Heaven's Gate - Part 4

John flopped onto the bunk and stared at the ceiling, relieved that he’d managed to divert Aeryn’s attention
long enough to avoid telling her the entire tale.  The first days of Gallenn’s hospitality he’d done little else than
eat and rest, sleeping ten and twelve arns a day while his body recovered from an entire half-cycle spent as a
fugitive.  Once the exhaustion had been conquered he’d begun drinking himself into a stupor every night,
where the memories and the loneliness couldn’t reach him.  

On the night of the brief bar fight he’d tried to make a wager with Harvey that he could goad the normally placid
pakmicrad into a fight, but the clone had declined to accept either side of the bet, going so far as to warn him
that his insane venture could be fatal.  When he’d regained consciousness he had admitted to Gallenn that he
knew a single blow from a pakmicrad could kill him, withholding the fact that he didn’t really care.  Picking a fight
wasn’t an attempt at suicide, he’d argued, it was simply an example of very poor, very drunken judgment.  

“Yeah, right,” John growled to the empty room, admitting for the first time that he’d deliberately put himself in
harm’s way that night because he couldn’t stand his life anymore.  He hadn’t wanted to die though; he’d only
wanted to feel a different kind of pain than the one he’d been carrying around ever since Moya had
disappeared down the wormhole.  He’d gotten far more than he’d been looking for when the irritated youngster
had thrown him nearly five motras across the room.   

“What are you doing, John?” he asked himself, thinking of his current situation and the potential for more
emotional destruction.  Aeryn was here, she was trying hard to rebuild their relationship, and she seemed
committed to staying with him this time.  John sat up and shoved himself further onto the bunk to lean against
the wall, staring blindly as he tried to compare his options.  Having Aeryn beside him felt so right it was nearly
irresistible.  Her quiet smile filled the voids in his life like nothing else he’d ever encountered.  John gnawed
absently on the pad of his thumb, jerking it away in annoyance when he became aware that he’d resumed the
long discarded habit.

He considered returning to the cockpit to be with her, to feel her presence beside him like a shadow, like
something that would always be there -- a given in his life -- but lay down instead.  A part of his psyche insisted
that destruction waited for him, posing as a slim body of immeasurable poise and strength sitting at the controls
to the ship.  So he stared at the wall and waited to see which vision would turn out to be the correct one.  

The hatch from the cockpit clanged against the stops, driving his introspection into retreat.  Aeryn stepped into
the doorway, looking at him in concern.  He’d pulled himself into a tight ball, lying curled up on his side gazing
blindly into space as he approached the moment when he’d have to make a decision.  

“Everything all right?” she asked, frowning slightly.  

“Yeah.”  He thought about the things he still needed to know.  “What made you leave your group of
renegades?”  He didn’t really want to know where she’d been or what she’d done.  Envisioning Aeryn fighting
and killing people because she’d chosen to lead that life wasn’t something that gave him any pleasure.  

Her frown deepened as she stepped into the small room and perched at the bottom of the bed.  “Survival was
everything to them.  They were fighting for things that made a difference, but they did it without giving of
themselves.  It was a shallow life.”  She looked around the room, her gaze coming to rest on a pulse rifle resting
in the corner.  “There wasn’t any commitment beyond the oath they asked everyone to take.”  

John nodded, adding the explanation to his stack of data.  

“Can I get an answer?” she asked.   

“Sure.”  

“How did you get the scar?”  

He grimaced, acknowledging that he’d deliberately omitted the details the first time.  “I said the pakmicrad set
me aside.  It was more like tossing me all the way across the room.  He didn’t mean to hurt me, but there was a
coat rack thing on the far wall and the impact kind of hung me up there.”  Aeryn turned nearly white as he
described the impalement.  “The part across my ribs is where I tore loose.  Gallenn scraped me off the floor and
got me sewn up.”  

Aeryn’s jaw clenched, tension revealed by the muscles bunching slightly beneath smooth skin.  “Why did you
start the fight?” she asked, looking at where her hands lay in her lap.  

John propped his head up so he could look at her more directly, instead of forcing his brain to interpret the
sideward image it was receiving.  She was sitting stiffly erect, the Peacekeeper at attention as she waited for his
answer, looking as if she were facing a firing squad.  

