And in this world
Where nothing else is true
Here I am
Still tangled up in you
I'm still tangled up in you
How long has it been
Since this storyline began
And I hope it never ends
And goes like this forever
"Tangled Up In You" Staind
His head hurt like hell. A low throb that told him he'd reached beyond his limits and probably nearly killed himself. Again. He was laying on something soft, and it smelled of cotton and faint traces of detergent. For one panicked moment he thought he was back. Back in that room with the cot and the cameras and the girls they kept throwing at him. He lunged upwards and was brought up short by his hands, which refused to move from their places.
Which made sense, considering they were cuffed to the bed.
Disdain worked its way through his nose, and he heard a low snort to one side. Shaking his head to clear it and resisting the urge to try and rub at his watering eyes, he looked over. Mal was there, leaning against a cupboard with his arms crossed, glaring bloody murder. That was all he managed to see before the lights got to be too much and he had to shut his eyes again. He didn't lie back down though. Better to not be pointing his already seared retinas at the ceiling if he could help it. Eyelids tended to do shit against light. Unlike his goggles.
His feet were cuffed too, and he couldn't remember if he'd had boots for them to have taken off in the first place. It didn't matter really. Bare feet were bare feet. And it wasn't like he was going any place any time soon
Something was off though. He'd woken like this too many times to count, chained up and stuck. That part was pretty familiar. But there was still something off. He searched his mind and rammed right into a tree root. He didn't trip over it. He ran into it.
Was it just him or had the fucking tree gotten bigger since River had reentered his mind?
He couldn't smell her. He smelled himself, cleaned up but definitely himself. He could smell Mal; gun oil, leather and faint incense overlaid with anger and disgust. He could smell antiseptics and cleaning supplies, but they weren't fresh. Someone had disinfected this room thoroughly, but not recently.
No blood. No lust and rage and despair. None of that sick joy that meant one of the creatures had spotted him and had ideas about what size throw rug he'd make. But no apples either. No rain. None of the indicators of her mood. Nothing to tell him she was anywhere nearby, or had been in the past few hours. Had it all been a mirage? Some fever dream his brain had cooked up for itself?
He lunged forward again, biting back a growl that sat too close to the surface for comfort. Mal, to his credit, didn't jump or start stinking of fear. But he did spit out a curse, and he heard metal slide over leather.
Smart man. The animal was still in charge of the majority of his reflexes at the moment; and it was getting more and more frantic every second. Where was the girl? Where was she? He didn't dream her did she? He'd dreamt he'd killed her. Was it true?
::Idiot.:: Her voice was crisp. ::Only one bed in the infirmary. They had to put her somewhere.:: Her touch against his mind was enough to quiet the panicked growls of the animal, if only just a little, and he found himself relaxing. He hadn't dreamt it. Hadn't hallucinated.
Had really tried to kill her.
Had nearly managed it.
He grunted at the shock of the realization. He didn't remember much of the past few weeks. At least not since the swarm of Kyra-Jacks had boiled out of the inner parts of the complex and sent even the animal to a place beyond madness. But he remembered that.
Remembered seeing her but not feeling her in his head; not like he was supposed to. Remembered a song, a woman's voice singing. And then…nothing. Fog and the need to kill and the target right in front of him. A slim neck in his grasp.
Blood. Sanity. The bond, rushing back into being and rejoining their minds as they rejoined their bodies. The world, right again.
But he'd nearly killed her.
What right did he ever have to try and touch her again?
She was silent, although he could feel her scorn. He could smell scorn too, coming off Mal in waves. He didn't blame the man. Given everything that had happened he'd be feeling the same way. And he wouldn't have been so kind as to just chain him up either.
"Ya done," Mal asked, moving around to stand in front of him. He heard leather scrape, and braced himself for the sound of hammer being pulled back. "Or you gonna do some more damage? Pitch yourself some sort a' fit again?"
Small hands through fur kept the animal from making its reply. The man struggled forward, working for coherency and balance. It was hard going. It always had been, when he came back to himself like this.
Finally he managed a cough, and made dry lips form sounds. "Yeah," he muttered. "I'm done."
Still no bullet. The animal nearly got loose from the girl when a warm hand wrapped around his wrist. But the man had enough control now to push it back as he heard metal on metal and felt the click of a lock being released.
Maybe he should have told Mal to stay put. He didn't know how much control he'd have if he was about to be loose. Of course, he'd never cared much for the man anyways so it wouldn't be a huge loss if he gutted him.
