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You Must Lose Me Like An Arrow (shot into the killer storm)

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one.

Mel talks to herself.

Wacky Slayer side effect or maybe just the headcase in her finally coming out, but either way, walking the warrens is not the easy task it once was. Distractions abound.

She keeps stopping for puddles.

"Melaka," she says gravely to her reflection, tracing the watery imprint of her face with decisive fingers, "We need to talk. Ever since you got the shit kicked out of you by a vampire who turned out to be your own flesh and blood, you've changed."

Moonlight stains the water gold as she stands, and for a second, she feels impossibly strong and lithe in the pale starlight. Haddyn hasn't seen a tree in, oh, say, a hundred years but Mel knows all the names from the nature vids and Mama used to tell her she was strong like an oak but white like a birch. Mel pictures reaching for the sky, spreading her arms like branches, waiting for lightning to come crack her down the middle.

"Strong like an Amazon," she decides and it doesn't even matter anymore that she has no clue what that even means. Sometimes words that aren't her own come from someplace deep in her belly, someplace rich and musky and dark like history. Big guy with horns came along and gave her a destiny and now all she can do is take what comes with the territory. Trawl for lurks and wonder if she's more than the measure of her own fists, more than a sum of all those prophecies that are ingrained in her very blood.

(Harth got the dreams, but Mel got the tingle at the back of her neck, the sense-memory and the sickness when vampires get too close.)

Not like Mel ever really knew what her measure was, even before she became a lean, mean, vampire-killing machine, but still. Sometimes she can't help thinking it was better back then, when she had no idea she was capable of anything other than grabbing and stomping and angsting. Had her place down here in the slums, doing jobs and getting paid and generally minding her own business. Drowning in her own shadows. Maybe the occasional bitch-fight with Erin, because really, Mel's always been partial to confrontation, the meaningful looks and heavy pauses. Her life is bigger than that now, of course, bigger than just silence and stealing and stillness. Bigger than just that gnawing, aching loneliness.

But. See. Thing is, Mel sort of wishes she could feel that lonely in her own skin again.

Because lately when she wakes up, it's been like she has two heartbeats instead of one. Like she's a puzzle piece that's just realized half of her is bent, warped, corrupted. Unfit to lock in with the rest. Like something inside herself has come alive so she can finally see how empty she really is with that much missing.

She thinks what's missing must be him, her twin. Harth. The dark side of her moon.

Her foot goes through the puddle, splintering her image into a thousand different pieces. There's the wet glug-glug and plink-plonk of water droplets hitting the pavement.

Not too long ago, Harth knocked her out and told her to get ready for him to kill everyone she loved and cared about. Made things simple. Black and white. Harth equals raging murderer. Raging murderer equals bad. Bad equals kill. Kill equals Mel. Things were easier with that equation. But all of a sudden she's got these thoughts in her head and this weird, flickering emptiness where he used to be, and reminding herself that Harth is a Vampire and thus an Enemy--well, it doesn't help. Demonfreak or no, the One Who Will Lead wears Harth's body, and it's a body Mel knows too well to just write off.

Maybe it's not as creepy as it sounds. Maybe it's just that she's always had an inability to play by the rules. Probably she's more than a little messed up.

Mel tugs the scythe from its place strapped to her back. "Fly me to the moon," she breathes, swinging it idly as she continues to walk, "Yeah and let me play among the stars, hmm hmm doo da doo..."

Sinatra might be two centuries old, but his songs are sort of timeless. Who doesn't want to escape to outer space, shed the dirty layers of the Earth and figure out how to finally breathe among supernovas and planets red with dust? Who doesn't want wings to leave it all behind?

When Mel was fourteen, Harth taught her how dance to this song. Six months later, he was a ghost on a rooftop, bleeding out in Mel's dreams. Four years after that, and she's trying to figure out ways to kill him again, this time for good. Which in itself is a sort of dance, isn't it?

The circularity makes Mel's skin itch.

Another puddle underfoot, and she crouches, looking sternly at her reflection.

