Drown With Me
Note to ixchup: I actually started this with the ideas you commented about for Slide in mind, but it ended up going in a completely different direction -- and not even taking place in that little series. I am planning another little story based on your comments to take place after Slide, though, and as always, you've been a great inspiration.
Rating: R for drug use, and non-graphic descriptions of rape -- both of Chiana at the casino, and Crichton on Arneesk.
Setting: Probably sometime after I Shrink Therefore I Am, but I'm still not quite sure.
She had held him those first three nights. She had tried to still the trembling as shadows closed in around them, but she had known she could do nothing. That small ship had felt so huge to them both, and with the black in both directions they had not known where the ship stopped and space began -- even the stars outside the window in front were blocked from view as D'Argo slept in the chair in front of them, his silhouette hiding all but the faintest glow.
Chiana had known the seeming expanse of the ship was an illusion made by the dark, and there were more people in the two person ship than there should have been -- the air was stale and muggy, and an acrid smell had emanated from the back, where they had forced Noranti and Rygel. Heat seemed to spread around them but Crichton never noticed. He didn't stop shivering even when it reached the point that she could barely breathe.
It didn't matter how hot it got, she never moved away and she never let him go. She never let him pull away. She wasn't sure if it had helped or not, but she remembered well when she had been where he was, trembling on the cold transport floor, her own voice screaming in her ears, muted only by Rygel's oblivious snores. She remembered how she had desperately wished to feel the touch of someone that cared. Just so she could prove to herself there were still people who did.
If she was honest with herself, that was the real reason she had convinced Rygel to track Crichton down. Though that sick fear within her that he might have already been captured drove her to him just as surely.
When she had reached him, seen him looking even worse off than her, she had suppressed the need to get comfort from him. She had pretended that all the shadows on that dying ship weren't really turning into monsters in the corner of her eye. But even in the midst of their latest crisis, Crichton had cornered her and made her tell him the truth.
She had told him the same thing she had told Rygel. The same thing she had told herself. Nothing new, she had said. But Crichton saw through it just like she did.
He had a nightmare that night, and when he woke up screaming her name she wondered if that was the first time on that dying Leviathan that it hadn't been Aeryn's instead. And she felt secretly pleased and guilty all at once, because he cared that much, but she knew he saw this as yet another thing on a long of list of things he could use as blame against himself. This time, though, it really hadn't been his fault. She had been running a scam, and she'd been caught -- for once, she had not been able to cry, scream, or kick her way out of it. It was inevitable, really. At least, that was another one of those things she told herself.
Crichton helped her with her nightmares too. They were both good at it by now. When Aeryn had been on Talyn with the other, and D'Argo seemed to want more to do with the princess than her, they had only each other for things like sleepless nights.
Chiana closed her eyes and pressed one of her hands against Moya's warm corridor to keep on her feet. It felt like Crichton was all she had now, too, and she wondered if he felt the same. She wished the universe would leave him alone, but bad things just kept happening, never giving them space to breathe, and Aeryn had shown up again before the nail marks on his back had even healed over.
Nail marks. Fingernail trails burned into his flesh like whip marks. She had never needed to ask what they were from, and she knew better than to mention them at all. It was just another secret they would keep for each other, like the fact that neither of them were as over what had happened to them as they would like to think.
Chiana paused as she reached the doorway she had been searching for. Crichton was wearing that black leather suit that seemed to fit him too well -- collapsed on his bed with his feet hanging to the ground. She knew he wasn't asleep. He never slept anymore.
She knew, because she didn't either.
She entered quietly and moved over to him. He didn't move, but he was too vigilant these days to not have heard her enter the room. She let the door slip closed behind her, and unhooked the curtain, so it fell tumbling across the openings in the door -- an illusion of privacy she had clung to more than once. He still didn't move, but if he had not wanted her there he would have told her to go away, so she doesn't leave.
She walked to the bed and sat down beside him, not speaking a word. He would talk first. Crichton had trouble staying silent for long, even if he was getting better at it.
She can hear him sigh, but he still doesn't speak. The silence is as comforting as any of the words they might fill it with so she doesn't mind. Sometimes she just came to him because he was the only one that knew what she was going through, and she was the only one that knew the same about him -- sometimes that alone was enough to help. Sometimes it made it worse.
