The Slow Burn, Chapter 11

Title: The Slow Burn
Chapter: 11 of ?
Fandom: Pitch Black
Synopsis: This is a reworked version of chapter 11 (formerly chapter 10) of The Slow Burn, which was my first attempt at fan fiction. It was semi-successful, but I stopped writing it after I found my real calling with Apprentice. Now I’m revisiting it. The story adds an original character to the group of survivors, and this time around I’m trying to strip away any and all Mary Sue qualities she possessed. In this heavily reworked chapter, Riddick decides to keep a closer eye on Fiona, saving her from an unspeakable fate in the process.

Riddick: What Normal People Have

Sometimes, being right sucked all the balls in the galaxy, Riddick had thought as he gazed down the coring room shaft.

None of the settlers had made it offworld, based on the quick count of skulls he had managed to do of the visible part of the cavern under the coring room. He’d been contemplating possibly going down into its depths to do an even better count—he wasn’t entirely sure where that reckless impulse had even come from—when Shazza had apologized to him.

He was still a little shocked that she’d given him her breather. That was something that he hadn’t expected. Her gruff follow-up, calling him an asshole and then saying she was sorry—for, he assumed, kicking him in the head rather than calling him an asshole—told him everything he needed to know about how sincere she was. This was real. She had forgiven him and was trying to make amends. His hopes hadn’t extended past her getting her head back on straight, and this was more than he’d ever anticipated.

People are so surprising, he thought.

Then Fry had gone off on a tear about how the most recent coring sample was twenty-two years old, dragging them all—most of them, anyway—to a room she’d found with an orrery inside. When she wound the gears back to the date on the sample, nobody had been too surprised to find that the planets around theirs had eclipsed all three suns the next day. The question of when the next eclipse would occur proved more complicated. The orrery dated it to twenty-six weeks after the Hunter-Gratzner had left Trafalgar Station. Fry told them that, when she and Owens had awakened from cryo, he’d mentioned that his chrono said twenty-two weeks had passed… but they were also massively off-course and none of the electronics were functioning entirely right, so his chrono could have been off.

“So anywhere from tomorrow to a month from now,” Johns had inferred with suspicious calm. Riddick wondered when he had sneaked off to shoot up.

“Then it will be in our best interests to repair and launch the skiff as soon as we can,” the Imam replied, leaning over to study the orrery. He advanced it several more clicks until light returned to the small sphere that represented their crash planet. “It appears that once darkness falls, it will not relent for almost another month.”

Riddick was privately sure that he could survive to see the suns again, but he doubted there’d be anyone else left to watch their return by then.

Well, maybe Fiona. He suspected he’d break his own rules about not sticking his neck out for others… again… if it came down to her. And frankly, that worried him even more than the prospect of an eclipse.

One of the Imam’s remaining charges hurried into the room and said something. While Riddick had picked up a smattering of Arabic during one of his early tours before everything went to shit, the boy’s words were too fast and agitated for him to follow.

“He says that Fiona and Jack are planning to find somewhere to sleep,” the Imam helpfully explained.

And that was how he ended up spending the next hour clearing residences beside Johns and Shazza.

Some of them were in shambles. Doors had been broken down, furniture had been scattered, blood had been splashed on walls, and gnawed skeletal remains were strewn across floors. A few turned out to have cellars, and nobody—not even him—felt like venturing into them to see if they were compromised. A handful had remained intact but had been colonized by strange fungal growths, which sat in full sunlight and released spores into the air whenever shadows fell over them. All of those residences were declared uninhabitable. In the end, only eight residential units were left to be marked as safe.

With that solved, there had promptly been a new argument over sleeping arrangements, with several would-be parents telling Jack that he couldn’t room with a girl.

Oh, for fuck’s sake, Riddick thought. Now that the bickering had begun, he’d had all the human contact he could stand for a while, and he decided to do a quick fade. Fiona, at Shazza’s urging, went off to find somewhere to sleep, and he kept a careful eye on her as she went. Her steps were slow and a little unsteady, the gait of someone asleep on her feet.

He wasn’t the only one watching her go, he realized. Johns was staring after her.

No, that ain’t good. Johns might be thinking of engaging in a little retribution for the way she’d defied him back at the crash ship. It wouldn’t be the first time the merc had assaulted a woman and then used his counterfeit badge to make her stay quiet. Riddick had heard the stories, though. They still spread even if officially they’d never happened. That’s not happening at all this time.

