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Doesn't Mean Our Brains Will Change

Chapter Text

She hadn’t expected them to take it so well.

Explaining what Waller had originally intended, nanite explosives in their necks, a disposable squad of talented, dangerous individuals, to be controlled and set loose to either fix a problem or die trying… Well they hadn’t reacted favorably.

Mal had folded his arms and leaned against the galley counter, “Ya’ll might want to shut up and listen to ‘Tross there. She’s smarter’n all of you put together, and she’s got a way out.”

“A way out figured from the jump,” Riddick added from behind her. “I’m gonna get us off the ground and on course to meet up with Serenity.” He said quietly and headed for the bridge.

“Thank you,” River called after him and got rewarded with a wicked smile.

“I’ll collect my thanks later, and in a much different position,” He informed her with a leer that sent blood rushing through her body.

Damn the man, he messed with her equilibrium like no one else.


Explaining her plan, that they act like the Big Damn Heroes Waller didn’t believe they could ever be, got mixed reactions.

“You want us to go out and fight, when all they wanted to do was lock us up and use us?” Captain Boomerang…displeased was an understatement.

“Waller’s modus operandi is leverage. Offer you something, time off your sentence, safety for your nana, school for your daughter, shelter for your cousin, your mother,” River looked at Harkness, Lawton, Santana and Jones respectively. “For Harley, it would be access to books, maybe even news of the Joker.”

The Joker’s evil chuckle echoed off the walls, “I’d say Waller’d be a little late with that.”

“She would,” River agreed. “But I got to you before she could. Before she could scoop you up.” She looked at the rest of the escapees. “She wanted you to follow my Captain, under Colonel Rick Flag. She wanted to use whatever leverage she had on you to get you to fight for her cause.”

“We got that much from listening in,” Lawton nodded. “So what’s the play?”

“First… I tried to bluff our way out, but Waller had electronic eyes and a connection with Flag; she recognized me. And Riddick,” River shrugged. “I passed for a Parliament Operative with the prison guards, which is how we got into Belle Reve in the first place. With Waller in his ear, Flag called my bluff.”

“Right…” Joker was talking more than Harley which River didn’t really care for. “And that matters why? Now that we’re off the ground?”

“Because they can cripple this ship,” Riddick told him flatly as he reentered the galley. “We’re on course,” He told her and Mal. “Less than twelve hours.” He looked at the Joker, taking in the green hair, pale skin, tattoos and crazy without a blink. “Right now, they think we’re cooperating. They stop thinking that, we’re all dead. Everyone on this ship.”

“Which is why my Lil Albatross is saying Big Damn Heroes,” Mal put in. “The idea is, we do what Waller wants, but on our terms.”

“No nanite explosive,” River agreed. “No leverage. And after we go our own way.” She looked at them, “The alternative is…not palatable.”

“What is the alternative,” Harley tilted her head. “What’s this Enchantress problem?”

“There is… a meta human,” River explained. “She’s more powerful than any other Waller’s come across. She’s able to perform magic, for want of a better term. Make you see things. Change reality. Teleport from place to place, take over your mind. Waller thought she had her under control. But she slipped the leash. Not sure how yet.”

“And,” Harkness rolled his eyes. “What’s that got to do with us?”

“You like robbing banks?” River rolled her eyes. “She’s going to destroy Mission City, then the planet, the system and she’ll take over and destroy the rest of the ‘verse. You won’t have any banks to rob, if you’re even alive to rob them.”

“Her aim is to take over the ‘verse,” Mal offered the explanation in simple flat terms. “So we can let her do it, see how far we can run. Or we stand up, and we fight. Try to protect the ones we care about.” He stared at all of them.

“So that’s the question,” Mal put it to the group. “You want to run away, or do you want to fight for something that’s worth your blood and sweat? Last time I fought a war I lost. Got told to lay down my arms and wait in that valley for death or the Alliance. I stuck a needle in their eye about a year and a half ago and ever since they’ve been just a mite annoyed with me and mine. They threw me in that hole so they could forget about me. Well I won’t be forgotten. And I won’t just lie down and let anyone try to do that again. Whether its with the Pax or a Witch trying to remake the ‘verse. No such thing as a better world. All we got is what we got. We make it better or worse our own selves. Not some witch.”

River smiled at her Captain and felt Riddick’s hand on her shoulder, warm, supportive. Covering it with her own she nodded, “I’ve had enough running. I aim to misbehave. Make this witch see that she’s not all powerful. I don’t care if she’s a meta human. She wants to make the world over in her image and I will not hold to that.”

Riddick’s low thunderous growl of a voice sounded from behind her, “You all know me, some personally, some by reputation. You know I’ve fought my own wars. They haven’t made a slam that could hold me. And I haven’t found anyone I’d be willing to follow into battle until she came to find me. I don’t know if you’d call me a meta human or not. Don’t really care. I’m Furyan. Defiant until the end. And nobody is going to remake my world in their image. I don’t care who it is. River says our best bet is to play Big Damn Heroes, then I’m with her. Woman’s smarter than anyone else I’ve ever met.”

“And I’m a Reader besides,” River threw that grenade into the conversation and had the pleasure of every eye in the room staring at her. “So yes, I know what you’re thinking Harkness, and no, I really don’t want the pleasure of kneeling in front of you.” She wrinkled her nose.

“The question is, where do you stand,” Mal looked at them. “If I’m not mistaken, all of you have people you care about, somewhere. What’ll it be? Run and hide, or stand and fight?”

Chapter Text

Flag’s ship was bigger, cleaner, and Riddick still didn’t like it. They’d gotten off the cockroach of a ship River had found and, with the rest of what Riddick had dubbed the Suicide Squad, boarded Flag’s boat.

Joker had taken the cockroach boat; he and his men were planning on shadowing the squad in the hopes of picking up Harley when the whole thing was over. Or, knowing him, whenever he got an opening. Just as well, the man was crazy like a sack of cats, and a lot less personable than his girlfriend. Harley might be nuts but she still liked people, for the most part. Joker didn’t seem to much like anyone, and when he heard River say she was a Reader… The green haired man’s scent blazed curiosity and trepidation. Not a good mix, not in Riddick’s opinion anyway.

Riddick couldn’t blame him for not sticking with the Squad. The man hadn’t come to fight a war, he’d come to find his girlfriend. Harley Quinn was a big bundle of crazy in a tiny bundle of pretty. And nothing Riddick wanted to get involved in.

The Squad had come to a general consensus that they’d pretend to buy whatever story Flag planned to feed them. There might even be some truth in it. No sense in them showing too much of their own hand and the knowledge they’d been entrusted with. So it’d been funny as hell when Flag started to give them all a speech, “Listen up! In your necks...Injection you got, it's a nanite explosive. It's the size of a rice grain but it's powerful as a hand grenade. You disobey me, you die. You try to escape, you die. You otherwise irritate or vex me, and guess what? You die.”

Harley, for the fun of it apparently, held up her hand and interrupted, “I'm known to be quite vexing. I'm just forewarning you.”

“Truism,” River murmured in amusement and got a gamine grin from her old school mate. “Delights in playing with the mind. Provokes reactions with purpose.” Riddick grinned at the byplay, though Flag seemed less than amused.

