Rating: PG13, for language and less-than-graphic sexual content
Disclaimer: I own nothing related to Pitch Black.
Character Focus: Riddick/Jack, Jack POV
Author's Summary: What keeps Jack going?
He's going to leave us. He's going to leave me.
She stopped and examined that thought. It was kind of interesting. Before now, she would have argued with that voice. But this time she listened, and something inside her hurt when she realised that this time, she believed it.
In the eight months it had taken to establish a new identity here on Magellan 3, a colony planet that needed workers too much to look too closely at papers, she'd never once believed that it could happen, that he could leave them. Not once. Imam had tried to prepare her for it but she'd denied it to his face, because until now she'd believed ... no, known, that he was staying for them.
And she'd been right. But something had changed that night. What?
There was no way he could know about Imam. She wasn't even supposed to know about Imam, but she'd been intercepting household communications ever since they'd set up shop here.
Hey, she'd needed something to keep busy, right?
She couldn't enroll in school until residency was established, and she was too young for a work permit. So she'd used the time until then to put everything she knew about wiring to good use. And if there was one thing she valued, it was electricity. If she had any choice in the matter, she'd never be left in the dark ever again.
In any sense.
Could Riddick have done the same? Tapped the com? She considered that. She hadn't seen any evidence of it. And he didn't seem to suspect her of anything; he certainly hadn't been acting like a man with anything to hide - from her, at any rate. On the contrary, he was brutally honest, and she'd learned not to ask any questions she didn't really want an answer to.
Maybe she should tell him about Imam.
She considered that for a while too, but in the end she shrugged it off. It just wasn't her place. And what if that still didn't change his mind? Did she really want to find out? She didn't kid herself; whatever impulse had possessed him back on T2 to rescue her and Imam was probably a reflex, a gut response to what had happened. He may not regret it, precisely, but it probably wouldn't translate into long-term domesticity. He wouldn't know how to let it, even if he wanted to.
Could she survive without him?
She thought about that. Carefully. She wasn't an idiot; she was a kid, and a healthy one. Without anyone to play guardian, she'd be lucky to make it five years without catching the attention of criminal types, especially since she didn't think she'd be able to pull off the boy thing much longer. She wasn't sure what she'd do without either his or Imam's income either, but she'd do what she had to.
It was as simple as that. And some things were that simple.
Like that night, when he'd said he was heading into town for some supplies he hadn't been able to find the trip before, she'd looked at him, and she'd just known. She'd even managed to smile somehow.
"Hope you find what you're looking for, Riddick," she'd said, absurdly proud that she sounded so normal. "Good luck."
He'd known something was up. He'd stopped and looked at her, just looked at her, and she was the one to turn away first, pretending to find something interesting in the daily news. She didn't look up until she heard the door close behind him.
When Imam got his message she gave him some privacy to read it. She waited until he came to her, calm but red-eyed and apologetic. He was being called to Allah, he told her, and he wouldn't be able to share her journey anymore. Apparently he'd picked up a parasite from the water on T2. They all had, really, and the little buggers had actually been purged within days of living off-planet. But before dying, his had left him a legacy, a progressive ailment for which there was no cure.
She'd almost panicked then, as the reality of what was happening crashed down all around her. She had wild thoughts of running after Riddick and bringing him back.
Then Imam apologized for scaring her needlessly before. Of course Riddick wouldn't leave her, he assured her, not now. For some reason that had strengthened her resolve and she'd agreed with him, just like she'd planned. She told him that another message came in while he'd been reading his. Riddick, she said, had gotten a line on a job in another settlement. A better one, apparently, and he'd gone to establish residency there. He'd be back in a few months to pick them up.
"Praise Allah," Imam had said thankfully, and she knew he was glad that Riddick had finally taken on the mantle of family, and was making a commitment to them, to her. And it was a commitment, the holy man decided, for Riddick would never lie.
Jack agreed. Riddick would never lie. Not outright. He didn't need to. But she could, did, and would.
She'd also prepared herself for Imam's news, and he didn't suspect a thing as she cried. Not that she was faking; she was going to miss him, she had no doubt of that whatsoever. It was just that she'd already made her peace with it, and she was ready to make his final days as comfortable as possible. So she'd told him her greatest, most comforting lie of all, and she made him believe it too. She swore it to him, vowed with everything she had that Riddick hadn't left them behind. She had stayed, it was true, but she was going to meet him soon, so Imam didn't have to worry about a thing except staying with her as long as possible.
He'd smiled gratefully and didn't question Riddick's absence again. Maybe he was afraid to.
Three weeks later, he'd seized and passed out, never to awaken.
