Angel, clothed and in his right mind, looked uncomfortable. "I think we may be in for the nastiest surprise of all."
"Another apocalypse?" Spike leaned back and raised an eyebrow. "I just got done with one, thanks ever so. And I'm thinkin' it may have killed me, although the condition wasn't permanent."
"Maybe the third time will be the charm."
"I love you too, Peaches."
"Hey!" Mal slammed his hands on the table. "I ain't likin' the sounds of this. Us on this boat is just folk, and we don't want any truck with any apocalypse. And I don't know what you--" He pointed at Angel. "--did with your face back there, but don't do it again."
"Vampires," River said.
"What? River, no." Simon touched her arm. "Vampires are a myth."
Spike snorted into the glass of hooch he'd charmed from Kaylee. "They still feeding you that line of bull? Ask the Watcher, there." He waved his hand at Book.
"Watcher? I'm not a Watcher, I'm just a simple--" At Spike's look, Book relented. "All right, maybe I am, in a manner of speaking. The Brothers keep the lore alive, and we have a lot of old books that no one reads anymore in languages nobody can understand. It's become a bunch of stories, old Watchers' tales, more than anything else. We haven't seen vampires, demons, or even Slayers in a very long time. You're going to have hard slogging convincing these folks that you're not crazy."
"Yeah? Angel could do that thing with his face again. So can I, for that matter. Nothin' about Blue here strike you people as a bit odd? Denial." Spike spun the glass in circles on the table. "It's a beautiful thing."
"Blood and death mixed in with remorse and guilt. A curse and a quest." River's steady gaze moved back and forth between Spike and Angel. "A soul changes everything."
"Okay, can she not do that?" Angel said.
"Little Slayer gettin' on your nerves?" Everyone stared at Spike. "What, you didn't know? Plain as the nose on your face, innit? Zoe, too, for that matter." They continued to stare. "Oh, you people really are blind, aren't you? Bloody hell. You got any more of this stuff?" he asked Kaylee, pointing at his glass.
While she scampered off toward the engine room, Angel turned to Book. "What happened to the Slayers? Back in our time, every one of them got activated. Now it looks like you don't have any at all, other than Potentials like Zoe and River. Assuming Spike is right, which would be a miracle."
"Oi, you wanker--"
Book interrupted the incipient snark-fest. "No one knows. It seems that whatever power called them forth was confined to Earth-That-Was. We might know what to do if we ever did find an actual Slayer, but it seems that knowledge isn't needed in this solar system, and it's become more of an historic curiosity than anything." He eyed them over the rim of his mug. "But if I'm any judge, we're going to need the Slayers again before this is all over."
"The Senior Partners aren't going to give up on their apocalypse just because we've swapped solar systems," Fred said. "They've been planning it for millennia. How long were you in that box?" she asked Angel.
Jayne was still processing the part about vampires. "That mean you two drink blood? 'Cause, I don't think we have any, 'ceptin' what's in our bodies. And I'd kinda like to hang on to that."
Kaylee, back from the engine room, stopped abruptly in the doorway. Fred hastened to reassure everyone. "Angel and Spike haven't drunk human blood in a long, long while." Kaylee came the rest of the way into the kitchen and set a glass gallon jug of her engine-fermented whiskey in the middle of the table as Fred continued. "Um, that being said...just how much time will it take to get where we're going?"
"Couple more days," Mal answered. "Why?"
Illyria spoke up. "Half-breeds become irritable when unable to feed. If they starve for too long, they become insane."
"This just gets better and better," Wash said. "Crazy space vampires. What next?"
"Not to rain on your apocalypse," Inara said, "but business is business, and I have a client to contact at our destination. If you'll excuse me?" She rose gracefully to her feet, and every male eye in the room followed her out.
"I'm not sure she believes us." Angel stared moodily at the glass in front of him.
"Not sayin' I do either," Mal commented. "You ask me, the whole gorram business is far-fetched and unreasonable."
Fred sighed. "That's what they all say. Until their face gets eaten by a fungus demon."
Zoe put her face in her hand. "Tell me you didn't bring a fungus demon..."
"None of us asked to be here," Spike pointed out. "Didn't even bring the clothes on our backs."
"Kinda glad I am here, personally," Fred said. "Otherwise I'd be kinda dead."
