The first apartment Kyra looked at was way too small, and the second one had bedbugs. They wouldn't be able to move into a third for a least a month, because it was a crime scene in an ongoing murder investigation. On and on, day after day, she found something that eliminated each dingy flat she visited. By the time Kyra reached the final listing, she was struggling to remember why she'd suggested they get a place at all. At least the ship was comfortable and safe. And clean.
But they couldn't afford to keep paying the docking and hook-up fees. If she found them an apartment, they could move the ship into a storage bay – something offered at a discounted rate to station residents.
Checking the building's address against the for-let ad pulled up on her phone, she sighed. Situated in the oldest part of the station, the structure seemed to lean dangerously to one side. The dirty paint peeled away in big chunks, revealing the original shipping containers underneath, and a faded "For Lease" sign was visible through one of the barred, cloudy windows on the main floor.
Shoving her phone in her pocket, Kyra stepped inside. She saw an open door on her right and peeked in to find an older woman reclining in an ancient office chair. Her slippered feet were propped on the desk in front of her as she watched some reality show. An ashtray rested precariously on her sizable stomach, and the air was thick with the reek of burnt coffee and stale cigarettes.
Kyra took a steadying breath, pasting a smile on her face before knocking lightly on the doorframe. "Excuse me," she said, pitching her voice to be heard over the television.
The woman glanced over her shoulder, her face creased in an annoyed frown.
"Hi!" Kyra kept her tone bright, all sweetness and civility. "I saw online that you had an apartment available?"
With a long-suffering sigh, the woman dropped her feet to the floor, setting the ashtray on the desk before rolling her office chair to the other side of the small room. She yanked open a rusty file cabinet, thumbing through a drawer crammed with papers until she produced a keycard. "Four-B," she said, swiping the piece of plastic through an activator before holding it out. "On the right."
Kyra took the card and smiled her thanks, but the woman had already resumed watching her program. Realizing she'd been dismissed, Kyra turned and glanced around the building's lobby. She spotted an antiquated lift, a yellowed "out of order" sign tacked to the safety gate. Heaving a resigned sigh, she started for the staircase winding its way around the elevator shaft.
On the fourth floor, Kyra paused in front of the door labeled "4B" and took a deep breath, trying to brace herself. She wasn't sure what she'd find – bugs, bloodstains, or something even worse – but she was getting desperate; they were running out of options. Sliding the keycard into the electronic lock, she waited until it beeped before turning the handle. She shoved the door open with her shoulder...
...and found herself pleasantly surprised. The apartment was small, but it seemed to be in good repair. She stood in the tiny entry, looking into a cozy living room. A breakfast bar marked the transition to the kitchen, a door tucked next to the refrigerator leading into what she assumed was the unit's single bedroom. Another door off the left side of the kitchen revealed a bathroom with a full-size tub and shower.
The countertops were cracked, the walls yellowed from years of cigarette smoke, but Kyra couldn't detect the syrupy, maple smell of roach poison or see any signs of rats. She walked the entire apartment twice before returning to the office. It was almost physically painful to hand over the bundle of cash for the deposit and first month's rent, but she couldn't quite suppress her smile at the feel of the keycards in her pocket as she walked back to the landing bays.
Riddick woke up restless. Kyra was long gone, the sheets on her side cool to the touch, and his inner animal growled in irritation. Unable to sit still, he ran laps in the cargo bay until his lungs heaved and his heart pounded in his ears. He'd spent the last ten days trying to wrap his head around his feelings for the woman, and he was still no closer to figuring it out.
No matter the argument, he kept coming back to the same conclusion – he needed to leave her. The idea brought a strange sort of ache to his chest, and his animal howled in protest. The beast wanted to keep her at his side, to keep her safe, to keep her...
But she'd been taken from him once, already. And if they took her once, they could get to her again.
He stopped running as he realized there was no way around it. The moment he'd started putting her survival ahead of his own, she'd become a dangerous liability – one he couldn't afford to have. One that could get them both killed.
As soon as she was settled somewhere, he needed to get the hell off this station – and out of Kyra's life – for good.
Ignoring the emptiness he felt at the decision, Riddick made his way to the galley for coffee and something to eat; he had to get ready for work.
He was stepping out of the shower when he heard the side hatch close. Kyra all but danced into their cabin, humming to herself as she dug around in the armoire for something. Emerging with a small black apron, she almost bumped into Riddick as he stood in the doorway to the bathroom.
