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
"This is gonna get a right bit tiring," Mal declared blandly.
Zoe sighed but didn't comment on the captain's gift for understatement. They were into day two of their transport, and the hogs had been less than quiet when it came to expressing their unhappiness at being confined in Serenity's hold.
"We done passed tiring last night," Jayne grumped as he joined them on the steps and looked out over the jostling, snuffing mass of black and pink pigs. "Don't nothin' shut them up?"
As if in protest, one pig squealed so loudly that Mal thought his eardrums might bleed. "We could tranq 'em all," he suggested, liking the idea immensely.
"Nope." Zoe sighed. "Reigert said no drugs. The Silver River folks want their hogs drug free. They'll test 'em, remember?"
Mal swore and tightened his grip on the railing in frustration. "There has got to be something we can do." He saw movement out of the corner of his eye and looked up, discovering River on the top catwalk, her legs dangling as she stared down at the animals with rapt attention. Shaking his head, the captain looked back at Zoe. "Check with the doc. See if there is something we can give them that won't show up on the screens."
Zoe nodded before moving wearily off. She passed Connor and gave the pilot a friendly half wave.
"For the love of all that's holy," Connor said as she joined Jayne and Mal. "I'm going to throw myself out an airlock if I have to keep listening to this noise."
"Take me with you?" Jayne joked, but only partly.
"Two more days and we collect the rest of our coin," Mal reminded them.
Connor tilted her head, feeling the bones in her neck grind unhappily. She felt eyes on her and glanced upward. River smiled as their gazes met, and Connor tucked her thumbs into her belt loops as she regarded the young woman.
Mal followed Connor's line of sight. "Looks like you two are hitting it right off."
The pilot looked away from River reluctantly before fixing her gaze on Mal. "Fine," she agreed. "Seems like she has a firm grasp on the controls." River had, in fact, impressed the hell out of Connor with her knowledge of Serenity's systems. The two had sealed the door to the bridge to mute some of the noise and had gone over everything the day before. As anti-social as Connor accepted she was, the pilot was surprised that she was able to spend hours in River's company, sometimes merely sitting in silence and watching the stars.
Not once had River asked Connor about her life before she'd come to Serenity. The younger woman seemed to accept that topic was off limits. Connor respected her restraint and returned it in kind, refraining from asking River any of the questions she was most curious about. She wanted to know what River had gone through when she'd been held by the Alliance. What it was like to carry the memory of millions of souls inside her head to know that she'd set those souls free to rest. But the questions had gone unspoken on Connor's tongue.
Just like the questions in River's eyes had been left unasked.
Her gaze lifted again, and the pilot felt her breath catch when she caught River still watching her. She noticed that River did that a lot, as if Connor were a puzzle to be figured out.
Several pigs squealed at once and Connor, Mal and Jayne winced.
"Anybody know how to speak pig?" Jayne asked. "Cause it would be nice to tell them to SHUT THE HELL UP!" The creatures reacted to his sudden increase in volume by shying away from the steps and moving back toward the cargo bay doors. The squealing increased ten-fold.
"I should kill you now," Mal told Jayne.
Connor moved past them both, clambering up the steps and heading toward River's position. The young woman watched her approach with open curiosity.
"Hi," River greeted as she tucked her hair behind her ears.
Connor started to rest her right hand on the butt of her gun only to realize she wasn't wearing one. Self-consciously she wrapped her fingers around the rail instead. "You can hear what they're thinking, right?" She might have thought it weird to be asking the younger woman such a question, but the battle of Serenity Valley had changed all that. Connor had been a skeptic about readers and so-called psychics for years, until the night before the battle began. A reader had told them what would happen, how the battle would rage for weeks and weeks. They'd all scoffed at her, laughed at her. When every word had come true, Connor had been left a believer in the gift even if her belief in damn near everything else had been destroyed.
River nodded then tilted her head, indicating the Connor was welcome to join her. The pilot hesitated before awkwardly crouching and finally sitting next to River. They both watched the hogs moving about below for a few wordless moments.
"Can you really talk to them?" Connor finally asked.
"We can all talk to them," River replied. "Jayne just did, although I don't think they appreciated his tone."
Connor's lips twitched. "You know what I mean." She glanced at River and found the woman already watching her with those fathomless eyes, the hazel deep and impenetrable and vast, like the depths of space itself. The pilot had, at times, been disconcerted by the juxtaposition of River's youthful appearance and the impossibly old and omniscient gaze.
River looked like she was about to smile but didn't. "I do," she admitted with a serious nod.
The pilot crooked her head at the heard of hogs below. "Can you ask them to keep it down?"
"It's not their natural state to be that quiet," River admitted. "Especially when they're scared."
"Could you ask them to keep it down when we're sleeping?" Connor offered as a compromise.
River tilted her head again, a curious expression entering her eyes. "You really believe I can talk to them?"
Hesitating, Connor wondered if River had just played her for a fool. "I "
"Because even Simon doesn't really believe I can talk to them. He says he does, he pretends like he does, but even after all he's seen me do " River lapsed into silence and the pilot wondered what memory the young woman was reliving.
