Heart Of The Matter
(First posted February 27, 2002)
Rating:  G
Disclaimer:  The characters and vision of Farscape belong to Henson Co., and the Sci-Fi Channel.  If they
want me to stop writing stories, then they need to keep these folks locked up … they keep showing up 3:00am
with another tale they want told.   
Time Frame/Spoilers:  This story is post-Fractures.  Not too much in terms of explicit spoilers, only implied
ones.  I don’t usually work in this time frame because I can’t stand John’s emotional pain.  This time my motto
seems to be “If you can’t fight ‘em, join ‘em.”  

Note to the reader:  Not much to tell about this one, except that it fought back.  This is the one and only story
that I reposted after modifying it.  This is actually Version 3.  I learned an enormous amount about the disparity
between what an author thinks she’s written versus what the reader thinks has been written doing this one.  
Sometimes it’s a very wide gulch.  

* * * * *

I can hear the soft breathing of the girl that I love,
As she lies here beside me asleep with the night.
And her hair in a fine mist floats on my pillow,
Reflecting the glow of the winter moonlight.

She is soft, she is warm, but my heart remains heavy,
And I watch as her breasts gently rise, gently fall.
For I know with the first light of dawn I’ll be leaving,
And tonight will be all I have left to recall.  

Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.
(Simon and Garfunkel)

* * * * *

This was not going smoothly at all.  John Crichton had time for the single thought and then the transport
lurched violently to one side and he was thrown off his feet for the third time.  He slid out of control toward the
hammond side hatch and came to a crunching stop.  One more bruise to add to the fast growing collection.  He
scrambled back up and returned to where he was trying to coax the secondary fuel pump back into working
order.  He had just managed to reach the open access hatch when the pod lurched to the other side.  He
grabbed wildly at the back of the empty pilot’s seat to prevent another out-of-control slide across the cockpit.  

“Crichton, we need that secondary pump!  The primary is failing!” Aeryn barked from the other seat.  She didn’t
spare him a glance, but kept her gaze locked on the schematics in front of her.  He could see at least four ships
closing in behind them as she desperately threw the transport into another erratic evasive maneuver.  They
were completely outclassed by the fighter craft following them and it was only Aeryn’s exceptional flying skills
that had kept them from being blasted out of existence thus far.

“Working on it,” he gasped as sudden deceleration folded him over the empty seat.

“Well, work faster.  I don’t know how much longer I can keep this up.”  She punched up a different display and
he saw another cluster of targets closing on the grouping of five that represented themselves and their
pursuers.  

“Yes, Mom,” he mumbled under his breath and took advantage of a brief moment of steady flight to push
himself back toward the pump.  He reached in and began working as quickly as possible, ignoring the
occasional twinge of burned fingers as he touched what had been red hot parts just microts ago.  

“HANG ON!” she warned him for once.  John tried to grab the edges of the open panel but her caution was too
late.  The crash of weapons fire against the transport threw him off his perch on the knee high bench and he
landed on his back, all breath exploding out of him in a rush.  

“Crichton, we need that …”  Her desperate demand broke off as she flipped the transport over and reversed
direction, accelerating head-on back into their pursuers.  The engines screamed a complaint at the sudden
demand, a high pitched contrast to the deep groans coming from the battered hull.  Aeryn had herself jammed
firmly in the chair, but John slid once again across the cockpit until he was wedged into a corner.  “We need
that pump,” she finished.  

John was still waiting for the sick helplessness to leave him.  He knew that the suffocating feeling resulting from
having the wind knocked out of him would pass, but the urgent need to act was making the interval more
unpleasant than usual.  He tried to think of anything else while he waited, but another crashing salvo against
the outer hull brought his attention back to their dilemma.    

“CRICHTON!”  There was no concern for him in her voice, only the need for him to accomplish the assigned
task.  His diaphragm finally decided to rejoin the fray and air whistled back into his lungs in a rush.  

