Summary: The Slayers are relaxing at the beach, and the Serenity crew are in trouble - or it might be the other way around.
Fandom: BtVS, Firefly
Warnings: Women have sex with each other in this story, but off-screen. Still, there are unsubtle references to this.
Spoilers: This is canon-compliant with Buffy through Season Eight (the comic books) and Firefly through Serenity, but contains no major spoilers.
Title, Author and URL of original story: "Where the River Meets the Dawn" by Alixtii, http://alixtii.livejournal.com/184639.html
Notes: This story was much improved by beta help from executrix, mulberryfields and goseaward, as well as by the advice about POV that I got from a beta who helped me with an earlier story, idlerat. If I were a better writer I would have the words to say how grateful I am to them all.
The subtitle is from lyrics to a song by Magnetic Fields, "Old Orchard Beach." So thanks to Stephen Merritt too, I guess.
And then there was the time that the end of the world was called on account of rain.
No, really. Caridad had to ask herself, how dumb would the forces of darkness have to be to schedule the latest apocalypse in April in Vancouver with a water-soluble Big Bad? Willow came up with some serious weather mojo, but she didn't even need it - it rained all day every day they were there, anyway. The creature turned up right on schedule in the hotel basement, dessicated and bloodthirsty, Andrew lured it outdoors, and splat! It was all over but the oozing.
Afterwards, Mr. Giles said "We've been luckier than our opponents or smarter than our opponents or more self-sacrificing than our opponents every time ...so far" which is about as upbeat as he ever got. Xander said "Good work, men," because he was still working on the whole Nick Fury vibe back then. Buffy said "Are we closer to Disneyworld or Disneyland? Because I think we all need some fun in the sun," which was what led Kennedy to roll her eyes and whip out her cell phone. Next thing you know they were all of them settled down nicely in a mansion right on the beach in Malibu, courtesy of some Hollywood friend of Kennedy's dad who called it a guest house.
Years later, when all the apocalypses had blurred together, Caridad got in a big fight with Kennedy about when exactly the thing with the spaceship had happened. It had to have been after their first end of the world, obviously, but before Dawn was a giant, while Andrew was still single and Kennedy was still with Willow. But was it before or after they had all moved in to the castle in Scotland? Kennedy said before, but Caridad knew it was after, because she remembered that when it happened she had been talking about fortifications with Faith and Chao-Ahn.
They were building a sandcastle there on the beach to test out possible defenses against vampire gangs or demon armies or whatever. Faith was saying something kind of disturbing about the possible uses for leftover bacon grease if you happened to have, say, a whole vat of it and it was very hot, and how they might end up with vats of leftover bacon grease because there were going to be whole lot of slayers joining up with them, and Chao-Ahn was agreeing with her on the grounds that bacon was pretty much the only food she'd tried since leaving home that wasn't disgusting. Of course this was before Chao-Ahn had much English, but they were getting along all right with Caridad's Tagalog vocabulary, Chao-Ahn's facial expressions and Faith's body language. Every so often Mr. Giles (who was reading a fat paperback novel in German and had dressed for the beach in a loose-fitting button-down white oxford shirt and what might have been tweed shorts) tossed in a bit of translation.
They were just putting the finishing touches on the arch over the central gateway when a huge gust of wind knocked the whole thing over. By the time they'd finished blinking the sand out of their eyes they had missed seeing the arrival of the flying saucer that came tumbling through a neat hole which had (as Kennedy told Caridad later) suddenly appeared in the sky.
They all stood up to face it. Everyone reached for weapons except Buffy; she reached for the strings on her bikini top first, and then reached for her weapon. Steam rose gently from the sand around the spaceship, which had landed just at the waterline. It smelled like the time Caridad's brother Manny set the TV on fire.
Dawn said, "Aren't UFOs supposed to be shaped like frisbees?"
"It doesn't seem to be the meteor-y thing that the Quellar came in," Xander said. "It's more ... sci-fi."
