Title: Another Day, Another Apocalypse
Author: babies stole my dingo (agilebrit)
Fandom: Firefly/Angel crossover
Rating: PG-13 (default)
Recipient: deviousli, who requested a Firefly/Buffy/Angel crossover: "The Scoobies hop forward in time to warn the Serenity crew about the impending apocalypse. Insanity ensues. Yay."
Length: Short story (a little over 13,000 words). It got away from me a bit, and I'll probably break it up into chapters later on, but I wanted to post it by the deadline.
Disclaimer: Joss is the genius behind these characters; I am but a lowly follower. I make no money from any of this, so please don't sue me.
Feedback: Concrit adored! If you see something that can be improved upon, please let me know.
Written for: Fred Appreciation Day and the apocalyptothon.
Notes: Well, I cheated a bit and used something I'd already begun, and it's the Fang Gang instead of the Scoobies. I hope it suits. :)
What...where...? She regained consciousness, slowly and muzzily, her first thoughts confused and blurred. She could move, so that was a good; but she seemed to be surrounded by cold metal, in the dark, which didn't fit her last memory and therefore was probably a bad. She was also...naked? Um. Probably another thing for the "bad" column.
Her last memory floated to the surface. Wesley, why can't I stay? Burning up, some virus or other invading her body, devouring what had been Winifred Burkle and leaving a shell behind. Illyria, that was its name. Old One, sarcophagus, she'd been curious. What was that saying about curiosity and cats?
She smiled to herself. Of course, the little-used addendum to "Curiosity killed the cat" was "Satisfaction brought it back." Apparently that had worked in her favor. This once. But cats had nine lives, right? Probably not smart to stretch the metaphor too far, and she was babbling, albeit mentally, again. Best to shake herself out of this and figure out just where she was and how to get in touch with the others. Wesley would be happy; she couldn't wait to see him.
She felt around herself and discovered that she was in a coffin-like space, which gave her the willies until she found a sliding panel on one side. She opened it and rolled into a roomful of surprised-looking people. One of them hollered, "Jayne!"
Later, dressed in a kimono donated by a lady who was prettier than she had a right to be, she sat at the kitchen table surrounded by the inhabitants of this real, live spaceship. The Captain of the ship was staring at her with his arms crossed and his brow lowered thunderously, and the rest of the crew seemed to be in varying stages of puzzlement and suspicion. The only person who seemed to be completely blase about the whole thing was a teenage girl who appeared to be slightly loopy and kept muttering about cats.
She was a bit discombobulated herself. Finding out that you're aboard a spaceship in another solar system five hundred years in the future would throw anyone off their game, and just because she was used to a dozen mystical events happening around her on a daily basis didn't mean that the physics of this particular event didn't make her head hurt. She wanted to curl up into a ball and hide, but apparently that wasn't an option.
The Captain was yelling at the big guy again. "You're tellin' me you had nothin' to do with a naked woman aboard my boat in one of the smuggling spaces?"
"I swear on my Mama, Mal, I ain't never seen her before in my life! Not that I wouldn't mind havin' her, she's damn cute, but I didn't have nothin' to do with bringin' her on."
Mal rounded on Fred. "And you say you got no idea how you got here?"
"I'd have to run some pretty complicated equations on a supercomputer to even begin to figure out the 'how.' As to the 'why'--" She shrugged. "Last thing I remember is dying."
"Why does everything happen to me?" Mal asked the ceiling. "How come, for once in my life, things just can't go smooth? We finally get a nice, simple job, and along comes a nekkid dead girl from out of nowhere to throw a monkey wrench into the works and gum up the whole plan."
"I-I'm sorry," Fred stammered. "I don't mean to be any trouble. You can just drop me off on the nearest, um, planet, or wherever we're close to, and I'll get out of your hair."
He snorted. "Sounds easy, don't it? Only we're flying way under the radar here and we ain't gonna be close to any-damn-place until we get to where we're going. Looks like we're all stuck with each other 'til the job's done with. Shiny." He pointed at her. "Stay out from underfoot, don't bother my crew, and don't touch anything. Dong ma?" She wasn't familiar with the foreign phrase, and her puzzlement must have shown on her face. "Understand?" he clarified.
"Oh! Yeah. I won't be any trouble. Promise."
Mal snorted again. "See that you ain't. I've not put anyone out the airlock in awhile, but I won't hesitate. No matter how cute Jayne thinks you are."
