Rating: G Category: Alternate Universe. Time Frame/Spoilers: This contains substantial spoilers for “Dog With Two Bones” (Ep 3.22). If you haven’t seen it, please save yourself and go away. Acknowledgements: Thank you’s still need to go to three people: SniperGrl78 for beta-reading this venture and providing a very much needed kick in the pants to keep writing; a coworker, known here only as Rocket, for giving me some much needed insight into the ‘male perspective’, primarily concerning love and betrayal; and to JohnsKeedvaBBQ for the ongoing support for my writing and for the unhesitating constructive criticism when I deserve it most.
Note to the reader: This story was written and posted during the hiatus after ‘Dog With Two Bones’. It was my best stab at a resolution to the cliff hanger while we waited for Season 4 to begin. This was first posted on the Dominion Board in May 2002, prior to the beginning of Season 4, so any apparent prescience on my part needs to be attributed to the compelling vision created by the writers and cast of Farscape.
You need to pause for a moment at the end of Part 1. Finish the last word of the section, then minimize the window on your computer or put the fic down if you’ve printed it out. That is where the story originally ended. I was soooooooo angry at Aeryn at that point, that I wrote what was originally titled ‘Reunion’ (yes, a little irony there). So before continuing on to Part 2, offer up a silent prayer and a raslak toast to Sniper, because without her, I never would have kept writing the rest of the story.
If you enjoy this tale, there are two more stories that continue along this “alternate universe” -- ‘Heaven’s Gate’, which is very much like this one, and “Cholak’s Demon”, which takes a tougher, less introspective twist and gets our favorite couple back to Moya, although not in the manner you might expect.
Hope you enjoy all three.
* * * * *
She strolled into the maintenance facility and was aware of the heads turning to watch her. The crash and hum of machinery faded slowly as she made her way to the raised central station where the foreman was monitoring the progress of the various repairs, the scream of an engine on a test platform at the far end slicing into the growing silence. She glanced at a few of the gawking faces, but for the most part she ignored the stares and the quiet whispers of speculation.
It took time for her to reach the foreman’s station, which was located almost two thirds of the way down the enormous building. This was one of the largest repair centers in the quadrant, and they boasted of being able to handle anything short of a Command Carrier. She saw the bulk of a cruiser through an open hangar door, and wondered how they had gotten it down to the planet. The clangs and shouts resumed behind her as she continued, carrying silence alongside her like a wave.
She drew to a halt by the raised island of consoles and looked up at the tall sebacean who was running the operation. He was filthy, covered head to foot in grime and grease. She considered it a good sign when the supervision was willing to get as far into the work as the laborers, perhaps this place deserved its reputation for being one of the best. He wiped sweat off his forehead with an equally dirty sleeve and glanced at her enquiringly.
“I’m looking for someone,” she stated flatly.
He handed a wad of schematics to a technician and vaulted over the consoles to land next to her with a light thump. “Gallenn’s the name. Will I do?” She looked him over and shook her head. His impudence and brash grin were inviting though, and she couldn’t prevent a small smile from creeping on to her face.
“I was told you have a technician named Latgah working here. I’d like to talk to him.” She stared into his eyes without wavering and saw the indecision forming there. His expression sobered, and he suddenly seemed more cautious. “I know he works for you, I only want to talk with him, nothing more.”
He broke away from the gaze and looked over his shoulder at a sleek courier ship. It was equipped with the new Rhotarri Drive engines. The best information she had been able to obtain indicated that the new drive system somehow used folded space theory to put ‘there’ next to ‘here’ and then jumped through the boundary. The military and criminal potential was staggering as there was no way to trace it, and no way for anyone except the pilot to know where a ship was headed when it disappeared. There was also a quiet rumor that this facility owned a share in the new technology.
Gallenn seemed to make up his mind, pointing to a platform under one of the courier ship’s engines, “He’s working up in there.” She was impressed. Anyone qualified to work on the new system was a specialist of the highest caliber. She hadn’t heard of another facility that accepted the new ships for maintenance.
It took only microts for her to cross the remaining distance and run up the ladder to the work platform, but when she swung onto the decking there was no one in sight. She approached the engine and saw a pair of tan colored boots swinging, the attached legs disappearing into the cowling where the tech was working. She could hear him humming, occasionally accompanied by the echoing clatter of a tool. She wasn’t quite sure how to get his attention, wasn’t even sure this was the man she was looking for.