"You have lost it, chica," she gently chides. "What is today, some sort of turning of the tides?" Her fingers comb through the murky water, warping the silvery outline of her smile. "Look. Here's how it is. You saved the world. You redeemed yourself, you poked a dragon through its big-ass brain. You sort of rule. So snap out of it." Her shit-eating grin disappears. She grabs a handful of water, watches as it streams from her hand like silk. "Please snap out of it." Mel stands abruptly, dries her fingers on the hem of her t-shirt. She's wearing her leathers today, the tight pants and the coat she stole off some girl in the uppers. She's badass. She looks like a movie.

Yeah. Blade 723rd: The Dysfunction of Fray.

Truth. She doesn't know what it means to be Chosen, not when she's never had a Watcher. Just a dead demon and a sister who kind of sort of hates her guts. She's walking blind and Harth is the one who taught her how to do Algebra, how to turn down the smirk on her face, how to walk in a straight line after getting into Erin's beer. Mel is the younger one by twenty minutes and right now, she's calling in every one of those minutes because dammit, she needs help and fuck if he isn't the only one she knows to turn to.

Jesu. His kiss still burns her mouth like a fever, like pins and needles across her lips.

Harth has the heritage of the Slayer line, the memories and the dreams and the ancient knowledge, but Mel is the machine, the sword, the scythe. She is the hand to his heart. When he kissed her goodbye it was almost like he was trying to crawl into her, to zip her up around him so that they were one person. She wonders if he is as lost without her as she seems to be without him, because without him, Mel wonders if she's just a weapon in a dress. If all the swagger in her walk is just stupid, 'cause Harth knows as well as she does that she's crap at doing things alone.

She remembers that Harth's tongue was hot, and that his skin beneath her hands was cool. He tasted bitter like ash. Mel thinks he was maybe trying to kiss her back the parts of her that he stole.

Because sometimes when she sleeps, it's all she can feel, hear, see, taste: those Slayer things that were supposed to be his and not hers. The give of bone and slick blood under her punches, sticky gore under her shoes. Screams renting the air, the crunch of bodies breaking and twisting and snapping and dusting. Her dreams are inexplicable history, years and years and years of girls and women who killed. And the people who were doomed to Watch them, to watch them. To love them.

She sees her own life, tastes the swirling salt of the waters where she drowned Urkonn, feels the arcing blade bury itself in her scalp. Lifts Loo's broken, birdlike body in her arms and marvels at how strong she isn't really. Her story is like so many others, battles blending into wars until all that exists is one heart, one calling.

Only, in her dreams, when the sun rises, there are always two people facing the dawn.

The thing about being chosen is that Mel spent fourteen years of her life as a fraction and so now, being so singularly...singular, it's fucking hard. The bond between twins, Mel could never articulate it, could never put into words the relief of having someone who literally ran through her veins, a brain that worked towards common goals, a heart that felt in such similar ways. Could never describe the shock of losing that voice in the back of her mind, the completion his very existence lent to her own.

Harth was the one person who was never supposed to leave her, because he was a part of her in ways people could never destroy.

Mel supposes, in a twisted way, that's all still pretty true.

When she was thirteen, Harth slipped into bed with her. He'd been having a nightmare, he explained, and Mel had sighed; they'd all thought Harth had outgrown his nightmares years before. But his face had been so troubled, so anguished in the crashing glow of the thunderstorm outside. Mel had relented, nodded, opening the covers and waiting as her brother slipped in. He'd been warm, so warm. His arms had locked around her waist and his heart had beat against her shoulderblades and his breath against her neck had done funny things to her heart.

"I love you, Mel," he'd whispered. "I won't ever hurt you. I won't." His hand had fanned out over her stomach, fingers quivering over the dip under her breasts. And because he was Harth, because back then he was innocence and intelligence and everything good in the world, because he would never hurt her, because it would probably be the other way around, Mel had laced her fingers through his and squeezed. Guided his hand over the warm curve of her left breast, let him feel her heart beating. Looking back, Mel thinks his nightmares might have been assuaged by that touch. But another flame, something uneasy and wrong, had been lit that night. And when Harth had opened his eyes as a lurk, the moon shining dully in the depths of them, she had seen that fire. That hunger.

