Bullets zipped through the air; ploughing through a carved wooden screen, destroying an overhead flower display, and ricocheting off a statue of the Buddha.
Wash lay on the floor behind the Buddha with his hands over his ears. One of Zoë's knees was jammed into his stomach as she braced her pistol on the Buddha's shoulder and fired at four large men and one long-legged woman, who had been sitting quietly at the back of the Collected Place of Worship until about two minutes ago when they'd pulled out a multitude of guns and opened fire.
Wash was pretty sure they hadn't been invited to the wedding.
Although the man with more facial piercings than an Eagle's engine had valves looked somewhat familiar.
Until a bullet in the gut from Zoë and a knife across the throat from Jayne made him look rather less familiar and rather more like a floppy child's doll made out of squashed tomatoes.
It seemed like the shouting, the shooting, and the swearing lasted forever, but Wash had been in a fire fight before and knew it couldn't have been more than five minutes before everything stopped. Then Zoë grabbed him by one arm and half-hauled him to his feet, her eyes searching for the Captain.
Inara emerged from an alcove that contained a wooden cross with a whispered prayer that sounded loud in the sudden quiet. Kaylee followed, clutching one of Inara's hands with both of hers.
"Think we killed them all," said Mal.
The long-legged woman lay at his feet with her black hair fanned out on the floor, a machine gun strapped to her body, and three bullet holes in her face. Another three corpses, included the pierced man, decorated the floor between him and Zoë.
Jayne prodded the fifth with the toe of his boot.
"Yeah, we got 'em all. Hwoon dhan. Make folks think twice about cheatin' us out of our money."
"Money?" Zoë strode over to Mal. "Tell me you didn't arrange for Lucien to hand over payment here," she said, coming to a halt in front of him with her feet a shoulder width apart and her arms folded.
Wash brushed flower petals and dust off his favourite Hawaiian shirt. He recalled 'Lucien' being the name of the pieced man and said pierced man hiring them for the stallion-rustling job they'd completed earlier that week, but he still didn't recall inviting him and his friends to the wedding.
Mal glanced at the body Jayne was standing over and then glared at Zoë's left ear. She glared back at him, with better aim, and neither of them said anything else.
Wash reached out and stroked a small scratch Zoë's pistol had left on the Buddha's shoulder. He opened his mouth, then closed it, and shook his head.
"Wh-what happened?" said Kaylee.
"Job went bad," said Zoë flatly.
"The job went fine. Getting paid went a little less than fine." Mal clicked his gun's safety catch back on and frowned. "Part where they shot at us was a ways past fine."
"I cannot believe," said Inara, "that you started a fight in a temple."
Mal holstered his gun.
"Collected Place of Worship. And I didn't start anythin'."
Wash looked around for the day's Worship Attendant and eventually spotted him sitting on the floor in an alcove, opposite the one Inara and Kaylee had hidden in, with his knees pulled up to his chest, his eyes closed, and a rather serene expression. Wash considered asking him how exactly he could be so calm when surrounded by flying bullets, but decided not to disturb him.
He could always ask Zoë later.
"Can't see any money on 'em," said Jayne. He crouched down to liberate a knife from an arm sheath on the corpse at his feet and shoved it in his belt before joining Zoë. "Mal, you get the money?"
"Lucien didn't come here to pay anyone," said Zoë. "He's more the kind that kills people and keeps the money. Which is why," she continued, narrowing her eyes, "the Captain agreed not to set the payment date until we had a plan for gettin' around that."
"We were getting married," said Wash, finally finding his voice.
The live people in the room turned to look at him.
"Well," said Mal. "Marriage. It's about taking the bad with the good, isn't it? Best to start as you mean t'go on."
"I would," Wash said, in the scarily calm voice he usually reserved only for when performing almost impossible feats of flying, "but I haven't, in point of fact, been married yet, on account of one of your schemes interrupting the wedding. Again."
Jayne frowned. "But where's the money?"
"They didn't bring any money, Jayne," said Zoë.
"There is no money," said Wash, his calm breaking. "Our esteemed Captain invited a bunch of thugs to our wedding purely so they could shoot at us."
"Gorram it, Mal," said Jayne, one hand bunching into a fist, "you stupid- "
"Hey!" Mal protested.