“Lady, shut up!” Flag had very little patience for their antics and River regarded him coldly as he continued, “This is the deal. You're going somewhere very bad... To do something that'll get you killed. But until that happens... You're my problem.”

“So was that like a pep talk,” Lawton tilted his head.

“Yeah,” Flag dismissed him. Big mistake. “That was a pep talk.”

“You might wanna work on your team motivation thing. Your pep talks are gǒu pì,” The assassin informed him flatly. “Oughta talk to the Cap’n here, let him school you some. Study.”

Mal regarded the Colonel with a faint air of distaste before he looked at the squad and the soldiers who were to augment their efforts. “Ain’t gonna tell you this ain’t dangerous, ‘cause it’s a flat out lie. Ain’t gonna say everything’ll be fine, ‘cause that’d just be another lie.”

Weiss sneered and Mal stared at him coolly, “I will say that I will do my best to get the mission accomplished and keep all of you alive during it. You know River, she’s my Second, so if she tells you to do something it’s as good as me sayin’ it. Probably better, she’s a helluva lot smarter’n I am really.”

“Like a woman would know anything about combat,” Weiss rolled his eyes and Riddick saw River meet Harley’s gaze. From the expression on Harley’s face and River’s scent, the two of them were in completely agreement with what he was thinking. The same thing it seemed Mal had on his mind. Slipknot would be trouble. More than he was worth. But every gun would be useful, to a point.

“Don’t expect you’ll be convinced by words,” Mal shrugged. “See her in action, you’ll change your mind right quick. Gonna be a bit of a wait until we’re close enough so let’s all just settle in and enjoy the ride.”

Flag had brought up a wave from Waller at that point, and the queen jiàn huò herself had taken over the pep talk, “Behold the voice of god.”

Waller stared at all of them from the screen, “For those of you who don't know me officially... My name is Amanda Waller.” Riddick couldn’t stop the curl of his lip, manipulative jiān xié who lied like she breathed. “There's an active terrorist event in Mission City. I want you to enter the city, rescue HVT-1 and get them to safety.”

Lawton shook his head as if confused, “I'm sorry. For those of us who don't speak good guy, what is HVT-1?”

“The only person that matters in the city,” Waller explained coldly. “The one person you can't kill.” Once that seemed clear she continued, “Complete the mission, you get time off your prison sentence. Fail the mission, you die. Anything happens to colonel Flag, I'll kill every single one of you.”  Dark eyes stared out at them, dull shark’s eyes, “Remember, I'm watching. I see everything.”

“There's your pep talk,” Flag sneered at Lawton.

The assassin rolled his eyes, “Compared to your shit, she killed it.” He turned and looked at Mal, Riddick and River, confirming to Riddick at least that the man was not stupid. Plainly comparing what River and Mal had told him of the mission and what Waller and Flag said. “So that's it? What, we some kind of suicide squad?”

River smirked slightly and winked as Flag rolled his eyes, “I'll notify your next of kin.”

“Yeah, no, rather you stayed away from my kin altogether,” Lawton shook his head and took a seat at the table. Riddick doubted Flag noticed but the assassin was thinking hard and using conversation to hide it.

River had brought a pack of cards, which was nice of her considering there was no point in her even playing. She’d chuckled when Lawton picked them up and offered to deal, “Kind to offer, but no point in her playing. Even before she was turned into a Reader, counted cards too well.”

“Oh yeah, you’re one a them genius types,” Lawton had dealt the cards for the rest of the Squad, minus Riddick.

“As if you are not,” River had eyed the other assassin with amusement and Riddick took a seat next to her, stretching an arm along the back of the bench and toying with a strand of her hair. “Geometry, physics, triangulation… so much math, all in your head, all in an instant as you determine trajectory and angles.”

Riddick chuckled, “Oh, so that’s the type he is.” He leaned closer to River and inhaled her scent, amused, concerned, her brain going overtime, a bit of that burnt scent that meant she was getting uncomfortable.

“Type?” Waylon rumbled the question.

“Type of genius,” Riddick shrugged and amused himself by wrapping his arm around River’s shoulders and snugging her up against his side. She felt cooler, as if being in the Black chilled her and he frowned down at her, “You’re way too cold.”

“No excess body fat,” Her answer was absent minded as she began to work on a datapad. “Could not afford wool clothing. Synth-leather must suffice.” She glanced up at him, dark eyes and long lashes against porcelain pale skin. “He is warm though.”

“Yeah, so stick close,” Riddick grinned and looked at Deadshot who was waiting with the interminable patience of a sniper. “You’re a math genius, angles, geometry, physics, it all comes naturally to you.”

“What kind are you,” Chato tilted his head. “She,” He nodded towards River, “She said you were a genius.”

“Never really been classified,” Riddick shrugged. “Never had trouble learning anything, ever.”

“Like her,” River murmured. “No limits.” She must have heard a question in someone’s mind because she continued speaking, “Intelligence can’t be measured. Given adequate time and resources, nothing that cannot be learned. Brilliant at flying, excels at spatial awareness regarding aerodynamics and warfare.”

“Been in a few dogfights,” Riddick agreed. “Flying…comes natural as breathing.”

“So what’s your specialty,” Lawton looked at River as he dealt the cards. Harkness considered his hand while Harley giggled.

“She don’t have one,” The psychiatrist told him. “She can do anything. Helluva dancer, and gymnast, must make fighting her almost impossible.”

She glanced at Riddick and he nodded with a pleased grin, “Most fun I’ve had with my clothes on that didn’t involve killing someone who deserved it.” River actually blushed at bit and he smiled at her wickedly, “Really hoping to see how much fun we can have clothes off.” He murmured against her ear.

“She is curious about that as well,” River admitted, still blushing.

“How come she don’t talk straight,” Harkness really had no sense of tact. It was obvious that more than half the soldiers in the room, along with Flag and the other sword wielding woman in the room, not to mention the rest of the squad were wondering the same thing. Harkness was the only one stupid enough to actually ask the question.

“She’s a Reader,” Her Captain sent the shaggy man a killing look. “Sometimes she talks like that because it’s easier for her to keep things straight in her mind.”

Riddick nodded his understanding, feeling her shoulders tense under his arm, “Can’t be easy, so many people around.” He commented, “Like me with too much sensory input.” He was pretty sure Mal knew what her slip in pronouns meant.

“You gotta put that in plain folk talk,” Lawton told him. “I think your girl there’s the only one who got it.”

A look around the room made the truth of that statement obvious. Reynolds understood, likely because of River, and it was possible Flag and the other woman, Katana, knew what he meant, not that they cared, but nobody else had a clue. “Sensory input, senses? As in you got five? Sight, sound, touch, taste, hearing?” He sighed in exasperation. He’d never liked explaining himself.

“Furyans are…” River’s voice, slow and thoughtful, flowed through the air. “Exceptional. Vision in darkness, better hearing, better sense of smell, taste and touch…” She put cool fingertips on his forearm, “He can feel the rough tips of her fingers, knows to the millimeter where they are, what work she is accustomed to. To walk barefoot is to feel the vibrations of movement kilometers away, if there are none nearer to him.”

