They helped each other to their feet after the blood had been blotted up from the deck. They hadn’t spoken while they cleaned. Joanne’s face was pale which only made the scar that tore through her eye darker, like a shadow across her face. She sat back gracefully on her heels and he realized that she was comfortable down on the floor and he hated that the things that had happened in her life had kept her on her knees so often that she grew accustomed.
Taking the last bloody cloth from her hands he reached out to lift her chin, tucking her hair back behind her ear. It was as good a time as any to ask and he set the pail with the bloody rags aside to help her stand again. Joanne shyly took his hand when he reached out for hers and he led her a short way to stand by the rail.
He looked out over the side of the ship but the words weren’t there either and he turned to face her again. She hadn’t moved from where he had led her and she held her hands clasped in front of her again, silent. “Joanne?” He watched as she slowly looked up at him. “I don’t know what your plans are after this but I’d like you to stay.”
She looked in through the open door, at Anna as she stood next to Jack at the wheel. “I…”
“Don’t answer right away; this has to be something you decide. But I’d like you to stay. I’d like you both to stay.” Theo wasn’t sure if he was clear or not or if he was about to blow it; he was on thin ice. He reached out for her hands, partly to hold them, and partly so that she wouldn’t run at what he said next. “I’m not Marcus, Joanne.” He took a step closer to her as her eyes dropped and her face paled. It hurt to see it but he wasn’t about to take it back. “This has to be your choice, I won’t pressure you but I really want you to stay. With me.”
He felt quiet once he had said it; even the air around them was quiet as though everything waited. Joanne gaped and then closed her mouth again to look back through the door at Anna, as the girl stood next to Jack and giggled. She knew that Anna loved it here but Theo had said that it was HER choice.
She took a deep breath and squeezed Theo’s hand before she spoke, her voice quiet and shy. “I…I would like to stay. With you. I just, well, I don’t really know where I fit in and…” She let go of his hands as hers fluttered up around her to take in the expanse of the ship, of everything else, before they stilled again.
He took her hands again and said her name quietly so that she would look up. “I don’t really know where any of us fit here, Joanne.” Theo grinned a little at the truth of that. If they were anywhere else, none of them would be together. Even Riddick, Shazza and Jack. Something had brought them together as well or he couldn’t imagine that they would be with each other. “All I know is that all of us want to be here, with each other.” He had a lot of other things he wanted to say but no idea how to continue.
Joanne grew tense as she stood before him and her voice shook. “I’m a little scared…but I’d like to, I will stay.”
Theo leaned in and kissed her forehead; he wouldn’t push, or ask for more. He would let her come to him. “Good.” He stepped back again to give her a little space, their hands still linked, and they went back inside.
Joanne had left with Anna in tow to go back to the galley. Theo had told her that they could all cook for themselves but she would have none of it. “It’s something I can do, Theo, so let me do it.”
Riddick and Shazza sat side by side out on the deck and from the look they shared, Theo wasn’t about to interrupt them. Jack remained at the wheel, completely at peace. He knew that she could easily set a course and leave the wheel but she didn’t. He looked across the bridge at Duncan who stirred beneath the blanket, his face flushed. And at Johns who nodded off and jolted awake only to look around him with startled eyes as though he looked for something to fight off.
Theo watched as Johns reached out and felt Duncan’s forehead and heard his hissed intake of breath. Johns looked up and their eyes locked. Johns pled silently, and Theo quickly nodded; he would have to break up Riddick and Shazza for the moment.
Riddick pulled into a crouch at the sound of quick footsteps on the deck and Shazza wasn’t far behind. “I need you to come take a look at War…at Duncan. I think he has a fever.” Anywhere else that wouldn’t be much of an issue but there were so many things that could go wrong without decent medical equipment. They had some emergency supplies from the Odyssey but a fever could mean so many different things.
Riddick said nothing but followed Theo back at a half run across the deck and into the bridge. Johns made to stand and put himself again between Duncan and harm but he was too exhausted and he staggered at first. Theo caught him by the arm before he fell and pulled him back a little so that Riddick would have room.