"Aren't you going to say anything?" Crichton finally asked, and she smiled. The silence was apparently not as comforting for him.
"What would you like me to say?" she asked as he pulled himself up beside her.
There are shadows beneath his eyes when she turns to look at him, grays and blacks coloring the skin. Having Scorpius here was killing him, but there was nothing he could do. Aeryn was the only one that could break the promise, she knew he never would -- but then Aeryn wouldn't either. She thought the ex-Peacekeeper had picked a fine time to have this kind of unshakeable honor. They had all betrayed Scorpius once before with no regrets. They had flown away and left him with the pieces of his command carrier and it had been victory, if bittersweet.
Chiana would never have made such a bargain, but she wasn't carrying another life in her hands, either. She thought that maybe if Aeryn wasn't pregnant she would never have made this deal, made John make a promise she had to have known would tear him apart at the seams. But Aeryn was, and honor or some other frelled reason had her backing Scorpius when she should have been backing John, and there was nothing to be done about it now.
All Chiana could do was watch his back, and be prepared to break his promise for him if it came to that.
"Where is everyone else?" he asked quietly.
Chiana didn't meet his eyes. He meant where's Aeryn. Or where's Scorpius. She couldn't be sure which. "I don't know," she responded. She had not particularly cared. Aeryn's life was interesting, sure, but when it came to choosing sides she was on John's every time, and things with D'Argo were still tense -- not the same. He was still hurt, and he was still angry, and she was falling apart but wouldn't tell him why. She would never tell him why. Just like Crichton would never tell Aeryn.
They had always told them both everything before, but things were not the same now. She had betrayed D'Argo and Aeryn had betrayed him, and they could pretend things were better but they weren't.
Crichton got to his feet and crossed the room. He pulled Winona off a counter and placed it in the holster that he always seemed to be wearing -- and it was almost never empty.
He turned to her and gave one of his smiles, genuine, though still haunted around the edges. Just like his eyes. "Come away with me?" he asked, his tone was exaggerated and very gallant as he held out a hand to help her up, and she felt an answering grin break out on her face.
She grasped his hand and he pulled her to her feet. She moved right in front of him, tilting her head slyly up towards his. "Do you have to ask?"
He laughed and didn't let go of her hand, and they quickly pulled the curtain back and slipped through the doors.
"Where are we going?" Chiana asked as John tugged her along behind him.
"We found a commerce planet," he said. "Didn't anyone tell you?"
She glared at him. No one ever told her anything. "No."
He laughed again at her sullen tone, but she knew that he was forcing himself to be happy. The sadness in his eyes had not gone away. "You need to hang out more in command."
"What's the planet?" she demanded.
"I don't know." He shrugged. "Your run of the mill, welcoming, Tormented Space all stop shop, I suppose."
Only half of that made any sense, but she was able to piece enough of it together. "Sounds drad."
"D'Argo asked me to go down with him, and though I hadn't been planning on it -- I've decided I just can't stay here."
Chiana knew what he meant. He hadn't wanted to leave, because he didn't like Scorpius being here, walking freely. But that was why he wanted to leave, too.
"Yo, D," he shouted into the com. "Change of plans, Chi and I are going to take care of it. We need food right? Want some crackers?"
They could clearly hear the resulting sigh of exasperation. "Are you sure? I could come--"
"We're big kids now," John said, and he was the one exasperated now. "I think we can handle it. We did the last run alright."
"You got yourselves both trapped in a frelling game!" D'Argo snapped.
John winced and pulled to a stop. "That doesn't count. That was on the way home. There wasn't any trouble on the planet."
Chiana nodded her head in firm agreement. "That's right."
With a roll of his eyes, John started pulling her along again. "Just hold down the fort, and keep an eye on Nosferatu. We'll be home in time for dinner."
"You had better be," D'Argo grumbled, before his com shut off.
They entered the docking bay, and Chiana could hear Crichton's boots echoing as they hit the ground. She knew he could be as silent as her if he wanted to, but he didn't seem to like to take the effort. She grinned as she followed him to the transport. She loved going on these trips with Crichton. He was the only one that didn't watch her all the time like she was going to do something wrong, when he watched her it was only because he worried she would be hurt. And that she didn't mind, because it was kind of nice to have someone worry.
