Apples and Oranges, by DoofusPrime

Notes: Hello, Firefly fans! This is my first fan fiction for the show - hope you guys enjoy it. This story is supposed to take place sometime before the beginning of the series when Simon, River, and Book join the crew. There will be four chapters in all, but as I am almost done with the story already, you won't have to wait long in between updates. I might update twice a week or so.

Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. This work was not created for profit. No copyright infringement is intended.


XX

The bay doors opened, and a searing flood of late afternoon light came pouring into the ship's hold. Mal squinted, raising his arm to shield his eyes as he stepped up to the ramp and looked outside. It was nice, landing somewhere after being cooped up in Serenity for too long, but that first blast of sunlight had a way of taking the edge off all the excitement, even if it was just for a moment.

"'Scuse me, Mal."

Behind him, Jayne and Zoe lugged a hefty steel crate between them. He was standing in the way. Mal nodded and stepped aside to let them step gingerly down the ramp and onto the dusty, barren field where they had landed on the outskirts of town. Mal followed close behind, along with the rest of the crew, who also thought it was high time to get a little fresh air and sunshine. Up ahead, past the field and a rickety wooden fence where a few bored-looking cows stood chewing their cud, were the outskirts of town.

Usually whoever they were meeting would be standing, maybe out in the middle of that field, looking a lot more important than they had any right to look. The big shot complex, was what it was. But not this time. Avery was nowhere to be seen. Probably waiting in town somewhere, making them come to him; so much for a friendly welcome. The man had always been on the lazy side ever since Mal could remember.

Jayne and Zoe stopped for a moment and looked back expectantly. "Uh, where are we headed?" asked Jayne.

"Probably the sheriff's office."

Heads turned in unison as his crew looked at him in surprise. Jayne scratched his head in confusion. "Ain't that the last place we wanna go?"

"You'd think so. But I hear Avery's gotten himself a job as a law man ever since the Alliance took in his bootlegging partner last year. Guess he figured it was about time to go straight."

The corner of Zoe's mouth curled into a faint smile. "Why do I find that hard to believe?"

"Well," said Mal, "guess he figured it was about time to look straight."

"This thing is a little heavy, Mal. Want to give us a hand? Seeing as my husband is still enjoying the view."

Wash, who was squinting nearby as he looked out at the sunny afternoon, gave his wife an apologetic look. "Oh, sorry honey. It looked like you totally had that!"

"Sure," said Mal. "I'll help."

Mal stepped forward, about to grab one of the two free sides of the steel crate, when Jayne shifted his side over and let go just as Mal grabbed on. "Thanks boss," he said, cracking his knuckles. Mal grunted in irritation after just barely keeping his side of the crate from dropping to the dusty ground. He and Zoe realized there was no point in holding it up when they were just standing there, and set it down on the ground for a moment.

"How long are we gonna be down here?" asked Kaylee as she kicked at a clod of dirt.

"Not long," said Mal. "No reason to stick around after we finish the trade."

"Maybe we could have a walk around town, though?"

"I like that idea," said Inara.

"Not much to see," said Mal. He looked over the town ahead of them; most small towns like this had a main street where the sheriff's office – along with everything else – were lined up in rows on either side, but he couldn't anything like that, as all the buildings looked like they had been dropped down from the sky in a scattered pile. They'd have to do some lugging around before they could find Avery.

To be honest, it looked quite a bit bigger than most towns stranded on the ass end of some dusty planet. Not that moons or planets really had ass ends at all, now that he thought about it. And judging by the busy sound wafting out over the field from somewhere in the town's heart, there was some kind of event going on – maybe a festival of some kind. But he was kind of antsy about sticking around for too long. You didn't stick around after a job; that was just asking for trouble. It was hard to ignore the hopeful gleam in Kaylee's eyes, though.

"Besides," he told her, "don't you have some repairs to do? Might as well do them while we're landed."

"Sure, captain, but I need supplies for that, don't I?"

Mal rolled his eyes at Kaylee's obvious ploy. Like they'd find anything useful in a place like this. Kaylee was clasping her hands together, and now Inara was standing next to her and giving him one of those looks with the arched eyebrow. Mal stared impassively. No way they were getting to him. Then Inara noticed Kaylee's expression and looked back to him, switching to a comically overdone pouty face, which she knew was just plain unfair even if she was joking, but she did it anyway. It wasn't often he saw Inara pull something like that. They really wanted some fresh air.

