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Pairing: Xander/Spike, Angel/Simon
Summary: Spike and Angel hire on with Serenity as extra guns for a particularly dangerous job.
Little do they know that the client is one Xander Harris, alive after five hundred years, and an interstellar thief of some repute.
Notes: This is a crossover with Firefly

This Rocky Path We Tread


Part One

“It’s a good plan.”

The crew was sitting around the table in the kitchen, watching Mal as he outlined the new job he’d been offered. Everyone looked around, at the table and each other, as they all processed what he’d told them.

It was Jayne who spoke first. “It’s suicide. You’re talking about hitting an Alliance stronghold with nothing more than three guns and the word of a kid who’s twenty-five at the outside. Are you gorram insane?”

“Put that way, sir,” Zoë said, “it does sound fair foolish.”

“What I’m talking about,” Mal corrected, “is hitting a barely guarded Alliance stronghold, with four guns plus two mercs, on the word of a man who’s older than he looks and has a fair number of hits under his belt. Nothin’ to sneeze at, neither- remember the heist on Clearwater that the Alliance was kicking up pì huà about for months afterward? That was Harris.”

“So he says,” Jayne said.

“So he says, and I see no reason to disbelieve him. He’s got some experience, he knows the security system, and he’s our fourth gun.”

“What’s this about the mercs?” Wash wanted to know. “If the stronghold is barely guarded, then why bother with the mercs at all?”

“Especially with a fourth gun,” Kaylee put in.

“Because even a barely-guarded Alliance stronghold is still an Alliance stronghold, and we need trained guns for that. Any more questions?”

“Yeah,” Jayne said. “Are you insane? I can’t believe you’re even thinking about it.”

“I think it’s a good plan,” Kaylee said. “What about you, Wash?”

“Payoff looks good,” the pilot said. “I could go for it.”


“I’m staying out of it until something goes wrong,” the Companion said, getting up from the table. “So it’s not my decision. Tell me when you’ve reached a consensus.” She left the room in a sweep of rustling silk and perfume, and everyone noticed and ignored the way Mal’s eyes followed her as she left.

“Simon?” Kaylee asked. The doctor was the only other one left at the table; River had been sent to bed after dinner with a sedative to help her sleep and Shepherd Book had left at the first talk of business, saying honestly that he didn’t want to know.

“I’m with Inara,” he replied. “I only get involved when someone gets shot, stabbed, tortured, or otherwise in need of my services. It’s not my decision.”

“That leaves you, Zoë,” Mal said. “Good plan?”

“I believe so, sir,” she replied. “If Harris can deliver as promised.”

“I believe he can,” Mal said. “I’ll contact him and the mercs I’ve lined up, set things in motion. Shouldn’t be more’n a few days before we leave this rock.”

“Wait, aren’t y’all going to ask me what I think?” Jayne demanded.

“No,” Mal said, and left the room. Simon tried, and failed, to hide a snicker behind his hand.

“What’re you laughin’ about?” Jayne snarled. Simon shrugged, and, with an effort, managed to produce a fairly straight face.

“Oh, nothing.”

“Gorram keep it that way.” Jayne stood up, shoving his chair back violently, and strode out of the room. Simon and Kaylee made eye contact, and a split second later both burst out laughing.

Angel and Spike had been partners for a long time. Two hundred years or so by now, and informal partners for a hell of a lot longer than that. They hadn’t yet found a job they couldn’t do. Plenty they wouldn’t, with the souls and all, but none that they weren’t capable of. Security systems these days weren’t much use against vampires, if the vampires weren’t worried about being discreet. Spike wasn’t, as a rule, overly concerned about discretion, an over time, the attitude had rubbed off some on Angel.

Generally speaking, they had a solid partnership. There was a lot of history between them to tie them together, and they’d had a lot of time to learn how to work together. They also trusted each other absolutely, always had each other’s back, and both knew that the other would die for them.

The only glitch in the system came from their on-again, off-again sexual relationship. The off phases always came from some pretty boy or girl that caught Spike’s eye, and Angel always gritted his teeth and endured it. He’d never said anything to Spike, and their relationship was the very definition of casual, so he had no claim on the other vampire. Besides, Spike’s bedmates were always young and, more importantly, mortal, and Spike never took them seriously. Angel was able to console himself with the fact that they’d soon be gone, and Spike would always come back to him. They were the only constants in each other’s lives, and Angel knew that this was far more important than a brief affair that Spike had with some brainless but pretty twenty-something.

This made no difference to Angel’s heart, however, and, not for the first time, Angel wondered just when he’d fallen in love with the younger vampire that he’d once hated.

He was brooding about Nathaniel, Spike’s current toy, who at that very moment was probably being fucked brainless- more brainless- by Spike in the boy’s apartment across town when he heard the com signaling him. Deciding that distraction was more than welcome, he reached out and flipped the receiver to “vid.”


“It’s Malcolm Reynolds. We’re taking the job that we discussed earlier. You still in?”

Shì de.

“How fast can you get here?”

“Depends. Where are you?”

“Three days, then, give or take a few hours. Good enough?”

“Could cut that short some if we picked you up.”

“We like to make our own way. We’ll see you there in three days.”

“Three days it is. Cí.


Angel cut the transmission, feeling better. If they were on a job then Spike wouldn’t be with his boytoy, which meant that he’d be with Angel instead.

Reaching out, he entered a code from memory bred out of long familiarity, and waited. A few seconds later, Spike’s angry face popped onto the screen, his lips swollen and his hair mussed from impatient hands.

“Angel,” Spike growled. “This better be bù hán hu important. I was in the middle of something.”

“Yeah, me,” he heard a youthful male voice say in the background, and Spike shifted to smack some part of the boy’s anatomy. From the pleasurable moan that resulted, Angel guessed that it was his ass.

Angel tamped down his jealous anger and said evenly, “We got the job.”

Instantly Spike’s face smoothed out and went serious. “Start making the arrangements, and I’ll be there in half an hour.”

