Fourth Watch
by Shaye

It was a cold, grey morning - before Serenity Valley. They had fourth watch. Sat on the makeshift battlements and watched the sun fight its way over the horizon. And simple as you please, he reached over and took her hand.

It was a distinctly unsoldier-like gesture, but it fit the moment. Zoe was a sharp shot and had a sharper mouth, but that don't mean it didn't fill her with a kind of warmth in the cold air, like comin' in on a winter's day to find Momma making cornbread biscuits.

Didn't last long, but then that was the natural way of things.

The war could be gorram hard on a person, but just then, it was full of the most head-numbing boredom you'd ever seen. Standing around waiting for the big stuff to happen. And no matter how careful you watched, you were never quite ready when it did.

So they didn't talk much on watch. Paced back an' forth, breath freezing sooner than it left their mouths, waiting for the morning to come. Zoe was grateful that it did still come, each and every day. Wasn't good when things got too quiet. That either meant they were showing so poorly the Alliance could pick 'em off any time, or their side was gaining ground and the feds were regrouping.

They only talked when the light was just beginning to creep into the sky, and fourth watch was winding down. Hardest to stay awake then.

They only talked when they weren't looking at one another.

"What do you plan on getting out of this, Mal? What are you fighting for?"

He just looked at her like she was half crazy and went back to starin' out over the walls.

"No, I mean, what do you want?"

Mal went still. After a moment, his brows shot up. "I don't rightly know. Never thought about what I want out of this war. Only thought about what I know's right. An' this..." He gestured out over the scarred terrain. "This ain't right."

"Not fightin' for the ranch on Shadow, then? Not fightin' for yourself?"

He laughed. "Damn, Zoe. What's got into you?"

She shrugged, half-smiled. "Don't know. Tired, I guess."

The conversation lapsed for some moments. Mal paced along the walls, shoulders straight. And then, "What about you, Zoe?" In that half-serious, half-mocking way of his. "What do you want?"

A slow smile spread over her face, honey-warm and soft. "I want it all. I want...everything."

He snorted his derision. "You're not gonna get it."

She rolled her eyes. "I know," she said indulgently. "No harm in the wantin'."

Mal stopped pacing, sat down next to her. Sighed. "I think," he murmured, "sometimes there is."

Cold washed over her, deeper than the chill in the air, right down to her bones. She reached over and squeezed his hand. "Sometimes there's harm in not wanting, though."

His lips twitched in a smile. "Out here, a person has to remember that what they want ain't important. A person's gotta settle for what they need."


She was so very young when she'd met Malcolm Reynolds. She sometimes felt he'd shaped her whole life. Maybe it was truth.

Mal's heavy bootsteps on the metal grating let her know he was coming. Hard to miss, that, but then he was in his own territory. No need for sneakin' around. She had a feeling he needed to make some noise in his own space just now.

Wash usually sat up with her when she had fourth watch, but she'd insisted he stay in bed. After a day like today, he hadn't argued.

Mal couldn't sleep. She hadn't expected him to.

"You feelin' all right, sir?"

"Yeah, Zoe. Just dandy."

She rolled his eyes at him. So predictable.

The two of them, takin' up the watch, even with Mal injured. It was the natural way of things.

At heart, Mal was a traditionalist, of the sort who'd rather pursue someone like Inara than someone like Zoe. Mal wanted someone he could fight for, not alongside. That's what the war was really about for him. That's what this whole operation was about. But he pretended he didn't want anything, had pretended for so long it was all he could see. And Zoe could see she'd been right after all, but it made no difference, anyhow.

Mal needed Serenity. He needed Zoe at his side. And that was all.

Wash, now. They'd fought like cats and dogs, and when she pushed he pushed back. She needed that. And if her feelings toward Mal were some strange mix of loyalty, affection and history, it wasn't any big thing. If she wanted him, it didn't matter. She needed Wash. Loved him, felt all sorts of desire for him. And after all, she'd fought with the Independents in the war against the Alliance - she'd practically made a career out of subjugating her wants to her needs.

She always takes what she needs first. But Zoe, she makes room for what she wants. And sometimes, she thinks she's still falling in love with Malcolm Reynolds.


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