“I’m looking for someone named Latgah,” she finally called into the opening. The swinging and the humming both stopped. There was a clang and a tool bounced off the inside of the cowling, landing beneath the disembodied feet. She waited, and he finally slid out of the workspace and ducked clear of the door. He straightened up and her stomach did a double flip. Relief. Sweeping relief that she had finally found him. She’d almost begun to believe the rumors that he was dead.
“Hello, John.” She wanted to hug him, wanted to touch him, but he was standing rigidly, his posture shouting that he wouldn’t let that happen.
He finished wiping his hands on a rag, not looking at her directly. “Hello, Aeryn.”
He was thinner and his hair had turned silvery gray, similar to Jack’s. Aeryn assumed the trait had been inherited from his father, but it had been less than two cycles since she had seen him last and she had to fight to hide her surprise. There was a new scar under one eye, but those were the only changes she could see. John still wouldn’t look at her. He carefully examined his already clean hands and worked at them again with the rag.
“I’m glad to see you.” She tried a slow approach, matching his reserve.
“Been a while.” He looked down the length of the building, apparently searching for something. “You here by yourself?”
“Yes. Did you expect someone to be with me?” This wasn’t going quite as she had imagined. It had taken her so long to be ready for this, and then it had taken an entire cycle to find him. She had spent the time thinking of how much he had loved her, how happy he would be to see her. She knew now that a joyous greeting had been too much to expect.
“I don’t know. Someone told me you had a son or daughter.” He picked up the tool, wiped that clean as well, and then finally looked her in the eye.
“I …” This was definitely not what she expected. He couldn’t have known about that. She hadn’t told anyone. “I lost … I never had a child.” His gaze broke away and he nodded, looking down at the rag that was still polishing the clean tool.
“What can I do for you, Aeryn?” This she had expected. The stubborn reserve, the unwillingness to let go of what had happened in the past. This was the John Crichton she had come to miss. She sighed in relief, and moved to lean against a railing.
“I’d like to talk.” She waited for a reaction, but he wasn’t opening up. She knew it would take more than a few arns to undo the damage she had caused, but she was ready to spend cycles, if necessary, proving to him that it was worth forgiving her. “Can you get your employer to let you go for a little while?”
He looked over his shoulder at the gaping opening in the skin of the ship, then looked across at the sebacean standing in the center of the raised island. Gallenn was leaning on one of his consoles, staring up at them. John pointed at him and when he got a similar response he gave a series of hand signals, rapid and complex. A fast exchange fired back and forth, a sharp two-handed system of gestures.
Aeryn was familiar with a number of hand-signed battle languages, but this one looked like nothing she’d ever seen. It made sense to use visual signals in an area as noisy as this. Even noise canceling headsets would not cope well with the variety of shrieks and explosions that occasionally drowned out the steady din of machinery noises and ringing tools. This hand system was intricate, she hadn’t detected a pattern or noticed any repetitions.
John finished the silent conversation and shook his head. “This one needs to go out this afternoon. It’s top priority.” He scratched his head and looked up at the ship. “I can have it finished in three or four arns. Why don’t you wait somewhere in the cantonment? I can take off when I’m done with this.”
She nodded and moved to the top of the ladder. When she looked back he was already ducking back inside the engine. “John?” she called. He squatted down and looked at her without speaking. “I’ve missed you.” He nodded and boosted himself out of sight.
‘Fluffy pink slippers,’ she remembered. She’d done the same thing to him a long time ago. Nothing he’d said had been able to goad her into talking. She hadn’t been able to answer him then, hadn’t been able to talk to him for fear that all the tightly restrained emotions would come bursting out of her in an uncontrolled flood. That had been different though. She had been forced to watch him die. She looked at the boots hanging out of ship, and hesitated, wondering if she should try again.
She hadn’t meant to say ‘missed’, but when the moment came to say ‘I love you’, the words seemed to get stuck. She had rehearsed the words for the better part of a cycle, and wanted to say them, but not until they were alone. She wanted to be held and melt into that strong embrace, and to have him watching over her again just as she would watch out for him. There wasn’t anything she wanted as much as to be annoyed at his untranslatable humanisms. She looked back at the boots and continued her debate.
