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


Part 22

There was no conversation, only the sound of their footfalls on the metal grating. The Operative glanced around Serenity's cargo bay, studying the ship with interest as they descended. He'd never stepped foot inside her, not even once, but he'd visualized her a thousand times over in his mind. He could sense Serenity was more than a ship to the crew that walked behind him, their weapons pointed at his back. The little firefly was home, and he'd learned from experience that the crew would go to extraordinary lengths to protect her. A sense of safety and security practically oozed from the thickness of the bulkheads around him.

The ship shuddered suddenly and several of the crew grabbed onto the railing to keep their balance. Only Zoe and the Operative didn't bother.

"Keep moving," Zoe ordered, jamming her gun into the Operative's back and giving him a push with the barrel.

They continued down the stairs. The Operative glanced to his side, watching as River veered away with her brother, the pilot between them. Connor was complaining and insisting on walking to the infirmary of her own free will, but River was having none of it, molding herself to the pilot's side and holding her steady. The Operative suspected Sarah protested too much, as she leaned heavily against the younger woman. They were a striking pair. His mouth curved in a knowing smile.

"You best keep your eyes straight ahead."

Zoe's voice was clear and angry behind him, and he did as he was told, lazily directing his attention away from River and back onto the steps. Serenity's second-in-command was the only one of his escorts he considered truly dangerous. While Zoe Washburne seemed in no condition to do him much harm physically at the moment, he didn't doubt her skills with her weapon or her desire to use it. He'd given her more than just cause to despise him, and the memories his thoughts drew forth erased the smile from his lips.

When they reached the holding cell just off the galley, the Operative stepped inside quietly, turning just past the threshold to face Zoe with a serene expression.

"Back up," Zoe ordered, needing him further in the hold so she could close the door. When he didn't instantly comply her finger flexed on her trigger.

He noticed, his gaze dropping to her weapon. With a slight bow of his head, he stepped further into the cell. He glanced around, taking in his accommodations, or lack thereof, while Jayne fidgeted nervously on the other side of the door. Inara simply looked at him with palpable distaste.

"If you're going to use that," the Operative stated calmly to Zoe with a wave at her gun, "I suggest you do so. I believe you're in need of the doctor's talents."

Inara's gaze jerked off the Operative to study Zoe worriedly. She stepped closer, her hand hesitantly reaching out to rest gently on Zoe's wrist. "It pains me to say it," she murmured, "but he's right."

Zoe stayed quiet and simply glared at the Operative for a long, tense moment.

"I won't say nothin'," Jayne announced into the silence, his voice sounding congested through his broken nose. "We'll just pretend your finger slipped."

"You don't deserve to be on this ship," Zoe informed the Operative. It seemed to take a conscious effort on her part to pry her finger away from the trigger before she holstered her weapon with more force than necessary.

"I understand your feelings," the Operative murmured, watching as Inara relaxed marginally but didn't move away from her crewmate. "I wouldn't be here if it wasn't of the utmost importance."

"You will never understand my feelings," Zoe promised him as she grabbed the door and slid it to with a loud clang, locking it and securing it tight. She turned to look at Jayne. "Get to the engine room."

He hesitated. "But…"

"Go," Zoe ordered. "I can stay here until you get back."

Jayne looked at her dubiously, but he finally growled and trotted away.

"I wouldn't have blamed you if you'd shot him," Inara confessed. "But I'm glad you didn't."

"Don't be. As long as my gun has bullets, it's still a possibility." Zoe lowered herself onto a bench as she felt her legs turn leaden.

"You should be in the infirmary," Inara scolded, barely resisting the urge to touch the other woman again. Zoe was in pain, both physically and emotionally, and Inara cursed her inability to offer comfort as much as she hated Zoe's stubbornness to take any. "I can watch over him."

Zoe shook her head, the thought of Inara being alone with that bastard making her cold all over. "I'll stay put till Jayne gets back." The ship shuddered hard around them again and Zoe frowned as Inara lost her balance and tumbled forward to sit roughly in the chair next to her. "Assuming we live that long."

"What the hell is he doing?" Connor snapped as she lost her footing again, dragging Simon and River into the infirmary doorway with her. They all stumbled inside, catching hold of some portion of the examination chair to stay on their feet. "I should be on the bridge," she complained.

