It Breaks Like The Weather
by Mosca

Wash had squirreled Zoe's anniversary present in one of the small cabinets in the cargo bay. It was depressingly appropriate that he couldn't remember which one. He wanted to slam the metal doors, but he'd stored up the shipboard superstition that loud noises made engines go amiss. Never mind that Serenity had run more reliably since shrieking River and boot-stomping Jayne had come on board.

She'd run fine the night before, despite the shouting. He and Zoe had been bickering lately. Mostly it was minor things, him leaving his shoes in her way and her "putting him away" in such a manner as he was guaranteed to never find them again. But they hadn't neglected the major sticking points, either. She never told him what she really wanted. He whined rather than asking. She longed for a baby. He was irrationally terrified every time she went out on a job.

No measure of discretion was enough to keep them quiet or solve their problems. He knew they ought to talk about it when both their heads were clear, but neither of them was the talking about it type. Not that kind of talking, any road...the kind of talking where there were words for feelings and solutions proposed without irony. For that, a marriage needed a wife.

He hadn't expected to have one of any variety. He was the sort of man who made sad jokes about his lack of luck with women, who used his sense of humor as warmth for an empty bed. Even when he was so angry with her that he could not speak, he looked at Zoe in amazement...not at that she would have him, but at that it was, however insecurely, not his fate to be permanently alone.

It was good to remember the reason why he was searching in cabinets for sweets so tao yan that he was loath to kiss Zoe for hours after she'd sucked on one. He'd only seen Zoe's passion for black licorice drops once...they were not the sort of luxury normally afforded...but she'd bought a birthday present for herself awhile back, when they'd hardly started dating. And not since, because he'd said something flippant about their aroma that had near broken her heart.

He'd put licorice out of his mind until a week ago, when he'd found small sacks of homemade ones for sale in a general store on Bethany. He and Zoe'd had a loud discussion regarding his inability to take criticism and her inability to adjust to his needs. It had ended with seething long walks in opposite directions. In the shop, a sack of sweets in his hand, it had occurred to him that there was no better anniversary gift than indulging her in something annoying that she loved.

He found River before he found those chou e licorice drops. She was in a cabinet just large enough for a skinny contortionist, and she'd curled herself up like a seashell. She frowned, not at him but clearly because of him, and said, "you could knock."

He tried to close the cabinet door, but she swung her legs out. "I was having a think," River said, "but she pays me back for sitting there. She sings me to sleep." River grabbed Wash's wrist and pressed his hand into the inner wall of the cabinet. He could feel the vibrations of the turbines and the low heartbeat of the fuel reactor. Kaylee said that when Serenity was running above spec, the noise was a lullaby. Wash couldn't hear that, exactly, but he understood why River might get her kicks from squeezing into this metal womb.

"I'llÍ leave you to it," Wash said.

River ducked back into the cabinet. "I found your compromises," she said, clearing away a small pile of crumpled tissue paper and shiny pebbles. She produced the licorice drops, their sack slightly worse for wear.

"Tai kong suo you de da xiang la du zi wo de tou bu, do not tell me you sampled one," Wash said.

"They smell like Simon's feet," River said earnestly.

"My wife has some, uh, unusual tastes," he said, snatching the sack of sweets from River.

"It suits the pattern," River said.

He chuckled. "I guess it does."

"There should be more troubled marriages," she said. "Trouble is like rough weather: it breaks and passes. People think it's always winter, but they're too accustomed to climate controls."

He didn't so much as understand what she was saying, but it was surely exciting her. "Okay," he said, backing away from her, palms forward. "Okay."

"Happy anniversary," River said. She shut herself back in her nest. Wash looked down into the sack of licorice drops. They smelled like feet.

He went back to his bunk, hoping Zoe hadn't come back yet so he could scare up some ribbon to dress up her gift and some words to express how much he loved her despite the horn-locking. But she'd beaten him home. She was sitting on the bed, clipping her toenails over a towel.

She was absolutely beautiful, in a way that Wash could not imagine anyone else being while performing off-putting acts of hygiene. "Happy anniversary, husband," she said without looking up.

"I got you something," he said. "It ain't much...it ain't wrapped-- but I hope you'll take it." He handed her the sweets, but she set them aside without looking in the sack. He contemplated the pros and cons of hara-kiri.

"Open yours first," she said, producing a box from behind her.

Printed on the box in cartoonish green letters were the words, "Terrors of Prehistoric Earth-That-Was." Inside, he found a toy Apatosaurus with poseable legs and a neck that bent and curved. He became so engrossed in contorting his dinosaur that he forgot to thank her.

He didn't realize she'd opened her present until she said, "Honey! You hate these!" And with an elegance and efficiency she usually reserved for ambushing bad guys, she disarmed Wash of his Apatosaurus and swept him into a kiss. "I know you won't come near me once I've sampled my gift," she said.

He thought this would be a good time to apologize, to discuss, to agree to start over from zero. To leave, or to remove that from the list of options. But she told him to make sure the hatch is locked, and she was nuzzling his neck while he unhooked her bra. He couldn't remember what he had been so sore about. Storms passed, and so did anger; the point was, there had been times when he had been so angry that it had made him realize how much he loved her, but he had never been so angry that he'd stopped loving her. The weather broke and he had a new dinosaur and her hand down his pants. He closed his eyes, and he opened them.

 

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