“On. It.” he gasped, but before he could get back to his feet, the pod lurched to the side under another impact
and then decelerated.  He slid toward the front of the cockpit, ending up this time under her feet.  

“Are you all right?” she finally asked, but didn’t spare him a glance.  She rammed the throttles to full power and
the pod wallowed forward again, a poor contrast to the sleek fighters that were suddenly all around them.

“Peachy.”  He reached for something to pull himself up and unfortunately grabbed her leg.  Aeryn didn’t actually
flinch, but all the muscles in her thigh tensed and her face was even more stony than usual.  “Sorry,” he said
quietly and pushed off the back of her seat, propelling himself toward the still malfunctioning equipment.  “Is
that second batch out there friend or foe?”  

“I don’t know.  I’m heading back that way in case they don’t like the ones right behind us.”  The transport
shuddered again, and there was an audible explosion somewhere beneath their feet.  Crichton was driven away
from his goal by a shower of sparks and the billowing stench of burning circuitry.  

“That’s done it.  I can’t get in there again.”  Crichton called to her, stumbling as the pod slewed to the side as
Aeryn lost one engine.  Her hands flew as she fought to stabilize the craft and establish it on a modified course,
but the targets were continuing to converge on their position.  

“We’re frelled!”  Aeryn’s voice was full of frustration and anger.  “That second group is coming right at us.  
FRELL!!”  The second engine howled out of control for a moment and then there was another explosion under
their feet.  She didn’t say anything more as she concentrated on using the last bit of thrust from the dying
engine to redirect the transport into a new trajectory.  

John was still trying to find a place to get himself lodged against the shuddering lurches of the transport, with
little success.  He tried to see what Aeryn was attempting to accomplish.  Without engines they were sitting
ducks.  He gave up on getting a handhold and staggered to stand behind her.  She had aimed them at one of
the planets in the solar system they were visiting, and was using the gravity to pull them away from the fighters.  
The acceleration of the enemy craft was making a mockery of their slow progress.  

He saw it a microt after Aeryn.  “They’re breaking off!” they said simultaneously.  He noted the tightening in
Aeryn’s shoulders as they spoke the same words.  He forced himself to keep his eyes on the situational
schematic, trying to ignore the rigid figure in his peripheral vision.  The display showed that their pursuers were
not following the same trajectory as the crippled transport pod, but were arcing off to intercept the incoming
group of fighters.  Aeryn continued to coax the lurching, groaning craft toward the nearby planet.  

“You’d better get ready, this isn’t going to be an easy landing,” she told him.  John slithered into the spare seat
and fastened the belt.  He could feel the heat and pressure of bruises developing all over, and to be sitting still
was an enormous relief.  

“Anything I can do to help?”  He knew the answer before he asked, but felt he ought to at least try.  Aeryn only
shook her head and kept her eyes rigidly fixed ahead of her.  They were approaching the outer fringes of the
planet’s atmosphere, and the second engine was sounding increasingly like it was about to explode.  Without
touching anything, John leaned over so he could see the readouts on the drive.  It WAS about to explode.  He
opened his mouth to say something, but before he could utter a word, Aeryn reached to one side and shut it
down.  

“Now we’re really in trouble,” she announced, and he almost laughed.  They had been in trouble ever since
they had landed on what had appeared to be a tranquil, mixed economy planet.  The population made most of
its currency dealing with space travelers of all description, and John had hoped to get some information
concerning the location of Scorpius’ Command Carrier.  He’d been astonished when Aeryn had asked to join
him, and had hoped that it indicated a step forward in their relationship.  He couldn’t have been more wrong
and the trip had been conducted in painful silence.  

About forty microts after stepping out of the transport pod, they discovered that the entire planetary population
was embroiled in a two day old civil war, and any craft or person within their sphere of travel was fair game for
destruction.  They had scrambled off the planet one step ahead of one side’s militia, but had not escaped the
planetary defense fighters.  ‘Now we’re in trouble’ was an understatement of the first order.  

