Disclaimer: I own nothing.
Author's Note: Super, super short update, because my other Firefly fic is kind of sapping the inspiration for this one. Reviews have a tendency to feed the muse, and would therefore be much appreciated at this time.
"My whole life was a dream." Buffy said the words out loud, hoping that somehow saying them would make them less true, knowing deep down that it would do the opposite.
Simon held out his hands in a calming motion, hoping to prevent the girl from reaching the point where he'd have to knock her out again.
"You couldn't." River appeared back at the doorway. "She'd flatten you, and we don't have any syrup for a Simon pancake."
"Not even a dream," Buffy said, oblivious to everything going on around her. "A lie. My entire life is a lie that someone just made up and stuck in my head. All this time, I thought I was living, and they were just... just..."
"They gave it to you so they could take it away," River said, coming to stand beside Buffy, playing with the tips of the other girl's hair. "They take everything away. Give you blood instead. Cut you up."
"Mei-mei," Simon said softly, in a way he hoped communicated "let's not scare your violent, psychotic friend."
Buffy pulled her legs tight to her chest. "Now I know how Dawn felt," she said. "With the monks." For a moment, there was silence, and then Buffy corrected herself. "Except there is no Dawn." In some ways, this was the easiest thing to apprehend, because she could still remember the spell that had allowed her to see through the monks' illusions and into her true past, but in other ways, this was the hardest, because it was Dawn. Her blood. Her sister.
River was wrong. The people who had done this to her might have given them a bloodthirst and the ability to make demons- Reavers- bleed, but they hadn't given her blood. They'd taken it away. It's in the blood.
Words she'd never actually spoken came back to haunt her, and for the second time, she was struck by the parallels between her current state and the fictional Dawn's. Why had the Alliance given her that memory? Why had they given her Dawn at all, then told her Dawn wasn't real, then made her realize that it didn't matter? Why do any of it? Why not just train her to kill these Reaver things?
"Cut. Cut. Cut." River let her fingers dance lightly over the top of Buffy's head, her touch gentle. "They take everything away. Just like my brain."
"I won't eat it." The words were out of Buffy's mouth before she could quite figure out where they'd come from. River smiled then, a genuine smile, because for once, someone on this ship was speaking her language.
"Simon?" Kaylee stuck her head into the room, her trademarked smile in place on her face, even though her manner was softer and more restrained than normal.
"Yes?" Simon answered, not realizing how brisk his voice sounded, or how the smile fell just a little at the fact that he was so deep in thought- about Buffy, about River- that he didn't even say her name.
"The captain talked to Mr. Universe," Kaylee said, her voice stiffer this time. "He found out some things about..." she lowered her voice, as if somehow, by doing so, she'd ensure that Simon heard her, but that River and Buffy, who were directly beside him, would not. "... about who she was before the Academy."Do I even want to know?
The question surprised Buffy, but there it was, bouncing around in her mind. She'd spent years trying to figure out who she was. She wasn't the girl she'd been a year ago. Or two or three or four. And now, as it turned out, none of those years had evenhappened. They'd all passed in a dream, and she couldn't remember anything that she knew for sure was real. Did she want to remember who she really was, knowing deep down that whoever, whatever she'd been before the Academy had begun implanting their delusions, she wasn't that person anymore?You want to know. You're just scared.
The voice echoed in Buffy's mind, and it took her a moment to realize it was River.I'm scared, too. All the time.
And that's when Buffy knew that she'd face her past- her real past, because if she faced her fear, maybe, somehow, she could take away some of River's.
"This is most unfortunate." One man in a business suit remarked to another.
"Yes, sir," the second said, "but we've already constructed a plan of retrieval."
"Like you've 'retrieved' River Tam?"
"River Tam was an outlier. Physically, she outmatched the other 1A prototypes, but her mental walls made forging the necessary connections difficult."
"Which is why you stripped her limbic system, leaving her potentially uncontrollable and
unlinked to the others and our mainframe."
The subordinate tried to steer the conversation in a more positive direction. "The point is that Buffy Summers is connected, both to our network, and to Others."
"You plan to send one of them after her?" The man in charge raised an eyebrow at that thoughts.
"She's ready, sir." Eager to demonstrate this particular weapon's readiness, the subordinate walked to the door and let her into the room. "Sir, this is Dawn."