Kyra stepped back, her mouth going dry as she took in the towel hanging dangerously low on his hips. Unf. She caught her lower lip between her teeth, heat pooling in her belly. Then he cleared his throat and her gaze flew to his, a blush warming her cheeks.
"What?" she asked, willing herself not to be embarrassed.
"I asked if you're working tonight." The snap of irritation in his voice was like a dash of cold water, dampening her good mood.
"Oh – yeah," she nodded, avoiding his gaze as she sidled past him into the bathroom. She pulled a bottle of contact re-wetting solution from a drawer under the counter and tilted her head back, squeezing a few drops into each eye. When she glanced back into the cabin, he was gone.
After Riddick caught her stripping, Kyra had scoured Nikuda until she'd located a costume shop that sold colored contacts. With her shined eyes hidden behind technicolor-blue lenses, it had been easy to find a position tending bar at a little dive in Malorossiya. It was a good job – the pay was fair, and the patrons weren't allowed to grab or grope her. She also got great tips because she could chat with the regulars in Russkiy.
Now, Kyra touched up her make-up and hair, tucking a tiny bottle of eye drops into her pocket, in case her contacts started to bother her during her shift. She heard Riddick leave for work and thought about chasing after him for a moment – she'd been so excited to tell him about the apartment. But something was off with him lately, ever since she'd brought up moving off the ship. He was pulling away, withdrawing into himself. She'd hoped it was just the idea of being less mobile making him nervous, but she wasn't so sure anymore.
He'd stopped holding her, stopped all those little touches and signs of affection she'd been enjoying. They still slept together – he hadn't asked her to move back to the other cabin – but they weren't having sex. As he grew more and more distant, he'd stopped smiling, had all but stopped talking except when necessary.
He's going to leave.
The thought rang through her with an inevitable kind of truth as she grabbed a protein bar from the galley and headed to work. She'd known from the start that this wouldn't be forever, that Riddick would eventually start to chafe at her constant presence – at the liability she presented. It was why she hadn't wanted to develop feelings for him; loving him only meant it would hurt worse when he left her again.
And it was gonna hurt like a sonofabitch.
Riddick wasn't sure how to react when Kyra told him she'd leased an apartment. He could see how proud she was as she led him through the empty rooms, so he didn't point out the questionably wired electrical outlets or the steady drip from the tub in the bathroom. And as she'd talked about their future, making plans he had no intention of being around for, he felt a pang of regret squeeze cruelly in his chest.
That was the first night he got drunk instead of going home after work. She'd been sleeping when he'd finally stumbled through the hatch late that morning, and he felt something inside him crack at the way she cuddled against him as he slid into the bunk next to her.
This isn't gonna end well.
By the time they'd moved into the apartment and had the ship put into storage, Riddick was restless. His beast paced and snarled inside him – angry at his decision to leave, hating that there was no other choice – and he spent most nights trying to drink away his need for the woman. When that didn't work, he found himself wandering the station's De Wallen, staring blankly at the windows lit with red neon, displaying scantily clad women that beckoned and enticed. He eventually chose one of them, following her to a tiny room and taking her roughly on an ancient, sagging mattress. It didn't fix the broken feeling inside him, and he made sure to shower before returning to the apartment.
Riddick tried stronger liquor and different girls. He ran laps and beat the shit out of the punching bags at a local gym. No matter what he tried, he couldn't get the feel of her off his skin, the taste of her off his tongue; nothing he did could wipe her scent from his memory. At some point, he started sleeping on the worn, second-hand couch Kyra brought home for the living room. Still, he felt that awful ache somewhere deep inside him.
Then, it all began crumbling down. He got sloppy – making too much noise getting in the door, fumbling too long with the locks behind him. One night, he turned around to find Kyra in the bedroom doorway, staring at him.
He offered her a drunken smile, opening his mouth to apologize for waking her. "Kid-" he started, but she held up her hand.
They looked at each other for a long moment; he could see the anger and betrayal flashing in her eyes. Then, without a word, she turned back into the bedroom and closed the door behind her.
Kyra was furious. How dare he come home to her like this? Like she wouldn't be able to smell the liquor on his breath, the sex on his skin? Like he hadn't made her promise that she was only his. How fucking dare he.