Aeryn decided to wait until later, when she had his undivided attention. She slid down the ladder, slowing her descent as she neared the bottom and pushing away to land lightly. She moved back through the building at a pace just short of a jog, oblivious to the stares this time. Her thoughts were focused entirely on the conversation she would have in several arns, the news she had of Moya and Pilot, and of the others. She had located every person from the crew, and they were all eager to see John if she found him. She’d been disturbed to discover that they all thought he was dead, but no one had been willing to explain the reason behind their assumption, not until they were sure he was alive.
She left the repair facility and began to look for some place to purchase a meal. She would eat and rest, and be ready to spend as much time as necessary explaining things to him. She practiced the words in her mind as she walked -- “I love you.” She didn’t need any practice feeling the emotion; it was only the words that got stuck.
* * * * *
John watched from inside the ship as the scaffolding shook and then bounced slightly. When it was still again, he eased out of his enclosure and watched Aeryn walk down the center of the hangar. Her aggressive stride was as athletic as ever, her figure just as slim and muscular. Her physical appearance had changed very little. The sight of her left him feeling weak and light-headed. He had given up on the thought of ever seeing her again a long time ago.
A flicker caught his eye and he looked at Gallenn, returned the pointing gesture that meant he was paying attention. They had developed the system together, resolving a problem with transmitting information that had plagued the business since it had begun the expansion to its current success.
“She’s gorgeous. Do you want to go after her now?” The signal didn’t actually mean gorgeous, it referred to the sleek lines of an interstellar racing yacht, but it was about as close as their hand language could get.
“Not necessary.” The signal for ‘No Priority’ was close enough, he decided. “I’ll get to it later,” John sent back.
“You’re nuts.” That one actually did exist, they’d had to add it because they’d wanted to send it too often. “How about I get to it first?” Gallenn suggested. John laughed, looking at the grease smeared figure.
“Take the …” he forgot the right signal and broke off. Across the hangar, Gallenn shrugged, waiting for the end of the message. “Take the hazard,” he substituted, wanting the word ‘risk’ but not being able to remember the signal. “Danger, danger, danger,” he repeated the warning. Gallenn waved him away in good humor and John looked back toward the open doors at the end of the building.
Aeryn was just walking out into the sunlight. He watched as her figure was illuminated in the bright light of the planet’s double suns. Her braid was longer, it hung to below her waist now, and her arms were more heavily muscled. Her vest had been replaced by an armored tunic, worn over a skin-tight shirt with long sleeves. The ever-present pulse pistol had been replaced with a larger but sleeker energy weapon, and he had noticed a knife handle showing at the top of her right boot.
She had become ‘more’ in the time she’d been away, and that’s where the changes lay. She was more confident, more beautiful, more lethal. He watched the workers turning their attention back to their tasks. He wasn’t surprised to see everyone watching her passage. Aeryn was like the outdated Prowler now -- sleek, elegant, a weapon of destruction. He ached for the emotionally unpredictable woman he had once known. This one seemed totally in command of herself, locked down and secure. He shook his head at his own reaction and pulled himself back into the cavity inside the courier ship’s engine.
He sat inside doing nothing for a long time, thinking about how he was going to handle this. The past one and a half cycles had been a trial for him. The ordeal had been physical at first, surviving when he was inadvertently abandoned. Then the mental challenges had begun, outsmarting the vengeful Peacekeepers who had pursued him relentlessly for his role in destroying the Command Carrier. There had been an entire half-cycle of running and hiding, finally abandoning the module because it was too distinctive, becoming someone else in his dress and manner to avoid recognition.
He’d bounced from one short term job to another, trading his mechanical skills for food and survival, but he’d always been recognized and forced to move on. Being alone had made it even harder. He’d never been able to find out what had happened to Moya or the others, and the constant pressure of being hunted and harried left him with no time to track anyone down. When he’d dragged himself into this operation he’d been exhausted in all respects, ready to give up. Gallenn had welcomed him without question, and had provided a new identity. The running had stopped.
John remembered the day when the sebacean had offered refuge in all the senses of that word. Gallenn had guided his staggering progress to his own home, fed him, given him a bed, and left him to sleep in peace. He’d spent about ten microts wondering if it was a trap, and then decided he was too tired of running to even care. He’d slept for almost an entire solar day, then put on the offered coveralls and accompanied Gallenn to his rat-trap repair operation to see what his host did for a living.
The place was failing, dying for lack of experienced workers. He’d pitched in that first day, finishing a long overdue repair and watched as the delighted customer had promised more business in the future. His offer to stay for a while was eagerly accepted and he’d settled down into a routine existence at last.
