Invictus In The Black

1 Out Of the Night That Covers Me

Author's Note: This is my first Riddick fic and I hope you all enjoy it. I'm going with my own theory about the Furyans and Riddick and what type of person he is. I'd love to hear your opinions on everything, just be constructive with your criticism is all I ask.

They say most of your brain

shuts down in cryo-sleep.

All but the primitive side...

...the animal side.

No wonder I'm still awake.

Transporting me with civilians.

Sounded like forty, forty plus.

Heard an Arab voice.

Some hoodoo holy man.

Probably on his way to New Mecca.

But what route? What route?

Smelled a woman.

Sweat, boots, tool belt, leather.

Prospector type.

Free settlers.

And they only take the back roads.

Something else...

Someone breathing...

Way too fast to be asleep

Apples, blood, silk, steel, honey


And here's my real problem:

Mr. Johns, blue-eyed devil.

Planning on taking me back to slam...

...only this time he picked a ghost lane.

A long time between stops.

A long time for something to go wrong...

River concentrated on not going crazy inside the stupid cryo tube she'd been stuck in. At least Zoe was with her, the woman's physical presence a comfort even if her mind dreamt terrible things. Wash's death was still at the forefront of the warrior woman's mind. It had been a year and a half since Miranda and Zoe was healing but it was a slow process.

Someone else was awake, just like she was. River had the impression this person hadn't ever really been in cryo sleep. The thoughts were clear, not pressing against her mind like so many others but extremely clear, not hazy with drugs. She could hear him, cataloguing the other passengers in their sleep, anger coloring his thoughts as they dwelt on someone with blue eyes. The mental voice was lucid and layered with a thousand images behind each word, someone who had more than a basic education, the images beyond the thoughts were poetic and lyrical yet still burned with fire.

River did her best to breath regularly but she wanted out of this tube. She and Simon had worked for months to get her off the drugs and onto a regimen of meditation, forcing her body to create its own chemical cocktail with vitamin supplements. The side effect was her body burned through drugs quickly and she'd woken half a day into their journey, the cryo drugs worn off, leaving only their memory behind in slightly sluggish muscles and a strange taste in her throat. It had taken her time to meditate, to orient herself and regain the calm that was so necessary to her sanity. The one mind on the ship that wasn't in dreams had helped immensely with that process.

"I can hear you, I know you're awake," She didn't whisper, merely keeping her voice low. "Will you talk to me? You don't have to speak, just think the words. All their dreams...crowd me."

Riddick didn't quite jerk in his own tube as he heard the soft voice, like a breeze floating through the stale cabin air, but he was surprised to hear her talking even knowing someone was awake. "Why should I tell you a thing? Ain't a one here friend to me." He thought with a scowl. Mentally he rolled his eyes wondering exactly how this person, a girl from the sound of her voice, could tell he was awake. He hadn't made a sound, hadn't even changed the pace of his breathing and couldn't talk with the bit between his teeth.

"Boring to be alone in a tube. Sensory deprivation supposed to be the most civilized form of torture, still unenjoyable." Her voice was dry as his throat, a wisp of annoyance threading her words as if she'd dealt with men who irked her regularly and knew patience was required with the male of the species. "Told you I could hear you. I can hear the others too, but they're all asleep. But not for long, fire and blood and death on the horizon. Too much light and then not enough."

"You hearin' pirates or somethin'?" He asked. "I'm on my way to Slam, pirates'd be welcome."

"No pirates, sorry," Her voice was amused. "Just leftovers from falling stars." He strained and he could smell a shift in her scent, something whispered on the air, like silk brushing silk. "I'm River. Why are you going to the Slam? Alliance doesn't like you?"

Riddick could hear the humor in her voice, as if the Alliance's likes and dislikes weren't of any concern to her. "Went to Slamcity the first time for killing some hún dàn (bastard) as deserved it. At least in my opinion. The next few times were for escaping the first time and for killing a few more, also deserving." He mentally shrugged. It wasn't as if he had anything better to do than talk.

"That's why the Blue Eyed Devil wanted you?" There was a smile in her voice. "He smells like drugs and fear and greed, but you know that already. Sorry, don't mean to be redundant. How did you kill the deserving hún dàn (bastard)?"

"That's what you want to know?" Riddick wondered if she was a little touched in the head and why even in Mandarin curses sounded odd with her voice. "How I killed people? Not why or how could I or even why am I still alive?"

"The interest is considered odd? Thought to make an inquiry that would give a common topic of conversation. Don't mean to be rude." Her voice was even more amused. "Fault is difficult to assign. She is what they made her after all." There was a frown in her voice and he heard her sigh. "Sorry, sometimes I lose track of my words, start slipping back into the crazy talk. It's hard to focus on who I am when I'm reading people. Jayne's always on me to talk straight. Crazy talk is a dead giveaway."

"You know my name," He realized, "You hear everything I'm thinking?"