Apples and rain and silk and vanilla. That's what he wanted in his nose right now. And he was about to plow right through Mal to get to them too, if he didn't get his ass out of the way fast enough.
The other wrist was free now, and something small was pressed into his palm before he heard Mal shift away, taking his hammering heart and too calm breathing pattern with him. The lights in the room weren't bright enough to push through his eyelids and give him a sense of where the Captain had gone, which was fine really. He preferred the dark. He didn't know if he wanted to be looking anyone in the eye any time soon.
His feet were freed easily enough, but he stayed on the bed, listening for Mal as he reached through the bond for the girl on the other side. She was still there, twined around the animal like she was never letting go. But she was absorbed in something else, and it was the weapon who met him instead of the waif. Cold steel eyes and hands tightened into fists. She didn't make a move to attack, but neither did she welcome him.
Neither the animal nor the man could blame her. The way to the girl and the stream were clear, but he found himself incredibly reluctant to go to her. To give her the chance to reject any advances.
He'd hunted her. Yes, it was a thing he did to most people. But he had also nearly killed her.
He'd nearly killed the other half of his being.
Nothing could excuse that.
Something landed in his lap and he scrabbled to catch it before it slipped off his knees. He could hear Mal moving, and tilted his head to follow the man's progress as he ran his hands over the blade he'd been given.
KA-BAR. Military issue. A design older than the colonization of space. Functional. Simple lines, straight edges. He hadn't used one since he'd worn a uniform, and even then, he'd preferred something with more of a curve to the edge. It was sharp too. The fresh cut to the pad of his thumb and the scent of new blood in the air could attest to that.
"Lights are dimmer," Mal said harshly. "Not off. Not giving you that much."
The girl shifted against his mind and the animal let itself be quieted as he slitted his eyes open. It was bearable. Not great, but bearable. He had a feeling as to where this was going. And what had River so distracted.
"Now," Mal was leaning against the wall, one hand on the butt of his gun. "Got me a choice to make. An' so do you. Told you once, what would happen you ever hurt River. You remember what you said?"
He remembered. He just hadn't known Mal had heard. "Thought I'd done my worst already."
The animal snarled and the man growled back. They deserved this. This and whatever else was coming. Whether it had worked out or not. Whether it had kept River safe or not. For what they'd done they'd sit here and take this.
In his head, River snorted in contempt.
"Now, 'bout this point, I'd say there's only one answer. Problem with that is that River seems all kinds of set on keepin' you. Probl'y should have just left you for the bombs to take care of, but she pitched herself an all mighty fit about bringin' you back along. Damn near killed her, it did, seein' as she'd nearly bled out. And so 'd you."
Riddick looked up from the knife he was turning over in his hands to meet the man's eyes. Mal was glaring, and still fingering that gun. The animal snarled and started pulling itself free of the girl's hold. Bastard. Fucking cocksucker. Did he know who the hell he was fucking with?!
If Mal saw any of the animal creeping out in Riddick's face, he didn't show it. Instead he nodded to the knife. "Now you're all patched up. Gonna give you this chance. Tell you same thing I told the Doc once. I ever kill you, you'll be awake, you'll be facing me, and you'll be armed." He pushed himself up away from the wall and let his hand settle more firmly on the gun.
Riddick didn't need a second invitation. The animal lunged forward, side stepping just enough to catch the bullet along the ribs instead of right in the gut like Mal had intended. The bond quivered as the girl on the other end slipped and struggled to reach him. But this was the man who'd been judging her. This was the man who'd been judging him. And he'd be fucked if he let someone besides the girl carry out the sentence he knew was coming. That he knew he deserved.
Apples and rain stopped him a hairsbreadth from jamming the tip of the knife up between Mal's ribs. The animal ground to a halt as steel seared his nostrils and the sound of her heart beating drowned out his own. He panted, barely feeling Mal's struggle against his hold as the man warred for control with the animal and won. He could feel stitches across his torso and back and everywhere else as they stretched and pulled, just like his control. The touch of skin on skin helped, and he turned his head to meet huge dark eyes in a pale face. Growling and spitting, the animal let itself be dragged back by the twin pull of the man and the girl.
There was no need for that now. No need to lose his cool. Not if she was there to help him keep it.
Oh God let her let him keep breathing. Let him keep smelling her, hearing her. Tasting, touching, feeling her in every way possible. Even if she hated him, a thing he richly deserved, let him still exist in a world with her in it.