“I don’t have a nice answer for that one, Aeryn.  Any version of the truth is going to sound cruel.”  She nodded,
still looking down at her hands.  “Can you accept that I was drunk and leave it like that?”  

“For now.”  She got to her feet, stopping at the door with her back turned, her head still bowed.  “Do you want
to fly or cook?  It’s time for Last Meal.”  

John laughed briefly.  Digging out another pair of the pre-packaged survival rations hardly counted as cooking.  
They’d tried to concoct something more interesting out of the contents, but had given up after only two
attempts, settling for ensuring that they never repeated the same edition of the rations twice in the same day.  

“It’s the man’s job to do the driving,” he declared, trying to sound like John Wayne, “while the little lady prepares
the dinner.”  

She gave him a look as she turned toward where the storage bins were kept in the cargo bay, then
disappeared without a comment.  John rolled to his feet and headed for the cockpit, unsure whether she’d been
amused, angry, confused, or ready to hit him in retaliation for his deliberately sexist comment.  He paused at
the door and then reversed direction, meeting Aeryn as she returned with a meal in each hand.  

“What was that look for?” he asked, deciding to spend more time figuring things out instead of making wild
guesses.  

She handed the rations to him, waiting as he hesitantly accepted one then the other.  Then she took his face
gently in both hands and kissed him.  John closed his eyes as she made contact, replaying the rare occasions
that this had happened in the past as she pressed against him a little harder.  She broke the contact just as he
was beginning to think there was more to it, took the packaged rations out of his hands and stepped around
him.

“I love it when you say things that make absolutely no sense to anyone except a human,” she said, and stepped
into the cockpit.  John stood transfixed for several microts, then followed her, more confused than before he’d
asked the question.  

*  *  *  *  *

He knows he’s dreaming again, looking around the too-familiar landscape with the fatalism born of dozens of
visits to this place.  The vision unreels before him, remorseless in its consistency, and he turns to watch,
knowing every flinch and twitch before it happens.

He stands beside the pair, watching with no more than his usual curiosity as the taller figure in black leather
holds the young Peacekeeper up by the front of his uniform.  The taller of the two figures stands hunched
slightly to one side, the stolen fuel cell tucked precariously inside his jacket, threatening to slide loose if he
moves too far in any direction.  The young one reaches up with one fumbling hand and pulls at a sleeve, too
young and inexperienced in the cruelties of battle to hang on to his indoctrination, even though it has been
instilled since his recruitment as a child.

“Not this time,” he vows, “I won’t let you do it.”  He moves forward with the mud-bogged slow-motion of a man
wading through quicksand, his clown-clumsy feet slowing him to an impotent crawl while the knife is pulled free.  
“Don’t do it,” he threatens the taller one.  “It’s not worth it.”  Blue eyes turn his way this time, face full of
determination to live, to continue.

He lunges between them, shoving the young one aside, the withdrawn knife flashing in the dark, catching
random rays of light as it spins away, flicking the droplets of future heartbeats as it disappears.  They grapple,
each fighting for a type of survival, arms and legs tangling in an attempt to gain an advantage, until he doesn’t
know if he’s the stopper or the stoppee in this dream.  

He slithers to one side, the dream Crichton’s body suddenly vulnerable as the fuel cell slips loose and he tries
to recover it, and he finds a bit of leverage.  One arm in front, one in back -- just as Aeryn had taught him --
squeeze hard, and the breath stops in the fugitive’s throat.  Hands beat at him, clutch at his arm, an elbow
pummels his ribs.  He hangs on.  The murderer Crichton is dying in his arms, prevented from committing the
self-destructive act.  

They roll together, still struggling, now on their sides, and a hard joint smashes mercilessly into his groin …

John came awake with a gagging cough, rolling up against the bulkhead with a hard thump as he clutched at
himself, near to vomiting.  “Aeryn?” he croaked.  He took in a small breath against the sickening ache between
his legs and looked for her, knowing what he’d done in his sleep.  “Aeryn!  You okay?” he asked again in a
panic.  

She was sitting on the floor in the corner, pulse pistol aimed at him, her breath rasping in through an open
mouth.  