Riddick didn't come back then, and she made it work for her. She told the settlement leader, the one who'd overseen Imam's cremation and burial rites, about her "uncle" getting settled in elsewhere, and that she was going to join him as soon as she'd taken care of Imam's estate.
It wasn't hard. The house was a rental, and all she had to do was make sure everything was turned off and locked before leaving. As the sole beneficiary, she'd taken a couple of Imam's holy books, more as a memento than anything else, and packed her few meagre belongings in her backpack. It was mostly clothes and any schoolbooks that seemed kind of interesting, and what money she had left from Imam's account.
It was more than she'd expected. Riddick must have been paying for everything, if Imam had been able to put away as much as he did. She thanked him in her own version of prayer, facing east in his honour, but otherwise not bothering with ceremony.
And for the third time in her short life, Jack left behind another family, another set of memories, and set out to see what the universe held for her.
She didn't expect much.
She was working the docks on the inaptly named Tuxedo Junction when she saw him.
She'd lied about her age and gotten a job manning a loader on the station shortly after her seventeenth birthday. Imam's money had finally run out, despite every trick she knew of to conserve it - and she'd done everything from steal to stow away.
Not overjoyed by the prospect of reporting another runaway, or having to shoulder the costs of shipping her to the nearest military facility, the station owner had agreed to give her a job instead. She didn't make much, but it was enough to live on and even save a little. In turn, she gained a protective cover and managed to stay under the radar of dangerous types.
One day she felt more tired than usual. She'd spent the day working a fragile shipment from a ship called "Dark Star", and the name had seemed to mock her somehow. She hadn't broken anything, she had too much pride, but she'd finished as quickly as possible and asked to take off early. The shift supervisor had just waved her off.
So that was how she found herself in the Jazz Note, a not-too-seedy bar that happened to be on the way back to her quarters, when he walked in.
A regular, she usually avoided busy times and crowds and during off hours she could count on a halfway decent meal and a brew at a price that wasn't quite outright theft. If she got there early enough, she'd even get her favourite table, right in the corner where two curtains came together and she could sit virtually unseen. She always paid for her meal up front, so the wait staff never bothered her.
But when he walked in ... She noticed him immediately, of course; how could she not?
She must have betrayed her surprise somehow, because he turned suddenly in her direction. Smoothly, without thinking about it, she'd pulled back, letting the sheer curtain obscure her features. Unless he'd gotten his eye job upgraded, she didn't think he'd be able to see her clearly enough to recognise her.
His scowl had deepened slightly but he sat down and proceeded to consume a prodigious amount of food and drink. She watched him, wondering if he knew about Imam, or if he'd care if he did. Would he regret leaving her to fend for herself?
When she saw him head to the bar to pay his bill, evidently too impatient to wait for someone to come by the table, she'd been overcome by an impish impulse.
It was so alien, so unlike the haze in which she lived much of her life, that she took a moment just to savour the sensation. And then she followed through. She grabbed a napkin, scribbled on it, and left the restaurant, barely pausing to drop it on his table as she walked out.
She smiled when she got back to his quarters, imagining the look on his face when he read the note.
'Found what you're looking for yet?' he'd read. 'Good Luck.'
No signature. He'd know who it was. And if he'd forgotten, well, she didn't want to knowS.
She didn't go back to look for him. And she breathed a sigh of relief when the Dark Star left the following day.
By the time she was twenty, she was a junior medic on a mid-sized rescue vessel, the Merciful. The captain was a friend of TJ's stationmaster, and when she'd asked for career advice, he'd called in a favour and secured her a place on the ship.
It was good money, and the downtime between emergency calls gave her ample time to learn all sorts of skills, like basic piloting and navigation and ship repair.
She also had her first lover. Jared was an engineer on the Merciful. She'd seen him working out in the ship gym sometimes and had to admit, he was pretty attactive. But when he asked her out, she'd been honest. She wasn't looking for a relationship, she told him. She wasn't sexually experienced, either, and she wouldn't appreciate head games. They made her twitchy and she tended to shoot first, ask questions later.
He'd laughed and agreed. He'd been older; how much older was impossible to guess, what with the vagaries of cryosleep and space travel, but he was starting to show a little grey at the temples. Still, he was as much of a gentleman as she'd ever met, and he'd taught her a lot - about sex, about people, and about electrical engineering.
She wasn't sure which she found most useful, she admitted once, as they finally parted ways. He just laughed and kissed her one last time before taking on a job on another ship. He was sorry to leave her, she knew, but it had been inevitable and they both knew that too.
So she was rather content with her lot in life when she saw him again. And like before, she felt no urge to seek him out further.
