Boss glared down at the convict chained in front of him. "Tell me what happened with William Johns, dammit!"
"Why don't anyone ever believe me, when I tell 'em they'd really rather not know?" The wistful tone of Riddick's voice give Boss pause.
For a moment. Then he remembers who he's speaking to, and rage surges through his veins. "Really?" He sneers. "Im supposed to buy that Richard B. Riddick feels remorse? How many people have you murdered?"
Riddick snorts, starting to look angry himself. "Closest I got to murder was Johns." He snaps, then visibly bites his tongue.
Boss reels back. "What the hell's that supposed to me? You trying to tell me you ain't killed anyone?"
"Naw, I'm fresh outta oceanside real estate." Riddick's flippant words are belied by the sheer agony in his silver gaze. "But murder's got a very specific definition."
Dahl gives a little gasp, and Boss tosses her a baleful look. "What!"
"He's…" She blinks rapidly. "You're saying that every single kill you made was Just?" Her voice teeters between incredulous and pitying.
Riddick's sneer is half-heart. "My first 'murders'," the quotes are almost visible, he bites the word that hard, "Weren't even my kills -- I was framed, when I tried to turn in several wastes of everything for using the Rangers to steal people from Sigma 3 as slaves. I ain't never tried to kill nobody who ain't had it out for me or others."
"Including Billy?" Boss barely recognizes his own voice, it's so full of gravel, and it elicits the first true facial expression from Riddick.
It's grief and guilt and loss.
"First time?" He asks softly. "All I knew was yet another merc was tryin' ta take me. If I got any real regret, it's there -- I missed ghostin' him by less'n a centimeter, an' it destroyed him. Turned him into a damned junkie. But that took awhile -- in between, we helped each other, here'n there; escaped Butcher Bay together, I took the fall for that, an' gladly, so he didn't get bounty on him. 'ventually, we was working ta try and clear my name a' those first 'murders' I committed when I was dozens a' klicks away from those I ghosted. Then we crashed on that damned planet…"
Riddick' eyes slam shut, but he's not fast enough, Boss saw the tears welling in his eyes.
It doesn't make any sense; everything Boss knows about Riddick, he doesn't care -- about anything. He fights to survive because that's what he does, nothing more, nothing less. He doesn't care if anyone lives or dies, probably including himself.
He sure as hell isn' the type of man who'd try and play anyone, especially the merc father of a merc he'd killed, with tears.
Which means --
"Holy gods!" Dahl almost squeaks, her voice is so tight. "You loved him!"
Riddick flinches with his whole body.
"How did he die?" It's softer, almost a plea.
Riddick turns his face a few inches, stares over Boss' shoulder. "He talked about you. All of you, but you most of all. Never called you 'dad' or 'father' or none of that; it was always 'Boss said' or 'Boss showed me'. Never knew that there were mercs who weren't scum before. And he was forever tellin' me how he learned it all from you. Did it all for you." He swallows audibly, and seemingly painfully, avoiding Boss' eyes.
"How. Did. He. Die." Boss forces the words out, implacable.
"Please don't make destroy his image in your head." Riddick says so softly Boss ain't sure he actually heard it.
"Richard." Dahl's voice is gentle in a way Boss ain't heard since his wife died. "Nothin' you can tell us will make us love Billy any less. But we need…" She stops and takes a shuddering breath, meets Boss' eyes with a pained look. "We need to know, everything we can. Last we actually heard from him, he was trying to help a friend with --"
Her voice cuts out and they exchange incredulous looks. "Fuck!" It should be loud, explosive, but Boss' voice is barely a whisper. "That was you, his amazing friend who'd been framed by his captain…"
Riddick's laugh is bitter. "Stupid son of a bitch was so paranoid." He growls out. "He was positive someone had figured out our game, it's why we were on that cheap-ass transport, 'stead of our original reserve --"
"Son." Boss ignores the flinch that elicits. "Don't think he was wrong; the Winnilow disappeared just about the same time the Hunter-Gratzner did."
Riddick's eyes flick up to meet Boss' for one heart-breaking moment, and he slumps. "Son of a bitch." He whispers. "Son of a -- I never had a chance of getting him out alive, did I?"
It's Boss' turn to flinch, but he steels his spine. "I don't know about that. What I know, is that we need to know how he died."
"Why!" It erupts from Riddick's throat, torn free by rage and grief, and drags a half dozen tears in it's wake. "Why does it matter, how? He died 'cause of me!"
