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
Connor woke to the same sounds that had lulled her to sleep. Her green eyes fluttered open and reflected momentary confusion at the unfamiliar sight of their surroundings. The pilot felt all the more baffled when the dream she'd just exited seemed more real than her reality.
With a sigh, Connor sat up, swinging her legs over the edge of the bed and planting her feet on the cold floor. Waking up in the middle of the night was nothing new, but waking up on Serenity was. This wasn't the small hovel that had been her apartment with the stench of cooking cabbage and the murmur of voices from the restaurant below. Nor was it the tiny bunk she'd had on the mining ship that was barely long enough to accommodate her legs and always reeked of alcohol and body odor. Here she could stretch out, move about. The air smelled of metal and clean cotton, and she found both acceptable as she took in a deep breath. Connor stood and dressed, her hand hovering over her gun belt for an uncertain moment before she decided to forgo it.
Trudging wearily to the galley, the pilot was pleased to find it empty. She wasn't much for company, and the early hour made her feel downright anti-social. With a yawn big enough to make her jaw pop unpleasantly, she prepared some coffee, nibbling on some crackers while she waited.
Coffee finally in hand, Connor headed for the bridge, ascending the steps quietly and ducking inside. The vastness of space stretched outside the viewport, and she took a quiet moment to absorb the sight of different stars than she was used to seeing. The last four years had seen the same patterns again and again and she welcomed the unfamiliar view.
Settling into the pilot's chair, Connor absorbed how it felt to sit there. The knowledge that seven others had perished where she now sat was a distant afterthought. She was more preoccupied with the feeling of freedom, of being out from under the Alliance's thumb. The pilot would never admit it to Mal, but taking on work from the Alliance had shackled her spirit and caged her inside a life she'd fought against and would have willingly died to keep from living.
For the first time in years, Connor felt like she was free and soaring again.
It was both terrifying and exhilarating, and it felt like a gift she didn't think she deserved. Connor sipped her coffee and propped her feet up next to the helm, ignoring the odd plastic toys that rested there as she lounged in the chair and studied the expanse of stars before her. Maybe this wasn't such a bad gig, she mused. How was it Mal used to describe their lives as browncoats? Life on the raggedy edge? At least out here it was interesting, unpredictable, raw. On that Alliance transport it had been as repetitive as breathing and required nearly as little thought.
The raggedy edge fit. And Connor had the sneaking suspicion she could get to like this life if she dared to give it a chance. She'd been punishing herself for so long now. Maybe it was time to move on.
The sensation of being watched crept up on her slowly, and Connor finally succumbed to it. She turned her head, barely able to refrain the urge to jump when she saw River Tam observing her from the co-pilot's chair. The young woman was like a ghost, haunting and pale, and Connor felt her heart leap in fright. If she'd worn her gun, she was sure she would have shot the damn girl.
"Hi," River greeted her easily.
"How long have you been sitting there?" Connor barked.
"A few hours now."
"You've been here the whole time?" Connor heard the accusing tone to her voice and she mentally scolded herself. It wasn't River's fault that she had been unaware of her surroundings.
River nodded and blinked almost owlishly at her.
"And you didn't say anything because ?"
"You seemed like you were thinking about things."
Connor simply looked at her for a moment before her gaze moved off the girl and back onto the stars. "Guess I was," she sighed.
"Would you like me to leave?" River offered.
Connor's lips formed a grim smile. "You were here first."
"I should be sleeping," River replied as she watched Connor with undisguised interest.
The pilot wasn't sure what to do with River's naked curiosity of her. Oddly flattered or mildly uncomfortable seemed to be the two warring options. "Why aren't you?"
"I don't sleep much," River admitted. She shifted in the seat, pulling her bare feet up to rest on the edge. "Hear too many things in my head. See too much in my dreams."
Connor could appreciate that, but she knew her own demons probably couldn't hold a candle to what went on in that pretty little head of River Tam's. She tilted her head and looked at the girl again. "Bad dreams?"
"Some." River looked away and out at the stars. "Not like before."
"Before Miranda. When they were all in my head. Now it's just me. It gets lonely sometimes with just me."
Connor wasn't sure what that meant, but she made a mental note to ask Zoe about it later. Something beeped next to her right elbow, and she turned to look for the source.
