Pluck'd in a far off land
The Underverse was maybe a month away, and with it, the birth of Xander's fourth child.
He was beyond the point of fear, now. He supposed he should still be
worried, after all, none of his pregnancies had been exactly easy or 'normal'. The fact that he was a pregnant man, alone, probably spoke to that. But he wasn't human, he was Furyan, and Furyan primes, male of female, bore the children. Oh sure, he still sort of worried about what his friend's reactions might be, were he ever to get home to Earth, but dwelling on that sort of made him feel like he was going to puke, and he wasn't so much a fan of that option. But he really did feel beyond the fear, now. He hadn't even been this far along when Wills was born, and she'd turned out beautifully, after all.
But this was
the part of the pregnancy where he had the hardest time sleeping.
The hallways of the Basilica were dark and empty. There wasn't really night and day, not in space, but they had a whole scheduled timetable based on the Universal Day of 20 hours. It wasn't perfect, but it created a sort of order, and considering there were easily several thousand people aboard each of these ships, order was sort of an important thing.
Palm pressed to his belly, he hissed, “Stop doing barrel rolls in there! I know they're fun, but you're giving me heart burn.”
At least his restless little one gave him a chance to think. Oh sure, he'd rather be in his bed, curled into Riddick's chest and dreaming, but sometimes it was nice to wander in the darkness, goggles around his neck, and mostly unneeded in the darkness, and just sort through his jumbled thoughts. It was quiet, at night, and still.
There was a soft hiss of released air behind him.
It was a strange sort of sound, a bit like a balloon releasing its air. Sometimes engines would release steam like that, and sometimes it would be an elevator valve, or something. But for Xander, it evoked memories of being on the Dark Athena, the mercenary vessel, where he'd been tortured as a twisted sort of revenge for helping Riddick escape. The undead man-machine things they'd kept there had made a hiss sound like that when they took a step, their dead limbs working on virtue only of the hydraulics worked through their bodies.
He twisted to the side.
The knife flew past his head, only just, and sank into the wall, vibrating dully where it had landed, humming like a tuning fork.
He turned to face his attacker, already pulling a pair of blades from the belt that sat low on his waist, just under his belly.
The woman that stepped out of the shadow registered in his eyesight as cool. Too low for normal body temperatures, like the Necromongers did. But she didn't look like a Necromonger – she wore a red mechanical suit that looked sickeningly familiar, and for a moment, he really thought it was Revas, standing before him.
But no, it wasn't the hawk face of the mercenary he'd killed, basically, three times over.
sharply familiar, though.
“Recognize me, do you?” She said, and he realized that yes, it was the same woman from the elemental planet. Why she'd grown her short hair out into long dreadlocks that looked terrifyingly like Revas' hair, he didn't know, but of course he knew this woman.
Fuck, he'd watched her young daughter die in front of him when mercs had hit her with a bullet meant for him.
“I thought you'd been killed.”
She grinned, though it was not a comforting sort of smile. “You'd like that, wouldn't you, all the loose ends tied up, the very last traces of the Silverman family, wiped out.”
“What are you talking
about?” he gaped at her.
Doctor Silverman snarled, stepping forward, jerking a knife out of her own waistband. “My daughter is dead because of you! My daughter is dead, and you left Jaylor alive, you sick bastard!”
“Wait, Doctor...” He held up his hands, alarmed.
“Wait, Doctor...” he held up his hands, alarmed.
“I know every detail of your life, Lavelle
,” she spat the word like it was something disgusting she wanted out of her mouth as quickly as possible. “You have killed dozens of people. Probably far more than are actually recorded, because they only seem to record the significant people you kill. But fuck, you couldn't kill the son of a bitch that wanted to rape our dead bodies?!”
“Doctor Silverman,” Xander said firmly, growling slightly. She'd been such a rational woman. Just killing
her wasn't a good option. “I did not
“No, you waited for your first kill just long enough to let Jaylor have what he wanted
!” She roared.
He took another step back, gripping the knives so tightly his knuckles were white. “He wanted you dead, Doctor Silverman.”
And suddenly he understood. Knew why she was cold, why he'd heard the same hissing sound as the hydraulics of the drone.
“Because Jaylor got what he wanted,” she snarled, grinning almost viciously.
Because she was
And that changed things. He couldn't rationalize with a dead woman.
Xander snapped his blades up, and when she dashed forward, furiously, he met her blow for blow. Their blades rang dully against each other, and though he fought with the rage of a Furyan, she fought with the dogged determination of a machine kept alive by two things – hydraulics, and revenge.
Explaining to her that he was torn up about Lynn's death too wouldn't help. She'd been clinging to the hatred of him so long and so hard that there was no way he'd be able to break her of that.
You didn't save a person from hatred like that. You got the hell out of their way.
Only getting out of her way would never do, because she would never stop, until this whole thing played out. Xander slammed the knife in his left hand against the shoulder of her armour, severing several wires, and grinned grimly when that made her arm hang at a sort of odd angle, and figured that there were two possible end games here. Either she would die, or he would. One or the other, there wasn't really a middle ground, here. Well, there could be, but that would be both of them dying, because he could see no way in which this could end with them both alive.
Her blade caught his collarbone, then, and Xander cursed himself for getting distracted when blood blossomed on his skin, paled from years spent in space instead of in sunny California. Blood ran down his chest and in between the twisted ties of the vest he wore, like a braided trail of carnage.
She grinned, grimly, to see his blood spilled.
Xander flipped his own blade up so that he held it backwards to standard form, and slashed the blade's point across her eyes. He had long ago learned the power of eyes.
Insight of a one eyed man.
Maybe he was lucky. Or maybe he was just very good at what he did, because she didn't manage to reel back until his blade had sliced through one of her eyes.
But she didn't howl and cringe in pain, like he'd expected, and her eye didn't gush fresh red blood. Instead, she kept coming at him, teeth bared, and a thick, dark liquid, almost black, seemed to ooze from the wound.
...the undead were disgusting.
Normally, his all Slayer influenced Sunnydale skill instincts would be to stab her in the heart. But the nifty, creepily Borg-esque armour sort of prevented that.
So he did what any real comic book nerd would do.
He went for the head shot.
Shifting, he slammed the blade deep into her forehead, right between the eyes.
For a long moment, he was afraid it hadn't worked.
The Doctor Silverman – the late Doctor Silverman, that is – slumped finally to the ground, rather like a sack of potatoes, the metal of her armour ringing and clanging to the floor before she toppled back, her one remaining eye staring blankly up at the ceiling, the knife still protruding from her forehead.
Xander took a deep breath, and stepped back.
His heart was pounding a mile a minute, desperate fast and just this side of panicked, a stuttering little rhythm that careened down through his chest and into his belly. The child inside him – Riddick said girl, Xander said boy, an old debate, and the score was so far 2-1 – was taking the acrobatic routine he had been performing before to new and dizzying heights. He had been still while Xander had been fighting the psycho bitch once known as Doctor Silverman, but now that the fight was over, he was doing his level best to make Xander an absolute wreck.
He really wasn't sure if it was better or worse that no one had rushed to his aid, but really, it had been, what, less than a minute?
