Bishop tried to control his breath as the ship hit the trees. He hated to land at the best of times; hated to put his life completely in the hands of another. His eyes bored holes into the tech officer and if there was a way to kill the man right now he would do it. There would be time enough when he got on the ground, provided they lived through this at all.
He looked over at Duncan strapped to the chair next to him; to anyone else he would have looked like he was asleep. His chest rose and fell steadily, and his hands were crossed across his abdomen, as though he didn’t have a concern in the world. He had never seen Duncan rattled, not once. There had to be circumstances that disturbed him, Bishop just assumed that he just hid it exceedingly well. He glared at the tech officer one last time and closed his eyes again.
There was no way for the tech officer to know but he had planned the same strategy for an emergency landing as Theo, although Theo to his great credit chose a destination that wasn’t forested. A long descent slowed them down just enough that the impact didn’t pulverize them all when they finally made landfall. He would have preferred not to land in the middle of wooded terrain, but the merc ship was large and unwieldy, and she would set down where she would set down. The scrape at the underside of the hull became a horrible crunching sound and debris flew back against the forward shield with incredible force. He flinched at the first crack at the far side, but they were through the canopy before anything else could fly through it. He remained terrified as the ship slid across the forest floor; he could do nothing to control her, and feared that anything he attempted would slew the ship sideways and break her to pieces against the trunks of the massive trees they slammed through. Helpless. Not only here, but in the knowledge that Mr. Bishop would likely kill him when they had stopped. He too closed his eyes and waited for it to be over.
Duncan wasn’t asleep. He slept very little, and would never fall asleep in the middle of something like this, but he did like that it made Bishop so uneasy. Slowly, quietly, he depressed the button on the restraints that held him to the chair. Most of the forward momentum was expended and he held on enough to make sure he wouldn’t be thrown clear. Even then, he had to nearly jump across the cockpit to make sure that Bishop didn’t kill the tech officer once the ship finally came to rest against the massive trunk of a tree. “We need him alive, Jonathan.”
Duncan gripped his wrist fiercely and Bishop didn’t pull away, he knew he could never free himself and didn’t want to be seen in a struggle with the younger man. It would make him look weak, less somehow. That Duncan called him by his first name was enough. It annoyed him, especially in front of others, this display of intimacy. Duncan stood between him and the tech officer, who looked pale and drawn, his eyes shifted between Duncan and Bishop, his life in the balance. There was no hope, no light and no warmth in Duncan’s cold grey eyes. He had made up his mind, and Bishop knew that nothing would change it. Bishop had tested a lot of limits in his life but that was one he still feared, to cross Duncan when the man had made up his mind about something. He straightened up a little, unclenched his fists and risked a casual peek around Duncan’s immovable form at the tech officer. “Well, he did get us on the ground in one piece. “ He smiled easily at Duncan, who still held him immobile. “Perhaps we should go see if everyone was as lucky, what do you say, old friend?”
Duncan gripped harder, not for long, maybe for the space of a heartbeat. He stepped closer to Bishop and grinned at him. Not a good grin. His head tilted to the side, and his mouth made a picture of what a grin should be, but Bishop was close enough to see the man’s eyes. He fought to suppress a shudder. ‘Death itself.’ Duncan let go of his wrist and the terrifying smile was gone. “Let’s go check out the damage, Jonathan.”
Bishop rubbed his wrist absently as he stepped away from Duncan and out into the corridor; he hated the relief that he felt. The tech officer flinched when Duncan turned back to him, as though an awful fate dodged had turned its face to him again. “Stay with me. Do not find yourself alone with Bishop.” Without another sound, Duncan turned to follow Bishop down the corridor.
Riddick didn’t breathe. His fists clenched as he crouched over the still form of Shazza as she lay crumpled against the deck of the Moorglade. He wanted to pick her up, to shake her, to yell at her. Anything, just to have her yell at him. Something.
He closed his eyes and let his hands run over the back of her neck, skilled fingers traced over the delicate bones there. He swallowed hard as he thought of how many people he had killed just this way; he knew how easy it was to die like this. To think of her crippled was even worse, perhaps death would be easier. His throat closed up at the thought of her being gone. The voices of Jack and Theo as they shouted across the deck were a distant sound heard under water.
‘Please…’ He didn’t know what he asked, or who. He didn’t believe in any god, and even his respect for Imam could not change that, but still he asked. A silent word passed between himself and anyone out there that would listen. There was nothing broken, and his hands moved over the back of her head. He winced at the bump and felt a little blood.
