Title: Strange Currencies
Characters: Aeryn Sun, Bialar Crais
Setting: The Choice (see notes)
Word Count: 2,350!
Rating: PG. I know! I dunno what's wrong with me...
Notes: Written for Officersun524. This is an AU version, going from the premise of 'what if Crais had shot Xallax'. There's no smut, because I know he wouldn't... well not at this point. There may or may not will be a follow up fic. Title shamelessly snurched from an REM song by the same name.
Summary: You can't always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need
The open window leads to a ledge. The wind brushes past me, through me. It pulls at my hair and makes the drapes stream back into the cold, empty room behind me. I stand on the edge and look down. I have no fear of the height, but the drop entices me. Step, it whispers. Come to us Aeryn.
John is dead.
I want to die as well. Stark told me about this place - Valldon, planet of ghosts. I could see John here, according to Stark. I can hear him arguing with Rygel over the waste of it; how it will use fuel, time better spent looking for Moya. The one person I expected to argue with my request, did not.
It is a relief to get away. Since John died, Crais has watched me. I heard him promise to protect me and it is just like him to take that oath so literally. I had to leave Talyn because it came down to that or throttling his captain.
He brought me down to the planet, leaving Rygel and Stark arguing over something neither of them can change. Like the decision was ever theirs. When I left the transporter pod he said nothing. There was no argument, no reasoning. He just stood there and watched silently as I walked away. He has barely said two words to me since John died.
I should be grateful; as at least one person respects my privacy. Instead I simply wonder how long it will last.
It was afternoon when we came down and now the evening is drawing in. The sky above me is darkening. I lift the bottle to my lips. The liquid is harsh. It burns my throat and stings my eyes. I do not care because the burn spreads through me and, for a microt, I am warm. Numb. For a microt I forget John is dead.
I hear the door open and close softly. I sigh. It was longer than I expected, but inevitable nonetheless. I wait, listening to his footsteps as he walks towards the window. He stops short and I smirk against the rim of the bottle. He does not like heights.
"Crais," I say coolly.
"Aeryn." It is strained, somewhat desperate.
I ignore his discomfort. "Why are you here?"
"I gave an oath to protect you."
I glance round, past him at the empty room. "Protect me from what?" I scoff. "I'm not in any danger here."
"Not other than yourself, no." He sounds annoyed. I know he is... nervous. "Come away from the edge."
"The height does not bother me," I tell him. "Did you want something?" I choose the words deliberately. I know he does. He wants me and it's easy to use that against him. Another glance ensures me that the barb hits the mark.
"I intend to see you safe," he replies.
"How... noble of you."
"Aeryn." He sighs my name. It is exasperated, hurt, pleading and hard.
"You must stop this... foolishness. There is nothing for you here. Come back to Talyn."
He is trying to order me, to be my captain again, but he cannot bring himself to quite mean it. I look at him properly. He is tense. His hands fist at his side, his gaze steady and intent. Paler than normal, too close to the edge for his liking, but he will not leave me. I know if I try to step off he will stop me.
"There is nothing for me on Talyn either," I say bitterly and he flinches.
"There is Talyn," he offers quietly. "He is most concerned."
I sigh and look away. "You are not concerned about Talyn's concern. I know what you want." I shoot him a glare. "This must seem like the perfect opportunity for you Crais. Now John is gone, I'm free for the taking. Isn't that right?"
His jaw clenches and his eyes darken. I am on dangerous ground. I don't care. I fold my arms and challenge him with my gaze. He does not look away.
"You once offered yourself to me." His voice is low. "I could have done anything and you would not have stopped me. That was not what I wanted. And neither is this."
I drop my gaze. Just when I think I have him, he has moved the ground. It is, without stating it out-right, a point that the same thing stands now. If he wanted me, he could have me. I have underestimated him again.
"What do you want?" I need to know. "Why can't you just leave me alone?"
"Because you need me," he tells me.
I stare at him. "I need you? Hardly."
The alcohol is gone. I step back into the room and walk over to the table. The bottle clinks against the other emptys, the sound loud in the silence that had fallen. My hand reaches for another. It doesn't quite make it as Crais' fingers close round my wrist.
"You do not need that," he tells me roughly.
"What would you know?" I snap in response. I jerk from his grasp.
"You think you're the only person to have lost somebody?" His tone is incredulous. "Need I remind you why I pursued Cri-John for a cycle?" I do not but it seems he wants to remind me. "I lost my brother, Aeryn. Tauvo was the only family I had. You at least have people that care for you. You might be a little grateful for that."
I cannot be. "It's not enough," I whisper.
"It is if you allow it to be." He is stood behind me, close enough to feel his breath on my neck. "Do not let this destroy you, Aeryn. Do not allow yourself to become closed off, bitter. The path that leads to is not a pleasant one, believe me."
"How can I not?" I ask, plead. I need an answer. I need that more than I need anything else. He is the only one who can give me what I want after all. I turn and look at him. "Maybe they are right," I say then. "Maybe emotions are useless. It is better not to feel than have this... this... nothingness."
His expression is sympathetic. "No," he replies gently. "It is not. It is better to realise your emotion before it is too late. If you could change the past, would you give up what you had with him? All those moments, all that love, just not to feel pain now?"
