Author: Jedi Buttercup
Disclaimer: The words are mine; the worlds are not. I claim nothing but the plot.
Summary: B:tVS, Firefly. River returns to the Academy at the head of a new Independent Army. 750 words.
Spoilers: B:tVS way post-"Chosen"; Firefly post-"Serenity"
Notes: This is an old idea I had when first writing "Book's Legacy". I thought it would be too much to include there, but it lived on in bunny form.
The first, and most crucial battle in the second War of Independence wasn't fought on any battlefield. It wasn't decided by capital ships consigning one another to the bosom of the Black, nor by men with guns starving and dying to hold a line drawn on a map by their generals. It took place, instead, at a school for gifted children, run by politicians with an agenda and peopled by doctors and administrators who believed fully in the party line.
River Tam had once been one of those children, and Malcolm Reynolds, Captain of the Firefly-class transport ship Serenity, had made it his business to see her happy and fulfilled in the wake of the events bound up with their discoveries at Miranda. If that meant going back to Osiris and paying a visit to the school that made her what she was, then as far as Mal was concerned that was the way it was going to be, and he brooked no opposition.
It didn't make no nevermind to Zoe, who followed even more closely than usual in her former Sergeant's footsteps since the death of her husband, nor did it disturb Inara, who was able to leave the ship and take several high-paying clients during the interlude. Simon cared only that the job at the Academy might help him help his sister, and Kaylee cared only that Simon agreed. Jayne took a bit more convincing, but eventually gave in once he was assured he'd receive his cut no matter what went down. And so they got in touch with Simon's old contacts and made swift to infiltrate the place.
Turned out Mal knew some of the men who'd made it their business to interfere in the Academy's plans. His own platoon had been wiped out in the Battle of Serenity Valley, but he'd been commanding practically all the Independent troops still present on the planet by the end, and more than a few of them, including the leader of that particular resistance cell, remembered him with fondness. They helped him raise a small army of support crew, snuck up on the place in the dead of night, and liberated every last one of the inmates. It hadn't been worth the trouble before, but with a figurehead and cause behind them, half the Alliance fleet destroyed or in dry dock too far away to intercept their escape, and funding provided by a few families who'd finally seen the light, they decided the time was ripe to make a move.
The guards posed little problem to the Independent force, with River at its head, the doctors even less. The children were the real worry, as they'd been indoctrinated a lot longer than River herself-- but before Mal could worry too much about how best to release them, River led him to one particular cell and pressed her cheek to the windowless door.
"Jie jie," she whispered, a concerned look on her face; Mal opened his mouth to ask her what she meant, talking of an older sister, but she raised a finger to her lips to urge him quiet and kept right on listening. Then her face lit up in a sudden smile, and she backed slowly away from the door, ushering Mal and the rest of the crew off to one side.
Seconds later, the door sprang off its hinges without warning, clanging emphatically into the opposite wall. A small blonde girl stepped through the opening, blinking uncertainly from the dark doorway into the lighted hall-- but not a girl after all, for despite her apparent youth her hazel-green eyes were deep with old anguish, a look Mal had only seen on experienced veterans.
"They patterned us after her," River whispered at his side, picking up as always on the direction of his thinking. "Never aging, always fighting, but spirits cannot be copied, and demons no longer exist. We came out broken."
The woman took a step forward, then another, and Mal found himself giving ground before her. Then she turned to River with a sad smile, and placed one hand on the girl's cheek.
"You're not broken," she said. "Demons do still exist, in the hearts of men-- and you're fighting them."
Mal didn't know then what an asset the woman would turn out to be in their fight, but his opinion of her was sealed in that moment. He took her back with them as the newest passenger aboard Serenity-- and never once regretted that decision.