It was to his great surprise that he woke up in what was obviously an Alliance hospital. The high tech equipment was his first clue. The open ward with row upon row of beds containing patients hooked up to monitors and tubes – like he seemed to be - was his second. His first instinct upon making that connection was to try to bolt from the bed, but the pain that burned through him quickly put a stop to that. Sam caught him and helped a nurse push him gently back against the pillow.
“It’s okay, sir. You’re safe.”
“Safe? How can that be? We’re in the enemy’s hands!” Mal swore heatedly.
“No, sir. We won. We won!” Sam grinned at him. “Those ships? They weren’t Alliance. Well, they were, but turns out a second, bigger wave of Browncoats comin’ in from the Rim overtook the Alliance. Latecomers who sneaked up on their defences and just stole the ships! Boarded most of ‘em like pirates on a raid, stole some right off the ground. Then they blew the rest out of the skies!”
Sam was smiling so hard his face was going to break, Mal was sure of it. Feeling appallingly weak he flailed a hand around until he could grab the younger man’s arm.
“We won?” he asked, his voice hoarse for some reason.
“Yes, sir! We won and the war is over!”
The war was over and they had won.
While Mal tried to absorb the news a doctor stepped up to the bedside and checked the overhead instruments. He pushed the sheet down and fussed with Mal’s dressings, reminding him so much of Simon in the way he did it that Mal was nearly overcome by over a year’s worth of suppressed anxiety. While Sam babbled excitedly, telling him all the details he’d heard as they’d been carried by word of mouth, Mal turned his head and fought for some control. Now was not the time to fall apart. His battle would not be over until he was home and in Simon’s arms.
“I need to send a wave,” he said when he could speak without giving himself away. “There’s someone I need to let know that I’m still alive.”
“Sorry, sir. The Cortex took a hit and services are out. They’re not sure how it happened or when it’ll be back up.”
“What do you mean “took a hit”?”
“Sabotage, sir. Probably a last act by the Alliance.”
Their only fast means of communication with distant worlds, with home, was gone.
Turned out getting himself free of the hospital was not an easy task. Dr. Trenan, the doctor assigned to him, refused to even consider releasing him.
“You had severe injuries, Captain Reynolds, life threatening injuries. You were in surgery for 11 hours, and then you sprang a leak inside and we had to take you back in and, because there were more complications, you ended up spending another 12 hours in the OR. It’s a miracle that you’re alive. Does any of that that mean anything to you?”
Mal grinned. “Sure. It means that you’re a good physician and you saved my life. Thanks for that and now I’ll be on my way.”
Trenan pushed him back onto the bed. The fact that he was able to do so without much effort made an impression on Mal, though he refused to give up.
“My lifemate is a doctor. Once I get home I promise I’ll let him fuss over me all he wants.”
“That’s good to know. I’ll be happy to turn you over to his care – once I know you can make the trip home without bleeding to death internally. The shrapnel ripped you up inside, Captain. I won’t list all of your injuries but I will give you the highlights. You had a perforated lung and liver. One particularly nasty chunk of metal missed your aorta by centimetres. That’s the main artery of your heart. Not to mention that your left leg got chewed up pretty badly. There was extensive damage to various and sundry blood vessels. You will make a full recovery but it’s going to take time. If you get out of that bed now you’ll die within the week. Nah, make that two days.”
Mal stayed silent for a moment, locked into a staring contest with Trenan. What was it about doctors that made him want to run off and bash his head against a wall?
“Okay, but I want you to promise that as soon as I’m healthy enough to leave you’ll tell me.”
“Deal. We need the bed.” Trenan grinned cockily and walked to the next patient in the open ward.
Noticing Sam was still hanging around, Mal turned to him. “There must be someplace else you’d rather be.”
“Not right now. I’m waitin’ to get word to my uncle. Got nuthin’ better to do. Might as well stay here.” His eyes got huge. “I’m sorry, sir! I didn’t mean that spending time with you isn’t pleasant.”
Mal snorted and then was sorry he had as he pulled something in his side. Rubbing his aching body he said, “Then you don’t know me very well.”
“Yes, sir. Uh, no sir.”
“Find some cards or something so we can pass the time.”
“Shouldn’t you be sleepin’?”
“Later. I got some thinking to do and I do my best thinking while I’m doing something else.”
He fell asleep before Sam returned with the cards.
