TITLE: The Snow On Purgatum
DISCLAIMER: Not mine.
A/N: A one-shot set inbetween The Program and The Cure. Will make pretty much NO sense without reading that first. Read The Program first.
It never snows on Purgatum.
The temperature drops over winter until the cold air stings and the desert sand leeches warmth from your boots. The forests become stiff with chill, the lakes and billabongs cool until the wildlife also begins to move slowly. Storms will gather, beating down torrential rain so hard and cold the droplets feel like they're slicing away chunks of skin. Thunderclouds darken the shadows of the forest and render the deserts dim and isolated.
Purgatum can be harsh and cold.
But every day the sun returns, beating down harshly, reheating the planet's earth until the deserts burn, the forest air becomes tangy, and the wildlife shows its belly to the warmth, recharging once again. The inhabitants never experience the icy chill in their bones, the touch and sight of fresh fallen snow blanketing the ground with pristine powder.
It is not pure here.
It just doesn't snow on Purgatum.
Mal stretched his legs out in front of him, enjoying the shade of the large back porch. The air was still warm and heavy from the day, dusk now starting to creep through the atmosphere and scent the air with oncoming rain. Still plenty of time. He took a sip from his beer, enjoying the home brew for which Ginger was famous. At his feet was a shaggy black wolfhound the size of a pony. Mattie was stretched out on his back, tongue lolling to the side. A hard day of tummy rubs and general adoration, not to mention being snuck more food than a dog even his size required, had left him dozy.
In any other situation the conditions would be perfect for a nap.
Mal adjusted the collar of his shirt, the slightly stiff fabric annoying him momentarily. Clothes like this were not designed for napping, relaxing, or any kind of laziness. He smiled to himself and took another draught of beer.
Clothes like this were made for celebrating.
He looked over the expansive backyard that backed on to one of Purgatum's many forests. The large vegetable patch that helped feed the House ran along the far side, but the rest of the yard was filled with grass, wild flowers, and a single weeping willow whose branches trailed along the ground. Today the trees had been strung with fairy lights, the simple wooden bench in the garden was joined by a long table filled with food, and several of the whores had taken up instruments. Lively, joyous music echoed through the crowded yard.
The House of Night was celebrating.
Vera's girls were serving fresh harvested vegetables, laughing, dancing and smiling with the crew of Serenity. Zoe's boy was standing on her toes, and Mal would have laughed at the intense concentration on the boy's face if it wasn't mirrored precisely on his mother's. His first mate gripped her son carefully, her dress making her look more like a mother than a first mate.
For once he didn't mind that look on her.
Wash was sitting with Book at one of the benches, a large pile of food between them, along with a pitcher of beer. Inara and Ginger, both dressed in simple, elegant ceremonial robes, sipped at glasses of pink liquor while speaking quietly. Vera was helping her girls bring out more food and wine than their group could possibly devour; cheese made from fresh goat's milk (and damned if those animals hadn't taken a small bite from Mal's pant leg earlier), plates of fruit and vegetables with rich dips, and platters of roasted or cured meat made the table groan.
The sun's last rays tinted the sky with pink and gold, and Mal let his eyes roam towards the bride. Kaylee's simple white sundress turned her skin gold, face naturally freckled and bare of makeup. A little wreath of flowers crowned her head, and her lips were split in a wide, happy smile.
The smile was enough to make him forget, at least briefly. For a brief second Book wasn't missing an eye, Matthew and Jayne weren't both victims of the Ares virus, their world hadn't been shattered entirely. When Kaylee smiled all was right for a moment. Things were exactly as they should be.
A flash in the corner of his eye as a two year old girl with chocolate curls darted across the lawn, giggling as her mother gracefully snatched her up into a hug.
His ward, his Albatross, dressed in a simple purple slip and bare feet, kissed her daughter's cheek. Talia nuzzled against her mother for a moment before she was released, now running towards her Grandmother. Vera scooped her up with a smile, eyes flicking over River and then to the decking behind Mal.
The Captain didn't need to turn his head to know Jayne was behind him.
The mercenary sat in the chair beside his Captain, Mattie rousing briefly to be scratched absentmindedly, before the wolfhound decided that more sleep was a good idea. Mal's eyes flicked over Jayne. The shirt his mother had insisted on was dark blue and untucked, but Mal couldn't remember the last time he'd seen his merc shaved. His skin was darkly tanned, eyes a piercing blue as he surveyed the large garden where their crewmates and friends were setting up for Kaylee and Simon's wedding.
