Chapter 24

"Hey what ya'll doin in there?" Mal called through the door of Inara's old shuttle. It had been five months since they had left Draco and Inara behind and as far as Mal knew no one had set foot in the shuttle since then. But the sounds of giggling had drawn him to the door of the shuttle one afternoon.

"Hello? River, Kaylee what ya'll doin in there?" He called again and began to open the door.

The shuttle door however was promptly slammed shut in his face before it'd even been opened an inch.

"Ow hey ya got me with the door!" Mal yelled sticking his throbbing finger in his mouth.

"Sorry ai-ren but you can't come in here, go away." River said lovingly.

"What are ya'll doin in there?" Mal asked with his finger still in his mouth.

"Wedding things. Now go away and don't let Simon come in either." Kaylee called sternly.

Mal sighed and headed towards the infirmary.

"Ya know yer fiancé is just as crazy as yer sister is." Mal grumbled and hopped up on the exam table.

"What happened?" Simon asked.

"They're in Inara's shuttle doin 'weddin things' and they slammed the door on me when I tried ta go in. Look at my finger they slammed it in the gorram door!" Mal whined.

"Ya tried ta go in the shuttle? While they's was doin weddin stuff. Damn Cap'n I thought you were smarter than that." Jayne laughed as he walked by the infirmary having overheard the conversation.

"Well how was I supposed ta know they was doin weddin stuff in there?" Mal complained again.

"Alright let me see your finger." Simon said interrupting the rant that he knew was about to come from Mal.

"Well I think you'll live its not broken, maybe go up to the galley and get some ice to put on it." Simon instructed after examining Mal's smashed finger.

"It's been five months how long does it take ta plan a weddin?" Mal asked irritably.

"As long as it needs to until they think it's perfect." Simon said with a shrug. He'd given up the notion of having influence in the wedding months ago. He figured it would be easier to let Kaylee plan it and he'd just show up for the big day. If she wanted his opinion about things she came to him and Simon figured she'd plan it better than he ever could anyway.

Mal didn't reply but grumbled as he walked to the galley to get ice for his finger.

"I'm sorry I smashed your finger ai-ren." River said later that night as she and Mal climbed into bed together. She reached over and placed a gentle kiss on his bruised appendage.

"It's ok. Guess I shoulda known better than ta barge in without knocking." Mal answered and pulled River tightly against him so that he could rest his chin on the top of her head.

"What do you think of Vega?" River asked suddenly.

"Only been once. Nice moon, real pretty. Why?" Mal asked and then yawned loudly.

"That's where I want the wedding to be. In a month." River added.

Mal sat up and looked at River in shock.

"A month but ain't that kinda soon?" He asked.

"But just today you were complaining that we've been planning the weddings for too long." River replied sounding confused.

"Well you weren't supposed ta read that, I was just tellin Simon that it seems like you been plannin this for awhile. I just wasn't expectin it ta happen so soon." Mal explained.

"It will be autumn in a month on Vega. I always wanted to get married in the fall. But if it is too soon then we don't have to do it in a month." River said softly.

"Hell no. You wanna get married in the fall then that's what we're gonna do. Plus once we're married all the wedding planning goes away and I won't get anymore doors slammed in my face." Mal replied and tickled River's side making her giggle.

"Then no more jobs until after the wedding." River ordered.

"Why not?"

"Because we are getting married in one month and if you go on a job there is a high probability that you will get shot, stabbed, or otherwise injured. So until after the wedding I think we should forego any jobs. We still have plenty of funds from the Draco trip and the pigs we transported two months ago."

"Hey we agreed to never ever again talk about the pigs remember?" Mal said suddenly.

"Mal just because you got beaten up by a pig does not make you any less of a man."

"I did not get beaten up by a pig! I was distracted and the gorram thing bit my leg and knocked me down, end of story." Mal defended.

"Alright ai-ren you did not get beaten up by a pig." River placated patting Mal's chest and giving him a teasing smile.

"Woman you are gonna be the death a me." Mal sighed and leaned over to kiss her lightly.

