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
Hours later, Serenity was fitter if not functional. The galley and cargo bay had been straightened and tidied, and the passenger quarters had been picked up since many of the crew spent a portion of their time visiting there. River had managed to mostly evade Simon and his insistent desire to run more tests, but she knew it was only a matter of time before she would have to give in. Either she would run out of excuses, or the captain would simply hogtie her and make her. Lucky for her, they'd long ago discovered the safe word Simon could use to make her fall asleep only worked when she was in assassin mode; otherwise her brother would have dropped her hours ago.
River lingered in the doorway to the bridge, her eyes traveling from Connor's boots up brown leather-clad legs to a firm, flat abdomen. The skin was showing where her white tank top had ridden up her belly as Connor fiddled with the fried wiring under Serenity's helm. Struck with a sudden impish thought, River silently moved closer, inching nearer to Connor as a shower of orange sparks rained down from under the console and the pilot swore.
Licking her lips in anticipation, River's fingers were millimeters from their intended target when Sarah's voice stopped her cold in her tracks.
"Tickle me, girlie, and you will regret it."
Disappointed but amused, River giggled a little before pinching the hem of Sarah's shirt and tugging it down over her exposed stomach. "Spoilsport," she accused.
Connor's voice carried a hint of a smile. "Damn right." She slid out from under the console and sat up, watching as River took a seat in her chair. Her gaze roamed over River's features, clearly assessing River's state of mind, but she refrained from asking about it. Connor didn't like it when people fussed over her, and she suspected River was a kindred spirit in that regard. "How are things below?"
"Mostly cleaned up. All our quarters will be a mess, though."
"Simon?" Connor asked carefully.
"Hounding me at every turn," River playfully pouted. The events at the lake now seemed like a dream with Connor sitting next to her warm and in the flesh. The voices in River's head didn't stand a chance with the pilot so close. "What did you do to Jayne, by the way? He's walking funny."
Connor grabbed an edge of the pilot's seat and twisted, making River spin a little from side to side. "Maybe you should let your brother run the tests and get it over with," she said a little more seriously, ignoring River's query about the mercenary for now.
"He'll drug me. I don't like to be drugged. Messes things up in my head," River murmured, some of her good humor fading. "With all of them in there, I don't think it's a good idea."
"You tell him that?"
River rolled her eyes. "He won't listen. That's the problem with doctors, they always think they know everything."
"Even your brother?"
"Especially my brother."
The pilot smiled a little but her teeth caught her bottom lip.
"You're worried," River guessed, but she didn't seem upset.
Connor didn't try to hide it. "I am. I don't like the thought of anyone hurting you from the inside or outside. We need to know what's causing this."
"I know what's causing it."
Connor blinked in surprise an eased up a little straighter. "You do? Were you planning on sharing that information?" Her tone sounded peevish, but Connor didn't bother to soften the question.
"It's just like Miranda. People are dead. They want justice. They need people to know they're gone," River explained as she picked up one of the plastic dinosaurs on the console and began to fiddle with it.
Sighing, Connor put her hands on River's now bare feet. The skin was startling warm and soft. Connor had expected it to be cold walking around on all this metal in space. "You said these souls were cruel."
"They are." River wouldn't meet her gaze.
"Then this isn't like Miranda," Connor argued. "And I don't like the idea of these people being in your head. I want them out." She grabbed the toy and took it out of River's hands, forcing the young woman to meet her eyes.
Their gazes held and fenced for a moment.
"Once the 'Verse knows they're dead, they'll leave," River said as if it were nothing, but Connor didn't miss the undercurrent of fear in River's voice.
"River " Connor paused to collect her thoughts. "We don't even know where these souls are."
"Sure we do. The captain plans to take us there once the ship is operational again," River declared matter-of-factly.
"What? Where?" Connor demanded.
Connor nearly choked as she staggered to her feet and flung the toy aside where it hit the wall with a crack. "Did he tell you that?" she blurted. "No. No way in gorram hell am I letting Malcolm Reynolds take you anywhere near that place."
