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Going Home

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Summary: Faith, Xander and Willow are sent on a simple mission with no forseeable complications. So of course they end up on a moon 500 years in the future.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Firefly > GeneralAllyndraFR13111,1999266,2606 Aug 066 Aug 06Yes
This is my Fic-a-thon entry for dragonmage, who asked for:
Characters - *Willow, *Faith, *Xander
Genres - *Firefly, Anita Blake, X-men (movie), Dark Angel
Include - *The story to take place in the crossover 'verse not the Buffy verse
*A sword or dagger (in any context)
*An overconfident character being taught a lesson
Exclude - Dawn (she can have been created but not be a part of the main story)
Lyrics from songs (unless necessary to the plot)
Pairing with a really obscure character that no one really knows anything about.

Takes place post-Chosen for Buffy. After Objects in Space (and after the Those Left Behind comics) for Firefly, but before the Big Damn Movie.
I will continue to correct typos as I find them

I don't own any of these characters, nor do I own the worlds. I bow to the greatness that is Joss.

**********************************************************************

[Earth]

When Giles referred to their trip to Finland as "a simple retrieval mission with no
foreseeable complications," Xander groaned and slapped a hand to his forehead. After all
this time, you'd think the man would have learned to take the power of jinxing seriously.

When Willow felt the Dagger of Nimue, which they'd been sent to fetch, snaking tendrils
of dark magic toward her, she squared her shoulders and strengthened her resolve face.
She was firmly on the good magic wagon, and no inanimate object was going to tempt
her off, by golly!

When Faith's Slayer senses informed her that the cave through which they were creeping
was ringed with demons, she grinned recklessly. Training baby Slayers was fun, but it
had been way too long since she'd gotten into a real tussle.

The three young people moved stealthily over the rocky floor. Approaching a stone altar
in the center of the cave, they risked a small, focused flashlight. Giles had told them the
location of the Dagger, but he hadn't shown them any pictures. When they caught sight
of it, glinting in the glow of the flashlight's beam, they were less than impressed. Faith
said it best. "This froufrou piece of tin is the big, gnarly weapon!?" she asked
incredulously. It was extremely ornate, almost...tacky. The hilt was ornamented with
small sparkly stones that formed images of unicorns and butterflies, and the blade was
engraved with flowers and curlicues. On the whole, Willow thought Harmony Kendall
would adore it, and anyone with any taste would bury it in a dark cave.

"We can insult the design motif later, ladies. Right now let's just snag the thing and get
out of here," Xander said, remembering to keep his voice low.

"I don't think you should touch it, Xander," Willow warned, her eyes tense. She'd been
fending off the Dagger's magic since they'd entered the cave, and she didn't want any of
them touching it with their bare skin. "Do you have something you can wrap it in?"

Xander shrugged out of his plaid overshirt and stood in a blue pocket t-shirt. He held the
flannel shirt up for her approval. At Willow's nod, Faith took the shirt and wrapped it
around the Dagger. As she lifted the plaid-wrapped bundle from its resting place on the
altar, she felt the demons around the walls of the cave springing into motion.

"We've got company!" Faith called, seeing no more reason to stick to stealth. She handed
the Dagger of Nimue to Xander and drew her own, non-magical sword. Xander tucked
the flannel package into his waistband and freed his ax. Willow didn't have an edged
weapon, but held a large amethyst crystal in one hand and a pouch of wormwood and
feverfew in the other.

The demons moved in fast. It was apparent that there was more than one breed guarding
the cave. Lizard-y demons with small, sharp teeth tried to dart under their weapons; large,
furry demons with claws and red eyes reached out to slash at chests and throats; and
armored demons with horns lowered their heads to ram the humans against the cave
walls. All of them targeted Xander.

"I know they call you a demon magnet," Faith panted, lashing out around her, "but damn!
This has gotta be something else." She ducked and rolled, coming up behind the line of
attacking demons. "Toss it here, Xan!" she yelled. Xander threw the Dagger to her, and
Faith caught it and tucked it into the back of her jeans. She swung her sword up just in
time to meet the wave of demons that turned and lunged at her. She fought well, but even
with Slayer strength the demons threatened to swarm her under. She looked around for an
opening.

"Red!" Faith shouted. Willow looked up, and Faith took that as permission to lob the
Dagger at her. Willow scrambled to catch it, and then hurriedly erected her defenses. The
witch called for the air around her to thicken, and blasted the demons with power focused
through her crystal as they fought through to her. Usually, Willow would have been able
to keep up this kind of exercise indefinitely. In this fight, though, she was not only
fighting off demons, but also fending off the Dagger's intrusions into her mind and
magic. It was too much. Willow threw the flannel-wrapped bundle to Xander before she
could be overwhelmed.

And so it went - a big, violent game of keep away, with a mystical weapon taking the
place of the traditional backpack or GI Joe lunchbox. Unfortunately, Willow and Xander
had always been on the other end of the game.

The Dagger of Nimue had made the rounds three times, and it was back to Willow. The
Slayer and Scoobies had made quite a dent in the demons' numbers, but there were still
too many for the red-haired witch to hold off for long. She turned blindly, looking for one
of her friends, and backed right into Xander. The two of them went down in a pile, and
the Dagger slipped to the cave floor. Faith slashed her way through the diminished crowd
of demons to help her compatriots. She had just grabbed Xander's wrist to help him up
off of Willow when the witch found the dropped Dagger, whose wrappings had come
loose from all the rough handling. Her fingers touched the unicorn-encrusted hilt. They
didn't have time to scream.

***

[Three Hills]

They were no longer in the cave.

Faith had been the only one standing when Willow touched the Dagger, and the shock of
the transfer would have driven most people to their knees. But Faith wasn't the second
longest-lived Slayer in history for nothing. She not only stayed on her feet, she managed
to raise her sword and scan their suddenly new surroundings for danger. This didn't mean
she was unaffected by the magical shift.

"What the hell was that?" Faith rasped, fighting down the urge to vomit.

"That would be an unforeseeable complication," Xander said, still collapsed half on top
of Willow. He crawled off his friend. "Anybody know what caused it?"

Willow squinted up at them, her face almost as green as her eyes. "I think this is what the
Dagger does when it touches the skin of a witch," she said. She gestured weakly at the no
longer securely wrapped weapon. "Ummm...Does 'oops' cover this?"

"How 'bout we find out where we are before we decide how much trouble you're in,
Faith suggested.

Xander nodded. "Sounds like a plan. But I'll tell you now, Wills - if this is a hell
dimension, it's gonna cost you a whole lot of cookies."

It didn't look like a hell dimension. It looked more like an alley. The ground was hard-
packed dirt, and there were buildings of dark brick and wood on either side. There wasn't
much evidence in the alley to tell them where they were, but the air was too hot and dry
for this to be Finland. Obviously, they needed to explore.