“Done.” Angel heard Nathaniel protesting before Spike cut the transmission, and it gave Angel a fierce sense of satisfaction. No matter how good they were in bed, Spike always came back to him.

No mortal could change that.

Three days later, Mal was in the cargo bay, sitting on a crate and waiting Harris and the mercs to show up so he could get this show on the road. He was also resolutely ignoring Inara, who was standing on the catwalk above him.

“You can’t ignore me forever, Mal.”

Sure he could. “Ah, but there you’re wrong,” Mal said, without looking up. “Should I choose to ignore you, which I’m not, I surely could ignore you forever. But I’m not.”

“Evidence shows otherwise,” she said, sounding amused. “You haven’t spoken to me or even looked at me for the last three days.”

“I’m speakin’ to you right now.”

“But you won’t look at me.”

He glanced up at her briefly, his expression forced into something resembling calm. “There. Satisfied?”

“Maybe when you tell me just what your grief with me is.”

This time his look was not brief, and it was anything but calm. “My grief? My grief is the way you talked at the meetin’ three days ago. Like you’re goin’ t’ be around at the end of the job.”

“I am going to be around at the end of the job, Mal.”

“So you’re not leaving in Alliance airspace. Fine. So when are you leavin’? And when in the seven hells are you plannin’ on tellin’ the rest of the crew? They’ve got no notion that you’re gonna do a runner, and that is my grief with you. Are you even going to tell them, or are you goin’ to just leave without sayin’ goodbye?”

“Mal, you know it’s not like that. It’s just so hard to-“

“What? Say goodbye? Or leave at all?”

“Both!” she snapped.

“Then either stay, or get over it,” he said harshly. “You’ve got till the end of this job, and then I’m tellin’ them myself. You’d best come up with somethin’ good- you’ll be breaking poor Kaylee’s heart, for one.”

“And what of your heart, Malcolm Reynolds?” she asked softly. “Will it be broken as well?”

It was that moment that he noticed the two mend heading towards the ship, which was just as well, as he had no reply for her.

The smaller man, who was wearing a calf-length back duster made of what looked like high-quality leather, bounded up the ramp ahead of his partner, hand extended. Mal stood up, took it and shook, inwardly marveling at the man’s hair, which were bright yellow-white windblown curls with black tips. Not every day you met a merc who didn’t give a good gorram about keeping a low profile.

“Spike,” the man introduced himself. “You’d be Mal?”

“That I am,” he said, and turned to the other man. “Angel. Good to meet you in person.”

“The same,” Angel said, and they shook hands. Angel, Mal was relieved to see, was dressed normally, with a hip-length brown leather coat that looked much less valuable than Spike’s, and wore his ordinary brown hair loosely slicked back. Both of them wore pistols strapped to both thighs, and Mal suspected from the cut of their coats and knee-high boots that they carried at least three more weapons each.

Definitely mercs.

“We’re waiting for the client still, but as soon as he’s aboard we’re lifting off.”

Angel nodded, but Spike was already halfway across the bay, a smile of greeting on his face for someone standing behind him. Mal turned to see that the crew had gathered, most likely brought by Inara, including- ta ma de - Simon Tam. At least his sister was still in her bunk, and not for the first time, Mal worried about the logistics of keeping a girl who wasn’t all there away from the two mercs who’d prob’ly be more than happy to collect the bounty on her head. It was a gorram mess, is what it was.

“That’s Zoë, my first mate,” Mal said, moving to Spike’s side and beginning the introductions. “Was, her husband and our pilot. Kaylee, our mechanic. That there’s Dr. Tam, our medic, and the one with the scowl on his ugly mug is Jayne, our hired gun.”

Spike gave a nod of greeting to all of them, a different expression for each- a measuring look for Zoë, a grin for Wash, a flirting look for Kaylee, an appraising look for Simon and a sneer for Jayne. He was, Mal would think later when he reviewed the scene in his head, an excellent judge of character.

Mal, being no bad judge of character himself, could see instantly how the partnership worked. Spike was in the forefront, all energy and volatility, while Angel hung back, darkly threatening. Anyone who saw them would focus on Angel as the danger and dismiss Spike, ignoring the guns he carried and the perfectly balanced walk that said that he knew how to use them, and his fists besides. It would be a mistake, Mal knew, both from their reputation and the look in Spike’s eyes that said that he could be a stone cold killer if the circumstances called for it. Mal could only hope that the circumstances did not call for it on this job, but he was reassured, nonetheless, from having someone on board who could handle it if it were needed.

The introductions were over and Mal was about to lead the pair to their bunks when he heard footsteps on the ramp behind him. “Harris,” he said aloud, recognizing the cocky step, and turned to greet his client.

As he turned, he saw, out of the corner of his eye, Spike stiffen at the name. And then he was facing Alexander Harris, who was grinning past him at the mercs.

“Well, son of a bitch,” Harris said. “Lingren jingyi. Spike and Angel, in the flesh.”

Wode tìan,” Spike said, and he was moving past Mal while the captain was still realizing that somehow, his client and his hired guns knew each other. He had a split second to worry that it might not be a friendly sort of knowing, and then the blonde merc was grabbing Harris by the shoulders and pulling him into a bear hug.

Simon was the only one who was watching Angel during the reunion, and so Simon was the only one to see the dismay on his face.

Spike couldn’t gorram believe his eyes. Xander Harris, alive and running a hit on an Alliance depository. But more importantly, alive. Five hundred years after he’d disappeared into the depths of Africa.

“Son of a bitch,” Spike said, clapping him on the back and then stepping away. “Thought you were dead, mate.”

Xander grinned at him, his brown eyes lighting up. “Long story,” he said. “How the hell are you?”

“Doin’ alright, Angel ‘n me. What about you? Id’ heard some pretty wild tales about a Lex Harris, but I’d never soddin’ figured it’d be you. You’re a thief now?”

“Time change,” Xander said with a shrug. “Got a talent for it.”

“Gorram right you got a talent for it, if even half the stories are true.”