So much for alone time.

Riddick ambled after Fiona, staying out of everyone’s sight and marking which house she picked—aware that Johns was doing so too—and waiting until Shazza pulled Johns into another conversation before slipping inside the house himself, unseen by anyone except possibly Jack. If the boy had seen him, though, he didn’t raise a fuss. Riddick suddenly found himself hoping that the kid didn’t have a crush on Fiona. If he did, and things developed the way it seemed likely they would, Jack might end up regretting his haircut and hero-worship.

Yeah, he admitted to himself, it was very likely that he’d stick his neck out to make sure that kid saw the suns return, too. Fuck, I’m getting soft. These were handles big enough for any merc to grab onto.

Riddick could hear Fiona’s quiet breathing behind one of the doors, already in the slow, deep rhythm of sleep. He opened the door as gently as he could.

She was curled up on her side in a bed that, by its size, had definitely been intended for a married couple. Either she had changed the sheets or they had somehow been protected against the dust for the last twenty-two years. She had also changed her clothes, the shorts and halter top she had been wearing for …how long, exactly?… discarded in a heap by her backpack. Along with her underwear. All she wore was a short slip as a nightgown, which had already twisted up enough to make it clear that she wore nothing else beneath it. A jolt of intense arousal passed through him and his pants were suddenly far too tight.

The urge to get into bed with her, hold her while she slept, was too great to resist. He had told himself that he was just coming in to stand guard, to protect her from Johns, but now… now he just hoped things wouldn’t spiral out of control in another way.

Not wanting to dirty the sheets, he stripped out of his own clothes and then realized his new conundrum: he didn’t have any underwear to discard, or replace.

Yeah, no, I’m pretty sure she wants me too, but I doubt she’d take kindly to waking up to me naked in bed with her without an invite. Never mind that part of him was resolutely saluting her…

Fortunately, the third drawer he opened in the closet contained pairs of boxer shorts sized for a man a little heavier than him. The elastic had decayed on most of them, but one pair had drawstrings and was still in good enough shape to use. He changed into them and took several deep, calming breaths, imagining the least arousing things he could think of until his erection subsided.

Climbing into bed with Fiona, he gathered her into his arms, marveling when the rhythm of her breathing didn’t change at all. She’s way under, he told himself.

“What about this one?” Fry asked outside.

“It’s a one-bedder,” Shazza replied. “If Jack here is too shy to share a bedroom or loo with anybody, we need to get this lot a multi-bedder. There’s one down that way…”

Several pairs of feet shuffled through the dust and sand outside of the bedroom window, moving away. Riddick concentrated, picking up snatches of distant conversation as Paris decided to join the Imam’s crew and then Fry and Shazza apparently chose the house next to theirs.

Only one left unaccounted for…

The outer door to the house squeaked a little as it opened.

I knew it. Motherfucker’s more predictable than Murphy’s Law.

Riddick waited until the stealthy footfalls were almost at the bedroom door before speaking. “Occupied,” he rumbled, hoping he wouldn’t wake Fiona.

A whispered curse. And then footsteps, no longer bothering to be stealthy, moving away from the bedroom door. The outer door slammed.

In his arms, Fiona turned and rested her head on his chest, hitching one of her bare legs over his. He could feel soft curls pressing against his thigh. His body’s response was electric, but he made himself stay still. There would be time. Right now, what she needed was to sleep deeply and safely, guarded from all harm. There was something strangely wonderful, he thought, about the idea of just falling asleep with her in his arms like this. It was a type of interaction that he’d thought was long gone, far out of reach, something he hadn’t dared to even hope for since… since everything. He’d told himself it was something only available to other people, “normal people,” people unlike him, who weren’t being hunted and weren’t on their own dark hunt.

He waited a while longer, feigning a light snore, just in case Johns was planning on coming back. But no. Johns wouldn’t risk witnesses, not even ones he’d already done his best to discredit. More to the point, Johns wouldn’t risk a rematch with him if he wasn’t massively handicapped in some way, and for damn good reason. The threat had abated for now. He could rest. He could let himself rest… with her.

Finally Riddick fell asleep as well, lying on his back with Fiona curled against his chest.

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Hm, I wonder what’s gonna happen when Fiona wakes up with him next to her…

Also: “… strange fungal growths, which sat in full sunlight and released spoors into the air …”

That should be spores. Spoor is another word for the tracks and/or scat left behind by a prey animal.

Ardath Rekha • Works in Progress