Till Death Do Us Part

Chapter 3: Alternate Plans

As it turned out, Doc Randall Flynn had been at one long time ago, Shepherd Randal Flynn in his young adulthood. He had surrendered to passion and love when he met his beloved Aggie and he thereafter left the clergy. Due to the war breaking out about a decade after, the Alliance didn't put removing his title on their priority list. His Shepherd's license was never revoked. Doc had been performing double duty as doctor and marrying folks in Arcadia. Doc had always had the medical capabilities even while he was a Shepherd, but he didn't make it all official to have people call him "doctor" until after he married Aggie.

That night, he and Mal agreed to let Wash and Zoe mull it over to have Doc marry them on Saturday instead of transporting Zoe early and risk more injury. Mal had no problem in telling his immediate crew about the proposed change in wedding plans. The original plan was to have the wedding on Beaumonde with catered food and drink after and with extravagant decoration. All planned, ordered, and paid for by Inara Sera. Now, with Zoe's injury, those plans would have to be squashed. And Mal would have to inform the Companion. That was one talk, or more fair to say confrontation, that Mal was not looking forward to.

After Mal left the Doc for the evening, he went to Wash whom he found by Zoe's side holding her motionless hand. Wash heard the proposal silently and he agreed, but he also felt he should wait until he could discuss it with his bride first. After all, it was her wedding as well. Wash thought it wouldn't matter when it takes place, just that it does. But, he admitted, Zoe deserves a decision too. Mal thought that fair and then he left Wash in Zoe's presence for the night. Jayne was still nowhere to be found, but Mal had surmised that Jayne wouldn't be shedding any tears over the change in venue. The only thing Jayne had been looking forward to was the free food and drink. Letting sleeping Jayne lie in bed with his newly found endowed woman, Mal didn't even begin to look for him. He then headed back to Serenity to see Kaylee.

As Mal approached the ship, Wash's words earlier echoed as he gazed at the outline of the Firefly against the fading light of the horizon. Mal walked up on the main ramp keeping to the extreme left and reaching out with his fingers to lightly touch the beginning walls of Serenity. He then headed to the engine room where he found his mechanic working in the usual jumpsuit stained with grease. Her reaction to the news didn't surprise Mal one bit.

"What about Inara? Kwong-juh duh, Inara is gonna miss the wedding. What is she gonna do with all that food? All those...strawberries...and cake, too. It's not like we can go fetch her and come back by Saturday. And that shuttle would never make it here. I wonder if I could boost its drive motivators to expand its range. No, it's life support would never–"

"Kaylee! That's all well and known. Doesn't seem we have much of a choice."

"I guess Zoe and Wash don't want to postpone."

"He didn't mention it when I told him of Doc's offer. He wants to wait till Zoe wakes up to get her opinion."

"Yeah, that's the right thing to do, I guess. Is she all right?"

Mal brought her up to speed on Zoe's condition and afterwards he cherished his mechanic's wide positive smile. It was what he needed right then.

Mal continued, "I'll send a wave to Inara in the morning. It's in the wee morning hours on Beaumonde right now. At least in the morning here it would be late afternoon there." He pretended not to notice the small smirk Kaylee chose right then. She knew her Captain was stalling so he could prepare a conversation with the lovely Companion. Kaylee, like the rest of the crew, also knew Mal would never admit to a verbal stalemate with Inara Sera.

Kaylee went back to working in the engine room and Mal went up to the co-pilot's seat. He chose it not because the pilot's seat was for Wash, but because that night he didn't want to look silly amongst Wash's plastic dinosaurs. Either by accident or by choice, Wash had landed the craft with its bridge window facing into the planet's sunset. Mal sat and watched the horizon swallow the sun's light and overcome the sky with darkness. Mal stared into the stars for so long that he never knew exactly when it was he had surrendered to sleep.

Come morning, Mal got himself up, climbed down to his quarters, and started cleaning himself up. He changed his shirt, washed his face, and brushed his thick mane of brown hair. He had found since he met Inara that the morning hours, when he looked scruffy, shirtless, and bed ridden, would be an embarrassing time for him to greet her. Once he finished with himself, he started straightening his bunk and its surroundings to make the background look presentable. He then faced the cortex in his quarters, breathed deeply, and started the wave to hail Inara in her shuttle.

It didn't take long for the image of Inara's soft facial features and liquid-flowing ebony curled hair to replace the flat dead gray screen. She glanced at her own cortex in the shuttle and once she saw who was alerting her, she went wide eyed. Thus, the conversation masking as confrontation began.

"Mal. I find it amazing that your motor functions can be active this early for you."

