Disclaimer: I don't own the canon.
Author's Note: I haven't read much Firefly fic, so I have no idea if this premise has been done before or not, but hopefully I'll be able to bring something new to it if it has. Criticism and encouragement is appreciated- I'll do my best to use your comments to make this a better story.
Timeline: For BtVS, set at the end of Normal Again. The trio hits buffy with that poison that makes her think she's in a mental institute. The dialogue at the beginning of this fic is taken from the end of that episode. For Firefly, set at the end of the episode where Simon sneaks River into the hospital to scan her brain.
Warning: Some suspension of disbelief required on the convenience of Buffy being held on a ship, rather than at The Academy Proper.
Italics indicate stream of consciousness thoughts.
CHAPTER ONE:Crazy. You're crazy. No, you're strong. But that's not real. Kill them. Kill them all. Be strong. Crazy.
Buffy looked at her mother. Here, in this world, Joyce was alive. The fate of the world was an abstract concept, and the weight that had long ago settled itself on Buffy's shoulders was gone. All she had to worry about was getting better. If she could kill off the delusions...Friends/delusions/friends.
It was so hard to tell what was real and what was not, but inside, she wanted this to be real, wanted to be nothing more than her mother's little girl, wanted nothing more than to get better and live that life she'd been meant to have.
But she couldn't.
Being the slayer- Delusion. Not real. Has to be real. Into each generation, a slayer is born.
- had changed her. Even if it was a delusion, even if her entire life as the slayer had been a giant, crazy delusion, she was changed. And deep down, looking at her mother looking at her, so hopeful, Buffy knew what she had to do.
"You've got a world of strength in your heart," Joyce said, searching for the right words, stroking Buffy's hair and trying like hell to put together a sentence that would pull her daughter back into reality forever. "I know you do. You just have to find it again."
Fighting. That was what she was good at. That was what was real. Fighting and Dawn and the Scoobies and apocalypse after apocalypse after...Tired. So tired.
"Believe in yourself," Joyce whispered into Buffy's hair.
Buffy nodded. She had to do this. She had to go back. Delusion or not, she couldn't just let her friends die, she couldn't kill them.There's only one reality for me now.
She turned to her mother, tears running down her cheeks. "Thank you," she said, and then a soft, sad smile crossed her face. "Goodbye."
She looked away, closed her eyes, and in the next second, she was gone.
Buffy heard the announcement as if through a great distance. Simulation? What simulation? She barely had time to wonder before two sets of blue hands pushed her back against a cold, hard metal table and strapped her in.
I was supposed to wake up, Buffy thought. I was supposed to save them. Her thoughts still scrambled to an extent that she half-wondered if she was crazy, Buffy tried to look past the blue hands, even as she struggled against them. She felt a sharp jab in her upper arm, and the drug quickly rendered her completely still. She was awake. Conscious. Paralized. She could see everything, feel
everything, but she couldn't move. If she could have, when they cut open her skull, she would screamed.
"We have to get her. Hands of blue. Hands of blue!"
Simon stared at his sister incredulously. Moments before, her only concern had been getting away from the men pursuing them, and now that they were in the faux-ambulence, on their way back to Serenity, miraculously safe and sound, she seemed darned near set on turning their transport around.
"It's in the blood. They've got her. Cut-cut-cut. Little Miss Muffet. Cut-cut-cut. Which one does not belong? Circle the one that doesn't belong."
Her words were getting faster, more frenetic. Simon grabbed his sister's arms and tried to steady her, but River wouldn't have any of it.
"Circle the one that doesn't belong," she said, her voice becoming hysteric. "Cut it out. Show a pretty picture, watch the show. Little Miss Muffet, all cut up."
"River," Simon said, shaking her slightly. "You're okay. It's okay. You're safe."
River looked up at him with soulful, guarded eyes. "She's not."
Buffy could feel the drug wearing off. Her tormenters didn't seem to realize that she was regaining some ability to move, and the last thing she wanted was to tip them off. A close second-to-the-last thing she wanted was to sit still, as they sewed up the skin over her skull.
How were they doing that without shaving her hair? The thought occurred to Buffy somewhat randomly. She almost snorted, but remembered just in time that she wasn't supposed to be able to move at all. It just figured that she could spend a day convinced she was in an insane asylum and then wake up in an equally disturbing world in which she was a lab rat, and yet, somehow, her thoughts were still on her hair. Some things never changed.
Concentrate, she told herself sternly. She wasn't sure that what she was seeing was real, but no one had made mention of either the asylum or Sunnydale. The only words she'd heard spoken were the two that had greeted her when she'd awakened.Simulation complete.
