Yet another sleepless night. Mal napped a bit this afternoon, but mostly he had no idea how he was getting by on so little sleep. Tonight, though, he wasn’t alone. Perhaps the only person getting some shut-eye was Anya.
The big reveal of Buffy’s grand plan was…well, confusing. Something about sharing power, and Willow being the key to it all. No one had really taken the time to explain any of this to Mal. But whatever was going on, it was big and scary. All the girls were trying to be strong and confident, but anyone could feel there was doubt lingering over the whole house.
Tonight’s sleeplessness wasn’t so bad, though, because he was sharing it with Chao-Ahn. She was such a lively young girl. Reminded Mal so much of Kaylee. Chao-Ahn was scared, just like the others, but she was also so sure that they were going to win. Beat back the monsters, she said.
And, my, what a chatty girl, she was. As it turns out, these folk here didn’t speak Chinese. Not a lick. But what was equally as strange was that Chao-Ahn didn’t speak any English. It was as if she grew up on a completely different plane of existence than everyone else. She also spoke with a slightly different dialect that Mal wasn‘t familiar with. So much so that he didn’t understand some of the words. But Mal was the only one who understood her at all and could communicate back.
So Mal and Chao-Ahn spent most of the night talking about each other’s view of the upcoming battle. Chao-Ahn was almost as confused as Mal regarding the specifics of the opposing army. She would only call them monsters. At one point she showed him pictures that Giles had drawn, and the monsters analogy was suddenly very clear. It was obvious that what they were going after was a version of a Reaver. How they got all the way to this time and place, Mal didn’t know. They were apparently called Turok-han on this planet. But he decided then and there that there was no way that a small army of little girls was going to do battle with a bunch of Reavers without Mal’s help.
He wasn’t sure what his vision of Book the night before had to do with it all. Was his crew really in that kind of trouble? And even if they were, how was he supposed to get back to them? What if he died fighting for the safety of this unknown planet? Could his family and friends pull themselves together without him?
He had no answers to any of these questions. He just had to do what he thought was right. Smart or not. And what was right was to protect Chao-Ahn and her fellow compatriots. It was the only thing to do. He knew it in his heart.
Sometime during the night, Chao-Ahn fell asleep with her head in Mal’s lap. When she dreamt, she looked like the most beautiful combination of Kaylee and River and Inara and his mother. There was a calm on her face. The same look he could remember seeing on River’s face after she came to terms with her implanted memories of the Alliance and the PAX. He discovered that he missed River terribly. All his ladies, actually. The girls in this house reminded him so much of the strength of the women on Serenity. And after he helped Chao-Ahn and the others kick the gorram Reavers back to hell tomorrow, he would make Willow find a way to get him home as soon as possible.
The game in the dining area was breaking up. It looked like the young Amanda was victorious and Andrew was fuming about it. Mal watched Xander kiss the sleeping Anya on the forehead, then wander into the living area and sit down on the other end of the couch. He had to lift up Chao-Ahn’s feet to find room, but then he placed them back in his lap when he got settled.
They sat quietly like that for a little while before Xander broke the silence.
“It’s good that you can talk to her. I’ve feared that she’s been too lonely since she’s been here.”
Mal nodded. “Chao-Ahn’s an extraordinary young girl.”
“They’re all extraordinary.” Xander scrunched down a little into the cushions and leaned his head back against the back of the couch, looking up at the ceiling. “This must all seem so strange to you,” he said without looking at Mal.
“I’ve gotten over strange. What I’ve figured out is that you folk are extremely passionate about your fight. And I believe in passion.”
“Passion can be a dangerous thing.”
“I agree. But without passion, we would just exist. Passion drives us.”
“What are you passionate about?”
Mal smiled. “My ship. Serenity.”
“That’s a great name. Why Serenity?”
Mal didn’t answer for a long time. He stroked Chao-Ahn’s hair and looked out at the girls huddled in their sleeping bags on the floor. Most of them were in groups of three or four, talking quietly about nothing at all.
“I thought that I lost everything at Serenity Valley. When the smoked cleared, they told me that my freedom was gone. I felt broken. Then I looked to my right and there was Zoe. She wore the exact same expression on her face that she had during all those years of war. She‘s stronger than I ever hoped to be.”
Mal turned his head and saw that Xander was looking at him. He could see the right eye sparkle in the dark room.