“Oh God,” he moaned, half in pain and half in remorse.  “I’m sorry.  That’s why I didn’t want to …” he gagged as
the pain flowed outward one more time and finally began to ease.  “I should have stayed in the cockpit.  I’m
sorry,” he repeated, wondering how he was ever going to explain trying to strangle her.  When he raised his
nose out of the mattress she was on her feet, standing by the side of the bed looking down at him with a hint of
what he thought might be compassion, the pistol held loosely by her side.  

“We need to talk, John.”  He nodded, pressing one hand carefully against the source of his pain.  “Tonight.”  He
nodded again.  “As soon as you can breathe.”  He nodded a third time and buried his face in the pillow,
wondering if she’d think him a sissy if he elected to puke on the floor.  

It took more than a few microts before he declared himself recovered and not permanently damaged.  The
familiar forgiving smile he’d been hoping for by making light of his injury hadn’t appeared.  Aeryn settled herself
at the foot of the bed, sitting cross-legged, the pistol close to hand, with what he considered her ‘don’t-frell-with-
me’ expression firmly in place.  

“Where do you want to start?”  He’d already resigned himself to telling the entire story.  

“At the beginning.  Why did you leave Moya?  I thought you were going to stay there, take care of her and Pilot,
and work on your wormholes.”  Her tone was accusatorial.  

“I didn’t leave,” he snapped back at her, a little harsher than he’d intended.  So he told her the entire story:  
sitting in the module feeling betrayed and lied to, watching the leviathan slip into the wormhole, the shock,
finding the planet with a breathable atmosphere, and all the events leading up to the moment when he’d slid a
knife into the belly of a young sebacean.  Aeryn watched him unwaveringly through the description, a small
frown developing as he finished.  

She shook her head at his remorse.  “You had to survive.  If they had caught you, your execution would have
been slow and excruciating.  Given enough time they could have forced you to give up the wormhole
equations.”   

“I know that, Aeryn,” he shot back at her.  “But I wasn’t thinking of any of that when I did it.  All I cared about was
making sure I lived long enough to find you.”  He shrugged uncomfortably.  “And you weren’t there.  After that,
the Peacekeepers were always right on my ass, I couldn’t search for Moya and I had no idea where to look for
you or any of the others.  I hid, dumped the module, lost Winona, changed my name, made myself disappear,
hoping I’d have time to go back and find … all of you.”  He glanced up at her as he changed the end of his
sentence.  

“I wasn’t John Crichton anymore.  One day I woke up and knew in my heart that I’d never find you, and had to
face that I’d killed that kid for nothing.”  He looked down at his hands, rubbing one palm with a thumb.  “For
absolutely nothing,” John forced the words out, each syllable breaking loose from his lips with an effort.    

“You were still alive,” she asserted.  

“No I wasn’t, Aeryn.  Jack Crichton’s son never would have stuck a bit honkin’ commando blade between some
kid’s ribs, looked him in the eye and stabbed him a second time.  He was no threat after the first one.”  He got
to his feet, pacing the two steps to the wall before turning to face her, holding his hands out palms up.  “Do you
know how hard it is to get blood off your hands?” he pleaded with her.  

“Yes, I do,” she said gently.  

“Tell me how?  Please?  Because it’s still there.  Where’s the big cosmological equation that says I have more
of a right to be alive than someone else?  One puny human being doesn’t belong in this universe more than
someone else, Aeryn.”  John grabbed a metal cup off a shelf and threw it angrily across the room, the metallic
clatter not nearly as loud as his anguished yell.  

They hung suspended for several microts, the quarters abruptly quiet.  

“You must have felt differently when you saved your life,” she resumed carefully.   

“I didn’t save my life for me!” he yelled at her.  He closed his mouth with a snap and turned his back to her with
a frustrated gestured, taking a step so that he faced into the corner.  

Aeryn hadn’t moved except to turn her head as he paced around the small area, holding herself carefully as if a
stray movement would ignite the tension, creating an explosion.  “You saved yourself for me,” she concluded,
talking to his back.  He nodded, staring down at his feet.  “I had left you because you had died, so you weren’t
going to let that happen again.  But I wasn’t there.”  

John nodded again, taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly.  He leaned forward to rest his forehead
against the joint of the two walls, continuing to stare at his feet.  

