Title: In The Dark
Email: dru_dollhouse AT yahoo.com
Summary: Five years after the crash, Carolyn Fry encounters the last person she would have expected... Rated for language.
Disclaimers: Pitch Black, The Chronicles of Riddick and their characters belong to Universal Studios. No infringement is intended, no profit is made.
The slight blonde woman shivered, huddled in the corner of the space station's docking bay, waiting impatiently for her turn to be cleared for an overnight bunk. She'd caught the red-eye, which mean the lighting on the entire station was dimmed in an attempt to maintain some sort of constancy in the dweller's circadian rhythms. That sort of thing was supposed to reassure people, make them feel at home on a spinning hunk of metal and plastics in the middle of space. Well, it didn't reassure her. Five years, and she was still afraid of the dark. And yet she almost preferred the dark, too... or at least a dim sort of half-light. It hid the scars on her face, on her body. Nothing could hide the scars in her mind.
Two more people. The family in front of the three of them had finally been passed on, taking their screaming twin babies with them. She was glad; they'd been getting on her already ragged nerves, and if they'd stayed much longer she might have snapped and done something to them... at the very least, yelled and made a scene. Part of her knew, realized just how bad that would be in her condition. Most of her just didn't care. As long as the screaming stopped. The screaming of the babies reminded her of the screaming of the raptor-bat creatures, and made her think of teeth and claws in the darkness. It wasn't helping, especially with the dimmed lighting. One person left. That hadn't taken too long, and this person didn't look like he'd take too long either. A freelance engineer, stopping through on his way to another assignment. Even if he did look more like a miner. She huddled in on herself a little more and waited her turn. Finally, after several long minutes, it came.
"Name," the desk girl said in a bored (and slightly exasperated) tone of voice.
"Elizabeth Sargento." Carolyn Fry had died on the strange desert planet. She wanted to keep it that way.
"Purpose of visit."
"Layover, shuttle flight 216 to Sol Five."
"Duration of layover."
Fry-who-had-been handed over her falsified ID she'd bought as soon as she'd gotten off the damn planet. Not even the rescue mission had noticed her; after having to be rescued, themselves, they'd been only too eager to leave. They hadn't noticed teh stowaway, shaking and huddled between the boxes of medical supplies. It hadn't been hard; the hard part had been scraping together the cash and re-entering the system once she was back in the so-called civilized worlds again. The ID she'd managed to buy wouldn't stand up to a thorough background check, but it got her through these docking registrations easily enough. The bored woman processed her, entered her data, and handed her a token for two meals and a bunk.
"Station Fourteen-Bee, next."
As simple as that, she was through. Taking her tokens and muttering something that might have been a 'thank you,' she wandered through the halls, following the color-coded strip on the floor and the miner-looking man who was in front of her, probably to a similar (if slightly better) accomodation. It didn't matter. A place to sleep, a couple meals, and she'd be on her way again. Running from the monsters and the dark, not that they were a problem anymore, not that that stopped or even slowed her. The nightmares came every night she didn't take some sort of sleeping drug. The monsters chased her through her dreams, tearing her away from the convict again, the man she had been so afraid of until she'd realized that he was right. It's not me you should be afraid of anymore.
That deep bass rumble had almost been reassuring there, towards the end. Reassuring in the sense that no matter how bad it got, no matter how many monsters there were, they had something that was just a bit meaner, just a bit more stubborn on their side. At least until they got off-planet, but she hadn't let herself think that far, then. Until they got off-planet, they had Riddick, and that was what mattered. It would probably have disturbed the Fry-that-had-been, how much she'd come to depend on the escaped convict and many-times-over murderer. Or maybe not. She had always been pretty expedient when it came to surviving.
Deep bass rumble... it had been reassuring, in the face of the monsters and the kid's determined panic. The holy man, who was trying to be helpful but even prayer hadn't helped towards the end. The antique dealer whose alcoholism had proven useful towards the end, right before he ran away. Johns, who she'd wanted to hit more often than she'd wanted to hug. The escaped convict was more comforting than all of them. She almost thought she could still hear his voice.
"Well, well, well. Of all the people following me, I didn't expect it to be you."