Faith took point, and Willow brought up the rear, leaving Xander in the protected middle
position. He briefly considered protesting this affront to his manliness, but he'd long ago
accepted that the girls were simply more powerful than he was. He tried not to make a big
deal about it, and Willow occasionally let him open pickle jars for her.

It was a city full of humans. Neither Faith's spidey senses nor Willow's magic could
detect any demons anywhere nearby. The place was rustic, but the clothes didn't look that
strange. They had just theorized that they been sent to a place on Earth, and not a
different dimension after all, when they saw the first hover car. Suddenly 'rustic' didn't
seem like an adequate description anymore. They ducked back into their alley to confer.

"Maybe we should stay here," Willow suggested. "It seems fairly private. You guys
could do the guard thing and I can work on the Dagger. I haven't felt any other magic
users, so I don't think I'll attract the bad kind of attention if I experiment to try to get us
home."

"Willow!" Xander looked scandalized. "Did you not just see a flying car? Come on,
you're the girl who spent all of third grade trying to build a working flux capacitor. We
have to explore!"

"I don't want to step on your geek moment here, Xan, but if we hang out here for long
somebody's gonna have to feed me. It has been way too long since I had any chow."
Faith tended to be fairly pragmatic, and with their own stomachs grumbling, the Scoobies
had to agree with her.

"If we want food, we're going to have to buy it," Willow pointed out. "And I'm fresh out
of weird-flying-car-dimension money."

"Maybe we could sell something," Xander said. He got a speculative look in his eye that
make Faith reach for her sword.

"Uh-uh! Don't even think about it, boy toy. I may give it up pretty easy, but it ain't for
sale." Her jaw was set mulishly and her dark eyes flashed.

Xander put up his hands. "Chill! Geez, what kind of moron do you think I am?" He
paused. "Don't answer that. I am not, however, stupid enough to try to pimp my friends. I
was just wondering if you were carrying anything we could sell."

Faith felt a bit sheepish, but she tried to hide it as she started pulling things out of her
jacket pockets. The others joined her, and soon there was a small pile of stuff on the
ground before them. Weapons made up the bulk of it, and Faith put her foot down at the
thought of selling any of them. Willow also insisted on keeping her crystals and herbs.
Much as they would like to get rid of it, they knew they had to keep the Dagger of
Nimue, as well.

One small notebook, three pens and one chewed upon pencil, half a pack of Big Red
gum, a deck of cards, two ponytail holders, three condoms, and a small pile of change
from various countries around the world. It looked pretty pitiful. After staring morosely
at their unprofitable belongings, Xander sighed and dragged three candy bars out of one
of the pockets in his cargo pants.

Faith slapped him on the arm. Since she was *strong* this was nothing to sneeze at.
Something to flinch at, yes. "Damn, Xander! You've been holding out on us," she
accused as he rubbed his arm. She reached out and grabbed a Hershey bar.

"No, wait!" Xander protested. "A candy bar could be an important source of energy in an
emergency. You know, 'cause of the mystical powers of chocolate and the excellent
sugar rush. We should hold onto these, just in case."

Willow rolled her eyes and flipped her hair back. "Plus he's hoping he can keep them all
for himself."

"Well, that too," Xander admitted in a grumbly voice. Faith shot him a dirty look, but she
put the candy bar back.

"None of this looks like it's worth anything." Faith waved a dismissive hand at the pile.
"Face it: we got shit." The dark-haired Slayer was getting grumpy. She had slayed a
whole mess of demons without getting fed afterwards.

"Maybe not," Willow said. This time she was the one with the speculative look in her
eyes. "Xander, do you remember Start Trek IV?"

"Sure. The whales. Me and Jesse ran around for a week saying 'Double dumbass on
you!'" Xander smiled at the memory.

"Yes, the colorful metaphors were very amusing, but that's not what I'm talking about.
Remember how Kirk went to the antique dealer when they needed money? Well, we
could do that. I mean, maybe not an antique dealer, but maybe a curiosity shop, since we
don't know what dimension this is." Willow said it all on one breath, and her companions
had to admire her lung capacity.

"You think a curio dealer would shell out for gum?" Faith asked skeptically.

"No, actually I was thinking about these." Willow slipped a hand under the neck of her
shirt and pulled out two chains. From the silver chain hung a large cross, and from the
gold chain hung a dainty Star of David. Willow's religious leanings had been cloudy ever
since she'd gotten involved in Wicca, but she still sometimes wore the star she'd gotten
for her bat mitzvah. The cross was purely practical. Xander flushed and drew a cross
from beneath his own shirt. He'd forgotten all about it when they'd been turning out their
pockets.

Faith's hand moved reluctantly to the chain around her own neck. She hadn't forgotten it.
It held a crucifix rather than a plain cross, and it was one of the few things she had left
from her childhood. Her grandmother had given it to her after her first communion, and
back before she'd been chosen, Faith had planned to pass it on to a daughter someday.
Willow noticed the way Faith clutched the crucifix, and spoke up.

"This is perfect! I'm not a Christian, and you've never been big with the churchgoing,
Xander, so we can sell our crosses. If there were vampires around, I might want to keep
mine, but Faith didn't feel any, and it's daylight anyway, so I think we'll be okay without
them. And I'd like to keep my star unless we really need the money, but I don't think
wanting a snack is *need* need; it's more like a whim. So, I'll keep my star and Faith can
keep her cross and you can keep your candy bars."

Faith gave Willow a grateful smile that softened her face and made the other woman
flush almost the same shade as her hair. They didn't have a good history together, but that
didn't mean that Willow could ignore the brunette's beauty when she was smiling like
that. Xander noticed both the smiling and the blushing. He wracked his brain for
something to distract them before they realized they were getting along and tried to fight
it.

"Giving jewelry means commitment, right? So does giving up jewelry mean we're
breaking up? I hope not; I'm feeling very fragile right now." When both girls rolled their
eyes and smacked him on the arms, he pouted and yelled, "Fragile!" while inside he was
smiling.

***

After deciding what to sell, the next logical step was to sell it. This meant they had to
leave their alley, which had begun to feel comparatively safe and comfy in this strange
place. It did not, however, contain a shower or any food, so out they went. The main
roads seemed to be made of dirt, at least in this part of town, with wooden sidewalks. It
was wandering along said sidewalk that they realized their next difficulty. More than half
of the signs were in Chinese.

It seemed to strike Willow hardest. "I haven't studied Chinese. I was going to get to it,
but first I was working through the Indo-European languages that I need for spell casting.
What kind of dimension has dirt roads and spaceships and Chinese signs, for goodness
sake?!"

