Foot Falls
(First posted August 23, 2007 )
Rating:  PG for one or two moderately yuck moments.
Disclaimer:  The characters and universe of Farscape are the property of the Henson Co.  I have not made
any form of profit off this little tale … unless you count learning more about writing fiction.      
Time Frame:  Future Fic, set approximately 9 cycles after PK Wars.  John and Aeryn have two children:  DJ
(aka D’Argo) is nine cycles old, and their second son, Ian, is two going on three.  
Test Drivers:  PKLibrarian and aeryncrichton both saw this in its formative stages.  Their input was critical to
getting it right.  In addition, PKLibrarian steered me past a few pitfalls, and got to observe first hand the kind of
literary mayhem that occurs when the writer screws up the ‘science’ the first time around.  (Yes, I botched the
science completely, and had to fix it.)

Starburst Challenge 11 (hosted by Sunshine):  Somewhere in the story, a character needs to express
gratitude -- verbally, nonverbally, or even sarcastically.  It can be a filler, AU, futurefic, whatever, with a one
restriction:  The story must feature the main cast.  

Note to the reader:  Once again, I am tackling a somewhat unusual writing style.  This story is written in
‘Second Person’.  At one point during the writing process, I decided that the story was too long to be done in
this manner.  Second person is more demanding on the reader than the more customary first or third person,
so I tried modifying the story into the more standard third person.  

Lesson learned:  Never argue with a story when the story thinks it knows best.  You’re going to lose.  

I wound up changing it back.  

Hope you enjoy it.  

*  *  *  *  *

You like the way your footsteps sound as you stride through the tier:  the hard thump that resonates off Moya’s
gleaming bulkheads each time your heel strikes the floor, the syncopated slap from the front of your boot, the
quiet creak of flexing leather as you move forward, and then it starts all over again.  Steady, assured,
purposeful.  Everything you haven’t felt for ten solar days.  Your feet know where they are going; your emotions
hover at the far end of the scale, threatening to explode in random directions at the slightest provocation.  You
are convinced the only thing holding you together is the aching fistful of muscles gripping the back of your
neck.  The clenched area at the base of your skull keeps you strong.  It pulls your head up straight, yanks your
back into spasming at-service brace, and snarls your stomach into tight-fisted knots.     

You are hungry, tired, worried to the point where the prospect of shooting something no longer appeals to you,
and you don’t know where you are going to find the strength to go on.  Fortitude arrives from an unexpected
direction.  The fast patter of bare feet upon metalloid floor reaches you a split-microt before Ian’s high-pitched
shriek, giving you time to brace yourself.  He comes barreling around the corner, feet and fists flying, as naked
as the day he was born.  

“Mummy!”  

He doesn’t bother to slow before slamming into your legs.  The impact of his body isn’t much worse than getting
your feet cut out from beneath you in hand-to-hand combat training, except in this instance you need to stay
upright.  He rebounds, recovers, retreats out of range before you can move to pick him up.  A glimmer of light
enters the darkness that envelopes every waking thought.  You can’t help but smile.  “Aren’t you supposed to
be taking a bath?” you ask.  

He jabbers out an unintelligible answer, swamping you with his usual mash of English, Sebacean, and Hynerian,
with the occasional phrase in Pilot’s language tossed in just to ensure that you have no idea what he is saying.  
DJ jogs around the corner in time to save you.  “Sorry.  He got away from me,” is all he has to say.  

He looks so much like his father.  The single thought takes full command of your attention for several moments.  
He is still a child, not quite ten cycles old and wearing the bumbling roundness of youth.  The hints of impending
manhood are there though, provided you look hard enough.  He has grown more than two denches in the last
cycle, putting on height and muscle far faster than you ever would have guessed a child could; and the first
hints of angular leanness lurk in the soft planes of his face and his torso.  He has John’s eyes, and your ears;
the Crichton self-deprecating grin, and your tendency to keep your strongest emotions hidden from view.  

Nine cycles old is too young to shift this burden onto his slim shoulders.  You want your first-born to be running
through the tiers in the same manner as his younger brother:  laughing, carefree, enjoying the moments when
he manages to elude both his parents … but perhaps better dressed.  He has taken charge of his younger
brother without being asked, doing his best to act like an adult because he has figured out that you can’t do
everything alone.  

He is trying so hard.  

The hot sting behind your eyes is the product of pride, not sadness.  “He gets away from us pretty frequently,”
you tell him.  “You’re doing fine.”  He needs more.  You can see it in the uncertain rise and fall of his shoulders,
and the way his eyes keep coming back to your face, searching for something.  You try to give him the one tool
he will need most in the days to come.  “I am very proud of you.”  

