by Amy L. Hull amilynh at comcast dot net
Written for the OldSchool Ficathon on LJ for Chelseagirl47, who requested Farscape, John & Aeryn, anyone else you like. Prompt: Endless stars
Thanks to tvelf, wiliqueen, thisisnotemily, finabair, besyd, kirbyfest, Rache, and triciabyrne1978 for the read-throughs and betas.
It had been quiet in the dimly lit house when John took her hand and pulled her from the sofa, draping a jacket over her shoulders and drawing her outside with a soft, "C'mere. I wanna show you something."
Outside, his world smelled damp and green in the somewhat dirty and wrong way she always identified with being planetside. Each world was slightly different, and this one smelled like mold and mud in a way that she could only term "earthy." No wonder humans had such abysmal senses of smell; they'd never be able to tolerate their own world.
The air did not move, but rather stuck to her skin, pressing moisture against her, making the gravity feel all the more oppressive. The darkness spat out creaking, chirping, groaning sounds at irregular intervals. She would never understand how people could stand to live at the mercy of the elements, without the patterns and consistency of a ship's climate control and ventilation, without engines humming beneath their feet.
They walked nearly five minutes, with the only sounds the unseen night animals and insects and the dry whispers of foliage brushing against itself and twigs crackling under their feet. She considered stopping him to find out what he wanted, but he squeezed her hand in that oh-so-Crichton way that was both reassuring and infuriating.
A few more steps and they were enclosed by the darkness, lights from the house a dim flicker from behind the hill they'd just crested.
"Look," John said softly, pointing.
Aeryn dutifully looked up. The sky was bright with a single small moon and the usual scattering of stars, the view, blocked by so much surrounding planet, only a dim likeness of the vista she saw from her Prowler cockpit unobscured by thick atmosphere.
His voice was soft by her ear. "This is the sky I've missed, making star charts I couldn't connect to anything familiar."
"I don't even know if any of these stars are visible from Earth," he'd said just after they'd met. She had scorned his ignorance, his waste of energy on regret for something he could not change.
Looking at John's sky, she realized the stars and their positions had been a constant she'd never questioned; they simply were. She'd known their numeric designations before she could read, their gravitational influences on Prowler navigation long before she was even allowed to touch a simulator. Here she saw not one familiar pattern, not one point of light for which she knew navigational constants. In the atmospheric distortion that made one star appear to flicker, the knowledge dawned that she could not pilot her way to anywhere from this starting point, that returning to anything she knew could only happen through John and his erratic wormholes now.
The "crickets" sounded like music out of tune and "frogs" (did the invisible creatures really resemble Rygel? she wondered) croaked out of time with them, the noise as discordant as the disorder of these stars. A shudder rippled through her. His sky was as without point of reference as hers had once been to him.
John's warm hand settled on her shoulder, his other arm extended. "That's Orion," he said, pointing and drawing in the air.
"What is Orion?"
"It's a constellation. Humans looked at the skies and made patterns out of groups of stars, decided they looked like something, gave them names."
"As if they were alive," Aeryn scoffed.
She glanced at him and his uplifted eyes, saw the now-usual emptiness softened by the skies of his home. His face showed a glimmer of wonder, less noticeable now amongst the harder lines of pain, grief, and determination, and she caught the whisper of memory of another man--the same and different man--sharing the charts he had put to paper, one star on each labeled with letters from his world that spelled her name.
He wrapped his hand around hers, pointing his finger alongside hers, and looked over her shoulder as he drew shapes against the sky. "Those three stars in a row there? That's Orion's belt. The triangle above is his bow, and the tiny stars below the three make up his sword."
"So he is a warrior."
"A hunter, yes. And on winter nights he marches across the southern sky, like a sentry on guard."
Aeryn swallowed a dubious retort, trying to see the stellar objects as a pieces of a guardian rather than the glow of powerful and unstoppable fusion.
"Are there other...constellations?" she asked.
John's chest was solid against her back as he drew other groupings with their joined hands. "Those are the Big and Little Dippers. See? It looks like a scoop with a handle, to dip into water or soup to drink or serve. And that W or M...um...stairstep--"
"I know the letters W and M!" she protested and felt a soft chuckle in his chest behind her.
"That's Cassiopeia, or her throne, really. The seat of the vain queen. In the story she's just a little too much like Grayza." Bitterness darkened his tone before he moved on. "Just over there are the Pleiades, the Seven Sisters. They're only visible on the clearest nights, like they're shy."
"But there are nine, not seven."
The chuckle rumbled again, "Well, us half-blind humans with mere 20/20 vision can't see them all without a telescope."
"Of course. Pathetic, limited senses." She pressed a shoulder back against him, laughing as well for a moment. In the ensuing silence she stared at the cluster of tiny pinpricks and listened as lower croaking sounds joined the chirping and peeping. "Sisters. Like they're family?"
The air smelled even more "earthy" and felt cooler and damper than when they'd left the house. Aeryn pulled the jacket closer around herself. "Is that what you wanted to show me?"
"Yeah. There are other constellations, but these are the most visible from here this time of year. In the summer you could see one that's actually called Scorpius. It's in the shape of a scorpion, a poisonous creature sent to kill Orion." He paused for a long time before adding softly, "I don't know if it succeeds or not."
Aeryn felt pride for this John who could cast himself as Orion in that conflict, who could embrace the warrior he needed to be, even through his reluctance. "Where are these stories from? Who chooses these names?" she asked.
"People long ago, early students of the stars. Other parts of the world have different names, different constellations. Most of the names come from ancient myths, stories about gods and warriors and battles won and lost." There was silence except for the incessant drone of the creatures around them. "Sailors on ships in earth's oceans used the stars for navigation."
"Like we do in our ships." Aeryn smiled in recognition.
"Yep. On this half of the planet , the most important marker is the North Star. The two stars in the bowl of the Big Dipper," he drew it in the sky again, his fingers rough and warm on her hand, "point to the North Star; it was the constant, the beacon. Any time the skies were clear, the North Star would set the reference point, show them how to steer to wherever they were going. With that reference and a little knowledge, they could never be lost."
Aeryn felt her chest tighten and abruptly drew her hand away. "And on your charts, the star that is your reference point is named for me."
"You are what I depend on; you're my constant," John said, and she could feel his gaze on the side of her face.
She turned to him, meeting his earnest, slightly hopeful gaze, and said slowly, "John, you know I can't always protect you."
"Yes. I know." He twirled a single lock of her hair around his finger. "But you've always found me so far. Even when it's cloudy." He glanced up at the sky once more, then at her, then walked toward the house.
So many points of light, and he was the only one from his world to have been amongst them. Even so, he had only stories to offer, names without nav stats, ancient myths of battles never fought, and his faith in fairy tales...and her. Climbing the small hill, she gazed up at the maze of unfamiliar space, and found herself scanning for John's constellations again.