Internal Summary/Disclaimer: This is tangentially a Firefly/Buffy crossover, taking place in the Firefly universe and going AU after the end of the series. However, it contains no actual characters from BtVS, just borrows from the mythos. Warning for mention of Mal/Inara and possible character death. Sadly, only the attempt at story is mine. I own nothing of the 'Verse(s).
Chapter One: It Doesn't Have to Be After Sundown
Serenity was spending nearly a week set down on Greenleaf. Considering the higher than average Alliance presence there, it wasn't exactly one of Mal's favorite spots to be stuck sitting a spell. Whether he liked it or not, however, Kaylee had insisted they had to put down someplace with a decent amount of junkyards and parts stores. Now sometimes Mal didn't figure his engineer really understood that keepin' her in repair wasn't quite the same as fixing everything up as shiny as possible – and that most times they simply couldn't afford the latter. Still, after that incident with the catalyzer blowing and nearly killin' them all, Mal had realized he'd better pay more attention to the naggings of Kaylee. In regards to engine parts, leastaways. Weren't no way she was ever talkin' him into a ship pet or some of the other notions that got stuck in her optimistic little head.
When the question of somewhat new entry couplings and Ardonner stabilizers had come out of her mouth, the crew had just been on their way back from a drop on Jianyin. That had left Greenleaf as the closest likely port with what she wanted, and he did know a few contacts there which might have something legitimate-like that didn't require going through any checkpoints as would endanger the Tams. Unfortunately, he'd been finding his choices of jobs limited by that factor more and more as of late. Still, they weren't on the verge of starvin' over it yet, and he hoped they wouldn't get there. He didn't rightly know what he'd do if'n it came to that.
Despite her declarations, Inara hadn't gotten herself off elsewhere at New Melbourne, and still hadn't mentioned to the rest of the crew she planned on leaving soon. If she still did. He tried not to think on it much. A small, traitorous part of his brain insisted on thinkin' he could perhaps convince her to stay. Despite the moon-brain notions, the rest of him knew better – still couldn't figure why she'd decided to ship out with them in the first place, it had only been a matter of time before she left. Weren't nothing on this broken down ol' boat worth having for a woman like her. The sooner she got herself gone and his traitorous brain acknowledged that truth, the better.
Speaking of Inara, the Companion had flown off as soon as they'd hit atmo, seeing as how she'd told little Kaylee she was booked up solid for the whole gorram week. Jayne had barely waited for the ramp to come down before he was off in his Sunday-best shirt for the nearest whorehouse. Preacher had gone to visit the local abbey, and the married folk were off on a retreat of some kind or t'other. He hadn't listened much to the particulars. Wash had a deeply unsettling habit of waxing lyrical about Zoe in a manner Mal just weren't comfortable thinking about, so he'd gotten into the habit of tuning out his pilot when the man got that certain look on his face.
Which meant that the ship was all but empty, 'cept for her Captain, the Tams, and Kaylee. Considering the cheery mechanic was half the time back and forth to junkyards and the other half all but disappeared under the engine, it was more like the three of them. No lie that made things more than a mite uncomfortable. He'd taken the kids in, but he was more like to punch the prissy doc again than have a decent conversation with him, and River, as much as he liked the girl, was more than a bit unsettling even on her best days.
It left Mal with an itch to be off doing something someplace that was elsewhere. He didn't generally spend much time off ship, aside from jobs the crew were pulling. First off because he didn't ever like to set down longer than they had to, inviting government nose-poking types as it did. Second on account of the fact near all his personal coin went back into keeping Serenity flying as best as they could afford, and most anything he'd be like to do off-ship would eat into those funds.
Still. Weren't nothing for him to do on the ship right now but think too much, and that was a thing he had done his very best to not do ever since Serenity Valley had made it such a dark and tricky proposition. Therefore, after the fifth time he nearly knocked into one of the Tams pacing the corridors of his ship, Mal reigned in his irritation as best as he was able and declared he was heading out.
The job on Jianyin had paid well enough he could afford a couple drinks at a watering hole, iffin' he wasn't too particular about the atmosphere of the place or the quality of the liquor. It only took a walk of a few minutes from where the ship was docked to find himself such a place.
It was everything he expected of a bar this close to the docks. Dingy, dimly-lit, and filled with rough-looking types, a great deal of whom made Jayne look like a paragon of hygiene and manners. It was, however, the kind of place where people minded their own business. Outside of U-day when he had his own memorial celebration (of a kind), that was exactly how he liked things.
The drinks weren't much more tasteful than Kaylee's engine brew, but after he'd had a couple, he didn't so much care. Of course, just like stalking the corridors of the ship, drinking alone was also the kind of thing that lead to too much thinking. He did his best to avoid that by staring into the bottom of his glass and eavesdropping with vague interest in the conversations going on around him.
It was several drinks later, enough that he'd lost count of how many he'd had but not so many that he'd run out of the money he'd brought along for drinking, when someone impinged on his solitude. When another patron nudged into his side, he rather expected it to be some tough working up to trying to start a fight.
