DISCLAIMER: Both Firefly and SCC are the property of 20th Century Fox. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: A big thanks to zennie for the beta. Thank you for all your encouragement. I probably wouldn't have tried to tackle this without you, hon.
SPOILERS: Up through the movie Serenity. If you haven't seen Serenity, be warned. Character deaths are mentioned here.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
No Rest for the Wicked
By Inspector Boxer
Serenity was still and silent as Inara trailed worriedly behind River. The younger woman was moving quickly, her bare feet padding softly on Serenity's metal plating, but Inara could tell something was missing. Gone was the almost cat-like grace in River's steps, the fluidity in her movements. River seemed almost robotic, moving toward her destination with singular purpose. Inara swallowed nervously, almost afraid to speak in the event she became a catalyst that unleashed the assassin that lurked in the recesses of River's brain. The swishing of the companion's skirts as she followed seemed disproportionately loud, covering even the sounds of her breathing. Inara swallowed again and braved a single word. "River?"
River didn't answer. Instead, the younger woman rounded the corner and headed for Serenity's cargo hold.
The companion continued to follow, softly muttering a few select curses when River didn't reply. "Maybe I should call Simon," Inara suggested, starting to wonder if she might have to tackle the younger woman. Her self-defense skills were adequate at best but no match for someone with River's imbedded knowledge. "Honey "
River stopped walking, and Inara went abruptly quiet. The younger woman slowly turned and looked at the companion before bringing a single finger to her lips. There was no hint of personality in River's dead, brown eyes as she stared dispassionately at the other woman. "Sshhh," River scolded, and Inara felt a chill chase down her spine.
Taking a deep, slow breath, Inara resumed her pace behind River as the girl pivoted and walked away. She didn't dare leave River alone to go for help, and Inara was equally as terrified to call for it lest she startle River into attacking her or harming herself in some manner. All she could do was follow the girl and wait for her chance to do something.
What Inara didn't know, what River had no inclination to share, was that River was being pulled toward the upper catwalks of Serenity. The voices in her head had been whispering for attention, promising her all matter of unseemly things if she would only listen and do their bidding. Until a few moments ago, she had hidden deep inside her own mind, doing everything she could to protect herself from the bombardment of angry, vengeful souls that wanted to claim her whole. But then a pinprick of light had appeared, banishing some of the darkness and silencing some of the cacophony of voices. River had been drawn toward that light. She couldn't resist the tug on her spirit that had her feet moving forward automatically. River didn't want to. In that light was salvation.
The souls buzzing in her head seemed to realize this, their voices and demands abruptly growing louder and more insistent. River whimpered, her face twisting into a grimace as her stride faltered. She felt Inara's hands on her, and the tactile sensation was enough for River to ground herself once more in the sea of souls she was awash in. She would not be lost. Not again.
"River?" Inara's voice was full of fear.
The light was getting brighter. River focused on it and started moving purposely forward once more, her head dipping down as if she were walking through a hard rain and she was trying to shield herself from the fast, stinging drops striking her. The souls were so angry so cruel. They made her cold to the core as they assaulted her mind, seeming to chew on it on her.
River whispered a name, focusing every part of her that was left on it.
She didn't realize when she reached the upper most catwalks. River was unaware of her hands wrapping around the rail as she stared at the open cargo bay door.
"Oh, honey," Inara murmured next to her as if she suddenly understood what was driving the younger woman.
River didn't answer. She merely waited, her grip on reality tenuous at best.
Moments later, there was gunfire echoing outside the cargo bay door. Inara jerked next to River, her own hands curling around the rail. As she watched, Mal and Zoe came running, pistols drawn. Fear for them had Inara's heart leaping into her throat. "Be careful," she whispered as Zoe charged outside.
Jayne raced in, a hover sled behind him. The mercenary started tossing items off left and right, finally sitting on one edge and using his weight and strength to push everything off the other side.
More gunshots sounded, closer this time. Five cracks split the air in rapid succession. Inara laid her hand over River's and squeezed, deathly afraid of what would happen next.
Finally dragging the sled to the opening, Jayne gave it a swift kick to send it gliding down the ramp. It missed the returning Connor and Zoe by inches as the pair stumbled inside. Mal hit the button on the cargo bay door and everything went silent once it clanged shut.
River inched closer, her brown eyes now fixed completely on Connor. Captivated by the sight that greeted her, River could suddenly hear nothing but the beating of her own heart as the voices in her head went deathly quiet.
"You alright?" Zoe demanded. Connor was bleeding from a few shallow cuts and scrapes and breathing hard. The pilot bent over, her hands on her knees, desperately trying to suck down air.
