Heaven's Gate - Part 3

“Marshmallow,” John mumbled.  

“What?” Aeryn said from somewhere near his ear.  

“Somebody put me inside a marshmallow.”  He was buried inside something very soft and very warm, insulated
from the entire universe.  His entire body tingled with the exception of a few areas that felt as if they were on
fire, and there was a warm pressure against his back that felt like heaven itself.  He opened one eye to check
out his surroundings.  Everything was a bit hazy -- as though his brain was made of marshmallows as well.  
“What happened?”  

Aeryn shifted against his back, and John was wide awake as he remembered that he wasn’t supposed to be in
a bed with Aeryn snuggled in behind him, the warmth of her body restoring him to life.  He became fixated not
on the soft pressure against his shoulders, but on the warm set of toes resting against the back of his right
ankle, the small detail distracting him from almost everything else.   

“By the time I got you inside, you were almost frozen solid and you were hypoxic,” she explained into the back of
his shoulder.  “It took arns to get you warm.  I finally used more of the baffling from inside the interior
bulkhead.”  

John explored the thick layer of insulation that had been packed between the covers, identifying the squashy
foam that was creating the blunted sensation he’d encountered upon waking.  “That wasn’t all you used to
warm me up,” he suggested, thinking of her presence behind him.  “Did I get mouth-to-mouth as well?”  

“No,” she laughed against his back.  

“Bummer.”  He burrowed under the covers until they crawled over his ears, shutting out the cooler air.  “Did I
finish?”  There was a vague memory of a cable splicer spinning off toward the stars, but he couldn’t remember
attaching the second power line.  

“Yes.  We’re on autopilot, set at Hetch Five.  I’ll need to make an adjustment to our course at some point.”  
Aeryn shifted against him, pulling herself tighter.  They were both wearing clothes, which he thought might be a
good thing under the present circumstances.  

“John, your fingers and some other areas were an odd color when I got you inside.  Is that bad?”  

He grabbed his attention firmly by the scruff of its neck and hauled it back from its obsession with the set of
toes that were flexing against his heel as she shifted behind him.  He had to remember her question first, then
consider the possibilities.  “Yellowish white?” he asked eventually, thinking that it would be a good idea if one of
them got out of the bed.  

“Mmhmm.”  

He pulled one hand out from under the covers and examined it front and back.  Small details were still a bit
blurry, but he could see clearly enough to make out the extensive areas of angry red tissue.  “Frostbite.  
Doesn’t look too bad,” he murmured, flexing his fingers.  It explained the overly hot sensations scattered across
his body at random.  He tapped one of the burning hot patches on his chin, testing to see if it was numb.  
“Should be okay.  Any other damage?”  

“No,” she answered.  He started to slide off, sleep coming fast despite having Aeryn so close.  

“John?”  Her voice drew him back just as he was almost gone.  

“Un huh?”  

“What is ‘Don’t do it?’”  

She had gone very still behind him, barely breathing as she waited for his answer.  John wanted to deny
knowledge of the phrase, but he’d jumped when she had quoted his impassioned plea from his nightmare,
startled to hear it voiced out loud without warning.  

“Nothing important,” he tried, forcing himself to relax.

“I don’t buy that,” she said, her tone leaving little room for argument.  “Not when you yell it at the top of your
lungs while you’re asleep.”  

That frelled any denials pretty thoroughly, he decided.  “It’s a nightmare, Aeryn.  It doesn’t really mean
anything.”  The last thing he wanted to do was discuss that bit of his past while he was lying with her wrapped
around him.  The insulation and his pounding heart combined to finally restore the last of his body heat and
there was a rush of warmth from within, leaving his skin feeling almost chilled as he overheated.  “I’m warm
now.  I can get up.”  He started to shove himself up, but she dragged him back down.  

“You stopped shivering less than an arn ago.  You’re still cold.”  Her hand slid beneath his shirt to press against
his stomach, a splayed contact that burned against skin that remained chilled.  His body had been turned into a
series of sensory contradictions.  It was the shock and dismay at the idea of having to discuss his dream that
was making him feel hot and sweaty, an entirely psychological reaction that had overridden the signals that his
body was putting out.  

