Child Of The Night - Chapter 18

It might be the third day.  He has trouble remembering much beyond the last few arns.  To make matters worse,
his vision is blurred and he can’t tell if the light being cast into the cell is from a rising or a setting sun.  He tries
to remember what side of the building it has been rising on since they brought him here, but he can’t find the
correct way of accessing his memory.  The knowledge should be there.  If it is, it’s hiding from him.  The dirty
floor in front of his nose is his entire world now, little else matters.  

A bolt of residual agony blossoms in his stomach and traces a leisurely route around his body, wandering into
his brain to leave him more dazed and confused than just microts before, then continues its tour of his nervous
system.  It’s mild.  Barely rates a Kelvo Three.  It’s remarkable only for the fact that he isn’t on their table and
yet the torture continues.

It has been occurring more frequently since the last session:  the random spikes of sensation, the strange
fragmenting of his thoughts.  He had tasted what insanity felt like last night when they had left him at Kelvo Ten
for almost two arns in an attempt to break him.  He had been so exhausted by that time, his body had entered
something akin to sleep, leaving his mind alone with the impulses from his nervous system.  They had finally
released him from the pain when he had succumbed to convulsions, ensuring that he would survive for another
session.

Aeryn drops to one knee beside him, leather garments gleaming in the half-light, hair pulled back in the
ponytail that he prefers over her tight braid.  He wants her to set it free, to let her hair fall loose so it drifts in
thick glossy sheets around her throat and shoulders, softening the lines of her face, and he can’t remember
how to make the appropriate noises.  

“A’rn,” he manages to croak after several tries.  She smiles at him and disappears.  

More hallucinations.

He misses Aeryn.  

Why is he still alive?  Why hasn’t he died, or fallen into the darkness of permanent insanity?  

His thoughts have begun to fracture, breaking down under the constant abuse, but the small snatches of sleep
restore his grip on reality each time, ensuring that he is aware of every microt of the next round of torture.  The
Others seem baffled by his continued refusal to give them any information.  They had run out of new patterns of
pain yesterday, and had resorted to the more direct approach of Kelvo Ten over and over again until there was
nothing left but his sobbing whimpers, the ability to scream expended.

There are gaps and holes in his mind.  He doesn’t know what is missing; he only knows that certain parts
refuse to link up.  He had forgotten why he was here for a while yesterday.  His fear and confusion had nearly
given them what they had been trying to get all along.  Regaining consciousness after one particularly nasty
jolt, he hadn’t remembered anything about the Others or Moya or wormholes or who he was or why he is here,
and in his terror and confusion had resorted to tears.  Kelvo Ten had fixed that right up.  Just dandy.  Zapped
him right back to the here and now.  Trust the big ugly critters to set things right so they can continue
tormenting him.   

Aeryn is back.  Sitting cross-legged in the corner, cradling her pulse rifle.  She has chosen the black t-shirt
today, covering up more of her upper body than he would prefer.  It doesn’t matter.  She always disappears if
he tries to touch her.      

“I’m trying,” he whispers.  “I’m trying to …”  To something that he can’t remember the word for, that has to do
with her staying … something.  “I love you beyond …”  Beyond something.  

She smiles and nods, satisfied with whatever it is he can no longer tell her.  

“Touch me?  Please?” he begs through the crawling tickle of tears.  He wants a final caress from her.  He can
feel the vibrations through the floor.  They are coming to get him.

“Aeryn?”  

She’s gone.  

They’re here.

It’s going to start again.  

                                                                              * * * * *

Aeryn snapped awake with a small start, then froze, listening.  Behind her, John sighed in his sleep, blowing an
extended gust of warm air against the back of her neck.  It was one of those deep breaths that had woken her,
she decided.  Carefully, she wormed her way further into his relaxed embrace, working her way back until she
could feel him along the full length of her body, and then closed her eyes and tried to go back to sleep.  

As of three nights ago, John’s nightmares had subsided to the point that she had decided she could sleep with
him without being at risk of getting attacked in the middle of the night.  He had refused at first, concerned that
he might hurt her by accident, but had finally agreed to her company the night before.  For the first time in just
under thirty solar days, he had made it through the night without a single nightmare.  As far as anyone could
tell, he was getting better.  

It had been a long and arduous process for everyone on board the leviathan.  It had been nothing short of
another round of torture for John, who was helpless to prevent his subconscious from reliving those three
missing days over and over again.  Aeryn stared into the dark and wondered what else he might be keeping
hidden from her.  He claimed that he had told them everything, and she wanted to believe him, but four cycles
of living together had provided ample proof that John would not confess certain things unless he was forced
into it.  

“No,” an anguished voice breathed behind her.  

