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 26

It was easier to breathe.

Connor didn't understand it, she only knew it was true. Her chest felt lighter, no longer heavy like a weight was pressing down on top of it. She took another deep breath, waiting for the sensation to pass, waiting to feel like she couldn't take a breath, terrified that this moment of peace was temporary and would evaporate. It didn't.

Her green eyes stared at the ceiling of her quarters as she listened to the sounds of the ship and River's even breathing. The younger woman was wrapped around her, holding her in place, holding her steady. The events from the night before now seemed like a bad dream, like none of it was real, but Connor knew every moment had been. Her aching hands, shredded when she'd pummeled the wall, were enough proof of that.

Flexing her stiff fingers, Connor closed her eyes, feeling River instinctively shift closer, one of the younger woman's calves sliding over her own. A weak smile shaped Connor's lips, and she marveled that she could appreciate the skin-on-skin contact even after everything her battered soul had endured only a few hours prior. Perhaps it was because she'd been dragged through the proverbial ringer that she could enjoy the simple things, she mused, or maybe it was all a part of the effect River had on her.

The damn woman had forced her to share everything. Everything. Connor knew she should be furious at the way River had ripped her secrets out of her. She'd been defenseless, unable to hold anything back. All the love she'd felt for John. All the agony she'd experienced over losing him. River had known it, had tasted it, and had lived it.

She knew she had every reason to kick River out of her bed and never speak to her again. River had blasted her way into her mind and taken possession of memories that weren't hers to take, forcing Connor to relive every last one of them as she'd drawn them out into the light. Connor wanted to hate her, wanted to hate what River had done to her. The damn woman had no right, no right to take what was hers to bear.

But as she drew in another breath, Connor accepted that her soul felt cleaner. Lighter.

It was so damn much easier to breathe.

Tears collected in the corners of her eyes before spilling down Connor's cheeks. Rather than rage or loss making her eyes brim, it was relief. Connor rolled over and pulled her pillow closer, wrapping around it to muffle the sound of her sobs. Sharing her pain didn't make it go away, it just made it easier to carry, but knowing River now shared her burden as well broke her heart.

"It's okay," River whispered against the skin of her tattoo, her body taking on tension as she woke.

"You shouldn't have done this," Connor gasped through her tears. "Why did you do this?"

"Because I love you." River's voice was strong and without a hint of apology. "No one should have to carry what you do alone."

"But it was mine to carry." Connor rolled back over, coming face-to-face with those fathomless eyes that had now seen everything there was to see. They knew all of Connor's darkest secrets, and they still looked at her with so much love in them that it took the pilot's breath away.

"Would you share my pain if you could?" River asked her gently.


"Would you?" River insisted. "If you knew what I went through at the Academy… that easing that pain could make me whole again… wouldn't you do it?"

Connor studied the angles of River's face, committing them to memory in the faint light. She reached up, feeling bitter that there was nothing she could do, no solace she could offer. Connor ignored her battered and bruised knuckles as her fingers grazed River's cheek. "Yes," she whispered.

River smiled at her. "You already have," she promised. "I can be me with you. Feel just my own emotions and not a confusing jumble of everyone else's. It's like…" River tilted her head, trying to find the right words as Connor watched her intently. "It's like you're the part of me the Alliance took. Like I have it back when you're with me."

Watching as River leaned into her touch, Connor shook her head. "It's not the same."

"It's not," River agreed. "What they did to you… to him…" Her voice hardened and broke. For a moment, River's jaw clenched, and Connor watched as it pulsed beneath her skin. "But I can help you carry that pain. I want to."

"It's my pain," Connor argued stubbornly. "You've had enough."

River laid her hand over Connor's locket. "You didn't just share pain, Sarah." She smiled weakly. "I got to feel a mother's love. I got to know your son. I got to love him as much as you do. And I won't regret that. Any more than you do."

"And you felt what it was like to lose him."

River swallowed, her own eyes beginning to glisten. "I did."

"You shouldn't carry this. It's not fair," Connor ground out.

"It's not," River said again. "But it's okay." She shifted closer, letting her hand drift down Sarah's arm before meeting her gaze one more. "You had too much pain for one person. Now you don't."


River silenced her with a soft kiss, slaying Sarah's protests before they could pass her lips.

When they finally parted, Connor looked at the other woman with an expression of wonder. "I love you," she whispered fiercely. "You know that right?"

