A/N: Nice to see a fluffy ending going down so well. It had to be done, just as this Epilogue had to be done too. A flashforward to Prom for you all now, and the happily ever after our crew deserves.
(For disclaimer, etc. - see chapter 1)
Epilogue - Greatest Day
It was quite the occasion, with many a smiling face to be seen, and a whole rake of couples just overjoyed to be here with their arms around each other, looking to whatever future they was gonna be havin'. Mal wasn't so much bothered that he was the only one amongst his friends to be stood here alone by the punch bowl. He was happy enough just to see all the folks he held most dear havin' a good time.
Zoe was radiance itself in a shimmering silver affair, far from the tomboy he was used to seein' her as. Wash had even managed to find hismelf a shirt that weren't straight out Hawaii and that seemed to please his woman plenty. Kaylee wore another froofy number that belonged more on a doll than a person, but then Mal's mei mei was sweet and pretty enough she could be made o' china, he reckoned. Simon certainly handled her like she was fragile and special, and yet he weren't quite the fancy gent he had been when he first arrived in Serenity; he surely had changed hangin' round with the likes o' them, but it didn't bother the boy none to be like they was.
Biggest surprise had been Jayne and little River girl. They was maybe the most unlikely couple Mal had ever seen in his life afore now, but he suspected what 'Nara had said to him about the pair was true. Relationships had to have a ying and a yang, twas how Jayne and River fit together, she reckoned, and Mal was inclined to agree she was most like to be right.
"And to think I came over here to ensure you weren't lonely" said Book, suddenly appearing at Mal's side, ever the trustworthy chaperone at a shindig such as this, "I doubt very much my services are required now" he smiled ever wider at the blank look on the younger man's face, "Behind you, son" he said, one hand on his shoulder to encourage him to turn around.
When Mal did look towards the door, he was stunned by the sight that met his eyes. There she was, the very woman he had been thinking of, and the only one he would ever love. How she'd gotten in here, he hadn't an idea, and why she would wanna come back to this place was a mystery, but Inara was here and she was beautiful, in a flowing red gown that took his breath away.
"Mal, if I have actually managed to render you speechless I may die of shock" Inara smiled with amusement as she reached his side and let her hand slide into his.
"Well, ain't you a picture" he breathed, "Most beautiful woman I ever did see, as always" he assured her, and she all but blushed under his gaze, "Weren't expectin' you tonight, that's for gorram sure. Glad you're here just the same though"
"I could hardly miss such an important milestone in your life" she said honestly as she glanced over at the students and teachers already gracing the dancefloor.
Though Kaylee gave a joyful wave and Simon a very real smile at the sight of her, there were glares and whispers aplenty from many more people here tonight. Mal noticed too and immediately went on the defensive.
"We ain't gotta stay here..." he began immediately, making for the door, but Inara would not hear it and certainly would not go.
"Mal, no" she told him firmly, "I am not ashamed of our relationship, I have no reason to be" she said jutting out her chin, "Are you ashamed of me?"
"'Course not, ain't even like that" he said with determination that pleased her, "You wanna stay, we'll stay. Course I reckon that means we'll have to dance and such" he said, lips quirking into a smirk then that made her laugh lightly.
"I suppose we shall" she agreed, only smiling more widely as his arms slipped around her and they began moving along to the music with very other couple there, as if they was normal.
Truth of it was, they were pretty normal these days. He weren't a child no more, if'n he really had been these past months anyhow. Graduation was less than a week away, and then Mal, Jayne, Zoe, and River headed out into the world, with Kaylee, Simon, and Wash set to be Seniors in a few months. Everybody was growing up, moving on, and yet it was no hardship to do so. With friends like family and loves to call their own, not a person amongst the group was worried for their future. Far as they was concerned it was sealed and definite as happy as could be.
"And they all lived happily ever after" said River softly against Jayne's chest as he moved her around in the middle of the floor, the happy vibes from all her friends flowing through her with such a warmth, only out-done by her own feelings of joy at being here like this.
"What you say there, little woman?" asked Jayne as he moved some to see her face.
"Watch and see" she beamed up at him, sure she knew what came next, and her boyfriend didn't doubt that was true, though he hadn't an idea what it was his ownself.
All of a sudden the music died down to nothing, and a teacher appeared on stage with an envelope in her hands. It was the Head of the Art Department who insisted on the students calling her by her first name, Nandi; leading Principal Niska to call her a hippy behind her back. Truth of it was she had more back bone that he would ever have. 'Course what she was most known for was bein' almost as beautiful and friendly as Ms Serra had been...
"Students, fellow teachers, and guests" she smiled, squinting against the misplaced spot-light as she looked out at the crowd before her, "It's time to announce this years Prom King and Queen" she said, words greeted by cheers and applause aplenty.
It was at those words that Jayne's muscles tightened and he felt all kinds o' uncomfortable. River knew what was comin', grinning like a crazy person as she did sometimes. What ever came next was gonna make her all kinds o' happy, but he had this awful feelin' deep inside of him that he wouldn't be quite so impressed.
"Both were very close votes" Nandi explained as she opened up the envelopes and read what was printed on the cards inside, "but in the end, the most popular couple were... River Tam and Jayne Cobb!" she announced, much to the shock of several persons and the joy of a whole bunch of others.
One angry face belonged to Saffron who'd been wanting a crown for her ownself, but nobody paid her no mind anyhow.
Jayne looked suitable amounts of proud and embarrassed as River threw herself up into his arms, happy to be spun in a circle with her feet well above the ground. Sure'n Jayne didn't so much wanna be no poncy Prom King, but this made his woman gorram happy and that was good enough for him. 'Sides meant he was a darn sight more popular than he thought, and that weren't no terrible thing neither. 'Less of course he'd been voted in by folks scared of havin' his woman be Queen with some other fella. Either way, it turned out good.
With their friends following on with grins on all their faces, Jayne and River went up to the stage to collect their crowns. Wash was finding it the hardest not to laugh as he took in the sight of his friend with the ridiculous gold plastic thing settled on his head.
"How's it sit?" Jayne asked his girl who nodded in such a way as to say she approved, whilst her own tiara-style piece was fixed into her hair.
"I think it's the sweetest crown ever" Kaylee giggled.
"Man walks around wearing a crown like that, folks know he's not afraid of anythin'" said Wash definitely, earning himself a smack across the shoulder from Zoe who knew he was being sarcastic and such.
Jayne didn't seem to notice nor mind, as he reached for River's hand and pulled her up close to him once again. She was the most beautiful queen he coulda had, and as the music started up again he told her so.
"This night turned out pretty good, huh?" he said as he held her close.
River's eyes moved around her, from the face of her man and king, to the other three happy couples that contained all friends and family that mattered most.
"As she foretold" she smiled, gazing up at Jayne then, "Happily ever after, as all good stories end" she told him, pushing herself up onto her toes and initiating a kiss that they both melted into.
Yep, it sure seemed like it was gonna end happy after all.
- The End -
A/N2: Many thanx to all those who reviewed any and all chapters of this story. I've had a blast writing it, and to think it all started with a joke and a parody one-shot that wasn't supposed to go any further! I am very grateful for all the support for over 23 chapters - thanx :-)