She spun around. Almost thought... damn, that had been his voice. His voice, and it was definitely his hands pinning her arms to her sides in a vise-tight grip. His shaded eyes that protected him from even the dim light of the station at what passed for night, or maybe it was just force of habit. Whatever.
"I wasn't following you..." she said, trying to wrap her mind around the concept that, of all the 2,729 billion people in the galaxy, she would run into Richard B. Riddick again.
"Of course you were." He smiled, that almost-pleasent smile that he'd gotten whenever one of the group had done something that amused him. Almost pleasent, definitely humorous, and it still wouldn't keep him from killing them if they became a liability. She remembered how he'd tried to get her to leave the others.
"I escaped..." she said, a few second before she realized that the statement was ludicrously unnecessary.
"I see that," he said. The smile grew wider. Then it disappeared entirely as he leaned forward, almost nose to nose with her. "You look like absolute shit."
It was said so matter-of-factly she almost had to laugh. "Thanks," she said dryly.
"Where are you staying?" he asked then, and she blinked. This didn't sound at all like him.
"Um..." she'd forgotten already, and reached down to grab her card with the bed-and-meals tokens on them "Fourteen-Bee. Bunk and food."
He made a disgusted face. "I've had the MREs they serve you down there. I wouldn't eat them if I were you. Come on. You can bunk with me for the night."
Fry opened her mouth to protest, and then found she couldn't as he yanked her to a quicker pace, following him down the corridor. His taller frame forced her to struggle to keep up with his long strides, and she was quickly out of breath. She didn't have the energy to ask him why he was doing this, which was a blessing in its own way. After all, she wasn't sure she really wanted to know the answer. She was the only person, with the possible exception of Jack (or whatever her real name was) and Imam, who could identify him as Richard B. Riddick, escaped convict. Jack probably wouldn't, she idolized the man too much. Imam wouldn't, as much faith as he had in the better nature of humanity. But the Carolyn Fry that Riddick had known on the surface of that godforsaken planet would have turned him in easily. And now she was pretty much at his mercy, and had to hope that he could see how much she'd changed since then, that even if she wanted to, she wouldn't turn him in simply for the sheer amount of publicity that would generate. Then again, maybe he couldn't see that, or didn't want to. Maybe he really was just leading her to his bunk to silence her. And that tiny part of her spoke up again, wondering if that was necessarily a bad idea.
"So, how did you escape?"
It wasn't exactly the right question to ask, but Riddick (in an uncharacteristic gesture of thoughtfulness) had turned the lights on at almost full power when they'd gotten to his bunk. It actually turned out to be a full room, if tiny. Bed, sink, and a small table. Downright cozy compared to what she'd been expecting. He still had his dark goggles on, to protect his eyes, but the bright light was comforting to her. It was just plain weird.
"I found a flare in my pocket... it gave me enough light to get to a crack in the cliff wall. I stayed there for a couple days before they... got distracted."
Riddick blinked. "Distracted by what?"
She took a deep breath. Trying not to remember the sounds of crunching and squishing in the dark. The squelch of muscle and tissue. The slurping of organs and fluids too thick to be blood. "The rescue team."
He looked thoughtful. Evidently he could well imagine what the raptor-bats had thought of a whole new team of humans landing on their planet during the eclipse. "Oh."
"While they were eating them," she forced herself to tell the story, emotionless, as though it was something she had seen on one of the tri-d stations. "I managed to get back to the coring room. I locked it tight, this time.. floor to ceiling. I stayed in there for ten days before the suns came back up again, and the second rescue team showed up."
He frowned. "Wait a minute, I remember reading something about that. They didn't find any survivors, just blood splatters..."
She nodded. "They didn't find any survivors. I stowed away..." she swallowed. It hurt to say it, that she'd crawled into their ship and hid like an animal. "... stowed away on board their ship. They never even knew I was there. They didn't even really check too hard; I think they thought the creatures might come out again or something."
Riddick laughed, either ignoring or simply not noticing Fry's wince at the sound. "I bet. After the last rescue team got eaten, they probably didn't want to be next on the menu. So why didn't you go back, tell them you were alive? Why hide?"
