Summary: An imperfect past and an uncertain future lead to tough choices...
She found him standing wet and naked in the middle of the chamber and for the first time in her life Aeryn was struck dumb. Her repair job was forgotten, the tools hanging slack in her hands. Her I-have-somewhere-to-be-get-out-of-my-way gait pulled up short like she had hit a brick wall.
"Uh..." he started to stammer, looking desperately around him for a towel, a rag, a scrap of clothes. Anything he could cover himself with. He momentarily wished Chiana didn't keep her quarters quite so chilled. The first time Aeryn had seen him naked in almost 2 cycles and she was going to think her memory gravely overestimated itself. His eyes settled on the bedspread. He grabbed it and wrapped it around his waist as casually as he could.
"Uh, Aeryn, what are you doing here?" he finally managed to say, trying not to trip over the coppery folds of fabric as they pooled around his feet.
She raised her head and looked at him out of the corner of her eye. He knew that look. It was the same look she had given him that first day they had met. Right after she had taken off her flight helmet. Right before she slammed him into a wall. It was the same look she gave everything that she was going to most likely shoot first and ask questions about later.
"I might ask you the same thing."
John looked around at the disarray Chiana called her quarters and wished he'd had the presence of mind to remember a change of clothes. He felt like a bug under a microscope and he didn't like Aeryn's tone of voice. The fact that it had taken her so long to say anything at all was not a good sign.
"John, I couldn't find..." Chiana rounded the corner and stopped, John's clothes in her hands. She looked back and forth between John and Aeryn and sidled off to the side of the chamber.
"Chi, just give me my pants," John made a grabbing motion with his free hand.
"I...uh...I couldn't find anything to dry you off with... I mean" her skin color turned a deeper shade of gray as she tripped over the words, "For you to dry yourself off with." She held the pants out to him, not taking her eyes off her other shipmate.
John, much against every instinct in his body, turned his back to Aeryn as he tried to wiggle his wet body into his pants. Nothing cooperated with him, his wet skin clinging to the leather, the bed spread slipping. And he had an audience. He finally said "Frell it" under his breath, dropped the blanket that wasn't doing much to cover him anyway and jumped up and down to stuff himself into the damp leather. When he turned back to Aeryn she was clutching the tools in a white-knuckle grip, her jaw clenched.
"Aeryn, this isn't how it looks..." he remembered the first time he had said that, back in college, when it was EXACTLY how it looked. His girlfriend back then hadn't bought that line, either. Aeryn was backing towards the door.
"Aeryn," he reached for her wrist but she jerked away from him.
"You," she said, nearly spitting the word, "Don't frelling touch me. And YOU," she turned hateful eyes towards Chiana, "You fix your own frelling backwash problem." She spun in a perfect military about face and stormed out of the chamber, slamming a wrench down on the door control as she raged by it. John dove for the door and scooted through as it clicked shut behind him. Chiana grabbed the bars and futilely yanked at them. She brushed her hand over the door control but nothing happened.
"Frell," she muttered. "John," she called towards his fast retreating back. "JOHN! I can't get out."
"Call D'Argo," he tossed over his shoulder as he rounded the corner after Aeryn.
"You ARE kidding, right?" Chiana yelled after him, knowing even if he was still within earshot, it was a wasted effort. She kicked the bars and sighed. After calling his name one last futile time, she set about inspecting the locking mechanism herself.
John mentally kicked himself. How could he be so stupid? And the worse part of this whole thing, he thought, was that he hadn't actually done anything wrong. But when Aeryn had walked into that chamber, he knew exactly what she was thinking and he felt guilty whether or not he deserved it. He saw the flash of her braid as she rounded another corner and picked up the pace, his bare feet slapping on the floor. She hadn't had that much of a head start on him, but she had cut down two tiers through an access shaft and being barefoot he had been forced to go the long way. He had a pretty good idea where she was going, but he wanted to catch up with her first. If this was going to get loud and ugly, and he knew it would, he didn't want witnesses. He took a chance and cut through a neural cluster, catching her just outside Pilots chamber. She moved to push open the door, but her grabbed her wrists and hauled her into an alcove.
