Best Laid Plans
Part XII—The Ceremony
Disclaimer: I own nothing here.
Summary: Simon and Kaylee finally tie the knot, after several interesting discussions take place.
"Captain, uhm. . . Mal, could I speak with you a moment?" Simon asked, standing in the doorway to the bridge.
"Somethin' else wrong with Jayne?" Mal asked quickly.
"No... no, it's.. .Jayne's doing well enough." Simon shuffled his feet nervously.
Mal watched him, mildly curious. "Then, what is it, Simon?"
"I know we're often at odds, especially where River is concerned, but you're the closest thing I have to a.. .well, what I mean to say is, I'd like you to be my best man." Simon finished the last part in one long rush of air.
Surprised and honored, Mal asked, "Ya' want me to stand with ya'?"
Simon blushed. "I do, if you'd consent."
Mal rose and extended his hand. "It would be a privilege."
Relieved that Mal had accepted, Simon asked, "How long before we get to Harvest?"
Mal laughed. "We're an hour closer than we were the last time you asked. Assuming nobody's shifted the orbit of the world, we'll be there by mid-afternoon."
Simon nodded distractedly, and headed back to check on Jayne again.
"Is it very different after ya' get hitched?" Kaylee asked River, her voice floating out from beneath Serenity's engine.
River mulled over the question. "Yes and no," she finally answered.
Kaylee laughed. "Well, I'm glad we got that cleared up."
River defended her answer. "It's just that some things are the same, the physical things maybe, like how your heart beats faster when he's in the room, or how your stride matches his when you walk together. Other things are different, harder to define. Like how you stop thinking as yourself and everything is all mixed together, so you're not sure where you end and he starts. And then it doesn't even matter anymore. It just is."
Kaylee slid out from under the engine to look at River closely. "That was beautiful, what you just said." She grinned mischievously. "And the sexin', does that change?"
River blushed, and replied properly, "I'm absolutely positive Mal wouldn't want me to answer that." Then, she giggled. "Not that the answer wouldn't be gorram complimentary, mind you."
Both young women burst into merry laughter, enjoying for the moment the simple pleasure of friendship.
Mal and Zoe were repairing the locking mechanism on one of the storage units in the cargo bay. The job would have normally fallen to Jayne, but Zoe was more than capable of handling it.
"I think it's a real good thing that Inara's gonna go see a professional counselor," Mal said, unscrewing the faceplate and handing it to Zoe.
"Yes sir, I expect it is," Zoe replied impassively.
Mal's voice took on a more intimate tone he rarely used with his first mate. Making eye contact with her, he said, "Wondered how you might be feelin' about everything. Thought maybe it'd been a mite unsettlin' for you."
Zoe sighed, gazing at him steadily. "It did lead me down a less than pleasant path of remembrance. But what happened in that camp is dead and gone now. Might not have had a Guild-trained counselor, but I had what I needed." The fierce light in her eyes was acknowledgement of the hours spent between them, day after hellish day, and the strength of the bond that had helped her cope with her own violation at the hands of the hundan guards in the internment camp after the war. It was as close as they'd come in seven years to speaking of the incident again, and as close as they were ever likely to.
"Good to know," Mal said quietly, turning back to the task at hand. The two worked silently until the job was finished.
Inara carefully spooned the broth into Jayne's mouth.
"Gorram it, woman. That's too hot!" Javne tried for a yell, but came up short because of his breathing difficulty.
"Well, maybe you should blow on it instead of gulping it down," Inara answered snappishly.
"You'd ask a man fightin' for breath to blow on his own soup?" Jayne asked plaintively.
Inara laughed, suddenly struck by the sheer absurdity of the situation. She was quite certain that she could not have envisioned this tableau in a million years. Her sitting on Jayne's bed in an old shirt of Mal's and a pair of pants with suspiscious origins spoon-feeding a hired mercenary.
"Ain't nothin' funny about it," Jayne grumbled, unaware of her train of thought.