“Tell you what. How about we get off this ramp, get settled in our bunks, let the captain get this boat off the ground. Then I’ll tell you all about it over a bottle of the good stuff.”

“Sounds great.” And it did. Spike had mourned Xander with the rest of the Scoobies when they boy had vanished, presumed dead. It was bù hán hu lingren jingyi to see him again, after five centuries.

Xander slung one arm over Spike’s shoulders and his duffle onto his back, then gestured for the captain to show them the way. He paused to glance at Angel when they passed by him- almost missed him, since the git was doing his Grim Brooder thing in the corner.

“Hey, Angel. Long time no see. Wanna join us, get really drunk, share war stories?”

“Nah,” Angel said. “I’m gonna get settled in my bunk. I’ll get the story off Spike later.”

“Your loss,” Xander said with a shrug, and headed off after Mal.

Ten minutes later, Spike’s stuff was in his room and he was in Xander’s, watching as the man poured a shot of alcohol with a steady and reverent hand. At least he’d learned to appreciate alcohol sometime in the last five hundred years.

“So,” Spike said, raising his glass in a brief toast to the man in front of him before draining it. “Tell me all about it.”

Angel lay stretched out on his bunk, one arm thrown across his eyes, trying resolutely not to relive the moment that Spike had hugged Xander like he was never going to let him go. Angel knew it was stupid- it was just Xander- but of course it wasn’t. These days Xander wasn’t just some stupid boy who hated vampires, he was a five-hundred year old mystery who was also a familiar face from the time that Angel knew Spike missed. Worse, he was obviously more than competent, a danger junkie like Spike if he was the same Lex Harris they’d both heard stories about, and he obviously wasn’t mortal. He could fill Angel’s shoes easily- maybe better than Angel himself could. And that was what burned. Xander was fucking up the system, and Angel was the one who’d get screwed.

This was stupid. He didn’t even know if Xander liked guys, or if Spike was interested in the man. Although Xander was just Spike’s type, and he bore no small resemblance to Angel himself…

He growled, trying to get his brain out of the loop it was stuck in. Things would be easier for him if Spike was bunking with him, but he wasn’t, not for this job. They often shared a bunk, since who the hell did they have to worry about offending? No one was going to make trouble about something so minor as two men sharing a bed when those two men had a reputation like they did.

Only this time they weren’t, because they’d been separate when they took the job. That was just the way the system worked- they didn’t share a bunk unless they were fucking at the time, and that was that. Only now Angel wished that he’d broken the system just this once, since it was much harder to bring Spike back to him when they were sleeping in separate rooms.

He heard footsteps stop at the top of his ladder- he and Spike were in the crew quarters, while Xander was in with the passengers- and before whoever it was had a chance to knock he called out, “Come in.” Might as well have some distraction, to keep him from worrying about things he couldn’t change.

A few seconds later the person- man, Angel could tell from the smell- was down the ladder and Angel glanced over to see Dr. Tam. Angel recognized him from wanted notices all over the Cortex, but had already decided not to do anything about it. He and Spike had heard enough about the Alliance doctors that the sister had been taken away from to know that the girl was better off. He knew that Spike had recognized the man and felt the same way- he could usually read Spike’s face and body language better than most could read English, and he’d seen Spike’s reaction to being introduced to the doctor- and besides, neither of them had any love for the Alliance.

“Dr. Tam.”

“You recognized me.”

No hello, no nothing. Angel tried to cover his surprise by saying, “No, the captain introduced you-“

“You recognized me from the wanted notices on the Cortex.”

Well, that was enough of a surprise that Angel sat up fast, staring at the man. “How the hell did you-“

“Body language. A bit of facial expression, but mostly body language.” Seeing Angel’s chagrin- no one was able to read Angel like that, not even Spike- he added, “I’m trained to observe the smallest details. I used to be a trauma surgeon, and missing one thing could have mean the death of my patient. Being a fugitive has only amplified that.”

Which meant that the good doctor had been watching him. Angel wondered why, but set it aside for later thought.

“Yeah, I recognized you. Spike did too.”

“Are you planning on doing anything about it?”

“What, like turning you in for the bounty?” Fun to see Tam’s expression tighten, and a tiny bit of revenge for the shock he’d given Angel.

“Just like that,” he said evenly.

“No, we’re not going to turn you in,” Angel said. “We’re not bounty hunters, and we don’t need the extra money from the reward. Besides, we’ve heard of the facility that your sister was in, and I wouldn’t send the worst lowlife there, much less a girl they’ve already had their hands on. She deserves better.”

“Yes,” he replied simply, “she does.”

They sat in silence for a while, Simon staring at the wall as if it held the secrets of the universe and Angel watching the doctor with new interest. He found himself wanting- and he could hardly believe it himself- a conversation. Spike would split his gut laughing if he knew.

“How did you get her out?”

“Money. I was contacted by an underground resistance, and with enough cash they got her away. She was kept in cryo, and I picked her up at the designated drop point. I paid for passage on Serenity, only along the way I was found out. The captain, for reasons that I still don’t understand, offered me a place as the medic, and we’ve been… relatively safe since.”

“Relatively?” Angel said, just to keep him talking. He had an interesting way of speech, especially way out here near the Rim. Smooth vowels, proper grammar, and it was almost a relief after years upon years of Rim speech and Spike’s stubbornly Cockney voice.

“There’ve been a few incidents. Just last week a bounty hunter tracked us down, tried to take River. Fortunately, she’d known he was coming, and while he was terrorizing the rest of us, she’d gotten into a space suit and went up to his ship, where she managed to coordinate the crew into getting him off the ship. I wasn’t privy to her plan, unfortunately, and when she made the bounty hunter- his name was Early- think that she was voluntarily going back with him, I tried to stop him and got myself shot for my trouble. And she’s been making sure that I know it’s my own fault ever since.”

Angel had noticed a slight limp. “You said she knew he was coming. How?”

And now Simon hesitated. “River… well, the doctors, they did something to her mind. She had always been gifted, gifted beyond measurability, but ever since she was with them… well, she knows things. Sometimes before they happen, sometimes things that people are thinking, and I don’t know how. Something the doctor’s did to her brain, I’m sure, only I don’t know what.”

