BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - ROMANCE

ARCADIA

Snow Angels
Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Mal takes Inara long to make a delivery on a snowy planet. Two or so months post-Miranda.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2851    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Title: Snow Angels Rating: G Summary: Serenity is delivering medicine to a very snowy planet. Inara goes with Mal to make the delivery.

[center]Snow Angels[/center]

Malcolm Reynolds was an early riser. It was a habit he’d gotten into during his childhood. His mother would wake up at dawn to start chores. Mal always got up with her to help, even when he was very young and not much help at all. These days, he didn’t need to get up so early – if there was such a thing as ‘early’ in space – but he did anyway. On some days it was a comfort. He woke up and he felt connected to his mother, to Shadow, to that person he was before. Other days, it was a torture. He woke up bone tired, cursing his mother’s memory. Rarely did he wake up to the sound of voices.

Mal noticed them before he even opened his eyes, the sound of laughter drifting down from the kitchen. Kaylee’s mirth filled giggles. Jayne’s confident snicker. River’s overly loud chortle. Heck, he even though he heard the doc’s nervous chuckle. For a moment, Mal smiled at it. There really hadn’t been much laughter on his boat lately. There was a part of him that pretended that was a good thing, more orderly. But he remembered his mother, too, and how her ranch hands would laugh, telling dirty jokes that Mal would repeat to his friends at the school house…

“Mornin’ Cap’n!” Kaylee greeted cheerily when Mal entered the room. “Sleep well?”

Mal didn’t answer for a moment, taking in the site of the room. Jayne and Zoe were sitting next to each other at the table, Zoe’s right ankle supported by the chair on the other side of the table. Zoe nodded to him when he entered. Jayne, though, was much to busy concentrating on the metal monstrosity on the table. “Umm… Kaylee,” Mal said, “what is that?”

Kaylee smiled in response, practically bounding. “It’s a sleigh, Cap’n!” He tilted his head. “For sledding?” He still didn’t react. Kaylee smiled anyway. “Jayne an’ River an’ me have been workin’ on it all mornin’. Its gonna be the best sleigh ever.”

“Damn right!” Jayne chimed.

“It could be,” River added, popping up from under the table. “Simon wanted to make it wider, but he didn’t understand that it would be thirty-eight percent less fun that way. We ended up compromising to twelve percent.”

“Twelve percent fun?” Mal repeated.

Everyone burst into laughter. “No, silly,” Kaylee said. “See, River an’ Jayne had wanted to make the base of the sled a little narrower so that it would go a bit fast but Simon –”

“Simon’s a boob,” River explained.

“He didn’t think it was safe,” Kaylee elaborated.

“Right,” Mal said. “So… where is the doc? Thought I heard ‘im earlier.” Mal asked, eager to change the subject.

“He’s getting my meds, sir,” Zoe answered quickly. “Jayne’s too.” Mal acknowledged her with a curt nod, his eyes darting involuntarily to Jayne, lingering there for a moment. Not three weeks before, the man had been lying on his death bed, barely able to take breath. Four broken ribs, a bullet wound with internal bleeding, head injury… Mal had always expected Jayne would die like that, in a job gone wrong. It was a grim truth he’d carried on his shoulders since he’d hired the mercenary. He just didn’t have any idea how much it meant until it nearly happened.

But now, Jayne was nearly back on his feet. Zoe was nursing an injured ankle, curtsey of a second job gone wrong, but it wasn’t so bad. They’d headed to Greenleaf to buy some medicine off a guy Mal knew, an employee of a pharmaceutical company who liked to sell a little illegally on the side. Simon had made him get more antibiotics, morphine, a few more specialized drugs that Mal hoped they’d never need. A vain hope, he supposed, since Simon had only wanted them for Jayne, drugs Jayne needed and drugs Jayne had needed, but had been forced to do without when…

Sometimes, Mal felt that there was a force in the universe that was out to pick his crew off one by one. Sometimes.

“Has Inara come down yet?” he asked Zoe.

His second shook her head in response. “Haven’t seen hair or hide of her.”

In addition to picking up their own meds, Mal had arranged a simple transport job. Every planet had its quirks. Jñāna’s quirk was that it had an unusually high concentration of proteins that tended to cause respiratory problems around in its atmosphere. Not fatal problems, mind, unless you had asthma already, but poor health nonetheless. In the more populated southern regions it wasn’t much of a problem. The meds were in easy supply. The northern regions weren’t so lucky. There were very few places to land up there, safe places, anyway. Mal wasn’t so happy about being there himself, but with two jobs so recently having gone south the ship needed the money.