"Sarah " River scrambled to her feet as the pilot moved away. Connor stomped down the steps and was already yelling the captain's name by the time River reached the doorway to the bridge.
Her brother blocked her path.
"Now isn't a good time, Simon," River said as she started to step around him. She didn't want to incapacitate him in any way, but River knew she would immobilize her brother if she had to in order to prevent another fight between Mal and Sarah.
Simon grabbed her arm, and River felt a pinprick of cold followed by a rush of heat through her veins. "No," she groaned as she jerked away from him, nearly falling into Sarah's door as her balance went. A sense of betrayal was strong enough to ooze through the rapid fogging of her brain. The sleeping voices in her head began to wake and whisper growing louder as she grew weaker. "Why?" River managed before her knees buckled.
"I'm sorry," Simon pleaded, "but you need the tests as much as you need to sleep." He pocketed the small syringe and grabbed his sister before she could topple to the floor, scooping her now deadweight into his arms. He turned and found Kaylee watching him. The mechanic was covered in grease from her engine repairs, a rag in her hands making little headway on removing the black, sticky substance. Her beautiful blue eyes were looking at him with disdain. "I know this looks bad " he began, hating himself for resorting to this measure.
"It don't look too good," Kaylee agreed while she continued to wipe her hands. "But you're right. She needs her tests and her sleep. She wouldn't get neither if someone didn't make her."
"Thank you," Simon murmured sincerely.
"It's just " Kaylee said once Simon was past her. "I bet Connor woulda helped if you'd asked her."
Simon pursed his lips before adjusting his sister in his arms and walking away.
Kaylee sighed as she watched them go. She wasn't sure who to be worried about more. River, or Simon when Connor found out the stunt he'd just pulled.
Zoe fingered the small butterfly bandage covering the cut across her right eyebrow. The wound still stung where she'd connected with Inara's bed frame while she'd been doing her level best to keep the companion from being injured as Connor had tossed Serenity about and shaken the ship to her moorings. She and Inara had fallen the moment they'd made it to the companion's shuttle, the impact of a shot striking the hull tossing them unmercifully to the floor. Zoe had wrapped Inara up in her arms and held on as they slid to and fro, finally coming to rest against the side of the bed when Serenity had gone still.
The second-in-command stared unseeingly at the floor of the galley, her focus turned inward. It had felt weird holding Inara like that. It was the second time in less than an hour that she'd had the companion in her arms, and Zoe had noticed an odd reluctance on her part to let Inara go when Serenity had finished throwing them around.
Zoe's right hand dropped to cover her left, twisting her wedding band unconsciously.
Her head came up at Mal's voice, and Zoe mentally shook herself, suspecting it wasn't the first time the captain had said her name. "Sir?"
"You keep wandering off on me," Mal murmured as he stabbed another bite of his dinner with his fork and chewed it. "You alright?"
"Just thinkin', sir." Zoe straightened in her chair and glanced around the room. They were alone with Jayne who was sipping his mead in uncharacteristic silence. There was still no table to gather around since Mal and Connor had destroyed the last one, and Zoe made a mental note to add such a purchase to their shopping list.
"About anything in particular?" Mal wanted to know.
Zoe blinked, realizing in shock that she was thinking about something as trivial as a damn table while the Alliance was hunting them to the ends of the 'Verse. Vaguely, she wondered if she'd hit her head harder than she'd thought. Zoe shook her head, keeping her tumultuous thoughts to herself for now. Her attention was diverted when she heard Connor's English accent bellowing Mal's name.
"What did you do now?" she asked the captain.
Jayne didn't move, but he crossed his legs and set his tray of food down over his lap just as Connor stormed into the galley.
"Are you out of your mind?" Connor demanded of the captain.
"That's a popular theory," Mal admitted as he took a sip of mead. He wiped his bottom lip. "Wanna tell me what I did to make you spittin' mad this time?"
"Nix?" Connor said simply as she went nearly toe-to-toe with him, towering over his sitting frame.