From his awkward view, Crichton noticed something else about the schematic display.  “You’re losing
maneuvering controls!”  The caloric levels were dropping too fast; they were going to be an uncontrolled blunt
object by the time they got into the lower atmosphere.  

“Don’t try to fix it.  It’s in the rear.”  This time she did sound concerned.  He knew if they touched down while he
was still standing freely in the back half of the pod, his injuries would probably be severe.  But if they didn’t
have maneuvering control when they got down, the transport would turn into a bouncing ball of mangled
debris.  

Crichton boosted himself out of his secure seating, stepped to the rear and began unlatching the inner door to
the cargo area.  “I’ll get it and be back in a jiffy.  I can have it done before you have to touch down.”  He didn’t
wait for her reply.  

He almost made it.  He had most of the circuits and power back to normal when Aeryn yelled back something
unintelligible.  “Almost done …”  He was about to call her ‘babe’, and just stopped, his phrase hanging in
midair.  ‘Sorry, Aeryn,’ he thought.  ‘Sorry to you too, John.  Sorry that every word you speak hurts you as much
as it hurts her.’  He was distracted for a moment and let two cables touch.  “Shit!”  He jerked his singed hand
back and sucked on tingling, burnt finger tips.  

“We just lost maneuvering again!” she yelled more loudly.  

“Got it!” he reached in with his left hand and separated offending circuits and reconnected other ones.  His
blistered right hand joined in and he could hear relays start to hum again.  

“Get braced!  We’re about to hit!”  He looked at the mess of cross-wired circuits and jury rigged cabling and
saw one burnt system that he knew she was going to need.  “JOHN!  You need to get out of there right now!”    

“I’ll be there.  Just one more microt.”  He pulled the wiring down and ripped out the damaged lengths, quickly
splicing in a piece that he had scavenged from another, less important system.  “You should have full braking
thrusters … NOW!” he yelled forward, looking through the open hatch.  He saw nothing but trees rushing
toward the front view screen.  “I’m frelled.”  And that’s when the pod hit.  

* * * * *

John knelt by the edge of the lake and soaked his blistered fingers in the cold water, sighing as the pain faded
to a sting.  The mild discomfort was replaced in a few microts by the familiar ache as the cold penetrated to the
blood vessels.  He could almost feel the cooled blood running up his arms, taking away some of the
inflammation from the bruises that were darkening on his shoulders and arms.  He’d been tossed around
violently when they’d touched down, but the first impact had knocked him out, and his unresisting body had
come through undamaged.

He cut his relief short and moved along the shore to a spot where he hadn’t stirred up the muck and silt on the
bottom.  He’d found a rounded piece of cowling that had been ripped loose in the crash and was using it like a
small bowl.  He let clear water ease into it until it was brimming, and then straightened against the stiff muscles
and headed back up the incline to where he’d built a shelter against the side of the wrecked pod.

Aeryn hadn’t moved in the brief time he’d been gone.  She hadn’t been as lucky in the crash. When he had
come to, John had frantically scrambled into the cockpit and found her unconscious, a deep gash in her
forehead.  It had taken two entire arns to carefully work her free of the jungle of cables and conduits, and to
carry her outside.  Once he had made her as comfortable as possible, John had spent the rest of the first
afternoon laboriously uprooting small saplings and smashing branches loose from larger trees to make a
shelter against the side of the pod.

Aeryn had lain senseless through it all, her pale face broken only by the occasional small trickle of blood from
the wound.  He’d alternated between creating their rough refuge, and tending to her.  He’d torn a long tail off
his t-shirt and folded it several times to make a soft pad to cover the wound, just trying to keep any dirt or
detritus out of it.  Nothing he did to her provoked the slightest response.  