Mal definitely appreciated a good bar brawl, but he did generally try to keep from getting into them without backup. Plenty good reason for that - he would get all kinds of crap from Zoe afterward. Woman wouldn't say anything, but Zoe didn't have to talk to show her disapproval. So he put on a neutral face rather than one of his aggravating smirks and expected to attempt to diffuse a confrontation – not that he expected to succeed, as it weren't exactly something he had any particular talent at - but at least he could say he tried.
Considering the factor of his inebriation, it took him more than a moment to adjust his brain to the sight that was meeting his eyes instead. It wasn't a fella build on the same kinda model as Jayne, but rather a petite little thing of a gal. Not the kind kitted out in a bunch of knives and guns to compensate for it neither. Certainly not the type he expected to be hanging out in a place like this. She smiled at him in a sultry kinda way.
It took him a couple more minutes and a couple of tries on her part for him to catch on that she was introducin' herself. He was polite, but a little bewildered. Life like his, there weren't no place in it for romance, even if the bit of blackrock in his chest passing for a heart wasn't all tied up in knots over Inara. Between his natural disposition and the fact they never stopped any particular place for long, he didn't usually have to spend much time turning gals down, so he was a little adrift as to how to go about doin' so without giving offense to begin with, and the liquor was making things complicated on top of that.
Woman wasn't making it easy at all, either, refusing to take the hint. Considering he didn't want to hurt her feelings none, he was a bit at a loss. When she just couldn't seem to get it, after he'd tried ignoring her and then bein' irritating and crude in turn, he finally made some polite excuse about needing to head on back to his ship, and got up to leave the bar. She pouted a bit, but didn't fuss any further, for which he was grateful. He'd be wishin' her luck on finding some other fella who was actually interested if she hadn't been in what was definitely the wrong bar for that, as far as he was concerned. He'd asked if she'd come in off a ship, but she said she hadn't. It had been right odd. He'd also had the passing thought that it was weird her hands were so cold on such a warm night. Wasn't any of his concern, though. He'd surely never see her again.
Even though he'd had quite a bit to drink, Mal had lead far too interesting of a life to be completely unaware of his surroundings on the walk home. Wouldn't do to get mugged for the change in his pockets because some thug took him for an inattentive drunk. So he did hear that there was someone following him as he was just about to walk past the fence where the landing area was sectioned off from the town proper. Unfortunately, that didn't do him any good. His hand may have gone to his gun, but he hadn't intended to draw it, and his reflexes were only those of a human. Serenity's Captain died in an alley only a couple hundred feet away from his ship.
She'd been plenty busy working on getting things squared away on the engine, but Kaylee had still noticed that it was mighty quiet on Serenity with most of the crew out and about. She did have to feel a little guilty about being happy that Simon and River couldn't leave the ship on a place like Greenleaf. It meant Simon kept coming in to talk t'her while she was workin' which was just shiny. Even if it was maybe only 'cause everyone else was gone.
The Cap'n did love the ship almost as much as she did, but the man didn't know nothin' about mechanicing, so he mostly just let her do her thing and only actively checked in on her progress every day or so. So she didn't think too much of it when he didn't drop by on their fifth day sitting on Greenleaf. When he didn't come out for dinner either, though, that was weird and worrisome enough she asked Simon if he'd seen the Captain around.
He said he hadn't. Simon added that he suspected Mal was possibly down in his bunk avoiding them, as he'd complained the day before that he was being bothered by him n' River. That weren't too weird, Simon and the Captain never did get along at the best of times and Mal did seem to aggravate the doc on purpose. She loved the man like her own ge ge, but boy could he be ornery sometimes. To be fair, sometimes Simon tried even her patience, and she tried so hard not to get wrongfoot with anybody. So she was just about to figure that she was dithering over her imagination, when River felt the need to speak up, and what she did say was right spooky. "Gone."
It wasn't so much the word as the tone. The girl was a sweetheart, but she could be fair uncanny sometimes. After she'd said the word, she just blinked a couple of times and acted like she hadn't even spoke. The weirdness of it was enough to prompt Kaylee to go knocking on the hatch to his bunk when the girl wouldn't say nothing more. There was not a peep of an answer, and her worry increased. Cap'n wouldn't be happy about having his privacy invaded, but if there were something wrong and he needed help – well, she had to check, didn't she?
Problem was he wasn't in his bunk, and the rest of Serenity weren't real big either. Mal wasn't there. River didn't seem at all bothered by it, but then she also seemed to be having one of her more disconnected days. It was enough to worry both her and Simon, though. Mal tended to want everyone to know where to find him in case something went wrong, especially when they were planetside. Not to mention the rest of the crew would be due to check in soon to make sure everyone was set for leaving Greenleaf in a couple of days, and the Captain hadn't said anything about other business he had to take care of. Talking it over, the two of them realized that no one had seen Mal since he'd said something about going out for a drink the night before. If the Captain had got himself arrested for getting into a fight or some other kind of shenanigans like that, it could be problematical.
