The Slower Path: Staying One Day Ahead of Yesterday - Part 8 - Sequel to Snow Cream
Monday, March 17, 2008

Mal and Zoe prepare to meet a contact, and Inara gains a new position, much to Jayne's chagrin.



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' - Part 7: Snow Cream


The Slower Path: Staying One Day Ahead of Yesterday Sequel to Snow Cream by anjulie and 2x2 Rating: PG Word Count: 2592 Spoilers: Set post BDM Pairing: Mal/Inara


"We got comms?” Mal asked Zoe as they made their way from the bridge to the galley, both dressed to travel, checking sidearms and gear as they walked side by side down the corridor.

"We got 'em," she replied, buckling her gun belt. "Shuttle's prepped and ready," she added, though she knew he already knew that. It was part of their pre-job check, one they made before any work they took, and it was as comfortable and as regular as a ritual.

“Got the med kit,” he said, nodding in the direction of the duffle he carried, “and we’ll carry rations for five days. Ought’n to take more’n than a day or two to suss these fellas out – see what’s what down there worth doin’,” he said, his mind already on the meet.

"Ain't likely to receive a warm welcome, they learn who we were," Zoe pointed out.

“Just need time to get to know us is all,” he commented drolly. “Your sense of humor and my pretty face – that’ll go a long way towards openin’ some doors – Maps,” Mal cut himself off abruptly, a question in his voice as he stopped suddenly, dropping his duffle to pat the pockets of his jacket and jeans. “Did you--?” he began, looking at Zoe.

She held up the maps, her eyebrow cocked as if to say 'didn't she always?' before she stuffed them back into her pack.

Normally she let the Captain's assurances chase away most of her reservations about a job or a contact, but not this time. Verbena was near as hostile to Browncoats as a Core world these days, and she worried that he was taking the warnings too lightly.

At least he'd agreed to forego his usual attire – the remnants of a uniform that fairly shouted what he was for any with eyes to see it – in favour of a less conspicuous outfit of muted denims. He wasn't stupid, thankfully. Stubborn, she'd be the first to admit, but not stupid.

Still, Zoe knew there wasn't much point in dwelling or complaining. She'd made her concerns known, and he'd taken them in stride, much as she'd expected him to. They were still going down; they had to.

Supplies were tight – tighter than he'd been letting on to the rest of the crew – and without some work they were headed for an unfavourable situation, and soon, if they didn't find something on the planet.

"Rifles?" she asked, her preference for taking them stated clearly in her tone. If they needed to hole up in the shuttle, they'd need more than their sidearms…

"Stowed. 'Long with some emergency ammo, but we ain't carryin'," he clarified as he picked up his bag and continued down the corrideor. "Don't wanna draw any undue attention. Saloon on the far end of town at 3:00. Figure we got plenty of time to get there. Have a drink. See if we can pick up on any other action might be about."

Touching her elbow to stop her, Mal turned to meet her questioning glance.

"Know you don't have a good feelin', Zoe," he said in a lowered voice, his face close to hers,"but I don't gotta tell you we're closer to the edge o' desperate than we been since me and you first started. Break don't come soon - we're gonna have to ground her someplace. That don't bode well for keepin' this crew together."

Zoe met his stare and nodded. She knew it. Knew too that the one thing that frightened him more'n most was the idea of Serenity grounded, with no prospects to speak of. "It's tight," she acknowledged, "but we'll get through." One way or another, she thought.

Mal nodded, her support encouraging him. "Always do," he said with a brief smile, hoping he sounded more confident than he felt.

They entered the galley, and Zoe split off to gather the rations as Mal nodded at the sleepy crewmembers gathered around the breakfast table. His eyes lingered on Inara for a moment before he made his way to the stove to make two cups of tea and ladle out two servings of coldish oatmeal.

Inara's eyes followed Mal, the memory of the night before fresh in her mind as she wondered when she would next see him alone, her thoughts interrupted as Jayne launched into an annoyed tirade.

"So, what's so ruttin' important we all had to be up fore' the ass-end of mornin'?" the mercenary groused, downing his coffee in one large gulp.

Mal stirred a spoon of molasses into his porridge before looking up. “Got word of some work late last night,” he answered slowly, his glance sliding over Simon, then meeting River and Kaylee’s sleepy eyes. “Wave came in from Verbena. Ain’t but a shuttle ride away and as you probably know, it’s a hot spot right now. Not a good place to dock. Me’n Zoe’s gonna go down, take a peek 'round, meet up with a fella that might have a job we'll be able to do. Could use some eyes in this quadrant too, keep us appraised of payin’ jobs and Fed activity.”

'You're leavin'?" Kaylee asked, her eyes opening wider as she sat up, looking between Mal and Zoe worriedly.

“Won’t be but a couple a days,” Zoe answered her with a reassuring smile as she tucked their provisions into a foil bag and sealed it shut before taking up her bowl of cooling oatmeal.

"Is it safe?" asked Simon, concerned. "I mean, if it's a - a hot spot like you say?"

