Part 4

In cycles to come, John Crichton looked back on that night as one of the few times in his life that he'd ever believed there could be a God. If he'd been asleep when the call had come, he probably would have slept the night through - and it might have been too late. But he'd been awake, for no particular reason, and that had allowed him to yank on his clothes and get to Laynie in time, possibly breaking the Olympic sprinting record en route.

So it came to pass that, two arns after she'd made her call for help, he was sitting in the medilab watching her sleep. A dozen different monitors beeped steadily, reassuring him that she and her baby were fine. At least for now.

This, he realised now, was why Captain Marvio - the original leader of the resistance - had left instructions that Crichton would take over Crais' old role as second-in-command. Crais felt responsible for the success of the resistance, Crichton felt responsible for the people who made up that organisation. Together they really were stronger, the perfect command team.

Laynie and her child lying here, Braca locked in a holding cell, Crais' mother resting in her quarters, Crichton's own daughter asleep in her bed and every other person who lived on this base were under his command tonight. For the first time, Crais' obsession with his work began to make sense.

The Captain's chair is a lonely place.

***

"Talyn is amazing," Tauvo said, smiling as he ran his hand down a bulkhead.

"Being joined to him was...beyond description," Aeryn replied, glancing up from her work.

Tauvo looked over at her, a questioning look in his eyes. "You were joined with Talyn?"

"Briefly," Aeryn replied. "Crais was having trouble with Talyn, it seemed wise to share his command with someone else."

"Why didn't you keep the link?"

Aeryn glanced at him. "There were several reasons. It was causing a lot of friction between Crais and John."

"Jealous?"

"Unfortunately, John has a tendency to be. Especially of your brother," Aeryn replied, moving to another console.

"Why?" Tauvo asked, then his eyes widened. "Wait a minute. You and my brother didn't...."

"No, as I explained to John plenty of times, but I think he suspected otherwise. However," Aeryn said, giving Tauvo a firm glance, "that has now been resolved and I do not want to bring up old arguments again."

"Of course not," Tauvo said, trying to find another subject. "Tell me about your husband. My brother seemed only willing to answer with a grunt."

Aeryn suppressed a smile. "John is...unique. Often strange, prone to bizarre schemes that work against all the odds and jokes that nobody understands except him."

"And yet you love him still."

Aeryn nodded, holding up her hand with the bonding tattoo, casting an eye over it once again. "Which is fortunate," she said, "because I have him for life."

"I still can't quite believe that you married a non-Sebacean. I wasn't sure if you'd manage to shake off all that dren."

Aeryn raised an eyebrow at Tauvo's words. He smiled. "Most of the planets I've been on weren't Sebacean - I didn't want to risk running into Peacekeeper patrols - so I had to forget about irreversible contamination fast if I wanted to stay alive."

"John has helped me to...shake off that dren," Aeryn replied, amused at his choice of words. "The fact that we have one child and another on the way should prove that."

"Congratulations," Tauvo said warmly, his eyes lighting up. "And you're right, it proves a lot."

He paused a moment, trying to decide whether or not to ask his next question. "What about my brother? He has not mentioned anyone similar in his life, is there someone?"

"Not as far as I know," Aeryn answered. "I suggest you ask John when we return."

"You think my brother would confide in your husband?" Tauvo asked, surprised.

"No," Aeryn said, smiling slightly. "Crais would not confide in anyone. I think John would find out anyway."

Tauvo smiled again. "I think I'm going to like him."

***

"Report, Lieutenant," Crais said, without preamble, as he stepped out of the transport pod and back onto his base, where Lt. Hals was waiting for them.

"Sir," Lt. Hals replied, a little awkwardly. "Captain Crichton has asked that I let him report to you."

"I am ordering otherwise."

"Yes, sir, but Captain Crichton was most insistent and he is still formally in command until you meet him and...." Lt. Hals explained, trying to remain loyal to both her Captains and finding it extremely difficult.

"What reason has he given for this order?" Crais asked, suspicion growing.

"There are several matters that Captain Crichton feels need to be explained in detail...and in private."

"What has he done?" Crais asked, the tension in his face and shoulders growing by the microt.

"Nothing, sir," Lt. Hals said quickly. "There has been minimal external activity in your absence. These are...internal matters."

"Then tell me who they concern."

"Sir, as I said, Captain Crichton...."