Somehow, Fred had expected the future to be more...futuristic. Okay, she was on a spaceship, which was all kinds of just neat, but they still used regular old-fashioned books (although she wasn't familiar with any of the authors), bedsheets still seemed to be made from regular old-fashioned cotton, and everything was a whole lot dirtier than she thought it would be. Also, the food? If you could call it that, she snorted to herself. Was terrible.
Whatever her vision of the future had been, it sure hadn't been this.
Apparently the order to "not bother the crew" didn't extend to "the crew not bothering her." She soon found out that River and Book weren't members of the crew, but passengers, sort of like her, except they hadn't apparated out of thin air after being eaten alive by an Old One. And Jayne had been hanging around her more often than she figured was strictly necessary as well; she gathered that his duties tended more to be ground-side work rather than having anything to do aboard ship. In fact, she got the distinct impression that the others would rather he just disappeared until they needed him.
Wesley would have liked his guns, she thought with a pang. And Wes is irretrievably gone, and so is everyone else from the past. She still wanted to curl up into a ball or run away, but going outside the spaceship right now wouldn't be too smart.
Simon examined her and declared her healthy, so the Illyria infection apparently hadn't crossed over with her. Kaylee loaned her some clothes, although they were a bit short.
However, Wash, the pilot, had given her some charts of the solar system to study, and the Cortex was like the internet on steroids. She spent hours at a time going from one site to another, checking up on breakthroughs in physics, and then hanging out in the doorway of the engine room to see the practical application. Kaylee was more than happy to chatter endlessly about "her girl" and pointed out where all the parts were and what did what.
All the new and exciting technology was almost enough to make her forget that she was stuck five hundred years in the future with no personal infrastructure and no way to make a living once she got off the ship. At dinner that evening, she was a bit overwhelmed with the enormity of it all and sat poking at her protein while the conversation carried on over her head.
That conversation died abruptly when thumping noises and British curses began emitting from the same smuggling space in the kitchen cabinets that Fred herself had appeared in...
And a familiar--naked--platinum-blond form rolled out of the door, wrapped in the embrace of an equally-naked blue-tinted carbon copy of herself.
Mal thought he was going to have a heart attack, right there in the dining room. He was beginning to have his suspicions that this job weren't as easy as it had been made out to be. Three nekkid folk appearing out of thin air in the same spot on his boat, directly after they'd taken on this new cargo...
And they all seemed to know each other, too, which pinged his radar plenty. The two girls looked an awful lot alike, and they apparently didn't get along; the guy with the radioactive hair sat between them attempting, unsuccessfully, to keep the peace. If looks could've killed, Kaylee wouldn't need no oil for the engine for awhile, because nothing'd be left of the blue one except a greasy spot.
At least they had clothes now. The blue gal, Illyria, apparently could do...something or other that covered her decently, and Spike, the guy (why would anyone want hair that color? Mal kept coming back to that), was about the same size as Wash, if a bit skinnier. He complained some about the brightly-patterned shirt and seemed to be eyeing Mal's coat a bit more covetously than he ought.
Speaking of covetous eyeing, Jayne had switched his attention from Fred to her twin. Illyria stared back at him in a haughty fashion. "Cease lusting for me, human," she said. "You would snap as a dry twig were we to do what you contemplate."
"Wouldn't mind tryin' it anyways." Jayne turned to Mal. "Can I have her, Cap'n? I'll take real good care of her."
"No!" Mal pounded his fist on the table. "There will be no 'having' of anyone on this trip, least of all our unwelcome visitors! Don't even think about it. Wuo de ma..."
Illyria tilted her head and looked closer at the mercenary, then turned to Spike. "He resembles Hamilton, does he not?"
"Thought Angel said he killed that bugger."
"Hamilton was a creature of the Wolf, the Ram, and the Hart. He could be defeated, but would not actually die. The match is uncanny."
"Bit of a coincidence," Spike said doubtfully. Then he gave Mal a sharp look, appeared to consider for a second, and shook his head.
"It is no coincidence. We have been brought here for a reason. Such a confluence of events can never be happenstance." She gestured at Fred, who bristled. "The shell is here also. There is some source of power on this vessel, drawing us all to this place."
Mal's mistrust about their job solidified. "The gorram cargo. Shoulda known they was willin' to pay too high a price for somethin' seemed so simple." He slapped the table again, with both hands, and jumped to his feet. "Let's go have a look-see." He strode out of the room without waiting for anyone to follow.
