Author's Note: I just wanted to mention that while this chapter is presented as the second part of Choose Your Battles, I've always thought it worked better as a sort of companion piece and that the end of the first chapter would have been a good place to end the story. That said, this was written as part of the story, and so it shall remain. I hope you enjoy, and any and all feedback you might be inclined to provide would be much appreciated.
Numb. That's what they thought she was. Talyn's crew thought she came back from that wretched hole of a planet that way, and after reuniting with Moya's crew, she was sure everyone now thought that.
However, numb was the furthest thing from what she was. Her emotions were so raw, so jagged, pain lancing at her so frequently, that it took all of her strength not to give in. She dealt with it as best she could. She didn't let it show, she couldn't appear weak. Especially in front of him.
This other John…she knew she was causing him pain, and she felt guilt at that. But the pain she felt at seeing him, alive and well, she was sure outweighed anything her rejection of him could inflict. It might sound cold, even to her, but at the moment it was a mere reflection of the state of her heart.
Her real problem, though? The one that forced her to present that façade of numbness even more rigidly? Her mind knew the difference, but her heart wasn't listening. She wanted to wrap her arms around this other, to bury her pain into him, and let him take it all away. There was an ongoing battle between her heart and her mind, and she knew that if her mind lost, or gave way just a little, there would be no turning back. She would give in, and she would go to him.
How could she do that to John? Either of them?
And so she went about her duties, she helped prepare for this frelling mission to take out Scorpius' project. She had been the first to support his insane idea, and that itself had been an example of her heart pushing back in this fight. She'd seen it in his eyes, he was going to go ahead with it whether they supported him or not, and without help, she knew he would fail.
Her John had died trying to keep the universe safe from wormholes. She had to ensure his death was not in vain - if it proved to be, she could never continue on, not even in the manner she was currently struggling with. There was another reason, though, and that was this John. No matter what stood between them, how much grief tore at her, and at him, she had to help him. She had stood by while wormholes ripped one John from her, she could not simply stand by and let history repeat itself.
Because her heart simply could not tell the difference.
She sighed heavily and sad down. "I have a bad feeling." She would speak with him now, but only when it was required, or when it concerned the mission. "About the Command Carrier."
He understood the boundaries, now. "Do you think we shouldn't go?"
It pained her to say it. "I don't think we have a choice. If Scorpius masters wormholes, then…."
He looked away, but moved to sit down nearby. He spoke slowly. "Yeah, some things you die for."
His eyes remained averted, and she knew exactly what he was thinking about - the same thing she was thinking about. Her eyes closed, trying to block the pain that assaulted her at hearing him say those words.
Hesitantly, she said, "I just can't watch that happen…again." She didn't have to see his face to know the surprise and confusion he was feeling. She was crossing the unspoken boundary. "It was perfect, we were so…perfect, and you're just like him. I mean," her heart had launched a volley her mind could not keep up with, could not fight back against, "You are him."
Their eyes locked, truly locked for the first time. "No." The simple syllable uttered from his lips was a knife into her stomach. "I'm me." She saw the conviction, the seriousness in his expression. "I was here." She realized in that moment that she'd left it too long. While her mind had just been left behind, his had finally caught up. She had to look away. "I missed that dance."
When he spoke again, she was mildly startled. "Aeryn. Don't come with us."
He was giving her a way out, a way to rescind her pledge of support, to walk away. In the brief contact their eyes made, she saw his reason. His mind may have caught up, but that didn't drown out his own heart. He wanted to spare her the pain. He was confident in his mission to destroy Scorpius' project, but not in his own fate. Hadn't she just told him that she couldn't watch him die again?
She couldn't watch that happen again, and she wouldn't. She would either prevent it from happening, or she would die trying. That was something she couldn't walk away from. In the back of her mind there lurked another reason why she had to go to the Command Carrier - one she tried furiously to keep from her own thoughts; the same reason, she knew, that was helping her heart in the fight against her mind.
But in the end, as it always did, it boiled down to this one man.
"No, we started this together, Crichton." Her weariness was evident in her words as she stood up. "That's how we'll end it."
As their eyes caught for one more brief moment, she was sure he had understood her true meaning in those last few words. Her mind had finally jumped back into the battle, continuing on as strong as ever now that her heart had been beaten back down.
She stared out at the destruction as Moya moved through the fields of debris, looking for survivors. They had managed to locate a few ships and pods and had done their best to rescue those aboard, but there had been nothing within the last solar day. They were completing one more pass, and then they would leave; no doubt word had reached Peacekeeper High Command about the destruction of the Command Carrier, and they did not want to be here when they came to investigate.
That ship had once been her home, had continued to be the home of those she had grown up with, had been friends with. No matter how much warning they had, she knew first-hand not everyone had escaped. And while she knew she would never return to that life, a part of Aeryn Sun went down with that ship as well.
There was another part of her that loathed that ship, though, and for reasons completely separate from knowing that her life with her people had been isolating, ignorant, and essentially without freedom. She hated that ship because it had confirmed for her what should have been good news, would have been good news just weekens ago, but now filled her with fear and despair. While she hadn't really doubted what her body had told her only arns before John's death, after he died she tried to convince herself that her childhood memories were wrong, that nothing was different.
But of course, she had to know. And the Command Carrier proved an opportunity that she couldn't pass up.
Now she wished she had.
Her new knowledge ripped open the floodgates on her emotions once more, the ones she had so forcefully pushed back so that she could concentrate on the mission. But the mission was over now. Once again, they had prevented the knowledge of wormholes from falling into enemy hands, and once again, destruction was key.
The only difference this time, was that John had come back alive. A part of her was relieved, truly relieved, but another part was angry and resentful of him, the same part that wanted to believe her own revelation about the life inside of her was a good thing.
Aeryn closed her eyes and took several deep breaths, willing that part of her to submerge itself once more. She did not want to be angry at John, living was certainly not his fault. She also could not accept that pregnancy was a "blessing," not while the father of her child was dead.
She had, of course, seen the recording her John had made for his counterpart with the help of Stark, she had heard his words. He had simply expected her to turn to his twin after he passed. Why? How? How could he possibly think she could do that? Was she just supposed to forget everything that happened, and pretend this other man was the same person she had spent monens loving? Even if she could do all of that, he had already made it clear that he did not see himself as that same man.
And what about her child? Pregnancy was a frightening thought when her John had still been there, but now? Now it was downright terrifying. Should she have this child alone? Could she? Would she have to? A part of her believed that this John had a right to know - she didn't know why, exactly, but it did. Another part of her thought that it would almost be wrong to go to him with this, for reasons she could not explain. Still another part of her, the small sliver of rational thought she was desperately clinging to, told her that this was not a decision she should make right now, not without serious consideration.
This was all too confusing for her. Now that the immediate threat was over, she could take her time and figure out what she was going to do. But she could not do that here, now with everyone around. Not with him. She couldn't think clearly when he was around, she couldn't be sure that the decisions she was making were not influenced by powers beyond her control. There was always a possibility that, in the end, she would decide that her place really was here, on Moya, with her friends. Maybe even with him.
But the answer to that haunting question would not be made here.
Aeryn slowly let out the breath she didn't realize she'd been holding. That, at least, was one decision made.