"That is a direct order, Lieutenant," Crais snapped, any relaxation he'd achieved over the last few days deserting him completely.

"Yes, sir," Lt. Hals said uncomfortably, "of course. Captain...Braca has been put into protective custody, Dr Taan has been relieved of duty indefinitely and...you have a visitor, sir."

"Relieved of duty? On what grounds?" Crais demanded immediately, assigning the other concerns to a later time.

"Medical, sir," Lt. Hals replied, blissfully unaware of why her Captain was this concerned. "There was reason to believe that her work was posing a danger to the life of her unborn child."

Crais had gone a greenish grey colour. "Where is L...Dr Taan?"

"At the... 'picnic', sir."

" 'Picnic', Lieutenant?" Crais replied, unfamiliar with this particular word.

"Yes, sir, Captain Crichton...."

Crais closed his eyes. "Enough," he said. "Where is this 'picnic' being held?"

"The lake, sir."

"Very well," Crais said slowly, taking a deep breath. "I shall seek further explanation...from him. Thank you, Lieutenant."

He marched out of the docking bay. Aeryn, Tauvo and Senva trailed behind him.

"I'm getting the distinct impression that they don't get on too well," Tauvo whispered to Aeryn.

"John seems to take great delight in provoking Crais," Aeryn whispered back. "This is very normal behaviour. I think Crais would have been surprised if John hadn't done something he disapproved of in his absence."

"If you say so," Tauvo murmured, as they quickened their pace to keep up with Crais. "But I'm glad it isn't me who put that scowl on his face."

***

It wasn't the first time Crichton had completely upset Crais' routine with one of his schemes, but Crais had never seen what seemed to be half the resistance staff spread out in the base's gardens, lazing on blankets and eating large amounts of food. It was a sight completely alien to him - it had 'Crichton' stamped all over it.

It didn't take more than a quick sweep of the tableau to locate his infuriating second-in-command. He was right by the edge of the lake, accompanied by Laynie and another woman he didn't recognise. Laynie was out of uniform and wearing a dress, she looked beautiful and Crais swallowed hard as he took in the sight, and Crichton...Crichton appeared to be cavorting around in his underwear. He also looked...well...wet.

"That's him?" Tauvo mouthed to Aeryn, behind Crais' back, pointing unobtrusively to Crichton.

"I'm afraid so," Aeryn mouthed back, but her eyes were smiling.

Crichton spotted them and his face lit up. "Honey, you're back! Welcome home." He hurried towards them, his arms wide. Crais stiffened head to toe and didn't relax until Crichton wrapped Aeryn in his arms. With Crichton, you never knew.

"Captain Crichton," he said. "I am now in command again. I expect a full report on everything that has occurred in my absence immediately...and an explanation as to why you are soaking wet and parading around clad only in your underwear!"

Crichton pulled away from Aeryn and turned to Crais, grinning happily. "I missed you too, Crais," he replied. "And it's not my underwear, it's a bathing suit. I've been swimming in the lake. It's a picnic, I decided we all needed a little fun."

"Fun?" Crais echoed in disbelief.

"Yes, fun," Crichton said, adopting his 'senior professor' look. "I'll explain it to you later." He turned to Tauvo, who was standing quietly behind Crais. "I guess you're the guy I nearly got killed because of."

"Bialar has...explained what happened," Tauvo said, shifting awkwardly. "I'm very sorry for...everything."

"Because of you, I met Aeryn. That's compensation enough," Crichton said, looking far more cheerful than anyone had expected. "I'm John Crichton, it's my job to make Crais' life difficult."

Tauvo grinned. "You seem to be very good at it."

"The finest I have ever encountered," Crais said darkly, narrowing his eyes at Crichton.

The corners of Crichton's mouth twitched upwards. "Come and sit down. I think there's still some food left."

The four travellers slowly approached Crichton's blanket. Crais' eyes immediately locked on Laynie. There was so much he wanted to ask, but he didn't feel he could discuss it here. She looked away and Crais sighed.

"Tauvo," he said. "In addition to Crichton, this is Dr Laynie Taan - the head of my medical staff - and...I'm afraid I don't know who you are," he said politely when his gaze fell on the woman sitting next to Crichton.

"Look a little closer, Crais," Crichton said, with that irritating expression he always got when he knew something Crais didn't.