Mal responded to Simon with a significant look in Kaylee’s direction. “It’ll be fine, Doc. Civil unrest, nothin’ more. We’ll be in and out before they know we’re there,” he answered and gave Kaylee a cheerful smile. “Don’t want to draw a lot of attention by landin’. Jayne’ll provide security here,” he added, taking a sip of scalding tea before dropping his bombshell. "And Inara’ll be in charge while we're gone.”

"What?!" exclaimed Jayne, sitting up with a start as Inara's equally shocked 'What?!' followed.

"Why the hell is she in charge? She ain't even crew!" Jayne protested, rising to his feet.

Mal turned a steely but unperturbed glance to the large mercenary. “Two reasons, Jayne. One – because I said so, and two - because I said so.

Now, the rest of you all got work what needs doin'. Kaylee, you been after me for a month to have some time to do your tinkerin’ – now’s your chance. Don’t take anything apart that we’ll need to move if we have to, but you can play with upgradin’ the nav console."

Kaylee's expression lighted at the prospect of getting to play with engine and she grinned. "Shiny, Cap'n," she said, taking Simon's hand in hers. "Wanna help?" she asked him, whispering something in his ear that had the young doctor blushing.

"River, we need to know about every rock in this system," Mal went on, studiously ignoring the pair, "especially if it’s big enough to hide behind, so see if you can pull us up some current charts and look ‘em over,” he instructed.

"Aye, aye, Captain," said River, feigning a salute as she hopped up and skipped off to the bridge cheerfully.

Inara looked across at Mal, her eyes meeting his, clearly wanting a moment alone with him, but the mercenary interrupted again.

"C'mon Mal, after Zoe I'm next in command," Jayne pressed. "No offence to I-nara," he said, turning to give a nod in her direction, "but she ain't exactly experienced."

Holding Inara’s gaze, Mal allowed himself a small smile before turning to the angry man. “Jayne, remember that rule how you're never in charge? Well, until further notice that's still our policy. ‘Sides, you might be surprised at what experience she has - for leadership," he said with a hard stare as Jayne cut a mean look at Inara. “I need your focus to be on keepin’ everyone safe,” he said firmly. “Can’t be security conscious if you’ve got to see to the day to day tasks of runnin’ the ship. Need to know that I can count on you.”

Jayne sat with a dis-satisfied grunt, muttering under his breath.

“Jayne?” Mal challenged, unimpressed by the other man’s theatrics. “Can I count on you?”

The mercenary frowned, scowling, but then he let out a breath, shrugged suddenly and seemed to throw off his anger. "Yeah," he said, looking across at Inara and nodding. "Yeah. 'Can do that."

"Good," Mal answered with a smile, his eyes moving back to catch Inara's gaze, "Leavin' things that are precious to me - want 'em here when I get back," he said softly, “same as I left ‘em.”

Jayne nodded again, knowing he was the best man for the job and not unaware of what Mal was entrusting him with.

"Mal?" Inara said softly, rising gracefully and angling her head toward the crew deck.

He turned to Zoe who shared a smile with Inara over his shoulder. She waved him off with her spoon. “Best be brief sayin’ your goodbyes, Sir, if you want to make land by daybreak,” she said before digging back into her breakfast.

Mal hesitated, then gathered his gear and followed as Inara led him down the front steps to the landing, glancing over his shoulder to make sure they were alone.

Inara echoed Mal's glance then turned back to him, stepping closer. "I'm not sure if I should be flattered or suspicious," she said, smiling slightly. "I must admit I'm surprised."

"You're the logical choice," he said, as if it were obvious. "Need someone smart with a good head on their shoulders, an' that rules out Jayne on both counts," he added, grinning.

She answered with a quick smile, reaching for his hand. "...How long do you think you'll be?" she asked finally, her eyes fixed on their entwined fingers.

He followed her gaze, absently noting the difference in the dark roughness of his hand in comparison to the soft, smooth skin of her smaller one. “Don't really know,” he answered her, brushing his thumb over her knuckles. “Could be a day or two – might be longer. You just watch over everyone – wave me if you have any troubles. You know the routine with Jayne,” he said, a smile in his eyes.

She smiled, turning her gaze up to his. "We'll be fine," she said. "Lonely," she added with a wry tilt of her head, "but fine." She hesitated a moment, moving slighlty closer. "Will you be safe down there, Mal? Verbena's not exactly the most friendly planet when it comes to former Independents," she said, frowning slightly.

Gently tugging on her hands, Mal pulled her close enough to press a short kiss to her forehead. “Long as we don’t go in wearing our coats and flashin’ hardware around we’ll be fine,” he teased lightly. “And if I can keep my head on the job and not on you,” he said, he voice deepening with desire. “Lonely ain’t the half of what I’ll be feelin’,” he told her as he touched another kiss to her temple.

Inara leaned into the press of his lips, sighing. "Trust me, I know what you mean," she said softly, tilting her head so she could place her own kiss against his jaw. "Promise me you'll be careful," she whispered, not fooled by his lie.

