Title: Starting from Scratch
Author: babies stole my dingo (agilebrit)
Fandom: Firefly/Angel crossover
Rating: PG-13 (default)
Length: Short story (around 5500 words)
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, even if it's only a typo.
Written for: cya_ficathon. Request was for a Firefly crossover, with Spike, Illyria, River, and Jayne, a job gone bad, and someone getting shot. Bonus points for Wes, Doyle, or Lorne.
Notes: Takes place post-Ariel in the FireflyVerse and at the tail end of NFA in the AngelVerse. Major characters are Illyria, Spike, Lorne, Jayne, River, and Mal. Many thanks to the flist and especially to bigsciencybrain for putting up with my whining about this story.
Grief for Wesley and joy of battle war within me as I war with the demon army of the Wolf, the Ram, and the Hart. I pause for a moment to wipe blood that is and isn't mine from my eyes, and attempt to find my comrades through the smoke and fire.
Gunn has succumbed to his wounds. Another sharp stab of grief hammers my vitals.
Spike fights with a fierce and feral grin on his face, not unhurt, but not noticing his hurts. He is surrounded, barely holding his own.
Angel has slain the dragon and turns to take on another adversary. Before he can do so, an axe whirls through the air and takes his head off. He bursts into dust. Spike has seen and stands paralyzed with shock--he comes back to himself barely in time to parry a blow that would have taken his own head from his shoulders.
I have lost enough companions this night. I won't lose another. Desperation lends wings to my feet as I combat my way through a horde of demons to Spike's side. Grasping his arm, I attempt a portal, something I have not tried since the Mutari Generator stole my power from me. I don't even know if it will work, but it is all I have...
And--one opens. To where, I know not.
Nor do I care. I pull him through and close it behind us.
I frowned, wondering where that notion had come from. Serenity was planetside while the Captain hunted buyers for the haul we'd taken on Ariel, and I was drawing Russian nesting dolls in my room with colored pencils. Their smooth symmetry, the precise math of how they fit together, always calmed my troubled mind, but the thought, coming out of nowhere, had caused my hand to jerk, spoiling a line. I put the pencil down with a huff and unfolded my legs.
I slid my door open and peeked out into the hall of the passenger dorm. Simon was nowhere to be seen (inventory), so I stepped, barefoot, into the passage. I slipped past the infirmary and decided to enter the cargo bay from the upper catwalk instead of its floor level. Following the errant thought, my skirt swirling around my calves, I glided up the stairs and onto the walkway.
I leaned down and rested my arms on the railing and my chin on my hands. Two strangers were talking to Zoe and Mal. One was a striking woman (Old One) with brown and blue hair in a reddish leather jumpsuit; the other was a man wearing all black and sporting blond curls (vampire). Both those thoughts had come from the man; the woman's mind was closed.
The man twitched. As if he felt my gaze on him, he slowly looked up and into my eyes. His own eyes were the bluest I'd ever seen, and his expression one of startled recognition.
You think we're dancing?
That's all we've ever done.
The woman nudged him, breaking the spell. Handshakes were exchanged all around, and Zoe escorted the two newcomers back toward the passenger dorm while Mal tossed a bag of coins up once and caught it with a satisfied smile. (Work is good. Easy work is better.)
I sank down into a cross-legged sit as memories that weren't mine overwhelmed me.
Simon found me that way awhile (how long has she been here?) later. He touched my shoulder, and I flinched away. "River? Are you all right? It's dinnertime, mei mei."
"Head and heart. Cut 'til you see dust. He got his soul back for me." I looked up at him through my tangled hair. "Simon?
He frowned. "We're taking a couple of passengers to Beaumonde, and we've got a buyer for the ambulance there. Are you hungry?" (Has she gone off the deep end again?)
"I'm fine." Not really, but I was used to pretending. Poor Simon wouldn't be able to cope if he knew how damaged I actually was. My stomach rumbled, reminding me that I had skipped lunch. Simon helped me to my feet, and we walked together into the dining room.
