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
There were curses and cries coming from the galley, the voices carrying past the crew quarters and up to the pilot's ears where she sat unmoving on the bridge. Kaylee's frantic calls for Simon were almost drowned out by Jayne's deep bellows for Mal. Connor knew what the mechanic and mercenary had found, and she'd closed her eyes in simple relief knowing the man who'd come to take River was dead. She hoped it had been a painful death, but she knew deep in her guts that he'd felt nothing.
A thin layer of guilt was laced with her relief, however. Connor suspected River had kept quiet about the contractor's fate as a way to make it up to her after their conversation in the infirmary. The knowledge made her feel dirty, as if she'd somehow made River complicit in his death. Now the pilot felt even worse about the way she was treating the younger woman. It would serve her right if River never spoke to her again.
Mal's voice reached her, and Connor felt her anger shift from herself to the captain. If he'd just thrown the bastard out an airlock there would be none of this damn drama. Connor checked the radar. Inara's shuttle was a blip in the distance. She set the autopilot and got up from the helm before stomping down the stairs and entering the galley.
Kaylee glanced up at her arrival and offered her a tight, weak smile in greeting. The mechanic was staying away from the door to the brig, as if she were afraid to get too close to the dead man. Jayne was nowhere to be seen, and Connor assumed he'd gone to fetch the doctor. Mal stepped out of the brig, his features a stone mask as his gaze shifted from the mechanic to Connor.
"He's dead," Mal informed her.
"What a shame," Connor replied insincerely as she rested her hand on the butt of the gun nestled on her right hip.
Mal moved closer, his eyes narrowing. "You're damn right it's a shame. We coulda got something from him. Something that could have kept us a step ahead of the Alliance."
"I'm not going to shed any tears over a damn contractor," Connor replied as she took a step toward Mal.
Kaylee eased back another step until her back hit the wall. She could feel the rising tension in the room and resisted the urge to squirm in reaction. "Um maybe we oughta "
"Not asking you to," Mal countered Connor as if Kaylee hadn't spoken. "But we just lost our best damn hope for finding out what the Alliance planned next."
Connor snorted and shook her head. "You're a fool." She turned and started to head back to the bridge only to have Mal grab her elbow and spin her back around. They were now practically nose-to-nose.
"Oh boy," Kaylee muttered.
"It's not foolish to do everything a man can to protect his crew," the captain declared in a low growl.
"Protect? Is that what you call this?" Connor nearly shouted as her right hand left the butt of her gun to gesture toward the brig. "You have a man who is trying to take a member of your crew maybe even kill her and leave him on this ship? You just wanted a punching bag," Connor snarled.
Kaylee eased around the two and decided to head for the bridge. She didn't want to be present when fists started flying. She'd just go make sure Inara got back okay and would leave the misplaced squabbling to the pilot and her captain. "I'm just gonna you know be on the bridge," she announced before scurrying away.
Mal and Connor watched her go before shifting their focus back on each other.
"I am not fond of torture," Mal said when Kaylee was gone. "Especially since I had a time or two on the receiving end, but I will do what I have to do to get the Alliance off our tail."
"You brought them down on your tail!" Connor's voice elevated further. "When you went and broadcast their little secret to the 'Verse. Did you really think they'd just leave you alone forever? That they wouldn't try to find you and make you pay for that?"
Jayne, leading Simon, reached the door just as Zoe arrived. They crowded into the space, but hung back, watching the proceedings warily.
"This is gonna get ugly," Zoe muttered under her breath.
Simon simply ignored them all and slipped past the two oblivious crewmembers. He entered the brig and shut the door, preferring to tend to his patient than listen to the captain and pilot squabbling.
"It was the right thing to do," Mal told Connor, his features still and his eyes hard. "They killed millions of people. They made the Reavers. Was I supposed to just turn my back on that?"
"They did all those things," Connor agreed. "They care that little about human life and yet you kept one of them on-board, putting us all at risk. You knew you wouldn't get anything out of him, but the stubborn Malcolm Reynolds doesn't know when to quit. He just has to keep fighting keep pushing until he gets himself or everyone around him dead."
"Connor," Zoe's voice was cold and held an edge of warning to it.