They had so little to work with he’d despaired of getting her settled before dark.  He’d searched through the
back of the transport, but found no blankets or extra clothing, and there was no food on board either.  He’d
resorted to building up a layer of leaves and soft earth, then topped it with the long cushion from the bench
seat of the transport.  He’d moved Aeryn onto it, and sandwiched her between his coat and her own.

The first night had been a nightmare of cold and discomfort.  He hadn’t figured out how to get a fire started
before dark overtook him, and had to check on Aeryn by touch alone.  Time and again in the dark he’d been
tempted to check if she was bleeding again, but each time he’d left the padding alone for fear of making things
worse.  He hadn’t been able to do anything more than talk to her, hoping she’d know he was there and hang on.

John woke shivering a little before dawn.  The first tinges of gray were working into the sky when he sat up and
tried to stop his teeth from chattering.  Aeryn hadn’t moved, but there seemed to be more expression in her
face, as though she were closer to the surface.  It had been tough to tell in the dim light.  He’d watched as the
first fingers of light had eased across the still surface of the water, finally brightening enough that he could
stumble to the transport pod and find something to collect some water.  

John looked down at the still figure for a microt, then settled the makeshift bowl into a depression he had
gouged into the ground and slowly lowered himself to sit next to her.  He lifted the cloth away from her forehead
and was please to see that it hadn’t bled anymore overnight.  He soaked the cloth and began working some of
the blood off her forehead, careful not to touch the thick clot over the wound.  

“Anyone home yet?”  Not a twitch.  “Came up with a rhyme for you, Aeryn.  John and Jill went down the hill to
fetch a pail of water; John sat down on the ground, and hoped Aeryn would wake up and pound the snot out of
him for stepping out with Jill.  Want to give it a try?”  Not a twitch.  He finished cleaning her forehead and
sacrificed another piece of his shirt for a new dry pad for the wound.  

“Now all we need is fire.”  He rested his forearms on his knees and considered the problem.  “Can’t have
pancakes and coffee without fire.  How am I going to get this started?”  Now that he’d been moving around for a
while he wasn’t as stiff, but he was still shivering with cold.  The chill seemed to have taken over his bones,
moving in where the marrow belonged.  He rubbed his head, considering the dilemma.  The pod was dead.  If it
had run on something like an electrical battery he might have been able to do something, but when
biomechanoid calorics ran out, there wasn’t anything left to create a spark.  

“Hey, Aeryn,” he began voicing his thoughts again.  “Tell me how to get a fire started, all right?  Wake up and
tell me how Peacekeeper training handled this.  I know you probably made fire by rubbing two lesser-species
together, but I need some coaching on the technique.  Obvious choice for species would be a couple of
Sheyang of course.  They’d be a little unwieldy, but once they ignited, the explosion would …”  He broke off.     

Brainstorm, he thought.  He’d just been trying to make himself feel better, but this was either genius or complete
and total insanity.  He wasn’t going to worry which.  If he stopped to think about the stupidity of this idea for
even a microt, he might not go through with it.  

“Aeryn, you really ought to wake up to watch this.  I’m going to go blow myself up.  Not much else about me
amuses you any more, but this might just make you smile again.”  His voice lowered.  “I miss your smile,
Aeryn.”    

Crichton pulled Wynona out of her holster and considered his pulse pistol for a minute.  He glanced at Aeryn
and put his weapon away.  He leaned over and carefully reached under the coats to pull her weapon loose.  
“You haven’t secretly named your pistol, have you?  If you don’t want me to do this with your pistol, just say so.  
Just speak right up and I’ll use Wynona.”  He waited three microts, but the silent figure didn’t stir.  “That’s what I
thought.  Your pistol it is.  Don’t go away, babe, Caveman John is going to go make fire.”  

He wandered deeper into the woods, gathering all the dried, fallen branches he came across until he had an
armful.  He glanced back several times, making sure he wasn’t getting himself lost, and finally stopped when he
found a clearing in the trees.  He dug a shallow depression and arranged the sticks around the edges.  He took
Aeryn’s pistol out of his belt and held in front of him, giving himself a moment to prepare.  “I hope to hell this
stupid idea works, otherwise you’re next Wynona.”

