A/N: This idea wouldn't leave me alone until it was written. I've not seen the show for quite a while, so I'm sorry for any inconsistencies. I blame this on the pure surrealism of hearing Claudia Black sing on Paul Goddard's CD. Yes.
Disclaimer: not mine. Don't sue. Kthxbye.
Summary: Of the moments and more importantly of the time spent in between. Stark's POV.
He has spent the morning with Zhaan, caring for her, easing the pain of the illness even as she acts as if she is letting him do it solely for his own benefit, as if his need to support her is a childish fancy to be indulged. She is sleeping now, or meditating. He doesn't know which, only knows the gentle yet insistent suggestion that he leave her alone.
Moya is in orbit over a commerce planet, one in a long line as they search for clues to the location of a planet that will cure Zhaan. Aeryn and Crichton have gone down to the surface to buy supplies, Rygel is hold up in his quarters doing the Goddess only knows what and D'Argo and chiana are busy avoiding each other. The corridors feel strangely empty as he walks with no destination in mind, trailing his hand along Moya's walls, the placid, gentle pulse of her consciousness just brushing his own.
He looks up upon entering the docking bay because Aeryn's Prowler and John's module are both there, and not, as he had thought, down on the planet. And Aeryn is there as well, standing beside her ship, a lumpy bag at her feet, her eyes unfocused, hands balled into fists.
He approaches hesitantly, unsure if he will be welcome, even still uncertain of his place within the strange little family that the crew has become. She straightens up upon his approach, Peacekeeper training, he is sure, allowing for nothing less than full alert at the arrival of another person.
"What do you want?" Her voice is harsh, her words clipped but now that he is nearer he can see the way her hands tremble the slightest bit, the way her eyes burn with frustration and something he cannot name.
"You and Crichton have not left yet." He knows it is a ridiculous statement of the glaringly obvious, but he also knows that asking her point blank what is wrong would result in absolutely nothing.
"No." She shifts her weight, kicking at the bag by her feet. "He won't be coming."
He waits in silence, knowing instinctively that Crichton's absence has something to do with her distress. It doesn't take long for her to continue speaking.
"He wanted to take food down with us, eat outside on the ground, some strange Human custom, I can't remember what he called it. That's why we were delayed. We were just preparing to leave. I'm not sure what happened. I think something triggered a traumatic memory. He said he wasn't up to going planetside."
Stark nods, not surprised by this event or Aeryn's reaction. Her pure hatred for the implanted Scorpius personality and the effect that it had – is still having -- on John is no less than anyone could expect, considering the circumstances. She is still a little unsteady on her feet, not entirely recovered from her death. These moments of weakness are few and far between, and always hidden; he has only witnessed them due to his learned ability to fade into the background to the point where no one remembers that he is still in the room.
Aeryn hisses a breath out through her teeth, and bends down, hefting the bag and turning towards her Prowler. He speaks before he can stop himself, before the fear of rejection, of humiliation has taken hold. "I could…"
She freezes for barely a microt, then glances over her shoulder at him, something that could almost be called gratitude flickering so quickly across her face he thinks it possible that he imagines it. "Yes."
They spread a blanket out on the ground just outside of the marketplace after they have acquisitioned all the food and clothing and mechanical bits and pieces they can. She opens the bag she had in the docking bay and empties fruit and bread and a bottle of some sort of wine that they do not drink by silent agreement. They eat little. The idea of eating outside, on the ground brings back painful memories of his childhood, and it is obvious that she is considering the bacteria and insects and dirt all around them with every bight.
"Thank you for letting me come with you," he says suddenly.
She looks at him. "We all need time away from Moya at one point or another."
He keeps talking because she had shared her reasons for preparing to come down to the planet alone and he feels as if he should offer something in return. "Sometimes I'm… hurt when Zhaan—"he flounders in pools of words that can never adequately summarize his feelings for the priestess. "She sometimes treats me as if I am a fragile child. As if the fact that she is at peace with her death and I am not makes me weaker. As if she needs to protect me."
"You know she means well." Aeryn shoves the remainder of her meal away.
He nods fiercely, knows that it probably looks manic, high-strung. His mind has been comfortingly lucid all day, and he takes a few microts to tamp down the rising emotions inside of him, the threatening instability that is always pushing at the edges of his mind. "I do know that. I respect her all the more for it. It is her nature to care for others, but it she has grown so used to taking care of others that she has forgotten how to allow someone else to do so for her."
"You can't fault her for that," she says. "It is all she knows."
"She is a great deal like Crichton, in that way."
Her eyes jerk up to meet his. "How so?"
"The way that he wants to shelter you from Scorpius. As he did today."
"He still refuses even to talk about his experiences. You think that's his frelled up human way of… protecting me?" She trails off, anger and helplessness emanating from her in waves.
"He feels responsible for what Scorpious made him do. He thinks that he—"
She cuts him off. "I know exactly what he thinks, and how he is intent on taking upon responsibility for actions out of his control." The frustration in her voice is tempered with resignation, and he dares to reach out, rest a hand on her shoulder in a brief display of support. She doesn't push him away, precisely, just moves to put away the food in a way that removes his touch. It does not hurt at all because he is used to such withdrawals and even if he wasn't, she is not Zhaan.
She starts talking once she has finished cleaning up, telling him about the early monens aboard Moya, the strange series of mishaps they'd gotten themselves into. She only mentions Crichton indirectly, keeping the tone of her stories light. He responds with the fragmented memories of the happiness that he keeps from his own life. It is strange to share the memories and the emotions attached to them verbally, to have to tell instead of show.
They continue trading stories, and he even coaxes laughter from her more than once. She makes no comment when he becomes a little too emotional, travels a thin line on the edge of sanity. In return, he accepts her Peacekeeper attitude toward certain things and the responses that he is sure are ingrained in her, with no judgment, no question. She talks of her love of flying. He, of his aptitude with technology, the ability born out of his need to compartmentalize and organize his own mind. They share a few light kisses solely because they can without repercussions. They know it is selfish, that they are both dedicated to their respective lovers aboard Moya, and yet in a way this knowledge makes everything they do seem dream-like. Nothing they do here will follow them back up to the ship, back into the reality of their lives and as they fold away the blanket and prepare to leave, he can already feel the unreal quality of the day fading. He is sure that by the time they have returned to Moya it will be gone completely.
Further notes: So I texted Caliga last night asking "…is it weird that I'm writing Stark/Aeryn?"
Her response: "Yes!!"
I'd just like to take this moment to wave my flag of Stark/Zhaan 'shipperness, even if it doesn't exactly shine through here. Also to ask you to review.