Mal glanced at Zoe in surprise. "You told her ?"
"River told me," Connor corrected. "According to her, it's that planet's residents that are rutting around inside her head."
The captain and Zoe both sat up at the news. "You sure?" Mal demanded.
"She is," Connor answered in a strained voice.
Mal released a steady stream of Chinese curses as he stood and moved away from the pilot. He kicked a cabinet, feeling the familiar, well-nursed anger at the Alliance erupt in the pit of his guts. "We ran into your friend Raggley on the planet."
Connor hesitated, thrown by the unexpected development. "Brandon?"
"One and the same." Mal gave her a sideways glance as he paced. "Nice work pocketing the Alliance's coin and giving it to the poor, by the way."
The pilot stiffened but didn't deny the charge. "What does Brandon have to do with River and Nix?"
"I don't rightly know that he has anything to do with either," Mal said. "But he told me and Zoe that there were two Alliance ships in orbit around the planet."
Connor frowned, realizing the oddity of such a development. Reluctantly, she set aside her anger to puzzle over that tidbit of news. "Why?"
"I was hoping to find out," Mal told her as he pivoted and started walking back in the other direction. "Figured they was up to something that maybe that something had to do with us and those fresh warrants."
"The Alliance might want to shove all of you in the deepest hole it can find in that cold-ass place, but what in the hell would it have to do with River?" Connor demanded her gaze going first to the silent Zoe before tracking back to Mal. "River doesn't need to be exposed to the kind of people they lock up there."
"I don't reckon any of us do," the captain fired back. "But if that planet has something to do with Parliament ramping up the search for her again then we need to know about it."
"It's a shot in the dark," Connor grumbled, but something was turning her stomach sour at the thought. It was all connected somehow. What was happening to River was proof.
Zoe gave Connor a sympathetic look. "I know you want to protect her," she said sincerely. "We all do. But according to you, she's already been exposed to these people. Going to Nix may be the only way to clean those folks out of River's head."
Connor turned and moved away from them both, ignoring Jayne as he scooted away from her. "According to River " She paused and swallowed as she truly processed what River had told her on the bridge for the first time. "According to River they're all dead," she admitted.
It was Zoe's turn to release a stream of curses.
"Somebody want to fill me in here," Jayne finally rumbled. "Ain't Nix a prison colony? I don't reckon we can just park there and pretend to be visitin'."
"It is a prison colony," Zoe confirmed. "But if River is right and they're all dead "
"Shouldn't be anything standing in our way of looking around," Mal told them.
"Except two Alliance ships," Jayne pointed out.
"And whatever killed everyone on the planet," Connor added quietly.
The four of them looked at each other, wondering about what they were contemplating.
"Ah hell," Jayne mumbled. "Once you've flown through Reaver space and survived, don't nothing seem that scary no more." He sipped his mead. "Just let me know when we get there." He got to his feet and trudged off.
"He gets that the people there are worse than the Reavers, right?" Connor asked. "Reavers are animals acting on instinct. These criminals "
"Do what they do because they enjoy it," Mal finished the thought. He shook his head. "Let's hope River is right. I don't have a mind to mingle with this crowd."
Kaylee hesitantly poked her head into the galley, making sure there were no fists of flying chairs coming her way before saying, "Um Connor?"
The pilot glanced over her shoulder at the mechanic. "You ready for a test fire?" she asked distractedly.
"Uh not by a long shot. I just um " Kaylee had a rag in her hands and she twisted it nervously. As much as she loved Connor's accent, it added something fierce to the pilot's temper, and Kaylee knew she was about to unleash it. "Well..."
"Spit it out, Kaylee. Time's a wastin'," Mal urged.
"SimondruggedRiverandtookherdowntotheinfirmaryformoretests," the mechanic got out in one breath.
Connor blinked, needing a moment to process what Kaylee was telling her.
"He what?" Zoe asked slowly as she got to her feet.
