Chapter 42: Life, The Universe, and Everything.
No fuckin' way, Riddick thought. Almost without his intent, his other hand found hers, pressed it into his arm. "You fall for him?"
She snorted. "Just met him. He won a contest or something."
She snorted again. Didn't exactly answer. "Nin spent sixty years turning me into a goddess." She shrugged elaborately. "Into the living symbol of their civilization. Of--" she stopped, abruptly. "Of what they needed, he thought. Dion's cool. He could have – could have taken advantage. He didn't. I like him."
He grunted. "You gonna do it?"
She shrugged again. "I'm – I'm kinda tired of fulfilling other people's fantasies." He squeezed her fingers. "Last time I did something I really wanted to do was stab Zhylaw."
"Liked that." That got him a grin.
"Ever since – ever since then, other people have been pulling my strings. Zhylaw. You. Nin . . ." Her voice wandered off.
She shrugged. After a long time, he cleared his throat. "None of my business, but you and Nin . . . were you . . . "
"Were we what?" she said, guilelessly.
"You know. Together. Fu – having sex."
She laughed. "No." Something dark passed over her face. "No, I haven't -- we never did."
"He was really old," he said, not unhappily.
"Yeah. Not just that. I mean, it's not like I'm young. I counted. I think I'm 33."
"That's not old."
She shivered. "Older than I thought I'd get." She looked at the grave. "I wasn't – I wasn't a real person to him. Maybe a little when we were in your rooms. But even then – even then, I think I was a symbol. Something alive. Something he thought he could love. I kissed him once, that time you drugged me so I'd 'relax.'" She shot him a look. "That's still--" She stopped abruptly. "He thought you were going to kill me." Riddick grunted. "Then he knew I was dead. He spent decades turning me into a cult hero. Then I was here and . . . " her voice wandered off. "Kore's his grandmother, you know, sort of? I'm not really Kore Risen, but to him. . ." she shuddered slightly. "I can't imagine how weird it was for him, seeing me again. I think it took a lot for him not to just lock me up in a tower somewhere." She shivered again.
Riddick took off his jacket, draped it around her shoulders. Took the opportunity to squeeze them. "Yeah," he said, softly. "So what's with all the body guards? All for me?"
"They're always around."
"Hard being a little goddess?"
Something dark passed over her face. "Yeah. Sometimes."
"Anyone try anything?
She snorted. "Yeah. They usually don't get close."
Usually? "Why didn't you tell me?"
"Ah." She looked at him sideways. "Yeah. I did. But . . . Nin was editing our letters."
He felt his jaw twitch. "What happened to the folks who tried stuff?"
She swallowed. "Nin wouldn't tell me. I don't think it was nice."
He stared into the sky. "Huh." There was an awkward silence. "Whyda think Nin let them turn me into a hero?"
She made a grateful sound. "Yeah. He thought all those kids Eris made from you raping my corpse needed to have a hero as a father. Plus, it sorta slid into the mythology. Me as this redemptive heroine, leading people out of darkness. You as the legendary dark warrior, the man who killed death itself and stole his throne, redeemed by your love for the dead girl."
Riddick grunted again. They walked quietly. She looked at him sideways. "You ever tempted?"
All the time, babe. "What do you mean?"
"To be the dark legend again?"
He chuckled. "Yeah. A few times."
She nodded, thoughtfully. "You know, I never even finished high school? I mean, I was the Death Goddess of the Underverse. They call me Kore's Emissary here. I helped kill the Lord Marshal of the Necromongers. I carried the sun." She looked up at the sky with a strange smile. "I've got tutors now. They almost manage to not show how fucking shocked they are at what I don't know. What I have trouble learning. They're all so much smarter than me here. Everyone's nice, but man . . ."
Riddick snorted. "Why don't you leave?"
"Nin said no."
"You're a grown up, Jack."
"I don't think that's the problem." She looked back at the blond boy who had stood over her at the grave. He raised the sword in a type of salute. "Dunno if they'll let me leave," she said lightly. "Goddess mascot. Still locked up. Just a bigger cage."
"So not a problem."
"Kid. I am – I was the Lord Marshal of the Necromongers. I can take you anywhere." He wrapped an arm around her and pushed and they were a half mile away.
"Jesus!" she laughed. "Oh man. They're gonna freak."
"Come with me."
She had a strange look on her face. "Riddick . . . I've been locked up for most of my life. What are you offering?"
"What do you want?"
She didn't answer directly. "If I go with you, am I just exchanging the prettiest, biggest, most comfortable prison any girl could want, aside from occasional terrifying interludes, for being effectively locked in a colder and smaller one with you?"
He grunted. "Look. I'm not talkin' forever. Just – just wanna have some time to catch up. I miss you. Bring a couple of your bodyguards if you want. I'm not – you can have your own room and everything. Hell, I can get you your own Furyan bodyguards; turns out that's what we were genetically engineered for in the first place. They love fightin' me. Guess takin' down your father's a big deal to them."
Once again, she didn't answer directly. "You guys were designed as bodyguards?"
"Yeah. Old empire. Turns out we took them down too."
She laughed. "Huh. I didn't know that."
"It's all a rich tapestry."
She could hear shouting. With a sigh she hit the communicator on her wrist. "I'm fine, Nin."
"Head of security today. Nin's son. And," she hesitated, "and mine."
He grunted. "You meet any of our kids?"
"A few of our grandkids. But most of ours aren't on Kore. Nin used your genes . . . sparingly."
"All your kids are mine, you know. That mitochondria thing."
"Yeah. Guess that's true. Sort of. You're everyone's other grandmother." Their eyes met. She swallowed. "Look. I love you. I'll always love you. But you did some fuckin' scary shit to me."
"I know." He hesitated. "Do you want me to disappear?"
Her adrenaline spiked. "Oh god." She stared at the sky. "That'd be a hell of an ending."
"Is it the one you want?"
"I don't think so. I think it would make me crazy. It did make me crazy, last time. Turned me into something I don't want to be."
"Don't be. Just – just don't do it again. Don't disappear. And just don't . . . don't be a dick."
"Kid, you blew up all my stuff last time. I'm not gonna piss you off."
She snorted. "I did, didn't I?"
"Yeah. I'm not a complete idiot, you know. I don't make the same mistakes twice. Come with me and I'll be . . . " he dropped his voice suggestively. "Nice."
"I'm not your girlfriend."
There was a long silence. He drew back slightly. "I know." He stared at the sky. "You're probably too old for me anyway."
She laughed, chokingly, half turned so they were facing. Ran a hand over his forearm. Her eyes softened. "But – look. The official mourning period for Nin is three months. I've got stuff I gotta – stuff I'm going to – do."
He nodded. Her fingers on his arm felt right.
"You could stay. With me. As a – as a friend. Family. Something. Then afterwards – afterwards we can figure out . . ." her fingers tightened. "Something."
Something? "Do you want me too?"
She looked at the sky. She looked at the grave. She looked at him. Her fingers tightened on his arm again. "I do. Are you – are you with me this time?"
He put an arm around her waist, letting his palm rest on the sweet spot. He could feel the scar through the thin fabric, and for an instant, it felt like it was burning. Her face turned up to his, a little hopeful, a little afraid. Like she had just remembered all he had to do was push. He let his hand slip off the sweet spot and down to her hip. She relaxed slightly.
He nodded. Leaned very close to her face, close enough to breathe her breath. It felt right.
"I was always with you."