“If I hadn’t left, you would have been on Moya when she went through the wormhole and none of that would
have happened.”  Aeryn continued her show theorizing, summoning out the agonies he wouldn’t admit to
himself.  

“Yes,” John whispered.  

She moved for the first time, turning to sit at the edge of the bed so she could face him.  “If I had told you where
I was going …”  She tried to work out how that decision would have affected John’s solitary journey.

“I could have at least dreamed I’d find you some day,” he finished for her.  

“Hope,” she concluded.  He nodded.    

Aeryn gazed thoughtfully at the rigid body for several more microts.  “When you hit the pakmicrad, were you
trying to kill yourself?” she asked at last.  

“No.”  John turned to face her, sliding down to sit on the floor where she’d been huddled just an arn earlier.  He
peered at her over the forearms he was resting on his knees.  “I wanted to hurt physically,” he said.  “I wanted
to feel something that would drown out the other things that I’d been feeling for almost an entire cycle.”  He
gave Aeryn a chance to say something, continuing in a more self-deprecating manner when she remained
silent.  “I might have underestimated the amount of pain that thing could inflict by just a smidge.”  

“A little more than a smidge,” she suggested.  

“Probably.”  John ran his chin along his forearm, watching her.  “I forgave you a long time ago, Aeryn.  I
understand why you had to leave.  I understand about needing to get away from something that hurts so much
you can’t think straight.”  

She slumped forward, resting her head in her hands.  The relief that he could find his way to forgiving her was
nearly buried under the guilt as she heard him voice an anguish identical to her own.  Several deeps breaths
helped her shove the sting of tears back where they’d come from.  “Yet you’re still having the nightmare,” she
said, thinking that his forgiveness should have resolved the source of his internal anguish.  

John rested his head against the wall, slowly fingering his lower lip with a thumb.  “It reappeared when you did,”
he explained, watching her intently.  

“You still don’t know if the cost of killing him was worth what you gained,” she theorized, feeling mildly ill as she
was forced to consider the depth of his uncertainty.  It meant that John might choose to leave once he dropped
her off at Moya.     

“Guess not,” John’s voice sliced deep, cutting as fiercely as the knife he wielded in his nightmare.  

“Does it help that I’m glad you’re alive?” she asked, not giving up.  John pressed his lips against his folded
forearms, just his eyes and nose showing as he stared at her without answering.  “I’m glad you didn’t let
yourself get killed that day.  I meant what I said about not having any place to go if you weren’t around.”    

“I believe you,” he murmured into his wrist.  

They stared at each other, words expended, the gulf wider than the scant two motras separating their bodies.  
Aeryn pulled her feet back onto the bed, tucking them beneath her to sit cross-legged where she’d started the
discussion.  

She watched the same vacant look steal over him that she’d seen when she’d found him curled on the bed
earlier that day.  She was alone in the room at that moment, John having gone somewhere entirely different.  
The relief she’d felt when John had said he’d forgiven her had been so intense she’d felt as though she was
about to pass out.  The entire time she’d been hunting for him, that was the stumbling block she’d assumed
would be the hardest to get past.  She’d watched John’s anger fade over the past days, and the anticipated
hurdle had been cleared with ridiculous ease, sweeping all of her anticipated worries aside to reveal the
unexpected barricade.

“I think,” John began, then went silent again, staring off into space.  Aeryn waited, giving him time to make a
decision.  “I think that if I trust you and you leave, that I’ll probably find a way to get killed next time, Aeryn.  I
can’t do this another time.”  His eyes drifted across her, found something to look at on the wall to one side, then
returned to stare at her.  “That last day on Moya, you said you could not do this again.  Tell me you don’t
remember what that felt like.”  

“I can’t tell you that.  I remember it like it was --”  

“-- yesterday,” he finished for her when she hesitated.  Aeryn nodded.  “You can’t ask me to do this, Aeryn.  
You know exactly what this feels like.”    

“I didn’t die, John,” she fought to retrieve the situation.  Defeat hovered a hair’s breadth away, waiting only for
him to decide he’d talked long enough.  Losing this cautious battle meant that John wouldn’t be the only one
feeling the hurt of abandonment, and she wasn’t sure she could stand being spurned when they’d come so
close to reconciliation.  