Sam was good company. He was fairly quiet by nature but talked when Mal asked the right questions. Having someone around who didn’t yammer at him was a relief. Like many displaced veterans Sam lived in the hospital, keeping out of the way by camping out on the floor wherever he could find a space. Sam claimed a spot near Mal’s bed and no one was able to chase him away.
The hospital was overflowing with wounded making it nearly impossible for the staff to give their patients enough care. Trenan did what he could for Mal, even setting up a regime of therapy to get him back on his feet. Sam readily volunteered to help and Mal found he could lean on the strong shoulders while he re-learned how to walk. Mal’s left leg had been extensively damaged, but he called upon his formidable willpower and was walking sooner than anyone thought. He had a long way to go before he would be back to normal, though, as the injury left him with a limp.
Mal didn’t like to admit it even to himself but he knew he had been extremely lucky to survive this time. It took him a long while to piece things together, but he finally figured out that Sam had applied basic first aid and kept him from bleeding out in the trenches while waiting for the medic to arrive. Thanking him only embarrassed Sam but the young man was eager to make Mal’s stay in the hospital a comfortable one. When he opened up it was to talk about the girl waiting for him at home. As he described the colour of her hair and her laugh, Mal’s thoughts naturally turned to Simon. Not that he ever really stopped thinking of his lover.
It was getting close to their anniversary again. This time Mal was determined to make it a special one. He wrote down the date and taped the slip of paper to the bed rail as he recuperated from his wounds, looking at it every day as he planned the celebration of their love and his homecoming. Not once did he even consider that he would not be with Simon that day.
One day Sam disappeared for awhile and when he returned it was to say goodbye.
“I’m going home to my family.”
“Your uncle made it here?”
“Yes, sir. He and my cousins got here this mornin’. They were real pleased to see me.”
Mal thought again that Sam was a lot younger than he had seemed in the middle of the hell in which they had met.
“So, are you getting outta here soon?”
“Yeah, Doc Trenan is kicking me out later this week. He said it was too soon but I think he’s fallin’ for me and wants me out before his heart gets broken.”
“Is anyone coming to collect you?”
“Nope. My reunion will have to wait until I get home. I have some shopping to do before I head out. I can find my way after that.”
“Okay, sir. Take care.”
“You too, Sam. I’m glad you fought by my side. You’re a good man.”
Sam smiled shyly and then he left.
It was her perfume that first alerted him to her presence.
After Sam left Mal found he had no one to talk to and grumbled to himself that he was getting soft, needing company all the time. He tried not to dwell on it and looked forward to being discharged. Then he could go home and never leave ever again for the rest of his life. That made him chuckle. He acknowledged his good mood before dozing off, and it was the familiar scent that was uniquely her that roused him. He opened his eyes.
“Hello, Mal.” Inara smiled gently. “How are you?”
“Surprised to see you here.”
“Blunt as ever, I see.”
He felt vaguely uneasy at this meeting. They hadn’t parted on the best of terms; in fact, they had never been on the best of terms. When he and Simon became permanent his relationship with Inara had only gotten rockier. “Let me put it this way. What are you doing here?”
“I heard you were here so I came to see you.”
“How did you...?
“Simon. Well, he didn’t know that you’re here specifically. He contacted me six months ago and asked if I could find out anything about your status.”
“My status,” Mal repeated. At the mention of Simon’s name Mal’s heart rate had increased significantly. The phrasing did not thrill him, however.
Inara correctly read his expression. “My words, not his. I believe what he said was, “Find Mal for me, Inara. I’m going crazy without him.””
“He said that?”
“He did. It took a while - to find you, I mean. No one could or would tell me where you were before you came here. And with the Cortex down it was next to impossible.”
“Obviously you managed.”
“I have connections.”
“You still whorin’?”
Inara’s mouth became a thin, tight line.
“Why do I bother? Why have I ever bothered?” she asked angrily and started to walk away.
“Because I’m irresistible?”
Inara stopped and turned around.
“Yes, you are,” she admitted sadly, telling him a world of things he had guessed long ago but had been too afraid to pursue. “My loss, Simon’s gain.”
“I love him, Inara. He’s my life.”
“Yes. I suppose I always knew that.”
“But you came here thinking maybe I wouldn’t go back to him.” He watched her expression change from reflexive outrage to realization of what she was doing to resignation and acceptance. It had taken her a long time to reach that place.
Schooling her features she said politely, “It was good to see you again, Mal. If I can find a way to let Simon know you’ll soon be on your way home I’ll do it.” She lifted a hand as if to touch his face. Instead she let her fingers rest on his arm, warm and light. “Goodbye.”
