Author's Note:

I belatedly contacted my trusty beta reader and brain-twin, and she found some rather glaring errors I'd missed. So...this has been cleaned up a bit, some grammar and tense errors corrected, and is generally more polished.

In the Who-verse, the Doctor has left Earth after "The Runaway Bride" and has not yet returned for the events of "Smith and Jones." For some reason known only to the fanfic gods, this story tells itself better without a companion.

She also pointed out to me, as a non-Who fan, that I might clear up a few things. I figure it goes both ways, so for those of you who may not have made the acquaintance of Firefly yet, a quick rundown:

Colonists left Earth and settled another solar system, terraforming planets and moons to support life. It is now the 26th century, 500 years since the exodus from Earth. To the colonists, Earth is nothing but a memory, and believed to no longer exist. (They call it "Earth-That-Was.") A civil war has recently rocked the system (known as the 'verse to it's inhabitants) between the core planets' Alliance government and the border-planet Independents (also known as Browncoats). The Browncoats lost. The few that are left are mostly interested in surviving and staying under the Alliance radar. Life goes on; the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. The Reavers, horrific creatures who once were men, grow bolder every year, attacking ships and border settlements and killing (not to mention raping, torturing, and eating) citizens. The Alliance does not officially recognize the existence of Reavers, and does little about it.

Recently, however, a scandal shook the Alliance powers to the core. A crew of smugglers and petty criminals, led by a former Browncoat sergeant and veteran of the battle of Serenity Valley, picked up a pair of fugitives: Simon and River Tam, brother and sister from the wealthy Core world Osiris. River Tam was an escapee from a government-sponsored Academy. A prodigy and genius, River underwent "conditioning" at the Academy, until her older brother–once the most promising trauma surgeon in Capitol City–broke in and got her out. The pair found refuge on the Firefly-class transport Serenity. The Alliance was not happy, for River Tam held within her tortured psyche a terrible secret, about the dead planet Miranda and the origins of the Reavers. Despite the government's best efforts, Captain Malcolm Reynolds and his crew broadcast the truth of Miranda across much of the 'verse, and evaded Alliance capture–though not without the loss of some of their own. For the moment, however, the Alliance is busy with damage control, and the determined hunt for River Tam has been abated.

"This is me, for forever
One of the lost ones
The one without a name
Without an honest heart as compass"
–Nightwish, "Nemo"

The room isn't quiet, not really. His ship is never silent, never still–and yet right now it feels silent. It isn't the first time he's felt this; he doubts very much it will be the last. Alone again, with only the repairs to his ship and his soul to command his attention. He feels as though half his self has been torn away.

All that knowledge and experience, and he still can't keep the loneliness at bay. He can't cheat death for them, or defy fate. He can't keep the walls between the universes closing, no matter how much he wants to. He can't stop them fearing him.

He sighs, leans his head back against the control panel base. Dear heaven, he's getting maudlin in his old age. Much more of this, and he'll find himself dumped on an ice planet or something, locked out of his own ship until he's in a proper frame of mind. She'd do that to him; she's done it before. He hurts, oh yes, and it is by far the worst bit in a very long time–but sitting about moaning isn't going to save anyone. There's a whole universe out there, and it wants helping.

And he's used to being broken.

One of these days, he figured he'd not be surprised to see her sitting in Wash's chair, though he didn't anticipate it'd be anytime soon. He'd given up the pretense of official piloting almost immediately, and turned it over to her. The little albatross was bidding fair to be just as good a pilot as Wash was–and without all the fancy schooling. So he let her have the chair, and pretended not to notice that Zoe avoided the bridge. Not like she was getting along real well with any sort of stairs at the moment, anyway.

He edged through the gap between stair rail and console and settled in the co-pilot's chair. "Everything clear?"

"Clear as crystal." River's long brown hair curtained her face as she leaned forward to adjust something on her own panel. "Clear as water, clear as–"

"All right, all right, I get it. No call to ramble on." Mal propped a foot against the console and reached out to toy with one of the plastic dinosaurs perched on its rim. No one had the heart to pack them away. He doubted they ever would. "Three days to Persephone, then. And hopefully," he muttered, "we ain't gonna have any trouble." It was almost a prayer, and the thought brought a wry twist to his mouth. Wouldn't the Shepherd laugh.

It was a feeble prayer, and one he'd uttered an awful lot these past five months. He didn't hold much hope of it being answered. "Things never go smooth" had long since become a personal motto.

A soft noise beside him drew him from his thoughts. River was sitting up straight in her chair, hands motionless on the console, eyes staring wide into the black. Mal frowned. Not the first time he'd seen that look. "What's wrong, meimei?"

"It's coming."

Oh, sweet hopping Buddhas. "What's coming? River? Don't leave me in the dark here, darlin'. Something's comin', you give me warning, right?"

She turned to look directly at him. Her eyes were black, the pupils were opened so wide. "The storm. It's coming."