The Slower Path: Snow Cream - Part 7 - Sequel to A Measure of Heallin'
Sunday, March 9, 2008

Mal and Inara share some snow cream.



Part 1: Favourite Things - Part 2: Long Day - Part 3: The Basics - Part 4: Brown Paper Packages Part 5: The Companion's New Clothes - Part 6: A Measure of Healin'


The Slower Path: Snow Cream Sequel to A Measure of Healin' by 2x2 Rating: PG Word Count: 3174 Pairing: Mal/Inara, Simon/Kaylee Spoilers: Set post BDM


The ship was quiet as Inara made her way up the steps to the galley, stepping softly so as not to make too much noise in her new boots. It was late, and most of the crew was abed by now, but she knew by their unspoken agreement at dinner earlier that he would be there, waiting for her. She smiled at the thought, a happy shiver of anticipation bubbling through her as she reached the crew deck; that they were doing this thing, taking their chance.

One hand sliding along the bulk head, she turned the corner and slowly stepped down the three stairs into the kitchen, her eyes seeking him out in the soft glow of the gaslights, smile widening as she found him leaning against the counter, watching her, his own lips curving, eyes twinkling in the half light.

Mal let out a slow breath, his pulse quickening as he looked at her. Her skin fairly glowed in the flickering light, surrounded by the soft, curling wisps of her hair; and the clothes… the way her shirt curved with her, and the pants… the boots… The sight of her nearly stole his breath away.

“Wondered when you’d be along,” he said finally, his voice soft and rumbling in his chest in a way that made her warm and tingly and she smiled. She’d made him wait, just a little while; just enough to make her impending arrival all the more sweetened by anticipation. And decorum dictated that she not seem too eager; even if she was.

She crossed the room to him slowly, drinking him in as he straightened up, uncrossed his arms. He’d changed shirts from earlier, she noticed, the soft grey moleskin now instead of the blue cotton, and he’d forgone the suspenders. His hair even seemed freshly washed and dried, its soft, downy look calling to her fingers as it always did. She tightened her hands into fists, resisting the temptation.

Mal watched her, his brow rising in puzzled surprise as he noticed the movement, wondering what she was keeping herself from doing – or touching. “You ain’t gonna hit me, are you?” he asked curiously, reaching out to catch one of her hands with his, a grin quirking his lips.

She arched an eyebrow at him, uncurling her fist to lay her palm in his. “Should I?” she asked teasingly and he squeezed her hand, shaking his head.

“Might put a damper on the rest of the evening,” he said with a wink, squeezing her hand once more before he released it and reached over to open the freezer. “Made you a promise before,” he said, motioning with the dish be brought out, holding it between them so she could see.

She stepped closer, bringing her hands up to cup both his and the bowl. “Snow cream?” she guessed at the soft, creamy confection.

“Reynolds family specialty,” he said with a nod, hand tingling at the contrast between the heat of her hands and the chill from the bowl. Smiling broadly, he produced a spoon from behind him and stuck it into the cream. “Best to eat it while it’s cold, ‘fore it melts,” he added, eyes twinkling again.

She looked up at him for a moment, something tightening inside her at the thought of him sharing something like this with her. Holding his gaze, a soft smile played about her lips, gradually growing to match his before she flushed inexplicably and pulled her eyes away. Shaking her head at herself with a laugh, she turned for the table, pausing as he caught her arm gently and motioned with the bowl toward the lounge that sat off to the side of the kitchen.

“Might be more comfortable in there,” he suggested, and she nodded, allowing him to guide her to the room, the feeling of his hand on her arm unexpected and warm.

She sat on the wider grey chair – the one without arms, wide enough for two – and pulled him back as he started for the chair next to her, not releasing her grip until he relented with a self-conscious smile and sat down beside her.

"You really made this with snow?" she asked him as he passed her the bowl, one eyebrow raised though she knew full well how the first ice cream was created much the same way thousands of years ago in China, back on Earth-that-Was.

