Title: Liminal

Author: Jedi Buttercup

Rating: T

Disclaimer: The words are mine; the worlds are not.

Summary: While Riddick was no fan of the bright worlds, or they of him- with Buffy by his side, he thought he might actually enjoy the trip. 1600 words.

Spoilers: Post-series for B:tVS; post-Pitch Black but pre-TCOR for the Riddick-verse

Notes: Originally posted to LJ and AO3 on 9/15. More of the Beautiful 'verse, in companion to Mutual. One definition of liminal is: "occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold."

One thing about picking up a partner who can speak for herself, after all that time charting my own course: she sometimes has her own ideas that don't line up with mine, and she don't take 'because I said so' as an answer.

But what's a guy gonna do? Buffy ain't afraid of me, and she's the first person I ever met that I thought I might be able to keep without dulling my edge. Prize like that might just be worth a few compromises.

First thing we fought over was the ice world I'd given the holy man as an address. Got all the way there, only for her to say she didn't like the look of it: backwater in the UV system I never seen a merc go near, a bolt hole I'd kept my eye on for awhile. Woulda been a real cozy hide for one. But two? It didn't have much in the way of amenities; be hard to keep ourselves fed- or find a place to strip down for anything more than sharing warmth. I've done without for a lotta years, but I was starting to get used to the luxury.

Of course, what she actually said was: why hide someplace dark, if that's where they'll be looking for you? Wasn't that hard to read the distaste in the curl of her lip, though. I figured what she really meant was, she wanted to meet the 'friends' I left behind and maybe squeeze in some shopping. Girl's pound for pound as much a killer as I am, but she's got this strange fixation with where I found her boots. Go figure.

In the end, I didn't argue too hard. Thing is, while I'm no fan of the bright worlds, or they of me- with her by my side, I thought I might actually enjoy the trip. Dressed like a pilgrim on hajj, wearing local shades in place of goggles, no one looks at me anymore. No one seems to suspect I'm the biggest bounty in the system, not with this bouncy, one point six meter package of sunshine at my side. Buffy soaks up the rays of Helion like some kind of exotic plant; and if she moves a little too sharply, a little too quickly to be regular human stock, they don't notice. All they see is the curve of white teeth, the sweep of her hair, and petite curves that beckon for a man's touch.

I have to admit, I could stand to see a little more of that. I ain't made for subterfuge, but it's almost as satisfying to watch folk underestimate her as it is to turn the tables on a merc myself, and it definitely leaves a much less obvious trail. Wolf in sheep's clothing: not a game I could pull off on my own, but I'm starting to see the possibilities.

"Is this it?" she says, looking up at the front of a two-story residence in New Mecca. Prominent building, wide expanses of window and balcony; the Imam's done well for himself since I dropped him at the spaceport. He'd never said whether he had anyone waiting for him in the city, but the quick swish of curtain and scent of pregnant woman wafting down from above says he does now, if he hadn't then.

I smell Jack, too; all anger and frustration, but she's definitely here. Few enough people you can trust to keep their word in this fucked-up universe; good to know I hadn't judged wrong about Abu al-Walid.

The door opens before I can raise my hand to knock. Speak of the devil, and she shall appear: woman at the upstairs window must have told her who was at the door. "Riddick!" the girl says, and makes like she wants to throw herself at me; but doesn't, quite. Still nervy of me, for all her bravado.

Smart girl. "Hey, Jack." I nod to her. "Brought someone to meet you."

Jack's eyes narrow slightly as she takes in the woman at my side. Jealous girl, too; I'd be more amused if she weren't barely pubescent. I may be a lot of things- murderer, convict and thief just for starters- but I don't set out to hurt the undeserving. It's so much more satisfying when they've earned it.

The woman at my side is as much a match to me in that as in most else; she takes in Jack's expression in a blink, then smiles and throws her arms around the girl. "Hi, Jack! I'm Buffy. Riddick told me about how you met; that's some story. I doubt I'd have done much better, and I slay monsters for a living."

They're about the same height, and Jack's hair's just a shade shorter where it's grown out from the shave she gave it on M-334/G, but Jack's all gawky angles to Buffy's wiry grace. She stiffens at the touch, probably as little used to hugs as I am, but her eyes go wide again in surprise and fascination; Buffy's said just the right thing to fix her attention. "Monsters? Like those raptor-things?"

Girl wanted me for a role model. That just ain't right. But she could do worse than Buffy. A whole lot worse.

"Any kind of monster that preys on humans," she assures Jack as she unwraps from the hug, all wide-eyed and earnest.

Pretty sure I'm the only one that hears the even when the monsters look human, too, behind those words. Not sure what it says about either of us that she don't put me in that category. Fry didn't, either; and look where that got her. Be damned if I let the same thing happen to Buffy.

Or Jack.

"Can you teach me?" Jack replies, brightly, inevitably.

"I'd say that's up to your guardian," I caution her before Buffy can get too excited about the idea, with a respectful nod over Jack's shoulder. The holy man's standing there: robes in shades of brown and rust, pendant like a claw around his neck, round hat set at a slight angle on his head. Definitely done well for himself. He's as wary as Jack, but there's gladness in his expression, too. Strange feeling, arriving in a place to find the people there happy to see me- and not just because I could be their next payday.

Not sure I like it. But she seems to, this compact knife of a woman at my side; if I'm a lone predator, she was built to run with a pack. She steps back from Jack, smile warming again at the sight of the Imam, and looks to me for introductions.

"Riddick," he says. "It is good to see you... though unexpected."

I grin at him. "I bet. Imam, this is Buffy; rescued her on my way out. Seem to be making a habit of that. She decided to stay with me awhile."

Buffy rolls her eyes at me. What, she expected me to do it all proper like? Then she takes over the conversation herself. "He means I saw the world he planned to hide out on, and threatened a mutiny. I'll take sand and sunshine over snow any day of the year. Speaking of bright things. Those mirrors we saw coming in- do you really beam light from here back out to the outer worlds?"

The Imam's eyebrows rise; not sure what he'd been expecting, but he shoulda known anyone traveling with me would be no more likely to offer a peace be upon you than I am. Even if she'd known the greeting phrase in her day- not many people been in cryo as long as she has, and a lot of the early records paving the way from Earth got lost. He recovers swiftly, though; inclines his head and tells her he's happy to meet her, before launching into some long-winded answer to her question.

I tune that part out; I'm better educated than I usually admit, but that don't mean I gotta find every last technical detail interesting, not when I got Jack right in front of me, still putting out angry scent despite her verbal welcome. Best confront this head-on. "You mad at me, Jack?"

She all but kicks the paving stones at her feet in a pout. "You left," she says. "I know you wanted me to get an education or some shit- but do you even know what girls are expected to wear here? Abu's great, but- I'm not his daughter, it's not my faith, and no one here understands. I was gonna hitch a ride on a merc ship, as soon as I could save up enough money and sneak back to the spaceport."

Just the thought of a girl her age with a shipload of typical mercs raises my hackles. "Bad idea, Jack," I say. "I went away so you'd be safe. Mercs are the exact opposite of safe."

"Yeah, well, you weren't here to ask for advice, were you?" she replies.

Teenagers. Not my favorite stage of larval humanity. I don't need to justify my decisions to her. But I do offer a thought that's been brewing in my head since Buffy suggested it. Who would look for me on Helion Prime?

"Yeah, well, I'm here now. Thinking about staying awhile."

She lights up immediately, acrid scent fading at last. "Really?" she gasps.

I look over at Buffy, still taking with the Imam, and nod. "Really."

Maybe Fry had been right after all. Time for me to rejoin the human race.

But I'm gonna do it my way.