He pressed his palm into his stomach, and whispered, “Calm down, little one. I promise, it's going to be okay. It is.”
Standing there, still bloody, for a long moment, Xander looked wrong, perhaps. It wasn't bloody enough for him to have fought a real battle, not really, and as he stood there, panting, still holding one of the knives, standing over the robot body of a woman he'd once tried to save, he figured he sort of must look like something from a Ridley Scott movie.
Or a Michael Myers film, maybe.
He stepped forward, finally, crouching beside Doctor Silverman's body.
“I'm sorry,” he said, quietly, honestly. His voice cracked slightly, and Xander took a deep, shuddering breath. “I really am. I wish I could show you. I tried so hard to save your daughter, Doctor. When Lynn died...” he drew in another deep breath. “I was pretty innocent back then. Had never killed a man, or nothing. I was so... green
, to all of this. Lynn's actually the reason Riddick almost dropped me off on a random colony and left me,” he admitted. He didn't like admitting that. “Because when she died, I just shut down. I went full on catatonic, Doctor Silverman, I was a mess. It just wasn't fair, you know, that she'd lived through all of that, then died just because someone was trying to shoot me
? Trust me, I feel as guilty about her death as you think I should.”
He took a deep breath, and leaned over to gently close her eyes. She deserved respect, at least.
“I'm sorry,” he murmured.
Suddenly, she surged up, hands wrapping tightly around his throat as she grimaced, baring her teeth at him. The knife still wobbled in her forehead, trembling slightly as she dug her fingernails into his neck, drawing blood.
Gasping for air, Xander slashed at her with the knife, slicing open her face, her neck, her shoulder.
The baby in his belly started struggling again.
“No!” Xander dug the knife in her throat, again and again. It caught in her skin, her flesh, around her bones, and the knife made a sickening, almost slurping sound as it plunged into dead flesh over and over again, til the blade and his hand both were covered in long coagulated sludge that used to be blood. But still, she kept her vice-like grip on her throat, and Xander was starting to lose the battle to breathe. His vision was greying out at the edges, and he was seeing spots.
He was Furyan.
die like this.
But it might not save him, not this time.
And then Doctor Silverman suddenly didn't have hands.
Her body fell back, her remaining eye open in shock and apparently confusion, but her arms now ended in dead flesh stumps, rather than hands.
Xander gasped, wrenching the hands off of his throat, the nails tearing at his flesh as he tore them free, and threw them away, as hard and fast as he could.
Riddick chopped her head off, next, then just kept chopping.
By the time his mate stopped, there wasn't anything recognizably “human” left of Doctor Silverman. Even her armour had been strewn across the floor, in pieces.
Panting, Xander said, quietly, “I think that may have been overkill.”
Riddick hauled him off the ground, and gathered him up in his arms. Xander sort of felt, in that moment, like the swooning maiden on the front cover of every romance novel ever, half faint and clinging to the strong, muscular arms of his lover as the other held him up.
He found he didn't really mind.
Riddick's fingers were skimming over his face, his neck. He was sort of used to this whole over-protective-Riddick-touches-everything thing, and he didn't interrupt, letting him reassure himself, or whatever it was, exactly, that Riddick got out of this every time he did it, without disruption. When his inspection seemed, finally, to be over, Xander murmured, “Sorry you had to come save me. Again.”
Riddick snarled, and kissed Xander so fiercely he really thought he was going to pass out after all.
Vaako hesitated beside the throne, offering a data pad.
Riddick growled, lowly, and flatly ignored the other man's offer. Ever since Doctor Silverman had landed on the ship and tried to kill Xander, he'd sort of gone non-verbal. He'd also flatly refused to let Xander out of his sight.
Xander was curled in his lap, actually, right at that moment, and he sighed, holding out his hand. “Here, Vaako.”
The other man shifted closer, and set the pad into his hand. “We've been trying to find out where exactly our security slipped up, that the merc woman managed to get onto the Basilica. Some of the men have suggested that the reason she got on the ship is because someone let her on. Our security is too tight for someone to just... sneak aboard a ship like the Basilica."
"Vaako," he said, not terribly patiently at that moment, "Half of our security system is depending on the fact that the rest of the verse is terrified of the Furyans, and if they still aren't afraid of the Furyans, then the sheer fact that we use the same ships as the goddamn Necromongers is enough to terrify them away from ever trying to attack us. That's not what I call a security system."
"We are a species of warriors. We're not exactly so useless." Vaako said, sharply.
"And yet an undead drone of a woman that I used to know and who was trying very hard to kill me got on board our ship. Not just any of them, either, Vaako, she got on board the Basilica. The flagship. I sort of take offense at the fact that this woman very nearly killed me, and my child, because apparently our security systems are shit."
"...we are looking into it." Vaako said.
"Well... look into it harder." He grumbled, shifting slightly on Riddick's lap and half tempted to try and get off of it.
"We are." His friend said, with a dangerous note to his voice that reminded Xander, for one strange, hesitating moment, so very much of Riddick. Vaako wasn't just a former Necromonger, and he wasn't just a man smart enough to be made into the adviser to the Lord Marshall. He was a warrior, beneath it all, and a Furyan hand print glowed on his chest. "We have taken it as a personal insult that a mercenary was not only able to gain access to our ship, but that she nearly succeeded in killing our Lavelle. The Furyans have had a long history of other races trying to slaughter us. The Necromongers nearly succeeded where others had failed before, and you brought us back from that brink. We will not let this bitch do that to us. Again."
"Well, if it makes you feel any better, Riddick made jelly of her." He patted his mate's shoulder. "Are you going to grace us with a word or two, any time soon, Riddick, or are you staying non-verbal?"
He grimaced, and growled.
"You know, you are often very eloquent," he rolled his eyes. "You know, I think you spoke more on the Hades planet, the whole time that we were there, than you have spoken to me in over a decade."
Riddick snarled again, and Xander groaned, looking up at Vaako. "You know, this is sort of romantic, in a lion that wants to rule the whole pride sort of way, you know. So you think someone let her on, then."
Vaako frowned, then nodded. "I think it the most likely explanation, yes."
"Then find out who the fucking traitor is. Because I am going to do what I didn't with Doctor Silverman. I am going to tear them apart myself."
Xander had learned a lot of things from Riddick, over the years. More things than he was pretty sure Riddick had actually meant to tell him - and one of those things was how to get away from Riddick himself.
He was good at this part. He'd learned a long time ago to walk in other people's footsteps, and cover his scent, and mask his path. He had learned where to stand and where to move and where to hide so that the other man, the other man that ran on instincts to an extent that even Xander hadn't managed to embrace yet, though he wished he did, couldn't find him. It was a delicate balance, really, between hiding enough that the other couldn't catch him, and not trying hard enough that the other would know that he was trying. Xander was good at hiding now, though.
That was why he was sitting in the rafters of his observation platform, staring up through the massive windows at the stars.