"Since the moment you first let me say your name."

Connor smiled wearily. "I guess I should have known then myself. I sure as hell knew I was in trouble." She swallowed. "You make me want to be that woman again."

"You never stopped," River promised her. "You may not have been the Sarah Connor the Alliance was searching for, but you will be the one who helps bring them down."

Searching River's eyes, Connor reached up and gently brushed the other woman's hair away from her features. "You know that for a fact, girlie?" she teased through her drying tears.

River nodded. "They'll remember your name. They'll take it in vain one day."

Connor didn't know if River was humoring her or not, but she rather liked the sound of that. "C'mere," she murmured, wrapping her hand around the other woman's neck and drawing her back down against her. River came willingly, curling around her and pillowing her head on Connor's shoulder.

The pilot took another deep breath just because she could, filling her lungs with the scent of metal and River's clean skin.

Right or wrong, what was done was done, Connor decided. She would find some way to thank River for this, some way to make it up to the younger woman.

As River's breathing evened out once more, the pilot continued to stare at the ceiling, imagining the possibilities.

There was a presence, warm and familiar, just on the edge of Zoe's awareness. She struggled to shake off the shackles of sleep, to open her eyes and see who was there. Her disjointed thoughts conjured images of Wash, of the way he'd always smile at her when she woke from her dreams. For a moment, she forgot he was gone and reached out for him, expecting to feel the rough texture of his palm in hers. But when another hand grasped hers back, the skin was as shockingly soft as silk.

Startled, Zoe's eyes finally blinked open, the memories of her husband retreating as she woke to the reality of Inara's sleepy smile. The companion was sitting next to the examination chair, clearly having just lifted her head from a light dose. Her hand was in Zoe's, and she squeezed gently. "Welcome back," Inara greeted easily.

Zoe swallowed, feeling a strange mixture of both disappointment and something she didn't dare examine too closely. She didn't let Inara go, however, keeping a firm grip on the companion's warm fingers. Her gaze lingered on Inara's smile, so very different from Wash's, but equally as nice to wake up to. "You got me warm," she murmured, surprising herself and the companion with her words.

Inara's smile grew, making her features radiant. "A woman should keep her promises," she teased quietly. Hesitating for only a moment, Inara reached out and brushed Zoe's hair away from her features. Still groggy, Zoe leaned into the touch, and Inara felt her heart stutter. She swallowed, startled by her body's intense reaction to such simple contact. Licking her lips nervously, she let her hand rest on the curve of Zoe's cheek, but the second-in-command didn't seem to mind. Zoe's eyelids fluttered, as if she were sliding back into sleep, Inara's touch the comfort that would allow her more rest.

The companion sighed, her thumb stroking once over Zoe's sharp cheekbone. She clung to the peaceful moment, knowing it would vanish in seconds when Zoe's memories awoke along with her body. Sure enough, moments later, Zoe's eyes snapped open and she sat up abruptly, wincing as the strap across her chest dug into her skin.

"Easy," Inara murmured soothingly as she stood and placed her hands on Zoe's shoulders, watching helplessly as the blanket that had been warming the second-in-command fell to the floor at her feet. "He's in the hold. He's not going anywhere."

Zoe reached up and slapped Inara's touch away as she fumbled to free herself. "How did I sleep with him on-board? I should be… I need to…" She had to lay back down as the room spun in a dizzying blur.

Simon entered, waking on the couch to the sound of their voices. "Blame the captain. It was his idea." He picked a penlight off the counter and came closer.

"Drugs?" Zoe asked Inara, only to begin swearing profusely at the companion's hesitant nod.

"You needed to rest, and he saw to it you did," Inara murmured, finding herself in the odd position of defending Mal to his staunchest ally–usually.

"Is he still on the ship?" Zoe demanded only to turn her head away from Simon's light, wincing again as it stabbed her retinas. "Damnit, Doc…"

"The captain?" Simon asked drolly. "I imagine so."

"Simon," Inara scolded, amused but not sure this was the time for humor.

"I know it's bright," Simon continued. "Just let me take a quick look and I'll leave you alone."

Eyes watering, Zoe submitted, letting Simon do his job. He patted her once on the shoulder and stepped back before looking at the monitors keeping track of her vitals.