Mal couldn't believe that a month could pass so quickly. But before he could believe it he was standing in a small room in a wedding chapel straightening his tie. Simon stood next to him nervously doing the same thing.

The girls had decided to have a double wedding ceremony; mainly because they figured that since both couples were getting married they could save money by having one ceremony for both.

Jayne sat in a chair watching the two grooms nervously pace the small room.

"Ya'll are makin me dizzy walkin around like that, maybe ya could sit down for a bit." Jayne said gruffly.

Mal and Simon both stopped and stared at Jayne, neither of them realizing they had been pacing. Both the men sat down heavily in chairs next to Jayne, it was silent in the room except for the constant tapping of Mal's foot against the floor as he nervously bounced his leg. The sound seemed to pound into Jayne's brain like a jack hammer.

"Alright somebody's gotta talk or something cause ya both are driven me feng-le." Jayne remarked when he couldn't stand the tapping any longer.

"Well why don't you talk about something?" Simon asked.

"Like what?" Jayne replied.

"How bout you tell us how long you and Zoe are plannin' ta hide the fact that you two been sexin each other up?" Mal blurted.

"What? We ain't- Me and Zoe?" Jayne stuttered.

"Please I saw ya'll makin out six months ago on Draco. Plus Simon and Kaylee have both seen ya doin it in the engine room." Mal said and started laughing. He was so happy he'd brought this up. It was a great distraction from his wedding jitters.

"Look Zo don't want no one ta know." Jayne finally conceded.

"Haven't ya'll been goin at it for over a year now?" Mal asked.

"Yeah bout fourteen months." Jayne admitted.

"That's a long time. Didn't think you'd be a man who'd stay with one woman for that long. Or is she lettin ya see whores on the side?" Mal asked.

"Hey it ain't like that. Me and Zo. She's my friend ya know?" Jayne said lamely trying to describe the extremely complicated relationship he had with Mal's first mate.

"Jayne kinda seems like you have feelings for Zoe, I mean real ones not just ones concernin sex." Mal observed and Simon nodded in agreement.

"Hell wouldn't matter even if I do. She don't want me, not really, she just needs someone ta keep from bein lonely s'all." Jayne explained, he was trying to sound casual but Mal could tell that he was actually bothered by the conversation.

"Have you asked her if she wants more or if she's simply using you for a sexual relationship?" Simon asked.

"Nah. Me and her don't really talk, least not about stuff like that. Look can we just drop the whole me and Zoe thing? You all are the ones gettin married shouldn't we be talkin bout you?" Jayne asked.

Zoe sat in the bridal suite and watched as River and Kaylee finished getting ready. She couldn't help but feel a little sad when she remembered her and Wash's wedding day. They hadn't had a large ceremony, they'd simply had a justice of the peace marry them on a small moon right after a drop. She hadn't even worn a wedding dress. Looking at River and Kaylee dressed so beautifully made her wish she had. She felt uncomfortable when her thoughts suddenly turned to Jayne.

"So are you both ready for this?" Zoe asked trying to pull her mind away from Jayne and all of the confusion that surrounded their relationship.

"Almost, just gotta get my veil." Kaylee replied and headed to the other room to retrieve the veil.

"He is confused about you as well." River said suddenly looking at Zoe in the mirror.

"You reading me River?" Zoe asked slightly annoyed.

"Your thoughts about Jayne are very loud, impossible for me not to overhear them." River answered. "He wants more from you, but he believes you're just using him for sexual favors."

"After a year? Maybe after first it was just about sex, but he can't think that's all I want him for now." Zoe replied disbelieving.

"Jayne has never felt these things before, he's scared and confused. He believes there is no room in your heart for anyone but Wash."

Zoe was silent after this, completely blown away by the things River was telling her. She had just assumed Jayne was happy to have a steady screw and someone to talk weapons with, she had never imagined he could have real feelings for her.