It hadn't been so bad, is the scary part. Seeing that in his eyes, knowing he still needed something from her. It had felt good.

Mel sometimes thinks that one day, she will enter her apartment to see Harth sitting on her bed, smiling his death-head smile. He won't have needed an invitation because Mel's spent the last four years praying for him to come back and now all that's going through her mind is an invitation for him to come in, to make himself at home, to rummage through her thoughts and memories and terrors and joys and nestle himself a place in the middle of all the debris.

She isn't sure what she fears most: that when the time comes, she'll give in willingly, or that she'll already be dead in all the important ways by then, withered and distant and longing for some elusive spirit to be returned to her.

Tonight, Mel thinks ruefully, and kicks her fingers through the puddle, is a night of existential calamity.

She stands, wipes her hand under the sweaty fall of her hair, breathing in against the cool water trickling down her neck. Her eyes close for a moment. When she opens them again, she lets out a slow exhale, raises her face to the stars, and begins to walk down the street.

She could really use a drink.

two.

Dawn portal-hops.

It's a totally dangerous habit, and Willow's always warning people about it and like, prophetizing over the millions of ways the world could end by jumping into an alternate reality, but when Dawn discovered a few months ago that it was even possible to manipulate space and matter in that way, she knew she would have to try it. Curiosity killed the cat, Willow says darkly, and promises not to tell Buffy, but Dawn isn't a cat. She's the sister of the Slayer and she is getting really, really good at magic, and what's the use of being the Key if she can't lay claim to all that supposed mystical energy and play around a little?

There's this blue chick, too. It gets interesting.

Calls herself the God-King Illyria. According to the research, she's pretty handy to have around temporal folds. Raises her cool points in Dawn's eyes at least, though the lady is definitely of the creepster variety, with all this icy intensity and a disturbing propensity to not blink for long stretches of time. "You are the One, the oldest of the old," Illyria always intones, and yes, the worship is also something that freaks Dawn out a bit. But it's cool, at least someone appreciates her. "I would follow you, in this world of half-breeds and lessers." Dawn figures it's sort of like having a sidekick. Except without the quips and the madcap hijinks, and more with the creepy sexual tension.

(Catsuits. It's gotta be the catsuit.)

Dawn first met Illyria in Scotland. Dawn was a giant, then. Stupid thricewises and their stupid notions of proper post-coital conduct. Kenny totally turned Dawn off boys forever, but after months of living in a massive complex filled with super-strong-sexy girls, she figures that sort of thing is inevitable. Dawn's already a freak in tons of supernatural, paranormal kinds of ways, so it's really no big deal if suddenly she's decidedly bi-curious, too. Willow did it, which to be fair is an excuse one could use for a multitude of things, one of them being attempted mass murder but--

In Scotland, Illyria was a tiny little brunette with pretty eyes and a Texas twang, and she said that her name was Fred. Willow was majorly into her, but Fred only had eyes for Dawn. Which was really hard for Dawn to believe until Fred took her aside and melted her skin away and in her place was some cold-looking otherworldly being.

Humans, Dawn will never understand, but demons? It's in her blood.

So Fred offered to look after Dawn at Berkeley, and everyone was happy because Dawn had spent so long being so surly about Scotland. (Buffy had kissed her cheek and said, softly, "Be good," but nothing could erase the distance already in her eyes.)

On the plane ride home, Illyria as Fred tells her that she's been looking for the Key everywhere, and Dawn cracks some kind of joke about putting her on a chain for easy access. Illyria gets that flinty look in her eyes and asks if perhaps Dawn isn't already on a chain.

"You are power unimaginable. You are the leashed fury of the ages. You are good and you are evil and you are what drives the demon to kill, the slayer to hunt. You could bring this world to its knees, if only you'd try."

Dawn doesn't know about that; she can barely even button her shirts right, half the time. But she likes the sound of it, and lets Illyria talk some more, mindful of the careful way blue-tipped fingers are navigating up her thigh.