They'd been called out to salvage an ore transport that'd fallen afoul of an asteroid belt turned unstable. Violent planet-wide volcanic activity was drowning the fourth planet of the New Maui system, and had begun affecting atmospheric gravity and magnetic fields, pulling any metal-bearing asteroidic debris out of regular orbit.
The owner was on board and was unwilling to leave his load unattended, but the company who'd contracted him to bring them one last shipment of a rare ore (the remainder of which was now lost beneath a kilometre of magma) had offered a substantial reward if the rescue crew ensured that he and his ship made it back to port.
He'd cooperated, reluctantly, and Jack had been on duty when the ships latched to each other in standard towing formation. When she set foot on his ship, she was standing behind two senior officers and an entire contingent of engineers bent on performing a few repairs that would significantly reduce drag on their way back to port.
She blinked when she saw him, but otherwise she didn't react. She almost smiled when he looked up as if she'd spoken, but he'd been preoccupied by whatever it was the senior officers were discussing, and clearly uninjured. Without anything keeping her on board, she'd slipped behind a much bulkier officer and then back onto the Merciful without calling attention to herself.
It was fairly easy to avoid him around the much larger rescue ship. She stayed in her room a lot and in crew common quarters the rest of the time, both of which kept her safely behind areas off-limits for passengers. One day she might confront Riddick. This would not be that day.
But that impish impulse took over again. One day, while she knew he was in a meeting with the captain and a representative of the mining company who'd commissioned the load, she'd piggybacked a small relay onto his ship's computer. It was on a timer, too, so two hours after he'd disengaged his ship from the Merciful he'd see it flashed on every screen on his ship.
'Found it yet? Good luck.'
She smiled the day after she found out his ship had left. She wondered, but didn't really care, whether or not he got it. She'd sent it, and that was the important thing.
Twenty-three found her tending bar. It wasn't by choice, actually; she'd taken some hard vacuum during a particularly difficult rescue, and although she'd earned several commendations and compensations for saving a rather wealthy family, no amount of medical treatment could fix all of the damage to her lungs. Only time and care could do that.
So when an old friend from TJ asked if she wanted a (literally) low-pressure job tending bar and bouncing in an upscale joint on Bypasser Station, she packed her bag and caught the next transport.
She surprised herself by enjoying it, too. Customers flirted, but this was no dive and polite rebuffs were accepted just as promptly as the bills were paid. Her bouncing skills were rarely required, either; generally, a strong tone and a firm grip sufficed.
She did accept the odd date, mostly from men who reminded her of Jared. Gentlemanly types, who showed a sense of humour. Men who wanted what she did, to enjoy life a little, and respected her desire to hold back.
She didn't mind being by herself. She was never at a loss for something to do, and she liked challenging herself to learning new things. One day, she planned to have her own ship. And she'd need to know how to take care of it and herself. It cost her next to nothing to sublet from her friend, and she was saving a lot of money, adding to an already substantial nest egg.
So when she heard that a small transport owner was thinking of upgrading and was willing to entertain offers, she made an appointment to see his ship.
The moment she'd seen it, she knew she was in trouble. It was called "Fortunes Found," and it smelled like him.
She didn't know how she knew that. It'd been, what, ten years since she'd spent a matter of months with the man? But she knew his scent, and she turned to leave.
"Change your mind?"
His voice hadn't changed much. It was still gruff and sardonic, like the owner knew the universe was a joke and found the punch line predictable.
Instinctively she turned on her bar persona. Smiling and speaking in a low, smoky voice, she allowed her body to slump in the languid manner of a young lady who'd never known a rough day. The last time he'd seen her, she'd been six inches shorter, bald, and lung-healthy. There was no reason to expect him to recognise her or her new voice.
"Mr. Glenn? Lynne Day. Nice to meet you."
"Ms. Day." He nodded his head in greeting. "So?"
"I didn't change my mind," Jack lied, chuckling charmingly. "I was beginning to think I'd gotten the time wrong, though, when I didn't see you." She permitted the slightest touch of a drawl to flavour her words, making them sound vaguely complimentary.
"I see. Care for a tour?"
She nodded and followed obediently as he showed her the passenger cabins and holding bays. On their way to the cockpit, he began asking her questions as well, inclining his head as though listening attentively.
"You seem young to be in the market for a ship."
She shrugged lightly. "I've been saving up for some time."
"Why do you want a ship?"
Her smiled grew more sincere. "I want to fly," she said, simply. "I like the freedom."
He nodded understandingly. "No attachments, no obligations, no demands."
Her eyebrows arched upward, as if acknowledging his perceptiveness. "Precisely."
