Okay, so I've been binge watching Firefly, from episode one, and I had an idea, so here goes…
The crew of Serenity were exhausted. The Alliance had chased them relentlessly for reasons unknown. (Actually the reasons were known; just not to the crew. On the last wreck they were, ahem, rescuing, Jayne had accidentally taken a rather valuable piece of information that was being housed in the butt of a large gun.) Serenity had barely stayed ahead of them, barely pausing for fuel. This led them to Muir, a planet of three and a half million inhabitants. Most people would have avoided this planet, as it was situated in the same system the Reavers originated from, but it was here that our intrepid heroes had touched down.
"All right, listen up," Mal said to his gathered crew in the cargo bay. "We don't quite know what all's out there, so stay sharp. Anything could happen. Kaylee, see if you can't find some parts to trade for. Book, see if you can find us some food rations, we're running low. The rest of you...stay out of trouble."
"If it's all right, I think I'll stay on the ship with River," Simon said.
"I think I'll stay, too," said Inara.
"Well ah'm going out!" Jayne gave a single nod to punctuate his statement.
"All right then. Meet back here in six hours."
Book, Jayne, Zoe, and Wash all filed out.
"Think they got any nice, quiet spots around here?" Wash waggled his eyebrows at his wife. Zoe raised an eyebrow in reply.
"What're you gonna do, Captain?" Kaylee asked, smiling as she always did. On this particular day, she was wearing her mechanic jumpsuit and neon rainbow striped socks.
"I'm gonna see if anyone's got a job for us around here. Came all the way out here, may as well make some money."
"Okay. Good luck."
Mal set off on his own, bobbing and weaving through brightly colored, yet drab, crowds. It appeared to be a flea market, but seemed even more cobbled together, as if the townspeople had all decided to make one massive cardboard fort lining the main street. Children zipped this way and that. They had dirt smudged faces, and most had clothes more than a size too big. Or maybe they were supposed to be togas, held in place by simple belts. Mal avoided them as best he could. Occasionally, one would bump into him, and quickly say, "Sorry, sir, I'm sorry!"
"It's all right," he said with a pursed lip smile and a small nod. He breathed a sigh of relief every time they ran off after their friends. Too many kids about. Didn't mean there weren't buyers but kids meant Mal would have to find them elsewhere.
Sellers called out prices on their wares as he passed.
"Pretty necklace for the pretty lady at home, huh? Only-"
"The best rings money can buy!"
"You need to try-"
There were other conversations too, quieter ones.
"Sally went missing? I wonder if-"
"Did you see them? I bet they-"
"I better go check on my own-"
Mal half listened, mostly looking for a bar or something similar. If all else failed, he could maybe take on a couple passengers. His thoughts were interrupted by a small person running full speed through the crowd. Her dark brown hair flew behind her, bright red toga keeping the same rhythm. Unlike all the other children Mal had seen, this girl was scrubbed clean, not a speck of dirt on her. Except for her feet, which were barefoot, and the dusty road stuck on to the trickles of sweat running down her calves. The girl couldn't have been more than ten. Mal stepped out of the way as she flashed by. He stayed to the side of the road, waiting for the inevitable gaggle of friends that would follow. He waited. And waited. No friends.
Odd, he thought. Mal started to move on, but something stopped him. A gut feeling. Something was off. Scowling at himself, he turned around just in time to see her dress disappear around the corner, and followed.
It took several minutes of ducking into side streets for Mal to catch up to the child. She was fast, he'd give her that. Only ten more feet separated him from her. He stopped short and stepped to the side. Alliance soldiers. What were they doing clear out here, on the border of the 'Verse? Three of them stood in the small street, almost no space between them and the buildings. The girl skidded to a halt, let out a yelp, and turned back around. Now Mal could see her face. Bright blue eyes, wide with fear, stared out, seemingly at him.
"Get her," one of the men commanded. The two on either side leapt forward. Mal let out a growl and leapt forward himself.
"Get out of our way." It was the man on the right who spoke this time.
"Now, gentlemen, this is no way to treat somebody."
The girl hid behind Mal, grasping his trench coat in her hands, peaking ever-so-slightly around his waist. To say it was awkward for him was an understatement, but for now, he was a little too preoccupied to think about it.
"That girl is property of the Alliance."
"Well, how about that," Mal replied, eyeing the rifles each of the three men had. He would be easy pickings if they decided to shoot. He had nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.
Meanwhile, the three men were doing the same calculations. A grin spread across the leader's face. Corporal Callahan, his name was.
"Step out of the way," he said. The commanding tone he used seemed very self-assured, even arrogant. "Or you will be arrested for the obstruction of the law."