"Incoming wave," River explained as she unfurled from the chair and joined Connor at the helm. She leaned across the woman, offering her a shy smile as she punched a button and a face swam into focus on the screens.
"Hello, Serenity." The man on the monitors was squat with a thick gray beard shot through with splotches of red. His head was clean-shaven, his eyes dark and close together. Connor didn't trust him the instant she laid eyes on him.
"His name is Reigert," River told Connor. "He's a supplier."
"Supplier." Connor shook her head, her earlier positive musings about Serenity fading into memory. "I can only imagine what he supplies."
River pushed another button, making them visible to the man on the screen. "Hello, Reigert."
"River!" The supplier said with a delighted laugh. "How good it is to see you, my lovely girl."
His accent was Scottish, maybe Irish, Connor wasn't sure. She only knew her dislike for the man increased ten-fold with the way he was looking at the young woman standing next to her. "Something we can do for you?" the pilot asked, drawing his attention off River and onto herself.
"And who do we have here?" Reigert asked with a sly smile. "What an attractive addition you make to Malcolm Reynolds's crew."
Connor gave him a tight, insincere smile. "I'm the pilot. That's all you need to know."
His eyes turned colder at her dismissive tone. "You're right about that. You're sitting in a dead man's chair, my dear. You'll probably meet an unfortunate end before I could even remember your name." His gaze shifted back to River.
"Where is Reynolds?"
"Sleeping," River said, her voice losing all warmth.
"Well wake him, girl. I have a job for him."
The crew of Serenity was certainly a varied lot. Connor was the last member of the crew to arrive in the cargo hold. She deliberately kept herself apart from the others, pausing on the stairs and using the opportunity to get a bird's eye view of the crew she was supposed to be working and living with now.
The pilot had seen all their names and faces in the bulletins. Zoe and Mal, their faces as familiar to her as her own after years of fighting the Alliance, sometimes side-by-side. Kaylee Frye, the ship's engineer with her perky, pretty face, lilting voice and skills with an engine that would make any man jealous. Simon Tam, the handsome, dark-haired brother to River, who had given up money and prestige and left his position as a doctor with the Alliance to risk everything to save his sister. Jayne Cobb, his sweaty armpits on full display as the mercenary leaned back against some crates, his hands linked behind his head as he yawned and watched the proceedings with boredom.
And then there was River. The young woman was sitting on a crate, her knees drawn up to her chest. She wasn't talking to anyone, and no one seemed especially interested in engaging her. Although River didn't seem to be bothered with her lack of company, she still struck Connor as lonely. With an internal grouse at her weakness for stray animals and damsels in distress, Connor started down the steps.
Zoe offered a half smile in greeting, and Connor dipped her head as she took a seat next to the surprised River.
"Hi," River said with a welcoming smile.
Connor just gave the girl a tight-lipped grin in response.
"Ok folks, listen up," Mal said as he sauntered into the middle of the room. "We got ourselves a job."
"Bout time," Jayne announced as he chewed on something foul smelling and spat.
Connor winced, wishing she wouldn't have sat so close to him. She could smell the sweat coming off him, and the pilot shot him a cross look that didn't go unnoticed.
"What?" Jayne demanded.
Mal shook his head and proceeded as if he hadn't been interrupted. "Reigert called during the night."
Kaylee groaned and Simon started rubbing his forehead as if he were in pain.
"Please tell me we ain't gonna haul more horses, Cap'n," Kaylee almost begged.
"We ain't got to haul more horses," Mal answered.
"Thank God for that," Zoe muttered.
"This time it's pigs." Mal looked at them all and merely waited.
Shocked silence rippled across the room.
"For how many days?" Simon finally asked.
"I reckon about four," Mal answered.
"Pigs?" Jayne said. "Are you serious? You want us living with those filthy critters for four damn days?" He noted Connor appraising him. "And don't you go saying I should feel right at home," he sneered.
Connor looked away but gave River a conspiratorial wink, earning a cute smile from her co-pilot.
"It's a job," Mal announced. "And we're low on supplies. If we got to haul hogs to eat, then that's what we'll do."
"We aren't gonna actually, you know eat the hogs, are we?" Kaylee asked timidly.
