Written for the Sprog-A-Thon sponsored by Stars at the livejournal community SprogWars, in May 2005.
I haven't posted to since late 2003. This would be due to sprogs of my own, Alex in 2004 and Natalya a month ago. No, this story is not autobiographical, exactly, but reading all those baby care books sure came in handy for this ficathon. :-)
Little D was crying again. John rolled over and looked at Aeryn, who was lying in bed staring up at the ceiling. "Aren't you going to go get him?"
Aeryn didn't move. "He needs to learn independence."
"For chrissakes, Aeryn, he's two months old! He can't learn independence yet!"
"If I go and get him every time he cries, he will learn that this is a universe where crying resolves problems."
"If you don't go get him he's going to be hungry."
"He feeds all day long. I hardly think he'll starve to death in a few hours."
"Well, I can't stand listening to him." John dragged himself out of bed and looked back at Aeryn resentfully. "If I bring him here, will you feed him, or do I have to go heat up a bottle?"
"You shouldn't coddle him, John. This is a harsh universe. The sooner he learns that, the stronger he'll be."
"He is two months old, Aeryn."
"A two month old Peacekeeper child has already learned to eat at feeding times, and sleeps through the night."
"Yeah, well, D's half human. Anyway, I thought you didn't want to raise him as a Peacekeeper."
"I'd need an entire crèche for that. But that doesn't mean I want him growing up like you did."
"What's wrong with how I grew up?"
At that point D's howling intensified in pitch, as if he'd heard John and Aeryn's voices. "Hold that thought. I'm getting the baby."
Little D'Argo's nursery was in the inner chamber, guarded by metras of Moya's thick walls and inner patrols of DRDs on one side, his watchful parents and their weapons on the other. John stumbled to the door in the dark, and fumbled his way to the crib. "Shh, shh, little guy. It's okay. Daddy's here." He picked up the incredibly tiny bundle and nestled him against his shoulder, marveling again at how small D was. And how loud the voice coming out of that tiny body was. "It's okay, it's okay. Daddy's here. Daddy's gonna get you Mommy, and Mommy's gonna give you something nice to eat. Unless she's being a bitch, in which case Daddy's gonna have to heat you up some of the frozen stuff."
"I am not a female companion animal," Aeryn called from the other room. "I simply want my son to survive to adulthood. This isn't Earth, John."
"No, it's not. But we're not exactly outlaws running from the Insane Military Commander Du Cycle, either. I think D'Argo is not going to die of being spoiled rotten just because you bothered to feed him."
Aeryn sighed. "Give me the baby, John."
She opened the vest she slept in and lay back on the bed, nestling D against her breast and side in an arm hold that looked rather like he was a football she was carrying. D immediately found something more fun to do with his mouth than howl, and glomped onto Aeryn's nipple like he was starving, which he probably was. "When I met you, you had virtually no survival skills. It was largely luck that enabled you to survive long enough to learn how to function in this galaxy-"
"Oh, now that is unfair-"
"-and I don't want D'Argo growing up with the handicaps you had, because he is only a child and he will never survive."
John sat down on the bed next to her. "He's not going to grow up coddled and soft just because you pick him up and feed him at night, Aeryn! Yes, we have to raise him to be tough enough to handle what life will throw at him, but he also needs the security of knowing we'll protect him and that we love him. You don't have an entire crèche here, you can't raise him to be unquestioningly obedient to the Peacekeeper hierarchy because he isn't a Peacekeeper. You have to replace that with something, and what you're supposed to replace it with is love."
"I love him," Aeryn said indignantly.
"How's he supposed to know that when you let him cry hysterically all night?"
"I do not let him cry hysterically all night! I'm aware he doesn't sleep through the night yet, but he has a feeding time, and this is not it."
"And what would happen if a crisis came up before feeding time? Our lives are chaos. We can't live by some regimented routine, and the baby can't either."
"Babies need routine. As you pointed out, we're no longer being pursued by the Scarrans and the Peacekeepers. We can afford to try to give our child some stability."
"Yeah, but the stability he needs is knowing that someone will take care of him when he cries, not a schedule that's measured down to the microt."