Mal was supposed to meet some folk at the drop point in five hours. On account of his tow gun hands being sidelined with injuries, and Kaylee being so eager to show Simon and River how to play in the snow (turns out, the snow on St. Albans was the first snow either Tam sibling has ever seen – it simply doesn’t snow in Capital City, Osiris), Inara was going to accompany Mal to the drop point.

He wasn’t too happy about it.

“Well, she’d better get here quick,” Mal said. “Woman’s gotta start pulling her weight ‘round here.” But not like this. Mal had watched yesterday as Zoe and Inara sat at the kitchen table an went over the quirks of a mid-sized pistol that Inara was going to borrow. Inara with a gun. Mal knew that Inara had had one during the Lassiter job, but that had just been for show. At least, Mal always thought of it as being for show. He’d never seen her holding it, pointing it. He’d never imagined her holding it. It seemed wrong to him. Inara wasn’t a warrior.

“Oh, Cap’n, relax. You got plenty of time!” Kaylee said. “Mule’s all prepped an’ they don’t expect you at the drop sight for a long time yet.”

“I know that,” Mal snapped. Off Kaylee’s hurt look, he added. “Look, I just… I don’t want things to get complicated, all right?”

“And I see no reason that they should,” Inara said, stepping into the kitchen. Mal whirled around to see her. Her hair was pulled away from her face, chocolate curls draped over her left shoulder. She was beautiful. She walked past him, heading for her food locker. “After all,” she said over her shoulder, “it’s just a simple drop, right?”

“Yeah, well, it’s always a simple drop, isn’t it?” He said, crossing his arms over his chest.

Inara just smiled at him as she poured her tea, then headed out of the room. Kaylee and River left shortly after, eager to refine the new piece of patched together engine parts, or whatever it was they used to make their sleigh. Jayne walked behind them, a little slower, more cautious and less excited. Mal sat down at the table, nibbling on a piece of toast as he watched them go.

“She ain’t weak,” said Zoe, sitting patiently. “Proved that on Miranda.”

Mal sighed. “I know she ain’t weak,” he said. “Doesn’t mean she should be goin’ out on jobs. She ain’t trained for it. She’s got not experience, no qualifications…”

“You need a resume to be a thief these days, Captain?” said Zoe, flashing him a wry smile. Mal smiled back too, weary, tired despite all the sleep he’d gotten the night before. Sounds from the cargo bay drifted in as Kaylee loudly chastised Simon for not providing River with a more feminine jacket. Mal shook his head. “It’s a simple job,” Zoe reminded him. “Ain’t dealing with soldiers. Ain’t dealing with crooks. Just a group of people lookin’ to take care of their own. They ain’t dangerous.”

“We’ve got ourselves into worlds of trouble dealin’ with folk who ain’t dangerous. Literally. Worlds.” He sighed. “It’s just… lately, Zoe, things ain’t been…” He sighed again. “Almost seems to me as if they’re a… force or… or a…” He took a sip of his coffee, trying to sip away the ridiculousness of what he was about it say, the ridiculous of thinking that maybe God was mad at them for Miranda. For whatever reason. Not that there was a God. There wasn’t. He’d learned that a long time ago, but…

“She ain’t kissed you yet, has she?”

Mal nearly choked on his coffee. “’Scuse me?”

“So, she really hasn’t.” Mal ignored her, focusing instead on cleaning his coffee-stained shirt. Zoe handed him a napkin and continued. “So which are you more afraid of., Inara kissin’ you, or Inara not kissin’ you?”

“I’m more afraid of ‘Nara and I gettin’ shot in the face, actually,” Mal said, getting up to throw away the dirtied napkins. “But thanks for your concern.”

~*~

She hadn’t worn the pants for a long time. Inara had received them from a client who wanted to take her horseback riding. He was a rich business executive, much older than she was. He was a very sweet man but also a very lonely man. His favorite thing in the world was his horse, an Arabian whom he called Arizona. It was a place on Earth-that-Was, the place his family had come from. Inara sighed. It was a useless memory. And the pants were useless, too. They wouldn’t do a thing to protect her from the cold should she get wet, but… but they were all she had.