"You convince me it wasn't 'murder', as you so eloquently argued before, and you'll understand." Boss turns to Dahl, begs with his eyes.
She nods slightly. "We have… let's just say, the disposition of his will depends on what happened."
Riddick's eyes widen in something like shock. "What's that s'pose to mean?"
"Billy gave us the way to release you from your grief. But we ain't doin' it 'less we know you didn't kill him in cold blood." Boss says flatly.
Riddick reels back in the chains like he'd been punched.
Boss and Dahl wait silently while he thinks, weighing it over, then gives a firm nod. "Yeah. Yeah, this ain't life no more. I was livin' just fine 'fore your boy kicked his way into my life, but now…" Riddick shakes his head. "He's gone. I only stuck around this life, after, 'cause Jack -- Kyra -- she needed someone to care, then Sib – the damned Necros… tried. He wanted me to go on liven', so I tried, but… yeah."
Riddick closes his eyes and visibly gathers his strength, and his whole demeanor shifts, returns to a military bearing Boss is sure he hasn't realized he's adopted.
"Like I said, it was my fault. That shiv by his spine, from way back, our first encounter. We must'a gone to dozens of docs, trying to get it out. Even risked going to Centauri IV."
Dahl twitches at that, but Riddick doesn't notice, being too busy castigating himself. "I know, main hub for the Mercenary House, what the hell was I thinking, was I suicidal? Least, that's what's Billy yelled, when he woke up there." A faint grin ghosts around Riddick's mouth for a second, then vanishes like it'd never been there. "But most mercs are stupid. Present company and relatives excepted, o'course. Never would'a occurred to any merc who saw me that I could be the infamous Riddick, not in the middle a' their stronghold, ya know?"
Riddick shakes this off. "Anyway. We tried, for over a year. But Billy was kicking up a fuss the whole time, 'bout how it was more important to prove my innocence -- least about the situation from Sigma 3 -- because we could always go back and fix him, later, but if we got caught by any of the mercs who could count to twenty with their shoes on, we'd be fucked.
"Wore me down. We went back to work on that. Finally had a break -- we'd found a couple of the poor fuckers who'd been taken as slaves, rescued 'em and stashed 'em somewhere safe. Had depositions and everything, he was s'pose to drop me in a single-max then take 'em on to Antigua, turn 'em over to a Marshal he says you know, one who wouldn't take graft and had personal reason to hate slavery -- "
"You mean Darnell?" Boss blurts out, shock sparking through his bones. For the first time, Boss is actually believing Riddick. Oh, he knew a fair bit of this, but he'd been half convinced that Riddick was pretending, just playing along with Billy while he got what he wanted. And mostly-convinced that whatever Riddick felt, it wasn't anything like what Billy did, That Billy was just obsessed with Riddick and that that obsession had killed his boy.
"Yeah." Riddick nods slowly. "Hugh Darnell, that's his name. Was a full-bird in Juropa's navy, 'til 'raiders' took his wife 'n kids. 'cept those raiders weren't, they were like my old Captain and his buddies. An so Colonel Darnell took his little task force and went off the reservation, rescued his family and several hundred more, shut down that arm of the slave trade for a good decade, and fucked off to Antigua. Did'ja know that he proved, later, that most the upper brass had been in on it, to increase the fuckin' defense budget?" Riddick turns his head and spits, the first truly crass thing he'd done since they'd shook off the dust of the planet he'd dubbed 'Not-Furya'.
Dahl snorts. "I helped him. I was his Flag Captain."
Riddick stills, studying her for several long moments. Boss lets out the breath he hadn't realized he was holding when those bunched muscles relax again. "What's the secret to how you carry all them decades and still look so good, sis?"
Dahl gives a lazy smile. "Secret."
Riddick rolls his eyes at that, then seems to remember himself.
"Next thing I know, 'stead of the quick-ship we planned, we're on that cheap-ass piece of shit. Had another fight, right before cryo -- I wasn't convinced it was paranoia." Grief and guilt stand out starkly for half a second before being subsumed back into Riddick's military blankness. "Thought maybe the neo-morph was…"
"Neo-morph?" It snaps out more harshly than Boss intends, but he doesn't miss the wince from Riddick… or the sheer confusion Dahl can't quite hide.
