Chapter 1: Towers
I fucking hate this room.
It's all alone on top of Abu's little mansion. Light and airy with a door that doesn't lock and two fucking huge windows that pretend to. Abu's practically staked the girl out for monsters.
I hate this room. But Jack's hopeful. She's standing in the middle with this half grin on her face. "It's huge!"
"Yeah," I grumble. She gives me that sidelong look of hers that says she thinks I'm full of shit. I feel myself grin. Clamp it down. "Fuckin' palatial." I glare at the butterflies dancing out the east window. That one's not so bad, I guess; you'd have to free climb up the front of the house in full view of the street. I can make that harder. But I really fucking hate the west window. It opens right into a big fucking oak tree in the back yard outside I could stroll right up and in without breaking a sweat.
I sit down on her bed. Soft, just like she likes. Holy man got really huffy with me when I told him to make it soft. Holy man hates that we've been sharing a bed. But I guess he listened to me. She bounces down beside me, lays down, then pops back up "This is nice."
Better than any bed we shared. Yeah. I run my hands over my head. "You're a lucky girl."
"Don't I know it." She leans against me. Oh what the fuck. I put my arm around her, pull her close. We sit like that for about four heartbeats. Finally, she can't bear it. "I'm gonna miss you. You . . . figure out when you're goin'?"
"Soon." I stand abruptly, walk across the room, glare, again, at the butterflies dancing outside, feeling impot—feeling restless. "Gotta do something about these fuckin' windows first."
Fucking kid, she's got tears in her eyes. But her voice is clear and strong, so I pretend I don't notice. "What, afraid I'm gonna crawl down the wall and find trouble?"
I snort. "Yeah. Something like that. Escape your little princess tower. Some nice strong bars should stop that."
She snorts right back at me. Christ, I'm gonna miss her.
I fuck around for about a week, finding things to do. Making friends with all the neighborhood dogs. That's paid off before. Making the house a little more secure. Making myself a back door through the system. That's paid off too, a time or two. Making sure the holy man's real clear on the deal. He takes care of the girl. He makes sure she's warm and schooled and keeps up her self defense training and gets citizenship and is fucking safe. As long as she's a kid, I don't want her going off world; I don't want her seeing a merc; I don't want her ever seeing a convict. He nods a lot.
She'll be going to this school, starting tomorrow. It's dark and quiet now. Just like me. Big scary guy, stalking through the halls, glaring at lockers. I feel ridiculous.
I want her here. I want her in these halls, being a kid, not this thing she's had to be. Becoming something worth being. Not what she'll become under my thumb. It's as safe as houses, this school, according to the police reports. Can't smell much blood, but I find the places where the kids fuck, out of the way spots that make me itchy. I remember fucking girls against walls like these walls; their legs wrapped around my waists, their backs hard and arched against the walls, helpless, me, cock deep and pants barely down.
I have a bad moment, thinking of Jack against one dark and lonely wall. Someone fucked there today, and I'm dead sure there's been a rape or many in that wall's time. Lure 'em there, keep 'em quiet, leave no marks, and chances are, no one will ever breathe a word.
I stare at that wall for a very long time, thinkin' how good it would feel to snap the neck of some fucker fucking her. My fists are clenched so hard they hurt. Finally shake it off, headed back to Abu's little castle. Slip up the oak tree, ease into her little princess tower. She doesn't wake up. Gotta get bars on this window. I kneel down beside her, lean in close, breathe her in.
She's dreaming. I can see her eyeballs moving under closed lids; smell the adrenaline and dopamine. breathe it in. She's fighting something in her dream; she's alternately afraid and happy.
I like it. I like it a lot. I wait for the dream to climax and fade. It takes a long time. Wake her just as she's relaxing out of the dream, exhaling into her face. Her eyes drift open, lock on to mine. She goes alert. "Riddick? Do we have to go?"
There's enough hope in that voice it hurts. I grunt. "No, kid. Just – just checked out your school."
She starts to sit up. I put a hand on her chest, keep her down, enjoying how it makes her heart race. "Everything okay?"
"Yeah." I'm gazing down at her. It's making her nervous. I grin. "People fuck there." She flushes scarlet.
"That a problem?" she asks, archly.
I grunt again. "Depends."
I let my voice drop. "On whether they're fucking you."
She flushes even darker. "Jesus, Riddick. How is that any of your business? Especially since you're leaving me."
The bitterness in her voice hits me like spit. I rock back, close my eyes. breathe slow and deliberate like. Keep my hand where it is. She gets more and more anxious. Finally, I whisper, "I'm not an idiot, Jack. Someone fucked you. That fucks you up. When you're . . . too young."
"You woke me up to tell me this?"
I exhale a long time. "Seemed worth sayin'."
She blinks a few times. Finally, her voice small, "yeah. I know. You wake me up 'cause you're leaving tonight?"
I shake my head. "Still got those bars to get on your window. Any asshole could just slip in here."
She rolls her eyes. "Yeah. Any asshole. You're really obsessed with that, you know."
Am I? I think about that for several heartbeats. "Never had a kid sister before."
She flinches. Kinda surprises me. Thought she'd like that. I let her go, sit down heavily on the floor. I take my shoes off. She watches me, strangely tense. I sigh.