That was when his emotional baggage had caught up with him, arriving in planeloads and trainloads. He’d been willing to give Aeryn all the time in the universe, any place in the universe, and that hadn’t been enough for her. He’d given up one dream in order to keep her, and she’d left him standing stripped to his soul and alone. She’d left without telling him the entire truth, and that betrayal ran even deeper. He’d understood her pain, but he’d thought he could at least trust her to be honest.
Gallenn was no genius, but the sebacean had seen how badly he was suffering and had buried him under a staggering amount of work. Every time he managed to get caught up, Gallenn would drop a new theoretical project on him until another wreck arrived at the hangar for him to rebuild. Gallenn’s business had boomed, creating a new set of challenges, and by the time they had reached their current level of profitability, the pain had been buried so deeply he no longer noticed it.
John picked up the rag and wiped off the connection he was repairing. He started working again, trying to focus on the motion of his hands instead of on the turmoil that was trying to heave the capstone off the tomb where he’d buried his heart. There hadn’t been a single whisper that anyone knew the real identity of the mechanic Latgah. How the frell had she found him?
He threw down his tools in frustration and slid out of the work space. He sat on the deck of the scaffolding and put his head on his knees, waiting for the tight feeling in his chest to go away. “I’ve missed you.” Those words didn’t begin to touch what he’d been through since Aeryn had left. The pain of seeing her again was so intense, it was almost physical. Why had she come back? This disciplined, emotionally controlled woman had stood before him and wanted to ‘talk’, when all he wanted was to grab her and hold her, and feel her heart beating against his chest. That would be the only way he would know that she had really come back.
Gallenn watched his friend sit huddled beneath the engine. He debated climbing up there to talk to him, but John had never opened up to him about the wounds he carried inside. He knew that now was not the time to try and overturn that precedent.
He looked at the request for an overhaul on a Rhotarri equipped currency freighter that he had received. Currency traders were one of the few private ventures who could afford the new system, and they were very demanding about getting their ships done on time. Gallenn watched as Crichton climbed wearily to his feet, then transmitted an acceptance notification for the new job. He started looking through work orders to see what else he could find for Crichton to do. He suspected that the business was about to experience another burst of productivity.
* * * * *
Aeryn squinted into the setting suns as she walked back toward the hangar. She’d sent a message letting John know where she was waiting, but he hadn’t shown up to meet her, and the disappointment hung heavy in her chest. The small food servicing establishment had been cooperative about letting her sit for an extra two arns, but she’d finally been forced to admit that he wasn’t coming. She had left a few credits to offset their loss of the seating and headed back to find him. It was possible he had been held up at work, but she was annoyed that he hadn’t at least sent word.
She felt the irritation crawling up her back, and somehow welcomed the feeling. If this was what it took to be with him, it was better than the emptiness that had filled her for the last one and a half cycles. Aeryn moved a little faster, looking forward to the argument she was certain was going to take place. He had every right to be angry about how they had parted, and she was going to see if she could provoke him into lashing out. At least that way he’d start talking.
She looked down at the data chip in her hand as she walked. It held messages to John from all of the others. Their responses had ranged from Jool’s shrieking excitement to Pilot’s quietly ecstatic invitation to come back aboard Moya. It was another tool she could use to break through to him, if she needed it. She was willing to take up a wandering life aboard Moya again, if that was what he wanted. Wherever he wanted to go, she would follow him this time.
Gallenn was jogging toward the facility, his long twin shadows nearly touching her as he approached from the direction of the nearby housing. He spotted her and altered his direction to meet her. He looked anxious about something as he approached at the half run, but she wanted to get him to agree to let John out of work before anything else occupied his attention.
“Is he coming back soon?” Gallenn called before she could make the request. He slowed and fell in beside her as she continued toward the building.
“Who? John?” She was confused by his question.
“By the Gods!” Gallenn’s hair flopped across his forehead as he scanned rapidly but thoroughly in every direction. “Be careful when you use that name. I was referring to Latgah.” His reminder was a shock. She didn’t realize John’s identity was that much of a threat to his safety. Everywhere she had gone the rumors said that John Crichton, bane of the Peacekeepers, was dead. It seemed inconceivable that he was still being pursued. She shook herself out of her reverie as Gallenn continued talking.
“I was looking for him. We have a major repair coming in tomorrow, and he’s the only one who can take care of it.” He increased his pace, his long legs forcing Aeryn almost into a jog in order to continue side by side toward the hangar.
