Title: Damned Spot

Author: Debby

Email: June, 2000

Category: Missing Scene: Die Me, Dichotomy

Summary: Ice, death, and tormented souls

Rating: PG

Disclaimer: No one in this story is mine. The crew, their universe, and all their sad little life stories belong to much more clever chaps than me. No money made, no infringement intended.

Notes: Many thanks to my betas, as always. This is dedicated to -- and blamed on -- the evil and sadistic souls who either got me to watch this show or provided me with episode copies that I might become as hopelessly addicted as they are. And also to whoever is responsible for the torture we euphemistically refer to as DMD. To paraphrase our favorite astronaut, I'll be billing you for the therapy.

Email me -- I'm a work in progress!

Damned Spot

"Out, damned spot; out, I say."
--Macbeth, Act 5 Scene 1--

The cold swirled around him.

Dark, murky ice water pushed and tugged at his clothing in a macabre dance. Like a living thing, it clawed at him, preventing him from reaching his goal. It was as if fate was determined that no one reach Aeryn Sun alive.

But D'Argo would not give in. Just as he had not given in for all the agonizing years his son was missing from him. He concentrated on his target instead, forcing all other concerns to fade into the background. It grew more difficult as he descended farther below the ice--the cold grew, the clouded water faded everything to a dark uniform grey, and the pressure on his body worsened. But he continued to press on, reduced largely to feeling around blindly.

And then she was there. Or at least, the very thing that had condemned her to a watery end. The egress chair, slowly sinking even as he grabbed at it. His grip slipped twice, hampered by the incessant cold and grime of the water and his own waning stamina. But the third attempt was good. He wrapped his left hand in the strap as well as he could and made for the light. His hand pressed tightly against her shoulder as he did so, but it was not the warm give of living flesh. It was the hard, unforgiving resistance of death.

And he knew.

As he broke the surface, gasping for air and hauling his prize behind him, he knew beyond a doubt. He knew as his friends lay across the ice, reaching out so many hands to pull Aeryn Sun from the water, that death had reached out its hand and snatched her from them today. It had tried so hard to claim them for two cycles now, and it had at long last found success. It had won. And all of them were the losers.

With the chair pulled from the lake, he floated half-draped on the ice and fumbled underwater for his knife. He threw it across the short space, where Stark caught it and deftly began sawing at the straps keeping Aeryn's body pinned down. Chiana and Jothee pulled D'Argo from the water. Chiana's beautiful face was marred by tears -- something he could only have dreamed to ever spare her again. He had been so wrong to even have the tiniest shred of hope to do so.

Lying on the frozen ground, he watched them pull Aeryn's body from the chair and roll her onto the ice. Zhaan's graceful hands moved up and down the body, punctuated by frantic yelling and unfocussed helpers. She was mumbling something about Sebacean body temperature and severe cold. But D'Argo ignored her. She would not be successful.

He knew.

From his vantage point on the ground, D'Argo found himself alone looking Aeryn in the face as she was jostled around, his view only occasionally blocked by the small vapor clouds of his own breathing. It looked like Aeryn. It smelled like Aeryn. But he could tell it was merely a body now. What it had housed -- her soul -- was gone already. He could see the difference so easily, even if the others couldn't. There had always been a fire to Aeryn Sun, unmistakable from the first moment he had known her. Whatever she did, whether by choice or by accident, she did with full force -- lacking nothing in conviction or execution. But that force was no longer there. It was not in this grey, beautiful, rigid block of ice. She had moved on to wherever she was to go next.

He sent up a prayer that she would be as triumphant there as she had been here.

"The doctor. We...we should take her to him." Chiana's voice cracked and stammered as she sat on her heels next to Zhaan, who was ignoring her. "He can help her, can't he? Can't he? I mean he said he's-- "

"Shut up, child." Zhaan laid her head down on Aeryn's chest, her face taking on that faraway look she held whenever she entered her spiritual realm. D'Argo knew she was looking for some sign that Aeryn was still inside waiting to be saved. But she would not find any.