Fry swallowed. It really hurt, to explain all this to the man she'd never really liked except for a few brief hours, towards the end. "I... had nightmares. I couldn't sleep. I couldn't be in the dark. The first time someone found me, a local cop on Io, they locked me in a dark cell. I ... I panicked, I couldn't stop screaming. They had to ..." she swallowed again. God, her throat was dry. "They had to sedate me..."
Riddick watched her, his expression unreadable and his eyes hidden behind his goggles. "So you've just been drifting, is that it? Going from colony to colony, so no one has to see how broken you are? Right?"
She winced. When he put it like that... but it was still true. "Yeah, pretty much."
Riddick chuckled. "That's got to be the saddest fucking thing I've ever heard."
She hit him; she'd had enough. "You just shut the hell up, Riddick. You didn't spend twelve days down there, alone on that goddamn planet, hiding in a goddamn coring room! You didn't spend twelve days listening to those monsters try and chew the walls down, spending every waking moment wondering if they were going to chew their way in, waking up if a goddamn breeze blew the rocks across the floor! Okay? You don't know where I've been! So don't tell me ..." deep breaths, she had to take deep breaths. "Don't you tell me I'm the saddest fucking thing you've ever heard, okay? It's ... been rough."
His expression had gone back to unreadable, as though an internal switch had been flipped. But at least he wasn't laughing anymore.
"You're right..." he held his hands up, the universal gesture for 'peace, now?' "You're right, I'm sorry. I don't know what it was like for you, and it was probably pretty shitty, from the time I had on the planet."
Fry blinked at Riddick: had she actually won? Damn. "Okay." She took a couple more deep breaths. "So how have you been? Killed anyone lately?" It came out more flippant than she'd meant to.
"Not lately." He was making it difficult to tell if he was joking or not.
"What have you been doing with yourself?"
He propped himself up on the bed, leaning back against the wall, one leg stretched out and the other loosely pulled up to his chest. "Not much, actually. Mostly the same as you, only I travel better." Riddick gestured around the room and grinned. "Bodyguard work, bouncing at clubs, escorting paranoid rich kids. The kind of thing where looking tough won't cost me any points with whoever I'm getting paid from."
She blinked. "What, not killing people? No new murdering sprees?"
He gave her a very direct, almost disappointed look. "You know, contrary to what Johns may have thought, Fry, I didn't get my kicks off of murdering people when I started out. I didn't wake up one day when I was a kid and say, yeah, I want to be a mass murderer when I grow up. I wasn't born evil," he shrugged. "Fate, a stupid cop, and the goddamn Slam City had a whole hell of a lot to do with it."
She blinked. Somehow it hadn't occured to her, especially not the part about him being a kid. She just couldn't imagine him as a kid. "It had nothing to do with you being a complete sadist," she muttered defensively. He laughed again.
The silence stretched between them until it started to get uncomfortable. Fry shifted around on the bed, trying to perch as far away from the man as possible, and without much success. There simply wasn't much room to move in the tiny room.
"You should get some sleep," Riddick said quietly after a long while. Neither of them had watches on, and she'd completely lost her sense of what time it was anyway. "You must be exhausted..."
She shuddered. "I don't sleep anymore. I just have nightmares."
His long legs and big boots hit the floor with a thud. "You should try and get some sleep anyway," he said, gently pushing her down onto the bed. "I've got some things to do. I'll be back in a while." She thought she heard him mutter, hopefully you'll be asleep by then.
She didn't understand. "Why are you doing this?" He'd never been nice before... had he? Well, in his own twisted way, she supposed. Fry thought back, remembered him practically carrying her onto the ship when she had been prostrate, weeping, trying to figure out how to convince him to go back for the others. From his tone of voice he'd thought it was useless, probably that they were dead already. She remembered how, despite the ample opportunities and sufficient aggravation Johns had given him, given all of them, how he hadn't fought the man or killed him (the bat-raptors had done it for him, though). She remembered him helping them in his own unique and often frightening way, rather like having a tame lion, it might turn on you at any moment but it always seemed at least friendly, relaxed. She remembered the questions he'd asked her, would she die for them. She remembered hearing the faint echoes of his screams as she was dragged away by the raptors. What had he said? She whispered it to herself, studiously not looking at him. "Not for me..."