"Ham, bacon, pig's feet I could go for that." Jayne almost seemed to drool at the idea as Kaylee gave him a look of disgust.
"No eating the cargo," Zoe announced.
Jayne waved a hand at them. "You guys just don't know how to barter is all. Shoulda had 'em throw in a sow or two as part of the payment."
"Maybe next time," Mal drawled.
"So why pigs?" Connor asked.
Mal smiled at her. "By the way, everyone, I'm sure you noticed our newest addition. Say hi to the folks, Connor."
Connor tilted her head and merely looked at him with an expression that made Mal nervous.
"Right," Mal replied. "Ever been to Silver River?"
It was Connor's turn to groan. "No. No, no, no do you know what the punishment is if you get caught hauling any kind of meat there?"
"I believe it's death," Mal answered matter-of-factly.
"Seriously?" Kaylee asked with alarm. "They kill people for hauling meat?"
"The ruling party on Silver River believes very, very strongly that no animals should be eaten," Connor explained.
"Don't mean there ain't a market there for meat, though," Mal replied. "And why should we let some dietary differences of opinion keep us from earning a buck or two?"
"Mal, they string people up on hooks and let them bleed out in the public square. This goes a little deeper than 'dietary differences.'" Connor got angrily to her feet. "And they have a security team there that means business. They catch you hauling, buying or even eating meat, they'll kill you."
"Hooks?" Simon's voice was weak.
"I admit they're a right bit forceful on the subject," Mal agreed.
Connor looked at him incredulously.
"What's the job, exactly?" Zoe asked as she tried to defuse the situation.
"We pick up the pigs from Reigert. Transport them to a little remote village on Silver River. Collect payment and fly out. What could go wrong?" Mal asked with a smile.
Kaylee groaned again, and even Jayne threw up his hands.
"Well plenty," Jayne said. "Now that you gone and asked that question!"
"You settling in?"
Connor glanced over her shoulder as Zoe climbed the last of the steps onto the bridge. She shrugged. "You just tell me where to go, and I'll get us there." The pilot watched as Zoe settled her hip against the console. For now they were alone; River was somewhere below, hopefully sleeping, Connor mused.
Zoe eyed Connor uneasily as she sat in Wash's chair. It would always be his chair. Him dying didn't change that. She just hoped Connor wouldn't continue their streak of bad luck. Zoe cleared her throat. "Look. We're sort of a straggly bunch, it's true, but we get the job done. And we're loyal. We'll have your back."
Connor looked at her, and history floated between them. "Like I had yours at the battle for Serenity Valley?" she asked roughly. "I really never thought to see the likes of you or Mal cross my path again after that."
Zoe crossed her arms. "There was nothing you could do."
The pilot sighed as she raked a hand through her hair. Now wasn't the time to talk about the past, and the rough edge that had entered Zoe's voice suggested she wasn't much interested in the subject, either. Connor took a quick glance over her shoulder, noticing the corridor behind them was empty. "So."
"So," Zoe said with a slight and relieved smile that Connor wasn't going to go any further into memories she really didn't want to dredge up. "Thought you might have some questions."
"You thought right."
"River," Zoe guessed.
"What's wrong with her?"
"Aside from the Alliance cutting into her brain you mean?"
Connor winced and swore softly.
"She was this beautiful, gifted girl and the Alliance went rutting around in her head," Zoe explained. "You should have seen her when she first came aboard. She was prone to these fits of madness. Even slashed Jayne with a knife one day."
Alarm flared in Connor's green eyes, but she held her concerns as Zoe shook her head.
"She's not like that anymore. Since Miranda she's gotten a lot better. Most times, I almost forget how she used to be. She's just a sweet young woman now."
"With homicidal tendencies," Connor reminded her.
Zoe shrugged. "Like you and I don't have those as well?"
The pilot smiled slightly, conceding the point.
"Is she bothering you?" Zoe asked worriedly.
"No. She seems perfectly " Connor shrugged, not sure what words were right to describe River. "I was just curious about who I was sharing the bridge with."
