Rating: PG-13

Pairing: J/R; M/I; S/K; Zoë/Wash memories

Disclaimer: It all belongs to Joss, except for the quote from F.W.W. Hipwell and the one by Lao Tzu

Timeline: Chapter 1 takes place during The Message, all of the rest of the story, after the Movie.

Voices and Visions



Ch 1. Through The Keyhole of Time

River Tam moved through the ship, trying to find the odd voice that had started as a tickle at the back of her neck when they took-off from the SkyPlex. It had crept up on her slowly. Becoming louder and louder in her mind, until it drowned out the calming hum that was Serenity at her happiest: flying free in the Black.

She knew she had her moments of crazy and might have them all her life, but this was not one of them. The new drugs Simon had been giving her, hushed the multitude of anguished cries that had been throbbing in her head for so long that she'd forgotten when they had begun. The medications, also, allowed her to slowly build walls to protect the fragile areas of her brain that had been cut away leaving jagged emptiness instead of protection against others' thoughts in a world where emotion and pain ran rampant.

Over the last five months she had come to recognize the inner voices and feelings of the crew who shared her life on the ship. Most of the time she was able to successfully block them out, unless they caught her unawares with a flare of temper or passion that was strong enough to breach her newly formed defenses. So it was no surprise when she walked slowly into the cargo bay and found Jayne and the Shepherd at the bench press, quietly talking, instead of the empty room she'd expected.

The girl ignored the men and followed the voice, which only she could hear, the one that didn't belong on Serenity. It spoke of danger, death and deception. She tried to focus on the coffin that was the only unusual thing in the bay, instead of the Preacher and the Merc discussing their philosophies on how to best deal with death.

"It makes sense, makes you feel alive, I'd venture." Book understood the Mercenary's need for physical release when someone had died. Though he was a man of God now, he remembered a past he'd rather forget, a time when he'd once been more deadly than Jayne Cobb could, or, ever would be.

Any other time River would have been fascinated by what they had to say. But she was closing in on her quarry, and the voice called to her, though she couldn't make out its words. Her attention was split between the conversation the men were having and the thoughts that seemed to be coming from the long metal box.

"Now for psychology that don't sound half dumb. My kinda life don't last long, Preacher." Jayne stood and played nervously with the orange hat his mother had just sent him"I expect I'm invested in making good sport of it whilst I can." He thought for a moment, unsure if he wanted to ask the question that had been gnawing at his insides for a while now. Then he figured, 'what the hell? Now was as good a time as any.' "You gonna read over me when I get taken down, Shepherd?"

The girl's lips curved into a tiny smile and she allowed herself to picture Jayne as the old man she knew he would live to be. The many, many years he'd spend with his large hand wrapped around a smaller delicate one that belonged to the woman he loved and who loved him, despite their explosive beginning. She'd never had any doubts about how it would be for them. She'd seen it when she'd slashed him with the knife. Blood to blood, it always ran true and it never lied.

River took a deep breath and let go of the warm feelings that filled her when she though about her future. It was a future that would never happen unless the present was attended to. She spread her slim body across the cool box that contained the remains of Zoë and Mal's friend and wrapped her arms around the sides to search deeper for the strange voice. Then Book began to speak and when she heard his words, they hit a fissure deep within her.

"Well I suspect you'll be around long after we're all…"

Her heart pounded as colors flared and a tiny crack was opened in the Universe. Lights splintered behind her eyes and she could see pieces of a path that wasn't hers to tread. Suddenly the girl was peeking through a small odd shaped opening to the future. Before her was a dry, dusty planet, surrounded by death and destruction. The Preacher laid on his back, at the base of a large gun, blood drying in the corner of his mouth. His eyes were glassy and lifeless. Then she saw a hill with three grave markers that blurred and swam as her eyes filled with tears. No matter how hard she tried to focus, the only name she could make out was that of Derrial Book.

"What the hell." Jayne turned in shock at the sight of River laying flat on the coffin. "What the hell ya doing?"

As he shouted, the girl jumped and the door slammed shut. The rest of her vision was lost and the voice from the box below her began drumming loudly through her mind again.

"I'm very comfortable," she called out quietly, but ducked her head so they couldn't see her face. If they did, she knew they would see tears rolling down her cheeks. When Shepherd Book had spoken of death, she'd seen it. She'd seen Book's death and later Jayne standing over his grave. There was more she needed to see, but the harder she tried, the more it slipped away, until there was nothing left but the sure knowledge that the Shepherd would soon meet a violent end.

