The Chrysalis
A Sequel to 'The Changeling'
(First posted October 16, 2006)
ULTRA-SHIPPY ALERT:  If you are not a John/Aeryn shipper, this story will probably either bore you to death,
or kill you from an overdose of shippiness … possibly both.  You have been warned.  

Rating:  PG-13/NC-17.    
Category:  Future Fic -- approximately a quarter of a cycle after the end of PKW.
Disclaimer:  The characters and universe of Farscape are the property of the Jim Henson, Co., and I am
endlessly thankful that they are generous enough to tolerate us playing with their creation.  
Spoilers:  This story contains spoilers for Farscape: Peacekeeper Wars.
Test-driver:  PKLibrarian.  She still isn’t comfortable with the ‘beta-reader’ honorific, but she deserves
recognition for making sure my stories don’t go blundering off in ludicrous directions.  This time around she did
one of the hardest things possible for a ‘test driver’, which was to jerk me up short just when I thought I had the
story finished.  There was a scene at the very end that wasn’t right, and her comments convinced me to do a
last microt edit (kicking and screaming the entire time, of course).  The story is better for her efforts.  

Note to the reader:  The Chrysalis was supposed to be nothing more than a one part addition to The
Changeling.  But then it started to grow.  And then it grew some more … and then some more … and then
some more ... until I could no longer justify it as an “add-on” to the original story.  So I lopped it off, spent
several days dreaming up a new title, and declared it a story in its own right.  What that means however, is that
it picks up immediately after The Changeling ends (we’re talking one microt later), and that a great deal of what
is going on in this story will not make one whit of sense if you haven’t read
The Changeling.  

As the split rating implies, it is primarily a PG-rated fic, with an adult-rated finish.          Basically, it is a
magnificently oversized Addendum, with some angst thrown in to keep things interesting.  I apologize for taking
so long to finish it.

Hope you enjoy it.

*  *  *  *  *


Part 1

Aeryn waited out the brief spell of crying, sitting silently, simply rubbing John’s back or his shoulder from time to
time.  Explanations and reassurances could wait.  Perhaps in a few days, once he seemed more in control of
himself, she would ask him about the tears and their cause.  For now she chose to assume that it was a form of
grieving over the version of John Crichton that he felt he had destroyed.  It didn’t matter that she viewed the
situation differently, or that she considered his actions justified when viewed in the light of what he thought had
happened.  What mattered was that John thought he had lost some portion of his humanity.  

A hynerian would have wept only for the number of charrids that had not been killed.  A Peacekeeper or a luxan
would have viewed their actions in terms of energy expended versus the death toll, looking for an adequate
balance.  A scarran would have let out a growling laugh over the deaths of a few charrids.  And John Crichton,
sole human at this end of the universe, hid his face and cried over what he had done, which had a lot to do with
why she loved him so much.  

The tears didn’t last long.  After several dozen microts he sat up, rubbed his face with the heel of one hand,
and looked around at the mess they had made of their quarters.  “What next?” he asked hoarsely.  

“Come on,” she said in the gentlest voice she could manage, and tugged on his hand.  “If you’re going to start
living again, I have a suggestion where you should start.”

He got to his feet slowly, showing no interest in following her.  Aeryn stopped, waiting to see what was causing
his hesitation.  John stared toward the open doors to their cell for several microts, small furry disturbances in
his beard hinting that he was once again gnawing on his lower lip.  “What?” Aeryn asked after several more
microts of silence.  

“I want to see D’Argo,” he said.  

The snort of disbelief was out of her before she knew it was coming or could think to stop it.  John’s head
snapped around.  It was the fastest she had seen him move since he had tottered off Jothee’s ship.  “I’m not
laughing at you,” she said quickly.  

The look of hurt and anger faded, leaving behind a wary mask of suspicion.  “What then?”

“John, look at yourself.”  

He spread his hands out to the sides and looked down at the front of his body.  When he raised his head,
suspicion had morphed into sheepishness.  The first inkling of a smile started to appear.  “Not very pretty,” he
said.  

“Not even close.”  Recapturing his hand, Aeryn tugged lightly, trying to convince and encourage at the same
time.  