“Oh, she’s a seer.” Not the first time since Earth-that-was that Angel had heard of one, not even the first time that he’d run into one. First time it wasn’t natural gift, though. He wondered how the doctor’s had done it.

“You believe me? Just like that?” Simon’s disbelief was obvious.

“I’ve been around a while, Dr. Tam. Some of the things I’ve seen can’t really be explained by science or reason. A seer is almost tame by comparison. I suppose you call them readers, though.”

“Generally, we don’t call them anything at all, since no one believes in them,” Simon said. “Well, we didn’t used to. She’s convinced me thoroughly, and I’m fairly certain that she’s convinced the rest of the crew by now.”

“She seems like an extraordinary girl,” Angel said. For the first time in… years, probably, he found himself completely at ease with someone not Spike.

“She is. She’s also… damaged. They stripped her amygdala, and she feels every emotion that goes through her. She has no filter at all. Her behavior is very odd, and frequently worries the crew. She’s been better the past week, but I’m worried what happens the next time she has a relapse. I can barely keep track of her sometimes, even on a spaceship this size.”

“It’s a smuggling ship,” Angel said with a shrug. “Only the people who built it know where all the hiding places are. And River, probably, if she is a reader. Don’t blame yourself for not being able to find her. No one person should have to be totally responsible for another.”

Simon shrugged that off. “She’s my sister. I have to take care of her.”

Angel frowned. That had to be… exhausting, both physically and mentally. If River was everything that her brother said, then there was no way that a human, however determined, could keep up with her. Simon must be running himself ragged to even try.

“We could help,” he said, the offer out of his mouth before his brain had enough time to realize that he was going to make it. From the suddenly closed expression on Simon’s face, he realized that it wasn’t a good thing to have said.

“Thank you for offering, but we-“

And Angel saw what Simon was worried about. “I’m not trying to get her away from you,” he said. “I was serious about not wanting the bounty. It’s just that Spike and I have had some experience with girls who are… damaged.”

Simon’s expression got even more suspicious. “You’re saying that you’re a doctor?”

“No,” Angel said patiently. “Not a doctor. Nor do I work for one. You do not have a trusting nature, Dr. Tam.”

“I have good reason for that,” Simon said. “So if you’re not a doctor, then what did you mean by…”

“She was the love of Spike’s life.” Or one of them, anyway. “And she was… like a little sister to me.” If you were into incest as well as S&M.


Yeah, oh. “Think it over, at least. We’re going to be on this ship for at least another week before we reach the stronghold, and another week on the way back, if we make it. You look like you could use two weeks of rest.”

“I could.” Pause. “If you make it?”

Angel shrugged. “I always think we might not make it. Makes it a nice surprise when we do. Spike tends to think that we’re invincible and can do anything, but I know better.” They couldn’t do anything. Just close to it.

Simon regarded him for a while in silence, then abruptly got to his feet. “I’ll think about your offer,” he said. “And if you need me for anything, I’m usually either in the infirmary or my quarters.”

Angel just nodded, not so clueless that he couldn’t recognize an end to a conversation when he was hit over the head with it. Simon watched him for a minute longer, then nodded to himself, as if making some internal decision, and turned to climb back up the ladder. Angel watched his ass as he went, then realized what he was doing and shook it away.

He lay back down on his bunk, arm thrown over his eyes, and it didn’t occur to him till later that he hadn’t spent a moment thinking about Spike while he was with Simon.

“Okay,” Spike said. “Let me get this straight. You were in Africa.”


“With your Slayer.”

“She wasn’t my Slayer. I wasn’t a Watcher. I was just rounding them up for training.”

“So sorry. With a Slayer, and you were attacked. By a Mohra demon.”

“Gee, your powers of comprehension astound me.”

“Shurrup. So you were attacked by a Mohra demon, which happen to be powerful warriors for the dark-“

“I never would have noticed.”

“-and instead of running like a rabbit, you fought back. Which was daft.”

“Gee, Spike, I think I might blush.”

“And your Slayer-“

“She was not my Slayer.”

“-the magic bint, whatever, got killed. But she wounded the Mohra.”

“Keep trucking along, you may actually get to the point sometime this century.”

“And when you fought it, it wounded you, but you killed it.”

“I knew you’d get to my heroism eventually.”

“And the damn thing fell on top of you, which is typical of you, Harris-“


“And its blood got into your wounds.”

“A lot of its blood got into my wounds, of which there were many.”

“And you passed out.”

“So would you, had you been cut up and squashed beneath a really big demon.”

“Mohra are human-sized, stop whining. So you passed out, and when you woke up, you weren’t human anymore.”


“So what the hell are you?”

“Well, actually, technically I am human. Just my blood is about half-Mohra now. Their blood has regenerative properties- there was this one time with Angel-“

“Yeah, I heard, a while back. A few drops turned the bastard human. For a day, and then the big lug turned time back so he could go back to being Batvamp.”

“I think it’s a bit more complicated than that, but yeah. I had more than a few drops get into my wounds. I’m not sure how much exactly, but it was… a lot.”

“And it keeps you from aging?”

“Or dying, as far as I can tell. A bullet to the brain keeps me down for maybe half an hour. I could probably spacewalk without a suit, though I haven’t tried it. I think decapitation would kill me, though if you ever intend to do so, bury my head separately, just in case.”

Wode tìan! You heal better than a Mohra itself.”

“Yeah. Makes it easy to be a good thief- bullets don’t slow me down much.”

“Yeah, I can guess. That what you’ve been doing for the past five hundred years?”

“Nah. Different things, different times. Did the lone demon-hunter thing for a while, then got tired of it and got off-planet once space travel opened up. Ran my own ship for a while, then got tired of being with the same people, day in day out, and finally got out of that. I started working freelance, got hired to steal stuff one time, found out I was good at it. I’ve been at that for about a century, under one name or another. Went back to my roots this go-round, with my actual name.”