Xander raised his hand a bit and said, "I did a couple trips through China rounding up
Slayers, so I can speak a little bit. I mean, I can say 'I am not trying to steal your
daughter,' and 'Where's the bathroom?' in several dialects. How 'bout you, Faith?"

Faith was struck momentarily speechless by the very fact that she'd been asked. She
always expected them to treat her like an ignorant runaway rather than as part of the
team. But when she looked, Willow was waiting for her answer just like Xander was. She
cleared her throat. "Actually, I do know a little bit. I did the learning thing in prison, got
my GED, and then I started on other stuff. Had plenty of free time, right? Thought I'd
learn Spanish - 'cause southern California - but those tapes were checked out a lot.
Chinese was usually available."

The others were smiling at her admiringly, and Faith had to clear her throat again. It had
been a long time since anyone had looked at her like that without her killing something
huge first. "Okay, then. Faith is language girl. And, oooh! When we get home, we can go
to a really good Chinese restaurant and make you order!" Xander rubbed his hands
together like a cartoon villain.

The three displaced young people set off in search of someone who would buy their
jewelry. The first time they stopped for directions, they were relieved to find that the
locals didn't speak Chinese all the time, but mixed it with English. Willow was interested
in the sociological implications of that kind of code-switching, but Xander and Faith cut
off her rambling and dragged her toward the store they'd been pointed to.

They must have impressed the man who'd given them directions, because the store he'd
sent them to looked respectable and expensive. The door was dark, smooth wood with
well polished brass handles. They stepped into a dim, low room that was crowded with
what they guessed were antiques. It was the kind of place that made you want to be quiet,
like libraries that weren't built on top of a Hellmouth.

"Good afternoon, I am Gilbert Chong. May I help you?" They all turned guiltily from the
knickknacks they'd been studying to face the man who spoke to them. He was short and
slight, with thick grey hair and a small goatee. He had that trustworthy look that always
made Faith distrust someone.

Willow answered. "Hi, yeah. We're new here, but we were told that you buy things. We
have some...things."

"Ah, I see. Please follow me." The man led them toward the back of the shop, where he
stepped behind a long, smooth countertop. "Please," he said with an expansive gesture,
"show me your merchandise."

Xander and Willow had taken off their crosses, thinking wearing them in would make
them look like people who were pawning their jewelry, rather than like salespeople. Their
logic was cloudy and left Faith behind, but it had resulted in Xander carrying the crosses
in his pocket. Unfortunately, the chains had tangled with the other things he carried, and
he had to pull them all out in a jumble. He laughed a little, nervously. "Um, hang on a
minute," he said, letting the tangle fall to the counter as he tried to untangle the chains.

Mr. Chong picked up a coin that rolled away from the pile. "What is this?" he asked,
examining it closely.

Xander glanced up. "Drachma," he said shortly, returning to his unraveling.

Willow and Faith shared an exasperated look. "It's a coin," Faith said. "It's cash, but
from hella far away."

"This...Look at these markings!" Mr. Chong sounded excited. "I've seen these markings
in my research. They were used on some parts of Earth-that-was." He felt around under
the counter, never letting go of the coin, and pulled out a flat screen device that looked
like a very slim, touch screen computer. He jabbed at the screen several times and then
looked up at them, his face beaming. "This is exceptional! Ancient coins are very rare."

"Would you be interested in seeing the rest of our collection, then?" Willow asked,
speaking slowly and toying with a franc. "It contains coins from several different areas of
Earth...that-was."

"And the more important question would be: how much you gonna pay?" Faith asked,
leaning toward him over the counter. Willow wondered if it was meant to be cleavage-y
leaning or threatening leaning, but she decided this wasn't the best time to ask.

Mr. Chong was gleefully examining the coins that Willow was pulling out of Xander's
tangle and sliding in front of him. Drachma, lire, mark, quarter - he greeted each new
coin with excitement, regardless of denomination or country of origin. Now he looked up
at the young people, a little flustered. "Er, well. A collection of this type would do best at
auction, so I won't be able to profit from them until an appropriate auction can be
arranged. But I could probably give you...300 credits per coin."

They did some quick mental math. There were twelve coins now lined up on the counter,
so that would give them a total of 3600 credits. Xander resisted asking, "Is that a lot?"
and instead drew on the haggling expertise he'd acquired after being ripped off in various
parts of Africa. "Look at the variety here," he said. "You'll be able to draw in collectors
from all over the area. Surely you can afford to pay 500 credits per coin." The shopkeeper
responded, and they began bargaining in earnest. They finally agreed on 400 credits each,
and Willow, Faith, and Xander accepted their payment gracefully. They were a bit
surprised when Mr. Chong bowed to them instead of shaking hands, but they shrugged
and went with it. Smiling, they left the dark shop and set out to find out what this strange
new world had to eat.

***

The Slayer, the witch, and the carpenter-cum-Watcher had just finished eating something
that had resembled very chewy chili, and were standing on the wooden walkway
discussing their options. Willow thought they should rent a room and get some rest, then
work on finding a way home in the morning. Faith wanted to shop and check out the
town. Xander was in favor of Faith's idea, because it gave him a chance to explore, but
he was having trouble resisting Willow's puppy eyes. Silently he cursed the fact that his
own puppy eye abilities had been impaired by psycho preacher boy. They had almost
won Willow over to their way of thinking when a voice interrupted them.

"I need to see your ident cards," the voice said. They turned to face it and found that the
voice was owned by a medium sized man in a grey uniform. He had brown hair, brown
eyes, and a self-important expression. He held his hand out as if waiting for them to bow
to his authority.

Faith had always had a problem with authority figures. "'Scuse me? We were talking
here, Boy Scout. Don't you know it's rude to interrupt?"

The man drew himself up. "I am an officer of the Alliance Peacekeeping Force on Three
Hills. I received a report of three persons matching your description dealing in
unregistered artifacts. Present your ident cards or I will take you in."

"You could try." This time it was Willow. "We didn't do anything wrong, so stop being
such a bully, you big, stupid...bully person." The mousy girl she'd once been had left
long ago, leaving a woman who knew her own strengths. She might have confidence
problems in some areas, but standing up to officious jerks was not one of them.

The three young people were irked by the officer's attitude, but they would have walked
away peacefully if the man hadn't made the mistake of pulling a weapon on them. Faith
moved in a blur. She slammed a hard punch to his jaw then grabbed his wrist and forced
him to drop the weapon. Yanking him toward her so that he bent over, she broke his
elbow over her knee. The Peacekeeper dropped to his knees when she released his arm,
and the Slayer stooped to retrieve his weapon.

"So," Faith said, waving the gun-like weapon in front of him, "you know what B always
says about these things?" She wasn't even winded by their brief fight, and her voice held
a mocking edge.

"They never solve anything," Xander and Willow recited together, sounding like a Greek chorus
that had spent the last ten years around Buffy.

