'Til Death Parts Us

Part VI

Disclaimer: Still don't own 'em…more's the pity.

Rating: PG

Summary: For Marcus and Elizabeth, the moment has arrived, and Mal gives the ceremony his best shot.

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Mal stood looking at his crew and wondering exactly how he had managed to be in the uncomfortable position in which he found himself. He wished fleetingly that his discomfort was merely a result of standing on his own two feet again without the aid of Jayne's crutches for the moment. However, the larger problem of the hour was what might come out of his mouth when he tried to officiate at the wedding.

"Will be just fine," he heard in his mind as surely as if River had said the words aloud. "Just another Captain'y duty to perform."

He looked at her sharply, frowning slightly at her mildly teasing tone at a moment like this. Unrepentant, she gave him a beatific grin and brushed the soft silk of her midnight blue dress with a cat's grace, repairing the slight wrinkle Hannah's hand had left there.

Looking around, Mal realized he was not the only one in distress. Despite her beautiful dress, Anya stood stiffly beside Zoe, looking for all the world like a girl headed to the guillotine. Having overheard the beginnings of the conversation between his best friend and her suddenly wayward daughter about what would be happening after the wedding regarding Anya's punishment for running away, Mal understood the girl's expression perfectly. Zoe was, after all, a fierce woman when crossed. Of course, as Anya seemed to be in possession of a similar stubbornness, Mal could only imagine what life would be like on Serenity for the foreseeable future.

Other than that, however, he had to admit that his crew cleaned up nicely. Simon, dressed in some of the last of his pretty fits from his pre-Serenity life, stood linked arm in arm with Kaylee while Daniel swung on Simon's leg with one elbow hooked loosely around the man's knee. Kaylee wore a smile that lit the place, her hair pulled back in a relaxed heap at her neck. One would never know she'd spent half the night before decorating the hall of the Hit or Miss for the wedding.

Jayne pulled impatiently at the collar of his new shirt, a gift from Inara and altogether too starched for his liking. But Mal had to admit, it did look good on the mercenary, almost respectable in point of fact. Catching Inara's frown, Jayne dropped his hands away from his collar and scowled. Inara slipped her hand from beneath the spray of flowers she held and for just a moment squeezed Jayne's hand. Watching Jayne instantly melt, Mal had to admit there were certain Companion skills quite useful in situations such as this.

Soft music suddenly filled the hall, and Mal straightened his back and took a deep breath. Pierre, looking almost startlingly handsome with his newly repaired face, walked to stand across from Inara. Mal could not help but think what a stunning couple the two would make, though the thought felt traitorous somehow with Jayne standing right there. Apparently, the thought crossed Jayne's mind as well, and he shifted on his feet, subtly moving closer to Inara.

His attention momentarily diverted, Mal turned to see Marcus striding down the aisle. Outwardly none the worse for wear despite his crew's recent prank at his expense, Marcus looked surprisingly calm and collected for a groom. Catching Mal's eye, he smiled as he took his place beside Pierre.

The music abruptly stopped and a half-muttered curse escaped Murdocke's lips as he fumbled briefly to change the tune. For once shooting Marcus a genuinely apologetic look, he breathed a sigh of relief as a new piece of music began to play.

Marcus turned and caught his first glance of his bride. For an instant, the 'verse stopped spinning and he was aware of everything around him in that preternatural way that comes with life-altering moments. Elizabeth walked slowly, her light blue silk dress clinging softly to her curves and shimmering like a living thing in the candlelight of the hall. Her long hair was piled in a neat chignon at the nape of her neck, tiny blonde tendrils escaping and fanning out to gently frame her face as she moved.

She looked steadily at Marcus, their eyes locked on each other in silent communication of all that they were and would be to each other. Drawing a deep breath, she slipped her hand under his elbow and they both turned to face Mal expectantly. Time slipped back onto its normal track and Marcus's hand closed over Elizabeth's gently.

The music stopped, and for one awful moment, Mal could think of nothing that he had planned to say. It was passing strange to him that he could walk into battle and never lose the gift of gab, but somehow here and now, he found that his mouth was dry as cotton. He cleared his throat and began to speak.