John followed her toward the waste alcove with only a small show of reluctance.  It was more a case of requiring
a constant level of tension on his hand in order to keep him moving than having to actually drag him along.  
Once again he came to a stop before she could get him into the shower, this time just inside the doorway.  His
free hand gestured toward the grated doors of their cell and the passageway beyond.  “What about all that
crap out there?”

Aeryn reversed course until they could both look toward the open doors and the debris field of their belongings
lying beyond.  If a cargo runner carrying a load of basic life-goods had dumped the contents of its main bay
from a low atmospheric orbit, the results might have been similar to the chaos littering the corridor.  A platoon of
DRDs was towing each item back inside their quarters, sorting them into piles of clothing, weapons, other
possessions, and items that had been broken.  Winona had been deposited in an otherwise empty corner,
apparently determined to be a category all its own.  

“All taken care of,” Aeryn said.

“Is Pilot watching everything?” John asked.  “Has he been recording this so you can whip out the slides when
the neighbors come over and entertain everyone with pictures of what George of the Jungle did on his summer
vacation?”  

The antagonism came through clearly despite the inexplicable portions of John’s brief tirade.  Aeryn snapped at
him, discovering fury where moments earlier there had been nothing but love and concern.  “Pilot isn’t watching
or recording any portion of this.  The DRDs were preprogrammed to clean up if you and I disappeared into the
waste alcove together.”

John propped one hand on his hip, hung his head and scratched behind his ear with one finger for a moment.  
“Sorry,” he mumbled eventually.  

Both the initial outburst and the fast surrender were unlike him.  She had been bracing herself for one of his
wild explosions, already flipping through the various strategies she might use to defuse the fight before it
escalated too far.  John’s quick subsidence left her momentarily speechless.  Before she could put together an
appropriate response, he continued his apology with a quietly voiced, “I might be a bit … erratic for a while.”  

“And that would be different how?” she asked, at the same time ducking down so she could look into his eyes.  
He refused to meet her gaze.  “I don’t care.  You take as much time as you need to get past this.”  

His eyes flickered toward hers and then darted away, revealing that he still felt guilty, still blamed himself for a
series of events that couldn’t have been predicted or avoided.  

“You’ve given me your word,” Aeryn said.  “That’s all I need.  I trust you.”

The assurance, meant only to let him know that she could be patient, had the inadvertent effect of restoring
something essential to John.  For the first time since he had staggered off Jothee’s ship, he straightened up
into a more familiar Crichton-confident posture:  head up, back straight, prepared to meet life head on.  It was
the comment about trust that had worked the magic, Aeryn realized, and didn’t understand why it had triggered
the change.

Then, in a flash of deeper comprehension, she saw that to John it was more than the simple declaration that
she had confidence in him.  It had to do with the fact that someone was depending on him.  From the first day
she had met him, he had shouldered burdens the way other people wore clothes or carried a weapon, taking
on guilt or responsibilities that weren’t rightfully his to carry.  He watched out for everyone, often caring too
much about what happened to friends and total strangers alike.  Stripped of those ever-present restrictions on
his actions, left on his own both physically and morally, possibly for the first time in his life, he had been free to
explore the depths of his own behavior without the constant concern of how it would affect anyone else.  And
what he had learned about himself held the power to destroy him.

“I’m counting on you,” she said, attempting to strengthen the impression of reliance.  “You have never broken a
promise.  Don’t start now.”

He turned his head to look at her, meeting her stare squarely this time, and then nodded.  “Okay,” he said.  
“Shower?”  

“I think it would be a good idea.”  Aeryn maneuvered him into the shower cubicle, finding it easier to get him
moving this time, and began unfastening the buckles on his jacket.  

“I can do that myself,” he said, taking over from her.  

She stepped back.  “See if you can pry that jacket off.  I have to get some things.”  

His answer consisted of a nod and another quiet clack of a buckle being released.  

Ducking out of the alcove, Aeryn yanked off her boots and socks, closed the doors of the cell, and then
hurriedly dug into the gear bag she had brought with her.  The object she wanted was small and therefore had,
quite naturally, dropped to the bottom where it would be hardest to find.  Fumbling the ovoid little bulb out from
amidst the jumble, she stared at the familiar shape for several microts.  The outer shell was the same as the
ones she had caught John with a cycle earlier.  The contents were a remedy that had been recommended by
Noranti via a long-range conversation over the comms, and by the eidelons as well.  The advice of the latter
she trusted; the enthusiasm of the first made her wary.  

