A Power in the 'Verse
Disclaimer: I own neither "Buffy: the Vampire Slayer" nor "Firefly." They're all Joss'.
Book awoke feeling uneasy and afraid. Glancing around, he quickly found the reason: River was already awake and sat staring at him.
"River?" he questioned, his mouth all cottony from sleeping. "Is everything alright?"
"Yes. Let me see your arm." Book was relieved to see that River's arm was fine and that she would be able to fire one of the guns. As Book was checking her arm, he noticed how calm she was and how awake she seemed. She was looking around curiously, as if she were seeing the world around her for the first time. This was the best he had ever seen her, mentally speaking, ever.
He supposed that in a way she was seeing the world around her for the first time. Learning about magic and demons had surely altered his perception of the world. He could no longer see a street performer without wondering if the man was using real magic and every time he saw a sideshow that claimed aliens, he had to wonder if they were demons on display. River, who was much more perceptive than Book, probably due to a combination of her intelligence, her Slayer abilities, and the things the Alliance had done to her, was undoubtedly seeing the magic in everything.
Book had never considered that River would have a psychic link to past Slayers and he felt bad that he had left her confused for so long. It was as if she had been living in a discombobulating and unreal world for too long and suddenly, in just one night, the fog had cleared and she could see the world for what it was, she could understand it. And herself. Book knew now that, as much as he wanted to protect the girl, he would need to train her. She probably wouldn't take no for an answer.
He also had to stop thinking of her as a girl. She was the Slayer.
"I'm still a girl," said River quietly.
Shocked back into the present, Book found himself still holding River's healing arm; he must have been staring off into space.
Off of Book's quizzical look, River offered, "You were thinking loudly, very loudly indeed." After a pause, River continued, "I'm still a girl...for now. I've been many things: a hunter, an experiment, a burden, the ship," at which she giggled, "a fugitive, a seer, a reader, a river, a dancer, a star in the skies, and the Slayer. I'm a girl right now."
"Alright, River," said Book, again feeling that familiar heaviness creep into his heart.
The ride back to the market seemed much longer than the ride away had been. Book supposed it was the absence of ridiculous amounts of adrenaline. River, however, seemed to enjoy it immensely. As she rode she looked around, as she had done in the cave, and seemed taken with everything she was seeing. She had a broad smile on her face and Book could swear that she was humming.
When they reached the ruined part of the market where their original firefight had occurred, Book could just feel his blood pressure rising. Not only was the place a tad spooky, but it also provided ample cover for enemies.
As they released their stolen horses, River drew close to Book and he could see that the smile was gone from her face and she was all business. "Let's split up," said River, clearly working out a strategy in her head.
"Alright," said Book, wondering yet again if he were truly the insane one to be following River's plans. "I'll go right and you go left."
"No," disagreed River. "You hide, not well though, and make them pay all their attention to you. Promise them gumdrops if they're good. Or lollipops."
"What will you do?" asked her Watcher, ignoring the last part of River's orders.
With that, they split up.
Book saw River slink away, pulling Jayne's knife out of her boot as she went.
Book moved in the opposite direction, taking cover behind a scorched circular wall that protected him on three sides. He didn't have many bullets left in his pistol but he had enough to make a distraction. He just had to trust that his Slayer could get the job done.
Firing an opening salvo, Book was immediately inundated with the sound of gunfire. Keeping low, he prayed that they stayed occupied with him. He felt that, with this fight, he could rule out demons and Council operatives. Demons wouldn't be using guns, would they? And the Council was smart enough to know he was setting up a trap; they would not underestimate the girl. It had to be the Alliance.
Occasionally Book would pop up to return fire, not even sure if he was hitting anything. When he ran out of ammo for his pistol, he picked up the rifle he had taken from the ranch house and began to use that, cursing himself when he saw the other rifle lying next to it. All River had was that damn knife.
Gradually, as Book remained crouched in his hidey-hole, the shots stopped. Once all the shots had stopped, nearly 10 minutes later, Book took a chance and poked his head out. When he wasn't greeted with more shots, he took heart and stood up. Looking around, he couldn't see anything and there was complete silence.
He cautiously made his way to the first point from where returning fire had originated. He saw a demon, dead and still grasping his weapon, as if it were a benediction to G-d. There was a long, wide gash across the demon's throat; it had bled out in seconds. It seemed that Book had been wrong—demons it was.
Moving onto the next post, he saw the same thing. All in all, River had killed—no, slayed—nine demons, including one that had a heavy bandage on one of its arms. So Book had hit one in their original gunfight after all. It looked as though River had surprised each and every one of them, sneaking up behind them and then slitting their throats. Some of the demons' faces were frozen in a look of shock while others had not even had the time to become shocked.
