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 remains of the galley table were at Zoe's feet. Even though it had been hours since Connor and Mal's tussle, no one had bothered to clean up the mess. Zoe kicked a small chunk of wood and watched it hop and skitter across the floor, coming to rest at the bottom of the steps. A flash of color caught the second-in-command's attention, and Zoe's gaze lifted from the wood to Inara's familiar features. She gave the companion a tight smile. "Evening."
"Evening," Inara practically purred. She lifted the hem of her skirt as she descended the steps, giving the damage only a cursory glance before pulling up a chair and sitting down next to Zoe. "Quite the day."
Zoe sighed. "Been a lot of those lately."
"So I've heard. Kaylee has been filling me in a little."
Zoe slumped back in her chair before she extended her legs and crossed her arms and ankles. "So I reckon you're looking for a few more details," she guessed with fatigue evident in her voice.
Inara inclined her head in the affirmative. "If you feel up to giving them. I understand you have history with our dashing new pilot," the companion began, staying away from the more concerning topic of the contractors for the moment. Sometimes it was better to ease into more terrifying topics.
"Dashing? You falling for her, too?" Zoe quipped wearily.
"Don't be ridiculous." Inara paused before slowly smiling. "We've barely been introduced."
That got a tired chuckle from Zoe. "Mal and I served with her during the war," she offered, suspecting Inara had heard that much already.
"She must have been young," Inara ventured.
"We all were," Zoe replied. "But Connor was a bit younger than most. Hell of a pilot. She made some of the seasoned flyboys look like rookies."
Inara noted the warmth that entered Zoe's voice with the memories. "So if she's so talented, why didn't we go to her sooner?"
A wicked grin flickered across Zoe's lips before disappearing. A hint of a secret lurked in the older woman's dark eyes. "Connor and Mal have some history."
"Oh really?" Inara felt her interest pique. She and Mal had their own history, some of it good, most of it annoying. Based on the gossip Kaylee had happily supplied, Inara was a bit surprised to hear there was a past of that sort between the captain and their new pilot. Connor's interest veered in another direction, if the mechanic were to be believed.
"Not that kind. Not really," Zoe corrected. "They always mixed like oil and water, but it never seemed to stop 'em from trying to stir things up when they had leave. They both like trouble. Attracted to it like magnets. It's the one thing they have in common, and it was apparently enough to form a mutual respect. Truthfully? I think they like each other, but ain't neither one of them gonna admit it."
Inara smiled. It had been a long time since she'd heard Zoe string that many sentences together. She missed listening to Zoe's low voice; missed the more amusing war stories she'd shared around the now destroyed galley table. These days Zoe ate mostly in silence, rarely contributing to the conversation. When she'd gone looking for more information after speaking with Kaylee, Inara really hadn't expected Zoe to provide it. The other woman just seemed too tired to keep up her usual reserves tonight, and for that, Inara was grateful. "So where does Connor come from? Why did she fight for the resistance?"
Zoe's lips pursed and all amusement fled from her features. "She's from the English colonies. That much is obvious. As for her reasons for fighting the Alliance they're her reasons," she answered tightly. "You want to know, you'll have to ask her."
The companion realized she'd waded into dangerous waters and began to expertly maneuver away from the deep end. "I apologize if I asked something I shouldn't. I'm merely curious about our new pilot." She started to rise slowly, as if to leave, calculating that Zoe would stop her.
"You've never asked about the others," Zoe replied lazily as she tipped her head back and regarded the younger woman.
"You didn't know the others," Inara countered simply.
Zoe dipped her head in acknowledgment. "Got a point." She looked back up at Inara. The lights in the galley were low, throwing Inara's defined cheek bones into sharper relief. Without thinking, Zoe reached out and caught Inara around the wrist, the companion's skin warm and soft as silk under her grip. "Sorry," she told her friend. "Connor had good reason to fight the Alliance, but those reasons are her own. I figure she'll share 'em if she has a mind to."
Inara sighed as Zoe let her go before choosing to return to the chair next to the older woman. "You don't need to apologize. You're being a friend, and I'm being a busybody."
"Being curious about the person flying the boat you're living on is understandable."
"Well I certainly think so," Inara teased.
Zoe smiled, but it seemed a hollow gesture. Inara pressed her painted lips together. She was concerned by Zoe's attitude but not deterred by it in the least. She changed topics, hoping a lighter subject might improve the second-in-command's mood. "So Kaylee filled me in on a few other things," Inara said with a bit of a twinkle in her eye.
"You mean Connor and River?" Zoe guessed.
