A Power in the 'Verse
Disclaimer: I own neither "Buffy: the Vampire Slayer" nor "Firefly." They're all Joss'.
AN: This story takes place after the "Firefly" series but before the movie. Because of this, it takes place approximately 500 years after "Buffy" ends and, as Long John Silver would say, thar be spoilers here, or as River Song would say, *spoilers*.
Too Close For Comfort
This world is older than you know. Contrary to popular mythology, it did not begin as a paradise. For untold eons, demons walked the earth and made it their home—their hell. But in time, they lost their purchase on this reality. The books tell, the last demon to leave this reality fed off a human, mixed their blood. He was a human form possessed and infected by the demon's soul. Millennia later, after the Earth was used up, we found a new solar system and hundreds of new Earths were terraformed and colonized. The central planets formed the Alliance and decided all the planets had to join under their rule. There was some disagreement on that point. After the war, many of the Independents who had fought and lost drifted to the edges of the system, far from Alliance control. Out here, people struggle to get by with the most basic technologies; a ship would bring you work, a gun would help you keep it. A captain's goal was simple: Find a crew, find a job, keep flying.
Book breathed deeply. The air was hot and dusty and a semi-rank smell filled his nostrils. He nearly began coughing. Despite these drawbacks, the wind on Ariadne was pleasant and almost cool. He was just glad to be ground-side rather than still flying in the black. As much as he loved Serenity and her crew, it seemed to him a man needed to have his feet on the ground every so often to remember that he was a man.
Leaving the ship, Book followed the others toward the market. In front of him, Wash and Zoe were holding hands and whispering to each other. Mal was pretending to have a conversation with Jayne, who was wearing that ridiculous hat again despite the heat, but was really glancing at Inara, who was looking around herself in disgust. No doubt she was lamenting the poor atmosphere and the improbability of finding a client on Ariadne. As far as moons went, this one was certainly not the poorest but it was nowhere near rich either.
Looking past Inara, Book saw Simon walking with Kaylee. Simon had a big, goofy grin on his face and Kaylee was giggling at something the doctor had just said. While Kaylee seemed entirely immersed in whatever Simon was saying, Simon kept glancing around, no doubt keeping an eye on his sister, who was trailing behind him, shuffling her feet and mumbling softly to herself.
Book took another deep breath and regretted it instantly. He felt for the girl.
Upon entering the market, everyone split off into separate groups, heading toward the things they each found most appealing. Wash found some action figures appealing and Zoe found Wash appealing. Kaylee was attempting to drag Simon into some knick-knack shop, but Simon was hesitant to leave River, who had just stopped moving in the middle of the square.
"I'll watch her, son," volunteered Book. "Don't worry. Go with Kaylee."
Flashing him an appreciative grin, Simon allowed Kaylee to drag him away.
"Well, River, where would you like to go?" asked Book.
"The bogeyman is in the alley," whispered River.
"Hm?" asked Book, not sure he had heard her clearly.
"Pow, pow. But there isn't one, there are many. BogeyMEN. Many," responded River, already moving further into the market. Although the tiny girl was only walking, her lithe figure was walking quickly, nearly gliding. Book had to jog to keep apace.
Book found himself so immersed in River's ramblings that he barely noticed when the everyday market sounds died away around them. Looking up, he saw that they were in an abandoned part of the market, where there had clearly been a fire years ago. There were blackened, twisting buildings, and black ash where vendors' stalls had once stood.
Shuddering involuntarily, Book grabbed River's arm and tried to lead her back to civilization. This place was eerie and he registered that there were plenty of hiding places among the ruins.
Suddenly, he heard what he could only describe as a "pow" and heard River gasp with pain. Calling on years of training, Book reacted. Pulling River to his side, he began to run, trusting that River would be able to keep up.
Pushing River down behind a half-standing wall, Book knelt down next to her. Her eyelids were fluttering in her bid to maintain consciousness and Book looked down in horror as he saw her blood-soaked clothes. Quickly ripping the bottom of River's dress, he bandaged her shot arm the best he could. He knew that if he could just stop the bleeding, she would be fine. Slayers had enhanced healing abilities. He had seen it with River a few times. When she had returned his mutilated Bible pages to him, there had been blood on the pages, from what he had assumed were numerous paper cuts, yet her hands had shown no sign of injury.