"No," agreed Mr. Giles, "we're definitely dealing with someone technological - perhaps not occult at all."
"You mean aliens? Aliens like Vulcans, or aliens like Aliens vs. Predator?" Andrew asked. He edged back a little, putting Vi between him and the boxy spaceship, and adjusted his grip on the small plastic shovel he held.
Willow said, "It's kind of small to be a serious threat - I mean, how many aliens could fit into something that size? What kind of distance could it travel?"
Just then the ship's door slid open and a gangplank dropped slowly down in front of it onto the beach, like a castle's drawbridge.
The people who emerged look just like people, though. The first through the door was a tall woman with a wary expression, wildly curly brown hair, and two big handguns drawn. Then three more came out all at once: a sweet-faced younger woman in a stained brown jumpsuit, carrying just one gun, a nervous-looking skinny guy with no visible weapons, and a small, pale, barefoot girl in a tight blue dress, whom Caridad instantly understood to be the most dangerous of them all, though she too was unarmed. There was just something about the way she carried herself, almost like a Slayer. She was menacing, that was the word.
After that there was a pause; the aliens looked at the slayers and their friends, and the slayers looked at the aliens. The curly-haired woman shouted something back over her shoulder that must have been Mandarin and foul, because it made Chao-Ahn flinch and turn red. And then one last alien emerged from the spaceship. This alien was the most beautiful woman Caridad had ever seen. She wore something like a sari, and little slipper-like sandals, and her hips swayed when she walked as if she were dancing to music only she could hear. She held up her hands and said something in Mandarin - her voice was low and soft, but it carried - which made Chao-Ahn nod. Then Chao-Ahn said something. Then the beautiful woman said, "Hello? I think we're a little out of our way, but we don't mean anyone any harm."
"Hi!" Buffy said. "Who the hell are you?"
The tall woman gestured loosely behind herself with one of her guns. "This is the shuttle - "
"My shuttle," said the beautiful woman. "I rent it."
The tall woman frowned at her and started again. "This is Inara's shuttle, which belongs to the interstellar vessel Serenity. I'm Serenity's first mate. " She looked at the Slayers and their friends, one at a time, then nodded as if they had silently answered her inaudible question, and added, "S'cuse me." She hopped off the gangplank to the side and began walking slowly around spaceship.
The nervous-looking man said, "The shuttle isn't usually detached from the ship, you understand. There was an accident."
"The captain was having words with Jayne," said the jumpsuit-wearing woman, as if this would make sense to anyone who heard her, "and Jayne was having words with the captain. So we went to have tea with Inara until it all blew over, while they had their, um, their discussion, out in the hold of the ship. But they must have got onto the flight deck because someone hit the latch mechanism and here we all are."
"Inara here bumped her head when we launched unexpectedly," said the nervous guy, who was looking a little less nervous, waving toward the beautiful woman - who did indeed have a bandage at her left temple, "Lucky for us my sister can fly." He gestured at the girl in the blue dress, who was drawing perfect figure eights in the sand with the big toe of her left foot. Caridad looked at her carefully, because an aura of menace was bad enough on a regular person, but if she were a witch as well ...
"Really?" Dawn said.
"She's a good pilot!" her brother insisted.
"Oh, she's a pilot," Willow said. The Slayers relaxed a little. Blue-dress-girl ignored them all.
Behind them, on the boardwalk, someone shouted "Hey!"
Buffy was keeping her eyes on the aliens. She nodded toward Xander; he walked off to deal with whoever it was.
Meanwhile the curly-haired woman had finished her walk around the shuttle. She looked unhappy. "This is going to be a" - she used more Mandarin and Chao-Ahn flinched again - "to fix."
"We'll manage, Zoe," said the one in the jumpsuit. "We always do."
Something about Dawn had caught the attention of blue-dress-girl. "Green and round," she said, staring rudely, "like a planet. But glowing like a moon. So pretty!"
Dawn went very still.
"I'm sorry," the girl's brother said. "River can be, well, a little different sometimes. She doesn't mean any harm."