It helps.  DJ smiles and hangs his head for a moment, pleased by the well-deserved praise.  “Mom,” he begins,
and then hesitates.  The single syllable sounds as though he was about to say ‘Mommy’ and chopped it off at
the last instant.

“What?” you ask when the silence goes on for too long.

“Nothing.”  He scowls at the giggling, naked fugitive hiding in plain sight behind your legs.  “Come on!  Mom has
better things to do than chase you around the ship,” he says.  

Ian remains where he is, peeking around the barricade of your legs.  He sticks his tongue out at his older
brother.  You have to stifle a laugh.  “Help your brother,” you say to him.  

He shakes his head, obstinate to the end, proving that he is undeniably a Crichton.  

You turn it into an order.  “Go with your brother.  Behave.”  

Ian crumbles.  The delight disappears in the space of a single microt.  He let go of your legs, plops down on his
bare bottom, and starts to cry.  He doesn’t wail or shriek.  This is a silent shedding of tears that is totally out of
character for your youngest son.  He hunkers down in the middle of the corridor, abruptly lost and forlorn, and
starts to weep.  

“Come here,” you say, discovering in the midst of the brief sentence that you are talking to both boys.  Ian
comes willingly.  He clambers to his feet, still crying, and this time reaches for you at the same moment that you
bend down to pick him up.  DJ moves more slowly, as though an absence of momentum can restrain his
emotions the same way it keeps his movements in check.  He fits comfortably against your left side, both arms
wrapped around your waist, tucked in beneath your one-armed embrace.  Both boys cling, drawing strength
from you the same way you replenish your supply of willpower from their presence.  

“I have to go,” you say after several microts have passed in peaceful, reassuring silence.  “Can you help your
brother?”  

Ian nods.  His head bumps softly against the side of your neck and the underside of your jaw.  DJ doesn’t move
except to tighten his grip around your midsection.  You suspect he might be crying.  

“I’ll be up in a little while.  This won’t take long,” you tell them.  “Get ready for bed, but you can stay up until I
come to say goodnight.”  

DJ rubs his face on your shirt, confirming what you suspected about unseen tears, and then steps away.  “We’ll
wait up,” he says.  It is an echo of what John sometimes says when he heads to Quarters before you.  Once
again, your son is doing his best to be a man.  You doubt he knows he is mimicking his father.  He is doing it
because it’s the only way he knows how to turn himself into an adult overnight.  

They stand together, holding hands and waiting for something more.  They want you to tell them that everything
will be all right.  You stand suspended in time, caught up in the memory of how John accomplishes that without
speaking, thinking about the number of times he has laid a hand on one of his children’s heads, and provided
them with love and security without making a sound.  You remember watching, shocked to immobility, the first
time he had tossed DJ into the air, caught the squealing, giggling toddler while he was upside down, and had
gone galloping down the passageway with his son still inverted in his arms, bellowing at the top of his lungs.  
John knows how to be silly, and how to teach his children to play.  He shows them how to be light-hearted, and
how to find hope when their lives seem most dismal.  

You are different.  You love your children with an intensity and fierceness that John insists he can never equal.  
You can erase their fears and calm them when they are upset.  When they wake crying in the night, you can
put them to sleep with nothing more than the touch of your hand and your presence at the side of their beds.  
And despite all of that, you have never learned to lie to them in order to set their minds at ease.  You cannot
look them in the eye and tell them what they want to hear, even if a small falsehood means restoring their
smiles and their happiness.  

“This will all be over soon,” you say instead, which is the best truth you can summon.  One way or another, it will
all be over within a day, two at the most.  

Ian looks happier.  He races away in the same exuberant manner as he arrived.  His bare bottom is the last
thing to disappear from sight, the pale skin bobbing off into the distant gloom of Moya’s gently lit corridors.  DJ
lingers, watching you with an all too adult-like intensity.  Whatever he finds in your posture and your expression,
it causes him to turn away with slumped shoulders, now openly crying.  He breaks into a run, chasing after his
brother, fleeing from a situation over which he has no control.     

You want to go after him.  Not only to comfort your son.  You want to join him in his retreat from life’s harsher
realities.  You want to find a dark, quiet place, curl yourself into a ball, and wait for someone to come tell you it’s
all over.  

There is no one to take care of this for you.  Everyone on board Moya is relying on you:  for strength, for
inspiration, to make the impossible decisions.  

It takes several microts to remember which way you were headed before you collided with Ian.  You turn in
circles, lost in more ways than one, and then remember that you had been on your way to Command.  

As before, the rhythm of your steps, the measured cadence of boot heels hitting the floor in a predictable
sequence, steadies you.  It creates the illusion of purpose and certainty, as though with each unwavering
impact your feet are saying that your life will return to sanity and order.  For the moment, for the length of time it
takes to reach Command, you have a destination.  Your slow march provides a brief reprieve from the chaos
that has ruled your life for what feels like an entire cycle.   