Mal countered with the same indignant tone. "Well, I wanted to make sure you were done with all your whoring duties."

She ignored his usual insult back at her and she asked, "Are you on your merry way back?"

"Not exact. There were some...complications."

"Let me guess. Your deal didn't go as planned."

"Oh, the deal was made. What happened after was to be desired for."

"What a shock. So, what's wrong this time?"

"Zoe got herself shot," Mal said as casual as he would if he were asking to pass the table salt.

"What? Oh my god, is she all right?" Inara cried as her facial features turned to looks of worry.

"Yes, she is now. She had surgery yesterday and she's all patched up. But she's in a healin' stage now."

Inara could connect her own conclusions and cried, "Tzao gao, she isn't going to make her wedding on Saturday."

"Well, she won't be able to make it to Beaumonde by Saturday."

"Have they made a decision on what they're going to do?"

"Wash has, but he hasn't talked to Zoe on account of her being still out. I suspect he'll talk to her soon about it. There is a Shepherd here, who also happens to be the Doc who did the patching, and he's willing to wed them if they want."

"And what am I going to do with the preparations here? The food, drink, decor. I even managed to get my hands on an ancient bottle of Dom Perignon champagne."

"You can't freeze it up? Save it for a rainy day?"

"That's not funny, Mal. You know I can only secure these items only on Beaumonde. It's not like we can take any of it with us."

"Best you find a way to take it all back. But I'd keep the Don Perone."

He watched Inara roll her eyes at him and he wondered what he said wrong this time. She didn't say why and then she seemed to begin to talk to herself. "Ok, the food order can be cancelled. Decor can be taken down. Gos se, the reservation on the hall can't be refunded. Guess I'll eat that bill."

"I can provide you with a discount on your rent next month to counter that."

Her voice dripped with sarcasm. "You're such a gentleman, Mal. Now, what about me?"

"What about you?"

"Mal, you know as well as I do that my shuttle would never make it to...wait, where are you...still on Three Hills?"

"That'd be so. We had to find a doc right quick and we found one in Arcadia."

"Ok, so if your deal went sour, wouldn't the authorities be looking for you?"

"I suppose. We're safe for now."

Inara chuckled. "The words 'for now' coming from you make me shiver."

"Well, we hadn't much decision on choice. The government's military is looking out in the black for us. They ain't expecting us to be still on the planet. Come Saturday their search should wear off."

"And your inability to foresee the future scares me."

"Ain't foreseeing. Only speculating."

"Oh, so you will be prepared when they start attacking during the middle of the ceremony."

"Well, they'll just see a ceremony. They won't be figuring the bride and groom are among the very folk they're searching for."

"And your fantasy of knowing everything just terrifies me."

Quickly wanting to change the subject, Mal suggested, "We could record the wedding for you."

"And deprive me of seeing them vow to each other in person? I know I haven't been on the ship for that long, but I do want to see the ceremony."

"And I thought you said in the beginning that you wouldn't get involved with my crew members."

"Getting involved is not the same as taking an interest, Mal. Something you seem to always have confusion about. I saw their love for each other the first time I met them. You seemed to be oblivious of it."

"Well, I haven't been educated at the Whore Academy."

Inara shook her head in disgust and admitted sadly, "I guess I have no choice in not being there."

"I could suggest to them about postponing. But the Doc wants her inactive for a few weeks. We can't wait too long after that because Badger promised some hefty work then and there won't be much time for scheduling. That's one reason why they picked this Saturday."

Inara was now almost on the verge of tears. "I know that, Mal. Oh, I so wanted to be there." She hung her head in a position that made her hair obscure her face. She said in a defeated voice, "If they decide to go ahead, I'll understand."

"Wow, you don't wear self pity well, now do you?"

She jerked her head back up to him and snapped, "Fahng-tzong fung-kwong duh jeh! That wasn't self pity, Mal! That was regret. With all the things that never go as planned when you're around, it's a wonder why you're not wallowing in it."

"That ain't me that causes uncertainty. That's called 'life'."

"Or maybe it's called fate."

"You make your own brand of fate."

She shook her head again indicating to him that she didn't want to dive into another philosophical discussion with him. It almost made him feel a bit of that regret she was speaking of. She looked at him through the screen and he could almost feel her wrath at him in that moment. He half expected her to yell at him.

Instead, she simply stated, "Just send me a wave with whatever they decide. I'll cancel everything I can from here."

"All right. I'll send you a wave as soon–" He never got to finishing the sentence as she ended the wave abruptly and he was back staring at the blank but similarly cold screen.