Jack peered around at the commotion. “What the hell is going on, Shazza?”
Shazza didn’t answer because she didn’t know and she turned to look at Joanne who had come out of the corridor from the galley, but stayed at the back, unsure. Gritting her teeth in determination, Shazza strode towards Riddick. “How bad is he?” Riddick pulled the blanket from Duncan and went immediately to the leg. Duncan shouted and let out a string of curses when Riddick felt the wound.
“He….um, he needs hot water…heat to bring out the heat…” They turned to listen to Joanne as she spoke shyly from her spot by the galley.
She muttered apologies and made to go back the way she had come but Riddick called out to her. “Bring hot water.”
In other circumstances Theo might have been angry at the order, but Joanne had just mentioned the need to feel useful. He couldn’t really be sure that Riddick had picked up on that but he would be surprised if he hadn’t. Joanne came back a few minutes later with a basin of steaming hot water and more clean rags; it looked as though she had cut up one of the towels from the bathroom. ‘Practical’
Johns held Duncan down when Riddick cut the bandages away and started to clean the wound. Duncan yelled, shouted and swore that he would kill Riddick and then pound the stuffing out of Johns. When he got up of course. Neither Theo nor Riddick seemed particularly concerned. Johns trembled as he held Duncan down however. “Just the fever talking…Johns, help me get him up.”
“We’ll go see if we can find him anything else to wear.” Shazza brought Jack with her and they left the deck to the men. Theo went to the wheel and held to Jack’s course and Riddick and Johns helped Duncan first stagger and then walk around the bridge. His curses died down as his steps steadied and after a short while he walked on his own although Johns wouldn’t leave his side. The wound bled clean again and Duncan’s temperature dropped.
“Fuck.” Duncan swore once again and sat back against the bulkhead as Riddick wrapped the leg.
Riddick snorted and shot a look first at Johns then at Duncan. “Better give your leg about a week to heal before you fuck anything.”
Duncan narrowed his eyes and then smirked at Riddick before he burst out into a full laugh. It seemed out of place given the circumstances. “You were doing a great job holding me up. Maybe if I needed a hand?” He didn’t finish the thought. The men on the bridge were quiet for the span of a breath before they all burst out laughing.
Waiting until the laughter died down, Duncan spoke. “We don’t exactly have a week though, do we? That ship is going to hit, either sometime tonight or in the early morning, I figure. I’m still a hell of a shot.” Duncan knew that there wasn’t much else he could do. If the fight went to ground he was in no position to hunt them that way.
Theo glanced at Riddick before he spoke. “This ship has a few surprises of her own and if the hunt goes to ground there’s not going to be a large number left anyway. Maneuverability is going to be the thing. The sails can be shifted by small degrees from here, inside the ship, but for anything more than a degree or two, we have to manually move the sails from the outside.”
Riddick sat quietly and listened. To sit here and casually discuss a hunt with three mercs, of a Company ship no less, was surreal. When Theo mentioned the sails, it pulled him out of his thoughts. There was no way he would let Shazza anywhere near those sails again, not after she had been hurt. “We don’t need to worry about it. Jack can turn this thing on a dime. If it comes down to it, we can still turn them outside. Jack can fly this thing.” Duncan gave Riddick an appraising look but said nothing at that.
Theo picked up on it and expanded. “Two to a sail anyway, just to be safe. That way if we start to take fire, one can still cover while the other maneuvers the sails. The spears….”
“I take those.” The men turned as one to face Shazza. No one had heard her approach.
“No!” Riddick spun to stand in front of her but she wasn’t about to back down. She stood toe to toe with him, her face tilted defiantly up to his, and he thought of her under the three suns as she stood over him with a wrench in her hand. When she fought, she fought, she didn’t back down. ‘To fight for what’s mine.’
Her voice was cold and hard as she continued. “There’s no one else that can do it, Riddick.” She pointed out across the wheel to the deck beyond. “I’ll be out there when that ship comes down, you know that.”