"Well, was Kaylee and River done the work," he nodded, shifting so his elbow came to rest on the back of the chair – not exactly putting him arm around her, but giving them a little more room while bringing them closer together at the same time. "So if it tastes bad," he continued, "then I fully intend to blame the two of them"

"So, you're saying the Captain will go down with his ship, but not with his snow cream?" she said, smirking up at him coyly, laughing softly as his eyes widened at the possible double entendre.

"Eat your snow cream," he admonished, ignoring her comment with a rueful grin, "'s startin' to melt."

Grinning widely, she scooped up a spoonful of the frozen treat and brought it to her mouth, eyes half closing as she smiled around the spoon and made a hum of approval before pulling it out from between her lips. "It's good," she said, turning to look at him, impressed.

Mal could only swallow and nod, fighting to control the sudden raggedness of his breathing. It weren't the first time desire for her had hit him like a well-aimed fist to the gut, but he wasn't usually in such close proximity to her when it did, nor was it usually something he let himself feel more than he had to. But this was different; the coy look she shot him as she sucked that spoon into her mouth again told him she more than knew what she was doin' to him. It still scared the beejeezus out of him, just the same. Then she smiled up at him from under her half-lidded eyes and that fist hit him again.

"You, uh…," he started roughly, quiet, coughing to clear his throat. "Clothes look fine," he said, his eyes trapped by hers, and he felt like he was falling into them, unable to look away.

Inara smiled a happy, almost self-conscious smile at the compliment, turning her gaze down to her outfit. "I like them," she said, tugging on the hem of her shirt, hand smoothing over her thigh.

Mal blinked, the heavy spell suddenly broken, and he found he could breathe again. "Yeah?" he asked her, grinning faintly.

"My feet are hot," she complained lightly, "and the boots are stiff, but everything fits well." She cast a sidelong glance at him. "I had no idea you were such a connoisseur of women's under garments," she teased.

"Well I just… I th—Zoe thought—" he stammered, feeling a flush creep up his neck as he recalled just what Zoe had suggested. "Boots'll loosen up," he said with a cough, moving away from the subject of her under-things as fast as he could. "Just need to work 'em in some."

She nodded, biting back her grin, going easy on him. "I'll try to wear them everyday," she promised, smiling warmly. "It...," she trailed off, growing more serious suddenly. "I appreciate it – the clothes – very much," she said softly.

Mal nodded, scratching behind his ear uncomfortably. "Well, they… you look…" he let out a huff of air, feeling that flush make its way past his ears. "Cream's meltin'," he pointed out, swallowing thickly.

Inara turned back to her snow cream with a smile, feeling a flutter in her stomach at his unspoken approval of her new look, laughing at herself inwardly. She'd dressed to please men a hundred, a thousand, times before, but it seemed a lot more important that he liked the way she looked in this outfit; she wanted him to like it. She wanted him to more than like it.

Mal watched as she ate another spoonful and licked her lips appreciatively, shaking his head at himself. You are in so much trouble, he told himself, knowing he wasn’t going to be able to take watching her like this for much longer. "This really is good, Mal," she said, smiling that seductive smile that sucked all the air from his lungs at him again, and all he could think of was the glide of her lips over the curve of the spoon and how soft they were when she'd kissed him the night before and how much he wanted to taste them again. And all the while she smiled that knowing smile at him, driving him crazy with wanting her.

Taking up another spoonful of the snow cream, she suddenly turned to him, bringing her legs up under her, rising up on her knees slightly to match his height. "You'd better help me with this," she said, lifting the spoon towards his mouth, her hand cupped beneath it to catch any that might drip.

Mouth dry, he shook his head, catching her wrist. "I already had plenty—" he started, feeling his insides melt to about the consistency of the cream at the soft way her eyes looked at him.

"Share it with me," she whispered and he knew he was done for; not that he really wanted to win in this particular case.

"You're using wiles on me," he accused good-humouredly and she grinned at getting caught.