“Zoe named Serenity. She did it for me. She did it to bring back my hope. My peace, my freedom. The black of space swallows me every day, but I’m safe inside my Serenity.”
Xander was smiling. It looked good on the boy, and Mal wished he would smile more often. He figured the loss of his eye was only the tip of Xander’s pain.
“I envy you,” Xander whispered, but didn‘t explain why. He closed his eye and sat quietly for a while before he opened it again and asked, “This Zoe - do you love her?”
“Yes, but not in the way you think. She’s closer to me than a sister. My second in my command. My strength. She lost her husband just a few weeks back, and it didn‘t break her. I believe she‘s holding up while I‘m gone.” He was glad he said it out loud, whether it was true or not.
“Is there anyone back home waiting for you? Anyone you do love?”
“Yes,” Mal answered without thinking. “But it’s complicated.”
“Of course it is,” Xander said as he turned to look at Anya, sleeping in the dining area.
Xander then got up, setting Chao-Ahn’s feet back down on the couch gently. He stood in front of Mal. “I’m sorry that you’re worlds away from your family and friends. I’m sorry that we brought you here and got you involved. But you’re a good man, and we can use as many good people as possible in this fight.”
Xander held out his hand. Mal shook it. Xander went back into the dining area and unrolled a sleeping bag. He lifted Anya out of her chair and laid her down on it, curling up behind her and pulling her close. Mal didn’t think he fell asleep, though.
Mal was staring at the sword in his hand. “Um…,” he tried to get Xander’s attention, but the boy was still handing out weapons to everyone else. Mal looked down into the weapons chest and at the stockpile of swords and axes and stakes and knives that were spread out on the table.
He glanced at Andrew on the other side of the room who was swinging his own sword like a madman, and Mal knew that he was going to look that same kind of foolish if they expected him to enter battle with a gorram sword.
Mal placed a hand on Xander’s shoulder, and Xander paused his weapon distribution, “Yeah?”
“I’m not very good with a sword. Got stabbed twice.” He pointed to his right side. “Right here,” then at his stomach, “and here.”
Xander smiled. “Neither is Andrew,” he said nodding in the direction of the small blond boy. “Would you prefer a knife?” He held up a small blade with an wooden handle. The handle had intricate carvings of swirls and spirals, each cut beveled inward and connected to each other by smaller shallow cut lines.
“Wow. This is kinda beautiful.”
“Thanks. I made it.”
Xander went back to his duties. Mal was honored that Xander had given him such a stunning piece of art to do battle with. He was so touched, that he didn’t have the heart to tell him that he needed something a little more than that.
When Andrew was done making a fool of himself with the sword, Mal walked over to him and asked quietly, “Don’t you folks think that perhaps a little more firepower might be in order?”
“What do you mean?”
Mal rolled his eyes. “Guns, Andrew. This planet isn’t that primitive, is it? You have heard of a gun?”
“Oh, yeah, sure. But guns don’t kill the Turok-han. Won’t do any good.”
“In my experience, guns kill anything as long as your aim is true.”
“You’ve never experienced an UberVamp.”
“Vamp. See, the only way to kill them is by chopping their head off. Or a stake through the heart if you’re strong enough. Or sunlight.”
Mal looked down at the knife in his hand. “Curiouser and curiouser,” he mumbled. “Still, though, I’d rather engage in a fight with a gun in my hand.”
“Well, I suppose you can kill a Bringer with a gun. I know where a gun is. But don’t tell the others, okay? These guys are twitchy about guns.”
“Well, I could, but then I’d have wave the gun in front of them, but if I did then you could see that their eyes go all wide and they get squirmy and -“
“Show me the gun, you little freak.“
“Oh. Weird. Déjà vu.“
Andrew took him into the bathroom upstairs and dug a brown paper bag out from the back of a cupboard under the sink. Andrew opened it for him and Mal took out a 9mm semiautomatic handgun. It was modified into something that he wasn’t quite familiar with, but he figured that it would kill just the same. “Bullets?”
Andrew produced another bag from the same place which held a box of thirty rounds. Mal quickly loaded fifteen rounds into the gun clip, and piled the rest of the bullets into two pockets of his trousers. He secured the gun in a shallow pocket on the inside of his coat.
He smiled at Andrew who had been watching him with a kind of admiration. Mal put a hand on the young man’s shoulder. “Let’s do this.”
