Author's Note: Written for the Multiverse Many Worlds Space Show Crossover Ficathon, for the prompt: ST:TNG/Firefly, Wash becomes a Q. I apologize to any actual Chinese speakers for what is probably really crappy Chinese -- I was pulling it from The Firefly-Serenity Chinese Pinyinary, but I know enough about languages to know that just grabbing phrases that sound like they would fit might actually not work nearly as well as you think. The footnotes for the translation refer to the bottom of the page, but since fanfiction dot net strips out HTML links, I couldn't hotlink them. Also, it's been too many years since I've watched Firefly to really get the speech patterns down, and I apologize for that as well.
The majority of this story is built around the plot of the Serenity movie and contains major major major spoilers for that movie. It hasn't really got much in the way of Star Trek spoilers at all, though having seen the Voyager and DS9 Q episodes would probably help.
He was exhilarated, exhausted, almost shaking with the effort but feeling more alive than he ever had. He'd just pulled off the hardest maneuver he'd ever made in the game, with the lives of the people he cared about and the future of all humanity in this 'verse at stake, and he'd done it without cheating at all.
As he brought Serenity gliding to a stop, he took a deep breath. "I am a leaf on the wind," Wash said, and turned to Mal and Zoe. "Watch how--"
And then there was a brutal explosion of pain in his chest, blotting out all of his human senses, and when he recovered himself he realized he had already instinctively fled the broken piece of meat that was now pinned, impaled, in the pilot's seat.
"Ai ya gou shi," Wash muttered. (1)
His friend, the one who had introduced him to the fun of role-playing games, and her asshole boyfriend, the one who liked humans and had found him this universe in the first place, materialized next to him. "Oh, damn," his friend said, sympathy in her voice. "You were so close to the objective, too. Just a little longer and you could have gone out with some serious points."
Wash wasn't really paying attention to her. At this point, the notion of losing points was the last thing on his mind. He was watching Zoe holding his former body, shaking him and saying "No, no, baby, get up, you've got to move..." Pain welled in him, almost worse in a way than the physical pain of his body's death. By instinct he reached out, grasping for the timeline, ready to undo the last few minutes and go back to the game.
"Uh-uh-uh," his friend's jerk of a boyfriend tsked at him. "That's cheating."
Wash glared at him. As if that guy didn't cheat all the damn time. "I was so close," he said. "And look at her. She's devastated." He turned to his friend. "Can't I--"
"You really can't," she said. "I know it's hard, but you knew the rules going in. When the body dies, the game is over. You don't use your powers to influence the campaign either while you're in it or after you're out. Otherwise your entire score gets thrown out and you're blacklisted. And you lasted so long -- you even went through being tortured without cheating. You can't ruin it now."
But he had managed to endure being tortured by Niska without cheating and using his powers because he had known Zoe would come for him. Because despite her being a powerless human, she was practically a force of nature and he had fallen in love with her ability to defy death and the odds, and there she was down there almost paralyzed by grief for him... and he felt like he was betraying her. He wasn't actually dead, but her grief really could kill her. If she had died and remembered that, oh yeah, she was actually a godlike omnipotent being, she would have acted to save him or come back to him, wouldn't she have?
"I don't care about my score," he said. "I care about her. About them." Mal was pulling Zoe away from his corpse, just in time to avoid her being speared by a second harpoon. "I knew the rules going in, but I didn't expect to fall in love with one of them. You never did."
"She has me," the jerk said, smugly.
"You're such a comedian," his friend said sardonically.
"Look, I don't care about points. I just... I don't want Zoe to die. Or any of the others, I guess, but mostly Zoe."
"You mess with the campaign, you'll be blacklisted. You won't be allowed to play another game. And you know the rules about living among them and using your powers. You don't want to get a reputation as the kind of Q who does that." She gave her boyfriend a look, for emphasis.
"Who, me? I've never done that."
"Because the starship captain wouldn't let you." She turned back to Wash. "Come on. It was a good game, and that last flight down was pretty damn amazing, but it's time to go."