“So everything’s dialed up to ten,” Reynolds got it and thankfully, translated it for the rest of them. “Guess you’d hear someone talking from the other end of the boat.”

“Pretty much,” He nodded his agreement. “I can hear heart rates, footsteps, smell when someone’s adrenalin is up because of fear or lust.”

“Damn,” Lawton shook his head, “So we got four a ya’ll meta-humans on the team?”

River shook her head, “Only three, she is not the same, not born this way.” Her scent burned for a moment, and Riddick looked down at her in concern as her eyes flicked up to Reynolds.

“She’s more like you,” The Captain told Lawton. The assassin frowned over his cards for a moment and Reynolds shrugged. Riddick found himself liking River’s Captain a bit more. If River wanted to tell everyone what had been done to her she would.

“Because one is astute enough to ask the question does not make one deserving of the answer,” River murmured and looked up at Riddick. “Her difficulties are no one’s business.”

“Yeah, I got you,” He agreed. She’d told him not long after they’d met, after she had a particularly bad episode traveling back to Serenity.

Chapter Text

River stood and stretched before taking a step towards the hall of cabins. If she didn’t get some respite from all these minds… Flag’s eyes snapped to her at the movement and he stood, “Where’d you think you’re going? Both of you?” He added as Riddick stood up behind her.

“She would like privacy, to meditate, to adjust…” River tilted her head towards the doorway. There were at least five or six small rooms, suitable for soldiers bunking in close quarters. Half of them were filled with the elite Purple bellies associated with the Parliament, less than Operatives, more than simple soldiers. But there were three rooms empty.

“Rather you stay here,” Flag shook his head.

“Not under his command,” River shook hers right back at him.

“Flag, you really don’t wanna argue with her,” Mal commented laconically from his spot at the table. “She’ll win and all you’ll end up with is frustration and a headache. You ain’t a genius. No way you’re gonna win an argument with her.”

“Reynolds, you aren’t in charge here,” Flag shot back.

River sighed, “Dà xiàng bào zhà shì de lā dù zi.” Riddick’s smothered chortle behind her drew a half quirk of her mouth. “Colonel Flag, we are here for the mission. Not to stoke your ego. None of us are here because of you. Please do not force me to demonstrate just how… ineffectual your associate would be in preventing me doing anything I choose.”

Flag bristled and Katana’s mouth tightened under her white mask, looking at her commander for instruction. Riddick’s slash of his hand prevented any outburst, “We’re going to one of the rooms. Neither of us is used to this many people anymore and it’d be nice if we made it to the damn planet without carving out your liver through sheer tiān shā de irritation.”

The sergeant who was leading the soldiers leaned against the hall door, “Flag, I get that you’re on edge. But maybe you could try to remember that all of these folks have been in solitary confinement for at least a year? I’d be climbin’ the walls.” He nodded politely at River, “I’m GQ, don’t know if you caught that earlier. There’s a room, two doors down, two of the bunks are already flat to the walls. Plenty of space to meditate.” He eyed Riddick and then Waylon, “Sorry the bunks aren’t all that big, might not be very comfortable for guys your size. But the mattresses are removable, could just put ‘em on the floor and rest there if you want.”

“Very kind,” River offered him a smile. For an Alliance soldier he was fairly sympathetic. He wasn’t bad looking either. Very pretty. Not her type, more a Core look that reminded her of Simon though his coloring was different.

Riddick had a hand at the small of her back, gentle but urging her forward to the room in question, “You thinkin’ an hour or two?”

“Hmm,” She sank down on one of the bunks gratefully and laid her sword across her knees, taking a deep slow breath. “He need not stay with her if he would like to join the card game.”

“Cards are pointless when you can read tells like a book,” He shrugged. “A little quiet is good. Quiet with you in the room, that’s even better. And if you need an anchor for a bit, my reaction to that…also none of their business.”

River couldn’t help the smile that curved her lips, “She feels the same about him.” She nodded reluctantly, “If he will anchor her… for a while?”

“Hey, you need it, can spend the rest of the trip in here, get your mind settled,” He shrugged and stretched out on the bunk behind her, sliding his arm around her middle.

“It is greatly appreciated,” River admitted as she took him at his word and linked her mind to his. Relief came instantly, the subtle ache of her bones that seeped out of her nerves, overstimulation of her brain translating to physical pain eased as she concentrated on only one mind.

“Never told me,” His murmur, a low growl of contentment and desire, rolled over her skin like silken thunder. “What’d you see when you anchor to me?”

“Never asked before,” The Reader wondered why he was asking now. Because now that they’d accomplished their goal, breaking Mal out of Belle Reve their association was nearing its stated end and he wished to satisfy his curiosity? Or because they were about to do something even more dangerous?

“Didn’t seem important before, we both went into this figuring it would end after Belle Reve,” Riddick shrugged against her. “Now though… you and I…we’re both talking like we want more than a temporary partnership. Seems like there’s more weight to it.”

Understandable… She thought about it before she could give him an answer. Riddick, unlike anyone else of her acquaintance, encouraged her to use him as an anchor. The minute her pronouns began to slip he would give her a look to remind her that he was available to help. As a result she’d linked to him more than anyone else. Perhaps because of that, it didn’t take her mind nearly as long to settle.

Or perhaps it was due to his perspective, his welcome of her mind linked to his. Riddick didn’t feel it as an itch or intrusion. His primary reaction, of desire and warmth, didn’t feel like anyone else from her perspective. And what she saw…

“Difficult to describe,” River set her sword on the floor beside the bunk and allowed Riddick to pull her down beside him, little spoon to his big one, her head tucked under his chin. “Warmth, welcome, affection…” She smiled despite the mental work of putting her mind in order. “Riddick is… like shelter. Protection. A shield to hold others out and she can work to calm her own thoughts.”

“Can’t say I mind that at all,” She could hear his smile. “You know how it feels to me. Like you’re caressing every nerve and inch of skin with those soft hands.”

“Stimulation of desires…but he welcomes it…” River smiled. “Odd man.”

“Furyan,” He shrugged, tugged her body closer and she could feel the truth of his words, his body stimulated, aroused and pressing against her pì gu. “Nothing normal about me. And as long as we’ve got business to take care of, this is as close to sex as you and I get, I’ll take whatever I can, when I can.”

“Personal motto,” She murmured, amused. “His thoughts are… not loud, not over-soft, deliberate. Control… first lesson and the last.”

“Yeah, without it, too much goes wrong,” Riddick agreed. “Learned early on to keep any impulses locked down. Can’t take advantage of opportunities if you’re not paying attention. Can’t pay attention if you get distracted by incidentals.”

“Not simple,” River mused. “Animalistic, primal…but not simple minded. Singular purpose does not denote mental deficiency. He is…” She considered. “Riddick is balance. Yin and Yang. The man and animal, in balance with each other. In all things. His thoughts reflect this.”

“Took me a long time, but yeah, I got there,” His palm spread over her ribcage, fingers caressing lightly. “Makes it easier on your brain?”

“When he is the anchor…she can truly rest,” River sighed. “Knowing she does not harm him. He is not uncomfortable, does not mind being her anchor, despite the lust it ignites.”