"Yup. But you know what?" The dark-haired woman leaned in threateningly. "I'm not
B." And with that she aimed the gun. Now, Faith had done penance for killing humans,
and she had no intention going through anymore punishment for a pissant like this. So
she aimed just to the side of the man, intending to scare him by shooting into the dirt
beside him. But it wasn't a bullet that came out of the weapon. It was an energy wave. It
smashed into the officer and knocked him over, rendering him unconscious. Xander
quickly knelt down and made sure he was still alive, sighing with relief when he felt the
steady pulse beneath his fingers.

He looked up at Faith with a wry smile. "I guess you showed him." He climbed to his feet
and dusted off his hands. "Okay, ladies. New plan: we get the hell out of here before they
lock us up in weird-flying-car-place jail." A ship cruised by overhead, banking around to
land, and Xander grinned delightedly. "I know just where we could go."

***

There were spaceships right in front of them, and Xander was keyed up enough to dance,
even though he had sworn years ago never to dance in public. Deep down, Xander knew
he was using his excitement as a way not to freak out about their predicament. They were
who-knows where and, from the way the shopkeeper was talking, who-knows when.
Giles wouldn't even start looking for them until they failed to return with the Dagger in
two days. It was freaksome and wiggy, and other things that meant badness.

Still, it could be worse. If he had to be stranded in Neverland, Willow was definitely his
first choice for companion. She was smart and powerful and resourceful. More
importantly, though, she was his Willow, and he was comforted by her presence. He
would probably never feel the same about Faith (murder attempts had a tendency to make
him stand-offish), but they had reached the point where Xander trusted her to watch his
back. After all, he had very few friends who *hadn't* gone homicidal at some point.

Since he refused to spazz about being stuck here, and couldn't change it, Xander put all
his energy into celebrating it. And boy howdy, was there a lot to celebrate! Spaceships
lined up in front of him, ramps down and accepting passengers. He let his eyes glaze
over, trusting the girls to keep him safe while he reveled in the presence of the vehicles.

He was jarred out of his reverie by the necessity of picking out which ship they should
make their get away on. The barker for the first ship practically chased them down,
yelling about how fast and comfortable his ship was. None of them wanted to spend
anytime in the same space with the possibly rabid man, so they escaped him as soon as
they could. At the second ship, the barker eyed the girls in a way that made Willow flush
uncomfortably and Faith clench her fists. They passed on his ship, even though he
claimed his Capacin 38 engine was the best in the 'verse. The third barker eyed Xander
inappropriately, which made Willow giggle and Faith smirk. He glared at them; he hadn't
laughed when *they* got ogled.

At the fourth ship, a lantern jawed man leaned against the bulkhead, arms crossed over
his flight suit. His bright blue eyes tracked the passersby, but he didn't make any effort to
accost them the way the other barkers had. Willow raised an eyebrow at his casual
posture and headed toward him, the others following close behind. The man straightened
up at her approach and ran a hand over his strawberry blonde hair. It didn't help the
messy locks.

"Are you taking passengers?" Willow asked, trying to look non-threatening. It was a sign
of how notorious she had become that she even made the effort. Strangers saw a thin
young woman with bright eyes and a shy smile, but those in the occult community often
saw a woman to be feared.

"Yes. Yes, we are." It seemed like he was going to stop there, but then he suddenly
started talking again. "And you should come with us, because of how nice and smooth
our ship flies. It's the best one here, and this sounds much more convincing when Kaylee
says it."

"Sales isn't your usual gig, huh?" Xander asked

"And I thought I was doing so well," the man said with a sarcastic curve to his lips.
"Actually, I'm the pilot. Our engineer usually woos the passengers, but she's...under the
weather right now. I wasn't just saying it, though. This is the best ship you'll find on
Three Hills."

"What makes it so great?" Faith asked aggressively. She had no problem with this man,
but she had listened to three other barkers gushing about their ships, and she wanted to
get it over with. The pilot didn't seem threatened by her, despite her tone. He just gave
her an indulgent look and answered.

"It might sound a little yuben de, but we're a family. We all take care of each other." He
looked up at the ship and patted the metal affectionately. "She's our home."

"How much would it cost for all three of us?" Willow asked. Her eyes were soft as she
remembered the brief time when she and Tara had been happy in the house with Dawn
and Buffy. If they were getting on a spaceship, it would be nice to get on one that was a
home.

"Well, that depends on how far you want to go."

"We just want to get off the ground for a while," Xander said. "We don't care so much
where we go. But we do need to get back here eventually, right Wills?"

"Most likely. I'll know more after I have a chance to study the situation." Willow
*really* didn't want to open herself up to the Dagger, but she knew it was necessary if
they were ever going to get home.

"Well, in that case, you can come with us while we make our run out to Highgate and
back. We've got to pick up some merchandise and then deliver it back to a customer here.
It would be 500 per person if you've got coin." The pilot looked surprised at their lack of
destination, but he didn't question them about it.

The three young people huddled together to confer. "Guy seems nice," Faith said. "I vote
we take it."

"Me, too. The ship isn't all sparkly and new, but I think I like it," Willow put in.

"I'm in." Xander said, simply.

They broke their huddle and turned to the pilot. "Okay, we've decided to come with you.
How long do we have till the ship takes off?" Willow asked. "We kind of need to do
some shopping."

The man shook his head. "I can give you an hour and a half. After that the captain'll start
to get twitchy. And, not to be mercenary, but we're pretty mercenary. You do have the
cash to pay, right?" He crinkled his eyes apologetically.

Xander, made treasurer by virtue of his vast array of pockets, pulled out a handful of
coins. "We don't have any luggage yet, but we do have money." He stashed it away and
zipped the pocket shut. "If you don't mind, we'll wait to pay until we get back. Just so
you don't fly away with our money by accident."

"I don't fly the ship by accident very often, but that's fair enough." The pilot's smile lit
up his face. "My name is Wash and this is Serenity. Make sure you get back in an hour
and a half, and you got yourself a ship."

***
[Serenity]

One hour and fifteen minutes later, Faith, Xander, and Willow walked up Serenity's
boarding ramp several hundred credits poorer. They each carried a rucksack containing
two changes of clothes, three pouches of emergency rations, and two bottles of water.
Along with these practical purchases, the sacks also held various fripperies. Willow had
bought some lovely chopsticks and a painted fan; Faith had a wicked sharp throwing
knife and a silver ring; and Xander carried a little toy car that hovered off the floor. They
trudged up the ramp, satisfied with their purchases.

The ramp led to the cargo hold, and they were a little surprised by the activity they found
there. Besides the pilot, whom they had met, there were two tall men and a dark woman
with curly hair. All four of them were busy stowing cargo around the small hold. One of
the men, with dark hair and a goatee looked up at their entrance, his hand going
automatically to the gun at his hip. He relaxed a trifle when he took in their appearance.
"These the passengers?" he asked, tilting his head back so that his chin thrust out
belligerently.

