Future Tense

Author: Cyclone <cyclone[at]citynet.net>

Feedback: Please be gentle.

Distribution: Gimme credit and a link. Plus, archived at http://fanfiction.net/profile.php?userid=62966

Rating: I'm gonna go say PG-13.

Spoilers: For Buffy, up to Grave. For Firefly... well, we only got one season (damn you, Fox), so there's not much to spoil. *grumble* Still, I may refer to anything in any of the episodes ME actually got to make.

Disclaimer: The characters depicted herein belong to the almighty Joss. I'm just borrowing them for a while.

Summary: The men with blue hands try another tactic to recapture River.

Author's Note: To Buffy fans, this is very heavily Xander-centric. At the moment, it is unlikely that any other Buffy character will make frequent appearances. Also, to avoid the horror that made season six look good (and to avoid the peculiar oddity of Captain Caleb and his trusted second, Jasmine...), season seven of BtVS will be completely ignored.

Latest addition


He considered the report, when his gaze drifted to one of the listed potential side effects. "'Physical alterations to target'?"

"Estimated at twenty-one percent probability."

"Unacceptable risk," he shook his head. "The subject must be recovered intact."

"Understood, sir," the junior agent replied. "We have tentatively developed another possible solution, based on archival records, circa year two thousand."


The subordinate did, and the man listened.

After a moment's thought, he said evenly, "Authorized. Begin the operation immediately."


"All right, Xander," Buffy said, exasperated. "I give up, already. I won't try to keep you out of the Slaying any more, okay?"


"About time," Willow muttered to herself. It was... interesting, to say the least, how things had been between them since she'd tried to destroy the world.

That day on Kingman's Bluff, she'd seen a side of Xander she had forgotten existed. The brave, loyal, and utterly loving Heart of the Scooby Gang.

And she was pretty certain she was beginning to fall in love with him again.

"Buffy," she cleared her throat. She hated to interrupt, but she was concerned. The "deep tropical cellular tan" that Spike's chip and Tara -- her throat caught as she thought about her lover -- had detected seemed indicative of... something else.

"Yes, Willow?" the Slayer turned, her voice... not quite cold, but lacking the closeness they once shared.

"I, um..." Willow hesitated, "I cast a spell last night."

Buffy's expression darkened, "What did you do?"

"J-just a... a detection spell," Willow said quickly. "You remember those moments of weakness you've been getting lately? I wanted to see if I could figure out what was causing it."

The Slayer opened her mouth, anger on her face, but Xander stepped in, "Whoa, Buff. Let her talk."

Willow shot him a grateful smile and plowed on, "I think something went wrong with the resurrection spell. It... it altered you so that Spike's chip didn't read you as human... a-and I think it's getting worse."

"What do you mean?"

The redhead licked her suddenly dry lips, "Buffy... you're dying. Your body's falling apart, wearing itself out at the cellular level. I-I don't know how much longer you have."

Buffy blinked and tried to digest that piece of information.

A minute passed.

A sparkling blue light flashed toward Buffy.

"Look out!" Xander cried, shoving the Slayer out of the way.

The light struck Xander... and he vanished.


"Misfire. Acquired Harris, Alexander Lavelle. Target Summers, Buffy Anne, not acquired."

"Can we send him back?"

"Yes, but that bears a sixty-eight percent probability of damaging the temporal converter."

"Has he made any contribution to the timestream since the time we removed him?"

"Uhh... negative. Negative. Almost immediately after Miss Summers' death, he was involved in a fatal single-vehicle car accident. No legal action, no others involved."

"Then dump him. He's no use to us. He won't last long in the streets anyway."


Chapter 1

"Jayne, have you seen River?"

"I thought she was with you," Jayne replied, looking up from a magazine, the contents of which Simon did not want to contemplate.

As one, they both turned to look at the open cargo ramp.

"You don't think...?" Jayne trailed off.

"I most certainly do," Simon glowered at the gunman. "Come on, we'd better go find her."

"Whaddaya mean, 'we'?" Jayne snapped. Simon whirled around, about to object, when Jayne continued, "Gorram it, Doc, this is _Proteus_. Core world. You go out there, the Alliance'll peg you 'n under a minute, 'specially with the security on all them Alliance research projects. _I'll_ go find 'er. _You_ watch the hatch."