That sent Inara into a fit of laughter that made her nearly upend the bowl into Jayne's lap. "Okay, okay, you big baby," she sputtered, "I'll blow on it myself."
Jayne nodded, slightly mollified to see her actually do it. Being nursed by Inara weren't exactly the worst thing that had ever happened to him, he thought, as he opened his mouth for the cooled soup.
True to Simon's promise, Serenity arrived on Harvest shortly after noon. This time, to the crew's surprise, there were no Fryes at the docks to greet them. Knowing Jayne could not hope to make it to the Frye's home on foot, Mal and Zoe prepared the mule while Simon and Inara tried to help Jayne out of his bunk. After several stops and starts and some of the most colorful cursing Simon had ever heard, Jayne made it to the cargo bay, paler than Mal was comfortable with and clammy with exertion.
"Sure you're up to this, Jayne?" he asked skeptically.
"Well," Jayne gasped , "I sure as go se ain't climbing back down into that bunk now."
Seeing his point, everyone watched as Jayne slowly lowered himself into the mule. "And Zoe's drivin'," he ordered. "Don't need to be rolled around more'n necessary."
Zoe climbed into the mule beside him with no argument. Simon held out his hand to help Kaylee scramble in, and motioned for Inara to join her. When Inara declined, telling Simon she wouldn't dream of separating him from his intended, River's heart sank. She had hoped to have Mal to herself on the long dusty road, remembering the pleasantness of that walk once before, when he had suggested their own hasty wedding.
As if sensing her thoughts, Mal intervened. "Nara, I don't reckon Simon'll let a woman with broke ribs walk all the way out there while he rides."
"That's exactly right," Simon agreed. Climbing up to kiss Kaylee, he helped Inara settle herself in the mule. "I'll be right behind you, ai ren," he said to Kaylee as the mule roared to life.
"River and I will be along after Serenity is secured, Simon. You don't have to wait for us," Mal said, hoping the sometimes dense doctor would get the point.
"I get it, Mal. I'm going." Simon rolled his eyes.
Mal grinned. "Well, I'd like to think a man could walk with his own wife down a dirt road without an audience sometime."
"Considering what I'm going to do at the end of this particular dirt road, I'd like to think so too," Simon said, leaving the couple to their own devices.
Sometime later, Mal and River arrived at the Frye home, River's lips suspiciously rosy and a slight flush dusting her cheeks. They could see immediately why no one had greeted the crew earlier at the dock. The house was astir with activity. Everyone but Jayne had been pressed into service doing something. An army of women moved in and out of the large kitchen, carrying heaping platters of food to a table set up beside Mrs. Frye's prized rose garden. Men busily set up other tables and chairs, while the large brood of children scampered about, trying to avoid being given jobs by the eagle-eyed Mrs. Frye.
Catching sight of the couple, Mrs. Frye's face broke into a wide, welcoming smile. "Captain and Mrs. Reynolds," she said happily, "Don't you two look the picture!"
Letting go of Mal's hand to embrace the hospitable woman, River was more excited to see her than she had imagined. There was just something so solid about Kaylee's mother, and so completely comforting, she thought happily.
When River finally stepped away to greet others in the crowd, Mrs. Frye squeezed Mal's arm approvingly. "She looks good, Captain. That speaks well of you."
"Thank you, ma'am," Mal said, feeling strangely as if he'd just received a benediction. She nodded, and turned her attention to more urgent matters. "Simon tells me y'all can't even stay the night. Can't say as I like that notion, but I can see your man's in a bad way." She looked sympathetically at Jayne, propped up on pillows in the middle of the chaos with Inara close by. "Still, it looks like he's well tended by his woman."
Shocked by the statement, Mal said, "Inara is definintely not Jayne's woman."
Mrs. Frye looked less than convinced. "If you say so, "she said, shrugging. "Makes no nevermind to me, one way or 'tother. But I am sorry you'll not be stayin' longer." Back on less creepifying ground, Mal answered politely.
