Till Death Do Us Part

Chapter 4: Wedding Blister

Upon hearing the Serenity crew's new plans for the wedding, Doc Flynn and the town of Arcadia was overcome with joy. Things around Arcadia were depressing enough as it was, and a wedding would do good to allow cheer back into the town for a spell. Zoe and Wash didn't mind. The number of attendees on Beaumonde were to include only the immediate crew, Inara, and some of her Companion friends.

This event also gave the town a chance to shine on supplying the food for the reception. The food quality wasn't going to be on the same level that Inara was providing, but only Zoe and Wash were the only ones not complaining about that. Kaylee, to no one's surprise volunteered for decoration duty.

"Just so we don't see not a one painted flower," was Mal's only condition to her.

Wash had started the set up of a cortex outlet in the hangar of Serenity for a secure extended wave to allow Inara see the festivities live. Since Zoe had been ordered by Doc Flynn to be bedridden at least a few days, Wash spent the first day with Zoe before starting on the added wave the next day. Zoe, however, still felt helpless and a little guilty that all of this was being rearranged because of her. To assure her that it was not to be faulted by anyone, Wash made sure that on every hour he worked on the wave, he stopped for a break to check on his fiancé.

Jayne showed no interest in helping with anything so he spent the days and nights in the throes of Hattie's passion. Mal let him be but intended to use him the day of to help with chairs and for the hangar's conversion into an altar.

After the day of rest, Zoe escaped her bed and began to start walking around ever so slowly. The wound itself mended well thanks to Doc, but pain was still there and it multiplied when she walked. Doc had offered her a cane to use but she wouldn't hear of it. Wash was present when she took her first steps post surgery. As soon as she refused the physical support of the cane, Doc turned to Wash and remarked, "Strong-willed, this one. You're gonna have your hands full."

Wash shot back in a heartbeat, "On Saturday night, I certainly do hope so."

After a few hours of practicing to walk with Wash helping her as she went, Zoe began walking normal again with minimal pain. She then requested that she had to get to her bunk and fetch something. Wash had quickly said he would go with her, but she actually refused for him to join her. She requested Kaylee. Not one to go against his fiancee's insistence, despite his confusion, he called for Kaylee. As Kaylee walked with Zoe side by side heading toward Serenity, she asked while making sure Wash was well outside of earshot, "Time to try on the wedding dress?"

"That'd be an affirmative."

Sooner than they imagined, the day of the event came. Jayne was, in fact, persuaded to help with getting a tarp up on either side of the hangar to hide supply crates and other things the crew wanted unseen. Kaylee went to work on the decorative tinsel and paper-mache flowers she had made the previous day. The chairs were set up toward the back of the hangar and a small podium was provided by the town folk for the newly titled Shepherd Flynn.

And on that Saturday's mid-afternoon, Zoe and Wash's wedding finally took place at an alternate location. There was a crowd of about twenty townsfolk, the crew of Serenity, and Inara watching from several planets away who witnessed the ceremony.

With none other whom Zoe would choose, Mal walked her down the aisle. Mal knew that he was the closest thing to a father she would ever have, regardless of their similar ages. As he strolled her down the aisle, the crowd was astounded by her dress. It wasn't the usual wide wedding dress with extravagant ribbons and fringe. Instead, it was a single form-fitting solid white gown that had held a decorative laced look. It was perfect for her tall figure and it also acted as camouflage for her side bandages. She still walked with a slight limp going down the aisle, but it was a mighty wide improvement from two days ago. With all the people present knowing what Zoe had been through in the past few days, they were all surprised at the strength and courage she had shown after her surgery.

All, that is, except Mal.

Mal had known Zoe since before the war when they went through the Independent Army together. Even then she was a no frills, no bull type of woman. During the years as a soldier she became more and more loyal not only to Mal, but to any ordering commander in any given unit. She did exactly as told without question. She also took loss well, judging from her attitude after the war and witnessing the horrible deaths of her fellow Browncoats. She saw death as a way of life and she moved on. Even as a member of his own crew, Zoe did what was asked of her even if she was opposed to it. And never once did Zoe ask for anything in return.

That all changed after Mal hired a big shot pilot named Hoban.