"I wouldn't expect them to recognise me, I've changed a lot over the cycles," Sayla said quickly. She paused, for the first time looking slightly uncertain. "I am...Sayla Crais."

Crichton had expected a violent reaction. What he hadn't expected was for the two Crais brothers to react so completely differently. Tauvo's eyes lit up like Christmas tree lights and his choked up "Mother?" actually brought a lump to Crichton's throat. Crais' eyes, already dark, narrowed immediately. What was visible was a mixture of hate and disgust.

"Crichton, how could you allow this...woman...here?" he asked, forcing the words out. His barely controlled fury was evident.

"Crais, she's your mother," was all Crichton could say. He was almost scared by Crais' reaction.

"She is not my mother," Crais said through clenched teeth. "My mother's name was Kali. This...creature...does not deserve that title."

"Bialar, how can you say that?" Tauvo demanded. "She is our mother and she's...she's back."

"She ceased to be my mother the day she abandoned both of us and our father without even attempting an explanation!" Crais exclaimed, his eyes shooting venom at Sayla. "You may choose to forget that...but I will not!"

He turned sharply on his heel and marched away. The others stared after him in shock. Laynie shifted uncomfortably.

Crichton turned back to Sayla. "You couldn't have given me a little advanced warning? I thought he'd be glad to see you!"

"I should have done, I didn't expect our meeting to be in public like this," Sayla answered, looking troubled. She got to her feet and approached the man who'd once been her younger son. "Tauvo, what about you?" she asked cautiously.

In a microt she was wrapped in a powerful hug that almost cut off her air supply. She wrapped her arms as far as they would go around his broad chest and hugged him back. "Oh my son," she said, not knowing what to say, "...you've grown."

Tauvo looked back at her, drinking in the sight, his eyes glowing. "Well...I was only two cycles when...when I last saw you."

"I want to explain about that," Sayla replied, awkwardly. "Or, at least...I want to try. But...this isn't really the place."

Tauvo wiped a tear from his eye. "I'd suggest my quarters...but I don't have any yet."

"We'll go to mine."

"Well," Crichton said when they were gone, "this isn't quite how I meant it to go."

"I need to speak to Bialar," Laynie said abruptly, breaking her silence.

"I thought you didn't want to talk to him?" Crichton said, still reeling a little from the shock of Crais' reaction.

"That was before," she said, climbing to her feet.

"Why wouldn't she want to speak to Crais? And why does she want to see him now?" Aeryn asked in confusion, when Laynie had left them too.

"Don't ask," Crichton replied, just as Aeryn's eyes widened in realisation.

"He's the father!" Aeryn exclaimed. Senva stared at her, then at Crichton, waiting for his answer.

"It's not my business," Crichton tried to say.

"Oh frell," Aeryn said, shaking her head. "Now I understand what he was brooding about while we were on Talyn."

"Crais brooding? Gee, how often does that happen?" Crichton remarked sarcastically.

"Crais a father? How often does *that* happen?" Aeryn countered.

"He's still trying to pretend it hasn't," Crichton replied, pulling his knees up to his chest and resting his head in his hands. "I never thought I'd have to say this, but Crais is living in a dream world. And the sooner he faces reality the better."

***

Crais wasn't used to people following him when he stalked out of places - except when it was Crichton trying to tell him he was being ridiculous because he was acting like the ex-Peacekeeper Captain he was, instead of the Human Crichton seemed to think he should be. Having a woman follow him - other than one who was obliged to because his absence made it impossible to do her job - was almost a new experience, made better because that woman happened to be one he actually wanted to spend time with.

"Do you want to talk about it?" Laynie asked, sitting down on the end of his bed. Crais couldn't help noticing that her stomach was just beginning to swell. He was still grappling with the idea that it was his child growing inside her.

"No."

"I didn't think so," Laynie said agreeably. She waited a few microts. "How about now?"

Crais tried not to smile, for some reason he found it impossible to stay angry around her. "No."

"Well I'm going to stay here until you do, so in the interests of saving time...."

"What do you care to know?" Crais asked, sitting down beside her and meeting her eyes.

"Did she really abandon you?" Laynie said softly, her eyes glowing in the dim light.

Crais cleared his throat. "She...left us all."s he?"

"As a child he insisted that she would return...that there had been a mistake...and would not listen when I tried to convince him of the truth. When we were conscripted...he ceased to speak of it, but it seems obvious now that he has never challenged that view."