"Yeah, this is them." Wash turned to them with a smile. "Qing jin! Welcome to
Serenity." His grin was infectious, and all three of the passengers returned it.

"Don't be all welcoming till they pay their freight," the third man said warningly. He
turned to face them and the young people froze as one. He didn't have time to say
anything else. Willow's eyes filmed over, the magic swirling through them first black,
then white before settling to a silver grey. She threw her hands out before her and cast a
blast of sheer energy at him, slamming him across the hold into a stack of boxes. Faith
had started moving almost as soon as Willow had, and she chased the man across the
room, following up on Willow's blast with a sharp punch to the head and another to the
solar plexus. Before he could defend himself, she had the serrated edge of her large
hunting knife pressed to his throat.

Xander was the only one of the Watchers' team who hadn't launched an attack. At first
he'd been frozen with fear and remembered pain, later he was struck by an inconsistency.
"Stop," he yelled out. His voice was rough and didn't sound much like Xander, but Faith
paused at the sound of it. "I don't think he's Caleb."

"Xander's right," Willow agreed. The magic swirled out of her eyes, leaving them hazel
green, but she didn't relax her grip on her power. "Look at how easily we took him out. I
mean, it took the scythe to stop him before. Much as I'd like to think we've just gotten
better, you and I could never have stopped Caleb alone, Faith."

Faith stepped back, lowering her blade a fraction of an inch. She stared into the face of
the man before her. Although the features were exactly like those of the man that had
wrought such havoc on the young potential Slayers, it was the face that convinced her.
The man before her looked furious, but his expression lacked the disgust and hatred that
Caleb had felt every time he looked at a female. Red and Xan were right; whoever he
looked like, this wasn't the evil priest.

The cold metal of a gun barrel on the back of her head drew Faith's attention away from
the look-alike. "You want to be moving away from the captain right now." It was the
woman they had seen when they entered. Her voice was cool and quiet, and her hands
were steady. Faith knew that this woman was fully capable of blowing her head off. She
lowered the knife the rest of the way and stepped carefully to the side, feeling the gun
move with her.

"Nice passengers you picked up, Wash," the bearded man said. Despite his flippant tone,
he had a gun in each hand, covering Xander and Willow.

"You know, they didn't say anything about being insane when we talked earlier."

"But to be fair, you didn't ask," Xander chipped in. Faith couldn't smile at that, not with
a weapon trained on her, but she felt a fleeting affection for his ability to always generate
a funny comment. "We're not insane, though. And we promise not to attack anyone,
right?"

Willow nodded, her eyes large and sincere. Faith shrugged her agreement and let her
knife fall to the deck. The captain started to haul himself to his feet, still watching her
carefully. "So if you're not insane, you want to fill us in on the logical explanation for
jumping me? 'Cause from here it looked all kinds of crazy."

"And scary," Wash added. When he got a dirty look from the captain he raised his hands
defensively. "What?! Like that wasn't scary?"

The Scoobies and the Slayer exchanged looks, silently deciding who should answer.
Willow was upset, which raised the probability of babble exponentially. Xander was
clearly trying to regain his composure. Faith figured, since she'd been the one to pull the
knife, she ought to be the one to explain. She cleared her throat. "Yeah, sorry 'bout that. I
know it sounds whack, but we thought you were somebody else." She winced internally
at how lame that sounded.

"Hell of a mistake to make," the dark woman commented. She shifted around so she
could watch Faith's face as she talked, but she never dropped her weapon.

"Alright, I get that 'sorry' doesn't quite cover it, but your man looks *just* like our big
bad. And if anybody deserved to be put down, it was this guy. Caleb was an evil son of a
bitch. I mean he killed girls just 'cause they were girls. He-" she cut herself off, shooting
a guilty look at Xander.

Xander couldn't make himself smile, but he twitched his lips to let her know he was
okay. "He took my eye. Just popped it with his thumb." Raising his hands slowly, so they
could see he wasn't going for a weapon, he reached up and flipped his eye patch away.
The scars underneath were not pretty, and showed how brutal the loss of his eye had
been.

"Yeah, and we're really sorry that we attacked you and all, but if you were Caleb then we
couldn't let you get away. It might not seem like it to you, but to us, it's better to beat up
an innocent man a little bit than to let an evil killer guy like him go free. And we stopped
before we killed you, which is a point in our favor, right?" Willow said hopefully.

The captain didn't look convinced, but he did look thoughtful. He jerked his head at the
man holding the guns on Willow and Xander. "Jayne, run fetch River. We'll let her have
a look-see and tell us how these folks feel to her."

The waiting time was uncomfortable. The two groups of people eyed each other warily,
wondering who would win if it came down to a fight. The crew had more firepower, but
Faith and Willow had impressed them with their assault. When Jayne returned with a thin
teenaged girl in tow, they all released discreet sighs of relief.

"Listen here, little one. I would be just tickled if you could aim that brain of yours at
these nice people. See, they claim they didn't mean nothin' by attacking me, and I need
to know if that's so." The captain raised his eyebrows at the girl expectantly.

River walked slowly around the cargo hold, examining each newcomer with large eyes
that gazed out through tangled strands of hair. After making one circuit, she paused in
front of Willow. "They tried to burn me once, too," she said matter-of-factly. "Serenity
came to save me. We're not the same, though. The Alliance made me, but you did this to
yourself." She gave Willow a last measuring look and moved on, pacing silently on bare
feet. She stopped next before Xander. She lifted herself to her toes and pulled his eye
patch back over his ruined eye. "Even though your girls don't need saving, it's nice that
you try to be the White Knight." River tilted her head to the side and looked up at him.
She leaned forward and said in a loud whisper. "You don't have to be afraid of Mal. He
won't admit it, but he's a knight, too." She turned away from him and approached Faith.
The Slayer was tense, uncomfortable with the idea of anyone looking into her mind or
soul. "I won't hurt you," River offered. Faith wanted to deny that she'd been afraid, but
she stopped herself. "It's okay to be soft sometimes, you know. When you're hard all the
time, you break." She spun to the face the crew, her expression suddenly troubled. "Am
I broken? Was I too hard? I tried to be a stone, but I should have been a reed. I should
have been a reed!" She was yelling now, her face crumpled like she was fighting tears.

"Shhh. It's alright, little one. You're not broken. Just...twisted around, like." Mal placed a
gentle hand on her shoulder. If they needed anymore convincing, Faith, Willow, and
Xander would have been won over by that supremely un-Caleb-like action. "You don't
think these people are likely to bring harm to me or mine?" he asked.