“Tell me about the nightmare,” she urged.  

“This is a really bad idea,” John objected, feeling more uncomfortable with their physical arrangement.  

“That’s three.  No more.”  Aeryn yanked him back down again, but moved away from him slightly, giving him
more room.  

“Three what?”  

“Three miserable attempts to avoid answering my question.  Tell me who you’re shouting at when you yell
that.”  

“Me,” he offered shortly.  He’d been about to say ‘you’ just to shock her, but the truth had slipped out when the
fast jolt in his stomach told him that maybe he was yelling at her in his dreams after all.  He might have been
screaming at her not to set the events in motion that would lead to the inevitable outcome.  

“Why?” Aeryn’s voice nudged him closer to the event.

“To stop myself.”  

“From what?”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” John balked, working his way across the bunk to get away from her touch.  Cooler
air flooded beneath the covers where they gapped between their bodies.  The wave spilled down along his
spine and he shivered, immediately chilled again.  Aeryn slid closer as a second shudder hit him and pulled the
blankets tight around his shoulders.  

“It’s going to take a few more arns before your body recovers.  You were so cold; it took forever to get you
warm.  I wasn’t sure you were going to make it.”  Her hand traced a small pattern against his back and then she
let him alone except to provide warmth, dropping the subject of the nightmare as well.  

Guarantee you won’t die in my arms again.

“What did you say?”  He’d been asleep for a microt but he could have sworn he’d heard Aeryn’s voice
repeating the words aloud.   

“Nothing.”  Aeryn sounded half-asleep herself.  

John stared at the wall, the pain of the remembered moment as raw and intense as if it had happened just
yesterday.  He’d been fighting to hang on to the person who meant everything to him, her agony resonating
within him even as a portion of him screamed that he wasn’t the one who had injured her so badly.  At some
point over the last cycle he’d come to accept that it had been John Crichton -- with all his preferences, beliefs,
and values -- who had caused Aeryn Sun that pain, just as his current set of behaviors had forced her to
contemplate that loss again today.  She’d pulled him inside the airlock, obviously managed to drag him into the
living quarters, gotten him onto the bunk, and then had waited through the arns to see if he would recover from
his latest bit of stupidity.  She must have spent the entire interval wondering if he would die in her arms.    

“What words did you use?” he asked her quietly.  

“What?”  She sounded startled, as though he might have woken her.   

“What names did you call me while you were trying to get me in here?”  He edged back, making a firmer
contact.  

The air swirled warm across the back of his neck as she laughed.  “There was a lot of ‘frell’, a few ‘drens’, and I
called you a budong at least once.  I also compared your lack of cooperation to Rygel at some point.”  

“Rygel?  That’s harsh.”  John fingered his cheekbone as he considered what he wanted to say next, finding a
welt developing where he’d been frostbitten.  “I was yelling at myself not to kill a Peacekeeper,” he explained
without preamble.  Aeryn was silent behind him, and he knew it sounded absurd so he added the part he hated
to face.  “He was a young kid.  I stabbed him.”  

“When did this happen?” she asked, sounding merely curious rather than probing for details.  

“Same day you left.”  

“Was this on Moya?  Did she get boarded?”  

John turned halfway over, peering at her to see if she was joking.  “No.  Didn’t the others tell you what
happened after you left?”  

“They said they didn’t know where you were, nothing more.  D’Argo said if I found you that you could tell me,
and that if I didn’t find you it didn’t matter.”  

John rolled away again, considering the knowledge she’d lacked when she’d come looking for him.  “Why didn’t
you assume I’d gone back to Earth?  Why did you keep looking for me?”  He wanted to know where she’d been
and what she had done in the intervening time, but it didn’t seem all that important at this particular moment.  

“If you were gone, there was no where left for me to go.  I had no other choice.”  Her fingers wandered down his
arm as if irresistibly drawn to him, unable to withhold from the contact that would assure her that he was there.  