"You core temperature is back within a normal range," he announced before reaching over to unbuckle the strap across her chest. "Still, I wouldn't do anything strenuous for a day or so… you know, like trying to kill our guest."

"Nothing strenuous about pulling a trigger," Zoe grumbled.

Simon and Inara glanced at each other.

"Zoe," Inara pleaded as the woman slid off the chair and stood unsteadily. "We need him alive."

"Like hell."

Inara hesitantly moved closer. "A lot has happened while you've been out."

Zoe paused, her gaze sliding from Inara to the doctor and back again. "Not sure I like the sound of that."

"You're going to like what I have to tell you even less," Inara promised her. "But you need to hear it." She looked at Simon, silent communicating her need to talk to Zoe in private.

The doctor dipped his head once in wordless agreement and left them alone.

Something about the expression on Inara's face told Zoe she needed to shut up, sit still, and listen. Slowly, she sank back down onto the chair. "Tell me," she ordered.

Sleep wouldn't come. Mal wasn't in the least bit surprised, although he was disappointed. His eyes burned with fatigue and his whole body felt leaden as he buckled his pants and slipped on a loose shirt. Thoughts that wouldn't let him be buzzed in his brain as he stuffed his feet into a pair of boots before ascending the ladder in his quarters.

His crew was hurting, and he had heaped some of that pain upon them. That didn't sit well, and Mal wanted to fix it, all of it, but all his options seemed like they'd just make matters worse.

He turned his head when he heard something on the bridge. A muted bang followed by a barely understandable curse had him moving toward the steps and away from the galley, his original destination.

The captain found Kaylee on all fours under the helm, and he lingered in the doorway a moment and simply enjoyed the view as his mechanic searched for something, muttering and cursing every few moments.

"C'mon," Kaylee grumbled. "Couldn'ta gotten that far."

"Lose something?"

Kaylee jumped, her head making contact with the underside of the helm. "Damnit, Cap'n, don't be scarin' a girl like that."

Mal came closer as she struggled to wiggle out of the position she'd gotten herself into. Feeling rakish, Mal slapped her on her hindquarters and got another undignified yelp in reaction. He smirked wearily as he dropped into the pilot's chair, leaving just enough room for Kaylee to finally crawl free.

"That wasn't nice," Kaylee huffed as she sat back on her haunches, but Mal could tell she wasn't really mad.

"Forgiven me yet?" Mal asked.

Kaylee's brow knitted together. "For smackin' me on the ass? Didn't really mind, Cap'n."

"For going to a full burn earlier."

"Oh. That." Kaylee's mouth twisted as she fought to keep a smile off her lips. "I'll let it go since we didn't get burned up or nothin'."

"What were you doing under there?" Mal gestured toward the floor with a wave of his hand.

Kaylee sighed and looked sheepish. "Simon gave me somethin' before y'all left for the prison colony. Kinda forgot about it until a little while ago. Bolted straight up out of a dream when I remembered it."

"And you left this something under the helm?" Mal asked blandly.

"Not on purpose. I kinda dropped it in all the excitement."

"And lost it," Mal guessed.

"Sorta. I mean… it's gotta be here someplace. All I found was the bag it was in." Kaylee held up the crumpled sack in question.

"What was it?" Mal wondered, pleased he'd found Kaylee's company under the circumstances. His mechanic had a way of lightening his darker moods.

"No idea. Simon told me not to open it until after y'all was gone. Then everythin' went crazy…" Kaylee sighed again.

"It'll turn up," Mal murmured. "These things have a way."

Kaylee wadded up the paper bag and stuffed it into a deep pocket in her overalls. "So what're you doin' up?"

"Couldn't sleep," Mal admitted.

"Because of the Operative?"

"Because of what he said."

Kaylee eyed the captain for a moment, taking in the lines of fatigue around his normally smiling eyes. "You believe him?"

Mal considered the question. "I believe River," he answered slowly. "And she says he ain't lying."

The mechanic nodded. "Hope she and Connor are doin' okay."

The captain swallowed at the thought, remembering everything the Operative had told him about his pilot. That had been the biggest reason for his insomnia. "Sleeping things off, I imagine."

That sat in companionable silence for a moment, each lost in thought about everything they'd been through in the last twenty-four hours.

"We need to give him a name."

Startled from his musings, Mal looked at Kaylee curiously. "Who?"

"The Operative. Does he even have one? Takes too long to keep callin' him 'the Operative.'" She put his title in air quotes.