"You must become what you are, in this world or the next. You must take back what is rightfully yours." The doe eyes flash ice, matching in frozen intensity the deep, throaty voice. Illyria skims the inside of Dawn's legs, makes her catch her breath and gasp, the sudden flash of power that floods through her making her weak.

"How?" Dawn asks, and sure, there are bad choices and there are bad choices but she's never had anything that was just hers yet. She deserves this. She deserves to feel in control of one thing. For once.

Illyria's lips are blue now, too, smile triumphant. "I shall be your conduit. I will pledge my fealty, so long as you reward me in the aftermath."

The aftermath of what? Dawn wonders, but she gives a little nod of agreement anyway, and the next day, Illyria slashes a cut right down the center of Dawn's palm, says some words, and opens their first portal into who-knows-where.

"You persist," Illyria tells hers when they land in the fifty-first century. "Long after your skin burns away, your true self shines on. You will be the reason lines continue. You will be the power that power seeks to harness. You open doors to destiny, you cause lives to unfold as if they had previously been as inconsequential as puppets. Now you must find the forms that you will take. You must make them complete."

Dawn nods along. Illyria has this tendency to speak in riddles. In between all their super-fun adventures through time (Dawn once giggles for seventeen minutes straight over the thought that if she's David Tennant, then Illyria's by default Billie Piper) they do a lot of walking. A lot of portal-hopping. Time passes without feeling like it at all. Sometimes they talk to new and exciting people. More often than not, Dawn has to stop Illyria from killing someone for supposed slights against her person. But they never find what they need.

Dawn isn't even too sure what they're looking for.

"We will know when we come across it," Illyria says dismissively. Twenty-sixth century now, and boy. For the future, it's bleak. "Have you never felt--" Illyria cocks her head. "Empty? Longing to be filled, seeking that elusive component that will render you queen once again? You are the beginning of a new age."

Well, that's great, but Dawn's been plenty of places lately and she's gotta keep up appearances in her own timeline--do the college thing so Buffy doesn't get suspicious and come, like, slay her. Not that she would. Sometimes Dawn wonders how she can be a piece of Buffy when her sister never seems to miss her, not even a little. And Dawn, Dawn misses Buffy like a limb. Like the heart of her.

"You are not a part of her," Illyria says, scanning the landscape. Earth is all dried up, and there are dusty-looking people moving into large spaceships by the hundreds. Dawn wonders what exact sci-fi schlock they've jumped into now. "She is a part of you. Made from your energy, though your form is molded from her image. All slayers are your daughters, all vampires your sons. You are the beginning of all things, the true First."

"Um," Dawn says, checking for incorporeality. "Cute." Her eyes follow the spaceship, then look to the sky, wondering if this is the world of endless shrimp. She's so hungry, lately. Always hungry for something that's not there.

"What we look for is not here," Illyria informs Dawn, turning from the landscape dismissively. "Nor is it now."

Dawn nods slowly. "'Kay," she says. "That's great. Where to, then?" Her hands itch, and she rubs them against her thighs, frowning at the sudden chills racing through her. It's been like this for weeks, this weird, uncomfortable feeling crawling through her. Like a million little bugs eating at her cells, skittering through her veins. It would freak her out, but she kind of likes the tickle. Plus, according to Illyria, she's like, all powerful. What's a couple of bugs in her body every now and again?

"Your form is degenerating," Illyria informs her. "It is your eighteenth year. You've come to maturation. Now we must look farther and further to finalize this containment." Her lip curls in disgust as she motions to Dawn's body. "You are doomed to shells, as am I. Once, you had the means and will to change your form however you so desired. On the names of the Old, let it be so when you reclaim the parts of you that have scattered and warped." Illyria cocks her head. "Though, you are not currently unpleasing to the eye."

Dawn blushes, remembers the one time she screwed up enough courage to sneak a kiss. Illyria's lips had been cold, so cold, and she had kept her eyes open the whole time, eyes that just kept staring at her like tiny blue marbles. Still, it had felt right, to kiss her like that. To feel one with a sister, with a female, with a warrior.

