Riddick dropped into the chair by the ReGen tube and flicked his gaze over its occupant, just as he had done every night for the past month. According to her stats, she was fully healed, and should be awake by now, and yet, the tube refused to release her. He watched her eyes roll and flicker beneath her lids, lips pulled into a small frown.
That first night, the night when he'd realized his mistake, he had washed the blood from her skin, stitched her up, set her bones. Then, he'd placed her in the ReGeneration unit. It was designed for cases like Jack's, where physical harm was the issue. It wasn't meant to cure disease, but the tech could seal flesh, and heal breaks. A useful thing, indeed.
Every night since, he had come to sit next to her, sometimes talking, most times not. He had read somewhere that talking to people while they were in a coma helped them. He wasn't sure how much his presence could possibly be helping Jack, since he'd been the one to put her in her current state.
Riddick felt a brief, hot flash of anger, and washed it away with a shot of whiskey. He had questions, plenty, that he needed Jack to answer, but she had to be awake in order for that to happen.
"Fuck, Jack" he mumbled as he leaned his head on the glass encasement. "Time to wake up, little girl."
He stood and walked away, not seeing the flicker of pale eyelids, the brief flash of green.
Jack cracked an eye open. The light of the med-bay, low as it was, speared into her pupils and set a low fire burning along her optic nerves. She squinted, but didn't shut her eyes again. She lay still, trying to piece together some information based on her sensory memories. She remembered pain, hot and furious, racing along her flesh, her bones. She remembered the feel of bones being reset, stitches being laid in tight, precise paths along her skin. Needles being driven gently home to her veins, and then nothing, nothing. Her time in the In Between was a complete blur, all she could remember were Aurora's final words: "You won't remember this when you wake; you'll only remember as you need it, as you dream. But, and this is very important: Remember you are needed, that Riddick is needed. Never forget Lucie." And then she had fallen…risen, she wasn't really sure.
Now, in the cold silence she'd woken to, Jack poked and prodded at her recall, desperate to know more and it came back in grudging flashes. The sharp, musky scent of man, the sound of booted feet crossing and re-crossing metal floors, a hand resting on her forehead, her cheekbones, a low, growling murmur talking about any topic the owner could come up with. The weightlessness of the ReGen tube, the feeling of warmth thrumming through her body as she was pieced slowly back together. Why had that happened? Oh, right, back to the pain. Caused by? She reached, stretched out her mental fingertips, latched onto it.
Riddick had chased her…caught her.
Jack fought back the swell of spit in her mouth, the surge of bile that rushed up her throat. Because it hadn't been her, not really. It had been Silence that he met, Silence that he smelled. Riddick had always been more animal than man, and had probably relied on his own sensory input far more than his logical processes. Which would explain…What? She frowned, tried harder to put the information together in a pleasing pattern, but found it was impossible. There was nothing pleasing in this situation.
She rolled to her side and groaned at the pull of unused muscles. She managed to get her head over the side of the bed just in time for the aforementioned bile to come spewing from her mouth. She coughed a wet, hacking cough and shivered. The air was too cold on her skin, the sheet too rough against it. Her brain happily supplied her with some past knowledge of ReGen tubes being equipped with some sort of nerve-deadening agent to better accomplish healing. It then proceeded to inform her that she was making up for that period of sensory deprivation now.
She tried to swing her legs down to the floor, and only met with a small amount of success. Her feet touched the floor, and the rest of her made to follow them, but her legs had apparently not been used for some time, and the pins and needles that raced up her body were her only warning before she fell in an ungainly heap on the floor, the sheet following her slowly. She snarled then, and got her hands under her and pushed to her knees. Gripping the sides of the bed, she pulled herself up in slow increments.
Standing brought her a few new pieces of information. She was in a med-bay, presumably on Riddick's ship. Her head was pounding, but other than that she didn't feel pain other than the tingling across her skin as her deadened nerve-endings woke again and got back to work. And she was naked.
Still gripping the table with one hand, she reached down with the other to pick the sheet up, and wrapped it around her body, tucking the ends in above her breasts. She looked around, hoping to spot her bag, and loosed another curse when she didn't see it.