Her smile slipped away as she stepped inside and Crichton headed in front to begin the checks. She had wondered, when she had been in that place that she had never thought she'd leave alive, if anyone would ever care what had happened to her. She had wondered if any of them would even come looking -- or if they would simply think she had finally run out of luck. She had thought John might come for her, but then she had remembered that they had all left him for their own agendas in this universe that wasn't even his, and she wondered why he would ever come looking for her.
She knew now that he would. If something happened again, it was a comfort that she had someone that would look. She would look for him too, she would look for any of them -- but she wasn't sure whether D'Argo would look for her or think she would deserve whatever she got, and Aeryn seemed to view her more often than not as a waste of time.
"Now who's zoning?"
Crichton's voice brought her back and she sat down in the chair next to his, smiling wryly as he powered up the engines. She felt the small shudder as the ship began to lift. He had become a good pilot, everyone always called him inferior, but when she reminded herself he came from a place that had none of this -- it was staggering to take in all he had learned.
"Hmm?" she asked absently.
He didn't look at her as he asked, so she knew he already had the answer. It was the same one she would get if she asked him.
"I'm fine," she said finally, though she knew there was no point in the lie. He would see through it, but it still protected them both. From the truth, from reality -- from something they weren't ready to face. Pretending to be fine was their last defense, and neither of them was willing to surrender it. So he simply nodded and began flying towards the planet.
Silence again and this time there was no comfort. Chiana wrapped her arms around herself as a chill ran through the ship. Her fingers dug into her arms, and she kept her eyes focused on the window in front of them, on the small brown planet growing closer. Sometimes she wanted to ask him, if he ever heard himself screaming in the back of his mind, but she thought the question might scare him if he never did -- and she wasn't sure she wanted to know, anyway.
She had always been a survivor -- and she had done many things she would like to forget. She had allowed men to frell her for less than her life, but this time was different -- and she could have submitted, she could have smiled and told them to take what they wanted. Or maybe she couldn't have, she wasn't sure anymore, but she had changed. And she had fought.
It wasn't enough, but even if she had felt like she could have done more to stop it before, she didn't now. It had happened to John too, and he was the strongest person she knew. She had fought the bastards until they had given up and decided to torture her for the rest of the night instead, and when they were done they had almost as many bruises as her.
It didn't bring as much comfort as she would have liked, but she clung to it anyway. It was all she had.
Clouds spun around them as they fell through the atmosphere, and Chiana watched the ground grow closer. They were falling fast, and for a moment she imagined that they didn't stop, that they kept falling forever until they began to forget where they had come from and who they were.
The transport landed solidly on firm ground and the fantasy slipped away. She looked up to see John watching her. He was worrying again, but he didn't say anything, because he had no room to judge her holding in her secrets. He had his.
He gave a small, barely audible sigh, before rising to his feet. She followed him from the transport, onto a small paved path. Towers and buildings held up the sky in front of them, but most were rundown and crumbling. Almost everything in this area of space was.
Crichton had secured only a small pouch of currency tiles to his belt, but she was sure it would be enough. Tiles would be priceless to the people here, because they were real and currency for anyone -- not like currency pledges, which were usually only redeemable in Peacekeeper controlled space. He stepped over to haggle with a merchant for food cubes, and she slipped away into the crowd.
She carried a weapon now, a small white pistol, and she could take care of herself. Crichton was another matter entirely, even considering Winona, and she made sure not to get too far away -- in case he should get himself involved in a fire fight, or in the middle of their planetary politics. It wouldn't be the first time, and she never took any illusion of safety for granted anymore.
She was just about to wander back over to see how Crichton was doing when she saw what she was looking for. With a grin, she dug a couple of her own tiles from her pants and stepped up to the booth.
John watched Chiana slip away and fought not to call her back. He knew she could handle herself, but he also knew sometimes things came along that no one could handle -- even the junior miss tough chick of the universe. Chiana had never given him details about what had happened to her, and though part of him was grateful not to know, his imagination just filled in all the blanks. He remembered holding her on Elack, when she had finally stopped flinching from his touch, wondering what she could possibly be going through. Wondering what he could to do to help.