It hasn’t been anywhere near that long.  It has been only ten solar days since your life ran headlong into one of
the horrific turns for the worse that at one time seemed normal.  When you replay the preceding days in your
mind, the events are compressed into a jumble of tactics, logistics, and the anarchy that is an integral part of
caring for two young children; overlain by worry, exhaustion, and fear.    

It happened so fast.  Your life transitioned from cheerfully optimistic to an inescapable nightmare in less than
ten microts.  One moment your entire family was sharing dinner in the Center Chamber -- laughing, telling
jokes, Ian making his usual abominable mess of everything within a full motra of where he was seated -- and a
few microts later every waking moment tasted of nothing but ashes and grief.  Time hasn’t changed that.  The
phantom flavor refuses to fade.  Every choking swallow is laced with the harsh metallic tang of loss; every
breath reeks of rot and disintegration.

For no logical reason you can assemble, it’s his boots you remember best.  Each time you close your eyes --
whether it is in a vain attempt to catch a few arns of sleep or one of the increasingly frequent moments when
you stop in the middle of a tier to rest your aching head against Moya’s cool, burnished plating -- the vision of
John’s boots stumbling away from the table is waiting for you, lurking predator-like behind your eyelids.

He coughs, gags, coughs again, and then pushes away from the table looking strangely apologetic, as though
some portion of what is about to happen is his fault. The leather-clad feet, always so graceful, so strong, so
balanced, take five staggering steps away from his family.  The boots are old.  You bought him new ones over
a cycle ago, but John insists on wearing this pair even though they are ready to fall apart.  The fissures and
creases are lined with dust from the commerce planet you visited earlier that day.  There is a delicate crust of
dirt clinging to the top edge of the soles, threatening to dislodge each time his weight flexes the layers beneath
his feet.  You watch, unable to raise your eyes from his feet to his face as a small segment breaks loose,
floats to the floor in slow motion, and explodes into nothingness.  He takes another step, shudders, and turns
toward the table.  Lesions appear on his face and arms the way individual raindrops had smashed down into
denches-deep dust on the streets that afternoon, pummeling and destroying everything in their path.  He raises
a hand already littered with blossoming sores, stares at it in growing horror, turns panic-stricken eyes toward
yours, and backs away.  

“Stay away,” he says on the first liquid uprush of his meal.  He gulps, fights to keep his stomach in check, and
takes two more fumbling steps backwards.  One foot lands squarely; it wobbles, no longer familiar with the
floor.  When he fights to regain his balance the soles let out a screech, the sound of a stricken animal in its final
death throes.  He tries again, forcing the words through a throat half-clogged with vomit.  “You … kids … stay
away.  Stay away … from me.”  

Four more erratic steps hit the metalloid floor, moving doggedly toward the door.  You hear the hissing slide of
leather on plating as he goes down for the first time.  Ian is screaming, DJ is yelling incoherently, John pulls
himself into the corridor, leaving an unpleasant smear in his wake, and you take your first uncertain steps
toward him, moving like a battle-shocked cadet, conscious only of his boots.   

The corridor is transformed into a runaway tapestry of golden starbursts dancing through a hazy landscape of
water-blurred bronze.  Temporarily blinded by the unpleasant sting of tears, you have to stop.  You rest your
forehead against the smooth plating, the only remedy you’ve found that eases the perpetual headache.  At first
you thought it was from tension.  Later you decided it was guilt.  Today, you are convinced it’s the outer
manifestation of fear.  At this point, you don’t care what the source is; all that matters is that you don’t like it.  
You felt like this one time before in your life.  You never believed it would happen again so soon.  

A voice calls to you from the distance of an entire lifetime.  It is difficult to make out the sounds.  “Aeryn?”  

“Yes, Pilot.”

“The courier ship is almost in range of the docking web.”  

Pushing yourself upright shouldn’t take every bit of energy in your body.  “Do I have time to visit … him …
first?”  

Visit him.  It is a pleasant, fictional description of a task that compels and repulses you in the same breath.  If
you were more bluntly honest, your question would encompass standing half a motra from a plexglass cryo-
cylinder that holds the devastated body of the only man you have ever loved.   John Crichton’s heart still
beats … once every six arns.  He breathes on a similarly slow schedule.  And each time you sit down in front of
the frost-coated plex, a little more of him is missing, eaten away by an inexorable disease with an unstoppable
appetite for human flesh.  

The voice that has kept you focused for ten solar days once again pulls you back from the edge of despair.  
“Aeryn.”

“Yes, Pilot.  I’m sorry.  Can you say that again?”

“If you wish to be in the maintenance bay when the other ship comes aboard, you will need to go there
immediately.  It is docking now.”   