“Well no,” His arms encircled her more firmly, possessive but comforting.

River sighed again, complete contentment, when he held her like this. He’d been worried she’d be offended. The first time, pulling away from her before she woke. The second time, she’d woken before him and found herself wrapped in his arms, she’d been startled but pleased. Riddick had woken shortly after and began to disentangle himself only to have her hands tighten on his arms.

She’d caught the thought at the front of his mind, that she wouldn’t want him practically dry humping her in his sleep even if it did ease the ache for touch produced by her link to his mind. “Satisfies,” She’d murmured thoughtfully. “Touch satisfies when sex is not an option.”

He’d nodded shortly, “With you, seems to. Mostly.”

“No objections to your touch,” She’d smiled. And that had been that. When Riddick acted as her anchor he held her in his arms. After all this time together it became more comforting than anything else.

Simon hadn’t liked it, when they’d gone back to Serenity to finalize her plans he’d come across them sleeping like this on the big couch in the lounge. He’d been outraged, and Riddick quietly furious at the implication that he would do anything River didn’t want.

They’d gotten it settled but Simon still didn’t like it. Too bad for him.

Chapter Text

River tilted her head towards the swordswoman at Flag’s side while she and Riddick waited to board the ship to ground shuttle. All the colonel said during introductions was, ‘This is Katana. She's got my back. She can cut all of you in half with one sword stroke... Just like mowing the lawn. I would advise not getting killed by her. Her sword traps the souls of its victims.’

Flag obviously hadn’t read up on River or Riddick as much as he’d initially implied. He wouldn’t have made such a sweeping statement if he had, or maybe he would have, just as a bluff. Katana’s sword was an oddity, she could almost hear the voices within it. Just like she’d heard the ghosts of the derelict Serenity had found after a couple months in the Black. Just like the ghosts of Miranda.

“Not trapped,” River murmured, and Riddick’s quicksilver gaze fell on her.

“What’s that?” He kept his voice just as low.

“Her sword, ‘traps the souls of its victims’,” River quoted Flag. “Not entirely accurate. Trapped…but release is possible.”

“Yeah?” He tilted his head curiously and River smiled.

“Wrath,” She nodded at his chest, the handprint concealed beneath his shirt. “Raw energy. Disrupts magic, disrupts technology…” River considered. “Mages…would perform rituals, call the quarters, north, south, east, west, and elements for each. And in the center, the fifth element, the spirit, to center all around it. Spirit warriors, Alphas…call the Wrath.”

“Spirit energy, trumps every other kind?” Riddick frowned thoughtfully and she could hear him filing that information away.

“Hmm…” River nodded as they boarded the shuttle, Riddick’s hand on her waist possessively, much to Mal’s annoyance at the sight.

Harley’s enthusiasm was irrepressible as she peered out the window of the ship to ground shuttle onto which they’d been loaded. The closer they got to Mission City the more obvious it was that this was not normal warfare, “Ooo. Look at the pretty lights! Are you guys seeing this?”

Lawton, perhaps in an effort to find out how much Flag would try to bullshit them, looked at the Colonel, “What happened?”

“Terror attack,” Flag lied. “Dirty bombs, bad guys shooting up the place with Grizzlies and Iskellians. You know, usual shit.”

“Right,” Lawton didn’t quite roll his eyes, but it was close. “Yeah, you're a bad liar.” He tilted his head, met River’s gaze for a moment and winked before he continued baiting Flag, “I don't know if they told you... But I'm a hitman. I'm not a fireman. I don't save people.”

“Anything for platinum, right,” Flag didn’t quite sneer but it was close.

“You know the dark places, too. Don't act like you don't,” Lawton was pulling on his Deadshot persona like an old sweater, a quick shrug and a comfortable weight to go with his work clothing.

“I'm a soldier,” Colonel Flag really didn’t understand what how to deal with people like these. “And you're a serial killer who takes credit cards.” He eyed Lawton, doing some baiting of his own, “When the shooting starts, and it will, you'll cut and run.”

River tilted her head and nudged Riddick who’d been beside her watching the byplay with barely concealed amusement. “He will want to go to the cockpit.” She suggested firmly, “Likelihood of a hard, possibly fatal landing without his aid is very, very probable.”

“Why don’t I lend you a hand,” Mal stood along with Riddick.

Mal freely admitted he’d volunteered his piloting skills without much thought for what he’d say to the big hún dàn his daughter had taken up with.

Riddick stood behind the pilot and tapped him on the shoulder, “Get up. If you want to get to the ground in one piece.”

“I don’t care who you are—” The bluster started almost immediately, fingers clacking on the console keys and both stopped with a squawk as Riddick simply pulled the man out of his chair.

“I’m a better pilot than you are,” Riddick took his place and glanced at the co-pilot, a lanky looking blonde. “He’s gonna co-pilot. You two take the nav stations and strap yourselves in.”

She, wiser than her pilot, didn’t argue, simply nodded and looked at Mal, “Ever flown one of these before?”

“A time or two,” Mal nodded and didn’t mention it was close to five years ago. “Don’t seem to have changed much.”

“Basic design is the same, body and hull’s been streamlined for better aerodynamics,” She nodded and moved to the nav station. “Hopefully it’ll make hitting atmo easier. We’ve got enough fuel for a couple of runs around the city if we need it.”

“Or a hard burn to get us down faster,” Riddick observed. “Before they can shoot us down.”

“Or that,” She agreed as she strapped herself in.

Mal looked over at Riddick, “So hard burn then?”

“River thinks anti-aircraft is very likely, and you know what ‘very likely’ means when she says it,” Riddick’s hands were busy on the console, adjusting their trajectory. “Gimme some extra flow to offset the burn through we’re gonna get during the descent.”

“On it,” Mal nodded as he recalled Riddick crouching in front of River at a touch of her hand to his wrist while he passed. She must’ve passed on that little tidbit then. “I’ve had some experience with ‘highly possible’, ‘very likely’ and ‘very probable’. Never did much like the results when I didn’t take her advice.”

“Yeah she’s a caution,” Riddick grinned boyishly, the expression taking years off his age and for the first time Mal could see why River enjoyed the huge man’s company.

“She is that,” He frowned as a light began to flash. “Why’m I gettin’ a warning about entry angle here? Nothing’s wrong with it.

“It’s because you’re on manual,” The co-pilot was examining her screen. “Just ignore it. The autopilot doesn’t like manually calculated entries.”

“Then it’s really gonna hate me,” Riddick quipped.

“How d’you mean,” The co-pilot looked up curiously.

Mal chuckled, “If he’s anything like my daughter, and from what she says, he’s the better pilot of the two of them, he doesn’t manually calculate with the cortex. He figures it all in his head. Better than the cortex could.”

Riddick nodded, “Cortex doesn’t allow for last minute adjustments, evasive maneuvers, that sorta thing.” He agreed as he began to push the shuttle hard.

Keeping up with Riddick while he flew and evaded anti-aircraft…whatever they were that exploded green and turn the sky yellow, not easy and not for the faint of heart.