"She's right. We should try." Stark was suddenly calm now, the essence of composure. D'Argo wanted to hit him. It was as though death was his sanctuary. "Greenschlick."

There was a short silence while Pilot routed the communication where it needed to go. Then Greenschlick's abrasive, gutteral voice intruded on them. "Yeah. Didja find your friend?"

"We have. We require the Diagnosian's help."

"Well, of course. Time-sensitive work costs a bundle, though, just so ya know," he added after a short pause, as though he had just thought of it. "And we get to keep the body if he can't repair it."

"No," Zhaan interrupted. "That is not acceptable."

"Don't matter to me. She's not my friend."

How dare he? D'Argo felt a low growl of rage leak out, but it wasn't even audible beyond the howling wind and frenzied attempts to find a miracle. How dare that pathetic little man desecrate a warrior's honor by trying to profit from her death? He was not even fit to breathe the same air as she. If he had been even remotely within reach, his neck would have been snapped.

Instead of responding, Zhaan looked up at D'Argo, an unspoken question in her eyes. He understood it completely. The currency they had left was for Crichton's surgery, to restore him to his right mind. But if they used that to try to save Aeryn, there might not be enough for both. They could be condemning John to a fate worse than death. Aeryn would not want that. And if, as D'Argo knew, it would be futile, what would be the point?

But would John want the money if they did not try to save Aeryn?

"Do it."

Zhaan closed her eyes and took a breath. "We will pay whatever is necessary."

Zhaan and Chiana lifted Aeryn, still dripping water as her head flopped suspended between them, and ran across the ice to the transport pod. Their run was awkward, artless. So unlike the three women involved, usually the epitome of that which was graceful and beautiful in women everywhere.

Stark started to follow them, then stopped and turned around. "D'Argo. What of Crichton?"

Crichton.

What of Crichton?

"I will find Crichton. Go with them. Call me as soon as you have any word."

D'Argo pushed himself off the ice and to his feet. His body was heavy and sluggish, but he suspected it wasn't from the cold water. He looked around the bleak landscape at this world. They had come here with so much hope. And only been robbed of something they had never dreamed was in jeopardy.

He spat on the whole frelling planet.

"Pilot! Where is Crichton's module?"

Pilot didn't respond at first. D'Argo opened his mouth to demand an answer when one finally came. Confused, stilted, as Chiana's voice had been. "It is on the ground, near your position. South-southeast beyond the edge of the frozen lake."

He looked south-southeast. It was obvious where the hidden lake ended and barren hills rose beyond it. And, just barely visible in the relentless blue-white, he thought he saw the trace of rising smoke and exhaust that bespoke Crichton's beloved human craft. He headed toward it, his concentration turned to keeping upright while trudging through the drifts of accumulated snow and ignoring his chilling body.

The only sound now was the crunching of his own boots. The comms, especially, were strangely silent now. Such a haunting difference from just a few microts ago, when they had been crowded with pleas for help and the cries of the damned. D'Argo wished for that moment back now, if only to replace the silence that had followed.

For stunned microts, everything had been still. A blanket of death had fallen over them all. No one had dared speak, except the man who had killed her.

"...god, what have I done?"

But as D'Argo had raced to the transport pod to try to retrieve Aeryn from her tomb--even knowing he was probably already too late--the yelling had begun. He had started it, actually.

"Crichton! Crichton! Land that thing NOW!"

"...ohmygod ohmygod ohmygod..."

But the mantra had only made D'Argo angrier. He could not deal with John's insanity at that moment. "Crichton, get your FRELLING ass on the ground!"

"...can't...D'Argo ...tried..."

Can't? That was when D'Argo had realized his mistake. The chip was still too much in control. Maybe John wasn't quite strong enough to break completely free. Maybe it wasn't quite strong enough to keep complete hold. Maybe it was just enjoying torturing him by letting him watch it kill her. In any case, it explained why the module was still circling uselessly in the air while Aeryn had plunged to her death. D'Argo wasn't speaking to his friend -- he was speaking to Aeryn Sun's murderer.