“I’m on my way.”  You discover that you have strayed off course.  This corridor doesn’t lead to Command.  You
turn in a circle, sort out your surroundings, and begin the short trek.  “Has there been any change?”

The answer is so long in coming, you begin to wonder if Pilot has finally decided, after all these cycles, to take a
vacation.  The answer you dread arrives at last.  “I’m sorry, Aeryn.  There has been no change,” Pilot says.  

No change means a slow change; a slow change means a slow gruesome death.

A sebacean would have died within a few instants.  John’s robust, unaltered human immune system,
accustomed to fighting off dozens of primitive diseases, held out much longer -- long enough to get him into
cryo-stasis.  But the stasis provided by a leviathan’s mechanoid systems is far from perfect.  It can only slow his
metabolism, not stop it.  He lives, he fights; you spend arns wondering if there is any residual consciousness,
whether John is in pain or is aware of what is happening to him; and the disease marches on at a similarly slow
pace, ravaging his body while you are forced to watch and wait.  

“I’m almost there,” you say to Pilot.  

“Opening the hangar doors now,” he answers.

You take the last two corners at a run.  It isn’t eagerness that speeds your footsteps.  You want to be in the
hangar when the courier ship’s hatch opens in order to make sure that this is not a trick.  You are too late.  
Moya’s visitor has already emerged from his ship.  

Dusty, well-scuffed work boots wait at the top of the stairs.  They are the boots of a farmer, part of a disguise.  
Rough-woven pants, a knit tunic, and a baggy-sleeved shirt complete the outward transformation from high-
ranking officer to nondescript menial laborer.  He continues to stand like a soldier, however.  His posture gives
him away.  Head up, back straight, feet close together at service stance:  he can’t hide his origins.  His right
hand fidgets next to his thigh, searching for a weapon that is no longer there.  

“Do you have it?” you ask.

“I have kept my side of the bargain,” he answers.  “May I come aboard?”

“If you have what you promised,” you say.  Both of his hands are empty.  You brace yourself for an attack,
suspicious, wary of his motives.  

You continue to watch, assessing every shift of weight and twitch of his fingers, on the verge of doing
something violent, while he steps back, reaches inside his ship, and then emerges, carrying a pair of cylinders.  
He scans his surroundings, perhaps looking for some sign of armed guards or an ambush, and then descends
one slow step at a time.  He stops short of the hangar bay floor.  “Sanctuary,” he says.

“Provided those contain what we agreed upon, you may stay aboard Moya.”    

He doesn’t move.  “Hynerian dermifolica,” he says.

“Moya has been decontaminated.  No one else is ill.”  You have to convince him there is no danger.  You can’t
afford to have him leave without giving you what he holds in his hands.  

What you won’t tell him is how you spent the first three solar days in a state best described as frantic anxiety:  
unable to sleep, unwilling to leave the boys for more than a few microts for fear that you wouldn’t be there when
they showed the first symptoms of the disease.  You will not describe how Pilot, consumed by guilt over an
event he could never have predicted or prevented, had spent those arns obsessively decontaminating Moya.  
You will not explain how the air supply had been repeatedly flushed one tier at a time; how the atmospheric
filtration units had been irradiated to kill off any living material; or how the entire fleet of DRDs had been set to
work disinfecting every single surface, regardless of whether John had touched it or not.  All you are willing to
tell him is that Moya is as thoroughly sanitize as one Pilot and several hundreds DRDs could ever hope to
manage.

“No one else has contracted the disease,” you say, jumping straight to the most critical fact.  “This may be a
variant.”  

“You don’t know that.”

“I touched him.  I have not been infected.  Neither have the children.”  You wait, barely breathing, willing him to
believe that the virus won’t kill every sebacean on board.  

He does not notice that you have stopped breathing.  His shoulders settle a dench or two, into a posture that is
less defensive, he examines the visible portions of his new home one last time, and then he takes the final
step.  There is no sound as his thin-soled boots make contact with the hangar bay’s stained and marred plating.

You had heard the rumors several solar days before John had become ill.  Commandant Miklo Braca had
attempted to broker one power deal too many.  Caught playing four different factions against each other in the
ultimate Peacekeeper ploy to advance his own interests, he had fallen out of favor with everyone involved.  Not
one person from High Command down to the lowliest conscript would have anything to do with him.  It was an
impending death sentence with no set execution date.  Stripped of all possible allies, with no one to cover for
him or watch his back if he was ordered into combat, it was only a matter of time before he found himself
facing ridiculous odds without a wingman, or wound up lying face down on a field of battle, mortally injured,
abandoned by both his superiors and his subordinates.  