A smile was tugging on the corners of her mouth, shaky though it was. Glimmers of light pooled in her eyes, and he smelled the faintest hint of salt water. He couldn't bring himself to lift a hand though, when the tears ran down her cheeks. Couldn't bring himself to touch the girl he'd hurt so badly. He'd never done anything to deserve her, and when he'd had her…when he'd panicked…he had no right. No right at all.
He'd dropped Mal at some point, and the Captain dragged himself upright, choking and gasping. Almost without thinking about it, Riddick straightened and got out the man's way. He could get his gun, as far as the animal was concerned. He wasn't important any more.
Faint hints of charcoal. The slide of silk across his senses. Vanilla, spiced and warm.
Her fingers laced with his where they hung loose at his side, and he felt his heart hammer in his chest as she pulled his hand up to settle around her waist. Then the other, and the animal was growling worriedly and the man looking up at the sky to see if he couldn't find the anvil about to land on his head. The weapon was a stalking hissing presence in the far corner of her mind, but the waif was on her knees in front of the jaguar, arms wrapped around its neck and her face buried in its fur. Water was rising around them, the stream having overrun its banks again.
In the physical though, she was looking at Mal as he leaned heavily on the infirmary bed and watch them carefully, one hand rubbing at his throat, the other holding his gun. "Mine," she said firmly, and pressed herself a little closer in Riddick's arms. She'd gotten the KA-BAR at some point and had it pointed at her Captain, the other hand having fisted into the back of Riddick's shirt.
Mal opened his mouth, and then shut it as she made a little lunge in his direction. "If you wish to reclaim the girl as daughter, wish that she continues to pilotMother, then you will heed her on this."
Riddick contented himself with just breathing in her scent, not trusting the animal, still too close to the surface, not the make a wreck of things. It was going to come down to her. It always had. It always would.
"You have seen now. Exactly what she is. What he is. Make your choice, Captain Daddy. For to have her is to have him." She took a breath, and he felt slim fingers ghost up his spine, both in the mental and the physical. A low rumble started to build in his chest, and vanilla dance through the air in answer. He couldn't smell Mal's reaction. He didn't care what it was. She was touching him. Speaking for him. Of her own free will. It was the greatest gift he'd ever been given and all he could think was that she'd better wrap this up soon before he put her up against the wall right here in front of Mal.
'Cause that would do jack shit for her cause at the moment.
Humor and answering desire floated through the bond before she bit her lip and looked back at the man still standing there waiting for her to finish the ultimatum. "Listened to her, when she said they must follow. Came. Nearly died for it, but saw the truth of the prophecy. Will you not listen now Captain Daddy? When all she asks is a home for her and the Riddick?"
The gun slid back into the holster far slower than it had been drawn. Riddick waited, listening to their heart beats, feeling her breasts press against his chest with every sharply drawn breath and doing his best not to reach for the too thin cloth of her shirt and rip it right off her. It helped that he'd worked his fingers up under the hem and could trace circles on her skin with his thumbs.
Finally Mal sighed and drug his hands across his face. "You promise not ta' destroy my boat? Not crash her into some god-awful little moon?"
She was out of his arms quicker than thought, shrieking as she launched herself at the Captain. He caught her and nearly fell over as they rebounded off the bed. Riddick reached out and grabbed the other man by the back of the shirt, put his hand on that soft round ass of River's and set the two of them back upright. River was giggling fit to burst, and he couldn't help but smile at the silk that flooded the room and the joy that was thrumming through the bond and overwhelming man and animal both.
"They will try," she managed to gasp around the laughter. "She makes no promises."
Two weeks later, Riddick was finally managing to be glad for the near death experience in the infirmary. Zoe had clocked him a good one the first time he and River showed their faces out of their bunk, and Jayne had stuck the tip of his big hunting knife up under his jaw and blustered and growled until River hauled him bodily away. Which was a good thing, considering the animal's patience had just about run out and he was going to start hitting back instead of sitting there and taking it. It was amazing, what having the bond back was doing for his self-control. But there was only so much he was willing to take from anyone who wasn't River before all bets were off.
Simon had gotten in his face, predictably enough, and he'd lasted a full minute before picking the man up by his shirt front and throwing him back into a chair, growling and snarling and reaching for the steadying presence of the girl in his head. Killing the little fuck would be beyond satisfying, but would also do far more damage than good.
Having River slip up in front of him, back pressed to his chest and a blade in either hand had helped incredibly, and he'd lost the sense of her words as she snapped at her brother, paying more attention to her scent and the way she was wrapping herself up in the animal instead. He'd almost drug her back to their bunk right then, or at least around a corner, but Thomas had stepped up behind him, coughed lightly to announce himself, and laid a hand on his shoulder.
