Part 10

After several hundred microts or half an arn or a monen, Aeryn stopped crying. She'd lost all track of time. The Bocreel passed her a square of cloth, which she used to wipe her face and blow her nose. The pressure in her chest had lessened, and she was glad of that.

"That's all I know," she said finally, meeting his eyes as if it were normal for a soldier to break down in the middle of negotiations. She would certainly not apologize for it.

"That is enough." The Bocreel pulled out another bottle; this one was filled with clear liquid. "Negotiations over. For peace keeper, you answer questions honorably."

"I'm not a peace keeper," said Aeryn.

The Bocreel chuckled. He set the glasses on the table and filled them. "I give you chip now. Triple price. We drink to seal it."

They each took a glass and swallowed the drink. It burned Aeryn's throat as before but with an icy aftertaste.

"Why did you decide to sell it to us?" she asked.

"Before, I afraid you want to help peace keepers. Now I know you do not."

Aeryn frowned. "But you help them. You sell them arms. You deal with them all the time."

The Bocreel didn't answer. He reached in a drawer and pulled out the chip, which he tossed in her direction. Then he took the bag of currency and set it on a scanner. After the total was calculated, he opened the bag and counted out a few dozen ingots and slid them toward Aeryn. She dumped them in her pocket along with the chip.

"About the medicine," she said.

The Bocreel sat back and ran his claws back and forth against one fang. "Crichton very sick, no?"


"He could die?"




The Bocreel shrugged. "If wormhole knowledge so dangerous, it better he die. Then, wormhole knowledge die with him. Everybody safe."

"No." Aeryn shook her head. "You're wrong. It's not better if he dies. Furlow still has the wormhole knowledge and she's very much alive. Plus, John will help us stop Scorpius."

Her fingers twitched on her rifle, and she forced herself to remain calm. Now was the time to focus. Aeryn took a deep breath as bits of information about the Bocreel began to make sense.

"You know what I think?" she said. "I think you don't help the peace keepers at all. I think the weapons you sell them are defective. Not defective enough to fail their scans, of course. And not ALL weapons because that would make people suspicious. But enough fail at crucial moments so that peace keepers lose their lives or, even worse, their ships. And since the weapons are bought illegally, no one will dare complain to high command. Nor to each other. Which means you keep your business going."

The Bocreel tilted his head and stared, one paw frozen over the currency in the process of putting it away.

"I am right, am I not? That would explain the goolaw and why you were so interested in my past, in Crais's past. It would explain why you are selling us the chip now. And why you don't mind killing peace keepers."

When the Bocreel didn't answer, Aeryn continued, trying to keep the desperation out of her voice. "All we want to do is stop Scorpius, and keep wormhole technology out of his hands. Out of peace keeper hands. We can't do that without John."

The Bocreel slid his currency into a drawer. Then he just looked at her.


Harvey loomed over John, repeatedly slapping John's cheeks. "If you had listened to me sooner, we would not be in this predicament. Oh, of all the hosts in which to be confined, Scorpius had to choose one who does not know how to take care of himself." He made a quick exhalation of disgust.

"Shut ... the ... frell ... up." John grabbed Harvey's hand before he could slap him again.

"Ah, that's better." Harvey sat back on his heels.

"This is it, isn't it? I'm really dying. Chiana was right." John glanced around. He and Harvey were in the alley across from the tavern. They were alone. "And I'm dying with YOU? No frelling way. I refuse to die with a freak. I want to be around my friends."

Harvey rolled his eyes. "So dramatic. There is still a chance you may live."

"Yeah? How's that?"

"Aeryn Sun will carry out my plan in getting you the medication from the Bocreel." Harvey shook his head. "Let's just hope she can convince him to do so. You are much more adept at the subtlety of negotiation, and with my knowledge at your disposal, well, the outcome was guaranteed."

John rubbed he eyes. Even in his dream landscape, he felt weaker than he ever had before. "I trust Aeryn."

"It's not a matter of trust, it's a matter of skill." Harvey glanced back at the doorway of the tavern. "She should have finished her task by now. Unless her feelings for you aren't as strong as they were for the other Crichton. In which case, we may end up ..."


"Shh." Harvey waved a hand in front of John's face. "I hear something. Yes, Officer Sun has returned. I will attempt to -"

John opened his eyes.

He blinked and squinted in the light. Harvey was gone, replaced by Jool, who was leaning over him. She held the scanner over his chest. "He's waking up," she said, her brow furrowed. "His vital signs are stable, but we should get him back on Moya right away."