"Neo-morph." Riddick nods once, firm. "It was buildin', gettin' worse. The pain, I mean, 's why I kept pushin' to try an' get it fixed…" Voice trailing off, Riddick stares at some piece of history neither Boss nor Dahl are privy to. They're probably happier that way.
"We fought, got into cryo still pissed. We wake up crashing on that damned planet. Hades. We had just enough time to make a plan -- I'll cop to it, the crash convinced me that it wasn't 'cause of the drugs, that Billy really did think someone was onto us. Didn't know if there'd be anyone on the ship, in case we survived the crash."
Riddick shrugs. "So we decided to play it 'straight' -- I was the convict, he was the cop draggin' me in. Know we fooled anyone who cared."
Now Riddick closes his eyes. "But it… the crash. It… it shifted the shiv, I think. Not enough to kill him, or even cause more actual damage, but I could tell, he was hurtin' even more. I know he was taken' double doses. It was makin' him reckless, an' loud.
"Suns went down. Eclipsed, whatever. We was almost to the skiff, but we weren't… it wasn't looking good. He took me ahead. Lookin' back, I'm almost sure he wasn't being totally serious, that he was just tryin' to get me to 'cept the situation, put pressure on me to find a way out.
"But I… I didn't take it well…"
Several minutes of tense, crackling silence pass before Dahl breaks. "Take what well, Richard?"
"He…" Riddick clears his throat, pops his neck. Fists his hands under the manacles. "He said we should kill the girl, Jack, use her for chum, drag her body behind the sled so those fuckin' monsters went after her an' not us."
Jerking backwards to keep himself from decking this son of a bitch, Boss looks to Dahl and forces himself to think.
Riddick'd already said that he's pretty damned sure Billy hadn't meant it, least not as anything more than incentive to make Riddick find a way through.
Dahl was staring at him with the same horror Boss was feeling; if you read Riddick's file, you could learn a lot about the man. Like how a good quarter of the crimes he was wanted for involved him doing something stupid because a kid, or kids, got hurt.
They're running for their lives, dodging horrors that outnumbered them by the thousands, that had already killed half those who'd survived the crash -- including at least two other kids. They're all exhausted, all terrified, and Riddick's trust was already stretched thin, unsure if Billy was using his meds or abusing them… and neo-morph was notorious for twisting a large minority of it's users, changing their brain chemistry, turning them into people so selfish, they're almost feral, there's a reason it's not legal in 160 some-odd systems, despite it being one of the few pain killers that actually did the job without impairing physical function.
"Holy fucking gods…" Dahl breathes.
Riddick is shaking.
"I didn't -- I didn't mean -- I was just tryin' to snap him out of it." It's more a whimper than a whisper, and tears are flowing freely. Possibly -- no, probably -- for the first time. "And then he stumbled, I barely grazed him. Just a few drops, but that was enough, more than enough blood. I told him, I yelled at him to stay in the light, I tried to grab him back, but he -- they --"
Dahl wraps arms around Riddick, her face as wet as his, not saying anything, just holding him. But she meets Boss' gaze and raises a questioning eyebrow.
He gives a firm nod.
She nods back, a single, relieved movement that ends in a hypospray over Riddick's jugular.
"Billy was – Billy's will was right." Dahl tries to sooth him as he instinctively fights the drugs.
"Jus'…" Riddick blinks, slowly. "Jus' make it quick an' clean, yeah?"
Dahl gives him a bright smile. "Believe me. You'll love this."
Then he's out.
It takes barely a week and a half for them to get to Antigua, they have the fasted quick-ship available, military spec.
Strictly speaking, Boss' crew aren't mercs at all.
Two days out, and Boss is staring out the port, fiddling with a pair of small microchips, when Dahl tracks him down.
"Ain't this always the way; you're ready to kill Lockspur until he's not around, then you miss him like crazy."
"Sister-in-law or not, I will beat you."
“And that's why I miss Moss – someone for you to beat.”
The exchange has an air of comfort and repetition, leading to a peaceful silence as Dahl waits for her boss to break.
It takes until dinner; he's actually spooning gravy over his plate when he just… stops, and looks at Dahl with something like anguish. "How did we miss this, Katee? Man got set up, doin' our job, and we didn't have the faintest hint until we got Billy's report last year!"
She sighs in relief and leans back, grateful to finally be addressing the elephant in the room. "We didn't find out about Sigma 3 until some four years after Riddick's court martial. All we knew about him, before Billy's report, was what the bounties say. How could we have known?"