River said, "Shining green, and so far from home."
There was a pause. Andrew finally responded. "So are you from the future? I don't think anyone has ships like yours in our time - or if they do they're not telling anyone."
The aliens looked startled, except for River. She said, "This could be Earth-that-was, or it could not be."
Mr. Giles said, "A possible future, perhaps. But not our own future. That would invoke all sorts of paradoxes; timestreams are complex, and out of an array of possible futures and potential pasts -"
"They're not from our future," Willow said. "But they have travelled through time and space; you can see by their auras."
Zoe frowned. You could tell that she wasn't a fan of auras and that kind of thing. She said, "Well anyway, I'm Zoe, and this is Simon, ship's doctor, and you've met his sister River, and this is Kaylee, our engineer. And Inara -" she gestured toward the beautiful woman in the sari - "she's a companion."
The Slayers looked at each other. Andrew spoke up: "I'm Andrew, and I'm sort of a hostage, only it's my job to chronicle the exploits of our band of Slayers of the Vampyres, and-"
"Shut up, Andrew," Buffy said. She started pointing at each of them in turn: "I'm Buffy, and this is Giles, and this is my sister Dawn, and Willow, and Rona, and Faith, and Kennedy -"
That was when Xander came back, looking flustered, with some sweaty guy in running shoes and gym shorts trailing along behind him. "No, it's really not location filming," he was saying as they approached, "and thanks, but we don't need -"
Andrew cut in: "It's a fashion shoot, obviously. Now get out of here before you spoil the mood."
Vi giggled, then Shannon giggled, and then all the Slayers were guffawing, even Chao-Ahn. The shirtless guy said, "okay! okay! fine!" and jogged away again.
Xander said, "Man, there are a lot of lawyers in this town."
Mr. Giles said, "Perhaps we should discuss everything further in private."
"So what do you think?" Vi asked Faith as they all strolled back toward the house. "Do you think they're for real?"
"I don't know," Faith said.
Dawn caught up with them, arms full of beach towels. She said, "We did pretty much watch them fall out of the sky. And Willow says they're for real, so. "
Dawn was watching the aliens, who were walking all together in front of them - with maybe a little extra attention to the dangerous-looking one, River. Faith noticed. "Have the hots for the weird chick?" she asked Dawn. "You're staring."
"She's just-" Dawn got flustered. "She's different, that's all."
"Different with a nice rack and a tight ass, you mean," said Faith. Caridad was impressed that Faith was paying that much attention.
"She doesn't have -" Dawn began, but that was obviously a lie. Dawn tried again, "I don't have the hots for her. I'm not even -"
"Sure you don't," said Faith.
Rona, Shannon, Kennedy and Vi were supposed to be on dinner duty that night, but they argued that five guests meant fifty percent more work so they should just order pizza. Xander said, "See? Everyone's a lawyer in this town," but Kennedy already had her cell phone and her dad's credit card out, so that was that.
Chao-Ahn's second word in English, after "vampire," had been "pizza"; she shook her head, said something to the aliens in Mandarin, and went to the kitchen, probably to fry up spinach and bacon like she always did on pizza nights. The beautiful alien went with her, looking curious and hungry.
Dawn still had her arms full of sandy towels. "I'm cleaning up before I do the laundry," she said to nobody in particular. She procrastinated every time it was her turn on laundry patrol, Caridad had noticed.
But the rest of them settled down to talk while they waited for dinner. Usually when it was all of them together like that, mostly Willow and Buffy and Mr. Giles talked, with interruptions from Faith and Kennedy. This time was just about the same except that Kaylee and Simon did all the interrupting. Eventually the pizza delivery guy interrupted too. He had walked in just as Mr. Giles was starting his explanation about other universes branching off from our own, usually inaccessible to us but for -
"Warps in the space-time continuum, right? Like on Star Trek?" said the pizza guy. "You ordered the three large double-sausages and five large vegetable deluxe and one small anchovy-goat cheese? And the three six-packs of diet Coke? This must be a script meeting? Can I have my agent give you a call?"