At first, Zoe didn't take to Wash's loose take on Life from his quirky sense of humor to his choice in ancient Hawaiian attire. Over the next several months, Wash's attitude seeped into the other crew's psyche, save for Jayne. Even Kaylee first took a shine to Wash's fancies, but after seeing who he was really interested in, she held her relationship with Wash at the best friend stage. It was soon evident that Wash and Zoe were starting to get serious and Mal started to get frustrated. Despite Inara's assumption, Mal wasn't oblivious about Zoe and Wash's growing relationship. On several jobs he caught the two of them stealing his thievery time with kissing fits. For the first time, Zoe had displayed hesitancy whenever the crew entered a dangerous situation. Mal had always thought that personal relations on the same crew had no place on a boat. It was too easy to be compromised into doing things not normally in character. Yet, despite all of Mal's qualms about Zoe and Wash's growing connection, he allowed it for one simple reason.

His second in command was so deserving. After all the years of her taking from, she finally had the chance to give back.

As they approached closer to the altar, he saw an uncharacteristic nervous Wash in his best attire, which was saying something. He looked like a totally different person without his usual technicolor shirts on him. They reached the altar as Shepherd Flynn moved from behind the podium and stood in front of the three of them. Wash had positioned the wave screen perfectly aside to the right so Inara could enjoy a wide view. Inside the image was the Companion at the beginning stages of tearing up.

Mal let go of Zoe's arm to allow Wash to take it, and Mal sat in an empty chair in the front row nearby Kaylee and Jayne. Kaylee was also in the process of tears while Jayne looked like a man who was plotting ways of escape. Mal sat and watched the couple stand side by side and wondered if he had passed the Zoe loyalty torch from himself to her new husband.

Shepherd Flynn started the ritual and Mal listened with great attention. As Mal heard the words the Shepherd was spewing, he found some old sayings of the ancient ritual rather curious.

The crowd was asked that if anyone present objects to the union of these two people, speak now or forever hold their peace. Mal could think of plenty of folk whom they made enemies of in the 'Verse who, if they had been present, wouldn't have no peace to speak of with this union. It suddenly hit Mal that this detour of location may have been for the best. On Beaumonde, there would be enemies abound whom they pissed off in the past. Here on Arcadia, Three Hills, there were friends. And there was his crew, or as he sometimes referred to them as family. Of course, as enemies go, Mal thought it strange that word of their daring escape from commandos playing with their new toys that his own crew supplied did not reach into Arcadia. Also surprising was the fact that the commando team had not made any appearance here yet. He paid it no mind and focused his attention back to Shepherd's words.

The time for the vows to be shared came and another phrase caught Mal to ponder.

Till death do you part.

It made Mal ask himself, what was it that he would be joined with until his own death? He took a quick moment to gaze upward into the hangar of Serenity. He remembered the day when that salesman took him reluctantly into this very same hangar as if it were yesterday. He thought then that this ship could be the answer to his passion for flying in the black. Then the words of the then Doc Flynn came back to him.

The heart needs warmth and tender care.

Whether he knew by instinct or on purpose, Mal's eyes strayed toward the image on the wave from Beaumonde. Almost feeling the weight of sight, the pair of eyes in the wave flicked back at his own. Hers did not have time to bore themselves into his for too long. Mal's eyes quickly took another path straight ahead to witness the final pronouncement.

It was a total reverse of character in the couple's promise to each other. While Wash's "I do" was said with a grand determination, Zoe's was said with nervous glee. Shepherd had the couple turn towards the witnesses and then proclaimed, "May I pronounce to you, Zoe and Hoban Washburn."

As the cheering began, and Kaylee going mad with joy, Mal could only cringe at his second's new name.

Zoe Washburn.

The reception after was joyous enough since it had been relocated to the outside of Serenity. The foods were made up of basic meats and breads. There were vegetables and fruits available but their growth hadn't been much with such dry soil. The wine wasn't too fresh but it held its purpose. The Washburns were appreciative of the towns' gesture nonetheless.

Mal finally waded through the receiving line to congrat the new couple.

He was greeted with a "Thank you, sir." and a bear hug from Zoe.

Mal shot back, "Just so you know, this don't change nothing on the boat. I don't want you to be obeying only your husband's needs."

"Trust me, Mal, her needs for me have so much not to do with you. But, come on, confess. You shed a little tear during the ceremony, didn't you? Yeah, you did."

"Wash," Mal stated plainly, "the both of us could be tortured near death, and that information will never leave my lips."

They spent the next hour or so enjoying the festivities as the congrats spread through the settlement. At one point, Mal watched as Zoe and Wash danced for the first time as husband and wife while the fiddler played on. Jayne took this moment to come up to Mal and he looked anxious.

