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 Operative sucked in a slow breath, clawing his way back up to wakefulness as the door to his cell unlocked and groaned open. The light from the galley spilled inside, making him squint as he studied the familiar silhouette of Malcolm Reynolds's in the doorway.
"Took awhile," Mal murmured without preamble as he leaned against the doorframe. "For the memory to shake loose."
The prisoner sat up, watching Mal curiously. There was something about the captain's posture, a weariness to it that made his usual desire to needle the other man rest. He puzzled over Mal's words, wondering what was on the captain's mind. "And what memory is that?" he inquired neutrally.
Pursing his lips, the Operative nodded knowingly. He wasn't surprised Connor had kept elements of her past from the crew. No doubt some things were simply too painful to share. "I had nothing to do with any of that," he admitted.
"I'm sure my pilot would have filled you full of holes if you had," Mal told him simply. He stood there a moment, the ship creaking softly around them as he stared at the floor. "Why were you after her again? Some codes or other?"
The Operative studied him, not fooled by the captain nonchalance. "Sarah Connor was an excellent code breaker during the war. She was quite skilled at deciphering the Alliance's transmissions. She was even able to falsify orders. More than one transport was ambushed. Obviously, Parliament wanted her stopped."
"That's right," Mal said quietly, remembering. "So they sent the likes of you to do the stopping."
"Yes." The Operative sighed. "All we had was a name."
"More than one Sarah Connor in the 'Verse." Mal's voice had an edge of anger to it now.
The Operative stared at the captain, swallowing when he recalled just how many there had been. "Many less now," he confessed softly.
The captain finally turned his head, the light from the galley warming half his face in gold while leaving the rest in shadow. "Was it her? My pilot? Was she who you wanted?" Mal had to know, had to satisfy the question that had swirled in his brain for the last hour. He hurt for Connor regardless, wishing he'd known this detail about her before. It made so much about the woman make sense.
The prisoner dropped his gaze. "No. She simply had the misfortune of being named Sarah Connor."
"So you hunted her down her family just because of her damn name." Mal felt his simmering anger ignite, burning away some of the pain he felt for his pilot.
"Not me but yes, the Alliance ran her and her family to ground." The Operative briefly wondered why the captain wasn't having this conversation with his pilot. Perhaps Mal was smarter than he gave him credit for.
"What happened to them?" Mal asked, his voice hoarse, but determined.
"What do you think, Malcolm?" The Operative asked.
In the sudden silence between them, the prisoner heard Mal swallow hard.
"All of them?" Mal had to know.
"All of them. Even her child." The Operative saw Mal flinch. Connor had clearly kept much from her crewmates.
Mal's jaw clenched as angry tears gathering at the corners of his eyes. "And Sarah Connor the one you wanted "
"She was found and terminated." The Operative paused, wondering if he should tell Mal the whole truth. That the code breaker had been killed moments before the pilot's son had died. That if the Sarah Connor they'd wanted had been eliminated five minutes faster that John Reese would likely still be alive. He held his tongue, deciding it served no purpose for the captain to know such details.
Mal stepped out of the cell, shutting the door behind him without a word before leaning against it. The locket Connor had always worn, he realized with sudden insight. Now he knew whose picture was inside it, the secret she'd carried locked up tight. "Gorram it," he hissed. Mal wished he could go to her, offer her some sort of solace, but he knew there was nothing. Nothing he could say, nothing he could do that would make any of this a damn bit easier to take.
Only River had a chance in hell of doing that.
The captain sucked in a startled breath and straightened as Inara came closer. He'd been so lost in his thoughts he hadn't heard her arrival. "Everything all right?"
"You tell me." The companion came closer, sure that she saw tears glistening in the captain's eyes until he turned away, focusing his attention on pulling a mug down from the cabinets and pouring himself a cup of mead.
"Fine," Mal said, clearing his throat when he heard how husky he sounded. "Just a long day."
Inara's gaze traveled to the cell door and lingered there before returning to Mal's back. "One of the longest I can remember," she agreed. "Any word on Sarah?"
Mal stared into the depths of his cup. "Wouldn't call her that, if I was you."
"River does. It's a beautiful name."
"Not for Connor it ain't." Mal drained his mug, wincing at the taste but welcoming the burn that flushed through him. He looked at her then, seeing the lines of worry and fatigue around her eyes that still did nothing to diminish her beauty in the low light. "You should get some sleep," he suggested before setting the empty mug down and turning to walk away.