Connor shook her head and waved Zoe's concern away with a sweep of her hand. "I asked you what happened," Connor reminded the second-in-command. "Where is River?"
"Where is River?" Connor nearly shouted.
"There was an accident," Zoe stated calmly.
"What do you mean an 'accident?'"
"I'll fill you in when we're on our way," Zoe said as she started to brush by the pilot only to have her elbow grabbed.
"You'll fill me in now," the pilot promised, her heart thudding against her ribcage in sick, heavy beats. Anger at herself, at Mal, at the whole damn Alliance bloomed hot and hard in her chest. She should never have left. Her place was here with River, protecting her, and she'd let River down. "Where is she?" Sarah heard her voice shake, but she didn't give a damn.
"She's " Zoe saw something move on the upper catwalks and she glanced heavenward, her words trailing off. "She's fine?" The last word came out sounding like both a statement and a question.
Connor followed Zoe's line of sight and felt her whole frame nearly sag with relief when she saw River looking down on her. River appeared pale and tired, but the alternatives that had rushed through Connor's mind when Zoe had first informed her that River had been in an accident had been so much worse. Hey green eyes locked on River's brown, and Connor felt her world steady.
"Connor!" Mal's voice snapped over the intercom. "Get your butt up in this here chair. We got buzzards."
The pilot swore in sync with Zoe, wrenching her gaze away from River by sheer force of will. Buzzards were small, fast Alliance ships; harder to outrun and even harder to outgun if Serenity even had guns, which she didn't. Sarah sprang into motion once more, risking one last look at River over her shoulder as she headed for the bridge.
River stood frozen, feeling like she'd forgotten how to breathe.
"Beautiful, isn't she?" Inara murmured into the younger woman's ear. She smiled when River could only nod dumbly, her big brown eyes fixed on the pilot and unaware of anything else. Inara chuckled faintly, amused and touched by River's response. Watching the younger Tam in the throes of her first crush was a sight to behold.
"It's not what you think it is," River said suddenly, jarring Inara out of her musings.
Inara took an unsteady breath at the return of River's voice. "What's not, sweetie?" she asked as her fingers combed through River's hair, trying to soothe the younger Tam, but needing the innocent touch to ground her as well.
"It's not a crush." River finally turned and looked at the companion, a startling depth of wisdom in her gaze. Gone was the deadness in River's doe-eyes. Now the deep brown possessed an intensity Inara had never seen before. "I had my first crush when I was ten. Before the Academy before the Alliance cut on my brain. I remember what a crush feels like."
Inara's hand stilled on River's shoulder. It was always unnerving how River could know what she was thinking and now was no different. "River "
"My first crush never made me feel like this," River confessed.
Inara hesitated, suspecting she was suddenly in uncharted territory. "And this " She glanced down at Zoe and the pilot, her gaze lingering unconsciously on the second-in-command. "What does it make you feel?"
"More than I can stand but it still doesn't feel like enough."
"Sweetheart " Inara trailed off, unsure what to say or think.
"She changed everything," River murmured as her gaze was drawn back to Connor and stayed there, her gaze locking with the pilot's. "Mixed it all up. Cut through the cold and made me warm again made me whole again."
"River " Inara swallowed. "You're talking like you're in love with her," she pointed out.
River turned serious brown eyes back on the companion. "I know," she said matter-of-factly.
"You know?" Inara asked incredulously.
River shrugged as if she'd said something innocuous before returning her gaze to the now departing Connor. She tracked the beautiful pilot until Sarah disappeared from sight.
"She saves me from myself," River whispered.
"This is getting to be a habit," Connor snarled as Mal eased out of the pilot's chair and she claimed his place. Grabbing hold of the helm with one hand, Connor fastened herself in with the other. "Tell everyone to brace below. Things are going to get ugly."
"They usually do," Zoe drawled from the doorway. She glanced at Mal. "River's up and about."
The captain's head snapped up from where he was strapping himself into the co-pilot's chair. "There's a tiny bit of brightness in a dark and scary moment."
Both Sarah and Zoe snorted at Mal's odd sense of humor.
"Get her off that catwalk," Connor commanded Zoe.
Zoe nodded once and hurried off to make sure River and Inara were safe.
Satisfied with the sound of Zoe's retreating steps, Connor glanced at the radar and swore. "Ten of them."
"Ten?" Mal's head came up again. "There were only five when I called you." He switched on the radio and warned his crew to strap themselves in.
"You're in my chair."
Both Connor and Mal looked back over their shoulders as River appeared in the doorway.
Mal blinked. "Well then come get it, little albatross." He unbuckled his harness much faster than he'd gotten it fastened. River moved with purpose to the co-pilot's chair and slid into it as Mal vacated it. "You here with us?" Mal asked her as he reached over and secured her harness.