So she wore them. She had two pairs of tights on underneath to keep from being too cold. Some sweaters. Her coat and hat and gloves and scarf were laying on the bed, which remained unmade even though she’d woken up hours ago. The neatness of the shuttle – which was once her shuttle, but didn’t really feel like hers any longer – didn’t matter to her the way it once did. Right now, she had more pressing matter. The gun.

She was already wearing the holster. It had been fairly simple to put on. It looked ridiculous, so long and worn, against her brand-name, rarely used equestrian khakis. But it was on. The gun was loaded. Inara had spare ammunition in her coat pocket, though she doubted that she’d need it. She doubted that she’d need the gun at all. And yet, she had it, on her body, on her bed. She put the gun into the holster and sighed. Such an easy movement. Effortless.

~*~

Kaylee insisted on making them mugs of hot chocolate before they were allowed to go. Mal had refused his, citing that he couldn’t hold onto it and drive the mule at the same time, anyway. Inara held hers in her hands, sipping it periodically. They had been on the road, silently, for almost fifteen minutes. The warm, chocolate liquid was starting to grow cold. Inara thought about downing it all in one big gulp so that it wouldn’t go to waste, but decided against it.

“How much further to the drop point?” she asked, trying to keep her voice even and conversational. She and Mal… they hadn’t been fighting lately and Inara wasn’t in the mood to chance their sudden truce. Mal was tense. She could see it in every movement of this body. She had no desire to set him off.

“About thirty minutes,” Mal said.

“That’s…” Inara let her voice trail off. She didn’t really know what that was. Good? Great? Okay? A long while? Chilly? She sighed softly, hoping that Mal couldn’t hear her. Much as she wanted to pretend things were normal, they weren’t normal. For the seventh time since they left Serenity, Inara fingered the pistol strapped onto her leg.

“Stop doing that,” Mal barked.

“Sorry,” Inara responded. The response was immediate, uncharacteristic. Mal softened instantly.

“Its just… it’s a bad habit to get into. If you keep… drawing attention to your gun then the client might get the wrong idea, that’s all,” Mal explained. Inara smiled politely.

“I’ll try to remember,” she told him. Then, after a pause, she added, “I’m nervous about this, Mal.”

“Me, too,” he answered. “But, it’s a simple drop-off. Should be no use for guns. Everything is going to be fine.”

Inara shook her head. “That’s not exactly what I mean. I mean… that certainly is part of it. The gun. This job. But it isn’t all of it.” She took another sip of Kaylee’s hot chocolate despite the fact that the liquid truly had grown cold now. She looked out at the scenery that stretched before her. Mountains stood majestically in the distance, quiet and wise, covered the snow that shimmered as his fell through the air. Jñāna’s was beautiful. “I haven’t spoken with anyone from the Guild for two months.”

“Is that so?” Mal said. She couldn’t read his tone of voice. Or, maybe she just didn’t want to. She knew he hated talked about those things, but that that moment she really didn’t care.

“It’s so,” she told him. “After Miranda, I waved Sheydra to tell her I was taking a leave of absence from the house. I… I purposefully waved her when I knew she was sleeping, Mal. Maybe it makes me a coward, but… at the time, I wasn’t sure I could deal with the disapproval she would hold in her eyes. I just wasn’t strong enough. I still don’t know if I’m strong enough.”

“You’re strong,” Mal told her. Inara’s heart swelled with warmth. And then, “and if you ain’t, well, today is a good day to fake it.” She was cool again, instantly cool, and again she was not sure what to say.

“Usually,” she managed, “this is the part where you ask if I intend to stay.”

“Usually,” Mal agreed.

“Well,” Inara prompted, “aren’t you going to ask?”

Mal sighed loudly in response. “I ain’t doin’ this, Inara. Not now.”

Inara nodded, though she knew he wasn’t looking, couldn’t see. It was an improvement, really. Not so long ago, Mal would have tried to shut her down with a hurtful or judgmental remark instead of just telling her that he wasn’t in the mood to have this conversation. Small steps, Inara thought.

Except they weren’t taking small steps. At least, she wasn’t taking small step. Two months ago, Inara had betrayed an Operative of the Alliance and fled from the Training House. On a certain level, that meant she’d betrayed the Guild, too. She’d resumed living in the black again, something she’d told herself she would never do. She told herself, when she left, that a person needed ground under her feet so that she would always know where she stands.