Aeryn glanced toward the waste alcove to make sure John hadn’t come out for some reason, and then
whispered a threat to the distant traskan.  “This had better work the way you promised, you old hag, or you will
answer to Cholak.”  She held the open end of the bulb to her nose and took a hesitant, experimental sniff.  
Nothing bad happened.  She tried the other nostril and there was still no catastrophic adjustment to her
perception of her surroundings.  As far as she could tell, the powdered concoction was working as promised.    

Unfortunately, something else wasn’t working as she had hoped.  When she reentered the waste alcove and
set the gear carrier down near the shower partition, she discovered that John hadn’t progressed beyond
unfastening the buckles of his jacket.  He was propped up in the corner, leaning against the wall, picking at
several scuffed areas of leather on the sleeves.    

“Forget what you were doing?” she asked, doing her best to keep the question undemanding.  

“If I had, at least it wouldn’t be deliberate,” he snapped back at her.

She had been gone no more than forty microts; it didn’t seem like enough time for his mood to have shifted so
radically again, this time to undisguised anger.  If the mood swings kept up at the current pace, they were going
to have to find a term more descriptive than ‘erratic’.  Annoyed both at herself for needing to leave for a few
moments, as well as at John for not being in control of his emotions, her reply came out sounding far more
impatient than she intended.  

“What is the matter with you now?”  

“What’s the matter with me?  I don’t like being lied to, that’s what’s the matter with me!”  He pushed away from
the wall and made an attempt to shoulder past her, headed for the door.

She moved farther into his path, blocking the way.  “What are you talking about?”

John made two attempts to get past her, neither of which employed much in the way of force, before retreating
into his corner.  “This has all been one huge load of bullshit.  If you’re so damned happy to have me home,
then why the poppers?”  

“The what?”  

It took several microts to make the association between his term for the bulb-shaped drug containers, her
furtive use of the powder in the outer area of their quarters, and John’s rapidly mounting anger.  In the time it
took her to remember what ‘poppers’ meant, John had forged ahead with more accusations.  

“Granny’s magic powder, Aeryn!   The brain dust!  If you’re so ecstatic to have me back, then why are you
snorting that crap?  You were pissed at me when I was taking it.  I guess the rules are different when that dren
is going up your nose!”  

He made another move to leave the shower.  Again she took a step to the side to block him, and held up a
hand.  “Let me explain.”  

“Go ahead and try.”  His answer was more a belligerent challenge than a response, but he at least backed up
and waited to hear what she had to say.

Aeryn started by putting a hand on John’s chest to keep him from moving, and then turned away from him,
trying to figure out how he had seen her.  It should have been impossible.  “The mirror,” she said, catching
sight of the reflection.  From where John was standing, he would have been able to see everything with a motra
of where she had been standing near the bed.

“The mirror,” he repeated, turning it into an accusation.

She backed away from him until she came up against the shower partition, using the brief interval to search
for the best way to handle the misunderstanding.  In the end, she went with what might have been a harsh
commentary on his behavior if she hadn’t delivered it in the most loving tone of voice she knew how to
produce.  “John Crichton, sometimes you are so bright I can barely follow the things you’re saying.  Other
times --”

“Please don’t tell me you’re going to say ‘such as now’.”  For the second time in the space of a few dozen
microts, a hint of sheepishness was creeping into the prevailing combination of hurt and anger.  He peered out
at her from under the curling fringes of his hair, and managed a flickering, uncertain grin.  

“Other times, such as now,” she said, drawing a mock-irritated look and rolled eyes from John, “you are the
biggest idiot I have encountered in my entire life.”  

His hand burrowed under the shoulder of his jacket and scratched for several microts.  “What did I overlook?”

Although it was hard to tell through all the dirt and hair, she thought he might be blushing.  “You were right
about the container, wrong about the contents.”  

Another embarrassed-looking grin flashed through the beard.  “So whatchya snortin’, honey?” he asked quietly.

