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
The silence was eerie. Even for a man who had seen what he'd seen done what he'd done the quiet was as thick as the sheets of ice on the walls around him. He could hear every breath, the thump of every beat of his heart. His boots clanged softly on the metal grating beneath his feet as he ventured further into the prison. He'd already passed the security room and recovered what he could find. Now it was time to find River Tam.
Feeling better with a weapon in his hand, the former Operative slid the sword he carried on his back out of the scabbard. The blade would allow him to do more damage in close quarters than his pistol would. He knew what to expect hiding in the hallways, even if Malcolm Reynolds and his crew were still in the dark. Praying he could find the crew before the savages did, he still accepted that the likelihood of that was remote. Chances were excellent a member of Reynolds's crew would die before he reached them, and he could only speculate on who that might be.
A glance at his scanner revealed two small masses of figures moving nearly parallel with one another. One was moving slowly. The other moved with the purpose of hunters after their prey. The former Operative sighed and chose his path.
More hallways. More rooms. More death.
Connor processed it all with a grim look and a firm grip on her shotgun. Whatever had butchered these men still lurked somewhere inside the prison, potentially lying in wait for them around every corner.
The pilot had been so focused on keeping River safe that she'd inadvertently left the doctor to protect their backs. Connor had wanted to make sure she was between River and any potential threat, but Jayne made a much bigger target bringing up the lead so Connor had fallen back, putting the Tams between the two trained fighters of the group in a single file line. Now Simon followed Jayne, and River followed her brother, with Sarah bring up the rear.
Finger flexing on the trigger, Connor glanced behind her, the persistent feeling of anxiety starting to make her twitch. She knew better than to ignore it, but there was little she could do but press on and wait for the inevitable fight to come. A part of her just wanted it done. Getting it over and blowing holes in whatever wanted them dead would be preferable to waiting for demons to leap out of the dark.
Her attention zeroed in on River's back, aching a little in empathy at the tense set of the other woman's shoulders. Connor hated to see River surrounded by so much death, but if the pilot had to walk waist high in blood she would, as long as the voices in River's head would leave the younger woman in peace when this was over. She inched closer to River, needing to be as near her as possible while resisting the urge to just grab her and run.
Seeming to sense the scrutiny, River glanced over her shoulder and gave Sarah a weak smile. Connor felt a little of the tension in her shoulders uncoil at the sight. She'd come to crave that smile like a drug, and seeing it was a salve her soul desperately needed at the moment.
The lights abruptly flickered and the group froze as the bulbs sputtered around them.
"That can't be good," Jayne mumbled.
What sounded like a heavy door slamming echoed weirdly around them. Connor eased the shotgun up as Jayne tightened his grip on his pistol.
"Where did that come from?" Simon asked, unable to pinpoint the source.
"Somewhere too damn close for comfort," Jayne answered. The mercenary looked back at Connor. "Now what?"
The others turned to look at her as well and Connor paused, thrown by the realization that she seemed to be the one in charge. How in the hell had that happened? "How close are we to the control room?" she asked Simon.
The doctor lifted the scanner he'd been carrying and switched it to a screen that displayed the blueprints to the prison. "Another couple of hallways," he admitted before lifting his head to look at Connor. "Maybe five minutes from here."
Connor licked her lips and let her gaze fall on River. The younger woman was staring at the floor, her brow furrowed in thought. She was beginning to recognize that expression as the one River wore before an episode overtook her. "What is it?" Sarah demanded, praying she could keep River in the moment.
"We're not alone," River murmured, her eyes closing as she tried to concentrate.
The pilot moved closer, ducking her head so she could look up into River's downturned features. Her heartbeat was tripping, thudding hard and heavy against her ribcage, but she set aside her fear to focus on River, the only acknowledgement to River's declaration was to click off the safety on her shotgun.
"No shit," Jayne replied but he sounded scared.
Connor ignored him, touching River's arm and turning the younger woman to face her fully. She gave in to her impulses, letting go of the gun with one hand so she could cup River's cheek. The younger woman's skin was cold as River leaned into the touch, even through the leather of Sarah's glove. Her breath was starting to come faster, fogging the air between them. "Who is it? Alliance?" Connor asked softly, keeping her voice low and soothing.
"No, but something tainted with them." River's eyelids fluttered open and she found herself looking directly into Sarah's worried eyes. The sight of them gave her a jolt in the middle of her chest, and for a moment she forgot everything but the pilot. She gave her thoughts a mental shake and willed herself to focus. "Everything here is tainted with them."
"What does that mean?" Jayne grumbled.
"Is it the guards?" Simon asked.
