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
Zoe stared unseeingly at the stars beyond the viewport. The same pattern had been there for the last three hours as Serenity floated along, her engines running on half power at best. The temperature inside the firefly had steadily dropped until Zoe was taking in the view through the fog of her breath. She pulled her coat tighter and settled into the co-pilot's chair, her thoughts lost somewhere out amongst the 'Verse as she considered their next destination.
Not going was not an option. Zoe admitted that now. The souls of Nix in River's head cemented that truth for the second-in-command. But the whole situation was beginning to take on shades of Miranda, and any thought of that cursed planet stirred up painful memories. Zoe swallowed and refused to let her gaze wander to the empty pilot's chair, even though her intention on coming here was to feel closer to the man who'd once sat in it.
Soft footfalls on the stairs drew her attention away from the view. Zoe lazily swiveled her chair to see Inara peeking cautiously inside. "Evening," Zoe greeted neutrally.
"Good evening," Inara responded in kind before gathering her skirts and stepping the rest of the way up onto the bridge. Like Zoe, she wore a heavy coat over her clothes. "I didn't expect to find you here. I thought you were helping Kaylee."
"I was. She shooed me away after a spell. Seems I was getting in her way." Zoe managed a cautious smile as Inara came closer. The companion made her feel uncharacteristically nervous as of late, and Zoe often found herself at a loss of words in Inara's presence. She searched for something to say and finally decided on something bland. "It's late. What are you doing up?"
"Who can sleep?" Inara murmured, easily detecting Zoe's wariness where she was concerned. Despite the fact that the second-in-command appeared relaxed, Inara hadn't missed the telltale tension that had crept into Zoe's proud frame at her arrival. "I'm worried about River about where Mal wants to take us next "
"I wouldn't worry too much about River. She's in good hands." Zoe's smile widened a fraction.
Inara watched that smile form with a sense of satisfaction. Every conversation with Zoe was like a series of hurdles, and Inara knew she'd just cleared one. Sensing a safe topic that would allow for a few more minutes of conversation, Inara pressed her advantage. She leaned against the pilot's console and studied the other woman. "I heard Simon asked Connor to bunk with her for the night in River's quarters."
"He did," Zoe confirmed, some of the tension slipping from her shoulders.
"River doesn't exactly have a big bed," Inara pointed out with an edge of amusement coloring her voice.
"I imagine Connor and River are a bit cozy right now," Zoe admitted with a smirk.
"They're precious, aren't they?" Inara asked. "I wasn't sure what to think when Kaylee told me what was going on with them, but after seeing the way Connor tends to her " Inara smiled.
"They seem good for each other," Zoe confessed. "Both have been to hell and back. Does a soul good to see them find a sliver of happiness."
"That's all we can ever want for our family and friends," Inara added gently, hoping that she wasn't about to spook the former soldier into running. "To see them happy."
Zoe lifted her gaze and met Inara's look of quiet understanding. Some aching part of her soul was tempted by the kindness she could see in the depths of Inara's dark eyes; tempted to share the pain she carried, to let someone soothe her soul for once. But it wasn't her way. She'd left herself open to only one person, and in that moment, Zoe felt Wash's absence from the bridge keenly. She cleared her throat and swiveled her chair back towards the stars, unable to handle the compassion she could see in the companion's eyes. "Some folks only get one shot at that," Zoe answered quietly but firmly.
"They certainly do," Inara agreed, wincing a little as she watched Zoe close off in front of her eyes. "Especially if that's all they'll allow themselves."
Zoe abruptly stood and motioned to the co-pilot's chair. "Think I'll go check in with Kaylee. You can have the seat. Should be halfway warm by now."
"Zoe," Inara called out as the second-in-command fled from the conversation. Zoe didn't answer as she pounded down the steps and walked away. Inara sank into the now-vacant co-pilot's seat, taking in the view Zoe had so recently fled, until she heard a second pair of boots ascending the stairs with a tread she recognized. The companion sighed, resisting the urge to turn and welcome the captain onto the bridge. She was suddenly feeling as anti-social as the woman who had just left.
"What's wrong with Zoe?" Mal wanted to know as he emerged onto the bridge and blinked in surprise at discovering Inara alone in the middle of it.
Inara wasn't sure how to answer. "Does it matter?" she finally asked quietly, trying not to feel defeated.
Mal looked at the companion for a long moment. "Don't suppose it does," he admitted regretfully as his hand rested on the back of the empty pilot's chair.