“John, it’s --”  She let out a frustrated sigh, and started over.  “You smell so awful.  It’s horrible.”  

“Something to spare you from the stench,” he said.  

“Yes.”  She crossed the shower enclosure and stood face to face with him, no more than a dench separating
her chest from the front of his jacket.  “I didn’t tell you about the sensory powder because I didn’t want you to
think that there was anything that could drive me away from you.  I want to help you with this, but I didn’t think I
could stand to be close to you for any length of time without being sick.”  

“That bad, huh?”  He looked down at himself, sniffed cautiously, and added, “Yeah, that bad.  How long is that
stuff supposed to work?”  

“About an arn.”  She pushed the hair back from his forehead, revealing more of his face, and ran a thumb
across one cheek.  “Would you rather do this yourself?”  

He shook his head.  It was brief and decisive.  “No.  If you can stand it then I want you here.  The help would be
nice.”  

“Okay,” she said.  “Jacket off?”  

“Yeah.”  

He still seemed uncertain however.  It was as though a fierce internal battle was being waged to determine who
would ultimately control his body.  There were moments when the disinterested, dull-eyed Crichton who had
spent the last twelve solar days doing nothing but staring into empty space seemed to take over.  During those
intervals, he either let her do whatever she wanted while providing little in the way of help, or made half-
hearted, abortive attempts to push her away.  The other half of the conflict was being waged by the re-
emerging, original version of John Crichton that she had come to love with every last fiber of her soul.  When
this person held dominance, his hands would drift along wherever she directed, helping to unfasten clothing
and scrape away dried mud.  

He had done the same sort of thing for her after he had rescued her from the scarrans.  John had taken her by
the hand and led her gently into the shower.  Cautious of her wounds, he had stripped away the stinking one-
piece garment that symbolized her imprisonment, pausing frequently in order to give her time to adjust to being
naked and vulnerable.  He had stopped entirely when she had started to cry.  Without saying a word, he had
removed his clothes instead.  Time had not yet blurred the memories.  She remembered how the sight of John’s
unclothed body had summoned not physical excitement but confidence that it was all right to be naked.  It had
been easier to allow him to touch her after that.  Most importantly, he had been gentle, repeatedly sluicing her
body with suds, hot water, and the lightest of touches until she had whispered that she felt clean.

Aeryn remembered it as clearly as if it happened no more than one or two solar days earlier, and tried to use
the same sort of tactile reassurances while adjusting for the differences in their situations.  She had been
brutalized, so it had been the absence of anything resembling force that she had found comforting.  John had
been alone, entombed, and robbed of the niceties provided by technology.  His recovery would require a slow
escalation of companionship, lots of light, open space, and the sort of civilized comforts that a leviathan’s
environmental systems could provide.  Soap, hot water, and clean clothes would have been a good place to
start even if he wasn’t filthy.  

When John had undressed her, it had felt like he was removing the last of the restraints that had been used to
imprison her.  In his case, it was as if she was stripping away layers of well-worn armor that he had come to
treasure.  She had welcomed the shower as a symbol of her restoration to freedom.  John, who had deliberately
encased himself in equal amounts of dirt and self-loathing, was not as eager to emerge from his crackling,
encrusted shell.

She started by freeing the jacket from whatever had bonded it to his chest and back, and then pulled it off his
shoulders in stages.  She waited patiently when he seemed to want to keep it on, and finally slid it off when his
body signaled that he was ready.  It came away in a pattering avalanche of dirt clods, treating their bare feet to
a whispering, gritty shower of dried earth.  Shaking her head in disbelief at the quantity of soil raining down,
Aeryn gave it one last shake and then tossed the ruined garment out the door.  

“Don’t you want --” John started.  Whatever he was going to say got cut short when a DRD appeared in the
doorway, grabbed the jacket with its pincer claw, and dragged it out of sight.  “More preprogrammed
responses?” he asked.

“It’s headed for Moya’s refuse burn chamber.  There are more DRD’s out there waiting for the rest of your
clothes.”    