"The captain is handling it," River promised, holding onto Sarah as Simon moved away to gather his equipment.

"Is that thought supposed to make me feel better?" The ship lurched again, and Connor fell more than sat in the chair. River began buckling her in instantly, and Connor watched the intense look of concentration on the younger woman's features with equal parts pique and amusement. "If you're going to tie me down, could you at least go to the bridge and make sure Mal doesn't kill us all?"

"I'm not leaving you," River insisted as he brother swung the light around and turned it on, angling it to better examine the pilot's head wound.

"I got a bump on the head," Connor argued, wincing as Simon began gently prodding the injury. "I might be seeing double, but I can still fly a damn bit straighter than Malcolm Reynolds. You should…"

"I'm staying," River cut her off.

Simon watched as Connor opened her mouth to protest only to shut it abruptly. She stared sulkily at River, but at least she'd stopped squirming. He had to turn away so they wouldn't see his smile at the pilot's expense. "Are you seeing double?" he asked.

The pilot sighed. "Not really. Just a little blurry," she confessed. "Head hurts like a bitch."

"Given the knot you have back there, that's no surprise." Simon picked up an injector, snapping a small vial of medicine on top of it. He turned around, his earlier smile gone as he focused on his patient. He took two steps before he pitched forward and nearly landed across the pilot's lap as something struck Serenity hard.

"What was that?" Simon wondered when the worst of the shuddering had subsided.

"Rail gun," River answered matter-of-factly. "Strafed the top of the ship."

"Lovely," Simon murmured before setting aside his fears and focusing on what he could fix.

The laser activated silently, the sound lost in the vastness and vacuum of space. A ray of pale blue light erupted from the pit of the Alliance ship, the beam as cold and ghostly as the planet in its path as it streaked through the black to drill deep into Nix's core.

"Well that's bad," Mal murmured as the beams of light cut across the viewport, almost blinding in their intensity. The firefly was hurtling straight at one of them. "Um… suggestions?"

Kaylee frantically punched coordinates into the navigational computer. Her hands were shaking so hard she had to do it twice. "They're firin'," she announced.

"I can see that," Mal murmured only to have to resist the sudden, useless urge to duck as another hail of silver streaks rained down on them from the ships in orbit. "Oh. You meant that kinda firing." He paused as he endured a scathing glare from Kaylee. Mal gripped the helm harder and began to flail the ship about in an amateurish attempt to keep them from being shot out of the sky. He rolled his eyes at his own efforts, kicking himself for sending Connor off to the infirmary.

Kaylee grabbed the radio. "Jayne? Get her ready to go to a full burn." She let the radio go before he could answer. "This sucks," she groused to no one in particular, unaware when her foot bumped a tiny velvet box, sending it skipping further across the floor and under a partially open access panel.

"Couldn't have said it better myself." The captain winced as another round of gunfire strafed the ship. Serenity groaned, protesting the treatment bitterly. "Oh, c'mon!" the captain yelled, feeling like if it weren't for bad luck they wouldn't have any at all.

Behind them, explosions bloomed like red blossoms across the blue and ice of Nix's surface. The land began to crumble, cracking and tumbling down miles into the heart of the planet. Kaylee reached out and turned the screen off, unwilling to watch the end, even for a place with Nix's history.

"Why ain't they throwing more at us?" Mal wondered as he got the ship back under control. He was starting to think the whole flying thing wasn't so hard.

"Need power for the laser," Kaylee explained distractedly. "Soon as it shuts off, we're humped."

"You mean we aren't already?"

Another round of fire pummeled the ship and Mal cursed as the helm nearly bucked out of his hands. "That's it. Time to go!"

"We can't until the laser…" she started to explain only to watch as Mal punched the button to take them to a full burn. The ship catapulted directly toward one of the beams sheering the planet in half. Not content with getting them merely shot out of the sky, apparently Mal had decided to put them in the middle of a ball-busting laser. Kaylee turned her head and looked at her captain with disgusted disbelief.


Kaylee began to call the captain every colorful curse word she could think of, rattling them off faster and faster to get in as many as possible as the light from the beam filled the bridge.

Serenity soared under the closest ship. Both the captain and mechanic closed their eyes, waiting to feel the ship ripped apart around them and their bodies burned into vapor. They missed the beam blinking out a microsecond before the ship crossed its threshold.