"I do. It sounds sweet. It's about time River got her first crush."
"Yeah. I thought it was amusing up until a few hours ago." Zoe sighed again and studied her callused hands where they now rested limply in her lap. "Sorry. I'm not much company tonight, apparently."
Inara twitched her skirt before looking at Zoe. Her friend was hurting. She could see it plainly in the tense set of Zoe's shoulders and written into the small lines of her friend's face. The situation with the contractors had to be stirring up difficult memories of Wash. She hated watching this noble woman in so much pain. Knowing there was little she could do, and even less that Zoe would allow, made the companion's stomach twist in knots. Reaching out, Inara settled her hand on Zoe's shoulder. When her friend made no move to dislodge the contact, Inara held her breath and began to massage the surface with her thumb.
"Mmm." Zoe's eyelids briefly fluttered. The touch felt nice after the abuse her body had taken over the last few days. "Missed your callin'."
"You think I should have been a masseuse?" Inara chided with amusement as she slowly breathed out in relief.
"Something tells me you could have been anything you liked," Zoe answered as Inara's fingers moved up to her neck. Her eyes closed completely as her friend's touch worked at the stiff muscles that were providing ammunition for her whopping headache.
Flattered and pleased that Zoe was allowing her to get close for a change, Inara smiled knowingly. "Perhaps. So tell me about River and our pilot."
Zoe's head lifted and she blinked open one eye to gaze suspiciously at the companion. "Is that what this is? You loosen my muscles and think my tongue will follow?"
Inara chuckled, the sound almost musical to Zoe's ears.
"Not my plan, but I'll run with it if it works. You just seem so sore it was making me ache to look at you. You should check with Simon. I'm sure he has something that would relax you."
"He does, but it would relax me too much. Can't let my guard down with the Alliance hunting us."
Slowly, Inara got to her feet and moved in behind Zoe, adding her other hand to the massage. "I hadn't thought of that," she admitted in a quieter voice. The muscles under her hands were tight but strong, stronger than even Inara had imagined them to be. Her own muscles tightened in sympathy, or perhaps it was the sudden reminder of the Alliance tracking them again that caused them to bunch and tangle.
Zoe detected the worry in Inara's voice and changed subjects. "So River and Connor "
The companion shook off her worries and fears, pushing them to the back of her mind with lots of practice. "They seem an interesting match."
"Wouldn't go so far as to call 'em a match," Zoe mused. "But they might be headed in that general direction. Simon ain't too keen on the idea from what Kaylee says."
"Why?" Inara increased the pressure on Zoe's shoulders as the muscles begin to yield to her touch. She was surprised Zoe was allowing the contact. Her friend had retreated into herself so much since Wash died. Getting this little glimpse of the Zoe she used to know was something nice to come home to, Inara decided.
"Worries for his sister. Don't think River has it in her to deal with these types of feelings."
Inara's touch went still on Zoe's shoulders. "River has probably felt every emotion that ever was a thousand times over."
"Probably. But they were never her emotions now were they?" Zoe pointed out practically.
"True." Inara resumed her massage, her mind sifting through this new information. "But River is so much better now." She frowned, not liking the thought that River would never find love. The young woman was practically filled to bursting with it. Never finding someone to share that with would make the 'Verse a cold and cruel one, indeed.
"True," Zoe echoed. "And Connor is good people, even if she did deserve to get popped in the mouth earlier."
"Zoe," Inara said carefully, mentally crossing her fingers and hoping that she wasn't about to upset the other woman. "Correct me if I am wrong, but didn't the resistance land-lock all the vehicles as a condition of their surrender at Serenity Valley? Would Connor have even been able to take off?"
Zoe's eyes closed. "No. She wouldn't have, and I know in my head she would have torn that cockpit apart trying to make that bird fly, but it's still a hurt. That fight brought back a lot of memories I'd just as soon forget."
"I can imagine," the companion said slowly. She looked down at her hands where they now rested on Zoe's broad shoulders. She was tempted to move forward one more step, to wrap her arms around Zoe's body, but she knew it would break the moment they now found themselves in. Zoe needed comfort, and this was as close as she was going to let someone get to giving it to her.
"Connor?" Mal pounded harder than necessary on the pilot's hatch. "Connor, are you gonna wake up and steer this boat sometime today?" Just for spite, the captain pounded again, hoping his pilot would wake up with the same headache he did.
Below, both Connor and River started into wakefulness, blinking at each other as they came to in one another's arms.
"Connor?" Mal called down, his voice muffled by a few inches of steel. "You dead in there?"
