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 24

Emotion bombarded her, sharp and painful. River flinched helplessly and shied away from Sarah, as the influx of feeling from the pilot was suddenly too much for her weary mind to handle. Anger, grief, horror… they rolled up and over her, robbing her of her breath, rocking her like punches as they assaulted the woman next to her. Lost in the onslaught of misery, River couldn't react fast enough. Her balance came back in a rush and she reached for the pilot, to offer comfort, to hold and help, but Sarah's shirt slipped through her fingers as the pilot surged forward, a wounded sound catching in Sarah's throat as she lunged for the Operative.

Mal and Inara shouted in surprise, chasing after the pilot as Jayne merely got out of her way. Kaylee and Simon grabbed River, unwilling to let her become embroiled in another fight.

The pilot's hands were around the prisoner's throat before the others could do anything about it. "You lying son of a whore," Connor snarled, ignoring Mal and Inara as they tried to pull her away. Having said his piece, the Operative did nothing to fight back, his dark eyes locked on Connor's own as she choked the life from him. His lips begin to turn blue, but he didn't struggle, just accepted Connor's rage as if he decided his death would be at her hands.

"Jayne!" Mal yelled at the mercenary, needing his bulk to help subdue the enraged pilot.

"Don't look at me," Jayne announced as he crossed his arms and leaned back against the wall. "I'd kill the bastard if he said that to me, too."

"Connor," Inara pleaded, hearing the Operative's involuntary splutter as his body began to struggle for air.

"I would die before I worked for you," Connor hissed, her fingers digging into the Operative's flesh. Memories of her mother, her father, her son, pounded into her brain. Their blood. The sounds they'd made as they died while she'd been helpless to stop it. Every shred of grief and pain that she'd buried for nearly ten year spewed up from the hole she'd buried them in and scalded her.

"River, no," Simon begged, struggling to hold his sister back. Tears were spilling down her face, and Simon's gut twisted knowing it was the anguish from the pilot she was experiencing rather than her own.

Mal finally wrapped his hands around Connor's waist and bodily hauled her away, flinging her back and crashing her into the cabinets. Connor bounced off, her green eyes snapping with a cold hard hatred Mal had never seen before. She charged forward again, but Mal put himself between her and the gasping Operative who had fallen to his knees as his body sucked in much-needed needed air.

"Mal," Connor hissed, her hands tightening into fists.

"You want to kill him, you're gonna have to come through me," Mal warned her.

River finally wormed her way out of Kaylee and Simon's grip. Stumbling toward Sarah, she reached for her, needing her touch even though she knew the contact would inflict pain her mind was in no shape to handle.

"Gorram it, Mal!" Connor took a step forward and Mal raised his fists, ready to fight her if he had to. She hesitated, twitching when she felt River's calming touch ease up her spine.

River clenched her teeth, willing her hand to stay where it was. When the first flash of anger had washed through Sarah, she'd been emotionally and mentally scalded, but touching her now was different. Now there was a coldness radiating from Sarah that actually made River shiver in reaction.

"I can appreciate your anger," Mal told the pilot. "But if anybody on this boat is gonna take this bastard out, it's gonna be Zoe. I promised her the honor."

"You can't begin to imagine my anger," Connor spat at the captain. "You have no idea what his kind have done to me."

"Please." Everyone turned to look at the Operative as he slowly lifted his head, meeting Connor's gaze squarely. "She has every right to be upset."

River eased closer, encircling the pilot's waist from behind, linking her fingers over Sarah's stomach. She closed her eyes when she felt Sarah try to pull away from her, but she held on, refusing to let the woman she loved go.

Connor dropped her gaze, seeing River's hands holding her tight. The sight snapped her back to herself, rooting her firmly in the present. She shuddered, feeling bile rise in the back of her throat, but her body yielded to the touch, sinking back into River and greedily soaking up her heat and strength. The rage ebbed, just enough, that Connor finally felt like she could breathe.

"For what it's worth," the Operative murmured, waiting until the pilot had lifted her head to look at him once more, "you have nothing to be ashamed of."

Connor shook her head. "I would never work for you."

"Not knowingly," the Operative agreed. He got unsteadily to his feet. "But you worked for Brandon Raggely, and he works for me."

The others watched as Connor's features crumbled, the truth causing her pain none of them could comprehend. Her knees weakened, until only River's arms around her waist were holding her up.

"No," Connor whispered.

"There were no lies, Sarah," the Operative promised her. "What you have done is nothing but honorable."

Connor's head snapped up and her gun cleared its holster. She pointed it at the Operative, heedless of the crew. "Don't call me that," she seethed. "You've got no right to call me that."