And he had nearly staggered to the floor under a sudden urge to tear his friend's beating heart from his body. The thought brought a hot, sickening pleasure, and he retreated from it. He was shamed by his own weakness -- it was not John's fault he had done what he had done. But the image of standing over Crichton's lifeless body -- and the metallic, bitter stench of the blood of the man who had, however involuntarily, done this to her -- remained at the very edge of his mind to torment him.

"Crichton!" A new voice had broken into D'Argo's gruesome thoughts. Crais. A seething, angry bellow unhampered by distance. "Crichton! I will finish the job Aeryn was unable to do! Do you hear me?"

D'Argo had reached the transport by then. Zhaan, Stark, Chiana, Rygel, and Jothee had skidded almost as one into the bay behind him, their silence now replaced by confused questions. He had no answers for them. He had tuned them out, trying to concentrate on his new problem. "Crais! Do not get involved."

"I am already involved. Talyn is descending into the atmosphere now. I swear to you, Crichton, that I will not hesitate to kill you! Of that I vow!"

D'Argo had followed the others inside the pod. If Crais didn't stop giving him trouble, he would gladly rip his head from his shoulders. He needed to kill something, and he needed to do it now. Since he couldn't kill the man who had attacked his friend. "Crais! I said-- "

"Crichton! I will hunt you down! I. Will. Kill. You!"

"...no, no, don't...no, no, don't land. No. No...stop. Let him...kill me..."

Pilot had interrupted the excruciating sound of John's whispered pleas. "The module is descending to land."

"...no, no..."

As the pod had lifted off, D'Argo had realized Crais was right. The thing holding John prisoner existed for two reasons, and two reasons only -- to find what Scorpius was after, and to keep John Crichton alive. It knew -- as John himself knew -- that Crais would complete with a passion what Aeryn had hesitated to do. It could only hide from blood vengeance so long. If it had succeeded in killing their friend, it had crossed a line that threatened its very existence -- because those who had tried so hard to keep their friend alive now had a reason to kill him. Fighting them would only make it worse. Surrender had become the only way to keep its prey alive.

And so it had surrendered. Mere microts too late.

Coming over the icy hill now, D'Argo could see the module sitting idly at the base of its southern side. As he descended awkwardly toward it, it was obvious John was not inside. The canopy lay blown a length away half-buried in the snow and uneven footprints led away from the craft.

The footprints were easy to follow in this uninhabited place. It was not far before he could see John's body, a black smudge of contrast with the eternal white around him. Always alien in any environment.

"Crichton!"

John was standing with his back to D'Argo, his arms straight out to his sides. He didn't respond to his name being called. D'Argo tried again, with the same result. He gave up, cursing as he pushed his way through the frelling snow.

"John."

As he got close enough, D'Argo became aware of the cliff in front of them. A vertical drop several stories deep that ended abruptly in a mass of rocks below. John stood a hand's-breadth from the edge, facing the valley spread out below them, his arms still held straight out horizontally. He hadn't made a move since D'Argo first saw him.

D'Argo came to stand at his side. "John, what are you doing?"

"Nothing." John continued to look ahead, his voice distant. Faint echoes carried on the wind. "Not a single freaking thing." His head rotated slowly to look over at D'Argo. They stared at each other across John's stiffly outstretched right arm. "He won't let me do it."

D'Argo looked down at the chasm below, a frigid wind riding up the cliff's edge to blow through his hair as he stood. John teetered on the very edge, so close and yet unable to complete the move. How long had he stood here? Long enough, at least, that his fingers and face were turning bright red in the cold.

"Come on. They've taken Aeryn to the doctor."

"No."

"John-- "

"NO!" John became a blur, rushing sideways to throw himself at D'Argo. Both fell back into the snow and rolled apart. John gasped for air, throwing himself at D'Argo again. He swung at D'Argo's head. "This is all your fault!"

D'Argo easily side-stepped his friend's attack now that he expected it. "It is not my fault!"