River shook her head. Her face was still shadowed with unhappiness, but she no longer
looked so despairing. "They don't bring any danger that didn't already live here."

"Xie-xie. Why don't you run along back to your brother and see if he can help you rest a
spell?" He sent her on her way and then turned back to the waiting group. "So, what do
you think?" he asked his people. They huddled together to discuss their options. Faith
noticed that the woman kept one eye and her shotgun aimed at them the whole time.
After much discussion and some yelling in Chinese, they all faced the Watchers' team.
"Y'all got passage to Highgate and back. If you step a toe outta line, know that I will
shoot you dead and space your bodies. Oh, and attacking me adds 50 coin each to your
charge."

"Hey!" Xander protested. "I didn't attack you. I just cowered peacefully over here. I
shouldn't have to pay extra."

Faith shot him an ironic look. "At least he isn't asking for your chocolate, Xan." She
didn't mind paying extra. By her reckoning, the cash they carried had been free money,
since they had gotten it in exchange for a couple bucks worth of coins.

"You got chocolate? Damn, that'd bring little Kaylee outta the engine room," Jayne said.

"You might just have a point, there," Mal said. "Maybe we ought to be renegotiating
payment."

***

Willow stretched. She had been sitting on the bunk in the cramped quarters she'd been
assigned for the last two hours while she studied the Dagger with her magic, and she was
stiff. The redhead arched her back and sighed. She was only 26 years old! She wasn't
supposed to get stiff until she was an old, grey haired, cat lady. And since Miss Kitty
Fantastico had met with an unfortunate crossbow accident, she didn't even have *one*
cat! Life wasn't fair.

The witch uncrossed her legs and dragged herself up off the bunk. It was time for a break.
She climbed up the short ladder that led to the corridor, smiling a little. Having a
bedroom with a ladder felt like living in a tree house. And what kid hadn't dreamt of
living in a tree house? She scrambled out and shut the hatch behind her, heading down
the hall toward the dining area. She wondered what kind of snack foods they had in the
future. Popcorn would be great right about now.

She was startled to find a stranger in the kitchen area. Or was it a mess? Maybe it was
only a mess on ships where no one did the dishes. In any case, this was the ship's night,
and she had expected everyone to be asleep. The woman must have heard Willow come
in, because she turned around. Wow.

Willow was friends with some beautiful women. Buffy had started out really cute, and
had refined over the years into a sharp, haunted beauty. Faith was just plain hot, all
curves and dimples. Even Dawnie was turning into a very attractive woman. But the
woman who stood in the dimly lit spaceship kitchen was simply stunning. And Willow
was stunned.

Her hair was dark and fell in smooth waves around creamy skin. Her large, dark eyes
were expertly made-up to appear even larger. Her body was as lovely as her face, and
was draped in an open kimono of gold and crimson brocade. When the woman stepped
forward, the kimono sung away from her body, revealing that she wore a narrow crimson
sheath beneath it. "Hello," the woman said. "I don't believe we've been introduced, yet.
I'm Inara."

Willow was pretty damn sure they hadn't been introduced, because there was no way she
would have forgotten someone like Inara. "Um, no. I mean, we still haven't been
introduced, because there's nobody here to introduce us, but I can introduce myself." She
stopped and took a deep breath. "I'm Willow."

"I'm pleased to meet you, Willow," Inara said, her eyes lit with amusement. She held out
her hand and smiled, her smooth cheeks dimpling.

"Me, too. You, um, you weren't at dinner when we met everyone else."

"No. I'm afraid Mal and I are having disagreement at the moment. Not that we've ever
gone very long without having a disagreement. I prefer not to punish everyone else on the
ship, though, so I am trying to avoid the captain. Unfortunately, that means I miss out on
meals and on meeting the fascinating new arrivals." She moved gracefully as she spoke,
assembling a simple meal for herself.

Willow flushed at being called fascinating. She followed Inara as she sat at the table, and
concentrated on holding down her end of the conversation. The two women talked for
hours, discussing meditation, ancient (for Inara) literature and art, herbs used for massage
and healing. Considering the differences in their backgrounds, it was amazing how much
the two found to talk about. Finally, Inara picked up her plate and stood, managing to
look elegant even in such a simple action.

"I appreciate the company and the conversation, Willow." She made a shallow bow. "I
hope to speak with you more during your stay on Serenity."

"I'd like that." Willow screwed up her courage and said, "Would you like to, maybe,
make plans to get together sometime? But not if you don't want to, or if you're busy."

The other woman paused. "I'm tempted. But I'm tempted for the wrong reasons." She
lowered her eyes. "I like you, Willow. You are a very attractive woman, and I've enjoyed
speaking with you. But if I make private plans with you, I fear I would be doing it mostly
to get back at Mal." She looked up, fixing her big eyes on Willow's face. "You don't
deserve that, and neither does the captain. For that matter, neither do I. So I think it's best
if I decline."

Willow felt a rush of disappointment, but she could empathize. She remembered trying to
use Oz to make Xander jealous. Oz had explained that her wanted Willow to want *him*,
and she felt much the same now. Inara might be gorgeous and interesting, but Willow
didn't want her enough to be a pawn in her problems with the captain.

"I understand," she said. "Maybe we can make completely platonic, public plans
sometime." Inara nodded her agreement and turned to go. Willow watched her walk
away, her figure fairly glowing in the brocaded kimono. She stood in the deserted dining
area and sighed. Then she straightened up and headed down the hall to her room. Maybe
she couldn't be with Inara, but she could find someone special once she got back home.
She returned to her study of the Dagger of Nimue with renewed intensity.

***

Faith stood in the entrance of the cockpit, staring out at space. "That," she breathed, "is
the most bitchin' thing I've ever seen."

Wash looked around and smiled his welcome. "It is pretty amazing. I didn't even see the
stars till I was grown, but I don't think I could live without them now."

Encouraged by his reaction, Faith stepped further into the room. She saw that he had
plastic dinosaur toys on his control panel and felt a surge of familiarity. Many of the
younger Slayers brought toys with them when they came to train, and Faith liked to
watch them play. It revealed an innocence that she didn't remember ever possessing. It
made her want to protect those super-powered girls from the world. Wash offered her the
co-pilot's chair with a gesture, and Faith took it. She kept her eyes on the starscape, but
asked the pilot, "Did you always know you wanted to fly?"

"It's what I was born to do. If the war had never happened, Mal could be a rancher. If we
hadn't picked him up, Jayne would just be somebody else's thug instead of ours. But
me...this is where I'm supposed to be." His blue eyes practically glowed with
contentment.

"You're good at it, right? I mean, you ain't gonna crash us into an asteroid or some shit
just 'cause I'm distracting you?" Faith wasn't really worried, but she wanted to get the
subject off of might-have-beens. Even with all the other Slayers, she didn't feel like she
had any other options. She would be a Slayer till something killed her.