River shook her head only to hesitate. "Them too," she said after a moment, not sure what that meant even to herself. "There's too much too much information." She covered her face with her hands, smelling the leather of her gloves. The scent reminded her of Sarah, and she savored more of it as Connor's touch slipped underneath her hair to curve around her neck and pull her closer. River breathed her in, feeling her world steady a little at her nearness when it seemed like her sanity wanted to fly apart. "We need to move," she breathed into the curve of Sarah's neck. That much she knew. Something someone... maybe both was coming for them. "We're running out of time." Restless energy flooded her limbs and she began to fidget, not sure which way they needed to go.
"Well that's a whole lot of useless information," Jayne growled.
Shaking her head again, River tangled her hands in Sarah's coat, dragging the pilot just a little closer. "I don't know. I don't know what I'm saying. It's all jumbled up."
"It's okay, River," Simon promised her but his sister shook her head more vigorously. He looked into Connor's stricken green eyes, seeing his fear and worry for River reflected back at him.
"No," River insisted, visibly growing more agitated. "It's not okay. Time is ticking. Slipping away. The butchers come. The monster comes."
"Monster?" Jayne asked, his voice squeaking a little.
There was another bang, closer this time. Everyone jumped but River. Connor stared at the closed door at the end of the hallway, half expecting to see something out of a nightmare emerge from it. But the door simply stood there, waiting to be opened. "One more door," she decided, reluctantly stepping away from River so she could grip the shotgun with both hands again.
"But someone " Simon started.
"They could be behind us," Connor pointed out.
They all looked back over the blood-spattered walls at the way they'd come. There was nothing there but the dead and ice.
"Good point," Simon admitted wryly.
They eased forward through the flickering red lights. Jayne moved ahead of them, eager to get to the control room, collect their evidence, and get the hell out there.
"Jayne," Connor cautioned. "You should stick close."
"Just gonna go get a peek," he told her.
Connor frowned but she wrenched her gaze off him and studied River who seemed to be wincing in pain now. "River," she murmured, practically aching to hold the other woman again so she could soothe her physically if not mentally. She was watching River unravel right before her eyes and there wasn't a damn thing she could do about it.
Jayne reached out for the door handle.
"NO!" River screamed.
They'd left the infirmary behind fifteen minutes before. Mal adjusted his grip on the bag he had slung over his shoulder, not wanting to think too much about the vials he could hear rattling and clinking around inside it. They'd found more bodies and even more bodies after that, but after a bit the brain finally shut down and the carnage became as common as the ice on the walls around them. Mal barely noticed all the death anymore. He was focused on completing the mission and getting his crew the hell out of there.
"Does this place ever end?" Inara asked, vocalizing what they'd all been thinking.
"Don't much feel like it," Zoe replied. They now found themselves in a long hallway devoid of doors except for one at the end. "Where do we suppose that leads?" she asked the captain.
Mal abruptly stopped and turned to face them. "Your turn to find out," he said blankly, but Zoe could see a shred of mirth in his eyes.
Caught by her own game, Zoe could only bite her tongue. "Yes, sir," she sighed before moving past her shipmates and trudging down the hall, muttering something low under her breath.
Mal grabbed Inara's arm when she started to follow. "Only takes one to look," he said echoing Zoe's earlier words.
"You're an overgrown child," Inara chastised him, but Mal merely smirked.
"Man has to find his amusement where he can, especially in trying times such as these." Mal focused on Zoe, making sure his gun was ready despite his casual attitude. He watched as his second-in-command used the codes and unlocked the door.
Cold mist poured out, washing over Zoe and making her wince. She shone her flashlight beam into the darkness, just barely making out the shape of an old desk. Unlike the rest of the prison, the room seemed to be made of both wood and metal. A thick sheet of ice covered the floor and a few flakes of snow drifted lazily down from a hole in the roof. She looked back at the others. "Looks like it's part of the original structure," she called back to them.
"Any bodies?" Inara asked.
"Not a one." Zoe glanced back inside. "Let me give it a quick look just to be safe. Don't think we need to linger, though."
Mal nodded. "Make it quick then." He watched as Zoe disappeared inside. As soon as she left his line of sight, Mal felt it, the cramping in his gut, the cold finger of fear on the base of his spine. A soldier's instincts that warned him when something bad was about to happen and to get his gorram head in a hole and stay the hell down. "Zoe " Mal called out in warning, taking a single step before he heard a splintering crack and a roar.
Inara jerked into motion, beating Mal down the hallway and inside the room. They both pulled up short, nearly toppling into the gaping hole that had once been the floor. Zoe was nowhere to be seen.
Jayne whipped his pistol up, expecting something bad to be waiting for him on the other side of the door but he only saw an empty hallway leading to the control room. There were scarce few bodies about and he looked back at River in consternation. "Hell, girl. Don't be scaring me like that."