"Told you," She murmured. "I can hear you, easier when you think in sentences. Don't have your ears, or your eyes, though mine are above average, the longer I'm in the dark, the better they are. Sense of smell isn't as heightened, but better than normal. I am as they made me. And when I have to kill I like a sword or my axe. Sometimes a gun if I'm in a hurry and don't care about the noise." River carefully delved further into his mind and withdrew, her touch delicate. "Your thoughts are pleasant, clear but not loud. Everything has images behind it, like lyrics have music. You have excellent mental control."

"How can you hear me?" Riddick wondered if the drugs had some effect after all. Maybe a new mix put him into an actual sleep and he was dreaming, just thinking he was awake.

"Long story," River shrugged to herself. "You're not asleep. We're both awake because we're different. You were born different. So was I but not like you. They took me apart so that I would be theirs, created what they wanted but copies can't ever replace the original. Took the girl apart and purposely put the pieces back wrong. Changed her, and then inflicted secrets so she tried to hide away. Her mind wouldn't fracture enough to hide the secrets, so she stayed crazy but truth will out." She paused and changed the subject, finding the entire topic, as Jayne would say, creepifying. "Why won't you answer my questions?"

"You ain't my friend, ain't my lover, ain't even a gun buddy." Riddick growled the thought back at her. "Why should I talk? You probably can pick it out of my head if you want."

Her giggle was as much of a shock to hear as it was to feel ripple through the air, even in the cryo tube he could feel the change due to her laughter. "Talking enough for the both of us, aren't I," River admitted smiling to herself. "I will be silent if you wish, already given you more than enough ammunition if you wished to turn on me I suppose." Her lips tightened and her voice grew more wary. "Surprise betrays her, shouldn't have spoken of weaknesses, perhaps he is not trustworthy in spite of what she reads."

"Anybody could tell you that." Riddick wasn't entirely certain he cared for her thoughts that he'd turn on her. "Just ask Johns, or any other merc who's come after me."

"Not interested in what they see or say or think. They are not trustworthy themselves, why believe their words? They're greedy and take Christmas away. Bring down their own doom." River retorted. "You don't give trust easily, but you can be trusted implicitly to do and say exactly as you promise, no more no less. You are filled with fire, bursting with fury, but you don't drive her mad the way They do. It is refreshing."

"They who?" He was confused and didn't like the feeling and an old fear he smelled on her due to whatever she'd been thinking was sour in his nostrils. Fear didn't smell right on her, on most everyone else it was part of their scent, everybody feared something, when they feared him it smelled sweet. But she didn't have that reek of bone deep fear and to suddenly smell it on her was…abhorrent.

"Fear should be sweet and mixed with the tang of blood and salt. Smells sticky like taffy or melted sugar. You like fear, why does hers offend you?" River wondered aloud and wished she could see his face. Minds were twisty and winding, a labyrinth of thoughts and memories and all too often gave her little or conflicting information. Faces were more reliable.

"Never mind that," Riddick wanted his answer and he wanted it now.

"He hasn't ever met Reavers?" River asked in answer to his demand. "She can hear them shriek in her head, rage and pain and they never stop, they never lie down. They drive her to the edge of reason."

"Reavers die just like anyone else." Riddick meant it to be reassuring. The cold chuckle that drifted through the air was startling compared to the merry little giggle he'd heard from her before.

"She knows they die. It's the only way to stop the screams." River told him darkly. "Men aren't meant to live without sin. Pax is the opposite of its name and she was the only one who could stand against them. They never lie down."

He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, thinking over what she'd said and comparing it to what he'd heard on the feeds when he'd been leading Johns on his chase. "You're talking about the Miranda wave." He thought the words carefully.

She made a phfft sound with her lips and he could almost hear her roll her eyes. "Riddick is only hearing part of what she said. He is smarter than this, she knows; he should try to keep up."

"Haven't had time for schoolin' much of late." He nearly snarled in his throat, disliking his ignorance. "Still trying to figure how you're awake."

"Told you that part of the story already," River sounded exasperated. "If he is going to be deliberately dense she will leave him to his boring thoughts of escape to be thwarted and go back to counting dreams. He has already said he doesn't really wish to speak with her."

"You like talking in riddles don't you." The convict sighed around the bit in his mouth and relaxed in his bonds. "Fine I'll think on it and then I'll ask you some more."

"Too late," River shook her head, "The tail of the star has found us and we are bound for Miranda's cousin. Too much light and then not enough." Her voice sped up. "Riddick must take care, walk the knife's edge or the devil will take his due. She would not wish him harmed. Liked talking with you."

"Don't worry on me." Riddick rolled his eyes. "Just don't cross me."

"Worry is pointless, she...she can't explain, she just knows...please take care," Her voice was tight with emotion. "Can't talk anymore Riddick, must listen now...sorry." Her voice went silent and he heard sounds from the cabin ahead of them.