And that was the problem. Inara didn’t know where she stood. Not anywhere, nor with anyone. Everyone had changed since she left. Some in big ways, like River who was getting… better, or as better as was possible. Really, they had all changed in big ways. Zoe was a widow. Simon and Kaylee were a couple. Jayne had nearly died, and in light of that he was different. Mal was different, too. It was harder to name just what about him had changed, but he was different.

And she was wearing a gun.

“Do you ever wonder if you’d be happy if your way had turned out the way you through it would when you were a child?” she asked.

Mal didn’t respond immediately. “I guess so,” he said. “Wouldn’t have been a war, for one thing, and that… and I’d be on Shadow, still, I suppose.”

“And I would be on Sihnon,” Inara said. “I would be House Priestess by now.”

Mal sighed loudly. Inara had no trouble reading his emotions this time: he was clearly annoyed. “Told you, ‘Nara, I ain’t getting into that right now,” he said.

“I’m not asking you to,” she said quickly. “I just… I can’t help thinking about how much things have changed.”

Mal smirked. “Let’s see. Got a crew half injured, no coin in the bank… don’t seem like much has changed to me.”

“I’m here,” Inara offered.

Mal didn’t have a response to that. Inara wasn’t surprise. She didn’t know quite what to make of it, either. It wasn’t as if she’d never held a gun before, or shot one. Quite the opposite. She’d had a client once who was had a fondness for pistols. He was on the executive board of a gun manufacturing company, in fact. He would take her to the range and show of his more exotic pistols. He insisted she shot all of them. She’d humored him because… well, it was what he liked. He got off on that feeling of power. It touched him, and he watched it to touch her to. In its own way, it had.

She smiled at the irony of it. So, not everything she’d learned from her clients turned out to be useless after all. That was good. It was good to know.

“What?” Mal asked her.

“Nothing,” Inara said. “I was just thinking about an old client of mine.”

“I see,” said Mal. Inara fought the urge to roll her eyes at his tone. She knew he was stressed, she knew that, but it was hard to have too much sympathy for him when she was going through her second midlife crisis, and at the age of twenty-nine, no less. Most people got to wait until they were at least forty before they started picking their lives apart. Inara had, essentially, gutted hers twice in less than five years. Less than three years, in fact.

She took a breath. The air of Jñāna, however harmful it might be to long term residents, felt crisp and cool going into Inara’s lungs, refreshing after weeks of breathing recycled air. “I don’t mean to provoke you Mal,” she said.

“I know,” he answered. “And I don’t mean to be… provokeable.”

“I know,” she answered.

~*~

When they returned Kaylee’s snow day was long over. Zoe and Jayne had retired to their bunks, worn out after the day’s activities. Kaylee and Simon had retired to their bunks, though rest was the furthest thing from their minds. River was in the kitchen, finishing a small supper and reading… something. When Mal and Inara entered she politely excused herself. They weren’t sure why. Impossible as it had once seemed, the girl was even odder now that she was saner.

For a moment, the two just stood there. Then, Mal excused himself and headed for his bunk.

~*~

He was on the verge of falling asleep when there was a loud knock at the door. Mal groaned, rolling over to look at the time. Ten thirty-five. Okay, not nearly as late as he thought it was, but late enough that he has a reasonable expectation of uninterrupted. It was probably River, he thought with a groan. She linked to do that sometimes, wake him up to talk about… Mal wasn’t sure. Usually he was groggy and River was talking around him, going on about science or… whatever the subject was that evening.

He quickly dressed and opened the bulkhead. To his surprise, it wasn’t River, it was Inara. “Get your coat,” she said quickly. “Boots too.”

Mal blinked. Yep, it certainly looked like Inara, but she was sounding like River. “What?” he asked her. Inara shook her head at him.

“Hurry up, or you'll miss it.”

And so Mal threw on his shoes and his coat and followed her towards the kitchen. To his surprise, she opened the hatch in the hallway and began climbing up. He followed her. He blinked when he emerged on the top of Serenity’s hull. Two folding chairs were set up on the hull – which was covered in at least three inches of snow, probably four, Mal wagered – both chairs surrounded by candles of all sorts of shapes and colors and… scents. She had to a bottle of wine – real wine, not Kaylee’s stuff – and two mugs laid out before them on a portion of oddly flattened snow. Which, of course, was the first thing Mal saw fit to comment on. “You rolled in it?”