"I still can't believe I'm doing this," groused one Captain Malcolm Reynolds as he dangled upside down from a cable in a room lined with security sensors that were more sensitive than the ones on Serenity.

//What was that, Cap'n?//

"Nothin' you need worry 'bout, Kaylee," he replied into the comm headset. "I'm in position."

//Okay, you'll have a five-minute window, starting... now.//

And he went to work.

*This had better be worth it, Kaylee,* he thought sourly.


River wandered through the city, like a little girl, admiring every new thing that caught her eye.

Still, she moved with a purpose. There was a reason she had left Serenity.

She was looking for someone.


Jayne looked around and cursed under his breath. Somehow, he had a feeling in his gut that River knew what he'd done on Ariel. It was in the way she would look at him. She was smarter than Simon, and less naive.

Still, Simon had been grateful, giving him thanks he didn't deserve, and gorram it, he was gonna _earn_ that gratitude if it killed him.

Well, maybe wouldn't go that far.

Someone brushed up against him, and he shoved the guy back and snarled, "Hey, watch where you're goin'!"

"Sorry, sorry," the scruffily-dressed, dark-haired young man ducked his head in apology and quickly scrambled away through the crowd.

"Stupid punk," Jayne muttered.

Then a thought struck him, and he checked his pocket.

"Gorram it!" he hissed. "Bastard swiped my wallet!" He whirled around and searched the crowd. Spotting the unruly mop of dark hair, he shoved his way toward the pickpocket.

He didn't dare call the cops. He spent way too much time on the wrong side of that line to call them in now.

Besides, it was just one lousy pickpocket.


*Ohcrapohcrapohcrap...* Xander mentally chanted.

That guy looked _pissed_.

He ducked down into an alley and began taking random turns, eventually leaving the crowd behind.

He skidded to a halt when he found himself facing a dead end, *Looks like I zigged when I should've zagged.*

He turned. If past experience was anything to judge by, this was going to hurt.


Jayne doubled over as the pickpocket sank a fist in his gut. His eyes teared up, and he blinked them clear only to see a knee heading straight for his face. He jerked his head back, but still took a powerful blow to the forehead. A right cross slammed into his cheek, and he stumbled away from the thief.

"Lousy punk!" he growled. *To hell with lyin' low!* he thought viciously, reaching under his coat and pulling his gun out. There was no way he was going to let this pickpocket live after the beating he'd just received.

"Don't, Jayne."

He blinked and looked over his shoulder, "River? What you doin' here? Why'd you leave the ship?"

"He's coming with us," River said simply.

Jayne looked at the thief, "_Him_?!"

"_Me_?!" the thief replied, equally incredulous.

River nodded and walked up to the scruffy young man. Brushing his cheek, she said, "I've been looking for you. You're lost, like me."

"Lady, I..."

She cut him off, "I think we can help each other. Find ourselves. Please? Or Jayne might shoot you."

"Okay," he squeaked quickly.

"I might shoot 'im anyway," Jayne growled.

"_Jayne_..." River said warningly, "you don't want Simon to find out, do you?"

Jayne scowled but lowered his gun.


Mal climbed aboard his ship and said, "I hope those upgrades'll be worth it, Kaylee."

"Don't you worry 'bout that, Cap'n," the redhead nodded. "They will be."

"Yeah, well, I want you workin' on 'em soon as we make orbit," he replied. "Zoe, find your husband. I don't wanna spend 'nother minute on this planet."

"Yes, sir."

"Everythin' peachy here, Jayne?"

"Uh, yeah," Jayne said. "River decided to go for a walk, so I had to go hunt 'er down."

"No problems?"

"No problems."

"Good," Mal nodded. He frowned and took a closer look at the slightly refined thug. "Jayne? If there weren't no problems, what happened to you?"

"I, uh, got robbed while I was out lookin' fer River," Jayne said hesitantly. "Chased the thief down, and he... uh..."

"You got this messed up fightin' a pickpocket?" the captain's eyebrows shot up. "Damn. Find this guy; we could use a fighter like that."

"Uh, yeah!" Jayne replied quickly. Too quickly. "That's exactly what I thought, so I, uh, brought 'im here. The doc's givin' 'im a tour."