“Ain’t but a milk run,” he murmured as he slid his hand around to cup her head and bring her mouth to his, sighing as he finally kissed her. “You taste sweet,” he whispered against her lips, “sleepy and warm.”

Inara smiled softly, brushing her mouth against his. "I didn't sleep much last night," she acknowledged, eyes closing as she slid her hands up his chest, sighing contentedly.

Mal slid his free hand down her side, slipping it around to the small of her back to gently ease her body into his. He sighed at her words, images of what they could have been doing into the long, dark hours of a sleepless night flashing through his head.

“Seems to be a lot o’that goin’ ‘round,” he whispered as he kissed his way to her ear, gently nipping the soft flesh.

Her breath caught, a shiver racing through her at the touch of his lips to her ear, desire flaring inside her as he bit. She let out a frustrated groan, fingers curling against his chest, clutching his shirt tightly as she tilted her head for him. Merciful Buddha, why did he have to leave now?

"I wish..." she started breathlessly, but trailed off, shaking her head slightly. There was no point. They needed the work, and he had to go, and she didn't want to make it any harder than it was already going to be.

“Wish what?” he asked as he took advantage of the proffered skin of her neck, inhaling her scent even as he kissed his way down to her shoulder, cursing the fact that he had to leave in minutes when all he wanted to do was gather her up and carry her to his bunk. “If you don’t tell me, I’ll be wonderin' all day,” he teased.

She inhaled sharply, a soft sound of pleasure escaping her as he kissed the sensitive skin where neck met shoulder, shivering again.

She shook her head. "I wish you didn't have to do this today," she answered, pulling herself against him tightly as she slipped her arms around him, one hand trailing up to tangle in his hair.

Mal groaned, stilling against her. With a reluctant sigh, he slid his arms around her waist as he rested his forehead against hers, shivering when she lightly ran her fingers over his scalp. “Wish I didn’t have to do it ever, darlin’,” he whispered, “but it’s got to be done. Longer it gets put off, longer I’ll be gone,” he said, but made no effort to pull away.

She drew in a slow breath, feeling her chest constrict at his endearment. "I know," she replied, nodding. She knew it was necessary, knew just how precarious things would become if the crew didn't get work soon.

“Why not today?” he asked, suddenly curious about her cryptic remark.

"I'm afraid I'm feeling rather selfish," she admitted quietly, opening her eyes to stare into his. "I don't want to have to wait a week before I can see you again."

Mal paused, about to answer when he heard Zoe's footsteps approach, thudding just a little harder than necessary. He smiled at that even as he squeezed Inara and stole a kiss. "Think I'm bein' hailed," he said. "Keep your eyes open," he ordered, kissing her again. "Wave if you need me but not unless," he added, taking one more. "And don't let Jayne take advantage." He sighed as he studied her face. "Gotta go."

She echoed his sigh but smiled, reaching up to smooth her fingers over his cheek softly. "The last thing I will ever do is let Jayne take advantage," she said, teasing and reassuring him all at once. "Mal, promise me you'll be careful," she whispered, her face turning serious, gaze never leaving his as she traced the edge of his jaw.

"He promises," Zoe answered from the corridor. "Burnin' daylight, sir," she said with a touch of irony in her voice, throwing his own words back at him.

"What she said," Mal told Inara. Pulling reluctantly, but resolutely away, he grabbed his duffle and turned, following Zoe to the shuttle.

_______________________ Go to Part 9: While the Cat's Away _______________________


Monday, March 17, 2008 10:20 AM


I absolutely ADORED this. Definitely could see Jayne wanting more power and I just hope for his sake that nothing'll happen to the crew - especially Inara while Mal is away or he'll be in biiiiig trouble :)

Why did Mal have to go on *that* job on *that* day? *frowns* I think they're missing each other already, poor lovebirds...Looking forward to the next chapter - ok I'm officially hooked but It's all your fault guys!

Keep flying ;)

Monday, March 17, 2008 11:52 AM


Adored this. So lovely seeing Mal and Inara so comfortable together and not shy to show their feelings at long last. I'm feeling all manner of nervous about the job on Verbena but River hasn't made any worrying pronoucements so mayhap they'll at least survive the next chapter. Gorram hope so! Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Monday, March 17, 2008 5:24 PM


I smell angst and plot development ahead. And feindish plans to draw this out till they're both taut as bowstrings. Loved the Zoe touches to solidify her and Mal's relationship. A lot of wonderful insight into the personality of the crew - especially Jayne. You go guys! This was great!

Monday, March 17, 2008 10:51 PM


Good beginning. There would be times Serenity was close to the edge of not running, and when Mal was forced to take any job he could. But the goodbye to Inara was sweetness itself.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008 2:50 AM


you write with genuine tenderness. i'm impressed:)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008 5:32 AM


Hullo you two
Can't remember if I commented on this portion elsewhere, but I really do love it. The interaction between everybody is perfect, the dialog sparkling. And so very sweet, all the way up to "what she said".


You must log in to post comments.



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.