“Or close enough,” Spike said. “Lex.

“It’s been too long for me to go by Xander,” he said. “Sometimes it’s easier to forget the past.”

“So you want me to call you Lex?” Spike wasn’t sure he even could. Xander was… Xander. Even when he wasn’t anymore.

“I didn’t say that.”

Silence reigned between them for a while, until Spike finally said, ”Willow couldn’t find you, you know. After you… whatever it was you did. After the Mohra. Your magical signature or whatever the hell must have changed, and it really freaked her out when she couldn’t even find your body. She thought you’d gotten into an alternate dimension. Why didn’t you ever contact them?” Or me. It was unspoken, but he knew that Xander read him perfectly well.

“I don’t know. I could say that I was afraid I wasn’t welcome anymore, but that would be a lie. If we can handle Willow almost ending the world, they could handle the new me. Mostly because it was a new me. It’s probably similar to becoming a vampire, though I kept my soul. My whole world was different because I was different. I wasn’t sure that I would fit in with the Scoobies anymore, and, looking back, I was probably right.” Xander glanced over at him. “I’d heard that you were with Wolfram and Hart. How’d you end up back with the gang?”

“Angel led us into a miniature apocalypse,” Spike said. “We tried to take down the Circle of the Black Thorn, which was all of the really evil people than ran most of the evil in this dimension. We mostly succeeded, and the Senior Partners struck back, sent in a whole horde of big bad demons. There was even a dragon. We lost Wes, almost lost Gunn, and even Illyria was about to go under.”

Xander was silent, listening respectfully to Spike’s tale. Spike appreciated it. “Fortunately, Wes had had the foresight to call Giles, and just before we were slaughtered he and Buffy showed up with a whole squadron of Slayers. Beat back the horde, and finally the portal that had been used to call them from whatever Hell dimension they were from was closed. Game over. Afterwards, Angel went his own way, Gunn went back to the streets, and me and Illyria joined the Council. Big Blue imploded a few years later- her godlike self wasn’t meant to be in this world, in that body- but I’m still around. Hooked up with Angel a few hundred years back, and we’ve been together ever since.”

“Together, huh?” Xander said with a grin. “I started keeping loose tabs on you two a hundred and fifty years ago, you know. I know you’re fucking him.”

Spike just shrugged. “Sometimes, sometimes not,” he said. “It’s hard to find a decent lasting relationship when you’re immortal.”

“Is now one of those times?” Xander asked, like it was just a casual question, though Spike could see the hungry gleam in his eyes, and he knew that the question wasn’t casual at all.

“Nah,” he said, trying to sound equally casual, like if his heart beat it wouldn’t be going double-time.

“Good,” Xander said, and with no more warning than that, he grabbed twin fistfuls of Spike’s shirt and hauled him into a kiss that was anything but casual.

Spike, who’d been hoping for something like this since the moment he saw Xander framed by daylight in the open mouth of the cargo bay, happily kissed him back.

Even across the ship and one level down, Angel could hear them. He closed his eyes and tried to block them, tried to pretend that his dead heart wasn’t breaking.


pì huà- shit, nonsense
Shì de- yes
- farewell, goodbye
bù hán hu- unambiguous, unequivocal, really
lingren jingyi- stunning, amazing
wode tìan- Oh God! (lit. Oh sky!)

Part Two

“Skin doesn’t feel like skin.”

“Hello, River.” It didn’t matter that his back was to her, or that he’d never heard her voice. Angel knew it was her because he’d just been thinking just that about the glycerin soap they used on board this ship, and unless there was another reader on board, it had to be River.

He turned to face her, and saw a slender young woman, with long, tangled black hair and black eyes that were centuries old, wearing a pink dress and knee-high ship boots. He recognized her from the Cortex wanted notices. Definitely River Tam.

“You don’t belong here,” she informed him. “Wrong time. Wrong place.”

He shrugged. “I’m always going to be out of my time,” he said. “Comes of being undead.”

She nodded seriously. “Old and cold,” she said. “You shouldn’t love him.”

Angel stiffened, as that was a bit more personal than he’d hoped she’d be able to go- but before he could say anything, he heard the door above them open and the thunk of familiar grav boots on the rungs. River melted into the shadows, and Spike climbed down into the cabin, grinning like he’d won the lottery.

“Angel, mate, you wouldn’t believe what happened to Xander! He got Mohra blood in him, see, and he heals like anything now. We were talkin’ about how the captain’s a dead ringer for that bastard Caleb that did for Xan’s eye, and would you believe that the damn thing healed? That gunman looks a mite familiar too, but I don’t quite remember-“

“Hamilton,” Angel said. “Representative of the Senior Partners.”

“Yeah, I remember now. There anyone else on this boat who we know? ‘S a bit creepy.”

“The first mate,” Angel said softly. “She’s… Jasmine. You never met her,” he said in response to Spike’s questioning look. “You were in Sunnydale, battling the First.” He closed his eyes as he remembered- night-blooming, heavy scent, soothing voice, beautiful. Goddess. Peace.

“Past is past,” River said from the corner she disappeared into, emerging again. Spike, to his credit, didn’t do more than twitch with surprise, though he did give Angel an unhappy look.

“You might have warned me that you had company, mate.”

“Not his fault. I can hide even in memory.”

Spike turned slowly to face her, recognition lighting his features. “That right, pet?”

“Correct.” She closed her eyes for a moment. “Old and cold, old and cold,” she repeated. “Golden inside. The spark.”

Spike twitched again at that, and glanced over at Angel, who was trying to keep his face straight. “Spike, did I mention that she was a Reader?”

“No, you forgot that,” he said, and looked back at River with a new expression on his face. “Explains a lot. She’s very much like…”

“Black goddess,” River says. “Your sweet, mad princess. Your ripe, wicked plum.” She turned to Angel. “Shall I call you Daddy?”

“How about not,” Angel said. In a way she didn’t really look like Dru- the angles of her faces were all wrong, and the madness in her eyes was different- but the surface similarities were more than a bit disturbing as it was.