"Pretty damn amazing?" her boyfriend scoffed. "He's a Q. Even without his powers he's got vastly superior spatial perception and reaction times to a human. That flight was only what we should have expected."
"Says the Q who's so afraid of doing without his powers he won't play," she said. "I have an idea. Why don't you shut up when you don't know what you're talking about? Oh, wait, that would reduce your ability to converse so drastically you'd sound as if you took a vow of silence, wouldn't it?"
"I'm not going," Wash said, ignoring the byplay between the two, since it was hardly out of the ordinary for those two to bicker and be sarcastic with each other. "I want to see how this plays out. Even if I can't go back to the game now that I'm out of it, I'm not going to leave until I see what happens."
The jerk rolled his eyes. "Horde of Reavers? And your good pal Mr. Universe selling you out to Mr. Peace And Order Through Mass Murder? How do you think it's going to turn out? Come on, I know a pocket universe where the connection to the Continuum's weak enough that we can actually get drunk enough not to see what we don't want to see. We can head over there if you want. Q's buying."
"I do so love how you volunteer me for things I never agreed to do," she said.
"You love everything about me. Admit it."
"I especially love the way you keep your mouth shut. Because it's so rare, and therefore precious."
"Nice try. Anyway, you owe him. You got him into this game, and now he's emotionally involved with a bunch of mortals who are most likely going to die horribly."
Zoe was telling Mal that she and the others would hold the Reavers long enough for Mal to get inside and make the transmission. Of course, none of them knew yet that Mr. Universe was dead, that his equipment had been destroyed or that the Operative was still lurking around in the complex... but Mr. Universe had left just enough hidden equipment, and a message for Mal, as a giant "fuck you" to the man who had killed him, so maybe Mal could still get the job done. It wasn't entirely over yet. Wash couldn't see how Zoe or the others could survive this, though. Those were Reavers out there. "Qu ni de, Q. (2) I'm going to watch how this comes out. It's the least I owe them."
"You don't owe them anything," his friend said. "You did your best for them, within the parameters of what a human can do, and then you died. They don't expect any more from you."
"They don't know I was capable of doing more," Wash pointed out. "But I do."
The Serenity crew were moving crates to make cover. Or at least Mal and Jayne were. Zoe was helping a bit, but mostly weaponing up, and the others -- Kaylee, Simon, River, Inara -- they were just shell-shocked, holding guns it was plain none of them felt comfortable using. Zoe asked Jayne if he seriously thought any of them would survive, meaning she seriously thought none of them would, and Wash's heart nearly broke. His death had shattered her. She wasn't going to make it. She'd do the job, like she'd told Mal she would, until the Reavers pried her gun from her dead fingers... but she was going to die, here and now.
Wash had always known she was mortal, and he wasn't. He'd always known that someday, he'd see her die. But gorram if he hadn't hoped she'd be carried off by a heart attack in her sleep when she was old and grey. Not now. Not so young, so vital still.
"You can't help her," his friend said, half compassion, half a warning. She played these games all the time -- usually with more violent, war-loving, hardier races than humans, such as Klingons or Andorians. She knew better than to fall in love with them. And everyone knew about her boyfriend's thing for humans, and a couple of specific humans in particular, but he'd never hidden his true nature from them, so he never had to restrain himself from using his powers to save the lives of the humans he cared for. But Wash had known the rules of the game going in, and he'd fallen in love with a human anyway. How gorram stupid could he have been?
Now there was Mal, off in a different part of the complex, discovering that Mr. Universe was dead. Kind of too bad about him -- Wash had liked him, but without using his powers he hadn't known the guy well enough to see the betrayal coming. On the other hand, he wasn't sure most humans would have done different, if their sanctuary was invaded and they were surrounded by the enemy. Making a deal with the devil might have been the only choice the guy thought he had... not that it had saved him, in the end.