Boss' fist slams into the table. "That's shit! Why didn't we go over Sigma 3's records?"
"We did, Boss. His court martial was several counts of murder of fellow Rangers, and they had a Doc there saying he was a psychopath, who went on this little killing spree because the 'civil war' was over and he needed to get his jollies. They destroyed all the evidence Riddick turned in, and if he hadn't been smart enough -- more like, paranoid enough! -- to give copies of everything to those children…" Dahl shudders.
Silence falls as they both contemplate what they now know about Riddick. He'd been born of Furya, somehow smuggled off under Zhylaw's nose, and given to a retired military family on Sigma Minor. He had been raised with several siblings, both older and younger, and seemed to have had a normal, happy childhood until he was eleven.
The best guess of Antigua's Intelligence Branch -- arguably the best Intelligence in the universe short of the Elementals -- was that a former enemy of General Riddick slaughtered her and her family. Richard B. Riddick was presumably spared because he wasn't actually related. Certain members of Sigma Minor's social services were, idiotically, convinced that the slaughter of seven children aged between three and nineteen, General Julia Riddick and her husband Daven were somehow committed by the eleven year old Richard. Despite all evidence pointing towards outside, well-armed and trained forces.
Personally, Dahl agreed with the highly vocal minority in AIB that believed it was the Elementals who slaughtered the family -- and then paid off social services -- to place their pawn where they wanted him.
Which was one of the worst juvenile facilities known. There were triple-max slams kinder.
Somehow, Riddick survived, body and mind intact [at least, intact enough to pass the medical boards required to join the Sigma System military, no mean feat]. He turned twenty one, his juvenile records were 'locked', and joined the Rangers -- the branch of his adopted mother.
And he thrived, until Sigma 3.
"I wonder how much of that purported 'civil war' was the Elementals doing?" Boss murmured, echoing Dahl's thoughts.
She grunts agreement. Somehow, in that clusterfuck, Riddick had managed to smuggle close to a hundred children out of the war zone -- and away from the slave pens. Those children had scattered across the Sigma system, each of them guarding their piece of Riddick's evidence even when they lost every other piece of property they owned. And if anyone other than Antigua Intelligence Branch had tried to get their hands on that evidence, they'd have lost their hands.
Of course, it's highly possible that it wasn't the fact that it was AIB asking, but rather that they had Riddick's system of pass-codes and cypher, courtesy of Billy's report.
"Did you know," Boss says suddenly, "AIB has confirmed that at least 29% of the 'kills' accredited to Riddick were actually committed by the mercs trying to bag him? Hell, there's evidence that Billy killed four kids to bag Riddick, himself! Aside from his report about it, I mean, where he explains how he and Riddick set that up to smuggle those poor kids out of that whorehouse."
Dahl winces at the reminder of how bleak and hopeless Riddick's life had been since before he was a teenager. "I can't even blame him for joining with the Necros. And at least he changed their methods so they aren't destroying whole worlds. Just… conquering, taking what the fleet needed, and accepting converts…"
Boss gave an unhappy frown in agreement. "We should have known sooner. We should have listened, when Billy first thought there was something different about him -- what was that, thirteen years ago, fourteen?"
Dahl sighs again. "We aren't omniscient, Boss, and we've got limited resources."
"I know, I just…" He shakes his head. "We just could have spared him so much pain."
"I'm not arguing, but." Boss raises a challenging eyebrow. She returns the favor, "But. Look what he did to the Necros. He pulled 'em back from sheer nihilism to a manageable plague. Then, when that Krone idiot reported his death, First Commander Vaako came to us and the entire nation splintered. Now they're something less than a plague…"
Boss scrubs a hand over his face. "You're not wrong. But it's not right."
He snorts at her flippant retort, then actually starts to eat his dinner. Dahl follows suit, still contemplating the man they have locked in under-cryo, designed to work around his Furyan resistance to regular cryo.
He's flatly deny it, but Riddick was their latest victim saved.
"No, no…" Riddick moaned. They were supposed to kill him, not drug him so deep he doesn't even have sensory memory of how he ended up on a bed that Vaako was sitting next to.
"No, what?" Vaako raised a brow.
Riddick paused, trying to gather scattered thoughts, discombobulated beyond belief.
"No, you can't be here, you had me assassinated?"