“I think it’d be funny,” Spike said, then sighed elaborately as Angel glared at him. “But Angel wouldn’t, so it’s a bit of a bad idea, pet.”

River just looked at them both for a moment. “Backwards and forwards,” she said. “And you can’t go back to the way it was. A storm is coming, and the winds are pulling you apart.” She tilted her head towards Spike. “The golden boy will keep you, and everything will shine.” And then to Angel. “Ghost with a gun. Don’t let him forget.”

Neither had any sort of answer for that. She didn’t seem to expect one, just smiled and climbed the ladder. Angel heard the door clank shut above them, and he looked at Spike.

“Golden boy?” he asked. “I don’t suppose you had any idea who she might be referring to?”

Spike affected an innocent expression. “I’m sure that I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Oh, come off it, Spike. I know you spent the night with Xander.”

“And what a night it was,” Spike said with a deep, happy sigh, dropping all hint of pretense. “Man, his demon bint used to claim that he was a Viking in the sack, but I thought she was full of it. Either she was right, or he’s learned something in the past five hundred years. Maybe a bit of both. And he’s got a soddin’ high pain threshold, heals so fast he doesn’t mind most anything I did to him-“

“Spike,” Angel interrupted. “I don’t want to hear about it.”

Spike just shrugged at him. “Fine then. Sit in here and brood if you like; I’m getting some rest.” He paused, inhaled the air. “Or,” he said, a wicked grin forming on his face, “you can go find that pretty doctor that was in here last night. Have a good time, did we?”

“If you know he was in here, you know we didn’t have sex,” Angel growled. “If you must know, he knew I recognized him, and he wanted to know if we were going to call the Feds.”

“Like we deal with Feds? Please.”

“He doesn’t know that,” Angel said impatiently. “And then we were talking about River. That was it. I doubt he’s even into guys. Most aren’t these days.”

“’Cept me,” Spike said. “You, even if you’re grumpy about it. And definitely Xander.”

“I already told you that I don’t want to hear about it.” And he didn’t. He really, really didn’t.

“An’ I’m not telling you about it,” Spike said. “I’m just sayin’. In fact, I think I’m heading out, since you’re in a worse mood than usual.”

“Getting some sleep?” Angel asked, and Spike flashed him that wicked grin again.

“Or something,” he said. “Might could be that Xan’s still up an’ about, and lookin’ to play some more. You stay here and brood- I’m goin’ to make this trip a memorable one.”

Angel ignored him, which was always the easiest way to deal with things when Spike was like this. Just his luck that Xander fucking Harris would show up and sweep Spike away just as Angel was hoping to get him back. He was beginning to think that this job was cursed from start to finish.

River was waiting for Spike when he climbed the ladder. He kicked Angel’s door shut, then tilted his head at her, questioning without words. She said, “He loves you, you know.”

“What, Angel?” Spike said. She nodded. “I know,” he said. They were both being careful to keep their voices low, though Spike doubted Angel was listening to anything on the ship right now. He knew Angel better than Angel realized. “But it’s easier all around like this, innit? He gets to play pretend that everything’s fine, and I get to keep the best mate I’ve ever had. And when he eventually finds the person that he’s looking for and really falls for them, it’ll be that much easier for him to move on.”

“What about you?” River said. “When will you fall?”

Spike looked over her shoulder and down the passageway, where he could see Xander, framed by the doorway to the galley, where the other man was standing, laughing with the rest of the crew. “I think I already have,” he said, and moved past her, down the hallway towards Xander.

River watched him go, looking at him like a puzzle she’d almost, but not quite, solved.

It was a couple hours later when Simon found Kaylee alone in the engine room. She was stretched out on her back, head and shoulders buried under the engine, and he could hear her swearing as she tinkered with some mechanical something or other that was absolutely unfathomable to him.

“Hello?” he said hesitantly, unsure if he was supposed to be interrupting or not. The swearing abruptly ceased, and a moment later she slid down till the rest of her was in view. She was wearing some sort of pink knit top and coveralls that were unzipped halfway and tied around her waist, and there was a smudge of grease across one cheekbone. Simon couldn’t help but think that she was the loveliest thing he’d ever seen, and as always, the sight of her teased a smile out of him.

“Didn’t know you was there,” she said, sitting up, and he shrugged uncomfortably.

“Did I come at a bad time?”

“Nah,” she said. “Don’t worry about it.” But she was obviously uncomfortable, glancing around her and at the doorway behind him like she was thinking about escape.

“Hey,” he said softly. “This is me, remember?”

She glanced swiftly at his face, then ducked her head a little, slightly sheepish at being found out. “I know,” she said, still not looking at him. “It’s just… can’t help it, is all. It’s easy to think that this is my room and I’m not gonna let the húndàn ruin it for me when I’m alone, but I’m still a mite uneasy about being startled, yet.”

“And around me,” Simon said. “And Jayne. Definitely around our client and the mercs.”

“I know,” she said fiercely, finally looking him in the eye again. “Don’t you think I wish that I wasn’t like this? Shizi didn’t even do nothin’ to me, so why’m I so jittery alla time?”

“I wouldn’t call tying you up and threatening to rape you nothing, Kaylee. And you were incredibly brave, going along with River’s plan despite it.” His expression went wry. “Even if I did ruin it.”

“I just wanna get over it,” Kaylee said, ignoring his attempt to set her at ease with a joke. “But I can’t.

“I know,” Simon said softly. “That’s… somewhat what I’m here about.”

Her expression got a little fearful, and Simon finally decided that he’d rather kneel down on the dirty engine floor, since he was so obviously intimating her. “I really like you, Kaylee,” he said softly. “And I know that we almost… that night, before we were interrupted, we almost…”

“Kissed,” she said. Warily. “Yeah, and?”

“No and,” he said. “I was going to say, but we’re obviously not going to be finishing that kiss any time soon.”

She looked at him, relaxing a little. “You mean…”

“Maybe we should just be friends?” he said, his expression wry. She grinned at him then, and he knew he’d done the right thing. As a friend, he was much less of a threat to her newly sensitized fears, and he would much rather have her easy with him again than to try and press for more.

