Notes: This is for Dar.

Disclaimer: Serenity and her crew are the sole and rightful property of Joss Whedon, Tim Minear and Mutant Enemy. No disrespect intended nor financial gain garnered in my use of this glorious crew.

***

It came out of nowhere and took him in the back of the neck. Mal stumbled in the deep snow, struggling to keep his footing against the shock of the sudden hit. He shuddered as a trail of cold moved down his spine, and he fell at last, cursing.

"I'm sorry! Cap'n, I'm so sorry!" Kaylee stood about thirty feet away across the open field, her gloved hands to her face covering her laughter. Beside her stood Simon and River, each trying unsuccessfully to suppress wide grins.

"Kaylee! What the hell are you doing?" Mal roared back at her, swiping the melting snow from under the collar of his coat.

"I'm sorry," she repeated, laughing openly now. "I was aiming for your back. I missed."

"Why the hell were you aiming at all!" He hunched his shoulders and shook his torso, trying to adjust to the freezing trickle running down his back.

"Oh, calm down, you big baby," Inara scolded him, an amused look on her face. "Here, let me do that." She moved his hand aside and replaced it with her own as she leaned over and delicately scooped up bits of the snowball still lodged in his collar and his hair.

"I'm not a baby," grumbled Mal, trying not to let on just how much he was enjoying her touch. "It's cold."

"Of course it's cold, it's snow. I thought you grew up in a . . ." Her lecture ended in a small shriek as another snowball came flying and hit her in the shoulder, splattering apart to catch her hair and her face in a shower of white.

"Inara! Duck!" Inara and Mal both turned to see Wash smiling as he molded another snowball between his hands. He stopped, feigning confusion. "Oh wait, it's "warn, then throw.' I always get confused on that part." He smiled again and reared back for another throw, but Mal beat him to it, rising swiftly and letting loose with a rapid-fire snowy missile that took Wash full in the chest. The pilot gave out a blood-curdling scream and, clasping his hand to his chest, collapsed melodramatically at the feet of his laughing wife.

Mal turned to Inara, a satisfied grin on his face. "I been wantin' to do that for years." He saw Inara's eyes go wide as she reached and pushed him to one side, calling, "Mal! Look out!" He grabbed her arm and the two of them fell into the snow, laughing, as a snowball whizzed harmlessly over their heads.

"Gorram it! You ain't supposed to move. Spoils my aim." Jayne called out his complaint.

"I believe that's the point," replied Book, standing serenely next to the bigger man, hands in the pockets of his coat.

"Well, yeah, but where's the fun in that?" He saw the snowball hurtling toward him out of the corner of his eye and moved to get out of its path, but it seemed to home in on him, as if it knew just how he was going to react. Thwack! He took the hit in the chest, right above his heart. River's giggle was loud and clear in the cold air.

"Yes, it looks like great fun," replied the Shepherd dryly.

"Damn straight," agreed Jayne with a glint in his eyes, and he turned suddenly with a handful of loose snow and tossed it into the older man's face. "See?"

Before the sputtering Shepherd could reply, the air around them was filled with snowballs heading in their direction. Laughing and trying to defend themselves with upturned arms, the preacher and the mercenary saw Zoe and Wash advancing on them, each cradling a small arsenal of snowy weapons.

"Looks like we've been out-maneuvered, son!"

"They ain't taking me alive," snarled the merc as he hurriedly formed a large snowball to lob at his onrushing attackers.

The field was suddenly crackling with hollers and shrieks of laughter as the spread-out groups converged on each other. Mal and Inara rushed Kaylee and Simon and River; Mal gave a loud battle cry as he took off, pulling Inara with him, the both of them trying to throw as they ran. Simon gallantly placed himself in front of his sister and Kaylee, but his eyes grew wide with surprise when they ganged up on him from behind and leapt on him, bringing him to the ground with them in a howling confusion of arms and legs and flying snow. Mal and Inara gleefully charged on, pummelling the young ones with hastily formed snowballs. Across the field it had come to hand-to-hand combat as the four - out of weapons - took to hurling handfuls of loose snow at each other, sputtering and gasping and laughing.