The pilot lifted her head, looking past River's sleepy features to take in the time on her commlink. She swore under her breath, realizing her body's internal alarm had failed for the first time in fifteen years.
She didn't have to be a genius to figure out why.
"I'll be there in a minute!" Connor shouted back at him. She flopped back against the pillows as his heavy footfalls tromped away.
"Morning," River greeted her shyly. Her hair was adorably tousled, and her eyes still looked glassy with sleep. As Connor watched, River eased a strap of her dress that had slipped off her shoulder in sleep back into place.
The pilot noticed the younger woman made no move to rise from the bed. That was okay, since she had no inclination to let River go, despite what she'd just told Mal. "Morning."
River stared at the pilot for a long, disconcerting moment. "I slept through the night," she finally breathed.
"Good," Connor replied and meant it. "You damn well needed it."
"I slept through the night," River said again. "I haven't done that since the Academy."
The pilot breathed in River's scent as she considered that piece of news. "I " She blinked. "I didn't wake up, either," she realized aloud.
"No nightmares?" River inquired.
"No nightmares," Connor confirmed. She frowned as she tried to recall the dream Mal had torn her from. "I dreamed I was home on the planet I grew up on."
"I dreamed I was dancing."
Connor tilted her head to take in River more fully, enjoying the tone of delight in her bedmate's voice. "You like to dance?"
River nodded. "It's freeing. Being the music instead of me."
The sentiment was both sweet and sad. Connor reached out and brushed a lock of hair from River's features, tucking it behind the younger woman's ear. "I'll have to take you dancing at some point then," she offered and watched River's face transform with a radiant smile that did funny things to Connor's breathing.
"You dance?" River wondered.
"Badly," Connor admitted with a shrug. "Two left feet."
"I'd still like to dance with you anyway," River said gently.
"I got that about you. You like to live dangerously. Hopefully your toes won't pay the price."
Sarah felt delighted when River giggled. The young woman had such a joyous laugh.
"Thanks for helping me sleep," River murmured. "I feel a lot better."
"Good," Connor almost whispered as her traitorous gaze dipped to the younger woman's lips only to jerk away when she realized what she was contemplating. Connor sensed interest from River, but there was no way in hell she was going to make any moves on the girl.
The pilot rolled out of the bed, needing distance suddenly. "Um I should " She motioned at the narrow shower. "Before Mal decides to toss me out that airlock after all."
Reluctantly, River climbed out of her warm nest of blanks. "I had better get back to my quarters," she admitted. "Simon will miss me."
"Yeah," Connor agreed softly, really wishing River didn't have to go and nearly hating herself for wanting her to stay. Connor grabbed the ladder and pulled it down, her grip wrapping around one pole as she watched River come closer. "I'll see you in a spell on the bridge."
River stared at the pilot for a string of heartbeats. Connor wasn't sure if the woman was considering saying something or doing something, but River was making her nervous.
"Okay," River finally breathed. With a soft, almost seductive smile for the pilot, River moved up the ladder and left, the hatch closing quietly above.
Sarah put her head against the ladder and released a shuddering sigh.
"You want to what?" Inara asked Mal with disbelief. He'd found her and Zoe sharing a cup of coffee in companionable silence in the galley. They'd stayed up all night talking about everything from River's crush to the Alliance's motives. Now when sleep was calling, Mal was telling her something that would give her nightmares. "Are you out of your mind?"
Mal crossed his arms and pretended not to look affronted. "Possibly," he said casually. "All the more reason they wouldn't see this coming."
"Sir," Zoe said softly. "You're talking about landing on a planet in Alliance space."
"Yep." Mal rocked on the heels of his shoes as the two women looked at him like he was mad.
Inara glanced at Zoe before looking back at Mal. "Our faces are on every bulletin in the 'Verse," she reminded him.
"Not all our faces. They ain't aware of Connor." Mal smirked.
"Sir " Zoe started again.
Mal held up his hands. "They will be expecting us to go to ground right now. They know we're onto them. They would never imagine that we'd head for the closest Alliance planet to restock."
It made a sick kind of sense, but Zoe and Inara still didn't look convinced.
"Connor can't retrieve everything we need. Serenity needs some new parts. We need food ammo " Zoe trailed off into stunned silence, blinking stupidly at Jayne, who walked up and stood framed in the entrance to the galley. Zoe knew she was exhausted, but fatigue couldn't be responsible for the sight she was witnessing now. "Holy mother."