They were in the cockpit now, and for the first time, she paid more attention to the ship than to him. Tapping a few buttons, she looked over the instrument panel and got a feel for its organization. One person could fly this ship, she realised, and she wanted to be that person. That it was his ship was of more dubious value, but perhaps not unrelated. She'd worry about that later.
She removed various panels above head and below desk, examining the wiring. It was in good condition, she was glad to see, and for the first time she began to think she might really have something here, especially since he didn't seem to recognize her.
Wiping her hands on her pants, Jack stood next to him, deep in thought. She named a price. He laughed at how low it was, and showed her readouts proving how much engineering excellence had gone into its creation and maintenance.
He suggested a much higher price and she shook her head.
They haggled a little longer, and finally he capitulated, one eyebrow raised so she knew he wasn't as put out as he seemed. He escorted her back to the docking bay floor, where they made arrangements for transfer of possession.
"Well," he said, genially enough, "now that you've robbed me blind, how about joining me for a meal so we can discuss what the hell you've been up to, Jack?"
She shook her head, just as casually. "Thanks, Riddick, but I need to get back to work."
And with that, she walked off without looking back, feeling his gaze follow her out.
Once she was back in her quarters, she headed immediately for bed. She hadn't been lying, exactly, she did have a shift in the morning and she needed a full night's rest. She hadn't been sleeping well lately, and she was more shaken than she wanted to admit by what had just happened.
Somehow, though, she didn't seem to get much rest. Her dreams were disturbing montages of half-forgotten nightmare monsters and the day she had realised she was truly alone in the universe.
And they wouldn't let her go. Every time she tried to tell herself it was a dream, every time she tried to pull herself toward the light, they grabbed hold and dragged her back down into the darkness. A few times she thought she saw Riddick coming to rescue her, and she tried to tell him to leave, that it was too late for her, to get Carolyn out of there, because it was her or Carolyn, and she wanted Carolyn to live this time.
Then she saw Carolyn herself, and she screamed at her to go, don't look back but just fucking go already Carolyn! I'm not worth it. Once or twice she saw Imam, and she hugged him and kissed his hand, and told him she hoped his journey was the one he always wanted. She saw Shazza once, and sobbed for her to get down, damn it. Get down.
Sometimes she saw faces from her childhood, friends she hadn't seen in fifteen years, and she laughed over some trivial little thing that had seemed so important then. And sometimes she saw her brother, trying to take care of her after their parents died in the accident, bald from the radiation but pretending that he was fine so she wouldn't worry.
He'd whisper that she had to protect herself, and she'd cry because he'd shoved her in the base's biomedchamber when he'd heard the science station's klaxons. He'd known what they meant, they both did, and he could have saved himself but he pushed her in instead and she'd watched through the glass, screaming as she saw his body jerk as it was slammed by invisible forces, screaming because he was dying right in front of her while she was protected, protected by materials designed to keep radiation inside but that worked just as well to keep it out. It's okay, don't worry, I'll think of something, it's okay, he said when she finally found the release latch and fell out into his arms. I called for help. Help's on the way.
And then the day came when he didn't wake her up. They did, strange people in scary suits, people who told her that her family was dead. People who didn't believe her when she said Brand had made it, had been taking care of her. They'd found his body, they told her as they purified her body of residual radioactive toxins, but he couldn't have survived the initial blast.
She'd been alone for a week, they told her. The only survivor on the base. She didn't believe them. Even when they showed her where he'd collapsed outside the chamber, she just couldn't believe that he hadn't stayed with her, for her.
She hadn't been able to take their pitying looks, and finally she'd palmed her sedatives and snuck out while the guard was flirting with a medic. She'd stowed aboard a ship for the first time that day, and it had been easier than she expected. The third ship she'd stowed away on was the Hunter-Gratzner.
And then the monsters came back, pulling her down into the darkness, where half-eaten faces of people she'd known and liked called to her, told her to come down, that it was warm and she'd like it, really she would, come down in the dark, Jack
And then Riddick was back, and he just looked at her and she knew she'd be all right.
Her fever broke on the fourth day, and she fell into a deep but restful sleep. She reviewed her medical file when she awoke, thirsty but coherent, and found out that they'd found a small injury, a scratch really, that had gotten infected with some space bacteria, and she'd been delirious from a dangerously spiking temperature when she was brought in.
Like Imam? she wondered. Maybe, only she'd been luckier. But how had she gotten to the medbay in time?
She asked, but no one could, or would, tell her. Finally one medic told her that a man had brought her in, a tall man who scared everyone and watched over her until she was out of danger.
She just listened in awe, and she went to find him, feeling ambivalent and unsure.