Aeryn eased out from under his arm and turned over to check on him.  

“John, wake up.”  

There had been nights when she had chosen to let him battle his way through his dreams, reasoning that his
subconscious needed to come to terms with the contents of his nightmares before he would be truly healed.  
Her decision to wake him tonight was part instinct and part shock.  John was crying in his sleep.  There had
been screams and profanity, sweating, bellowed cries of remembered pain, physical attacks, and vomiting, but
there had never been tears.  This was something new.   

“Wake up.  You’re dreaming,” she tried again, jostling him.  

“Aeryn?”  He wiped away his tears with one hand, and grabbed her one of her hands with the other, calm and
frantic at the same time.  

The grip on her hand was so strong it was painful.  She did not try to pull away.  “Are you okay?”  

“Yeah.  Just a dream.  I’ll be fine.”  

“Bulldren.”  She lay down facing him and tucked her free arm under her head.  “What was it about?  Tell me,”
she insisted when he started to shake his head.  “Tell me.”

“I knew I was losing my mind,” he said reluctantly after a twenty-microt silence.  “I could feel that pieces were
missing and … I couldn’t figure out what I had lost and I couldn’t stop it from happening.”  More tears were
roughly brushed away before they could trickle free.  

“And?” she prompted.

“And I was starting to hallucinate.  It made things worse.”  

“Me?”  John nodded.  “What did I do?”

“Nothing.  Just disappeared after a while.”   

She pulled her hand free, wrapped both arms around him, and pulled herself in tight against his chest, hoping
that it would be enough to let him know that she had no intention of ever disappearing again.  John sighed
deeply several times, quivered for a while in what she thought might be a bout of crying, and finally began to
relax.  

“What else?” she asked.  

“Let’s go back to sleep.”  

“What else?”  He tried to pull free of her embrace.  Aeryn held him tight and asked again.  “That’s not
everything.  The fact that you are avoiding my question proves it.  What else did you dream?”

“For a while, I couldn’t remember why I was there or where I was from.  I lost everything about my life here, and
that scared the crap out of me.  All I knew is that a bunch of oversized scaly salamanders were beating the shit
out of me, and I had no idea why or even how I had gotten into that mess.”  John disentangled himself from her,
rolled out of bed, and disappeared into the waste alcove.  

Aeryn stayed where she was and listened to him moving around, sorting out the sounds of him shucking off his
shirt and shorts and then starting the shower.  She turned on her back and stared at the ceiling while she
waited for him to come back to bed.  He would be freezing by the time he returned, chilled to the touch by the
cold shower that he claimed helped him banish the phantom images from his dreams.  If he went right back to
sleep, he would pick up where he left off … or so he said.  

She thought about the day they had been boarded by the bounty hunters and her anguish over the idea of
John being captured by the Peacekeepers when he did not have his memory to help him cope with being
interrogated.  Then she compared it with his brief summary of his dream:  Stripped of the awareness and
knowledge that gave him strength, confused, incapable of stringing coherent thoughts together, and brutalized
by an unknown species.  It must have been terrifying.  It was exactly the sort of moment she had been afraid of,
and he had already experienced it.  And he also had not mentioned it the first night they had found out about
the extra three days of torture he had hidden away.  

John had been keeping secrets after all, just as she had suspected.  She wondered what else he had not told
her.  

                                                                              * * * * *

He’s insane, so it must be the fourth day. He thinks it might be daytime, but his blurred vision has darkened to a
shifting pattern of gray tones, all color leached from his world.  The Others left him lying on his stomach, and it
has been … he can’t remember … since he could move, so he can’t check the … something in the wall … to
see if it is light or dark outside.  Movement generates agony.  He lies still and tries not to breathe.    

He had heard his mother singing several arns ago, smelled the bacon frying in the kitchen.  It had made his
mouth water, but he couldn’t swallow afterward, and the saliva had slithered down his cheek and dripped to the
surface beneath his head.  A little later Moya had sent entertainment.  He had watched an intricate dance of
miniature DRDs weaving before him, each one with a Groucho Marx nose and glasses.  Then he had blinked
and they had disappeared in a flash.

It’s Day Four, so he must be insane.  

“What is your name?”  Always the same question to start.  The noise is harsh against his ears, but he can’t
remember what the sounds mean.  The knowledge of disentangling noises has been damaged at some point
during the past days.  It comes and goes in time with the pulses of energy, a game of mental Red Light, Green
Light, switching reason on and off at a whim of the machine that is controlled by the Others.  