There were the remnants of yet another jacket underneath the one they had just removed, this time with the
sleeves and buckles hacked off and crudely laced closed with untidy scraps and bits of leather.  Beneath the
vest was a Peacekeeper-issue thermal shirt, motras of fabric and layers of leather wrapped around his
forearms for padding, and eventually his own t-shirt.  There were roughly fashioned knee pads to be removed
before they could get his pants off, more motras of what was barely recognizable as cloth holding the lumpy
padding in place, and wherever she touched him there was the ever-present dirt and the caked-on remnants of
a repulsive-looking greenish sludge.  

The combination of repeated soakings and drying, and the constant pounding against stone had transformed
every bit of cloth and leather into a hardened, semi-flexible shell that resisted their efforts to remove it.  Knots
had dried into gnarled lumps, layers of fabric had solidified into a substance that resembled the chitinous armor
of an beetle, and what the process had done to the leather padding John had used to protect his forearms and
his knees was beyond anything she could have imagined.  

“We need to try something else,” Aeryn said part way into the process.  The laces of the vest had been
removed easily enough with the help of a sharp knife; the rest of it hadn’t given way so easily.  It had taken a
combined effort of Aeryn hanging with both hands and John pulling away from her to pry it loose.  The first of
the gauntlet-like guards running from wrist to elbow was proving more difficult.    

“Just slice it open,” John said, holding out a forearm.  “Use the knife.”

“I can’t get the blade underneath.  I’ll cut you.”   

John hunched over his own arm, picking at the dirt-blackened, solidified mass that imprisoned his wrist.  “Cut
the outside layer then, and we’ll unwrap it.”  

“It’s one solid piece.  That’s not going to unwrap.”  She took a step away from him and surveyed the job that lay
ahead.  “We’re going to have to find another way to loosen everything first.  How the frell were you able to
move?”  

He shrugged and went on searching for a weak spot in the cloth casing.  “It’s not uncomfortable, and the
leather softens up some when it --”  John straightened up and turned to look at the shower.  

“-- when it gets wet,” Aeryn finished for him, already unfastening her own pants.  

John didn’t bother to answer.  Ducking in order to avoid being hit in the head by Aeryn’s thrown shirt, he leaned
to one side to slap at the controls for the shower, and stepped under the spray without hesitation.  Four microts
later, Aeryn, now dressed in nothing more than her black briefs and top, joined him.

Undressing him went more quickly after that.  Between the softening effect of the water and liberal but careful
use of the knife, chunks, hunks, slabs, and balled-up masses of sodden cloth and leather began making their
way out of the shower, each to land near the waiting DRDs with a sloppy smack.  She discovered that a knife
didn’t pass through a mud-caked, water-logged thermal shirt as easily as she thought it would.  It snagged on
areas that didn’t cut as easily as the rest, hung there while the remainder of the fabric stretched, and then slid
through with a gritty whisper that made her feel mildly nauseous.  It added a visceral confirmation to what she
already knew:  that John had been living in such appallingly foul conditions that most beings would have given
up and let themselves die.  

John hadn’t.  

An odd tingling bubble of warmth worked its way from a spot behind her navel to the base of her spine, and
then spread upward to the back of her skull.  She had felt it often enough that she knew it for what it was.  It
was love and a sense of security that she never felt except when John was looking out for her.  Aeryn
concentrated on not nicking John with the knife, slit his battered and threadbare shirt diagonally from waist to
one shoulder, and didn’t try to fight the feeling down.  It made her stomach feel loose and queasy, as though
she had eaten some food that had gone bad, weakened her knees, and made her hands fumble with tasks that
she normally completed without effort.  It was a sensation she didn’t want to have to live without ever again.    

“What’s the matter?” John asked suddenly.

Aeryn ran the backs of her fingers up and down his stomach several times while she searched for the words to
describe what she was feeling.  After several microts, she gave up.  “Nothing.  I’m fine.  Turn around so I can
get the rest of this shirt off.”  

Doing as he was told put new sections of John’s body beneath the heaviest portion of the shower.  Mudslides in
miniature oozed their way down his pant legs, snarled in thick patterns down his shoulders and back, and
formed tiny constantly changing river deltas near the drains.  The floods of water ran nearly black for brief time,
faded to a milder brown that was less visible against the darker bronzed plating of the shower floor, and then
were enriched by a different type of sediment when the last bits of shredded shirt were removed.    