She walked swiftly past the rows of beds, a vision in silk floating through the ward. He watched her leave until she was out of sight.
Mal was released the next morning. He had spent over a month and a half in hospital so now he simply wandered around in the fresh air, his first day out in the Free ‘verse. He ate lunch at an outdoor café, and later went shopping and took his time doing it. He knew exactly what he wanted but went to three stores before he found them. Tucking his purchase into the pocket of his leather duster nearest his heart he headed for the spaceport. Next stop was at Botany Bay to collect Serenity. He was on his way home at last.
Seven years –
He landed Serenity on Haven the day of their seventh anniversary, pleased with his timing. By the time he shut down the engines his gut was in knots, though not from anticipation of seeing Simon again. As he’d flown over the town black smoke had billowed up partially obscuring his vision through the big view port on the bridge. The town was on fire.
Mal locked down the ship in record time and raced through her passageways to get outside. Simon. Simon should be at the clinic at this time of day. He headed in that direction. Everywhere he looked he saw people - friends, acquaintances, strangers - all of them looking shell-shocked. Limping through the street, he realized that was exactly what they were. The town had been attacked. It looked like the battle zone he’d left behind on Tolace. He didn’t stop, didn’t even slow down. He had to find Simon.
He collided with someone exiting a building that had its door torn off and at least one window blown out. Glass crunched under foot as he skidded to a stop.
“Captain!” The Shepherd certainly looked worse for the wear. His hair had escaped its binding. His face was streaked with grime and his eyes had a slightly wild look in them, but he focused on Mal. “Thank the Lord, you’re safe! We were worried. So long without word, not able to communicate.”
Mal gripped his arms. “Can’t tell you how good it is to see you, too, Preacher. Right now, though, I need to find Simon. Is he at the clinic? Do you know where he is, Book?”
“Not the clinic, Captain. It’s gone.”
“Gone. What do you mean?”
“It was hit by enemy fire yesterday,” Book told him as if giving a weather report.
Enemy fire. Mal’s mind had refused to let him even consider the truth. He’d seen it, known it the moment he’d entered atmo. Haven had been under attack and very recently. The war had reached home. His head spun, the knowledge making him reel. Haven was supposed to be safe. That was why they’d chosen the little planet hidden out here on the Rim. It was as far from the Core as they could get and find a viable economy and land prices they could afford. More importantly, it was safe for Simon and River. The Alliance wouldn’t find them out here. But the Alliance had found Haven. The Alliance had come here and destroyed lives.
Then he froze.
“Did they take him, Book?”
“Who, Simon? I don’t believe so. They never landed, just shot us up from the sky. Swooped down out of nowhere, without warning and started firing yesterday.”
“But the war ended nearly two months ago.”
“Did it? Then someone forgot to tell those soldiers with their death machines.” Book’s eyes grew bright and his voice rough. “I helped bury seventeen people this morning. Paual, Captain. He was one of them. Kieral was wounded, not fatally though it looks bad. Jayne is beside himself. He wants to, and I quote, “Rip those bastards from the skies.” The only thing keeping him from running off and getting himself killed is his promise to Kieral not to give the war any more momentum than it already has.”
“Yes, he is. Jayne is lucky to have him in his life.”
“Preacher. Book. Tell me where to find Simon.”
“I don’t know. I would have thought he’d be tending to the wounded but I haven’t seen him since the day before yesterday. Doctor Zir has been doing what he can for them. They’re at the church...”
Mal stopped listening. Yelling, “I have to find Simon!” over his shoulder, he headed for the clinic needing that one connection with Simon to ground him and help him figure out where to look next.
He still tasted bile from the sight of the clinic pulverized into dust and splintered glass. There was a gaping hole in the earth where it had stood. Even prepared for the worst Mal had trouble accepting that it was gone. Simon’s vision of someday expanding it into a small hospital was also gone. He searched the rubble for signs of life and thankfully found nothing to suggest that Simon, or anyone else, had been there when the building had been destroyed.
“Thank God,” Mal breathed, not even realizing he was thanking a deity he no longer believed in.
Alternately walking rapidly and running through the town wasn’t doing his leg any good, but he ignored the bone deep ache in his thigh and tried not to think about the slight pressure in his chest that made his breath harder to catch. He had a brief but joyous reunion with Sasla and Rinnal. Both women had gotten through the fighting unscathed. He had lost track of them early on and was heartily glad to see them now, safe and home. Neither had seen Simon since the day before yesterday, the same as what Book had said. In fact, none of the people he stopped on the street – friends and strangers alike – knew where Simon was.
