Standard Fanfic Disclaimer that wouldn't last ten seconds in a court of law: these aren't my characters, and only some of the settings are mine. Based on characters and settings from the Firefly and Magnificent Seven television shows, and ignoring the Serenity movie, as I started this years before the movie came out. Originally published in the fanzine Magnificent AUs #2 from Neon RainBow Press. Written purely for my own amusement: I wanted to crunch Ezra, and Mal was kind enough to help me.

Rescuing a Dog-Robber

Firefly/Magnificent Seven (AU)

by Susan M. M.


Chapter 1: Rescuing a Dog-Robber

Zoe Washburne slid into the booth next to Mal Reynolds. Two beers sat in front of him; he passed one over to her. "Get all the supplies?"

Zoe, a tall, muscular, dark-skinned woman nodded. "You'll never guess who I just saw."

"Oh?"

"There's a Block up the road." Serenity's XO pointed out the window.

Mal nodded. He'd walked past the labor broker's, usually referred to as a Block (since most people found little to distinguish between an auction block and a brokerage firm that sold indenture contracts).

"You remember Lt. Standish, the colonel's dog-robber?" Mal nodded, and she continued, "He was there."

"Customer or client?"

"Client, and apparently a major flight risk. They've got him shackled to a fare-thee-well."

## ## ## ##

Ezra Standish was a dark-haired man of medium height. Most would describe him as a handsome man … usually. The gambler's green eyes were glum and devoid of hope, lacking their usual roguish twinkle. His face was bruised and somewhat dirty. Not even his mother would describe him as handsome at the moment. He half-leaned, half-sat against the wall. The chains didn't let him move more than a few decimeters. He was collared like a dog. His wrists were manacled, with a chain separating them by perhaps 15 centimeters. His ankles were similarly bound. Both his collar and his wrist-manacles were further chained to the wall.

A brown-haired man about his height, perhaps a few centimeters taller, approached his position. After glancing to see that no one else was in earshot, he asked, "Are you running a scam, or do you need rescuing?"

Standish's lips barely moved. His reply was the faintest of whispers, inaudible a meter away, but the desperation came through loud and clear. "Get me out of here."

Mal bobbed his head once, then walked away.

Ten minutes later, a brokerage employee unchained Standish. "C'mon. You've been sold."

## ## ## ##

"Well, honey, what do you think?" Mal asked Zoe.

"He's strong enough to put in a full day's work," the labor broker said. "I think you and your wife will be satisfied.

"Keep up appearances until we're away from prying eyes and ears," Mal whispered. Aloud, he added, "Mind your manners, follow orders, and the missus and I will treat you right."

"Yes, sir," Standish muttered.

Zoe shoved the supplies into Standish's hands. "Make yourself useful. Carry these."

Standish scrambled for a good grip on the packages. It wasn't easy with his arms chained together. "Yes, ma'am."

Mal turned and shook hands with the labor broker. "Pleasure doing business with you, sir." He laid a hand on Standish's shoulder and pushed him toward the door.

Once they were outside, Standish opened his mouth to speak.

"Quiet," Zoe ordered. "Keep your mouth shut until we're back at the ship." She and Mal marched him through the dusty unpaved streets to the landing field on the edge of town.

## ## ## ##

"Let's get those groceries put away in the galley, and some put away in you," Mal said.

"Sgt. Reynolds, I have never been so happy to see anyone in my life."

"Let's get one thing straight. This is my ship, and on board Serenity you call me 'Captain Reynolds' or 'sir.' You got that?"

"Yes, sir," Standish replied mockingly.

Mal led them to the galley.

"I'll take that." Zoe relieved Standish of the groceries and started putting them away.

"You enjoyed that, didn't you, Corporal Allvers? Alden?" He tried to remember her last name, but failed. The face was familiar –- a man didn't forget a woman who looked like that –- but after seven years he'd forgotten her name.

"Used to be Alleyne, Washburne now," she corrected him. "And I'm not a corporal anymore."