This ship, though Furyan now, had been Necromonger, before, and there were Necromonger stylings and marks over the whole room. Around the edges of the massive windows he was looking through, there were carvings of faces twisted in agony and rage and pain, things that had been styled after men, though they looked really too tortured to still be men. Even on the rafter he was leaning on, there were spines along the edges that reminded him of human backbones. Fucked up people - but they were really just like they were a stronger, angrier version of what he was. What they were. It sort of reminded him of what vampires were to humans - they used to be the same species, then same kind, but something had twisted them into a bloodthirsty and violent version of what they had once been. The Necromongers had focused on the idea of the Underverse so hard that they'd become a twisted version of what they had been.
"I didn't hide well enough, did I?"
Riddick pulled himself up onto the rafter that Xander was already sitting on, crouched on it like a bird of prey, considering him.
Xander didn't have the energy to fight about this anymore. Riddick had been keeping him so close to his side for the last four days that he hadn't really had time to breathe, not really, he'd just been pressed against Riddick's side and letting his mate hold him close. Riddick was a hard man to argue with, when he was being protective. But he just didn't have the energy. So he closed his eyes, and leaned back against the post behind him, and waited.
But Riddick didn't grab him, and Riddick didn't growl.
"The Imam prayed for your soul, on Hades."
Xander opened his eyes, startled, blinking at the other man. Riddick was still perched on the rafter, watching him, quietly, all corded muscles and barely contained tension.
"When he thought you were dead. They all thought you were dead. I thought you were dead. He prayed for your soul, and he tried to pray for mine."
"Did you let him?" Xander whispered.
The other man rumbled as he spoke, his voice low in his chest. "I wasn't going to let a hoodoo holy man try and save me from a fate that I would most definitely have deserved if I had gotten it. I am a murderer. I am aware of that. I have penance to pay, when it comes time to pass through to the Underverse myself - and I have no doubt that I will pay it, when I get there, in my due fucking time."
"Any one can be redeemed, Riddick," Xander murmured.
"Not the man killer."
"Anyone." Xander said again.
"I told him not to bother," Riddick said, as though he wasn't arguing the point. "I told him there was no point in him praying to a god that had abandoned me. I believed that his god lived, and I believe that there is a god in the verse. But I don't think that god gives two shits about me."
He considered his husband for a long few minutes, frowning slightly as he tried to read the expression on the other man's stoic face. "I believe you're wrong."
Riddick huffed slightly, smirking as he considered that.
"No, really. I honestly believe, Riddick, that you are wrong. If there was no god..."
"I never said that I did not believe that there was a god." Riddick interrupted him. "I believe in a god. You don't spend half your life in slams with a horse bit in your mouth and not believe in a god. But you don't start your life as a piece of shit dumped in a liquor store trash dumpster with your umbilical cord wrapped around your neck and think of god as a merciful being. You start life that way, and you get like me. You believe he's the biggest mother fucker out there."
"See, that's where we're different." Xander said, softly. "I hear that, and all I can think is that you lived. You were a Furyan, Riddick, they tried to kill our entire species, and all that's left are a few little traces of us. If they had left you on our planet, you would have stayed there, and you would have been among the hundreds of thousands of babies killed on Furya that day. But you didn't, and you're here. They found you in a liquor store trash bin on another planet. It had to have been another planet, Riddick, or they wouldn't have found you. And if they hadn't have found you, you wouldn't have found me, and... and if I'd dropped on Johns' ship, without you there... I would have been his little slam bitch faster than you could blink. You know it, and I know it. And if I'd managed to get away from him, maybe if I was lucky, and got out there in the world, maybe I would have learned to embrace my instincts well enough to fight, and maybe I wouldn't have. Either way, I would have either ended up in slam, or dead. Don't you understand, Riddick? Because of that goddamn dumpster behind a liquor store, the Furyans are a race still. So I believe in a god that gives two shits about us. I believe in a god that saved both of us for something... bigger."
"An... interesting thought."
"You may as well say it," Xander shook his head, looking down at his hands, and sighing. "I'm soft. I'm the soft side of this... pair. Whatever it is we are. Maybe one of the most dysfunctional marriages in the verse, I don't know."
"You're not soft." Riddick said, his voice a deep, rolling grumble.
"Bullshit," he murmured, smiling faintly as he considered his mate. "Of course I'm soft. I tried to convince Doctor Silverman to see reason, when any sane Furyan would have just ghosted the bitch and been done with it. If I had just walked away from her fucking body, I would haven't needed rescuing, but I'm soft, and I wanted to pay her dead body some respect."
"Respect ain't soft."
"Apparently it is," he snapped, crossing his arms. "I nearly died. Again. I'm not your equal."
"Did I ever ask for an equal?" Riddick rumbled.
"Oh fuck you." Xander snarled, fingers tight on his thighs, hands clenched into furious fists. "You're a fucking Furyan, Riddick, the goddamn killer of men. You're the fucking Riddick. If I'm not equal to you in every respect, I'm not fucking worthy of being your mate."
Riddick did move, at that, shifting forward on the beam so quickly that Xander wouldn't have caught the motion if he hadn't been looking directly at him. He tangled his fingers in the straps tied up and down the front of Xander's vest, and jerked him forward, so that Xander was within inches of the other's face. "Did I ever ask for an equal?" He snarled.
Xander swallowed, and said, "You never asked for me in the first place, Riddick."
"Maybe I would've."
He frowned, confused. "I don't... understand."
"I am not mated to you because you fell on my head," he growled, lowly. "And you did not make your way into my bed because I was bored. You earned your way into my life, bitch. And it wasn't because you were equal to me, and it wasn't because you were worth worming your way in. I took you because of your backbone, because of your spirit. I took you as my lover because you weren't perfect... and you kept going anyway."
"I don't know the meaning of the word 'die'," Xander admitted.
"I know." Riddick growled. "I never wanted an equal."
"You know, you could have said something about that before I started betting all... struggling to be equal to you. I have spent almost fifteen years trying to be worthy of even being around you, I have spent thirteen trying to be equal of being your bed mate. Your lover. I've never been an expert at it, Riddick, I've been a fumbling kid trying to be worthy of you."
"You were." He said, voice low.
"I still am."
"You're the fucking Lavelle." He growled. "And I'd say that it was about time that you acted like it, but you've been acting like the Lavelle for long before I ever found you. You've got a backbone, bitch, you always have. It's the only reason you're alive - not because of me, but because you never fucking stopped. If you'd laid down and died on Hades, or on the Athena, or in Crematoria, I'd have left you there. If you had stayed in that cell I locked you in and just sat and waited... you would have stayed in that cell."
Xander took a deep breath, and looked down at the other's hands still tangled in the front of his shirt. "You mean you keep me around because I'm too stupid to lay down and just die?"
"Something like that." He rumbled.
"...that may be the shittiest basis for a relationship in the whole damn verse, Riddick, you know that, right?"
"We have become very good at doing exactly what the rest of the verse does not want us to do," Riddick pointed out, finally releasing his vest, and settling back on the balls of his feet again, just considering Xander for a few very long moments. "We have survived things that would make a hundred mortal men lose their minds. Perhaps die. Probably die. You are the bearer of my children, and you carry the fourth of our young inside you. I do not keep you here with me because I wish to simply keep someone at my side."
He frowned, and arched his brow. "Thought I was your slam bitch, Riddick."
"Never said you weren't."