"Right," said Aeryn. She was standing next to D'Argo and Chiana, pulse rifle clenched against her body. She seemed so tense John thought she might shatter at any moment. When she glanced down, her eyes shone bright with unshed tears.

John's heart started pounding as he thought about Chiana's vision. Aeryn took Jool's place beside him, kneeling.

"Hey," he whispered.

She set her rifle on the ground. "I got the medicine from the Bocreel. Jool injected it just now."

"And that's good, right?"

She nodded. Then her face screwed up as if she were trying not to cry, and she placed a hand over her mouth.

D'Argo stooped on John's other side and patted John's arm. "The medicine is not designed specifically for what you have. Apparently, it is some experimental stuff the peace keepers have been working on. It's supposed to cure a lot of different diseases. Jool believes humans are close enough to Sebaceans for it to work."

John nodded. He released a breath and drew another, squeezing his eyes shut. So he wasn't out of the woods yet, but it was the best news he'd had since he'd gotten this frelling cold. Relief made him lightheaded.

He had an urge to grab Aeryn and hug her till his arms hurt. Instead, he watched her brush at her eyes, wondering if she was crying because of him or her memory of the other guy.

Chiana poked her head between D'Argo and Aeryn's. "I'm going to bring the pod closer, so D'Argo doesn't have to lug you through town. You're going to be okay?"

"Yeah," said John. "I hate being carried."

"Good." Chiana smiled and ducked from view. Then D'Argo got up to talk quietly with Jool, leaving John and Aeryn against the wall.

"How do you feel?" said Aeryn.

John took stock of his body. He'd been ill for so long that it'd begun feeling normal. Fever, lights bothering his eyes, so weak he couldn't imagine doing something as small as pushing aside Aeryn's coat, headache. "I'm fine."

Aeryn shook her head. "No more lies. How do you feel?"

John sighed. "I feel like crap."

She nodded and shifted until she sat next to him. Then she put her arm around his shoulders. "I hate you," she said, quietly.

John stopped breathing.

"And I love you."

He started breathing again, but it was harder than before because his throat had suddenly closed up. "I'm sorry," he said.

"So am I."

John let his head fall against Aeryn's arm. When he felt tears slide down his face and onto her shirt, he didn't try to stop them, even when Aeryn brought her other arm around to rest it on the side of his head, even when she began stroking his hair, even when he let himself believe that maybe, just maybe, she was thinking about him right now and not the other guy.

The last thing John remembered was Chiana comming to say that the pod was ready.


When they got back on Moya, Aeryn made sure John was settled in Zahn's lab. She helped Jool remove his clothes and set up the monitoring equipment. She watched Jool pronounce him "improved" after scrutinizing a drop of blood in one of her intstruments. And she helped Jool tidy up the lab from John's hasty retreat earlier that morning.

Finally, when there was nothing left to do, Aeryn gathered up her coat and weapons, glanced at John's peaceful face one last time, and headed to her quarters. Her mission was over. Time to get back to her routine and start figuring out how to get on Scorpius's command carrier. Time to take a look at the chip.

Her resolve lasted almost three days. The first day, she managed to carry on as before, eating alone except for dinner. Working on the weapons in her quarters. Going on scheduled rounds even if they now included a special trip past Zahn's lab. On the second day, she met with Crais and D'Argo to begin deciphering the data on the chip, which meant that she had to eat with them and the rest of the crew, which meant that she couldn't do rounds. Well, except for the bit that took her past Zahn's lab. On the third day, she decided to do rounds when she awoke instead of later in the day. Then she decided to do them after lunch and again after dinner.

And each time she walked past Zahn's lab, she paused in the doorway to observe John, making sure he was healing properly, eating what Chiana brought, not talking to D'Argo too long. Usually no one noticed, but once, when John was sipping some broth, he saw her in the shadows beyond the grate, a question forming in his eyes. But since Aeryn didn't know what to say, she just turned and walked away, surprised at the feeling of loss that accompanied her movement.

By day four, Aeryn stopped trying to pretend that she had any routine at all. She marched into Zahn's lab - only to find John almost fully dressed, trying to pull a shirt over his head.

"We have to talk," she said.

John glanced up in surprise. "Yeah." He spun the shirt around, trying to find the front. Then he dropped his arms, panting.

Aeryn grabbed the shirt, turned it right-side out and held it as he slipped his arms through the sleeves. He pulled it the rest of the way on. "Thanks." Then he sat on the bed. Pale and weak. Much too thin.