"I hate this town," Xander said.
When the pizza guy had gone and they had all settled down to eat, Mr. Giles started in again explaining about portals to other dimensions, some very unpleasant -
"Hell dimensions," Buffy said, "though there's also a heaven that we know exists for sure, it's kind of a long story -"
"Yes, well -" said Willow, unhappily, and Caridad reminded herself again that she needed to get Kennedy alone sometime and see if she knew any more than the other new Slayers about that whole scene. Sometimes being around the Original Slayer and her crew was a lot like listening to your aunties talk about crap that happened before you were born but that could mess up your life anyhow.
"At any rate," Mr. Giles continued, "many of these alternate dimensions are very much like our own, with only inconsequential differences. For instance a universe might be precisely the same except that their Earth has no shrimp."
"What's shrimp?" Kaylee asked, through a mouthful of vegetable-deluxe.
Dawn walked in, along with River, just as the seafood discussion was winding down. Both of them had wet hair and clean clothes - River was in Dawn's jeans, rolled way up, and what looked like one of Rona's tank tops - and they both were smiling vague, tired smiles.
"I told you so," Faith prison-whispered to nobody in particular.
Simon looked apologetic. Kennedy sniggered quietly. Buffy looked at her and said, "Did I miss something?"
Kennedy coughed and Willow said loudly, "So as I was saying, either we can move your ship back to where the dimensional portal was, or we can move the dimensional portal to your ship. That's probably the simplest option but we'll need to do a little research ..."
"Oh, pizza, great! I'm starving." Dawn said. "Hey River, do you like pizza?"
"S'good!" said Zoe, reassuringly.
Caridad was on clean-up duty that night with Xander, which is how she happened to be in the kitchen when Dawn came looking for him, just as everyone was drifting off to bed.
"Xander, I have to ask you something, it's important," Dawn said.
Xander said "Sure, Dawn, anything you want," which in Caridad's opinion meant that he wasn't paying enough attention.
"You have to promise not to tell," Dawn said.
That got Xander's attention. "Um - " he said, nervously.
"Okay, then," Dawn said hastily, "just don't tell Kennedy, okay? See I think we - I - I busted the shower door in the bathroom I've been using, the one that's in between my room and Rona's room, you know? When I was taking a shower. Alone. By myself in the shower, I was sort of hanging off the shower door by my hands while - anyway, I was, and the door came off the hinges, and I don't know how to fix it, and could you help us- help me I mean?"
Xander looked confused. He said, "Well, that was kind of a pointless thing to do, but sure, I'll help. Wonder if they have any tools around here ..."
And he and Dawn wandered out, leaving Caridad to finish unloading the dishwasher.
The next day Buffy took most of them to Disneyland. Mr. Giles, Willow and Kennedy all stayed behind with Kaylee and River, so they could do research about how to help the visitors get home again. But the rest of them - Zoe and Inara and Simon, along with all the slayers and Andrew - got in the huge beige rental-car van early in the morning so Xander could drive them south. Dawn was supposed to come too but she overslept, which was no surprise.
Caridad's sister Trini was living near Anaheim then, and it was her day off from the ER, so Caridad got Xander to drop her off at Trini's apartment complex and they hung around together by the pool all day instead. They even got a chance to call their mom back in Manila, so that was great; Mom was always kind of relieved to hear them together.
That was why Caridad missed the whole mess at the gift shop. It turned out that whatever dimension the aliens came from, the people there thought it was perfectly normal to scream and run when they saw a couple of guys emptying a trash can while wearing latex gloves. That had been Simon. Inara had taken off after him, but Zoe had gone up to the janitors waving her guns and that had gotten them all tossed out of the park, eventually. Luckily the Disney police had decided to believe that Zoe's guns were just part of a costume, because really, things could have been worse. Faith said that Disney was a hell dimension of its own.
