When she did something, she did it, with intensity and focus many found surprising. That was how she'd passed herself off as a boy so convincingly. That was how she'd managed to learn so much from Riddick in the time he gave her. That was how she'd shed Jack, made herself Kyra.

She was focused now. Both of her.

She wasn't quite sure if Kyra was trying to teach Jack, or kill her.

She wasn't sure which she was—she kept switching perspectives.

Either way, Kyra was kicking Jack's ass.

She was Jack. It was dark. Not eclipse dark, just shadowy. It made her edgy. She knew she was outclassed in this fight, and that made her edgier. She was getting tired, but she couldn't stop, could she? Not this time. This wasn't like the practice rounds she'd gone against Riddick, with him holding everything back so she could almost win.

She saw a fist, and blocked it, but then a heel came out of nowhere, and she was flying. She hit the ground hard on her shoulder, rolled, and staggered to her feet.

She was Kyra. She watched as the girl stumbled, desperately searching for the next attack. All defense—the kid didn't even try to move on her.

"Clumsy," she said, and hit her. "You're a clumsy little bitch."

Jack punched at her. She blocked, easy.

"You're overreaching. Stay balanced, for fuck's sake."

Her right hook caught the girl in the face. She backed up, looking dazed, and spat out blood. Kyra didn't press the advantage—she didn't need it. And she didn't want to end this so soon. She didn't know what she'd do when she had her down.

"Really think you're something…"

She was Jack. She shook her head, trying to clear it, wondering what the woman was waiting for.

"…doncha?"

"What?" she gasped. She grimaced at the taste of blood, then ran her tongue over the cuts in her cheek. They felt pretty deep, like they'd keep bleeding for awhile. Great.

"You think just cause Riddick taught you a few tricks, you're hot shit. That's a wrong thought, and a stupid one, and it's what's gonna get your ass killed."

"I ain't dead yet," she snarled.

Something passed through the other woman's eyes. It looked almost like regret. But that couldn't be right.

She was Audrey. She huddled in a corner, hoping that if she wasn't seen, she wouldn't be hurt.

"Yes, Jack," she heard. "Oh yes, you are."

X

He was caring for a miracle. In his years as a doctor, he had seen incredible things, but nothing, nothing, compared to the girl.

She was beautiful.

In the traditional sense, of course, of a man looking at an attractive female. But that was just an observation, and he wouldn't be much of an observer if he hadn't figured out that Lord Riddick would kill any man who even considered touching her. Above and beyond that, she was his patient. He would never be so unprofessional.

No, that wasn't the beauty that captivated him. (And yes, she did captivate him.) It was the fact that… even broken as she was, she shone. She had been dead, and now she was so, so alive.

He liked to listen to her as she spoke with the specters her crippled mind conjured. She was abrasive, defensive, vulgar, and, assuming she could normally make good on even a few of those threats, terrifying. She was passionate, inventive, oddly sweet.

He did not believe in God, but she was a miracle, and he believed in her.

He was losing his objectivity, and it bothered him. He needed to be objective, because he didn't know if there was anything more he could do.

Or so he told himself. The truth was, his objectivity was long gone, and he would find something to do. He would fix her. Heal her, so the miracle could be complete.

She deserved true life.

X

She sipped her tea and watched Gov watch her.

"Who'd ya kill now?" he asked.

"Ray."

"The rat," he muttered under his breath. "Gonna tell me why?"

She shrugged and smiled. "Why not?"

She knew he liked her, as much as any of them liked anyone. She knew he respected her. She also knew that something about her age, her gender, her beauty, didn't sit right with him. Especially when she went all psycho-killer and shit.

When she'd first arrived, he'd tried, in his way, to shelter her. He'd soon learned she didn't need or want it. Wasn't willing to pay for it, either, and everything here had a cost. Now he just brought her tea occasionally, and she paid in civil conversation.

"You 'member that talk we had when ya first showed up? Bout doing the guard's work for 'em?"

"The Rat was a rat," she told him.

He sat back, relaxed a bit. "No shit?"

"Umm-hmm. He told them I did Tamer."

He hadn't had a problem with Tamer—but then, he'd been a guard, and a sick bastard on top of it.