“Does he have them?  If he doesn’t, may I kill him?”  The gruff voice interrupts your short-lived thoughts about
timing and luck, and about how one Peacekeeper officer’s tactical error might be another man’s only hope for
survival.  Rygel appears from behind Braca’s ship, holding the miniature pulse pistol he had taken from you
more than ten cycles ago.  

You nod toward the objects in Braca’s hands.  

“Can I kill him anyway?” Rygel asks.  “There isn’t a person in this galaxy who will object if I do.”

Braca’s façade of calm slips.  For the first time in all the cycles you’ve known him, he looks frightened.  You
wonder what he had to do to get those two objects, and what he has been through in the six solar days since
you made contact.  “He kept his word,” you say to Rygel.  “Be careful with those.”  

Rygel stuffs the pulse weapon inside his Dominar’s robes, takes the two gifts out of Braca’s hands and heads
toward the maintenance bay doors.  

“Rygel,” you call after him, meaning to tell him that you would follow in a few microts.

He spins around.  “No.  I will comm you when it is over.”  

“I’ll be there in a few microts,” you say.

“No, you won’t,” he insists.  “Let my doctors do their job.  Whether he lives or dies, what happens over the next
several arns won’t matter in the cycles to come.  What will matter is that you will never want to recall what is
about to happen to him.”  

What Rygel means is that you won’t want to watch while they take John out of stasis and begin the frantic race
to cure him before the dermifolica can destroy what is left of his body.  The compassionate Dominar is trying to
tell you that you won’t want to stand beside John’s half-thawed body, powerless to help, and watch tissue
dissolve before your eyes; you won’t want to be herded into a corner of the maintenance bay, cut off from
everything that is happening by a crowd of diagnosans and hynerian medical staff, with nothing to do except
listen to John Crichton struggle to breathe with lungs that have been ravaged by the virus.  

Rygel knows all too well what the next several arns hold in store.  He has committed his wealth and the full
reach of his power as Dominar of the Hynerian Empire to stopping the disease.  The plague that Rygel and
Noranti unleashed on the kalish border station ten cycles earlier had not been contained.  The quarantine had
failed.  Since then, Hynerian dermifolica has mutated into more than a dozen strains, decimated dozens of
planets, killed billions.  It has become the enemy that no one on this side of the Scarran border knows how to
stop.  Rygel has spent the last ten cycles chasing it, searching for a cure, always looking for some way to stop
the pestilence that to this day carries the tell-tale genetic markers that prove it came from his body.  

“Officer Sun.”  

Braca summons you back from the bleak vision of a future in which your children grow up without a father.  
“Aeryn,” you say to him.  “If you intend to remain aboard Moya, then my name is Aeryn.”  

“Aeryn,” he says.  It sounds uncomfortable on his tongue.  “It would be a good idea to destroy my ship.”  

Your brain grudgingly agrees to concentrate on something other than John Crichton.  “Talk to Pilot.  Arrange to
jettison it into a star.  You’ll need a comms.  They will get you one.”  You wave a hand at a platoon of DRDs
waiting to one side.  Braca nods.  “Can you find your way to --,” you begin, and then stop because you
remember that you aren’t the only ex-Peacekeeper in this hangar bay who once served aboard a prison ship.  
“Of course, you can.”  

“I’ll find an empty cell,” he says.  

“Anywhere except Tier Four.”  You don’t want him near the children.  Not yet.  Not until you are sure you can
trust him.  Braca nods again, and goes on standing beside the steps leading to his ship.  “What else?”  

He looks away from you, toward the outer doors leading to space at the far end of the bay.  The light shines
across his cheek, and that’s when you see the damage.  Recently sealed wounds.  Artfully hidden bruises.  
Something or someone had laid one side of his face open to the bone, very nearly taking his eye out in the
process.  Braca paid a heavy price to obtain his bargaining chip.  He turns back, catches you staring at him,
and shrugs.  

“Scorpius,” you say, hazarding a guess.  

“If Scorpius had caught me, I would be dead.”  He pauses for several microts, staring at nothing, before
admitting, “Security forces.”  

The facts fit together into an easily recognized pattern.  “They caught you in the medical sector,” you say with
more certainty, “holding tissue samples that you had no right to be accessing.”  

His answer is an unreadable stare.  It doesn’t matter.  You know what he was caught stealing.  It is the price you
insisted he pay in return for a refuge aboard Moya.  You consider asking him how he managed to escape; then
decide you don’t care.  Braca made it here with the samples.  That is all that matters.     

With the help of Rygel’s medical staff, you came up with a simple yet impossible way to save John.  Both the
logic and the medical principals are linear and valid.  Scarrans are immune to Hynerian dermifolica.  Scorpius is
half-scarran, half-sebacean.  Sebaceans are offshoots of the human race.  Scorpius, still firmly ensconced
within the Peacekeeper hierarchy and therefore safe from any covert operation to obtain blood or tissue
samples, is living proof that human and scarran physiology can coexist.  