"Ah." Zoe smiled. "She'll keep you entertained, I'll wager." She rubbed her bottom lip. "Listen, this deal with Reigert I know we're in a different place now, but the Captain is still the Captain. I'd appreciate it if you didn't disagree with him quite so publicly. "
Connor shifted in her seat so she could lean back and look at Zoe. "He's risking our lives for some hogs."
"He's risking our lives for some coin. We need to be able to eat, to keep fuel in this boat. This ain't like the war," Zoe explained to her in a serious voice. "We have our honor, but we got to take what jobs come our way. Trust me. We've had worse."
"I'm not going to follow Mal blindly just because he wants to call himself captain now."
"Not asking you to. Just disagree with him in private."
Connor regarded her old friend for a long moment before finally dipping her head in acquiescence. "Fair enough. Can't promise I won't express my concerns with the others present, but I'll try to do so a little more civilly."
"It's a start." Zoe squeezed her shoulder. "We'll be at Whitefall in about half a day to pick up the cargo. You can stay on the bridge. No need to leave the ship unless you want to."
"Sit here and relax or help you load a bunch of swine? What a difficult choice I'm faced with."
Zoe patted the shoulder under her hand. "Good. Maybe you can keep River occupied." She started for the stairs. "She likes to talk to the animals."
The pilot nodded only to suddenly pause. "Wait. What?" she called after her retreating friend. Zoe's light laughter floated back to her.
"That there is a lot of hogs," Kaylee murmured as she stood next to Jayne on Serenity's ramp. Mal and Zoe were discussing business with Reigert.
"Surely they wouldn't miss just one," Jayne said in a conspiratorial whisper.
"I wouldn't lay odds on that," Connor drawled as she strolled up behind the pair and watched the transaction taking place below. The hogs were milling about in a muddy pen, and the stench reached them even at this distance.
"Hey there," Kaylee greeted Connor happily. "Didn't expect to see you below."
Connor shrugged. "Stretching my legs. I thought I'd come see what exactly we're going to be hauling." She hooked her thumbs onto her gun belt.
"I love your accent," Kaylee said unexpectedly. "It just sounds so dangerous and sexy."
The pilot's eyebrows hiked to her hairline.
"You got to excuse Kaylee," Jayne grumbled. "She pretty much says whatever is on her mind. Don't got to worry about her jumpin' you, though. She's humping the doc." Jayne grunted when the mechanic punched him in the arm, but he smiled wickedly.
"Good to know," Connor replied even though she could have done without the information or visual. As she watched, a bag of coins changed hands between Reigert and Mal. "I don't trust that guy."
"Reigert?" Kaylee asked, not completely sure Connor wasn't talking about the captain. "What's to trust? But so far our dealings with him have been straight. He's always paid."
"Mmm." Connor grimaced as the hogs squealed loudly. She hoped her bunk was soundproof or she wasn't going to get a lick of rest for the next four days. A touch on her arm made her turn, and she watched as River almost seemed to glide up next to her. The young woman was looking at the hogs in fascination.
Connor glanced down as River's touch curled around her bicep and stayed there. Normally the pilot wasn't too keen on people touching her, but her natural instincts to ease away seemed absent in River's presence. "You hear what they're thinking?" she curiously asked the younger woman.
River nodded but didn't elaborate.
"All right," Jayne grumped. He started down the ramp when he saw the business end was over and it was time for the labor to start. "We got hogs to haul, people," he announced. "Let's move."
Connor stepped back, and River's hold on her arm tightened briefly before the girl slowly released her. Connor hesitated, wondering if River wanted her to stay for some reason. "You all right?"
River nodded as she tucked her hair behind her ears. "I won't keep you."
The pilot lingered, torn between getting back to the bridge and learning more about this enigma of a young woman. With a sigh, she took River's arm and urged her to back up and out of the way as the others started loading their cargo.
"So tell me what they're saying," Connor said with a wave at the pigs.
River's smile was beautiful, as if no one had ever asked her such a thing. She stood close to Connor and pointed at one especially large sow. "The rest are afraid, nervous, but not that one."
Connor followed River's line of sight, feeling charmed despite the noise and the stench. "Yeah? What's that one thinking?"
"She's going on an adventure." River turned her gaze on Connor, her eyes sparkling before she looked back at the pigs with open curiosity.
Connor found she could look at nothing but River.
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