Aeryn had stopped by; knelt down beside him, cradling her rifle in the crook of her arm and gently fingered his
hair.  For once he had been able to feel it.  He had closed his eyes, trying to linger in the moment of that light,
unhurtful touch, had heard her say, “We never say goodbye” and when he opened his eyes she was gone.  He
wishes she would come back and keep him company while the Others kill him.  He’s certain that today is going
to be the day.  It’s Day Four, and he knows he is going insane.  

Yesterday, they had cranked him right up to Kelvo Ten and left him there, playing patterns across his body by
varying the input through different electrodes.  He had started out strong, his screams echoing nicely against
the walls, but hadn’t been able to keep it up very long.  His throat had shredded itself, and the silent attempts at
shrieking hadn’t excited them. They had stopped, disappointed, and taken him to a lab where a flinching little
alien had treated him, restoring his voice.

Now it is Day Four.  Time to go, time to play, they have come for him, come to let him join in their games.  It
must be Day Four because he has already gone quite insane.   

“Kelvo Four.”  An anniversary present, it runs around his body, exploring every cell and fiber, and he feels the
restraints beating at his body, but doesn’t understand why.  It doesn’t hurt, why is his body fighting?  He isn’t
even screaming -- can’t be bothered for such a small sensation -- why is the rest of his body so upset?  

“Kelvo Eight.”  No sense wasting time, head for the big prizes.  That’s better, screams ringing against the walls,
echoing nicely because the repaired vocal cords are getting good projection behind the noises.  

“Kelvo Nine.”  It is a familiar taste, a well-known friend with a hint of something new about it today.  It’s the flavor
of permanent damage.  They hit him again, and he loses something important; he can’t remember what.  There
is a hole there, beside a place where there should have been knowledge.  

Who would have guessed that having his nervous system ripped apart would feel like this?  Lungs still work
though, plenty of screams left, they’re happy now.  Let him sag back, need more air for the songs they love so
much, then hit him again.  

“What is your name?”  Might have been a person with a name at one time, now he is just a scream, a shriek, a
cry, a howl, a moan, a whimper, small noises between the surges through his own personal electrical system.  
Lines are down, storm damage, call a repair man, wrong number, hit him again, still no answer.  

He takes a last grip on himself, drags out the small remaining piece of his intellect and screams a new sound at
them.  “I was John Crichton!”  He knows who he was, and they can’t take that from him.  Astronaut, human,
receptacle of agony.  I love Aeryn Sun.  Goodbye, Dad, I loved you, I will miss you, I am leaving.  I am already
gone.  

I once was John Crichton, and I love Aeryn Sun.

“Who are you?”  The demand has changed.  He knows the answer and won’t give it to them.  The answer is the
only thing left to him, he can’t give that away or there’ll be nothing left.

I am the one who loves Aeryn Sun.  

“Kelvo Ten.”

Convulsions, vomiting, screaming, blood flowing across his face, a cry in the night.   Vision gone.  Hit him again.

I love Aeryn Sun.

“Kelvo Eleven.”

No more hearing, screams no longer sounding in his ears despite the raging vibrations in his throat and lungs,
no more sight, no more smell, the world receding to leave him alone with the pain until there is nothing else.  Hit
him again and his hearing returns, traded for with every bit of … he can’t remember what.  

A break in the action.  Misty, gray-toned forms move around him.  They touch him, making adjustments, and he
screams.  It doesn’t take the machine anymore.  He exists in a single state known as agony.  Everything else is
gone.  

Everything except I love Aeryn Sun.

“Ar’n,” someone croaks with a damaged travesty of a voice.  He has to keep her … something.  Don’t tell them
where she is.  “Ar’n.”  The Others must not find her.  

I  love Aeryn Sun.  The Others will not find her.  

“Kelvo Twelve.”  

Something is broken, something in his mind, shattered images swirling, touching and leaving, no connection, no
sense.  There had been someone screaming and the other person here, the person who had loved Aeryn Sun.  

“Kelvo Thirteen.”

I loved Aeryn Sun.

“Kelvo Fourteen.”  

“NO!”  Aeryn spun off the bed, tripped over a portion of the thermal sheet, and crashed to the floor.  She
scrambled away from the bed on all fours, trying to get away from whoever was there, whoever had been next
to her.  Whoever had been … doing something to her.  “No.”  

“Aeryn!”  John was suddenly beside her, warm hands pulling her up, leading her back to the bed.  “What’s the
matter?”  

She sat down and let him pull the thermal sheet around her shoulders against the cool air in the cell.  

“What the frell happened?  I’m supposed to be the one bolting out of bed in the middle of the night, acting like a
lunatic.  Not you.”    

