saga/title/fandom: Last Job (Pitch Black/Riddick)

author: Shalimar

rating/genre: (NC-17) - gen, angst, drama

warnings: het, a lot angst, violence, criminal activities

summary: Things go way wrong on his last job and Riddick has a little time to think about the last few years of his life.

comments/disclaimers: General disclaimers apply.

Such a simple job, really. Set the charges at prescribed intervals deep in the cavern. Blow the mothers. In all the commotion, slip into the mine and retrieve the artifact he was being paid to retrieve. Take the artifact to his employer, get his credits and finally, at long last, go home.

"Simple," Riddick murmured through bloody gums. "Easy."

He doubted he would ever know what had gone wrong, why one of the charges had detonated when he had barely walked away from it. It should have brought the whole cavern down on top of him, burying him deep under the red sand where no one would ever find him.

Instead, he had somehow been catapulted to the surface, coming to on his back in the arid air of early evening. He had no idea how long he had been unconscious but already his body smelled rank with sweat and his tongue was swollen with thirst. Even this late in the day, the last fading rays of the desert sun made his unshielded eyes ache unless he kept them tightly shut. Allah only knew where his protective goggles had ended up.

Not that Riddick was in any condition to go looking for them. Something had happened to his spine in the blast. He couldn't feel his legs. It would've been better if the whole damn mine had fallen on him than the alternatives he had now: either bake to death in the hot sun come morning or be discovered laying here helpless and get sent back to slam.

Never that, he vowed, grateful he seemed to have at least one working arm that he could reach for his shiv with.

Only it wasn't there. His shiv, like his goggles, was gone.

"Fuck," he hissed, feeling one of his upper teeth wiggle.

So what was he to do now? Not able to move ... or was he? He flexed his other arm, held it out. He felt no more pain in it than he had in his right one. Good. Perhaps he could roll over and drag himself to some kind of shelter once it got dark and he could see.

While he was waiting, Riddick concentrated with all of his might on wiggling his toes. He knew it was a fool's errand before he started because his body below the waist felt like a vacuum, a dead space. Above that he could hear his own pulse, feel his ribs rise gently as he breathed. The sweat rolled off his bald head down the sides of his face, his neck, his torso. There was a faint breeze kicking up that he could feel across his belly but below that, nothing. As the implications of that sank in, he began to hope in earnest that his injuries would prove fatal or that he could hide well enough out here to let the cruel desert complete the job the explosion had started.

His whole life, his body had been his ally, one that he had honed into a massive flesh machine that he trusted implicitly. His physical prowess had often been one of the only things he had and he had pushed it to its limits. His powerful body had kept him safe from convicts, mercs and others who meant him harm. Now it had failed him. Any of them could hurt him now. He could do little to stop them. And that wasn't all.

I guess I fucked my last woman, he thought hollowly, nauseated at the realization that the lack of feeling below his midsection meant that his dick was also part of the nothingness.

She had been some bored street whore on his employer's planet. Little, like Carolyn Fry, but with dark red hair the color of this desert's sand and aqua eyes that sparkled like one of the Chrislam gemstones Imam had given him so long ago. She had been shocked into actual interest in the proceedings by his size, moaning with real enthusiasm when he had lifted her up over him and sheathed himself with her, probing deep. Remembering the weight of her breasts in his hands, the round, soft curves of her buttocks, her cries of pleasure brought no familiar stir from his groin.

I might die here, Riddick admitted, feeling an unfamiliar wisp of fear, an acknowledgment that he might not make it out of this one alive.

It was darker now, dark enough that the shadows were long. No bright shards of light were left to blind his sensitive eyes. He scanned the surroundings to his left and right, searching for a rocky outcropping or a clump of desert shrubs, any type of shelter he might be able to drag his broken body to.

On either side of him were random piles of haphazard rock the color of drying blood. The sharp edges on the boulders made him realize that they must have been thrown out of the cavern with him. He was effectively shielded from easy detection. He realized with considerable relief that the chances of them finding him before he died were remote.

Still, Riddick wanted to improve on those odds. With some difficulty, he forced himself to look down in the direction of his legs, half expecting to find that they were no longer attached to him. The large flat stone crushing them made that a moot point. For the first time, he was grateful that his back was broken and he could feel nothing. He didn't want to consider the agony he would be in otherwise.