There was something Jayne wasn't telling him, but Mal let it pass. For now. He ought to meet this miracle fighter first.


Xander followed Simon Tam. He appeared to be listening, but in reality, he was trying to sort out what had happened in that alley. That gun-toting psycho was the sort of bruiser he'd always been afraid of, and he had beaten him handily.

*I've got a theory...* he sang silently, his mouth quirking into a smile at the memory. It was pretty obvious, really. He'd gotten so used to fighting -- and getting his ass kicked by -- vampires, demons, and other things that didn't have the courtesy to stay within human limits, that when he was faced with someone who _was_ human... it was no contest.

"So, you're the miracle fighter Jayne found."

Xander snapped his head up, "Uh, yeah."

Simon turned, "Alexander, this is Malcolm Reynolds. He's the captain of Serenity. Mal, this is Alexander Harris, our... new guest."

"Pleasure to meet you, sir," Xander nodded, shaking hands with the captain.

"Same here, Mister Harris."

Xander winced, "Call me Xander, please. 'Mister Harris' makes me think of my dad, and the sooner I forget about him, the better."

"I can appreciate that," Mal nodded. In his experience, people on the wrong side of the law tended to fall into three categories: Those who had fought with the Independents, those with less-than-stellar parents, and those who just happened to like being criminals. It looked like Harris fell into the second category.

"So why'd you sign up?" he asked.

Xander shrugged, "Got nowhere else to go. Besides, River kept that psycho from shooting me, and I figure I owe her for that, at least."

Mal thought about that. *Well, least ways, now I know what Jayne was hidin'.* Folding his arms, he said, "Jayne's a pretty good brawler. How'd a scrawny guy like you bust him up like that without gettin' a mark on you?"

"Luck?" Xander hazarded.

"Riiight," Mal snorted. "An' I can getcha a great deal on this piece o' old Earth that's just like it was afore the Burn. Tell me another one."

"No, seriously," Xander said, holding his hands up defensively. "That was the first fight I've been in a long time I didn't get my ass handed to me."

Mal thought about that, "You don't fight normal folk, do ya?"

"Uh, not... usually."

"Well, I don't want no more trouble on my ship, kid. These folk you do fight...?"

Xander shook his head quickly, "I don't think they'll care about me, if they even remember me."

"Well, good," Mal said. "Look, I gotta scoot now. Make yourself at home. Simon, find 'im a bunk." He turned and walked away.

Simon scowled, "I'm a doctor, not a busboy."


Kaylee scrubbed grease from her hands and sighed. The upgrades were taking awhile, but they were worth it. She could tell; Serenity appreciated them. Pulling her hair free and shaking it loose, she headed over to _her_ spot. No one knew Serenity like she did, and her spot was one place she could always find some alone time when she needed it.

She froze.

Someone was there, sitting in _her_ spot in the darkness, lit only by the stars outside the viewport.

It was that new guy. Xander.

"Hey," she said with a friendly smile.

He jerked his head around and blurted out, "Willow?"

She saw a hopeful look in his eyes... that died as recognition replaced it. He smiled, "Uh, Kaylee, right?"

"Yeah," she said, sitting down beside him. "Kaywinnit Lee Frye, at your service."

"Pleased to meet you," he said. After a moment, he asked, "Is this, like, your private spot? If it is, I can leave...?"

"No, no!" she said quickly. "Well, actually, it sorta is... but if Serenity let you find it, she must have a reason."

He looked at her thoughtfully, "You really love this ship, don't you?"

"She's my baby," Kaylee shrugged, beaming with pride. They sat in silence for a long moment, and she asked, "So... who's Willow?"

He flinched, "I..."

"You don't have to say if you don't want..."

"No, no," he closed his eyes. He had to tell someone, and he felt in his gut that he could tell Kaylee. "Willow's an old friend of mine. We knew each other for most of our lives, and somewhere along the line, we fell in love with each other." He chuckled, "Problem was, our timing sucked. For... lots of reasons, we never really got a chance to see if things would work out between us, and now..." he sighed, his eyes wet with tears, "...now, we'll never find out."

"Oh," she said softly. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be," he said with a sad smile. "I only have myself to blame for not seeing her for so long."