She proved his point when she leaned across the distance that separated them and hugged him. He hesitantly put his arm around her shoulders, not sure if it was the right thing to do, and she leaned her head against his shoulder. It was actually comfortable between them for the first time since Early had gotten onto Serenity, and Simon found that he wasn’t sorry about his decision at all. For what seemed like the first time, he’d actually said and done the right thing with Kaylee, and that was no small feat.

“You know,” Kaylee said a minute later. “Since we’re all platonic an’ everything, this means you can go after that hunky merc you’ve got a thing for.”

“I do not have a thing for Angel,” he said in what he hoped was a dignified voice. His hopes proved to be in vain when she started giggling, but a part of him wasn’t sorry for it if it meant that she was laughing with him again.

“You so do!” she crowed. “You were starin’ at him the whole time we was getting’ introduced an’ all, and I know you were in his room last night.” He glanced at her sharply, and she just grinned. “His room’s right next to mine, and the walls are a mite thin, y’know.”

“Then you’ll know that we were just talking,” he said repressively. “I was staring at him, like you said, because I wanted to see if he recognized me from any wanted notices. He did, so I wanted to know if he was going to contact the Feds about me and River, and he said he wasn’t. He also offered to look after River some time, if I wanted. He said that both he and Spike had known a girl that was a lot like her.”

His voice had softened towards the end, and Kaylee caught it. “And you’re just so gooey inside because he’s all honorable and sweet in addition to bein’ handsome,” she said. He opened his mouth to deny it, and she held up an admonitory finger. “Don’t even try to say that I’m wrong.”

“You’re not entirely wrong,” Simon admitted. “He does seem to be an honorable person. I hardly talked to him long enough to say he was weet, however.”

“Notice you didn’t deny that he was handsome,” she teased. “C’mon, you’ve got eyes.”

“I do, indeed, have eyes, as most humans do,” he said with asperity, then sighed. “Alright. I admit it. He’s handsome.”

“I knew it!” she crowed. “You’ve got a cru-ush on the merc!”

Bù kê néng!” he hissed. “And keep it down, would you? With my luck the captain will be standing right outside, ready to mock. Or possibly lecture.”

“Aw, come on, you’re not giving the captain enough credit,” Kaylee said. “Besides, if he gives you too much trouble, you can always remind him about Saffron.”

“Point,” Simon said. Then he bent his head to glare at her a little. “But he won’t give me any trouble, because there’s nothing to give me trouble about. I do not have a crush on the merc, or any feeling whatsoever. Dong ma?

“Hâo de,” she said smartly, then ruined it by giggling again. “Simon, you’re a terrible liar.”

He just sighed and leaned back against the wall, wondering when his life had become so complicated- and why he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Xander loved to watch Spike. He always had, though back in Sunnydale, he’d been much more subtle about it, afraid to be mocked by the blonde vampire. Now, though, he could stare to his heart’s content, and being mocked was the last thing he had to worry about happening.

Spike was just so arresting, with that vivid hair, grown out a little and ungelled now but still a radiant white-blonde, with those cheekbones and those piercing eyes and that cocky way that he held himself. Even sitting down he seemed insolent and sexy, but when he was walking it could almost stop a man’s heart. He still had the duster, Xander was amused to see, or at least a newer version of the same old coat. Not a Slayer’s, maybe, but there was no doubt in Xander’s mind that there was an equally fascinating story behind the acquisition of this one. Some day he would ask Spike about it.

He especially loved the way Spike talked. There were so many different variations on his voice, so many infinite combinations of volume and inflection and tone, that Xander could listen to him speak for hours. He was always loud and brash when talking to Jayne, out-bullshitting a bullshitter. Quieter, almost respectful for Shepherd Book, deferential- or at least respectful- to Mal and Zoë, teasingly flirting with Kaylee and Inara. Easy mocking with Angel, and alternating between matter-of-fact and soothing with River. And that special, intimate tone that he took when talking to Xander, which while beguiling, could never, in Xander’s mind, match to the way Spike moaned his name in bed.

Xander, or Xan. It had been so long since he’d gone by that name that it had sounded almost like a stranger’s when Spike had first said it, but it had only taken a moment for it to sound like him again. The rest of the crew had followed suit, and he’d even started thinking of himself with that name again. Not Lex, as he’d been for the last twenty years or so that had made up this “lifetime,” and not Harris, but Xander. He’d dreamed of Buffy and the Scoobies for the first time in two centuries while on board Serenity, and he’d woken up to tears on his cheeks and Spike stroking his hair, saying his name over and over again, like it was the rope that tethered Xander into the real world.

Everyone on the crew knew that they were together- neither of them was an especially subtle person, and while they never kissed or did anything else so overt in front of the crew, they flirted mercilessly and weren’t at all averse to sending smoldering looks at each other across the kitchen table. Spike had always been like that, as long as Xander had known him, and Xander, well, he’d learned to be comfortable in his own skin. If the crew was uncomfortable around him ‘cause he was sly, well, it didn’t have anything to do with him. He did the job, he got paid. It was a sentiment that he suspected the captain understood real well, and so far no one had tried to jump him or otherwise make trouble, so Xander didn’t care one way or the other. Any day he didn’t have to kill or injure the people he was working with was a good day.

Xander didn’t have any superpowers but the ability to heal, but he had had five hundred years to perfect his skills. There weren’t many humans that could take him on one-on-one, or even three or four-on-one, and most of the demons were long gone from this ‘verse.

There was one person who was obviously very unhappy about Xander’s relationship with Spike, and that was Angel. Xander understood why, of course- he’d known Angel and Spike were involved, and his blonde lover had told Xander the whole truth of the thing. Still, Xander felt sorry for him, and would try to curb back some of the more obvious behavior whenever the older vampire was around.