“Are you going to help me up or just poke at my lump some more?” Shazza’s voice was quiet and faintly annoyed.
He wanted to pull her up and hold her, and he wanted to shake her until something in her broke for real. “Don’t you dare fucking move until I say you can move.” His voice ground out and he had to clench his fists to push back the urge to scream at her. His hands ran over her jaw and settled on the delicate bones at her throat; he wanted to choke the life out of her. His fingertips settled at her pulse point and his breath hitched just once before he got it under control. Her pulse was strong and steady but he couldn’t take his hand away, not just yet. He closed his eyes and assured himself she was alive.
Theo saw Riddick run across the deck, and had felt the ship lurch as it turned into the ley line. He had a larger correction on his side and couldn’t leave. He looked back to see Jack at the tiller, as she frantically called out for either Riddick or Shazza to answer her. That Riddick didn’t answer concerned him greatly. He threw his entire weight into the sail mechanism; his feet scrabbled for purchase against the deck and he grunted with the strain and with exasperation. He let out a shout of triumph as the massive wind filled sail shifted and turned the ship into the ley line. The hum deepened and seemed almost to settle into the skin of the ship; it was no longer a struggle against the elements and the Moorglade held fast to the course.
Theo raced past Jack, his hand on her shoulder squeezed once and he was gone, around the low cabin to where Riddick still sat crouched. Shazza sat up against the cabin wall and held onto her head; she appeared dazed, but turned her head to watch as he ran around the side of the cabin and along the deck towards them. Riddick traced his hand once more over Shazza’s throat. ‘No! He couldn’t…would he?’ Theo didn’t know what to think. He didn’t believe for a moment that Riddick would hurt her but he radiated so much anger that it thickened the air between them. He took one more look at Shazza and yelled back at Jack that she was okay. How okay was another matter.
That familiar connection burned brightly between them, and Riddick pulled his hand back from the steady thump of her pulse; anything to separate from it. He hesitated before he touched her arm to pull her up; even that contact was enough to feel her. It would have been so anywhere, but it was especially true here, in this strange electrified air. He felt her pain, not only from her injury, but when he pulled away from her. He wanted to hurt her and it killed him to hurt her at the same time. He wanted to run, to be anywhere but right here. “She needs something for her head.”
Theo caught Shazza as Riddick spun on his heel and stalked off to the stern of the ship. He couldn’t hear what he said to Jack, but Jack ran up to join them. She looked upset, but she was more upset when she touched Shazza. Theo stared back at Riddick as he sat by the tiller again. Riddick looked out across the grass behind them, and wouldn’t look at any of them. It pissed him off, nearly enough to override his fear of a confrontation with him. Shazza stopped him before he did. “Let him cool off, Theo.”
Shazza’s heart ached even more than her head as she watched Riddick. Fear, she had felt so much fear in him when he had run his hand over her neck to see that it wasn’t broken. It wasn’t just the strange connection they shared inside the ley lines; she believed she would have felt it anyway. ‘I’m not very good at this.’ That hurt her more than anything, and it made her gut clench to think what he might do about it.
She leaned on Theo and Jack as they helped her down below, where they gave her painkillers for her head and took a look at the cut. It wasn’t too deep, but it was treated carefully anyway. An infection could be deadly.
Theo was still angry; he wasn’t rough with her, but his concern showed. He was angry with Riddick. “Jack?” The young girl had stood in the doorway, torn between her need to help Shazza and her need to be with Riddick. ‘Like a kid between two warring parents,’ Theo thought.
Jack turned towards Shazza and there was that flicker of anger in her eyes as well. “It’s just a bump, Jack. I’m okay. Why don’t you go and see if Riddick needs anything?”
The two women shared a look, and Jack glanced once at Theo, as though she wasn’t quite sure if she should leave them alone. Quietly she turned around and disappeared up the stairs without a sound. “Don’t judge him too hard Theo. You have no idea what he felt.” She couldn’t explain it to him either.
Theo’s thumb traced over the cut on her scalp with antibiotic cream. “I thought he was going to hurt you.” ‘To kill you.’
“He didn’t know what to do, how to feel. How often do you think that’s happened to him?” She turned to take in Theo, and held his hand so he would stop fussing at her cut. “I’ve been hit before. This wasn’t that kind of anger. He was bloody scared, Theo. That stays between us.”