"What?" Jayne demanded. He looked down at himself before looking back at the shell-shocked Zoe and Inara. He sneered. "Aww, hell. Forget it, Mal. I ain't wearing this getup." He started to turn and go back down the steps, but Mal lunged across the room and caught him as Inara and Zoe got to their feet, both of them gaping.
"Stop lookin' at me like that," Jayne spat. "Wasn't my idea to get dressed up all fussy."
Inara's eyebrows rose as she took in a bathed, clean-shaven, and suit-sporting Jayne Cobb. "It is snowing in hell," she murmured to Zoe.
Zoe looked Jayne up and down. "I'll be damned," she muttered. "Ain't no one gonna mistake him for ours."
Jayne glanced down at himself again. "It itches," he groused. "My face feels all funny, too." He rubbed at the whisker-less surface. "Ain't been so bare since I was in nappies."
Inara and Zoe both glanced at each other once more then burst into sudden laughter.
"Jayne," Mal warned as the mercenary turned and started to flee again. He held Jayne's elbow tight and kept him in place. "You look nice." He tugged at the lapel of Jayne's dark suit to straighten it. "This will work."
Zoe wiped her eyes, not having had such a good laugh in a long time. "Actually " she said through a few hysterical giggles. "You do clean up well."
"Yeah?" Jayne asked hesitantly as he glanced down at himself.
"You gotta look nice if you're gonna look like you're married to Connor," Mal informed him.
Inara spluttered the sip of coffee she'd just taken as Zoe blinked almost owlishly at them.
"Um sir, have you mentioned this plan to Connor yet?" Zoe inquired. Mal's cheeky grin was all the answer she needed.
"You want me to what?"
Mal hooked his thumbs in his belt loops. "You heard me. You and Jayne can pose as a couple and collect the food and parts we need. Zoe and I know a few folks planetside that can get us our ammo under the table."
Connor rubbed at her now aching forehead. "You're insane. I must have hit you harder than I thought."
Mal's jaw shifted with remembered pain. "You did pack a right nice punch," he confessed. "But this ain't about revenge," he lied. "It's business. The Alliance don't know you."
River wrapped her arms around her knees where she sat curled up in the co-pilot's chair. Her eyes were wide and unblinking as she watched Mal and Connor like a tennis match. Behind the captain, Inara, Zoe and Jayne all clustered around the steps and observed Mal's efforts to sway their headstrong pilot.
"The Alliance does know me. They just don't know I'm traveling with the likes of you."
Mal huffed. "You ask me, you're keeping better company these days."
Connor rolled her eyes.
"Look," Mal argued. "They won't see this coming. You walk in with Jayne, get the supplies, and come home. What could go wrong?"
A collective groan came from the doorway.
"Are you ever going to learn not to ask that question out loud?" Inara grumbled.
Connor's lips quirked. "If they run my credentials, and you know they will, they'll wonder what I'm doing this far from Bardeen."
"Tell 'em you're newlyweds," Mal answered quickly, clearly having already conjured an excuse. "And when they mention the Reavers, you just act all surprised like."
Connor glanced at River who shrugged. "That's not helpful," she told the younger woman. River smirked in response, the expression cute as hell. "You think this is funny."
"The thought of you wedded to Jayne?" River asked. She glanced back at the mercenary who narrowed his eyes at her. "You don't?" River asked as she looked back at Connor.
"Hey!" Jayne protested.
"All right," Mal interjected, stepping in front of Jayne as he started to advance on River who was watching Jayne placidly. "Time's a wastin'. We need to get a move on before the Alliance gets wind of us."
"They'd be a lot less likely to do that if we wouldn't land on one of their damn planets," Connor pointed out.
"They'll be looking for us on all the planets that ain't theirs," Mal replied without rancor. "Why not get better materials and fetch 'em in a place they won't expect us to go?" Mal smiled sweetly at her.
Connor hated to admit he had a point. It was twisted enough logic to work. Her gaze went to River who was watching her silently. The fact was that they needed supplies, and they'd be in a much better position to protect River with them than without them. Connor sighed. The things she kept doing for this girl. "Fine. I'll do it, but only because I want to keep eating." Her gaze lingered on River, and it was clear to anyone watching what Connor's real motives were.
Inara watched the exchange between the two with fascination. She had wondered about Connor's attitude toward River. Seeing the chemistry between them set her worries at ease, but gave rise to a whole new host of questions.
Perhaps she could get a few answered once she had River all alone.
A few hours later, Serenity touched down off the radar of a small herding planet. Connor settled the firefly into a peaceful valley surrounded by trees and mountains, the ship stirring the grass and created waves in the lake nearby. A flock of angry ducks flew away, momentarily filling Serenity's viewport with flapping feathers.