The makeshift field hospital set up in the church was filled to capacity with the physically and emotionally wounded. Mal found Doctor Zir tending to his patients.
“Captain Reynolds! You made it home!” He shook Mal’s hand, his ruddy face filled with hope. “Is Simon with you?”
“No, that’s why I’m here. Haven’t you seen him?”
“Not for a couple of days.”
Exasperated, Mal shoved his hands through his hair. “I don’t get it, Doc. Simon should be here with the wounded. Why isn’t he here?”
“I can’t help you, my boy...”
At the sound of his name he started to turn around and was abruptly swept up against a broad chest. Strong arms surrounded him, lifting him off the ground. He felt the rasp of a beard against his neck before he was set back on his feet.
“I’m so... I just... You came back,” Jayne finished helplessly.
Mal grasped his friend’s face between his hands and grinned. “It’s great to see you, too, buddy.” To his immense surprise Jayne’s face began to crumple, his eyes shining with tears.
“Kieral. He’s not good, Mal,” Jayne’s voice broke.
“Is he here?”
Nodding, Jayne pointed to a cot set up in the far corner with a blanket as a partition around it.
“Come on,” Mal said gently. “Let’s go see.” His friend gripped his wrist, leading him.
Kieral lay on the cot. Normally a robust man nearly as big as Jayne, now Kieral seemed diminished and far too pale. A bandage across his chest was stained with blood. Jayne knelt on the floor beside the bed and wrung out a washcloth over a basin of water, using the cloth to wipe Kieral’s sweaty brow.
“Look who came home, sweetie,” Jayne whispered to his boyfriend.
“Hey... Mal,” Kieral’s voice was as weak as the rest of him looked.
Mal swallowed hard and plastered on a smile he hoped didn’t look too faked.
“Hi, Kieral. How are you feeling?”
“Been... better. Doctor Zir says I need surg...”
“Save your breath, Kieral,” Zir said from behind them. He gestured for Mal to step away.
When they were out of earshot of the man in the bed, Zir said, “There’s nothing more I can do for him. He’s right. He needs surgery but my skills are limited. He needs Simon.”
‘So do I,’ Mal thought. Out loud he said, “I’m on my way to try to find him, Doc.”
“Try the ranch, Mal,” Jayne suggested as he walked over to them. “Last time I saw him he was headed for home. That was right before the attacks.”
“Then that’s my next stop.” It would have been anyway, but he knew Simon’s work habits and at this time of day, on a normal day, his partner would be in town at the clinic. After an air raid by the Alliance with so many people hurt Simon would be with them, doing his best to make them well. The fact that he was nowhere in town terrified Mal. Something was seriously wrong.
He “borrowed” a horse and rode out. His leg throbbed and gripping the mare’s sides with his knees and thighs did nothing to make it easier, but his discomfort meant very little to him other than as a distraction to keep him from going out of his mind before he reached Simon.
As the mare’s long strides ate up the ground carrying him closer to home he noticed the bitter odour of smoke in his nostrils. At first he thought it was left over from the haze hanging over the town, but as he crested the hill near the main gate of the ranch he realized that the acrid scent was coming from up ahead. He swung the horse around the last twist in the road, galloped into the yard and reined her in.
Before him lay the wreckage of his home. There was more of it remaining than what he had seen of the clinic, but the house was a smoking ruins. Blackened timbers cracked from extreme heat lay at odd angles. The stone fireplace was scorched but still standing in what had been their living area. Only by stretching his memory could he figure out where the kitchen, library and the staircase had been. The entire second level was missing or, rather, it was somewhere on top of the downstairs portion of the house.
As his mind quickly processed the information before the shock set in, he glanced around the yard searching for signs of life. Besides he and Simon and River there were usually the ranch hands around, not to mention Rala and her husband. Miraculously the barn was still standing. It didn’t look as though it had sustained any damage. He saw his Arabians trotting around the far corrals, manes and tails flying. They looked spooked but were moving with their natural fluidity. Looked like there was a new member of his little herd. A young foal trotted beside his mama. Life had gone on while he was away, and perhaps had also stopped altogether.
He swung down off the horse and stumbled when he put weight on his sore leg. Limping toward the barn he called out, “Simon! River! Anybody here?” His heart was beating so fast he thought maybe he was having an attack of some kind.