Vaako snorts. "Firstly, if I wanted you dead I would challenge you myself. Secondly, as you are decidedly not dead, you were not assassinated. Thirdly, what I did to Krone for that… well." This showing of teeth could only be called a smile if the observer were blind. It was probably the most beautiful, reassuring thing Riddick had ever seen.
"Wait." Riddick blinked a few time, then nodded. "Right. It never did feel right, the idea that you of all people would use assassins. Could you even become Lord Marshal if you didn't kill me yourself,"
"No." Vaako said simply. "And Krone came back trying to claim he was Lord Marshal. It took him days to die."
Riddick didn't bother trying to hide his gleeful smirk. "So then you are Lord Marshal? Please don't tell me I'm still stuck with the damned job."
Vaako actually laughs. "A sizable minority still claim that you are, actually. And no, I'm not -- I've left the Armada."
Riddick's brain freezes and he just stares his Fi -- at his former First Commander. After several minutes of them staring at each other, his brain kicks back in enough for him to start demanding answers.
"Then where are we?"
Once again, Riddick just gapes. This time, Vaako takes pity on him.
"When Krone returned, as I said, I killed him. Slowly. He didn't die until we were orbiting Furya."
"But -- "
"Yes, Richard, I know, now. He didn't take you to Furya; he took you to a delightful system called Helas. But I didn't discover this until we were orbiting Furya, and were met by a message from your other lover."
"My -- what? Siberius, I don't have another lover, you -- "
"Let me finish." Vaako interrupts quietly.
Confused and uncomfortable, Riddick subsides.
"We were met, as I was saying, by a messenger. If I hadn't just spent eight days killing Krone, after keeping him in cryo for months as we traveled, I doubt the messenger would have been able… well, you know how xenophobic the Necromongers are. But no one was willing to challenge me at that time." Again, that flash of teeth that even now makes Riddick's skin feel too tight.
"I met with this messenger, you know her -- one Eve Logan." Vaako smirks at Riddick's narrowed eyes. "Interesting woman. She told me that a beacon had been triggered by you on Helas, and that Colonel Boss Johns was going to retrieve you and bring you here, to Antigua, at his son's behest. And offered to bring me here, myself."
"What, at -- "
"Riddick!" He jumps at Vaako's bellow. After a moment of silence, that Riddick allows only because he and Vaako have been partners for over five years and he honestly still feels off, somehow, Vaako continues. "It seems it took over six years for William Johns' last report to actually reach his superiors in AIB, something about mis-routing and the Hunter-Gratzner, I had frankly stopped listening once I had something resembling hope that you were alive, but said report included the location of several bits of evidence that proved you innocent of the original crimes you were charged with, and Colonel Johns set out to retrieve you. When he was alerted that you were on Helas, but that the Armada was on it's was to Furya, he sent Lieutenant Logan to meet me.
"I actually only arrived ten days ago -- it took me several days to arrange things with the Armada, annoyingly."
Riddick tries to prevent his lips from twitching, however much they want to, so asks, "How did you arrange things?"
Vaako's smirk grows wider. "I declared Selune Lady Marshall -- we had a deal, with Toal and Scalp Taker making sure she upheld her end. To wit, I would commit 'ritual suicide', after declaring her my successor, and she would act as if I had, indeed, met a timely death and never seek either of us out." Now Vaako was openly grinning. "Alas, it couldn't last, and the Armada has fractured. Selune still has perhaps a quarter of the ships, those that were mostly noble-run… the most gaudy, least effective ships. If she has even a tenth of the soldier, I'll eat my boots. Raw. Her faction is, she claims, going to continue as Zhylaw had, for however long they can actually get away with it."
Riddick chuckles at that. "I want to see her actually fight."
"She's a skilled assassin, but open fighting?" Vaako laughs with him for another moment, then shakes it off. "Not quite half the Armada followed you, me, or us here to Antigua, pledged to whatever you, me, or we decide. I rather hope we can join Antigua's crusade." Riddick opens his mouth to say… something, he's not sure what, and Vaako shakes his head. "That's a discussion for a later time, Richard."
Riddick exhales harshly. "Fine. Then what about the rest? 'Cause I'm 'ssumin' we got most the soldiers."