Mentally he frowned and wondered what was going on, knowing she wouldn't speak anymore. Every impression he'd gotten from her speech was of an intelligent woman, eccentric but talented obviously. She'd struck him as stubborn and a bit impatient by nature but resigned to patience with those around her. The ship shook around them and he heard shouting from the cabin ahead of him.

Taking a deep breath Riddick wondered exactly what would happen. Miranda's cousin didn't exactly bode well for all of them.

Thirteen people alive, fourteen if she counted Owens, and really she couldn't because the man would die in the next few minutes. A decent man, the information he'd called out about the planet ran through her mind and she shuddered. A planet near another larger ringed one, little more than a moon really, with three suns, one blue, one red, one yellow, some oxygen, maximum terrain 220 meters over mean surface, land made of largely cinder and gypsum with some evaporite deposits. She shook her head and went back to evaluating the survivors.

Eight civilians, one merc, one docking pilot, one soldier, one killer and her, the mind reading assassin, or witch. River shook her head as she evaluated the group, the minds around her and realized that they'd all die here. A house divided cannot stand.

River watched as everyone left Fry with Owens and walked forward. Zoe was trying to calm the rest of the passengers. Johns had recaptured Riddick and had left him in the hold. The killer was thinking he'd at least give Owens the mercy of a quick death. Fry turned to look at her last remaining passenger. "I told you all to get out."

"He'll die screaming if I don't help you." River told her quietly. "Do you want him to be in agony?" She regarded the blonde woman with narrowed eyes. "Who knows what he'd say in the throes of death."

Fry blinked and shook her head. "What can you do?" River walked quickly over to the two crew members and knelt by the shrieking Owens. Her hands reached for his head only to have Fry grab her wrist. "What are you going to do?"

River sighed, "I'm going to break his neck and give him a death that doesn't involve agony." She told the woman in the plainest language she had. "He's going to die, why should he suffer? He's worthy of a good death but there are none to be had on this world. The chained man has the strength but none will trust him to do the deed."

Fry took a deep breath and let it out. "You're sure you can do it?"

"Not a little girl." River retorted. Before Fry could object again River took Owens' head in her hands and gave his skull a sharp hard twist. A dull crack and the light left Owens' eyes. "It was an honor Mr. Owens." She rose and bowed reverently to the shell of the man and turned on her heel leaving the wreck without a backward glance for Fry.

Riddick watched as the slender woman passed him, her dark eyes flickering over his body and blindfold to his bonds and the bulkhead. A tilt of her head upward and she was gone. Riddick swore mentally in admiration. She'd seen the same thing he had, the crack he could use to escape.

River walked over to Zoe and paused for a moment to flip open the locket she wore around her neck. A twist of the metal and a snap and the locket bore a slightly different design. Zoe's eyes regarded her approvingly and River saw that Zoe had done the same with the emblem she wore. After Miranda Mal had insisted his crew wear trackers. They hadn't started out as much, but with River and Kaylee working on them the cheap transmitters had evolved into something much more sophisticated.

"Gave the man mercy?" Zoe asked in her quiet voice.

River nodded sadly. "He might have lived if he'd made it to the cabin with Fry," She whispered. "He died because of where he was when we crashed, died to make sure we'd live. He wedged the airlock doors open so Fry couldn't simply drop the cryo section. He saw all our faces, felt responsible for us, felt as a Captain should." Her eyes welled up with tears and she blinked them back determinedly.

"So Fry was willing to drop all of us, to save her own chǔn lǘ (silly ass)," Zoe said grimly. "That type don't change their stripes just 'cause situation changes. She gets the chance, she'll choose herself every time." She touched River's loose hair affectionately. "It's good that you gave Owens mercy. He didn't deserve to die screaming."

"He was worthy of a better death." River said softly. "But I gave him what I could." She cast a glance around the wreckage and smiled up at her friend. "Sorry we didn't at least get the body armor."

Zoe chuckled. "Gotta admit we do end up in the strangest places," she looked at the rest of the passengers. "Heard they got a dangerous man back there."

"Dangerous, but honorable in his own way. Won't harm children, doesn't go out of his way to harm women unless they oppose him. Enjoys being feared, the only respect he's ever known. He is not dangerous to us." River murmured. "The blonde captain who isn't and the blue eyed devil will be more dangerous. They take self-interest to a new level. Jayne would look down on them. The man Riddick is…interesting, a killer, but…" She paused glancing back at the ship knowing the convict would soon escape. "He will not harm us, he is intrigued by our behavior I think."

"I won't ask how you know that." Zoe regarded River thoughtfully. "Any of your blades survive?"

"Sword is gone, axe as well." River sighed. "Knives and garrote are all that is left. The men who took us are long dead but our belongings could be somewhere in the cargo hold. Potential for recovery sixty three point two percent."

"Grateful they're dead at least." The first mate sat down as the Chrislams began to pray and River joined her. "Any idea where we are?"