The big doors creaked open just enough for someone to maybe peer out. The long barrel of a rifle appeared. Then he saw the welcome sight of his former first mate’s long curly hair followed by her right eye and then the rest of her face. When she saw him Zoe smiled wider than he had ever witnessed save for the day she had married Wash. She waved to him and pushed the doors out of her way, emerging into the sunlight. Wash was at her left shoulder and spread his arms towards Mal in welcome before giving his wife an enthusiastic hug.
A slim, dark-haired figure stepped out behind them and blinked a few times in the bright sunshine, shading his eyes. Mal grinned. Simon never could acclimatize himself to the outdoors as quickly as most.
As Mal started to run to him, awkwardly because of his sore leg, Simon took off like a sprinter from the blocks and covered twice the distance in half the time. He launched himself off the ground. Mal caught him but his leg chose then to give way and they both toppled over.
“Oh! Did you hurt yourself?”
“You all right?”
They both spoke at the same time and laughed. Simon was sprawled on top of Mal and levered himself up so he could gaze down at him. With trembling fingers he traced Mal’s features as if memorizing them, or perhaps re-acquainting himself. Mal reached up and brushed Simon’s heavy bangs out of his eyes. The silky locks curled around his fingers and he couldn’t stop touching his gorgeous boyfriend. He noticed the streaks of black on the ivory skin and the wispy scent of smoke. Then Simon leaned down and their mouths met and clung.
Their lips parted but Simon did not move and continued to lie on top of Mal, while they breathed as one. Mal asked, “Where’s River? Is she okay?”
“She’s fine. She and Allin were with us in the barn.” Simon gestured over his shoulder. “In fact, everyone is fine. River sensed them and she warned us, and then we heard the ships coming and ran in time to hide in the cellar under the barn floor. They only flew over the once before going on. Our house, Mal...” His voice wobbled.
“I know. I saw.” Mal gently pushed Simon off him and sat up. “As wonderful as this is...”
“There’s been some trouble in town. The Alliance must have strafed the house for practice before going on. There’s a lot of damage there and a whole lot of hurt. In fact, Kieral needs you. Zir says he has to have surgery and soon, but it’s beyond his talents.”
Before Mal finished talking Simon was on his feet wearing that intensely focused look Mal recognized so well, the one that spoke volumes about the level of the doctor’s concentration.
“I have to get to town. There must be others who are hurt.”
“There are a lot of others.” Mal struggled to stand.
Simon noticed and grabbed him by the arm, pulling him up. “What’s wrong? Did you hurt yourself when we fell?”
“I got shot up some on Siedon. I’m fine now. Get yourself to town and help those that need you.”
Simon’s expression became guarded. Even after months apart Mal still knew how to read his partner’s mind. “I need you. Of course I need you. I meant...”
Shaking his head, Simon reached for him. “No, I understand. I’d better go.” He started to back away not taking his eyes off Mal.
“Go. I’ll do what I can here and meet you in town.”
“No, sir,” Zoe said. She had been hovering nearby, unwilling to interrupt their reunion. “We can handle it here. You go with Simon. Jayne must be worried about Kieral.”
“That he is. I’ve never seen him scared like that.”
River flew up to him then and leapt into Mal’s arms, hugging him so tightly around the neck he feared she would cut off his breath. When he peeled her off he grinned broadly.
“It’s good to see you, too.”
For the first time since he met her Mal was amazed that River was speechless. All she seemed capable of doing was smiling and laughing as she danced around him with her hair swinging. Then she took Simon’s hand and put it in Mal’s.
They rode two fresh horses back to town and Simon went directly to the church. Book was there this time giving aid where he could. Simon examined Kieral while Jayne fretted nearby. Mal rubbed his friend’s back and kept him company when Simon conferred with Zir. The two doctors decided to operate as soon as they could get Kieral to Zir’s office. Mal and Jayne wanted to be the ones to carry him up the street but Simon refused to let Mal help, citing his gimpy leg as the reason. He didn’t want to jar Kieral any more than necessary. Mal conceded defeat and walked closely beside Jayne as moral support.
The surgery took too long for those waiting outside. Jayne paced a lot before he grew tired of it and finally slumped in a chair.
“Saw you limping.”
Straightening on the hard-backed wooden chair, Mal said, “Caught some shrapnel right at the end of the battle on Siedon.”
“But you’re okay?”
Mal was touched that Jayne would be concerned about him in the midst of his anxiety over Kieral. “Yeah. I’m fine. Still a little sore but I’m good.”