She fought back tears, lying in bed and staring at the ceiling until she thought she would scream. The animal inside her roared for revenge, demanded she take Riddick's balls as payment for the agony clawing through her heart. Eventually, the anxious-angry feeling twisting in her gut was too much. She rose and dressed, determined to run the hurt out of her system. Tucking a knife into the waistband of her pants, she slipped silently past Riddick's snoring form and out into the waking space station.
She ran until her lungs burned and her muscles trembled, until her fury evaporated into exhaustion. She ran until her beast was safely back in its cage. And when she couldn't run anymore, she just wandered for a while, trying to make peace with what was coming. She didn't. But by the time she finally made her way back to the apartment, she'd at least managed to stifle the urge to punch Riddick in the face.
The kid was sitting at the breakfast bar, drinking coffee and scrolling through something on her phone when Riddick finally cracked his eyes open. He groaned, immediately regretting the decision as his hangover started pounding through his head. Rolling off the couch, he picked his way to the kitchen and was startled to see that she'd set out several bottles of water for him. He finished two before he noticed the small packet of painkillers and electrolyte tablet she must have left for him, as well. Ignoring that expanding ache in his chest, he turned to see her watching him, her gaze clouded by those stupid colored contacts.
Kyra wanted to scream. How could you? She met his eyes, trying to find something to say. What the fuck were you thinking? Her mouth opened but nothing came out. Why are you breaking my heart? Swallowing, she tried again. "Partied a little too hard last night, huh?" She was proud that her voice sounded steady, even a little sympathetic.
Riddick grunted, cracking the seal on a third water and adding the electrolyte tablet before swallowing the painkillers. "Thanks," he said after a moment, holding up the bottle in a sort of salute.
Kyra nodded, glancing at the kitchen chrono and sighing. She slid off the stool, shoving her phone into her pocket as she headed towards the front door. With her fingers on the handle, she paused. "Next time," she said, without looking back at him, "don't come back until you shower." Then she disappeared out the door, determined to put him out of her mind and focus on work. With any luck, he'd be out when she got home.
When Kyra opened their door in the early hours of the morning, Riddick was on the couch, drinking a beer and waiting for her. She suppressed a sigh, ignoring him and disappearing into the bedroom to change out of her work clothes. After ducking into the bathroom to remove her contacts, she grabbed a bottle of beer out of the fridge and took a long swallow. She could feel her beast pacing restlessly, still howling for vengeance, and the silence spun out between them, thick and heavy.
Kyra broke first. "De Wallen run out of girls that interest you?" she spat, her temper getting the better of her.
"Don't make this ugly, kid."
Riddick saw her flinch at his words and hated himself for hurting her. He hadn't wanted it to go this way; he'd intended to let her down easy, to try and make her understand. He'd meant to be gentle with her.
But that was the fucking problem, wasn't it? He'd gotten too goddamn good at gentle – especially with her. That's why he was still here, playing house in this dump like he intended to stay. His anger mounted, and he rose from the couch to prowl toward her. In a few long strides, he'd backed her against the counter, a hand resting on either side of her to prevent her escape.
"I'm not scared of you," she whispered, the fluttering pulse at the base of her throat belying her quiet words.
Riddick's grin was feral. "Maybe you should be," he purred, leaning in to trace the gentle curve of her neck. "I am the most wanted man in the universe."
She stiffened, her lips pulling into an ugly snarl. "Not anymore," she shot back. Then her face changed, her eyes closed and her features smoothed. Riddick could almost hear the roar as she forced down her animal side. "Your reputation doesn't make it okay for you to be an asshole," she ground out after a long moment. "Not to me, at any rate."
In one swift move, he lifted her to sit on the counter, both of her wrists pinned behind her in his massive fist. He ignored her wince as the position pulled at her bad shoulder, forcing himself to hold her tighter despite the gnawing ache in that strange, broken part of him. Pushing her knees apart, he leaned in to whisper past her ear, "Oh, yeah?" His voice was dark, full of danger and the promise of violence. "Says who?"
Pressed cheek to cheek, Riddick felt Kyra's jaw move an instant before she tried to bite him. He jerked away just in time to avoid her sharp teeth and growled deep in his chest. His free hand closed around her throat, squeezing with just enough pressure to show he meant business, not caring about the bruises he would leave.
"Choose your next words carefully, kid," he rumbled.