River looked at the ground and shuddered slightly. "You won't like it."

"Anything you say in that tone of voice, no, pretty sure I won't." Zoe sighed. "Tell me anyway."

"Miranda's cousin." River said in a flat voice. "Darkness is death here."

"Well, I can't think of anything I've done, but it seems like we're in the Shepherd's Special Hell don't it." Zoe shook her head.

"No talking in the theatre," River shook her head. "No boys to molest, no boy to even kiss." She sighed a little sadly, "Not what anyone wanted for Christmas."

"Simon wanted you for Christmas," Zoe reminded her young friend.

"Ge ge's (big brothers) don't really count," River pointed out. "The girl is skinny and short. Looks like a child. Near two decades old and still looks like a child in the eyes of family."

"We get off this world and we'll find one of Inara's friends for you." Zoe promised. "A girl should at least be kissed before she dies."

"Your words are very comforting," the younger girl told her dryly.

"I'd kiss ya myself but I don't go that way." Zoe tried to smile at her young friend.

"Twins would be powerful confused to see Momma kissing big sister." River grinned back at Zoe.

"Confusion might do 'em some good when they're older, but I'm still not kissin' ya yǎng nǚ (adopted daughter)." The dark woman shook her head slowly.

River turned and looked at the wreckage as Fry and Johns moved towards it. "From the frying pan…to another pan," She sighed. "She has calculated it will take at least four days before Serenity can close in on our signal. Possibly less, but percentages are imprecise. We must take steps or we will die when night falls."

"River, I'd like to know what it is you're thinking." Zoe kept her voice low, her eyes wary on the rest of the survivors.

"Glad the men who took us were in the compartment that fell off the ship. Vanderdecken class, modified heavy cargo carrier," River murmured, her eyes darting over the landscape and the other survivors. "Ship is losing water, air is thin here, Zoe will need oxygen and water soon. She will need it a bit later but soon enough." She looked down at the sand and then at Zoe. "The children of Miranda's cousin dwell beneath us, a not entirely accurate a title, but it will suffice. Light is pain and death. Darkness is when they feed."

Zoe squinted up at the suns which were too close together for her liking. "Three suns would mean a long time without the dark, but they're closer together now."

"Soon they will align and darkness will fall over the planet." River had also taken a brief look at the suns in the sky. "Calculations estimate nightfall before rescue."

"So we need a way off this rock or a place to hole up for four days." Zoe regarded the girl with a stoic expression, knowing River could feel her unease. "How long with the darkness last?"

"Too long." River murmured. "Bad luck that we arrive just as the eclipse is upon the world."

"Do we have any other kind?" Zoe muttered.

"She has Momma," River took Zoe's hand and squeezed it gently. "Momma has River. Two of the strongest of Serenity's daughters. We'll survive." She turned to regard the three boys gathered around the holy man and one standing alone, apart from the pioneer couple and the core man. "Jack is alone, she has no one and is running, afraid."

"Jack?" Zoe blinked as she looked at the boy River silently indicated. "Can't be more than fifteen."

"Age undetermined, tries not to think of home," River said softly. "Hungry most of her life, en-slaved, took a boy's name and cut her hair to hide. Hiding here won't help. Blood calls them. She can feel them beneath the surface, they smell Owens and hunger but don't dare hunt."

"And she's…" Zoe took a deep breath as she realized River meant Jack was beginning her cycle. "Damn."

"She must belong to Serenity too." River quipped, "Who else has such bad luck?"

"She must." Zoe grinned. "Why don't you see what you can find in the cargo hold when it's clear, maybe our weapons, bags or some of the packages we bought will be there. I'll go and talk to little Jack."

River grinned. "Yes Momma," she stood easily despite the shifting sand and gave Zoe her hand, pulling her up. "Zoe," She looked at the older woman before moving towards the wreck. "Thank you."

"You're mine." Zoe smiled affectionately. "You want her, well, then she's mine too."

"Most wouldn't." River pointed out.

"Most don't fly with Mal." Zoe's smile tilted ironically and she turned, her walk filled with purpose.

Riddick chuckled to himself as listened to the sheep milling around; people were endlessly entertaining. If he had to be chained up at least he had something tasty to watch and think on. Blindfold obstructed his view some but with enough twisting he could see bits and pieces. What he couldn't see, his other senses more than made up for. The slender girl with dark eyes was with another woman, obviously many years her senior and of no blood relation. Both of them were dressed in clothing more suited for ship or station life than dirtside. The younger one wore cargo pants and some sort of combat boots, looked odd on those dainty feet, but the silk he'd smelled was the mans shirt tied over a muscle tee advertising noodles. The dark woman, the older one was dressed like she'd seen combat, and wore body armor under her shirt and leather pants she'd regret in the heat. Neither of the women moved as if they were worried about their situation. Strange, interesting women, he would have grinned if he could.