“I didn’t die,” she repeated, trying to make it sound less like an accusation.

“You were as good as dead,” he countered.  “Maybe even worse.  I don’t believe he chose to die.  It wasn’t his
choice to leave you.”  

Aeryn swallowed hard, giving herself a moment to calm down so she wouldn’t lash back at him.  “There was no
‘him’.  There was only John Crichton, only you.  Your decisions that time -- your choices -- got you killed.”  
Another long pause stretched out as he continued to stare at her, unrelenting.  “Several days ago you made
another choice that could have gotten you killed.  I didn’t give up when you made that choice; I didn’t leave.”  

“What about next time?” he asked her, hugging his ribs.  “Or the time after that?”  John tucked his feet closer to
his body, pulling himself into a tight knot.  It looked as though he were trying to compress himself into a smaller
body, and it looked painful.  

“If you leave …”  John shook his head and laid his forehead on his knees, closing himself inside his own body.  

“You would have to trust me.”  She slid off the bunk and knelt beside the huddled figure.  “I don’t want to be
anywhere except beside you, John.  That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you since the moment I saw you slide out
of that engine crawlspace in Gallenn’s repair facility.  I am here with you now, I’ll go with you wherever you go,
and I will not leave you again.  That day on Moya I told you that I love John Crichton, and I still do.”  

John gradually untangled himself as she issued her vow, his head coming up until he could look into her eyes.  
The intensity of his stare was disconcerting, forcing her to concentrate on her words to avoid faltering.  She sat
back on her heels, the nearly manic look on his face suggesting that she’d lost him forever.  

“What did I say?”  Aeryn asked, confused by his reaction and hoping she could salvage the situation.  

He shook his head vigorously, as if ridding himself of something.  “Um … never mind.  It doesn’t matter.”  He
pushed himself upright then put out a hand to pull her smoothly to her feet.  “It’s been arns, we should get
some sleep.”  He looked at the rumpled mess of covers on the bunk, still shoved into the heap where they’d left
them.  “I’ll go back to sleeping in the cockpit,” he suggested.  John was relaxed, all of the habitual tension
missing from his body, but she couldn’t decide if that was good or bad.    

“No.”  Aeryn retrieved her pulse pistol from the foot of the bed and shoved it under her pillow, hoping it would
be enough to keep him nearby.  If she was going to lose him in the end, she wanted to make as many memories
as possible during their last few days together.  

“Nice solution.  I try to kill you, you shoot me.  It has a certain balance to it.”  He looked from her to the door
several times, then rolled into his spot nearest the wall.  “This is one of our all-time dumbest ideas.”  

“I don’t believe you’ll do it again,” she said, sliding in and pulling the covers up.  She stretched one hand over
her head and dimmed the lights.  

“Aeryn?” John asked from the dark, shifting restlessly.  

“Yes.”  She was lying on her back, as close to the edge of the bed as possible, doing her best to ensure that
John didn’t feel trapped -- physically or emotionally.  

“All right.”  He sounded pleased about something, but she couldn’t attach the unassociated phrase to anything
they’d discussed.  

He wasn’t saying he was okay; he was making a statement that he was agreeing to something.  Aeryn stared
into the dark, trying to remember which request had gone unanswered during their conversation.  It hit her like
a physical blow, John’s quiet concession concealing the magnitude of his decision.  

“You mean yes?” she asked back, light-headed with relief.  

“One more time,” his detached voice floated back, and she started to shake.  No combat assignment or Prowler
detail had ever put her through more stress than she’d endured over the last several arns.  

“Can I come over there?” she asked, needing to be near him.  

“Of course,” he laughed, sounding as relaxed as he’d looked a few microts earlier.  

She rolled over twice, fetching up against his side with a thump.  “Thank you,” she murmured into his chest as
one strong arm pulled her against him.  “Thank you, John Crichton.”  

“Don’t kill me, Aeryn Sun,” he whispered unseen.  

“I won’t.  I promise.”  The strong fingers that she hadn’t felt touch her for more than two cycles stroked her
shoulder, exploring for a microt before holding her tight.  “What does that feel like?” she asked, inviting him to
share what he was thinking at that moment.  

“Tomorrow.”  


                                                                          * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Part 3                                                                                                                                                                                                 Part 5
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