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 anger was gnawing at Connor's guts as she headed up top, driven by a need to hole up in her bunk and take out her frustrations on the heavy bag she'd installed in her quarters the day before. Her fingers flexed, already imagining the blows they'd rain down on the surface, and her body craved the release of frustration only a good workout could provide. She'd been a total ass to River just now, and Connor imagined the look of hurt on the younger woman's face as her boots pounded up the cargo hold stairs. Jayne grunted at her in greeting, but she ignored him, focused on getting away from everyone and everything for a while.
She wouldn't apologize to River. The girl had pushed too far and opened too many old wounds. Not that Connor thought River had done it on purpose. The pilot knew she'd feel bad for distancing herself from the girl later, but right now it felt necessary. River was getting uncomfortably close anyway; getting behind too many walls that Connor had spent years constructing.
"Better this way," she muttered to herself halfheartedly, but a voice inside her head called her a fool.
Her thoughts shifted away from River out of necessity and focused on their unwanted guest. Keeping the contractor on-board was a bad idea. Connor could feel it in her bones, and her worry only fueled her anger. They had come for River, these blue-handed bastards who had already caused the co-pilot such pain. It only remained to be seen how many more would follow, and what their ultimate goal was toward the younger Tam. Connor knew that their appearance was simply the Alliance's first strike. More would come. More always came. They never stopped until their mission was complete.
The pilot stopped moving as she entered the galley. A shiver full of remembered fear and memories of the past took her and shook her body with the force of it. Even now she could remember the screams, the sound of loved ones dying
Connor sucked down a cold breath, willing the ache in her chest to fade as she tunneled her hands through her hair. Unconsciously, her hand went to the locket at her throat, gripping it tightly. Her green eyes slowly lifted and fixed on the door off the galley. The pilot's right hand came to rest on the butt of her gun, and her fingers tapped nervously on the grip. There was no one around. No one to stop her.
She slipped the pistol out of the holster.
Zoe shook her head as she made her way out of the infirmary. Poor River. The younger woman didn't have a clue what she was feeling toward Connor. It would have been damn cute, Zoe thought, watching River finally fall in love, if only Zoe believed the younger Tam could handle it. River felt emotions so keenly, so deeply, Zoe worried something as crazy as love or even simple lust would be too much for the girl.
River had experienced so many people's emotions had felt them as if they were her own, but they'd flowed through the girl like rushing water, blasting through and churning her thoughts. Without a frame of reference, the feelings were just a jumble of physical sensations that assaulted the girl. At least Zoe supposed they were. River certainly still seemed to be as innocent as the day she'd first set foot on Serenity.
Zoe decided only time would tell what the co-pilot could take. One thing was for sure; River had picked a hell of a stubborn target for her first crush. Her lips twitched as she waved toward Jayne and started up the stairs in the hold. River was relentless when she set her mind to something, and if she'd fixed her thoughts on Connor, the pilot was in a world of trouble.
A twinge of guilt panged in Zoe's chest, but she still admitted it would be kind of fun to watch Connor try to ward off the younger woman's advances.
Zoe paused on the steps as a thought struck her. What if Connor wasn't interested in warding off anything? The pilot had been unusually open to River's constant company. In fact, Connor seemed to have taken a bit of a shine to River as well. Zoe had initially assumed River's sweetness and charm had disarmed the pilot somewhat, but now she was starting to wonder.
"Hmm," she murmured as her steps resumed upward. "That'd be somethin'."
A noise caught Zoe's attention as she entered the galley. Her hand came to rest on the pistol at her hip. Another sound soon followed the first, the undeniable impact of a fist on flesh. The second-in-command sprang into motion toward the door to the brig, yanking down on the handle and flinging it open.
The contractor was shackled to the floor with Connor standing over him, her back against the wall in the small, enclosed space, her toned arms crossed over her chest. Neither was saying a word as Zoe peered inside at them, but there was murder in Connor's pretty green eyes. The pilot's gaze was flinty as she stared at the prisoner, and Zoe suspected she'd arrived just in time. "You lost?" she asked in a droll voice, her thumbs hooking on her belt buckle.
The contractor continued to look at Connor blankly. A small trickle of blood was oozing from the right corner of his mouth, and his face was red where he'd been struck at least twice. Some spectacular bruises would be appearing there in short order.