"Nothing for it, then…" she murmured, ill-used vocal chords turning her words into a harsh croak.
Jack made her slow way out of the med-bay, hoping that her body would wake fully soon. She was pretty sure that she was on Riddick's ship, but she had no way of knowing his mental state, or if he'd recognize her. At this point, she knew she couldn't defend herself against a toddler with a spork, let alone a psychopath that practically chewed nails for breakfast. Jack's brain once again supplied a mental image of just that, and she let herself snicker a bit over it.
Her travels brought her to a hallway. To her right, she could see four doors and a set of stairs, to her left she could see the glow of what she assumed to be the cockpit. Choices, choices.
Jack went with the right, pushing open the first door she came to. A bedroom, sparsely furnished. With only the meager light of the hallway runners to go on, she guessed it was Riddick's, since the bed looked like it had been recently slept in. She pulled the door shut and moved to the next one. This looked like it was a crew bunkroom, and she was about to shut the door to this one as well when her eyes alighted on a very familiar, and very welcome, sight: Her duffle and backpack were resting on the lowest bunk across the room.
With a crow of delight, Jack crossed the room, only stumbling a couple of times. She allowed herself a moment of victory as she realized that she had moved without the aid of a wall. She felt more awake than she had minutes before. She flopped onto the bed and began rummaging through the bag, finding a long-sleeved black shirt, a pair of black cargoes, and underwear. Her boots would be somewhere, but it was much more important to be clothed than shod.
She stood and crossed the floor again, pausing in the hallway.
"Riddick?" she called hesitantly.
"Riddick?" she tried again, a little louder, and still there was no response.
Jack found her brain flashing back to a similar situation, except that time, she had been screaming, bleeding…near death. She shuddered and forced it down. Not the time, not the time…
She walked back into the crew cabin, at a loss. She needed information, she needed a shower and, as her stomach rumbled, she realized she needed to eat. She was apparently alone on Riddick's ship, and it was definitely his, as his scent in the room next door had confirmed.
She shrugged and looked at the door next to the bunks. Crossing the room once more, she placed her palm on the pad next to it, and it hissed open, revealing a bathroom.
"Well, that's one thing at least." Jack murmured. She stepped in, closed the door behind her, and looked in the mirror. Riddick had obviously tried to clean her up, but there was some blood caked in her hair, and she could see smudges of dirt here and there along with patches of salt left behind from dried sweat. She frowned at herself, once again pushing the reasons for her state violently from her thoughts.
She leaned her head down and sniffed, lightly.
"Ugh," she moaned in disgust. Just a short time ago, her state was one of perpetual grime. But, since she had left the Floors, she had gotten used to daily showers and clean hair. Right now, she knew she smelled foul, and her hair felt matted to her head with old sweat, dried blood. She paused, considering. She really wanted a shower…but…As it was, she was in a weakened state, physically. She was sore, tired, and hungry, not to mention confused. The last thing she needed to add to that was wet, and naked, especially if Riddick had really gone off the deep end.
She growled low in her throat and dropped the sheet, dressing quickly. Once clothed, she bent at the waist, scratching her fingers over her scalp, loosening some of the caked filth there. She straightened and pushed her hair back from her forehead, leaving the bathroom. She dug through her pack again, finding a brush and hair tie. She pulled through the knots with fierce, angry strokes and secured the mass at the back of her head.
This took the last of her meager energy. She felt her eyes grow heavy. Pushing the packs into the corner of the bed, she curled up on the bunk, facing the door, a rescued shiv gripped in her hand.
Riddick had heard her first sluggish movements, heard the thump of her body hitting the cold floor of the med-bay, her muffled curses as her body adjusted to moving once again. He listened, patiently, to her first shuffling movements. He heard her call for him, but felt a distinct sense of unease when it came to the thought of speaking to her. The last words he'd spoken to her, while she was conscious, informed her that she had no one to blame but herself for her treatment at his hands. He released a quiet sigh, the unfamiliar weight of guilt heavy on his chest.