Hope, fear, desire, grief, anger, love.  John decided to tell her about that first hideous day after Moya had
disappeared through the wormhole.

An alarm chirped at them from the cockpit.  “That’s the course correction,” Aeryn said, sliding off the bunk.  
“Stay here, you need to give your body time to rebuild energy.  You’re still cold to the touch.”  She felt the side
of his neck for a microt, tugged the covers up so they were tucked securely under his ears, and was gone.  

“Frell,” he mumbled into the pillow.    

*  *  *  *  *

Aeryn watched the yellow sun of a small solar system slide out of sight through the side portal of the cockpit
then looked down to verify their trajectory on the navigation console, ensuring that the gravity well hadn’t pulled
them off course.  She leaned to one side without conscious thought as John reached past her to set a cup of
tea next to her elbow, wisps of steam drifting off the surface to dissipate almost immediately in the warm air.  His
hand rested on her shoulder for a microt as he glanced over the readouts, a warm reassuring pressure that
moved away too soon.

“I’d kill for a cup of coffee right now,” he sighed, sliding into the other chair.  He propped one foot on the corner
of the panel and slumped into the padded seat, sipping at his own drink.  

“Four down, a little less than eight solar days to go,” she offered.  John grunted an acknowledgement.  Aeryn
glanced at him out of the corners of her eyes, but his wordless answer seemed to be a result of low energy
levels rather than bad temper.  

The atmosphere in the ship had been almost jovial since John had awakened mumbling something about
‘mush-mellows’ several days earlier.  He’d begun making physical contact, venturing small touches or leaning
against her as he reached over her shoulder to make an adjustment to the controls as he had a moment ago,
and he no longer pulled away when she reciprocated.  They’d begun to share some of their experiences, filling
in a little of the enormous hole in their lives, building a rough framework of where they’d been and how they’d
gotten there, although most of the details were still missing.  John continued to look away if she brought up any
of her work with the group of ex-Peacekeepers she’d found, and he’d offered no more than amusing anecdotes
of his own disjointed travels.  

Their only argument had occurred the second night after he nearly froze to death.  He’d been asleep by the
time she’d returned from adjusting the auto-navigator that first day, and had slept through the night without his
usual nightmare.  The second night he insisted on sleeping in the cockpit again, and she’d planted herself
against the door of the living quarters, blocking his exit for nearly an arn as they yelled their way to a
compromise.  She suspected it was her repeated reminder of the fatigue-driven anger that had goaded him into
using the rhotarri drive that had beaten him down.  She’d bludgeoned him with that one incident, and he’d
finally agreed to share the bed.  He’d insisted on positioning a ridge of the soft hydrocell foam down the center
of the bed to keep them apart though, as though he thought she would attack him in the middle of the night.  

Aeryn watched as he set his mug down on the floor and folded his arms across his chest.  John slid down a
dench or two further in his chair, leaned his head against the back and closed his eyes.  There were several
smears of discoloration across his face where he’d been frostbitten, and the skin on his hands was pealing, but
there’d been no other adverse effects from his adventure repairing the ship.  The nausea she’d experienced
during the first moments after she’d pulled him from the airlock made a brief repeat visit as she watched him
scratch his chin for a moment then settle down.  She hadn’t known what would greet her when she’d pulled his
helmet off -- John Crichton or another fixed blue-eyed stare.   

“You’re watching me,” he said as she continued to stare at him.  His eyes were still closed.

“How do you know?” she asked, but she could always tell when he was looking at her, it wouldn’t be any
different for him.  

“I can feel it.”  John peeked at her and then closed his eyes again.  “I’m bored.”  

“I haven’t had a workout in days.  We could clear a space in the cargo bay.”  

He frowned slightly then shook his head without changing his position.  “No thanks, I already learned
klyo-
feltras
this trip.  That’s more than enough.”  

“Disengage the gravity and work on zero-G techniques?” she suggested.  