They filed into the cargo bay to find Mal, hands on hips, staring at the largish crate tied down in the center. "Oh, bloody hell," Spike said, gesturing at the logo on it for the benefit of Illyria and Fred. "The law firm that wouldn't die. Any idea what's in it?" he asked Mal.
"One way to find out." The captain unsnapped the straps and considered the lock, then grabbed a pry bar.
"I'm not so sure that's a good idea," Fred hastened to say. "There might be some pretty heavy protective spells on this thing; just bulling it open might unleash something you don't want to deal with."
"The Blue Meanie and I can kick any ass necessary," Spike said, swinging his arms back and forth. "Wouldn't mind a bit of violence right now."
Fred gave him a look. "You can't kick non-corporeal ass. Just...let me take a look at it first, before you go all Rambo on it, okay?" she said to Mal. "I wish Wes was here," she muttered. "He was better at the mystical stuff than me."
To her surprise, Illyria stepped up beside her to examine the crate. "Wesley loved you very much. He would be happy that you survived." Her blue twin seemed unwilling to meet her gaze. "He wanted you, at his ending. I am glad I could at least give him that."
Fred took a deep breath. "He died? I mean, of course he died, we're five hundred years in the future, but you were with him?"
"He died valiantly and well, with your name on his lips and your image in his vision. It was my last gift to him." Illyria touched the crate. "There is a ward, here, and another, here." She did something complicated with her hands. "They are released. You may open the crate with no mystical repercussions now."
Mal's expression was suspicious. "That seemed kinda easy. Didn't look like anything happened to me."
"I have had dealings with the Wolf, the Ram, and the Hart for millennia. Their power has never exceeded my own and never will," Illyria said contemptuously. "The affairs of beings such as we are not for the eyes of puny human vermin."
"Um, Blue?" Spike said. "Let's not forget that the 'puny human vermin' can put us out the airlock and leave us stranded in space, yeah? A bit of politeness for our hosts is in order here."
"An attempt to put me out the airlock would be instructive and amusing, but very well." She backed away from the crate as Mal came forward.
He didn't use any finesse; he just whacked the locks with the pry bar and smashed them apart. Taking a deep breath, he flung the lid open and peered in. "Huh." They all crowded around him as he continued. "This business of nekkid folk aboard my boat is getting really damn old."
"Oh, bloody hell," Spike said, examining the still form.
"Um, Captain, that's the same sort of stasis box--" Simon started, but he didn't have time to finish before the person inside sat up, vamped out, and began screaming.
Spike lit a cigarette he'd gotten God-knew-where. "Hullo, Angel. Fancy meetin' you here."
"I gonna get any more nasty surprises?" Mal asked. They'd retired back to the kitchen. Table was gettin' mighty small...
Angel, clothed and in his right mind, looked uncomfortable. "I think we may be in for the nastiest surprise of all."
"Another apocalypse?" Spike leaned back and raised an eyebrow. "I just got done with one, thanks ever so. And I'm thinkin' it may have killed me, although the condition wasn't permanent."
"Maybe the third time will be the charm."
"I love you too, Peaches."
"Hey!" Mal slammed his hands on the table. "I ain't likin' the sounds of this. Us on this boat is just folk, and we don't want any truck with any apocalypse. And I don't know what you--" He pointed at Angel. "--did with your face back there, but don't do it again."
"Vampires," River said.
"What? River, no." Simon touched her arm. "Vampires are a myth."
Spike snorted into the glass of hootch he'd charmed from Kaylee. "They still feeding you that line of bull? Ask the Watcher, there." He waved his hand at Book.
"Watcher? I'm not a Watcher, I'm just a simple--" At Spike's look, Book relented. "All right, maybe I am, in a manner of speaking. The Brothers keep the lore alive, and we have a lot of old books that no one reads anymore in languages nobody can understand. It's become a bunch of stories, old Watchers' tales, more than anything else. We haven't seen vampires, demons, or even Slayers in a very long time. You're going to have hard slogging convincing these folks that you're not crazy."
"Yeah? Angel could do that thing with his face again. So can I, for that matter. Nothin' about Blue here strike you people as a bit odd? Denial." Spike spun the glass in circles on the table. "It's a beautiful thing."
"Blood and death mixed in with remorse and guilt. A curse and a quest." River's steady gaze moved back and forth between Spike and Angel. "A soul changes everything."
"Okay, can she not do that?" Angel said.
"Little Slayer gettin' on your nerves?" Everyone stared at Spike. "What, you didn't know? Plain as the nose on your face, innit? Zoe, too, for that matter." They continued to stare. "Oh, you people really are blind, aren't you? Bloody hell. You got any more of this stuff?" he asked Kaylee, pointing at his glass.
