Disclaimer: I am not, nor will I ever be, Joss Whedon, Universal, Fox Network, the WB, or anyone else with a stake (tee hee… stake…) in either Firefly or BtvS. I do, however, own the spot by the river, what made Xander immortal, and a can of 7 Up. Mmm... Delicious Chemicals!
They were gathered around the table enjoying a meal Kaylee had prepared to welcome Xander to Serenity. She, and the rest of the crew, had called him Mr. Harris, until he set them straight. There were a few bumps on the conversation’s path, among them Xander finding out about the war and his wife’s death, but things were more or less smooth. Then Jayne asked him why he looked the same now as he did in a thirty-five year old picture. “Malcolm hasn’t told you... ah,” Xander said. “Right. I forgot you wouldn’t have been told. Okay. Did Spike... uh, Daniel... did he ever show you his game face?” Mal shook his head no. “That would have made things easier. As it is, you’ll just have to take my word for it. I am much, much older than I look.”
“Well, yes,” said Inara. “Considering Mal’s age, you ought to be at least fifty or sixty years old.”
“Try adding five hundred to that. I was born in the year 1981, in Sunnydale, Caifornia, United States, on Earth-That-Was.” He waited for the inevitable explosion of disbelief, which came as expected. “I know, it sounds unbelievable, but it’s true. I came over on one of the last ships to leave. If you run a search of the passenger manifests, you’ll find me listed on the Belladonna Blue, name, stats and everything.”
“That don’t prove nothin’,” Jayne said.
“Sure, but unless any of you come with the incredibly rare inborn ability to travel through time, I don’t know how to prove it without traumatizing the lot of you.”
“Well, River’s a Reader,” Inara said reasonably. “And I know we all trust her. Couldn’t you allow her to...”
“Well that explains what they were sending those kids in to see me for. And... no.” The others looked at him in surprise. “My mind... there’s a lot in there. Not a lot of it’s pretty, and none of it’s stuff I’d willingly put in the head of a... how old are you?”
“Old as time. Seventeen.”
“A seventeen year old girl, no matter how disenfranchised she might already be.” He sighed and looked at the table. “Look... I’d like to stay. I’d like to be a part of your family here. Still, I get the whole distrust the stranger deal. If you want me to go, I’ll go-”
“But the hands!” River cried. “The blue hands that cut and take and never ever give anything back and want you dead!”
“Don’t worry about me, River. I can’t die.” He suddenly looked very old, in the only way his apparent youth would allow - around his eyes. “The only thing I ask is that you set me down on Shadow first. I may not have been there for her when she needed me, but I still deserve to put some flowers on her grave. She... she did get one, didn’t she?”
“She did,” Mal said softly.
River, meanwhile, was growing increasingly agitated. “Impossibility. Everything that lives dies eventually, from men to ships to amoeba. There isn’t anything that can keep it eternally at bay. Your continued existance is illogical.”
“Ah, well, that’s what Ilyria said to me. And Drusilla. And all five women I married, actually. Truth is, I’m still alive because of magic which, although these planets and moons haven’t been alive long enough to support it, is real. Magic affects me weird, always has. There’s no telling whether a spell on me will reverse itself or increase in potency or do what it’s supposed to or do something else entirely. The specific spell that did this to me, made me eternal? It was a death curse I jumped in front of, aimed at my beat friend. Didn’t find out until later, of course, but the damage was done.”
“What’s so bad about livin’ forever?” Zoë asked.
“You mean besides getting kidnapped by the government and turned into a lab rat for thiry five years? The people you love always die too quickly. It seems like no time at all has passed between when I was first courting Melissa and now, and yet she was almost sixty three years old. And it’s not like I could just decide not to love anymore. The heart can’t help who it loves.” Having only one eye didn’t make him miss the tiny glance his son shot at the Companion, nor the barely perceptible one she sent to him. “It’s a funny thing, love,” he said softly. “Regardless. If you want to treat me as a passenger, I should be able to get money without attracting government attention, but all I ask is that you don’t cheat me out of it. It’ll probably be rough for a while.”
“We don’t cheat people,” Kaylee said. “Least not people we like. And anyway, you’re family. Captain can’t make you pay. Right?”
The captain gave in without too much more fuss. Very few people could withstand Kaylee when she got like that, and, through previous experience, Mal knew better than to try.
Although it was midday at the ranch when they touched down on Shadow, the light was reminiscent of that grey period around dawn - par for the course, nowadays. Mal and Zoë showed no emotion. Inara showed grief that was just a little bit more real than what the Guild would suggest. Kaylee looked sad. Simon looked shocked. Jayne seemed distrustful. River listened to the ghosts and cried. Xander stood in front of his wife’s grave, barely breathing, unmoving. Eventually, he turned to face the crew. “Thank you for bringing me this far,” he said quietly. “If you don’t mind waiting a day or two, I’m sure I can find something of value as payment. No, Kaylee,” he said, cutting off her protest. “I insist. Meanwhile, if you don’t mind, I’d like a bit of time alone with my wife.”
One by one, they drifted off; all but River, alone in a crowd of weeping spirits. Xander was vaguely aware of them huddling together and speaking in hushed tones, but right now, he was beyond caring. He began whispering his goodbyes, stopping only when he had run out of words. River was standing next to him.
“No tears,” she said.
“Not yet,” he said. He picked himself up and brushed the dirt off of his knees. “There will be time for tears later, at least for me. I can’t afford to spend ten or fifteen years grieving yet.”
“That’s how long it takes?” River asked, looking at Zoë.
“For me, anyway. Okay,” he said, letting out a breath and looking up at the sky. “Mal?” The captain jogged over. “First off, I’m serious about paying you. I’ve seen ships that were in a worse condition than yours, but they were literally being held together by gum and paperclips. Secondly, if I haven’t lost my ‘leet subtext-reading skills’, there’s another war coming on. I can help.” Mal opened his mouth to protest. “Don’t even think it. I know more tactics than any of your generals ever dreamed of, even some clean ones. If you want to win this war, set me up with some good men who will follow crazy orders, and I swear to you that we will win.” Eventually Mal nodded and went to tell Zoë and the others. Xander turned back to River. “If only I knew where Spike and the others were,” Xander said. “They’d love this whole war dealio. Drusilla would know, of course, but nobody knows where she is anymore, not unless she wants it.”
“I know where she is,” River said.
“Where?” River picked up a handful of dust from the ground and then watched it slip through her fingers. Xander swore softly. “I hate being the only one left.”
Meanwhile, on a tiny black-rock moon called Dust, a woman with no sanity made love to a man with no name, while above them the stars danced.