Kaylee slipped back into the room then, her veil sitting prettily atop her head. There was a sudden knock on the door and the shepherd's wife informed them that it was time for the ceremony to begin. Zoe gave each woman a smile and hug before heading out to the chapel to sit with Jayne, they would be the only witnesses at the ceremony. Kaylee's family had been unable to afford the trip, but were going to throw the newlyweds a large party and belated honeymoon once Serenity was able to get to their moon.

Zoe took her seat next to Jayne and slipped her hand into his. Jayne gave her a surprised look but squeezed her hand and smiled warmly.

Mal's heart seemed to stop for a second when the wedding march began to play and River appeared at the end of the aisle. Her dress was a simple flowing gown of sheer white material. It clung to every curve she had and emphasized her delicate dancer's figure.

He pulled his eyes away from River only long enough to glance over at Kaylee. His heart seemed to stop in an entirely different fashion when he looked at the girl who was the closest thing to a little sister he'd ever had. His mei-mei looked every bit as beautiful as River did, in her own unique way. Her dress was full and frilly, although nowhere near as frilly as the one she'd worn to the ball he'd taken her to. Both women wore matching smiles of happiness and nerves and Mal imagined that he and Simon had similar expressions on their faces as well.

The main part of the ceremony was almost completely a blur to Mal, he couldn't seem to concentrate on anything besides how beautiful River looked. He was aware enough to answer, "I do," when asked and to kiss the bride at the end.

After the ceremony they had a small party in a field behind the church. The place was located on the foothills of a mountain and Mal realized that River had made a perfect selection for the location of their wedding. Being autumn all of the trees growing up the mountain were colored in shades of red and gold, yet it was still early enough that there were wild flowers growing in the field around them.

The crew celebrated well into the evening; dancing, eating, and laughing. It was while the sun was going down that Mal realized he hadn't seen River in nearly twenty minutes. He glanced around quickly, feeling the familiar twinge of panic he always felt when he couldn't locate her. The panic quickly subsided when he spied her standing about a hundred yards away at the beginning of the tree line, her back to the party.

Mal approached her and wrapped his arms around her from behind. He breathed in the clean scent of her hair and thought for what felt like the millionth time how lucky he was to have her.

River sighed and leaned back into Mal.

"Whatcha doin way out here by yerself love? The parties back that a way." Mal asked.

River didn't answer right away she continued to stare off into the trees in front of her.

"You alright bao-bei?" He asked when she didn't answer.

"Just trying to work up the nerve." She whispered.

"Nerve ta do what?"

"To go in there." River answered and nodded her head towards the woods in front of them. "It seems so silly to be afraid of a place. It wasn't the forest's fault."

Mal was surprised that River would bring this up today. She hadn't even mentioned the rape for months and had only had two or three nightmares in the last half a year.

"I think you have a pretty damn good reason for feeling dodgy about forests, brings up a load a painful memories I'm sure." Mal sympathized.

"Makes me afraid every time I look at the trees." She whispered.

"Well then let's go back to the party and stop lookin at the trees." Mal suggested.

"Don't want to be afraid anymore. I don't want it to control me. Will you go with me?" She asked with only a slight tremble in her voice.

"Darlin I'm yers forever now. I'll go anywhere with ya." Mal assured her and pulled her around to kiss her deeply.

He pulled away from the kiss a minute later and held out his hand. River gave him a brave smile and clasped his hand. Together the two of them turned and ducked under the branches of the trees and began their walk through the forest.

Mal remembered back to what seemed like a million years ago when River and Simon had first come on board. Inara had told Simon that they were all lost in the woods, but that Mal was the only one who liked it like that. He knew now that Inara had been wrong, he hadn't enjoyed being lost in the woods at all, he had just never thought that anyone would be there to help him find his way. Glancing sideways at River in the golden light of sunset Mal realized that is what she'd done for him, she'd shown him his way out of the forest.

End

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So that's it for this story, it became much much longer than I originally planned. I hope ya'll enjoyed it and thank you so much to everyone who reviewed. I'm planning on writing a sequel to this and yes I believe Inara will make a come back. It may be a bit though, I need a break after this one.

Also thanks to everyone who congratulated me on the engagement!