And he had still been trying to figure it out when it had happened to him.
Gold tiles fell from his hand into the palm of the smiling merchant, and workers began hauling a couple of boxes of food cubes towards the transport. He led the way, felt their eyes on his back as he stepped up to the transport and opened the door, stood aside to let them enter and tried to clear his mind.
Grayza started whispering in his head, and he could hear himself tell her to take whatever she wanted. He leaned back against the transport, and he was still there even after all the people he had hired had set up the boxes and left.
He would never compare what they had gone through, because he knew for Chiana it had to have been worse -- and at least he had had the advantage of thinking it was what he wanted at the time. He winced. Maybe you couldn't call it an advantage. He just wished that when the drug had faded away along with his desire it had taken the memories with it. It seemed to only make them clearer, because he could remember everything like he was still there.
But it was still better than what she had been through -- the worst injury he had received were the deep red marks on his back, and though she had never listed the injuries he knew Chiana had suffered worse.
He reached for the other pouch at his belt, and pulled out some laaka. He raised it and used it quickly, watching with relief as everything he wanted to forget faded away for awhile at least. Sometimes he thought he should offer some of the drug to Chiana, to give her some peace for awhile, but he's not so sure he would be doing her a favor so he never does.
But he knew she wasn't coping well, and he could hardly blame her. Maybe D'Argo could have helped if they had still been together, or maybe Jool could have if she had still been around -- but he wasn't qualified for this. Or maybe he was, but that only made it harder. He couldn't sort through his own thoughts enough to be of any help to her.
He searched the crowd for any sign of Chiana, but she could disappear when she wanted to, and he saw no flashes of grey. Black and pale skin caught his eye and he froze, for a moment sure Grayza had found him, but when he met the eyes of the woman he saw she wasn't even Sebacean, there were scales scattered down from her neck and the eyes were gold and blue. He let out a breath and pulled his hand from where it had hovered over Winona to run through his hair.
And he could feel phantom blades sliding across his skin, cold stone at his back, warm breath on his neck and that sickly sweet smell of her, nearly choking him even as he told himself it wasn't real. He shuddered, but not violently, he was learning to control it too much for that. The laaka wasn't doing as good a job as it had been. He could keep out most memories but thoughts of Grayza still slipped back, and so did thoughts of Aeryn.
Not that they could be really compared, but he still wasn't sure which memories hurt the most.
There were times he wanted to just forget everything that had happened, forget that there had been two of him and the baby she was carrying might not be his, and just go to her. Let her take away all the pain. But every time they were together one of them just got hurt, and Scorpius was watching them like a vulture, slinking up behind them whenever any of them were trying to find a space alone. If Scorpius ever learned that his friends were his weak link, that Aeryn was his Achilles heel, there would be no hope for any of them.
He knew he wouldn't go to her. He had to forget about Aeryn, because even if he was willing to risk both of their lives again he didn't think he could risk his heart another time even for her. It broke too easily now and the pieces were getting smaller and harder to put back together -- he wasn't sure he would survive if she ever left him again. He was sure he wouldn't.
The cry had him instantly alert, Winona out of her holster and in his hands before Chiana even reached him. He frowned when he saw she was smiling, obviously not in trouble as he had first believed, and he let the pulse pistol drop back down in place. Chiana reached him and threw her arms around him, knocking them both into the side of the transport.
"You look so good in black," she whispered with a sly smile.
His frown still in place, he untangled her from around him, and kept hold of her hands. He looked in her eyes. The black irises seemed to be moving, swirling towards the middle like there were wormholes in her eyes. "What is wrong with you?" he asked.
She shrugged, her smile still in place. "Nothing, Crichton. I had some Nirkin, nothin' new." She laughed.
"Nirkin?" he demanded, before pulling her closer and watching the expressions change endlessly through her smile. "What? You're -- you're stoned?" he asked incredulously. And he had worried about giving her laaka.
"Stoned," she laughed. "I like that. Stoned. Hey, you want to get stoned, Crichton?"
He placed his hands on her cheeks and held her face towards him, watching her carefully. "Is this dangerous, Pip? You didn't do anything stupid, did you?"
"Don't overact, Crichton," she said. "It's harmless. Not like the mushrooms, now those were dangerous, and you didn't seem to have a problem with them."