He waited a while, until he heard no more noises from the crew cabin before stepping out of the shadowed niche he had slipped into upon first hearing her wake. He had to see her, even if she wasn't aware of it; he needed to know that she was truly healed.
He padded quietly to the door of the crew cabin, steeling himself for the possibility that she would be awake still, memory intact, fully aware of everything that had transpired that night he'd first seen her. He felt a brief, irrational flash of anger and grasped the spark of it, nurturing it in preparation for their first real interaction in seven years. There was something wrong with her, wrong enough that she apparently had evolved into a completely different person somehow. He knew, in the back of his mind, that whatever it was that had changed about her had probably changed while she was in the hands of the Reinas, or on Toombs' ship, or even on the Floors, all of which would make her dramatic shift explainable, understandable, but he needed to maintain the heat growing in his mind if he were to remain calm with her.
Riddick paused at the door to the cabin, hand hovering over the palm pad. What if she didn't recognize him? What if he'd finally pushed her over the edge, completed the evolution? She was a fierce fighter from what he'd seen and, even weakened as she was, would possibly still be a formidable opponent. He didn't want to hurt her again; he'd already done enough of that. For the past month he had watched her body heal itself and then refuse to wake; had watched her pale, blue-tinted eye lids shift over her restless, unseeing eyes when she was in something like REM. She had lost some of her muscle mass, and he hoped she'd be willing to stay with him long enough to rebuild it. He couldn't just leave her somewhere, knowing Toombs was still alive, knowing that she'd be recognized for what she was, without knowing she could defend herself.
Riddick shook his head, trying to physically force his thoughts to clear and follow a linear pattern. He had to focus, draw her out and into a conversation. His questions would be answered some way or another. True, he had a good guess as to what had happened to her, psychologically, but he needed confirmation, needed to hear the words come from her lips. From that point, she'd be able to decide whatever she wished, whether it was to stay with him, or get dropped on the nearest inhabited planet. Again, a pang similar to guilt throbbed momentarily at the thought, but he disregarded it. Nothing had changed in seven years; he was still a solitary man by nature, he still liked having his own space and not having to worry about someone else slowing him down. Not that she would, supplied a small traitorous voice in the back of his mind. He ignored that too.
Riddick pushed the palm pad slowly, and was not surprised by the knife that buried itself in the door-jam. He cocked his head and looked at it momentarily before leveling his gaze on the girl occupying the bed.
"Aim's off, Jack," he murmured softly, entering the room fully and shutting the door behind him.
"Fuck you, Riddick," she snarled, brandishing another throwing knife. "My aim's perfect. That was a warning."
He stepped closer and Jack launched another knife, this one landing at his feet. He made a soft clicking noise at her, shaking his head and he picked the knife up.
"Throwing sharp objects at your benefactors. Awfully uncivilized behavior, Jack."
"Don't," she growled, holding her hands up at him. "Don't throw old bullshit lines at me, Riddick. I'm not afraid of you, and I don't find you all that intimidating anymore." Her actions belied her words though, as she had backed up, kneeling, on the small bunk bed, her back was now pressed against the wall.
"Really?" Riddick smiled wolfishly and kept walking towards her. He waited until he could see the very real fear in her eyes, until he was within a few feet of her, before stopping. He could hear the breaths she was trying to control, and smell the fresh sweat that had broken out on her pale skin. He held out a hand, as if he was attempting to placate a wild animal, and just like a wild animal, Jack was snarling as he advanced.
"Relax, Jackie girl, I'm not gonna hurt you. Shit happens, and I think if we just calm down, we can talk about it."
"Right, Riddick, talk, like two rational adults, because that particular cliché applies oh-so-much in any situation that involves us." Jack's lip curled into a sneer on the last word, but she sat, slowly, back on the bed.
Riddick decided to take the high road, and simply squatted where he had been standing. Last she had seen of him, she'd been on the business end of a knife he was wielding. For now, he could be the bigger man and give her the extra height.
His actions seemed to relax her a little, as her grip on the knife in her hand became a tad less white-knuckled. He let out a small breath and looked down, shaking his head, before he dragged his eyes back up to meet hers.