So now Mal knew where the equipment was, and hopefully had recognized that the Operative still had to be here. Back with the crew, no Reavers had broken in, but River was freaking out, moaning that they were nothing but rage, which was kind of obvious really. And there was Kaylee being terrified, trying to be brave but knowing she was going to die, and Simon telling her his only regret was in not having sex with her when he'd had the chance... which perked Kaylee up better than a pep talk and made her all fired up to survive this. Wash had to chuckle about that, though he knew a good attitude wasn't really going to save any of them.
The Operative came out of the vents and back into Mr. Universe's sanctum... and the sex bot the guy had programmed to deliver his last message woke up and started delivering the same message all over again, to the one man it should never have gone to. "Gaoyang zhong de guyang," Wash said. (3) Now that he had the use of his powers back, he could see the Operative's entire career at a glance. The man was a serious badass; Mal was tough, but not up to this guy's level. "He's fucked now, isn't he?"
"You know, that offer of getting blind stinking drunk stands open," his friend's boyfriend said.
"I hate to admit that he's right... but he's right. You shouldn't watch this, Q. It's just going to depress you. Let's go." His friend tugged at him.
"No," Wash said stubbornly. "I'm sticking this out. They were my friends and I'm gonna watch how they end, if that's how it's got to be."
And then the Reavers broke through. Zoe killed some -- one, two, three -- a single shot to the head apiece. But she was moving toward them. "Why's she moving toward them? She can't take them in hand to hand! She needs distance for the guns!" Wash said, panicking.
"You're a Q, how about you figure it out?" the asshole said.
They were attacking her now, throwing her down, and Zoe couldn't begin to take a Reaver in a fight. She was done for. Then Jayne gunned a few of them down, gave her some breathing space. "Zoe, get your ass back on the line!" he screamed.
"Zoe, maybe the universe is coming to an end but Jayne is making sense for once!" Wash shouted at her, knowing perfectly well she couldn't hear him. He wasn't allowed to open a connection, to actually speak to her. "Listen to him! This time, anyway!"
Apparently Zoe wasn't as inclined to suicide as he'd feared. She got to her feet and started to run. Behind her a Reaver raised a weapon over her head, and if Wash breathed anymore he would have gasped. And then Inara fired her crossbow and the Reaver dropped. "What do you know, the Ambassador is kind of kick-ass," Wash muttered in surprise.
"You did know they train them to do more than copulate with other humans," his friend said.
"'Course I knew that, but I never really had the pleasure of watching her fight."
At the same time, Mal was trying to get to the transmitter down near the generator, but as he was preparing to leap, the Operative shot him with an electric stunner. At least the bastard hadn't used a real gun -- too enamored of using swords and fancy crap like that to kill people. On tenterhooks Wash watched as Mal told the Operative that they knew the secret of Miranda, that he was willing to die to make sure the people of the 'verse learned the secret too... and then shot at the Operative, driving him back, as he declared that death wasn't exactly his Plan A.
Zoe was hurt. Jayne dragged her back to cover and the doctor patched her up, but the Reavers were coming through, more and more of them. Mal was climbing across chains and scaffolds, trying to get to the transmitter, and the Operative was following him. And then they were fighting above the generator. Below the two of them the generator spun, and if either of them fell in that was it for them. "Can't I just make the generator spontaneously shut down?" Wash asked.
His friend sighed. "If you did that, where would your friend the captain get power for his transmitter? I know it's disorienting, after limiting yourself to mortal intelligence for so long, but please try to wake up and act like a Q?"
Kaylee got darted. Wash winced, knowing the darts were poisoned. And the Reavers were swarming in now. Zoe called the retreat, and the group fell back through the blast doors... but the doors were still open, and without a way to shut them there wasn't going to be a way to hold. Jayne used up the last grenade blowing up the first few Reavers to try it. Kaylee suggested she could close the door from the outside, but that was a suicide mission and Zoe said so.
The poisoned darts were numbing Kaylee... but the doctor's bag had been left behind. Simon stood up to find it, and a Reaver's bullet found him, knocking him down. He babbled, talking about the medications he needed for himself and Kaylee, from the bag that might as well have been on the Outer Rim. "I could just teleport the bag to them..." Wash said wistfully.