"What happened to your whole platoon, Mal?" Connor asked with a sneer. "You kept them fighting even after you were ordered to surrender. Only you and Zoe made it, right?"
Mal's fist caught Connor just below the eye, her whole frame rocking to the right with the force of the blow. The pilot let him hit her, needing the punishing pain. Having left himself open, Connor stepped in and brought her knee up into Mal's stomach, doubling him over and nearly dropping him to his knees. She grabbed him by the back of his shirt and shoved him toward the table. He crashed face first into the mixed assortment of chairs and sent them scattering.
Mal wiped his bleeding lip and glared at the pilot as he got to his feet. "At least I fought," he snarled. "Where were you? You sure as hell weren't where you were supposed to be."
Connor felt the shame that always came with the memory. She'd been trapped in cockpit, unable to lift off as the resistance surrendered, land-locking all their ships. She'd raged, screamed at her superiors to let her go and finally begged to no avail. Mal had no right, no right to blame her for a damn thing
The pilot came at the captain, swinging out and connecting with his nose. Blood spurted, but Mal didn't go down. He wrapped his arms around Connor's waist and lifted her before slamming her down onto the table. The old wood gave way, and both of them toppled to the floor.
River arrived, sliding around Jayne and coming to stand next to Zoe. Her brown eyes were wide as she watched Mal and Sarah grapple. She started forward, but Zoe's hand landed on her shoulder and kept her in place.
"Leave 'em be. They need to get this out," Zoe told the younger woman.
Connor took Mal's punch to her jaw. It hurt like hell and she saw stars, but the punishment felt good . necessary. She rolled him off her and delivered a punch of her own, rocking Mal's head back and smacking it into the floor.
"Some things never change."
Zoe turned her head and found Inara standing in the doorway with Kaylee. The companion's hair was pulled back, and she was wearing a long, satin blue dress. Jewels adorned Inara's ears and rested at the hollow of her throat. In short, she looked completely out of place in the quickly disintegrating galley. "Welcome home," Zoe drawled.
"You have to stop them," River pleaded, sensing the pain coming from both fighters now.
"River," Zoe warned.
River turned her desperate gaze on Jayne. "Please. You have to stop them!"
Jayne frowned at that look, feeling his resolve to enjoy a good fight crumble under the weight of it. "Fine," he grumped before wading into the middle of the room and grabbing both Mal and Connor by their collars and hauling them apart.
Both of the fighters were bloody and breathing hard now. Zoe wondered if either of them would stay on their feet if Jayne turned them loose.
River looked like she wanted to say something, but she simply stared at Connor for a long, silence-filled minute before spinning away and running back toward her quarters below.
Connor watched the girl go through the haze of blood spilling into her eye. She shook loose of Jayne's grip and managed to stand on her own two feet. She'd been spoiling for a fight, and she'd gotten one, but now she just felt empty and bruised. Her gaze met Mal's and held for an awkward moment before both looked away.
Simon opened the door to the brig slowly, peering his head out now that the noise had stopped. "Is it over?"
"It's over," Mal answered before spitting blood. He felt around with his tongue, noting a few loose teeth, but at least they were all still intact.
"He's dead," Simon declared. "Looks like cyanide poisoning."
Mal nodded. "Just as well, I suppose," he admitted.
Connor took a breath, feeling her ribs protest. She took a cautious step and then another before walking carefully out of the galley. The pilot passed Inara who seemed to be studying her with a bemused smile.
"I don't think we've met," the companion said breezily as if what she'd just witnessed happened around there everyday. "I'm Inara." She extended her hand.
The pilot snorted at the companion's cheekiness, but took the firm grip and shook it. "Connor. Nice to meet you," she drawled. Without another word, Connor left the galley for her quarters.
Inara watched her go with interest, before looking back at the others. "So who is dead, who was that, and why was I recalled so early?"
The rest of the crew almost seemed to sigh in unison.
"You better sit down," Zoe said. "It's a long story."
The bed felt like a luxury Connor didn't deserve. After letting the hatch to her quarters clang shut, the pilot had all but crawled onto the surface, skipping the sheets and blankets, as she was too weary to slide under them. She clutched a pillow and hugged it to her chest, settling on her left side with her back to the hatch. Closing her eyes, she did her best to block out the protests of her abused body. Her wrists were burning like fire under her bandages, and her ribs throbbed with each breath. Her head pounded like one of Serenity's landing struts was sitting on it.