Nervous glances and frightened thoughts (what's she going to do now crazy girl ain't got no sense poor thing she looks even more fung luh than usual) skittered around the table. The blond stranger rose and pulled a chair out for me, and I sat in it with a little bow and a smile in his direction, which he returned (Slayer). Everyone relaxed and began passing the food around, and introductions were made. The man (vampire) was Spike, and the woman (Old One) was Illyria.
"Beaumonde, huh?" Kaylee said around a mouthful of protein.
"Hoping to find a friend of ours there, runs a karaoke bar," Spike replied. He didn't have much of an appetite, apparently, although his companion was tucking into the repast with evident enjoyment.
I started humming a tune under my breath. Spike (what the hell?) choked on his water. "Where'd you learn that?" he asked.
"Bonanza," I said, as if it was obvious. "You're looking for Lorne Greene."
"Well, yes, in a manner of speaking. Are you a psychic?"
Everyone went very still. (passengers bad idea too dangerous have to stay under the radar could blow everything.) That last thought had come from Spike. I realized with sudden clarity that no one knew what he and Illyria actually were. Spike looked like a normal human being, and Illyria's appearance could be chalked up to unusual taste in hair coloring and tattoos. We'd certainly seen more exotic people than her in our travels. "Secrets safe with me. Everyone has them. Why should you be any different?"
He got marginally less tense. "We'll keep each other's secrets, then. I take it they don't know?"
"Didn't know myself, 'til I saw you." Simon opened his mouth (didn't know what?), but I shushed him. "Have to keep some secrets, even from you, Simon. Not relevant to the situation anyway. You can know at the proper time." I considered. "Maybe."
Mal put his face in his hand. "Is there anyone here who don't got a secret?"
Guilty glances flew around the table like birds. Jayne, especially, didn't look comfortable (got stupid). In fact, he jumped to his feet. "I...just remembered I got somethin' to do." He made a hasty exit, leaving a half-full plate of food, which wasn't like him at all.
A few seconds of awkward silence followed, then everyone went back to eating. Idle chatter and idle thoughts washed over me. Spike's gaze drew my eyes to him, and he gave me a half-smile and a wink.
Creature of the night.
The thought pulled me from sleep that was never sound in any case. Too many nightmares of needles and well-dressed men with blue hands and infernal machines, now coupled with real demons and monsters instead of just the normal human ones.
I didn't like sneaking around, but if Simon knew I was up, he'd worry. Simon always worried. I stepped quietly past his room, one-two, one-two-three, bare feet barely whispering on the bare metal floor. After I made it past the passenger lounge, I was looser in my movements, and I practically pirouetted into the cargo bay.
Not requiring much light, I hit a switch so a single bulb shone down on me from above. I danced many nights away in this nice big room; tonight would be no different. The music in my head was more than enough accompaniment, and my feet knew exactly what to do, freeing my mind and letting me just be instead of thinking all the time.
In a reversal of our initial positions, Spike was up on the catwalk. "You come here often?" he asked.
"Often enough," I answered with a smile. "Would you like to dance with me?"
"Nothing I'd like better."
The music in Spike's head was faster and wilder than any I'd ever heard before. Quicker and quicker we whirled, caught up in it...
I wasn't sure just when our dance changed. I found myself leaping at him, aiming a spinning kick at his chin. He blocked it easily aside and countered with a slow swing of his fist at my stomach. I slapped that down, and our rhythm changed to something even more untamed, hands and feet flying at each other until the human eye couldn't make out exactly what was happening. And yet, not a blow landed. We both knew this dance, intimately, in our very bones.
Neither of us could guess how it would end, however. Suddenly my back was pressed to his chest, his arm around my throat, blunt teeth at my neck. "Tell my mother I'm sorry," I said in Chinese.
Spike stiffened and sucked in a deep breath. "What did you say?" (I'm sorry, luv, I don't speak Chinese.)