Chapter 2

"Cap'n, upgrades are online. Serenity's purrin' like a kitten," Kaylee said cheerfully.

"Well, that's good," Mal nodded encouragingly. "Everythin' as expected?"

"Yes, sirree."

"Fantastic, 'cause I just lined up a new job, and we may be needin' 'em."


"Can you handle a gun?" Jayne asked, cocking an eyebrow at Xander. "We just got a job, and the Cap told me to check you out on one."

"Been awhile," Xander shrugged, "but I think I can train back up."

"Well, let's see what you got."


"Gettin' better, punk," Jayne said, nodding with reluctant respect.

Xander frowned at the revolver distastefully, "Maybe. I'm more used to automatics, though. Less kick."

Jayne snorted, "You want an auto, pick it off a dead man. Y'ain't touchin' any of mine."

"Wouldn't want to," Xander cracked. "Don't know where they've been."

Jayne scowled.


"Seems kind of mundane," Xander muttered. "How does one passenger rate us going this far out of our way?" He was by no means an expert on interstellar travel -- being from a time when it didn't exist -- but he had grasped enough of the basic concepts and locations to realize that they were going pretty far off the beaten path.

"By payin' enough to keep this boat an' crew goin' for a month, that's how," Mal replied. "Besides, we're swingin' by another planet to pick up some cargo in that area anyway." He looked up and hissed, "Now be quiet. Here she comes."

He stepped forward and said cheerfully, "Miss Caanon, I'm Malcolm Reynolds, captain of the Serenity."

"A pleasure to meet you, Captain," Diana Caanon said, shaking his hand firmly. She had blue eyes and wore her blonde hair in a cascade of ringlets. "This is my bodyguard, Van, and my assistant, Tanya."

She gestured to the imposing giant of a man that stood to her left, then to the professional-looking brunette in a business suit to her right.

Mal nodded to them, "This here's my crew: Zoe, my second; Kaylee, mechanic; Wash, pilot; Simon, medic. The other two are my, ah, security detail: Xander and Jayne." He eyed Van and said, "'Preciate it if you'd work with them while on my boat. Don't want no trouble."

"We expect none," Van replied.

"However," Diana interjected, "I would like to make a stop at Grendel before we head to Tigris, if it's not too much trouble. I'm willing to pay an additional twenty percent."

Mal raised an eyebrow. That was where Badger's cargo was waiting. He shook his head, "Not a problem, ma'am. I'm sure we can find something to while away the time there." He paused and felt obligated to mention, "But Grendel's not exactly a place for gentlefolk."

"I'm sure Van can handle it," Diana said with a disarming smile. "We have some rather pressing business to attend to there."


Xander whirled around, lashing out with his foot at the makeshift punching bag -- really, a spare sleeping bag he had stuffed with extra pillows and blankets and hung in the cargo bay.

He paused, breaking his workout short, when he heard the clapping from behind him. He turned and grinned at Van, "So, any pointers, Mister Professional?"

Van shook his head, "Not really. You're good. Unrefined, but good, and I doubt my style would work for a scrawny little punk like you."

"'Scrawny little punk'?" Xander repeated, mock outrage written on his face. "Care to back that up, pal?"

Van smiled and calmly removed his coat, "I was hoping you'd say that."


As Van pulled himself to his feet for the third time in a row, he shook his head disbelief, "You're better than I thought. How'd you learn to fight like that?"

Xander shrugged, "I'm used to fighting people twice as strong and three times as fast as you are. 'Course, I usually _lost_, but it does help."

Van cocked an eyebrow, "Tournament fighter?" He raised his other eyebrow and grinned, "Live training dummy?"

"You wouldn't believe me if I told you," Xander said, shaking his head ruefully. "Let's just say those days are behind me now."


Xander glanced around edgily. Ever since the night Jesse had died, he had developed an extreme dislike of dark places.

"Afraid of the dark, kid?" Van asked, amusement in his voice. Mal had ordered Xander to accompany Miss Caanon and her companions on their business, over his and their protests.

"Hell, yeah," Xander replied without hesitation, even as he surreptitiously fingered the stake hidden in his pocket. Under his breath, he muttered, "With what's out there, a fear of the dark is a healthy thing to have, believe me."