She rolled her eyes. “I made a snow angel, Mal.”

“Why?” he asked.

She shrugged. “I don’t know,” answered. “I was laying here just… thinking and I guess… I guess I felt childish. I don’t think I’ve made a snow angel since I was eleven years old.”

“Why were you…”

She answered his question before he could finish asking, pointing at the sky behind him. Mal turned around, a smile involuntarily gracing his lips as he took in the sight of it. Shimmering waves of pink and blue light were stretched across the horizon, their tips touching stars that stretched out for miles and miles, as far as the eye could see. It surrounded them, endless auroras dancing in the night. He turned to Inara, she was smiling as well. “Wine?” she asked. She chuckled at him when he didn’t answer and poured him a cup.

They sat down on the folding chairs and watched the stars.

They didn’t try to make idle conversation. Mal supposed the long trip to the drop site and back had gotten all that out of their system. Their contact had been their already when he arrived. He was an older gentlemen, easily sixty. He gave the money, had his boys unload the cargo, and they were on their way. Inara had been great. Mal had been… he didn’t know. Stressed, maybe was the word. She’d done most of the talking. She was funny and charming and… She had really taken care of him.

“Refill?” Inara asked as she picked up the bottle to fill up her cup. He shook his head, looking down at his own half empty cup. She put the bottle back on the ground, on her imprint of her snow angel. Mal noticed for the first time that she’d placed the chairs in the wings. He smiled at that. He looked at her. She was looking out at the stars, the light, creating a small, white cloud each time she exhaled. He was expecting her to look breathtaking, and she was, but… Inara’s hair was pulled back in a small ponytail at the base of her skull. Her features were relaxed, but tired. She wasn’t wearing any makeup or jewelry. And surprisingly, Mal found that he missed it on her.

“Are you okay?” he asked her.

She turned to him, raising her eyebrow. “Is there a reason I shouldn’t be?” She was smiling, teasing him.

Mal smiled back, but it didn’t hold. “I’m not sayin’ I don’t appreciate all this,” he said, gesturing to the wine, “but…”

“But what, Mal?” she asked. “Are you okay?” she asked.

“About as okay as I get,” he replied. “It was a good day.”

“Yes,” Inara said, “it was a good day.” She raised her cup. Mal, smiling, raised his too. The cupes clanked together and they both laughed a little, downing a sip of wine. “Do you need a refill now?” Inara asked. Mal nodded and she filled his cup.

“Where did you get this?” he asked.

“I had Sheydra mail me some of my things to Greenleaf,” she said. “When you and Simon were out making the medicine deal, I walked into town and picked them up. Nothing big. I had her send some clothes, some of my incense… and the wine. Because I thought, with everything, that we could use it.” She looked at the bottle. “I don’t know why I didn’t open it sooner. I guess it just wasn’t the right time.”

“Well, good… timing,” he said, taking another sip. They settled back into their chairs. Inara didn’t offer to refill his cup when she refilled hers. “You’re hittin’ those down pretty fast,” he commented.

“Maybe,” she said. “Maybe you’re just slow.”

“Nope,” Mal answered. “I ain’t once been accused of drinkin’ too slow, believe me. Now, too fast, on the other hand… might have happened once or twice.”

“Twice?” she repeated.

“Maybe a few times more than twice,” he admitted. He took a deep breath. The question Zoe had asked her earlier that morning invaded his thoughts without warning. Maybe it was the wine, maybe it was the view, or the job gone well. Maybe it was because he was tired. Or maybe, maybe it was what he had wanted all along. He was going to kiss her. It was a long time coming, really. He was going to turn to her, tell… tell her anything, everything, and then he would kiss her. He took a breath, readying himself, then turn to her and…

And tilted his head, pushing his lips together in concern. “Inara?” She turned to him, embarrassed, and quickly brushed the tear trails off her cheeks. She smiled. Maybe she thought he hadn’t seen. But he did. Mal saw them. Inara was crying. “Are you… are you okay?” he asked, bridging the gap between them to wipe one stray tear trail off her cheek.

“Yeah, I’m… I’m okay,” she said.

“You were crying,” he said.