It took a while for Caridad to get the whole story, because when she climbed in the van, Rona, who had gotten an A- in AP bio before becoming a slayer and was never going to let any of them forget it, was trying to explain the germ theory of disease to Simon, so he would understand about the latex gloves. Andrew kept muttering "Doctor! Doctor from the future!" but that did no good at all. Then once Rona finally wound down and Caridad had heard most of the actual story, she and Zoe got into it a bit, because Caridad's brother was a sanitation worker and it was important to treat them with respect. It was a civil service job, you had to take a test, and there was a good union, with benefits and early retirement. So it was maybe half an hour before Inara could tell them how the problem was, that people with blue hands freaked them out, and then that was a long story all on its own. Luckily, they had a while; it was rush hour and they were going north on the five, which was just the same as ever, a sig alert waiting to happen.
Back in Malibu, the research on returning the space people to their own dimension seemed to have been going pretty well. Somehow Willow and Mr. Giles had come up with a pile of nasty-smelling old books (Caridad figured they must have come with the mansion, like the stack of Hollywood Reporters in the bedroom that she was sharing with Shannon) and it looked like they had been thumbing through them all day. Meanwhile Kaylee had been working on the shuttle. Dawn and River had been - well, Caridad could make a good guess about what they had been doing - but when the Disney crew got back to the mansion, they were out on a food run.
Eventually all the books and charts were cleared off the dining-room table and replaced by a towering pile of Cuban sandwiches and supermarket produce. River offered each of them their own large salad-in-a-bag with great solemnity and no dressing. The aliens must have been used to this kind of thing because all of them feigned awe and delight over the miracle of pre-shredded iceberg lettuce. Caridad gave her plastic package of radicchio and beet greens to Inara, who received it as if it were diamond earrings. Maybe that was just how people from space were supposed to behave at dinner parties.
Finally all the food had been distributed and traded around. Mr. Giles cleared his throat meaningfully and said "Perhaps now would be a good time to share what we've learned today."
Andrew said, "I learned to respect sanitation workers and avoid blue-handed people."
"Thank you, Andrew, but -" Mr. Giles replied.
"That was a joke," Andrew said quickly.
"Ah," said Mr. Giles, "Well then, perhaps if we -"
Zoe asked Kaylee how the ship was looking. Kaylee said if they could get the shuttle back into space anywhere near their ship, it would hold air and steer well enough to "get us home safe as houses."
Willow said that they had come up with a ritual that should bring the dimensional portal down to the beach so that the shuttle would drop through it and back into the exact same spot it had come from. "There's no side-effects," she assured them, "nothing's going to come back at us through the portal and it will pop out of existence permanently as soon as the shuttle passes through it, which is a good thing because those things can be dangerous. "
"No kidding," said Buffy. Kennedy took Willow's hand.
"Plus it's super-easy," Willow continued, "all it takes is some kosher salt, rose quartz, and an old pair of pantyhose. You just need to know the incantation and do it at the precise right time."
Simon, Kaylee, and Zoe were looking at Willow as if she were insane. Inara shrugged. "Maybe in this universe that kind of thing works," she said hopefully.
River said, "Sunrise tomorrow, probably. Or else we wait until next year."
"How did you - Never mind," said Willow, "That's right, it has to be tomorrow just at sunrise, because it has to be when the tide turns and the sun rises simultaneously. That's either 5:49 tomorrow morning, or we wait until next February, and who knows where your ship will be by then."
Kaylee said, "The shuttle's ready as she'll ever be. And we don't have much to pack."
Dawn said, "I do. I'll have to pack. I'll have to pack a lot. I'm coming with you."
"Wait, what?" Buffy said. "You're not going to another dimension with no way back. You're going to Berkeley."
"I am so going!" Dawn yelled.
River explained, "She loves me."
"She's seventeen!" Buffy said, "and why am I even discussing this with you, you - you space tramp!"
"Excuse me, what did you call her?" Inara asked.
Xander said, "Buffy ..." just as Willow said, "Dawnie, I'm so sorry, but you can't."