They also missed the Alliance ships rocketing out of orbit as the enemy put themselves as far away as possible from the impending blast, leaving Malcolm Reynolds and his crew behind to die with the planet below.

For the span of a breath, their world was calm, Serenity powering through space with a trail of golden fire. Then there was a rumble, a shift of air inside the ship, and a shockwave reached out and flung the firefly through the black.

When everything finally stilled and the lights flickered weakly, Jayne lifted his head from the floor in the engine room, his nose again oozing fresh blood. "We dead?" he asked no one in particular.

Connor lifted her head, feeling it swim in a thick pool of medication. The pain was gone, but she didn't trust her vision as lights flickered in and out. She blinked, willing the world to focus, the sound of labored breathing and the creaking of the ship loud in her ears. "River?" she murmured.

A rustle of fabric and a shift of muscle followed as River eased up and looked worriedly down into Connor's features. She'd landed across the pilot a few moments before, draping her body protectively over Sarah's. "You okay?" she breathed.

A faint smile. "Still here," Connor said. "And in a pretty comfy place at the moment."

Canting her head, a slow, knowing smile eased across River's face. "Told you the captain could handle it."

"Is that what he did?" Connor teased.

River's answer was to dip her head and gently kiss her.

"I'm perfectly fine," Simon grumbled from his place on the floor. "No need to worry about me." He pushed a tray of medical instruments off him and gripped the counter.

River chuckled against Connor's lips before turning to look at her brother. Reluctantly, she slipped off Sarah's warm body and helped Simon get to his feet.

Simon eased a hand through his hair and glanced around. "Looks like we're still in one piece," he commented casually.

"More or less," River agreed. "The captain is on his way with Inara. Zoe needs treatment."

Simon didn't bother to ask how his sister knew that. He simply nodded before reaching across and unbuckling Connor from the examination chair. "You should be pretty functional in about an hour," he told the pilot. "Just try to take it easy for a bit."

Sliding her hand into River's, Connor let the younger woman help her stand. "Thanks, Doc."

"And might I recommend showers for the both of you? You're a mess."

River and Connor looked at one another.

"Preferably separate showers," Simon added drolly.

His sister blushed.

Connor slipped a hand through River's hair before cupping her cheek. "Come find me when you're done and we'll talk."

River closed her eyes and leaned into the welcome touch before nodding wearily. She felt the warm press of Sarah's lips on her forehead, followed by the absence of Sarah's heat as the pilot moved unsteadily away. When her eyes blinked open again, Simon was watching her with an expression she'd never seen on his face before.

"You really love her, don't you?" he asked.

River nodded. "She's the rest of me. The part that's been missing."

Simon's throat rippled as he swallowed. "I'm happy for you, mei-mei."

"Hopefully I can be happy for you, too, when Kaylee finds the box you left with her." River smiled tiredly, shivering now that Connor was gone. With one last weary smirk for the sudden panic on her brother's features, she left him alone.

"I don't need the doc," Zoe protested once the ship had stopped shaking.

"Hell you don't," Mal disagreed. "Found Inara leaning over you on the floor yellin' with your eyes back in your head."

"Your flying caused that," Zoe groused. "Figured you was trying to shake us to death before the ball buster got us."

"You nearly found me on the floor with my eyes back in my head as well," Inara groused almost under her breath.

"Ungrateful," Mal huffed adjusting his grip on his second-in-command as he led her toward the infirmary. Inara trailed along behind them, her hair mussed and her steps still a little wobbly. "We're alive, ain't we?"

"Dumb luck, I'd wager," the companion added. She swallowed, her stomach still rolling from the wild ride they'd just endured.

"Everyone's a critic." Mal helped Zoe down the last of the stairs, gladly handing her off to Simon who was waiting for them.

"What happened up there?" the doctor asked as he took Zoe's other arm and ushered her into the infirmary. She sank onto the examination chair gratefully.

"Planet blew up. We almost died. The usual." The captain carefully slung the black bag he'd been carrying on his other shoulder onto a counter top. "Want you to look at the vials in this here bag when you're done patching up Zoe's hurts."

Simon hesitated. His gaze lingered on the bag before jerking back to Mal's eyes. "What do you think they are?"