If he'd had to guess which of them was River before anyone had spoken he might have chosen the woman called Zoe. Tall and strong, she looked as if she bowed before nothing and no one. But it was the delicate core girl who had spoken to him, awake just like him, amidst all the sleeping cargo of people. An incredibly gorgeous girl who walked as if she had dance engraved in her bones. To his shaded sight, she was a picture of contrasts, skin nearly white, and hair and eyes shining and dark. He wouldn't have put her age at anymore than sixteen, slender and dainty, but she was the one who said she preferred a sword to a gun. Not that he blamed her, but guns had their place, as long as the job got done.

Riddick listened as the passengers, all but River and her momma, thanked Fry for saving them, asking permission to aid in their own survival. He nearly snorted in distaste, little did they know their precious captain wasn't and she'd tried to dump them all to save herself. He had heard Owens screaming at Fry if no one else had. Owens was the hero but no one would know it. And of course Johns was trying to get in good with Fry.

The girl who was pretending to be a boy was the one asking the best questions. That wasn't surprising. Johns was too busy thinking about his next hit and the pioneer couple were humorously condescending. Even the skinny man from the core was more concerned with his comforts than survival, although he was at least funny. The tall woman with River had scrutinized the interior of the ship carefully before she'd left, her eyes not as fast as the girl's but thorough. Riddick got the feeling this woman didn't miss much, but she and her girl kept to themselves, always touching, the dark woman's hand on the girl's arm or shoulder. Not as if she thought the girl was fragile, but as if that was the image they wanted to project.

He heard River's voice speaking to Jack, her voice reassuring though her truthful words were anything but hopeful. And then the fun started as Fry and Johns came back into the ship with Fry staring at him. "And him?"

Johns shook his head. "Him? He just escaped from a maximum security prison."

The acting captain kept her eyes on Riddick. He could hear her heartbeat speed up as she gazed at him. "Should he just stay locked up forever?"

The blue eyed merc shrugged. "That would be my choice."

Fry shook her head. "Is he really that dangerous?"

The next words out of John's mouth were the only smart ones Riddick had heard him say. "Only around humans."

Riddick took a deep breath, inhaling as much oxygen as he could. Sooner or later they'd notice the ship was losing water. And with all of them preoccupied with finding water he could do something about escaping. Waiting would be better, until they found the cargo hold and started to search it. That would keep them occupied so no one would come while he was arranging his escape.

He heard them leave, heard their voices drift away to faint murmurs in the direction of the cargo hold, and began to evaluated the time it would take to pop his shoulders and grab the welding torch he'd gotten a glimpse of. Before he could begin someone else entered the wreck, silk and steel and apples, he knew it was her before he even tried to look. Suddenly hating the bit gag he scowled as best he could with it stretching his mouth.

"Foolish of them to bind you so, to attempt constriction of a warrior made for battle," River murmured, keeping her hands at her sides. "But she will not have him injured in the escape he is so determined to make, regardless of his ability to heal." Tilting her head she regarded the chains and cuffs. "She must stand close to him in order to free him. An invasion of personal space. She hopes he will excuse this rudeness?"

Riddick nodded slowly wondering what in the gorram hell she was planning on. He was answered when she pressed against his body, her arms reaching around to his cuffs. Her body against his felt...too damn good, he realized; this close he could smell honey along with the apples and silk and steel and that tantalizing touch of blood that never left her. A slight rasp of metal on metal and he watched as her eyes closed, feeling her fingers move against the cuffs. The look of concentration he could see on her face, bottom lip caught between her teeth was almost enough to make him forget his questions. Why was she helping him? What was her angle?

"She and her momma and Jack will need his help. We are separate from the sheep and do not wish to die with them. Additionally she does not wish Riddick to die." River murmured, her lips close to his ear, her breath sending ripples of air over his flesh. "The holy man is not a fool, just faithful. She would save him if she could. The married couple move between panic and practicality, can't be certain of character. Paris is selfish, but not...mean...merely a bit foolish as many of the Core are." She felt the lock give under her probing and smiled. "He is free. No one is in front of the wreck right now. They are all in the cargo hold."

Riddick brought his arms forward slowly, easing the metal of the cuffs and chains down to the floor without a rattle. As he moved his arms forward she stepped back, the touch of her slender body leaving his. Removing the bit gag was a relief and he flexed his lips before he trusted himself to speak. "You keep sayin' this escape is foolish."

"He will be caught. Better to be freed out of need. Still...freedom of choice is all." River whispered standing away from him as he stretched carefully. His voice was deep, with an undertone that reminded her of coffee and dark chocolate, nothing sweet but rich and expressive. It was a voice that matched his mind and tickled her nerve endings.

"Why d'ya do it then?" He grabbed her waist and put her against the hull, holding her with hard unyielding hands. She should have been terrified, a criminal, a murderer, snarling in her face, holding her so she couldn't move. But she wasn't; there wasn't the faintest note of fear to her scent. Riddick couldn't understand her, she was so calm, but the honey aroma rose off her again, sweet in his nose. It couldn't be lust, her heartbeat hadn't even spiked, just increased slightly when she'd stepped towards him to pick the lock and a slightly again when he'd grabbed her.