He didn't like being reminded about the mushrooms. Even he could admit that was not one of his better moments. He liked to tell himself the laaka was different. "Harmless?" he demanded.
Chiana nodded. "They even say it's kind of healthy for you." She giggled and he rolled his eyes and pushed her into the transport.
He figured that the 'they' that said this was more than likely the same 'they' that used it. It was hardly reassuring. He pushed her down on one of the chairs and forced her to meet his eyes. "Stay here," he said. "I'm going to go check the cargo."
She gave him a sloppy salute, something else she had picked up from him. "Yes, sir!"
"D'Argo isn't going to like this," he sighed as he headed to the back.
He heard Chiana singing faintly behind him, and it sounded vaguely like a Luxan drinking song. Apparently he wasn't the only one that was a bad influence on her. He checked the boxes until he was sure he had everything he had ordered. Food cubes, food cubes, and more food cubes -- check, check, check. The crew was going to be ecstatic. He leaned up against one of the boxes as Chiana sung happily behind him, and closed his eyes.
What was happening to them? They were all falling apart, and they all had secrets. It wasn't like it had been at the beginning -- they had not gotten along as well, but at least they had all known the others' motivations. Nothing was clear now, and he couldn't figure out what half of them were after. Scorpius was one of the only ones that he exactly what was wanted from him, but his methods were still unknown and that was more than enough cause for worry.
He knew what Chiana wanted too -- to survive, to be happy, to forget. Same as him.
It seemed she had reached her goal for awhile, and he was almost envious. The laaka never quite did it for him.
He headed back towards the front and when he sat next to her Chiana leaned against him languidly. She was still singing faintly, wearing the small crooked grin she hardly ever used anymore. He gave a small fleeting grin of his own and took off into the sky.
Once they were back in space, and the stars could be seen clearly again he allowed himself to relax some. The transport headed on its own to the rendezvous with Moya. Chiana continued singing as she examined her hands, but her voice faded away as he became caught up in his own thoughts again -- her singing morphed to Grayza's whispers, and he placed a thumb to his lower lip and tried to think of anything else.
She kept asking if he liked it, and he kept believing he did until the roaring in his ears had calmed and he realized he should be fighting. The first time he was with her was the worst. At least when he had gone back it had been his choice, and maybe things had not changed that much, but he could tell himself he was the one that held the cards -- and while she was busy with him, her plans were crumbling around her.
He had almost killed her, but it wasn't compassion that had finally stilled his hands. Maybe it was the laaka that made him ambivalent to whether he thought she should live or not, or maybe the last strains of heppel oil had him convinced he still needed her alive, he wasn't sure. But just like Scorpius the strength to end it had fled him just when he was offered the perfect chance, and she was still out there, looking for him. He hoped if she ever found him again she would just kill him, or even put him in the aurora chair until his mind was so far gone he couldn't think anymore. Anything but the method she seemed to prefer, because he knew he would tell her everything she wanted to know.
"You're thinking about her again," Chiana said, quieter than she had been since she had shown up again. "Not Aeryn this time, I can tell when it's Aeryn. You're thinking of her."
John didn't turn towards her when he nodded vaguely. He could admit it to Chiana, she would understand why he still thought of Grayza and it wouldn't be seen as weakness by her.
"I think about them, too," she said. "And sometimes I think I would feel better if they were all dead."
He thought that about Grayza sometimes too, but he knew her death would change nothing. The past wasn't so easily rewritten.
Chiana sat up beside him, moving closer, and held out a small black orb. It seemed to be spinning just like her eyes. "This would help. It takes you somewhere else, Crichton -- farther than any transport could. Just let it dissolve on your tongue and carry you away with me."
John almost laughed and told her he's already on something but thank you anyway -- but he didn't. He can't tell her she's being irresponsible, either, because a solar flare would probably strike down from the vacuum and fry him on the spot for hypocrisy. He took the small black ball from her hand and spun it between his fingers. If it killed him he wasn't sure it would matter, and if it didn't, he'd have something else he had survived.
He tilted his head back and placed it on his tongue. And as it started to melt, the glow of the stars grew stronger.
TBC--probably with just one more part, depending on how my crazy muses decide to let it play out.