Connor moved her jaw, privately impressed with Mal's right hook. He'd worked on that a little since the last time they'd brawled. She took some satisfaction in knowing that she'd put more hurt on him than he'd laid on her, but the satisfaction was tempered by the knowledge that he hadn't deserved what she'd dished out.
"Bloody idiot," Connor cursed herself. Now Mal and Zoe were probably pissed at her and with good reason. Still, Connor knew she would not feel bad that the contractor was out of their midst. River was safer this way, and she would not apologize for being happy about that.
Her thoughts shifted abruptly to River. The way the younger woman had looked at her before fleeing the galley had hurt almost as much as Mal's right hook. Connor's thumb stroked the surface of the pillow absently as she thought about the disappointment she'd seen in River's eyes. What did the co-pilot think of her now? It was probably for the best if the shine on River's curiosity about her had worn off, but it depressed Connor to think about it. She couldn't remember the last time she'd let someone get as close physically, let alone emotionally, as she'd allowed River. Had she ruined that? Had she been trying to? Would she be sorry if she had?
So lost in her thoughts and a haze of pain, Connor didn't hear her hatch open or shut. She'd missed the faintest footfalls of bare feet on her ladder, but the touch of a warm hand on her shoulder made her start and hiss.
"Let me see," River's voice was almost a whisper and had a weariness to it Connor had never heard before.
The pilot allowed herself to be rolled over onto her back and found herself looking up into River's worried brown eyes. The sight of her warmed Connor unexpectedly, and she swallowed as a lump seemed to form at the back of her throat. As she watched, River set aside a bowl of warm water and dipped a cloth in it.
"I guess the captain rates the real doctor on-board, huh?" Connor murmured.
River's motions hesitated briefly before continuing. She wrung out the cloth and turned to Sarah, touching the pilot's chin and gently moving her bruised and bloodied face toward the light. "Would you rather I fetch Simon?" River asked.
Connor stared at the girl, too tired to look away even though she knew she should. "No," she confessed softly.
Their gazes met and held for a string of heartbeats before River looked away and began to carefully tend to the wound on Sarah's forehead. "You shouldn't have done that," River scolded.
There had to be something in the water, Connor decided, because the pain started to dull almost instantly. "Story of my life," Connor joked faintly. She paused and bit her lip only to wince as the split skin made its displeasure known. "Mal ?"
"Mad as a badger," River admitted with the slightest trace of a smile. "But he's not talking about tossing you out an airlock with the contractor so I think you're okay."
Connor tilted her head slightly so she could study River better in the dim light. "I didn't hurt him, did I?"
River held her gaze again, and Connor watched as tension she hadn't known was there fell from the girl's shoulders.
"No. Well his pride maybe."
Connor smirked. "As many beatings as that's taken, you think he'd be used to it."
River smiled and Connor felt her whole spirit brighten in response. Why this gentle soul of a girl wanted to be around someone as dark and damaged as her was just baffling. Connor closed her eyes as River moved to dip the cloth again. The sounds of tinkling water reached her, mingling with the hum of Serenity's engines and River's steady breathing. A moment later, the cloth skimmed down Connor's cheek, warm and wet, before moving once more to her brow. No one had ever shown her such concern and kindness, and Connor found herself squeezing her eyes tighter as unexpected tears threatened in reaction.
"What else hurts?" River asked in a hushed voice.
"Everything," Connor admitted, her attention focused on how her chest was aching in reaction to River's administrations.
River set aside the cloth and slowly slid her long fingers along Connor's sides. The older woman sucked in a sharp breath at the touch, but River didn't stop as she carefully felt each rib. "Nothing feels broken," she murmured.
Connor had to swallow again before she could respond. "Just bruised," she confirmed, her eyes fluttering open to see River leaning over her, watching Sarah's features with concern. "Don't look at me like that, girlie," Connor almost gasped.
"Like I care?" River guessed, her touch gentling into a light massage of Sarah's abused muscles. "I do care," she informed her patient.
The pilot started to respond but was silence by River's fingers on her lips.
"Everything that you did today you did because you care about me about the whole crew. Don't expect us not to feel the same way."