"I was just passing through," Connor replied, her accent noticeably thicker than normal. She pushed off the wall and moved past their prisoner before brushing up against Zoe on her way out the door.
Zoe stood there as the contractor's gaze shifted placidly to her. Inwardly she wanted to shudder at the lack of life in those cold, dead eyes, but she merely sniffed and turned away, locking the door behind her as she exited. Connor was waiting for her in the galley, leaning against the table as she buckled her gun belt around her hips. As Zoe watched, Connor slid one pistol home in its holster followed by the other. At least the pilot had been smart enough to leave her weapons out here. "What were you doing in there?"
"Getting acquainted," Connor answered. She crossed her arms and tossed her head back, moving a lock of hair out of her eyes. "Why is he here? Why didn't you just blow his ass out an airlock?"
"He might prove useful."
"Useful? He's not going to tell you anything. You can't scare him. You can't make him angry. He doesn't care what you do to him because he doesn't feel a damn thing." Connor shoved off the table and began to pace. "You all left him on this boat with River. The whole point in making her go off the planet was to keep her away from him."
"You broke his leg, Connor, he's not going anywhere," Zoe said as she watched her agitated crewmate cover the length of the galley and back again. "And it don't matter much now anyway. Captain wants you on the bridge."
"Did you scan him?" Connor demanded, ignoring the request. "He could have a tracking device implanted."
Zoe prayed for patience. Her whole body still ached, despite the drugs the doc had given her, and she wanted nothing more than to bed down in her bunk for a few hours of much needed shuteye. "We did and he don't. Now get on up to the bridge. We got to meet up with Inara."
"The companion," Connor said slowly. She stopped pacing only to shake her head. "We take him off when we take her on," the pilot insisted with a nod at the door that contained their unwanted guest behind it. "It doesn't matter that he's injured. He has a mission. He won't stop until it's completed."
"How is he going to get River off the ship when he can't even walk?" Zoe wanted to know.
Connor shook her head again, her eyes on the door. "He'll find away."
"You're giving him too much credit."
"And you're not giving him enough," Connor snapped. She took a breath, clearly trying to reign in her temper. "He might be here to kill her, did you ever think of that?"
Zoe sighed. "It crossed my mind, but like I said, it don't much matter right now. Captain wants you on the bridge. Worry about him later."
Every line of Connor's body telegraphed her anger at the situation, but the pilot finally blew out a frustrated breath and stomped out of the galley. "Fine."
"And Connor?" Zoe called out. She watched as the pilot spun on the steps and looked back at her. "Play nice with River."
Connor looked like she was going to say something nasty in response, but then the fight seemed to go out of her. She simply shook her head once more and moved away, leaving Zoe alone in the empty galley.
Her eyes went to the door and her steps soon followed. Zoe peered in at the prisoner who turned his head and looked up at her blankly. A chill took her when she saw his blue gloves, wondering what in the hell he wore them for. According to Simon, the gloves were actually part of a full body suit the contractor wore under his clothes.
"Creepy as all hell, aren't you?" Zoe murmured against the glass. He tilted her head as if he'd heard her and smiled. Zoe swallowed hard, feeling like she'd just looked death in the eye. She stepped away from the door and headed for her quarters, fighting the very strong urge to run.
The floor in the passenger quarters was cold under River's bare feet. Kaylee and Simon had arrived in the infirmary moments before, and River had given them their space without so much as a word. She simply faded away and no one seemed to have noticed. Opening the door to her room, River felt an unusual weariness take her. She'd not seriously slept since the dream about Silver River, and her bed suddenly looked incredibly enticing. But there was a contractor aboard, and she knew deep down there would be no sleep for her until he was gone.
River sat on the edge of her bed and began pulling on her boots. She left the laces untied, always hating how they made her feet feel trapped. A light jacket was also in order, and she slipped on one Mal had given her a few ports back. It was brown leather, and the symbolism hadn't been lost on River when he'd given her the gift. The familiar scent enveloped her as the soft material molded to her curves. River took a deep breath and breathed the scent in.
The feel the smell both reminded River of Connor, how it felt to be wrapped up in the pilot's warm arms on the bridge. The embrace had felt like the safest place she'd ever known, and she ached to feel it again, especially now when it seemed likely she never would.
If only she'd kept her mouth shut. If only she'd left Connor alone and not tried to satisfy her own curiosity.