Mal's eyes darted this way and that, searching for some way to get both him and the girl out safe. The only places to hide were the small outcrops of decorative columns, and an alcove perpendicular to the soldiers. He was beginning to think he'd have to talk his way out of this. To Callahan, Mal seemed like a nervous rabbit, ready to run. Oh, he hoped he would run. He loved it when they ran.
"Hand over the girl, and maybe you can go free."
"Well-" Mal tsked. "-I can't let you do that."
"Then you leave us no choice," Corporal Callahan smirked. Then he stopped. And frowned. His perp was...smiling? And not one of those I'll-appease-you-so-you-don't-kill-me smiles. This was a predatory smile.
"Actually, gentlemen, you leave me no choice. Put down your guns."
"And why, exactly, would we do that?"
"Because if you don't, then my friends'll have to shoot you."
"The ones behind ya dummy," came Jayne's voice from behind him.
"One move and we shoot you." Zoe stood next to Jayne on the street behind the soldiers, Wash behind Zoe. Mal laughed.
"You see, gentlemen, you're gonna let us go free."
"Why you-" Two men jumped into the alcove, the third behind a decorative pillar, all three guns blazing.
Zoe, Wash, and Jayne did the same. Mal picked up the girl and ran down the street, zigging and zagging as best he could. Shot after shot nearly hit them. One grazed his leg. He winced and kept going. He turned a corner, put the girl down, and drew his gun.
"No!" the girl yelled, latching onto his arm. "Don't go!"
"Hey, listen," Mal knelt down to her eye level. "I gotta go help my friends, all right?"
"Don't leave me." Her voice quivered, her eyes filled with tears. "Don't go."
"I got-" A sigh. "What's your name?"
"Okay, listen, Silver. I will come back. But right here's where your safe. I gotta go help my friends, and then I'll be back, and I'll help you find your parents, okay?"
Mal hurried off, calling over his shoulder one last time to stay put. It was unneeded. By the time he got back to where he was, the three men were laying in the dust.
"What happened to the kid?" Zoe asked.
"She's back there." Mal gestured vaguely behind him.
"You just left her. Alone."
"Well, yeah. You were still-I was gonna help you."
"We don't need help now, do we, sir?"
"So go take care of the kid."
Mal sighed, and although he was captain, he did as he was told.
"Hey, Silver. Told you I'd come back."
Silver launched herself at Mal, wrapping her arms firmly around his belly. Mal froze. It took a second for him to register that she was shaking with sobs. Once he did, he immediately crouched and put his arms around her.
"Hey, hey, hey, sh. Everything's all right?"
"Are they -hic- g-gonna co-ome back?"
"No, no, no, hey. Don't worry. They're, well...they're dead." Mal cringed inwardly, wishing he could explain in a better way. Silver continued to sob.
Eventually, she the sobbing faded away. Mal sighed, glad it was over. Until he realized she had fallen asleep with her head resting on her shoulder.
"Well, okay then," Mal muttered. This was more awkward than her grabbing his coat.
"Captain, wh-" Wash's words dropped off. "Uh…"
"Wash, come with me," Mal said while maneuvering the girl so he could carry her. "We're gonna find her parents."
"Yeah, about that." The two began walking. "Zoe and I heard all about this entire scheme, apparently people have been going missing for months. One came back about a month ago, and told this shopkeeper's daughter's husband's brother that they were sold as slaves, which, you know, is terrible. So anyway, then we saw you runnin' down the road and saw that girl. Figured you'd got yourself into trouble so we followed you, ran into Jayne. Good thing we did."
"Ah, I woulda gotten out of it."
"Yeah. Uh-huh ...Anyway, I think I met this girl's mom. She was at a booth-"
"Lead the way, then."
Eyes followed them when they hit the main road. Whispers broke out, and a path opened in front of them. The dust just about settled before the crowd began cheering. Silver woke, groggily looking around.
"Silver!" The call almost drowned in the sea of voices. "Silver!"
"Mama?" Silver gasped. "Mama!"
The little girl almost fell out of Mal's arms as she leapt into her mother's.
"Oh, baby, my baby. Oh, thank you sir, thank you!"
"You're welcome, ma'am, but all we did was take out a couple o'-"
The cheering reached a deafening roar. Mal exchanged a look with Wash. It was a look that said "we may as well accept this." And they did. For a bit.
The crew eventually got back to Serenity, where Wash animatedly filled in the others on what happened. Kaylee beamed at her captain.
"That was sweet of you to do, sir."
"It wasn't much."
Inara interrupted, "It was a lot to that family. And to the entire community."
"I suppose I was pretty heroic, wasn't I?"
"And don't forget Zoe and Jayne!" Kaylee added.
"All right, that's enough. Let's get going." Mal hopped up the stairs toward the bridge, a small smile on his lips. He hadn't necessarily liked kids, but the events on Muir may have just changed his mind.
I hope this made sense. It was midnight when I finished writing it, so it might seem a little implausible at the end.