Well guys, here we are. It's the final chapter! Of this story at least. I'd like to thank everyone who's taken the time to review, as your thoughts and comments have meant a great deal to me. And not just as inspiration for future stories, although you've certainly given the muse a great deal of food for thought! Thank you all.
I'm feeling pretty wiped out (who knew the drabble I sat down to write would grow so long?!) so I'm gonna take a week's break before I start writing Slayers in Space again. Just to recharge the batteries.
Tidying the remains of her strange meal away in the trash can that D’Argo had used to clear both his and Chiana’s tray before he had followed the grey woman out of the room, Willow placed her metal tray on top of theirs and looked around. At least she didn’t have to worry about making sure her meals were kosher, she mused absently as she looked in vain for something to clean up. Not that she ever really had. Her parents were very selective about their faith. For example, the prohibition on birth control. Desperate for a brother or sister, Willow had deliberately unpacked her mother’s tablets from her suitcase at age six, only to be treated to a lecture on A Woman’s Right To Choose from her father on her parents return.
Realising that she had been staring into space for several minutes, Willow blinked and turned to leave the room. Standing in the middle of the doorway, she thought for a moment. Chiana and D’Argo had both turned right when they left but she was pretty sure that they’d all entered from the left. Hadn’t they? She was on a spaceship, it wasn’t like she could get lost, Willow reasoned and turned left, not realising that she’d just jinxed herself.
“Crichton!” D’Argo exclaimed, catching sight of the human as he walked towards him. “Have you seen Chiana?”
“Nope,” said John, stopping in front of him in the corridor. “You seen Willow?”
“I left her in the galley,” D’Argo told him. “Why?”
“Got a comm for her,” John showed him the small badge. “Why do you want Chiana?” he grimaced as he realised what he’d just asked, holding his hand up to prevent D’Argo from answering. “Scratch that, I don’t want to know,” John told him. He pointed down the hallway, behind D’Argo. “The galley?”
“That’s where I left her,” D’Argo confirmed as Crichton passed him.
“Good luck!” Crichton turned back to call out, briefly walking backwards.
D’Argo nodded glumly in reply and then sniffed deeply. Had Chiana even come this way? He sniffed again.
“Where am I?” Willow sighed to herself, a frown crumpling her forehead as she stared up and down the wide curving passageway, her back to the only door it possessed.
She’d been walking for ages and she still hadn’t seen anyone or anything she recognised. Right now even Rygel would be a welcome sight. It wasn't likely that she’d bump into him though, what with him being locked up for the night. Not for the first time, Willow wished she that she was back home on the familiar streets of Sunnydale. But not out loud. That would be bad. Or would it...?
Opening her mouth to give it a try – maybe there was a patron demon of lost witches or something – Willow was distracted by the sudden appearance of one of the yellow beetle robots that had surrounded her shortly after she had first woken up onboard Moya. Staring down at the small robot at her feet, Willow completely forgot what it was that she had been about to do.
Equally surprised to see her, the robot stopped dead in its tracks. Withdrawing a small gun from its body, it pointed it at her. Keeping its weapon trained on her, it backed back through the small opening in the door through which it had entered the hallway. The opening slid shut with a thud as soon as it had passed.
Left alone in the passageway, Willow stared at the smaller door within the door with her mouth open. Wondering why the small robot had behaved so weirdly (and what was behind the door), and feeling a bit like Alice in Wonderland, she pushed the door open.
It swung open freely and Willow almost stumbled into the large chamber beyond, immediately attracting the attention of several of the beetle robots and the large crab-creature she had only previously seen on the weird clamshell TV. The robots bristled and Willow found herself the target of several small guns.
“Um... hi,” she said, raising her hands peaceably. “Um... I come in peace?” she offered hopefully.
The crab-guy glowered at her and the robots suddenly fled in all directions, quickly disappearing. Willow noticed that none of them came near her, although many kept their eyestalks and weapons trained on her until the last possible second before they vanished.
“You’re Pilot, right?” Willow said to the crab-alien, who looked pretty immobile as his four arms moved over the console in front of him, his gaze never shifting from hers. “I’m Willow.”
“I know who you are,” he said dismissively, looking away. He looked back with a fierce glare. “You’re the,” he snarled some words that Willow couldn’t understand. “That turned one of my DRD’s into a rodent!”
“I’m sorry,” Willow apologised, moving closer to him. “I didn’t mean to. I was aiming for Rygel.”
“A much more suitable target,” Pilot said sarcastically.
“I thought he was evil!” Willow half explained, half protested.
“An easy mistake to make,” Pilot remarked snidely.
“That’s what I said!” Willow exclaimed, finally reaching the huge console that the alien sat behind. She peered over it. Pilot shifted back, further away from her. “Hey, how come you’re all joined to the ship?”