“Cool,” Andrew grinned, and they went back downstairs to join the others.
“Welcome to Sunnydale High. There’s no running in the halls, no yelling, no gum-chewing. Apart from that, there’s only one rule: if they move, kill them.“
A school? The big important battle is taking place in a school? Why couldn’t Mal have ended up with an army whose war was fought in a good-old-fashioned saloon?
Once inside the school, Buffy began sorting out everyone’s positions, “Okay, potentials in the basement. Follow Faith and Spike.”
Xander seemed to have shaken off his funk from the last few days. “If you have to go to the bathroom, it’s to your left. If you don’t have to go to the bathroom, picture what you’re about to face. Better to go now.”
Mal started to follow the girls down the hall. Suddenly a very strong hand clamped down on his shoulder. He turned to face Buffy.
“Where do you think you’re going?”
“With the girls into the basement.”
“Nu-uh. No. You can’t handle the basement. That’s not your place.”
“You have no idea what I can handle, little girl.”
“Okay!” Xander stepped up quickly behind Buffy and moved her away from Mal just as she got a look on her face that was beyond anger. “Let’s nip this in the proverbial bud before we create a double-boiler Hellmouth right here in the hallway.“ He put an arm around Mal’s shoulders and guided him away quickly. “Listen, guy, I know you mean well, but this is our turf okay? We don’t need to recreate the Jets and Sharks here. It’s Buffy’s call.”
“Chao-Ahn is down there. All the girls. Sure Spike and Faith seem super-strong, but-”
“I know you don’t get this. The girls can take care of themselves. More than you can possibly imagine. Think of Zoe. You have to trust us.”
Mal looked closely at Xander’s face. He saw conviction and sincerity. At that moment, Xander reminded him of Book. He nodded. “Your war. Put me where you want me.” But he still glanced longingly down the hall and saw the last of the girls disappear behind a door. He turned back to the remainder of the team.
Wood continued where Buffy had left off. “Willow, my office is straight through there.”
“It’s right over the Seal,” Buffy added.
Willow handed her bag to Kennedy who started walking down the hall. “I’ll start getting you set up.”
“Thanks,” Willow said.
Wood turned toward Anya, Andrew, Giles, Dawn, Xander, and Mal. “Okay, civilians… if the vampires get upstairs, we have three areas they could get through to another building and then down into the sewers. Down the hall in the atrium, the north hall here and the primary target, through the lounge and straight to the science building. Now odds are most of them will head there.”
Giles stepped up. “Teams of two and three, then?” He faced Wood. “I suggest you and I take the lounge.”
“I concur,” Wood agreed.
“Xander,” Buffy said, “I want you with Dawn.”
Xander nodded. “I concur.”
Dawn gathered a bag onto her shoulder. “We’ll check out the atrium.”
Anya glanced at Xander briefly, then turned to Buffy. “That leaves me, the dungeon master and the spaceship captain in the north hall.”
“Shiny,” Mal stated.
“We will defend it with our very lives,” Andrew stood up straight with obvious fake confidence.
Anya agreed, “Yes, we will defend it with his very life.”
Xander pointed at Andrew but spoke to Anya, “And don’t be afraid to use him as a human shield.”
Anya seemed excited at that. “Good, yes! Thanks.”
Andrew stepped forward. “I just want to say how proud I am to die for this very special cause with you guys.” He took a sheet of paper out of his pocket and unfolded it. “There’s some people I’d like to thank, both good and evil.” He started to get a little choked up. “A shout-out to my brother Tucker who gave me the inspiration to summon demons, and also -”
Anya yanked him down the hall by the arm. “Nobody cares, ya little monkey.”
Mal started to follow them, then turned briefly to look at the final few. Wood gathered a bag and went to find his own position. He saw Buffy and Dawn share a few words before the younger sister took off.
The final four that were left started talking, and he noticed a comfort and familiarity among them that seemed slightly out of place with the gravity of the situation. He also saw the look that they shared. They were a crew. Bonded together as tightly as his own. Each had their place, but they worked as a team. Mal hoped he would see his friends again soon.
It was quiet. Mal didn’t know where the impending army was, but they surely weren’t making any noise on their approach. Just like Reavers. It seemed that you never knew when they were coming. But you sure as hell knew when they were there.