She had to think about it for a few microts, separating out dream from true memories.  The last thing she
remembered clearly was falling asleep lying half across his chest and shoulder, John’s thumb slowly stroking
her upper arm, with his cheek resting against the top of her head.  That clear memory was buried under a
tingling reminiscence of pain, confusion, and insanity.

“What were you dreaming about?” she asked instead of answering his question.  

“Nothing.  I wasn’t.”  

“Do not lie to me!”  She had not felt the anger coming.  There had not been any build up or warning.  It was
simply there, uncontrollable and without reason.  Aeryn took a deep breath and fought it down.  “You were.  I
know you were dreaming.  I felt it.  You do not have to give me the gory details, just tell me what it was so I’m
sure.  Please.”  

“The fourth day,” he said flatly.

“The last few moments,” she added, and started to shake.  

She had not understood.  Not really.  She had shared his memory of Kelvo Fourteen when they had been in
Unity, and had gotten a small taste of what insanity felt like, but she had not really understood what he had
gone through.  She still did not, but the arrogance of thinking she knew the depths John had battled back from
was gone at last.  

“What did … how did you …”  John shook his head, looked around the cell for several microts, then looked at
her again.  “Unity.”  

“The tie exists and can never be broken,” she said, quoting Meylan’s combined warning and promise.

“It’s not supposed to work like that.”  John got to his feet and strode to the far side of the cell where he began
moving some of his possessions around.  Nothing went very far, it was an aimless shuffle that ended with
everything back where it started.  

“Not supposed to be like what?”  Aeryn was worried by his reaction.  If she had to choose an emotion at that
moment, she would have said that John looked angry.  

“Like just picking up my thoughts.”  He examined a piece of circuitry then snapped it in half and lobbed the two
pieces toward the waste funnel.

It was anger, she decided, without a target.  Or perhaps it was fear.  

“What are you afraid of?” she asked.  It was a mindless question, blurted out without considering the dream she
had just eavesdropped on, or how he might feel about having someone listen and watch as he lost the battle to
remain a functioning person.  So much of John’s self-esteem was bound up in his own perception of his
intellect; it should have been easy for her to predict his reaction.  

“I’m not afraid!” he yelled at her.  A chess piece sailed across the chamber, ricocheted off one of the vertical
supports and clattered into the corridor.  The entire chess set followed close behind, pieces bouncing and
spinning like shrapnel.  “I am not frightened.”  

But he had been.  Aside from her name, it was the first symbol she had encountered the first time she had
entered his mind in the delvian sanctuary.  

I’m scared.  

She had attributed it to the damage he had sustained, and the loss of every bit of awareness normally
necessary to cope with life in general.  John was always so strong.  She knew he was afraid at times, he had
admitted it more than once, but he always controlled his fear, sometimes to the point of recklessness.  The
John Crichton she knew was bold, rash, brazen, stubborn, and humorous, so she had assumed that the terror
they had all felt and shared in the Meetings had been the result of injury.  

Now she knew that she had been wrong.  The injuries had deprived him of the ability to hide it.  It was the
façade that had been stripped away.  She replayed the shared dream and felt the fears compounding:  fear
that he would break and give the scarrans what they wanted, fear that he would die, fear that he would not die,
fear that he would survive to live out his life mentally and physically crippled.  John was far from being a
coward.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  This was a different variety of fear, one that had grown out of
the stripping away of strength rather than the presence of weakness.  Over the space of four days, he had
been forced to consider that he was not strong enough to withstand every bit of hardship that life could throw at
him, that his mind was not enough to get him out of every situation, and that stubbornness might not be the
strength he had always considered it to be.  She knew it the way she knew her own hopes and fears.  She had
felt it more than once and had not truly understood.  Tonight’s installment had arranged the pieces into a new
pattern.  

Aeryn opened her eyes and shook herself to help make the transition from the remembered dream-images
back to the reality of a cell aboard Moya.  She watched John circle the chamber, his body shouting out his
uncertainty and frustration, and could not think what to say.  Anything she had to offer was certain to make
things worse.  

“Say something!” he shouted after forty microts of silence.  

“I don’t know what to say,” she admitted.  “This is something you are going to have to work out on your own.”

He finished his latest circuit of the room and flopped down on the bunk with an impact worthy of a fainting
budong.  “What would you have done, Aeryn?  How would you have handled it?”  

She tried to put herself ‘in his shoes’, as John had put it so long ago.  Once again closing her eyes in order to
focus, she tried to imagine that it was her on that table instead of John, and tried to project what the outcome
might have been if their roles had been reversed.  It was inconceivable.  She had not figured out how John had
held on for so long in the face of that much physical abuse coupled to his compounding fears, so she could not
begin to overlay that knowledge on top of her own reactions.  