Kaylee swallowed nervously. Zoe intimidated the hell out of her when she sounded like that, and Kaylee suddenly realized she had to worry about more than just Connor if Mal and Zoe's reactions were any indication. She hastened to defend Simon before anyone rushed off and did something rash to him. "River wouldn't let Simon run his tests. You know how stubborn she gets. Simon is freakin' out because he sees this Miranda business happenin' all over again " She paused for air. "He's scared and he's actin' like an ass, but he just wants to make her better " Kaylee bit off the rest of her sentence as Connor brushed past her, the pilot's face a stone mask.
Mal and Zoe looked at each other.
"I'll go," Zoe offered, needing something to think about other than Nix and Inara. Both thoughts were scaring her silly.
"You think she'll beat him up?" Kaylee asked the captain when Zoe was gone.
"Who? Connor or Zoe?" Mal asked with a smirk as Kaylee contemplated Simon going face-to-face with either option. "Either is a definite possibility. Makes me wanna go watch," he confessed.
Kaylee rolled her eyes and gave Mal an evil look before turning and hustling down to the infirmary.
"Leave me alone, Zoe," Connor snapped as she moved deliberately through the ship, feeling her anger boiling in her chest and spilling down her arms to clench her hands into fists.
"It's like Kaylee said," Zoe hastened to explain before they reached the infirmary. "Simon is River's brother "
Connor spun on the steps barely snapping her mouth shut to keep from saying something she wasn't even sure she had a right to say, since she didn't even know what word she might use to describe her and River's relationship. She just knew that she felt like she had just as much right to be worried about River if not more than her brother did.
Zoe pursed her lips but her eyes softened. "Sarah " she tried, reaching out to put her hand on Connor's shoulder.
Connor slapped the touch away. "Told you a long time ago not to call me that." The pilot started down the steps once more.
"And I told you then there is no shame in your name," Zoe countered as she followed.
"My name got people dead." Sarah hit the last step and moved with purpose toward the infirmary, her hand resting on the butt of her gun.
Zoe swallowed all the arguments she had for Connor that wanted to come pouring out of her. Instead, she grabbed Connor's elbow and spun her about. The pilot's fist came up and Zoe straightened. "You gonna hit me for caring about you both? For making sure you don't rush in and do something stupid that will hurt both you and River?"
Connor flexed her fingers and closed her eyes. She angrily tunneled her hands through her hair. "This isn't fair, Zoe. The girl in there doesn't deserve this!" she spat.
"Deserve an overprotective brother that cares about her?" Zoe asked.
"Any of this!" Connor yelled. "She should be somewhere going out on dates, and laughing dancing " Connor's voice trailed off and nearly broke. "I never thought " The pilot swallowed. "I never thought I could hate the Alliance more than I already did for what they did to my family," she confessed. "But I swear I'd walk into Parliament right now with a gun and a smile and take every one of the bastards with me that I could just for her for what they did to her."
Zoe studied her silently. Her gaze shifted when she saw movement behind Connor and she sucked in a surprised breath. Simon was standing in the doorway and looking at the pilot as if he'd just seen her for the first time. "How is she, Doc?"
Connor jerked around, feeling something close to shame burning her face. The thought that Simon could have heard any of what she'd just said made her feel both mad and mortified.
Simon stared at the pilot for a long moment before looking away. Kaylee chose that moment to come bounding down the steps, and she slowed when she saw everyone lingering just outside the infirmary.
"She's getting worse," Simon said softly. He looked at Connor again. "I was going to come get you. Inara said Inara said River got better when you came back."
"She did," Zoe confirmed, ignoring the glare Connor shot her.
"I wanted to try something," Simon said hesitantly. "I was hoping " He cleared his throat, uncomfortable with this turn of events. "I was hoping you might be able to help."
"Now you're asking me for help?" Connor practically growled. "If you'd stop playing the overprotective brother for five damn seconds "
"Connor," Zoe snapped, her voice full or warning. "You both want what's best for River."