Connor took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. "If there is anyone who can actually talk to animals around here, I'm thinking it's you, River Tam." She teased as she put her elbows on the rail and watched the herd, feeling River's gaze on her profile. "Maybe I'm crazy," she confessed as she cocked her head and glanced sidelong at the girl, a small curve shaping her lips.
"I'll have a chat with them," River promised solemnly. "Make sure they don't bother you tonight."
Connor nodded. "I would be much obliged."
"I like that," River said unexpectedly.
Connor looked at her again. "Like what?"
"When you say my name," was the surprising answer. River offered Connor a shy smile before she got to her bare feet and left the pilot alone on the catwalk.
Kaylee glanced up, a smear of dark grease on her cheek. "What?"
Simon leaned in the doorway of the engine room and watched her work. They were both physicians in a way, he mused. He kept the crew of Serenity running while Kaylee kept the ship operational. Sometimes he thought Kaylee had the harder patient and had said as much, but she just laughed and informed him that Serenity didn't bleed all over here. Obviously oil didn't count to the mechanic. "What do you think of the new pilot?"
Kaylee hopped off the engine and wiped her oily hands on her coveralls. She shrugged as she dropped a wrench into her toolbox. "Seems a bit quiet, but nice enough, I suppose. Why?"
The doctor shrugged as well as he pushed off the wall and came closer. "River seems taken."
The mechanic smiled. "She does, don't she?" Kaylee grabbed a mug of tea and took a sip. "I think she finds Connor all mysterious-like. Wants to know what's goin' on in that pretty head."
"You think she'd pretty?" Simon asked with a slight smile.
"You sayin' you don't?" Kaylee gave her lover a look and he chuckled.
"Not as pretty as you," he answered.
"Uh-huh," Kaylee drawled before finishing off her tea. "You worried? I mean, about River takin' some kind of shine to Connor?" She put her hip against the engine housing and watched as Simon picked up a tool off her workbench and studied it curiously.
Simon shrugged again. "No reason to be, I suppose."
The mechanic's eyes narrowed. "Might not be a reason," she agreed. "But I'm sensin' you're concerned."
Simon set the tool down before running his hands through his hair. "It's just " He shook his head. "Never mind. It's stupid."
"Come on now," Kaylee replied as she moved closer, careful not to brush up against him in her dirty clothes. "If you can't tell me " She left the sentence playfully hanging.
"River watched the last six pilots die," Simon said softly. "And she wasn't attached to any of them."
"It's only been a few days, Simon," Kaylee pointed out. "And maybe Connor will be different. Maybe Wash will approve and leave her alone."
The doctor grimaced. "You really think Wash is haunting the pilot's chair?" He adored Kaylee's carefree attitude and her willingness to take delightful flights of fancy, but ghosts weren't something they entirely agreed upon.
"Well what else could be killin' all those poor pilots?"
"How about bad luck?"
"Six pilots since Wash died?" Kaylee shook her head. "That there's more than bad luck. That there's a curse."
"Kaylee, Wash was a good man. He wouldn't kill anyone he didn't have to."
"Maybe he feels like he has to," Kaylee answered sagely. "Maybe he thinks none of them is good enough for us. It's his way of keepin' us all safe."
Simon shook his head. "I just I don't want her getting attached to someone who could be dead in a few weeks."
Kaylee crossed her arms. "So you don't believe in ghosts, but you'll believe in something as random as luck?"
"Luck and ghosts aside," Simon began, trying to get to the heart of his concerns.
"Luck and ghosts aside," Kaylee said, cutting him off, "You're worried she'll get attached, and Connor will die."
"Then that would hold true for anyone, Simon. You sayin' you don't want River to make new friends? To maybe find love with someone some day?"
"Love?" Simon shook his head with more force. "With my sister? She's damaged still, Kaylee."
"There is someone for everyone, Simon. And River is a right bit better than when you two came aboard."
"She is," Simon admitted. "But she feels too much. You see what she's like when we're close to Reavers "
"Yeah," the mechanic replied dryly. "Reavers and bein' in love are so similar."
"You know what I mean."
"I honestly don't." Kaylee picked her wrench up again. "Sounds more to me like you're afraid of River findin' someone. Then maybe she won't need her big brother so much anymore."
Simon frowned. "You think I don't want her to have everything that life has to offer? That I don't want her to find love, a family?"
"Well she ain't goin' to find neither if you're always worried about her becomin' attached now is she?" Kaylee gave him a sympathetic smile as she got down on hands and knees and eased under the engine housing.
"You know I hate it when you're all wise and knowing," Simon teased in a droll voice.
Kaylee extended one arm and flipped him off. Feeling properly chastised but still worried about his sister and the pilot, the doctor left his lover to her patient.
"Now that's a right nice thing to hear."
Connor didn't look at Mal as he spoke from behind her. The captain stepped onto the bridge, coming to stand next to her as he looked out the viewport at the vast space beyond it.