“I don’t know.  I truly do not know what I would have done, John.  I doubt that my training would have held up,
and I don’t know if I have learned enough since leaving the Peacekeepers to have survived once they broke
through that first layer of defense.  What I do know is that despite what you think you were feeling, you have
more strength and bravery than you are willing to admit.”  

“Strength and bravery doesn’t help when they’re pureeing your brain cells one neuron at a time.”  

There wasn’t anything to say to that either, because it was true.  “Helpless,” she said, gaining another minute
piece of understanding.  

“Completely.”

“What else?”

“That about covers it.”  John rolled on his back and gazed up at her.  “It’ll pass, Aeryn.  I’ll get over it.  Let’s get
some sleep.”  

The light of wary obstinacy was in his eyes, the look that warned her that he would do almost anything, possibly
even lie to her, to avoid talking about it anymore.   If she pushed him, she would have to accept that she was
partly to blame if he chose the route involving deliberate deceit, so she left her questions unasked, and did as
he suggested.  

Two arns later, his nightmares were back, every bit as violent and realistic as they had been the first night he
had come awake screaming, undiminished in their intensity despite having been replayed dozens of times.  

                                                                              * * * * *

Crichton walked into Command, clean and neat but looking haggard.  He eased down on a seat at the strategy
table and dropped his head onto his folded arms.  “I’m here to take over for a while, Chiana,” he mumbled, and
then sat up straighter so he could look at the view screen.  

Three long sliding steps took her from the navigational console to his side.  She leaned her hips against the
table and looked down at him in concern.  “You look awful, Crichton.  Go get some sleep and I’ll take your turn
for you.”  She ran a gloved hand through his hair front to back, then reversed direction and smoothed it back
down.  

“Sleep?  What’s that?”  He slumped forward again, forehead resting on his arms.  

The nightmares had eased but had not disappeared completely.  The harrowingly realistic replays of his torture
had passed, only to be replaced by something that brought him out of sleep every bit as distressed, but that he
could never remember after he woke up.  One night out of four, on average, he woke up either yelling
unintelligibly or to find himself huddled in a corner of his cell, ready to lash out at anyone who tried to approach
him.  

“Crichton, go find Jool, have her make up some more of that stuff to knock you out, and sleep for a solar day or
two.”  She dropped her hand onto the back of his neck, rubbing her fingers lightly across the tense muscles.  
He shook his head without bothering to look up.  “You need some sleep -- real, undisturbed sleep.”  He shook
his head again.  “How many days has it been since you last used that stuff of Jool’s?”  

“Only four, Chi.  I have to get through this sooner or later.  I’ll give it another shot without drugs tonight, and if
that doesn’t work, I’ll consider either letting her put me out or a complete lobotomy.”  He straightened up and
pulled her down on to the seat next to him.  “But thank you for trying.”  

Chiana gave him a hug, and then slid away to sit on another seat, one further away from him.  “I’m glad you see
it that way, Crichton.”  

He raised his eyebrows, querying her comment.  

“I’m glad you understand that I did try first.”  

She smiled seductively, Chiana’s slyest expression, and John was filled with foreboding.  He started to turn
toward the doorway, saw Aeryn to one side with a smirk on her face, and felt the snap against the back of his
neck.  He turned quickly, knowing he only had a microt at best, opened his mouth to tell D’Argo he was a traitor,
and collapsed into Chiana’s grasp.  He had just enough time to know that they tumbled to the floor together, his
head coming to rest on her stomach, and then there was nothing.  

                                                                              * * * * *

“Mmmphf?”  

Aeryn watched John with secretive pleasure as he stretched for several moments, then buried his face in his
pillow and slumped back into a relaxed sprawl.  She walked two of her fingers up his back, stopped when she
reached the top of his shoulders and massaged lightly along his spine and the base of his skull.  He shifted,
dropping his head forward so it was easier to rub between the thick tendons there.  She pulled away at that
point, and received a mumbled complaint.

“Get up, John.”  Her order was answered by another unintelligible mutter.  “Get up.”  

He froze.  All motion on the bed stopped.  “Bastards,” he said suddenly, then turned his head and repeated it.  
The word came out more clearly on the second try since it was not delivered into his pillow.  “Devious, rotten,
miserable plotting finks.”  He pushed himself up on his elbows and turned to look at her.  “How long have I been
out?”

“Six arns.”  

“Six arns?”  He gazed around his quarters.  The all too familiar look of bewildered confusion made a brief
encore.  “A tonguing doesn’t last six arns.  You must have drugged me.”  

“Nine arns,” Aeryn said.  

John turned to look at her.  “Which is it?  Six, or nine?”  

“Both,” she said.  

