It was the middle of their sleep cycle, but as was par for the course over the past few weeks John lay wide awake listening to the quiet hum of Moya, the buzz and whine of the DRDs, Aeryn's breathing. They lay belly to back, his face buried in the clean scent of her hair and his hand resting on her belly. His mind wandered.
She hadn't been awake when he returned. He cleaned up quietly, refastened his gun belt and went to the central chamber. He could still taste her. Sweet. Sticky. He licked his lips thoughtfully, reliving the past arn over and over in his head. He smiled.
He was surprised to find them all gathered in the central chamber. It was almost as it had been before, when they would all gather for the last meal of the day like…well…like a family. But Chiana sat in the back, unusually subdued. She cast furtive glances at D'Argo, who pointedly ignored her. She graced John with a wan smile before turning her full attention back to her meal.
Zhaan and Stark sat huddled together, Zhaan pushing her food around on her plate but eating little.
D'Argo looked up from a serving tray and sniffed suspiciously in John's direction, his eyes narrowing as his friend entered the room.
"So, Aeryn is feeling better, then." He finally said, snorting over the last word.
"Jesus Christ, man!" John said, taking a plate and looking over D'Argo's massive frame to see what was on the menu. "What are you? Part blood tracker?"
D'Argo stood up straight. "There is no need to insult my family."
"No man…I'm just saying give the nose a rest." John piled some of the grayish slab on his plate and poked at it. As an afterthought he added, "and I showered."
D'Argo snorted in reply but did not press the issue. He took a seat next to Zhaan, pouring himself some water.
"Crichton, I need you in my quarters tomorrow. We have to fix that frelling back wash problem again."
John sat down next to Chiana, but she kept her head low over her food. "I'm right there with you buddy," he replied, still poking at his dinner.
"Perhaps," Rygel said from his throne sled, catching the tail end of the conversation as he entered the room, "Part of the problem lies in the fact that your chamber is directly below Officer Sun's, eh?"
John's head snapped up and he glared at the Hynerian, "Can it Sparky!"
"Now why would…" D'Argo turned to look pointedly at John as realization dawned on him. His eyes narrowed.
John hastily picked up his plate. "Hey, Aeryn takes long showers…I'll talk to her about it." He paused long enough on his way out the door to flick Rygel in the back of the head with his fork.
"Well, gotta go make sure she eats…see you all…later." And he was fast retreating down the corridor.
"Like they haven't done enough damage frelling around like that," D'Argo muttered, returning his attention to his food.
Zhaan was staring hard at Rygel. "Was I not explicit enough about your use of the DRDs?" She asked, sounding genuinely pained.
"What? I did no such thing. They didn't even bother to put up a privacy screen." He sounded put out by the very accusation that he had been using the DRDs to satisfy his voyeurism. He chuckled evilly. "It was very…educational…actually." He chuckled again.
Zhaan shook her head again…reminding herself to pick her battles. And she was getting weary of Stark clucking over her. Very quietly she said, "Just leave them be, Rygel. They deserve their peace."
Aeryn had still been asleep when he returned to the chamber, but she had woken long enough in his absence to get up and put underclothes on. He set the plate on the table, undressed, and climbed into bed next to her.
"John?" she asked, not bothering to open her eyes or roll over.
"Were you expecting someone else," he slid down next to her, noticing for the first time she had one hand tucked under her pillow, the other on her pulse pistol. She answered by releasing the trigger and resting her hand gently on its handle.
"Yeah?" he lay on his back, tucking his hands under his head and staring at the ceiling.
"What you did…before…" he smiled in spite of himself. "How do your females reciprocate?"
He tried unsuccessfully not to get aroused at the thought of her reciprocating. Her mouth…"We can talk about that later," he answered. He rolled over and draped an arm over her. "When you're feeling better."
She scooted her body back into his and wiggled her hips. He resisted the urge to groan. "Feels like we should talk about it now." He could hear the playfulness in her voice. He could feel his erection get harder as she shimmied her hips again, grinding her tailbone against him. He grabbed her by the waist and held her still.