"Way to go, genius," River drawled at herself as she left her quarters and closed the door behind her, heading for the bridge. She paused, listening to her brother chuckle in the infirmary as he treated Kaylee's wounds. A part of her envied them their closeness. Sometimes River just ached to be touched, and watching her brother and Kaylee share such casual intimacy only brought home just how alone she was out here in the black.
Kaylee saw her and waved, a friendly smile on the mechanic's pretty face. River couldn't find it in herself to return the gesture. She merely nodded once and went on her way.
Kaylee frowned as she watched River go, sensing something was amiss with Simon's sister, but then Simon chuckled again and the mechanic's attention swung back to the man treating her.
"Don't you be laughin' at me."
Simon pursed his lips, his eyes twinkling as he tried to hide a smile. He took a cotton swab and dipped it in some peach colored ointment, his hands protected by white gloves. "I wouldn't dream of it," he promised Kaylee as he dabbed the medicine just under the mechanic's right ear.
Kaylee squirmed where she sat on the infirmary bed. "I need a bath in the stuff. Ain't nothin' that don't itch."
"You have some insect bites, not to mention an allergic reaction to some of the local fauna."
The mechanic's legs, liberally coated in ointment, swung back and forth under the exam table. Kaylee had already stripped down and thrown her contaminated clothes out an airlock, and now sported nothing but a patient smock. "Sounds about right," she agreed as she reached up to scratch her chin only to have her hand swatted away by Simon. She scowled. "I was the hero this time," she whined. "How come I don't get to be all hero-like? How come I just wound up itchy?"
"Playing hero is never as glamorous as it sounds," Simon informed her drolly. He touched her cheek and waited for her gaze to meet his. "I'm just glad you're okay."
Kaylee looked sheepish. "Sorry. I'm whinin'."
"A little," Simon agreed. "But if I had this rash all over me, I'd be whining too." He moved her hair aside and started rubbing the ointment on the back of her neck. "But you were wonderful, setting the pigs loose like that."
Kaylee sat up a little straighter. "I did do pretty good." She smiled.
"You saved everyone," Simon reminded her.
Kaylee shook her head, remembering. "You shoulda seen Connor. She was gonna let that contractor torture her. Ain't no way she was comin' up off the location of yours and River's shuttle."
Simon's movements slowed as he listened, but he made no comment.
"I mean Jayne was ready to spill his guts, but not Connor. She was right up in that contractor's face just darin' him to hurt her. For a moment there, I really thought we were gonna be short a pilot again."
"So you're under Connor's spell, too, huh?" Simon asked casually as he moved away and set the jar of ointment on the counter. He capped it before stripping off his gloves and tossing them away.
Kaylee hesitated, hearing something in her lover's voice that told her to tread carefully. "So you ain't?"
Simon shrugged before turning to face her. "She's alright, I guess."
"She was gonna die to save you and River. You get that, right?" Kaylee watched him fidget as his gaze dropped to the floor. "You're not still hung up on the whole notion of River takin' a shine to her, are ya?"
The doctor looked up and sighed. "River didn't want to leave the ship. She wanted to stay here with Connor."
"Awwww," Kaylee answered then immediately fell silent when she realized it wasn't the response Simon was looking for. She cleared her throat and was about to apologize when a thought struck her. "But you wanted to leave the ship?"
"Of course I did. I had to keep River safe," Simon replied as if that should be obvious.
"Like River needs your help in that department." The mechanic's voice had gotten colder. "You know, I think it's sweet River wanted to stay near Connor. When you take a shine to someone, you don't like leavin' 'em to be tortured and the like. Least you're not supposed to."
Simon paused, sensing he'd somehow stepped in something. "Well "
"Course, I didn't hear you protestin' much. Weren't worried about leavin' me here to fend for myself." Kaylee crossed her arms and glared.
The doctor's mouth opened and closed a few times as a look of terror washed over his features. He laughed nervously. "Come on, Kaylee. You know it wasn't like that."
"What was it like then, hmm?"
"I you you know I was " Simon floundered.
"How's the patient?" Mal asked as he poked his head in the infirmary.
Simon visibly sagged in relief at the interruption. "Itchy," he replied.
"And pissed," Kaylee added. She hopped off the exam table. "Cap'n," she said in greeting as she walked past him, her smock hanging open in the back.
Mal averted his gaze, blinking rapidly for a moment before he glanced at Simon who was staring at him unhappily. "Didn't know Kaylee had a tattoo there," Mal commented casually before leaving the doctor alone.