"Ain't got a clue, Doctor. But it's got Alliance research symbols all over it."

"We found it in the infirmary," Inara explained further, her hands coming to rest next to Zoe's hip on the chair. "But they'll keep for a moment. Tend to Zoe first."

"Everybody needs to stop fussing," Zoe huffed, wincing at the headache pounding away behind her eyes. "You should all be in the galley keeping an eye on our 'guest.'" She snarled the last word.

Simon shook his head. "You soldiers are all alike. Pretending like you don't hurt when I know damn well you do."

"Connor?" Inara guessed, glancing around the space as she realized the pilot and River were missing.

"Just missed her. Treated her for a concussion. She wouldn't let me do anything else." Simon sounded both miffed and mildly impressed. "Didn't want a lot of drugs with that…" he paused and swallowed. "With that man on-board."

"Neither do I," Zoe growled at all of them. "Can't have my reaction time slowed with him so close."

"He's locked up. Jayne's watching him." Inara tried to sooth the other woman, resisting the urge to run her hand through Zoe's hair.

Zoe gave her a rueful look. "That's a comfort?"

Inara sighed, acknowledging that Zoe had an excellent point.

The lights sputtered. All of them held their breath, waiting to see if they would go out. They finally caught and continued to burn.

"Kaylee still working her magic," Mal murmured with a weak smirk.

Simon tried not to think about the mechanic, about the contents of the bag he'd left with her. He swallowed and began to prepare an injection, hoping the others didn't see how his hands were shaking.

"Where are River and Connor now?" Inara wanted to know.

"Getting cleaned up. They were both a mess." Simon glanced up to find the captain watching him. Mal eyed the injector before tipping his head knowingly at Zoe. The doctor hesitated, guessing what the captain was asking for in the silent gesture. He frowned.

"Maybe our luck is finally changing for the better," Mal breathed. He continued to watch Simon intently, nodding once as the doctor sighed and changed the settings on the injector before pressing it to Zoe's neck.

The second-in-command hissed as the medicine swam into her blood stream, but she began to feel relief from the pain almost instantly. "We need to get the Operative off this ship," she told the captain. "No one is safe with that bastard on-board."

"Zoe." Inara let her hands curve around Zoe's wrist, alarmed by how cold her skin was. "He's not going anywhere. You need to rest." She leaned over and peered down into Zoe's hurting brown eyes, getting lost in them for a moment. "Please."

Mal watched as something flickered across Zoe's features, a flash of warmth blended with gratitude, before she shut down again and looked away.

"Zoe…" Mal began.

"Sir…" Zoe cut him off, her voice seething. "We should put a bullet in him. He won't be nothing but trouble."

"I suspect that's true," Mal said again with a gentleness that disarmed all of them. He leaned on the edge of the chair, taking the moment's rest where he could find it. "We gotta know what's going on. He's the only one who knows, the only one who can tell us."

Swallowing, Zoe had to look away from the compassion she could see in the captain's eyes. She found similar expressions waiting for her on Simon and Inara's features. "Fine," she murmured, her jaw tightening as she eased into a comfortable position. "Once we do, can I shoot him then?" She knew she sounded like a whiny child, but she felt incapable of a more adult argument at the moment.

"Absolutely," Mal promised earnestly.

Zoe's lips twitched and she felt some of her anger bleed out of her. A seductive lassitude seemed to be filling her, making it hard to think. "That was some fancy flying you and Kaylee did up there," Zoe admitted. "Wash would have loved to have seen that."

Mal smiled hesitantly, ignoring the look Inara shot him. In the years since Wash's death, Zoe almost never mentioned his name. Hearing it roll off her tongue so effortlessly was a surprise. "I think he would have enjoyed some parts more than others. Like me nearly wetting my pants as we about collided with that beam."

Zoe nodded, her eyes blinking heavily.

The captain patted her thigh. "Get some rest," he commanded sternly as he rose to his feet.

"I can't sleep with him on-board," Zoe admitted, her voice suddenly slurring.

"Sure you can." Mal smirked as Zoe's eyes abruptly rolled back in her head and she slumped sideways. "Especially since I had the doc slip a little something extra in that shot he gave you." He adjusted her limbs, making sure she would sleep comfortably. "Sweet dreams," Mal murmured to his second-in-command. He smirked at a startled Inara.