As almost always with the end of confrontations with Inara, Mal felt drained. He could never put a finger on why it was they never could have normal talks.

Mal shook away any ill feelings he compiled during the talk and he climbed up to the kitchen, grabbed one of the exotic bananas Jayne confiscated on a previous heist, and he headed to see Zoe. He finished the fruit as he entered Doc's office and he was sitting at his desk reading a report.

"Malcolm!" Doc announced.

Mal grinned and corrected, "Mal, please. Though, to be honest, I have been called worse things."

The Doc chuckled and said, "You're just in time. Your second in command, Zoe, is awake with your pilot, Wash. Your mechanic, uh Kaylee, is in there too with the groom. Along with your other member of your crew I didn't get to see last night. Wayne, was it?"

"Jayne. He show up with Hattie?"

"Oh no, son. You may see Hattie through the night but never when the sun is up."

Mal suddenly wondered how that knowledge reached the Doc and then he just as quickly shook it from his thoughts. He nodded and headed to the back medical room.

Already he could hear laughter from Kaylee and Wash's voice. He appeared in the doorway and they spotted him. "Well, look who's laying down on the job."

Zoe was awake and seemed in good spirits as she was just finishing a laughing spell too. She smiled at Mal and addressed him. "Thought I'd be more of use in bed. Can we fit one of these in the cockpit?"

"As much as we all get injured it may not be a bad idea," Mal shot back. He looked over at Jayne and asked, "Have fun last night?"

"More than any of you did," Jayne's cocky grin appeared.

"So, how was Hattie?"

Jayne did a double take at Mal and cried, "How'd you know her name?"

"I have ways." He then turned to the rest of his crew. "Y'all up to speed what we're up against?"

It was Zoe who answered, "I'm in no position to make it to Beaumonde."

Direct as always, Mal admired. "Yep. Question is what do you want to do?"

"Don't have much in the way of choice. I say we postpone seeing as it'd be hard to find a Shepherd out here." Immediately, Wash turned red and started to say something but Mal got there first.

"You didn't tell her?"

Wash replied sheepishly, "I didn't get around to it. She's only been awake for an hour and then Kaylee and Jayne showed up. I wanted to tell her alone."

Kaylee added, "I felt it wasn't my place to tell."

Jayne stated, "Hey, I don't know anything."

Wash looked relieved and looked to the sky. "He finally admits it."

Zoe had that "inform-me-or-die" look directed at her groom. "Tell me what?"

Mal decided he would have to tell, yet again, of Doc's offer. "Ok, since you are not in the know, thanks to some well informed crew mates, there is a Shepherd here, and he is willing to facilitate your wedding. Here, in Arcadia. This Saturday. Same day, same time, different place."

"Who's the Shepherd?" Zoe asked.

Mal pointed a thumb and directed it behind him. "Your Doctor himself. He was a Shepherd once upon a time and the Alliance never got around to taking his title away from him when he quit."

Jayne looked confused. "You mean...he's a doctor...and a Shepherd?"

"Looks like."

Jayne smiled and quipped, "So, when Wash here faints at the altar the Doc can heal him right there and then too."

Wash countered, "Hey, we'll see who's fainting." He then turned to face his bride-to-be and stated, "What do you want to do, hun?"

Zoe looked at Wash, then back at Mal, "But...Inara. What is she going to do with all the things she prepared?"

"That was my question," Kaylee added.

Mal supplied the answer. "I spoke with Inara just moments ago. She's gonna take back what she can. She only has to cancel the food order." He heard a sad grunt from Jayne and a small whimper from Kaylee. Mal focused on the couple. "She doesn't like the situation any less than we do, but she said she will support your decision."

Wash added, "So will I. Even though I would like nothing more to be your husband, I really don't care where it happens. I'm sorry Inara can't be here, though."

Kaylee nearly jumped with an idea. "I know, I know! We can set up a portable wave so she can see it for real."

Mal thought it over and said, "A wave that will last as long as that? Hell, the Three Hills' government would be the least of our problems. Alliance would snatch that up in a heartbeat. We've got security measures in Serenity for long waves but not for something they'd cook up around here."

Kaylee kept on. "Well...let's have the wedding on Serenity."

The idea was astoundingly accepted from the look of glee on all, but Jayne's, faces.

"Yeah," Wash added, "I can hook the feed to the main cortex and I could buffer some transponders to extend the time it goes under the radar. That's excellent, Kaylee."

"And right fitting, too," Zoe reflected. "After all, it was Serenity who brought us together."

"Did I say excellent?" Wash asked. "What I meant to say was perfect."

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