"Well," he began, seriously considering a short prayer in the form of a plea for inspiration. "Here we are, gathered together today to…uhm…see to the marriage of Marcus and Elizabeth."

"Wait a minute," Marcus said suddenly. Everyone turned to look at him in astonishment. "We're on the dock. Mal, you don't have the authority to marry us unless we've broken atmo." Chagrined to have forgotten that pertinent fact in all the planning, he turned to River and asked, "You mind doing the honors?"

River smiled. "No problem," she said, putting Hannah's hand in Adam's. Whispering in his ear, she said, "Don't let her go until I get back."

Adam nodded, holding his sister's hand tightly, pleased inordinately with the responsibility.

Everyone stood quietly, as if they were afraid that if they moved about, something would go in its predictably pear-shaped manner. But within just a few minutes, the satisfying hum of the engines began, and the Hit or Miss lifted off the docks of Greenleaf gracefully.

As River slipped back into the hall and took her place again, Marcus turned back to Mal, drew a deep breath and said, "All right. Let's get this thing done."

Mal nodded. "As I was saying, we're all here to see to the wedding of Marcus and Elizabeth. I conjure there's some kind of words as are s'posed to be said at this point, but being as they asked me to do the talkin', I imagine they don't much hold to the normal way of gettin' hitched." There was a small ripple of laughter among the crews. "That being said, I'll do the best I can," he continued. He glanced at River briefly, before turning back to the couple. "It seems to me that marriage is a hopeful sort of thing, a belief that things in the 'verse ain't so bad that a good life can't be carved out of it. And while it ain't for everybody…" He paused, trying hard not to look at Inara and Jayne. "For those as choose it, it can be a pure thing of beauty. If folks are of a mind to make it work, it brings rewards aplenty. And were I a betting man, I'd bet on the two of you to make it for the long haul." Realizing with astonishment that he was getting misty-eyed, he scowled to hide the sentiment. Clearing his throat, he added, "So, that's about all I got to say on the subject. You got something you wanna say 'fore I wrap this up?"

Marcus nodded. Retrieving a gleaming wedding band from Pierre's outstretched hand, he turned to Elizabeth and slipped the ring on her trembling finger. "Guess this is the part where I say that I want to take you as my wife. Got to admit that I thought I might not ever find a woman as I wanted for the rest of my life. I haven't exactly had the best of experiences in the romantical department before you came onto my boat. And there've been some times since that I wondered if we were gonna make it. Living in close quarters with me ain't the easiest thing in the 'verse, I imagine." He paused, his lips turning up into a small smile that somehow still reached his eyes and warmed Elizabeth to the bone. "But you make it look easy. Can't help but love you for that, can I? So, here now today, before these witnesses, I'm pledgin' my life and my love to you, Elizabeth Stryker. From this point forward, I aim to be beside you as your husband, your friend, your partner, your lover, and anything else you need of me, until death takes us."

Elizabeth swallowed past the lump in her throat. Slipping his new ring on his finger, she said softly, "I've thought of a thousand things that I could say to you at this moment. So many things that you have brought to life in me, so many joyful things that you have given me since we first met. But words seem inadequate somehow, now that the time is here to say them. So, I will simply say this. I pledge here today, before these witnesses, that I will be your wife, your friend, your partner, your lover, for today and all the tomorrows we are granted in this life. You are my heart and soul, Marcus, and will ever be."

They stood gazing into each other's eyes, oblivious to their friends around them, their hands entwined tightly. Jumping slightly when Mal cleared his throat again to break the moment, they turned sheepishly back to the temporary Captain of the Hit or Miss.

"Well now," Mal said. "I gotta say that was right beautiful, as weddin' speechifyin' goes." Looking out at the small crowd and singling out Murdocke for a warning glance, he said, "So unless there's someone as has an objection to these two gettin' hitched…" He paused briefly, and continued. "…it's my honor to pronounce the two of you husband and wife." He grinned, delighted he'd managed to get this far without any major screw-ups. "Go ahead and kiss her, Marcus. We got a party to get to."