Looking at Jayne it all came back. It wasn't just the dark ink that covered his arms where bare skin had once been, it wasn't the glaring letters MA tattooed on his shoulder. Though two years had passed since their fateful journey to Purgatum Jayne's physique was still the same, still bulky but now more gaunt muscle than hefty weight. It wasn't the physical changes so much, but the eyes.
Mal hated Jayne's eyes now.
Those eyes were the hardened eyes of his mercenary, without the zest for life.
Each sipped his beer, quiet for a moment before Mal broke the silence.
"How's the groom?"
Jayne smirked, looking like his old self for a second. "Nervous as hell, don't help that Wash kept askin' Kaylee 'bout her escape plan."
Mal smiled to himself.
Kaylee didn't run. She'd walked slowly towards Simon with a bright, sweet smile, hair all dressed in wildflowers. She'd slipped one hand into his, politely ignoring the way Simon sagged slightly with relief. She'd looked him in the eye as Book asked them the question.
And then Simon's smile was made of sunshine too.
Later, as the evening took over, as the drinking and dancing took them late into the night, Mal sat beside Jayne once more. There was a bite to the air, a slight chill, and the Captain was about to fetch a jacket when…
"It don't snow here."
Mal nodded warily, studying Jayne. The big man was once again beside Mattie, but the eyes were locked on the dance floor. Mal didn't need to turn his head to know where he was looking; River was dancing with Natalia, the little girl sucking her thumb and resting her head on a thin shoulder while her mother swayed gently.
"Yeah, so I've heard."
Jayne took a puff of the cigar he'd been given by a grinning Simon. "Wish it did."
Mal wanted to respond with snark, with ridicule, with Jayne's favourite line about wishes being horses and them all eating steak. For some reason he didn't, he just spoke quietly.
Jayne didn't take his eyes from the two girls on the dance floor, and Mal wondered what it would be like to be afraid to be around another person, to be terrified that if you got too close, inhaled them too deeply, you'd hurt them.
He glanced at Inara, stroking Matthew's head as the little boy slept on his mother's lap, and thought maybe he did know a little.
Jane shrugged. "S'nice. Everythin' gets real quiet, can't hear, can't see all that far. Ain't fun long term, gotta see what's comin', but it's…s'nice, is all. Ma got me a snow globe once. S'pretty, snow."
Mal wonders how much his merc has had to drink.
The big man doesn't move his eyes from the dance floor. "Clean. Can be anythin'."
Mal thought about the snow on St Alban's, taking Tracey's body to his parents. It had felt quiet, peaceful. Clean snow covered everything, and for a little while you could pretend that was how the 'verse really was. Pure, calm, beautiful and safe. Even completing their horrible promise, the whole crew had felt a kind of peace in that place.
Jayne chuckled, a humourless sound that made Mal's hair stand on end. "No point wishin'. Ain't nuthin' like that here. S'just the heat an' the gorram critters."
A mosquito bit Mal's neck, searching for blood in the hot night. Jayne blinked as the Captain swatted the bug, and glanced down at his glass of whisky. He stood, Mattie pulling himself to his feet, and turned to leave.
"I best be gettin' back."
There wasn't much else to say.
It wasn't until a week later that Mal remembered the conversation. He woke to brown eyes staring him down.
"'Tross? What time-"
A finger across his lips silenced his protest. He dressed quickly, following River and a quiet, smiling Tali out the back door. It was still dark outside, and he was struck by the lack of early morning heat. River's voice was quiet, calm.
"Freak weather pattern."
Mal's eyes widened. The entirety of the backyard was covered in a fine layer of white powder. The trees, the benches, the arches and the garden were pure white.
"Well I'll be damned…"
"Not damned. This isn't hell."
He turned to River, watching her watch Tali, the little girl holding her mother's dress with one hand while she knelt to touch the powder. The fairy lights cast a golden glow throughout the courtyard, warm and rich and inviting and safe.
For a second Mal believed in heaven.
She shook her head. "Can't ask her to explain magic."
She met his eyes, offering him a quiet smile.
She reached down to touch the fresh snow.
"Snowballs have no chance in hell." Her voice trailed off as she looked towards the woods and he thinks he knows where she's looking, what she's Seeing in the distance. He thinks it might be an isolated cabin where a man deals with nightmares and a wolfhound watches over him.
"Not hell…" He watches her lips curve into a soft, sweet, hopeful smile, and wonders how she can look ancient and so very young all at the same time.