Mal smirked at the possibilities. "I'm hopin' he ain't gonna be around long enough to get that familiar."

"Hmm." Kaylee grabbed an edge of the helm and dragged herself upright. "If River's right, though, and he's tellin' the truth…" She trailed off, her gaze sliding to the blackness of space beyond the viewport.

The captain watched her swallow. "We cross that bridge when we come to it, Kaylee," he said gently.

She looked at him then. "You sure we ain't there already, Cap'n?"

"I'll look for what you lost," he said without answering her question. "You get some rest."

Kaylee nodded. She reached out and put her hand on his shoulder, heartened when the captain reached up and covered it with his own.

"I won't ever make you do something you don't want to do," Mal told her, looking up into her pretty features and meaning every word. "Whatever we decide… and it will be us as a crew deciding it… no pressure. Am I clear?"

"I already knew that," Kaylee said with a weak smile. "I just gotta decide what it is I wanna do." She leaned over and gave him a chaste kiss on the forehead before leaving him to his thoughts.

The bruises made Connor hurt to look at them. She traced the pads of her fingertips over the area, ignoring her own battered knuckles to focus on the damage to River's pale skin. She wasn't sure if the injuries were caused by that bastard in the hold or the Reaver attack, but either way Connor ached for the abuse River had taken to protect her. The younger woman was face down on the bed, sleeping soundly. Connor wished she could have stayed curled up against her. She'd only had a few hours of rest since they'd talked, but her mind spun even in her dreams.

Her thoughts were empty now, however, with the exception of her worries for the woman beside her. With a sigh, she leaned down and gently kissed River's shoulder. "Sleep," she instructed in a whisper, knowing on some level River would hear her. "I'll be back shortly."

Connor dressed quickly, wincing a little as the fabric clung to her broken knuckles. Lowering the ladder, she looked back at River once more to make sure she hadn't woken her. Satisfied River was going to do as ordered, Connor slipped away and headed for the infirmary.

She avoided the galley all together, not feeling steady enough for another round with the Operative.

Simon was asleep in the passenger lounge and Connor contemplated him for a moment, wondering if she should wake him to get what she needed for River more quickly. She decided he'd had just about as bad a day as the rest of them, and she didn't relish the thought of the barrage of questions he was sure to unleash at her about his sister. Connor turned away, hoping she was leaving him to pleasant dreams.

The low murmur of voices reached her from the infirmary and Connor almost turned back, in no mood to deal with anyone but River. When she heard Zoe's familiar tones, however, she continued on, stepping hesitantly inside to see how her old friend was doing.

Conversation ceased when they saw her, but Connor was greeted by Inara's hesitant smile and Zoe's concerned gaze.

"Sorry to interrupt," the pilot muttered, wishing now she'd followed her first inclination and gone back to her quarters.

"Not at all," Inara quickly assured her. "It's good to see you up and about."

Connor's gaze slid to Zoe and the two women silently acknowledged the other's pain at their current circumstances. They each gave a slight nod, a promise to talk when they were alone.

"You hit him?" Zoe asked, her voice almost a croak.

At first, Connor wasn't sure what Zoe meant until she realized Zoe was looking at the pilot's battered hand. Connor didn't even remember wrapping it around her locket. "A wall," she admitted roughly, letting her hand fall back at her side. She glanced at Inara who had lifted an eyebrow in silent response but otherwise remained mum on the news.

"Thought you had a heavy bag," Zoe drawled.

"Fell off during the escape. Just my luck."

They stared at each other again with silent understanding. Connor hurt for her, hurt for them both. She looked away first, moving to the cabinets and beginning to rifle through them.

"Just came down to find some salve for River," the pilot explained. "Got a few bruises."

"Is she all right?" Simon's voice from the doorway made them all turn.

"Fine," Connor answered tightly, cursing her bad luck at the appearance of River's brother.

The doctor nodded, and much to Connor's relief he didn't press her for more answers.

"Got just the thing," Simon said wearily, brushing past the pilot to retrieve the item in question.

Connor eyed the vials locked in an airtight container on the counter inches away from Simon's position, the Alliance's symbol in plain view. Her jaw set as she forced her gaze onto Simon's back. A moment later, he turned and handed her a small container.

"This will increase the blood flow to the area. Has something for the pain as well." Simon regarded her hesitantly.