River began to convulse, inhaling sharply as she fell against the wall. Both Connor and Simon grabbed her and River clawed out, grabbing handfuls of their coats to keep from falling into the deep darkness that had opened up like a bottomless well in her mind.
"Zoe!" River screamed, her voice echoing off ice and metal
Connor felt her blood freeze. She didn't know what the hell was happening as River clung to her and her brother but she sure as hell knew it wasn't good. "I got this," she told Simon. "You and Jayne find the others."
"We're not leaving you " Simon protested in disbelief.
"I'll get her back to the shuttle. We've seen enough," Connor decided.
"Simon, go!" Connor shouted, panic for Zoe and River making her temper short. She was grateful when Jayne grabbed Simon by the collar and hauled him up, throwing him back in the direction that they'd come.
The pilot looked up in time to catch one of Jayne's grenades as he tossed one at her. She gave him a swift nod and then dismissed him as she gathered the distraught River up into her arms.
"I'm not leaving my sister!" Simon spat as he scrambled to his feet only to come face to face with the muzzle of Jayne's gun.
"Your sister is in better hands than yours right now, Doc," Jayne told him. "And your hands is needed some place else. Move."
"Not alone," River murmured. "Not alone, not alone, not alone "
Jayne regarded the young woman uneasily. "What's she on about now?"
A low growl made them all turn and look toward the open door. River clutched at Connor who dragged her back up on her feet, the pilot insinuating herself between River and the door.
"What was that?" Simon asked around a rough swallow, his legs beginning to quake with fear.
"Ain't nothing good," Jayne grumbled in a low voice. He eased down the hall toward the door.
"Jayne," Connor warned, her accent thick with alarm.
"We need to know," the mercenary announced. He came around the corner and pointed his gun down the hallway, frowning when he saw nothing. "What the hell?" he muttered. He turned and looked back at the others.
"Did we just imagine it?" Simon asked.
Another low growl made the hairs on the backs of their necks stand on end as River continued to mutter incoherently. She tugged on Connor's coat, like she wanted them to run but was too terrified to move.
"Well I didn't imagine that," Jayne spat, hurrying back to the others.
There was a bang from above that made them all jump. Connor noticed the ventilation shaft over their heads for the first time as she heard something scurrying inside it. "Damn it," she whispered, her fingers tightening on River's coat as her muscles bunched, preparing to run.
The vent above the door slammed onto the floor where Jayne had stood moments before. They held their breath and waited, fingers on their triggers.
There was one drop, then two. Blood dripped from the shaft, spattering on the ice. When another deep growl vibrated inside the shaft, Connor had enough.
The shotgun swung up in her hands and she aimed as an afterthought, firing off one shot at the opening. The blast boomed and echoed through the shaft and hallway, making their ears ring and almost drowning out a howl of pain and rage before a bloody figure crashed to the floor.
"Mother of God," Simon hissed, backing up in fear as the figure lifted its mutilated features to look right at him. Connor's shot had struck him in the right shoulder, the pellets making it looked like something had chewed his exposed skin. His lips were cracked, and dried blood was crusted at the corners of his mouth. When he let loose a warning cry to his brethren, Simon was horrified to see his teeth had been sharpened to vicious points.
"Son of a bitch," Jayne hissed as the deformed man leapt toward them. "Reaver!"
The word was enough to spur Connor and Jayne to open fire, the reports from their weapons nearly deafening in the enclosed space. River covered her ears and turned into Simon's chest as he held her.
Silence creeped back over them slowly, the smell of gunpowder and the copper tang of blood heavy in the air. Connor lowered her weapon, her hands shaking as she swiftly reloaded. The Reaver wasn't getting back up, but that didn't mean more weren't about to spill from the ceiling.
"Not alone, not alone, not alone " River continued to repeat before her voice cracked and broke. "Zoe no . no "
"Damn it. Damn it!" Jayne said again as he backed away from the dead body, nearly crashing into River and Simon.
"His uniform," Simon said so softly the others almost didn't hear him over their harsh breathing.
"Bloody hell," Connor choked. "He was a guard."
Their gazes lifted upward as they heard a scrabbling sound in the shaft above their heads.
"Go," Sarah ordered them, gripping Simon's shoulder and giving him a ruthless shove. "Go!"
They turned, stumbled, and ran, fear fueling them at the sound of more Reavers slithering from the vent behind them.
Some detached portion of Zoe's brain gave her grief for choosing gloves with no fingers. The ice burned her exposed skin, making it stick to the surface and peel off as Zoe grappled for purchase. Her right foot found a toehold and she slammed her boot into it, stopping her slippery descent. She closed her eyes and lowered her head, giving into the pain for a long moment. Shaking from both shock and cold, her teeth chattered so hard she tasted blood from biting her lip.