"Yes, sir," River murmured.
"Is it just you in there?" The captain asked as he stared into River's eyes.
"Can we talk about that later? They're gonna start shooting now."
No sooner had River finished speaking than a shot zipped past the viewport. Connor swore and initiated evasive maneuvers, rolling Serenity and sending Mal skidding on his back across the bridge.
The buzzards were closing in on them. Connor glanced at the radar and felt her heart rate climb. There were too many of them moving too fast. More shots filled the viewport with light, and Serenity abruptly bucked hard when one of them found their target.
"All vital systems still on-line," River let Connor and the recovering captain know.
Connor wasn't interested. She gripped the helm hard. "Hold on, Mal," she warned, giving him two seconds to grab onto something before she pulled back, throwing Serenity into a loop. The buzzards flew under them, allowing Connor to get behind them as she evened out the ship. She could hear Mal cursing her name in more than one language.
"Prep for a full burn," Connor told River.
"We're too close," Mal shouted.
"Prep us!" Connor yelled over him even though she already heard River's long fingers tapping out the commands on the console.
"Ready to commence full burn," River stated calmly.
Just as she knew they would, the buzzards broke ranks and went into a frenzy to get away from the firefly breathing down on them. They had no way of knowing whether or not the ship was armed and weren't waiting to be fired upon to find out. "Come on, fellas," Connor coaxed the other pilots. "Let's play."
Yanking on the helm, Connor forced the ship downward. She watched the buzzards realign in formation behind her. "That's it. Come to mama." The pilot looked to River. "Commence full burn on my mark."
River's finger hovered over the button.
Mal realized what Connor was about to do. "We'll be caught "
"Better than being dead!" Connor snapped at him. She saw the final ship inch into the zone she'd outlined for her plan. "Mark!"
River pressed down hard and Serenity released a stream of fire in her wake, catching four of the closest ships and shredding them like paper. The firefly leapt forward as the disintegrating ships careened into the others, eventually causing a shockwave that blossomed forward and spun Serenity helplessly about.
Sirens sounded as the ship shuddered. Connor felt the control vanish from the helm as the ship rolled, still breathing fire across the black of space. "Shut it off!" Connor yelled.
River shook her head. "It won't disengage!"
Behind them, Mal held on for all he was worth as his boat groaned and rocked all around him. The metal plating he was lying on clanked under him, as Serenity seemed to shake apart. "Do something!" he ground out past the nausea now choking his throat.
River reached under the helm and searched for the wires connecting the controls to the engine. Grabbing a tangled mass of them, she pulled with all her strength, sending out a shower of white-gold sparks.
Serenity rolled once last time as the engine died, and Sarah managed to have enough thrusters working to stabilize the ship before they, too, went dead. Everyone stilled as the lights on the bridge flickered, the sirens having gone eerily quiet once River had pulled the wires.
"We all right?" Mal asked into the sudden silence.
River looked worriedly at Sarah and was relieved when the pilot nodded. Sarah's gaze shifted off the viewport to River.
"You?" Connor almost croaked.
River nodded as she began to unbuckle herself.
Connor shifted and glanced back at Mal where he lay on the floor, his whole body wrapped around a chair he'd never made it into. "Mal?"
"Be fine," he confirmed. "Once I throw up."
Connor let go of the helm and flopped back against her chair. She covered her face with shaky hands. "No more excitement for today. I'm done," she muttered.
A sudden bark of laughter from Mal had both River and Connor turning to look at him like he'd lost his mind.
"What?" Connor demanded.
"You did all that fancy flying in that fancy dress," the captain declared. "Just takes the impressiveness of it up a notch."
Rather than feeling irritated, Connor laughed a little herself. "You have no idea." She closed her eyes only to snap them open again as River started unbuckling her harness. Connor felt her breath catch at the younger woman's nearness. "What are you doing?"
River hesitated, not having realized what she was doing until Connor called her attention to it. "You've been injured." River traced a nasty scrape down Sarah's right shoulder with a light touch. "We need to get you to Simon."
Connor reached out and grabbed River's hand, stilling the caresses and the woman. "It's just a scratch," she promised. "I'm more worried about you."
Mal watched them, his eyes dipping to their clasped hands before jumping back up to study the very interesting way the two women were looking at each other. "I'll be damned," he muttered.
They looked at him again, and he smiled. "Think I'll go check on the others," Mal volunteered. "Let you two catch up a bit."
Connor frowned, feeling like she was missing something. When Mal winked at her as he departed, Connor got the gist and her whole face heated in mortification.