"Been a long time, Jackie girl," he said into the ensuing silence. She simply nodded her head, and waved her hand vaguely in his direction as if to say 'continue'. He sighed, quietly, and scraped a hand over his stubbled scalp.
"People've been looking for you, ya know. Holy Man, me, hell, he even put out some info to the G.P., and you know how he hates dealing with cops."
At this, she firmed her chin up. "I've seen my father," she replied. Riddick just nodded, as if he'd expected as much.
"Figured that, seeing as how you were on Helion and all. Question is now…Where were you? And why were you running again?"
Granted, he knew the answer to his first question, but she didn't know he knew, and he was curious to see of she'd tell the truth.
You know what they say about curiosity…He shook the thought off, and waited, keeping his eyes on hers. Jack squirmed, just a bit, under his glare before she caught herself and glared right back.
"What's it to you anyway?" Her voice was full of her old defiance again, and it was almost a relief to hear.
He chuckled, low and menacing, and could practically see her hackles rise at the familiar sound.
"Oh, Jackie, Jackie, Jackie…Didn't think I'd forget about you, did you? I was gone for a while, sure, but I always intended to come back for you." This wasn't entirely true, but again, she didn't need to know that.
"Imagine my surprise when I call up the Holy Man one day and find that little Jackie Girl's gone and run off."
She snarled at this, just as he knew she would. She was breaking, itching to tell him exactly where she'd gone, just to rub his face in the knowledge that he'd failed her. Riddick mentally braced himself for it, waited for that crack in her armor to become a tear.
"I fucking hate that name. My name's Jack. Short, simple, you don't need to add to it. And I'm not a fucking girl, I lost that title a long time ago. And for your information, I didn't. fucking. run." Her breath ghosted over her lips in short, hot pants, and he could practically feel her anger rolling off her skin. He shrugged, knowing it would just push her farther.
"Maybe you did, maybe you didn't. Doesn't change that fact that you were running that night." He stopped and cocked an eyebrow, letting her know that the proverbial ball was back in her court.
She stared at him again, obviously ready to continue their little verbal brawl, but was stopped by a jaw-cracking yawn that forced itself past her lips. She closed her mouth with a snap, and dropped her head, letting her eyes fall to the blanket beneath her, where the fingers of her left hand were currently clenched.
"Riddick," she began, the word filled with defeat and fatigue, "I don't want to do this. I know you love your cat and mouse shit, but I don't, and I can't do it right now. I don't even really know how long I was out for. Yes, we have to talk, but right now, I'm tired and I'm sore. Can you pretend, for just a minute, that you aren't king of the cold-hearted? Please?" At this, she brought her eyes back up to his, and he felt just the tiniest drop of shame for baiting her like he had, knowing what he knew.
"Sure, kid. Go take a shower. I'll be right here if you need me." He knew it was a testament to how tired she really was that she didn't even protest his presence, simply nodded and staggered over to the bathroom, her atrophied muscles shaking with every step.
Riddick watched her progress with hooded eyes, staring at the wash-room door long after it had shut behind her and he heard the water running. Even when Jack had been young, she'd guarded herself well enough that he had never felt truly responsible for her. Now, as an adult woman who had seen more ugliness than most people, he had been the one to finally tear her down.
The weight of that thought hung like a chain around his throat, and this was one chain he knew he would never break.
Author's (Rambling) Note
So, things that are true: I'm not dead/gone. Life decided to completely kick the crap out of me, and as a result I lost my creative spark, for everything, for a while. I'm sorry, and if I've lost readership…I completely understand. However, I'm hoping there are enough of you out there that are still interested in the eventual outcome of this tale to stick with me even after my long ( nigh unforgivable…) hiatus. I won't promise that there will be another update in a week, but I'm aiming for within the month, as I'd love to get my feet wet again, and I really want to know what happens now that they're on more even footing. If you're still reading, please review, and know that I am forever grateful for your support. Thank you, thank you, a thousand times, and I hope to see you again next chapter.
P.S. I will be attempting to respond to all reviews, by ff pm system, within the coming week, until then, know that I read and appreciated every single one of your comments.