Disclaimer: Full disclaimer after the fic because I don't want to ruin any surprises, but I can say that I do not own Firefly/Serenity. They belong to Joss Whedon. Joss is Boss.
AN: anything in Brackets and Italics are the rambling thoughts of a crazy person – hope it's not too confusing!
To the sane and clear of mind, time is a fairly simple thing. It starts in the past, moves toward the future and in between, the present happens.
But to the less sane (or to those who have had their neural cortex hacked at by evil scientists), time is a lot more interesting.
For River Tam, the knowledge that she physically couldn't travel through time was true and absolute. No-one could (except for the strange man in the suit and sneakers. Had she met him? Was he a splinter from another's memory?). Even though time might be a mass of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey…things…(his words, not hers – even she wasn't that crazy) she couldn't physically change it, only glimpse a different strand from her current one. The frail human body couldn't survive the travel through space and time and the even more frail human mind couldn't cope with the variances and paradox risks.
But the soul…
Meeting someone and seeing what they had been in a previous incarnation had been something of a game for her while she was being 'trained'. Watching the janitor pushing a broom down the hall, but also seeing the hockey player skating the puck down the ice. Seeing the lab tech that brought in her food tray, working in a fast-food restaurant on Earth-that-was. To see the possibilities was both confusing and entertaining. Most people had only one visible incarnation though they had lived several different lives. One dominant personality that affected their personalities and traits in all other incarnations. Occasionally River would see someone with a strong secondary incarnation, but not very often. So it was with considerable shock that not long after arriving on Serenity, River discovered that the vast majority of the crew had more than one strong incarnation. Even more surprising was how connected they all were. Even just sitting around the kitchen table, River could pick out the previous meetings and interactions.
Watching the Pilot and his First-Mate mate walking into the room, debating holiday destinations, she could see the Special Agent in Charge and the Ninja Assassin strolling into her lab and asking for results (and oh, how she wished she still had those boots. They would have kept her well grounded!). His clothing may be more loud and her temper less short, but River still caught glimpses of his ability to joke in the most inappropriate situations, and her cool, calm way of doing what had to be done, no matter the cost (red-lit darkness, pain shoved away for the sake of the others – not yet but maybe soon).
Her Brother (The Boob) smiled at Shiny-Bright from across the table, and River was in a different lab – much larger, more people. They had worked together in the past; friends, but never lovers in that incarnation (and unless her brother pulled his head out of his pi-gu, not in this incarnation either!). Her brother had been the cold, analytical (and female!) one, uncomfortable in social situations, but a shining light in his (her!) field. A doctor then, as now, but one who worked with the past, rather then the present. Kaylee's love of ships and engineering translated over to her counterpart's love of 'Bugs and Slime' but stronger still was the love that she (again, gender confusion. She had been the Bug and Slime Guy) shared with her friends. As the lab's 'Younger Brother', River had felt that caring, and nothing had hurt more than the realization that she had betrayed that trust. Seeing the same shock and fear in Kaylee's eyes after the assault on Niska's moon had brought back too many painful glimpses of teeth and bone and hands in white bandages.
As she glimpsed the Man-Ape leering at the Companion, it made River giggle (and cringe slightly) to remember that at one time, on the other side of space in a room with a big circle-ring (looks like blue water…the science doesn't match up) they had been as close as brother and sister. Both of them aliens (though if they were Homo sapiens, were they still aliens? Does being from a different galaxy count if you share the same genetic structure?), they had bonded in their attempts to understand the traditions and antics of the people from Earth-That-Was. The Runner back then became the Merc now, both deathly accurate and quick to temper, not the leader but a strong right arm. Back then, the Companion had been equally as capable a warrior as the Runner and had led her people for many years, but her strength had been in her diplomacy. Smoothing over the mistakes and mis-steps that their allies had made then had stood her in good steed when it came to dealing with the Companion's clients now. What always confused her when seeing their past lives was the stranger who wore Kaylee's face (perhaps an ancient ancestor? Genetic diversity would prohibit such a similar appearance considering the amount of time in the intervening years, but maybe…).