Aeryn stepped away from him, pressing the back of one damp wrist against her nose.  “John,” was all she could
summon for a comment.  

“Take another snort,” he said, waving one hand toward the black gear bag sitting to one side.  “I’m used to the
smell.”    

“It’s not the smell.  John … you’re green.”  

“It’s algae, not the creepin’ crud.”  John ran bare hands over his arms and chest.  What Aeryn had feared was a
type of growth that the medical scanner had missed turned out to be another layer of caked-on deposits.  It
rinsed away without putting up a fight, leaving behind the more familiar landscape of skin turned gray from
ground-in dirt.  

His pants, like the rest of his clothes, had to be removed in pieces.  Aeryn chose to work from his ankles
upward.  Perhaps it was the imagined vision of John standing in front of her, naked from waist to thighs while
the remainder of his pants clung to his legs that generated the decision.  She wasn’t entirely sure of her own
motivation.  It had nothing to do with seeing John naked.  While the sight of his unclothed body continued to
generate a rapturous form of fascination, centered on the fact that his body and soul belonged to her and her
alone, the sight of him had lost its novelty.  This had something to do with decency, and not asking him to stand
with both his mivonks and his buttocks exposed while she struggled with rest of his pants.   

In either case, it didn’t take very long.  After several dozen microts worth of exceptionally cautious work with the
knife, the last bit of slimy leather came loose, and he was left standing in nothing but sodden shorts.  These
were performing a gravity-defying trick of clinging to slimmed-down hips without any visible means of remaining
aloft.  John slipped the waistband free with his thumbs, the waterlogged trunks slopped to the floor on their own,
and he was finally naked.  

Aeryn let her breath out slowly, trying to mask a sigh of relief.  John didn’t look as bad as she had feared.  
Intent on the battle to free him from his layers of armor-like clothing, she hadn't taken the time to truly examine
him until that moment.  Some details, such as the way she could see every tendon and muscle in his body and
the way his skin slid over the knobs and bumps of his skeleton whenever he moved couldn’t be overlooked.  
But she hadn't had an opportunity to step back and look at him as a whole until now.  

He wasn’t as gaunt as the Peacekeepers who had survived the siege at Gogkhus Minor.  Those troops had
been so far gone that most of them had never regained their full health, and not one of them had ever been
restored to combat status.  By the time the relief battalions had battered their way through the enemy's
entrenched positions, those men had resorted to eating anything that could even remotely be thought of as
food.  The citadel had been stripped clean.  Leather chair seats, decorative flowers, lichen from the stone walls,
yeast from the brewery vats, tapestries made of plant fibers, sources of protein too horrible to consider:  every
last item that could be eaten had disappeared from that fortress.  

The medical scans had confirmed that John hadn't reached that level of starvation.  One of the first things they
had scanned for was to make sure that that his internal organs had not begun to fail, and the last twelve days
of nothing but eating and sleeping had gone a long way toward restoring his health.  Just the same, despite
what the holographic readouts had told her, she had been afraid that this moment would present a skeleton
encased in sagging skin, more cadaver than living being, a hollow-eyed specter that would provide a constant,
guilt-inspiring reminder of the robust man she had abandoned on the planet.  

Instead, his body resembled what she sometimes thought John might have looked like as an adolescent.  The
person wiping water away from his eyes with the heel of one hand was someone who wore the height and
demeanor of manhood without any of the bulk of a mature adult.  It was a gangling, raw-boned, knobby-jointed
version of John Crichton:  one that held the clear promise of the layers of muscle and flesh that would, given
enough time and calories, return to the underlying frame.  

The other condition detected by the medical scanner was there as well, visible beneath the layers of dirt.  More
than half of his body was littered with a bluish-hued rash.  Ranging from the lighter sprinkling of barely visible
pinpoints, through the less severe looking smears, streaks, and winding trails on his arms and legs, eventually
developing into the extensive blotchy patches that covered most of his ribs and his shoulders, there wasn’t a
piece of his anatomy that had gone untouched.  Even the backs of his hands showed the first signs of
discoloration.  

As she looked him over, comparing his appearance with what the scanner had revealed the previous day, one
of John’s hands wandered down to his ribs and began to scratch.    