"Injury could impede escape later. Know what it's like to have choice taken away... And I...didn't want to feel your pain, I'll feel enough of it before night falls," She explained quietly. "Go now please, before they come back." She looked fearlessly into his eyes, somehow meeting his gaze even through the blindfold. Her eyes were huge, dark against pale skin, like his favorite hour of the night. He let go of her, let her drop, and she touched the ground almost if she was dancing. But the rest of her was unreadable, her face serene and gorgeous but empty of any emotion he could understand.

Riddick took one good deep breath and fixed her scent in his mind, grabbing a pair of dark goggles before he left. Interesting girl. Way too interesting. Best avoided if at all possible.

River shook her head as she entered the hold and pushed back towards the cargo area. The conversation by the wreck wasn't going well. They were all talking about Riddick's escape, his cuffs and bit had vanished along with him, and Johns was doing his best to scare everyone by saying Riddick would come back to kill them, for fun or to ensure his survival. And he'd stared straight at her and said the convict might come back just to skullfuck them in their sleep. Johns didn't understand Riddick anymore than he understood her. The idea of Riddick coming back to fight with her was...she sighed and rolled her eyes at herself. Sad when the thought of a no holds barred fight with another animal worked her female parts more than flirtation. But no one else heard Riddick's mind, heard the beauty and clarity, the sheer grace of his thoughts.

River set thoughts of the man aside and looked around the hold again. Riddick wasn't ready to bargain with her yet, wasn't ready to see her as anything other than an interesting piece of scenery or a tool to be utilized in escape. Percentages, calculations indicated that would change, but not immediately. He needed time on his own, time to be curious.

At least he didn't know her well enough to realize just how attracted to him she was. Zoe could see it, but then she and Zoe were close these days and shared an appreciation of well formed men with humor and spirit. Riddick's sense of humor might be darker than Zoe liked but it fit River's own mindset very well. She'd adored his mind but seeing the man, taller than she was, but not towering over her, had sent such a flush of lust through her body she'd had to concentrate on breathing. Even his face was attractive to her, features that were handsome without being sharp. He didn't look like a core man at all and sounded less like one, his voice was rough and smooth at the same time. She'd had a hard time not staring at his mouth when he'd pulled the bit gag out, full sensuous lips she wanted on her own.

The only thing that had saved her from complete embarrassment was that Riddick had no idea what she was feeling, he could only interpret her scent, individual notes didn't have meaning for him yet. In time he'd know too well what honey and apples meant when he caught that aroma on her skin, but right now... Right now his ignorance kept her from appearing completely foolish, from obviously lusting after him like someone else.

Of course, she wasn't the only one to notice Riddick's very masculine beauty. Fry's thoughts had been filled with lust from the moment she'd seen Riddick's powerful body. The pilot lusted after a man she feared. That was something River couldn't understand, how could you fear what you wanted so badly? Why would you want something that terrified you? A little fear was normal, intimacy took trust, but such an immediate reaction as Fry had, for what was only, after all, the surface of the man. Fry couldn't hear or feel Riddick's mind, the exquisite layered labyrinth of thoughts and emotions and images River found so intoxicating. She simply couldn't understand such attraction coupled with fear. Were all women so odd? Or was she the strange one?

She shook her head again and tore her thoughts away from Riddick. Fry was truly an idiot. Mal would never had left Serenity without first doing a thorough examination of the damage. "Space junk," she muttered as she found the cargo hold. "Kaylee would cut this up for parts."

Frowning she took a deep breath and felt her lungs strain for oxygen. One of the settlers, Zeke, was working on finding a way to augment their oxygen supplies, so she need not concern herself with it. Her goal was to find weapons and water, not necessarily in that order as Kaylee would say. A brief smile tilted her lips as she thought of her sister-in-law. Once Simon had gotten his head out of his pì gu (butt) he'd wasted no time.

She took another breath of the thin air and listened for the minds around her. She doubted Riddick would go far away from the rest of them, even a killer needed to be part of the pack, Alpha though he was. Sure enough, with a little concentration she heard Riddick's thoughts. He was thinking about how to get water, and how he'd planted a false trail. His glee over escaping and messing with Johns' head was like a little boy's joy in escaping school. Shaking her head in amusement she began to look through the cargo for their things.

It took some time, and she was extremely thirsty afterwards, her throat dry with the dust that blew in the hold, but she found several bags with their personal effects. Zoe's mare's leg and her sword and axe had been stuffed carelessly into the bags along with the results of their shopping expedition. They must have gone from being gassed to directly aboard the ship, and leaving anything behind would have left a trail. Pleased River dragged the bags out and smiled.