“I just…” For a moment she tried to fight it. He saw the tension on her face, the effort to stop something she couldn’t. And then the tears fell down her cheeks, one after the other. She didn’t push them away. “I just… I was thinking about being drunk and how… I mean, I’ve been drunk, Mal, many times, but… but never like that.”

He didn’t understand. “Like what?” She started crying a little harder.

“I…” she took a breath. “I…” but she couldn’t. Mal sat their for a moment, not sure what to do as her light crying quickly escalated into sobs. And then slipped out of his chair onto the snow. He pulled her out of her chair and into his arms and her held her. He didn’t whisper in her ear because he didn’t know what to say. He just held her.

The spell didn’t last long. After a minute or two Inara’s breathing was almost normal, and while tears were still falling down her cheeks she wasn’t hysterical. Mal waited for her to say something, but she didn’t. Instead, she let him hold her. She put her head on his shoulder and sat there not moving, not speaking. Mal closed his eyes and rested his head on hers, drinking in the scent of her hair. He realized, suddenly, that he’d never been this close to her, that he’d never smelled her hair before. He’d done it so many times in his dreams that sometimes he woke up in the morning thinking he had. And now he was. He tightened his hold on her. She slid her arms around his waist, holding him too.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered after a while.

“It’s okay,” he whispered back.

“You must think—”

“I don’t think anything,” he said before he could finish. “I mean, I’m worried being that cryin’ ain’t very Inara-like, but I… its okay to cry sometimes.”

She sighed. “I’ve said that so many times.”

“Said what?” Mal asked.

“That it’s okay to cry.” She pulled away from him, wiping the tears off of her face. “You see, my clients they… it’s never just about sex. It’s about getting what you need, be it comfort, validation, excitement… And I was just… I just started thinking about how when I was with clients I couldn’t get… It sounds so silly, but I would drink a few glasses of whatever we were having… wine, champagne… and then I would… if we were in a restaurant I would tell him I was going to the bathroom and then I would talk to a waiter, explain that I couldn’t...” she laughed, “…that I needed him to bring me alcohol-free wine! When you’re drunk it’s harder to read your client and that’s…”

“It’s not professional,” Mal provided.

“It isn’t,” Inara agreed. “And you… what you said, it just made me think about how I’ve never really… I’ve always limited myself. I’ve never gotten drunk beyond a point that I could handle. I don’t think I… I don’t think I’ve ever even slurred my speech.”

Mal couldn’t help but smile. “It ain’t exactly a glamorous process. There are tons of nights I wish I could forget, and tons more I wish I could remember.”

“Yes,” Inara said, smiling back, “I know that getting piss drunk isn’t… glamorous, as you put it, but… but it is something I’ve never done, Mal. And then I got to thinking about all the other things I haven’t done. All the stupid things you’re supposed to do when you’re Kaylee or River’s age. And then I started thinking about the job today and I started wondering if I would ever go with you on another one. And then I thought about how if I stay, how…” she didn’t finish. Instead she sighed and turned toward the stars. After a moment, she turned back to him. “We should probably stand up,” she said. “It’s very cold out and we’re sitting in the snow.”

“No,” Mal said.

“No?” Inara asked.

“I gotta make a snow angel first,” he said. Inara looked at him like he had too heads, then burst into laughter.

“Was that supposed to be so funny?” she asked when she stopped.

“Maybe you’re drunk,” Mal suggest.

“Maybe,” Inara said. She started laughing again. Mal smiled at her, laughing hysterically, framed by the light of the stars. Mal couldn’t think of a time he’d ever seen her so freely joyful. Or so freely sad, for that matter. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m acting like a complete lunatic tonight.”

“A bit,” he said, “but to be fair you’re only doin’ a so-so job of it.”

“Only so-so?” Inara repeated. “Well, that just won’t do. If I’m going to be a lunatic, I should at least do a good job of it.”

“I guess,” Mal said. “Let’s see… you could… you could drug me, steal a shuttle…”

“I don’t think so,” Inara interrupted. “That’s already been done.”

“I see,” Mal said. “You want to be an original lunatic.” He shook his head. “Well, let’s see… this is going to be tough. River had lunatic covered for such a long time, I ain’t sure there’s much ground she left untouched…”

“I’ll think of something,” Inara said. “Are you going to make your snow angel or what?”

“When I’m ready,” Mal answered. “There’s no rush.”