Sometimes Dawn dreams of blonde hair tangled between her fingers and the wide, pink 'O' of her sister's mouth right before kissing her. The way Buffy's eyes would widen, how she wouldn't be able to ignore Dawn then, how it would be a little like coming home. Summers blood, the same blood after all, pumping between their thighs as hands fell and muscles clenched. Sometimes looking at Buffy is like looking in the mirror, like looking in history books and seeing what Dawn was and is and could be capable of. Sometimes, it seems almost masturbatory, the way Buffy touches Dawn's leg and kisses her goodnight and forgives her for living.

Sometimes, Dawn is so fucked up it's not even funny.

"I am more an equal to you than any human could dream to be." Dawn startles as Illyria interrupts her musings. Her eyes scan and flicker across Dawn's face. "You are a God to gods, and to be a part of you is my calling."

Dawn snorts, itches her arm. "We all have callings," she mutters, shielding her eyes against the bright glare of the sun against an aircraft that says Blue Sun, Inc. A flash, and she thinks she sees a rising sun. "Twilight," Dawn says, because that's the symbol cut into the chests of those dead guys from just recently, the calling card of the new big bad. The new big bad who isn't, apparently, so new in this time, after all.

Illyria smiles in approval--well, as near to a smile as she can get. "It is the same intent under a different name," she says. "The Wolf and Ram and Hart who seek chaos in order. The government who seeks to bring war against a legion of girls. Their mission never ends. Not so long as yours persists. A blue sun." Her eyes flicker to the sky, and suddenly, she's in a trance, the blue melting to black, her voice strangely loud. "The other half of you, that vital essence, it exists along scattered planes now. Muted by the multiple callings of multiple girls." Illyria shakes her head like a fly is in her ear. "The witch destroyed your completion with her games and spells. You must merge with the pieces of yourself. You must become." Her eyes turn back to ice. "The time is three centuries back from this place. When the line began anew."

Dawn's palm burns and then they're in the middle of a raging slum and there's this gorgeous chick hanging outside a bar.

Her name is Melaka Fray and she's the first to be Chosen in two hundred years after Dawn's own time. There's something patently wrong--unfinished, even--about the girl. Dawn feels her skin hum just being close to her, and for a moment, she sort of sees what Illyria must have meant by saying she'd know what they were looking for when they found it. The puzzle pieces almost fit.

The curl of this girl's hair against her cheek, it makes something ache low-down between Dawn's legs. If she squints, it's almost as if the girl glows green, and the tug in her belly makes Dawn stumble forward, her hands already reaching out.

"Hello, hey, um, hi." She's the one who greets the girl breathlessly, 'cause Illyria is, frankly, dick in social situations. "My name is Dawn. Can I buy you a drink?"

The girl cocks her head and follows Dawn inside. It feels almost like an ending, even though Dawn knows everything is only just beginning.

three.

River goes places in her head sometimes.

She doesn't tell Simon, knows he'll be mad. Knows he thinks she's mad. Probably she is--her mind has seen better days, after all.

And now she fears that mind is barren as a wasteland, empty and stripped of its forests and trees. Nothing grows in the hard earth, nothing green or lush or alive. Just death, bleached white and fine, like bones ground into sand. And she gets so lost wandering the desert, trapped inside herself, where her skull is too tight for the swelling of her brain, where there's no relief from the tiny things skittering into every crevice of the swollen organ. Words, whispers, prophecies, girls. They're always there, making their homes in her, just crawling, slithering in and out of her ears and under her skin, telling her to do things, to be a thing. But she can't, she can't do anything or be anything, because something made her and then someone tried to unmake her and now she doesn't know what she is.

Outside a corral on Jiangyin, cattle speaks to her in their ancient, bovine tongue. Cows are the second mother of all mankind. Cows--

(Cows are members of the species bovinae, subfamily of the family bovidae. Traditionally raised as livestock for human consumption and physical service. Domesticated beings turned wild by traces of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, cows are spirits changed by science. Their meat, their dairy, their skin, all cultivated to feed and clothe mankind, to fulfill a higher calling. Sacrifice is always for a higher calling, it seems.)

Cows have four stomachs but no voice with which to speak. River's brainscape may be as dry as dust, but it is still a repository for the most useless knowledge. Analogies, metaphors. She is empathetic in ways no one would guess.

