Disclaimer: I do not own these characters

A/N: Saw Dracula (the Christopher Lee one) one day with my school's sci-fi/fantasy club. Later that night, River explained to me, very politely and at least somewhat cogently, how great she'd be at being a vampire. And I was like, 'kay, I can roll with that. And here we are. Fulfills my "V is for Vampire" claim for my au_abc bingo card!

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Mal had given up on God awhile ago, 'round about the time his best friend had disappeared in the night and come back a walking abomination, but even he had to admit that the cross did a pretty good job. Didn't smell as nice as garlic flowers, maybe, but the little slip of dead girl staring back at him didn't seem inclined to come any closer.

"Miss River. I don't think we've ever had the chance to meet, but I knew your brother," he said, and tried to act like he wasn't here to kill her.

He'd only ever seen pictures of Doctor Tam's little sister, but even taking that into account, he thought she'd looked a lot better when she was alive. The girl in those old photographs, she'd had a spark in her eyes and a healthy flush to her cheeks, and she held herself as if she was movement and grace embodied. This girl carried herself the same way, but the light in her eyes had gone wild and strange, and her cheeks were pallid and sunken. Ropes of dirty hair framed her face in unruly straggles, and her pale bare feet made a sharp contrast against the dark stone of the floor. The clothes she wore were elegant but tattered and too big for her delicate frame.

And she looked hungry. That was always a bad sign.

"We haven't met," she agreed, but continued before he could introduce himself, "You're Captain Reynolds. Mal."

Mal jumped but his hands stayed steady on the cross. "Oh."

Her fingers an impatient, fluttering gesture. "Simon's told me so much about you." A raised eyebrow and a bland smile. "Didn't you know he was here?"

"Thought he might be, actually. He sent me a letter, few weeks back, told me he mighta found you." He countered her eyebrow by raising one of his own. "He's been lookin' for you a long time."

"Silly," she said, and there was a hint of pain in her voice, or maybe he'd just imagined it. "He should have stayed in England."

"Yeah. Weather's nicer there," Mal said, and tried not to think too hard about that earnest young man with his stiff, formal speech and determination like fire in his veins. Simon Tam was dead now, if he was lucky, and if he wasn't, then the world was crueler than it ought to be and Mal's headache was only going to get worse. It wouldn't be the first time the good doctor's sheer stubbornness and his love for his sister had landed them both in a whole heap of trouble, but Mal reckoned it would be the last, one way or the other.

They'd met a few years back, Mal hunting Zoë and Tam searching for little River, and it hadn't taken but a moment for them to realize they might be going after the same thing. Or, at least, that monster that'd hurt Zoë might've had something to do with River's disappearance, and damned if that wasn't a nasty turn of events for the both of them. Tam'd been better off not having his supernatural suspicions confirmed, and Mal would've preferred to have one less body he needed to worry about, but God had abandoned him in Serenity Valley when Zoë got turned, and the universe just loved playing games with him.

"She's not here." River's voice cut into his thoughts. "Your lieutenant, and her paramour. They left over three nights ago. You won't find them here," she said.

Mal's fingers went white knuckled on the cross, and he could not suppress the shiver that slithered down his spine. It wasn't the first time he'd been given cause to think that vamps could read his mind, but six years later and he still wasn't used to the idea.

"Awfully inconsiderate of them," he said. "Don't you hate it when you spend ages looking for something, and then when you finally get where it's supposed to be, it's gone on ahead of you?" Mal had come here for Simon, but he'd never been just three days behind Zoë and Wash before. He could always come back. "Wouldn't want them to have too much of a head start, though, so if it's all the same to you, I guess I'll just be leaving."

He took half a step back, toward the door, but stopped when River laughed.

"Stupid. Simon's still here. I'm sure he'd love to see you."

One hand still clutched the cross, and the other hovered over the door handle. He wished the sun hadn't set. "That so?"

She gave him a bright smile that did not, quite, match the pictures he'd seen of when she'd been alive. "He's just in the other room. He only woke up a few hours ago."

Mal grimaced. "Yeah, I was afraid of that."

"You have to stay. It would be very rude to reject our hospitality."

Mal squeezed his eyes shut, counted to ten, opened them again. With a tired sigh, he finally lowered the cross and slipped it into his coat pocket, right next to his wooden stake and the vial of holy water the town's preacher had insisted he take with him. "Guess it would," he agreed, and waited for her to make the next move.

The girl studied him, and then her smile twisted. Mockery curling around every syllable, she said, "Are you going to save us then, Captain Reynolds? Shall you free our tortured souls and put an end to our eternal suffering?"

"I reckon that's the plan."

River rose onto the balls of her feet, poised like some majestic bird but so preternaturally still that she could never be mistaken for anything living. Meeting her eyes, he was surprised to see that they did not hold a challenge. Only a hint of something that might, once, have been sorrow.

The silence lasted long enough to become heavy, and then she said, in a calm voice, "You'll fail."

Turning, she danced away.