"Yeah, except that I've been in slams. Crematoria and Butcher Bay ain't the only slams I've been in, Riddick. How do you think I earned a reputation as Merc Killer? It wasn't just that time on the merc world, it wasn't just that thing with Johns... and it wasn't just that guy on the Dark Athena. I needed to know things, Riddick, I needed to know where I was, in this verse."
He smirked slightly, tilting his head to his side slightly, considering him.
"I was in three. Before I ended up among the mercs, pretending to be one of them. I used aliases, of course, because I'm not stupid, but I know what it means now, in this verse. You can't use fake names, they use voice recognition and facial recognition and if you have something as distinctive as silver eyes, well. You're fucked, aren't you? Any yeah, Riddick. I was trapped in slams with people that only knew slams. Only knew how to live among convicts and prisoners, and I learned a lot about you, and a lot about me."
"You deliberately got yourself in slams so that you would know what it meant to be me?" He repeated, smirking slightly.
"Yeah," Xander laughed, and patted his swollen belly. "I'd just had a baby, remember? I'd left her behind with the Imam on Helion Prime and prayed no one would figure out who her father was. And then I went out, and I didn't try to find you, because I knew you'd never let yourself be found, not by me, not that way. So I found the first merc ship I could, and I killed the entire crew. And when they caught me, they took me to a double max slam. Me, double max slam." He laughed, shaking his head. "You know how many convicts tried to make me their bitch in the three days I was there? I lost count. I lost count of how many men I killed, Riddick."
"Because you're my bitch."
"You know, in slams, they trade bitches. Back and forth, the same way you used to talk about trading menthol cools. For favors, or food, or weapons, they'd trade them. And I thought that was kind of strange, cause you'd called me your slam bitch, many times before, and you'd never traded me. Hell, you probably could have... Johns would have been happy to give you many things in exchange for that trade. You know it as well as I do."
"I'm not most convicts," Riddick said, after a moment.
"So I noticed. The longer I was there, the more I realized that. I busted out of there, three days after I got in. They picked me up on escape charges, dropped me back in, different one this time. Still a double max. I was out before the day was over."
"I approve." He said, finally.
"Thought so. Stayed out close to a year this time, before I got picked up by an asshole crew that thought they had a big old bounty on their hands, and this time, I got tossed in a triple max slam. Really, the first people who had a brain in their damn heads. And you know what? It was actually a challenge to get out of there."
Riddick finally laughed at that, and held out his hands, calmly. Xander listened to the unspoken order, and shifted forward into his mate's arms, curling against his chest, resting his head on his collarbone.
"I learned a lot about life in a slam there," he admitted. "How to play the rules, how to know when to push and when to move and when to play your cards. I learned how to talk to them, how to deal with them. I even developed a taste for menthol cools." He smirked slightly. "When I could get 'em. Seemed almost... ironic, to smoke your money. And you know what, I wasn't anyone's bitch there, either. They tried. Trust me, they tried. But I got out of there with the knowledge that you were still the only person in the whole damn verse I'd ever slept with, whether that's a good thing or not, I don't know, and... well. You know what happened next, you found me at Tangiers, and the rest, so they say, is history."
"You're missing three years in there."
"No idea what you're talking about." he frowned slightly.
"I found you on Tangiers five years after you left Helion Prime. You left Helion Prime three months after I did. That means, with the time you've accounted for, that there are three years missing in that story."
"I'll tell you later," Xander promised quietly, and pressed his lips to Riddick's. "Much later. There are some things I did back then that even you wouldn't have expected. C'mon. Vaako says we're almost at the Underverse. And we've been avoiding it long enough."
Xander hadn't really been sure what he'd been expecting, when Vaako had said they were arriving at the gates of the Underverse.
Their ship was slowing, just starting to land on the surface - whatever the surface was - and he left the Necropolis, which was the heart of the Basilica, where the throne room and the quasi dead rested, and hurried, Riddick by his side, Vaako on his other, towards the massive doors that led out of the ship. Dame Vaako followed them, leading Ziza and Wills and carrying Jesse. He hadn't thought that they should bring them, perhaps, but Vaako had brought up a good point - that they were the future generation of the Furyan future. They were the ones who were going to lead their nation, once they had reached their own due time, and it would be their responsibility to keep the Underverse contained.
The doors opened, and they stepped out onto a solid, cobble-stoned courtyard that spread out before them, and Xander suddenly understood what Vaako had meant by the Gates of the Underverse.
They were literally gates.
Massive fucking metal things, several stories high, at least, curved on the top and barred, like they belonged to a wealthy estate, rather than to a whole verse, and there were no walls or fences running out on either side of them, and as far as they could tell, nothing beyond them.
They were gates, sitting on a courtyard that sat in space, with no rhyme or reason for it being there. It shouldn't even have atmosphere, a place like this, because this wasn't really even a place, just a strange anomaly in the verse that Xander honestly thought belonged somewhere with a random engine drive and maybe a restaurant. It would be fitting, the restaurant at the end of the universe, and this sure as hell looked like the end of the universe. Beginning of the Underverse. Either or.
"I thought you said only the Lord Marshall had ever pilgrimaged here." Xander said, finally.
"Only the Lord Marshall does." A new voice joined theirs, and they turned to watch as the Purifier walked slowly down the ramp behind them, frowning slightly. He was still the Purifier, whatever power that title held now, and it didn't hold much. It didn't mean what it had with the Necromongers - with the Furyans, the Purifier was meant to help them, not to convert them, as he had been before. And somehow, this power had made him more than he had been even before. After all, before he'd been the Purifier, he'd been the Lavelle. "The Lord Marshall, and his Lavelle. We stand at the gates, but we cannot pass through."
"So this is something Riddick and I have to do alone?" He frowned.
"Always knew we'd face the end alone, together." Riddick smirked slightly, almost pleased by this turn of events.
The Purifier smirked, and inclined his head, confidently. "Then alone you must pass through."
"What's on the other side?" Xander asked the Purifier, frowning as he stepped forward, taking Jesse from Dam Vaako's arms. She smiled, demurely, at him, and inclined her head, stepping back. Shifting his son in his arms, he stroked Jesse's dark, still-downy hair, and murmured, again, "What's on the other side of the gates of the Underverse?"
"Only those that have been there know." The Purifier said, quietly.
He took a deep breath, then pressed his lips to his son's forehead, closing his eye for a moment, just breathing in the smell of his little boy. He didn't know what lay beyond those gates. It might be just the land of the dead, but he'd done his research. Not all of the Lord Marshalls that had gone there before them had actually lived. Seven Lord Marshalls had ruled the Necromongers, but dozens more than that had tried to rule them. And failed when they reached these gates. This could be the last time he ever saw his baby boy, or his daughters. He hoped not, but he knew the odds.
"Daddy?" The little boy in his arms asked, confused. He didn't speak much, but he could stumble out simple words, and he had taken staggering steps.
"Stay with your sisters, Jesse, they'll take care of you," he murmured, quietly, and stepped forward to hand him carefully over to Ziza. Her expression was intent and almost furious as she took him, stern and strong. "Listen to me, Ziza. Take your sister, and your brother, and..." He hesitated, lifting his head for a moment, drawing in a deep breath, then said, firmly, "Run."
