Title: Tell 'Em All I Ain't Coming Back

Author: Jedi Buttercup

Rating: PG-13/T

Disclaimer: The words are mine; the worlds are not.

Summary: So much for the handsome man rescuing her from the monsters. Fred was gonna have to rescue herself. 2250 words.

Spoilers: Angel Season 4, Jasmine arc; post-series for Firefly

Notes: For day one of the August Ficathon. Also fills a TTH FFA prompt.

Fred had kept the book of portal spells after what had happened with Professor Seidel.

She'd kinda forgotten about it at first, to be honest. Charles had been right, she'd been a little horrified at herself in the aftermath, when her rage had cooled and she'd realized what she'd done. But he'd also been wrong: it wasn't her actual murderous intentions that had made her sick to her stomach. Her old mentor had deserved everything she'd meant to do to him. It had been her willingness to prioritize revenge over her boyfriend that had done it: not only had she deliberately gone to someone she knew Charles viewed as a rival for help, she'd been responsible for the blood ending up on his hands.

With all that going on in her head, it was hardly a wonder she'd never quite got around to returning the book. And when things had finally calmed- well, she hadn't wanted to bring it up again. The team was wobbly enough, she hadn't wanted to risk distracting them all with a reminder about that rat's nest of poor decisions. Not with Connor and Angel at odds and Wes only connected to the group by a thread and Lorne still suffering from whatever he'd seen when he read Cordy.

Okay, and maybe there'd been a little selfishness there, too, beyond a desire to avoid yet another confrontation. Even if it had all gone wrong, that book had been the instrument Fred had used to take her power back. She kept it in her room, and on the nights when she couldn't sleep- especially after she and Charles started sleeping apart again- cracked the covers open, reading about all the ways a body could cast themselves- or someone else- from their world to another.

Not all of them led to places as dark as the one she'd summoned up for Professor Seidel. And a few were even worse. Whatever the circumstance, if she ever needed to tear a hole in the fabric of reality again, the book would teach her how to do it. And the more she read, the more she understood the physics behind the magic, too. After awhile, the creak of the spine and the scents of aging parchment and ink were better than any teddy bear for calming her nerves while things kept getting worse and worse.

All the same, it wasn't until she find herself all alone again- until she'd scrubbed her hands raw trying to get blood out of Jasmine's shirt and inadvertently cast herself out of Cordy's creepy daughter's cult- that she even thought about using one of those carefully hoarded spells. When the sky rained fire, when they were trapped in a building full of zombie lawyers, when Angelus returned with a vengeance- there was always something left, some little thing she could point to that she'd have given up even her math for all those years in Pylea.

But when she found herself in those sewers, taking refuge underground, with every hand turned against her- it was the last straw. She might as well be a cow again. So much for the handsome man rescuing her from the monsters. She was gonna have to rescue herself.

Fred found a quiet nook to prepare in, wiped the slow, seeping tears from her eyes, and chalked out a pattern on the floor. According to the book, it would take her someplace far, far away in both time and space, without pitching her into a demon realm; and really, that was probably better than she deserved. If she'd been smarter, or quicker- if she'd only figured out how to make the others see behind Jasmine's mask before they'd twigged to the fact that she wasn't brainwashed anymore- but she hadn't, and there was nothing she could do with the entire city against her. She'd even tried to call her parents- and found that they'd been listening to one of the L.A. broadcasts over satellite radio, trying to keep track of things that might affect her. They'd ended up a part of the same mindless cult as everyone else.

She said the words, hoping the hitches in her breath wouldn't disrupt it too much for it to work... then gasped more loudly as a hole in the world bloomed up around her, tugging at her limbs in the exact same way that had haunted her nightmares for the last six years. She covered her face with her hands, unable to stop herself from curling up in a protective ball- then blacked out, the first piece of mercy she'd had all day, as she fell like Alice down the rabbit hole on her way to some unknown Wonderland.

Some amount of time later- she didn't feel stiff enough to have been out for long, but her head was throbbing something awful, so she couldn't be sure- Fred startled awake again to the sound of footsteps nearby. She pushed herself up a little, and then back, finding the solidity of a wall behind her, and held up her arms to ward off whoever had noticed her arrival.

"Oh, hey there! Who're you? Are you- you didn't come aboard on our last stop, did you?"

The words were in English, and the accent was pretty darn close to Southern; Fred found herself relaxing her guard almost without thinking about it, despite the fact that whoever it was sounded more scandalized than welcoming and that there was no way she was anywhere near Texas.

"I'm- I'm Fred," she said, lowering her hands a little to peer past them at the stranger. She didn't have to fake disorientation; hopefully, whoever she'd trespassed on would take pity on her. "What do you mean? Where am I?"

The young woman who'd spoken was wearing some kind of coveralls decorated in grease smears and hand sewn patches; she had a pink floral shirt on underneath, hugging arms with a decent amount of gently curving muscle, and brown hair currently done up in a pair of buns on top of her head. She was maybe a couple of inches shorter than Fred, and had a cute, heart shaped face; she was a much more welcoming sight than Fred's first glimpse of the natives of Pylea.

"You're on Serenity, a'course. It's been near a day since we were on Triumph, though- you musta been out pretty good." The girl shook her head, lips pursed in a bemused, long-suffering expression. "Cái bù shì, Cap'n's never gonna believe it. He had a nice long talk with Elder Gommen this time about just what kinda payment is acceptable, and what ain't, and yet here you are!"