He'd nearly come out of his skin. He still didn't know if it was because the Operative wasn't trying to kill him, or because the man was looking at him with something like understanding in his eyes, but he'd manage to land back in himself with only a couple of sideways looks from the others. Thomas' mouth had quirked up at the corner, and Riddick got the distinct feeling that the man was proud of having gotten the drop on him.
What followed was a near week and a half of slow travel as Thomas hopped the ship in and out of space lanes, ducked around moons, and generally slunk his way across two systems. In between tearing their bunk apart, nearly using up all the water, and more than one spectacular instance of not making it somewhere private and the consequent near heart attacks they gave the crew, he managed to get River's side of the story out of her. And together, they pried the events of the complex out of Thomas and the others.
She'd wrapped herself around him just as tightly in the physical as she had in the mental. Her grip had been almost painful as she clung to his forearms. One set of fingers had traced the months old scar, now a white line from elbow to wrist. Her other hand had lingered, slower as she unconsciously traced each stitch in the fresh wound down his other arm, stitches that matched her own.
He'd followed her with his mind, focusing on the proof of the repairs done to the bond as she spoke of trying to find him in the river, trying to look for the anchor, her solid rock, in the midst of all the voices. It had been all she was able to do, and the effort of searching for him and only him had been the thing that both stripped her of her sanity and kept her alive. The foundation and the remnants of the bond had been enough, just barely, to keep her from falling over the line that separated living and locked inside her head from dead and being a part of that screaming ocean. But it had been far closer than any of her crew had realized.
Apples and rain and wet earth and silk had mixed in his nose as he buried his face in her neck and clung to the reality that was River while Thomas told them what had happened after the animal had ambushed them. There hadn't been many of the staff left in the bunker by the time the crew made it in, and they were panicked and weak enough that there'd been no trouble in dispatching them
But someone had had enough presence of mind to recognize River through the security cameras the animal had been unable to get to, and he hadn't even tried to defend himself. Instead, he'd chosen to activate a trigger, apparently one of the oldest that had been used on her. From before even the surgeries and the induced comas.
Thomas' voice had shaken with rage, but his scent when he looked at River was full of pride and admiration. And as well it should be, even though the animal snarled to see another man look at her like that; like she belonged to anyone but them.
And then she'd tipped her head back to run her nose along his jaw and dug her fingers a little more deeply into the fur of the animal where it lounged on the tree branch and he was suddenly able to breathe again. His hands had unclenched from her legs0 and relief had filled the air as the rest of the people in the room eased back in their chairs.
He was going to be walking a razor's edge for a very, very long time.
Wordless assurance had flowed his direction, and the stream gurgled in its banks, and then their attention was pulled back to the present.
"Unfortunately," Thomas had said. "Whether by accident or design, something had…happened to the rest of the clones they were keeping in the bunker. However it was, they must have come in contact with, been affected by, the Pax that Blue Sun had been using for their testing." He'd waited while River got Riddick back in his chair and the growling was under control before continuing, patently ignoring the fact that the rest of the crew was slipping their fire arms back in their holsters.
"We discovered later that that was what had happened to some of the staff as well. I believe that whoever went to seed their cryo boxes with the G23-Hydrochloride underestimated how swiftly the concentrated dosage would work. And when it started to affect them as well, their colleagues simply locked the inner doors and shunted the vents to the outside." He had sighed and looked down at his hands. "We did not bother to count. We do not know how many of the…storage containers were empty before the wave that hit us was loosed. But we do know that the core of the bunker was their…fridge, if you will. Banks upon banks of the cryo boxes."
"Coulda fit a few hunnerd girls in there," Jayne had rasped as he shuddered and took a long pull of the bottle of whiskey he'd been nursing.
Steel and lemons had mixed with more conventional anger and horror, and he could see in their faces what none of them wanted to vocalize. Fuck, he didn't want to know what he looked like, remembering the flashes of familiarity as he cut down copy after copy of a girl who'd once trusted him with her life.
The apples and rain and vanilla still lingered in River's hair, so he'd hitched her closer and buried his face in it, and she hadn't complained as his fingers dug into her hips hard enough to bruise.
It let them both know that they were real after all.
"Hey!" Mal's voice rang out over the dusty ground. "You two wanted to ship on as pilots, best get a move on! Got a job wait'n for us. Work don't wait and we're burnin' daylight!"