Ziza was a defiant child.
But she held her baby brother against her chest, caught her hand in her sister's, and bolted back aboard the Basilica, her boots ringing on the metal as she ran.
"I don't understand," Vaako said, brows furrowed.
"You said that perhaps Doctor Silverman managed to get on board the Basilica because someone let her aboard." Xander straightened, and shifted to stand beside Riddick, fists clenched tightly at his side.
Vaako frowned, and nodded. "Yes, that was a possibility."
"The traitor stands among us." Riddick said, his voice a rumble that seemed to start from deep in his chest and spread through his whole body.
Confusion flickered across their adviser’s face. "Riddick?"
"Dame Vaako, tell me." Xander looked over at his friend's wife, seriously. "What is the Necromonger way?"
Her brows furrowed. "My Lord Lavelle, we are no longer Necromongers."
"No. That's true, isn't it?" He looked up at the Purifier, crossing his arms over his chest. "Tell me, Purifier, what is the Necromonger way?"
The man frowned, then said, simply, "To keep what you kill."
"To keep what you kill." Xander agreed, and looked up at Riddick, quietly. "Isn't that why we're here, Riddick? You kept what you killed, and now you rule the very thing that tried to destroy you?"
"To be fair," Riddick drawled, "They were awakened, and became the thing they had been trying to destroy."
"True." He nodded.
Time seemed to slow, almost to still. It was as though, standing so close to the Underverse, the verse itself was having difficulty keeping up with them.
"You actually think," Vaako growled, tightly, "That one of us would betray you?"
"It was suggested, once, that I might be killed, that one could keep what I had." Xander said, ignoring the kick in his belly, ignoring that his little one was protesting, fighting to keep still. "That they might become Lavelle, though of course, Lavelles are born, not made. And then I realized that no, no one wanted me dead to become Lavelle. They wanted me dead... so that my mate... would keep their new bride." He lifted his jaw. "Isn't that right, Dame Vaako?"
Vaako drew in a sharp breath. "Paala?!"
The woman drew herself up straighter, a terrifying figure despite her small stature, powerful despite her size, and snarled, "It would have been flawless."
"You forgot one thing." Riddick rumbled, and slowly pressed his ulaks into Xander's hands.
"And what is that one thing?" She sneered at him.
Vaako stepped up on one side of his wife, and the Purifier slowly on the other. Both held out a knife to her, silently, and she snarled before snatching both of them. They both stepped back, and her eyes flicked again to the Lavelle as he stepped forward, ulaks held at his sides. Paala sneered, and spat, "I wanted to be Dame Alexander, once. I thought I would be happy to be your bride." She sneered. "But you are a prime, and I an Alpha, and you would have been Lord Paala, instead. Not such a hardship. I would have taken it gladly, but you refused me. So I had to use more... creative measures."
Xander shook his head. "Then why send a merc to kill me, Paala? If that were truly your plan."
She laughed. "I never sent a merc to kill you, Lavelle. I sent a merc to kill your mate. Apparently choosing skill over actual motivation was a mistake, on my part. I thought her desire to destroy would overpower her desire to end your pathetic life. I wagered wrong, clearly."
Somehow, the knowledge that the merc had been sent for his husband rather than him didn't really make Xander feel any better.
He slashed at her with the ulaks.
Paala was an alpha. For a Furyan, that meant she was the military power of their society. He'd often figured that she wasn't really much of a fighter, because he'd, well, never seen her fight. But she was, in fact, a fighter. She was as much a warrior as any other alpha in their society, woman or no.
She slammed back with an equal force, meeting him blade for blade, and shoved him back.
But Riddick hadn't been lying when he said that Xander's very best attribute was the fact that he never knew when to say die. He'd been given the chance to rabbit a million times before in his life, but Xander didn't rabbit, Xander moved forward again and slashed and sliced at her with all the power that he had in him.
And he sliced her head off.
Xander stepped back, panting, sweaty, blood running down his forehead and jaw, dripping from his blades, and watched her headless body fall limp to the cobblestones as her head rolled away on the ground.
"You forgot," Riddick murmured, stepping forward to rest his hand on his mate's shoulder, looking down at her still body, "Who you were fucking with."
They'd come to the Underverse for their pilgrimage, not just to expose the traitor in their midst. Exposing the traitor had sort of become a big thing, all things considered. Xander hadn't been sure it was going to work, that they were actually going to be able to figure out who it had been, but Paala had given herself away, earlier.
He wasn't sure she'd known she'd done it.
But she had, when they had jettisoned the remains of the body of the merc from the ship. It had been a fleeting moment of expression, but for a woman who tended to wear a mask of emotionlessness like armour, it had been enough. It had been disappointment.
Xander took a deep breath, and squeezed Vaako's shoulder, quietly. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be." he murmured, eyes distant. "She had no love for me. Had she succeeded, she would have been Lord Marshall, and I would have been nothing."
"Technically, I'm your wife now," he cleared his throat, and patted his friend's shoulder again. "But for the love of all that is holy, don't hold me to that, okay? I kinda got a good thing going with my own husband, so I'm not sure I could handle two."
Vaako laughed, softly, and reached over to squeeze his shoulder, in turn. "I will try not to."
Xander laughed softly, and headed back to where Riddick and the Purifier were talking, in low tones. They were halfway between Paala's body, which still lay there still on the cobblestones, and the gates. The gates that waited for them, like something out of Dante's Inferno, looming and waiting for someone to pass through them. He didn't like them for a moment, but he knew that they had to pass through them, had to get through them and go on this pilgrimage, just get it over with. He reached out to touch Riddick's arm, lightly, and said, "We should get moving."
"Want to get it done with?" Riddick arched a brow.
"The pilgrimage to the Underverse is not something that someone 'gets done with'," the Purifier frowned, considering that seriously, for a long moment.
"Then what is it?" Xander asked, quietly. "We're supposed to go make our mark on the gates, to let them know that we're planning on keeping the Underverse back, that's what I've heard, but how the fuck, exactly, do we do that?"
"I don't know," the Purifier admitted. "I've never been there."
"Neither have I," Xander smirked. "Suppose that's about to change. C'mon, Riddick... w really ought to just... get it over with."
"I thought we weren't calling it that," the other man rumbled, and reached out to take his hand. He squeezed his hand, and lead him towards the gate, regardless.
Xander curled closer to him, relieved, though he couldn't help the anxious nerves that were rising in his stomach, in his chest, clawing at his throat and trying to work their way out of him, trying to form nerves into words, into a scream of horror and terror and begging to turn back. He didn't want to cross over that barrier, but even more than that, his guts told him not to go through this place, that it was dangerous. His heart was skittering, a desperate pounding, but for once, that didn't correspond to any movement inside his womb, or whatever it was called, when a man had it, instead of a woman. The child in his belly, son or daughter and not yet due for nearly two weeks, stayed still. Sleeping, perhaps? He didn't know if children slept in the womb, or if his child was.
He sort of hoped that he was. He'd rather his unborn son slept through this whole ordeal.
The gates seemed even more ominous, the closer they got to them, a sort of terrifying macabre thing. "You ready for this?" Xander asked, quietly.