While she scampered off toward the engine room, Angel turned to Book. "What happened to the Slayers? Back in our time, every one of them got activated. Now it looks like you don't have any at all, other than Potentials like Zoe and River. Assuming Spike is right, which would be a miracle."
"Oi, you wanker--"
Book interrupted the incipient snark-fest. "No one knows. It seems that whatever power called them forth was confined to Earth-That-Was. We might know what to do if we ever did find an actual Slayer, but it seems that knowledge isn't needed in this solar system, and it's become more of an historic curiosity than anything." He eyed them over the rim of his mug. "But if I'm any judge, we're going to need the Slayers again before this is all over."
"The Senior Partners aren't going to give up on their apocalypse just because we've swapped solar systems," Fred said. "They've been planning it for millennia. How long were you in that box?" she asked Angel.
Jayne was still processing the part about vampires. "That mean you two drink blood? 'Cause, I don't think we have any, other than what's in our bodies. And I'd kinda like to hang on to that."
Kaylee, back from the engine room, stopped abruptly in the doorway. Fred hastened to reassure everyone. "Angel and Spike haven't drunk human blood in a long, long while." Kaylee came the rest of the way into the kitchen and set a glass gallon jug of her engine-fermented whiskey in the middle of the table as Fred continued. "Um, that being said...just how much time will it take to get where we're going?"
"Couple more days," Mal answered. "Why?"
Illyria spoke up. "Half-breeds become irritable when unable to feed. If they starve for too long, they become insane."
"This just gets better and better," Wash said. "Crazy space vampires. What next?"
"Not to rain on your apocalypse," Inara said, "but business is business, and I have a client to contact at our destination. If you'll excuse me?" She rose gracefully to her feet, and every male eye in the room followed her out.
"I'm not sure she believes us." Angel stared moodily at the glass in front of him.
"Not sayin' I do either," Mal commented. "You ask me, the whole gorram business is far-fetched and unreasonable."
Fred sighed. "That's what they all say. Until their face gets eaten by a fungus demon."
Zoe put her face in her hand. "Tell me you didn't bring a fungus demon..."
"None of us asked to be here," Spike pointed out. "Didn't even bring the clothes on our backs."
"Kinda glad I am here," Fred said. "Otherwise I'd be kinda dead."
Spike scooted over and wrapped his arm around her. She seemed surprised for a second, then leaned into him. He said, "Makes me wonder if Blue and I died in the alley." He took a swig of Kaylee's hootch.
"The whole thing makes my head hurt. I wish--"
Inara rushed into the room, her face pale under her makeup. "I can't get ahold of my client."
"You ain't supposed to be there for another two days," Mal said, lifting an eyebrow. "It's entirely possible that he's got better things to do than sit around his mansion, pining for you."
"No, you don't understand. I can't get ahold of anyone. Santo...the whole moon's gone dark. They've dropped off the Cortex."
Jayne lifted his weights in the cargo hold. Wasn't nothin' they could do 'til they got to Santo, and workin' off some energy in the meantime seemed like a good notion. The Shepherd, Mal, and Zoe were sittin' with Fred, Spike, and Angel (what kind of name was that for a man, anyway?) to formulate some sort of idea what they were going to do when they hit Santo.
Hell, Jayne figured, why not just go in with guns blazing and take out whatever was causing the problem? Weren't much him and Vera couldn't solve. Plans never went the way you meant 'em to anyhow; the Cap'n was a prime example of that.
A black-gloved hand arrested the progress of his weight-lifting, and he looked up to see Illyria's weird-colored eyes staring down at him. "Why do you engage in this activity? It seems pointless and time-wasting."
He pushed against her, but couldn't move the bar. "Bleeds off stress and gives me manly muscles. You, uh, wanna let me set this thing back on the rest?"
She lifted the barbell from his unresisting grip, one-handed, and tossed it up in the air twice before replacing it herself. "Doing this makes you stronger?"
"Gives the muscles something to do, something to strain on." He sat up and toweled off his face.
"Your muscles are very large." Her head tilted, appraising him.
"I do this a lot, in between jobs. So...Spike and Angel are vampires. Fred's human. What're you?"
"I am Illyria, God-King of the Primordium. Much reduced in stature from my former glory." She looked down at herself in distaste. "My Qwa'ha Zahn chose this vessel for me based on its aesthetic beauty rather than its usefulness. The human body is far too weak to contain my full power."