“He’s not with me. He never showed up, so I assumed he was still here.” Aeryn followed him into the building with the intention of double checking inside. “I was going to ask you to let him leave so I could talk to him for a while.”
It was Gallenn’s turn to look confused. “Let him leave? I don’t control when he comes or goes.”
“He works for you. Don’t you want to know when he’s going to be here?” This conversation was getting very strange, she thought, every exchange creating another question or more confusion. She just wanted to find John and get the whole thing over with. The pending confrontation wasn’t something she felt confident about handling well. It was going to call on skills she hadn’t practiced since they’d parted.
“Work for me? Did he tell you that?” Gallenn moved quickly past the scattered work areas, barely noticing the work going on around each ship. Aeryn tried to think about the earlier meeting and watch for John at the same time. It took her several microts to realize that John hadn’t said anything about who he worked for -- she had made that assumption on her own. Gallenn stepped into the ring of monitors and began looking around, running a fast, practiced scan over the displays and scattered schematics.
“He doesn’t work for me, he’s my partner. I ran a drannit sized operation until he wandered in. He was broke and on the run. I was broke and running out of business. He’s a frelling mechanical genius, and I know how to hide someone who needs to stay hidden.” He glanced around carefully to see if anyone was nearby, then lowered his voice. “I have got to find him. He’s the only one who can repair that ship. It’s one of the Rhotarri jobs.”
“Tell them to take it some other place. I need to talk to him. It’s important.” Aeryn was starting to get angry. Something so simple as finding the time to talk with John shouldn’t have turned into such a large problem.
“Some other place? There is no other place.” They stared at each other silently for several moments and then he went on in a tone of disbelief. “Who do you think invented that frelling drive? He’s the only person who understands how those arcane things work! I sure as dren can’t work on it.” Aeryn was suddenly faced with the fact that John had moved on without her, bringing a new set of friends into his life, making new allegiances and commitments.
“What the frell is this?” Gallenn picked something up and looked at it, brow furrowing. Aeryn stepped into the center of the station and looked at the Peacekeeper data chip in his hand. “We don’t use Peacekeeper issue chips,” he mused. “Where did this come from?” He jammed it harshly into the slot of an imager, and John’s voice blared out, but without an accompanying image.
“Aeryn. I think you’ll probably get this message all right. Gallenn will make sure you hear it. I’ve left it on the data chip with the legal codes that give him my half of the business.” Aeryn leaned against the side of the console, pressing her hand to her stomach as his words left her feeling suddenly nauseous.
“Aeryn …” His voice paused and there was the sound of a deep sigh. “I once told you something like ‘you leave and you come back, and I can’t take the in-between’. This time I barely survived the in-between and now it’s the coming back that I can’t take. I finally learned how to live without you, but it was more difficult than I can ever describe. I got over the pain, and today I turn around and you’re standing there, and it started all over again. I can’t do this another time.”
“I thought I …” The voice broke off and started over. “I thought you had a son or daughter who might need someone just like their father to be around some day, so I stayed. I don’t need to worry about that anymore. My heart is in one piece now, and I can’t find any way of taking a chance of it breaking again.” He paused, and she could hear him sigh. “I don’t know what you came to tell me, but there’s only one thing that could make me stay, and I know for certain now that I’ll never hear it. Maybe I should do this in person, but I don’t think I’d have the strength to leave afterward.” The recording went silent for a few microts. “Goodbye, Aeryn.”
“Oh no,” groaned Gallenn. “The courier ship. He finished that courier ship in record time this afternoon.”
He spun toward the communications panel, calling up the channel for the planetary control center, but Aeryn felt an itch developing in the bones behind her ear, an all-over tightening of her scalp. She’d felt it only once or twice before, but she knew what it was, and it meant that they were too late. There was a high pitched shriek and a bang from the landing area outside, and the sensation disappeared all at once. Aeryn knew it meant that a Rhotarri equipped ship had just made a jump.
Aeryn sank slowly to sit on the one step leading out of Gallenn’s station, feeling total defeat for the first time in her life. No portion of her training had ever prepared her for this complete sense of loss. She’d been deprived of even making the attempt at winning him back, every prepared argument and tactic rendered useless in a split-microt. Aeryn took the data chip carrying the messages from their friends out of her pocket and looked at it for a long time, then she dropped it to the floor and ground it under her heel. There was no way of knowing where that ship had been headed. John was gone.