"You ready to help me take the tarp off?"

Mal eyed him with curiosity. "It can't wait till morning?"

"Eh, I'm kinda bored."

"Hattie not enough for you?"

Jayne gave a look of embarrassment. "She...kinda moved on."

"To another? I'm shocked. And that there lies the difference between Hattie the Whore and Inara the Companion."

"Well, I don't mind as much. I ain't gonna be hitching to one broad anytime soon."

Mal chuckled. "Nor I, my friend. There is something to be said about two people so devoted to each other that they're flexible to change. I 'spect the two of them were kinda wishing they had all this back on lovely Beaumonde."

Jayne saw through Mal's martyring ways and assured him. "That deal with them freedom fighters weren't your fault, Mal. How was you to know?"

"You did warn me."

"A lesson for you to trust me more often."

"I suppose. There's another lesson to be learned here."

"What's that?"

"We ain't smuggling no firearms anymore. And sure as gorram hell not ones that we're going to be shot at with later."

"There's plenty more things to haul for the good of coin," Jayne reflected.

"That there is. I'm hoping Badger lives up to more this time."

"That hwoon dahn. The danger he puts us in ain't worth the puny coin he gives us. He's the one you shouldn't trust."

A moment went by silently and Mal said, "There's plenty of time to talk about it later." Mal shot down the last of his wine and cried, "I'm a bit bored too. Let's get that tarp down."

While the rest of the party was winding down, Mal and Jayne took busy into reverting Serenity's innards back into a hangar. They were almost finished when the newlyweds entered. And for the first time, Mal had witnessed not only his pilot but also his second-in-command inebriated. Both were giddy as clams and doing double time helping each other up. They greeted Mal with wine-besotted breath.

"Hey, there ole Captain," Wash slurred.

"Hey, he's my Captain, too," Zoe followed.

"He's mine, too"

"No, he's not."

"Yesh, she is"

"OK! Stop!" Mal demanded. "That's about enough of that lest the bad wine in my stomach comes back for a quick exit. It's beginning to get dark. Ain't you two got a honeymoon to start?"

Wash exclaimed, "Ohhhhh, yeah. We have lots o' things planned. We're aiming to–"

"How 'bout we not hear what your planning to aim," Jayne quickly cut in.

"Ooooh, I do believe that man is jealous," cried Zoe.

"You're calling that a man?" After that remark, the hysterical laughter by the newly crowned Washburns couldn't be stopped.

Kaylee entered the ramp at that moment with a wad of tinsel and paper flowers she made. She saw the couple in hysterics and observed, "Wow. The newlyweds are happy."

"You betcha," this ejected from Wash.

Kaylee looked to Mal. "Effects of the wine?"

Before Mal could reply, Zoe blurted, "Nope, it's wedding bliss."

Jayne grunted, "More like a wedding blister."

Mal looked at the bundle in Kaylee's arms. "You plan on keepin' all of that?"

"It might look good in my bunk."

"Bunk, yes. Engine room...well, let's just say that if I see one piece of tinsel in there, it's going to have a nice feel for zero gravity."

"You can't be serious. It's just harmless decoration."

"I'm all kinds of serious."

Amidst their jesting moods, they had barely noticed the three men in various shapes approaching the end of the ramp. They stood in even spacing effectively blocking the exit. They were standing for a full minute before Mal caught sight of them.

"May I help you gents?" Mal asked.

Wash finally noticed the men and blurted, "Look honey, more people to wish ush well."

"Not quite," said the husky man on the right. He grew a scruffy black beard over many years and wore the same tattered and dirty clothing as his comrades. Mal now noticed them not from the wedding but from seeing them about around the town.

"So what did you need?" Mal asked kindly as he reached for his pistol.

The husky man quickly reached behind his back to reveal a sawed off shotgun and he pointed it at Mal. The other three in turn pulled out their pistols and held them pointed at the rest of the crew. "Don't even think about it," said the bigger man.

Mal quickly put his hands up as the rest of the crew were shocked. Only Mal had been equipped with a weapon. Jayne was disappointed that he left his trusty hunter knife on the counter while he was helping Mal take the tarp down.

A pause of silence came before Wash finally complained at his wife. "See! Not married to you half a day and already I'm at gunpoint."

"Just be glad I'm not the one holding the trigger, hubby."