"She is my XO, and you'll treat her with respect." Mal fished a key out of his pocket and removed the chains from Standish's manacles. The manacles themselves he left on Standish's wrists. Nor did he make any move to remove the collar.

"Um, aren't you forgetting something?" Standish asked.

Mal stared him down.

Hoban Washburne, Serenity's pilot, entered the galley and kissed his wife. "Who's this?"

"Ezra Standish. He'll be with us for a while," Mal replied.

"How long a while?" Standish demanded.

"Until you pay me what you owe me. You can either reimburse me what I paid for the indenture, or you can work it off."

"Obviously you've never been arrested hereabouts, Reynolds. Instead of charging a fine or throwing you into a nice escapable jail cell, they confiscate your belongings and sell you at auction. My pockets are empty at the moment."

"Captain Reynolds," Zoe corrected him. "Or sir."

"You don't have the money on you. That don't mean you can't get it," Mal pointed out.

Standish thought a moment. He'd never hear the end of it if he contacted Maude and asked her for a loan. He doubted he'd be able to borrow the money from Chris Larabee, or another of his former associates. They hadn't parted on the best of terms. "It might take a while to contact someone and get a response."

"I'm in no hurry. The more you work off, the less you'll have to pay," Mal replied amiably. "What do you think, Zoe, pay him the same wages as Jayne?"

"Same, or a little more." She considered the matter. "Hate to admit it, but he's more valuable than Jayne. Less than Wash makes, though."

"Nice to know I'm more valuable," the strawberry blond pilot said. "Still doesn't answer my question. Who is this guy, and why is he wearing metal jewelry?"

"Lt. Standish was the supply officer for our unit," his coffee-skinned bride explained.

"Also the colonel's dog-robber, and he had a tendency to put Col. Oberin's wants before the soldiers' needs," Mal added.

Standish held up his wrists. "When were you planning to remove these, Reynolds?"

"You forgetting something, Standish?" The dark-haired captain's tone wasn't quite as amiable as it had been a moment ago.

"You're not kidding about the captain or sir business, are you?" the gambler realized.

Mal shook his head.

"Captain." Standish pronounced the two syllables grudgingly.

Mal nodded his acceptance of the title. "Cuffs come off once we grab some sky. The labor broker warned me you were likely to try to escape. Once we're in space, I won't need to worry about that. Leastwise, not as much."

"You could've just waited till night, and broken me out," Standish pointed out.

"This was quicker. Make yourself useful, and you'll earn your way out quicker."

Standish said nothing.

"You still got a talent for pulling scams?" Mal asked.

Standish nodded cautiously.

"We ain't always on the right side of the law. If we can make use of your talents, there'll be a bonus in it for you."

"Would I see any of this bonus?" the gambler asked pointedly.

"Be on the books, accounted against your debt," Mal explained. "Now, you want some spending money for shore leave now and then, we could manage that … but it would slow down how soon you paid me back."

Standish nodded his understanding and acceptance. He warned, "I haven't saluted anyone since the war ended."

"Don't need salutes. Just need you to remember who's in charge."

"I don't think that will be a problem. You've made that very clear, Captain."

"Get yourself something to eat," Mal ordered. "Can't get any work done on an empty stomach."

"Yes, sir, Captain, sir," he replied sarcastically.

"Watch the attitude, or I'll dock your pay," Mal warned. Not trusting his self-control, Ezra said nothing. Mal continued, "Everybody gets their own breakfast and lunch. We take turns making dinner. Your turn is tonight."

"I thought tonight was your turn," Wash said.

Mal grinned. "It was."

## ## ## ##

"I seem to remember you used to consider yourself quite a ladies' man," Mal said as he escorted his bondservant down the ship's corridor.

"I have always enjoyed the company of the fairer sex," Standish admitted. A handsome man with dark hair, green eyes, and a roguish charm, he'd never had any trouble attracting attention from women.

"We got four females on board. As far as you're concerned, they're all off limits," Mal warned.

Standish frowned.