Anya and Andrew were grasping there swords, getting more and more tense. They seemed to be sensing something coming that he could not. He took out the gun and cocked a round into the chamber. Then touched the handle of the blade secured in his waistband.
“Oh, god. I’m terrified.” Anya was saying. “I didn’t think…I mean, I…I just thought you’d be terrified and I’d be sarcastic about it.”
Andrew responded, “Picture happy things.”
“Yeah,” Mal stepped in, trying to conjure up something happy, something that girls would like. “A lake.”
“Candy canes,” was Andrew’s suggestion.
Anya’s face changed. “Bunnies,” she repeated. “Hoppy, floppy bunnies.” She tighted her grip on the sword. And with that, Anya had her game face on.
Then they came.
They were grotesque and strong and they didn’t fall down when he shot them. “Shit!” Andrew was right. He silently prayed for his own sword when he saw Anya decapitate two of them, then they exploded into dust.
Exploded into dust!
He didn’t belong here. Children fought things with swords and Reavers exploded when you chopped their heads off. But this was the fight. He knew how to do this. He was good at this.
Mal started aiming for knee caps, dropping the Reavers in front of Anya, so she could finish them with her sword.
“I have swimmer’s ear,” he heard from a corner. Turning, Mal fired at the Reaver attacking Andrew. But the gun just clicked. Gorramit, he had lost count. He withdrew his knife, stepped up behind the creature, and drove the blade through its skull.
Hearing a noise behind him, Mal turned and sliced at something, discovering that his blade could kill the more human-looking Reavers, the ones who had cut at their eyes. “Bringers,” Mal realized out loud and remembered what Andrew had said that morning.
He lifted Andrew up by his collar and pushed him forward. “Cover me!” Mal yelled and got behind Andrew to reload his gun.
Andrew remained frozen. A Reaver was approaching. Mal leaned forward to Andrew’s ear and growled out, “Swing the gorram sword!”
Andrew swung. The blade didn’t go all the way through the neck, but enough to make it stumble. Anya came over and finished the job. Mal stepped out from behind Andrew, and took careful aim with his final fifteen rounds.
Reavers’ legs were shattered. Bringers’ heads were blown to bits. Anya almost bought it when a Bringer snuck up behind her, but Mal ended it in short order.
Then suddenly the girls were all there. Running and destroying everything in their path. Piles of dust and bodies were everywhere. Mal was out of bullets. He slashed out madly with his knife. Slicing throats and gouging out eyes.
The building shook. Then again. Pieces of ceiling plaster started coming down around them. A hand clamped down on his wrist, and he turned quickly to see Chao-Ahn. “We’re leaving!” she screamed at him in Chinese. Mal felt himself yanked hard toward the exit.
He looked behind him and saw most of the girls pouring out of the school. Xander was grasping both Dawn and Anya by the hand. Dawn was calling out for Buffy.
They piled onto a bus. Was it over? Did we win?
As they began to speed away, Dawn scrambled to the back window and Mal joined her, placing a hand gently on her back. The others were attending to the wounded, but Mal recognized the little sister was suffering a greater pain then cuts and bruises.
Suddenly the school was gone. Just collapsed into itself like a rotted pumpkin. Then there was a hole. And the hole kept getting bigger and bigger, wider. It was following them.
He looked at the buildings surrounding them and watched as they fell into the growing hole. A different kind of movement from the top of a building caught his eye. Mal grabbed Dawn’s arm and pointed, “Dawn, look!”
She turned and saw Buffy running and jumping from rooftop to rooftop, each one disintegrating as soon as her feet left it. She ran faster, getting ahead of it, then jumped high. They lost sight of her briefly, then there was a loud clump on top of the bus.
Mal and Dawn both exhaled hard. He hadn’t realized he had been holding his breath.
When the bus finally screeched to a halt, the town was gone. It was a crater. Like it had been carpet bombed, but from underneath.
Dawn opened the back door as Buffy jumped down from the roof. The sisters fell into each other’s arms. Giles came up beside them. “What did this?”
“Spike,” Buffy answered.
Confused but not caring all that much, Mal turned back into the bus and found Chao-Ahn with a fresh bandage on her arm and forehead. He brushed a hand over her hair. Without thinking, Mal leaned forward and gently kissed her temple. “We did it.” he whispered. She smiled at him, and he cradled her against his chest.
