From the City of Serenity, NV Official Web Site - latest update: August 8, 2003:
Cheryl Butler's let us know that Sheriff Mal Reynolds will be back on the job next week, after his three-week recuperation following the incident at the City Hall Hospital Benefit. Mal appreciates all the well-wishers who stopped by to say 'hey', especially Sheriff Monty Driscoll of Persephone, and Sheriff Randee Warren of Beaumonde.
Reportedly, the NBI is pursuing leads on the identities of the perpetrators of the attack at this time.
Somewhere out on Highway 95, a trucker stopped to pick up a little blonde in a fur-and-feathers coat.
"Thanks, Mister. Which way are you going?... Chicago?"
Harmony flipped her hair behind her ear. "That's so funny! I'm going there too! My lame ex-boyfriend dumped me by the side of the road, can you believe it?"
Maybe being a Master Vampire could wait for a while. Or maybe she'd go back to L.A. eventually, when Cordelia calmed down. Hopefully Oz wouldn't tell on her. Not Cleveland, though, if that's where Buffy was. Or South America. She might run into Spike's crazy ex-girlfriend there.
She looked out the window, and sighed a little. Bye, Lyle. Wish you hadn't gotten yourself staked. You stupidhead. And I hope that Slayer has better things to do than come looking for me!
Health and Public Welfare:
The people of Persephone, Beatty, and Serenity would like to thank the medical personnel at Reno General Hospital for all their help last month during the crisis, and are hosting a tri-county barbeque on August 15 as thanks for their quick response. Spouses, children and pets are all welcome!
After the last vampire was dusted, and people stopped high-fiving each other, all the attention of the party went to assisting the injured. Simon and Wash took the lead in getting the wounded up to the chopper on the roof, with the help of the deputies and Emergency Services Personnel in attendance. Wash flew two flights of injured bystanders to the hospital in Reno as the guests congregated to talk over what happened, and exchange what comfort they could.
The six dead were taken to the County morgue; four of them, dead of vampire bites sustained in the attack, were to be guarded through the night. Just in case.
Mal didn't go on the first flight, since he wasn't unconscious, bleeding out or freaking out, which left him to Inara's tender mercies after Simon had made a makeshift sling for his arm and handed him some Tylenol, chased down by whiskey (courtesy of Matteo). Maybe it was the alcohol that made their conversation extra surreal.
"You're not going to fight me on the hospital any more, are you?"
"Damn, woman. You never stop, do you?" Mal asked. It was very disheartening to realize that he didn't have a leg to stand on in their ongoing argument any more. "You think that just because I'd like to be treated right this very minute for this arm, I'm gonna give you your way on this hospital deal?"
"No, but I think that if another attack like this is even slightly likely to threaten Serenity's population again, you'll jump on my bandwagon like a bandit," Inara said tranquilly, patting his uninjured arm. She hadn't left him yet, which gave Mal all sorts of warm uncomfortableness that didn't have anything to do with his broken fingers or dislocated arm. Especially when Inara was giving him that big-eyed look. "Do you have any idea how likely it is that this will happen again?"
"Why're you asking me? I'm just the Sheriff. The hell do I know about--"
"You knew enough to expect trouble tonight. And what to do about it. You weren't even surprised. You just did what you had to."
Mal sighed. "Doesn't mean I got the answers here, 'Nara. May be that we need to have a little chat with River and her agitator wild dog friend. I don't know what started this, and I'd like to end it as soon as possible."
"If I might take this moment to interject..." Reverend Book had been helping tend those who didn't need to leave for the hospital, and now took a seat on the steps near Mal and Inara, clasping his hands together in front of him. "I think I may be able to shed some light on the subject."
"Oh you can, can you?" Mal winced again, and cradled his arm closer. "I'm gonna hate this, aren't I?"
"Since it's going to make your job, and Mayor Serra's, significantly more difficult? I'm afraid so." Book's lips twitched. "The world is older than you know. And it didn't start out as a paradise. In some places, reality—for lack of a better word, it bends. It warps. And somewhere out in the high hills of the desert, I'm afraid it even breaks...."
Mal hated being right. But at least Inara was right there hating this problem with him.
Mayor Inara Serra - Mayor's Blog:
I wanted to thank everyone who attended last month's benefit for the local hospital, for both helping us reach our financial goal, and handling the situation during the party with such grace and aplomb. Many people have spoken up to inform me that their financial assistance is assured, and to add that any other help they can give will be available—and I find myself genuinely touched at the spirit of Serenity....
"So. There's no way she can get out of this?" Simon had slid down the wall of the hospital corridor after five hours of surgery. The last patient had just been sent off to sleep, and he finally had time to process what he'd seen, what he'd experienced, and the changes in his sister. He clutched a small cup of coffee as he listened to Oz explain River's new 'calling' to him. "We can't... I don't know. Negotiate with whoever picked her?"