"Don't do that," he whispered in her ear, "We'll never get to sleep."
She rolled over to face him, one had reaching up in the dim light to trace the silhouette of his face. "Speak for yourself." And she had kissed him long and hard until all resistance had gone out of his body. His goddess called and he was powerless before her.
They made love slowly and quietly. He resisted the urge to tell her just how Human women reciprocated. For now this was enough. Forever this was enough.
And that had brought him here, restless and tired, holding his love against his body like he could never let her go and acutely aware of the third presence in the bed with them. "What to do, what to do, little one." He whispered, holding her belly just a little tighter. Aeryn's illness was passing and he knew time was running out. For one of them. For both of them. For some faceless child on a command carrier somewhere whose parents were traitors. For a faceless child whose parents loved him more than they were capable of voicing.
His mind drifted. The noises he knew and were accustomed to receded. The room slid away and he found himself confronting that part of himself that was not him at all.
He banged against the side of the dumpster. "Rise and shine Harvey!" he shouted.
"Go away," a cultured but petulant voice echoed back at him.
Crichton raised the lid on the dumpster, peering into the dimness. "C'mon man, I'd have thought you'd be hungry for a little fresh air."
"O, this is abominable," the voice said as a pale face and leather hood came into view.
"Yeah," John said tersely, "tell it to someone who cares. Now get your ass down here."
The frightening visage of the sebacean/scarran half-breed paused with one leg in the dumpster, the other leveraged against the half lid that was still down. He leaned his elbow on his knee, looking down on the mental construct of the man he had first been sent to protect and now wished with fervent hope would get himself killed in short order.
"Why should I bother John?"
John turned, grabbed the neural clone by the slick leather of his body suit and heaved, dumping him unceremoniously at his feet. "Because I said so."
Scorpius sputtered as he got to his feet. He brushed himself off and cocked a head in Crichton's direction. "Well, we are in a snit tonight, aren't we?"
When he didn't get a reaction, he pushed a little harder "What exactly bothers you about Officer Sun's condition? Hmmmm? The fact that she carries your child or the fact that someone sowed the field before you even had a chance to plow it?"
John's hands were around his throat before he even realized what he was doing. "First of all, I find that analogy disgusting. Second of all," John eased up and tried to shake the rage off, "second of all play nice or I can stuff you right back in the trash can."
Scorpy straightened his clothes and smiled at John, "But of course you can. But then, why would you have gone through the trouble of getting me out…hmmmm?" John grimaced as Scorpy purred at him. "John, dumpster or not right now I am the most impartial counsel you have. You know that, and you need me. Your time is running out, and so is Officer Sun's."
Scorpius smiled beautifically at John, and he wondered briefly what had gone through the mind of the when she had birthed this monster.
"Probably not much at all," Scorpius answered him, "She didn't survive the process. But, your Officer Sun, now there is some good breeding stock…" John closed his eyes against the crassness of the words.
"So," Scorpius ticked off on his fingers, "What you have is a Delvian priestess who assumes all life is sacred and wouldn't hear of it any other way. Her lover whose periods of lucidity are few and far between thus making anything he says suspect. A Luxan who wants to make up for his loss by living vicariously through you now." John turned and looked sharply at him, but he knew it was a correct assessment. D'Argo was more than the supportive friend, he was as confused as John was.
Scorpius paused to let the words sink in, then continued, "A Hynerian who couldn't care less one way or the other because neither circumstance benefits him in any way. And a Nebari whore. Who may be the one person who could actually help you."
"What the hell can Chi do?"
"Your darling little Chi has already planted the seeds of what must be done." Scorpius leaned casually back against the trash receptacle, stretching his arms out to either side of him.
"Look, when do I get a say in this?"
"John, John, you already have." The clone tsked like an exasperated mother. "You just need me to tell you it's alright. If such machinations come from me, you cannot be held accountable, can you?" The smile never faltered.