“We really should go inside,” Inara pointed out. “We’re soaked. It’s freezing. We’re going to get sick, and then Simon’s going to complain about it. Kaylee, too.”

Mal shook his head. “I think you need more wine.” He reached for her cup, sitting pristinely next to her abandoned chair, and refilled it. Their fingers brushed as he handed her the cup. She smiled as she accepted it. She took a sip. Mal shook his head. “Come one, Inara. You can do better than that,” he said. She rolled her eyes then downed the entire cup. Mal clapped and cheered. The sound echoed against the stars. Inara laughed at him as he grabbed her cup and refilled it again.

“I don’t know, Mal…” she said as he handed it to her.

“Are you chicken?” he asked. She took a large sip in response.

“Now, what about your snow angel?” she asked.

“Why do you keep coming back to that?”

“Why do you keep spalling?”

Mal raised an eyebrow. “And what is spalling, exactly?” Inara burst out laughing. “You know what, I don’t wanna know,” Mal said, and she laughed even harder. He smiled pushing his chair and a few of her candles aside so that he could lie down in the snow. He extended his arms and his arms and his legs waving them back and forth in the snow, leaving and angel imprint. “There,” he said sitting up. “Happy now?”

“No,” Inara said.

“No?”

“We have the entire hull to chose from, and you have to make your snow angel right on top of my snow angel,” Inara said with mock-accusation. “You ruined it.”

“Did not,” he responded.

“Look at it, Mal,” she challenged. She had a point. Her snow angel now looked like it had a rather large, potentially cancerous growth coming out of its left wing. He shrugged, causing Inara to giggle even more. Mal smiled at her. Inara was a happy drunk. He pushed himself to his feet, then grabbed her wrists, pulling her up, too, wrapping his arms around her for a second when she lost her balance. “Sorry,” she said, steadying herself.

“That’s okay,” he said. He took her hand in his and started walking. “’Sides, you’re right. I ruined your snow angel. You know what that means?”

“What?” Inara asked.

“We gotta make new ones.” She laughed again. He led her to a spot that was, he suspected, right above the kitchen. He wondered if they’d be able to see the snow angels through the ceiling windows in the morning. The crew might ask questions. Not that it mattered. They could ask anything they wanted. They both fell backwards into the snow, waving their arms and legs like little kids. When they were finished they lay there, on the top of the ship, looking at each other under the stars.

Mal kissed her. He pulled her into his arms and kissed her. She kissed him right back, pulling his tongue into her mouth with her lips, wrapping her arms around his body. Mal wasn’t sure how long it lasted. It wasn’t short, though. They made snow angels like they were kids and kissed like they were teenagers.

When it finally stopped Inara laid her head down on his arm and closed her eyes. He ran her fingers through her hair and realized that Inara had probably never kissed anymore like she’d kissed him just now, with so carelessly and with such need. It made him feel amazing, but just a little bit sad. Amazing because – because it was amazing, it was incredible, and they were lying in the snow underneath the aurora and the stars. But a little bit sad, realizing that she’d never done it before. He certainly had.

“You’re not falling asleep, are you?” he asked. She’d been quiet for a while.

“No,” she answered. She opened her eyes, propped herself on her elbow. “We both ruined the snow angels this time.”

Now it was Mal’s turn to laugh uncontrollably. “Yeah, I guess we did.” He sat up. “We should go inside. It’s cold.”

“Okay,” Inara said. “Help me up?” He got to his own feet and then helped her to hers. Not that she needed it, really. She was drunk, but she wasn’t stumbling quite yet.

“You know,” he said as they collected all of Inara’s candles and folded the chairs, “I think we got a jug of Kaylee’s wine in the kitchen.”

“That’s all right, Mal,” she said. “I don’t think I need anymore tonight.”

“That’s probably for the best,” he agreed. “How ‘bout I climb down first, an’ you hand all this stuff down to me?”

“I think I can do that,” Inara replied. “What are we going to do when we go inside?”

“I don’t know. Got any lunatic plans yet?”

“Sorry,” Inara said with a small laugh. “I was distracted.”

“That’s one way of putting it.”

They successfully got all of Inara’s things down the airlock, and then Inara climbed down, shutting it behind her. He knew that they should probably pick up the chairs and the candles and put them back to wherever it was that they went, but they didn’t. They took off their coats and draped them over chairs in the kitchen so they could dry. “We’re umm…” Inara said. “We’re still all wet.”