The prisoner held his hands away from his body in supplication. "What we were building… the work you were doing… it's still everything you believed it to be."

The gun shook in the pilot's hand. Mal watched her, wondering if he should dare try to disarm her with so many people in the room. "Connor…" he pleaded. "Think straight about this."

"I worked for him!" Connor turned her attention on Mal and he could see the truth was torturing her. "What would you do, if you found out you were helping the very thing you despise?"

Kaylee and Simon watched in silence as Inara inched closer, laying a gentle hand on the pilot's shoulder. Connor flinched at the contact, the gun jerking in her hand, but she didn't fire.

"He has information we need," Inara murmured in a soothing voice. "He's clearly done you harm, and you have every reason to shoot him." Inara met River's stricken gaze over the pilot's shoulder. "But there has been enough death today, Connor."

Green eyes shifted to the companion as if seeing her for the first time.

"Please," Inara begged. "Put the gun down."

"Connor…" the Operative said, drawing her attention back on him again. "We may have been enemies. As you said… my kind has done you more damage than anyone here can comprehend. But you have my word… New Eden is everything you believed it to be."

The others looked at him before looking back at the pilot.

"New Eden?" Mal asked in confusion.

Connor shook her head again and closed her eyes when she heard the name fall from the Operative's lips. Without a word, she jerked away from River, her gun clattering to the floor as Connor did the only thing she had left to do. She walked away.

The drink was bitter going down, but the heat that flushed through him was welcome. Brandon Raggley set his mug down and motioned to the bartender for another. His thoughts chewed on Malcolm Reynolds' and his crew, wondering how they were fairing on Nix. He had hated tricking them, but his employer had insisted it was necessary, and his boss seemed to know what drove the captain of the Serenity better than anyone. Mal had taken the bait and run with it, just like his boss said he would. Brandon could only hope his friend would survive and bring back the evidence they needed to weaken the Alliance further.

Parliament was getting too strong again, their reach beginning to extend to the outer rim planets once more. They'd been methodical in their plans to slow them down, painstakingly so, but Brandon suspected they would soon need to speed up their timetable. He was far from being in charge, not much more than a minion, really, but he was a good soldier, and his boss recognized him as such.

He sighed as the bartender refilled his mug before cupping it in his hands and spinning his stool to look at the beautiful day beyond the dusty windows. He knew it was warm outside, had felt the heat of the day drawing the sweat from his skin as he'd wandered through the town that was a part of his own making. But Brandon couldn't escape this strange sensation of being cold. "Karma," he murmured with a twisted smile.

"What?" the bartender asked.

Brandon shook his head. "Just thinking aloud."

The bartender moved off to wait on another customer as Brandon looked down into the depths of his mug. The last time he'd been here, Connor had been at his side. She'd looked beautiful, her dark brown hair in need of a cut as one unruly lock continued to flop down over one eye. He'd tried to kiss her when they'd left, but she'd merely smiled and gently pushed him back. There had been no hard feelings, Brandon knew, but he'd promised himself he would try again another time.

Now Connor was gone. It seemed like such a damn waste. She'd been a good soldier too, just like him if only further down the chain of command. So many things she hadn't known, but she'd fought for their cause in her own way. Sometimes it had hurt his heart to look at her, remembering the fire he'd seen in her eyes when they'd met during the war. That fire had been banked, and he blamed himself for that a little. He'd gotten her the job with the Alliance with ulterior motives, and she knew she wasn't really working for the enemy, but wearing that uniform, bearing the Alliance's mark on her… Brandon sighed and lifted his mug. "To Connor," he said sadly. "May you find the peace in death that eluded you in life." He took a sip, wincing at the burn.

Tossing a few credits on the bar, Brandon got to his feet and sauntered back outside, wincing into the sunlight. The air smelled clean and he took a deep breath, glancing around the budding town. It looked so innocent on the surface, a façade that would fool any Alliance soldier. If Parliament had any idea what was going on beneath the surface of New Eden, they would blow this pretty rock right off its axis.

He placed his hat on his head and headed for the underground bunker. Perhaps there was news on Nix to be had and he could stop his worrying… and maybe shed the cold that clung to him as well.

"New Eden?" Kaylee asked into the thickening silence, her voice sounding fragile and afraid.

River stared at the door Sarah had just walked out of, longing to follow but knowing Sarah needed a few minutes alone. She turned her gaze on the Operative, feeling anger burn in her guts for the pain he'd just put Sarah through. Ignoring Kaylee's question, she came closer to the prisoner, staring at him with contempt. "You didn't need to tell her that."

"In hindsight," the Operative began smoothly, "I believe I should have kept the information to myself."