Spike scooted over and wrapped his arm around her. She seemed surprised for a second, then leaned into him. He said, "Makes me wonder if Blue and I died in the alley." He took a swig of Kaylee's hooch.
"The whole thing makes my head hurt. I wish--"
Inara rushed into the room, her face pale under her makeup. "I can't contact my client."
"You ain't supposed to be there for another two days," Mal said, lifting an eyebrow. "It's entirely possible that he's got better things to do than sit around his mansion, pining for you."
"No, you don't understand. I can't contact anyone. Santo...the whole moon's gone dark. They've dropped off the Cortex."
Jayne lifted his weights in the cargo hold. Wasn't nothin' they could do 'til they got to Santo, and workin' off some energy in the meantime seemed like a good notion. The Shepherd, Mal, and Zoe were sittin' with Fred, Spike, and Angel (what kind of name was that for a man, anyway?) to formulate some sort of idea what they were going to do when they hit Santo.
Hell, Jayne figured, why not just go in with guns blazing and take out whatever was causing the problem? Weren't much him and Vera couldn't solve. Plans never went the way you meant 'em to anyhow; the Cap'n was a prime example of that.
A black-gloved hand arrested the progress of his weight-lifting, and he looked up to see Illyria's weird-colored eyes staring down at him. "Why do you engage in this activity? It seems pointless and time-wasting."
He pushed against her, but couldn't move the bar. "Bleeds off stress and gives me manly muscles. You, uh, wanna let me set this thing back on the rest?"
She lifted the barbell from his unresisting grip, one-handed, and tossed it up in the air twice before replacing it herself. "Doing this makes you stronger?"
"Gives the muscles something to do, something to strain on." He sat up and toweled off his face.
"Your muscles are very large." Her head tilted, appraising him.
"I do this a lot, in between jobs. So...Spike and Angel are vampires. Fred's human. What're you?"
"I am Illyria, God-King of the Primordium. Much reduced in stature from my former glory." She looked down at herself in distaste. "My Qwa'ha Zahn chose this vessel for me based on its aesthetic beauty rather than its usefulness. The human body is far too weak to contain my full power."
"Um. Sorry?" He shrugged. "You seem plenty strong to me."
"A mere shadow. My true form would turn your knees to water and cause your heart to burst from awe and terror." She sat down next to him on the bench, staring at the floor. "I am much diminished. It is...difficult...to accustom myself to it."
She didn't strike him as the chatty sort. "So, how come you're tellin' me all this?"
"I do not know. Perhaps because you do not fear me as the others do. Foolish, but a novelty nonetheless."
Jayne'd caught that too. His crewmates had cast sideways glances at her ever since she'd appeared. The folk from her own time seemed to hold her at arm's length as well, which didn't seem right. "I ain't never objected to extra muscle on a job. You look like you'll do." Not to mention that low-down tickle he got every time he looked at her. Probably wouldn't be proper-like to say anything about that, though.
"I had once thought to keep Spike as my pet," she mused. "I was beginning to break him to my will. His regard for me has been stolen by Fred's return. He told me one time that he loved her, and that love has apparently been rekindled."
Jayne grunted. "She love him too?"
"She loved Wesley. She might grow to love Spike. Humans are fickle in that manner. I had thought..." She trailed off, her shoulders slumped.
For a God-King, she looked awful sad. He wondered if she'd pound him if he touched her; she seemed like the type.
It'd be worth it, he decided.
For the briefest instant, Illyria's hand curled into a fist as Jayne's arm wrapped around her shoulders. Then she heaved out a huge breath and decided to let him live. This was what she was reduced to. Cast even more adrift in a future and a solar system even more alien than the one she had departed, allowing a mere human to offer her succor.
She admitted, in a back recess of her mind, that it felt rather pleasant. Not many people had dared touch her since she had manifested, certainly not in this way. Spike had hit her (which she had enjoyed), and Wesley had attended her wounds, but simple human contact had been denied her.
These people, so fragile, yet so strong. How did they sustain these emotions without flying apart into a thousand billion pieces? They relied on one another, parts of a whole, but they crumbled when their support system was stripped away.
She, too, was crumbling, although it shamed her to acknowledge it, even to herself. She wondered if she should allow this human to shore her up, and thought that she just might.