He took a deep breath and set the pulse chamber of Aeryn’s pistol for overload.  He dropped the pistol into the
pit and hurriedly arranged his supply of wood over it.  The whine coming from the pulse chamber was nearing
disaster level as he finished.  He turned and bolted, scrambling through the bushes around the clearing as he
heard the shriek of an impending explosion.  He didn’t know afterward whether he dove or was blown off his
feet, but he suddenly found himself digging a small trench into the layer of brown needles with his chin.  There
was the patter of falling objects and he was struck on the back several times.  He looked up and saw burning
wood fragments scattered all around him, each one slowly igniting the forest floor.  

“Hot damn!!  It worked!  Give me my Firestarter Badge and call me an Eagle Scout.”  He suddenly realized that
what had struck him on the back was burning as well and rolled over, squirming to put out the flames.  “Okay,
so I flunk my Firefighter’s Badge.”  He lay still for a moment, feeling only the grinding misery of new burns, but
no active burning on his back.  He sat up to survey the tiny scattered conflagrations he had created.  Not one
piece of wood was larger than the palm of his hand.  

“Brilliant, John.  How are you going to get these down to the pod?  Kwai Chang Caine you are not, and you
don’t have a hibachi to pick up with your forearms anyway.”  He stood up and scratched his head, waiting for
inspiration.  He finally kicked all the burning bits back into a heap in their original depression and started a
larger fire there.  When he was sure it wouldn’t go out he wandered around and found a larger branch.  It was
long enough that he could let it keep burning until he got back to the pod without toasting himself.  “Who’s got
the marshmallows?” he yelled into the silence as he began the walk back to the pod.    

The second night was warmer, but not an improvement physically.  His burns and bruises joined together into
an all-over misery, and lack of sleep was beginning to wear him down.  He’d spent the afternoon removing the
communications unit from the transport and trying to get it to at least send out an energy pulse.  The circuits
were badly smashed, but he picked away at it, periodically searching the transport for bits and pieces, and
talking to Aeryn as he spliced and jury rigged.  Down deep he knew he’d never get it to work, but he needed to
stay busy with something, and this seemed like as good a project as anything else.  

When dusk fell, he moved closer to Aeryn and settled down to wait for dawn.  He felt the exhaustion beating at
him, but didn’t want to doze off in case she woke and needed anything.  “Not a bad evening here, even if it is a
bit chilly, Aeryn.”  He could see his breath on the evening air, pushed a stick further into the fire.  “This is kind
of like a place on Earth called Wyoming.  The mountains here are a lot like the ones there.”  A branch oozed
sap into the fire and it snapped and crackled for a few moments.  John picked up another green branch and fed
it into the flames needles first.  They went up in a sizzle, sparks showering up into the night sky.  

“Fireworks for you, courtesy of Crichton’s Crashes.  We offer the nicest wrecks on this side of the universe.  We
offer none of the amenities.”  

Aeryn sighed.  

“Aeryn?”  He pulled the coats a little more tightly around her shoulders against the cold.  “Aeryn?” he repeated
and watched carefully in the flickering light for any change.  “I’m going to keep driving you nuts with my talking,
so if you want me to stop, speak right up.”  If she could hear him there was no sign.  He checked under the pad,
but the angry wound was unchanged.  The bruising hadn’t spread and there hadn’t been any more bleeding.  
He assumed that was a good sign, but she had been unconscious for over a solar day now and that didn’t
seem good.  

“Pilot and the others know where we were going.  They’ll be looking for us by now, I’m sure.  This could be your
last chance to wake up and enjoy this night sky before they show up to whisk us away from this paradise.”  He
wondered whether they really did know where to look for them.  John’s stomach growled, the only other noise
beside his voice and the crackle of the fire.  