"Thank you!" Buffy said. "Damn right she can't!"
"No, it's not that," said Willow. "It's that the monks' spells won't hold in another earth-like universe." She looked sadly at Dawn, who stared back at her, and said softly, "In River's home dimension, you would be a ball of swirly green glowing energy."
River said, "I knew that."
Dawn yelled, "It's not fair!" and began crying in big gulping sobs. She knocked her chair over as she got up and ran away from the table. River followed behind a little more slowly, looking back over her shoulder at her brother with an expression that might have been apology, or might have been regret at leaving a few leaves of baby spinach behind.
Xander shouted at the departing girls, "I'd better not have to fix any more plumbing tomorrow!" as he got up to start clearing the table.
Buffy said, "Wait. What? What plumbing?"
Everyone got up very early the next morning to say goodbye to the aliens and also, Caridad admitted to herself, to see what would happen next. Most of them walked out to the beach together. Willow had all the supplies for the ritual in a small My Neighbor Totoro knapsack which Kennedy carried for her. Inara was lugging two plastic sacks with her, containing all the produce she could scavenge from the house, which wasn't much: some bananas, a Granny Smith apple, a wilted Bibb lettuce, and three old bags of frozen peas which the Slayers had been using to ice their bruises with. The universe they came from must be a very strange place, Caridad figured, even if it was the future.
When they got to the shuttle it was still dark enough out that there were a couple of vampires around, headed for shelter somewhere. Faith staked them both, the big show-off. "Huh," Zoe said, like she hadn't believed them about being vampire slayers until she saw it. Well, some people were like that.
Dawn turned up a minute after that, red-eyed, holding River's hand but not carrying any luggage, to everyone's relief. Willow poured beach sand, salt and the quartz crystals into one leg of the pantyhose and used Xander's flashlight to consult Mr. Giles's pocket watch. "Okay," she said, "five and half minutes, and it's a lucky thing for us all that you crashed on the beach because it has to be right here where the tide is turning."
"Landed on the beach, you mean" River said.
"You're stalling," Simon told her. River sighed loudly.
Willow continued, "And it has to be at dawn, that's why we couldn't wait another day."
"Oh is that so," Dawn muttered. Buffy coughed. Willow looked umcomfortable.
"I'm sorry, hon, but that's how it is," Willow said. "Really. Now everyone into the shuttle who's getting in, and you probably want to close the doors tight."
Willow cut the stuffed leg off the pantyhose with one of her ceremonial knives and tied off the end. She started banging it against the side of the shuttle - it made an awful lot of noise - and chanting in some weird language. Or it could have been just nonsense syllables, Caridad wouldn't know the difference. Dawn and River clutched each other one last time, then River ran after the other aliens into the shuttle. They stood there for a second in the doorway and waved goodbye.
"Hey!" Xander said, pointing at River, "How did she get my flashlight?"
The door hissed shut and the gangplank rolled itself up. Willow leapt backward, still chanting, and started thumping the ground with the stuffed pantyhose leg. A second later a neat hole in everything seemed to fall from the sky, right on top of the shuttle. Then it and the shuttle were gone.
Willow looked up. "Look at that!" she said. "It worked!"
"Screw you!" Dawn said, "Screw all of you!" She ran up the beach. It was just light enough to notice that she was wearing River's blue dress.
"Um -" Buffy said.
Xander said, "Leave her be."
"But -" Buffy said.
"It's okay," said Xander. "I can always get another flashlight." Then he went up to the boardwalk to explain to yet another jogger that no, this was not a reality tv shoot, and even if it was they didn't have room for any more interns.
Caridad thought of it sometimes, the whole visit from the space aliens thing; so did Kennedy, which was why they had the fight about when exactly it had happened. It wasn't actually an apocalypse, but it had been interesting. Dawn mostly fooled around with boys after that, as far as Caridad could see. The Slayers went back to their new base in Scotland and got themselves organized to search for more new Slayers and, eventually, hunt vampires. Or Vampyres as Andrew would say. It was a living.