"Ready as we'll ever be." Riddick frowned.
"I'm glad you're with me," he murmured, squeezing the other man's hand. "Til Underverse come, right?"
"I'd say it's come."
Somehow, Xander had sort of expected the gates to the Underverse to swing open, like a yawning mouth into hell - after all, wasn't this basically the exact same thing that stood under Sunnydale, but with a prettier face on it? But the gates didn't just swing open, and still, the view on the other side of them didn't change. It was still the same black, the stars, that could be seen on their side. They gates didn't even open when they reached them, and Riddick reached out to test the strength of the bars, shaking it slightly, frowning.
"Solid looking things," Xander remarked.
"How do you get in to something like the Underverse?" Riddick frowned, and pressed his palm against the metal lock plate, and pushed.
The left gate creaked open, slowly, making a sound like the door of a haunted house might.
"Well." Xander murmured. "That's not ominous at all."
Riddick smirked, and slipped inside, still gripping Xander's hand tightly as he led him into the space, with him. It wasn't that he had to pull him in, not exactly, it was just that... well. Riddick was better at this.
There was no gate, on the other side.
When they stepped out into the Underverse - or into what everyone had told them was the Underverse, there was no gate on the other side. Xander wasn't really sure that he could see a way out, if this was supposed to be where they were, because the gate that had appeared in space didn't appear here.
"This can't be the Underverse," Xander said, confused.
"What?" Riddick frowned, looking over at him, brows furrowed over his bright silver eyes, which seemed to glow, here. "We just walked through a gate in space into another verse. If this ain't the Underverse, what is it?"
"...it's my dreams," Xander whispered.
There was a massive field of long, golden grass in front of them, swaying lightly in a breeze that ruffled Xander's hair. There were mountains spread in the distance, purple blue in the almost twilight, and great spans of forests sprawled around before the mountain ranges. In some places, the trees were broken by rivers that flowed quiet and calm out of them, until all those little rivers spilled into a lake that shone silver and clear under the pale sun. The silver leaves of the trees ruffled and drifted in the breezes, innocent and so... normal.
"You dream about this place?" Riddick looked skeptical.
"This is where I live in cryo." Xander looked up at the other, bewildered, and dropped his hand to walk forward, slowly. "When I sleep, this is where I stay."
"I don't dream of a place, in cryo." he frowned.
"I do. And this is it. Come on," Xander looked up, suddenly. "I'll show you."
They ran through the woods, and Xander was reminded of his first dream of this place, where he'd been running and trying desperately to get away from the man that was now his mate. It hadn't been much of a chase, that time, and it wasn't much of a chase this time, either. His progress was a little slower, this time, than it was normally, but he supposed that was mostly the fact that he was sort of very pregnant, this time. He was in much better shape, sure, but he was also heavy with a child, this time, and being pregnant made running significantly... harder.
Running through the trees, they darted up a low stone slope, then up a narrow path. Xander finally entered his little cave, and let out a long, slow breath. "...home sweet home."
There was a pile of fur rugs, in the corner, and bloody drawings on all of the walls, drawings that Xander had made to try and catalog everything that had happened. It was a fucked up display, really, but it was... home, sort of. "This is where I live, during cryo, when I get stuck in that shitty chemical sleep... this is where I stay, and... wish you were here. You were here, once." He frowned slightly. "You caught me."
"Before you fell in the pit."
He blinked at him. "You dream it too?"
"It was years ago," Riddick frowned, crouching to pick up a stone bowl, sniffing at it, considering the scent of old, dried blood. "You were an idiot who threw yourself off of a tree, as I recall it."
Xander snickered softly. "True. But this my dream world. This isn't the Underverse."
"How do you know?"
He frowned, and looked at him. "...don't you think I'd know, if I was dreaming of being in the Underverse every time I closed my eyes?"
"What do you do, here?"
"I... I hunt, I draw shitty pictures, I swim in the lake... I talk to dead people."
"And this strikes you as normal?"
He hesitated. "Well. I was dreaming. I sort of figured that was the end of it, you know, at least none of them had claws on their hands and tried to slice me open, I just sort of figured, you know, who the hell cares if I talk to dead people in my dreams?"
"I'm not sure that anyone cares, so much as the fact that you talk to dead people in your dreams means you're probably in the Underverse in your dreams. Which means that you're walking around talking to the dead because you've got a way of getting... here. When you're sleeping."
He frowned, and sat heavily on the pile of furs. "This can't be... the Underverse, though. I mean, I kind of though the Underverse was the, you know, land of the dead. Where the dead ruled. And they're punished, unless they were purified. I dunno about you, but I'm pretty sure my parents, who were very... anti Necromonger, weren't purified. But they weren't being punished, they just sort of... were here."
"Has it ever occurred to you that the Necromongers might have been wrong about the Underverse and what it takes to live there?" Riddick arched a brow.
He hesitated. "...actually, a really good point."
"I thought so." The other smirked, and stayed crouched on the floor, his elbows resting on his knees as he considered Xander where he sat. "What are we looking for, then, if you're such an expert on this world and the things that happen here... we have to find some way to put our mark on it so that the world knows we're not going to let the Underverse break. How exactly do we do that?"
Xander frowned, then pointed at the walls. "Look, if that's not enough of a mark, I dunno what is."
Riddick smirked, and shook his head. "If that was enough, we wouldn't have to crusade here."
"Good point." He frowned. "...look, I know it sounds insane, but... maybe we need to, ah... find some dead people."
He arched a brow.
"Well, I mean, if we really are in the Underverse, which is supposed to be the kingdom of the dead, then wouldn't it make sense to, you know, find some dead people?"
"Do you normally just... walk around and find them?" He drawled, smirking slightly.
"No." Xander admitted. "They usually come to me."
"Maybe they'll come to you."
"The dead are not going to - oh!"
Riddick frowned, and stood, moving towards the little fur bed that Xander had made for himself. "What is it?"
"You're not going to believe this." he gasped, trembling. "...but I think I just went into labour."
"Not here," Riddick looked... furious.
"I don't really get to pick the time or the place, the baby inside me sort of picks it, okay, and apparently he's decided that fucking... the fucking Underverse is the place." He growled the last bit through his teeth, fists tightly clenched. "...what I wouldn't give for the labour that women have... they have it so fucking - ah! Easy!"
The other man shook his head, and directed Xander to lay down properly on the furs. "Women would kill to have this as easy as you get it."
"Easy?" He repeated, pressing the heels of his hands against his forehead, groaning as he curled in on himself, teeth grit tightly. "You call this fucking easy?! This isn't easy! This hurts, this hurts like a son of a bitch!"
Riddick shook his head, and just pressed Xander down to the furs.
Xander had had three children before. The first had almost been born dead, umbilical cord around her throat, the second had been born seriously premature, and the third had been fairly uneventful, all things considered, despite the fact that he'd been born on a battlefield. But while Xander wasn't exactly an expert on all of this, he was pretty damn sure he knew a thing or two about having children, and about what had been a normal birth - at least for him. But this... this didn't feel normal. It wasn't just because he was apparently in the land of the dead while it was happening, because really, as far as births went, he'd had much stranger. And it wasn't because there was no doctor there, because he was sort of used to that. There were certain things that you get used to. Awkward home births had become one of those things, for Xander. But this birth wasn't right.