"And it seems that he's been proved right," Laynie observed, biting her lip.

Crais shook his head vehemently. "I do not trust her."

"You astound me," Laynie answered, trying to hold back a grin and failing.

"She has no business trying to re-enter our lives after all this time and the way she has behaved," Crais stated emphatically.

"Maybe she regrets what she did."

"Regrets do not undo what was done," Crais said bitterly.

"Don't you believe that people can change?" Laynie asked quietly.

"When did you begin to take responsibility for my happiness?" Crais asked, stopping this line of questioning.

Laynie paused. "We're friends. Or at least we were before...things got complicated. You may find this hard to believe, but I care about you. And I was never that good at switching off affection just because it isn't returned."

"I have never said that I did not care for you," Crais said, startled by her choice of words.

"I know," Laynie replied, an ironic smile coming to her lips. "You care about me. You just don't want to be the father of my child, or have a real relationship, or even acknowledge the fact that we've been sleeping together for a cycle."

"Why have you been relieved of duty?" Crais asked abruptly, not prepared to face that discussion.

Laynie looked away and took a deep breath. "Because I started having stomach cramps one night while you were away. We thought I would lose the baby."

"But you did not?"

"No," she said, unconsciously rubbing a hand over her stomach, "but we're not sure why it happened or what the chances are of it happening again. I mean...everything looks fine, I've seen the scans and the test results and there's no obvious cause for concern. But that just makes it harder to work out what happened. Hence why Captain Crichton relieved me of duty. So," Laynie continued, smiling slightly, "I get to spend the next four monens doing absolutely nothing. Which leaves me lots of free time to spend interfering in your life."

"I prefer it to be you rather than Crichton," Crais said softly.

"Goodness. What a compliment," Laynie replied dryly. She smiled to show she didn't mean it. "But I appreciate the attempt."

"Laynie...it is my concerns about the responsibilities of my position that have dictated my actions, not...."

"Yes, I know. But I have a responsible position and I believe I can combine the two, and Captain Crichton already does. Being head of the resistance makes it more difficult, but I think it can be done. And I hope you'll change your mind."

"If I don't?"

"Then I will raise her," Laynie replied, getting up. "We'll be fine on our own."

It wasn't until after she had gone that Crais found himself thinking, 'her?'.

***

"You already know that I was very young when I married your father," Sayla began, as Tauvo settled himself down and began to listen attentively, "and that he...was much older than I was. What you do not know is that...it was not my choice to marry him."

Tauvo bowed his head at that.

"My family did not come from the community you were born in, we were not farmers. When we arrived, my father was very keen to be accepted. Your father was very influential in the village...so when he showed an interest in me, my father forced me to accept him."

Sayla moved quietly over to sit beside Tauvo. "Your father was in no way a bad husband," she said quietly. "On the contrary, he was a fine man and he tried to make me happy. I know my father never allowed him to know of my opposition to the match until it was made irrevocably. But...I was miserable. I...loved both you and Bialar dearly. Despite what you may have been told I did not dislike being a mother...you were the most important thing in my life. I was simply in a marriage I did not want, with a man I was not suited to. I was weak. I grew so depressed that I was desperate to end it. I thought it would be better for you if I left than if I were to take my own life."

"I wish you hadn't left us," Tauvo said quietly, lifting his head and making no effort to hide the tears trickling down his cheeks. "I missed you. Even after we were conscripted I missed you. I always thought you'd come back."

"I always wanted to, I wanted to take you with me," Sayla whispered, cradling him in her arms as her own tears started. "But I was too afraid that I wouldn't be able to support you, that you'd be hurt because I'd been so selfish...I couldn't take you away from your home knowing that you would be well looked after there...and safe."

"We weren't safe," Tauvo said quietly. "Four cycles later the Peacekeepers conscripted us."

"If I had known, I would have acted differently," Sayla replied, equally softly. "Decisions seem so much simpler when you look back on them, you forget how hard they were at the time."

"Bialar never forgave you for leaving. He made Aunt Kali his mother and tried to make me do the same. I don't know if he will accept you," Tauvo told her, not wanting to say it, but knowing it needed to be said.

"Will he make me leave, knowing that you want me here?" Sayla asked, unsure of the answer she would get.