I translated for him, and he dropped his forehead to my shoulder. "All this time..."
"You beat her fair and square. Every Slayer comes with an expiration date on the package."
He flinched away from me. "Good god." (Can't...) He turned and bolted, leaving me bereft and alone in the cargo hold with thoughts from a different world.
Spike flings himself into my room, slams the door, and drops down onto my bed with his head in his hands. "Please take us home, Leery." His voice is muffled.
"I cannot," I say bitterly. "I do not even know how I brought us here, let alone how to get us back. The Mutari Generator lessened my power greatly. A portal should have been out of the question."
"And yet here we are."
"Here we are," I agree. "I do not understand why you are so agitated. One dimension is very like another."
"No, it's bloody not." He rounds on me. "Back home, I have people. Connections to the world. Here, it's like we're adrift. No anchors."
I feel a pang and shove it ruthlessly back. Of course, I am not enough for him, although he should have shown proper respect for me by not bringing it up. Spike is a social being and needs more than I can provide. Thus our hunt for Lorne. "We may have to find our own way in this place. Our own connections. Would that be so terrible?"
He appears to consider for a moment. "I'm not very good at it. In fact, if I want to be brutally honest with myself, I could say that all I've ever done is insinuate myself into other peoples' families, whether they wanted me or not. Making my own?" He shakes his head, looking more tired than I have ever seen him. "I'm not sure I even know where to start."
"There is you, and there is me. That is a start." He opens his mouth, and I raise my hand to forestall him. "I realize that you do not enjoy my company very much. And I am used to having thousands of servants at my beck and call, catering to my every need. However, we have what we have. It is proper to mourn what we have lost, but we must deal with what is. And what is, is us."
He blinks. "When'd you get so sensible, then?"
"I observed you as much as you observed me. Even with the bickering, the family you all created was stronger than the sum of its parts." I look away from him. "I have never felt that kind of closeness with another. Reliance upon such would have been viewed as weakness, in my day. And yet, the strength of those bonds is undeniable; I have seen it for myself. I cannot argue with what is in front of my face."
"This mean you're not leavin' me anytime soon?"
"Where would I go?" I would never say it aloud, but I need him more than he needs me. "As little as this life is, I value it still and would not throw it away. Or be alone in it."
"Well." He does not go so far as to touch me, although he lifts his hand and then drops it as if he wishes to. "That's something, I suppose."
Breakfast was strained the next morning. Spike seemed distracted and depressed (problems enough without adding a Slayer to the mix) and wouldn't meet my eyes, keeping his gaze steadfastly on his plate while he pushed the protein around on it. Illyria's mind was still closed to me, but she seemed more solicitous of Spike than she had before.
Jayne was acting strangely as well. He kept darting glances at Illyria (ain't natural), and he finally blurted, "That leather jumpsuit come off?"
"Jayne!" Mal looked scandalized. "Don't pay him no mind," he said to Illyria. "He was raised by a pack of wolves."
"Was he?" she said, tilting her head in an intrigued manner. She turned to Jayne. "Most wolves are noble creatures, with one notable exception. I would hear more of this. How was it accomplished?"
Spike's shoulders shook (hee! Gigglesnort), his mood lightened. "He just means that the big man has no manners, Blue, not that he was actually raised by wild animals."
"Your human idioms are bizarre," she huffed. "Stop laughing at me, half-breed, before I extract your impudent spine through your nostrils."
"I'm just sayin' what everyone's thinkin'." Jayne crossed his arms with a frown. "I don't see no fasteners or anything like a zipper on the thing. So how's it come off?"
"No one else is thinking that," I informed him.
"Would you like me to remove it?" Illyria asked.
"Yes!" Jayne said, at the same time everyone else said, "No!"
"Jayne--" Mal's face was thunderous. "We don't ask the paying passengers to disrobe at the table."
"Can I ask her to disrobe in my bunk?"