“As in six hours drugged and then three of sleep?  That’s not bad.  Three arns of sleep without nightmares is
better than I usually manage.”  He checked to make sure the sheet was over him, then rolled over, wrapped it
around his waist, and sat up.  

“No.”  Aeryn shook her head.  “I mean both.  Six arns from what Jool gave you, then nine more without a single
nightmare.”  

“Fifteen?”  Between the first syllable and the second, his voice rose in pitch to an incredulous squeak.  “I slept
fifteen arns?”

“Nine without nightmares,” Aeryn repeated.  She watched him work out that he had gotten more than an
average night’s sleep without a single nightmare, waited until she saw the grin start to form, then pounced on
him, carrying him back onto the bed in a hug.  

John stiffened beneath her, then squirmed madly to work his way out from under her even before they settled
onto the bunk.  Aeryn stopped her momentum with both arms, pushed herself off him, and sat up in time to see
panic on his face.  He got the facial expression under control almost immediately, but could not hide the rest of
his body’s reaction to her attack.  He sat at the head of the bed looking embarrassed at his reaction, arms and
bent knees entangled to form a protective barrier.  

“I don’t know what happened,” he said.  “You startled me.”  The apology sounded sincere, but he was not doing
anything to unwind from the tightly wound bundle of tense muscles.  If anything, he pulled even farther away
from her.

Aeryn forced herself to smile, falling back on her cycles of enforced absence of emotion in order to cover up
her dismay.  The defense mechanism slammed into place too fast, telling her that it was the product shock
rather than her years of Peacekeeper training.  Finding something to say took longer.  She had spent the arns
envisioning a jubilant celebration on John’s part, with exclamations about his recovery and the possibility that it
was almost over; not a complete transformation into yet another person she did not recognize.  She did not
know how to respond to this latest alteration.

Since the first moment she had met John Crichton, he had never pulled away from her.  Not physically.  Not
even during their worst moments.  There had never been a single moment -- sick, injured, happy, healthy, sad,
crippled, crazy, or nearly dying -- when he had not wanted her to touch him.  This was such an enormous
change in behavior, she could only conclude that something equally monumental was causing it.  In light of
what they had been through so far, she felt sick at the thought of what horrors John might possibly be hiding.  

John edged a microt-dench toward her.  He also pulled the thermal sheet more tightly around his shoulders.  He
was doing his best; she had to think of something to say that would reassure him.  

“I’m the one who should be apologizing,” she said.  “I woke you up and then attacked before you had a chance
to know what was going on.  It was my fault.”  She got to her feet and moved away from him, curious to see if it
would ease the tension.  

John started to relax.  He looked around the chamber, a normal level of thought and inquisitiveness replacing
the mixture of embarrassment and fear in his expression.  “What time of day is it?”  

“Morning.  It’s time for First Meal.”  

“How about I take a shower and meet you in the Center Chamber for something to eat?”  

“I’ll see you there in a little while,” she said, and moved farther away.

John nodded, rolled across the bed so he was on the side away from her, and headed for the waste alcove,
thermal sheet still securely wrapped around him.  Aeryn compared that furtive retreat to the early days of his
recovery, when the damaged personality inside a crippled body had delighted in the lingering kisses that were
the only portion of their physical passion he could produce.   Just a single day earlier, he would have dropped
the sheet on the bed, strode across the cell naked, and stopped at the entrance to the alcove in the hope that
she would join him.  

Something had gone horribly wrong with the last stages of his recovery.  The fifteen arns worth of what she had
wrongly assumed was healthy healing sleep had turned into something entirely different.  And the only thing
she had learned so far was that John was going to be the last person she could rely on for help.  

                                                                             * * * * *

“John, we need to talk.”  She had her lips against his shoulder, one arm around his chest.  It had taken ten
solar days for her to work up to the point where he would allow this much contact, and she still had not been
able to find out what was causing his withdrawal.  

“Mmmhmm.”  He sounded tired.  “What’s up?”

“I want to know what’s bothering you.”  She rubbed his stomach a little, knowing it usually calmed him.  

He caught her hand and held it in both of his, preventing her from completing the motion.   He ducked his head
to kiss the knuckles, then held her hand to his chest, preventing another attempt at caressing him.  “I don’t
know what you’re talking about, Aeryn.”  

“You have been avoiding all of us.  I asked Pilot for a list of all of the maintenance tasks you’ve done over the
past ten solar days, and it looks like a schematic of every unused, unknown corner of Moya.  You have spent
the last several days in places that even the DRDs never visit.  And then there’s what happened today.  What’s
going on?”  

