Cold Like Ice
Note: Thanks to Mono for the idea--I'm not sure if this is what you had in mind or not, but my muses kind of took over . . .
They were still a tier away from her quarters when her legs gave way. She fell towards the hard floor of the corridor, but Crichton, his arms still wrapped around her, kept the fall from hurting. She did not know whether to be grateful for that or not. At least physical pain was something she understood.
"Chiana," he whispered.
She always did like the way he said her name. Like at that moment, she was the only thing that mattered. Just from the sound of it, she was able to know that he actually cared, that she meant something to someone, and she was able to believe that he could make anything right. But she barely heard him call to her now, with Nerri's voice echoing in her mind, and the screams she had imagined when she had ripped the life disk from beneath her skin sounding underneath. No, there was nothing Crichton could do to fix this.
He pulled her up against him, and she let her head fall back against his shoulder. She closed her eyes, feeling tremors run through her, the fall-out of the control collar that had been locked around her neck.
Nerri was alive. Something, in the back of her mind, whispered that she shouldn't be so upset.
But he had let her think he was dead. And she had wanted to be dead too, just to be with him. If Crichton hadn't shown up on that planet, she might have died only to find Nerri wasn't there.
He wouldn't let her be with him here, either. Kept her away to keep her safe. If he only knew--knew the things she had done, the people she had met. The people she had killed. She had infiltrated a Peacekeeper Gammak base and lived to tell the tale. She doubted whether even Nerri, so talented and so sure, could have done that.
She could be a help to him, she knew. They were her people too. It was her fight too. She had other fights, though, and with a realization that sent her grasping urgently for Crichton's arm, she knew she had to keep away from Nerri.
Keep away to keep him safe, because there were people chasing her too.
She would never see him again. The thought entered her mind and wouldn't go away. Nerri had said they would, had promised, but she knew better. He would get himself killed, or she would, or they would avoid each other for the rest of their lives in a vain attempt to protect the other--there was no going back to the way it had been. When all they had to worry about was each other, and they could go planet to planet looking for something to keep them alive.
She thought back to that holo-image Varla had shown her. Nerri, armed and running--determined and cool. He was so different, so far from the brother she remembered. She didn't want to know what he would think if he could see her.
Crichton had taken her hands in his, trying to still their shaking she assumed. It wasn't working, but the part of her mind that acknowledged it appreciated the effort.
"We need to get you out of this corridor," he whispered, but she didn't even try to get up. All the things weighing on her mind made it too hard to move.
Nerri was alive. He was alive, but she couldn't help him. She had never been able to help him.
"You're cold as ice, Pip . . ."
Cold as ice. She'd have to remember that one. Varla's eyes had been cold as ice. The collar had been too, she had felt the cold seep through her skin as it had been fastened around her neck.
"Talk to me, Chiana. Come on, say something please--"
She wanted to--wanted to say something to take the worry in his voice away, but she didn't. Words wouldn't come and she didn't want to force them because that wouldn't be real, and they would be empty. Words could so often be empty. Nerri had promised they would see each other again with words. Then he had made her think he was dead. Now he was alive again, but he wouldn't let her come.
Crichton hadn't been there for her then, when she had thought Nerri was dead. He regretted it even more than she did, though, and he had been there ever since. She could always count on him. But this time his voice wasn't scaring the others away.
In her head, Varla kept whispering about the greater good. And so did Nerri.
She never used to be so caught up in such things. She had only ever wanted to be happy. She had never managed it. Fun she'd had plenty of, but she'd never been happy. Pleasure was fleeting and would fade once she was left alone.
She loved to hear stories of Crichton's childhood, so unlike her own. He had been happy. But now he was like her, and neither of them could find what they were looking for. Sometimes it helped to be unhappy with him--what was his saying? Misery loves company. That was it. That was her--she was falling apart, but at least she wasn't alone.
She could feel his heartbeat at her back and it held her together. His breath was on her neck as he rubbed at her hands, trying to take away the cold eating away at her, and that helped too.
He was always protecting her--she had never understood why. At first she had been convinced he had wanted something from her--she had been so sure she knew what. But when she had shown up in his quarters her first night on Moya, lying on his bed and smiling as he entered, he had only raised an eyebrow and asked if it was past her bedtime. Then he had grabbed her hand and led her to the hall, wishing her sweet dreams before smiling and closing the door.
He hadn't wanted anything from her.
He could have whatever he wanted, she'd give it to him without a thought--but he never asked. He just held her when she was falling apart, and then went away again when she was able to stand on her own.
"Okay," he whispered. "So you don't want to talk. We don't have to talk. Later maybe, huh? Or not."
Or not. She loved he always gave her a choice, she never felt cornered when she was with him. Varla had made her feel nothing but cornered--with Varla, she knew exactly what was wanted from her. Her independence. Her everything.
"Does singing count as talking? Because I've been meaning to teach you 100 Bottles of Beer. Great song for sitting in the middle of a hallway."
She almost smiled, but only almost.
"No singing? Alright. Fine--I guess that means no rhyming games either. But you don't know what you're missing."
His hands felt so warm holding hers, and she let it take her over. She tried to let it melt away the cold, and let his voice take away the rest. But it wasn't working.
She heard him sigh behind her, rest his head on hers. "I won't say it will all be alright," he whispered. And that was why she loved him--he never lied to her.
People that had been mind-cleansed did nothing but lie. Not like she lied, not to get something they wanted--they lied to themselves as well as to everyone else. They lived in a world that was perfect, but so much worse than hers.
When she had seen Aeryn and Rygel with that look in their eyes she was surprised she had not recognized on first sight, it had been terrifying. She knew she would be forced to watch as one by one her friends were taken. Only when John had slipped up behind her, whispering things the drugs shouldn't have let him say and then hitting her to prove he was still himself, had she allowed herself to hope.
He had helped her--saved her again. His plan hadn't worked, of course, but that was to be expected and they still came out on top. They always did. But there was always a price.
The memory of her friends mind-cleansed and tranquil would not be quick to fade, and visions of where Nerri might be and what he might be facing would haunt her as well. Selfishly, she knew the worst nightmares would be the ones where she was taken to Nebari Prime, forced to silence by a steel circular band as everything that mattered about her was stripped away.
She wondered, briefly, where the others were now. They might still be locked up, with Rygel smirking at them from the other side of the bars--but she could not bring herself to care. Their serene smiles were still too near in her mind, sending shivers that wouldn't stop along her spine. John pulled her closer, but this time he said nothing.
He understood, as she did, there was nothing else to be said. Words of comfort were no help to people like them.