He was watching her. She could feel his eyes on her as she fought off shock, panic, hyperventilating, her chest heaving up and down. The way he was looking at her made her acutely conscious of her low-cut scoop-neck top, even under the fatigues jacket. Acutely conscious of the too-small ship's coveralls. And even more conscious of his customary outfit, the dark muscle-shirt and fatigue pants, the curve of his arms and shoulders. The way he was looking at her was making her think things, things she hadn't thought since the planet (and even then only briefly). The feeling of the muscles of his shoulders underneath her fingertips. The feeling of his strong, powerful arms around her. The taste of sweat, licking it off his shoulder. She shook her head, trying to clear it. But lust was still better than fear...
"What's wrong?" he asked, although from his tone of voice he knew exactly what kind of effect he was having on her. And, again from the tone of his voice, he enjoyed it.
"Nothing." Dammit, girl, get a grip. She knew what he was, had forbidden herself from doing anything more than thinking those thoughts briefly when she was on the planet. It made no difference, here and now, he was no less forbidden...
oh god. He was touching her hair.
It didn't help that his presence was still reassuring. Still reminded her of the toughness, the tenacity they'd all had to utilize just to survive against the raptor-bats. And he'd been better at surviving than any of them, even at the end when she'd been half-carrying him to the ship she'd thought that.
And he was still touching her hair.
"What are you doing?..." It came out more breathless, more gasping than she'd wanted.
"What does it look like I'm doing?" he asked, his rumbling voice still amused.
"Riddick..." she tried to make the one word a warning. It didn't work, it sounded more like a plea. "Don't."
"Don't what?" Dammit, he'd played these mind games, power games back on the planet's surface. Johns had warned her about this. Dammit.
"Don't do that..." She took a deep breath.
"I..." he kissed her forehead, and her mind went completely blank.
"It's not a bad thing, you know. It doesn't make you a bad girl." He'd said almost the same thing to her when he'd been trying to convince her to leave the other two. "You're scared, and you've had a long ordeal, but it's all over now. And you need help to forget that, to get past it. There's no shame in reaching out... enjoying yourself."
Reaching out, she thought dryly. Is that what they call it these days? "Richard..."
His mouth stopped any more words, and her last coherent thought was to wonder... he was the last person she would ever imagine to kiss anyone else, much less as gently as he was...
... and much later, when he cued the lights off and left them lying in the dark, she wasn't even scared.
When she woke up again it was almost as bright as daylight. Riddick had left all the lights at full glare, possibly in compensation for his absence. She had actually slept, and woken up feeling more refreshed than she had felt in a long time. It felt wonderful... and very odd.
Part of it, she knew, had been simple exhaustion. Even without the memories that brought a hot blush to her cheeks, the smell of sweat and sex in the room left no doubt as to what had happened in here the last several hours. The sex had been good, very good, better than she could have imagined (had imagined, a tiny voice in the back of her mind reminded her of the brief fantasies she'd entertained), and it had left her feeling drained and quite willing to fall asleep in the same bed as, in the arms of a convicted multiple murderer.
It helped that, as they were both drifting off, her nestled cautiously in his arms and him holding her almost carefully, as though she might break... it helped that the memories of his strength and power were only (relatively) good ones. Only memories of how he had reluctantly defended the group against the raptor-bats; she knew of the convicted killer Richard B. Riddick, but in a way she had never known him. She'd only known this strange creature, so dangerous and yet possessed of a zen-like calm... and at least a reluctant willingness to protect others. It definitely helped that he had kept her safe on the planet, and made her feel safer now.
And even with all that, she was astonished when she actually woke up in the morning.
Riddick was gone. Probably gone for good; at least she didn't see any of his stuff in the room. It was as bare as when they'd come in, her clothes neatly folded in a small pile on the chair. That, too, was comforting... it meant that whatever she did, he probably wouldn't kill her for knowing that he was alive, that he trusted her not to go running to the authorities. She knew she should, but she couldn't really bring herself to do so. Not when doing so would mean all sorts of other embarrassing questions... and tiny, dark cells. No, it was probably better for both of them if Carolyn Fry and Richard Riddick both remained safely deceased.