Angel wasn’t around that much, however, so Xander didn’t have to contain himself much. The few times that Angel did appear, he was only with them for a short time before vanishing again. Xander knew that Angel couldn’t be spending all his time in his room- even Angel would go bugfuck staring at those four walls all the time- but he wasn’t sure exactly where the other man went. From the way that Simon would watch him when he thought Angel wasn’t looking, Xander suspected that Angel was hiding in the infirmary with the good Dr. Tam, but he couldn’t be sure. Most of his own time was spent either in the galley, eating and shooting the shit with the crewmembers, in the cargo bay exercising, or in his room with his sweet demon lover.

Spike, for his part, did much the same, though he quickly grew bored on his own when Xander was working out- vampires didn’t need to exercise to keep up their strength- and while he did spar with Xander on a couple occasions when there was no one awake to see them really let loose, most of those times he would disappear with River. Xander had no idea what Spike did when he was with the girl, and he didn’t want to.

They’d been on Serenity for six days, and life, according to one Xander Harris, was just about as good as it got.

Of course, that meant that it was the very next day that things started going downhill.

Of course, Xander was right about Angel’s whereabouts. The first time he’d stopped by the infirmary, he’d been looking for River, but she’d been asleep on the side table and Simon was there, running a diagnostic on what was probably her blood. Simon had looked up, smiled at him, and pointed to the table in the middle of the room, indicating that he take a seat.

To his own surprise, Angel did so, and watched in silence for a bit as Simon finished running the tests. Afterwards, Angel had said something or Simon had said something, he never could remember, but the next thing he knew the two of them had fallen into an easy conversation and several hours had passed.

After that, the infirmary- and Simon’s company- had become his refuge whenever the jealousy over Spike and Xander got too strong. It was easy to ignore his problems when he was talking to the doctor, who reminded him strongly of someone, though it wasn’t for several days that he realized who.

Wesley, back before things had gone to Hell in a handbasket. Back when he still wore glasses, when his shirts were always pressed, before he learned that jeans actually were more durable than slacks, before there was a scar on his throat and darkness in his heart. Simon had the same slight stiffness, the casual formality, that came of a moneyed upbringing, but he also had Wesley’s talent for sneaky sarcasm, as well as his wit and intelligence. Oh, Angel didn’t fool himself that they were the same person, and it wasn’t even necessarily why he got along so comfortably with the doctor when he usually got along with no one save Spike, but it explained why Angel had been willing to make the connection in the first place, and it explained why Simon felt a little like a long-lost friend.

Angel had made good on his offer to look after River sometimes, but it was Spike who really connected with her, as Angel had suspected. Spike always had had a thing for the crazy ones, and he and River got along like a house on fire- which was perhaps not the safest analogy. Anything to do with fires was a bad idea when combined with someone even a little like Drusilla.

It was, however, Angel’s turn to look after her when she suddenly took a turn for the worse. Simon was sleeping, and Angel was in the galley with her, trying his level best to beat her at chess, and failing miserably. Not that he minded- he had the hardest time finding a decent chess partner anywhere, and River, though she beat him every time, at least filled the requirements.

Unfortunately, in the middle of their fourth game her eyes suddenly rolled into the back of her head. Worried that she’d lost consciousness, Angel sprang out of the chair and laid a hand on her shoulder, but she started screaming at the touch and was halfway across the room, pressing herself against the wall, before he’d even seen her move.

Spike was in the room almost instantly, of course, as well as Xander, dripping with sweat from his daily workout, and the rest of the crew wasn’t far behind. River kept screaming for her brother, and only lowered the volume of her cries when Simon ran into the room and knelt in front of her.

“I’m here, meime, I’m here,” he kept saying, but she shook her head and pushed his hands away when he tried to soothe her.

“My brother is coming,” she insisted, ignoring Simon’s efforts to tell her that he was here, her brother was here. “He’s coming for us, Simon. I’ve been looking so hard and I finally found him and I called him and he’s coming.”

“Just a thought,” Spike said from the doorway, “but I don’t think she’s talking about you, Doc.”

“Well,” Mal said. “That’s a bit of a turnaround. Got any other siblings you forgot to mention?”

“No,” Simon said, bewildered. “My mother was unable to have children after River, though they’d wanted one more.”

“So who’s she babbling about?” Jayne said. “And can you make her shut up? Girl’s givin’ me a gorram headache.”

“You don’t need to be here, then,” Mal said with steel in his voice, and Jayne left the room, muttering to himself. “He did kinda ask the question, though,” the captain added, turning back to Simon. “If she’s not talking about you and you don’t have another brother hidden somewhere, then who the hell is she talking about?”

“Little brother,” River said. “Two by two, hands of blue. But they couldn’t hurt the golden boy, couldn’t figure out what made him tick. Little brother ran when River did, and now he’s free as a bird. And now the golden boy is coming, and we’re going to be a family again, Simon. Just like we always wanted. It will all be alright when little brother is here.”

“Golden boy?” Spike echoed. “River, was that what you meant when you said-“

“Not that golden boy, silly,” she said, sounding for the moment quite lucid. “Little brother is golden on the inside, like you.” Then, to Xander, as if in answer though he’d said nothing, “I didn’t mean it that way. You know it’s more than skin deep.”

“I know,” Xander said. He rubbed one hand over his bare chest, where his skin was tanned and gleaming. “But thanks for saying it.”

She looked up at Simon, all seriousness. “I think I’d like to rest now. Have to be ready for little brother’s birthday party.”

Simon just nodded as if this made sense and scooped her up in his arms. Mal laid one hand on his shoulder, stopping him as he passed by.

“River,” Mal said. “When is his birthday?”

“Day after tomorrow,” she said cheerfully, and wriggled out of Simon’s arms, running down the hall to her room while everyone in the galley went quiet.

“Day after tomorrow?” Spike said finally, voicing what they were all thinking. “But that’s the day of the gorram job!”

Angel, following Simon as the man chased after River, couldn’t help but think- I was right. Cursed, from start to finish.


húndàn- asshole/bastard
shizi- louse
bù kê néng!- no way!
dong ma?- understand?
hâo deokay/will do!
meimei- little sister


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