"Fucker."

She wasn't sure if he was talking about Tamer or Ray, but she nodded. Didn't matter, really—the description fit both.

That was enough explanation for him—the conversation moved on to other areas. He was hungry, today. He told her about the steak he would grill for himself if he could. She described for him the exotic, addictive spices of New Mecca. It was easy, light talk—strange, here—that lasted as long as her tea.

When she'd drained the last drops, he held out his hand for the cup. She gave it to him, and he stood. For a moment, he stayed right there, studying her. She returned the scrutiny. This was breaking their pattern.

"Look," he told her. "You like blood. Hell, maybe ya even need it. I get that."

She wanted to laugh at him, but figured she may as well let him finish. She liked the tea.

He continued, "Take it. Enjoy it. Just, don't get it from us cons less ya got a damn good reason. A'ight?"

She didn't laugh then, but she smirked a little. "Sure thing, Gov."

It had been a serious question, and despite the amusement, she'd given a fairly serious answer. She guessed he knew that, because he left.

X

She'd been surprised to find that her goals and Riddick's were essentially the same. They had different motivations—she was working for balance, he was after some sort of revenge, but it came to the same the in the end. She thought it worked well. Aereon was a firm believer in the ends justifying the means.

Also surprising, they worked well together. She'd earned his respect by getting him to the Underverse and back; he'd won hers in his dealings with the Necros. She wasn't afraid of his blades; he didn't give a shit—his words, not hers—about her politics. It was… refreshing, for both of them.

Aereon shook her head, glancing at the latest complaint from the Company representative. In writing this time, as if that would make more of an impact on the reluctant Lord Marshall. No matter what she did, she couldn't convince him to give discretion a try. He was always blunt, always cut straight to the chase. It meant she spent a lot of time cleaning up his messes. Somehow, though, he usually made progress.

"Aereon." The voice was deep, but she knew immediately it wasn't Riddick—he'd taken to calling her 'Wispy'. She wasn't entirely sure he knew her real name—he'd certainly never used it.

She turned, and there was Vaako, less than a meter away. She suddenly regretted refusing the guard Riddick had offered.

"May I speak with you?" he asked, solemn as always. She wondered what he would do if she said no.

Riddick's been a bad influence on me, she thought, amused. I'll have to watch that.

"Of course," she answered with a polite smile. "What about?"

"The Lord Marshall." He—Vaako the Stoic—actually shifted uncomfortably. That, more than anything, made her wary.

"What about him?"

"He's not a Necromonger," the man bit out. "He hasn't been converted, he's not one of us. The Underverse should have destroyed him."

"Why are you telling me this?" she asked. "You think I don't know what your faith says should have happened?"

"I don't know what I have faith in anymore," he snarled, and it sounded like he was choking on disillusionment.

Aereon frowned. Seems I've miscalculated this one…

"But I know the Underverse does exist, and he's been there, and… he read my mind today, Aereon."

She laughed. "Riddick's got a lot of tricks, but I'm afraid telepathy is not one of them."

"And our lately lamented lord didn't know astral projection from porn vids before he returned from the Underverse," he snapped.

Despite the situation, she felt her lips twitch. Perhaps she wasn't the only one Riddick was corrupting.

"Lord Vaako-"

"Don't. Just listen. I was... thinking about my wife. Wondering how to get her to stop—with the plotting and the manipulation and the power lust. He did that half laugh thing of his, and told me, 'That one'll stop plotting when her heart stops beating. Maybe.' He just said it casual, like I'd said something out loud."

Her eyebrows went up. "Are you sure you didn't?"

The dark look he shot her spoke for itself. Aereon shook her head and wondered if it could be true.

"Why are you telling me this?" she asked again.

He hesitated, as if searching for the right words. "He's dangerous. To my way of life. And to yours. I tell you, and not another Necromonger, because my people already follow him. They'd see this as a sign—that the Underverse has blessed him, that he's meant to lead us. You're not like us. And you calculate, you plot more than my Dame—but for different reasons. Just… watch him, please? There's no telling what he'll do, left unchecked."

He has no idea how true that last statement was. There was never any telling with Riddick. But how to check a Furyan?