"We did, led by Toal -- it appears that Scalp Taker decided that he'd rather stay with his Dame, who was following Selune. He's sending us weekly reports. The other 30% or so is… well, Aereon took them. Scales is sending reports, as well, but Aereon doesn't try to stop him; she has what she calls a "transparent policy", and claims that her plans are to start rebuilding anyplace the Armada didn't destroy everything. I don't know if I believe that is her ultimate goal, but that is what she is currently doing."
Riddick swallows. "Alright. How long was I out?"
"Colonel Johns said it was an eleven day trip here from Helas, and I just need to note that we need to upgrade our engines, because it would take our fastest ship two months to make that trip. I arrived two days after you, the rest of our Armada arrived four days later. And then another six days."
Riddick chokes slightly. "I was out for twenty three days? Fuck's sake, why!"
Vaako sobers. "A few reasons. First, and foremost, you were gravely injured on Helas, and had they not had you in cryo you would have died before you got here."
"Yeah. no, I wasn't in cryo."
Vaako blinks at him. "There's no other way you would -- "
"Siberius." Riddick growls. "I'm at least sort of aware when I'm in cryo, and I dream when I'm in cryo. I. wasn't. In. Cryo."
"Yeah, you were." Says a man from the door.
Both Vaako and Riddick startle, it's almost impossible to sneak up on either one of them and this man had managed easily. Then Riddick goes white as a sheet.
"I see, I'm in cryo now."
"Naw, Rich, you're awake."
"No. Can't be." Riddick says flatly while greedily sucking in the sight of Billy Johns.
Vaako gives a little sigh, half contentment, half annoyance, and leans back. "William. You said you were going to let me handle this."
"I know, I'm sorry, Sib, I just…"
"Come, sit, give Richard some time to adjust to the shock, then we can explain it."
Close to half an hour ticks by, with Riddick just staring at Johns, face not-quite blank, breathing calm and measured.
The tranquility is shattered abruptly when Riddick roll off the bed opposite the side where Vaako and Johns are sitting, landing gracefully in a ready position.
"What the fuck's goin' on!"
"Tech toys." Johns says succinctly.
"Tech -- fuck you!" Riddick growls. "Explain!”
"Allow me?" Vaako intercedes. Both Johns and Riddick nod shortly.
"This is the first of those 'toys'." Vaako holds up a micro-chip. "Every member of AIB has one of these implanted in their brain. It records everything."
Riddick blinks at the chip for several seconds, then shakes his head. "He was eaten, Siberius."
Vaako nods. "They can also be… downloaded, I suppose would be the term. Actually, this one is one of the download types; the ones in their brains are much smaller, because they don't need an integrated power supply, they're powered by the electrical impulses of the brain itself."
Johns opens his mouth and Vaako hastily covers it with his hand. "As I understand it, before you boarded the Hunter-Gratzner, William Downloaded and sent his chip to a dead-drop. Unfortunately, there was confusion, because you had been booked to board the Winnilow. When it was destroyed, Colonel Johns first searched the wreckage for his son's body, then went to the dead-drop associated with that ship. Which was, of course, empty, as William sent his Download to the dead-drop he set up associated with Hunter-Gratzner. Colonel John's and his team assumed both of you were dead, until a new bounty was placed for you by Aereon.
"Desperate for news of his son, the Colonel planted Lieutenant Logan with Toombs and tried to track down Aereon. He was unable to catch her, but was able to find one of her colleagues, who corrected Colonel John's information as to which ship you had taken. This took some time, months actually, but he was able to find William's download. By the time he had it in hand, you were Lord Marshal.
"I understand it takes about two years for the clone to be ready for the Download. Adding everything up, eighteen months before Krone…" Vaako has to pause and take a deep breath to keep himself calm. "Before that debacle on Helas started, William was awake and aware. Of everything until about three hours before you boarded the Hunter-Gratzner.
"He was absolutely convinced that you had not betrayed him, but Colonel Johns had viewed the last few days of his Download." Vaako raises an eyebrow at the blush this brought to Johns' cheeks, but otherwise didn't remark upon it. "And decided that he had to find out exactly how William had 'died', determined to kill you if you had betrayed him."
"Boss didn't know about the shiv before then." Johns' mutters. "That didn't help, even though it was our first meeting and, from your point of view, it was utterly justified. He was also pissed about the fight, because he didn't understand it -- I'm incapable of becoming addicted, or being 'adjusted', to any drug. He thought you knew about all of this, and refused to believe that you didn't. Oh, he believed that I'd be stupid enough to not tell you, but he was convinced you'd figured it out on your own, and that that's why you were working with me."