Aeryn sighed. "I don't know what to do, John. I know I don't want to raise D'Argo as a Peacekeeper. I know I can't. But we cannot raise him the way you were raised, either."
"I turned out okay."
"You nearly died so many times I can't count them."
"Hey, I also saved all our asses just as many times." He clambered over the bed to look directly in Aeryn's eyes. "Listen. I told you once, there was a better way to live. You could be more. And you believed me, and that's why we're here now. You took my word for it then, why not now?"
"Because you aren't the same man you were then. You were sweet, John, and you had a great deal of charm even then, but you were a naïve optimist and you came from a sheltered life on a sheltered world. And the Uncharted Territories broke you. I saw it happen; I saw Crais and Scorpius and all the others chip away pieces of who you were, and the man that was left was stronger and harder and easier to respect, but it hurt to watch that happen to you. I don't want D'Argo to learn how harsh the universe is the way you did."
"You'd rather he grow up thinking the universe is a terrible and nasty place to begin with? How's that going to teach the boy survival skills? Who'd want to live if life is going to be that awful? He needs to have love, Aeryn; he needs to believe in it. It's how we survived."
"Love is not how I survived. Love almost destroyed me."
"Love can do that. I didn't do so well after you left, either. But if you don't have love, what do you have? We've already ruled out mindless belief in an organization, so what's D ever going to have but love?"
John back against the headboard, nestling against Aeryn and little D. He ran a light hand over a fuzzy baby head. "Look. Aside from everything else, the crying keeps me awake, and all wake and no sleep makes John a cranky boy. I want him to know he's safe. I want him to know we love him and we'll take care of him, whatever he needs. And I want to get some damn sleep, Aeryn. Is that so much to ask?"
"If you get up and bring him to me, I'll nurse him back to sleep if it's needed."
"But you won't get up and get him yourself."
"You're the one who doesn't want him to cry."
John sighed. "Fine. We'll compromise. I'll get up and get him when he cries. It's not like I could sleep through that anyway." He looked at Aeryn hard. "Of course, it didn't look to me like you were sleeping through it either."
"Of course I wasn't sleeping. I needed to monitor his crying to make sure he wasn't injured or in some greater distress than simply wanting attention."
"Then why couldn't you get up and get him?"
"Because you're the one who wants to coddle him."
"You know, sometimes I think you're back to Me Peacekeeper, You Tech, except now you think I'm a child care tech or something. This is your baby too, you know."
"Yes. I was there when he was born. It was difficult to miss the fact that he is my baby."
"Then why won't you take care of him?"
"I don't want to argue with you all night, John. Go back to sleep."
This was the tenth iteration of this particular argument, in one form or another, that they'd had since the baby was born. There wasn't any point in continuing the argument now. Nothing was going to get resolved, Aeryn was going to continue to act far too much like a Peacekeeper, and John wouldn't get any sleep, which was the main reason he was angry Aeryn couldn't be bothered to get up with the baby in the first place. He wondered again why he'd thought it was a good idea to have unprotected sex with an alien who barely comprehended the concept of love and was raised in a crèche, and why he loved Aeryn so much when she was such a cold bitch sometimes, and whether baby D would ever start sleeping through the night. But if he didn't let it go he'd be up all night, and it wasn't exactly like he could go back on any of those decisions now.
John laid back in the bed and rolled over, facing away from Aeryn and the baby. The baby's loud gulping noises as he nursed were oddly soothing. After staring into the dark for twenty minutes or so, he felt calm enough to make a conciliatory gesture, and he rolled back to face Aeryn, intending to talk with her about helpful strategies for making sure D grew up safe.
But Aeryn was asleep, lying on her side, with the baby next to her lying on his back, head nestled against her breast. Her arm was curled around his head, making a little shelter for him.
Wryly he smiled. How was he supposed to stay angry with that? It was going to be an uphill struggle to convince Aeryn that the way she was raised had been wrong- abusive, by his standards- but he couldn't doubt that she loved D too or that she wanted what was best for him. She just knew nothing about babies except what the Peacekeepers had done to her. He snuggled next to the two of them and let himself drift back to sleep.
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