"Riddick," he panted, trembling. "Riddick, something's wrong..."
His mate didn't answer, just grunted. There was sweat beaded on his brow, and his hands and face were bloody. He was a mess, and Xander knew it had to do with him, it was his fault, it was the baby's fault...
"Riddick, something is wrong," he whispered, trembling, then howled, arching up as he clutched at the furs. Pain rippled through his body, tearing up his spine and through his stomach, as though every muscle in his body tried to contract at once. It was like a Charlie horse in his spine, which was not a sensation he wanted to actually experience, thank you very much, and he bit down on his lip so hard he could taste blood. "Fuck! Last time I felt like this, a fucking micro-raptor had just spiked me!"
"That made you pass out." Riddick said, grumbling.
"It hurt!" He pointed out, keening.
"Try not to pass out this time," the other rumbled, and said, firmly, "You know what to do, Xander, push."
"If you call me Xander anymore, I'm going to freak out," he keened, arching, blood running down his jaws. "You don't call me by my name, remember?"
"I do when you're losing this much blood," he rumbled.
"What?" he panted, confused. "Riddick?"
"It's breech," he growled.
"I don't know what that means, Riddick," he keened, crying out as he arched off the 'bed', struggling to breathe. "Riddick, I don't know what that means, please, just tell me what's wrong..."
"I mean that if the child comes out this way, it'll die."
Xander cried out, almost flailing, hand desperate to find Riddick's arm, and finally he found that muscular shoulder to clutch at, squeezing desperately. "Riddick, this baby can't die..."
"More concerned about you than the baby," his husband snarled, pressing his palm firmly to Xander's belly.
"Save the baby, you son of a bitch!" Xander howled. "Or I'll cut him out myself!"
Riddick kissed him, then, hard.
For a moment, he was really able to lose himself in it - until the pain kicked in again, and he howled, arching up. "Son of a bitch!"
“Breathe,” Riddick ordered, sternly, and flipped one of the ulaks out of his belt.
“I'm breathing!” He howled.
“Make damn sure it stays that way,” he growled, and pressed the blade of the ulak to Xander's belly, and snarled as he pressed the other man down, continuing to cut his mate's stomach open. It was like an awkward cesarean, a battlefield delivery done without Riddick's usual finesse or delicacy, a focus on simply getting the task done rather than being particularly artful about the way that it was done.
Xander shoved his knuckles into his mouth, biting down on his bones hard enough to try and keep from screaming – but more so, to keep from biting his tongue off. Blood was starting to run from the corners of his mouth, and while maybe it would have been a better idea to try and preserve what little blood he had left – Riddick really hadn't been kidding when he said he'd lost a lot of blood – Xander also figured that maybe, after all of this was done, he was going to want to have his tongue. You know, for the talking.
Maybe for a few other things.
Mostly for the talking.
“Keep breathing,” Riddick ordered, as he worked.
Xander tried to speak, tried to say something along the lines of: “You try and keep breathing after your mate is cutting into your belly without anesthesia,” but it really came out something more like a guttural, vicious growl, a snarl that spoke of pain and agony and rage. He couldn't make the words into... words.
There was a soft cry, suddenly, not like the howls that Xander used to see in those dreadful 'miracle of life' movies that they used to play, in health class, when he was still back in high school. It was just a soft, sharp intake of breath that was let out in a rush, then Riddick shifted forward, quietly. And without a word, he lay a bloody, kicking little child on Xander's chest.
He let out a sob of what might have been pain and might have been relief, and slowly extricated his knuckles from his teeth, reaching up with trembling fingertips to run his fingertips down a little cheek. “Riddick...”
“Keep breathing,” he ordered him, taking his knife and cutting a narrow strip off of the edge of one of the furs that Xander had used to make his bed over the years.
“Baby's kinda making me breathless,” he laughed.
“That's the blood loss.” He said, frowning, and muttered, “Gotta stitch you up. This'll hurt.”
“I really doubt it's going to hurt more than it already does,” he panted, and kept quietly stroking the little one's bloody face. That little, angelic face peered up at him, and for a moment, the baby's eyes looked whiskey gold, the way his had, the way Ziza and Wills' did – but then there was a flash of silver, and the eyes he was looking at were blank and pupiless, perfect for seeing in the dark, but useless in the light. Funny, how apparently the thing that had adapted them to be able to see in the dark, to be able to tell when people were trying to sneak up on them, had basically crippled them in normal conditions. They were a species made for the shadows, and their baby was made, like them, for darkness.
Xander bucked every time that Riddick had to punch another hope through his skin, jerked up every time that the other man pushed the leather strap through the holes, but still he kept stroking the little one's skin, softly.
“I suppose...” he rasped, voice rough. He hadn't screamed, but he felt like he had, for maybe hours. “That you're damn proud of yourself.”
“Oh?” Riddick drawled, working quietly, intently. He had to get him stitched up.
“And why is that?”
“Because you won, again,” Xander grumbled, stroking the little one's brow. “You would think that two men would be more
likely to have sons, not less. What the hell are we, Henry the Eighth?”
“Oh, it's a... he was a guy, on Earth, where I’m from... king that kept beheading his wives and stuff because they kept giving him daughters, instead of the sons he wanted... but my science teacher said it was Henry's fault, because it's actually the man that determines the sex of the baby, sort of... I mean... think about it... because of genes and stuff... if we were both women, every one of our children would be girls. I figure we got about a fifty fifty chance, for us.” He frowned down at his little daughter, a little confused. “...except that we have three daughters and only one son. So maybe the math is a little wrong.”
“I have told you before.” Riddick bent closer to Xander, and tightened the knot he'd just tied in the leather with his teeth. “Two men like us need a daughter to balance us back out.”
“Right.” He panted, and murmured, “So it's the verse's fault.”
“Probably.” He agreed, then shifted forward slightly, so that he lay beside Xander on the little pallet of furs. It wasn't much of a bed, not really, not for three people and not soaked in blood, but there they lay like the little macabre holy family, Xander like the Madonna of the Holy-Shit-How-Are-You-Alive-That's-A-Lot-Of-Blood. Riddick reached up to curl his fingers around the back of his tiny daughter's head, stroking her hair gently, and murmured, “She looks just like you.”
“What, because she's bloody as all fuck and has silver eyes?”
Riddick considered that for a moment, then nodded. “Yeah, pretty much.”
Xander snorted, and said, “So, when can I stand up?”
“You still have to figure out how to leave our marks on this Underverse of yours, remember?”
“Right.” He murmured, and rolled his head to the side, blinking at the entrance of the cave, brows furrowed for a moment, then said, slowly, “Riddick?”
“What?” He rumbled.
“...was there always a gate in front of the cave doors?”
Riddick frowned, and shifted up again, slowly, sitting. “Those are the gates. That's our way out of the Underverse.”
“But we didn't do
anything, we were here, I was – I was having a baby
, we didn't do anything to leave our mark on the Underverse!” Xander protested, struggling to sit up, grimacing as he did, but bound and determined to get up, just the same, their daughter curled close to his chest. “How the hell did we leave a mark on the Underverse like that
“She is our mark,” he said, slowly.