Buffy forced herself through the logic, feeling more and more feeling returning to her body as she did. Somehow, the government had gotten ahold of her. They were turning her into some kind of science experiment- and not the fun kind with fake volcanoes and the lava and whatnot. Part of the experiment involved a simulation. The asylum, she figured, had been part of the simulation.
But what about Sunnydale? Buffy couldn't press down the nagging voice in the back of her head. Why simulate that she was in an asylum? Why tell her that her identity as the slayer wasn't true and then bring her back to consciousness in a world in which it was?
Unless it wasn't true. At all.
Oh well, Buffy thought, trying to master that detached five-by-five manner that Faith had psychotically perfected. Only one way to find out.
The men bent down to unshackle her, and the moment her arms and legs were free, Buffy lashed out, attacking three of them at once. Within moments, all of the men were unconscious and several more had weapons trained on her.
"Still the slayer," Buffy mused. Nonplussed, she took out the rest of the men quickly, even when one of them removed this glowy blue stick thing that kind of gave her a headache. After having rendered the last of the men unconscious, Buffy grabbed a weapon in each hand, testing the weight of the guns in her hands as if they were weapons meant for more direct contact.
They felt oddly right in her hands in a way that no weapon ever had- and that was saying something.
Using all of the cunning earned by years of slaying experience, Buffy made her way out of the room and down the hall, moving with a quiet grace that reinforced her conclusion that her slayer powers were still intact. And then, after moving unseen through a room full of men, she made her way to what looked like an exit. She figured she'd hit a button and make with the slayer speed out of Creepy Central, before those dudes with the blue hands woke up.
When she hit the button, Buffy realized two things. The first was that there was more than one set of blue-handed dudes. The second was that she most definitely, one hundred percent wasn't in Kansas any more.
"Two by two. Hands of blue." River looked at her brother, pleading him to understand. "They come for you. They always come for you."
"River, I won't let them get you."
"No!" River yelled, hands over her ears, trying to block out the noise. "You don't understand. Her. Her. Her! They have her! Little Miss Muffet! They have her, and they won't let her go. Stranger. In a strange land." River's voice had escalated to yelling. "She's going to fall! London Bridge, whatever that is."
And with those words, River broke out of Simon's grasp with superhuman strength, knocked Mal and Zoe unconscious without so much as a moment's notice, and took over control of their miniature ship. Jane had his gun out in an instant, but River didn't seem to mind.
"He knows, you know," she said, not even looking at the larger man. "What you did. Daddy knows."
Jayne wrinkled his brow in an exaggerated expression of confusion. Meanwhile, River navigated their fake ambulence with a single-minded determination that was almost palpable. Left here. Forty-five degrees, four miles. She forced the ship to go faster, and when Simon reached for her, she turned around to face him a second befor he tranquilized her with a pen he must have been carrying for that very purpose.
"I don't need needles," she told him, her fingers pressing on a specific spot on his neck. He fell to the ground.
Jayne stared, slack-jawed. If the moonbrain had done that to her own brother, what would she do to him?
"Ring around the roses," River sang, her voice eerie and innocent at the same time as she pushed their little shuttle faster and faster. "Pocket full of posies."
"What in the gorrem hell are you singing?" Jane growled.
"Ashes. Ashes." River lashed out with one leg, and as Jane collapsed to the floor, she smiled.
Buffy really wasn't liking her options here. There was something distinctly not human about the blue dudes. It wasn't that they set off her spidey sense, but something in their eyes told her all she needed to know. The way they moved and tilted their heads reminded her of The Gentlemen.
She lashed out, but one of them moved forward, sticking her with a needle. As Buffy felt the drug entering her system, she looked out beyond the blue men, wondering if her eyes were working correctly. She was in a building in the sky. A ship.
Maybe, she thought, her body heavy, the blue dudes were aliens.
Forcing herself to concentrate and remembering her simulation-mother's last words- believe in yourself
- she fought the drugs, and to her captors dismay, managed to rush past them and vault herself off of the ship and into a free fall before she lost consciousness all together.
River oriented the shuttle as best she could and opened a hatch that she instinctively knew was on the top. And then she took a step back, and a fraction of a second later, a body fell through the hatch, and River was accelerating again.
When she pulled the ambulence into Serenity's cargo hold, she was greeted by the other members of the crew, who were- to put things mildly- somewhat surprised to see four unconscious crew members and one unconscious stranger.
"What happened?" Kaylee asked, gawking.
"Zoe!" Wash yelled.
River shrugged. "Ashes, ashes," she said. "We all fall down."
Wash and Kaylee stared at her, and River elaborated. "We should go," she said. "Now."
And despite the fact that she was crazy, despite the fact that she was River and the rest of the crew was unconscious, Wash found himself oddly compelled to do just as the girl said.
TBC...Mal and company wake up, and River- and Buffy- have some explaining to do...