"No." Riddick growled. "I had no -- I was workin' with you because I --" Riddick cuts himself off and looks away, jaw working. "Why didn't you tell me?"
Johns can't stop the small whimper that escapes at Riddick's hurt. "Despite what Boss seems to think, I haven't actually been able to break my conditioning. I was literally incapable of telling you. I had asked for permission several times, and was denied each. The fact that I kept asking somehow convinced Boss that I had broken conditioning and told, which is why he kept denying me. Communication breakdown, definition of."
Riddick's nostrils flare, and he studies Johns intently, slowly relaxing.
Finally, he nods. "I get it. So."
Johns winces slightly. "He told me about your conversation on the ship. Rich…"
Riddick holds up his hand, but Johns just shakes his head, tears pooling in his eyes.
"No, this time we're talking about 'this emotional bullshit', Rich. I don't remember what happened on Hades, obviously, but from what you said… gods, Rich, I'm so, so sorry that I did that to you. How fucking stupid can I be, right? To latch onto the one other person you'd never hurt on that planet?"
"Easy, Billy." Riddick murmurs. "I got what you were doing three seconds later. Too late, but I followed."
"And you've thought you killed me for over a damned decade!" Johns exclaims, tears running freely. "I'm so -- I can't even ask for forgiveness, it's so fucked up, this is literally the worst thing I've ever done, and to do it to you, of all fucking people…"
"Of course I forgive you!" Riddick says sharply. "If there's anything for me to forgive. I mean, I'm the one who got you killed!"
"Yes, I'm soooo dead." Johns pauses, sucks in a breath. "I just -- I need you to stop thinking that, Rich. I got me killed, by being stupid. I knew better, but I was in a panic -- I was downloaded, but you weren't, and I was absolutely terrified that --"
Riddick's face softens. "I know. I was just as terrified. An' then -- "
"No! I'm here, I'm alive. That's what you need to know." Johns gives a sharp nod, then stands.
Johns stops walking, already halfway back to the door. "I already said -- I can't ask for forgiveness, that was… so, so fucked up. You don't… you don't have to see me, I'm going away so you don't have to look at me -- "
"And what if I want to look at you?" Riddick demands.
Johns turns back around slowly. "Rich… Rich, what I did, it was -- "
"What you thought would work to kick my ass in gear!" Riddick snarls. "So you fucked up, so what? you made a mistake, people do that!"
"Oh." Johns says softly. "I forgot that you can be cruel."
"Cruel?" Riddick asks blankly. "How'm I bein' cruel?"
"Rich!" He casts a significant look at Vaako, who gives Johns a charming grin in return.
"What, because Vaako and I mated, when I thought you was dead, that means that our matin' is gone?"
"You, you grieved, you moved one. You told Boss that you tried to live because you knew that I'd want you to -- "
"And at that exact moment I was operatin' under the belief that Siberius had 'trayed me and was waitin' to die. So?"
"So, you've got a new mate, I -- "
"That don't automatically mean I got rid of you! I'd a' never -- "
"I know that Rich, you didn't… you didn't cheat or something, you did what you should, you lived, but now you're -- "
"Oh, fuck you, Billy Badass, stop telling me what --"
"Gentlemen!" Vaako was, quite possibly, an opera singer before his Conversion. That is certainly the best explanation for how he was able to project over both Riddick and Johns yelling and sobbing at the top of their lungs.
They both turn to look at him; Riddick pleading, Johns confused yet hopeful.
"What I believe Richard is trying to say, William, is that he missed you and that he will like hell let you leave him again."
"But you --"
"Am perfectly happy with a triad." He trails his gaze down Johns body, then sweeps it back up and meets his eyes. "What you are, perhaps, missing here is that I am half-Furyan myself. This allows Richard and I to communicate, to some extent, through the mating bond. I've become acquainted with you over the past ten days, on top of the secondary love I hold for you because of Riddick. I, of course, won't push you into a relationship with me, though I'll hope for one. But I agree with our mate -- you are like hell leaving him again!"
Johns stands there gaping like a fish while Riddick sends Vaako love and gratitude through their mating bond. Johns snaps his mouth closed at that, strides over to Vaako and straddles his lap, pulling him into a deep kiss.
Riddick leans back on the bed, crosses his arms behind his head, and enjoys the show.