"They weren't cows inside. They were waiting to be, but they forgot. Now they see sky and they remember what they are."

The lights and the lasers and the prodding, the bad men dissected her, sliced into her armor, and they poured out all the parts that they needed. Memories and secrets. Skin and fat. Brain matter and physical matter, numbers upon prophecies upon numbers, calculations mixed with the oldest glyphs. Her own body is not her own and there are so many people

(The Alliance--the Academy--Blue Sun Corporation--Wolfram & Hart--Sineya, the primeval)

who have held her in their hands.

She goes looking for it, in her head. The pieces. The people. The things that were given to her and that were taken from her. Wants to set it right, get it back, be the one. Be the one girl. The first. The last. The millions in between, the only.

The chosen.

"The human body can be drained of blood in eight point six seconds given adequate vacuuming systems--"

(Well, that's not right. Sequence is out of turn, repetition of the phrase into empty walls, empty bunk. She's already visited the berry bushes by now, was almost lit alive at a stake. Simon tells her to sleep now, to rest, but she's spent centuries sleeping, hasn't she? Nightmares tell her yes, that she was reawakened in a warren in a city in a girl who was one of two. That's where she goes, to save the girls because--

Captain saved her tonight from burning, but what of the others? The other girls-weapons-witches? They're in her head, burning and screaming and wanting, they won't stop, they--she couldn't save them. Because she is them--

she is Joan d'Arc--

she is the Righteous--

she is Lucy Hanover--

she is the Source--

she is reawakened in Malaysia--

in Melaka--

Time keeps folding back upon itself, and there's a key and a cage and a woman with blue hair who speaks through shells.)

"River? Mei-mei?"

Simon is speaking to her. Simon, who is not her brother, because she is a sister but she is not his sister. She is his mirror-reflection, his charge. Tams have sat on some Council or another since the advent of time (and councils) and Simon is the indisputable heir of this new age, the leader, the watcher, the Watcher, the shaman, the father-brother-lover. She was more than gifted, she was a gift to him, a girl in a porcelain box with a pink ribbon and braids and a sacred calling. He's destined to protect her and he doesn't even know why. Simon only knows that he loves her. The Council would have called it a fatal flaw (you have a father's love for her, Rupert) but it's what helped her live. He saved her in honor of his love.

Duty. It's all in the crosses they bear.

The Academy tried to take that from her, her duty, her self. When Gabriel Tam, the last living descendant of a Watcher (Ying Tan, Watcher to Xing-Rong, killed by William the Bloody, 1897) came to Parliament, he told them of the dreams that his youngest, genius daughter was having. Could they save her, make her normal, salvage that glorious brain? And they said yes, they heralded it as a sign, they who worked under the banner of an unholy triumvirate of wolf and ram and hart, then a rising sun and star, then just a sun. (Blue.) They, who took her to a school and changed her, stripped her impulse control, made her unsteady when she should be rock, fooled her into thinking she was only a weapon, then tried to mask her true nature, her true calling, but you don't hide fate. You don't hide birthright. Her right of birth.

They mined her muscles, fine-tuned her weaponry. Made her theirs instead of her own. They, who--

(they're eternal, but then, so is she.)

Once, they were frightened of all the soldiers on the front line, the girls with the power and drive to kill ("They want a war? We'll give them a war. Twilight is coming.") but the battle they brought got stopped and the vampires went away eventually and so did the girls. So did the power. They hid in the backwater planets and the shadows, biding their time behind law-firms and corporations and high-level state infiltration. Centuries later, when the vampires came back and the line of girls began again, they got crafty. Talked about changing times and government creeds and the epitome of secret agenting, the best of the secret assassins if only the destiny could be drilled out of the fragile bodies, the girlish hips and smiling lips. Too many secrets for River, when she already has a planet of dead people (people she couldn't save, there were no vampires no demons only air) and legions of memories she never lived warring along the plains of her mind.

They wanted a Slayer's body, but not the Slayer's mind, so they took it away. Took her away, tortured her into submission. A slayer as a pet, only you can't cage an animal for long before their true natures unfurl.