John heard himself shouting but didn't care "You stopped being accountable for anything I've done the day Aeryn was killed."
Scorpius was nonplussed by the outburst, "And that's the crux of it, isn't it?"
John's eyes widened in surprise and he found himself chewing on his thumb, circling.
"You have this inane human need to protect your females. And what is more vulnerable than a breeding female? Admit it John, you've rather been enjoying the past few weekens. You get to be the big strong man again. And yet," Scorpius pushed himself into a standing position and looked at John out of the corner of his eye, "you know how wrong it is. You know she is sacrificing her son for your child. How does that make you feel?"
John had been trying to ignore that fact. He had tried to concentrate on the child at hand, pushing his own daughter and Aeryn's son into a place of nonexistence. But he wasn't that kind of guy.
"You have a daughter who will be accorded every luxury upon her birth. Why should Officer Sun's son be any different?"
"You leave my daughter out of this! I had absolutely no say in that. That wasn't carelessness. That wasn't stupidity. That was taken from me!" Then realization dawned on him a cold fear crept from his gut up the back of neck. "You know about Kitralla's daughter."
"Of course I do John. But that isn't the discussion at hand, is it?"
Crichton stood toe to toe with Scorpius, grabbing him by the throat again. "You stay the frell away from them!"
"Don't tell me John, I'm locked in here with you. Remember?" The infuriatingly calm voice was making John panic.
His hand clutched harder at the throat, but there was little reaction from Scorpius. "Well, I can see this conversation is fast deteriorating. Allow me to leave you with this, then. You allow Aeryn to carry this child to term now and neither of you will be alive to see it mature. You will be creating a liability for yourselves and the last thing you need John Crichton is another liability. If you allow Aeryn to carry this child to term you will most likely be condemning that child to a short and pitiful existence even if you and your precious Officer Sun manage somehow to survive." Scorpius voice lowered to a conspiratorial whisper.
"You know you can breed. One child is as good as the next. Why is your life so full of immediacy?"
Although John's hand did not let up it's hold, he had paused, digesting the words.
"Aeryn will never go for it…she's already made her decision."
"Then you know what you must do, don't you John. It's up to you to absolve her of her guilt."
John turned his attention back to the freakish clone. "You're a real son of a bitch, aren't you Harvey?"
Scorpius graced him with one last smile. "You wouldn't have it any other way, would you John?"
And then he was back in the dumpster and John was back in his bed, Aeryn awake and staring worriedly at
"Hey baby, what's the matter?" he looked at her and kissed her gently on the forehead.
"You were talking in your sleep. Again."
Dread held him firmly. "What was I saying?"
She rolled her back to him again. "Nothing I could make out. Do all humans talk in their sleep?"
"Naw baby," he said, turning over to hold her again. "Just the one's with a guilty conscience."
The next morning they made love again, John savoring the moment like each might be his last. She fell immediately to sleep, her meager reserves of energy expended on the love play. John got dressed and lay with her for several minutes, memorizing the outline of her face, the pout of her lips, the flutter of her eyes as she dreamed. He picked up the empty plate and headed back to the main chamber, worry and satisfaction mingling into a tight knot in his gut. She was eating again. That was a good sign and part of him wished the decision had already been made. He knew it wouldn't be that easy. It was never that easy.
Chiana was alone in the chamber, counting through some produce. Her obsidian eyes were sad, but she greeted him with a large smile.
"Hey there!" she said, husking some large red vegetable that resembled a cross between an ear of corn and a squash.
"Hey there Pip," he smiled back at her. Both could see the hurt in the others eyes, like a brother and sister reading each other.
He offered her a cup of water and sat down, watching her work. "You're up awful early."
"Yeah, well, these things have to be exposed to open air for 8 arns before you can even THINK about cooking them." She grunted as a particularly tough husk finally came free.
"When did you take over the galley?"
"When I became the only one around here who can make real food taste like anything other than dren." She picked a rust colored husk off the floor and tossed it in the organic recylables chamber.
"Well, you're a woman of many talents."