In the middle of an interesting (oh god oh god we’re all gonna die) evasive tactic Riddick shot a glance at him, “So you figurin’ to warn me off your daughter? Tell me I’m no good for her? Big bad convict and she’s a delicate Core flower?”

“Well…” Mal paused and compensated for the suddenly high winds around them as Riddick’s arms bulged with muscle to keep the shuttle flying straight. “I wouldn’t call her a delicate Core flower,” He admitted. “The rest of it’s pretty on target though.”

“Uh huh,” The huge man growled his annoyance at something on the screen. “Oh this is gonna be—” He interrupted himself with cursing, “Wèi le tā mā de yuán gù.”

“Well we’re closer to the ground at least,” Mal offered as the barrage of anti-aircraft whatevers increased.

“Yeah,” Riddick snarled a command at the Alliance crew. “One of you key in the code to release the speed block on the gorram engines.”

“We don’t have a—” The co-pilot began to object.

The pilot was stony-faced and Mal sighed, calling back to the passenger portion of the shuttle, “River! Can you get around this?” He looked at the idiot pilot who clearly had no intention of doing anything helpful, cutting off his nose to spite his face. “What’s the point of putting a speed restriction on a shuttle bringing in soldiers?”

The pilot wouldn’t respond but the co-pilot’s outrage reverberated through the ship, “You yú chǔn zì jiāo de dà zi ròu.”

River entered the cockpit, steadying herself with a hand on the doorway, “Did it when Riddick ordered him out of the chair. Foolish.” She moved forward and leaned over Riddick’s shoulder, keying the code in unerringly. “Released.”

“Better,” Riddick nodded grimly. “But this landing just got three times harder. Not sure how well this thing’ll fly after we hit the ground.”

“Too close for adjustments to be much good,” She sighed. “I’ll let everyone know to strap in.”

Mal rolled his eyes as he heard River’s reprimand to Harkness as she passed him, “Touch me and lose the hand. Everyone strap in, the yú bèn de Alliance pilot put speed restrictions on the engines. Not a lot of time for corrective maneuvers as a result of the delay. We will likely land hard, but in one piece.”

Riddick muttered, “Always one moron thinks he knows better than everyone else. Thinks a stupid symbol on his uniform means he’s got brains, ‘stead of being promoted to his level of incompetence. Why’s it always SNAFU and FUBAR with the gorram Alliance crap?”

It was a strange way to meet the ground, chuckling at the huge convict’s muttering while hauling on the stick and trying to reverse the back burners to soften the landing as much as they could.

The co-pilot was on the comms, presumably communicating their status, “Six-one is going down. Six-one is going down… five klicks out.”

The landing, bone-jarring, eardrum-piercing screeches of metal on concrete and stone, and an abrupt neck breaking stop, did not do Mal any good. Nor did the body of the pilot as he was thrown around the cockpit.

“Stand by. Drop the ramp.” He heard Flag and the soldiers, getting everyone up, “Drop the ramp. Come on! Let's go! Let's go! Go, go! Come on! All right. All right. All right.”

“Well,” The co-pilot rubbed the back of her neck. “That was…fun?”

Riddick looked back at her and chuckled, “Adrenaline hype?”

She nodded ruefully as she unbuckled her harness, “Leila Larue.” She introduced herself.

“Richard B. Riddick,” Mal gestured towards the man. “Captain Malcolm Reynolds.”

“Pleasure to meet you,” She gave them a half grin and wrenched open a slightly skewed locker on the wall, pulling out a very nice Iskellian HMG and several handguns, along with two knives. “Need anything from the lockers, help yourselves,” She gestured at them. “Get the feeling we’re going to need them.”

Mal nodded and took her up on that, something besides his six-shooter would be helpful. Riddick shook his head, “Got all the blades I need. But if there’s a Python or two I’ll take ‘em.” The big man also helped himself to one of the Maulers and a Justice Arms, slinging them over his back like they were feathers.

By the time they got to the back of the shuttle and down the ramp Harley was practically bouncing, “What a ride!”

Flagg’s attention was on the earwig he wore, “We're okay. We're okay. Assets are undamaged.”

“No thanks to that idiot pilot,” Riddick commented. “Who’s dumb enough to put a speed block on when you’re likely to need an emergency landing?”

“Alliance pilot, that’s who,” Mal rolled his eyes. “No offence meant Miss Larue.”

“None taken,” She shook her head. “Just don’t say bái mù co-pilot.”

“Never crossed my mind,” He assured her.

Chapter Text

No one had wept much when Harkness implied to Slipknot that the explosive in his neck owed more to imagination than fact. Christopher Weiss was a colossal pì yǎnr with no respect for women at all. Harley had flat out told him the rest of them didn’t have explosives injected into them and he’d just sneered that of course a woman would be that stupid.

It did, however, lend credence to Harkness’s claims later on. And Weiss fell for it. River slanted a warning glance at the rest of the squad. They didn’t need to advertise that the explosive in the neck portion of Waller’s program had been skipped. Flag had assumed they’d been subjected to the procedure while on Belle Reve and nobody had said otherwise at the time. (Of course the prison staff being dead prevented them speaking quite nicely.) Thankfully, while a lot of the Squad were textbook sociopaths, they weren’t morons, and no one said a word.

GQ’s voice came over the comms, “Boss, we got people up here.”

Mal’s voice sounded before Flag could get a word in, “I'm on my way.” He glanced at River and she nodded.

Riddick moved forward, “I’ll keep you company Cap’n.” He walked with Mal to the front while River remained with the squad.

She looked at them and held up a hand, “Chato, I understand if you have trouble fighting in close quarters. Will you use conventional weapons if you cannot bring yourself to use the flames?”

Chato’s expression twisted with discomfort under his skull tattoo, “I swore I wouldn’t lift my hands in anger again.” He said finally. “On the dust of my family.”

“But you are not angry,” River tilted her head thoughtfully. “This is an enemy; it is not personal. There is no reason for anger. Will you help defend your companions, your world?”

“You an’ Riddick, you can keep me from getting out of control?” Chato’s legitimate concern for their safety was touching.

“No one knows Wrath the way Riddick does,” She smiled. “If there is ever a need for yours, we will be in desperate straits and you will need have no compunctions about releasing it.”

“All right,” Chato nodded and held out a hand. “I’m better with an Iskellian or a Grizzly than a blade.”

Deadshot threw him one of the former, “Nice to have you with us homie.”

River tilted her head, angling to hear the conversation at the front line and frowned, “Waller says to divert, not to fight, fighting doesn’t work. But If we divert we will lose the other Purplebellies.”

“Well let’s not divert then,” Deadshot gave her a grin of pure mischief and she laughed softly. Floyd’s sense of humor seemed similar to hers and Riddick’s.

“Let’s not,” She nodded towards the rest and they moved forward as a group.

River stood in front of the Bravo squad leader, startling Flag and the tall chocolate skinned male in fatigues as Flag commanded, “Copy that. We're diverting. Bump out second squad two blocks east. We'll pass through you, continue north. Take bravo two blocks east. We'll leapfrog through you once you're in position.”