By this time, Zoe and Wash had dissolved into giggles (only Jayne), and the Preacher was having a hard time holding himself together. Inara's lips were twitching, Kaylee was laughing openly, while Simon couldn't decide if he wanted to stay (and watch the trainwreck) or hustle me out of the room. "I'm not going anywhere," I said, making him flinch.
"Tama de..." Mal pointed at Zoe. "This ain't funny." (Maybe I shoulda spaced him), but he didn't mean it.
"Oh, yes, it certainly is, Sir." She was leaning against Wash, who had wrapped his arms around her waist.
Jayne rose to his feet, gathering the shreds of his dignity about him. "I'll be in my bunk," he said as he exited.
Mal pinched the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes. "When we landing at Beaumonde, Zoe?"
"Two days, Sir."
"Please don't be offended by my mercenary, Miss," he said to Illyria. "Sometimes his mouth gets ahead of his brain."
"I take no umbrage. Did he mean what he said, about disrobing in his bunk?" She did that head-tilt again.
"No!" Mal said, at the same time I said, "Yes." He glared at me. "You keep out of this."
Illyria stood up. "I, too, shall be in Jayne's bunk." She headed out of the room in the same direction Jayne had gone.
Mal's shocked gaze followed her out. "What just happened?"
"Secrets tumbling down around our ears," I said.
I drop down into Jayne's bunk with a loud thump of my boots that makes him look up from cleaning a weapon on his bed. He brings the gun to bear on my chest, then lowers it when I lift my eyebrow. "Ain't loaded anyhow," he mutters.
"You wished to see how my armor comes off."
He stammers for a moment, his face reddening. "Only if you want to show me. Mal'd space me, he thought I made you do anything improper-like."
I snort. "The idea of you 'making me' do anything I don't wish to is laughable, human."
My armor dissolves and I stand naked before him. His eyes go very round, and his breath comes fast in his chest. His body warms, and his hands clench.
"Interesting," I say, tilting my head. I re-form the armor and climb up his ladder.
The words "Ruttin' hell!" follow me out.
"I'm tellin' you, Mal, something ain't right about them two." Jayne had cornered Mal in the crew lounge while I sat in the kitchen, drawing path integrals on a yellow pad. Jayne lowered his voice, but I heard him anyway. His thoughts were very loud. "Her nipples is blue, and her hair is natural. Tell me that's normal." (It's hot, but it ain't normal.)
"Well, Jayne, if you hadn't opened your yap, she wouldn'ta followed you to your bunk. She's paid her fare and ain't done nothin' wrong that I can see." (You dumbass.) Mal crossed his arms.
"She called me 'human.' Like, like, she isn't, and like I was somehow beneath her."
"Well, you are beneath her. (You dumbass.) Pretty girl drops into your bunk and lets you see her nekkid. I'd say you're pretty gorram lucky. Hell, she even thinks you're human, which puts her one up on the rest of us."
Since I already knew that Illyria wasn't human, I let the conversation fade from my consciousness and concentrated on my math. The occasional (you dumbass) punctuated the possible histories of my system.
Spike dropped into the chair beside me and nodded at my drawing. "Whatcha doin', little Slayer?"
"Herding cats. You start at one point, and you have to predict all the paths they'll take before you get them to this other point." I made a squiggly line to illustrate. "And they bounce off each other at random, and get in fights--" I drew a spiral. "But they all want the milk on the other side, so they find the little flappy door eventually."
"It's lovely, pet." (I have no idea what she just said. She's a lot like Dru.)
"Dance with me again tonight." I eyed him from under my hair.
He shifted uncomfortably in the chair. "Not sure that's such a good idea."
"You don't treat me like I'm fragile. I like that."
"What if I'm the fragile one?"
"Stronger than you know. Bend and never break." (Came close.) "Close, yes. Especially the one time. But you came out healed on the other side. Don't need her anymore. Or him."
He took a shuddering breath. "Haven't really processed that yet. He...I...We were never friends, you know? But, there at the end, we'd reached an understanding of sorts. Would have liked to follow up on that."