“We were rolling around in the snow,” Mal pointed out.

“We should change,” Inara said, “or we’ll end up getting sick.”

“I know,” said Mal. He leaned forward and kissed her again, covering his mouth with hers. “We should probably get to bed,” he said when he pulled away. “One of us is going to have to pilot the ship in the morning. Probably me.”

“We could have River do it,” Inara suggested.

Mal shook his head. “She isn’t ready. Not by herself, anyway.”

“I know,” Inara agreed. “I know.” She wrapped her arms around him and pulled him into another kiss. She didn’t pull away when it ended. Instead, she looked up at him, looked into his eyes. Her gaze we so warm, honest, beautiful. “We’re… I mean…” she trailed off.

“What?” Mal prompted.

“Promise me,” she said, “that we’ll talk about this. I don’t want… I’m not saying things well tonight.” He smiled at her. It made her smile too. “It’s just, you and I, Mal, we’re guarded people. We don’t let others into our lives lightly or easily. This…” she took a heavy breath, “Sometimes, people like us ignore things like this. And I don’t want to ignore this, Mal. I want… I don’t know, but I don’t want to ignore this. So, I want you to promise me you won’t. Promise me.”

“I promise,” Mal said. “I promise you, Inara. I promise.”

She rewarded him with the warmest smile he’d ever seen her smile, kissed him, and headed to her shuttle. Mal stood there, watching her walk away. He could feel the silly grin on his face, a grin he just couldn’t wipe off. Snow angels. It had been a good night.

COMMENTS

Tuesday, January 16, 2007 10:13 PM

TAMSIBLING


Aww, that was so gorram cute! I loved it!

I always like your Mal/Inara, but I really like the idea of Inara letting go, doing her best to trust someone, especially Mal. And the fact that she had set up the chairs so they could watch the northern lights together - absolutely adorable.

Although I'm thinking a sequel is in order - Mal, after all, has a promise to keep!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007 4:40 AM

GIRLFAN


This is just fantastic.

And I'm with TamSibling - there must be a sequel!

>"Doesn’t mean she should be goin’ out on jobs. She ain’t trained for it. She’s got not experience, no qualifications…”
>“You need a resume to be a thief these days, Captain?” said Zoe

Hilarious!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007 6:45 AM

EMPIREX


*Sniff* This seriously made me tear up. It was just so sweet and *REAL*. Mal and Inara had a moment and it was just perfect. Thanks, Arcadia! You've made my day!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007 7:54 AM

AMDOBELL


Loved this to bits and so happy they kissed! This was wonderfully romantic with neither Mal or Inara saying or doing anything dumb to spoil the moment. Inara said it best when she said they were both guarded people and they are but now that their defences are down we definitely need a sequel to see how they handle what happened in the morning. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Wednesday, January 17, 2007 1:24 PM

LEIASKY


>>"Doesn’t mean she should be goin’ out on jobs. She ain’t trained for it. She’s got not experience, no qualifications…”
>“You need a resume to be a thief these days, Captain?” said Zoe

Definitely the best line. Not many people write Zoe well, but you've got her down very good.

And you write the Mal/Inara tension real well too. Nicely done!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007 7:33 PM

BLUEEYEDBRIGADIER


Yep...I'm giving you a 10, Arcadia. Cuz in my books...this is worth the entire spread :D

Between Zoe's rejonders to Mal about his paranoia to how you handled Mal and Inara slowly letting each other into their respective hearts and minds...I was awed and basically tearing up at just how spectacular this was ;D

BEB

Thursday, January 18, 2007 8:51 PM

ARCADIA


I want to thank all of your for the lovely reviews! :-) They mean a lot to me. I am especially glad that you all enjoy Zoe. I haven't had a chance to write her in a long time, so it was fun. I wouldn't expect a sequal, but I am very complimented that you've asked for one. If I ever get an idea... but we'll see. Thanks everyone!

Saturday, January 20, 2007 6:09 AM

KATESFRIEND


What a wonderful story! I enjoyed the fluff very much but you kept everyone so true to character. Wonderful!

Saturday, January 20, 2007 7:04 AM

PHYRELIGHT


This is so sweet! I'm glad you chose not to have them sleep together so quickly. Mal sending her off to her own bed is so gentlemanly of him. That small act is all Inara really needs from a true love.


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