Connor turned her head to look back at Zoe, anger etched in the tiny lines around her eyes. Zoe met her gaze unflinchingly. The pilot seethed in silence for a full minute before finally facing Simon again. "What do you want from me?"
Simon knew he'd earned her anger, but it was still unsettling to have it directed at him. He motioned Connor into the infirmary, and she went reluctantly, taking care not to come anywhere close to touching him as she passed.
River looked terrifyingly pale where she lay strapped to the examination table. Connor felt her guts churn as she grabbed hold of the edge of the bed, her fingers tightening on the fabric and making it squeak. River's big brown eyes were closed, her breathing so slow and deep Connor was afraid she was looking at a corpse. The pilot jumped when Simon's warm handed landed on her shoulder.
"I was hoping you could help me with an experiment," Simon explained quietly as if he were worried he'd wake his sister or spook the pilot into bolting. He noted Connor glaring at his hand and he readily removed it
Anger faded to be replaced by sharp fear and worry. Connor nodded absently as Simon pulled up a stool and motioned her to sit next to River.
"Hold her hand for me?" Simon asked.
Connor looked at him with confusion. "Why?"
"Please? I think the tactile stimulation might help."
Connor couldn't hold his gaze so she let hers drop back to River. With a shaky breath, she reached out and clasped River's hand between her own. Connor scooted closer to the table, lowering her voice as she leaned in to talk in low tones to the shell of a woman who was coming to mean more and more to Sarah every day. Her thumb grazed River's knuckles as she studied River's beautiful, serene profile. "Come on, girlie, fight them."
Simon's gaze dipped down to the readings from the scan he was taking before lifting up to watch Connor again. "Keep talking to her," he urged.
Connor glanced at him and set her jaw, angry to be put on display and ordered around but too desperate to help River to complain about it. "We're going to go to Nix. We're going to make the voices go away. I promise you."
"I'll be damned," Simon murmured.
"What?" Kaylee asked from the doorway. She'd kept silent until now, afraid that she would disrupt the fragile peace everyone was floating in.
Simon motioned Zoe and Kaylee closer. He indicated the scan. "It's working."
Zoe looked at Connor. "Seems like Kaylee isn't the only one who likes your accent."
"Hey now," Kaylee answered lightly.
Connor bit her lip and ignored them all, choosing to focus her complete attention on River. She leaned in further, resting her elbows on her knees.
"Maybe you should wake her up, Doc," Zoe suggested as she watched the colors clouding the scan of River's brain diminishing.
Simon shook his head. "She really does need her rest. Don't forget she almost drowned a few hours ago."
The pilot eased her hand through River's soft hair. "I'll stay with her," she volunteered. "That's what you were going to ask, right?" She didn't even bother to look at Simon or the others.
"Would you mind?" Simon asked.
Kaylee snorted. "Would she mind?" she scoffed only to clear her throat and attempt to look innocent when everyone turned and stared at her. "Well you know you should move to River's quarters at least. Right bit more comfortable than the infirmary."
Zoe shook her head. "You really are a failure at subtlety."
The mechanic laughed nervously. "Ain't no reason for Connor to sit on this here stool all night. We all had our turns on it. It ain't comfy."
"Kaylee is right," Simon interceded. "River would be more comfortable in her quarters and so would you," he told Connor. "I'll just need a few minutes to set everything up."
"Want me to grab a few things for you?" Zoe asked Connor.
The pilot nodded, unsure what to make of the conversation going on around her as if she wasn't there. Zoe squeezed her arm as she passed. Kaylee, too, seemed to feel the need to pat Connor on the back. The strangest thing was the pilot realized she didn't mind. If anything, the contact was welcome.
Connor returned her attention to River as Simon stepped out of the infirmary. "Hope you don't mind spending another night bunking with me," Connor murmured in a low voice so Simon wouldn't hear. River's hand twitched in hers as if in affirmation and Connor couldn't help but smile.
She could think of many worse ways to spend an evening besides being wrapped up with River Tam in a nice warm bed.
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