"Everyone has regrets. Why should you be any different?"
He acknowledged the point with a rueful nod as Illyria stalked into the room and stopped next to his chair. "Spar with me, half-breed," she said. "I grow bored and have tension I must release."
He rolled his eyes and stood up. "Duty calls."
I smiled and turned back to my work. "I'll be around when you're done."
"You are becoming close to the Slayer," I say, throwing Spike across the room.
"You're one to talk," he snorts, charging me. "I've never even seen your tits, and you're flashing the mercenary? Nice."
I shove him aside, and he goes sprawling, but bounces quickly to his feet. "You have never expressed interest in seeing my tits."
"If I knew that all I had to do was ask..." He smirks and swings a roundhouse at my face.
"I like Jayne." I block the punch, grab his wrist, and throw him over my shoulder. "He is forthright with what he wants. He doesn't participate in the usual human conventions of obfuscation and saying one thing while meaning another."
Spike pounces upon me and wraps his arm around my throat. "River reminds me of Dru. Needs taking care of. Would be nice to be needed again. Haven't had that in awhile."
I twist and slam him backwards against the bulkhead and decide to be forthright. "I need you."
He releases me and falls to the floor. I turn to look at him, and he's staring up at me with his mouth open. He takes several tries before squeaking out a "What?"
I squat in front of him. "I need you."
Now his aspect is wary. "You intimated that before. But...The God-King of the universe needs a feeble half-breed? For what, pray tell, other than as her willing punching bag?"
"Your world is strange to me. Humans are oddest creatures alive. My Qua-ha Zahn should have taught me, but he is no more."
He gestures around the cargo hold. "In case you haven't noticed, Blue, we're five hundred years in the future on a spaceship, and nowhere near our world. I'm as lost as you."
"Have humans changed so much?"
He snorts. "Not really, no. But you might be better off with someone who knows what's what. Maybe your mercenary."
"Jayne pleases me," I say. "But not so much as you. Were Jayne and I to copulate, he would be crushed as a dry twig."
Spike chokes. "Who's been puttin' notions in your head, then?"
"He warms when I am about." I shake my head. "This ship is crowded enough, so I cannot stay, and Jayne will not leave it."
"Guess we're stuck with each other." He grins roguishly. "Can I see your tits?"
I glare at him. "No."
"Tell me that's natural, Mal," Jayne argued, gesturing at our two passengers sparring in the cargo hold. I'd followed them and sat on the stairs, watching avidly. I wanted to join in the match between the vampire and the Old One...but it would cause a freak-out of gargantuan proportions. So I didn't. Ai ya.
Illyria threw Spike halfway across the room. "All right, she's, um, strong." Mal nodded. (Kinda scary strong, in fact.) "But they ain't done nothin' to hurt none of us."
"And their friend runs that karaoke bar on Beaumonde, they say? You know what the reputation of that place is, Mal. It gives me an uncomfortableness."
"Yeah, well, they're payin' us good money to take 'em there, so you and your uncomfortableness is just gonna have to deal." Mal clapped him on the back. "Won't be much longer anyhow." He headed toward the cockpit.
"She's not going to have sex with you," I said to Jayne.
I sat on the catwalk, dangling bare feet over the cargo bay as we broke atmo at Beaumonde. Spike dropped his duffle and sat down beside me. "You gonna be all right, little Slayer?"
"That's a relative term. Simon thinks I'm a broken cup, that he can put the pieces back together." I sighed. "There'll always be cracks, though, where the glue doesn't quite fill in the gaps."
He frowned a bit. "Look...Leery and I are going to try to find a way back home (bloody hell, Earth-that-was, five hundred years in the past, how we're going to pull that off is anyone's guess). But if we don't, and you ever need anything, the owner of this bar we're going to will know how to contact us if you need help."
