Notes: This follows my other two Firefly fics, 'Grieving' and 'Since the day I met you'. Watched the Firefly retrospective on the Science Channel the other day, and the revelation of Inara's big secret got the ol' muse out of her funk.

Disclaimer: It's the disclaimer. 'Nuff said.


By screaminheathen69

Seven years.

Seven years they'd had together. Far too short, and a lifetime.

Mal would always regret the fact that they'd fair well wasted the first two years, always butting heads, too prideful to just admit how they really felt.

Not long after Miranda, they'd gotten past that. Inara had left behind the Companion lifestyle permanent. Within a few months, they were hitched. Within a year, Serenity truly became a family boat with the arrival of Zoe's child, Hobbey (Hoban Jr., but the nickname latched on quick.), and Kaylee and Simon's baby girl Book.

Mal adored the kids, not that he'd admit it. Spoiled 'em rotten. So did Inara, had the time of her life playing Auntie 'Nara. She'd spend hours with the children, singing or telling fairy tales.

For four years, Serenity was a happy boat. For four years, things ran smooth, plenty of work to be had, money never too tight. Even River seemed to have found a balance.

For four years, Mal kept Inara's secret.

Then, slowly, her health turned. In a matter of months, there was no hiding how deathly ill Inara was. She bore it with her usual grace, but the crew could see her wasting away before their eyes.

When Simon wanted to take her to Ariel to get her checked out, she quietly refused. And then she finally told the rest of her crew the truth.

Seven years ago, she'd been diagnosed with a particularly rare form of cancer. Incurable, and terminal. There were some few treatments to slow it down, but they tended to make the patient miserable, and Inara had long since chosen to go out on her own terms.

So she had packed up and left her home behind, planning to spend what time she had left out in the Black, traveling, seeing the 'verse in a way she never could stuck in the House.

Hadn't counted on falling in love with a space pirate, mind you, but hey, sometimes the 'verse throws you a good curve.

She died peacefully in her sleep, happy, content. She had done big things, had grand adventures, but most of all, she had found love and a family in the most unlikely of places.

They buried her next to Nandi, the girls promising to watch over her grave.

Mal missed her somethin' fierce, but he was content himself. Inara had left him with a gift, and he cherished that gift 'til his dying day.

"Let me tell you a story, lil' 'Nara," he said, gazing down at his baby girl. "Story 'bout the bravest, most beautiful woman I ever knew. Let me tell you 'bout your mama..."

"To thee no star be dark..."