She dressed slowly, aching in places she barely remembered could ache, stretching out the last of the kinks from sleeping in an unfamiliar position. He'd left her one other thing: a token for a meal two steps above what she would have gotten if she'd used her own chit. Fry smiled, remembering what he'd said about the MREs they served in the drifter bunks. In his own twisted way, he was still taking care of her. How touching.
Her shuttle left in three hours. Enough time to eat and check out. The cafeteria was busy with the flotsam and jetsam of a spaceport, and as much as she craned her neck around to try and catch sight of Riddick, hoping even a little bit that he was still there, she didn't see him. The food was hot, though, and tasty, and there was a fair amount of it. It was probably actually nutritious, too. She ate as much as she could stand and pocketed some of the rest for later. It might be a while before she got food this good again. Thanks to Riddick. It still boggled her mind to think about it.
The same bored woman was at the desk when she went to check out. Fry wondered absently if she ever left, or went to sleep. Checkout went as easily as checkin, and the bored woman didn't comment on her unused tokens. Maybe it wasn't such an unusual thing, anyway, she could have been meeting up with someone. Or maybe (and more likely) the woman just didn't care. Fry shrugged and boarded her shuttle, taking her assigned seat.
"Hey," one of the flight crew touched her on the shoulder as he walked past. "You're back early. You've got a message. Sargento, right?"
Fry blinked as she looked up at the man. She hadn't thought they'd seen her when they were looking right at her, much less remembered her name. "Yeah... Liz Sargento."
He nodded, reaching over her shoulder and pressing a few keys on the screen in the seat back in front of her. It activated, showing the StellarCom logo and a brief advertisement before displaying the Play Message / Erase Message screen. "Prepaid and pre-recorded, so take your time. Takeoff in thirty."
Fry nodded. "Thank you..." as the man left. She stared at the screen for several minutes, wondering who knew she was on this flight and who would have reason to send her a message. Common sense dictated that she should erase it from the shuttle's memory without reading it. But her curiosity was getting the better of her. And she thought she knew who it was, though she hadn't the slightest idea what he would say. Before she realized she'd made her decision her hand was pulling back, her finger having pressed the 'Play Message' button.
"Hey, Liz!" Her eyes widened as big as dinner plates. It was the kid, Jack. "Damon told me you ran into him on the station. Man, I wish he'd let me go in with him... it would have been nice to see you again."
She actually smiled a little. Jack, with his... her... boundless enthusiasm for life, as only a kid could have. She still had it, although she had grown a bit too old to pull off the boy disguise anymore. The message continued: "Damon says you're doing pretty well, considering... he's still worried about you, I think, but..." the girl stage-whispered into the tiny StellarCom camera, "He didn't drag you on board his ship, so that's probably a good sign." Jack grinned. Fry had to grin back. "Anyway, he won't ever admit it, but I think he was really happy to see you again, especially after what happened last time. He was really broken up over that. He won't admit it, but it's true." Onscreen-Jack looked over her shoulder. "We gotta go, so this is going to be short. Damon says to call if you need anything, use this number, and we'll find it. The preacher-man says hi, too, at least he would if he knew we ran into you. I hope we'll see you again sometime soon, okay, Liz? We all really miss you." The screen darkened.
Fry smiled a little through the tears.
"Oh yeah!" THe screen lit back up again, briefly, showing Jack's face a little fuzzy as she tried to squeeze out a few more minutes in the message. "Damon says, don't worry. There's nothing scarier than him in the dark."
The screen went black again. Fry laughed, and erased the message from the shuttle's databanks, just in case. People had started to trickle back in, and takeoff-prep was filling the air with noise all around her. The harried-looking crewman walked by. "You okay, miss?"
"Yeah..." she leaned back and closed her eyes. "Just tired. Thanks."
The shuttle rocked slightly as they creaked their way out of the space station. Fry sighed heavily, allowing herself to drift off to sleep in the hopes of another nap without nightmares. Holding the memory of an unlikely protector close to her heart. Remembering that she wasn't alone anymore, in the dark.