He shuddered inwardly although it would never show. His dream of her come back to him full force. It was a fleeting dream on the skiff; Shazza, her hair wild in the wind, a warrior woman. She didn’t need him and he was left to watch as the fire took her. He knew that he could never stop her, that she would fight no matter what he did, no matter what he said. He knew that he could lock her up down below and that she would still be at the ship’s bow when the time came. That it could be no other way. “Shazza…” She still stood defiantly before him and he let out a hard sigh and ran his hands over his shaved head.
She leaned up to kiss him, that same deep kiss as before, a kiss that was more than a kiss. There was nothing he could do to change the way he felt about it but there was nothing he could do outside of killing her that would ever stop her. He looked past Shazza as Jack stepped into the eerily silent air of the bridge with the bundle of spear shafts in her hands.
Very little could make Jack uneasy but the tension in the room made her want to find somewhere to hide. So of course she didn’t, but stood there to watch them. There was no way she could leave them anyway, they were all she had, so she watched the silent looks between them and only let her breath go when they kissed, when Riddick touched Shazza’s cheek. The idea that they might fight scared her more than a lot of things she had seen in her life.
Riddick looked over Shazza’s shoulder to spot Jack frozen in the doorway. She looked afraid and sad at the same time and he smiled at her. Jack shot him a crazy grin and left the shafts against the wall to turn and go back down towards the galley.
It hadn’t been lost on Theo either, that tension between the two of them. He didn’t see how anyone could miss it. He turned back to Duncan and the two men shared a hard look before he spoke quietly. “Not much more that can be done here, Riddick. I’ll get your help again in a couple of hours to get him up off this leg so it doesn’t lock up.”
Riddick glared at Theo, who calmly shot a look at Shazza and then continued what he had been doing. Frustrated, Riddick spun and stormed back outside onto the deck where he stood and looked out across the grass as it flew past. He tried to ignore the quiet sound of Shazza’s footfalls behind him and then got annoyed with himself for that.
Shazza stood a few steps away from him but said nothing and then moved back to sit with her back against the side of the bridge where they had sat before Theo had come for them. And waited.
Thoughts ran through his mind, of all the things that he could do to stop it from happening. To stop everything from happening. But every scenario ended up with her either hurt or gone and he couldn’t stand the thought of either. There was a time when the choice would have been simpler. Easier. But only easier because it was a coward’s way and he didn’t want to run anymore. Not because he was weak or gave up but because he was sick and fucking tired of not having what he wanted. And all he wanted was Shazza, and Jack of course.
Shazza didn’t say anything when he came back to sit down beside her; she held out her hand and his fingers entwined in hers as though it was the most natural thing in the world.
Jack came out to join them a little later, her arms weighed down with plates. Riddick smirked at her when she handed him his plate. “I think you stuck your thumb in my mashed potatoes, Jack.”
She snorted and handed the last plate to Shazza as she sat down Indian fashion before them with a plate of her own. “You should be glad that Joanne demanded that I wash my hands before I made those potatoes, who KNOWS what the hell I’ve touched.” She burst out in a crazy laugh.
Shazza looked at them both and just shook her head. Riddick made a show of carefully inspecting the potatoes, his eyebrow wrinkled above his goggles as he sniffed at them.
“I bet you’ve eaten a whole lot worse than that.” Jack still grinned but Shazza watched as Jack’s eyes never left Riddick and she hoped Riddick wouldn’t say anything awful about them, even if it was just teasing.
“You have no idea, Jack.” He scooped some up in his fork; the girl grinned and pretended it didn’t matter to her. “You know…” Shazza held her breath as Riddick continued, his fork tapping against his chin. “Maybe we should get Theo in front of the wheel more often and send you back to the galley….”
Jack cut him off with an outburst of muttered cursing. “Fuck that, it’s bad enough Joanne has me back afterward to help wash up.” She muttered some more as Riddick and Shazza shared a look, the laughter right under the surface.Neither of them would dare let it out.
Riddick thought back to the hammerhead planet. Back to when they had sat quietly on the back hatch of the skiff before they left. And for a little while it was just the three of them again.
Copyright © January 2007 xxxevilgrinxxx