"It is!" John's feet slipped in the thick snow, dragging him to the ground again. Panting, he tried to pick himself up. "I asked you to kill me! No, I begged you to kill me. Begged, D'Argo! Did you think I was kidding?" He fumbled at the snow with shaking, reddened hands, wiping it off himself. And advanced on D'Argo again. "If you had killed me then, Aeryn would still be alive." He stabbed an accusatory finger at D'Argo. "Your fault!"

No. It hadn't been, had it? At the time, it had seemed the right choice. The situation had not been hopeless yet. D'Argo had convinced himself that he would do what John asked if it came time, but that it was not time yet. How many times, after all, had they faced 'desperate' and yet survived? But perhaps he had been so wrong, and Aeryn had just paid the price for his failing... "No! It is no one's fault but Scorpius'."

"Bullshit. It's mine." John heaved himself at D'Argo, who allowed himself to be pushed over into the snow. He rolled over immediately to pin his opponent to the ground with his weight. John stilled instantly, his will deflated. He turned away to look across the landscape toward the steaming module. "Why didn't you do it, D'Argo? Why didn't you kill me?"

Why hadn't he? It would be far from the first time he had had to finish someone off to help them. But for the first time in his life, when that moment had come, he had relented. Hesitated. Which was why he had tried to prevent Aeryn from doing the same thing. But he had only ended up failing them both twice.

He rolled off John, releasing him to climb awkwardly to his feet. "For the same reason Aeryn didn't."

"And look where it got her." John didn't attack again this time, instead moving back to his position on the edge. He raised his arms slowly and looked out over the drop again. His arms shook and his face turned red. But nothing happened. "I've been trying to do it, but he won't let me." He looked over at D'Argo, naked desperation in his eyes. "All I need is a little push."

D'Argo came closer to him, drawn by his friend's need. "I am not going to kill you, John."

"Yes!" John spun around again, shoving full-body into D'Argo's chest, pushing them both stumbling back. "Yes! You are. You're going to do it NOW!" He swung a second time at D'Argo's head, connecting with a solid thump.

D'Argo shook his head and fought the urge to reach for his weapon. "No!"

"Yes!" Another shove. "Coward!"

The word boiled in his blood. A haze of red flashed down over his eyes and his hand lashed out to grab the nearest thing. It was John's vest. He thrashed at being captured, but D'Argo pulled him up until his feet dangled off the ground. Holding on tightly, D'Argo forced down the screaming of his abused pride. "John, stop! Crichton!"

"No! Do it! Do it, you son of a bitch! DO IT!"

D'Argo clamped down hard on his own instinct to retaliate. John was baiting him. He was trying to drive D'Argo to do in a rage what John couldn't. But D'Argo would not give in. No matter how badly either of them may have wanted it. He grabbed hold of John with his other hand, hauling him by the collar up to eye level. John's eyes were vacant, glassed over as he hissed and cursed incoherently. Spittle flew from his mouth in his anger.

"Listen to me! Listen!" D'Argo shook his friend, rattling him until he stopped fighting. "I am not going to kill you. You are not going to kill yourself. You are going to go to that doctor and you are going to get help."

"I don't want it." He shoved at D'Argo's hold.

"I don't care."

"It's my life, dammit. Let me go."

But D'Argo didn't. He pulled him closer until he could feel John's warm, ragged breathing on his face. He captured John's attention, reducing the universe to just the two of them. "It is not your choice. Aeryn is dead because she would not give up on you. And you will NOT defile her death by taking your own life in an act of cowardice." And closer still, until they were chest-to-chest and nose-to-nose. " I. Will. Not. Allow. It. Do you understand me?"

He threw John down onto his feet again. John twitched and shuddered, pent-up rage and pain battling for supremacy. "I killed her, D'Argo!"

"And I killed Lo'lann by daring to love her!"

John looked sharply up at him then, his manic movements stopped as though a switch had been pulled. Only the wind blowing between them broke the silence. D'Argo pushed back the flood of memories her very name brought, trying to concentrate on the present.

John nodded toward the hill behind D'Argo, and the lake beyond it. "How can you possibly ask me to live with that?"