She knew one way, of course. A dangerous, near suicidal way, but the only reliable way she'd heard of to control a bonded Furyan. She'd already done it once, in a way, but if she tried it again it would have to be different. Hostile.

"It's hard to trust," she said, "when you spend so much time calculating the odds of betrayal. Of course I watch him."

She didn't want to do it again. She liked him. Perhaps more significant, she thought she would like her. If she were sane.

She would do what was necessary, as she had always done. But she would work very hard to ensure it never came to that.

X

The com unit on his wrist buzzed. Break time's over, he thought.

"Yeah?"

"She's lucid."

He ran.

Pounding through the corridors, shoving people out of his way if they didn't move on their own. It wasn't a long run by his usual standards, but it felt like a thousand years.

The doc met him at the door. "I don't know how long this will last-"

"Then I'll talk to her now," he snapped, pushing past him too.

And there she was. Kyra.

"Riddick," she said.

He shoved his goggles up on his forehead and locked his gaze on hers.

After a moment, she jerked her arms against the restraints. "Think you could give me a hand?"

He crossed the room and lent her a hand, letting his fingers linger on her skin as he undid the bonds.

"How ya feelin'?" he asked. He thought she looked pale—but of course she did. "…they tell you you'll never see daylight again…" When was the last time she had been in the sun? He'd have to take her out.

She shrugged. "Alive." She glanced around. "The real world and I don't get along too well, do we?"

"You're a fuckin' idiot," he snarled abruptly. She gave him a questioning look. "Dying for me doesn't make you with me, it makes you gone."

She snorted at him. "I didn't mean to die for you, I meant to kill the fucker hurting you. You done it for me 'nough times."

"Didn't work out like that."

"No." She looked away. "You know, Riddick, I don't wanna die… but if I gotta, I think dying for you's the way to go."

He slid his hand up the back of her neck, tangled his fingers in her hair, and gripped the base of her skull in his palm. Damn… He leaned down and pulled her forehead against his.

"I'd rather have you kill for me," he whispered.

Then he kissed her. She didn't hesitate, just opened her mouth for him.

She was warm again. So damn warm.

He let go, intending to put his arms around her waist and keep on going, but she pulled back.

"Kyra…" he breathed. He sounded a bit drunk.

She didn't answer. He blinked and focused on her face. She was wearing a soft smile. Her eyes were looking past him. He tore away from her, and she didn't react.

"Fuck!" he snarled, and lashed out. Some medical shit crashed to the floor.

The doc came running, went straight to Kyra, as if he weren't even in the room. Riddick growled when he put his hands on her. His girl didn't respond. Neither did the man by her bed. Riddick turned and left, to keep from snapping the bastard's neck. 'Don't know how long this will last. Don't know how long this will last'. But you knew it wouldn't. He focused as much as he could on the doctor. It helped keep that damned dreamy smile out of his head. If he let himself, he'd start to wonder. And one thing for sure, he didn't want to know whose lips she thought she'd tasted.

X

"Let me get this straight," he murmured while she was still reeling from his mouth. "You're offering to fuck me if I kill this guy for the Holy Man?"

"You'd be doing the whole 'verse a favor, not just Imam," she told him. "But yeah, that's about right."

His eyes burned as he studied her. She wanted to reach for him, but made herself hold still as his hands glided over her thighs, paused for a moment to grip her hips. She bit her lip as they continued up her torso, and, just for an instant, cupped her breasts.

Then he released her and stepped back.

"No."

She blinked, waiting for her fevered brain to catch up. "No?"

"No," he repeated, in his No Arguments tone. "I'm not gonna let you make yourself my whore."

"You don't want me?" she asked, honestly shocked. She hadn't thought you could fake a kiss like that.

"Didn't say that." Silver eyes bored into her skin. "What I said was, I'm not gonna let you sell yourself. If I fuck you, girl, it'll be 'cause there's nothing else in the verse you want more than me inside you."

She took a slow, deep breath. Her voice was still weak when it came out.

"When." The eyebrow went up, so she clarified, "When. Not if."

His eyes flared, and he smirked at her. "Yeah. You just tell me when."