"Yes," said Wash, "Mal is stupid. Mal is ee da tuo da bien!"
Inara's eyebrows shot up, Kaylee stared at him, and Jayne actually grinned. It was possibly the first time Jayne had ever grinned at him, but Wash decided not to take it personally.
"We were getting married! Just one day, we asked, without things going all to hell. Just one hour, so we could get married, but you couldn't do it. Do you hate the idea me being with Zoë that gorram much?"
He was thankful that he'd finally lost his calm voice. That kind of calm, which allowed him to invoke the best of his intelligence and skill, was for serious and scary situations, like flying through an asteroid belt or waiting for Zoë to return from a dangerous job, not for talking to Mal. He didn't want to find himself taking a person that seriously.
"Reckon I don't like the tone you're taking with me, pilot. Don’t hear Zoë complainin'."
"Actually," said Zoë dryly, "reckon I'd like to yell at you too, sir."
"Well." Mal looked from Wash to Zoë and back again. "Well. If that's what you think, when I've been nothin' but supportive of this here slack-brained plot for marital bliss… Didn't I arrange that chapel on Whitefall for you to get hitched in?"
"We had to stop because you were trying to bleed to death," said Wash.
"I'd been shot!"
"By a little old lady," Jayne muttered in the background.
"I had to answer 'if anyone knows any reason why this couple may not marry' with 'sorry, but my future wife needs to sew our Captain up whilst I fly the getaway ship'. And we barely made it back up the aisle before Patience came after the rest of us!"
"What about the soapbox Preacher on Firly Space Station? I had him praising marriage to everyone as was in hearin' range and ready to wed you on the spot."
"You made a public spectacle out of us for a diversion whilst you tried to steal a new Epsion Convertor!"
"Hey, we needed that Eppy-whatever-it-was! Kaylee said it was important and I'm inclined to trust her judgement when it comes to mechanical parts, even when it comes to parts we can't afford-"
"I said tried, as in 'failed', as in 'made more people want to shoot us'. Which, incidentally, put an end to that attempt at me and Zoë getting married as well. We didn't need more people shooting at us! Why is it your plans always end with people shooting at us?"
Mal tried out a few expressions and settled on a smirk.
"It's a talent."
Wash glared at him and walked out.
He didn't get very far, on account of having no money, no transport, and no real desire to leave anyway, since that would mean leaving Zoë, but he'd walked out of the building and he felt that made some sort of a point. Or at least he hoped it did.
The others came out not long after. Mal, leading the way, didn't look at him. Kaylee smiled shyly, Inara pursed her lips, Jayne grinned, and Zoë shot him a look that said, 'this is as far as you got?'
He shrugged. She shook her head, her lips quirking up into a smile, and he fell into step beside her.
Back at Serenity he leant against the bay wall, resting his head on the cool metal.
Zoë brushed against him as she started keying in the sequence to close the main doors on the control panel next to him. He wondered if she'd chosen to do that task now on purpose, to support him with her physical presence, or if she was just doing it now because it needed to be done.
Above his head Mal clattered up the stairs, yelling at Jayne to clear up the horse shit left over from their last job, and finally leaving the rest of them in peace. Except for Inara, who had already escaped earlier, gracefully disappearing to her shuttle as she was wont to do when Mal was in one of his moods.
Jayne grumbled to himself as he found a shovel and Kaylee hovered nearby uncertainly.
"On Earth-That-Was the Captain of a ship could perform marriages," said Wash conversationally. "Of course, they were everything else on a ship. Both judge and jury, which is a scary thought. And their idea of a ship was-"
"You want Mal to marry us?" Zoë cut him off in mid-flow and raised her eyebrows.
"I want to get married! I've tied the knot, literally," he said, remembering the night he'd carefully tied a new knot in the leather necklace Zoë wore, as a sign to the 'verse that she was married to him, "and now I want to stand up and be tied down in every way possible."
"Wash." She touched his arm gently. "I'm not going to change my mind."
"I know. Really, I know. Mostly." He sighed. "Maybe I just want to prove to Mal that I'm not going to change my mind, even if he does keep trying to get me shot on our wedding day."
"They weren't just shooting at you," said Zoë, amused.
"Please, like you were going to get shot." He turned his head to look at her. "You were amazing, you know. You are amazing."