I'm already in my grave, he mused as it sank in that he was never going to move from this spot, that they might eventually find his bones here.

It seemed as if the God he hated had played one final, cruel trick on him. Regardless of what Imam had told him over the months it took them to travel from the nightmare planet on which the Hunter Gratzner had crashed to the Chrislam spiritual center of New Mecca, Riddick couldn't shake the conviction that he had been brought into being solely to provide Allah with some kind of sick amusement. Abandoned at birth, shuttled through a series of foster homes and youth institutions, beaten, raped and ultimately sent to slam for killing one of his tormentors, he had spent a lifetime alone but for that brief period of months when two people had cared about him. One of them had even claimed to love him.

Sure, Riddick had left New Mecca behind to escape the authorities he knew would come to question the crash survivors but he had also left to save Jack from throwing her life away on him. He found it highly ironic that of all the women he had spent time with, the only one who cared about him had been a fourteen-year-old child he had not so much as kissed. In tears, Jack had professed her love for him as he was trying to leave her on New Mecca. She had offered him anything he wanted, everything she had, if he would only take her with him. He knew how much courage it took her to make such an offer, for Jack had also spent a childhood being raped. He also knew, looking into her large, olive green eyes, that she was utterly sincere in every word she told him on that awful day.

For a long time, Riddick had tried to convince himself that what she felt was a crush, an infatuation that would fade with time. He had always known better. Jack had been young but her love was an adult love, he could see it clearly in her eyes. Unless she found another she felt the same way about during his absence, her love for him would always be there, waiting for him to claim it if he so chose.

Since leaving New Mecca, he had sent Imam a message about every six months. All of their transmissions had to be heavily coded, mailed and remailed to avoid any possible detection, so it was typically about three months before he received a response from the Chrislam. This last time, it had been four because the holy man had sent him something special. It had arrived just before he went on this job.

Riddick wished he could see it now, but his night vision would render it too dark to make out and it was too bright in the daytime here for him to open his eyes enough to see it. He had studied it often enough, however, that he could visualize it, safe in his wallet under his right buttock.

It was a picture of Jack, standing outside the al-Walid family home. She was not much taller than she had been when they parted company. She was still slender, but with a woman's body, one that would make it very difficult for her to pass as a boy now. She had grown up so pretty, even with her sandy hair militantly cut short like it had been when he had first met her. The olive green eyes were the same, wide and welcoming, and her smile evoked the one she had flashed when he and Carolyn had come to rescue her and Imam from the cave. If he hadn't known better, he would have been willing to swear that Jack knew this picture was being taken for him.

You must be getting dehydrated already, he chided himself. For all she knows, she'll never see you again.

Riddick and Imam had made a pact that Jack was to know nothing about their periodic contact. Both of them wanted her to devote herself to going to school and making a life for herself where she was, not keeping her head in the stars waiting for Riddick to return. Imam's reports indicated that she was doing well in school, in spite of being so far behind, and that she had friends, but there was never any mention of a boyfriend. Imam wasn't telling and Riddick wouldn't ask. For all he knew, that smiling young woman in the picture could be engaged.

Not that it mattered anymore. He would be content now simply to see Jack one more time, even if all he was able to do was kiss her politely on the cheek and wish her and her fiancÚ well. The fact that she told him she loved him once meant more to him than he was willing to admit until now, when it was too late.

After leaving New Mecca, Riddick had hidden on the far edges of the universe, taking on unsavory but profitable ventures like this one should have been. He was saving up to purchase both a new identity and the surgery that would remove the prison shine from his eyes. This was to have been his final job towards that effort. He had not expected that it was also to be his final job, ever.

More fucking amusement for Imam's God, he noted ruefully, briefly feeling sorry for the poor bastard who would take his place.

He had planned to go back to New Mecca to the two people who gave a damn about him, become a different person with normal eyes and live a quiet life among peaceful people. He was more than ready to do that, tired of the fighting, the killing and the dying that had accompanied much of his adult life.