She tried once again, but no matter how hard she concentrated on returning to the moment and seeing the rest of her vision, it was blocked from her sight. She didn't hear Book leave the cargo bay or Jayne grunt and return to his weights. She fought to focus on what she'd seen, but it wouldn't return and the strange voice she'd been seeking kept getting louder and louder, but telling her nothing at all.

In anger River muttered sarcastically, "'For I dipped into the future, as far as the human eye could see. Saw the vision of the world, and all the wonders that can be.'" She knew she'd seen disaster, but there was nothing she could do about it. Giving into her frustration at her inability to see more, she pounded her small fist on the coffin.

"Hey there, Girl, that's no way to be actin'." Jayne angrily clanked his weights into the holder and in three large steps made his way across the Bay. "Now git off that thing and show some respect for the dead."

"Dead?" she questioned, but her mind skipped back to the important issue of her vision. "No wonders to be seen, only the dead shown in bits and pieces." She slid to the deck but hid her face behind her long dark hair.

"You keep up that crazy talkin' an I'm gonna get your brother. Git him to drug you up good this time."

"No, please no." She shook her hair over her shoulder and looked up at Jayne. Her large tear-filled brown eyes begging him for all manner of things he didn't understand.

"River," Simon's voice called from a distance.

"Please," she whispered to the large man standing over her. In one lithe movement she was on her feet and across the cargo bay. Jayne blinked over his shoulder as she disappeared into the shadows under the catwalk.

"Well, damn," he muttered and headed back to his bench press. "I couldn't have done better myself." The Girl sure did know some tricks when it came to makin' herself blend with her surroundings.

"Jayne, have you seen River?" The Doc leaned over the balcony, while he scanned the area below.

"She was layin' on the coffin there for a bit." Jayne grinned at the shocked expression on the younger man's face. Even knowing where Crazy Girl was hiding, he couldn't see her, weren't likely that brother of hers would. "Guess she must'a took off somewheres."

"If you see her, please let her know I'm looking for her." Simon headed back toward the engine room. It was quiet, so he doubted his sister was getting into any trouble. Today he had problems of his own that needed taking care of. He'd made a mess of things with Kaylee, again, and he had to try and find some way to make them right.

"Sure thing, Doc," Jayne grunted. "Okay, Girl, he's gone." The Merc watched as River gracefully slid out of the shadows. "You're sure good at hidin' when you want to, ain't ya?" He could hear the soft scuff of her boots on the deck, but he chose to ignore it and continue liftin' weights The Preacher was right, workin' out hard after a death did make him feel real alive.

"Jayne," she whispered as she nibbled on her lower lip. While they'd been talking the strange voice she'd been hearing since Serenity left the SkyPlex was reduced to almost nothing. He made her feel safe. She wanted him to feel safe too. "You needn't worry. The Shepherd was correct," her whispered words made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.

"Whadda ya mean?" He dropped the weight into its holder and yanked her closer with a large hand around her slim wrist.

"You will outlive the Preacher by many decades." River was caught in the deep blue fire of his eyes and couldn't look away if her life depended on it. She wasn't aware that her hand had slipped over his where he was gripping her hard enough to leave finger marks.

"That's crazy talk!" As much as he wanted to believe her, he knew that to do so would be the same as steppin' in front of a bullet. "Men like me don't live to be old. We take a slug or a knife or somethin' like that and then we die." The words ripped from his throat as he glared at her.

"You will live to see your children's children settled happily in their lives," River whispered. She didn't tell him the rest and she knew that she never would. She'd never tell him that he'd die in his sleep an old man, with his arms wrapped tightly around her. She'd never tell him that she'd only out-live him by a matter of hours because as she became aware that he was no longer with her, her heart would cry out and stop, unable to face even one sunrise without him by her side.

"Children," Jayne hooted. "Ain't no way, Crazy Girl. I'm careful when I get me some trim, always get my innocs before I go dirt-side."

She shrugged and pulled her wrist from his grasp. She made it as far as the door to the passenger dorm before she turned and looked back at the large man frowning at her. "The Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, lived a long time ago on Earth-that-was. He said that 'To love someone deeply gives you strength. Being loved by someone deeply gives you courage.' It is something you should think about Jayne Cobb."

"Girl you're plum loco!" he yelled at her receding back. "Gorramnit Girl, come back here when I'm talkin' to ya. Ain't no way that's gonna happen. The only girls I love are my guns!" But she had disappeared before he'd finished. He muttered to himself about crazy moonbrained girls havin' the run of the ship and tried to ignore the tightening in his belly when he remembered her small soft hand rubbin' over his large rough one.