I did not expect understanding from this man. That he does hurts. I close my eyes. The last thing I need is to cry in front of him but the grief is too raw and will not be denied. It buffets me, as cold and harsh as the wind. I can feel myself failing, falling, tearing apart.
And Crais catches me, breaks the fall and holds me together.
The moment his arms close around me I realise there is something worse than this grief. Something sharper and as bitter. It is facing what I have known since I linked with Talyn; that if I question what is love, whether it is constancy, whether it is obsession, whether it is abiding patience, then he loves me as much as John did.
There is no demand. Here and now I can be Aeryn, nothing less, nothing more. The relief I feel breaks me more than the pain and I cling to that, to him, and the tears come hot and fierce.
He says nothing. John would, I think. Meaningless, useless words designed to comfort or stem the tide. John would try to fix me. Crais attempts no such thing. He simply holds me tightly and lets me sob until I cannot cry any more and I'm trembling in his arms. It is strangely cathartic.
The universe is frelling warped.
"Aeryn," he says. I flinch at his tone. Only he could put so many inflections into a single word. I pull away, not even glancing at his face. I know I fear what I will see there.
"John died," I tell him. He makes no response to this, so I clarify it. "John loved me and he died. Velorek loved me and I betrayed him. Zhaan bought my life with her own."
"Yes," he says simply. "I know."
He is being deliberately obtuse and I glare at him, the tears fortunately blurring his features and saving me seeing the expression on his face. "Everyone that loved me is dead. My father, my mother, John."
And he says, "What of it?" like we're discussing the weather and something inside me snaps. I step up to him and push him backwards. He takes one pace, startled by my action.
"Go," I snarl. "You want to survive? Then leave me and go. Get out of here."
He's ready for me as I try to shove him from me again. He is unmovable and I'd have better luck with the walls. Grief turns to anger because it is not fair and I go to hit him. He fends the wild swing easily, catches my wrist and pulls me close.
"Do you think you are cursed?" he says and I am amazed to hear amusement in his voice.
I glower at him. I have no idea what to say. "What?"
His gaze shifts to the open window. "I was wondering why you thought it necessary to remind me of whom you have lost," he tells me. "I am well aware of your grief Aeryn."
"Loving me ends in death," I tell him, silently pleading him just to go. I don't know what I feel any more. I know I do not want one more death on my conscience, especially not his.
"Then I am already doomed." He does not seem overly concerned by this fact, but this casual admittance of his feelings has me in tears again.
"Bialar." Because I cannot call him anything else at that. I hurt so deeply I can barely breath. He has me in another embrace and I cannot break away. I am not longer sure if I want to. Once, so briefly, we were connected. The transponder in my neck a link to Talyn, Talyn a link to him. As terrifying beautiful Talyn was to my mind, it was nothing to seeing how this man loves me. Emotions like that are not meant to be seen; it was too bright, too raw, and I ran from it.
"I am not worth it." I do not realise I have spoken the words aloud until I feel him tense. He tilts my face up, his fingers firm on my chin and he cups my cheek. I close my eyes as he sweeps the tears with a thumb. I think that if he wants to be that stupid, I will let him. He does it seems, because his mouth closes on mine.
The hunger in his kiss makes me shudder but what comes to mind is wormholes and how inconsistent they are. Which is odd because Bialar Crais excels in most things and this is definitely one of them and thinking anything at all seems strange when his lips are moving against mine like that.
I feel the breeze from the open window brush me, hear the sound of engines, muted and distant. I am somewhere between the past and the future, suspended in time. The grief is numb for the moment. I am cold except where his hand rests on the small of my back, where his lips move against my neck. I'm torn between giving myself to the coldness of the past and the heat of the future.
Can I? Can I leave this room and the past behind me? Talyn waits in space. Bialar is waiting for me now.
"I don't love you," I whisper and he halts abruptly, his lips still against my chilled skin. I shiver. It was a very stupid thing to say.
"I don't know." Having started this, I can only be honest. I do know I cannot let him go, that he is something solid for me to cling to. I cannot help feeling he deserves more than that.
"I suppose it is a better answer than no," he remarks wryly. He lifts his head and gazes into my eyes. "Come with me." I know what he is saying, what he is offering. I can leave here, rejoin with Talyn, be a part of the whole.
He makes no other demand of me. He will not. I know what his terms are; all or nothing.
"I can't promise anything," I say, just so he is clear on that.
He shrugs a shoulder. "Then don't," he says, practical as always. He lets me go slowly, reluctantly. Backs up a pace and then holds out a hand.
I look at him for a microt. His expression is oddly patient and I realise sharply how much he has changed. I turn away and walk to the window. The handle is cold as I swing it closed, shutting out the wind. The room goes still, the drapes settle softly. There is a light on the horizon; dawn is coming. I find a smile on my face.
What the future holds I do not know, but I can choose my path. I turn away from the window, the ledge, from death and the ghosts of the past. Bialar is still waiting, the hand still outstretched. My smile broadens. I cross the room and place mine in his. His fingers close around, warm and firm. The sun crests and the room floods with light making shadows scatter and the ghosts hide.
I look at him. "Take me home," I plead.
He nods once and we leave. I have not found what I came to Valldon for, rather someone found me. I am not whole, not by a long way and John's death still hurts but I have hope again. And a place to be Aeryn, nothing more, nothing less.
But something different.