River giggled and Riddick huffed out a laugh. "He's forgetting there's no sunshine in space," the big ex-con muttered as he levered himself to his feet.
::The way you like it,:: she replied and held out her hands for him to help her up.
He pulled a little harder than he needed to, and laughed again as she stumbled up against his chest. He was never going to stop being grateful that she'd taken him back. That she'd come to find him. Straight into Hell with her eyes wide open.
She grinned up at him and didn't complain as his hands drifted down to her ass, but her face softened as they looked back at the place they'd been sitting.
Somewhere under a valley lay the remains of a complex of concrete and steel and horror. Burned from the inside out, the husk of the place had been blown to rubble, and then blown up again. He'd never asked what had happened to all the bodies; if someone had hauled all the ones he'd set out around the perimeter back inside and stood there while the whole lot had gone up in flames.
So they hadn't had a body to bury. And he hadn't wanted to risk it anyways, even if they had saved one. The girl he'd known as Jack, then as Kyra; she was long dead. The jaguar would always hold his memories of her, but they were forever tainted by what had happened under that valley.
::She fulfilled her promise though,:: River said quietly as she slipped her hand into his and leaned her head against his chest. ::Promised to bring you to Haven.::
He shook his head and dropped a kiss onto the crown of hers. ::Yes, you did.::
Kaylee was likely to chuck another wrench at him; she'd been doing that a hell of a lot lately. Sierra'd acquired the habit of kicking him in the shin and stomping off in a snit. Inara was more likely to give him another of those assessing looks that made him feel like she was stripping him down to the bone and looking for whatever it was River saw in him that made her take him back. Usually it side slipped into a half smile when she noticed him watching her, but he knew that her unquestioning backing of his relationship with the Reader was gone. He'd be earning his way back into her good graces. Somehow, he didn't mind as much as he would have before.
After all, he belonged with River, she belonged with her crew, and they all belonged to Serenity.
So he draped an arm over River's shoulder and tried to ignore her smug smile. He only turned once, looking back at a small gathering of pillars on the edge of the bluff. There was a holo of a smiling man with blond hair, a curly haired man with a beautiful blond, and a grizzled black man with eyes that had seen too much. And there, off to the side was one without a holo. The image was still, but accurate. River had drawn it from their conjoined memories, and she'd managed to capture not only the vulnerability of Jack, but the fire of Kyra. Carved into the stone beneath the drawing were both of her names and a set of Chinese symbols. Zìjǐrén. One of our own.
A tug on his hand, a ruffle of fingers over the jaguar's ear, and the reluctant slide of the weapon as she sidled up next to the man. He turned back to his girl, their girl, and allowed himself to be led up into the belly of the ship. "You were right," he said as he punched the button to close the airlock and raise the ramp. "This place gets under your skin."
Author's Note: Several months ago I went on a Riddick binge. Started watching the movies again. And then I started hunting for fanfics. GOOD fanfics. And I found some. It's a fairly small fandom, ficwise, but I found some. Then I got the bright idea to look for some crossover fics and oh, hey! Firefly crossovers! And a good percentage of them were interesting and awesome and I thought why not? Why not write my own? Why not take these characters and play? So I did.
Obviously, they aren't mine. They belong to a lot of other people. But it's been fun to dig around in someone else's toy box. To play with personalities, settings, possible scenarios. Haven is always where I wanted them to end up, physically at least. And I always wanted to see what it would take (in my own imaginings) to break Riddick. And put him back together again (that's coming up though). As a character, that means change. So what he was like, what any of them where like at the start of all this, that's not where they are now. Or even who they are. I'm still going to play playing in this sandbox for a little bit, but this particular saga is done.
Thanks to everyone who's read, reviewed, faved and followed. Love you all! I'll continue to answer comments if I can. And a huge thanks to Shenandoah76209 for helping me out with the last bits, being the sounding board and general listening ear to my meanderings and verbal flailing about.
Shenandoah76209: Heheh. It was very much of the bad. Then it was of the 'Holy crud, really guys?" And now it might be of the good. I think the crew's going to end up pretty inured to random nekkid highjinks from now on. I'm glad you liked the water pressure bit, that's really the effect I was going for, depth and her being choked and all. Now…now I'm a little bereft. Guess I need to go write more huh?
Jazzisabatmanfan: Awesome! Glad you've liked! So flattered you think I have talent! I will have a few more stories with these two. Continuations and one shots. Keep stopping by to see what's new!
Rachet: Well…didn't do the around the corner bit. But maybe I made up for it! Thanks so much for being here for the whole ride!.