"Mal," Inara beckoned, sensing something was wrong with her former lover. He glanced back at her, his features more tired and drawn than she'd ever seen them. She hurt for him then, all the frustration she'd felt toward him on Nix melting away when she saw something dark and anguished in his eyes. What the Operative had offered him the chance to be a Browncoat again the chance to fight back at the Alliance it hard to be tearing the captain up inside. Inara knew he wanted it, and knew just as equally Mal would fight tooth and nail against his own desires.
"Night, Inara," Mal said gently. He came a few steps closer before dipping his head and kissing her lightly on the cheek. Breathing her in, Mal vividly remembered how good she smelled, how warm her body had felt against his between satin sheets. The air charged between them, and for a moment, Mal considered trying to take things further, sensing Inara might need to forget this day as much as he did.
"Mal " Inara murmured once more, sensing the same tension in the air he did.
The captain sighed and swallowed, stepping back from temptation. He wearily accepted he was too exhausted to do anything else but sleep. "Get some rest," he ordered.
The companion watched him go, feeling her heart tripping in her chest. She'd been sure Mal was going to do something more than simply kiss her cheek, and her body had been conflicted in its response. Shaking, she moved closer to the hold and peered inside, wondering about the wisdom of leaving their prisoner without a guard. The Operative sat on the floor, his knees drawn up to his chest. As she watched, Inara realized he was praying.
Feeling like an intruder, she stepped away and surveyed the empty galley. Her bed in her shuttle beckoned, but she decided against it. She couldn't be alone tonight.
Anger. Anguish. Desire. The emotions rolled through River, tugging her toward consciousness. She let sleep go, rising up into reality to absorb the emotions and to place their source.
Mal, she realized. She focused on him, tracking his progress until she actually heard the clang of his hatch closing. Her attention wandered to the other members of the crew just as it so often did when she woke, checking on each of them in turn. Satisfied the others were as well as she could expect, her attention drifted to the woman in her arms.
After Sarah's past had been laid bare, after their emotions had been scraped raw, River had guided Sarah to the bed, stripping them both of much of their clothes so they could be as close as skin would allow. Sarah had been almost unresponsive, and River had been little better, too overwhelmed by the pain they'd shared to do little else but pull the sheets over their bodies. Exhaustion had swept over them almost immediately, dragging them both down into a thankfully dreamless sleep.
Sarah was breathing so deeply now it almost seemed unnatural. River was spooned against the pilot's back, and she took a moment to study the small tattoo that had been hidden from her view until now. It was a small pair of intricate wings, beautifully crafted, placed behind Sarah's heart.
River swallowed, knowing that it wasn't a love of flying that had inspired the design. "John," she whispered, leaning forward to kiss the inked patch of skin. Sarah didn't stir, and for that, River was grateful.
She could see him now, as clearly as if he had a place in her own memories. John had been a sweet child with his mother's green eyes and smile. She loved him even though she'd never met him, having felt what Sarah felt for him having seen the way he'd looked at his mother. River closed her eyes, a pang of loss echoing through her. Sarah's pain was hers now; they carried it together. It would take some getting used to, River knew, but she didn't regret her choice. Already Sarah's soul felt lighter cleaner. River nuzzled closer, breathing the other woman in and feeling her own soul settle at her nearness.
What Sarah had been through watching her family die one by one. The Alliance had wanted something from her that Sarah hadn't had to give. The only kindness the Operative had shown her was to step between Sarah and John when he'd executed her son.
A silent tear tracked down River's cheek as she relived the moment through Sarah's eyes. Her throat ached with screams that hadn't been her own. She could even feel the burn of the rope that had sawed through Sarah's wrists as she struggled frantically to free herself. Every sight, every smell, every sensation it was as real to River now as if she'd been the one tied to the chair, watching pieces of her life and heart being shattered one after another.
Minutes later the Operative had taken a wave. He'd looked at Sarah when it was through, just the slightest hint of regret flickering across his features before disappearing entirely. He'd cut Sarah's bonds, watching as she ignored him to drop to the floor and crawl to her son.
He'd thrown a bag of credits at her. It hit the ground and spilled coins everywhere, the money rolling across the wood floor and coming to rest in blood. "Our mistake," he muttered before leaving her alone with the remains of her family.
River felt rage, all of it her own, at what had happened to Sarah. What the Alliance had done to her was bad enough. Cutting on her, experimenting with her mind, turning her into something she was never meant to be. But she had never hated them as much as she did now.