"Scoot over," I say, velvet. She does. I crawl into bed, still dressed. Wrap my arms around her. "Just don't want anything to happen to you."
"Then you should take me with you," she says, softly.
I grunt. "I want something," I whisper.
I feel silly. But I push through, makin' my voice low and probably entirely too sexy. "I want you to be worth dyin' for."
She tries to jerk away, her little heart pounding. I keep her tight against me. "What?"
"Lots of folks died for you. Be worth it. Do good things. Save puppies. Be – good."
"Jesus, Riddick. You're asking me to be a hero?"
I shrug, irritated. "Maybe. You got something better to do?"
"Come with you."
I'm suddenly so tired I'm not thinkin' clear. "You'll get raped. Killed."
"You're a piece of work, you know," she whispers, her voice rougher than I like. "In a girl's bed, talking about her getting raped and murdered?"
I snort. "Just call me Mr. Sunshine. Kid, I'm serious. Be a good person. Do good things."
She's quiet. Not asleep, just quiet. This time, I break the quiet. "And I don't want you fallin' for a killer."
She sighs again. "Seriously, Riddick, what's this sudden interest in my nonexistent love life?"
"I won't be there to break the guy's neck." I brush two fingers over her soft throat. She shivers against me. "I stood in a place where a girl got fucked today in this shiny new school of yours."
"Against a wall. I've done that. Legs around my waist, her back against the wall . . ." She shivers and I like it way too much. "Arched. Helpless. . ." my voice wanders into the darkness. I didn't mean to be having this conversation.
"Was it rape?" she asks me, a deadness in her voice that snaps through me. I try to remember. Maybe it was, a time or two. I remember lips under my hand; keeping the girl quiet. I remember someone cumming, spasming, helpless in the air. I remember a body sliding down the wall . . .
She's getting upset. "Was it?" She's pulling away again. I know I should let her. I don't.
"No," I say, low. "Just know it happens. Go to sleep, kid."
She goes to school, comes back unfucked and happy several times. Every night, I teach her something. Teaching her to break holds, teaching her to break knees. Tonight was special. Showed her what to do if her hands are cuffed behind her, how to dislocate her thumb and slip out of the cuffs; if that don't work, how to dislocate her shoulders, get those hands in front. I never hurt her that much before. There's a part of me that hates it. There's a nasty part of me that likes it, seeing her do this horrible thing 'cause I want her to. There's another part of me that's proud of her, stupidly proud. Dangerous.
I almost cave over and over, ask her if she wants to come with me. But I don't. I play big boy. When we're done, I rub her joints until she's boneless. Follow her back to her princess tower with a bottle of whisky and two tiny coffee cups to use as shot glasses. Pour one for me, one for her. We've never done this before. Her eyes are big.
I clink her glass, down the shot wordlessly. Poor myself another. She hesitates, then takes a sip. Shudders theatrically. I grin, run my hand over her short hair.
She's not dumb. "You're leaving."
She takes another sip. "Stay with me tonight?"
Abu's gonna be pissed. I'd been a good boy, all but that one night, sleeping in the little room at the bottom of her spiral stairs. But what the fuck. Not like I'll ever see her again, if things go right. "Yeah. Gotta talk to your holy man first. I'll be back."
She finishes the shot, puts it down. Gives me one of those half hugs. "Tuck me in?"
I do. Kiss her on the forehead. Sit beside her quiet for the two minutes it takes her to fall down into the sleep of the just. Turn off the light as I leave, don't quite close the door.
Abu's in his study. "Heading out tomorrow," I tell him.
He nods, seriously, trying not to look happy. "Do you have everything you need?"
I stare at him, surprised he'd ask. "Yeah," I say finally. "Think so. We're clear about the girl?"
He smiles, wistfully. "She will be well cared for."
"Best make sure of it."
He swallows. "You are still intending to disappear into the cold?"
I nod. "Least for a while. But I might swing by here again some time."
He nods again, looking fretful. "Be careful."
"You too." Our eyes meet. It makes me feel funny. "You don't tell no one you have her, right? Her folks died in the crash and we leave it at that, right?"
He sighs, looks shifty at me. "Riddick . . . if her family is looking for her, I need to let them know she's safe."
I grunt. "Anything happens to her, I won't be happy. She's runnin' from something. Don't want it to find her."
He still looks fretful. This is the other thing that drives me crazy, that he'll send her away. Send her back. Send her somewhere I'll never find her –
I thrust the last thought away. Might as well just take her if that's how I'm gonna roll. "If you don't like the deal, say the word. You'll never either of us again." I pause, thoughtfully. "One way or another."
He swallowed. "I understand," he says. "She will be treated like a princess. Nothing bad will happen to her."
I don't like it. He's holding out on me, I know he is. But I will gut him slowly if he doesn't keep her safe, and I think he knows that too.
I finish packing. Don't have much. Leave a couple of shivs for Jack. One's stupid; carved from bones while we were on the skiff and since I didn't have much too do. I made it pretty, gave it a nice sheath. Won't keep an edge for long but she loves it. Wore it like a necklace 'till Abu figured out what it was. I leave it on her dresser, crawl into bed with her, one last time.