“Sorry about the lack of room service.  Tomorrow I’ll see if I can rig something to go fishing and snag us some
fish.  On Earth, explosions work good for catching fish.  Wynona should give us a cycle’s supply of trauma-
trout.  That’s assuming there’s something edible in that lake.  With my luck there’ll be something the size of the
Nessie in there and it’ll find me edible instead.  Truly funny sight, you really ought to consider waking up to
watch.”  

He looked at the expressionless face and lowered his voice to a whisper.  “At least that way you wouldn’t have
to avoid looking at me anymore.”   He pushed a branch further into the fire, checking on Aeryn when the flames
jumped higher.  “I never meant to screw things up this way, Aeryn.”     

He finally fell silent, wrapping his arms around his legs in a vain attempt to preserve some warmth.  He propped
his chin on his bent knees and watched the slow rise and fall of the coats covering Aeryn.  It was the most
peaceful moment he’d had with her since she’d returned to Moya, and he desperately wanted it to end.  He
ached for her to wake up and give him one of her glares.  He wanted her to turn her back and walk away from
him in her healthy, aggressive stride.  “Come back, Aeryn.  Don’t leave me this way.  Fight in space, die in
space … remember?”  She didn’t even wink.  Just the rise and fall of the coats.  

The fire crackled a little and he jerked awake.  He looked up and realized he had been asleep for arns.  The
fire snapped again, and he slowly unfolded, feeling the stiffened muscles complain.  He’d dozed too long in one
position.  He felt like a rusted jack knife, the hinges forever frozen in place.  He pushed some of the sticks
carefully into the dying embers, watched as new flames licked around the fuel.  Sparks flew up, and he watched
them float, cooling and gradually disappearing into the clear night sky.  When he settled back and looked at
Aeryn, she was staring back at him.  

“Hey,” he tried carefully, hope and excitement pushing up in his chest, pressing a lump into his throat.  

“John?”  He sighed, relaxing a bit.

“Yes, that’s me.”  He slid next to her and checked her forehead again.  When he looked into her eyes from the
new vantage point he could see that they weren’t completely focused.  “Do you remember what happened?”  
He brushed a stray strand of hair away from her cheek.  

“Did we crash?”  Her eyes closed for a moment, reopened more unfocused than before.  

“Yes, but it was a beautiful crash.  No one could have done it as well as you.”  He was talking to her in a near
whisper, trying to keep her with him without intruding on her muddled thinking.  “How are you feeling?”  

“I’m cold.”  He started to check if there was anywhere he could get the coats in around her more securely, but
she interrupted him.  “Hold me?”  John hesitated for a moment, then slid carefully under her, lifting her upper
body to rest against his, letting her head lean back on his shoulder.  The difference between the chill on his
back and the warmth where she lay was almost painful, but he could finally smell her hair and wrap his arms
around her, and every other sensation seemed to fade away.  

She takes time.  This had taken a frelling long time and a crash to accomplish it.  If he had known that, he would
have flown the transport into the ground ages ago.  He tightened his arms a bit, waiting to see if she objected.  
Aeryn shifted slightly and leaned into him harder, relaxing in his embrace.  

“Is this okay?”  He swiveled them together so that she benefited most from the fire.

“This is nice.  Where are we?”  She sounded sleepy and confused.

“Somewhere near that commerce planet with the civil war.  You managed to get us close enough to a planet
that the gravity pulled us down.  Otherwise we’d be drifting somewhere up there.”  He looked up at the stars.    

“Civil war?  I don’t remember that … my head hurts.”  One hand crept out and grasped his, her fingers hot
against his chilled hands.  “You’re freezing,” she objected.  

“And you’re not.  That’s all that matters.”  He laid his head against hers and felt something tense within him
relax for the first time in almost a half cycle.  “We’ll be all right as soon as the others find us.”  

“The others?  You mean Crais and Talyn?”  His heart stopped.  