"She's going to kill you," Inara informed him blandly, but there was a trace of a smile on her lips.

"Probably," the captain agreed.

Half an hour later, hair wet and clinging to her face from her recent shower, Connor climbed up the ladder from her quarters and stepped out into the hallway. She could hear Mal on the bridge behind her, fussing with some of the fried wiring on the helm. It was tempting to storm up there, to give him hell for the mess he'd just dragged them all through, but she resisted. They were all still alive, and Connor decided to be satisfied with that for now. She could punch Mal later.

Jayne was in the galley, recovering from a broken nose if the bandage and packing in his nostrils was any indication. He was drinking something she could smell across the room, but his eyes were clear and his gun was close as he kept watch over the Operative's cell. Connor nodded once in greeting and Jayne returned the gesture, neither of them saying a word as she passed through.

Connor's gaze cut to the hold. Having that bastard onboard made her guts ache, but there was little she could do about him right now.

Kaylee was under the engine. Connor could see the mechanic's shoes and hear her colorful curses as she worked. She made a mental note to give Kaylee a pat on the back later for her efforts in saving all their asses.

Finally, Connor's steps took her to the cargo bay and she stood in the middle of it, looking about for something to occupy her mind while she waited for her next opportunity to talk to River.

Her gaze drifted upward to the top tier of the catwalk. It was empty and silent in the cavernous space and Connor almost thought she could hear her breath echo. A thought struck her, of an item she'd seen the first time she'd prowled Serenity from aft to stern. She'd been surprised when she'd stumbled across it. The crew confessed that they often forget it was even there. Apparently Inara and occasionally Kaylee were the only people whoever made use of it.

Figuring she had nothing to lose and some relief from her hurts to gain, Connor headed for the stairs.

River couldn't stop shivering.

The cold wouldn't come out of her skin, she decided. In Connor's absence, it was like it had settled deep in her bones, freezing her marrow. She could see the steam rising around her in the shower, could feel the scalding heat of the water on her back, but the cold wouldn't leave her.

River hurt. She hurt for herself and the crew. For the injuries to their bodies and minds. They'd seen things that no one should ever have to see, been through a hell none of them should have come back from. The crew would have to carry this now. Just like they carried the souls of Miranda. Like they shouldered the souls of Shepherd Book and Wash.

It was too much. The voices were gone, but her responsibility to those who could no longer speak for themselves weighed on her. Her back ached in empathy, a spasm making her wince as she turned under the spray.

She was too cold to cry at the memories, too cold to release the tears that could bring relief from the tightness in her chest. River hung her head, letting the water pummel her as she tried to block out the pain the others were in. Her usual ability to cope was lost in a heavy wave of fatigue.

Finally feeling clean, River shut off the water and grabbed her towel before briskly drying her trembling body. Knowing the Operative was on-board did little to warm her, either, but he was a distant concern at the moment. He would stay where they'd put him. Not because he was especially secure, but because he was where he wanted to be.

Slipping into a light blue robe, River cinched the belt at her waist, ignoring her slippers as she stepped out into the hallway in the passenger quarters. The ship was quiet, only the slow spin of the engine filled the silence as River padded up the stairs. Reaching the top, she closed her eyes, trying to place the one thing that could make her warm again. Being apart from Sarah after what they'd just been through felt wrong. River needed to see the pilot's familiar green eyes, knowing they would ground her in the here and now rather than the memories of the planet that wanted to overtake her thoughts.

Brown eyes fluttered open and River swayed slightly in place, her hand reaching out to steady herself against nearest the wall. She knew where Sarah was, in a section of the ship River had least expected to find her in. Her heart lurched and began to thump double time as she licked her lips. Feeling the cold beginning to melt away in the sudden heat that rushed through her veins, River chose her path to Sarah and began to walk it with determined steps.

The most enticing sight she'd ever seen was waiting for her.

River stared at the large tub. Inara had brought it on-board a ways back, having taken a shine to the intricate design, smooth surface, and how sinfully deep it was. She'd winked when she'd told River it was the perfect size for two and River had blushed as hard then as she was now.

Steam rose from the water, hanging thick and damp in the air. Sarah's shoulders were visible above the water, the long column of her throat on full display and her head tilted back.