They had been chatting with Pilot, laughing over some small, acerbic remark from the big symbiote, and she
had stepped behind John in order to move closer to Pilot’s central station.  She had wanted to make sure he
did not step back into her, so she had placed her hand on his back to warn him that she was there.  John had
bolted nearly two motras trying to get away from the unexpected touch.  That would not have been a problem
except that in his panic he had nearly gone off the edge, teetering for a long microt while she stood frozen in
shock at his initial reaction.  Trained reflexes had prevailed; her hands had grabbed his flailing wrist just as he
started to topple over the edge and jerked him back to safety.  It had been too close to risk a repeat.  

“You have been after my body for as long as I’ve known you.”  She pulled her hand loose and propped herself
up on her other elbow.  “And now you don’t even want me here next to you.”  

“That’s not true.”  

He was arguing the small point, avoiding the larger issue.  Aeryn saw the evasion for what it was.  “Your body
does not want me here.”

“Aeryn --”  

“It started the morning after we had D’Argo tongue you.  This is not like you at all.  What’s going on?”  

John pulled himself into a ball with his arms wrapped tightly aound his ribs, and shook his head.  Aeryn
smoothed the hair at the side of his head back, waiting for an answer.  

“I don’t want to talk about it,” he whispered.  “I don’t want to think about it any more.  I’m tired of dealing with
this.  I just want it to all go away and leave me alone.”  

Crichton turned further into the pillow, away from her.  She kissed him one more time on the shoulder, felt the
quiver run through him that meant he detested the light tough, and then she lay down behind him with the taste
of defeat and loneliness in her mouth.  

He was here, but he wasn’t.  John had come almost the entire way back from the brink of insanity and death
only to stop just shy of the goal.  They had been so close to making it all the way.  One by one, he had
managed to cope with the endless series of physical and psychological problems, from frustration to
sequestered memories, through the endless nightmares and eventually the more formless but equally
frightening dreams that had gradually faded in intensity and then stopped altogether.  

When he had begun sleeping soundly again, she had thought it was over, that she had him back, whole and
restored to the person he had been a half cycle earlier.  That had changed abruptly and even after ten solar
days of careful probing, she had no idea why.  

Aeryn pulled her arms away from him, giving him the space he so obviously desired, and watched the rigidly
tense muscles relax.  Tears welled up and stung, hovering short of breaking loose.  She took a deep breath to
get them under control, waited for the urge to dissipate, and then pulled the covers over them, carefully tucking
them in around John’s neck without actually touching him.  

“It doesn’t matter.  We can leave it alone.”  She could live with it if this was all she could have, but seeing him
damaged like this -- a permanent reminder of what he had endured -- was nearly as painful as watching him
die.  

John rolled over and peered at her in the half-light.  He reached out and wiped the few errant tears off her
cheeks.  “You don’t really want to leave it alone, do you?”

“I want you to be happy, and I want you to feel like you’re completely healed, John.  You haven’t reached that
point yet.”  She kept her hands away from him, knowing that he would endure her caresses out of love for her,
but that he would not enjoy them.  She knew from ten days of experience that it took his full supply of self-
discipline to keep from leaping out of the bed whenever she touched him.  

“I want you to be happy,” she repeated.  

He turned away from her and curled up again, this time yanking a pillow down and clutching it to his chest.  He
shook his head, dark hair visible in the half-lit gloom of the chamber.  “Sometimes I think I’ll never be happy
again,” he said quietly.

Aeryn waited, unsure whether he was finished.  She knew that if she said anything, giving him even the smallest
excuse not to continue, he would avoid talking about the problem.  So she lay quietly beside him, letting the
silence work on his reticence.    

Close to half an arn had passed when his voice came out of the dark.  “Every time someone touches me, I
swear I can feel them grabbing me.”  

You can feel who grabbing you?”  She knew the answer, but it was the only question she could think of at that
moment, and she wanted to keep him talking.  

“Them.  The Others.”  

She propped herself up again, trying to see his face.  This was the first time he had used that term outside of
the Meetings that had taken place inside his own mind.  What little psychology she had been taught during her
training had revolved around either interrogation techniques or gaining a tactical advantage over the enemy,
but she had studied enough to recognize that he was sidestepping the trauma by depersonalizing his captors.  

“They are called scarrans,” she corrected him.  It was brutally direct, aimed at goading him into another
response.

“Scarrans,” he repeated quietly.  

“Go on.”  

The wait was so long this time, she had dozed off several times, and eventually resorted to biting her lip until it
hurt to keep herself awake.    

John moved restlessly, producing something akin to a squirm, as though crawling away from a detested object.  
“I feel their hands, no matter who touches me or why.  You, Chiana, Jool, Big D, even Fluffy; it doesn’t make
any difference.  Someone puts their hand on me and I only feel one thing and every single muscle in my body
says I’ve got to get the frell out of there before it starts all over again.”  John shifted onto his back, staring up at
the dimly visible ceiling.  