"Ohh, but I'm soo in love with danger, wifey-poo."

Mal took his turn to add, "If those are your new names for each other, I'm gonna shoot you."

"Enough!" yelled the big man.

"Can you at least tell us what this is all about," Mal asked while taking his hands down. He knew he was fast with the gunslingin' but not all three without them starting to fire themselves.

The husky man spoke. "You the folks in that firefight few days ago with our gov'ment."

Mal turned blase and said, "Oh, that. Well, big misunderstanding."

"Yeah? What you misunderstand is one of them was my brother. And you kilt him!"

"And I am expressin' all sorts of apologizin' for that. You do know they shot first."

"Don't matter. It was my brother you kilt."

"Ain't that a shame," Jayne casually offered.

Mal questioned, "How is it you figured it was us?"

The man waved the gun over to his right and said, "Barty, here, overheard you talking 'bout smuggling guns. I searched and found that a crew of five escaped in a decript Firefly."

Kaylee defended, "She's not decrepit!"

Jayne asked her, "You understood that?"

The man ignored their comment and said, "There's a reward for you all."

Jayne perked up. "Really? How much we fetchin'?"

"What's it to you?"

"Just wanting to know our value, is all."

"A hundred," the blonde in the middle supplied.

"A hundred? For all?" Jayne yelled.

"Suddenly, I don't feel worthy," Wash replied.

His new wife gave him assurance. "You're worth tons more to me, dear."

Wash turned dreamy and looked at Mal. "You hear that? She said dear."

The husky man corrected, "A hundred each."

Jayne said, "Now, that's better."

Mal got back to addressing the men and stated, "So, now your plan is to turn us all in for your handsome reward."

"You're almost right," said the big man. "We plan to take these others in."

"Great," Wash said, "so much for our honeymoon."

Mal ignored the quip and asked the so called leader, "You're not turning me in?"

"Oh, no. My plans for you is to show you the same respect you gave my brother."

Mal replied calmly, "Oh, well in that case a candlelight dinner beforehand would be nice because we all got screwed over by your brother and his commandos."

"Shut up! My brother ain't done no wrong! You folks is thieves! That's wrong in my book."

Jayne shot back, "Maybe your book needs to be rewrit."

"Shut up! Now, I want the four of you over on this side while I show your Captain the same treatin he showed my brother."

The sound of a gunshot echoed in the hangar. Mal and his crew jumped. Mal looked down at his painless, untouched chest and then looked back at their leader. He was sprawled on the metal grating in agony holding his leg. With confusion all around, all present looked for the shooter. Coming up the ramp and holding a small silver ancient pistol was Shepherd Doc Flynn. Seeing who shot their leader, the other two gents took off and fled.

Doc came up to the husky man and bent down to examine the wound he inflicted. He proceeded to say, "Eh, it went straight through. Nothing but a scratch. I can fix you up tonight and you'll be fine in the morning, Rodrick."

"But...my brother!"

Doc scoffed. "You and your brother had been at each others throats since birth. You've never had a loving bone for your brother. You're just mad now because he's dead."

"But, they kilt him."

"Way I heard it, it was self-defense. Your brother knew the stakes at what he was getting into when he volunteered."

"They can't get away with this. They're thieves."

"No son," Doc calmly replied as he looked at Mal, "they're survivors. That takes a mite more courage in this 'Verse than petty thievery."

By this time, a crowd of people appeared at the bottom of the ramp at the reaction to the gunshot. Doc looked into the crowd and focused on a rather attractive teenage girl with the reddest color of hair and he spoke to her. "Fiona, get your brother to help you get Rodrick to my office. Prep him up so I can tend to his wound tonight. I would suggest using twice the amount of anesthesia. That'll help his wound and shut him up at the same time."

The Doc turned back to Mal and his crew and was about to say something until Mal spoke first. "Kinda powerful gun for a Shepherd."

Jayne added, "And a Doctor."

Doc Flynn smiled as he holstered back his gun and stated, "Jack of all trades..."

"But master of none," Mal finished.

Wash looked on the scene and asked, "So that's it?"

Doc answered, "Not quite. Rodrick was right. I checked and there is a bounty for your crew. All from our gorram government's goons."

Wash snickered, "Heh. Say that ten times fast."

Doc acknowledged the quip with another smile and added, "More than likely, Barty and Jess will bring the governments' attention here and they will be scouring about by morning."