"No," his friend said. "Q, you really should not be watching this. It's too much of a temptation for you." She turned to her boyfriend. "Q, help me get him out of here."
The boyfriend shrugged. "It's his lookout. If he wants to endure the temptation and run the risk of screwing up, that's his choice."
Zoe, Inara and Jayne were holding the Reavers off, but barely. Kaylee was dying. Simon was dying. River, apparently, didn't think that was acceptable.
She got up and ran, throwing herself out into the horde of Reavers. She fought one off, two, three, then hit the button to close the doors, picked up Simon's bag and flung it through the closing doors. Before she could run back, the Reavers overwhelmed her, grabbing her, pulling her back. "Biaozi de erzi," Wash muttered. (4)
"Now you want to go get drunk?" his friend's boyfriend asked. "This is not going to be pretty. You know this."
And he was tempted, gorram it. Watching River be raped to death and eaten, possibly not in that order, was not something he thought he could handle. It brought it home, sickeningly, that that could happen to Zoe, that it probably would, that the best she could hope for at this point was that they shot her in the heart or smashed her skull in, and he didn't want to watch that. But Mal was still fighting the Operative, Mal was still working the mission. Everyone else would probably die, but Mal might actually succeed in warning the people of the System what their government had done. And if that was what all his friends were going to die for, Wash was damn well going to watch to see if Mal succeeded, at least.
Wash was carefully not looking at River, not letting his vast, inhuman senses focus on her and what was happening to her for even a moment, but he could see Zoe and Jayne, waiting to die. He saw Zoe's confidence that Mal had gotten through, and damn if it hadn't pissed him off when he was in the game that she was so very certain of that man, and damn if it wasn't breaking his heart now. Because the Operative had just smashed a nerve cluster, paralyzing Mal completely. It was all over. They would die for nothing.
"Laotian, bu," Wash whispered, devastated. (5)
And then his friend's boyfriend said, "Well, will you look at that!" He pointed at River. "You have to give her points for self-confidence. Does that come from the insanity, I wonder?"
She wasn't dying. She was fighting. Twisting and weaving, a sword in her hand, cutting Reavers down. Wash saw his friend turn her attention there, mesmerized -- she loved combat, and the work of a truly great warrior always caught her eye.
His friend's boyfriend winked at him, or would have if they had had eyes, which, since they were non-corporeal, they didn't. Wash got the idea. While his friend wasn't looking, utterly entranced as she was by River's dance of death with the Reavers, he quickly made just a tiny alteration to the timeline, way back when in Mal's first tour. And then when the Operative made to run him through, thinking Mal was paralyzed, Mal elbowed him in the throat, stunning him badly, and then fastened him to the railing with his own sword. "Nerve cluster got torn up by shrapnel, my first tour out. Had it moved," he said, and inwardly Wash crowed.
To his friends he said, covering that his attention had been elsewhere for a moment, "Hey, River said some things to me that make me think she might have had some idea what I am. Don't underestimate her."
"Is it underestimating her to point out that she's one human girl against approximately several hundred ravening sentient beast-things, which makes her chances approximately zero?"
"You know, while I was down there in the game, I almost forgot how big of an ass you are," Wash said, but didn't entirely mean it. River might still die horribly, yes, and he was irritated with Q for saying so, but the distraction he'd run on Wash's friend at that critical moment had allowed him the freedom to cheat just a tiny, tiny bit for his human friends. And now, they had won. They still might all die, but they had won.
"I hate to say it, but he's right, Q," his friend said to him. "She really hasn't got a chance."
"You don't know her like I do." Wash shook his head. "She said once no power in the 'verse could stop her, and after what she did to Jubal Early or what she did in the bar, I'm not sure it wasn't true." He pointed down at River. She was dancing with the Reavers in a bloody ballet, weaving and leaping as if she were clairvoyant and could see every move they were making at the same time, and possibly every move they were going to make as well.
"That's actually impressive," his friend said. "Are you sure she's human?"
"After what they did to her brain? No, not really."