Their bags had been missed in the general search for weapons, hidden under a fallen shelving unit that once had been affixed to the bulkhead. She slid her sword onto her back and wound her hair up into a knot at the base of her neck to keep it out of her way. Zoe would be pleased to get out of the leather pants she wore.

Emerging from the cargo hold River paused a moment. Zoe was scanning the horizon in search of the convict, everyone else was working on various ways to be comfortable, and pooling their possessions in order to provide for all. River sighed. Society dictated that she do the same but first she must take care of Zoe. Once Zoe had her belongings they could both offer aid to the group.

The dark woman looked up as River left the ship, dragging two duffle bags behind her. "You found them." She observed, moving to pick one of them up. "Was getting a little worried about you. Thought maybe that convict had circled back 'round an' caught ya, maybe I'd have to go lookin' for a body. You try not to go far anymore, all right?"

River grinned, Zoe's words were entirely different from her thoughts, congratulating River on her subterfuge and informing her that no one had noticed she'd been absent before Riddick's escape. Fry moved towards them, eyeing the duffle bags appraisingly.

"Whatcha got there?" The would be captain raised an eyebrow curiously.

"Personal belongings," River bit the words off. "Zoe's and mine. Zoe needs to get into planet clothes, too hot for what she's wearing."

"River's medicine is in here too." Zoe stared straight at the woman who would have killed them all without a thought if it weren't for Owens. She had no respect for someone who didn't keep their word, and as the one flying the ship, Fry had been responsible for all their lives. "Send Jack over and we'll see if we've got things to fit him. River's got scarves and such, might be good to cover our heads the way the Holy man is."

Fry nodded, her expression thoughtful as she took in Zoe's clothing for apparently the first time. "Do us no good if you pass out from heat stroke." She regarded River, not missing the hilt of the sword on her back. "What kind of medication?"

"Mostly vitamins," River shrugged as she pulled open her bag and began rummaging through it. "Medical procedure caused a deficiency that must be supplemented. Brain doesn't work right without them."

"How long can you go without them?" Fry wanted to know, her pretty face fixed in a mask of concern. River tilted her head, reading Fry's thoughts, the pilot was concerned River might have a seizure or collapse, waste the group's time and resources and then die anyway. River's lip nearly curled in disgust.

"She's gone as long as a week, but she gets dizzy spells after six days, can't talk straight," Zoe intervened before River could tell the blonde what to do with her questions. "We should have a month's supply though."

"Good." Fry regarded the two women with a look that was frankly scrutinizing and folded her arms. "How are you two related?"

River imitated the blonde's position and stared coldly back at the pilot. "None of your business." She pointed at the group. "Go back to your sheep and send Jack over."

"River," Zoe's voice held both maternal reprimand and quiet warning and the younger girl sat down next to her duffle and ignored Fry in favor of her belongings. "Sorry, she hasn't eaten since before we were in cryo, the drugs always make her a little off. River is my ward."

"I'll send Jack over." Fry regarded the dark woman thoughtfully before she left the two of them alone.

"Sorry to be rude Zoe," River sighed. "Did not like her thoughts. Always on herself, condescending. Believed I am brain damaged, wondered if I could be left on my own."

"Not gonna happen." Zoe told her firmly. "You got Kaylee's tea in your bag?"

River nodded, smiling in pleasure as her hand touched the metal canteen and checked the other duffle bag. "In yours as well." She looked over at the Chrislams who weren't able to partake in the alcohol. "They will go in search of water soon. Fry and Johns will go with them. Fry wants to get away from the sheep, Johns to search for Riddick. We should stay here."

Zoe nodded slowly. "Trouble?" River looked down at the ground meaningfully and Zoe sighed. "Of course. Because Fry wanted her crew buried."

"Shouldn't we bury them though?" Jack asked softly as she neared them, "Seems like the decent thing to do."

"Decent ain't always wise little one." Zoe said with a brief smile. "River says you're not...what you seem to be. And you're going to need some help."

Jack stiffened and cast wary eyes at the two of them. "Don't know what you mean."

"You're a girl." River murmured. "And your menses are almost on you. The night will be a bad time for bleeding."

"Don't know what you mean." Jack repeated stubbornly but there was a faint gleam of fear in those dark eyes as they stared at River. "Before you said those who died now were the lucky ones."

"She weren't wrong." Zoe nodded as she pulled out a pair of cargos and regarded Jack with an evaluating eye. "You come 'long with me, get you fixed up as much as we can, something to protect your head at least. I need to get out of this leather 'fore I melt."

"Scarves Zoe," River pulled several from her bag. "And your khakis." She dug them out from Zoe's duffle. "Thin shirt, mare's leg, knives." She touched the metal of the canteen. "Kaylee's gift."

"I'll take that over to Imam when I'm done changing, 'less you do it sooner." Zoe nodded and looked at Jack. "Anything that'll fit Jack?"