As if sensing her distress even in sleep, Sarah shifted, snuggled back against River's bare body. River felt the rage vanish as their contact increased and she didn't chase after it, letting it go to refocus on Sarah completely.
She kissed the tattoo again, both for the angel it represented, and for the heart that lay beyond it. "I love you," River whispered.
Even from the depths of sleep, River felt an answering echo of her emotion come from the well of Sarah's soul.
They would be all right, River realized with relief. It would take time, but they would survive this.
She tightened her hold on Sarah and closed her eyes, focusing on her lover's current peace and letting it whisk her away.
"So what do you think?"
Kaylee jumped, banging her head with a clang on the bottom of the engine housing. "Jeez," she grumbled before sliding out and looking up at the bulky figure in the doorway. "Don't be scarin' me like that."
Jayne didn't appear remotely apologetic as he crossed his arms. "I don't trust 'em," he continued as Kaylee glowered. "Don't believe none of this New Eden nonsense."
The mechanic got to her feet, picking up a rag and wiping her hands on it as she thought over the scene in the galley. She was far more worried for Connor and River, neither of whom had been seen for hours now. "Cap'n checked the coordinates. There's somethin' there," she reminded him.
"Ambush," Jayne guessed.
Kaylee's eyebrows hiked in a facial shrug. "Wouldn't be a surprise," she agreed wearily. "Seems like all we ever wander into these days."
Jayne grunted in response, and Kaylee wasn't sure if it was in agreement or a commentary on their current stretch of luck.
"You ask me," Jayne grumbled, "we should just turn tail and head the other way."
"Cap'n won't go for it. We gotta know what's there."
"Says who?" Jayne wanted to know.
Kayle opened her mouth to respond only to close it. Jayne had a point. "You ain't curious?"
"Curiosity killed the dog and all that," Jayne reminded her. He wandered into the engine room, picking up a large wrench and seeming to judge it by its use as a weapon. He sliced it through the air and gave it an approving nod.
"Cat," Kaylee corrected weakly, wincing as Jayne did it again, the wrench whistling as it whipped by her face. When Jayne looked like he might take the tool with him, Kaylee hesitantly but firmly pried it out of his hands.
Jayne watched her with a scowl. "That Operative fella he's talking 'bout going back to war."
"I know." Kaylee's voice was timid. "Whole 'Verse has been restless since Miranda. People want out from under the Alliance's thumb."
"Alliance wants to keep 'em there," Jayne told her. "They ain't lettin' go of power without a fight."
"What do you think?" Kaylee asked. "About going to war?"
"Ain't no money in it," Jayne grumbled. "Less you runnin' guns or something."
"That mean you'd leave Serenity?" Kaylee watched him curiously.
Jayne blinked. "Would you?"
"Don't know," the mechanic confessed after a moment, feeling like a traitor.
Jayne considered the question. "Got nowhere else to go," he finally said, and for the first time since the incident with the Mudders, Kaylee thought Jayne Cobb sounded a little lost.
They were quiet a moment as they considered the possibilities, the engine lazily spinning between them.
"Ain't never seen a woman that mad before," Jayne suddenly mumbled, clearly deciding a change of topics was in order. "Really thought Connor was gonna put a hole in him."
Given Jayne's boorish ways, Kaylee found that hard to believe but she didn't say so. "Connor's hurtin'," she said softly. "Feel bad that I even got just a little suspicious of her for all about a second."
Jayne just grunted again. "He's lucky River didn't snap his neck. Since when she get all " He motioned his hands in a vague gesture.
"All what?" Kaylee asked hesitantly.
"You know her and Connor they what the hell are they doing, anyway?"
Finally a trace of a grin slipped across Kaylee's lips. "If you have to ask, I ain't gonna tell ya."
Jayne blinked again before his eyes hooded. "I'll be in my bunk," was Jayne's only response.
Kaylee rolled her eyes and turned back to her bench, picking up her tools and putting them each back in their proper place as Jayne tromped away. "Eew," she muttered, mentally apologizing to River and Connor for whatever Jayne was going to imagine them doing together.
Her thoughts shifted back to the notion of leaving Serenity, leaving the crew. Just the thought was painful, and she considered seeking out Simon for some solace, but her lover was tending to Zoe in the infirmary and running tests on the vials the captain had brought back from Nix. It was best to leave him to his work, even if she craved his company.