River had just taken up residence in the co-pilot's chair when Connor stormed onto the bridge. "Hi," River greeted neutrally. She watched as the pilot buckled herself in, her motions jerky and forceful. Anger was rolling off Connor in waves, but after a moment, River was able to sense the other woman's upset wasn't with her. That was a small relief, but seeing Connor so mad was unsettling. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," Connor murmured as she took in a slow, deep breath. She looked down at the sensors, obviously checking to make sure they were clear, before plotting a new course into the navigational computer.
"Did you go see him?" River asked hesitantly.
Connor's hands rested on the helm for a moment before she leaned back in her chair and stared at the controls. "Yes."
"You hit him," River noted, her voice not betraying what she thought about that knowledge.
"You guessing that, or were you keeping mental tabs on me?" Connor asked, but her voice had lost a layer of its angry edge.
River jerked her chin at Sarah's hands. "Fresh blood."
Connor closed her right hand into a fist as she regarded her bruised and bleeding knuckles. Hitting the contractor had felt good at the time. There was satisfaction in making his head snap back and his mouth bleed, but now she only felt hollow and in pain. "I don't understand why they left him on-board." She finished programming the coordinates into the computer.
"They had to try to get information from him," River said with understanding.
"Even though they had to know they wouldn't get any?" Connor snapped.
"Even though," River replied.
"And it doesn't bother you? Him being down there?"
"I don't like it, but I accept it," River admitted. "Does it bother you?"
"Hell yes, it bothers me." Connor sat back in the chair and slapped the helm. "I got shot twice by those damn stunners and was nearly tortured to keep you and Simon from those bastards, and they just turn around and make him comfortable."
"I really don't think he's comfortable," River murmured.
"He's breathing," Connor shot back. "Which makes me uncomfortable. I don't understand how you can be so damn calm about all of this."
"I won't sleep until he's off the ship, but I understand why the captain did what he did."
"That makes one of us," Connor muttered. "You don't play games with these people. They'll keep coming. They don't stop. They never stop."
"You don't have to tell me that."
Connor went still, the simple words impacting her conscience like bullets. The pilot swallowed and finally looked at River. The younger woman didn't look upset, merely like she was stating a fact. "No," Connor said, her voice suddenly considerably softer. "I reckon I don't." The pilot brushed a lock of hair out of her eyes before gripping the helm and firing the engines. "We should meet up with this companion of yours in about four hours."
"I'll be glad to see her," River confessed, her eyes still on Sarah's tense profile. "You've dealt with a contractor before," she guessed, returning to the original topic of conversation.
Connor hesitated and decided to change tactics to shake River off that line of questioning. "Thought this Inara person didn't service the crew," Connor joked darkly, ignoring River's second statement.
River paused, taking a moment to comprehend what Sarah meant by that. Her fair skin colored slightly when she realized what the pilot was implying. "That's I "
Connor shook her head, an almost cruel smile on her lips.
"That's not funny," River complained. Her temper flared when Connor merely shrugged in reply. River knew the pilot was deflecting her questions, and she supposed she sort of deserved the nasty humor at her expense after the way she'd pushed Sarah in the infirmary. Still
The younger woman tilted her head and continued to watch Sarah, knowing that her stare would eventually break through Sarah's reluctance to talk.
"Stop it," Connor murmured after a few minutes.
"Stop what?" River asked innocently, pleased her efforts were already yielding results.
"I'm simply looking at you."
"You're staring," Connor insisted. The pilot turned her head and saw those deep brown eyes had indeed been on her profile. She'd been able to feel the look almost like a physical touch.
"I'm wondering," River corrected.
"Why you don't want to talk about contractors."
Connor rubbed her aching forehead with one bloodied hand. "Why do you? They aren't exactly a pleasant topic of conversation."
"I want to understand."
"Understand what?" Connor barked as she turned her upper body to look at River fully. "What is there to understand, girlie? They're killers. They're hunting you."
"That's only part of what's bothering you," River surmised. "You act like you've never had a run in with them before, but your voice, your eyes they say different."
Connor swallowed and looked away from the younger woman. As River watched, the pilot's jaw clenched, pulsing under the skin of her bruised cheek. "Let it be, River," Sarah's voice was almost a whisper and a held a world of sadness to it.
River opened her mouth to say more but then reluctantly closed it. She'd hurt Sarah again somehow, and River cursed herself for that. "You don't have to worry about our unwanted guest," she finally said after an uncomfortable moment.