"Kinda hard to do when we don't know who they are," Oz pointed out from his spot on the floor against the opposite wall. "Never have known. It just happens. And River's fine with it."
"She doesn't understand. She can't. Those people-- those monsters, I've never--" Simon took a breath to get his thoughts in order, then said, quietly but intensely, "She can't do this by herself. She's better, she's much better, and I get that she's stronger and faster than anything human and that she's not afraid. I can't be sorry about that. Or that she's happy. But there were thirty of them, Mr. Osbourne. Thirty. She's only one girl. If you, and Reverend Book hadn't been there, and if the Sheriff and Zoe and Jayne hadn't helped-- She could have died, do you understand that?"
"Yeah." Something about the way Oz said that made Simon look up from his coffee to meet the young man's eyes. "I do." He studied Simon, not judging, just evaluating. "She could die any time, though. Runaway truck, bad sushi. Lightning strike. That's not Slaying. That's life."
For two years, he'd been kidding himself, it seemed. There was no way he could protect her from everything, or fix her, or give her back normality. This just made it worse.
"When River was attacked two years ago and left like she is, different, damaged... My parents gave up. They wanted to hand her off to some men who showed up at the sanitarium. Because they said they could 'take care of her' the way she needed." Simon took a sip of his coffee, distantly noticing that it had gone cold. "I thought I knew better. I was sure they weren't qualified, that I could help her, and now... Now I have to wonder if she would've been better off. If this would have passed her by if I'd left her with them."
Oz shook his head, taking away even that vain wish. "Probably not. Probably would've happened no matter where she was, or how she was. Magic's weird. Never can predict it." He cocked his head, and Simon got a brief image of a fox terrier listening for something in the distance. That image of Oz changing into a wolf just would not go away. "These guys English?"
Simon blinked. "A couple of them were. Mr. Sinclair, something like that." He rubbed his eyes, and sighed. "They were from a law firm in Los Angeles. Wolf... I don't remember the other partners' names. Hartman?"
"Wolfram and Hart," Oz said, his voice very level. "Bad news. You made the right call."
"I did?" Simon considered Oz's grave expression. "Good to know."
"She's not going to be alone, you know. Slayers always have Watchers. Reverend Book isn't going anywhere." Oz tilted his head again. "You're not. Best Slayer I know is doing okay today 'cause she's always had back-up. River's got that too."
"But is it going to be enough?" Simon yawned, letting his head thunk back against the wall. "Can anything?"
"Is what gonna be enough?" Kaylee came down the hallway, two more coffees in her hand, and stopped in front of Simon. "Brought you more coffee. Why aren't you headed home yet?"
"We're talking about River. Being a 'superhero'." He smiled up at Kaylee, unable to help himself. He sobered after only a moment, though. "I'm worried for her, doing all these violent things. With assistance from Reverend Book, and apparently Oz knows other people who can help, but…"
"Simon! Like the rest of us aren't gonna pitch in? After tonight?" Kaylee gave him a huge, amused smile, and Simon could have stared up at her for hours. "Honey, she's got everybody on her side."
"Honey?" Simon blinked at her, and Kaylee turned bright pink, looking down at her feet.
"That just kinda… slipped out… Sorry…"
"Exit cue," Oz muttered, getting to his feet, and giving Simon a subtle thumbs-up as he turned down the hall. "Later, guys."
Simon barely noticed. He swallowed hard, and blurted out before he lost his nerve, "Actually I kind of like that. Honey. Me being honey." He stared up at her. "I was so scared you were going to get hurt. More than for myself."
Kaylee crouched down next to him, and carefully put the coffee down on the floor. "Is this your way of sayin' you like me?"
"I…" Gulp. "Yes?"
"Oh, boy, you are bad at this." Kaylee beamed at him, and leaned in to brush a kiss on his cheek. "But in a really sweet way."
Simon found himself grinning back like an idiot, and decided to blame the giddiness on sleep deprivation later, if he had to. "Is that your way of saying you like me?"
"Only for ages." Kaylee glared at him, and even that was adorable. Definitely sleep deprived. "I thought River would've told you!"
"She kind of did, but she enjoys torturing me too much to be definite." Simon found himself leaning toward her. "She's already found a brand new way to mess with me, though, so…"
Kaylee was leaning forward too, and he could still smell some of the salsa from the buffet on her, but she tasted like Matteo's special fruit punch.
They didn't stop kissing until he knocked over the coffee, then they had to get ice for the burns on Kaylee's hand, but all in all, it was definitely not the worst part of his night.