"I don't believe it." His friend shook her head. "I don't. She's winning. How many of them has she killed?" It was a rhetorical question; as a Q, she already knew the exact number, as did Wash and the third Q. "She may actually do this."
And he watched, as Mal returned with a declaration of victory. Watched as River killed the last of the Reavers, as the Alliance troops stormed in and he could see what was going through River's mind, too many, too many guns to take them all but maybe I can get enough that Simon can get away, maybe, and then the Operative ordering them to stand down, his faith and certainty in his cause broken by the horror they had found on Miranda, the horror they had just broadcasted throughout the System.
It was over.
He turned to his friends. After this there would be nothing but mourning and rebuilding their lives, and he really didn't want to watch his own funeral. It was hard enough to leave Zoe behind without ever telling her the truth, without even a single message to let her know he was still alive. Or that he loved her. She knew it, he knew, but he couldn't make it through his own funeral without being allowed to tell her.
"Well," he said. "That was exciting. Don't think I've had so much fun watching since the Tarakkian War."
They both knew he was full of shit, that he'd stayed behind to watch out of sentiment and personal feelings, not because it would be fun... but they were Q, as was he, and the entire Continuum ran on the polite fiction that no Q was ever emotionally vulnerable. All he had to do was pretend his defenses were back up the way they should be, and they would participate in his pretense, overlooking any sign that maybe the emperor wasn't exactly dressed as fully as he should be.
"It really was fun to watch," his friend agreed. "The humans in this parallel seem so much more... vigorous than in the ones closer to home. Don't you think, Q?" She was addressing her boyfriend.
"If 'vigorous' is a euphemism for 'barbaric,' then I absolutely agree with you," he said.
"Oh, don't be like that. You enjoyed watching the little girl slaughter all the berserker-beasts, too. Sheer poetry in motion. I don't know what I liked better, watching her fight or watching you pilot that last flight down," she said to Wash.
"Hey, is that offer of a drink still open?"
She motioned at her boyfriend. "You'll have to ask him. Despite his claims to the contrary, I'm not buying."
The other Q shrugged. "Now that there's nothing going on you don't want to watch, what's the point? Let's just go find something else entertaining to do."
"Nope." Wash shook his head. "I'm just coming off being human. I want to go get a drink. Especially after that last flight and then watching the end of the campaign. And since you're obsessed enough with them to hang out with them as yourself, and Q here had a stunning capacity for bloodwine the last time she was playing a Klingon, how about we go to some bar back in our closest parallel and get totally smashed?"
"Only if Q will get on a table and sing," he said.
Wash's friend gave her boyfriend a look. "Only if it can be Klingon opera."
"I hate Klingon opera. In what universe does that even qualify as music?"
"I could sing," Wash suggested.
They both looked at him with expressions of mock horror. "NO."
"What are you two complaining about? I sing really well."
"You just go on believing that," his friend said.
"There's this place I visited once before with a pretty decent bar... if you overlook the sheer ugliness of the bartender," his friend's boyfriend said. "Guy in charge of the place was half-Prophet, so after the one time I went there to break up with this human chick who wouldn't leave me alone, I haven't been back there. But he's gone, so what say we all go drop in? I think there might even be a Klingon restaurant there."
"I like Bajoran just fine," his friend said. "A little overly worshipful for my tastes, but what do you expect from mortals who belong to the Prophets? They don't have enough common sense in this temporal plane to keep mortals from groveling to them." She turned to Wash. "So you want to go?"
"Sure. Could be fun."
As they teleported back to the close parallel, the Q who had been known for the past fifteen years or so as "Hoban Washburne" glanced back at his wife and his friends. Sorry, Zoe, he whispered mentally. I love you. Maybe I always will. But it's time for me to go.
In a flash of light, he followed his friends back to his real life.
(1): Pronounced "Ai ya go se". Roughly, "Well, shit."
(2): Pronounced "chu ni de". "Screw you", "go to hell."
(3): "Motherless goats of all motherless goats."
(4): Pronounced "biao-tze de er-tze". "Son of a whore".
(5): Pronounced "lao-tyen, bu". "Oh, God, no."