Candlelight flickered fire and shadows across the walls and ceiling of River Tam's personal quarters. Kaylee had lit several candles so she could divert as much of the power from the passenger quarters to the rest of the ship without leaving Connor and River to fumble around in the dark and completely freeze. Connor didn't mind as she watched the golden tones dance across River's relaxed features. She could see her own breath fogging the air, but River's body heat was keeping her nice and warm under the blankets.
At least one of them could sleep, Connor thought with a wry smirk. Granted, River's slumber was drug-induced. Connor decided if Simon checked on them again, she'd ask for a hit of whatever River was having. Not that she minded watching River sleep
At times like this, Connor couldn't wrap her head around the notion that somewhere in that beautiful brain of River's lurked a killer waiting to be unleashed. A word a phrase some trigger could be pulled and River would become the antithesis of herself, an innocent soul transformed into a cold-blooded assassin.
And yet Connor had to admit that was what the Alliance did. They wrecked innocent souls. Whether they claimed them in death, cut on them in a lab, or forced young men and women to become warriors to fight and kill on the battlefield to defend a way of life, it didn't matter.
She thought of the boy she'd left behind on the planet of Robert's innocent face. How long before that innocence was lost? How long before he got caught in the crossfire or was forced to join a cause he didn't believe in? In the end, the Alliance forced them all to chose a path few would have chosen for themselves, but the puppet masters didn't seem content to stop there. They kept interfering, kept trying to control everyone and everything. People either bent to their will or the Alliance broke them. There was little ground for anything in between.
They'd broken her, Connor admitted. Shattered her soul with a bullet in an instant. The war had put pieces of her back together. The camaraderie with the other pilots and soldiers had given her a second chance at a family, one born of common beliefs rather than blood. She'd felt strangely safe in the middle of all that dying, knowing that at least her back was covered in a way she'd never known. Connor had been surrounded by people who would have died for her, and the constant fight to survive had given her little time to dwell on the past. But then the battle of Serenity Valley fractured those mended shards of her soul once more, leaving her to simply exist to breathe and wander the 'Verse with no real purpose.
Until Malcolm Reynolds had come back into her life, until Connor had stepped onto the bridge of the Serenity and looked into River Tam's eyes for the first time.
Now she had purpose again. Connor could feel it burning in her gut, a fire fueling a soul that had grown weary and cold. "I won't let them hurt you," she promised River in a fierce whisper. Some distant part of her mind acknowledge that she was willing to die for any member of this crew, even Jayne, but heaven help a man or woman who tried to take away the woman lying next to her.
A shudder eased through the ship and Connor lifted and cocked her head, listening intently, as her heartbeat kicked up in alarm. It took another few uncertain moments before she detected the spin of Serenity's engine and she smiled thinly, dropping her head in relief.
Perhaps it was the vibration that made River stir, but the younger woman rolled onto her side and collected Connor in her arms, forcing the pilot to shift and tumble onto her back in surprise as River settled nearly on top of her with a contented sigh.
"River?" Connor whispered, trying to gauge if her bedmate was awake or moving in her sleep.
Warm breath blew across Connor's collarbone and she shivered, almost painfully aware of every inch of her body pressed against River's. The younger woman was soft and seductively warm, and Connor felt almost guilty about settling her arms around her. She closed her eyes and savored the touch and heat of the other woman, but mostly she savored the moment of peace they existed in, knowing it wouldn't last.
The pilot took a deep breath, drawing in the scent of River's shampoo, soap, and clean linens. Connor itched to touch the girl, and after several minutes of internal debate, she finally let her fingers ease through River's hair before letting her touch skim down River's spine. The co-pilot murmured something in her sleep and pressed closer, her implicit trust healing another shard of Sarah's soul.
Connor's fingers grazed up River's back and settled on the younger woman's temple, gently testing the electrode that resided there. It was wireless and transmitted scans to Simon should River take a turn for the worse, but for the last few hours, Simon had been blessedly scarce, meaning that whatever dreams were tumbling through River's mind, they were apparently pleasant ones.
The pilot's breath abruptly hitched as River's hand began sliding up Connor's hip and under the pilot's tank top before coming to rest splayed open against her ribs. The innocent touch caused a less than innocent reaction, and Connor had to clamp down on the urge to twitch under the contact.
"River?" Connor said again, this time with more volume. The girl didn't seem to be awake, but she would have sworn River was teasing her.