The real question now was: Where was River? Book decided to tempt fate and called out her name but received no reply. Book grew worried and began to picture River, lying dead somewhere, or River slowly bleeding out but being unable to call for help.
Just as Book was beginning to grow truly agitated, River reappeared beside him, almost like magic. She held in her hands a smooth, shiny black stone.
"I found this, isn't it pretty?" she asked, holding up the rock for him to see, completely unperturbed, as if she had not just brutally slayed nine demons.
"Yes River, it's beautiful," said Book, breathing in a sigh of relief. "Help me, we need to bury the bodies. If someone finds them and reports it, the Council could know we were here."
Pouting slightly, River put her new find down and began dragging bodies over to an abandoned well. As she dropped each one down, she would look after it wistfully. Once all the demons had gone down the well, River sighed and intoned, "Oh dear, nothing left, what shall we throw in now?" After giggling for some reason that was eluding Book, River collapsed the sides of the well, effectively burying the demons under the rubble.
"Good," said Book, glad that River was not saying anything about him not assisting her. "We need to get back to Serenity now, before we get into too much trouble."
"I need new clothes," said River, yet again staring at her new find.
Book had to agree. River was covered in blood, there was a clear bullet hole in the sleeve of her dress, and the bottom of her dress was ripped where he had used it as a makeshift bandage.
After instructing River to remain where she was, Book reentered the market and traded the two stolen rifles for a new dress for River. He even made sure to buy one that River would be sure to like—after all, it did look like all her other dresses.
After River had changed, they made their way back to the ship, relieved to see that it was still there. The captain had warned them a few times that if they wandered off and missed departure time, they should hope they liked the planet they would be stuck on.
Using one of the hidden hatches to board the ship, Book and River could hear angry voices coming from the cargo bay.
"They've been gone for nearly two days. Why are we just sitting here?" demanded a fuming Simon.
"Actually, we are all standing," offered Wash faux-helpfully. At the doctor's and captain's angry looks, he stepped back to join the rest of the crew, gulped audibly, and had the decency to look cowed.
"We're not just sitting here," replied the captain angrily, which caused Wash to perk up some. "We have already looked for your sister and the preacher. We can't do much else, dong ma? What do you wanna do, aside from whinin' at me, that is?"
"Hi," said River suddenly, emerging from the shadows. "Wanna see my rock?"
"Mei mei, where have you been?" asked Simon, rushing forward to embrace his sister. "We were worried? What happened?"
Book felt his heart stop. He and River had not discussed what they would tell the others. Would she tell them about the demons? Would she reveal that Book had had ulterior motives since day one? Book knew though that whatever River chose, he would be unable to change her mind.
"I found a rock," repeated River, holding it up for everyone to see.
"But where were you?" asked Mal. "And where is that preacher man?"
"Here," replied Book stepping into the room as well.
"What happened?" asked Mal, addressing Book now.
"Well..." began Book, unsure of how to continue.
"I left," broke in River. "I wanted to see the caves. And I found this rock. And then we got lost. We ate grass. And I got this rock."
"It's a real shiny rock, River," said Kaylee, smiling at the younger girl affectionately. Although, if Kaylee were honest with herself, she would admit that she was glad River was back for two reasons. The first was that she cared for River and wanted her safe, but the other was that Simon had been real mad at her after River had run off. If she hadn't made him go with her, he would have been with River.
"Are those new clothes?" Simon asked River.
"No," answered the girl, with a barely noticeable smile on her face, just a slight upturning of the corners of her mouth.
"Why do I have the feeling that there's more to this here little story than River's lettin' on?" Mal asked Book.
"I wouldn't know that, Captain," answered Book innocently.
It had only been one month since River had begun to train with Book but she was already making vast improvements. River already knew how to fight, so Book didn't feel a need to spar with the girl. Instead, Book was focusing on the mental training that all Slayers should receive.
They worked on meditation and many of their sessions merely consisted of long talks once everyone else had gone to sleep. The girl had a lot of issues and merely talking about them was doing a great deal of good. She still went in and out of lucidity but her lucid moments lasted for longer and longer.
Everyone could see the change in River. Mal had congratulated Simon on helping his sister, but Simon had responded hopefully that he had not done anything new and that he didn't know what had brought about this change. Maybe she was just finally getting better.
Book and River kept their secret happily. There was always a sense of foreboding, however, because they both knew that the status quo could not last forever. One day, something would happen and the others would need to know the truth. They both just hoped that day was a long way away.