"Aeryn, talk to me," he said, holding her tight. When pulling away wasn't getting her anywhere, she flung herself at him. A knee came up to catch him in the groin and he turned just in time, his hip taking the brunt of the impact.
"Fine," he grunted at her. "Then knock it off and let ME say something." He pulled her in close and held her in a bear hug, belly to back, her arms crossed and restrained just under her breasts.
"John, there is nothing to say," she said breathlessly.
"I think there is," he struggled to catch his breath.
"No, John, there isn't. You should have left me for dead. ZHAAN should have left me for dead. You can go frell yourself blind with that little trelk for all I care, but I think you need to go explain to Zhaan why she's dying for nothing." Her voice cracked and she renewed her struggle, a booted heel coming down hard on his unprotected instep.
"O frell this!" He said, flinging her away from him. Not expecting to be released so easily, she landed hard against the wall, her arms flailing out to catch her fall and making a sickening SLAP against Moya's internal skin.
"You stubborn mule of a woman...I was taking a shower! A SHOWER! Just a god damned SHOWER!" John looked down and saw blood welling up from where the corner of her heel had cut the thin skin on the back of his foot. He winced and scrunched up his face, taking a deep breath.
"You know that back wash problem we're having? Well the frelling DRDs came in to check it out while I was trying to take a shower, and since you lock your chamber, Chiana's was the next closest. She was even nice enough to go back and get me fresh clothes. Now, if you want to keep walking around with that bug up your Peacekeeper ass, that's your problem, but I haven't done anything wrong!" He bent over and rested his hands on his knees and cocked his head to the side to look at her.
She still stood backed against the wall, eyes wide with shock and relief. Stray hairs dangled from her braid, and beads of sweat dotted her upper lip.
"John…I," she didn't know what to say. She couldn't even understand the wave of relief that flooded over her. She licked her lip and tasted the salt, trying to find a word, any word while inside, she was recovering from her suspected betrayal. To find him with Chiana, defiling their friendship, defiling Zhaan's sacrifice, acting like every other male she had ever known…not understanding the emotions did not make the pain any less acute.
"You're bleeding," was what she finally managed to say.
"I'll live," he snapped back. John could see the hurt in her eyes and the anger seemed to run out of him. He took a step towards her, cautiously, much too aware of her volatile nature to just assume it was all over. Another step, and he was directly in front of her, her back pressed against the wall and he could smell her hair, see the unworded relief in her eyes. He braced himself against the wall, hands on either side of her head and leaned in close.
"I'm not going to hurt you," he said in a whisper at her ear, "I will never hurt you, never again. I'd rather die first." He could feel her breath hitch as he said the word "die". For a moment he considered the irony that what was a romantic notion for him only a few years ago was now the God's honest truth. He still had dreams that he had died instead of she. That instead of forcing her Prowler down over some God forsaken frozen waste of a planet, instead of listening to her last gasping breaths calling for him, instead of being powerless to reverse what he had done, he had instead managed to take control and force his own module to take a header into some snowy mountain. He always woke up on impact, cold and sweaty, and feeling somehow alright if that had been the alternate outcome. Sometimes you've just got to take what you're handed and run with it.
She turned her head to look into his eyes. And his lips…were…right…there. Suddenly she wanted him so badly it hurt. She tried to tell herself all she wanted was the release of tension that recreating would give her, but she found her Peacekeeper training more and more irrelevant. She wanted him. This human. She wanted his hands on her, she wanted to explore every inch of him. She realized how foolish she had been that she hadn't taken the opportunity long ago when she was too ignorant to understand what had happened between them. She wanted…she felt his mouth so much closer to hers. Was she moving toward him or he to her? She felt the course thick hair of his chest in her hands…so much more hair than a Sebacean man. It excited her. His mouth pressed hard against hers and she opened to him.
John wanted to stop. His mind was at war with is body. He wanted to be the gentleman and say, "I know you're not ready for this, I can wait," but he didn't. He tasted that wonderful, earthy, sebacean taste and one hand followed the line of the wall down to pull her roughly to him.
"Our quarters…" she started to say around his tongue.
"Are full of DRDs," he finished for her. His hands went to her waistband and the gun belt clattered to floor.
"The hangar bay…" she mumbled against his lips.