She narrowed her eyes at him, pausing in her work. "Hey, hey Pip. I didn't mean it like that." John quickly backpedaled.
He took a deep breath, plunging forward. "Chi, I need help."
Her face softened with concern and she put a half-husked vegetable back on the pile.
"Is Aeryn, is Aeryn ok?" She sat down and leaned in close, searching his face, trying to read his eyes.
"Yeah, yeah, she's getting better. But," the unsaid words hung heavy in the air.
"But that means time is running out for you?" she finished for him in a whisper. He nodded, fixing his eyes on a frayed patch of leather on her left glove. He hadn't eaten anything but he felt something rising in the back of his throat and swallowed hard against it. He hated this.
"I need you to steal something for me."
Her head wavered from side to side, each motion fluid, snake like as she took in what he was saying. He thought of poor dying Zhaan and how he was violating another shipmate's trust. Why did everyone he loved get hurt?
He heard Chiana purr low in her throat. A soft croon he had come to know meant that she was particularly pleased with herself.
"Look, Chi, I don't like being in this position, and I don't like putting you in this position."
"Naw, John," she said, rising to her feet and a wicked smile crossing her face "You can put me in any position you like." John frowned at her and she became immediately serious. "But I can do you one better." She walked over to one of the storage bins and removed a fair sized satchel. It rattled like it was full of beads. She hefted it in one hand and dropped in front of John on the table. He opened it and wrinkled his nose at the peppery smell of the placa seeds. His stomach lurched at the familiar scent and he quickly cinched the bag closed.
Chiana sat back down quickly, both realizing the few denizens aboard the ship would be coming for their morning meals soon.
She put her face right in front of his, resting her chin on the bag. "You know what these things did to you…they can take care of the problem."
John shook his head, "I can't do that to her. She doesn't deserve that."
Chiana grabbed his face and looked hard into his blue eyes. "Like the birth would be any easier on her? It's all a trade off John."
He tried to look down but Chiana held onto him. "Besides, it would never work. Aeryn doesn't like seasoning. She's too used to rations and ships food." He now had a solution, but he still wanted an excuse, any excuse that would deter him from what he now knew to be the inevitable course of events.
"That's no problem. I can grind them and soak them into a tincture. A few drops in her food, a few drops in her water…" she noticed his frown and smoothed a finger over the lines on his forehead. "Hey, a girl in my line of work has to know these sorts of things, y'know?"
She let go of his head and smoothed his hair. "She's going to be sick, John. Sicker than you were, sicker than she has been in days. Don't plan any big maintenance jobs, ok?" He nodded.
She got up and found a smaller satchel and started to quickly spoon seeds into it. Tucking it into her bodice, she leaned back over John. "I know it doesn't mean anything now, but it's for the best. Really."
He nodded again, then focussed on her for what seemed to be the first time since the conversation began. "I…we…" he wasn't sure what to say, where to go. She smiled indulgently.
"I know, we never had this discussion. Give me a day or two, and we can pretend we didn't have that one then, either."
John got up to leave, then paused and looked back. She was still looking at him, her shoulders pushed back and her head at what for him seemed an odd angle. "Chi, thanks. I owe you one."
She gave him a weak smile. "You don't owe me anymore than what you've already given me." And she turned her back and returned to husking her vegetables.
He spent the day doing routine maintenance in the cargo bay, lost and alone. He missed her by his side, solid, strong, competent. Just when he thought he could get used to the way things were everything had to go and change again. He avoided the rest of his crewmates, slipping into the mess hall after he knew everyone had gone. His shame hung heavy on him.
Aeryn was up and awake when he returned to her chamber. She sat at the table in her underwear, her bare feet propped on the other chair as she cleaned her pulse rifle. There was some color back in her cheeks and her eyes didn't look quite so tired. She greeted him with a warm smile and put her work aside. Something inside of him withered.
"So, you're all better," he said, approaching.
"Hardly," she growled, rubbing her stomach, "but I'm functional again."