Wash lowered his eyebrows in what he apparently thought was a threatening scowl. "I'm
good at it. I was second in my class. I would have been first, but Mr. Universe cheated.
Guy's zhen de shi tian cai, and he reprogrammed the computers so he scored higher."

Faith smirked. She had to respect a good cheater. She looked over at the strawberry
blonde man. "Can I ask you something?"

"Shoot," he said. "Metaphorically. I would prefer if you didn't actually shoot me."

"Why aren't you afraid of me? Not that I want you to be, but you saw me take the captain
down. Most guys would be a little tense 'bout being alone with me after that. But you're
not."

"Maybe I'm just a good actor," he answered lightly.

"Naw. I can tell when somebody's just playing it off like they're not scared. So why?"
She wasn't sure why she wanted to know so badly, but it mattered to her.

"You've met my wife, right? Lovely woman who carries two guns and a knife pretty
much all the time. She could kill me with her pinkie. She just doesn't want to. I look at
you, and you could probably kill me even faster. But you don't want to." He spread his
hands as though that answered the question.

"That's it?" Faith tucked her hair back behind her ear and leaned toward him, trying to
understand.

"It's good enough for me. I get the feeling you don't expect people to trust you." He said
it like it was an observation about the weather rather than an analysis of her personality.

"Yeah, well. I've done some bad shit. Maybe people shouldn't trust me." She shifted her
focus back to the stars.

"Maybe you should trust yourself." He didn't elaborate. They sat in companionable
silence, watching the star patterns change as Serenity swam through them.

***

"I'm not sayin' it wasn't impressive, you beatin' up on Mal like that. But you didn't give
him no warning. And you didn't kill him. I just don't think you're all that dangerous, is
all I'm saying." Jayne punctuated his comments with his chopsticks, talking around a
mouthful of dumpling.

"Jayne!" Zoe said warningly.

"I'm not trying to start nothing," he said defensively. "Just don't think they got the
makings of big, bad killers. What do you say, boy? Ever killed a man?"

Everyone around the table turned their attention to Xander. The look of grief and regret
on his face was so strong, the crew were surprised when he answered quietly, "No. I have
never killed a man." Willow gave him a sympathetic smile across the table.

"See?" Jayne said. "Told ya. They ain't so tough."

"That's a damn stupid thing to say. 'Specially since Xan's the only one of us who
*hasn't* killed a man." Faith glared at the big man.

"Yeah? What did you do, talk him to death?" Jayne really should have known better. His
reasoning was probably impaired by the sips he'd been taking from his flask throughout
the meal.

"If you gotta know, the first guy I killed, I took out with a sharp piece of wood, right
through the chest." She wasn't proud of the violence she'd committed, but she'd done it,
and she freely admitted it.

Willow had been staring at her plate ever since Faith had said they'd both killed. She still
had nightmares about Warren. But if Faith could talk about her dark time, Willow could
do the same. She looked up. "I skinned a man alive," she said quietly. "He was still
screaming when I killed him." She closed her eyes and swallowed down the bile that rose
at the thought. Worse was the thought that she'd probably do it again. The man had taken
Tara away, and that was unforgivable. She felt strong arms sliding around her shoulders
and looked up to see that Xander had gotten up and come to comfort her.

"Well," the captain said with a tight smile. "Not that this ain't pleasant dinner
conversation, but what say find somethin' else to talk about?" Kaylee nodded her
agreement and started talking determinedly about a new part she needed for the engine.
Jayne, however, kept looking at the passengers, chewing thoughtfully.

***

"Can I come in?" Xander asked. He stuck his head in the door to the engine room. Kaylee
started at the sound of his voice and clenched her fist tight around the large wrench she
was holding. She turned around to face him slowly.

"Hello!" The engineer said, plastering a smile on her face. "What are you doing here?"

"I was just exploring the ship, and thought I'd take a look at your domain. Is everything
okay?" Xander's brow furrowed in concern.

"Yup! Everything's shiny. No problems here. Why? What could be wrong?" Kaylee tried
to sound unconcerned, but she twisted the wrench nervously in her hands.

"You just...I don't want to pry, but you look scared. And if there's one emotion I know
well, it's fear." Xander held his arms loosely at his sides, attempting to look non-
threatening. "If you need to talk about it, I'm a good listener."

She seemed to deflate, slumping back against the machinery. "I just feel so helpless
lately. There was this man, and he attacked me. He didn't just attack the ship, he attacked
*me*. I'm not strong like the captain or Zoe, or even Jayne. I couldn't stop him. And
now I just feel scared all the time. Dong ma?"

"That sucks. Where did it happen?" Xander took one step further into the engine room,
watching to be sure he didn't make Kaylee any more uncomfortable.

"It was here. He came right in here, and this is my place, you know? I've always felt safe
around engines, but now..." she trailed off, a defeated look on her face.

"I know how that feels," Xander said.

She looked up at him, her eyebrows raised skeptically. "How? I mean, you're pretty
strong, and I bet you know how to fight. You wouldn't have just given up."

"Some things I can fight. But a lot of our enemies are stronger than me. It's the worst
feeling ever, to know I can't do *anything* to save myself or anyone else. It's like my
stomach and my heart are off somewhere without me, and I have these big holes inside
me." He took another step. "I think you're really brave."

She snorted. "Yeah, I'm brave. Jumpin' at shadows. My mouth is so dry I can't even
spit."

"Yeah, but you're here. You're scared, but you're still doing the job." One more step.

"Ain't like I got a choice. Somebody's gotta keep the ship runnin,' and I'm the one
knows how."

"A lot of people wouldn't. They wouldn't be able to. But here you are, scared spitless and
still working." He took another step, taking him right in front of her. "Maybe I could
help."

"How're you gonna help? You're only on board for this one trip." She sounded doubtful,
but her eyes held hope when she looked at him.

"I can teach you how to defend yourself. It's part of what I do, teaching girls to fight. It
won't be easy, and sometimes you might have flashbacks to when you were attacked."
Xander didn't want her to have a false idea of what he was offering.

"Captain would teach me if I asked," she said, almost defensively.

"Yeah, I bet he would. But he probably won't think to teach you unless you ask him."
Xander had spent years feeling neglected because Giles had never taught him to fight
before he'd realized that it had just never occurred to the Watcher to make the offer. "So,
are you going to ask him, or are you going to work with me?"

Kaylee looked down at her hands for a minute, considering. When she looked up, her
face was a little less strained. "I'll work with you." She visibly steeled herself before
holding out a grease-stained hand for him to shake. He took it for the victory that it was.