The answer rested in the medical research facilities aboard Scorpius’ Command Carrier.  Any command officer
of Scorpius’ rank, with as many medical challenges to be addressed as a sebacean-scarran half-breed
habitually faces, would have an extensive supply of genetic samples safely stored away in case of an
emergency.    

“Will you tell him?” Braca asks, interrupting yet another dazed reverie.

You take a deep breath, pushing aside the exhaustion that continually derails your attention, and try to focus
on the question.  “Who?  Crichton?”  

“Yes.  If he survives, will you tell him?”  

“I haven’t thought that far ahead,” you say.  It’s a lie.  You have spent a good portion of the interval since Pilot
reported that he had managed to locate Braca thinking about this exact question.  

If John lives, will you tell him that he carries small portions of his most reviled enemy in his blood?  If you decide
to tell him, what words will you use to explain that it was his only hope for survival?  The dilemma extends
several steps further than that.  You aren’t sure what this will do to John’s genetic makeup.  Saving John means
the moment may come when he says he won’t have any more children because he is afraid they might turn out
one quarter scarran.  Rygel assures you that a cure won’t have that effect.  You have no way of knowing if he is
right.  

You wish John was here to explain it to you.  

Braca clears his throat and shifts uneasily.  Whatever he is about to say, it must be of monumental importance
to make him this uncomfortable.  When he finally speaks, it isn’t what you expected.  “You didn’t need to honor
the bargain.  The hynerian was right.  No one would care if you killed me.  There might even be a reward.”  

This is his way of saying thank you.  He was desperate by the time you made contact:  out of options and
beginning to fear that he might be assassinated by any one of the multitude of officers he had double-crossed
or out-maneuvered over the cycles, including Scorpius and Chancellor Mele-On Grayza.  You had been able to
extract an impossible price in return for the promise of a safe harbor, and he had accepted your terms with the
kind of agreeable enthusiasm that only a dying man can express toward someone who has offered to save
him.  This is his best effort at showing his gratitude.  

“I need to be somewhere else,” you say.  The boys will be waiting for you.  Enough time has passed that they
will be ready for bed; they will be wondering where you are, worrying that something else bad has happened.  
You can feel their concern, taste it the way they must be right now.  It is an itching ache in your stomach, a sick
feeling near the roof of your mouth, metal-flavored and bitter-scented, leeching enjoyment out of every breath
and leaving an acrid trail in its wake.  

“Pilot,” Braca says to you, indicating the stolen courier ship with a sideward twitch of his head.  

“Yes.  We aren’t far from a sun.  He can guide the ship until it is trapped in the star’s gravity.”  

You part ways awkwardly, both of you behaving as though there is more to be said, some portion of your
negotiations left undone or unaddressed.  Comfort will require time.  He is equal amounts prisoner and guest,
not yet worthy of your trust.  A first installment toward that goal has been paid.  It will require many more before
you start to relax.  

The boys are already asleep.  You find them in DJ’s bed, a rarity in itself since DJ seldom allows Ian in his room
to start with; add on the fact that Ian is sprawled on top of DJ’s chest, suggesting that they went to bed hugging
each other, and you realize you underestimated the extent of their anxiety.  You consider letting them sleep.  
No one aboard Moya has been getting enough rest.  Too many nights find everyone, including the boys, awake
and wandering, apparently lost within Moya’s silent look-alike corridors.  You decide against leaving them.  If
they wake later, and you aren’t there, they might panic.

“Move over,” you whisper.  Ian’s thumb slides into his mouth.  Aside from that he doesn’t stir.  DJ mumbles
something unintelligible, and worms his way toward the edge of the bed without opening his eyes, moving
awkwardly beneath the weight of his little brother.  You shuffle in next to them, burrow an arm under DJ’s
shoulders, and pull both of them halfway onto your body.  

“Mom?” he whispers, sounding more alert.

“Braca is here,” you tell him.  “He kept his promise.”  

He spends some time rubbing his eyes with the heel of one hand.  The muted light filtering in from the
passageway catches the glint of tears.  “Is it going to work?” he asks.

You stare up at the smoothly arced ceiling, and wonder the same thing.  The diagnosans chirrup and nod with
satisfaction.  The hynerian in charge of all research spends his time looking smugly delighted.  Rygel swears
that Scorpius’ blood is the answer to stopping the contagion for once and for all.  And you lie with your two
sons, asking yourself one question over and over again until it blends into a nonsensical cadence.  You do not
understand half of what they describe; more than a third of the terms they use come through untranslated.  
John continues to lose ground to the virus with each passing arn, and you don’t have a good answer for your
son.  

“Mom, is this going to cure Dad?” he asks again.

“I hope so,” you murmur, and kiss the top of his head.