"Um. Sorry?" He shrugged. "You seem plenty strong to me."
"A mere shadow. My true form would turn your knees to water and cause your heart to sink to your toes." She sat down next to him on the bench, staring at the floor. "I am much diminished. It is...difficult...to accustom myself to it."
She didn't strike him as the chatty sort. "So, how come you're tellin' me all this?"
"I do not know. Perhaps because you do not fear me as the others do."
Jayne'd caught that too. His crewmates had cast sideways glances at her ever since she'd appeared. The folk from her own time seemed to hold her at arm's length as well, which didn't seem right. "I ain't never objected to extra muscle on a job. You look like you'll do." Not to mention that low-down tickle he got every time he looked at her. Probably wouldn't be proper-like to say anything about that, though.
"I had once thought to keep Spike as my pet," she mused. "I was beginning to break him to my will. His regard for me has been stolen by Fred's return. He told me one time that he loved her, and that love has apparently been rekindled."
Jayne grunted. "She love him too?"
"She loved Wesley. She might grow to love Spike. Humans are fickle in that manner. I had thought..." She trailed off, her shoulders slumped.
For a God-King, she looked awful sad. He wondered if she'd pound him if he touched her; she seemed like the type.
It'd be worth it, he decided.
For the briefest instant, Illyria's hand curled into a fist as Jayne's arm wrapped around her shoulders. Then she heaved out a huge breath and decided to let him be. This was what she was reduced to. Cast even more adrift in a future and a solar system even more alien than the one she'd left, allowing a mere human to offer her succor.
She admitted, in a back recess of her mind, that it felt rather nice. Not many people had dared touch her since she had manifested, certainly not in this way. Spike had hit her (which she had enjoyed), and Wesley had attended her wounds, but simple human contact had been denied her.
These people, so fragile, yet so strong. How did they sustain these emotions without flying apart into a thousand billion pieces? They relied on one another, parts of a whole, but they crumbled when their support system was stripped away.
She, too, was crumbling, although it shamed her to acknowledge it, even to herself. She wondered if she should allow this human to shore her up, and thought that she just might.
"Why don't we start with vampires?" Mal said, leaning back and crossing his arms. "Because I still ain't convinced."
Another day, another apocalypse, Spike thought. And another skeptic.
But, hey! Freddi was alive, which was definitely on the plus side of the equation. And he'd managed to grab a seat next to her. Not that he was going to make any sort of move toward romancing the scientist just yet, not after what they'd been through, and if she had any sense at all (which she did) she probably wouldn't have him anyway, but it wouldn't hurt to let her know that he was here for her, and now his brain was just rambling and Shut up already. Bloody hell. But the fact that Fred wasn't dead made him practically giddy, and it was hard to contain himself. He settled for sitting closer to her than was strictly necessary.
He could already see that Mal and Angel were going to butt heads like bighorn sheep on a mountainside. Too much alike, they were. Right. Enough pussyfooting around.
Mal flinched violently, while Book looked intrigued and Angel glared. "Spike..."
"What? You could sit here arguing about whether vampires exist or not for bloody hours, or we could just cut to the chase. I'd like to see them argue with this." He gestured at his face.
"You could just be...doing...that." Mal seemed to realize exactly how ridiculous that sounded as the words came out of his mouth. "Okay, point proved," he said grudgingly. "What's it got to do with me and mine?"
"Maybe not anything, other than the fact that you're the ones they picked to transport Angel where they wanted him," Fred said, as Spike let his face go back to normal. "Well, that, and...it's an apocalypse. In your backyard."
"Seems like a pretty big assumption to make," Zoe said. "How do you know it's an apocalypse?"
"What month is it?" Spike asked.
"May, according to Santo's calendar," Book answered. "Why?"
Spike exchanged glances with Fred and Angel. "Apocalypse," they said together.
"I'll get on the Cortex and see what I can find out," Fred said, rising.
"Our little research goddess," Spike commented fondly as she left. Angel shot him another glare, letting him know that he was overstepping his bounds. Like he cared what Angel thought.
"What sort of scope are we looking at for this apocalypse?" Book asked. "We've got thirty planets and hundreds of moons in this system. Billions of people. Are all of them in danger? And how can we stop it? Or can we stop it at all?"
"We've stopped a few in our time." Angel drummed his fingers on the table. "I guess it depends on what we find when we get to Santo."
"Which has gone dark. There's a happy thought." Mal looked pensive. "Fred likely to find anything on the Cortex?"