Fred gasped at that, and a hand flew up to her mouth. Had she inadvertently found another reality where slavery was the norm? Or was she misunderstanding what the girl had said? "I'm sorry," she babbled. "Is that- what do you mean, payment?"

The stranger's eyes widened a little in return, and she bit her lip, some of the bright spark going out of her eyes. "Oh, Lordy. I sure hope you're the real thing this time- and ain't that a terrible thing to say? But I'm being rude, aren't I? Sorry; I'm Kaylee. Kaylee Frye. And I'm just gonna..." she pointed off toward something that looked like a speaker set into a wall. "I'll just be over here."

And now that Fred was looking- that wall with the speaker was made out of metal; so was the one Fred was crouched up against; and they formed two sides of a vast, four walled space at least two stories tall crossed with catwalks. Crates and barrels and bundles of random materials took up a good chunk of the floor, and up overhead, something that looked like a vehicle built to run on repulsive force instead of wheels dangled from chains anchored to the ceiling. Airlock type doors, large and small, on both ground and catwalk levels gave out into the room. And the hum of some type of strange engine underlaid it all.

"I'm on a spaceship," she murmured to herself in wonder as the girl- Kaylee- unhooked a handset attached to the speaker, probably some kind of intercom.

"Hey, Cap'n. You remember that surprise we picked up last time on Triumph?" Kaylee asked the unseen person on the other end, her tone strained somewhere between teasing and accusation.

"What?" a shocked male voice echoed down from the other end. "Saffron again? Aī yā. Tiān a. The nerve of that woman! What in hell does she want now?"

A swift, flashing smile briefly tucked in the corners of Kaylee's mouth, picking out her dimples; then it was gone again as she cleared her throat. "Uh- not Saffron, sir. 'Nother girl. Says her name's Fred. Only- she don't seem to know where she is, or why. You didn't go drinkin' from any more bowls of wine, or lettin' girls put flowers on your head yesterday, did you?"

There was an incredulous pause. Then: "Not that I recall, mèi mei. You think I'd risk steerin' us into that kind of trouble again? Never mind; don't answer that. I'll be right down." The intercom went silent again with an audible click; Kaylee gave a verbal acknowledgement, then put the handset right back where she'd found it.

Fred swallowed, glancing in turn at each of the visible doors, wondering which the ship's captain would come through. What had she done? Had she gone from the frying pan into the fire? She knew she should be trying to present as harmless a face as possible to her possible new 'owner', but she couldn't help straightening her spine a little and tilting her chin up. Let him make of that what he would. She'd arrived on her own terms- and she could always reverse the spell if she absolutely had to, couldn't she?

"I don't mean to be any trouble," she said, gathering her courage. "If you could just put me off somewhere, I swear, I'll pay you back whatever I owe you just as soon as I can." She'd pocketed a few small items of value back in L.A., the kind of thing that was pricey no matter what world one found oneself in, figuring no one would miss them with Jasmine around preaching world peace; with any luck, she could find a place to barter them and a computer system to tap into to fix herself up.

"That would sure be a change," Kaylee snorted, not unkindly. "Just you calm down a minute- Cap'n'll be right here, and we'll get this all straightened out."

"That's what I'm afraid of," Fred murmured. Kaylee wrinkled her brow, but didn't seem to have heard- another point in favor of the people in her new world being standard homo sapiens sapiens. At least so far as the females went. She hadn't seen a man yet-

-though there came two, as if summoned by the thought, walking out on the catwalk system from somewhere in the internals of the ship. The one in the front wore a pair of suspenders over a deep red shirt; the one following looked more at home in what looked like khakis and a screen print tee.

"...all I'm saying is," the latter was saying as they walked. "I don't want to hear another word about Jayne being a girl's name, not when we've met a girl's got a boy's name, now."

"I really don't think you're in any position to be insisting about anything," the former replied, gruffly. "Just how drunk did you get last night? 'Cause it sure weren't me what married her, and Elder Gommen's not the sort who'd send an unwed girl off where there's not like to be any kind of altar, even if he is damn sneaky about payments."

"Aw, Mal," the other said, verging on petulant. "Gorrammit, how should I know? I didn't think we were gonna have to worry about it happening again."

Fred listened to them, assessing the power dynamics, and the apparent family atmosphere between them; maybe it wouldn't be so bad here, after all. It reminded her a little of L.A., before Jasmine. Before that evening at the ballet...

Something drew her eye upward, and she blinked as an eerily familiar face peered down at her from a catwalk. A dark-haired girl in a flowing dress stared at her unblinkingly, as solemn as the dancer Fred had seen that memorable night.

"No monsters here except the ones inside us," the girl said, in the manner of someone imparting a confidence.

Fred stared up at her, unsettled- but not particularly surprised to receive yet another mysterious proclamation. "I'll, um, remember that."

A couple more people had arrived by the time she glanced back toward the Captain: a pair of women, one also vaguely familiar, dressed in practical leathers with a gun on her hip, and the other made up prettier than Cordy after a shopping spree, trailed by a pensive young man with short, dark hair and elegant hands.

"Now, River, no call to be spookin' our guest," the Captain said as he drew nearer. His glance upward was more fond than scolding, though; and when he looked at Fred, Fred saw only kind concern.

She took a deep breath and smiled back. "I don't mind," she replied, and climbed shakily to her feet, clasping Kaylee's helping hand with grateful fingers.

"Hi. My name's Winifred Burkle. But y'all can call me Fred."