He was no longer on the station. But "Fortunes Found" was, and at some point in the last few days, her name had mysteriously appeared on the ownership records.
The first time she'd taken it out for a ride, she'd just gotten it out of dock and on a course for a nearby system when the message came on over the com.
'Do you know what you want, Jack? Screw luck. When you know, come find me.'
She was twenty-nine when she knew what she wanted, although almost three of those years had been spent in cryosleep and only her eyes betrayed her true age.
She took on light loads only, no shipments too dangerous, no passengers that made her fingers itch for a gun. She'd become a fairly adept pilot, more out of a determination not to rack up damage charges than anything else, and she had a good reputation.
Her favourite part was just hovering in space, letting the sub-gravity cushion her while her mind drifted into somewhere inside, somewhere dark but clear and soothing. For a long time, it was enough. But then one day she transported a family, and something awoke in her.
It took her a week to realise that she didn't want children, not especially. She didn't have the first idea how to take care of them. But she wanted someone who knew her, who would care if something happened to her. Someone she could bounce her ideas off of, someone who would like her just for her, who didn't expect more and didn't want more.
She'd had friends and lovers over the years, and she'd enjoyed both. But she rather thought she'd like to explore one other option, if that option wanted to be explored. She didn't really care how, or in what capacity. If he was looking for a child, someone to take care of, she could be that. If he was looking for a friend, a companion, she could work towards that. And if he was looking for a partner in any other sense of the word, she was fairly sure she'd be willing to give that a go too.
Her gift to him, should he choose to accept it, would be the choice.
So she listened. Kept her ears open when in dock, especially around pubs and loading crews. And one day she heard the faintest whisper of a rumour, about a ship captain that had single-handedly repelled pirates and earned a mining company's undying gratitude - or at least, their next contract. Apparently it was a big one, and he was looking for partners, but he was being ridiculously picky about who he brought in on the deal.
She'd gone over recent news releases and found him. Richard Jackman, captain of Fortune's Legacy. She sent a communication that same day under the name Day, describing her ship and her willingness to partner in such a venture, if he was interested.
She didn't wait for a response. To take her on or to set her free, he would have to do it to her face. She set a course the moment she secured launch.
'Well, Jack,' she thought to herself as she watched the stars go by, 'good luck.'
He grinned. He didn't look much older than she remembered. He must have learned how to cryosleep. Still looked just as menacing, though. Perfect. "I go by Jackman, here."
She allowed herself a smirk. "Is that so?"
He shrugged. "I change names all the time. It doesn't mean anything."
She thought about that. Did it mean anything? No, not really. Her name wasn't who she was either. "Call me Day."
He nodded. "So how's the holy man?"
She shrugged. "He died a long time ago."
Silence stretched between them. "How long ago?" he asked.
He didn't answer. She was glad; if he'd said the wrong thing, she might have said something she'd regret, and it would ruin everything. And since she didn't know what the 'right' thing for him to say was, it was better just to leave it alone.
"Want a tour?" He asked, probably more for something to say than anything else. They spent the next hour walking around his ship.
"Impressive," she said of his cockpit. She'd called the gym "nice."
He nodded and they continued walking.
"That's what I said."
"Think we'll make decent partners?"
"Yes. And I'm right."
"He's fucking right," she pretended to mock him, but she was smiling.
"Not so much a kid anymore."
"That bother you, interest you, leave you indifferent?"
He didn't answer right away. "What are you asking?"
She shrugged. "I've thought about it, you know. And if you wanted to try a different kind of partnership, I'd be willing to try. If not, that's cool too."
He didn't answer right away. Then, "I don't make promises I can't keep."
"I'm not asking you to. Well, only one. Just always be straight with me. You need me out of your life for some reason, or even just out of some part of your life? You tell me up front. No more sneaking away bullshit. I'll do the same."
He thought about this. "No attachments, no obligations, no demands, huh?"
"And if I change my mind later? You telling me you wouldn't self-destruct?"
"No. I learned that lesson a long time ago," she reminded him. "If something happens, I'll face it when the time comes. And I'd survive. That's what I do." She paused. "It goes the other way, too. No one owns me, and I live my own life."
She was very careful not to hold her breath when she made that last, daring statement. The Riddick she remembered would not take well to that kind of ultimatum, but then again, she'd grown up a lot since then. The Riddick of her childhood didn't exist anymore; maybe he never did.
He nodded. "I can live with that."
"So can I."
They walked the rest of the way in silence, and it was a good one. And when they reached his quarters as they knew they would, they got to know each other as intimately as two people could, and that was good too.
And maybe, just maybe, the small traitorous voice inside her persisted, this time he wouldn't leave.