"If anyone can, it'll be her," Spike said. "We're two days out? Might want to weapon up and get some training in. No telling what we'll find when we get there."
Slayer. The word was, at the same time, completely alien and utterly familiar. River had always known that the people at the Academy wanted to turn her into a weapon, but she hadn't realized the extent of what they were trying to accomplish.
Neither had they. No one had thought through the ramifications of creating an insane genius with super-strength and no inhibitions. Simon was horrified and looking for a way to stop whatever process they'd started, using some of the Shepherd's books.
River, for her part, wasn't sure how she felt about the whole thing. The only extant demons in the solar system seemed to be the three that had appeared on the ship, and none of them were actually evil. She wondered if the dimensional rift that had allowed free rein to demons was confined to Earth-That-Was. Maybe Fred would find the answer to that on the Cortex.
"Oh. Oh!" Fred sat at the keyboard in the cockpit. "That's what happened. And that's what's happening. Those sneaky bastards."
"What? What sneaky bastards?" Wash said.
"Wolfram and Hart. They've managed to turn Earth into hell and basically destroyed the place, so they're expanding their horizons. Starting here. And the Slayers..." She jumped to her feet. "I need to tell the others."
"No one ever tells me anything," Wash mumbled, setting the boat on autopilot and trailing behind her.
"They're opening a Hellmouth on Santo, if they haven't done it already." Standing at the head of the table in the kitchen, Fred twisted her fingers together nervously.
"What's a Hellmouth?" Mal said.
"A dimensional rift that allows demons access to your plane of existence," Illyria answered.
"You guys haven't seen vampires, demons, or Slayers here, right? No aliens?" Fred looked at Book, who shook his head. "I guess vampires and demons don't travel well on spaceships, so they were stuck on Earth, and all the dimensions that were attached to Earth. None of which had any attachments here. For some reason, this solar system is isolated. Lucky you."
"Makes me wonder if the people in charge of picking this system knew something," Angel said. "What else did you find out, Fred?"
"When Willow did the spell that activated all the Slayers? It used up all the Slayer juice. After that generation, there weren't anymore."
"Lovely," Spike commented. "So, it's our little band of buggered against the forces of Hell, Incorporated. I think I've danced this dance before. Did we win last time?"
"Yeah," Angel said. "Gunn and I couldn't find you or Illyria, afterwards, though."
"Charlie lived? Good on him!"
"Married Anne at the shelter and wound up with fat grandkids."
"Aww!" Fred said. "I sure wish I coulda seen that." Even Illyria smiled.
"Not wantin' to interrupt old home week here, but ain't there a matter of a little apocalypse to attend to?" Mal sounded cranky.
"We should find a way of activating the Slayers again," Spike said. "By your leave, of course, ladies." He nodded to River and Zoe. "Confining it to these two would be a plus, I think. Last time, we didn't exactly think the issue through and wound up with Dana. I'd rather keep my arms, if it's all the same to everyone else."
River nodded gravely. "A crazy Slayer would be bad news."
"River can't be a Slayer!" Simon wrapped his arm protectively around his sister. "Look, I've spent my whole being on keeping her safe. Turning her into some sort of vampire-slash-demon-killer girl seems like the opposite of that."
"That is her choice," Illyria said. "If you prevent her from choosing, then you are no better than those at the Academy who drugged her and operated on her against her will."
"How did you--"
"Jayne and I have spoken of many things. He explained the concept of family to me and expressed great admiration for your dedication to River." Illyria turned to Angel. "I wish Jayne to be my Qwa'ha Zahn. I have had a fanatic zealot and a broken genius. Someone simpler, who sees the world clearly, is more to my liking. Also, I approve of his muscles."
"Qwa'ha what?" Mal said.
"I require a guide."
"He works for me! Jayne! What the hell?" Mal's chair flew backwards and hit the bulkhead when he stood up.
Jayne put up his hands. "First I've heard of it, Cap'n. Not that I mind overmuch."
"No, you wouldn't, would you?"
Angel tried to smooth things over. "Well, before we figure any of that out, we have to get through this other thing first."
Wash raised his hand. "Not to sound like a big fat coward or anything, but why are we going toward the nasty apocalypse? Shouldn't we turn the ship around and skedaddle the other direction?"
"How much fuel we got?" Mal said, leaning against the wall and crossing his arms.
Wash opened his mouth to answer, closed it again, and then said sheepishly, "Enough to get us to Santo."