River swallowed, her body shaking for an entirely different reason than before as she took in the pilot. A few candles lit the small space, their reflection rippling across the water and offering River a tantalizing glimpse of curves beneath the surface. Sarah was beautiful, and River felt the pull toward her that she had the moment they'd met. Quietly, she padded closer, waiting for Sarah to open her eyes and acknowledge her, but the pilot almost seemed to be asleep.

Without hesitation, River shed her robe and stealthily sank into the warm water, watching Sarah with a soft smile as she anticipated the reaction her presence would bring. That Sarah hadn't detected her yet was both a testament to how tired the pilot had to be as well as River's own skills. She bit her lip, weighing her approach with a devilish glint in her eyes.

Easing her foot through the water, River slid her toe up the pilot's calf, watching in delight as Sarah jerked, nearly giving her an eyeful of pale skin. The water sloshed as Sarah grabbed her pistol off a small table next to the tub, bringing it around and pointing it at the unrepentant expression on River's face.

"Wh…" Connor's voice caught. The sight of River, her bare shoulders peeking above the churning water, stole her breath and she nearly choked. "Sh… you…"

River laughed softly.

The sound burned through Connor's guts. "River," Connor gasped, pressing her back against the tub as she lowered the weapon and set it aside. "Damnit it, girlie…"

"Sorry," River breathed, marveling at how different her own voice sounded to her ears, how breathless and deep, an edge of need she'd never heard before… never felt… coloring her tone.

"What…" Connor swallowed at the way the younger woman was looking at her and her breathing went shallow. Desire, thick and full, settled low in her stomach. River's eyes were hooded as she watched her, and when the tip of River's tongue appeared to wet her lips, Connor was pretty damn sure she had to be dreaming.

"I can't get warm," River admitted after a tense moment. Her brown eyes locked on Sarah's as she eased up onto her knees, watching as Sarah's breathing went even more irregular. The pilot's gaze dipped to take in the newly revealed flesh before wrenching away to focus with effort on River's eyes. "It's okay to look," River promised her as she eased closer.

"River…" Connor gasped again. She sat frozen as River came closer, easing one knee across the pilot's lap, hovering inches above her. She could feel River's heat, could imagine how good she would feel against her. Her hands balled into fists at her sides as she fought the urge to pull the younger woman in. "You… I don't…"

The candles fluttered. River could smell them as she breathed Sarah in, tasting the mineral tang of the water on the back of her tongue. Slowly, River dipped her head. "Make me warm," she whispered against the pilot's lips.

Connor groaned as River's body finally brushed warm and solid against her own.

River's hands came to rest on Sarah's shoulders, just an inch shy of the pilot's neck. Sarah was watching her intently, her eyes heavy lidded, her breathing short and shallow. She didn't move, just waited for River to take the next step. "Can I touch… more of you?" River managed to ask, her throat strangely dry.

A slight shudder rattled Connor's frame at the question.

"Are you cold?" River asked, instantly solicitous.

"Definitely not," Connor ground out in a strangled voice. She swallowed, her throat rippling hard. "River…"

River stared, her thumbs beginning to slowly stroke warm, wet skin. She licked her lips. "I need to touch you," she confessed. She inhaled slowly, deeply. "I need you to touch me."

Connor closed her eyes. Her nostrils flared as River took her silence for acceptance and let her fingers trace the pilot's collarbones. The touch felt both innocent and sinful, and Connor ached to feel the younger woman's hands sink lower, to slip beneath the water and explore. "Are you sure…" she began only to have her words captured by the soft, slow tease of River's tongue as she kissed her.

There were no more words. No more hesitating. Connor's fists relaxed as her hands drifted up, slipping over River's hips and pulling her closer. River inhaled sharply against Connor's mouth only to press tighter against her a moment later when the pilot's touch skimmed up her spine.

"Oh," River breathed brokenly. The word sounding like she'd suddenly understood something she hadn't before. Connor was pretty damn sure it was the sexiest sound she'd ever heard.

River felt the touch all over, could feel Sarah's hands banishing the cold that had consumed her. The memories that had plagued her in the shower, both fresh and old, couldn't compete with the sensations Sarah was stoking inside her. Now there was only a unique kind of heat, one that felt caged in the pit of her guts. Every caress, every kiss, sent tendrils of it free to lick a path of fire along River's veins.