The two shared a look to cement their secret. Theo took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, before he nodded and turned away to stow the medical supplies. “Is he going to handle it?” Shazza didn’t answer; she didn’t know the answer and was scared to ask.
Jack stood a short distance from Riddick and just watched him. She had been so sure of what she would say when she stepped out here, and now she wasn’t sure at all. Of anything. He was so tense, so angry that she could feel it from where she stood. Her small hands made fists at her side and she bit the inside of her lip to force back the tears. She was angry too, just unsure of the reaction it would receive; she couldn’t bear his anger. She stepped out and reached out to touch him but drew her hand back. He turned around to face her anyway. “Shazza’s fine. Just a deep scratch.”
He stared at her, expressionless, for a moment, before his head tilted and he turned his back on her again. He had to turn away; he couldn’t look at her and not break, something he would not allow himself.
“Didn’t you hear me? I said…” Jack’s voice was cold and angry now; she hated being ignored, and being ignored by Riddick hurt more than she was able to deal with. He wasn’t them.
“Leave it alone, Jack. It has nothing to do with you.” Riddick stood up and stepped away from Jack, his shoulder pulled away from her hand.
“Nothing?!” Jack forgot her fear and stepped towards Riddick again, her voice rising in anger. “I thought it had something to do with me!” She hated the sting of tears and bit her lip against them. “Riddick?” Her voice broke, the distance killed her inside; he was so cold.
The lie hurt even as he thought it,‘I can’t do this. I can’t stay. Sooner or later one of them is going to get hurt and…..It can only end badly, to get too close. Bad for them.’ His voice deadened and dropped. “I can’t take care of you Jack. Or Shazza. I’m no good at this; I’ll only end up getting you both killed. You’d both be better off wit….”
“That’s a fucking lie and you know it, Riddick.” The venom in her voice had him turn around, it was so unexpected. She stood before him and quivered in rage, tears streamed down her face, her fists clenched at her sides. “You think you’re the only person that’s ever been hurt? Been afraid? Fuck you, Riddick!” Her voice broke as she sobbed and his resolve broke as he watched her cry. She didn’t cry easily, the tears were resentful and every single one hurt; she was pain personified. In a twelve year old girl. Something in him broke and its jagged edges cut the strings that held him stiffly against the railing. His shoulders slumped and his breath came out as a hard exhale. Her breath hitched in a heartrending sob, her voice now thick with her tears. “Are you going to cut us loose now?”
He looked over at her, her rage and pain beyond her ability to hide. He had wanted to leave, to run. As he looked at her he knew he couldn’t. Jack was his, she had always been his. He loved her with a love so pure he couldn’t understand it, a burning brand that changed him the moment she touched him. Shazza too. How the hell could he have thought about his life without her? Without either of them? He felt sick as he watched her cry. Other people made her cry, it wasn’t supposed to be him. He reached out for her, unable to speak.
He held his breath as her arms crossed over her chest to hug herself, before she let out a strangled sob and stepped toward him to be folded into his arms. “I’m so fucking sorry Jack. I’ll never leave you.”
Jack fought against the steel bars of his arms to look up at him, her voice hard through her tears. “And Shazza?”
He looked down at her, and ran his thumb across her cheek to catch her tears. “I’ll never leave either one of you.” He pulled her tight to him and felt her cry against his chest. His lips brushed over the stubble of her head. “I love you both Jack. I’ll never leave you, I swear.”
He held her a little while longer. He felt drained and empty, the fierce wind blew right through him and her frail body was the only thing that kept him warm. “Stay with the tiller. I have to talk to Shazza.”
Theo passed Riddick out on the deck. Away from Shazza he had thought to tell Riddick exactly what he thought of him but one look at Riddick and he knew he couldn’t add to his hurt, he just couldn’t. He rested his hand on his shoulder as he walked by.
Riddick almost turned around when he saw Shazza, but stood frozen in the doorway instead, and watched her. Shazza dropped her hand from the bump on her head and turned towards him. His mouth opened and closed as though he had no idea where to begin. She stepped forward into his arms and just let him hold her. “I’m not very good at this either, Riddick. Are we okay?”
He shut his eyes tight and thought of Jack’s tears. “We’re okay. I’m sor….”
“Don’t.” She didn’t want him to apologize; it would break something inside him. Shazza tilted her head up to his and kissed him instead.
Copyright © October 2006 xxxevilgrinxxx