He felt her swallow under his hand before she spoke. "Why are you doing this?" Her voice came out thready, and he loosened his grip slightly as he considered the question. When he didn't answer, she asked again, a bit more forcefully. "Why don't you just go already?"
Kyra blinked as Riddick suddenly released her and stepped back. She waited, careful not to move in case it was some sort of test. Only when he'd slumped onto a stool at the breakfast bar did she allow herself to relax. Wasted adrenaline coursed through her system as she slid off the counter, and she took a moment to steady herself. With trembling hands, she found and lit a cigarette, the ember glowing in the darkness.
After a moment, she opened the fridge, pulling out some fruit and a second bottle of beer. She was in the bedroom, about to close the door behind her, when Riddick spoke.
"Where you goin?"
Kyra glanced over her shoulder at him, her eyes tired and sad. "I've had a shitty day," she sighed, her voice resigned. "I'm hungry and I'm tired, and I can't make you stay this time, either." She gave a defeated shrug, swallowing around the tightness in her throat. "So, I'm not gonna fight you. Goodnight, Riddick." She turned back into the room, closing the door firmly before the tears started to fall.
The nightmares came back after that; old memories mixing with new, remembered pain mingling with still-healing aches. Kyra woke shivering, clothes plastered to her skin with sweat and reeking of fear; she found knives tangled among the soaking sheets.
She started sleeping less and using more, picking up early morning shifts at a diner near the bar to keep out of the apartment. She kept herself too blitzed and too busy to notice the dark shadows her make-up couldn't quite hide, or the way her clothes didn't quite fit anymore.
Her bosses noticed, though, and refused to put her on the schedule until she sobered up and got some rest.
After those frustrating conversations, Kyra finally admitted defeat – she couldn't run from this forever. Opening the door on an empty apartment, she hated the way that familiar, sucking ache started up in her chest again. In the kitchen, she grabbed a bottle of beer from the fridge, then paused. After a moment's debate, she opened the freezer and dug around until she found the bottle of vodka she knew Riddick had stashed there; she was going to drink until she couldn't feel feelings anymore.
Maybe then she'd finally get some sleep.
Riddick found her passed out at the breakfast bar when he got home in the early hours of the morning, a game of solitaire spread out in front of her. Closing the door, he took in the bottles littering the counter and sighed. Today, he decided. I leave today.
Then she stirred, her head coming up as she blinked blearily at him. After a moment, she gave a short, humorless laugh. "Came back to say goodbye?" she asked, her voice still thick with liquor and sleep. Riddick couldn't answer, something about the grief in her eyes kept any denial trapped in his throat. When he stayed silent, she nodded, smiling. "Yeah," she said, her voice breaking. "That's what I thought."
Riddick crossed the small living room in a few steps, stopping in front of her. He met her gaze and opened his mouth to tell her something, anything. I'll be back. It was on the tip of his tongue to promise her whatever might be left of his soul, if only she would just stop looking at him like that. I'll come back to you.
Before he could say something he would regret, Kyra placed her fingers over his lips. "Shh," she breathed, almost as if she'd heard his thoughts. "Don't start making promises we both know you won't keep." And she was right – if everything went the way it was supposed to, he'd never see her again.
Instead, he boosted her onto the counter, pulling her close and capturing her lips with his. He wanted her, needed her, just one last time. Using his hands and mouth and body, he would show her what he could never allow himself to say...
I need you.
I love you.
He caressed her, the smell of her growing arousal filling his senses as she melted against him. She was so soft and welcoming, wrapping her legs around his waist to draw him tight against her. Then she rocked her hips against him, and he groaned. He wanted to savor this, to take his time and memorize every inch of her for the long, lonely nights ahead.
But her whimpers were filling his ears, her hands tugging greedily at the fastenings of his pants until she freed his cock. Then she stroked him, and he was lost. Yanking her jeans down her legs, he thrust into her with a ragged groan. He set a brutal pace, taking her hard and fast and desperate on the kitchen counter. When he was sure he couldn't hold out any longer, he felt her tense in his arms. She came hard, spasming around him, her teeth sinking into his shoulder and triggering his own release.
Riddick didn't linger – he couldn't. Withdrawing before Kyra had even caught her breath, he straightened his clothes and pressed one last bruising kiss to her lips. Then he was gone, and she was alone.