“You get to pick up afterwards,” he said agreeably.  Nothing in the ship was fastened down, including the supply
containers in the rear.  The living quarters would be an absolute shambles.  

“Never mind,” she said quickly, provoking a laugh from John.  Aeryn smiled and stared at the console, thinking
more about the gradual change in the man next to her than about how to pass the time.  One moment he’d be
gazing at her as though she were the only object in the universe, and the next moment he’d storm off to be
alone in the back of the ship, emerging an arn later as if nothing had happened.  The gazing and the talking
were happening more frequently though, and the seclusion becoming increasingly rare.  

John shifted his position, pulling his head off the back of the chair and tucking his chin against his chest
instead.  “We have enough water to risk a couple of showers tomorrow,” he offered, scratching at the
beginnings of a beard.  The reclamation system wasn’t perfect.  They lost a small amount of water to each cycle
through the purifiers, so they needed to make sure they had enough drinking water before wasting much on
hygiene.

Aeryn got up and stretched, feeling hemmed in by the confined space.  She’d spent almost her entire life on
spaceships, the sense of being enclosed usually serving as a reassurance rather than something that bothered
her.  The shift in perception was unexpected and unwelcome.  She tried to think of something else as she
wandered around the tight quarters, but thinking about the shower had led her to the memory of John’s cold
body as she’d stripped him out of the malfunctioning spacesuit and his coveralls four days earlier.  It had been
like touching a dead body, his flesh no less chilled than a corpse.  Working him into warmer clothing had been
a torture; handling the cold, dead weight of his limbs had served as a reminder of what had happened and
might happen again.  Swearing at him for his stupidity had only served to emphasize her fear that he might
never wake up.   

Aeryn completed another circuit of the cockpit, searching for something to get her mind off the recalled trauma.  
“How did you get the scar on your back?” she asked to divert her mind from the premature sense of grief.  

John covered his eyes with one hand and shook his head, his chin still resting on his chest.  “Don’t suppose
you’d like to start with something else,” he suggested.    

“I didn’t mean to bring up something -- ”  

He was blushing, his ears turning a bright red although she couldn’t see his face.  She waited, not bothering to
finish the apology.   

“It was a fight,” he admitted at last, removing his hand only to stare at his boots.

“I figured that much out.”  

“A bar fight.”  John sighed and a very small grin appeared.  “I was perhaps a little drunk, and I kind of picked a
fight with a guy at the bar.”  He looked at her out of the corners of his eyes, checking on her reaction.  Aeryn
raised her eyebrows, waiting for the part he was deliberately leaving out.  “A big guy.”  She waited a little
longer.  “A really big guy.”  

She slid back into the empty chair, propped her elbow on the console and leaned her chin on it, waiting for the
rest.  John dropped his feet to the deck with a thump and headed for the hatch at the back of the cockpit.  “How
big?” she asked before he could unlatch it.  

“He was a … pakmicrad,” he confessed.  

“Crichton!” she yelled in disbelief.  The adults of the species were fully twice his height and almost three times
his mass.  

“It was a juvenile,” he objected.  

“So it was, what?  Only twice as heavy as you?”  She was struggling to smother a laugh, envisioning the look
that must have been on John’s face once he realized he was in trouble.  

“A bit more than that.  It was almost full grown.”  He shrugged, making no move to open the hatch.  “I hit it once,
and it decided not to get upset.  It just picked me up and set me aside because it wanted to finish its drink in
peace.”  

“How long did the fight last?”  She knew she’d pushed too far when he turned his head away and rapped the
latches loose with a fist.     

“That was it,” he said flatly.  “I punched it and it moved me out of the way.  End of story.”  He shrugged once
and ducked through the doorway, pulling it shut behind him without any of his usual vehemence.  Aeryn turned
to watch the stars through the forward viewscreen, wondering about the sudden reticence and all the parts of
the story he hadn’t told her.  It was almost a quarter of an arn before she realized that he hadn’t actually
explained how he’d acquired the horrific scar.  


                                                                        * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Part 2                                                                                                                                                                                                 Part 4
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