The arns pass in slow motion.  DJ goes back to sleep, still gently crying even after he drifts off.  You ease out
from under their combined weight, watch them for a while, and then leave them to their dreams.  It is nighttime
aboard Moya -- at least in this part of the ship.  The hallways are a gloomy collection of shadows; there is no
whine of DRDs to wake sleeping children.  Elsewhere, the lights are bright, equipment is running at full capacity,
and a man fights for his life.  

You start to reach for your comms, intending to call Rygel to ask what is going on.  Your hand hovers for
several microts then drops to your side without activating the small bronze badge.  For all you know, they could
be in the middle of a crisis -- one interruption away from total disaster.  Rygel will let you know the instant he
has any news.  He has promised.

You drift from chamber to chamber, from one tier to the next.  At one point you find yourself in your quarters,
holding Winona.  You don’t remember how you got here.  You set her down with care, decide to go to bed, and
float on out through the open doorway.  The Center Chamber is empty.  There is no sign of the devastation
that occurred there, no hint of the event that turned your life upside down.  

“Pilot,” you call, intending to ask how long it has been.

“No word yet,” he answers right away.  

“Thank you.”  You have forgotten to check the time.  No matter.  It refuses to pass at a normal pace anyway.

Braca has chosen a cell on Tier One.  The doors are closed.  He has discovered the old trick of hanging
thermal sheets for privacy.  Perhaps he is sleeping.  

You stand outside, wondering what galaxies or landscapes he might be traversing in his dreams, whether he
longs for surroundings that are familiar.  Does he miss the steady mechanical hum that permeates most spaces
aboard a Command Carrier?  Do Moya’s forever varying grumbles make him uneasy, as they did you so many
cycles ago?  Does he wake and turn over several times every arn, trying to find a comfortable position on the
leviathan-grown bed, and ache to be back where he belongs?  No matter, you decide.  There is no going back.  

Four DRDs stop what they are doing to watch you pass by.  Their eyestalks follow your progress.  The robots
look strangely apologetic.  

More golden hallways.  The calming, sustained rumbles of Moya.  One cell after another.  No one to tell you
that all will be well.  Moya cannot replace what has been lost; she cannot take John’s place.  You listen to her
sounds, and decide that those things do not matter.  Her presence is enough.  You know she is keeping track
of your journey, watching over you even if she is helpless to demonstrate her love or provide you with
reassurance.  She provides silent solace.  Moya asks nothing of you.  The absence of demands is a relief.    

You mean to check on the children, and end up in the Den instead.  Pilot is awake.  What is it like, you wonder,
to never sleep?  

“Nothing yet,” he says as you cross the narrow bridge.  

You decide you don’t want to know how long it has been since Rygel took the samples to the maintenance bay
that has been transformed into the leviathan equivalent of a medical sector.  “Is Braca’s ship gone?” you ask
instead.

“Yes,” he says.  “There is no trace of it.”

You remember that there is a reason why you came here.  “Pilot, I never thanked you.”  

He lowers the front edge of the great curving shell, and peers out at you from beneath.  You can’t decide if it is
pleasure or embarrassment.  

Words can never express how you feel.  You owe Pilot your gratitude several times over.  It had been Pilot who
had sent out the emergency summons to Hyneria while you were still guiding John’s stumbling staggering
rapidly deteriorating body toward the maintenance bay and the cryo-equipment.  It was Pilot who had calculated
the starburst that had emerged almost on top of the cluster of hynerian ships carrying the Dominar and his
medical research team.  When you came up with a wild plan to save John, it was Pilot who, without telling you
what he was doing, spent two solar days filtering through the endless stream of Peacekeeper communications
in search of Braca.  He pieced together the hints, the enigmatic communiqués, the fragmented transmissions;
questing, sifting through the slow galactic migration of electronically generated energies with Moya’s long-range
sensors, using his own expansive intelligence to piece together all the small clues until he could determine the
current duty location of a single disgraced Peacekeeper officer.  

At that point he had consulted you, and together you had come up with a message.  It was Pilot, however, who
had decided to shift from the gentle handling of nuances and innuendo to a fast brutal stab of energy and
encryption.  Utilizing every trick that he and Moya had ever learned from Talyn, Pilot had rammed a single,
heavily compressed signal through the Peacekeeper communications shield straight into Braca’s personal
quarters, bypassing every single alert system along the way.  

“John owes you his life.”

Pilot looks grief-stricken.  The praise does not please him.  He turns his attention to his controls for a moment.  
You close your eyes, suddenly feeling very tired.  Moya seems to be performing aerobatics.  The floor beneath
your feet shifts with each swooping maneuver.  

“Perhaps you should try to get some sleep, Aeryn,” Pilot says.  