"Maybe a little," she acknowledged, leaning closer, offering the spoon again as his hold on her wrist slackened. "Are you complaining?" she asked softly, brushing the spoon over his mouth.

He shook his head, lips parting as he let out a breath and opened for the spoon, thinking as she fed it to him that snow cream had been one of his better ideas. Then she was leaning forward, her lips covering his suddenly and he surged up to meet her, groaning as her tongue curled around his.

Inara hummed into his mouth, chasing the last, melting drops of the snow cream before pulling back with a smile, looking very pleased with herself.

Mal licked his lips, lifting his eyes slowly to look at her with a rueful grin as he opened his mouth for seconds.

Biting her cheeks against a laugh, she filled the spoon and brought it to his lips again. "You said this was a family specialty? You made this when you were young?" she asked softly as he sucked the spoon clean, this time meeting her half way as she leaned in, the kiss lasting longer than the first one.

Mal nodded as they parted slowly, gaze half-lidded. "Every second snow-fall of the year," he almost whispered, their heads bent close together as Inara spooned up more cream.

"Every second snow-fall?" she questioned, voice fading in a sigh as he nuzzled into her hair gently.

"Better snow," he murmured, his breathe hot over her neck and ear. She closed her eyes at the sensation, head tilting into his ghosting touch, a shiver running through her.

"Better… how?" she breathed as she offered the spoon again, a soft sound slipping from her this time as their lips met. Oh, he was good at this, she thought happily. The idea of kissing him again had been in the back of her mind all day and she was pleased to find he was just as adept this time as he had been last night. Maybe even more so, she thought as he deepened their kiss.

Mal lost himself in her; tasting, touching, smelling. He shifted towards her more, frustrated by the limitations of their chair, thoughts evaporating as her tongue glided along his, hot and slick and he moaned, feeling a swell of desire for her so strong and sudden he had to break the kiss, his hands going to her forearms to hold her apart from him as he drew in a ragged breath.

Inara made a moue of protest as he pulled away, her own breaths coming quick and heavy, but she understood. The slower path, she reminded herself, recalling their mostly silent understanding that they would take this thing between them slowly; not jump into anything – like sex – too quickly. Closing her eyes she let out a slow breath and sat back.

"Why is it… better?" she panted, attempting to distract him.

"Wh-huh?" he asked, his eyes glazed in confused arousal.

"The snow," she clarified, regaining her composure somewhat. "You said the… the second snow-fall was better… Why?"

"I don't—" He shook his head. "Was jus' always… what we said; second snow-fall was clean an' fresh… Tasted better." He shrugged, heart still pounding, and seemingly without conscious thought, he let go of her arms and brought his hands up to cradle her face between them, drawing her mouth to his with a surrendering shake of his head, both of them sighing as they sank back into the kiss.

As with last night, Inara found herself near helpless to resist the lure of his lips, knowing they should stop if they were going to keep this slow, but no more able to than he was. She had denied this for so long, forbidden herself even to think about it; now that it was unleashed, controlling it seemed almost beyond her.

His hands held her gently, big and warm and tender and it made her chest tighten, emotion squeezing her heart even as her pulse raced with excitement and passion; a heady combination of feelings, so unlike any of what she experienced with her clients…

…Her hair was like silk, Mal thought, his fingers tangling in her curls, so soft. Everything about her was soft right now, her hair, her lips, her skin, the tiny noises she made in her throat, her touches, soft, soft, soft… and so much more than he ever expected.

He'd wanted her for what seemed like forever. Pretended he didn't. To her. To himself. Hid it behind his derision of her career; called her a whore, pushed her away. Treated harshly with himself for his weakness; took it out on her.

And so he always wanted, but never expected, to be here. With her. With her.

And that she was here - again - made it more than a fluke, didn't it? Made it real? Tianna, he wanted it to be real.

She made that tiny little sound in her throat again, one he was rapidly becoming fond of hearing, and he answered with a groan of his own, his hands slipping down around her back, pulling her closer to him insistently until she tensed suddenly, her hands clenching on his arms as she pulled away.

