The Choming was a dubious choice. Not that they had many options. Not as long as he was indulging the holy man and not killing folks just to make the trip faster, easier, or more comfortable.
Made sense to indulge the old guy, who was going to have the hard job of raising the kid after all. But if Riddick had a choice of a ship to take a teenage girl and a holy man any part of the way to an idyllic world, a low class transport, run by three dubious brothers, hauling very dubious cargo, would not have been that choice.
The Choming did have one big advantage. Someone had to go in cryo. Hadn’t been too hard to persuade the old guy to take the trip asleep, meaning rest from the holy man nattering at him about how “inappropriate” this or that was. Especially sharing a bed with the girl. Which he liked more than he would admit to anyone, ever. Well, to anyone he wasn’t planning on killing immediately. And he’d also seen the hungry looks she’d been getting, even here, even with her still pretending to be a boy, even with him glowering behind her. Pretty sure she wouldn’t be safe sleeping alone until they got to New Mecca. The holy man seemed to have difficulty grasping that.
That aside, part of him didn’t mind that it was taking such a long time to get these two home. To his surprise, he really liked the kid. Really liked teaching her to defend herself. That part was fun. The brothers clearly thought he was fucking her during those sessions. That part was amusing.
She was kinda fun just to hang with, too. Most of the time. Right now, she was in full bitch mode.
“Riddick, I’m bored.”
“Not my problem.”
“Let’s do something! Let’s find out what’s in the cargo bay!”
“None of our business what they are hauling.”
“Do you know?”
He didn’t answer. She didn’t need to know.
She switched topics, back to being “abandoned” on New Mecca. They had this conversation before. So he ignored her. Pulled out The Brothers Karamazov, lounged on the bed and read while she grumbled.
Finally, he was done. “Knock it off, kid.”
“Gonna make me?”
“If I have to.”
“Oh, what are you going to do, Riddick? Spank me?”
He snorted. Never happen, and she knew it. Still, he said, “Don’t tempt me kid. I could just wake up Abu. Stick you in his cryo tube. Have some quality time with a real holy man.”
Another empty threat. No way she was going into cryo on this ship. But that was something else she didn’t need to know about.
Undeterred, she stuck her tongue out at him. “You wouldn’t. You like me too much.”
“Most of the time. Not so much right now.”
“Is that why you’re going to leave me? Because I get bitchy once in a while?”
“Yes, kid, that’s why I’m going to all this work to take you to the safest planet in the galaxy. Because you get bitchy once in a while.”
“I could just come after you. Become a merc. Track you down.”
He didn’t look up from the book. “You aren’t that stupid.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m going to take you to New Mecca. I’m going to leave. And I’m going to hope you are smart enough to stay there. But if you become a merc and come after me, I’ll kill you. After I kill everyone . . . else . . . that you love.”
He’d been teasing, partially. She took him deadly seriously. “Fuck you, Riddick. Just fuck you.”
He smiled. “Whatever babe. Once you get over your PMS, you’ll remember you like me again.”
Her mouth started to work, but no sound came out. She turned and stormed out of the room. Damn. I should go after her. Even after two weeks, he didn’t really trust the men on this ship, especially when they started sampling their own cargo. Only three of them; if it came down to it, they wouldn’t be a problem, but . . .
Well, she’d been taking care of herself long before they’d ever met. She’d probably be fine. Refocused on his book. Enjoyed the now-unfamiliar sense of solitude.
Until about an hour later, when something broke his concentration. A thunk. A muffled oath. A sound of running feet. A pause. And then the smell of blood.
That last one got him on his feet and out the door fast.
“Bitch! You’re gonna pay for that!” The sound of Jack, running, easily outdistancing the heavy steps of brothers Mark and Michael, the “crew” of this ship.
He planted himself in a fairly defensible spot that they would all have to pass. He was still feeling amused about this whole thing, until Jack rounded a corner, with blood on her lips. She met his eyes for an instant, then looked down, with a face full of anguished betrayal. What, she doesn’t think I’m going to protect her? Fuck, after three months, she thinks one squabble changes everything?
She changed angles, tried to dive past him. He snaked an arm around her, pulled her against him in an extravagantly possessive gesture. She struggled for a few seconds before freezing. Then she started shaking. She was terrified, bone deep terrified, her flight or fight mechanism completely engaged. That took even more of the edge off of his amusement.