"Guess we're kinda stuck, then, ain't we?" Mal didn't sound happy about the fact, but there it was, sitting among them like a toad on a cake.
"Just hope we don't wind up stuck on Santo. It's not even a nice place to visit, and I sure don't want to live there. Can we just get fuel and leave again? Is participation in the apocalypse optional?"
"This isn't your fight," Angel said. "If you want to just dump us off and leave, that's fine."
"I kinda think it is our fight, actually," Jayne said. They all turned to him with various expressions of shock, because it was Jayne saying it. "What? Our whole 'verse is bein' threatened, and the only folks who know how to deal with it are right here on this boat. Hell, it's our fight more'n theirs, way I figure it. Seein' as we live here and all."
Illyria looked satisfied. "This is why I chose Jayne as my Qwa'ha Zahn."
"At least we've got a god-king on our side," Spike said.
"Been my experience that gods is powerful useless," Mal answered, with a grim finality that closed the book on any response.
Spike didn't catch that particular signal. "Not in this case. We might be able to use her to make River and Zoe into Slayers."
Wash was alarmed as the implications hit him. He grabbed Zoe's hand. "Lambie-toes?"
"No!" Simon said at the same time. "River! Didn't you say that an insane Slayer would be bad news?"
"Your sister is not insane," Illyria said.
"Um, what?" Mal asked. "Sorry to say this, little girl," he said to River, "but you're the craziest person I ever met."
"Insanity is defined by a disconnect to reality, is it not?" Illyria crossed her arms. "River is completely connected to reality. Thus, she is not insane. She only appears insane to you because you do not see what she does."
Simon blinked. "That's an...interesting...way to look at it. But she doesn't process the information correctly."
"She processes it differently. This is not necessarily the wrong way." Illyria stood up. "I will not argue this with you. If you wish me to aid in activating your Slayers, you will find me in the cargo hold." She swept out of the room.
Jayne jumped up. "I should, uh, go after her. See if she, uh, needs anything."
"Ain't you done enough?" Mal asked his mercenary's retreating back.
"Wonder if he's gonna get to sex her?" Kaylee said wistfully.
Mal put his face in his hand. "Kaylee, I did not need that mental image. My entire crew's gone fung luh. Gaoyang zhong de guyang..."
Jayne found Illyria pounding her fist into the box that Angel had been in. It was dented. "Stupid, useless, human vermin," she muttered to herself. "Talk, talk, talk, is all they ever do, when action will bring matters to a speedy and satisfying conclusion."
Jayne sat down on an empty cargo container. "I hear ya. Seems like a no-brainer to me that if we're gonna walk into a Hellmouth, might be smart to have some extra, I don't know, Slayer muscle on our side."
"They argue and debate when the solution is clear. It makes me wish to do violence." She sat, forcefully, beside him.
"Wash is always braggin' about his 'Warrior Woman,' but she gets a chance to be a real warrior and he goes all bibbledy about it." Jayne was feeling a bit grumpy about the whole thing hisownself. "Guess I can sorta see Simon's point, but ain't River better off bein' able to defend herself than not?"
"They fear what they do not understand. However, they will come to the correct conclusion eventually. They are not stupid, simply recalcitrant. The constant jabber bored me, so I retired." She placed her hand on his leg, but looked down at the floor, seeming suddenly shy, which was pretty funny, all things considered. "I am glad you followed."
Her hand on his leg sent a tingle straight to his nethers. She hadn't hit him before when he'd wrapped his arm around her, so now seemed like a good time to do it again. He squeezed her some and planted a kiss on top of her head.
He sure weren't ready for what happened next. Suddenly, her lips were on his, them unnatural-colored eyes wide open and staring, gauging his reaction. Two seconds of confused shock, and then his instincts kicked in, and he started struggling. "Mmph!"
She disengaged, frowning. "You do not wish this? I thought...the shell's memories showed me what to do..."
"It ain't that! Lord, it ain't that. It's just...you surprised me, is all. I don't never kiss girls on the lips."
She done that head tilt that made him all weak in the knees. "Why?"
"I had a bad experience once't." That memory of waking up with empty pockets and a burning headache reared its ugly head again. "Not that I think you'll do me like that, but it's sorta become second nature to me to just...not kiss there."
"Humans are odd. You plainly wish to copulate with me, but when I initiate the contact that is supposedly the prelude to such, you pull away." She crossed her arms and stared at the floor. "I do not understand."