Zoe added in, "Guess there goes my weeks of rest."

Doc quickly assured, "You'll be all right if you take it easy for at least a week. You can still rest easy in the black. Which I'm sure your crew is used to?"

Mal answered for his crew, "That is our ultimate goal."

Doc nodded. "Just so you keep flying, eh?"

"Something like that," Mal answered, noticing the fringe of jealousy in the Doc's face. Mal went on. "Well, the less time for lingering is more time to scatter. We've got things to do before flight time."

Wash took that moment to shout out, "Yesss...I'm going to flyyy!"

Mal stated, "Sobering up my pilot being just one."

Mal started delegating duties for pre-flight. The mission he gave to Zoe was to coffee Wash up and let him sleep the effects off for a handful of hours. Serenity had enough problems without a drunk piloting her helm. The crew set off on their duties but Zoe stayed for a bit. She stood in front of Doc Flynn.

"I don't know which to thank you for first. You patching me or marrying me."

Doc smiled wide and replied, "You brought joy back into this town for a spell. I can't think of a better payment. And I wish you both great happiness and luck."

"Could do with a lot of both. Bye, Doc...or Shepherd."

"Randall is fine."

Zoe gave him a small salute and then followed her husband into the kitchen to force down multi pots of strong coffee. As Wash stumbled with her, he kept trying to repeat, "Gorram government's goons. Gorram government's goons."

After she left, he noticed that Doc had been watching her leave and then let his eyes wander along the insides of the hangar. Mal saw in the elder man's face a strange combination of awe and wonderment with just a dash of regret.

Mal finally asked him, "Doc...you okay?"

As if awakened from a pleasant dream, Doc looked back at Mal with a bit of embarrassment. "Sorry. Just a little jealous of you."

"Jealous? Of us?"

"Oh yes." Doc took a pause and stated, "I hope you know what it is you have here."

Mal smiled and replied, "I believe I do." Mal saw through to his hidden wish and then tried to form the question to not let Doc know it. "You know, the kind of work we do, there's gonna be plenty more injuries. We could use a Doctor on board."

Doc shot back, "Or a Shepherd for the next wedding?"

That took Mal back some at the very thought of any other combination of his crew getting married. "Oh, that'd be a whole batch of Nevers."

Doc laughed and answered, "Yeah, well, if you had asked me fifty years ago I'd be signed up in a heartbeat." He breathed a deep sigh. "But...if I had, I would have never become a Shepherd or a Doctor. And most of all, I would have never met my Aggie. I've had enough adventures for seventy years. You already have your hands full without an old geezer tagging along. No, you need a much younger doctor. There are some genius doctors on Ariel, but I suspect you won't be calling on that area for a doctor."

"I doubt any of those doctors would enjoy a life like ours. Especially the part of not being paid handsomely," Mal added.

Doc nodded and then changed subjects, though one that Mal didn't like to divulge in.

"So, you don't see yourself as the marrying type, eh?"

Mal answered with looking up and all around the hangar, "Some people would say I am already married."

"Yes, but, I saw how you looked at her," said Doc quietly.

"Look, Doc, it's already been brought to my attention this week that I'm in love with a ship."

Doc smiled wide and corrected, "I wasn't talking about the ship." Mal's face was full of confusion and Doc went on by observing, "That woman on the wave...the one who watched from Beaumonde."

"Inara?"

"Mighty striking woman."

"Oh, she strikes hard all right. She's also just a business partner."

Doc took another long sigh and smirked at Mal while seemingly trying to see through him. He finally suggested, "She doesn't have to be."

Mal found no words to offer back to that remark. Doc was starting to leave but added just before to remind Mal. "Just remember...warmth and tender care." Doc offered his hand to shake and Mal took his in his own hand and Doc said, "Captain Malcolm Reynolds, it has been a pleasure."

"The pleasure was all ours, Doctor and Shepherd Randall Flynn."

The Doc finally turned and walked himself down the ramp of Serenity to tend to yet another injury. Effectively, he left Mal to stew in his own thoughts for a while. Mal's mind was a place he did not like to linger in for long. He then smiled and looked around Serenity with the same affection he showed her on that first day he ever set eyes on her. As he approached the controls to close the ramp, his arm once again thoughtlessly stretched out to caress the walls of the Aught 3 Firefly. He flipped the switch to close the ramp and he watched Doc walk away into the dying sunlight.

Mal uttered to himself, "Till death do us part."


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