Disclaimer: Just playing in Whedon's verse.

A/N: Beta'd by the lovely Articululation

There was a time once when I was loved. But that time is gone. There was a time once when I was free and I was alive...

I have forgotten the taste of freedom. I have forgotten how to dance.

I am now an instrument of a government. I was lied to. I was betrayed. I was taken away from my family. From Simon.

He never came for me.

But that life is but a fleeting thought to me. It is but a dream.

I am a reader. It was something forcibly given to me. It is not a natural gift. I feel all around me. I feel everything but myself. I am dead. Soulless. Emotionless.

I have forgotten how to be.

The world passes by, not noticing how I creep along in the shadows. I have no name to them. I am an agent. I am an assassin. I was created for a sole purpose and when I am done . . . I am finished. There will be no easy retirement. There will be no sunshine and dancing for me.

My job is easy. There are no challenges. No one can escape me. I see everything. I feel everything.

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I was not the only one at the Academy. There were others. But they were not as smart or as gifted as I. I was special; that I was told many times. It soon lost meaning. How do you measure one person against another?

How is one life more valuable than another? The Academy created us, built us, to play God with us.

I was given an assignment. It wasn't my first and it wouldn't be my last. There was nothing out of the ordinary. I was told to be at a party at a certain time and place. I was given the targets' picture and that was all. I am rarely ever given the reason why. It never matters. I always know.

A government official escorted me. He knew not why I was there or even my name for that matter. He must have suspected something. I knew he did but he said nothing and asked nothing.

He had been taught well.

It was an exquisite party. Full of finely dressed people. My legs ached to join them on the floor. To be as carefree as them. To dance.

I quickly chased away that notion and began to survey for my target. I made some small talk with some guests. I can be quite charming. I pick up on their thoughts and by the end they feel like they have known me all their life. But as soon as I vanish, they will not even remember my face.

It is a skill that has been honed and refined over the years.

I notice him right away. He is standing in the corner. He is out of his depth. This is not his arena. He is a captain. He is fierce and formidable. But he is just a man.

His clothes look uncomfortable. These are not the clothes he would ever wear willingly. So who brought him here? A woman, perhaps?

Even when he is out of his safe zone, I realize, he is a man of great power. He is a leader in his own right. His very being reverberates with it.

But men can easily be cut down.

What did this man do to deserve to be ended by me?

I wander aimlessly to the dessert table. There is a delicious selection of sweet fruits. A strawberry catches my eye and I am taken back to a time where strawberries were in abundance and when I was free.

I shake that memory away and focus once more on my target. I never look for their names.

It's easier if they remain nameless.

I see the couples dancing and I would have given anything to have danced alongside with them. To kick off my shoes and lose myself in the motion of it all.

A dark-hair woman approaches the man. She is exquisitely dressed and beautiful. She has olive skin and eyes that see into the very depths of you. She is a Companion, I realize.

His? He does not seem the type to seek out Companions.

No. I watch their interaction and it is clear that he is not wanted here. They are friends or something far more intimate.

Not lovers.

I smile at this. Unrequited love from two very different people.

It is a pity that it will end so soon.

Another woman appears. She is wearing a frilly pink dress. It is clear that the two women are friends from their greeting. There is a bond between them. It is a firm and I feel their love for each other even from this distance.

I am interrupted from my thoughts as a younger man asks for my hand in a dance. I decline graciously. I need to remain focused and I know if I step out on that floor I will be lost. There will be no going back.

I see as my own companion disappears into one of the hallways with a woman. I smile and silently wish him luck.

My own target has vanished. But he could not get too far. I sense him. He is angry and frustrated. He has gone out to the balcony to think.

I walk into the crowd and it parts slightly for me. I have long since learned to block out unnecessary noise. It can get quite busy in my head. I hear whispers from people. They are excited. Drunk on life and love.

I slip into the hall and silently make my way out to the balcony. The warm summer air kisses my skin and welcomes me into the world.

He is hunched over the balcony. This life is not his. He is meant to be free among the stars not trapped on this planet.

"Who are you?" He asks. I was not surprised that he knew I was there. He does not miss much. I can hear his thoughts loud and clear now. He is not afraid of this slip of a girl. He had seen me earlier. He had thought I had looked familiar.

"Does it matter?"

"I suppose not," he says gruffly. He does not pay much attention to me. I am nothing more than a nuisance. His real problems, he thinks, lay indoors with a woman named Inara.

He is looking at the stars and every being in his body longs to be among them again. He wants serenity. He'll have it soon enough, I think.

"You look like someone I once knew," he said abruptly. My heart quickens. Does he recognize me? I am careful when I am on assignment and when I am not. But I don't recognize him and I know faces.

"I have that kind of face," I say carefully.

"I suppose you do."

I lean against the balcony edge and I breathe in the clean air. I palm the needle from the pocket in my dress and I turn to him slowly.

He is like a predator. A creature of the night and if I am not careful… This assignment will not be a success.

Before he can say a word I deftly pierce the needle into his neck. His eyes widen and he mumbles a name.

River

I freeze at that. I did not tell him my name.

Quickly I make my way around his crumpled body and into the hallway. I sense people coming and I throw myself back into the Ballroom.

There is a scream and a wail of anguish that shook me to my very core.

"Captain!"

I smile to my companion and suggest that it perhaps time that we leave. I have a long journey to make.