As suddenly as it started it was over, with only Mal and Zoe and Jayne and Book still standing, breathing heavily, their faces creased with grins. The fallen lay laughing, too weak to stand. Inara looked up at Mal through the snow caught on her lashes and held out her hands to him. "I must look a sight," she sighed.

"You look like an angel," Kaylee told her admiringly, as she lay back and moved her arms and legs in the snow. "A snow angel!"

"She does at that," Mal agreed softly as he helped her to her feet.

"Kaylee, why are you moving the snow around like that?" River sat up and watched the older girl, intrigued.

"She's making a snow angel, meimei." Simon explained, as he watched the young mechanic intently.

"Angels don't exist," River responded rationally. "She's making a snow myth."

"Call it what you will, child, it's an age-old snow game." Book had joined the group, slapping the snow from his coat as he walked. "Give it a try."

River looked at him doubtfully, but Kaylee, getting to her feet pointed to the image she had made in the snow. "Ain't it beautiful?"

"Very," answered Simon, but his eyes were on Kaylee, as she stood before him with flushed cheeks and sparkling eyes. She beamed at him in response and then turned to River, still seated in the snow.

"Go ahead. Make us an angel, sweetie," she urged.

River laid back and cautiously moved her arms and legs in a sweeping motion, copying what she had seen Kaylee do. The rest of the crew had joined them by now.

"What's she up to?" Jayne asked casually, swiping at his hair with a big gloved hand.

"She's making a snow angel," Kaylee said. Jayne snorted and Kaylee whacked him across the arm.

"Ow! What'd ya do that for? I didn't say nothin'"

"No, but you were gonna," she retorted. River had stopped and now stood to admire her efforts.

"I was just gonna say that neither one of them ain't hardly what I would call angels."

"Jayne." Mal's voice held a warning.

"More like little fairies or something," Jayne continued, undeterred. "Angels is big. Ain't none of you ever heard of Michael? My ma told me he was a warrior, like me."

They all stared at him with looks of amazement or amusement, but if Jayne noticed he didn't show it.

"Want somethin' done right, you gotta do it yourself," he muttered as he threw himself down against a pile of snow and set his long arms and legs to thrashing enthusiastically. Satisfied, he stood and pointed triumphantly at the large impression left behind. "That there's an angel," he announced.

"Why so it is," Book said, as he clapped the bigger man on his shoulder. "It surely is. It's quite the heavenly host you have on your crew, Captain," he continued with a sly look at Mal.

"Yeah, well, the Lord works in mysterious ways, or so I been told," Mal countered. He turned to the group. "Speaking of hosts, ours is gonna get pretty tetchy if we show up too late for this shindig."

"Monty always was a stickler for schedules, sir," Zoe put in, as she tried unsuccessfully to bring some order to Wash's riot of snow-spiked hair.

"Which is why we need to put some speed on us. Let's get movin', people." And with that he turned and continued on his way across the open field. Off in the distance above the tree tops could be seen a spiral of smoke against the waning light and the welcoming smell of a wood fire came to them on the freshening wind.

"I'm real glad that you and Monty made up, Cap." Kaylee had hurried to catch up with him, and now she walked with her arm through his.

"Monty ain't never been one to hold a grudge," Zoe spoke up from behind them.

"Just like you, Cap'n," Kaylee said approvingly.

"He had an unfortunate taste in wives, though," Simon added, thoughtfully.

"Just like you, Captain," Inara continued, sweetly.

Mal's reply was lost in the laughter of his crew. Kaylee turned her face up and held out her hand. "Look. It's snowing again," she said happily. They walked on, teasing and laughing, their voices muted by the gently falling snow. Behind them in the field, the three silhouettes filled slowly but still retained their outlines. Michael. And his heavenly host.