Riddick let himself wonder what that life might have been like. He had gotten a small taste of it on New Mecca before he fled. It resembled their life on the merc ship that had rescued them, when the three of them were safely locked in their quarters. There was sense of emotional comfort in Imam's family home that couldn't exist among mercs or convicts. The adults had a trusting ease with each other that was full of gentle, familial touches and glances, a harmony that existed even when they were bickering. Then there were the children, joyous little souls who found nothing threatening about him and would brazenly climb into his lap without asking, as if they ruled the universe. In recent months he had wondered what it would have been like to be able to call one of those little creatures his.

"Not to be," he rasped, voice reduced by the dryness to a hoarse whisper. Soon, it would hurt too much to speak.

Riddick had spent his entire life on the outside looking in. He had spent his childhood knowing others had parents who cared about them, friends who did not exploit or abuse them. He had spent his young adulthood watching other convicts get calls or packages or visits from loved ones. When he finally had the love of a good woman she was too young to be properly called a woman. For her sake, he had gone away. For the last four years, his sole contact with a person who cared about him had been his twice yearly correspondence with Imam.

A handful of months and eight pieces of mail. Not much to show for thirty some years, he acknowledged bitterly.

A glow that appeared pale pink to his altered vision was starting to spread in one corner of the sky. The sun would soon be back to bake him, blind him and eventually kill him. He had heard humans could last three days at most without water. He rather doubted that was in desert conditions like these. Already his throat burned for water.

Riddick felt a pang of regret that he had never told Jack and Imam how much they meant to him. They had trusted him at a time in his life when he wasn't much more than a dangerous animal who could easily have killed them. They had saved his life after the thigh wound he got on the planet had become infected. They had treated him as an equal from the start, as a person worthy of the title "human." They had made him want to live up to that title.

Of course, Imam would say that much of what he had done for them in return expressed how much he cared for them. He taught Jack how to fight with a shiv. He put up with Imam's nattering at him about religion, his least favorite subject. He had soothed Jack through her terrible nightmares about their endless night on that godforsaken planet. Yeah, maybe he had done things for them but it wasn't the same as putting them into words and saying them out loud.

Jack's miserable face arose from his memory and he could hear her as if she stood before him now, telling him that she loved him. Those three little words had hit him harder than any physical blow ever had. Now he could never tell her how he felt about what she had said. He could only lie in his final resting place, waiting for Allah to stamp his one-way ticket to hell and send him on his way.

The sun burst over the horizon, forcing his eyelids to reflexively squeeze shut. Even its early rays were cruel in their intensity, wresting sweat from his dehydrated flesh for the thirsty air to steal.

Riddick struggled to ignore his physical discomfort, to keep thinking while he still could. He had done something, something he needed to make amends for. With difficulty, he brought it to the forefront of his wavering attention.

The last time he had contacted Imam, he had told him that this job was his last job. His implication had been that he would be coming home soon. Now he would never arrive. They would never know what had happened to him. Or maybe they would. Buried in his back pocket, between his dead ass and the sand, was that picture of Jack. Imam had adopted her into his household, giving her his last name which put her into the universal databank. It was just possible that whoever found his body could use her picture to identify him. If the authorities contacted Jack, then she and Imam would know he was dead, that he had not simply abandoned them without so much as a goodbye. He wanted very much for them to know that he had died carrying Jack's picture and meant to come back to them.

As the sun climbed higher, his withered skin began to pucker with sunburn. Even tightly closed, his eyes felt as if hot pokers were being shoved into them. The heat was making his chest constrict, making it hard for him to breathe. His consciousness wavered, fading in and out. At some point, he must have slept.

When he woke up, his raging thirst had dissipated and been replaced by a shock-induced certainty that there would be no more water. Somehow, shock rendered his pain bearable and allowed him to think coherently. Not knowing how long it would last, Riddick was determined not to waste it.

He had not prayed since he was twelve years old, on the night he was first raped. When his second night of torment came, he knew God didn't care about him anymore than anybody else did, but it was not himself he was praying for now.

Allah, since this ain't for me, maybe You'll pay some attention. Jack and Imam deserve to know what happened to me. It ain't much, but if You're out there like Imam says You are, then let somebody find my body while the picture in my wallet is still good enough for them to figure out who I was. I can't tell 'em how much they mean to me, but maybe knowing I had Jack's picture on me will be enough.

There, it was done. Riddick let the tension leave his body as he visualized Jack smiling in front of Imam's house on New Mecca.

The light grew brighter and brighter, until the light was all there was.

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