Kaylee didn't see much for it but they had to call Zoe. She hated to interrupt the special romantic week she and Wash had going on at the fanciest hotel they could afford, but neither she nor Simon had the know-how for discreetly figuring if Mal were in the local jail. She was okay with computer systems, but cracking into the legal systems, even just the local ones, it was far more easy to trip an alarm than just hacking comm channels or businesses. It was the kinda thing she generally left to Wash, since he'd had a friend was right clever with technology who taught him more than a few tricks. She and Simon were even less suited for any kind of rescue or bail out situation, if'n they did find where the Captain was, so there was that, too.
Unfortunately, the happy couple weren't picking up their waves, so Kaylee left them a vague message that should be enough to let them know they needed to check in as soon as possible. She didn't know quite what else to do. The Captain was always looking out for all of them, and could certainly take care of himself. Still, if he was in some kinda trouble and they didn't do anything, Kaylee wouldn't be able to live with herself. She didn't have a contact for Jayne, but she was even worried enough to try both Book and Inara, neither of whom had heard from the Cap'n and both of whom were immediately worried by her admitting he was missing. She hadn't said so right out, not wanting to worry them, as she figured neither was any more set to deal with the problem than she and Simon. They'd still both figured it out pretty quick, though. Prevaricatin' wasn't her strong point at all – far from – and there were few other reasons she'd be calling to ask if they'd heard from Mal.
Short of getting Zoe or somebody back here to deal with it, Kaylee didn't really know what any of them could do. So she told the others to stay put, thinking maybe it would be better if they were were Mal expected them to be in case he tried to get in contact himself. She tried not to fret too hard after getting off the waves and went back to doing the last parts of the repairs she needed to get done afore they left planet. Captain would be right put out with her when he came back if that wasn't done yet!
By the time it was night again, however, Kaylee had run out of things she could fiddle with while still fooling herself that she was legitimately working on something that needed it. Thankfully about the time she was ready to start getting really worried that they hadn't heard nothing more from the rest of the crew, she heard Zoe's voice shouting her name.
She ran out to meet her, and noticed that Simon was equally out of breath from rushing to the cargo bay at the sound. Zoe handed the holdall she was carrying to Wash, who took off up the stairs with it muttering something about wanting to stay another night. The luggage sorted, she turned to Kaylee and asked what the urgent message to get in contact was about. Zoe frowned slightly once Kaylee had got the story out, but she didn't say anything. She just nodded and headed up towards the bridge, with Kaylee and Simon tagging along behind her.
Wash was just climbing up out of the couple's bunk as the three of them approached, and Zoe told him to get up to the bridge and hack into the local arrest bulletins.
"What, we had come come back because you figure Jayne got into trouble? Are we sure we want him back?" Then, when nobody so much as cracked a smile, he added, "What?"
"Captain's missing," was all Zoe bothered to say.
For Wash it was only the work of a couple of minutes before he was declaring that there were no records for Mal (or any of the aliases he used on a regular basis) being jailed or even involved in any kind of disturbance. Zoe's frown deepened. "You check the corpses?"
Kaylee gasped, and Wash wasn't much less dismayed. "Are we thinking that? Isn't it a bit early to be thinking that?"
Zoe just gave her husband a no-nonsense look, and he put up his hands in surrender before turning back to the console. A few minutes more and he declared that no unidentified bodies that met Mal's description had turned up in any of the local morgues. Kaylee hadn't quite realized just how much Zoe had tensed up until she relaxed a bit at that announcement.
"So, uh, what are we thinking?" Simon asked.
"Ain't sure," Zoe began. "Captain don't much like going off-ship for too long, but he mighta met up with somebody. That's the hopeful version. Mighta got took, instead."
"And which of our many enemies do you suppose might have made off with our absent leader? I mean, we do have quite a list to be getting on with!" Wash interjected.
Before Zoe or anyone else could respond to that, the whole group of them heard Inara's shuttle docking. "Inara's early. She check in lately?" she asked.
Kaylee shook her head negatively. "I did wave to ask if she'd heard from the Captain, but she said she was gonna stick to her schedule." They met up with Inara in the kitchen area, heading towards each other.
"Trouble?" Zoe asked.
Inara looked somewhat taken aback by the abruptness of the query and the tension evident in all of them. "N-no, my last client just canceled and there weren't any other interesting prospects. Surely Mal isn't still off sulking somewhere?"
Down in the cargo bay, River was listening in, in a manner of speaking, as the group upstairs was going back over the little they knew. She only peripherally noticed the noise of the door in the bay hatch opening and closing. She spared a moment to look over and actually engage her physical senses for a moment.
"Worried about you. All talking about it," she said absently, still mostly focused on the conversation upstairs. Her brother was protesting loudly against everyone's suggested lines of investigation. He was always so paranoid about the potentiality of the Alliance finding her because of something the crew did, the boob.
"Is that so?" Mal's voice was laced with amusement.
River blinked, and drew her attention back from the conversation upstairs, focusing on the Captain.
A/N: I kill Mal off a lot. Not sure why beyond, you know, it's fun. Reviews are always nice if you want to submit them, but it's already written and I'll post the whole thing anyway. This will be 5 chapters once it's all up.