"You've got a thing for Slayers, I know." I smiled at him. "You've helped already. Didn't know, now I do. You and I, in it together. Makes it a little easier, less lonely."
"Your brother--he's a good bloke, I know he'll do his best by you. But Slayers are special, and he's just a human with no training in what you really need."
"Caritas. I'll remember." I stood up as Serenity landed. "I have to go hide now."
He rose as well, slinging his bag over his shoulder. "Take care, River."
I touched his hand one last time--
And doubled over in pain. Screaming, blinded by agony. Heart pounding out of my chest, couldn't breathe...
"River?" Simon. "What did you do?" he yelled at Spike, who had grabbed me and lowered me to the floor.
"Nothing! We were saying our goodbyes, and then this." He was just as frantic.
I grabbed his duster. "Wait. Please don't go, not yet. Just, wait, just a little while."
Simon tried to soothe me. "Let me get you a sedative, mei mei."
"No! No drugs! I have to, have to be awake. Have to. No drugs, please, Simon--" I took some deep breaths as my lungs began working again. "Passenger lounge. I'm all right. Really. Please?"
"All right, all right. Are you sure?" At my frenzied nod, he wrapped his arm around my shoulders and helped me out of the room.
I collapsed onto the couch, trying to pull myself together. I had to be nearby. Had to.
"What happened?" I ask Spike as he joins me in the cargo bay. The Captain, Zoe, and Jayne are present as well, making ready to meet the people purchasing the ambulance.
"River freaked." He looks behind him toward the passenger lounge. "I hope she'll be all right."
"She freaks on a fairly regular basis; we've gotten accustomed to it," the Captain says. "Been a pleasure doin' business with you folks. You ever need to go anywhere else, just give us a holler."
"Or not," Jayne growls.
Zoe elbows him. "Just because a woman lets you see her naked doesn't mean you're going to get to have sex with her."
"Maybe not, but it generally does. Can I see you nekkid?"
"I can break you in half with my pinky, you know that, right?"
"So can Leery," Spike says. "Count yourself lucky, mate. Not everyone gets to see a God-King in the altogether."
The cargo bay door opens, light from the other moons of Persephone shining in. Spike and I step forward to leave, and a group of three men step in to meet with the crew.
It takes me a moment to realize that the strangers are raising some sizable weapons. Spike shoves me out of the way, takes a fusillade of gunfire to his chest, and goes down, his head making a hollow thump on the floor. "No!" I scream as Mal, Zoe, and Jayne return fire. An echo of my scream comes from the direction of the passenger lounge.
The strangers are not after me. They concentrate their guns on the crew of the Serenity, allowing me to slip past and behind them. Rage consumes me, and I pick one of them up, turn him over, and tear him in half by his legs before the others can react. Flinging the body aside, I rip the second man's head from his shoulders and hurl it at the third man, then rend an arm from that one and beat him to death with it.
I drop to my knees beside Spike. He lies unmoving, covered in his own blood, while the crew stands around in shock. Jayne is bleeding from a wound in his shoulder; Mal and Zoe are unscathed. They shout for Simon at the same time.
And Spike is still.
Blood, so much blood, five quarts per body times three bodies is fifteen quarts divided by four is three point seven five gallons of blood and it was all on the floor in the cargo bay. And none of it was in Spike where it would do him some good.
Zoe drew Illyria up and away, and Simon knelt beside Spike (hopeless, look at this, he's taken five large-caliber bullets right to his chest) and checked for a pulse anyway. Not finding one, he shook his head. "I'm sorry," he said.
The God-King of the Primordium put her face in her hands, and her mind opened to me. (Too much hurt too much loss cannot lose him also he lies so still not dust yet but see him there and I am helpless to save him he has not fed in three days.) Her anguish nearly crushed me; the despair of an Old One was not something I could just shrug off.
I touched her arm. "He'll be all right." Her head came up and wild hope flashed across her face.
"River..." Simon started.