"Inar—?" Mal started, his heart thudding painfully in his chest, a worried frown creasing his brow, but she pressed her fingers to his mouth quickly, silencing his question as the noise she'd heard came again – the unmistakable muffled sound of hushed laughter and whispers.

"Kaylee—" Mal said against her fingers, eyes widening.

"And Simon," she nodded, regretfully, pressing her forehead to his.

The giggles came again, closer this time, the whispers forming distinct words as the doctor and mechanic made their way up from the engine room.

"—careful!" hissed Kaylee around a smothered laugh that turned to an all out snort as Simon said something in a low voice that obviously tickled the young woman. "Just wait till we get back to the engine room an'—OH!" she gasped in surprise as she and Simon stumbled into the galley - garbed only in what appeared to be Kaylee's bed sheet – and saw Mal and Inara sitting in the lounge.

"You two're makin' enough noise to wake the whole—what in di yu?" Mal sputtered, turning on the stool he was now sitting on to take in the two of them and their improvised clothing, whirling back quickly to keep from seeing too much. "Is there somethin' wrong with your clothes?"

"Well, they was all over the engine room, an' I thought it would take too long to gather 'em up an'—"

Mal held up a hand, silencing Kaylee's explanation. "That's… more'n I need to know, Kaylee," he said, pained.

Inara bit back a smirk, at both Mal's reaction and Simon's, the latter of whom had gone about as pale as Kaylee's sheet, mouth hanging open in abject horror.

"You said no one would be here," the doctor groaned, trying to slip behind the mechanic, urging her back the way they came.

Kaylee merely giggled, taking hold of Simon's hand more firmly as she smirked slyly at Mal and Inara. "Say, we ain't interruptin' nothin' here, are we?" she asked, taking note of Inara's smile.

"What're you doin' up here this time a' night anyhow?" Mal asked, ignoring the question, his gaze still firmly averted.

"Could ask you the same question," Kaylee teased, grinning.

"Kaylee," Mal growled and the girl rolled her eyes.

"Jus' came up for some more snow cream, Cap'n," she said innocently, exchanging grins with Inara.

"Well," said the Companion, standing, "we were just leaving, weren't we Mal?" she added, stepping to his side.

He stared up at her, about to protest until he saw the small smile and raised eyebrow she aimed at him. "Uh, right, yeah," he agreed, standing hastily.

"Enjoy your snow cream, mei mei. Simon," Inara said, smiling warmly at the pair as she walked past them, Mal following, his face averted.

"Good night, you two," Kaylee chuckled cheerfully, her giggles echoing after them as Captain and Companion made their way from the galley.

"Am' I gonna end up havin' to throw my doc out the airlock?" Mal asked Inara as they made their way toward her shuttle slowly.

Inara smiled. "I think it's wonderful Simon's finally allowed himself to be with Kaylee," she said. "Might loosen him up some," Mal agreed. "Don't mean I'm about to let him off easy though."

Inara rolled her eyes, amused. "You ride him too hard sometimes, Mal," she chastised, but she was smiling.

Mal grinned back. "Man's got to find his fun where he can get it, Inara," he said, winking.

"Well," she said, turning to face him as they reached the hatch to her shuttle. "We'll just have to find something else that's fun for you to do," she added, deliberately coy.

He bit back a smile. "Got some ideas, do you?" he asked, moving into her space, slipping her hands into his.

"Perhaps," she whispered as he drew closer.

"Well then…" he mumbled, eyes half closing as their lips barely brushed, breaths mingling warmly, smiling as Inara smiled.

"Good night, Mal," she whispered with the barest hint of a kiss, stepping back slowly, holding his hands until they were stretched between them before finally letting go.

Mal drew in a deep breath, letting it out heavily with a rueful chuckle as he backed away. "Good night, Inara."


Go to Part 8: Staying One Day Ahead of Yesterday ________________________________________________


Sunday, March 9, 2008 6:15 PM


It's amazing where a little snow cream will lead you.