He sat on the edge of the bed and just stared at her. At the woman he had lost and found. At his unseen child. At his lover, the tomb of the unknown soldier.
"Aeryn, what, uh, what did you feel when they took Kez'ryth from you?"
She looked blankly at him, as though not comprehending the question. Then she took a deep breath and said "Relief."
She stood up and moved to kneel in front of him, taking both of his hands in hers and staring into his pale blue eyes. "But John, I wasn't capable of feeling anymore then. I had secured my place in Crais' command, or so I thought, and I was ready to get to my next duty assignment. My crewmates helped me get cleaned up and the next day I was back in my Prowler and that is all I wanted. It wasn't until…until I met you I started to wonder. And this one," she let go of his hands and pressed both of hers over her belly, "this one I will feel more for than any child has a right to be loved."
He closed his eyes against the tears but they slid past his eyelids anyway. He felt her brace herself against his knees as she leaned up and kissed them away. He reached out blindly and took her head in his hands, pressing his face to hers. "Shhshsh," she said, "I'll love our child, I promise."
He wanted to die. He hadn't felt worse since that day not so long ago he lay strapped to a table, his brain open and exposed and the wounds on his soul fresh from Aeryn's death.
He felt her slipping his vest off his shoulders, tugging at his T-shirt and pulling it over his head. Her lips were on his and he swallowed a sob as her tongue dove into his mouth, inviting him out for more to come. He felt her long hair brushing against his bare chest, her fingers running over his shoulderes and gently pushing him back on the bed. Instinct took over and he was stripping her bare, turning her to lay beneath him.
"Buckle!" she hissed against his lips, wiggling further up in the bed. He threw the offending holster into a corner of the room, and leaned back over her. She put a staying hand on his shoulder, the other running up to stroke the back of his neck.
"John, would you do that…thing you did…yesterday. Again."
"All in good time, Baby." He answered, kissing her, "All good things come in time."
Two days later she lay in his arms exhausted, the retching and the sobbing and the bleeding finally coming to an end. He held her through all of it, except for the rare instances when Zhaan would come in to check the bleeding, shooing him out and trying to comfort the inconsolable woman. Stark hovered outside the door of the chamber with him, a steady hand on his shoulder.
"The others are respecting your privacy," he said. John had nodded, not saying anything. "The child feels nothing. It is a sleeping, and a forgetting." John had paced.
Now he sat with his back against the head of the bed, Aeryn curled between his splayed legs using his thigh as a pillow. He ran his fingers through her hair, listening to her breathe and sniffle.
"John?" her voice was hoarse, the past solar day finding her screaming in either rage or grief and pain. There had been so much pain.
"Hmm?" He was afraid to say anything more, knowing his voice would crack. Knowing if he spoke too much his guilt would come pouring out.
"Why did this happen? Sebaceans don't miscarry. We just don't."
"I don't know," he lied, "Maybe because the father was a human." It was a statement he found true. If the father hadn't been human, this human, she would still be pregnant.
But she seemed to accept the answer, curling a little tighter against him. He allowed himself the brief pleasure of feeling her body against his, knowing when she was well again it would be back to separate quarters. Just like when he had made love to her the last time, memorizing each line, each moment, each sound like a condemned man reveled in his final meal.
He thought she had fallen asleep when he heard his name again.
"Yeah, Baby," he answered.
"I need a favor," she said.
"I know. Don't worry, we'll find him. I promise."
He slid under the covers next to her, pulling her tightly against him, knowing that in the morning he would have to let go indefinitely.
"Thank you," she mumbled, barely awake anymore. Somewhere locked in her mind she remembered a time when two men had held her up under a shower, her legs aching and shaking, her belly feeling as though she had just been hit by a pulse rifle charge. They had cleaned the blood off her legs and the sweat off her brow and tied her hair back in a regulation binding. She had cursed at them as they moved her and they had joked with each other about her pain. But she had felt safe. She twined her fingers through John's, pulling his arms tighter around her and realizing for the first time in her life what feeling safe meant.