"I could kill you," River tells Simon now, seriously, as he strokes her trembling cheek. "I learned." Pressure points. Learned them from Merrick when she was fifteen--

No. She learned them from Urkonn while they trained--

No. She learned them off of the cortex when she was six--

(Science versus spellwork, and there's no place in old magic for new technology. Girls hold weapons, or do weapons hold girls? Keys and mind-cages, time-cages, locked in one's own self. Too many stories, told to too many girls on sunlit schoolsteps and dusty African roads and in the living room of a home in a small town poised at the brink of war. There's fact in all the fiction, but the fact is, not everyone wants to be strong.

River didn't want this.)

The shot. Simon slides it into her arm, the smoother. Supposed to smooth the wrinkles out of her mind, and it's so clear for a moment: there are no vampires. There are no slayers. There is no Chosen One. There is just the purity of sensation, Simon's big hands and warm smell and the trace of his lips on her hairline. If she could slide into him and stay there, forge a home in the heated corners of his body, she would. Sometimes he looks so desperate for the same thing, to keep her close in the only way he knows how, and his hands feel less than familial on her waist. And perhaps she would like that, the joining of her self with his self, the final protection, romance instead of relation. Insurance. (Simon would never use Cruciamentum.) Sometimes in her dreams she kisses him and he is someone else, someone with dark hair and glasses and the ridged brows of a lurk--

Ah, and then the fabric of time snaps back to its original form and River is swimming through the waves, the creases, the folds of recollection, the photodex of images and emotion that belong to her without really belonging to her.

She is the One. She alone. (But is she alone?) Churning water over immutable stone. The winds of change, the barrier to the flood. She knows it now, remembers it. Remembers too much. She sighs and looks back into the wasteland of her brain.

And as she sinks into sleep, Simon's arm curled across her stomach and his breath moist against her ear, she tries to find that lovely green energy again.

Wonders on the ways things come together and fall apart.

four.

It's strange how crowded it is, these bodies in bed and all the ghosts they have between them. River watches over the sleeping girls, the blue arms and the pale legs and the long, dark hair, and she sees every empty space. Feels every ache. Hears every heartbeat. It's almost painful, the connection she has to the girl with the dark hair and the scar, as if everything she is experiencing is something River has experienced before and will experience again. Dreams of history and prophecy. Of lurks turned to Reavers turned back to vampires, of the girl with the ancient eyes shoving her hand through Melaka's gut and unlocking something deep in her core. Of completion, echoing across universes, as Melaka becomes everything she was supposed to be, as the green energy flares and turns to white, solidifies inside of the other girl, as the woman covered in blue passes a hand over both forms and declares the process well on its way to finishing, but meriting some additional examination.

River gasps awake when dawn comes. She grins secretively to herself at the wordplay, and then tilts her head back, moans low in her throat.

Simon is touching her.

It's instinct, something deeper than the blood that runs through him now, a memory like the memories that guide her, from long ago and screaming of the way things must be between the watchers and the girls. This is the way has been between men and women since the beginning of time, River supposes, and though he will wake up horrified, claiming involuntary biological response, right now the sweep of his hand over her belly feels a bit like coming home.

She sighs, turns to Simon, and guiding her fingers across his face, into his hair, kissing him awake, she allows herself this one moment of finally being who she was always meant to be.

five.

Melaka doesn't do girls. She just....doesn't. Except, she guesses, when she does.

Looking down at the girl with honeyed hair and the weird blue bodyguard, remembering the way their bodies had worked next to her, had brought her to a point where the dreams and the destiny didn't seem to matter, where it was just them and her and that final point of finishing--

Mel runs a hand over her face and shuts the door quietly. The guests will see themselves out, and she can finally sleep without seeing Harth's face in her head.

six.

"Finally," Dawn mutters with the morning, turning her face to Illyria's. "Finally."

Her skin feels like it fits for the first time in years, and something has anchored her to this world. Illyria's expression is a mirror of her own, satisfaction and something dark, full of knowledge of times to come.

Dawn smiles. Buffy would be so pissed.