Community Events - Multi-Religious Quorum on Faith, St. Michael's Catholic Church, Thursday, 7pm
Father Mike Preston welcomes Rabbi Schulman of Beatty, Reverend Book of First Methodist Serenity, and the Right Reverend Lee of First Baptist Persephone to an open round table on faith, God, and the twenty-first century. All parishioners from all parishes, and non-parishioners seeking comfort and answers, are welcome. There will be a Question & Answer session after the refreshments are served.
"So that's the size of it," Mal said, looking around the Emergency Services conference room. "You all were at the party, or you were called in after the fight at the SuperPumper. Or you heard about it from people you trust and believe. You know what happened, and there's more on the way. May not always be vampires, but from what Reverend Book and these experts in Cleveland say, we're gonna get more weirdness. And not just the protesters next month."
He scratched at the bandage on his hand, then forced himself to stick his free hand in his pocket. "We got a vampire slayer, and she ain't going anywhere. But you all can. You can walk out that door and not look back. We don't know why this is happening. The Nevada Test Site radiation, old Paiute or Shoshone magic bouncing off the Nevadas, the end of the millennia, who the hell knows." Mal took a breath. "But if you're gonna have a job with the public sector of Serenity, you gotta be ready for it. We got support from the police departments in Beaumonde and Persephone, 'cause their sheriffs are clued in too, being so close to this vortex thing. But that's it. The NBI ain't riding to our rescue here. Here's your chance to quit, full retirement and disability package, supported by the Mayor. No questions asked."
Sixteen firefighters. Ten Emergency Services guys. Jayne, Zoe, Troy, Cheryl. Wash and the four paramedics. Simon wasn't there; had said that he didn't think it would be fair, to have him there to see their reactions.
"You can quit later, too. I'm just saying—it only gets stranger from here."
He looked around the room, waiting. No one avoided his eyes. No one looked for the door. Not even Jayne, and he'd half-expected him to grab the excuse.
Wash spoke up from the back of the room. "We're staying, Mal. We're not going to quit doing our jobs just because the job description expanded to include supernatural weirdness." He paused. "I'm not saying I speak for everyone, but I'm real curious about what happens next."
"Plus, more fightin'. And them vampires ain't so bad," Jayne sneered, tipping his chair back a little. "Not once you get 'em on the business end of a nightstick."
"This is our home," Zoe said, looking around the room, then back at Mal. "And I'm not leaving a teenager to do it by herself, sir."
A chorus of muttered agreements and nods, and Mal let out a breath. Who the hell needed the Army? Or the NBI? Or hell, even the Highway State Patrol. He wasn't sure he believed in a God that would create vampires, or tap little girls to fight them. But who needed God, either?
"You can change your minds later, if you want. But right now, I think I got the best damn set of government employees in the state of Nevada."
There were cheers, catcalls, hoots, and then someone asked, "That mean you're buying us beer at Silverheels?" The meeting broke up in laughter, and then everyone headed to the bar for beer and onion rings, quitting time be damned.
Arts & Leisure - Weekend Events
Helen Wheels is happy to announce the return of Daniel "Oz" Osbourne on Saturday night, for a two-hour set starting at 8pm. Tickets are $4 at the door, admission free with purchase of $10 worth of drinks. Oz will be staying after his performance to talk to the audience and catch up with friends in town.
"You goin' to see Oz at the bar tonight?" Kaylee asked, keeping her voice low. She tried not to sneeze as the grass tickled her nose, eyes crossing as a bumblebee got a little too close. River was motionless next to her, her eyes fixed on their target only a few feet off. "Simon's taking me. Said he wants to dance with me."
"Finally," River muttered softly. "And yes. Oz promised me a song."
"Awwwww," Kaylee giggled, then froze as their prey turned to eye her. "I think… maybe…."
"Now!" River hissed, jumping forward to the right. Kaylee scrambled left, squeaking with excitement.
The jackalope jumped straight up, little legs churning in the air, but Kaylee had the bag ready as River grabbed it by the antlers, keeping clear of the feet. "Hold it hold it – Got it!" Kaylee crowed, beaming down into the pillowcase at their prize. "Now Mal has to believe me."
"Should have known better than to doubt," River agreed, tilting her head to study their furry target. "And now he has to pay off on our wager."
"You got a bet on whether you could catch a jackalope?" Kaylee tightened the rubberband around the mouth of the pillowcase, careful not to get it too tight. They were gonna let the little guy go after they showed Mal, after all. "What were the stakes?"
"If I lost, no going to the bar tonight. He said it would keep me from scaring the tourists." River smirked. "But I won. So. He must render assistance. Despite his misgivings."
"Assistance at what?"
Community Development – New Projects
Ground will be broken on the new hospital at the corner of 8th and Grand Avenue in two weeks, thanks to generous donations from the people of Serenity, Persephone, Beaumonde and Beatty. The new hospital will be able to house up to 200 residents at a time, and will include an out-patient clinic. It is to be named the Terrence McDonald Memorial Hospital, in memory of the local councilman who died last month. Terrence left his entire estate to the city of Serenity "for the benefit of my neighbors and friends." He will be greatly missed.