Sunday, March 9, 2008 9:18 PM


I find my self wanting snow cream...

Monday, March 10, 2008 12:13 AM


where to start? this is precisely the subtle interplay based on deep 'romantic' feeling that is extremely hard to write (leastways for myself!)...
congrats 2x2 you done good - no haste but no waste and finely done, almost musical.

Monday, March 10, 2008 1:05 AM


Is it wrong that I want Kaylee to join Simon going out the airlock? Always with the interrupting just as we get to the good parts. I knew you would have someone interrupt Mal and Inara, it was just going too perfectly and beautifully smooth. Not sure the slower path isn't going to end up killing them both though. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Monday, March 10, 2008 9:03 AM


Wow. Just wow. When these two decide to get up to speed they're going to combust! Very much enjoyed the back and forth introspection and most especially the insight into why Mal had to keep his distance from Inara by insulting her. Mal averting his eyes was so in character I had to laugh. This was wonderfully descriptive to the smallest nuance. Drag it out as long as you want!

Monday, March 10, 2008 9:45 AM


I love it. This is how I expect their relationship to evolve.
keep 'em coming, please.

Monday, March 10, 2008 12:33 PM



Beautiful job! So slow and sweet. I love this. Poor Simon. He just keeps endearing himself to Mal. :D

Monday, March 10, 2008 1:26 PM


This elegantly captures their more subtle interplay, which I imagine is very difficult to write.

A 10+

Tuesday, March 11, 2008 3:48 AM


Trouble is, slow can slow right down to a stop. I think someone needs to take them in hand. But it's beautifully done, all the same!


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History of an Object
There’s no reason to keep it, damaged as it is. Save one. Doesn’t matter that it’s finer than any other cup on the ship, even with the crack. Doesn’t matter that it would never hold liquid again without some of it seeping through. Burning your fingers. Was only one reason he still has the cup.

Five Years' War
The night was warm. Clouds, low on the horizon, blue black in the last light of the setting sun. Nothing but the breeze and the buzz of the cicadas breaking the stillness. A perfect evening.

The Close Shore, At the End, Untenable
“Dead ’re in my head tonight,” he said finally. “Can’t get ‘em out. Don’t got the booze or the bar to distract me. Don’t know why I’m here ‘cept I don’t think I can go through it alone.”

The Slower Path: All the Difference - Part 15 - Sequel to The One Less Traveled By
She let out a breath, saying nothing for a long moment before she raised her eyes again. “There are some things I want you to know,” she said softly. “Things I want you to understand.”

Much as he wished he could ignore it, he could see it was important to her that he know whatever it was she wanted to tell him. He knew he wouldn't have let himself see it in the past, but that weren't where they were anymore, or at least, not where they wanted to be, either of them. Their relationship had changed, was changing, and he weren’t so stupid he didn’t recognize that. He didn't know that he wanted to know it, much less understand it, but she was reluctant enough to talk about any aspect of her life as it was; could be he might ought not stop her when she wanted to.

Unlucky at Cards...
“I… You can’t be that lucky!” Mal moaned as Inara beat him again, laying out her cards with a flourish.

The Slower Path: The One Less Traveled By - Part 14 - Sequel to Regrets
They fell silent again, struggling to find the ease that they had found, before; before the argument that had almost ended things.

"I feel like-," she started.

"This is-," he said at the same time.

They looked at each other. "Awkward," they both said, laughing lightly.

Always Had Faith
Faith in a higher power? That was always Mal's thing, the Captain, back in the war.

Loved and Lost
Love’s the biggest kind of hurt there is.

And I wouldn't trade that love for nothin'.

The Mood That Passes Through
He felt the first trembling shudder go through her, heard her breath hitch and felt her fingers grip his skin; knew it was comin', the wave that was cresting the walls she'd built to hold it back, whatever it was. Knew they were about to come crashing down around her. The first sob still hurt though, still lanced through his heart like a searing hot blade to hear her make that sound.