"Good thing I'm not the one wearing those electrodes," Connor murmured as she stared hard at the ceiling, commanding her heart to slow and her body to behave. "Hate to see what kind of readings the doc would be getting off me right now."
Connor blinked when she felt River jerk. She eased her head up off the pillow, her eyes narrowing. "Did you just laugh?"
River went a little too still.
"All right, girlie, how long have you been awake?"
River slowly lifted her head, her long brown hair trailing silk across Connor's upper chest and shoulder. "Not long," she said sleepily. "When you said my name."
Connor wondered if the younger woman meant the first or second time and decided she really didn't want to know. "How are you feeling?"
River seemed to consider the question. "Quiet."
"Quiet is good," Connor said with a half smile as River eased slightly onto her side again, propping herself up on her elbow so she could look down at the pilot.
River glanced around her familiar quarters. "I don't remember coming in here."
"You remember your brother drugging you?" Connor asked neutrally.
River's head angled and her brow furrowed only to clear when the memory came to her. She started to move out of the bed, her purpose clear, when Connor caught and held her on the bunk.
"Down, girl," the pilot joked. "Don't put the hurt on the only doctor we have."
"He tricked me," River announced sulkily.
"I know," Connor replied in a gentler voice. "But he was the one who asked me to stay here with you tonight so he can't be all bad."
River tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. "He asked you?" she said after a moment.
"He asked me. Kaylee lit the candles. Zoe even brought me some clothes to change into. Apparently everyone but Jayne knows I'm bunking with you tonight." Connor reached up and touched one of the electrodes on River's temple and the young woman's hand followed suit, feeling the thin disk on her skin. "He's monitoring you in case you get worse again," Connor explained at the co-pilot's confused look.
"Simon really asked you to stay with me?" River asked as her hand slowly dropped, her fingers gliding down Connor's arm where the pilot's hand still remained cupping River's cheek.
The pilot nodded and reluctantly let the other woman go. "For some reason, he thinks I make you better," Connor said as her eyes met River's.
"You make everything better," River declared innocently.
Connor clamped her teeth together. Her first instinct was always to deflect any praise or kindness, but she wryly admitted she savored River's innocent compliments. They were sincere, and spoken with a kind of raw honesty Connor had never encountered before. As much as she savored the compliments, however, they usually left her too stunned and flattered to form an immediate, coherent response.
"I mess you up," River teased as Connor struggled to reply, but there was a truth to her words that gave them an edge.
Connor stared up at River's face, taking a moment to simply appreciate the beauty she was seeing in the candlelight. River swallowed nervously at her perusal, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear again, which immediately fell loose. The pilot reached up and gathered the wayward strands, doing the honor herself as she brushed them back away from River's face. "I think I mess you up a little too," she answered into the sudden silence.
River couldn't hold her gaze. She dropped hers to stare at Connor's pulse point, watching the evidence of the pilot's heart beating out a steady tempo under the enticing patch of skin. "More than a little," River admitted shyly before shifting her gaze to Sarah's locket. Collecting the silver pendant in her fingers, River watched as the candlelight caught the design and the surface reflected fire.
The pilot tensed at the contact before taking a deep breath and releasing it slowly. Seeing the locket in River's hands, like she was cradling her past, made Connor's eyes burn and she blinked away the tears she could feel forming. The memories the locket would unleash could carve her up like knives, but for the first time, Connor almost welcomed the pain. It was time. "You want to ?"
River's gaze locked on Connor's in surprise. "The picture in here causes you pain."
"The memories cause me pain," Connor amended. "The picture doesn't." She scratched self-consciously at one of her eyebrows. "I think " She took an unsteady breath. "I want you to " Licking her lips, Connor shook her head at herself before meeting River's concerned gaze again. "I want you to know about him," the pilot finally admitted, feeling her throat tighten with emotion.
River tilted her head again as she studied Sarah from another angle, as if a new view would give her the answers she sought. "Sarah " Her protest died in her throat as the pilot closed a hand over River's and squeezed once in assurance before letting go.
"Open it," Connor ordered gently.
The locket opened with a soft snick. River reluctantly tore her gaze away from the green of Sarah's eyes to see what lay nestled inside. She brought the picture closer, feeling a pang deep inside her chest. "He's beautiful," she said through gathering tears, already feeling the swell of emotion hammering against Sarah's mental walls, the pain Sarah was trying so hard not to feel.
Connor's jaw clenched and she nodded. "Yeah," she said in something close to a whisper. "He was."