Connor felt like she couldn't breathe as River's touch explored her lips and face in fascination. "I'm not worth the trouble," she managed. "Hell, I'm sitting in a dead man's chair "
"No," River said fiercely. She shook her head. "You'll be different," she whispered, but she sounded unsure and afraid.
"River " Connor murmured, unsure whether to admonish the girl to not get too attached or to thank her for caring.
River seemed to sense her confusion and got reluctantly to her feet. "Do you need something for the pain?"
Connor missed the co-pilot's nearness and heat instantly. "No, I can manage."
"Can you? Or do you feel like you still have to punish yourself?"
The pilot smirked again. "You think you have me all figured out?"
"No," River admitted. "But it doesn't take a psychic to understand why you picked a fight with the captain."
Connor sighed as she watched River gathering her supplies. "I let him down. I let them all down. Mal deserved to throw some punches at me. At least it got that hurt out of his system."
"Why didn't you just tell them what it was like for you? Why didn't you tell them how you destroyed all the controls in your ship when they wouldn't let you take off?" River asked, her brown eyes bright with questions.
Connor's breath hitched. "How did you know that?"
"That angry at the situation and yourself your guard was down. You were practically broadcasting the memories as if you wished Mal could see them."
It was disconcerting information that Connor had no idea what to do with so she ignored it. Her attention zeroed back in on River when her co-pilot suddenly swayed in place. "Hey," Connor said, her voice sharpening. Ignoring the pain, she sat up and swung her legs over and onto the floor just as River swayed again and started to topple over. "River!"
Connor caught her and coughed when her ribs protested the sudden pressure and weight against them. River clung weakly to her, forcing Connor to shift and ease the girl down onto the bed. She gripped River's chin in her hand and tilted the woman's face toward the light. "What's wrong?" Connor demanded.
River shook her head. "Tired. Haven't slept since the dream."
"That's been days, River," Connor declared with shock. She started to reach for the commlink near her bunk. "I'm calling your brother."
"No!" River barked and clutched at Connor, nearly dragging the unsteady pilot down on top of her. "He'll medicate me."
"If that's what it takes to help you sleep "
"Messes up my dreams. Makes them twist and turn. Please " River's hands slipped from the pilot's arms to clutch the buckle of Connor's gun belt. "Be okay," she promised. "Give me just a minute."
Assessing the situation, Connor wearily admitted there was only one outcome that made sense for both of them. "Lay down."
River shook her head again and started to stand. "I'm okay " She fell silent as Sarah's hands landed on her shoulders and urged her gently back down.
"Lay down and scoot over," Connor ordered her.
River blinked before easing herself back on the bed, grabbing Sarah's discarded pillow and bringing it to her chest. She watched as Sarah kicked out of her boots and unbuckled her gun belt before slinging it over a chair. Finally Sarah was sliding under the covers with her. The pilot jerked her chin, indicating that River should come closer in the small bed. "I "
"You're going to get some sleep, and I'm going to make sure of it," Connor vowed. "Least I can do after mucking up this damn day so badly." Heart hammering in sharp contrast to how casual her voice sounded, Connor patted her shoulder. "I don't bite."
River looked like she wanted to say something to that, and Connor's eyebrows hiked, but in the end, the co-pilot carefully moved closer, settling her head on Connor's shoulder and easing and arm around Connor's waist.
The pilot took an unsteady breath at how happy River's presence seemed to make her whole body feel. Happy and seriously sleepy. She wrapped an arm around River's shoulders, pulling her even closer. "You okay?" she asked softly.
Nodding, River felt her body relaxing almost instantly. "I I have nightmares " she admitted haltingly.
"So do I," Connor informed her. "We'll both have to try not to throw elbows at each other." River smiled, and Connor could feel the crease of the girl's lips against the bare skin of her shoulder. "Comfortable?" Connor asked after a long moment of savoring River's nearness.
"Yeah," River said, her voice carrying a hint of wonder and confusion.
Connor felt her stomach plunge in a wild and appealing way. She closed her eyes and snorted at herself, accepting what she was beginning to feel for the younger woman in her arms. Nothing would ever come of it, she knew, they were both too damaged, but maybe they could at least be friends.
It was the last thought she had before sleep pulled the two women who steered Serenity through the stars into the black.
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