Kaylee had dreamed of this moment all her life. Standing there in her parents' rose garden, backlit by a spectacular sunset, she felt her heart might burst with the sheer joy of it. She glanced to her right to see Inara, elegant even in Lucy Ann's old party dress, eyes for the moment soft and happy. She saw Zoe, standing so straight and proud, a slight smile on her full lips. And when she looked to her left, she saw the most beautiful man in the 'verse, standing awkwardly far away so as not to crush her voluminous skirts. Beginning to feel the sting of tears behind her eyes, she saw the Captain, who winked wickedly to break the moment. Thus saved from the embarrassment of bawling through her vows, she turned her attention back to Preacher Johnson.
Simon inched closer to her, trying to avoid the tangle of skirts she wore. He thought she looked like a princess from the tales of Earth-That-Was with the puffy sleeves and huge skirt of her dress, and the big satin bow in her hair. Had anyone ever asked him what his future bride would wear, he would never have imagined such a dress. But seeing Kaylee in it, so free-spirited and warm, he thought it the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen. Almost overwhelmed by the joy of the moment, he spied River, smiling contentedly by Mal's left side, basking in the warmth of the thoughts of' everyone present. He turned his attention back to Preacher Johnson.
Jayne sat in the garden, exhausted with pain, but unwilling to miss Kaylee's moment. That girl's smile could light the 'verse, he thought fondly, as Kaylee recited her vows in her sweet voice. He didn't even feel the need to turn away when the doc planted a chaste kiss on the girl. Mebbe the drugs were makin' him light-headed, he thought by way of an excuse.
As dusk turned to dark and couples took to dancing, Inara, still uneasy among all the strangers, volunteered to help Zoe get Jayne back to Serenity on the mule. Assuring them the rest of the crew would be along soon enough, Mal turned to watch the dancers in the flickering lantern lights.
Kaylee and Simon danced as if they were all alone in the 'verse, totally focused, one on the other. The happiness in Kaylee's eyes put a lump in Mal's own throat for all its beauty. Then, he turned his eyes to River, spinning gracefully in the arms of a young man. Mal admired the way her dress hugged her curves, and remembered the day so long ago on Greenleaf when he'd surprised her with it. Suddenly feeling a powerful need to be the man she danced with, he made his way into the melee.
River, flushed from her exertions, was filled with joy when Mal cut in, giving the disappointed young man a stern look to discourage future dancing. Running his hands lightly down River's sides, he drew her close. "You are the most beautiful woman here," he whispered against her hair. Melting into him, she sighed happily. "You've been deceiving me, ai ren. Who knew you danced so well? We never dance together."
'We dance all the time, darlin'. I just usually prefer my dancin' a little more private- like." His voice rumbled pleasantly in his chest, tickling her breasts. She shivered at the sensation.
"You cold, darlin'?"
River leaned up to catch his earlobe gently between her teeth. "Far from cold, Mr. Reynolds," she whispered, her voice a sultry invitation.
"Maybehaps we'd best finish this dance elsewhere," Mal groaned, brushing his lips lightly along her jawline and behind her ear. Nodding her agreement, she reluctantly peeled her body away from his, and took his hand.
They made their way through the crowd to Simon and Kaylee. "Ship leaves in an hour," Mal said. River squeezed his hand, reminding him of their own plans. "Make that two hours," he amended hastily.
Simon nodded, acknowledging the deadline, as Kaylee swirled him back into the crowd.
Stopping only to express their thanks to Mr. and Mrs. Frye, Mal and River hurried back to Serenity for some of Mal's favorite kind of dancing.
Author's Note: I appreciate everyone who has stayed with this storyline. There are, of course, more stories to tell, but they will have to wait for another time. The next installment will begin immediately after the events described here. Please leave a comment to let me know whether you would like to see more of this storyline! Thanks again!