"Too open," he fumbled with the clasp on her pants, then unhooked the clasp on her vest, leaving both hanging open.
He kissed her neck, following the line of her collarbone down to her breasts. He pushed the leather away and gently took a nipple into his mouth. He was rewarded with a shiver and a moan. He remembered that moan.
"Where," she said breathlessly.
"Right here," John answered, shoving his hand down the back of her pants, feeling the wonderful skin on her bare bottom and pulling her closer. She obliged by grinding herself against his erection then pulling back long enough to open his pants.
"Are you sure," but she was already freeing him from the restrictive leather.
John moaned in her ear. In his mind keys slid into locks, opening doors that had been closed for too long. Doors that had been shut up and locked tight after their one and only night together on the false earth. Her scent, yes, I remember that. That taste, yes I remember that too. This skin, O God, this skin. Though he indulged the fantasy everyday, the details always escaped him. He stood back a second and stared at her. Yes, there are the nipples. Those wonderful, pale, translucent nipples. He kissed her again, his hands moving to her breasts. They continued their journey south, pushing the waistband of her pants off her hips and down to the tops of her boots. He kissed her hips, her belly button. He traveled back up to her neck and whispered in here ear "Are YOU sure?" She answered him with an aggressiveness that would have scared him coming from any other woman.
D'Argo stood at Pilots console, sniffing the air suspiciously.
"Can I help you, Ka D'Argo," Pilot asked politely.
"Chiana is stuck in her quarters, the door is jammed. Fix it. And that frelling backwash problem has moved from Crichton's quarters to mine now," he paused and sniffed the air again.
"What's that smell," he paused, concentrating, his nose twitching. "It smells like," his nose twitched, "like," another twitch, "a Sebacean in heat."
Pilot drew himself up to his full size and crossed all four arms primly in front of him on the console. "Ka D'Argo," he said, "I suggest you mind your own business."
Zhaan placed a placating hand on D'Argo's arm. "Dear D'Argo, we all knew it was bound to happen sooner or later. We should be thankful for their bliss."
"I don't care about their bliss," D'Argo growled, "I don't even care that they're frelling themselves into exhaustion, I just wish they wouldn't do it EVERYWHERE on the ship." He shoved his food away from him with a snarl. "I can smell them everywhere. It's ALL I smell. I can't even eat."
Zhaan sighed. She was tired, and she had noticed this morning that her sap was starting to turn an ocher color. But she managed a smile in spite of it all and said, "Consider it a gift, that you are more aware than others that you might not walk in and interrupt their special moments."
"Indeed," Rygel said from his throne sled in front of the cold storage unit, "It is a most repulsive process."
Zhaan silently got up from the table, never once losing her peaceful smile, and draped an arm over what could be called Rygel's shoulders. Rygel cocked his head at her then let out a shriek as she grabbed and viciously pulled an ear brow.
"If I ever catch you using the DRDs like that again, Dominar, I will personally see to it that all of your 'repulsive processes' come to an abrupt end, do I make myself clear?" D'Argo chuckled from the table behind him. He tried to nod, but the Delvian's grip on his ear was too much.
"DO I MAKE MYSELF CLEAR!" she hissed at him.
"Perfectly," he managed to sputter out, "yes, yes, perfectly."
Zhaan let go and stood in her full regal serenity. She longed for Stark to return from his supply trip. She needed someone to center her. She needed his strength.
"D'Argo, why don't you take a plate out onto the terrace. You may find that more suited to your…palate." D'Argo snorted, but picked up a plate and a drink receptacle and started out of the dining area. He paused at the door, turning right and left, sniffing.
"Argh!" he growled as John and Aeryn rounded the corner.
"Hey, big guy! What's up?" John slapped him on the back as he walked by, grabbing a cup off the counter
and pouring himself some water. John smiled broadly at him, then frowned.
"Hey, who pissed in your Cheerios this morning?"
Aeryn edged by the massive Luxan and joined John at the counter, holding her own cup out for him to fill.
"The LEAST you could have done," D'Argo said, "Was bathe before dinner."
Aeryn's head dipped slightly, in what John had come to know as the closest thing to embarrassment she was capable of showing.
"Since when do we stand on formality around here," John said, taking his and Aeryn's cups and setting them on the table. Aeryn touched her nose and nodded her head slightly. John ignored her.