"You promised," River reiterated as Mal knocked his head on the bartop. Kaylee was grinning and still hanging onto the squirming, horned little bundle, keeping it from hopping down the bar. Jayne and Wash were laughing their fool heads off, and even Zoe was smiling and shaking her head. "You did. I brought you a jackalope. The Wizard has to give Dorothy shoes."
Oz Osbourne was tuning up on-stage. Mal lifted his head to point toward the guitarist as Helen slid his bottle of beer over to him. "Look, your boyfriend's about to start. Can't we discuss this after he's played?"
"Not my boyfriend," River reiterated firmly. Although Mal had a second to wonder if she was smiling there, and to be vaguely horrified at the concept that his teasing might be accurate. "Not relevant. You promised. Tomorrow."
"How about next month? You turn eighteen next month, right?"
"Tomorrow." River folded her arms and glared.
"I got stuff to do tomorrow! Madam Mayor is holding another shindig and she wants me to talk to the money folks about getting you a real title!"
Seeing River was momentarily diverted, Mal seized on this subject and expanded on it. "Well, can't have you killin' bad things and not getting credit, right? So we figured as how we'd call you the Community Outreach Representative, and that way, we can call you in whenever we want you. Ain't that clever?"
River considered it a moment, then nodded firmly. "Very. Concealing the truth in plain sight. Your idea?"
"Yeah! So Inara doesn't get too uppity about getting that hospital of hers." Had to keep Madam Mayor on her toes, even if they were getting along a little too well these days.
"Very good. You still have to keep your promise. Tomorrow." River reached out for his beer and took it out of his hand, holding it over her head. He wasn't getting it back 'til he agreed, he knew. Jayne snorted into his mug, and Mal made a note to get him back with meter-reading later. "Tomorrow, you will teach me to drive."
Thud. Thud. Thud of his head on the bar. "I fear for all the denizens of Serenity and Nevada. I should not do this. It's just one more weapon in your hands, I know that." Mal sighed, straightened up and lifted his hand. "But all right, damnit. Give me my beer back."
"Thank you, Sheriff." River gave him a pleased look, and handed back his beer. "Now shush. This is my song."
Oz's guitar slid into a few slower chords, and he continued to sing, smiling at River.
…And as she turns
This way she moves
in the logic of all my dreams
This fire burns
I realize that nothing's as it seems
I dream of rain
I dream of gardens in the desert sand…
New Hires—Community Outreach
Everyone in CO, please give a hearty welcome to River Tam, our new Community Outreach Representative! We'll be hosting a get-to-know-you luncheon for her next Tuesday, and all public employees are encouraged to attend at Silverheels' Bar and Grill, for free onion rings and a game of darts!
"River?" Simon woke up from his place on the couch to the sound of his sister coming back in. He squinted at the clock. "It's five. Was there something out there?"
He couldn't help worrying. Even with everyone pitching in, everyone knowing, all the support people had offered. None of it mattered, not when she was out in the dark alone. Her choice; help remained only a phone call away, at the insistence of everyone who cared about her. But still. Sometimes she wanted to walk in the dark by herself, and there was no way to stop her.
"Come see," she whispered, holding open the door and beckoning to him.
Groggily, Simon stumbled over to her, and pushed the screen door open further, then froze.
The sun hadn't risen yet, was just a bare hint of violet on the horizon. Iridescent fireflies were dancing in swooping patterns over the foothills. Green, gold, purple, pink, and blue lights were winking in and out, diving like falling stars. "Oh, my…."
"Magic," River whispered, slipping her hand into his. "Do you see it?"
"I see it," he whispered back, squeezing her fingers. He looked at River, and her captivated expression, and smiled too, in spite of everything. "I see it."
Visitors to Serenity are advised not to wander out into the desert alone. The Sierra Nevada can be deadly at any time of year, and inexperienced hikers disappear all the time. Please contact our Community Outreach Representative if you wish a tour of the more friendly portions of our city and the sights in the area around Serenity.
Serenity: A great place to take a break!
The first half of this story was written in 2003, right after the end of season 7 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and prior to Serenity-the-Movie. To find that so much of what I envisioned ended up in Dana (in Angel Season 5) and the movie was a little disturbing, but also heartening; a kind of indicator that I was on the right track. I hope this fusion has worked for you, and I want to thank my betareaders from five years ago (the Horsechicks, Tara, Dawn) and now (same crew, with the addition of Emily) and all those who commented along the way.
And as promised: no jackalopes were harmed in the making of this story.
"Ring of Fire" - copyright June Carter Cash and Merle Kilgore.
"Nobody Knows (the Trouble I've Seen)" - copyright Louis Armstrong
"Desert Rose" - copyright Sting