But the most fascinating connection of all was between Captain Daddy and the Preacher-man. Observing the quicksilver bantering that flashed across the table (and stealing Jayne's apple when he wasn't looking), River could sense the friendship and respect between Mal and Sheppard Book. They had met in more than one previous incarnation (the eldest of the Hunter brothers being told off and guided by the psychic with the place-name) but the strongest connection between them happened over the Mouth to Hell in a small town on Earth-That-Was. At that time, in that place (as well as the nearby Angel City) many faces from Serenity's crew had covered a stranger's soul (Jayne's rough visage clean-shaven and in a corporate suit - dark being - Company man. Zoe's beautiful form covering an unspeakable ugliness - don't look don't look don't look. Mal's body wearing false robes, screaming out hatred and misogyny. Herself, floating across the stage – white dress - strange accent) but River could ignore those familiar faces and instead see her ship-mates behind unfamiliar eyes.
Brother-Boob had resided behind the intelligent yet hesitant eyes of the Mini-Watcher – awkward and out of his depth at first, but gradually finding his place. In Kaylee's unending enthusiasm, she saw the Girl With a Boy's name – curious about the world and believing that everything would work out just fine. The Man-Ape had been the Ex-Demon, strange as it may seem. Though there was not much similarity in their physical abilities, the obsession with money and sex as well as the complete lack of a verbal filter shone through loud and clear across the ages. Contained within the Pilot's tacky shirts, she glimpsed the Carpenter, not the best fighter, nor the smartest person, but dependable, honourable and funny. The First Mate had only been there for a short while, a sister-Slayer, killed before her time. Raised in isolation, and having been taught to suppress all emotion and feeling, when she met the one who could have been her soulmate, uncertainty had overtaken Kendra then – a response that had resonated in Zoe now. If she had survived the fight with the Dark One, how would their story have ended? And in the Cheerleader/Seer, River could see the same caring nature and beauty-loving soul that lived within Inara. Thankfully though, Cordelia's pettiness hadn't incarnated (much). All of these people had played around the edges and in the middle of the lives of the two central characters.
To imagine Captain Daddy as a compact, blonde (female) Slayer was almost beyond comprehension, but the souls were identical. Like the Hunter, they were both determined to protect their families, be it at the cost of their lives (fighting the nameless man…face hitting the ground…again…and again…and again. Not yet – soon. Too soon.). Trying to keep their morals intact but sometimes… (knife in the gut…watching dark hair halo as her sister-Slayer fell)…sometimes there was no way around it. River would watch Mal make a split-second decision, and deep behind his eyes, she could see Buffy nod in agreement, knowing that the first option may not be the best but sometimes there just wasn't enough time to find another.
And trying his best to guide him…her…him… (damned gender confusion!) had been Preacher-Man in Librarian's clothing. The quiet and sensible exterior in both incarnations covered a hidden darkness, unknown talents and questionable histories. He would protect his family from behind the scenes – unrecognised – hidden (hand over mouth – ending the mortal before the Goddess could appear). She couldn't see all of his past – Giles' was hidden by the dark forces he had tangled with in his youth and Book's mental control was…impressive. She occasionally caught glimpses, things that surprised her, but at the same time didn't surprise her. She actually picked up a few pointers from the Preacher-man on how to take down someone with minimal effort – things that they hadn't taught her at the Academy.
So as River walked through the ship, she observed all the connections, weaving their way through the walls of Serenity and through her crew. And as she watched her home and her family move through their lives, adding to their knowledge and experiences, she pondered important matters. She contemplated if her brother would ever develop an emotional backbone. She thought about if her current incarnation will warp any future incarnations – whether they would be sane or not.
And she wondered if Captain Daddy's tendency towards tight pants was a hold-over from his Slayer days.
FIN (because this is too weird to ever write a sequel for).
Disclaimer – Part 2: Okay, (deep breath) NCIS, Bones, Stargate: Atlantis, Supernatural and Buffy/Angel DO NOT BELONG TO ME!!! Seriously, if I owned them, do you think I would be temping in smallish-town UK?
AN: okay, I know…not the best but if I re-wrote this again, I would scream. My friends and I (being the complete and utter geeks that we are) had a loooong conversation one day about who each character would be in a different series. This is the result. Let me know of any criticism, compliments or other characters you think may have fit better (I am always curious about other's opinions), but remember, if you make a silly suggestion, you will be mocked. You have been given fair warning!
Fred the Wraith Queen