"You bastard," River hissed, startling her shipmates. "Was that fun for you? Hurting her like that? Making them question?" She jerked a hand at the rest of the crew, anger at him, at all of them, making her voice rise and tighten with contempt.

"River…" Simon began hesitantly.

"Shut up!" River shouted at her brother. "All of you, just shut up!" She glared at the crew until they all looked away in shame. When her gaze returned to the Operative, he was the only one brave enough to meet her eye.

"The truth always comes out, River. You of all people should know that."

River's chin hitched higher as she fought the urge to hit him, to inflict even a fraction of the agony he'd put Sarah through. "She's not like you. Sarah is nothing like you."

"She's not," the Operative agreed mildly. "Sarah Connor is a remarkable woman. Had I known she was in my arsenal before now, I would have put her skills to better use."

"Sarah will never willingly work for you," River told him.

The Operative sighed. "You know I speak the truth. Sarah was doing good, honest work, River. She was helping me rebuild what I'd help to tear down. Despite who I am, what I was, Sarah should feel no shame in her role."

"Letting you live brings her shame," River breathed.

"That's why I did nothing to stop her from killing me," the prisoner told the young woman.

River searched his eyes, hating to feel the truth of his words in the center of her soul. He wasn't lying. Sarah had done nothing wrong and his plans were nothing but honorable. Still, she wanted to hurt him, the only man she'd ever truly hated enough to want to kill with her bare hands. She could see he knew what she was thinking in the way he watched her. River wondered if he'd let her tear him apart.

"Mei-mei," Simon murmured, coming up behind River and hesitantly touching her shoulder. She jerked away from him, fixing him with an icy glare that had him backing up a step.

"I'm sorry, River," the Operative said sincerely. "It was not my intention to heap more pain on this day."

River swallowed before pivoting on her foot and leaving the room, feeling the sudden, urgent need to be where Sarah was.

Everyone watched her go before looking back at the Operative.

"All you know is pain," Mal told him when River was gone.

"Sometimes I'm afraid that's true," the former Operative murmured.

Mal swallowed, rattled by Connor and River's emotions and his inability to do a damn thing to help either of them. "New Eden," he said evenly.

"What was the one thing I always wanted, Malcolm?"

The captain shifted. "A world without sin," he murmured, thoughts of Shepherd Book coming unbidden to his mind.

"A world without sin," the Operative agreed. "There is no such thing. Can never be any such thing."

"And New Eden?" Inara asked, coming closer to stand next to Mal as the others looked on.

"My penance." The Operative sighed. "My… rebellion."

"Keep talking," Mal ordered.

"New Eden is a place of hope. A place where the very thing I'd help to crush nearly out of existence can rise again."

Kalyee was the first to realize what the operative meant. "The resistance?" she asked with disbelief.

Mal's jaw set as his gaze swung back onto the prisoner, his heart jerking in his chest with a mixture of hope and horror. "You mean to say…"

"I mean to say," the Operative said firmly. "The Browncoats will rise again, Malcolm. We will stop Parliament. People will be free to do as they like once more." He stepped toward the captain, ignoring the way Jayne tensed, the mercenary's hand resting on the butt of his gun as he hovered nearby. "The enemy of my enemy is my friend, Malcolm. I came all this way to show you their plans… to ask for your help to stop them."

"We're just one tiny ship," Kaylee muttered in disbelief.

"One tiny ship with a crew that changed the 'Verse." The Operative offered Kaylee a tight smile before looking at the captain once more. "What do you say, Captain?" He reached into his pocket and handed Mal the discs with the vids from the prison on it. "Your proof."

Mal studied the disc in his hands, relieved that their time on Nix hadn't been in vain while feeling fresh anger that it could have all been prevented. He licked his lips, knowing he had an agonizing choice to make. "I'll think it over."

"Mal… Zoe would never…" Inara began only to grow silent when the captain held up his hand.

"Gotta talk to Zoe… to Connor. I ain't doing nothing without all my crew."

"Admirable, Captain," the Operative murmured. He reached up, unbuckling the sword that was still strapped to his back. There had been no time to disarm him as they'd fled the planet. He set the weapon aside as a show of good faith. "I hope they can see past their justified hatred of me to see the good we could do together."

"You better hope I can do the same," Mal said.

The Operative reached into another pocket before handing Mal a second disc. "The coordinates to New Eden. The password is Miranda."

"Course it is," Mal murmured, taking the disc.

The Operative looked around the room, studying each member of the crew of Serenity in turn. "You have a good crew, Malcolm. I know they will do the right thing."

"Even if it means putting a bullet in you?" Jayne grumped.