A gaping hole stretched out below, and not even the cold could hide the stench of death that wafted up toward her. Her weight had been the final insult, snapping the wooden floorboards underfoot like tinder. She'd thought she seen a handle on the floor under all that ice and she'd taken a few steps toward it before the ground had dropped out from under her. Obviously, she'd found where the guards tossed the prison's dead. Now it appeared she would be joining them.
It wasn't the kind of death Zoe had wanted, but she'd been waiting for this moment to come for her ever since she'd watched Wash die. Her body struggled to hang onto the ledge that had broken her fall even as her soul just wanted her to let it go. All she had to do was let go and she could see Wash again. Mal would have to leave her body here, she acknowledged, and even though she wanted to rest next to her husband, Zoe understood and forgave her captain, hoping that he would know that.
Inara's panicked voice drifted down and made the former soldier lift her head toward the thin trace of moonlight above. The companion sounded terrified and Zoe felt guilt and shame for wanting to die to leave them all, but she was so damn tired of being on the outside of being alone. She missed her husband. She just wanted to see him smile at her one more time.
"Zoe," Inara's voice sounded more mournful now, and Zoe felt tears freeze on her face, hating herself for hurting the other woman. She could picture Inara's face, her beautiful features wracked with fear and worry.
"Mal's gone for help," Inara continued. "Please. Please just hang on."
I'm sorry, Zoe mouthed the words, unable to find the strength to voice them. She focused on her fingers, willing them to turn loose of the ledge.
"Please," Inara's voice broke. "Don't leave me."
Shuddering hard now, Zoe closed her eyes at the companion's anguished plea. An angry voice in her head scolded her for taking the coward's way out. Wash wouldn't want this. He'd want her to live, to laugh and find love again. Had the roles been reversed, Zoe knew she would have wanted the same of him.
"Zoe " There were tears in Inara's voice.
She couldn't do this. The crew needed her. Inara needed her, and in a moment of clarity, Zoe realized that was enough. She groaned and a half sob escaped her throat as she shifted her weight, pressing herself against the cold chamber and willing her fingers to feel the wall she clung to desperately. "Still here," Zoe ground out even though she was shaking so hard she wasn't sure Inara understood a word she said.
There was a colorful string of Chinese curses from above. "Damn you. Don't scare me like that!"
Zoe would have smiled if her face hadn't felt frozen. Suddenly, she wanted to be out of this hole she found herself in as much as she was ready to let herself die in it moments before. She longed to see Inara's face, to comfort her over the scare she'd given her.
Wincing again, Zoe adjusted her hold as best as she was able. She could see nothing below, and she shuddered to think how much further she could still fall. "Inara?"
"Need a rope?" Inara guessed.
"Sooner rather than later," Zoe got out with effort.
"Mal's gone to fetch one. Just hang on." There was a pause. "Thank you," Inara whispered to whatever gods could hear her.
"Go!" Connor yelled, her voice nearly hoarse from repeating the order over and over again. She could hear the cluster of Reavers closing in behind her, scampering over the metal grates and gaining ground fast. Simon stumbled and Jayne caught him by the back of his coat, keeping him on his feet.
"Mal!" Jayne yelled into his radio. "We got company!"
There was no response from the captain or any other member of the crew. Jayne swore a stream of obscenities that would have made Connor punch him for uttering them in front of River if she wasn't so preoccupied with trying to keep them all alive. They would have to turn and make a stand soon, there was simply no choice.
Connor thought of John's eyes. Of the way he'd smile up at her with such unconditional love. She hoped wherever she was about to go that she would at least get to see those eyes again. She thought of River's smile, of the way she'd say her name, how warm and soft the younger woman's mouth was. Mentally, Sarah whispered goodbye, hoping some part of River would feel it, would feel everything Connor had felt for her and never got the chance to show.
"Keep going!" The pilot shouted as she pivoted and brought the shotgun up, sighting through her tears and hoping to buy the others a few more minutes of time. She heard Simon swear just as River screamed her name and then all sound was lost in the boom of her shotgun as she took out the Reaver in the lead. Others tripped over him, but there were plenty more to take his place.
"Sarah!" River was suddenly shocked back into the present, lucid and terrified. She tried to spin, having felt the mournful brush of Sarah's soul against her own, but Jayne grabbed her and began dragging her against her will. "No! Sarah!"
Simon felt tears burn the corners of his eyes as he grabbed his sister and pushed her forward, saying a silent thank you to the pilot who was willing to die for her.
Connor kept firing, making each shot count. She was slowing them down, bottlenecking them in a doorway, but it would be just a matter of time before she was out of ammo, and then she would be out of time. Reloading, Connor brought the gun up as three more Reavers cleared the door. She was solid, still, accepting the fate rushing toward her if it meant River would live. There had to be at least twenty more men, and she only had enough shotgun rounds for five of them.
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