"Aw, don't be thataway." He almost called her "babydoll," but stopped himself in time. An endearment such as that probably wouldn't go over too good with the God-King of the Primordium, and he'd pissed her off enough already. "I just weren't ready, right then, for you to kiss me."
Her head stayed down, but her eyes came up. Damn if they wasn't the most interestin' color. "Are you ready now?"
And, of course, he knew the right answer to that question. He weren't completely stupid.
Kaylee didn't help. She covered her mouth with her hand, stifling giggles. "Guess Jayne changed his mind about kissin' 'em on the lips."
"I wonder if that's part of the job description of the Qwa'ha Zahn," Book mused, stacking supplies on an empty metal box.
"Wes would've figured out a way to kill her, she'd tried that with him," Spike said. "Not sure I would have minded, myself. Ow!" he exclaimed when Fred punched him on the arm.
River squatted down and watched with a cocked head. "Jayne's smitten with something that's not a weapon," she said dreamily. "A new experience for him."
Wash put his arm around Zoe's waist and she put her head on his shoulder. "I think we should try that technique, honey. Oh, and that one right there, that looks like fun." She nodded, mentally filing the moves away for later.
About then, Jayne and Illyria noticed they had an audience. They broke apart and stood up, Jayne tugging at his disheveled clothes and smoothing his mussed hair with a slightly embarrassed expression. Illyria wasn't embarrassed at all; her own expression dared them to question her behavior. "Have you finally decided to activate the Slayers?" she said.
"Um, yeah," Mal answered.
"You took long enough. Do we have the elements we need to accomplish the task?"
"I believe so," Book said. "Are you ready?"
"I have been ready for quite some time. Let us begin."
"You sure you're all right with this, pet?" Spike was a little anxious. "You don't have--"
She waved her hand. "I have never shied from what is necessary for survival. If we are to close the new Hellmouth, we shall need the aid of Slayers. Thus it has always been. Draw the circle and light the candles."
Soon, all was ready. Compass points were completely arbitrary in space, so they decided that "north" was toward the cockpit. Book, holding a staff, sat cross-legged at the east part of the large chalked circle he'd drawn on the floor, representing Air and Mind. Zoe sat opposite him, with Wash behind her holding another staff, representing Water and Emotions. River was positioned at the north part of the circle, Simon behind her with a third staff, representing Earth and the Body, or Heart; and Illyria and Jayne sat across from them, representing Fire and the Hand, or Action. Jayne didn't have a staff; his task was to act as a grounding force for Illyria.
Book began the chanting, thumping his staff on the floor rhythmically. Wash and Simon nervously joined the beat with their own staffs. "Did it just get dark in here?" Mal muttered to Spike. Then he recoiled. "Okay. What the hell's that?"
Blue smoke poured from Illyria's mouth and entered River's and Zoe's. Wash tightened his arm around Zoe's waist, holding her up as she began shaking, and Simon did the same for River. Mal took a step backwards; this was more than disturbin', and he wasn't sure he wanted anything more to do with it. Book's chanting rose to a crescendo and stopped abruptly, along with a final thump of the staffs.
In the silence that followed, River's eyes snapped open. "Complete," she said.
Zoe blinked a few times. "Honey? You okay?" Wash asked.
"More than okay." She closed her eyes and shook her head, smiling. "That...was amazing."
An upset Jayne cradled Illyria, who'd fallen against him, unconscious. "Shepherd? You didn't kill her, did you?"
Kaylee knelt down next to them. "How could you tell? She don't breathe as such, she ain't got a heartbeat."
"She's gone cold," Jayne said. He was more distressed than Mal had ever seen him. "You didn't tell us it'd hurt her."
"Jayne..." Book was none too happy either; he didn't look like he'd expected the ritual to injure Illyria.
Jayne rose, scooping Illyria up. "Next time you get a bright idea such as this, might be smart to think it through better," he snapped.
"If you bring her to the infirmary--" Simon began
"You'll do what? I'll take care of her myownself." He stalked up the stairs, carrying her in his arms. Mal thought he'd shrunk a bit.
Angel closed his eyes tiredly. "That went well."
"You think she's dead?" Mal said.
"I'm pretty sure she wouldn't've done this if she'd thought it would kill her. Probably just needs to recharge her batteries, or whatever it is she does." Angel ran his hand through his hair. "In the meantime, our new Slayers should get some combat training in. They need to get used to their new abilities."
"Shiny." Even Mal didn't know if he was serious or sarcastic when he said that. It'd been a long gorram day, and it weren't gettin' no shorter. Shiny indeed.
Part Two is here.