Jayne nodded. His grey eyes sought out Mal’s and conveyed his satisfaction.
“We never heard much about the war. Cortex went black and it took too long for word of mouth to reach us. Were you in a hot zone?”
“Simon said he asked ‘Nara to look for you. He put up a good front about you being gone and all, but I could tell he was scared outta his mind.”
“She found me.”
Jayne was sitting hunched forward rubbing his hands together. He glanced over his shoulder.
“Sounds like that went well.”
“Could have been better.”
“She had a hard time of it when you chose Simon.”
Mal nodded, uncomfortable with this turn of the conversation but he sensed Jayne had something he wanted to say. So he let him lead up to it.
Continuing, Jayne said, “I did, too.”
“I guessed that.”
“Didn’t make a fuss though.”
Mal lifted his hand and let it rest on the back of Jayne’s neck, squeezing gently. “No, you didn’t. I always meant to thank you for that.”
One shoulder lifted and fell. “Simon’s good for you.”
“Yeah.” Mal leaned forward and slid his arm around Jayne. “And you’re good for Kieral. He’s always known that.”
Jayne nodded and then covered his face with his hands. When his frame shook with the release of pent up emotion Mal wrapped both arms around him and just held him, barely keeping his own unsteady feelings at bay. He needed this, too. There had been so much to take in since his return and all of it on top of months of hell on the battlefield and his stay in hospital. He leaned closer and rested his forehead against Jayne’s temple, whispering to him until eventually the big man pulled himself back together.
“He’s going to be just fine,” Simon told them when he appeared in the waiting room in his blood-spattered scrubs. “He’ll have a long road to complete recovery, but I have no doubt that he will be one hundred percent again.”
Jayne whooped quietly and rushed in to sit with Kieral. Simon sat heavily in the chair Jayne vacated. Mal kneaded Simon’s shoulders and stroked his hair. His lover closed his eyes and leaned into his touch like a cat being petted.
“Mm, yes. Don’t stop what you’re doing.”
Mal smiled and continued the impromptu massage.
“Are you okay?” Simon asked after a few minutes. “You and Jayne both looked a little...red-eyed just now.”
Digging his thumbs into a knot in Simon’s neck, Mal said, “We had a bonding moment.”
“About damn time.”
“Was it worth it?” Simon asked guardedly. “Going to war, I mean.”
Releasing a long sigh Mal said, “I accomplished what I set out to do, so in that sense, yeah, it was worth it. I did some thinking while I was gone. I’ll tell you all about the circumstances when things get less crazy, but, well, what I came up with was how much I love you and how I want all of our loose ends tied up.”
Simon turned to look at him. “What are you talking about?”
Mal fished around in the inside pocket of his coat until he got a finger and thumb around the small box there.
“This should wait for another time, a more romantic time, but that might be a long ways off.” He opened the box and held it out to Simon. “Besides, today is our seventh anniversary so maybe now is the right time.”
“Ohh,” Simon breathed. His hand shook as he reached out to touch the two gold rings inside.
“I’d put yours on your finger now but they’re supposed to be for our wedding day and I don’t want to jinx it. Simon Tam, will you marry me?”
Smiling through the tears streaming down his face, Simon replied, “Yes.”
Three months and two days later –
“The newly wedded couple may now come up for air,” Book intoned with a smirk, and everyone watching laughed as Mal and Simon continued kissing, blissfully aware only of each other.
At last they surfaced and turned to grin at their friends and family who had gathered to see them “make it legal”. The ceremony took place in the afternoon sunshine behind their newly built house, which stood defiantly on the same spot as their first house. Both men wore new suits of dark grey with white silk shirts, and now each had a plain gold wedding band on the ring finger of his left hand.
Zoe and Wash had stood up for them and were now gazing deeply into each other’s eyes. Paual had been lost in the Alliance air raid, but there were newer faces, Kaylee and Daryl’s toddlers, Nara and Lyrra, and their baby boy, Ressal. River and Allin sat together. Jayne and Kieral held hands throughout the ceremony; Kieral was nearly fully recovered and as shy as he had ever been. Sasla and Rinnal sat in the row behind them. When the union was made official everyone stood and applauded.
Simon whispered in Mal’s ear, “You do realize this means a new anniversary date to remember?”
Groaning in mock exasperation, Mal said, “I finally got the first one right!”
“You’ll have a lot of years to practice remembering this one.”
“All I can promise you is that I will never leave you again.”
Then he sealed that promise with a kiss.