River shook her head, “If we divert we will lose Bravo.” She looked at the lieutenant and did not move from her position in front of him. “Bad move to split up. We can take this group. If the Purplebellies can hold our perimeter.”

GQ looked over at her and then towards Mal and Riddick who seemed to be eyeing the enemy as if determining weaknesses. “Well it’s up to Cap’n Reynolds isn’t it,” He moved up behind the two men and tapped Mal on the shoulder. “Your daughter’s got an idea, it counters Waller’s orders.”

Mal turned around with a grin, “Anything that don’t agree with that jiàn huò I’m in favor of.”

River explained Waller’s idea, pointing out that splitting up seemed like a very bad idea. “We can’t simply avoid all of these…things. It’ll take us forever to get to wherever we’re going.”

“Well Waller is in charge,” Flag argued. “Our orders are to get HVT-1 out of the city and off planet if possible.”

Riddick folded his arms and simply stared at the Alliance officer while River rolled her eyes, “Thinks we bought his lies. Thinks he’s fooled a Reader. HVT-1 is… along the way, but not our true purpose. Waller has always wanted the Squad to deal with the Enchantress problem.”

“We’ve got our orders,” Flag repeated as if they’d agree if he wore their ears down.

“Those are your orders,” Mal reminded him. “Our orders are to put a stick b’tween the spokes in this Enchantress’s plans.” He regarded Flag calmly, “You do recall we’re doing this under our own terms? Long as we’re going the same way, we work together.”

“But we don’t follow your orders,” Riddick reminded the Colonel bluntly. “We’re in this for our own reasons.”

“Just another excuse to cut and run when things get too hard,” Flag plainly didn’t think much of them.

River sighed and pushed past him, GQ gave her a questioning look and she shrugged, “Bored now.”

“Where’re you goin’?” The overly handsome soldier called after her.

“To pick a fight,” River nearly laughed.

Wǒ kào,” Mal turned behind her and she heard him issuing orders. “Purplebellies, hold the line, don’t let anyone get past you. Squad, you’re with me, we’re the breakwater, Purplebellies are the final levy, River and Rick are ‘bout to start a fight.”

Mal did know her fairly well after all, she drew her sword and axe and tried to put out of her mind that these had once been people.

“Why do they look like that,” GQ was questioning Flag, but she didn’t have time to listen for the answer. A slice of her blade later, she and Riddick were too busy trying to hold off a seeming battalion of whatever these things were.

She could feel the grin Riddick sent towards the rest of the Squad as he moved forward with her. Midway to the enemy the things turned and saw them and began to race forward. “Let’s have some fun,” River quipped and slanted a look at him. “You know that game you like to play?”

“Who’s the better killer?” Riddick chuckled as he pulled his own blades.

“Hmm… let’s see who wins,” She slashed downward with the edge of her sword, slicing a scaly arm from a weirdly distorted body and the game was on.

He heard Flag yelling, Deadshot hollering back for Harley to rescue the idiot Alliance colonel and the Purplebellies firing as more of the things came in from their flanks. Not as many as the frontal assault, River and Riddick were handling that mostly. The ones that got by them Deadshot mowed down as if having the time of his life.

Mal and the rest were dealing with the things trying to flank them. The whole thing became a semi-satisfying mess of gore, blood, slice and dice, punctuated by gunshots. He got a few good looks at Katana and her infamous sword. The woman wasn’t bad with it. No where near a match for him or River, but good, nonetheless.

Finally the gunfire died down, and they could all regroup and tend to their wounded. The co-pilot, Leila, had taken a nasty bite to her shoulder. Mal and GQ were dealing with it, while GQ stared at Flag, “The brief said terrorist. You want to start explaining this?”

“If I told you, would you believe me?” Flag stared at him and Riddick could admit that if you’d never met a metahuman it would be pretty hard to swallow.

There were some pointed observations, and more of Flag’s bluffing and lies, until Deadshot, his assassin persona firmly in place now, stared at Flag, “That’s bullshit. Thing is, he owned a three thousand plat watch. Is that a person?”

Flag stared at Lawton, “It was. Now it's not.” Cold. True but tiān shā de cold.

Riddick wouldn’t have thought a thing like that would bother the assassin, it didn’t bother him. They were attacking him, River, they started the fight. Despite River’s joking, they’d charged her. Maybe it was possible for someone to come back from whatever the Enchantress had done to them, maybe not. But if they pulled their punches they’d never survive long enough to find out. He said as much to Lawton, adding, “We can’t afford mercy right now. We’re in the middle of enemy territory, and we’ve got farther to go.”

He could almost see every one of the Squad pulling on the masks they wore, the criminal personas that helped them survive a ‘verse that alternately despised and used them according to its whims. River stood at his elbow, cleaning her blade before sliding it back in its sheath. Her dark eyes were cold on Flag’s face, “So much for his theory.”

Riddick chuckled and Deadshot smirked at the Colonel, “Yeah. That’s how I cut and run.”

River slanted a smile up at him and Riddick grinned at her, “Did he keep score?”

“Pretty much even,” He told her. Her eyes narrowed on Flag and Riddick regarded the Alliance soldier thoughtfully. “Something goin’ on with him?”

“Thinks to…make an offer… combine forces, we help with the exfiltration, he helps with the Enchantress, doesn’t realize capture may not be an option,” River murmured. “We must speak with Cap’n Daddy.”

“Mal,” Riddick jerked his head at the Browncoat and the man handed off the bandages he held to GQ and moved in their direction. “River says we have… well…a complication.”

“What’s that?” The man didn’t seem surprised, but Riddick supposed living with a Reader would get you used to surprises after a while.

“Flag’s thinking maybe he offers the purple bellies to help us, if we get the squad to help him with the exfil,” Riddick summed it up for him. “As it is, Bravo’s s’posed to split off from us once we get a few klick’s farther.”

“Can’t say it’s a bad notion,” Mal rubbed his chin. “Means we’ve got the continuing argument of who’s in charge all the way to the end of the line though.”

“Yeah,” Riddick nodded. “And how complicated is the exfil.”

“Better question is who’s HVT-1 that they, out of all the folks in the city, deserve rescuing,” Mal wondered, slanting a look back at Flag.

River sighed, “Get the rest of the Squad over here, and I’ll tell them. We’ll need them to agree to it anyway.”

“Yeah, these ain’t nicely cooperative Browncoats willing to follow my every order,” Mal nodded his agreement and hollered for the rest of them. “Squad! Form up ‘round me, got some…developments.”

“Oh this is gonna go great,” Riddick muttered. The city in shambles around them, people turned into monsters, an extremely powerful meta human to deal with and now they were adding in a rescue. He took one more look at the site of their battle and inhaled. Whatever the enemy was, they had a unique stench to them, the air felt saturated with it.

Chapter Text

He hadn’t really expected the rest of the Squad to be thrilled about spending a longer time in a besieged city. “You mean all that HVT-1 wasn’t Flag just blowin’ smoke up our pì gu,” Lawton asked skeptically.

“No,” River shook her head. “He was told that is the mission. Problem is that is not all of it. Which he was not told.”

“Okay wait,” Chato held up his hands. “You mean Waller intended us to deal with the Enchantress all along, but she didn’t tell him? Just told him to get HVT-whoever out and that was it?”

