Cursing, Mal stopped abruptly in the cargo hold a little while later, causing a slight chain-reaction pile-up behind him. The sight of his mercenary on his back on the floor, his shirt half torn off, and Illyria on top of him, was enough to make him want to space all their unwelcome, non-paying visitors. At least they hadn't got to the actual sexin' yet...
Kaylee didn't help. She covered her mouth with her hand, stifling giggles. "Guess Jayne changed his mind about kissin' 'em on the lips."
"I wonder if that's part of the job description of the Qwa'ha Zahn," Book mused, stacking supplies on an empty metal box.
"Wes would've figured out a way to kill her, she'd tried that with him," Spike said. "Not sure I would have minded, myself. Ow!" he exclaimed when Fred punched him on the arm.
River squatted down and watched with a cocked head. "Jayne's smitten with something that's not a weapon," she said dreamily. "A new experience for him."
Wash put his arm around Zoe's waist and she put her head on his shoulder. "I think we should try that technique, honey. Oh, and that one right there, that looks like fun." She nodded, mentally filing the moves away for later.
About then, Jayne and Illyria noticed they had an audience. They broke apart and stood up, Jayne tugging at his disheveled clothes and smoothing his mussed hair with a slightly embarrassed expression. Illyria wasn't embarrassed at all; her own expression dared them to question her behavior. "Have you finally decided to activate the Slayers?" she said.
"Um, yeah," Mal answered.
"You took long enough. Do we have the elements we need to accomplish the task?"
"I believe so," Book said. "Are you ready?"
"I have been ready for quite some time. Let us begin."
"You sure you're all right with this, pet?" Spike was a little anxious. "You don't have--"
She waved her hand. "I have never shied from what is necessary for survival. If we are to close the new Hellmouth, we shall need the aid of Slayers. Thus it has always been. Draw the circle and light the candles."
Soon, all was ready. Compass points being completely arbitrary in space, they decided that "north" was toward the cockpit. Book, holding a staff, sat cross-legged at the east part of the large chalked circle he'd drawn on the floor, representing Air and Mind. Zoe sat opposite him, with Wash behind her holding another staff, representing Water and Emotions. River was positioned at the north part of the circle, Simon behind her with a third staff, representing Earth and the Body, or Heart; and Illyria and Jayne sat across from them, representing Fire and the Hand, or Action. Jayne didn't have a staff; his task was to act as a grounding force for Illyria.
Book began the chanting, thumping his staff on the floor rhythmically. Wash and Simon nervously joined the beat with their own staffs. "Did it just get dark in here?" Mal muttered to Spike. Then he recoiled. "Okay. What the hell's that?"
Blue smoke poured from Illyria's mouth and entered River's and Zoe's. Wash tightened his arm around Zoe's waist, holding her up as she began shaking, and Simon did the same for River. Mal took a step backwards; this was more than disturbin', and he wasn't sure he wanted anything more to do with it. Book's chanting rose to a crescendo and stopped abruptly, along with a final thump of the staffs.
In the silence that followed, River's eyes snapped open. "Complete," she said.
Zoe blinked a few times. "Honey? You okay?" Wash asked.
"More than okay." She closed her eyes and shook her head, smiling. "That...was amazing."
An upset Jayne cradled Illyria, who'd fallen against him, unconscious. "Shepherd? You didn't kill her, did you?"
Kaylee knelt down next to them. "How could you tell? She don't breathe as such, and she ain't got a heartbeat."
"She's gone cold," Jayne said. He was more distressed than Mal had ever seen him. "You didn't tell us it'd hurt her."
"Jayne..." Book was none too happy either; he didn't look like he'd expected the ritual to injure Illyria.
Jayne rose, scooping Illyria up. "Next time you get a bright idea such as this, might be smart to think it through better," he snapped.
"If you bring her to the infirmary--" Simon began
"You'll do what? I'll take care of her myownself." He stalked up the stairs, carrying her in his arms. Mal thought he'd shrunk a bit.
Angel closed his eyes tiredly. "That went well."
"You think she's dead?" Mal said.
"We weren't able to kill her when we were trying to," Angel said. "I'm pretty sure she wouldn't've done this if she'd thought she wouldn't survive. Probably just needs to recharge her batteries, or whatever it is she does." He ran his hand through his hair. "In the meantime, our new Slayers should get some combat training in. They need to get used to their new abilities."
"Shiny." Even Mal didn't know if he was serious or sarcastic when he said that. It'd been a long gorram day, and it weren't gettin' no shorter. Shiny indeed.
Jayne laid Illyria on the couch in the common room and pulled a heavy blanket around her. He pillowed her head on his leg and smoothed her hair away from her face, tucking it behind her ear, and was rewarded by a faint sigh and some motion. He briefly closed his eyes and leaned his head back in relief. "'llyria?"
"Jayne." Her own eyes didn't open. "Did it work?"
"Yeah, babydoll." She'd probably pummel him for that later. He didn't care. "You done real good."
"My head aches fiercely, I am cold, and my mouth feels as though a chinchilla has taken up residence in it." She sighed. "The musculature of your leg is pleasing to me, however, and I enjoy your hand on my hair. I would like to rest here awhile."
"Take as long as you please. I ain't goin' nowhere."
She snuggled down. "Good."