“My species bonds with leviathans,” Pilot told her stiffly. “I am Moya’s companion and her liaison with her passengers.”
“Cool!” said Willow. She bounced once as an idea hit her, “Ooh, does that mean you could pass on a message for me? Please?”
“You... wish to speak to Moya?” Pilot asked her, surprised by the unusual request.
“Yeah. Can you tell her...” Willow frowned as she thought about what she wanted to say to the sentient spaceship. “Tell her I’m really sorry about turning Marvin into a rat, and about taking energy from her, and that I’ll try not to do it again, okay?”
Pilot’s eyebrows had risen steadily throughout her speech but now they settled back down into their usual positions as he closed his eyes and concentrated. Willow fidgeted nervously as she waited.
“Moya...” Pilot said slowly, his eyes still closed. “Acknowledges your words.” His eyes flew open and he gazed at Willow with surprise. “She... forgives you for your actions!” he finished the message quietly.
Willow grinned widely in relief, the load that had settled on her shoulders when she had learned that she was drawing energy from a living being lightening substantially.
“Why would she do that?” Pilot asked Willow. The loss of the DRD had pained Moya almost as much as the drain on her power levels, although in a different way.
“I don’t know,” Willow told him honestly. She leaned forward, her hands resting on the warm console. This time Pilot did not move away from her. “Could you thank her for me?”
“I will,” Pilot agreed.
“Hey Zhaan, you seen Willow?” John asked as he walked into her lab.
Rummaging through the contents of one of her shelves, Zhaan stopped to look over her shoulder, “Not since she and Chiana and D’Argo all went to the galley,” she told him.
“Damn,” said John. He had been hoping that she had managed to retrace her steps.
“Crichton, wait!” Zhaan called as he turned to go.
“What’s up?” John asked her as she turned to face him.
Resisting the urge to look up, long aware that he was not referring to the ceiling, Zhaan gestured to one of the chairs set around a small table.
“Okay...” said John, humouring her and sitting down. “What is it?” he asked as she sat next to him.
“It’s Willow,” Zhaan told him.
“What about her?” John asked warily.
“I have felt her magic
,” Zhaan pronounced the word carefully, “Twice now.”
“It tastes... inky,” Zhaan said to him. “I believe that her use of it may not be entirely natural.”
John snorted, “Tell me something I don’t know!” he said. “She is
a witch, Zhaan.”
“I don’t understand,” Zhaan frowned in confusion.
“An evil woman, in league with the devil,” John explained the stereotype. He frowned and wondered, “Does that make Marvin her familiar?”
Familiar what? Never mind, Zhaan dismissed the thought. “The devil is a force of evil on your world?” she asked Crichton instead.
“Yeah,” John said reluctantly, realising too late how bad his earlier words had sounded. “But he’s not real.”
He had said the same of witches not so long ago, reflected Zhaan. And it would explain much of Willow’s abilities that she did not yet understand. Yet she was reluctant to categorise the young woman as an avatar of darkness such as Maldis. Willow had an unknowing innocence to her that did not sit well with such a role. Perhaps, if she could gain a better understanding of how Willow did what she did...?
“I would like to take Willow down to the mining planet when we reach it,” Zhaan suggested. “It will give me a chance to test her abilities without danger to Moya.”
“Test?” John asked suspiciously. “What kind of test? She hasn’t even been here a day, maybe we should wait until she’s found her feet before we take her to a different planet.”
“You hadn’t been here for half a solar day before you visited your first merchant planet,” pointed out Zhaan.
“That was different,” John reminded her.
“Perhaps,” Zhaan conceded. “But I believe that the trip may do her some good.” Seeing that she had his attention, Zhaan continued, “Her body’s reserves were severely depleted by her teleportation. I believe that, given the chance, she will be able to replenish them by drawing upon the planet’s natural energy.”
“You’re sure it’ll work?” John asked doubtfully.
“As certain as I can be,” Zhaan told him, dipping her head slightly. “I have given the matter a great deal of thought.”
“Okay,” John agreed to the plan. “First,” he planted his hands on the table and pushed himself upright. “I gotta find her and give her her comms.”
“John,” Zhaan called after him. He turned around to look enquiringly at her. “Be careful,” she told him. “The energy she channelled... She must be feeling some dark urges.”
“Dark urges...” John repeated disbelievingly. Zhaan nodded. “Great.”
Willow stood at the junction of three passageways, struggling to remember which way Pilot had told her to go. Unable to assign a robot to guide her, because apparently the little Diagnostic Repair Drones had issues about getting too close to her since she turned Marvin into a rat, he had given her a set of verbal instructions to follow instead. Unfortunately, either his directions were wrong or she was lost again.
Her terrible sense of direction wasn’t such a problem on the familiar streets of Sunnydale where she knew every road and where it led. Here, though, it became a challenge. She would have to pick a direction eventually.