"Hey Blue," he said in a quieter tone to the tired looking Delvian, "Shouldn't you be resting?" He noticed the red highlights that had taken over the natural blue of her forehead were spreading.
"I'm fine, thank you John. Although my solitude is sacred to me, the Goddess continues to grant me the strength to seek the pleasure of my friends company. I shall graciously accept it so long as it lasts."
"Where's your nurse maid," Aeryn asked, reaching across John to pile more food on her tray.
"Stark went down to the planet to assess the moisture levels and bring me back some more herbs for my apothecary. " She sighed, watching Rygel closely as he hovered past D'Argo with his tray balanced precariously on his lap. She suspected he was hoarding food again, but had decided to pick and choose her battles.
"Uh uh," Aeryn said, putting a staying hand on top of John's, "easy on those seeds." He stuck the spoon back in the bowl of small, shiny black beads. When she turned her back, he shrugged and piled another spoonful on the blue green concoction that faintly resembled technicolor mashed potatoes. He suspected it was some sort of steamed and mashed tuber, but had learned that the less he knew about what he ate, the better off he was.
"Well D'Argo," Aeryn said, sitting down. "Are you going to hover there like some adolescent, or are you going to join us?"
D'Argo shifted his weight from one foot to another, then entered the chamber so slam his plate down on the table. "I have lost my appetite." He stormed out of the room fast enough for John to hear his flesh locks slap against the wall as D'Argo turned the corner.
"Is he still grousing about Chiana?" John asked, handing Aeryn a fork.
"Probably. But right now it's us." She answered.
"What's wrong with us? Aren't our stunning personalities enough for him anymore."
Aeryn touched her nose. "He can smell us."
John shoveled a spoonful of mashed tubers and seeds into his mouth and frowned. "He's always been able to smell us." He crunched on the seeds, "Hmmm, kinda like pepper. But bigger. And crunchier. Hmmm, not bad." John shrugged and took another bite of food.
"No, not us," Aeryn tried to clarify, casting a glance at Zhaan then lowering her voice,"US." She motioned back and forth between them with her fork. "You, me, together…."
John was engrossed in his food, picking each little seed out and eating it individually. It had been so long since he had any kind of seasoning, any kind of anything that tasted remotely like home that he was truly enjoying the experience.
"John, what Aeryn is trying to say is that Sebaceans, and I suppose Humans too, have a very distinct scent when they're aroused."
"Aroused, huh," John looked up from his plate of food, "Oh, aroused. That kind of aroused." He looked around sheepishly and scratched the back of his head. Then he kind of chuckled, "Well, if we have to bathe every time, Moya's plumbing is REALLY going to have a back wash problem."
Zhaan smiled indulgently then stood up. "I will leave you to your meals. I feel the energy I was earlier graced with has run its course."
She stopped and looked over John's shoulder. "John, how many of those placa seeds have you eaten?"
"What? O, these little things," he held up one of the obsidian beads and popped in his mouth. "I dunno, a couple, three spoonfuls."
Zhaan turned her attention to Aeryn. "Stop by the cargo bay on your way back to your quarters and I will leave a remedy to help eleviate the symptoms."
Aeryn smiled almost affectionately at Zhaan. "Thank you. But only if it's no trouble."
Zhaan smiled back, then turned to stroll gracefully out of the chamber, "Less trouble for me than it will be for him," she said in parting.
John looked horrified. "What, what…." he sputtered at Aeryn.
Aeryn stood up and took his plate, "No more food for you."
"Hey, I wasn't done with that."
Aeryn smiled, then her face turned serious. "Trust me, you are."
John grabbed her elbow. "What did you let me just eat?"
"Let you? No, I told you you had enough but you seemed to have gone back for more. Besides, when did I become your keeper? Now c'mon, let's go get that remedy from Zhaan."
John wouldn't budge, "WHAT did I just eat."
Aeryn sighed. "O, nothing that's going to cause you permanent harm. In small quantities," Aeryn emphasized the word 'small', "placa seeds are a seasoning. In larger quantities they are an emetic, in the quantity you just ate…" she let the statement hang in the air.
John jumped up from the table, "Let's go."