"He could," Tauvo said honestly, "but I hope he will not, for my sake."

"And if he does?"

Tauvo looked stricken. "Mother...I can't leave. Bialar is here, I will have a place in the resistance and my...partner...is here."

Sayla looked delighted. "I hoped you would have a woman in your life," she said happily.

Tauvo pulled at his jacket collar. "Um, yes...the thing is...I don't."

"But you said.... Oh."

"Are you angry, disgusted, shocked, all three?" Tauvo asked nervously, hating the thought that his mother might not be able to accept it.

"I am a little...taken aback," Sayla said, choosing her words carefully. "It will take a little time to...adjust to, but it changes nothing. You're my son, you'll have to try a lot harder if you want me to stop loving you. I don't think it's even possible."

She smiled when Tauvo wrapped her in a bear hug. Oh, it felt good to be back where she belonged.

***

Crichton's final decision regarding Braca's predicament had been simple. He needed something to do. It had been many cycles since Braca had considered himself a soldier, he'd grown used to being what Crichton had incomprehensibly termed 'Deputy Manager Dry' and getting back into full training had given his body more of a shock than he'd expected. But, to his surprise, he found that a part of him liked doing something other than give and carry out orders again.

It had been during one of the sessions that Aeryn instructed (and usually joined in with, not being able to was one of the things she liked least about being pregnant) that Braca had concluded that he had never been an especially good soldier. He hated to admit it, but hand-to-hand combat was not his strongest suit. However, during the same session Braca discovered that he could see exactly what everyone else was doing wrong, even if he couldn't do any better himself. Which, via some persuasion on the part of Lt. Sun and Captain Crichton - which had culminated in a very loud argument between Crichton and Crais during which, it was rumoured, Crichton had called the Commander-In-Chief of the entire resistance forces a stubborn, thick-headed son of a bitch - had resulted in him being appointed one of the base's training instructors.

And then there was Lt. Esaan, another instructor, whom Braca had been recreating with for a monen before it occurred to him that no Peacekeeper should form a connection for that long.

So it came to pass that, roughly four monens after the day he'd held a pulse pistol to his head, ex-Peacekeeper Captain Alasis Braca suddenly stopped in the middle of explaining the correct form of a Lindan attack and realised that he'd become a traitor after all.

Odd that he didn't mind that much.

***

Hell froze over that night. Crichton didn't need to flip to the weather channel to know that. There was no other explanation.

"You know," Crichton said quietly, tearing his eyes from the tiny bundle in his arms to glance briefly up at Crais, "...I wish I could go back in time and tell the me I was when we first met that, fourteen cycles after you swore to kill me, we'd be sitting here side-by-side tonight."

Crais didn't say anything, but something in his eyes suggested that, for once, he understood what Crichton meant.

"We're gonna call her Shani," Crichton said, sensing that Crais wasn't going to talk. "Aeryn thought this one should have a Sebacean name. I like it. Shani Sun, to go with Elizabeth Crichton. My girls." He grinned down at his new daughter. "What are you calling yours?"

Crais was still looking at the small scrap of life in his arms like she was a mirage. In fact this whole experience - sitting next to Crichton on an obliging medibed, them both holding new-born daughters - felt surreal. "Laynie...wants to call her Alyssa," he said quietly.

"Right, she told me that," Crichton replied, nodding in remembrance. "I think it suits her."

Crais studied his daughter. Her looks at least were a combination of both her parents, she had his black curls and her mother's green eyes. She was beautiful...and it did suit her.

"I was separated from my family for years," he said suddenly, to Crichton's surprise. "And I let my career drive me away from my brother, to the point where I knew almost nothing about who he really was. Outside the Peacekeepers, I had another chance...and I have done the same thing again."

Crichton, not sure whether Crais required an answer, kept quiet for maybe the first time in his life.

"My...mother...is here. My brother is here. This is my daughter...and in that room," Crais said, looking towards the door to the recovery room, "is the woman...I want for my wife."

Crichton was speechless. He'd spent monens trying to get Crais to admit this and he'd finally done it.

Without saying anymore, Crais rose slowly and carried his daughter to the door. He opened it quietly, went inside and closed the door. But, before it closed fully, Crichton heard one sentence.

"I need to ask you a question."

Despite the baby in his arms, Crichton couldn't resist silently punching the air.

THE END