She carried straight on.
“Aeryn,” standing in the doorway to one of the maintenance bays, D’Argo spoke to the dark-haired Peacekeeper hunched over a workbench. “Have you seen Chiana?”
“Not recently,” Aeryn told him absently as she carried out some essential and delicate work on her pulse rifle.
D’Argo snorted. He doubted that she would notice if Crichton were to dance naked in front of her. With Willow. He was surprised that she wasn’t reacting to the human girl’s arrival with more... hitting. And anger. It was the Peacekeeper way.
“Uh...” he said, unsure if he should broach the subject.
“What?” exasperated, Aeryn snapped the question at him.
“Crichton’s looking for Willow,” D’Argo told her, moving closer to her despite the little voice in his head that warned it might not be a good idea to get too close.
“And?” Aeryn said distantly as she carefully replaced the trigger mechanism.
“It doesn’t bother you?” D’Argo asked her with a frown.
bother me?” Aeryn scowled briefly up at him before turning her attention back to her disassembled pulse rifle.
“Willow,” D’Argo said awkwardly. “And Crichton.”
“Please!” scoffed Aeryn, starting to reassemble her pulse rifle. “Chiana
has a better chance with Willow than Crichton. She likes girls.”
The short time it took her to reassemble the weapon was punctuated only by the clicks as each piece slotted into place. Smiling with the satisfaction of a job well done, Aeryn stood up to sight down the pulse rifle’s barrel. Turning to go, she frowned as she realised that D’Argo was still stood in the middle of the maintenance bay, one corner of his mouth turned up in a curious half smile and his eyes blank as he stared into, Aeryn followed his line of sight, the wall.
“D’Argo?” she called his name, hoping to snap him out of it.
Pulled out of his daydream of Chiana and Willow, D’Argo looked at Aeryn, “Huh?”
“Is that drool?” Aeryn asked suspiciously.
D’Argo blushed as he wiped his mouth.
The former DRD now known as Marvin finally tracked down the human female, designate: Willow Rosenberg, on the observation deck. Having worked out that his best chance for restoration to his previous state rested with the human female, Marvin had decided that the most logical course of action would be to stay close to her. If she had altered him once before, surely she could do so again. The difficulty had lain in finding her, not an easy task without access to Moya’s databanks.
He scurried over to the human female, designate: Willow Rosenberg, as she slumped next to the plas-glass that protected the deck from space. Placing his two front appendages on her forearm as it lay loosely across her lap, Marvin squeaked insistently, demanding that she acknowledge him.
“Oh, Marvin,” she sobbed, picking him up and cradling him to her soft chest. “I’m never gonna get home.”
Marvin squeaked miserably as he felt the fur that covered his new body becoming unpleasantly damp.
That was how the human male, designate: Commander John Crichton, found them almost an arn later. Peering over the human female’s shoulder, his nose twitching rapidly as he caught his scent, Marvin watched him hesitate in the doorway for a moment before he silently entered the room. Marvin squeaked once, a wordless plea for assistance, as the human male, designate: Commander John Crichton, approached.
“Hey,” John said quietly as he settled himself down beside Willow.
“Hey,” Willow replied thickly.
“Yeah...” lied Willow.
“Good,” John said, a little too heartily. Catching sight of Willow’s red eyes as she glanced through her hair at him, he cleared his throat awkwardly. “Zhaan... uh... Zhaan thinks that you might be feeling some dark urges. Because of the mojo,” he was quick to qualify.
“Me?” Willow squeaked, startled out of her blue funk. “Nuh-uh. I’m all dark urge free. Pinky swear,” she proffered her pinkie.
Grinning, John accepted it, solemnly shaking their enjoined fingers up and down. Turning his gaze back to the stars before them, he asked, “Found Earth yet?”
“Nope,” Willow said. “I’ve given up looking,” her voice cracked tearfully as she spoke.
John reached out and enfolded her into his arms; Marvin managed to squirm free of Willow’s grasp and descend to the floor. Rocking her back and forth as she wept, John stroked Willow’s back comfortingly.
“We’ll get home,” he said when her sobs began to die down. “I promise.”
Staring out into the vast expanse of space, Willow couldn’t help the niggling doubts that lingered in spite of his words. A slight pressure on her leg caused her to look down from the awesome view into the sharp face of Marvin as he stared up at her, his two front paws on her denim-clad leg. His canary-yellow whiskers twitched ludicrously as his nose quivered and she couldn’t stop the small chuckle that escaped her. Didn’t want to, in fact.
Sitting on the observation deck of a sentient spaceship, wrapped in a dead astronaut’s arms as she softly stroked a damp red rat that had been a yellow robot until very recently, Willow finally began to think that maybe, just maybe, everything was going to be alright.