“Pretty much,” Mal nodded. “Waller likes leverage. She’s got it on Flag, thinks she’s got some on us. But not as much as she could.”

“Why keep him in the dark,” Chato wasn’t getting it, not that Mal really blamed him. The workings of a mind like Waller’s weren’t easy for anyone more straightforward to understand. And for all that ‘El Diablo’ had been a powerful man, he hadn’t been known for machinations.

“It’s the Enchantress, she’s--,” Riddick’s low voice rumbled like thunder through the air between him and the Squad, drowned out by the sound of what could be actual thunder or another storm of magic.

“Say again,” Waylon shook his head. Again, Mal could see the reason for confusion, hell he’d been discombobulated about that himself until River explained. A stand-up, do-right, Alliance officer like Flag wasn’t the type to get involved with a criminal metahuman.

“The Enchantress—” River began to explain, Flag’s shout interrupting her.

“Dangerous to stay in one spot, let’s move out,” The Colonel ordered.

Mal looked at the Squad, “We agree? Go along with the rescue? Don’t mean we’re under his thumb.”

“Yeah,” Lawton looked at the rest of them and got nods and one bored huff from Harley. “Yeah, let’s humor him for a while.” He grinned and Mal chuckled.

“Gotta say, like the way you think Mr. Lawton.”

She found herself walking beside Chato and Floyd, Waylon behind them, while Riddick scouted and Mal led, the rest of the soldiers spread around all of them. Harley was doing her best to make Flag crazy, much to Leila and GQ’s amusement. Digger was wandering in and out of the group, picking up any piece of shiny that caught his eye, sometimes discarding it just as quickly. She understood, more than ever, what Mal meant when he described life as a soldier ‘hurry up and wait’. Or as Riddick said, ‘long stretches of boredom punctuated with minutes of action and terror’. They’d both agreed and had it in common with the Purplebellies strangely enough, that the worst part of military life was the boredom.

Right now they were walking through hostile territory, but everyone seemed simultaneously alert and relaxed. A known situation, familiar and almost comforting, to understand the part they must all play. The oddities of a soldier’s life, River mused with a half-smile.

“So what’d he mean,” Floyd asked. “When he said you were more like me than homeboy here?” Dark eyes slanted towards her face curiously.

“You’re not a meta,” River frowned. All the influx, chaos… getting through the city with the thoughts of everyone, plus the people Enchantress had corrupted… pressure… this would be…difficult.

“No,” He waited for her to continue. “Just real good at one thing.”

She forced herself to concentrate on the conversation. Maybe that would help keep the rest of the world at bay. The few hours of rest, anchoring to Riddick had helped but it had only alleviated the effects of the breakout and chaos before and after. She’d likely need to anchor to him again once this was over, if she could hold out that long.

“I…” River looked at the two of them. “Mal told you, I’m a genius.” She reminded them, uncomfortably aware of the soldiers within earshot. Alliance soldiers wouldn’t be enthused or believing of her story, and that could divide the men into ‘us’ and ‘them’. They couldn’t afford that. “School… it didn’t challenge me, I learned more on my own. My parents began to look for a school that could actually educate me, challenge me… They thought they’d found one, a government run school, it had the most exciting program…”

“Yeah…” Floyd didn’t see the point but Waylon’s low growl behind her suggested he had an idea of where this was going.

“I wasn’t a Reader. Not then,” River said flatly. “I was fourteen, with an eidetic memory and an immeasurable intelligence quotient that allowed me intuitive leaps based on reason, observation, all the tells people notice subconsciously… But I wasn’t a Reader, not a meta.” She took a deep breath, “The school, the Academy, experimented upon the students, played with their brains…”

“On kids,” Chato’s anger heated the air around them before he reined it in. “That’s… Nǐ zài jiǎng shén me pì huà?”

“Not all children, some adults…” She shook her head.

“Oh that makes it better,” Floyd rolled his eyes and River continued.

“Experimented on me,” She kept her voice steady with an effort. “Operated on my brain, stripped my amygdale so I had no choice but to experience everything…turned me into a Reader. Then, training, for combat, infiltration, and implanted triggers, programming, made me an assassin.”

Gǒu niáng yǎng de,” Floyd shook his head. “Miracle you ain’t crazy.”

“Oh I was, I’m sure some would say I still am,” River nearly laughed. “My brother broke me out, sacrificed everything to do it, his entire fortune, career…and went on the run. That’s how I met Mal. Simon smuggled me aboard his ship in cryo and I was discovered halfway to Boros.”

“What happened then?” Digger asked, caught up in the story of it, forgetting, or not caring, that she’d lived through it.

“We were hunted, by the Feds, Purplebellies, by mercs, and finally a Parliament Operative… Lots of things happened, but primarily, I got better…” River shrugged. “The information in the Miranda wave, I’d Read it out of the minds of Parliament when some of them came to see me ‘perform’ using my psychic abilities. Reading Tarot cards for them. That’s part of what made me crazy. When we finally figured that out I got a lot more sane. And Mal was determined that the rest of the ‘verse should know what they’d done. So they couldn’t do it again.”

“Try to make people better,” Riddick’s voice sounded to their right, startling everyone in the group but Waylon and River. “What they did to River, only on a bigger scale.”

“That’s why Reynolds said you’re more like me,” Floyd realized. “Everything you do, you learned, your natural abilities, balance and genius… that’s yours, like math is mine. Shooting is a skill.”

“Exactly,” River nodded. Thankfully, while the Purplebellies around them were appalled, horrified and sickened by what she’d said, they didn’t seem to be denying it. The Miranda Wave had more effect than Mal realized. Alliance citizens didn’t automatically believe what their government told them anymore. At least something was going right.

“Bein’ a Reader…that make shooting easier or harder,” A professional question, curiosity about her skill… Lawton’s inquisitive nature rearing its head.

“Both,” River gave him an honest reply and elaborated after a moment. “I can shoot with my eyes closed, never miss, but it means I hear them die since I can’t stop hearing anything. Truly a double-edged sword.”

Wǒ cào,” Floyd shook his head. “Day to day…must make it tiān shā de hard to function.”

She sighed, “Can be difficult. Easier in the Black than dirtside. Very noisy, lots of thoughts, emotions…” River half smiled, “Determined ways to regain equilibrium…but not for the faint of heart.”

“Yeah?” Chato tilted his head, his expression concerned and thoughtful. “So what helps?”

“She needs an anchor sometimes,” Riddick answered while she mentally debated what to say.

“Anchor,” Waylon’s rumble asked.

“Yeah, something for her to latch onto, another mind, helps her get her mental feet under her,” Riddick explained as if she didn’t need to do something highly freakish. “Effects people differently though.”

“That meditatin’…” Digger had a moment of clarity. “’Cause a alla us an’ folk ya didn’ know?”

“Yes,” River nodded doing her best to keep her dignity. “Spent much time alone in the Black with my partner, difficult to go so abruptly from simplicity to complex.” She paused considering how that sounded, “Perhaps more accurately phrased as difficult adjusting from a singular mind to multiple.”

“So how’s it effect people?” Floyd wondered, “You knock ‘em out or something?”