Before he could say anything more, or stop me, I grabbed Jayne's knife from his belt, slashed it across my wrist, and dropped down beside Spike. My knees splashed in the blood from the bodies. Horrified now, Simon's, "River!" as he tried to pull me away echoed in my ears.
Slayer strength held me firm and Slayer blood trickled down Spike's throat as I put my bleeding wrist to his lips. "Shensheng de gaowan," Mal said. "Simon, stop her, for God's sake..."
For a moment, nothing happened. Then Spike swallowed. Once, and again, and again. Illyria collapsed beside us (utter, utter relief) and grasped his hand.
His eyes snapped open, and he recoiled as he realized what was happening. Shoving my arm away, he scooted across the floor and sat staring at me, wide-eyed and panting. Jayne swore, Simon squeaked, and Zoe and Mal stood open-mouthed.
"What. The hell?" Mal finally asked.
"Told you there was somethin' unnatural 'bout them two," Jayne said.
"I am grateful," I say to the Slayer. We are taking our leave, again.
"He wouldn't have died," she points out.
"I am aware of that. However, your action accelerated his healing."
"Nice to be able to take care of someone else for once." She smiles.
"I hope we will meet again. Spike enjoys your company."
Her smile changes to something I don't recognize. Is she laughing? "Jayne enjoys yours, no matter what he says."
We join Spike and the Captain. "Ready, pet?" Spike says.
"Let us go. Captain." I nod, and he nods back.
"Ta, luv," Spike says to River.
"Take care of her," she answers. She has more in her voice than simple admonition, but how can I take offense? Spike's duty is to care for me. If she means more by it...well, punishing her for her impertinence would upset Spike.
Caritas is situated on the outskirts of a sizable town, with desert stretching away behind it. It is an unobtrusive establishment; if you didn't know what it was, it would cause no remark or curiosity. Spike squires me through the door as Serenity takes off into the night.
I blink to allow my eyes to accustom themselves to the light. Spike stiffens beside me. "I thought it would be a demon bar," he whispers. "Good thing I ate on the ship." The three men who betrayed our benefactors hadn't needed their blood, and Spike had been only too glad to take advantage of the fact.
Indeed, the patrons of Caritas are human, or seem to be mostly so. One stands on the stage, singing badly and nervously. And Lorne sits at a table close by, watching the singer and idly clinking ice in an otherwise empty glass. He has gained weight, and appears comfortable and relaxed.
This changes when he catches sight of us. He puts his face in his hand. "Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, on all the moons, you two had to walk into mine." He signals the waitress for another round as we sit at his table. "Gotta say, kids, I didn't see this coming. Note to self: Do readings on me more often."
The man on stage stutters to a halt, finally ending the abuse of my ears. "Speaking of which," Lorne says, "I have a client. Excuse me for a moment." After going and speaking with the erstwhile singer for a minute or two, he returns to us, at the same time the waitress brings us drinks. "So. What brings you to my little corner of the 'verse?"
Spike explains what happened in the alley, how we got here, and that we wish to return to Los Angeles on Earth-that-was. Lorne is already shaking his head. "I have no idea how you do that, sugar plums. It got bad--really bad--in LA after that night. The little fairy tale they tell about Earth-that-was not being able to support human population is a cover-up for the fact that it was the demon population getting out of control being the catalyst for exploring a new solar system."
"Oh, bugger all," Spike says. "I wonder if we could have stopped it if we'd stayed?"
"More likely, you would be blowing dust and I would be a smear behind the Hyperion," I remind him.
"Have you tried opening a portal again?" Lorne asks.
"I am unable." I stare at my glass, full of a liquid that tastes strange to me. "I was under a great deal of stress when I brought us here. Self-preservation is a powerful motivator."
"Well, from where I'm sitting, it looks like you're stuck here. Mazel tov, and make the best of it." He raises his Seabreeze in a toast.
"Thanks ever so." Spike's voice is wry. "So. Know any helpless people need helping?"
Shensheng de gaowan: Holy testicle Tuesday