Looking more closely at her wound, Book could see that it was a gunshot. Although that didn't rule out demons, it did make it less likely. Demons were usually more about their claws and fangs. This was either Alliance or Council—two organizations he knew a lot about, both as an Alliance soldier and as River's Watcher.
Content that River would not hemorrhage to death, Book removed the pistol he kept concealed at the small of his back and made sure the safety was off. Peeking his head over his and River's cover, he could see nothing. Tossing a rock against a wall, Book drew their opponent's fire, forcing him to give up his position. Book took careful aim and fired, he thought he heard someone cry out, but he couldn't be sure. The volley of shots continued unabated, however, and seemed to be coming from various places.
"Too many of them."
Glancing down, Book saw that River was awake and had pulled a knife from her boot. Was that Jayne's knife? No wonder the man disliked her.
"There are too many of them," she repeated. "We need to run. Run, run, run, as fast as we can, they can't catch us, you're the Watcher man." She then smiled that enigmatic smile that always froze Book's blood.
She had never said anything to him before about being a Watcher or her status as the Slayer. It was difficult to tell how much she knew. Between being incredibly perceptive and being psychic, River picked up a lot that most people missed.
"Where to?" he asked, hoping he wasn't making a mistake by relying on her.
Tucking her knife back into her boot, River held out her hand for Book to take. Once he had grasped it, she pulled him to his feet and they were running once more. They ran until Book could barely breathe; he was not a young man anymore.
Finally they reached a ranch house and Book drew some water from the well. After quenching their thirst, Book cleaned River's wound. It had already started to heal, which Book knew to be a bad thing. The bullet was still in there and he had to get it out. Pulling River into the barn, Book began looking at the tools that were arrayed there.
After a few minutes, he returned to River, who was sitting on a wooden crate and inspecting her arm with cool detachment. She was looking at it as if it were not a part of her, merely a curiosity to be studied.
Taking a moment to veil the concern and pity that undoubtedly showed in his eyes, Book approached her with the newly cleaned knife and pliers.
"River, this is going to hurt, but I need to do it. Alright?" he asked, not knowing what he would do if his charge refused. It was not as if anyone could make River do something she didn't want to do, short of harming her, and even then...
Nodding softly, River held out her injured arm to her Watcher, trusting him completely.
Before he could lose his nerve, Book stuck the tip of the knife into the already-healing wound and reopened it. The blood immediately began to flow again.
River gritted her teeth but did not make a sound, choosing instead to watch everything with that all-seeing gaze of hers. Book sometimes wondered if, with that gaze, River could see not just the space around her but the unseen spectrum of thoughts and emotions as well. He wondered if she could truly see the future or just guessed the logical outcome of circumstances.
The wound was still too small for the pliers. Sighing apologetically, Book used the knife to widen the hole again. This time the pliers slid in without resistance.
River cried out when he had to open the pliers slightly within her arm to get them around the bullet. He felt for the girl. He always felt for the girl.
Grasping the bullet, Book slowly pulled it out. About to drop it on the ground, River held out her hand, palm up. Book dropped the bullet into her outstretched arm.
"So small," she said, with a huge smile on her face despite the pain she must be feeling. Book set to work bandaging her arm; he could do no more. "Little ant."
Allowing River to rest a bit, Book went outside and crept to the house. There did not seem to be anyone home. Breaking in, Book began to look for a radio. The crew of Serenity was probably worried about them; if he could call and ease their concerns, that would be for the best. He had not yet worked through what he would tell them—the truth was clearly out of the question—but he didn't want them sending out a search party and being injured.
After he had searched for a radio for about 20 minutes with no luck, Book returned to the barn satisfied. Although he hadn't found the radio, he had found two guns. Whoever lived here would be very sorry that they had not been home today. Not seeing River immediately, he grew worried, but then he heard odd cooing noises coming from the rear of the barn.
River was sitting on the floor petting a horse and rambling nonsensically to it. River seemed gleeful, despite the fact she had just been shot.
"Come on, River," said Book, heaving himself up onto the other horse. "We need to get out of here. It's too close to where we were just attacked." He needed time to think.
Sighing deeply, River followed suit, climbing up onto her horse as well, never ceasing her chatter.
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