“Yes, that’s what I meant.  I’m sure they’ll come for us soon.”  John lifted his head away from hers, letting himself
smell her hair one more time before he straightened up behind her.  He tried to swallow, but it got stuck.  

“That’ll be good.”  She turned her head up and kissed him lightly.  He froze, caught between truth and desire,
between truth and the need to keep Aeryn calm and happy.  He was him, what did it matter?  She wanted only
him, and he wasn’t him, that’s what mattered.  She kissed him again, demanding a response.  He closed his
eyes and tried to be him for her, just for the single instant.  She let him break away but continued to look up at
him, her eyes more focused for the moment.  He turned his head as if to look at the fire, turned the left side of
his face away so she wouldn’t see, wouldn’t know.  

“Made you a bonfire.”  His voice cracked, and he forced himself to swallow.  “I tried to light up the sky so
everyone would know where the radiant Aeryn Sun is temporarily residing.”  

“It’s very nice.”  She snuggled in closer and he hugged her.  “Is this like that place in Maine?”  He remembered
telling her about it when they were stuck in the Flax.  “Like the time you went there before college?”  He had
never told her about that.  

“Just like that.”  He had to stop this somehow.  He wanted so badly not to disturb her confusion, but the game
was going on too long.  It was too much to ask of him.  

“Aeryn, you’re hurt.  You’ve been unconscious for almost two solar days.  You should get some more rest.  Why
don’t you go back to sleep.”  He didn’t think his voice sounded normal, but she didn’t seem to notice that
anything was wrong.  

“All right. Love you, John.”  She was asleep again.  Crichton eased her back on to her rough bed, then got up
and walked away into the dark.  He stumbled down to the lake and immersed his bruised and burned hands.  It
wasn’t relief he was looking for, it was the sharp pain of the ice cold water.  He wanted to feel a physical agony
that could swamp and hide the misery in his chest.

When his fingers had gone completely numb he finally straightened and made his way slowly back to the fire.  
Aeryn was completely still again, resting quietly where he had left her.  He settled back into his protective
position, chin on his knees and watched the easy rise and fall of the coats in the flickering light.  

Dawn had passed, and daylight was working into the trees along the shore when he heard the rush and growl
of a ship approaching their position.  Crichton got up stiffly and hobbled out into the open, looking up to find the
source of the noise.  D’Argo’s ship appeared from behind a low hill and moved slowly across the opening over
the lake.  John limped to the edge of the water and waved.  The Luxan ship stopped and turned in their
direction.

* * * * *  

“John, go get cleaned up and get some rest while Jool takes care of Aeryn.”  D’Argo stood behind the filthy
human and tried for the third time to get him to relax his vigil.  He started to put his hand on the weaving
shoulder, saw the raw scattered burns on his back and pulled his hand away.  “You need medical attention as
well.  Go put on some clean clothes, and we promise to tell you if there is any change.”

Crichton looked at Aeryn’s peaceful face, and knew this was going to be one of his last chances to watch her
without worrying about what she thought of him.  He shook his head, “No, I’ll stay until she wakes up.”

“You most certainly will not, Crichton.”  Jool turned around with her arrogant forcefulness at full volume.  “You’re
filthy and you smell, and you certainly can’t be anything near sterile.  Having you around Aeryn in your present
condition can only imperil her health further.  If and when you return, if you are clean to my satisfaction, then I
will consider allowing you to stay nearby until she wakes up.  Her wound is not dangerous, however I do not
expect her to wake up any time soon.”

Crichton hesitated, sliding off the med bed where he had been seated, but not moving toward the door.  “Get
out!  Go get cleaned up, Crichton!” Jool ordered.  John turned to leave, glancing over his shoulder one last
time at Aeryn.  Jool caught D’Argo’s eye behind his back, and the Luxan nodded silently.  John finally walked
slowly out of the infirmary, D’Argo following close behind to make sure he made it all the way back to his
quarters.