“This didn’t start when your memory came back, did it?”  

John shook his head.  

“You were fine at first.  It only began after your nightmares ended.”  

He limited his response to a quick nod.  She was beginning to feel as though she was conversing with one of
the DRDs.  

“Do you actually sense that it’s their hands you’re feeling?” she asked, unsure whether he was being literal.  

John shook his head.  “No, I feel you, but my brain insists that it’s something else.  I can’t stop it.  I thought if I
gave it enough time it would go away.  I think it’s getting worse instead.”  

He turned his head to look at her, examined the one-dench space separating their bodies, then wrapped his
arm around her shoulders and pulled her close.  She could feel what the simple gesture cost him:  the tremors
that wracked his body, the shudders and lurches that continued for more than one hundred microts while he
conducted a silent battle against the instinct that said he had to get away from the contact.  It was a deeply
seated instinct.  She understood that.  This was an urge that went back to the beginning of John’s species.  
Survival depended on flight, and his body was doing its best to protect itself from a threat that had been carved
into the very essence of John’s being one impulse of energy at a time.  

Anyone who loved her less than John did would not have been willing to put the effort into overriding that kind
of instinctive reaction.  It was just one more example of how much he loved her.

Aeryn held herself very still until it stopped.  She shifted to a more comfortable position inside his embrace only
after warning him first.  He barely flinched as she rearranged herself alongside him.  

“I love you very much,” she said.  The reassurance -- meant as repayment for the hell he was putting himself
through because he loved her -- backfired.  John looked guilty.  

“I do love you, Aeryn.  I just can’t --”

She put a finger on his lips.  “It’s all right.  I understand.  I understand why this is happening.”

“Okay,” he said in a whisper.  “Glad you understand it, because I don’t.  I don’t understand why this is
happening.”

“When you feel their hands … it doesn’t feel that way now, does it?” she asked, deliberately propping her chin
on his chest.  

John held her tightly until the tremors generated by her touch died away.  “No.  It wears off after a while, but
anything can set it off again.  I can’t control it, Aeryn.  It hits when I least expect it; doesn’t happen when I’m
ready for it.  I’ve tried.  God knows I’ve tried.”  

Aeryn listened to the flat, emotionless timbre of his voice, a tone telling her as clearly as words that John had
himself under the most rigid emotional control he was capable of maintaining, and knew that she had to be
careful.  John was on the brink of emotional dissolution.  If she pushed too hard, or handled this the wrong way,
odds were that he would either disappear into the gloomily lit corridors of Moya’s version of nighttime, or
unleash one of his irrational, emotional explosions.

She stayed silent, giving him time to relax.  

“You still awake?” he asked after a while.  

“Yes.”

“Thinking?”

“Yes.”  She was thinking that if she waited for John to ask about the problem that it would, at least in part,
restore his sense of control.  It would also let her know when he was ready to move forward.  

“About?” he said after another delay of several hundred microts.

“I was thinking that since the reaction wears off if I have been touching you long enough, that it means your
brain can be convinced that it’s all right to be touched.”  

He shrugged, neither agreeing nor denying.  “Your point?”

“If that’s case, then we’ll just have to teach it this part as well.”

“You’re going to teach me how to get touched,” he rephrased slowly, considering her proposal.  

She gave him time to think it over, knowing that the process would be agonizing for him.  He would be forced to
wage a constant battle against his own subconscious, with little or no outside help from anyone else.  She and
the others would be in charge of detonations.  Their role would be the equivalent of periodically lobbing
emotional bombs into the middle of a cease fire, triggering a series of carefully timed deliberate altercations.  
His job would be the hard part.  She was not sure she would have agreed to the idea if their roles had been
reversed.  

“Okay,” he said much sooner than she had expected.  “I don’t know if this is going to work, Aeryn, but I’m willing
to give it a try.  I’ll try almost anything if there’s a chance of getting this to stop.”  He looked at her more
carefully, peering down his nose at where she was lying alongside him.  “You’re laughing.  What’s so
amusing?”  

“The idea that we can teach John Crichton, the higher reasoning deficient human from the planet Erp, anything
at all,” she said with her lips pressed against his shoulder, teasing him with a very old accusation.  

“Come here, funny person.”  He pulled her on top of him, so she was lying on his chest.  They ignored the
latest set of violent tremors coming from his body, behaving as though nothing unusual had occurred, and then
they talked into the night, deciding how they might finish his journey.        


                                                                           * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Chapter 17                                                                                                                                                                              Chapter 19
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