"Of a size with me." River nodded and pulled out a spare pair of cargos along with a shirt. "Lighter weight and colors, better than black in the desert." She handed them to Jack. "Knives when you come back."

Jack blinked at the two of them. "You're not gonna tell?"

River tilted her head. "Tell now, be found out later, which would you rather?"

"Later, definitely." Jack breathed out in relief.

Zoe's lips quirked up wryly at River before the first mate grabbed the clothes and her mare's leg, nodding for Jack to follow her.

River sighed to herself and wondered if people ever really changed. Here they were all stuck on a desert planet, no water, no information and Johns was only worried about his fix. Fry was afraid someone would learn her secret and vacillated between the throes of guilt and self justification. The self styled leaders of the psychotic family were the ones least suited to lead it. She wished Zoe would take charge but Johns and Fry were already in position to lead by dint of the false badge and false title.

She could feel Riddick out in the dunes, watching them and turned in his direction. His thoughts were at least interesting to hear. The pioneer couple, Shazza and Zeke were worried for each other, survival, what would they do all their savings sunk into their passage. The holy man Imam was surprisingly pragmatic, his concern was for his three young pilgrims, worry that he would not be enough to take care of them. The three young boys were all afraid and curious by varying degrees, interested in their surroundings but more and more worried as they grew thirsty.

Imam looked in her direction and when she nodded began to move towards her. "You are not afraid little one?" He asked quietly. "So much unknown can be hard for the spirit to bear."

River smiled slightly, he was a good person. "Fear drains energy," She shrugged. "Better to control myself, control my fear, not let it control me." She cast a cautious look at the others. "You can't drink alcohol," She stated.

"No, but I am certain we will find water. We think there are trees in that direction, trees mean water." Imam told her.

"But your boys are thirsty." River reached into her bag. "I can't drink alcohol either. It erodes control and I'm not used to it." She held out a canteen. "My sister always packs me tea."

"She is a good woman your sister," The holy man smiled. "But you will be in need of it if you cannot imbibe of spirits."

"Momma has a canteen also. She will share with me and Jack. I share with you and your boys, but only because you will not drink spirits," River spoke emphatically. "Do not give it to the others. It would be a waste. You will need it when you go to find water."

"I will take your very wise advice." Imam gave her a slight bow and concealed the canteen in his robes. River saw in his mind his plan to draw his children off slightly to pray and give them each sips of the tea. "We will go to search soon I think."

"That would be wise." River looked over the desert. "This is not a safe place."

"That's the understatement of the century." Zoe quipped as she and Jack returned, more appropriately garbed for the heat. "River, you all right in that or do you need to change?" She looked at the holy man and nodded politely.

"She is well." River replied absently. "Imam and the others go to search for water soon."

"Take care Shepherd, this ain't a friendly place," Zoe offered quietly and Jack nodded her agreement.

"We will be certain to do so." Imam bowed again and walked back towards his pilgrims.

River looked after him and then at Zoe and Jack. "They'll find water. But they'll find screaming when they do." She looked through her bag one last time and touched her axe. "Should she keep her axe or offer it?"

Zoe frowned thoughtfully. "Might be best to offer it. You've got your knives and sword. I've got mine, enough for Jack too. Get rid of the bags altogether might be best."

The girl nodded her agreement and looked Jack up and down. "Pass for a boy a while longer, probably." She sighed and dug through her bag one more time, pulling out a couple of knives and handing them to Jack.

"Dandy." Zoe wrinkled her nose and wished she dared discard the body armor. "Lets be good neighbors."

Riddick watched as River and her momma dragged their bags over to the rest of the survivors. They were immediately lambasted for not contributing immediately. That resulted in the dark woman Zoe speaking with a look on her face that suggested they were all idiots. From River's expression she agreed with her momma. Jack was standing slightly behind Zoe, keeping quiet and just watching. Damn, he liked that kid more and more, for sheer nerve if nothing else. Then Fry decided she should use the sword River wore on her back and got the shock of her life.

River pulled the blade from her back and a knife from who knew where and had them both expertly pointed at Fry before the woman could take another step. Fry backed down, big shock there, Riddick nearly snorted in contempt.

Fry covered her retreat by taking up the axe, a wicked jagged thing it was hard to believe a slip of a girl could wield. From the look on River's face she really didn't like Fry touching the axe either, but Zoe's touch on her arm calmed her without a word. The others began to catalog what was in the bags, pulling out clothing and letting it flutter in the wind while Zoe spoke, her face expressionless.

Riddick shook his head. Either these women were softhearted or they were playing a deeper game. Neither of them were stupid, that was obvious. He'd seen River give an object to the holy man, and then the holy man had gone off somewhere with his boys.

And now everyone but the pioneers, the core boy and River's little group were trooping off into the desert. Right into the path of the blue sun, straight in his direction. The male pioneer, Zeke had begun digging. Riddick wasn't certain that was a good idea. Something about the way the ground vibrated under his feet gave him a bad feeling about digging more than a foot down.