“Nothing so dramatic,” She grinned. “It won’t work with everyone. It has to be someone at least sympathetic, but whose mind works differently from mine. My brother, and Mal, have both acted as an anchor for me. They described the feeling as an itch they couldn’t scratch, it made them irritable.”

“The First Mate and gun hand, apparently they near broke out in fist fights when they gave it a try,” Riddick chuckled.

“An’ you?” Digger’s inherent nosiness abounded. “How’s it feel ta you?”

She could feel Riddick’s grin as he answered simply, “Feels good. Doesn’t bother me at all.” Truth, one of the most welcome truths she’d heard since escaping the Academy and regaining her sanity, rang in his voice.

“Can ya try it with me?” Waylon asked, his rumble curious. “Me an’ Riddick, both got the animal in us…”

“You’re thinkin’ you could be a good backup if Riddick’s busy,” Chato glanced at Waylon over his shoulder.

Riddick’s growl, quiet fury and possession, must have hinted to Killer Croc just what the Furyan had meant by ‘good’ and Waylon hurried to speak, “Ain’t tryin’ to horn in.”

“Riddick,” River murmured. “It’s a good thought. I doubt it would feel exactly the same to him. No two minds are exactly alike. You’re Furyan, Spirit Warrior, remember?”

“Think that’s part of what makes it work so well?” Silver eyes gleamed as they met hers through the darkness and she nodded. A deep sigh, resignation and he nodded once, sharply, “Give it a try then if you want. Fuck knows you could use some backup, ‘sides Mal.”

“If you begin to feel odd, please… say something, if I can’t tell, I don’t wish you to be disturbed by this,” River turned and looked at Waylon in concern. She stopped and the group halted around her, Waylon coming a bit closer.

“You got it Shorty,” He gave her a grin full of sharp teeth and amusement and she extended her hand. He did the same, allowing her to wrap her small hand around three of his huge scaled fingers with their sharp claws. The link to his mind, anchoring herself to him, sent his body stiff at first at the unexpected sensation.

“KC, you able to talk,” Floyd asked as Riddick stood behind River in support, his hand at the base of her spine.

“Yeah… huh,” Waylon sounded completely normal and River opened eyes she hadn’t realized she’d closed. He stared down at her, his eyes shining faintly, similar to Riddick’s in the way a candle was similar to the sun. “Weird.”

“Discomfort?” River blinked as his mind enveloped hers, a warm pool where crocodiles swam, and she could simply float in the sun on the water in their midst.

“Naw… warm, like the sun, feels nice,” He shrugged. His reaction didn’t compare to Riddick’s in any way but his comfort. “Kinda makes me wanna just…y’know… lie back an’ chill.”

River half smiled as Riddick relaxed, Waylon’s reaction nothing like what he’d apparently expected. “Easy on her mind,” She said quietly. “Similar, but not the same.” She let go of his hand and smiled up at him. “Thank you.”

The grin she got was surprisingly boyish in his scaly face, “Anytime Shorty.”

Harley made a face, pouting winsomely, “Thought I was Shorty?”

Waylon slanted a sharp- toothed grin at her, “Nah, you’re Crazy.”

River almost giggled, “Usually my name. Loony, Moonbrain, Crazy.” And Harley sent her a wicked grin before wandering around the group again, bat at the ready for trouble.

“Try me next,” Floyd suggested. “So far, you got two metas and it works good with them. You an’ me, we got similar skills, maybe that’ll help?”

“Can try,” River considered. “Jayne and Zoë … did not react well.”

Riddick added, “She told me, it was like their fight or flight responses got screwed with.” That seemed to give Lawton some pause but he nodded and held out his hand anyway.

“Try it. Let go if I react bad. Then, if homeboy agrees, try Chato… maybe you anchor better to people who got a little somethin’ extra,” The assassin shrugged. “Least then we know. You got other folks can help you out and not go crazy.”

“Will try,” River pressed her fingers to the tips of his and linked their minds, seeking a way to anchor hers to Lawton’s and gasping as his mind swirled around hers. “No,” She jerked her hand back as he swayed, and Waylon put his big hands on the tall man’s shoulders to steady him. “Think too much alike,” She apologized.

“Yeah…” Floyd sounded a bit dazed. “Damn that was… like every memory or thought I had talking simultaneously…” He blinked and visibly steadied himself. “Well it was worth a shot,” He grinned, regaining his usual sense of dark humor. “So to speak.”

Waylon barked a laugh behind him and looked over at Chato, “Gonna give it a try? See if you can help Shorty?”

Chato looked worried but he always seemed worried, “Yeah…but if I hurt you…”

River regarded him with some exasperation, “Invading your mind, using you as an anchor to keep my brain in one piece and you think you will hurt me?” She could feel Riddick’s amusement at how she addressed one of the most dangerous metas in the ‘Verse.

“Yeah?” El Diablo was a very caring man, for all that his street name meant ‘The Devil’ in Spanish.

“What’s the hold up,” Flag had noticed that they had stopped. Finally.

“Makin’ sure she’s good to go,” Waylon growled at the man. “Girl’s gotta listen ta alla this…” He waved at the city and everything around them. “Hurts my ears.”

“River,” Mal had made his way back to them and regarded her with genuine concern. “Lil Albatross?”

“Waylon is able to anchor me, if Riddick is not available, no discomfort for either of them,” River told him. “We were about to see if Chato would be able to do so when Flag interrupted.”

“I am all for whatever you need to keep functioning on an even keel,” Mal nodded and took Flag’s arm, nodding politely at GQ and Leila before tugging the colonel away.

“He will explain the hazards of being a Reader and the need for mental equilibrium,” River murmured as Harley joined them.

“Don’t think my brain’d be much help to ya,” Harley kissed her cheek affectionately.

“Chato?” River nodded at his hand and he extended it, his nerves evident in the minute trembling of his fingers.

River smiled and pressed her palm to his, “Deep breaths.” She advised quietly. Linking her mind with his… Deep breaths, heat, enveloping, consuming, dancing across burning coals, sparks of light, unbelievable power…and welcome.

“Whoa…” Chato stared down at her in awe.

“What do you feel,” Riddick nearly growled the question. River would have rolled her eyes if she’d been able, the man didn’t quite understand that his reaction to her was completely unique.

“Peace,” Chato’s awed voice replied. “Like…my madre is holding me again. And purpose. Like all the rage that feeds the fire is tamed, aimed in the right direction so the flames don’t rise.”

River smiled and took her palm away from his, “Thank you.” She nodded in an abbreviated bow to all three of the men who’d tried to help her.

“Don’ wanna try it with me then?” Digger didn’t seem exactly eager for her to try though, contrarily, also displeased that he’d been ignored through the process.

“Probably too much alike the gunhand we met,” Floyd shook his head “Like I’m a little too much like her. We don’t have the time for you to go nuts.”

“Very true,” River nodded. Even if it wasn’t close to the truth she’d rather have lied than even brush against Harness’s mind.

Even if she’d had the inclination to discuss it further, Flag’s demand as he shrugged free of Mal’s grip prevented it, “Enough messing around. Let’s move out.”