To say he felt like shit was an understatement. That pain even registered on his scale of discomfort was saying a lot, and he couldn't remember feeling bad enough to wish he was dead, not that he could recall. Coming up out of oblivion to every nerve screaming explosive agony, almost better to consign oneself back to the abyss. The animal snarled at that, insulted by such weakness, rankled at abandoning family. Nicola... her voice, he could hear her...

"...don't understand what happened. We couldn't move and he's Furyan too. Jack was knocked flat."

"I can only surmise that the charm he wore blocked him, as it did the dreams. He was the only one unbound by the spell and she either didn't think him worthy of notice or could not see him because of the same said charm. Fatal mistake." Eldar's voice was rueful.

Aiden. They were talking about Aiden. So he had stabbed the bitch. Good boy. Hell of a first kill. He felt pride wash over him, the animal purred. He'd been twice Aiden's age when he'd had to do that the first time. He'd had no guidance after the blood had dried, no one to help make sense of the predatory instincts and the fight/flight response that was soon ruling his life. No real repercussions had made that seem like a good way to deal with problems at age 11... and that led to mistakes... the beast couldn't rule unchecked. His son's life would not turn out that way. He needed to be there for Aiden in this. Riddick fought to open his eyes.

"He wakes..." Akiko's soft, musical voice was his forbearance.



"Riddick..." Too many voices. Damn that Elemental kid. Verbal assault made his ears and muscles and skin hurt. Way too sensitive. At least the lights were low. Focus wasn't back, just a blur, and the ache as other senses fired to life... He gritted his teeth, consciousness slipping in the nervous system overload. Shit.

Soft small hand, cooling on his arm. "I take this..." Did she even speak it aloud? More in his mind... the hand inside his nerves, slipping like air, water... pulling pain past his, through him, like a string, drawing it out. He took a deep breath, the hand slipped away. Still hurt, but it was bearable.

"Kiko!" Aiden sounded alarmed, had jumped down from somewhere.

"Hush child, it is what she does." Aereon sounded only mildly reproachful. Riddick opened his eyes, focused now, could see the Air Elemental standing next to his bed, one arm extended to the silver blur next to him. The little girl faded back into view, collapsing heavily against the older woman. Aiden made a noise, small but protective, Riddick recognized that. Akiko blinked and smiled in the boy's direction.

"I will be fine. The lucidity will not last, but the Fire Master can give him something better now." Her voice was tired. Aereon led her to a chair in the corner of the room. Riddick sat up, noted the bandages on his wrist and torso, that he was, in fact, in a bed. Had to be in the temple, smelled like it. Room stank of medicine, trepidation, and rising relief. Eldar came into view, a mug of something nasty and warm in his hand. Riddick went to take it from him and winced as his muscles screamed in protest. "Fuck." his voice sounded raw, even to him. He turned away. He was not weak. No one babied him.

Nicola was on the other side of the bed then, taking the cup, holding it up to his lips. "Love..." don't be arrogant, her eyes said. He growled, but let her pour it down his throat. Nicola knew he wasn't thinking straight, but she wasn't going to put up with macho shit from him. She'd had to help drag him in here and she was in full-on military biovac mode. She'd seen his own death in his eyes before he collapsed, and he hadn't moved or made noise or fought them since then. That his pride had kicked in was a good sign, but he was still on a knife edge, she knew.

Whatever it was in the draught, it worked quickly. Some of the lines pinching Riddick's face relaxed and the rigid aura of extreme pain that gripped his body seemed to lessen. He met her gaze with something that looked like coherence.

"She's dead?" His voice still sounded like gravel and not in a good way.

"Yes. Truly and completely, I believe." Eldar confirmed. "Your son... surprised us all." Riddick laid his head back on the pillow, grunted. Shut his eyes.

"K'mere kid." Aiden wandered hesitantly forward. He looked grave. Far too grave to be 5 years old. Riddick lifted his arm, Aiden slid under it. "Ya did good kid. Protected the family. Don't let anyone tell you different." The little boy stared at him, nodded. He knew it, but it was good to hear. Mom still seemed scared, worried, distant. Dad understood. Riddick grunted again, lifting his arm again. "Jack, get over here."

Jack slipped up by her brother, touching her father's arm. He was in a lot of pain, they were all surprised he wasn't dead. She'd only felt an echo of what Shirah had pushed through him and that had knocked her out cold. They waited a minute, then he turned to look at his two children.

"You two take care of your mother, I'm gonna be out of it for a while, k? Fuckin' retarded, I know, but someone's gotta watch my back till I get through this, k?" They both nodded at him. Jack looked at her mother, who was tearing up.

"Richard..." she grabbed his hand. Somehow pulling rank while admitting he was down for the count. How very Riddick. Telling the kids to be strong, even when he didn't have the words for he could pull a family moment out of this mess said a lot. He grunted heavily, even her light touch enough to hurt him now. Riddick shifted his eyes to the Elementals.

"Is it done?" Eldar's brows creased.

"My liege... if you mean things with Shirah, yes, it is so. The ancestors feel avenged,and with the Call, they are satisfied. Those who chose to return, do so with full knowledge now, of who and what they are. Homecoming will be it's own battle, but there is time." Riddick shut his eyes again and sighed.

"Never gonna end, is it? Universe is never satisfied. Not till I'm dead." Eldar and Nicola both heard the resignation in his voice and exchanged a look.

"Balance is never easy, my liege. The burden of keeping it falls hardest on those on the edges, the realm of extremes. Fortunately, you have moved closer to center and have help in bearing that weight now."

"Family, home, they keep you grounded." Aereon added. "Something to fight for, something to mirror your place in this galaxy. The universe takes, but it also gives. Mate. Children."

"Yeah." Riddick couldn't muster up the bitterness he wanted to cut her off. She was right. When did that start happening? He was tired. She was right though, others could watch his back, bear out his burden while he rested. That was different, nice. Family. Home. Long time comin'.

"We should let him rest," Eldar's voice seemed far away. Whatever the old man had given him, it was potent, workin' on him. Didn't matter, he was safe. That was a new feeling too. The absolute certainty.

Family. Home. Things worth fighting for. People worth fighting for... and the knowledge that they'd fight the same to keep him. Odd sense of peace in that. Perhaps that was the balance the Elementals were always going on about. Nah. Nothing was that simple. 'Specially for him. But he'd think on it tomorrow. He had a tomorrow, and things to look forward to: wishes, dreams... his dreams were his own now, no one elses'. His life was his own. His and theirs. Complimented, complete. As it should be. As it was.


I'll admit, ending is a bit abrupt. But I kinda needed to put this story to bed. And thankfully, R. is in no shape to argue with me right now. Got other projects, other ideas, a LIFE, distracting me. Maybe there will be more, it's open ended on purpose, thanks for reading. It's been an interesting experience.

Thanks M. for putting up with my comma -maddened brain.