"I don't hear anything," Connor finally answered after he'd stood there for a full five minutes. Talking to him seemed to be the only way to make him leave.
"Exactly," Mal said with a smile.
Connor listened, realizing that the ship was silent for the first time in two days. She glanced at her watch and noted the time. "Huh."
"What?" Mal asked.
"Nice that they got quiet just as I'm about to turn in."
"Right respectful of 'em," Mal agreed with a bit of a grin. "Wonder what quieted 'em down."
Connor glanced at him and suspected he knew full well what had hushed the hogs. She shrugged. "Doesn't much matter, does it?"
"Don't suppose it does." Mal hooked his thumbs in his belt loops and rocked a bit back and forth on his heels. "That was some flyin' you did the other day."
"It's amazing what I can do when I don't want to get eaten by a bunch of cannibals."
Mal's smile broadened. "You're as good a pilot as I remember."
Connor's eyes narrowed. "You're not trying to bury the hatchet here, are you?"
"Damn." Mal waited for a minute before shrugging. "Oh well. Can't blame a man for tryin'. Sleep well, Connor."
The pilot closed her eyes and shook her head as he left. Damn it all if the iciness she felt toward him wasn't starting to thaw just a trifle. The pilot heard him say goodnight to Zoe in the corridor below. A moment later, another set of boots sounded on the stairs and Zoe emerged on the bridge.
"That is a blessed sound," Zoe said in way of greeting, ignoring the unsettled feeling she got every time she saw Connor in her dead husband's chair.
"Best not get used to it," Connor replied. "Something tells me they'll be back at their squealing finest in the morning."
"A decent night's sleep will make that much more endurable. You turning in?"
Connor checked to make sure there was nothing on her screens or long-range sensors before setting the autopilot and getting to her feet. "I am." Her green eyes went to the empty co-pilot's seat, and she felt a pang of regret at not being able to say goodnight to River. She decided it wouldn't hurt to go thank the girl for the peace and quiet before heading to bed. "You seen River?"
"Last I saw her she was back in the hold. Told you she likes to talk to the creatures." They descended the stairs together.
"Maybe she's the one who got them to be quiet," Connor suggested innocently.
Zoe chuckled. "Wouldn't surprise me. She's got a way, that's for sure." She shoved open her door. "Night, Connor."
"Night, Zoe." Connor waited until her friend's hatch was closed and secured for the night. With a tired sigh, she started for the hold, savoring the hum of the ship's engine and the quiet of space beyond the hull.
River was back on the upper catwalk. Her bare legs hung over the side where she sat, her chin on her arms where they rested on the rail. Her dark brown eyes fastened on Connor and a smile lit up her face.
Connor found it hard to believe she could put a smile on someone's face as pretty as that. "Evening," she greeted River as she settled in place next to her.
"Evening," River replied quietly. "I thought you'd be asleep now."
"On my way," Connor confessed. She dipped her head at the quietly milling heard of hogs. "Thanks for getting them to be quiet."
"I promised them some extra treats in the morning," River replied.
"Whatever it takes for a decent night's sleep." Connor rubbed at her tense neck and looked at River, realizing too late that a decent night's sleep was probably something the young woman rarely experienced for herself.
But River just nodded. "I'm glad I could help."
"Since no one on this boat seems to do anything for free, I guess I owe you something as well," Connor told her in a light tone.
"Just having you here is enough," River replied innocently.
The pilot blinked, caught off guard by the softly spoken sentiment. "Well," she replied in a hoarse voice. "I think I'll still manage to come up with something."
"I'm sure you will," River said more seriously. She frowned a little as if she were thinking about something, maybe seeing something in her mind's eyes that she didn't want to see.
"You okay?" Connor asked softly.
"Actually, there is a treat you could give me."
"Yeah?" Connor asked with a hesitant smile.
"You could tell me your first name."
Connor sucked down a surprised breath. "I don't use that anymore."
"I know. I sensed that. But I would really like to know it." Wide doe-eyes looked at Connor beseechingly.
The pilot snorted as she felt her resistance crumble with disgusting ease. "That there is a very effective look."
The corner of River's lips turned down, which added to the pout and the weakening of Connor's resolve. Humor danced in those dark brown eyes, though, and Connor heard herself speak before she even realized she had decided to.
River tilted her head, her features softening as if she were enchanted. "Sarah Connor," she said as if she were tasting the name and enjoying it.
Connor shrugged jerkily. It felt weird hearing that name spoken aloud for the first time in years, but hearing it on River's tongue was oddly nice.
"I won't tell the others," River promised.
"Best not," Connor warned her playfully as she turned her head and watched the hogs below. "I might have to kill you."
Without warning, River leaned over and quickly kissed Connor's cheek, making the older woman start in surprise. "Goodnight, Sarah Connor," River said as she scurried to her feet and left the pilot alone.
Connor touched her cheek in surprise. She laughed a little at herself and River's antics. The damn girl kept her guessing.
She rather liked that.
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