River leaned forward, craning her neck to try to catch sight of the creatures if only for another second. Her gaze turned to the blue sky and clouds, seeing their reflection in the lake as it began to still once more. "It's so pretty," River murmured.
"It would be," Connor acknowledged bitterly. "Since it's an Alliance planet." She listened to Serenity power down. "I hope this goes quick."
Mal stomped up the steps and surveyed the scene before him. His face was still bruised, but the small cuts were almost gone. He glanced at Connor and almost scowled when he saw how much her bruises had faded. "You ready?"
"As I'll ever be." Connor unhooked her harness and got to her feet. "You got the list?" Mal handed it to her, and she looked the small slip of paper over.
"Inara left a dress for you in your quarters," Mal said casually. He gloated inwardly as Connor's head snapped up and her green eyes narrowed to angry slits.
"I hate you," the pilot told him.
"I know," Mal answered. "Now hop to it." He slapped her familiarly on the hip and knew it was only because River was present that he got to keep his hand. "Your husband's waiting in the hold."
"Be careful," River pleaded seriously as the pilot began to move past her.
"You don't see you know any trouble do you?" Connor asked curiously. She breathed a little easier when River shook her head.
"No more than usual anyway," River amended.
Connor shook her head and stomped off the bridge. Mal and River regarded each other.
"She'll get you back," River promised him, but the young woman was smiling.
"I reckon she will," he agreed. "But I am gonna enjoy this for all it's worth until that very moment." Mal dipped his head at River then tapped her playfully on the nose with a finger before leaving her alone on the bridge.
"Just do the best you can," Simon told Jayne. "I really need these supplies and the um other thing I told you about."
Jayne smirked at the doctor. "You're whipped," he told him.
"Just get what I asked for," Simon pleaded. "Please." His gaze darted to Kaylee where she stood near the cargo bay door chatting with Inara and Zoe. She hadn't said a word to him since he'd stuffed his foot in his mouth in the infirmary before.
"Yeah, yeah," Jayne agreed. "So long as you pay me like you promised."
"Thank you," Simon said sincerely. He saw motion out of the corner of his eye and glanced up at the stairs only to do a double take. His mouth opened slightly in surprise.
"What?" Jayne asked before turning to see what had struck the doc dumb. He whistled low at the sight that greeted him. "I am a lucky man."
Connor scowled at them both as she descended the steps, holding up the hem of her skirt to keep the deep green material from brushing against Serenity's dusty cargo bay floor. Mal was behind her, clearly enjoying the view.
"I have to say," Inara murmured to Zoe and Kaylee. "River has excellent taste."
Connor stopped next to Jayne as the women came closer. Kaylee walked right up to her and fingered the velvet material. The pilot wore her hair up, revealing a long neck and rather delicate ears. Some of Inara's costume emerald jewelry was nestled in the hollow of Connor's throat. The pilot appeared for all intents and purposes like a woman of means, at least until you saw the murder in her eyes as she glared intently at the captain.
"Wow," the mechanic said sincerely. "You sure look pretty."
The pilot's jaw clenched, and Connor hoped like hell the blush she could feel heating her cheeks wasn't traveling to her bare shoulders. "Thanks," she answered tightly.
"You truly do, Connor," Inara agreed. "You wear that dress beautifully." She slapped Jayne on the shoulder when he leaned forward and tried to peer down the front of Connor's cleavage. "Jayne," she growled in warning. "Don't forget this woman was wiping the galley with Mal a few hours ago."
"That ain't hard," Jayne scoffed.
"Are we ready to do this?" Mal interjected.
Connor looked heavenward, obviously praying for patience she didn't feel. "Lets just get this over."
"You got three hours," Mal announced, all business. "Get what you can and get back here. We don't want to be here after dark."
Jayne offered his arm to Connor, a salacious smirk on his face. "Shall we, sweet cheeks?"
Inara rolled her eyes, and Zoe groaned.
Connor merely sighed, just wanting the mission over and done with already. She took his arm. "Call me that again," she commented casually, "and I'll show you what other skills I honed in the war besides flying."
Jayne cleared his throat, sensing he didn't want to know what the pilot was referring to.
Zoe opened the door, letting the afternoon light float in. She gave Connor an encouraging smile as the pilot left before closing the door behind them. Her gaze shifted to Mal. "She's going to hurt you when this is over."
"Wow," Kaylee said again.
Mal simply grinned. Revenge was sweet.
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