"You okay?" Connor asked, pausing and pulling back just enough to catch and hold River's gaze.

"Don't stop," River pleaded as she closed the distance between them, claiming Sarah's mouth in a searing kiss that made her body sing. She slid against the other woman, savoring the friction and the way the water swirled around their joined bodies as she moved.

"Getting warm yet?" Connor murmured as she moved to tease the rim of River's ear with her teeth.

River's hands flexed on the pilot's shoulders before slipping beneath the water. It was hard to think through her desire, harder still when she could feel Sarah's mingling with her own. This close, this unguarded, River could barely tell where she ended and Sarah began. Her body flushed with need as she moved against the pilot, craving the other woman's touch with a desperation that would have been frightening if the sensations rippling through her body didn't feel so good.

When Sarah's hands finally cupped her breasts, savoring the size and weight of them, River answered with a sound that made Sarah shiver against her, the pilot's palms and fingers clenching and sending fire arcing through River's veins.

River tried to whisper her lover's name but it caught in her throat as Sarah's thigh eased between her own and pressed against her with deliberate intent. It was the touch she'd been aching for and River moaned, grinding her body against Sarah's without reservation, soaking in the pleasure that burned through her body.

Finding River's mouth again, Connor slid her fingers through the younger woman's hair and swallowed the tiny, provocative sounds emerging from the back of River's throat. River moved against her like a dancer, her hips rocking and swirling with the water around them. Her rhythm was flawless and powerful as she took what Sarah offered, both physically and emotionally, willingly drowning in the other woman.

Hands drifting up over wet and slick skin, Connor pressed River closer as she kissed her again, their tongues tangling as their bodies moved seamlessly together. But River's sharp inhalation sounded different this time, the skin hotter than it should have been under Sarah's fingers. The pilot pulled back, studying her lover's features with worry. "What's wrong?" she managed to ask.

"Nothing." River dipped her head and swiftly kissed her, hard.

Frowning, Connor pushed lightly on the spot on River's back once more and achieved the same result. Her palms shifted to River's shoulders and she pushed the younger woman back. "That's not nothing."

River swallowed, her breath coming hard and fast. "It's just a bruise," she promised, leaning toward Sarah again.

"Let me see," Connor ordered.


"River," Connor answered in a tone that brooked no argument. Water sloshed over the side as Sarah eased forward, urging River to turn around with a wave of her hand. The younger woman did so reluctantly, and Connor found herself sucking down a harsh breath for a totally different reason.

Large, lurid bruises dotted River's back. Connor's jaw clenched as she hesitantly reached out and touched the worst of them, a mottled spot on River's right shoulder blade. "Did Simon see these?"

River shut her eyes, feeling the pilot's soft touch deep in her guts. "Could we not talk about my brother right now?" she almost whined.

Connor bit her lip in amusement. "Do they hurt?" she asked, sliding closer to River's back, the warm water tickling their skin.

River blinked, feeling Sarah's breath ghosting against her shoulder. She had to swallow before she could answer. "Yes," she confessed. "But what you were doing before…" she paused, searching for the words.

"Had you feeling no pain?" Connor asked with a smirk before gently kissing River's shoulder, watching as the skin rippled under her touch.

River merely nodded, turning her head to grant more access as Connor brushed aside her hair and began to bathe her neck in slow, deliberate kisses. Her eyelids fluttered shut as the pilot playfully bit down, her tongue flicking over River's skin before Sarah began to drag her teeth up the long column of River's throat. River felt the sensation everywhere, and she moaned her approval.

Careful to avoid the worst of River's injuries, Connor eased closer. She made a mental note that she would be tending to River rather than the other way around tonight, but for now, she was going to give River what the other woman needed.

Connor's touch eased around River's waist, resting on the flat plane of River's stomach, which twitched eagerly under Connor's fingers. She closed her eyes and breathed River in, savoring the heat of her, the way River struggled to breathe though her pleasure. River was uninhibited, unashamed with her body and what it craved as she arched into Connor's touch. When River whispered Sarah's name, her hips rising up as the pilot's fingers slipped down, Connor shuddered, her own moan escaping her as an answering sensation begin to build inside her.

The hesitant knock on the door had them both freezing, gasping in time with Connor's fingers a moment away from their intended target.

Part 23

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