Zoë ran a hand through his hair and grinned.
"You're not so bad yourself."
"I think I'm gonna be sick," Jayne declared.
"Awww," said Kaylee, wrapping her arms around herself. "I think it's cute."
"And I think," said Zoë, tracing the shape of Wash's eyebrow with one finger, "that I've a solution."
"So have I," he said, placing his hands on her hips and drawing her closer. "People who live together on Newhall for seven years or more are registered as legally married."
"Landlocked for seven years? 'Sides, don't know if I could wait that long." She smiled, put her hands over his, lacing their fingers together, and stepped back. "Jayne, Kaylee. We're going out."
Jayne looked at her doubtfully.
"Is this gonna mean angerin' the Captain? Bad enough t'get fired, I mean."
"He says anythin' about this and I'll shoot him," said Zoë. "Not in a fatal manner, mind, but if there's going to be any shootin' this time 'round it'll be by me."
Jayne eyes drifted down to eye the gun holstered to her thigh then slid back up to her face.
"Oh, the Captain wouldn't fire anyone for helpin' Zoë an' Wash get married," said Kaylee.
Zoë and Jayne turned to look at her with raised eyebrows.
"Well," said Wash contemplatively, "so far it has tended to end with Mal being shot rather than us."
Jayne eyed Zoë's gun again.
"Good. Can we keep it that way?"
Zoë opened the main doors and hurried them out before Mal could arrive to check why Serenity had been opened up without his say so.
After checking a public Cortex link for directions she led them to a small, non-descript building that turned out to be a Registry Office with peeling paint on the walls, a fishy smell, and a Registrar who looked like she'd rather be doing anything else but performing a marriage ceremony.
Wash didn't care. He looked into Zoë's face and told her he loved her and no one tried to shoot at them. It was perfect.
Kaylee cheerfully signed as their first witness, leaving her loopy mark on the electronic touch-screen with a digital pen. Jayne was rather more reluctant.
"You can sign your name, can't you?" said Wash. "Well, sign or she'll shoot you."
He indicated Zoë with a thumb over his shoulder. She wrapped her arms around his waist from behind and kissed him on the back of the neck.
Kaylee sighed dreamily.
Jayne pulled a face, snatched the pen off the Registrar, and signed.
They posed by a wilting plant whilst the Registrar's assistant took a photograph of them and Wash handed over a goodly portion of his take from the last job for a copy, which Zoë told him off about but did so whilst smiling.
He loved it when she smiled.
He was therefore less than impressed when they found Mal waiting outside for them, if only because Zoë's smile faded.
The Captain's hair was a mess as if he'd run his hands through it repeatedly, his lips were pressed together in a tight line, and his stance was so stiff that for a moment Wash imagined that when he finally moved he would creak.
"Congratulations," he said to Zoë and offered her a hand to shake.
He nodded at her and her lips twitched, which wasn't a return to smiling but made Wash relax.
Then Mal turned to Wash, opening his mouth to speak, and Wash cut him off before he could start.
Mal could say whatever he wanted now and it wouldn't matter. He could invite as many people to shoot at them as he pleased and Wash wouldn't care. He'd just been married to the most amazing woman in the 'verse and he couldn't think of anything Mal could possibly say or do to burst his bubble of euphoria.
"I know, I know," said Wash, holding his hands up in surrender. "If I hurt her you'll kill me in interesting, unusual, and, above all, painful ways."
He grinned and shoved his hands in his pockets.
"After Zoë has finished with me, of course."
"Which I won't be," said Zoe, coming to stand next to him with her shoulder and the length of her arm pressed against his. "Ever."
"Fine." Mal folded his arms and frowned. "Now could you conduct your marital bliss back onboard? We got a job lined up."
He turned around and walked away with his shoulders hunched up defensively. Jayne went after him, complaining about how he'd only been here because the alternative was to get shot, and Kaylee trotted along trying to keep up.
Wash thought about how Mal's crew always followed him. He hadn't really considered that all the shooting at their wedding attempts had been Mal's fault, but now he found himself wondering just how far Mal would go if he didn't want Zoë to get married and if maybe Mal thought that Zoë wouldn't follow him anymore if she was.
"Husband," said Zoë.
"Wife," said Wash, taking hold of her hand.
And they started walking back to Serenity.