The prisoner smiled. "Even if, Mr. Cobb."

"Search him," Mal ordered Jayne. "Make sure there are no other surprises he can drop on us tonight." He gestured at the rest of his crew to leave.

"I believe I've revealed more than enough," the Operative promised, lifting his hands as Jayne began to roughly pat him down. He glanced toward the door, his gaze meeting Kaylee's over Mal's head. The mechanic stared at him for a long moment, lingering on the steps as she took his measure. "Goodnight, Kaylee," the Operative told her, his voice deceptively kind.

Kaylee pursed her lips and trailed after the others.

There was nothing to hit but the wall.

Connor pummeled it in a blind rage, ignoring the blood, ignoring the pain. Nothing could compete with the guilt swallowing her whole, the memory of her son's dead eyes as she'd cradled him, his body still warm in her arms. She'd betrayed him. She'd betrayed them all.

"No. No," River repeated. Materializing seemingly out of thin air, the young woman clutched at Sarah's hands, trying to keep the pilot from doing herself any more damage. Sarah jerked away from her, toppling backwards and nearly landing on the bed. River went still, breathing hard as she felt Sarah's misery dragging her in, chaining her to the pilot. Sarah's feelings were as real as her own, and for a moment, River wanted to hit something as much as Sarah did. She wanted to lash out, wanted to pick up a gun, put it to her own temple and pull the trigger. A frightened sob escaped her with the knowledge, and her body shuddered helplessly in reaction. "Please…"

Connor sank to her knees covering her face with her hands. "Just go…" she pleaded with River. "Just go…"

"No," River said again, girding herself mentally as best as she was able before settling next to the pilot. Something told her if she left this room now, she'd never see Sarah alive again. "I'm not leaving."

"River." The name was said like both a curse and a plea.

"I'm not leaving," River said with more conviction. "Not with you like this."

The pilot looked at her then, and River felt her heart tear apart at the anguish in Sarah's eyes.

"I'm so sorry," River breathed.

"I worked for him," Connor whispered as hot tears spilled down her cheeks. "Oh God…" She closed her eyes, her head bowing as if it weighed too much for her to hold up. Her right hand came up to clasp the locket at her throat.

River silently moved closer, sliding her arms around the pilot and burying her face in the curve of Sarah's shoulder. Sarah made no move to return the embrace, her hand still fiercely holding the locket. "You did nothing wrong," River insisted, her voice hoarse with fatigue.

"They killed him. They shot my mother. My father. John…." Sarah gasped softly as pain, as fresh as the day her family had died, carved her up inside. "Oh God," she said again, the thought to slip her weapon free and bring it to her own temple more tempting than it should have been. She felt River's arms convulse around her, and Connor felt shame knowing that River had sensed her thoughts.

"Don't," River pleaded softly, tears entering her voice. "Don't you ever…"

Connor finally brought her arms around her lover's back, giving in and holding River so tight she had to be crushing her, but the pilot didn't dare let go. "What have I done?"

"Sarah," River murmured, lifting her head just enough to brush her lips against the pilot's jaw.

"Please…" Connor ground out before hastily climbing to her feet and scrambling away. "Please don't call me that." The sight of River's stricken, tear-stained face had the pilot tempted to reach for her gun once more. "You don't know… you don't understand…"

River swallowed, tamping down her own pain to deal with Sarah's. "Then explain it to me."

Connor shook her head. "I… I can't…" She sank onto the bed, covering her eyes with her hand as if she could hide from the memories she didn't want to see. "Please, River… just… go…"

Jaw clenching, River stood her ground. "I'm not leaving you."

"Damn it, girlie," Connor snarled, almost tempted to slap the other woman, to make someone else hurt as much as she did. Her hand came up before she balled it into a fist, pulling it back toward her and pressing it to her chest. "You need to leave."

River moved closer, heedless of the risk, sinking to her knees in front of the bed. "You don't have to say the words," she began, waiting until Sarah's tortured green eyes finally lifted and locked with her own. "You can let me in… let me see…"

"No." Connor's voice was like steel.

"You're already thinking it… seeing it all over again," River told her, knowing it was true. "I can feel what it's doing to you."

"And I'm supposed to share that?" Connor said around a brittle laugh. "I'm supposed to inflict my pain upon you? Put those images in your head? For what? What damn good does that do?" She jerked, sucking in a harsh breath when River suddenly cupped her face between her hands. River's brown eyes were intense as she held her gaze, willing Connor to share the moment that haunted her.

The pilot didn't know if River had found a way to force her or if the burden simply was too much to bear, but she felt herself let go, the memories cascading across her mind as real as the day they'd happened.

Part 25

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