Post-Serenity; Mal never expected thanks for what happened on Miranda

Prompt: for a whedonverse Thanksgiving challenge

Mal stacked the box onto the mule, and saw, reflected in the polished chrome railing, someone approaching him. He spun, drawing and aiming his gun at the stranger with a speed to rival River's.

"That's close enough." He knew the townsfolk and this woman he had never seen before. Tall, with dark hair woven into braid that sat over one shoulder, she was pale-skinned with a small scar on her chin.

The woman held up her hands in surrender. "I only wanted to talk to you, Captain Reynolds."

Like he hadn't heard that before. "You can talk from there."

"Very well. May I put my hands down?"

He nodded. "Just keep them where I can see them, though."

She did as he bid. "What happened on Miranda," she said. "You uncovered it, you broadcast it."

Mal shrugged. "I was maybe there," he said. "But it wasn't me. A lot of people made that broadcast possible, and a lot of people died doing so." Even now it stung him worse than he'd thought another loss could, that Wash had died and taken Zoë's heart with him.

"I know; or at least, I know some of what couldn't be swept under the carpet." The woman shifted her balance. "One of my uncles went to settle on Miranda. We were told it was a terraforming accident. Now we know he either died, or became…"

She hesitated to name the monsters that were Reavers and Mal didn't blame her.

"They wouldn't even release the bodies," she said sadly, jumping to a slightly safer topic. "In case of infection." She gave a short laugh. "They bombed the planet instead. But they can't destroy the facts of the recording, downloaded to so many computers, seen by so many people."

"They" was the Alliance, always was.

"Well that's the one small mercy, isn't it?" Mal said. "For one moment the Alliance was exposed as a corrupt entity governing through fear and force, and when those aren't enough, drugs in the very air we breathe. And then everyone got uppity and some bureaucrats got punished, a memorial got put up, a planet got nuked, and everyone moved on. But that moment existed. People remember."

The woman nodded. "I remember," she said. "There's a group of us, a resistance –"

"Not interested," Mal told her sharply. "Did enough fighting in the war. You can't win that way."

"Agreed. But hearts and minds…acts of rebellion such as yours. Those can change the future." She took a step forward and Mal tensed. "I'm not asking for your help, Captain. You've already sacrificed so much, and your very existence, your very nature will mean you continue the fight in your own way and inspire others to do the same."

Mal wondered where Jayne and River were, why it was taking them so long to fetch the last load of supplies. He didn't know what this woman wanted, but there was always the possibility it was something dangerous to his health. He figured it was best to just keep her talking.

"So what do you want?"

"To thank you. You had no memorial, no thanks, no glory. No day of Thanksgiving for your actions. You and your crew risked everything, scarified much, and no-one thanked you." She took two more hesitant steps forward. "I thank you, Captain. Those who dislike the Alliance thank you. On behalf of everyone who believes in freedom, I thank you."

She leant in, brushed soft lips against his cheek, then drew back. She gave a quick bow of reverence, then turned and walked away from a stunned Mal.