Inside the locket was the picture of a young boy. River placed him somewhere close to two or three. The shape of his face was so similar to Sarah's it hurt River's heart to look upon him, his mop of unruly brown hair just like his River's head came up again and a tear slipped down each cheek. "You're his mother."
It was a statement, not a question. Connor nodded, her own tears stinging the corners of her eyes, but she refused to let them fall. She cleared her throat. "His name was John."
"John Connor," River said softly, feeling like she'd lost something because she'd never known the boy. Her thumb caressed his picture and some irrational part of her felt like she'd failed, that if she'd only known Sarah sooner then maybe she could have saved John some way.
"John Reese," Sarah corrected with a weak smile. "I let him have his father's name."
"His father?" River asked and there was no mistaking the jealousy that roared through her veins and colored her tone.
"Kyle," Sarah explained, ignoring the note in River's voice for now. "He got me more than a little drunk when I was fifteen, and John was the result."
"Did you marry him?" River wanted to know, her tone almost petulant.
"Um no." Feeling her balance restoring somewhat, Connor was able to feel a thread of amusement. "Kyle wasn't really my type." She reached up and wiped one of River's tears away from the younger woman's chin.
"Was he a good father?" River demanded, a hint of anger in her voice.
"He was a good father," Connor confirmed. "Kyle stepped up and did the right thing by John."
River nodded almost to herself, satisfied with Sarah's answer. With one last look at the beautiful boy in the locket, River closed it reverently. "What happened to them?" she asked hesitantly.
"They died," Connor said after a rough swallow. "All my family did."
"A contractor," River guessed judging by the way Sarah had reacted to them before. Now she understood why Sarah had been so angry, why River's questions had made the older woman lash out.
"An operative," Connor corrected after a moment. She put her hand over River's and the locket. "And I think that's enough of a Sarah Connor history lesson for tonight."
River wanted to press, Connor could see it in the girl's eyes, but River let the questions remain unasked.
"I'm sorry," River whispered. "I'm sorry they took so much from you."
The tears returned, and Connor had to close her eyes to keep them from falling. She felt the back of River's fingers ghost down her cheek and the touch broke her just enough to let a traitorous few slip free. Connor shook her head, feeling River's fingers brushing away her tears. "I'm sorry they did the same to you," the pilot ground out.
"They didn't take my family," River said.
"They took your mind." Connor opened her eyes and stared into River's stricken ones. "They cut into your soul "
River fiddled with the locket, watching it reflect the candlelight and the way the movement of the chain around Sarah's neck gave the pilot goosebumps. "I know how operatives can be," River murmured after a few quiet minutes. "They just keep coming. They never stop." She heard Sarah swallow, but the pilot didn't say anything. "One killed a lot of people to get to me."
Connor shifted again, touching River's chin lightly to get the co-pilot to look up at her. "I know," she said softly.
"He killed everyone who'd ever sheltered us," River confessed. "Shepherd Book he died in the sand sand soaked in his own blood." Her voice faltered as the memories came, long buried thoughts that had the capacity to haunt and hurt.
The pilot's eyebrows knit together as she tried to place the name. "Book?"
"He was one of us," River explained. "A member of the crew he left but he never left all the way."
Connor thought she knew what River meant. "I'm sorry," she said, wishing she had more than words to make things better.
"Wash." River's voice broke on the name. "He died in your chair. He died because the Alliance wouldn't stop. He died for their secrets. Secrets I knew. Secrets the captain broadcast to the 'Verse."
"Hey," Connor murmured, sensing River's darkening mood as the younger woman lost herself in unwelcome memories. She cursed herself for sharing her past with River now. Connor knew she should have realized that bringing up what happened to her would cause River to remember her own painful past. "River."
"Zoe watched him die. He left this life right in front of her."
"River." Sarah rolled them both over so that River was once more on her back and she was nearly blanketing the younger woman. "It's okay."
"Not okay," River whispered as her fingers clutched at the locket again, her eyes fixed on it. "They keep taking and taking. The Alliance took your family my friends millions and millions of souls now they're taking even more "
"We'll stop them," Connor promised.
"But who will have to die for the secrets I carry this time?" River looked up into Sarah's stricken gaze. "Will I lose you?" Fresh tears tracked down her cheeks as she swallowed. "Will I have to watch you die in the pilot's chair?"
Connor felt her heart constrict so hard it hurt. She eased forward, laying her lips on River's forehead. "No," she whispered fiercely against the younger woman's skin. "You will not watch me die in that chair," she vowed.