Spike and Fred sat up on the catwalk with their legs dangling, watching the new Slayers train in the cargo hold with Angel and Book. Inara had gone back to her shuttle, and Kaylee had fled to the engine room, while Simon, Wash, and Mal looked on anxiously from various positions on the steps.
"I'da thought you'd want to be down there training with them," Fred said to Spike.
"And miss sittin' here with you? Not on your life." He smiled at her. "I'm glad you're back, Freddi. We..." He stopped and shook his head. "I missed you."
"Did you? Because you seemed awfully friendly with Illyria." She kept her eyes on the action below them. "Who killed me. Not that I'm bitter."
How to explain to her? He'd been a member of Angel's team, yeah, but never a really trusted part of it, no matter what he did--the eternal outsider looking in. And Illyria's killing of Fred had been incidental, really; Big Blue's actions hadn't had any actual malice to them. Knox, now, that little bugger could burn in several hells as far as Spike was concerned, but Illyria herself, in his mind, was fairly blameless for Fred's death. Which probably didn't make any sense, but there it was.
The others had blamed her, though, and made her even more of a pariah than he was. Why they hadn't thrown her out on her arse was a question for the ages, but they hadn't, and she'd stayed, and it had just become natural and right to take her out on patrol sometimes. Two outcasts, fighting the good fight and never getting the credit for it. Made his poet's heart swell with the irony, it did.
None of that really helped him explain it to Fred, though. He settled for, "It's complicated, pet. I'm not sure I understand it myself." He wondered if she'd let him get away with it.
"Our whole lives are complicated," she snorted. "Look at us now." River kicked Angel eight feet across the cargo bay. "Why is it that every time I say 'life will never be the same,' I'm right? I swear, Feigenbaum should have made a study of my life; he would have had a field day. Did we do the right thing here? Will we ever really know?"
"All we can do is our best." He scooted closer to her.
"Spike..." Oh, Lord, here it comes; she's going to shoot me down, he thought. "I like you. I do, okay? I just, I need some time. Time to process everything that's happened to me, time to mourn Wes and Gunn and my parents and everything else I've lost. All right?"
What he wouldn't give for a cigarette right now. The Captain had glared at him pretty hard for lighting up, though. "Sure, Freddi. Take all the time you need."
Dr. Mathias would be proud, River thought as she sent Angel across the cargo hold with a roundhouse kick to the chest. The people at the Academy had conditioned her for combat, but they had never envisioned this.
Better, faster, stronger. Her mind was still fragmented, still picking up everything from everybody and processing it badly, but her body...Outwardly, nothing had changed, but inwardly, her muscle and bone density had been formidably enhanced. A tumbling run ended with her foot connecting solidly with Angel's jaw. "Off the charts"? Mathias had no idea what that really meant.
Primal memories told her what to do, how to move, when to counter. She and Zoe worked as a team, methodically taking down the vampire until he raised his hands in surrender. The Academy had trained her as an assassin against inconvenient humans, and she'd known that was bad and wrong and hated every second of it.
This? This was destiny. This was right. And as Spike came down and joined their dance, she knew that no power in the 'verse could stop her--and if the Alliance wanted to come after her now? They'd better be very careful.
Simon decided he didn't want to watch anymore. They'd turned his baby sister into something that frightened him, and while he could see the necessity, that didn't mean he had to like it. The passenger common area was too close to the cargo bay, so he made his way up the stairs to the kitchen. Apparently Wash was tired of watching Zoe whale on the vampires as well, because the pilot followed him.
A glance into the crew lounge showed Jayne seated on the couch with Illyria's head pillowed in his lap as she slept. And wasn't that funny? The rough mercenary and the imperious God-King had bonded faster than Simon would have believed possible. Simon hadn't thought Jayne capable of love, but he seemed well on his way to being head over heels. The 'verse was sure a strange place, he thought, pouring himself something to drink.
Wash had already joined Jayne and Illyria. Sitting alone in the kitchen held little appeal for Simon; if he'd wanted to be by himself, he would have gone to his room. He grabbed a chair and nodded to Jayne. "How's she doing?"
"Resting. Bother her and I'll pound you." Oh, yes. Head over heels. "How's Zoe and River?"
"Beating the go se out of vampires," Wash answered. "It's really disturbing."
Jayne snorted. "Thought you liked being married to a Warrior Woman."
"I do! But the way she moves now...is she still human?" And that was the crux of Simon's fear, right there.
"Yeah, dumbass. What else would she be? She's just a little stronger than what you're used to, is all. She's still Zoe." Jayne looked at Simon. "And River's still River. You two is gettin' worked up over nothin'."
"I wish I could be as blase as you about all this," Simon said.
Jayne stroked Illyria's hair, and she smiled in her sleep. "It is what it is. Deal with it as best you can and move on. You think too much, doc."
"I suppose that's true." Simon stared moodily at his mug. "Hard to just turn it off, though."
Jayne lifted his eyebrows and gave Simon a suggestive smile. "Maybe you ought to go see Kaylee. Seein' as how we're walkin' into an apocalypse and all."
"Kaylee?" What did the one have to do with the other? "What? I don't--"
"She seemed pretty freaked out by the whole Zoe-and-River-turning-into-superwomen phenomenon," Wash said. "You could go see her and be freaked together. Like a bonding thing."
"You think she'd like that?"
"You really are completely clueless, aren't you?" Wash said pityingly. "Yes, she'd like it. Go."
Jayne's voice followed him into the hall. "For someone who's supposed to be smart, sometimes he ain't."