Her gaze flickered around the engine room, searching for something she might have missed. She just had the strangest sense she was forgetting about something, but for the life of her, she couldn't remember what it was.
Sighing, she made her way to her hammock before falling into with a complete unworried lack of grace. Reaching out, she dimmed the lights, leaving the glow of the engine to keep her company. Sleep came mercifully fast, her body's fatigue more powerful than the worries on her mind.
"How is she?"
Simon shifted, so lost in thought as he studied his preliminary reports on the vials that he hadn't even heard Inara enter. He scrubbed a hand through his hair as he swiveled on his stool to look at her. "Fine," he announced, clearing his throat. His gaze darted to his patient. "Sleeping like a log."
Inara moved closer, leaving behind any lingering thoughts she might have had to follow Mal to his quarters. She looked down at Zoe's peaceful features and smiled a little in reaction. "She really is a striking woman," she murmured, barely aware she'd said the words aloud as her gaze wandered the planes and angles of Zoe's face.
Simon paused, one eyebrow hiking in reaction. He glanced at Zoe again. "She is," he agreed, clearing his throat again for a totally different reason. He watched Inara closely, seeing the careful way she held herself, the way she seemed to be fighting her desire to touch the other woman. To say Zoe was independent would be an understatement, and Simon understood Inara's reluctance to reassure herself by physical contact. "Everything okay? I thought you were going to get some sleep."
The companion reluctantly shifted her attention off Zoe and onto the doctor. "As okay as it all can be, I suppose." Inara smiled wanly as she drifted closer. "As for sleep I've tried. Nothing is working." She glanced down at the vials, seeing Simon's notes.
"I could give you something " Simon trailed off as Inara shook her head.
"I'll manage. I think I just needed to lay a few worries to rest first." Inara dipped her head at his notes. "Anything interesting?"
The doctor shrugged. "I know what it's not."
Inara looked at him speculatively.
"Harmless," Simon confessed. He gestured at the vials. "I've run a few tests using spectrum analysis." He sighed, his features growing worried. "It could definitely be a form of the Pax. I won't know for sure until I can open it up and take a closer look."
"I don't envy you," Inara answered with a weak smirk. "I'm not thrilled about being in the same room with it."
He laid a hand on the case. "This is airtight. Nothing is getting in or out unless I want it to."
"What do you think they're planning the Alliance, I mean?" Inara asked slowly.
Simon scratched the stubble on his chin as he considered all the ramifications. All of them left him cold and he was reluctant to say any of them aloud. He licked his lips nervously. "Nix was a control group."
"You said that in the galley." Inara leaned carefully against the counter, waiting patiently for Simon to continue. "What, exactly, did you mean?"
"My guess the Alliance wanted to know if they could successfully replicate what happened on Miranda. If they could find a way to make followers "
"And Reavers?" Inara asked, a sharp edge entering her tone. "They wanted to make monsters?" She sounded aghast at the thought.
Simon shifted uncomfortably in his chair. "It's like the captain said when we decided to broadcast the video from Miranda sooner or later the Alliance would come back to the notion that they can make people better." He glanced at the vials. "Or worse " he added in a near whisper.
"Why?" Inara breathed. "Why would they do this?"
"They're losing control. Every day more people escape their grip. They want unification, and they'll get it even if they have to drug people into it." Simon looked back at her, seeing his own horror at the thought reflected on Inara's features. "They might have purified the Pax, Inara. They might have found what they did wrong the first time and fixed it."
"If they put this into the atmosphere of a planet " the companion began.
Simon took a shaky breath. "You'd have millions of people susceptible to their commands."
"Or millions of monsters," Inara guessed.
The doctor nodded reluctantly. "Yes. My belief is that they isolated the part of the Pax that made some people more violent and aggressive. Considering that they found a way to change all of the guards " He trailed off, his jaw clenching as he remembered them spilling out of the vent remembered the sound of Connor's shotgun as she'd tried to buy them some time. He shivered helplessly.
"Someone has to stop them," Inara breathed.
"Why do I have a sick feeling that's going to be us?" the doctor asked.
They stared at each other, both absorbing their new reality.
"Do you believe him the Operative?" Inara murmured. "About building an army? About New Eden?"
"I think " Simon hesitated, darting an almost apologetic glance at Zoe before looking at Inara again. "I think he better be," he confessed. "Or life as we know it is over."
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