"Zoe won't ever get over it she still expects to see him sitting there, and it kills a piece of her every time she realizes he's not."
The pilot took a breath, feeling like she was being compared to her dead predecessor while River was somehow aligning herself with Zoe. She frowned, feeling like she was missing an important part of a puzzle. "River "
"They were married," River said, sensing Sarah's confusion. "They loved each other so much and love wasn't enough to keep him here."
Green eyes clamped shut as a wave of compassion and pain washed through Connor for Zoe. "Damn," she whispered as she pulled River closer, feeling the girl slip her arms around her. "River history doesn't have to repeat itself."
"But it is," River replied. "It is."
Connor didn't understand what River meant. The younger woman seemed to be lost to her memories. All Connor could do was hold her, so she did, rocking her gently until they both succumbed to uneasy dreams.
"You just gonna sit there all night?"
Simon wearily lifted his head from the counter in the galley to take in Kaylee in the doorway. He managed a lopsided smile. "Felt the engine come back online," he said by way of an answer.
Kaylee stepped down into the galley. Her face was streaked with oil and grease, her hands stained almost black with both. She'd tied her hair back, revealing even more smudges of the black substance on her neck. "Yeah. The old girl is runnin' again," Kaylee confirmed. She tucked her hands in her coveralls. "What are you doin' in here, Simon?"
The doctor leaned back in his chair and shrugged. "Nowhere else to go," he admitted. "Unless I felt like hanging out in the infirmary all night."
"You got quarters," Kaylee argued, feeling a pang of guilt. Simon hadn't been back to her bunk or the engine room since their spat.
"Right next to River's," Simon reminded her.
"Ah." Kaylee nodded and smiled a fraction. "You might accept they're fallin' in love, but don't much want to listen to 'em."
Simon almost seemed to squirm. "They aren't having sex, Kaylee."
"Not yet," the mechanic teased as she grabbed a chair and pulled it closer to the other side of the counter. "I meant that you didn't want to listen to them murmurin' sweet nothins to each other."
"That idea seems equally unappealing."
"I think it's cute. They sure are pretty together. You got to admit that at least."
Simon pursed his lips, but Kaylee could tell he wanted to smile. "I admit nothing."
"Not even that your sister has good taste?"
The smile finally grudgingly formed. Simon shrugged. "Eh."
Kaylee reached across the counter and smacked him on the arm. "Connor is right pretty and you know it."
"I still think I have better taste than my sister," he replied a little more seriously and was rewarded by a slight blush dotting Kaylee's cheeks. He sighed and let his gaze wander back to his portable scanner. His sister had obviously been awake for a time and apparently talking to Connor given the activity he'd detected. Now, however, it seemed clear that she'd drifted back to sleep. His scans weren't clean. Whatever was plaguing River remained, but she was managing it far better now than he'd ever seen her before.
Kaylee came around the counter and looked at the monitor. Hesitantly, she put her hand on Simon's shoulder, careful not to leave any grease behind. "Looks like she's doin' okay."
Simon nodded. "Yeah. She got upset for a short while about something, but she's sleeping again."
"Can't you program this with an alarm or somethin'?" Kaylee asked. "It's like you're spyin' on her thoughts."
"It's not like I know what she's thinking, Kaylee." Simon shifted and looked up at her. He smiled, reaching up to wipe a smudge of grease off the mechanic's nose. "You should get washed up and get some sleep. You earned it."
"Kinda wired still," Kaylee admitted. "Feels like so much is happenin' things are changin' so fast I can hardly keep up."
"The captain told you about Nix?" Simon guessed, refusing to consider his own unease. At this point he was willing to go into the bowels of hell if it made River better.
"He did. Can't say that information is helpin' the desire to sleep much."
Simon chuckled weakly. He rubbed at his aching forehead, unaware that he'd left a smear of grease behind. Kaylee bit her lip when she noticed it, holding in a laugh. Simon looked back up at her and the urge to giggle got worse. The smudge looked like a rabbit.
"It's nice," Simon said unexpectedly.
"What?" Kaylee asked distracted.
"You talking to me again. I've missed your voice."
Kaylee paused. "Why you got to go and say stuff like that to me? You know it melts me every time," she whined. She turned and stomped a few feet away. "I'm not through bein' mad at you!"
Simon held out his hands in surrender. "I wasn't " He shook his head and got to his feet. "I just meant that I don't like fighting with you."