"Inara, she's a Registered Companion; she rents one of the shuttles from me. Part of the rental agreement is that she's not professionally available to any crew members. Unless you get ordered to clean her shuttle, you stay out of it. That's her quarters and her office." When Standish nodded his understanding, Mal continued, "You know Zoe. She's married and her husband is likely to object. Not to mention she could kill or maim you herself, if she chose. Then there's Kaylee and River. They're both too young and River, she ain't right in the head. 'Sides, she's the doctor's sister. Ain't a good idea to upset the man who's gonna patch you up if you get hurt." He opened a door. "You can bunk here. Ain't fancy, but it'll do."

It'll do for a bondservant, you mean, Standish thought. The cubicle -– it was too small to call a cabin -– was bare. Nothing in it but a bunk, not even any blankets.

"Sit down." Mal gestured at the bunk. He pulled the key out of his pocket. "Hold still." Standish sat very still as Mal Reynolds unlocked first his collar, then his wrist manacles. Mal relocked them around a pipe running through the room. "Keep this handy, just in case we need 'em later."

Standish glanced up at the manacles, dangling there above his bed, to remind him of his status … not that Mal seemed likely to let him forget.

## ## ## ##

Mal introduced the gambler to the rest of the crew at dinner. "This is Ezra Standish; he was in the war with Zoe and me. He owes me money, so he's gonna be on board a while, working it off."

He introduced the others, and Standish was grateful to Mal for not mentioning his status as a bondservant, although Wash and Zoe already knew, and the others would doubtless find out soon. It would be hard to keep secrets on a small ship.

"Inara Serra," Mal indicated a beautiful, well-dressed woman. The Companion, Standish remembered, thinking it was a shame she was off-limits.

"Shepherd Derrial Book." An older brown-skinned man, dressed in clerical gray and black, nodded. He murmured some words of welcome.

"Our doctor, Simon, and his sister, River." The doctor appeared to be a few years Standish's junior; his sister, who might have been a pretty brunette had her hair been combed, was still a teenager.

"Jayne Cobb." Standish took one look at the tall man, and realized that although he probably had some title like security or stevedore, that he was the ship's muscle. He certainly looked tough enough that no one would tease him about a feminine-sounding name.

"And Kaylee Frye, our mechanic." She was River's age, perhaps a year or two older, and quite pretty in a girl-next-door sort of way.

"Wash and Zoe you've already met, of course." The strawberry blond pilot nodded politely. His raven-haired wife eyed Standish the way she would a particularly disgusting bug.

Kaylee dug into the stew. "I never knew you could make protein cubes and a few canned vegetables taste this good."

Standish nodded his acceptance of the compliment.

" 'Member when I first bought Serenity?" Mal asked Zoe. "I told you we needed to get a mechanic and a pilot, maybe a cook. Looks like we just found our cook." The captain looked at Standish. "Doubt kitchen chores'll be enough to keep you busy and out of mischief. We'll add janitorial duties to your to-do list. That'll free up the rest of the crew for more important work."

Green eyes, filled with hate, glared at Mal for a moment. Discretion being the better part of valor, Standish turned his attention to his bowl of stew. The law gave bondholders considerable leeway in the matter of disciplining their bondservants, and was annoyingly silent on the matter of bondservants' civil rights.

## ## ## ##

Ezra Standish wiped the perspiration from his brow. He was hot, tired, sweaty, and his muscles ached. His mother had told him that a gentleman never debased himself with physical labor. This was not only debasing and demeaning, it was exhausting.

"That cargo ain't gonna load itself. Get back to work," Mal ordered.

"In just a moment. I need to catch my breath."

"Now."

Standish glared up at the captain, trying – very hard – to avoid the snappy retort he wanted to make.

Mal must have seen the look in his eyes, for he said, "Don't you give me no lip. You already forfeited a day's pay yesterday for your attitude. Wanna lose another day's pay?"

"No, sir. I would rather not," Standish conceded.

"Get that cargo loaded."

"Yes, sir." With Mal's eyes on him, he had no choice but to proceed down the ramp and fetch another of the waiting boxes.