"What was that about?" River wondered with the most adorably confused expression Connor had ever seen.
The pilot chuckled quietly as she got unsteadily to her feet. She tugged River closer and finally wrapped her arms around the younger woman, allowing herself the contact after the day they'd both had.
River gasped softly, but returned the embrace, her hands claiming Connor's bare shoulders and savoring the feel of skin on skin. "You okay?" River murmured into the crook of Sarah's neck.
"Pretty damn good at the moment," Connor admitted with a fair amount of bemusement at herself.
River smiled with shy pleasure, her stomach feeling like a herd of butterflies was stampeding inside it. "Thank you for coming back when you did."
The hug lasted a few more moments before Connor reluctantly pulled back and looked at her. "What happened? Zoe said there was an accident."
River told her, about all of it, shivering a little in remembered fear. "They're awful. Not like the souls on Miranda. Most of them were good. Not these. Not these," she repeated softly.
Connor licked her lips. "Did you tell Mal? Simon?"
River shook her head. "I was hiding while you were gone. Stayed deep inside my mind so they wouldn't get me."
The mere thought of what River was describing was enough to make Connor physically ill. She cupped River's jaw, letting her thumb stroke the younger woman's cheek. "Are they still in there?" Connor asked fearfully.
Slowly, River nodded. "They're trying to take me over, but they can't."
"Why?" Connor asked, sensing it was important to know.
Brown eyes stared into green for a timeless moment.
"Because you're here. And no matter how many of them there are, my mind would rather think about you."
"What in the gorram hell was that?" Jayne growled as Mal appeared in the infirmary. The mercenary had strapped himself to the examination chair to wait out the wild ride and was still buckled in.
"Buzzards. Connor took care of 'em," Mal said in a clipped voice.
"Took care of us, too," Kaylee griped as she followed the captain into the infirmary. "We're dead in the water."
"Connor fly the damn engine apart?" Jayne wanted to know.
Mal shot him a look. "She saved our asses is what she did. Flying the engine apart was just a bonus." He looked at Kaylee. "Did she fly it apart?" he asked almost under his breath.
Kaylee snorted. "No, sir. Just gave her a helluva shake. Gonna take me a bit to replace all the fried parts. Good thing we just picked up a couple."
Simon chose that moment to stagger into the room behind Kaylee, looking a little green around the gills. He made a soft choking sound and everyone glanced worriedly at him.
Mal kept one eye on the doctor, ready to move as far away as possible on a moment's notice. "I'll get you all the extra hands you need. You tell me how many."
"Just one set oughta do it, Cap'n. Any more and it gets crowded in there."
Simon coughed and proceeded to dry heave much to everyone's disgust.
"Wanna do that in your quarters, Doc?" Mal suggested around a rough swallow.
Simon gave Mal a look that was equal parts anguish and anger. "I'm fine," he vowed before moving toward a drawer and rifling through it for some medication. "Just got a little motion sickness," he needlessly explained as he found the pills he was searching for and popped one, swallowing it with a grimace. He straightened when he spied Jayne in the examination chair rather than his sister. "Where is River?"
"On the bridge with Connor," Mal said absently.
"She's awake?" Simon asked incredulously. He started grabbing a few items and throwing them into his medical bag. "Was someone going to tell me?" he sniped.
"Told you now," Mal replied simply before turning back to Kaylee. "Who you want to give you a hand?"
"Zoe would be great, if you can spare her."
"Consider her spared." Mal's attention switched to Simon. "Doc, why don't you give it a few more minutes before you go pestering your sister."
"Excuse me?" Simon blurted in disbelief only to cough again and double over.
Mal smirked. "Just give yourself a minute for the medication to hit is all I'm suggesting," he lied, thinking of Connor and River having a quiet reunion on the bridge. He saw Kaylee puzzle out his demeanor then smile. Mal winked at her. "Besides," Mal added at the doctor. "You got a patient needs tending to right here." He slapped Jayne on the foot and watched the mercenary break out in a cold sweat. "Something tells me Jayne could use your help in a bad way."
Jayne sneered at the captain but didn't deny it.
Simon hesitated. "Fine," he murmured. "But I insist River be brought down here for more tests."
"Will do," Mal promised as he pivoted on his foot and gave a giggling Kaylee a push toward the door.
"You didn't say when, Cap'n," Kaylee whispered.
Mal shushed her and smiled. River and Connor's evolving relationship was a surprise, but not an unwelcome one. River certainly deserved some goodness, and if she found some with Connor then who was he to say differently?
"Make a cute match, don't they?" Kaylee asked as they walked up the stairs.
"That they do, Kaylee," Mal said warmly. "That they do."
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