!" Mal stopped abruptly, seemingly aware that he'd gone a step too far.
Kaylee grimaced and Zoe gave Mal a harsh look which Simon echoed from his side of the table. He fell silent and Zoe felt Wash leaning close to her. She shivered slightly as his breath hit her ear, smiling at the familiar sensation. "River has a plan." The girl had either not heard or not acknowledged Mal's statement, her attention on her plate as she arranged the foot on it into careful patterns.
"River? The same River who tried to burn our food last week because it was 'marked wrong'? Why am I not comforted?"
He grinned, cocky and crooked. "Trust me." She leaned in and kissed him as Jayne howled a protest about unprofessionalism, and the need for personal doings to be kept to personal space.
"I think he likes him now." Wash sat on the edge of the bed, watching as Zoe prowled restlessly around the room. She felt his eyes on her, but then she always did. She could feel when Wash watched her, and he always watched her. She liked that. When Wash looked at her, she forgot that she was little more than a mercenary. She felt like art under his gaze.
She sat down next to him after a moment, leaning her head on his shoulder as his arm came around her. She felt warm when she was with Wash, always. She kissed his cheek and smiled. "Cap'n ain't won over yet, Wash. But Picasso's behaving good now. Ain't likely to throw him out. Or ain't AS likely at least."
"River and I've been training him."
"So I noticed. Why DOES he follow the Cap'n around all the time?"
Wash grinned and she felt the strange tingle of foreboding that said whatever they had done, Mal was going to blame her. "River's training him to be helpful."
"Helpful to MAL?"
"Well . . . yeah. To anyone really. Yesterday Mal was cleaning his guns -"
"Yes, again. Anyway, he was cleaning them and reached for another rag, and Picasso was right there, handing it to him. Mal didn't even realize who'd given it to him till he wondered why it was wet. Put up a big fuss about dog drool, but I could tell he was impressed."
She closed her eyes. "You could tell that, huh?"
"Oh sure. I'm perceptive about these things."
She grinned. "Right." Her eyes flickered to the corner where Picasso had slept earlier and then around the rest of the room. "Where did he go?"
Wash shrugged. "Dunno. He climbed up the ladder and headed out."
"And it didn't occur to you that maybe he shouldn't be runnin' about?"
He looked puzzled. "Why? He doesn't get into any trouble now. And he HAS to go to the hold to . . . you know. His box is there . . ."
She rose and pulled on her clothes, ignoring his groan of protest. She climbed the ladder out of their bunk - smiling to see that Wash had wrapped the bars to give Picasso better traction when he climbed - and made her way toward the hold.
He wasn't there. She methodically searched the rest of the ship without any luck, getting gradually more worried. Finally she moved back toward the rooms. She'd already checked with everyone else. Jayne had refused to open his door, simply bellowing that the dog wasn't there. That only left one option.
The hatch to Mal's room wasn't closed, and Zoe peered down. "Cap'n?" When he didn't answer she climbed cautiously down. "Sir?" She stopped in her tracks and grinned a bit. Picasso lay on the bed next to Mal, who had an absent arm draped over the dog. They both snored in tandem and damned if it wasn't cute when they did.
She shook her head and climbed back out, dropping down into their room again and smiling as Wash looked up from the shirt he'd been mending, concern in his eyes at the lack of dog. "Couldn't find him?"
She settled in his lap, pushing the shirt aside and wrapping herself around him lovingly. "He ain't goin' no where now. Part of the crew." She kissed him, feeling the passion that was always between them, but still managed to surprise her spring up.
He grinned, his hands already working at her shirt. "I told you Mal likes him now." He paused, hands sliding up her back. "Think we can talk him into a pony? River would like a pony . . . "
She growled playfully and tugged on his ear with her teeth. "Don't push it, sweets."
"Aye aye, wife."
And now I am all out of challenges, save for another Lyric challenge from musesfool. Le Sigh. Durn.