They were in a small hotel about thirty minutes outside the town-that-was. Mal was honored that they had invited him into the meeting with the rest of the major players.
He was leaning against a wall, cleaning his knife. He had lost the gun in the battle, but was enjoying the feel of steel and carved wood in his hands.
The room was cramped with all of them, and nobody was saying anything. Mal assumed that this “meeting” was simply a formality. Or perhaps they were just taking the time to mourn their losses together.
They had lost Spike and Amanda. Plus a few others whose names he didn’t recognize. Everyone looked more tired than sad. Buffy’s expression was unreadable.
Buffy was leaning against Giles on the opposite wall. Kennedy was in a chair with Willow on her lap. Xander was stretched out on one of the beds, sandwiched between a sleeping Anya and Dawn. Faith was cradling a damaged and unconscious Wood on the other bed. Andrew was curled in a corner, shaking slightly in his sleep.
They had a lot ahead of them. A world to rebuild. But this wasn’t his world. He had played his part.
Mal stepped forward and broke the silence. “Willow,” he addressed the redhead quietly. “I’m ready to go home.”
It took two days. But mostly because everyone, including Mal, was sleeping for that long. Mal had said a sorrowful goodbye to Chao-Ahn. She had seemed even stronger and more self-confident then when he had met her just a few days before. She would be fine.
Mal, Willow, Buffy, Giles, and Xander were gathered in an alleyway behind the hotel. Willow was sitting in a circle she had made with sparkling purple sand. Something had changed in the school and apparently, Willow no longer needed all the ingredients that she originally thought she would. Xander had explained that the girl was more powerful than she had ever been, now. The battle seemed to have changed many of the girls in that way.
Mal shook Xander’s hand, then Giles‘. He nodded toward Buffy. She was holding her uber-ax and he was shamed to admit that he was a little frightened of her. Just a little.
“Step into the circle,” Willow said. Mal did as he was told. Willow placed her hands on her knees and closed her eyes. She began muttering something under her breath. The event itself seemed anti-climatic. Like he had just been in a bad dream for the past week. He was ready to wake up.
Then his world went blue.
As the blue lighted faded, the figure standing in front of Willow changed. It wasn’t standing any more, but crumpled in a ball on the ground. Xander panicked for just a moment, thinking the spell had gone wrong. Instead of sending Mal back to his own time, they had hurt him somehow.
But when the air stilled, and Willow’s hair changed back from white to red (wow, by the way), Xander saw that it wasn’t Mal on the ground. It was Caleb.
The man was broken. He wore rags and his hands were tied behind his back with impossibly thick rope. One foot was so crushed that it was unrecognizable as a foot. The other was completely missing. The cuts down his face were in many stages of healing, some scabbed over, some still bleeding heavily.
Caleb’s eyes met Xander’s face. There was no recognition.
“Oh, Goddess,” Willow whispered and scooted backwards out of the circle.
“Good, Lord,” Giles said clutching his stomach.
Buffy stepped up, holding her scythe high. “No,” Xander put a hand up to stop her. She looked at him confused.
Xander walked up to the figure on the ground. It blinked at him. “Hep…me,” it choked out over a stump of a tongue.
Xander brought his foot back and kicked. He connected with Caleb’s throat and felt the windpipe collapse. Caleb gurgled and died.
When the blue light faded, Mal was home. The dining area. Serenity. He sat in his chair, a perfect place setting of guns in front of him.
Mal let out a small laugh. He was home. He reached to his waist and pulled out his knife, placing it on the table, running his hand over the beautiful intricately carved wood. It was a good knife. It was a good memory. But he was home, now.
The captain felt a chill run up his spine. He had felt this way before. Usually when the girl was peeking at him from around a corner. He turned toward the door of the kitchen area. "Hey, little River. Where you hiding?"
River’s head appeared in the doorway, close to the ground. She had that wonderful look of curiosity on her face. He smiled at her. She smiled back.
“No reason to hide, little albatross. You’re not alone in the 'verse, you know?”
River stood up tall and glided into the room. She knelt down in front of Mal and put her hands on his knee. Their smiles were broad and knowing. He brushed her hair back from her face.
She tilted her head into his touch and whispered, “How was your trip?”The End.
Well, that's it. Hoped you liked it. As you can tell, this is my first attempt at a crossover. It was fun, though. Maybe I'll do more. Please review, and thanks for reading!