Both Mark and Michael stopped short, just out of arm’s reach. “Bitch,” Mark repeated. Spat a mouthful of blood on the ground. Riddick followed it with his eyes. Looked back down at the blood on Jack’s face. Saw, for the first time, the blood on Mark’s fingers. The color of menstrual blood. Both Michael and Mark reeked of cheap stimulants, their eyes wide and their pupils darting. Okay, should have let her run past. Easier to handle without her in the line of fire.
“What’s the game, boys?” he asked, softly.
“Bitch bit me!” Mark spat blood again. “And he’s a girl!”
“We just figured you had a thing for boys,” Michael explained, helpfully, grinning wildly.
Riddick drew a languid finger over Jack’s lip, gathering some of the blood. Smelled it, thoughtfully. “Not yours, babe?”
“Like you care,” she hissed, her fast and furious heartbeat echoing through him.
“We figured you two had a lovers’ quarrel,” Michael, still helpful, broke in. “Heard you fightin’. Then we found her poking around among the slaves’ cryo-lockers. She shouldn’t go down there.”
Oh, fuck. She just figured out what they’re haulin’. That’s why she’s wigging. He loosened his grip on Jack, half inviting her to pull away, under the circumstances. She didn’t.
“So you found her down there, and she bit you?”
“On the tongue.”
“Yeah. Bitch has gotta pay for that.”
“Tell ya what,” Michael’s eyes were gleaming. “Give us one night with her. It’s not fair you get the only un-thawed girl every night. And we’ll make sure she’s happy to go back to you.”
Okay, I get it. They were going to fuck one of the slaves in cryo, and Jack interrupted them. No wonder she’s freaking. Probably tried to save the chick. She had started shaking again. “I don’t think she really wants to,” Riddick said, easily. “I don’t think you’re quite her type.”
“We’ll fight you for her!” Mark was practically bouncing.
“Oh really?” Riddick was amused again. “And what do I get if I win?” Mark spat, again. Still bleeding. Jack had bit hard. Good girl.
“You get to keep her.”
“Already got her.”
“That’s gonna change.”
The ‘captain’ of the ship, older brother Peter, had finally roused himself, came blinking down the hall, a gun loosely held in his hand. “What’s going on here?”
“Just havin’ a little fun,” Michael grumbled, no longer so helpful.
“Bitch bit me!” Mark reminded everyone. Spat red again.
This was getting old. But Jack was regaining control. Or at least, her anger had overwhelmed her fear. Good. Of course, a lot of that anger is comin’ my way.
“Guess we were having a little fun,” Riddick said, lightly. “Guess it’s over now.”
“Like hell it is!” Mark drew a gun. “You gonna fight us, or are we just gonna take the little girl?”
“Put the gun down, Mark,” Peter ordered, tiredly. “Riddick, Jack’s a girl?”
“I don’t think she’s decided that yet,” Riddick said. Jack snorted.
Peter rubbed his eyes, glared at his brothers. “You two samplin’ the merchandise again?”
Michael started to giggle. “Yeah.”
“Riddick, I think you’re going to have to fight them or hand over the girl for a night. I’ll make sure you get her back.”
“Fuck that. Let me go, Riddick,” Jack ordered, all teenage indignation and ridiculous nobility.
He ostensibly hesitated. Changed his grip, slightly, making his grasp more affectionate. Whispered down into her ear, loud enough for everyone to hear clearly. “Depends on what you’re gonna do.”
“They’ve got guns. I don’t want you getting hurt for me.” She was quivering with adolescent self sacrifice. “I’ll – I’ll go with them.”
The absurdity of this situation was still vaguely amusing, but it was all teetering on the edge of going very wrong. He turned her around so she was facing him. “Jack, they want to rape you.”
“It’s only rape if I say no.”
I don’t need this. “You’re too young to say yes, kid. We’ll figure something out. Go back to our room.”
“So you get to decide who I have sex with? Fuck off, you asshole.”
All three of the brothers were smirking. Good. They thought they’d won. “Go back to our room or I’ll dislocate both your shoulders again. Remember how you screamed?” He ran a hand down her face, gently, intensely aware of the way the other men’s eyes feasted on it, of their fascination at the thought of her in pain. All completely distracted from the fact he’d palmed a throw knife.
He’d never done any such thing to her. But she needed a job. And she had quite the distractingly loud set of lungs. As long as she darted the right way, out of the line of fire. Well, he could help with that. He pushed her, gently, in a captain-wardly direction. She stumbled a step. Then she kneed Peter hard in the crotch, grabbing for his gun.