"I got good reason to be mad!" Kaylee complained. "You didn't worry none about me facin' off against them contractors."
"I worried plenty!" Simon argued.
"You didn't care about leavin' me " Kaylee reminded him.
"Of course I did," Simon fired back. "But I knew you could take care of yourself!"
That brought Kaylee up short. "You think I can take care of myself, but River can't do the same? Simon, you do know your sister can turn into an assassin, right?"
Simon rolled his eyes and moved away from her a few paces. "She's my sister, Kaylee. River has always needed me to look out for her. I don't know how to turn that off. I'm wired that way now."
"Well you might want to unwire yourself. I think River can manage herself just fine and when she can't well, someone else is there now," Kaylee said with more gentleness than she felt. "River's all grown up. Time to treat her like she is." Kaylee wanted to spin on her heel and storm off, but the pity she felt for Simon had her merely leaving the way she came. She would just sleep in the engine room tonight, she decided, watching over her patient the way Simon would watch over his sister.
The doctor slumped back down at the counter as Kaylee left. He'd ruined another perfectly good chance to patch things up with her. Why was he so good at mending broken bodies and so lousy at repairing his damaged relationship?
His hand went to his pant pocket and he withdrew the ring he'd been carrying with him since Jayne had brought it back from the planet. He'd been waiting for the right moment to give it to Kaylee, but so far that moment hadn't come.
Zoe's low voice made Simon jump. He turned his head as the second-in-command descended the steps from the crew quarters and came closer. She plucked the ring from his fingers and studied it in the light before giving Simon a sideways smile. "She'll love it."
Simon smiled weakly as he accepted the silver and sapphire ring back and slipped it into his pocket. He'd made sure to get something both beautiful and practical, no large stones to get caught on engine gears and housings. "Too bad she hates me," he mumbled.
"Don't be so hard on yourself, Doc," Zoe told him. "Kaylee's a strong woman with a strong mind, and she doesn't hesitate to speak it. It's one of the things you love about her."
Simon looked up at her. "Do you regret it?" he asked softly.
Zoe stiffened at the unexpected question. "Marrying Wash?" she guessed, her voice tight.
Realizing he'd caused her undue pain, Simon shook his head. "Never mind. I really shouldn't have asked that."
"It's okay, Doc," Zoe sighed. It wasn't like Simon had anyone else onboard to turn to about this topic, she realized. For his sake, Zoe put aside her discomfort for a moment. "And no I never did and never will. I would have given anything for more time, but I would never trade the time we had even if it caused me less pain." She regarded him. "Is this what you really want? To marry Kaylee? Or is the ring and the question that goes with it to get you out of the doghouse?"
The doctor considered the question. "I don't know," he confessed. "I love her, Zoe. But this life out here doing what we do "
"You've held back from getting too close," Zoe informed him bluntly even though she could understand his reasoning all too well. "You fear the pain if something happens to her, but there will already be pain, Simon. You think it will be any easier for you if Kaylee dies tomorrow or a year from now with that ring on her finger? Maybe if she dies and you never loved her all the way the pain would be even worse."
Simon swallowed thickly.
"Think about it," Zoe instructed him as she moved through the galley. "And, Doc," she called out when she got to the other door. "You might consider all this where it applies to your sister, too."
"I'm getting that a lot," he admitted with a sigh.
The hunter watched the little firefly from a safe distance. He'd had no problem tracking her from the planet, but he'd been surprised when he'd nearly stumbled over Serenity with his own vessel. He'd watched and waited, confident in the mechanic's skills to get the ship going again. Kaylee Frye had not disappointed him.
Serenity's engine glowed to life and the hunter smiled as he watched her abruptly streak away, leaving a path of fire in her wake. He didn't need to hurry after them. He knew where the crew was going. Brandon Raggley had been most helpful in that regard.
He glanced down at the console and studied the two pictures he saw there. On one side, River Tam, the focus of his mission. On the other, Sarah Connor, Serenity's new pilot. He tapped the screen over Connor's face. "What a hard life you've led," he said to the picture.
He programmed in the coordinates and powered up his own ship. "Perhaps you've finally found your place in the 'Verse with Mal and his crew, hmm?"
Glancing up into the viewport, the former operative saw his dark features reflected back at him. He punched a button and his shuttle rocketed forward in pursuit of the firefly. "I know almost everything there is to know about you, my dear," he told the absent pilot. "The only thing left to learn is if you'll help me, or get in my way."
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