Aeryn sat next to him. She set her hands in her lap and stared at them, trying to figure out what to say, feeling John's eyes on her face. "How are you feeling?" she asked.

"A lot better. My fever is gone. I was just going to head to the center chamber. If I have to spend another day looking at these walls, I'm gonna go stir crazy."

"We've been looking at the chip."

"So I heard. D'Argo told me it has access codes and a map of the command carrier and shielding and other things. It sounds like a gold mine. You did a great job getting it from the Bocreel. How'd you do it?"

Aeryn shrugged. "It turns out the Bocreel is no friend of peace keepers." Her mouth quirked up at the corner. "And he liked you. In the end, that's why he gave me the medicine."

"'Cause he liked me?" Out of the corner of her eye, Aeryn could see him frowning. "Huh, who would've figured."


John snorted softly.

Aeryn wove her fingers together. "That's not what I wanted to talk about."

"I didn't think so."

Aeryn hadn't planned this talk, hadn't made a list. She just knew that it had to happen. But now that she was faced with it, faced with discussing things that would never be easy to discuss, she felt her hands tremble, so she clasped them tighter.

"I can't watch you die again," she began. "I can't. It's not an option. So that means I can pretend that you aren't who you are and that I'm still just a soldier and that everyone on Moya is another a crew. But I've already tried that, and it didn't work. It seems like something always happens to make me remember who I am and who you are. Like your frelling illness."

Out of the corner of her eye, she could see John watching her, nodding.

"Or I could leave Moya. Crais has repeatedly asked me to join him on Talyn. It would be awkward for a while, but I suppose we could learn to live near each other again. And I might even be content. Talyn is a magnificent ship. Crais is having trouble controlling him, and I could help."

He looked away at this. "Is there another option?"

"I could stay on board, and ... and I don't know. You're a frelling hero just like your twin. You take chances needlessly. You hide things from us, from me. You lie. You have people after -"

"Lie? I don't lie."

"Seeing visions of Scorpius, trading yourself for Jothee, not telling me about Crais's chip, getting exposed to radiation, going down to the planet by yourself a few days ago. Not to mention the way you kept your illness a secret for so long." Aeryn ticked off the items on her fingers.

"Aeryn, I didn't do half those things."

"Does it matter if you did them or my -- the other John did them? They're you, and they get you killed." Aeryn crossed her arms and glared at him.

John glared back, then he scrubbed a hand across his face. "Aeryn, honey, I am who I am. I can't guarantee anything. The same way you can't guarantee anything for me. But I can tell you one thing. I don't want to die. I don't. And I'm always going to do everything I can to stay alive."

"And when that doesn't work and you die anyway?" Aeryn's voice cracked. She stared at the floor.

"I don't know." John began rubbing the space between her shoulder blades. Aeryn twitched to remove his hand, but he didn't pay attention, so she let him continue. It felt soothing and familiar.

"But I can tell you one thing," he continued. "I know, I KNOW, that the other me tried everything he could to stay alive. He wanted to be with you. He wanted you to be happy. That's all he wanted."

An image of her John flashed into her mind. He was dipping reento berries into iced syrup, popping one into her mouth and then another into his, licking the juice from the corner of her lips until she kissed him and it didn't matter anymore which berry was in whose mouth. He'd bought the berries on a commerce planet, she remembered, and hidden them from Rygel until he'd found the syrup on another planet. All because she'd told them they were her favorite.

"I miss him," she said.

John's hand paused before he started rubbing her back again. "I know."

Aeryn pinched the bridge of her nose to keep her emotions from overwhelming her. She was tired of crying. "I don't know if I can do this."

John rested his forehead on her shoulder. "You can. We'll take things slow."

Aeryn closed her eyes. She knew that if she wanted to she could imagine that it was her John sitting next to her, rubbing her back, leaning on her. It would be so easy to pretend, and she didn't need a glass of goolaw to tell her that was wrong. So for a moment, she let herself enjoy the warmth and the closeness and tried not to think too much about which John was which.

"I'm starving," whispered John.

Aeryn smiled. "Good, you need to eat."

"What does that mean?"

"It means you're too thin."

"No, I'm not."

"Yes, you are."

"I'm not."

Aeryn laughed and hopped off the bed. John joined her more slowly. He held onto the edge for a moment before looking at her. "The center chamber's a long walk from here."

Impulsively, Aeryn reached up and touched the smooth skin above his left eyebrow. John looked at her quizzically, but Aeryn just ducked under his arm and wrapped her own around his waist.

"Then we'll go there together," she said. He leaned on her as they made their way across the lab and out into the hall.