“I'm not leaving
“I never suggested we did.” Riddick stood, and reached down to catch his hands under Xander's shoulders and his knees, and picked him up, cradling him against his chest, waiting until the other man had adjusted the little girl on his chest into a safer position, then said, “We're leaving. But remember that she's our promise to keep the fucking Underverse in its place.”
“I can remember that.” Xander panted. “I'm going to have the scar to end all scars to prove it.”
“You heal fast,” he reminded him, walking towards the gates – and this time, they opened, slowly, before them, exactly as they hadn't, before. “Your scarring won't be bad. It never is. Even when I want it to be.”
my scarring to be bad?” He frowned.
“I wouldn't mind.” He smirked. “Remind you of all the work I did to keep you and her alive.”
“Very funny,” he grumbled, then sucked in a sharp breath when they slipped through, and stood on the cobblestone courtyard again, instead of in his planet, instead of in the world where he dreamed, and the stars crackled over their heads, cold and distant. It was like walking into a whole different plane of existence – and it was. It really was, the verse and the Underverse were different planes, different realms, one of the living and one for the dead.
And the little one in Xander's arms had come into the birthright of one realm while in the other.
The Purifier and Vaako were waiting on the ramp, when Riddick stepped up to them, still holding Xander, who still held the child.
“Well,” the Purifier said, at last. “You had an eventful pilgrimage, then.”
Xander snorted. “You could say that.”
Vaako stepped forward, and held out his arms. “I will take him, Riddick.”
“I can carry my mate myself.” He growled.
“He's your mate, but he's my wife,” he smirked, almost deviously. “Your children are waiting. Let me carry him.”
Riddick hesitated, then smirked. “Wait your turn.”
Vaako laughed, and dropped his arms. “Of course. But I will have my turn.”
“We'll see,” he rumbled, and started walking up the ramp, into the relative safety of the Basilica.
“...did he just suggest some kind of bride sharing arrangement?” Xander frowned, trying to figure out exactly what had just happened. “Like... where I’m the bride that gets shared?”
Riddick just smirked.
“That totally is
it, isn't it?” He squawked.
“What will you do now, my Lord Marshall?” the Purifier asked, walking rapidly to catch up to them. “The pilgrimage is over. What now?”
He looked down at the man in his arms, and rumbled, “Xander?”
Xander looked up, still always startled every time that Riddick called him by his name, and hesitated. “Well, if you ask me, which... you are... then I would sat that while... it's great
and all that we've managed to put our mark on the gates of the Underverse and basically tell it that we're going to stop it from busting out, there are dozens of places where the barrier between the verse and the Underverse are thin, remember? Vaako said that these are places where it could... start to break through. I think we need to visit all our old Outposts. Check on whether or not things are breaking through. Leave reinforcements if we need to.”
“A good idea,” Riddick rumbled, smirking slightly.
Xander smirked, stroking the baby's hair back, gently, smiling when she wriggled a little, reaching for his hand. “Sometimes I have those.”
The snow was almost blinding as it was blown across the plains, the wind that took it wrapping around them with greedy fingers, catching at the heavy robes that they wore over their clothing, to try and ward off the chill. The settlement in the valley below them was coated in snow, thick snowbanks covering the small outbuildings until they were nearly covered, and only the large building in the centre of the group was uncovered. There were some people moving around between the little buildings, but they were far away from it, now. None of them were recognizable.
Xander shifted the hood of his robes, peering down at the little settlement, and said, almost shouting against the wind, “At least they have a fairly good structure here!”
Riddick nodded, brows furrowed over the goggles he wore to protect against both the blinding white light around them, but also from the wind and snow itself. There were thick white snowflakes in his eyebrows, which Xander thought was funny, even though there were just as many flakes clinging to his own hair, catching in the curls that the wind kept brushing into his face.
“Last outpost looked like a war zone,” he smirked.
“Last outpost was
“Okay, good point,” he smirked, mischievously, and reached out to grab Riddick's hand, squeezing. “But I mean, after this many years of checking outposts, and just trying to make sure that the Underverse doesn't break through... it's sort of nice to find an outpost that's actually, you know, standing.”
Riddick shook his head, but squeezed his fingers back.
“So... what now?” He whispered. “I mean, I’m pretty sure we've done most of the outposts, haven't we?”
“Well, there is that one left.”
“Which one?” He frowned.
Wills howled as she darted past them, arms spread out wide as she ran through the snow. She had long since past her quiet stage, and it seemed that she wanted to prove, at any moment, that her lungs had not been underdeveloped by her premature birth, and she howled like a banshee whenever she could.
“Wills!” He called after her, shaking his head. “She's a brat.”
“She has been... influenced.” Riddick grumbled, but he was smirking.
Jesse dashed after his older sister, snow flying up around his feet as he plowed through after her. He wasn't howling, though he wore an old pair of Riddick's goggles that seemed to dwarf his tiny face, and he was laughing. The two of them barreled towards Ziza, who was sitting on one of the drifts, looking out over the settlement.
There was a flash of movement around them, too fast to see properly and Xander called, loudly enough to be heard over the wind, “Carolyn! Be careful!”
He'd thought toddlers were hard enough to deal with.
Holy half dead toddlers?
A whole different issue.
Turns out that what the previous Lord Marshall, the one that Riddick had killed, had been able to do was because of two things. Aereon had been wrong when she said he moved the way he did because he was her son. He could go invisible
because he was her son. He could move like that because he really had
been one of the holy half dead. And little Carolyn, because she had been born in the Underverse, perhaps, was within the ranks of the holy half dead. She moved too fast, like she was not quite right – but she really wasn't. She was half dead.
Xander sighed, heavily, and glanced back at his mate. “She's going to be the death of me.”
Riddick smirked, and tugged him into his chest, curling his arm around Xander's lower back as he kissed him, firmly, a brush of cold lips to cold lips that warmed them both from the inside out, like a fine whiskey – not that Xander would be drinking any whiskey, because his stomach was starting to swell, again. His mate had a habit of knocking him up – no one was really surprised.
(Well, not entirely true, Vaako had laughed, and said he was surprised it had taken Riddick so long, this time.)
“Mmm...” he sighed, softly, fingers curled in the front of Riddick's cloak. “Very nice. Wait... you said that there was 'that one left'. What did you mean?”
He smirked. “That one weak point.”
“Which one?” Xander prompted, pouting slightly at his mate.
He sucked in a sharp breath, surprised. “Are you seriously suggesting we go to Earth
, now? But, I mean... Earth is years
“We're a few years off, now. Closer than we've ever been before.”
“Wow.” He murmured, surprised, eyes lit up behind his goggles with the hopes of eighteen years, the need to show his husband all of the things that had meant a lot to him, had been his home, had been where he was from
. “I – that, that's good
, Riddick. I can't wait to introduce you to my family!”
“Think you'd approve of us?” He smirked.
“Hell no, but who cares?” He laughed, and kissed him again. “Dammit, Riddick, I can't wait to go home!”
And at that moment, millions of miles away, Faith made a wish.