"Thanks," Connor murmured, eager to get back to her quarters and to River. She was feeling fragile, and she had a sneaking suspicion it was obvious to everyone in the room.

"Let me…" Simon trailed off, his hand outstretched in the air between them. He swallowed at the look Connor gave him, an expression on her face that made him think twice about touching her. He cleared his throat. "Your hands…"

"Did it to myself, Doc."

"Be that as it may," Simon continued bravely. "I'm a doctor. Let me do my job. Please."

They stared at each other, neither backing down.

"Think I'd be more comfortable in my quarters," Zoe abruptly announced. "Nothing against your examination chair, Doc, but my bed is a lot softer."

The tension eased a fraction as Simon and Connor watched Inara help the second-in-command to her feet. Zoe gave them all a nod, accepting Inara's help for Connor's sake. The pilot had been through enough today; she didn't need an audience right now as well.

Connor's jaw clenched but her green eyes had softened by the time she gave Zoe a respectful and grateful nod as she passed.

"Be quick about it," the pilot grumbled when they were gone. She flexed her fingers as Simon began to carefully wipe them down with antiseptic, his touch surprisingly gentle. Once he was satisfied the surface was clean, he began to rub a salve into the wounds. Connor flinched at first, but heat slowly began to radiate from the injuries, finally leaving her hands almost pleasantly numb.

"Better?" Simon asked as he stepped back.

The pilot slowly flexed her knuckles again. "Better," she confessed with mild surprise.

"From my own supply," the doctor told her. "Don't tell the captain about it."

The pilot lifted one brow in silent question.

"As often as he gets hurt I'd always be running out… and it's expensive."

"Why waste it on me?"

Simon opened his mouth to respond then closed it, opting to compose his thoughts before replying. "River would want me to," he finally explained.

Connor swallowed, accepting his words were true.

"Is she all right?" Simon asked again.

"She's sleeping," the pilot told him, relenting a little. "But she has some bruises… from the Reavers," Connor added just to be sure Simon didn't suspect her of doing River harm.

Simon sighed before picking up the jar of salve Connor had set on the counter as he'd treated her injuries. "Do I need to take a look at her?"

Connor shook her head as she took the jar from him. "Just bruises," she promised, her voice losing its edge.

The doctor nodded once more. "Then I trust she's in good hands."

"I don't know about that," Connor murmured, surprising them both with the revelation as she looked at her bandaged knuckles. She stared in mild surprise when Simon covered one of her hands with his.

"I know I'm overprotective," he said reluctantly. "For a long time she was…" He trailed off as he remembered tougher times. When he met Connor's eyes once more they were studying him intently. "River never does anything halfway. Every subject in school that caught her fancy… she had to know everything she could about it. When she dances, she doesn't just move to the music, she becomes it. I always knew when she fell in love that it would be with her whole heart."


The doctor held up a hand and Connor lapsed into silence. "I had thought the Alliance had taken that chance from her. That they'd damaged her too much." He took a short, shaky breath. "Thank you," he said quietly, "for proving me wrong."

Connor swallowed.

"Truce?" Simon asked with a weary smile.

"Truce, Doc," Connor sighed, feeling another weight she hadn't even known she was carrying drop away.

"Now go treat my sister," Simon instructed around a yawn. "She sure as hell won't let me do it."

Chunks of ice floated in the black, cold reminders of the life and world they had been a part of only hours before. When the Alliance ship moved in range, it stayed on the fringe, scanning the debris field for any signs of life and coming up empty.

"Well?" Ellison asked the officer at the helm.

"No life signs, Sir."

He hadn't expected there to be. Ellison moved closer to the view screen, taking in the evidence of a good day's work. "And the firefly? Have you located what's left of her hull?" He intended to bring it aboard, take it back as a trophy. His superiors would give him a commendation for this.


Ellison looked back at the junior officer. "Well?"

"N-no, Sir." The officer ran his scans again. "Detecting some debris from the colony, but none of the compounds that would have comprised the metals on Serenity's hull."

"Are you telling me that they escaped?" Ellison asked with disbelief.

"It's possible they were pulverized, Sir. If they were caught in the beam…"

Ellison cut him off. "Widen your search. I want reports every ten minutes. Find that ship, Ensign." He moved away, all too aware that the young man behind him was shaking.

"Yes, Sir."

To Be Continued

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