"This way," Diana said calmly, turning down a darkened alley. Stopping at a nondescript door, she turned to Van and Xander, "Please, both of you, stay here. We'll only be a moment." Turning to Tanya, she said, "Tanya?"

The assistant nodded and followed Diana in.

"So," Xander cracked, "what do you suppose is in there, Van? Some immortal secret about the female gender?"

Van chuckled, "You may be right about that. I don't ask questions. Safer that way."

Xander snorted, "Don't I know it."

The door creaked open again, and Tanya and Diana emerged. They each held large bags containing what Xander would guess were books... large books, the sort that belonged in Giles' Watcher library.

As Diana climbed down the four crumbling old steps that led up to the door, one gave way, and she fell.

Xander and Van both moved, but Tanya was faster, dropping her load and catching Diana before she hit the ground. "Are you all right, Miss Caanon?"

"Yes, thank you, Tanya," she replied.

Xander bent over to pick up Tanya's package... and froze.

"Wait a minute. I recognize these," he murmured. He looked up, "What the hell are you doing with the Books of Ascension?"


"Badger," Mal muttered under his breath, "if I get out of this alive, I'm gonna kill you."

It could have been worse, all things considered... but not by much. Zoe and Jayne -- his two best guns -- were here with him, and that lowered the odds of a last-minute rescue considerably.

"So," Mal said as cheerfully as he could manage to the large and imposing fellow who seemed to be in charge, "care to tell me why you gentlefolk are pointin' guns at us like that?"

The apparent leader merely stepped aside, and an impeccably -- if tastelessly -- dressed man stepped out from behind the row of unhygienic thugs. He only stood about five feet tall and wore a bowler hat and an ugly white leisure suit with vertical black pinstripes. A large and tacky gold-plated amulet adorned his scrawny chest, hanging from an equally tacky gold chain.

"Captain Reynolds," the short man said, "we've been expecting you. Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Adrian Cygnus, and I've done some work for Badger on occasion. I am also currently rather upset with him."

"Knowin' Badger, that's not a real big surprise."

"You _do_ know him," Adrian smiled. "In any case, some time ago, I and my associates performed a job for him, and he has yet to pay us for it."

Mal shrugged, "So talk to him 'bout it. I'm just a cargo hauler."

"Be that as it may," Adrian said, "he's not here... and you are. Given that he's ignored my previous complaints, I imagine the head of one of his common business partners will acquire his attention more rapidly."

"Now wait just one minute here," Mal protested indignantly. "He's just a client, nothin' else. You're gonna have to do better'n me to get his 'tention."

"Perhaps," Adrian shrugged, "but let's find out, shall we?"


"How do you...?" Diana was cut off as a figure detached itself from the shadows and lunged at Diana. Tanya whirled around, a wooden stake sprouting from her sleeve, and she plunged into the attacker's chest... and he turned to dust.

As more vampires appeared, Xander moved as well, drawing his own stake and turning to face them.

The battle was quick, and there was no mistaking Tanya's superior strength and agility as she kicked, punched, flipped, and staked vampire after vampire.

Xander slumped against the wall, and Van sighed, "Well, that explains how you're such a good fighter. How long you been in this?"

"Six years," Xander said, nursing a bruised rib. "I hate vampires." His gaze drifted to Tanya, "And I think I know what's going on now. So, who's the jerk trying to Ascend?"

"That's none of your business," Tanya said coolly. This "Xander" wasn't a part of the Society. Wait... Xander...?

"Like hell, it's not," Xander snorted. "I've fought by three Slayers, two witches, and a werewolf. If they couldn't get me to stay out of it, you don't stand a chance."

Diana shook her head, "That's impossible. There hasn't been a Slayer in over two hundred years."

"'Two hun-'... then what about her?" Xander demanded, pointing at Tanya.

Diana sighed, "She's not a Slayer, but she's undergone chemical augmentation."

"You're him, aren't you?" Tanya said suddenly. "You're _him_. Xander _Harris_."

He stared. When did _he_ become a celebrity?

Suddenly, the comlink Mal had given him beeped, and he clicked it on. "Harris here."

Wash's voice emerged, tinny but urgent, "Hey, new guy, we've got a problem."