Mal sighed. Maybe it wouldn't hurt if the crew took a little breather. "Alright," he said. "Just be back at the ship in a couple of hours, okay? No dawdling."

"You got it, captain."

Kaylee gave Inara a quick high five and then crooked her hand around her arm as the two of them headed off to town. Mal was watching them when Wash slapped him on the back, almost making him drop the crate again. "Thanks, Mal! Me and the wife are gonna head out and find the local cinema, maybe get manicures. I don't know what I've been doing to them, but my fingernails look like they could cut a man's throat. But hey, good luck with your-"

"Don't think so," said Mal. "Zoe's coming with me, and you're staying here with the ship just in case anything goes south."

"Oh, come on! What could go south?"

"With Avery, you never know."

Zoe shrugged apologetically as her husband looked to her for support. "Sorry, honey. Mal's right. I'm sure we'll be fine, though, and this should only take an hour or two, depending on how much Avery wants to catch up."

"Unbelievable," grumbled Wash as he stepped back up the ramp and into the ship.

Mal turned back to Zoe, about to heft the crate up from the ground again, but before the two of them hefted it up again, he couldn't help imagining a fruitless search for the sheriff's office, winding through crowded alleys and piles of cow manure randomly placed all over town. That was usually how something like this turned out. With the sun beating down, it wasn't a pleasant thought. "Hey," he said, "help me look for something on the ship we can use to roll this around a little easier. Don't we have a hover-carrier somewhere?"

"I thought we lost that," said Zoe. "When Jayne accidentally knocked it off the side of that cliff the one time, remember?"

That was right. Mal frowned at the thought. Maybe he was just feeling lazy, anyway. Between the three of them, he supposed it wouldn't be so hard.. Where was Jayne, anyway? He had just-

Mal frowned as he caught movement out of the corner of his eye. He looked past those cows by the fence just in time to catch a glimpse of Jayne disappearing between the buildings. "Where's he going?" he asked, throwing his hands up in exasperation.

"I guess he thought he was included when you said people could take a couple hours to check out the town."

"But we told him we needed him with us!"

"Didn't we tell him that four or five hours ago?"

Zoe had a point. Probably fallen right out of Jayne's head. "So it's just the two of us now," said Mal. "Sometimes I wonder what I pay him for."

"Charm and conversation."

"Right."

"You don't really think anything's going to go wrong, do you?"

Mal shrugged. He looked down at the crate, pressing a combination into the little keypad on the side and popping open the top with a hiss of compressed air. He and Zoe stared down at their cargo – a number of fancy-looking pistols and a few larger rifles with Alliance logos stamped on the side. It was what Avery had requested, sort of. Maybe the law men needed a little more firepower in this town, which – if Mal wasn't mistaken – was called Millsville, obviously named by their old acquaintance.

Avery Mills, Mal thought with a sharp flash of displeasure. Hadn't been expecting to see him again.

What was important was that their cargo looked authentic enough to fool Avery, and Mal was pretty sure it would do the job. He and Zoe both knew the man from their Browncoat days, and while Avery wasn't a man who could be trusted, he also wasn't exactly the sharpest tool in the shed. Mal hadn't talked to him in years – not since he'd failed to show up for Serenity Valley, now that he thought about it. Somehow that was worse than most of the double crosses Mal had faced since then. But one of Avery's goons had given them a call, and it wasn't far out of their way.

No, he thought – no way Avery'll notice anything's up. The man barely knew which end of the gun was up, back when he had to use them against the Alliance.

"We just need to keep our eyes peeled," he told Zoe.

She nodded as the two of them went back into Serenity's hold to look for something to help them with the crate, although they'd probably end up carrying it anyway. Mal wasn't too worried about the deal. Any treachery on Avery's part would probably be canceled out by his stupidity. But the man did have an uncanny knack for sensing when things were about to go wrong. It was one of his few talents as a soldier, even if meant he had deserted when it really counted.

But the past was past. The person Mal could count on most was here by his side, just like she had been at Serenity Valley. And as for who he did business with, he didn't much care - just as long as they had the cash.

XX


Notes: That's it for chapter one. Like I said, this is my first piece of fan fiction for Firefly, so I would appreciate any reviews and feedback I can get. I actually haven't seen the show in a while - I was going to rewatch it on Hulu, but the site was giving me a bit of an attitude - so I'm hoping there are no major canon issues and the tone is close enough to the show.