***

Faith and Willow were walking down the corridor when Jayne jumped them. He had
been hiding in a niche along the hallway, and he leapt out behind them as they passed.
Faith heard the snick of a gun being cocked and dropped to the floor, rolling out of the
way. Instead of jumping to her feet, she came at him low, smashing her full weight into
his knees. Jayne went down with an "Ooof!" but he didn't stay down long.

Jayne pulled out of Faith's grip and climbed to his knees, punching at the girl still on the
ground. Hampered by her unwillingness to hurt the human man, the Slayer took the
punch. She caught his fist before he could withdraw it, and used it as a handle to slam
him into the wall. She looked over at Willow. "A little help here?"

Willow smiled. It was not a nice smile. "Stick." That was all she said, but it was
effective. Jayne tried to pull away from the wall and found that he couldn't. Cursing, he
struggled against invisible bonds. "Gorram it, woman! Let me go!"

"I don't think that's a good idea. Faith?"

"Nope. I think he looks pretty good right there, Red."

"Awww, come on. I just wanted to see how good you were. I wasn't actually trying to
hurt nobody!" He looked absolutely pitiful, and both women had to force themselves not
to laugh. They shared an amused look, and Faith jerked her head in the direction they'd
been walking.

"Shall we go?" she asked.

"I think we shall," Willow answered. And they walked away, leaving Jayne stuck to the
wall.

***

Xander was sitting on the floor of the cargo hold, watching his toy hover car float around,
when he heard sharp footsteps approaching. He looked up to see brown boots, tight
brown pants crossed with gun belts, and a leather vest. It was all topped with a head of
curly hair and a golden brown face. "Howdy," Xander said.

Zoe just nodded in reply. "Having fun?" she asked, her mouth curved in a tiny smile of
amusement.

"Yup! This thing is great. Wanna try?" He offered her the controller.

She took it with a thoughtful expression, steering the toy almost gingerly. "I don't really
play. I was a serious child."

"Wills was like that. She read all the time. She wanted to keep me happy, so she'd play
games, but she didn't get it."

"That's what I feel like."

"Wash plays," Xander observed. He'd taken part in some rousing games of Dino Attack
in the cockpit. He had been considering making tutus for the dinosaurs and seeing if
Wash wanted to do a Dino Ballet. He only needed to find some pink fabric.

She smiled, but her smile was almost regretful. "Wash does like to play."

"Yeah, he's great! It makes me wonder what his childhood was like."

"Why's that?" she asked,

"Well, most of the people I know who play with toys either had a great childhood, and
they want to remember it, or they had a rotten childhood and they're trying to make up
for it. It's a little weird that both groups play, but they do. They usually want kids, too.
To share their good childhood or fix it." His smile was twisted as he watched the car
glide around.

"Which set are you in?" Zoe asked, head cocked to one side.

Xander wasn't going to describe the Harris family shouting matches to a stranger, but
since he'd brought the subject up, he thought he should answer. "I'm not trying to
remember anything."

"Do you want kids, too?" She sounded curious now.

"Yeah. It scares me, though, you know? There are so many mistakes you can make. And
then I think about all the things that could happen to a kid, dealing with the dangerous
stuff I'm into, and I get wigged. But then I think, 'My parents screwed up just about
everything, and the world sucks, But I'm still glad to be alive.' So, yeah. If I find
someone I love, I'd like to give a kid that chance. To be alive."

Zoe still seemed to be watching the hover car, but her eyes were distant. "Maybe that's
enough," she said, almost in a whisper. She shook her head and looked down at him. She
gave him a lopsided smile and handed the controlled back. "Thanks for sharing."

"Not a problem. You ever want to play Hide and Seek, I'm your man." He wanted to
wink at her, but winking just didn't work when you only had one eye. So he settled for
pointing one finger at her cheesily, like it was a gun. She shook her head and walked
away.

***

[Three Hills]

Willow, Xander, and Faith trooped down the boarding ramp with mixed feelings. On the
one hand, they wanted to get home. They missed their friends, their work, their pizza. On
the other hand, though, this trip had been a release. Aside from Willow's work with the
Dagger, they had had no responsibilities. They'd made new friends, and they'd been
awed by the vastness of space. So they greeted the sensation of dirt under their feet with
diluted happiness.

They had all said their goodbyes previously, as Mal apparently wanted to get back to the
black as soon as humanly possible. Kaylee had cried when she'd hugged Xander. Inara
had shocked everyone and set the captain's face into a terrible scowl by kissing Willow
warmly on the lips. Jayne's goodbye had been the funniest, though. He'd caught Faith up
in a bear hug and told her to never come back. She'd watched him with a bemused look
on her face, but he'd left before she could question him.

"So," Xander said, "You think that Peacekeeping doofus is still looking for us?"

"Well, I, for one, would rather avoid another run in with the law. Let's get back to our
alley and get out of here." Willow hoisted her rucksack higher on her back.

"Awww! You never let me have any fun," Faith complained with a fake pout. She was
feeling much more comfortable with the Scoobies than she ever had before. Spending
time with them away from the pressures of Slaying had helped them get past some of
their old baggage. Maybe they weren't bestest buds, but the dark Slayer could look at
them now and not feel like she was being judged.

Walking three abreast, they made their way through the dirt streets until they arrived at
the familiar alley. They moved down it, searching for the place where they'd first arrived.
When they figured they were close enough, Willow handed her bag to Xander. "Ready?"
she asked.

"Ready," Faith said, holding her sword in one hand and her knife in the other. The
weapons were only partly to defend against demons at the other end of the transport.
Their other function was to stop Willow if she gave in to the dark magic of the Dagger as
she cast the spell.

"Ready," Xander said. He slid his right arm through the strap of Willow's bag and
grabbed Faith's elbow with that hand. With his left hand, he grabbed onto Willow's
shoulder as she knelt on the ground.

Taking a deep breath, the witch unwrapped the gaudy Dagger of Nimue. She began
chanting under her breath, and the others could feel the magic rising up around them.
Without warning, her hand flashed out, and she touched the bare hilt of the Dagger.

***
[Earth]

The cave was cold and dark, and until their eyes adjusted to the light, they couldn't see a
thing. Faith still had Slayer senses, though, and she knew that the demons they'd fought
before were gone. She pulled her arm away from Xander's hand and sheathed her sword.

"It's safe," she told the others. Willow carefully rewrapped the Dagger and held out her
hand for Xander to haul her to her feet. Together, the Watchers' team walked out of the
cave. Near the mouth, they found their rental car, right where they left it. Inside, all three
of their cell phones beeped that they had missed calls.

Xander picked his phone up and scrolled through the names. He looked up to see the girls
doing the same. He smiled at them. "Guess they missed us," he said. "Ready to go
home?"

Faith looked up at the stars, tracing constellations she knew. "We are home."

The End

You have reached the end of "Going Home". This story is complete.

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