"Why is that?" Connor asked, her voice faint.
"He'll be dead by the time we rendezvous with Inara."
Connor's head snapped around once more to stare at the co-pilot. "What?"
"Cyanide. In one of his teeth," River explained.
The moment seemed to still as Connor simply stared at River for a string of heartbeats. Finally, the pilot turned back to the controls and the stars beyond the viewport. She said nothing.
"You don't believe me?" River asked.
"I believe you," Connor answered quietly.
River frowned. "And you aren't going to tell the others?"
"You can if you want to, girlie. I, for one, will do nothing to stand in the way of his dying." Connor sounded casual, but her gaze refused to meet River's.
River pulled her feet up into the seat and wrapped her arms around her knees. She said nothing more on the subject as Serenity proceeded on her intercept course with Inara.
Hours later, Jayne climbed up the final steps to the bridge and entered a room of frosty silence. He glanced from River to Connor and back again. "We there yet?"
"Thirty minutes out," Connor informed him.
"Good. Looking forward to gettin' Inara on-board and layin' low for a while."
Neither River nor Connor commented.
"What's up with you two? Thought you guys were all buddy-buddy already?" Jayne asked as he hooked his thumbs into the pockets of his pants.
"Maybe we were just enjoying a little peace until someone interrupted us," Connor replied with an insincere smile that she tossed over her shoulder at Jayne.
River still said nothing.
Jayne narrowed his eyes. "I'm trying to figure out if you're really brave or batshit crazy for standing up to that contractor like that."
River's gaze darted to Connor's profile and lingered as the pilot glanced at her then turned her gaze back on the viewport.
"Either has to be better than be a coward," Connor answered.
"I wasn't no coward. I didn't tell them anything that'd hurt nobody," Jayne answered angrily as he took a step further into the cockpit, his hand tensing into a fist.
"Maybe you should check on him," River suddenly blurted, her melodic voice cutting through the tension and making both Connor and Jayne look at her in surprise.
"Huh?" Jayne asked.
"The prisoner. Maybe you should check on him." River's gaze met Connor's again, but the pilot quickly looked away.
"Why would I want to do that?" Jayne wondered like it was the craziest thing he'd ever heard.
"Just a suggestion," River commented. She unfurled herself from the chair and moved past Jayne. "Make sure he's secure and all."
Connor's jaw set, but she said nothing as River left. She closed her eyes and counted to ten, wearily coming to a decision as her green eyes blinked open again. "She's right. Check on him, would you?"
"I don't take orders from you," Jayne sneered.
"Not asking you to."
Jayne hesitated. "Hell. Fine. I'll go peek. But I ain't no coward," he added as a reminder.
Connor held up both hands in surrender as Jayne pivoted and stomped down the stairs. "Wonder if I am, though," she muttered when she was alone.
"Why do I gotta look in on him?" Jayne grumbled as he made his way to the galley with Kaylee close on his heels. He'd passed the mechanic on her way to her bunk and had enlisted her as backup.
"I thought you said Connor told you to check on him," Kaylee explained as she scratched at an itchy patch just under her right ear.
Jayne stopped a few feet away from the door and merely looked at it.
Kaylee paused behind him, looking first at the door and then the motionless mercenary. A small smirk appeared. "Ain't like he can hurt you," she said with a tiny hint of amusement. "Him being locked up and all."
Jayne snorted unconvincingly. "I ain't afraid of him." He winced, hearing how lame he sounded to his own ears.
"Right. That's why you're standin' back here instead of lookin' in on him."
Jayne almost growled at the mechanic before edging closer to the door. He peered in on the prisoner reluctantly. "Looks like he's sleepin'," Jayne announced and started to hurry away. He swore when Kaylee caught his elbow and kept him in place.
The mechanic glanced inside and studied the contractor. He was lying on his right side and did, on first glance, appear to be sleeping. There was something off, though. "Does it look like he just slumped over or somethin'? He don't exactly look comfortable."
Jayne risked another quick glance and tried to move away again. "Connor broke his leg. Lover boy probably shot him full of pain meds he don't deserve."
"Jayne," Kaylee called out, her voice deepening as the mercenary was almost to the door. "Get Simon."
Kaylee stared with growing dread at the foam she could now see oozing from the corner of the contractor's mouth. "Just get him."
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