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.
* * * * *
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?”
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?”
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.
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.