* * * * *

John discovered that cleaning up was more of a chore than he had expected.  When he went to pull off his torn
and tattered shirt, he discovered that it was stuck to the series of small burns on his back.  Yanking it loose was
too painful, so he finally wore it into the shower and let the water run until he could gently ease the garment off.  
He took his time working around the cuts and bruises, and let the hot water run on his tired muscles until some
of the stiffness and pain went away.

He dressed quickly in a clean t-shirt and some loose fitting cloth pants, and made a sketchy attempt at combing
his hair with his fingers.  He decided his boots and socks could wait till later, and jogged back to Jool’s infirmary
carrying the footwear, his bare feet slapping quietly on Moya’s shining floors.  He entered to find very little
changed from when he had left.  Aeryn was sleeping quietly, Jool and D’Argo watching her from across the
chamber.

John padded quietly over to stand next to the still figure, watching the occasional twitch of her eyes beneath the
closed eyelids.  One hand crept out tentatively and he stroked the dark hair where it lay loose on the pillow next
to her face.  He twisted one tendril between his fingers, caressing it for long microts before letting it slip loose.  
He wondered how long it would be before he was allowed to do that when her eyes were open.

“John, let me take care of the burns on your back,” Jool said quietly.  “They need to be cleaned and dressed.”

“They’ve been cleaned, and I’m dressed,” he said.  “Just leave me alone and let me stay here for a while.”

“John, you need to let Jool take care of your wounds.  Aeryn would want you to take care of yourself, too.”  
D’Argo tried the different approach, but it backfired.

“No, D’Argo, she wouldn’t really care.  As long as I don’t croak, that’s all that seems to matter. These won’t kill
me.”  The pain was good, he thought.  The pain on his back was something he could handle.  He looked up as
Jool stepped next to him, and saw the injector in her hand flashing toward him.  He caught her wrist easily and
they stood transfixed for a moment.  “Not that way either, Jool.”

“Then this way, John,” said D’Argo from behind him and he felt the snap and sting against the back of his neck.  
Crichton pivoted to stare at his friend, astonished that he had tongued him without provocation, and collapsed
to the floor.

* * * * *

Light and sound came back in a rush.  John was lying on his side, an insulated blanket over him, staring at
Aeryn’s equally motionless form.  They’d placed him so he would see her the microt he woke up.  He heard a
slight motion and started to roll over to see who was behind him.

“Don’t you dare!” Jool instructed in a hiss, and her hand on his shoulder stopped his motion.  “I spent two and a
half arns cleaning those burns, and I’ve got a bio-synthetic skin covering everything now, so don’t even think
about laying on your back for three or four solar days.”

“How long have I been out?” he asked, shrugging and feeling no complaints from his back.  Jool had done a
nice job.  All the discomfort was gone.

“Just over four arns.  It’s mid-afternoon now, and Aeryn still won’t wake up until morning.  I’ve given her
something to help her sleep, and the head injury isn’t severe. She’ll be fine, John.”   She answered all his
questions in a rush.  John laid his head back on the pillow and stared at Aeryn.  “Do you want to spend the
night here?” she asked.

“Yes.”  He wanted to spend the night the way he had spent the previous night, with Aeryn in his arms, but
without pretending to be someone else.  He wanted to move to the other bed, and have her open her eyes and
look at him the way she had looked at him last night, but without seeking the scar that wasn’t there.  But he
would settle for this, for one night.

He dozed off and on for the rest of the evening and through the night.  He kept waking after brief naps to watch
her again, never drawing any closer, just waiting for the moment to end.  It was in the early hours of the
morning, while Moya’s lights were still low that he saw her move for the first time, a slight movement of her head,
and a change in her breathing.  John watched the steady rise and fall of her blanket for a while longer, then he
slid out from beneath his blanket, picked up his boots and left.

His time with her was over.


                                                                          * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
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