Not what I was expecting, but I can work with it, Riddick thought. Throw knife through Michael’s neck, killing him instantly. One step, knock Mark to the deck, break his spine, shatter a few ribs. Grab his gun, shoot Peter in the head. Spin, two steps, grab gun from Jack. Not bad: three steps. Coulda been two if Jack hadn’t been there. Took longer to say it than to do it.
Mark was still gasping on the ground. Riddick knelt beside him. Whispered into his ear. “You are one lucky man.”
“Furyan fucker,” Mark whispered, through the blood bubbling out of his mouth.
Riddick sighed, stroked the man’s hair. Not the first time someone had called him that as he lay dying: should probably look it up some day, figure out what sort of insult it was. Later. “If you had raped her, you’d be spending the next week dying. But instead,” Riddick pulled the knife out of Michael’s throat, used it to slice Mark’s, “it’s nice and fast.” The body went limp. As much as he was trying not to model bad behavior in front of the kid, he took a moment to revel in it.
Then he felt Jack’s hand on his shoulder. She was still quivering, slightly. But her anger was gone, replaced, again, by that look of hero worship that he both drank up and worried about. “You good, kid?”
“I’m – good. Thank you.”
“Guess we have a ship now.”
“But Riddick, there are slaves down there! That means we’re slavers!”
“No, we’re not. You’re just an innocent victim. And I’m just along for the ride.”
“We’ve got to do something!”
“Not our problem, kid.”
Her voice went quiet, some of the hero-worship gone. “Am I your problem?”
He smiled up at her. “Yeah. You’re quite problematical. And you’ve got blood on you. Why don’t you wash it off, pick a new room? I’ll get this cleaned up.”
She didn’t move. “Could that happen to me? Could I end up like those people down there?” Her voice was small.
He pulled her down onto his lap, ignoring the corpses. Poor kid. The slave thing really has her freaked out. “It won’t happen while you’re with me, and it won’t happen on New Mecca. They’re too ‘civilized’ for that shit there. But yeah, out here, it could happen. If you wandered off, or if something happened to me . . . That’s why you have to go live with the old guy.”
“But you’re the one who keeps saving me.”
“I’m a monster, Jack. Once this . . . vacation from my life is over, I’m going to be a monster again.”
“Maybe. But you’re my monster.”
“Go wash up. You’ve got blood on you.”
There was no reason to for her to sleep with him any more. He took the captain’s cabin; she stayed in their little room. But about an hour after she’d proclaimed herself exhausted, there was a knock on his door. “What is it, Jack?”
She came in, oddly shy. “I can’t sleep.”
He smiled, patted the bed next to him. “But since we’ve got the room now, I’m gonna to wake up the old guy tomorrow. He’s gonna give us shit about sleeping together.”
She was already under the covers. “I don’t care. Do you care?”
“Haven’t decided yet. But you’ve got to get used to doing what he tells you.”
She pouted. “Why?”
“Because I said so. And I’m bigger than you.”
“Whatever. But why does he care? He knows you won’t do anything to me.”
“He says it’s about modeling.”
“Modeling? You could be a model. You’d look good in a dress.”
He rubbed her nearly naked head. “Better than you would, little girl. He says I’m modeling bad behavior. Like teaching you to kill people who annoy you. And getting you used to the idea of sleeping with adult men. Don’t do that, by the way.”
She snorted. “Not just any man. You’re special . . . what, does he think I would be safer sleeping alone?”
“No. But he thinks I should sleep across the door or something.”
“Yeah. Not the self sacrificing sort.”
She giggled, sleepily. “I noticed. You didn’t rescue me today. I had a plan.”
“Wait till they fell asleep. Kill them. Save all the slaves.”
He was quiet for a moment, wrestling with whether now was the time to say anything real. What the fuck. He took her small face in his hands. “Jack, I want you to grow up safe and happy and strong, someplace you don’t have to kill people to be safe, someplace where bad things don’t happen all the time. You’ve got a shot at that with the old guy. Not with me. Best case scenario, I’ll turn you into a monster.”
She gazed into his eyes, almost hungrily, until he dropped her face. She was quiet for a long time. Finally, she cuddled into him. “I’m going to miss you. A lot.”
“You will, won’t you?”
“I’ll make you a deal. If I ever think its safe, I’ll come visit. If you promise not to come lookin’ for me.”
“Liar. Once you leave, I’ll never see you again. You’ll forget you ever liked me. You’ll forget you liked anyone. You’ll be all grumpy again.”
He smiled. Kid has insight. Rolled her over so they were spooning. “Go to sleep, Jack.”
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