Marcus pulled Elizabeth to him tightly, his hands splaying across her back as he bent her smaller frame to his for a long, deep kiss. Breaking away only when they both needed air, they seemed to suddenly realize they were not alone. Turning around to face their friends, Marcus said a little more huskily than he wanted, "Mal's right. It's time for a party." And motioning Murdocke to start the music, he twirled his new bride out onto the floor for a dance.

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"You know I'd rather dance with you," Inara whispered in Jayne's ear. "I just danced with Pierre first because he was the best man and I was the maid of honor."

Jayne scowled. "Best man, my pigu," he said.

Inara chuckled. "It's just a figure of speech. We both know who the best man here is, now don't we?" She pressed her hips more closely to his, the slow friction of the dance doing to Jayne exactly what she wanted to be done.

"Sweet Yesu, woman, you are wicked," he growled low in his throat.

"You have no idea," Inara replied, her tongue dancing lightly against the shell of his ear, setting his mind to thinking of much more pleasant things than Pierre.

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Simon stood on the periphery of the group, watching Kaylee dancing with Murdocke with somewhat mixed results. "The man might be an engineering genius, but he's not very light on his feet, is he?" he said to Anya.

"Not very," she agreed, enjoying herself despite the upcoming comeuppance she was expecting from Zoe. Her toes began to tap to the music, and she couldn't help but think of the dance she was currently missing with Jared.

Seeing her smile slip from across the dance floor, Pierre put down his glass of punch and walked over to her. "Miss Anya," he said, bowing deeply from the waist, "Would you do me the honor of this dance?"

"Be glad to," she said eagerly, her young heart fluttering with excitement, Jared momentarily forgotten as Pierre led her onto the floor.

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"You might have to deal with her with a little more…finesse than you're used to," Jim whispered to Zoe as they danced close enough to Anya and Pierre to see their daughter's shining eyes. "She's growing up, you know, whether we're ready or not. And all in all, with the exception of what's just happened, she's been making the right kinds of choices, don't you think?"

"Doesn't take but one bad choice for something to go permanently pear-shaped," Zoe sighed, shaking her long hair back behind her shoulders. "I gotta admit I ain't exactly found the right balance yet."

"You, my dearest, are the epitome of balance," Jim said, gripping her more tightly to him and nuzzling her neck with his lips.

"You tryin' to distract me?" Zoe murmured.

"S'it working?" Jim's voice was muffled against her jawline.

"Mmm hmm."

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"Mind if I cut in?" Mal asked, tapping Bear on the shoulder. "Thought I might take a swing or two around the floor with my wife, least as well as I can with this leg."

Bear grinned. "Be my guest. She dances too fast for me."

When Mal's strong hands settled gently around her waist, River smiled slowly. "You never dance…publicly," she said happily.

"Yeah, well, maybehaps it's time to change that habit," he said, his voice low and gravelly against her ear as she molded her body to his. "Watchin' Marcus and Elizabeth, just startin' out and all, makes me remember our wedding. Shoulda' danced with you then, I'm thinkin'."

"Danced with me later that night," River replied. Dropping a mental image of the nature of that very private dance into his head, she laid her head against his chest and listened to the increased rhythm of his heart.

"That ain't fair," he chuckled, knowing exactly what his wife was doing.

"But it is fun," she replied.

"That it is, my little witch," he agreed, thinking ahead to the rest of the night to come. "Think Marcus and Elizabeth would be insulted if we went back to Serenity a little early?"

River grinned. "Doubt it, since they ducked out about a half hour ago themselves."

Mal looked around quickly, wondering how he had missed their departure. "Can't say as I blame them," he said, tightening his grip on his wife and thinking that loving someone so thoroughly was indeed an act of hope. "Let's go home." And they did.

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Author's Note: Midnight Obsidian and I would like to thank you for tuning back in after our long absence to read another tale from the 'verse. As always, it was a pleasure for us to write, and we hope it was a pleasure for you to read as well. There are more tales of the 'verse to tell, but those will have to wait for another time. 'Til then, happy reading and writing to you all!