“Don’t!”  It came out too fast and too loud.  She took a breath and tried again, more calmly.  “Don’t scratch it.  I
have something that will stop the itching.”  

John held both arms out in front of him, surveyed as much of the front of his body as he could see without
leaning over, and then looked back at her.  “You know what this is,” he said, clearly suspicious.

Crouching down over her gear bag gave Aeryn an excuse for turning her back on him.  She took her time
extracting two of the small bulbous pots of the sort that Zhaan had used to formulate most of her herbal
concoctions, allowing the silence to stretch out.  “It’s just a rash,” she said eventually.   

John snorted.  “Bullshit.  What is it, Aeryn?”  

“It doesn’t matter.”  She handed him one of the squat containers.  “This will take care of it in a matter of
microts.  Make sure you treat all of it.”  She dug a generous handful of a runny paste out of the container she
had kept for herself and began smearing it across an area of rash affecting his shoulders.  

John poked at the contents of his own container with one finger, rubbed the gooey daub of material between
his thumb and forefinger, and then sniffed at it. “That reeks!  I thought you were trying to make me smell better,
not worse.  What is this crap?”

“You don’t want to know, John.  You’ll be able to wash it off in an arn.  It works quickly.”  Aeryn moved so she
was directly behind him and began working her way down his back, taking care to cover up anything that
resembled even the mildest beginnings of a rash.  

John continued to investigate the contents of the little pot.  “This sludge is purple and it stinks.  I know
something else aboard Moya that is purple and smells bad.  Please tell me that I’m wrong.”  

“I already told you all you need to know.  I told you that you do not want to know what is in the paste.  What you
need to focus on is that this” -- she paused long enough to treat a long streak of rash along his spine -- “is not
a simple derma-reaction.  Left untreated, it will develop into an especially virulent bacterial infection.  And this
substance will kill it.  Consider yourself fortunate that the ingredients are plentiful aboard a leviathan.”  

John turned to face her, bringing the application of the paste to a temporary halt.  “And what about the inside of
my nose, Aeryn?  Is it lucky that the smell is going to kill something in there, too?”  

She stared at him for several microts, allowing one eyebrow to drift upward.  “You’re complaining about the
smell.”    

“Never mind,” he said quickly.  “Forget I even mentioned it.”  

“Good choice.  Turn around.”  

John didn’t turn around.  Instead, he scooped a small amount of the substance out of his container and began
applying it to his arm in tentative little smears.  

“Thicker,” Aeryn said.  “There’s more if we need it.  Make sure the rash is covered entirely.”  

“Or what?”  When she didn’t answer, he asked again.  “Or what will happen, Aeryn?”   

“Or you will be dead within a day, two at the most.”  

“Dead!” he yelped.  “How long were you planning to keep this a secret?”  

“I wanted to give you as much time as possible to work out what was bothering you on your own.  This is the
reason why I couldn’t wait any longer.  This had to be taken care of tonight.”  

John was examining several areas of the bumpy skin eruptions more closely.  “It’s a rash.  No one ever died of
a rash.”  

“It’s a rash now.  If it reaches the fourth stage, it will develop into a tissue-necrotizing infection that can’t be
cured, and you will die.”

“What stage is it in now?”  

“Most is in the second stage.  A few patches reached the third stage this morning.”  

He looked up from his examination of his forearm.  An initial wide-eyed look of alarm gradually transformed into
more relaxed but wary comprehension.  His next statement was a quiet one, using tone of voice alone to let her
know that he understood both the risk she had taken by waiting this long as well as the emotional toll it had
exacted from her.  “You waited a very long time.”  

“You needed time.  That was obvious.  I gave you as much as I could.”  

John nodded several times, and then looked at her with a particular glint in his eyes that she hadn’t seen in far
too long -- one that spoke of his love for her and his preferred way of expressing it.  Aeryn shook her head,
answering the question before it was asked.  “Don’t even think about trying to kiss me until you shave and go
through four or five dentics.”  

“In that case, let’s get back to work.”  John dug into his supply of the gooey remedy and began spreading it
lavishly down his legs, showing some enthusiasm for the first time since they had entered the shower.


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