"I'm not. Aeryn is. She wanted you to survive, and so you simply will." He took a step closer. He had only one opportunity to make John understand why he had to walk the painful path. To make him comprehend in a few microts what it had taken cycles chained in a Peacekeeper cell for D'Argo to learn to live with. "You have no choice. Because when such a woman has the strength and courage to love us as we are, we are indebted to them for as long as we live, John."

John didn't respond. He stood motionless in the knee-deep snow, blinking and breathing and shivering. Tiny wisps of snow blew around them, kicked up by the wind to sail across the landscape. In the bright sunshine of this place, D'Argo was distracted by an image of Lo'lann standing across from him. Dragging her into this had brought up all the memories he carried. This was the strongest, the most cherished of them -- she was young and beautiful and vibrant and happy as she had been when he had first met her and fallen in love with her. Before all the dark things that had robbed her of that joy. He clung to it. This was the memory that had demanded he survive long enough to find her son again. This was the memory that still invaded his dreams at night. This was the memory that drove him to stand on a frozen planet and shake his friend until he understood what he, too, had to do.

"D'Argo?" Zhaan's voice penetrated the quiet, startling him.

At the sound of another voice, John turned away. Back toward the cliffside again.

"Was the Diagnosian successful?" D'Argo asked, already knowing the answer.

"No." The word was an exhalation, hopelessly inadequate to bear what it represented. Such a small word, but taking so much away from the universe. Not only a soldier with whom he had been proud to fight and die, but a woman who had grown far beyond the bounds imposed upon her. A woman much like the one he had loved. A being of honor and courage who could not ever be replaced. And one who had deserved so much more than she had ever been given. Mere words would never be adequate for someone like Aeryn Sun.

"...oh my god..." John was approaching the edge, his movements slow and methodical in contrast with the chaotic rampage just a few microts ago. D'Argo watched him, not sure what he should do. Had he gotten through? As much as he wanted to throw his friend over his shoulder and drag him back to the others, he knew he couldn't make that choice for him. John was the one who would have to live with the consequences, after all. D'Argo knew that intimately.

"D'Argo," Zhaan continued with a new sound of urgency, "you must return to the facility. Greenschlick wants to keep Aeryn's body. You must come help us."

Yes, he was certain now the detestable little thief would not survive it if D'Argo got his hands on him... "Very well. I'm coming now-- "

"No." John's voice was a whisper -- a shadow -- as it carried over the short distance between him and D'Argo. Standing on the edge again, his hands were outstretched widely, head thrown back staring at the unbroken sky. Tiny snowflakes fell onto his face. "No. She stays."

"John, it is not right-- "

"No, it is right." He straightened up and turned around, slowly and deliberately, away from the precipice. Taking four careful, measured steps, he ended up standing in front of D'Argo. And looked up into his eyes, forcing D'Argo to see the angry pain he would now forever carry -- a grief that D'Argo saw reflected every morning in the mirror. What had he done? What had he done in condemning this man to a life of such agony as he himself could barely endure even after so long? What had he done to this man he called friend?

"It is right. Aeryn honors her debts." John held up his hands, wrists together, between them. "And I must, too."

As D'Argo bound his closest friend's hands tightly in a sodden, ice-encrusted rope, he could find no words to comfort. He well knew that nothing said or done could ever diminish the wounds of a knife plunged into a man's soul.

"You know what?" John finally asked.

"What?" He tugged tighter on the cord.

John looked intently down at his hands, wiggling each finger as if seeing it for the first time. Then back up at D'Argo, a single tear snaking unnoticed down the side of his nose. "I don't even know what I said in the neural cluster. Something she thought of at that last moment -- and I can't even remember it."

Without waiting for a response, John turned and began walking slowly, stiffly back toward the module. As D'Argo watched him go, he swore he could hear the sound of the universe laughing.

The cold swirled around him.

--finis--

Like it? Hate it? Try my other fanfiction stories at my website archive. You can find my stories from Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis, The Sentinel, Farscape, Starsky & Hutch, and more!!