It sounds like a good idea.  You lie down next to the slanting wall surrounding his station, curl up, and go to
sleep with the music of the DRDs in your ears.  You are in the spot where you and John have sat in each others
arms more than a hundred times over the past cycles.  When you press your cheek to the floor, you can almost
feel him.  In the strange space suspended halfway between waking and sleep, you are certain that the warmth
from his body still lingers there, just beyond your ability to detect it.  For the first time in days, you sleep
soundly.  

Eons pass.  You wake, leave the Den, later remember that Pilot was talking to you when you left.  You decide to
go work on the Prowler.  It will give you something to do.  You wind up on the tier with the maintenance bay
instead, no more than ten motras from where they have John.  You stand very still, barely breathing, and
listen.  All is quiet.  No sounds make it past the closed door.  An arn passes, then two.  The corridors are silent.  
You wonder if you would be able to hear him if he cried out, either in pain or calling for you.  There is no way to
know.

You turn away, wondering how much longer.  

Braca is there, half hidden behind one of Moya’s ribs at the far end of the tier.

“If I find out you have been down here again, I will kill you.”  He doesn’t move.  “Pilot will let me know if you are
on this tier,” you say.

He looks at the DRDs gathered near your feet and retreats.  

Either microts or arns have passed.  You no longer know how many of each.  The boys are awake.  They find
you on Command.  You are sitting crossed-legged on the strategy table, staring out the forward view portal
when they wander in.  DJ is carrying a flask of water and a sheave of kressa bread.  It is what you use to soothe
their stomachs when they are sick.  Ian’s shirt is on backwards.  Both are in their bare feet.  You beckon to Ian,
get him turned around in his shirt, and then give them both a hug and kiss.  Ian clambers up beside you.  He
lies down with his head in your lap.  

“You should eat,” DJ says, handing you the bread.  

“I’m not hungry.”  

“Mom?” he asks.

“What?”  

“You’re scaring us.”     

Your perception of him shifts.  This is one of those rare moments when you see him the way you would
someone else’s child.  A small boy stands before you, lonely and lost.  His hair is standing on end, his shirt is
on inside-out, he has obviously been crying, and he looks desperately frightened.  Your first son is normally so
self-sufficient, you sometimes forget that he is a young child.  Saying you’re sorry isn’t nearly enough to make it
up to him.  “Come here,” you say, and lift an arm so he can slide in against you.  He does his best to merge his
body into yours.   

You try to explain.  “I don’t wait well.”  

He has already started to relax.  “Is that like when Dad says you’re not good at nice?”

You almost laugh.  “I said that to him a very long time ago, before you were born.”   

“Tell us,” Ian says in his small-child lisp.  “Tell us a story about you and Daddy.”

You tell them about how once upon a time you were not good at nice, about the first day you met a peculiar
astronaut and threw him from one side of a cell to the other; about pantak jabs, and your efforts to teach the
strange person how to shoot, of monsters and evil villains; and about falling in love.  They ask questions even
though they know the answers, giggle when you make fun of their father, and laugh at the parts you make up to
describe how two people behave when they are very much in love.  They take you backwards and forwards in
time, through the bittersweet moments and the shining delights.  Somewhere in the midst of your journey from
past to present, DJ gets you to eat.  Ian falls asleep in your lap.  

You find peace there, in the timeless place where the warmth and weight of your two sons rests against your
body, where their dependence on you and the love they give in return keeps you stable.  You draw stamina
from the promise of what the future will bring as they grow, from the way they resemble John, and from their
youthful resilience.  There is no longer any need to talk.  You take turns dozing, occasionally shift positions
when their weight starts to drag on one portion of your body, and together the three of you watch the slow
wheel and turn of the galaxies.  Ian nuzzles closer without waking.  DJ holds onto you, both of his arms wrapped
around your waist, you rest your head against his, and for a short time, you can sleep.  

“Aeryn.”  Rygel’s voice jolts you awake.  DJ and Ian both sit up at the same time.  DJ doesn’t seem to be
breathing.  Ian looks upset and confused.   

“Yes,” you call back.  

There is a two microt delay before the next portion of Rygel’s message.  It feels more like two arns.  It is long
enough that your heart has time to stop beating.  You hug the boys tightly, thinking that for their sakes, you
must not cry.  

“Crichton is alive.  He will recover.”  

You feel DJ take a deep breath at the same time you do.  He starts to shake.  You kiss his forehead, tuck his
head in against your shoulder, hug him fiercely, and say to Rygel, “Can I see him?”

“It would be better if you waited a few arns,” he says.  

Rygel hasn’t said ‘No’.  As far as you are concerned, that is a yes.  “I’m on my way down.”  

“Aeryn.”  He sounds uncertain.  It is an unfamiliar sound coming from Rygel.

“What?”

This time the delay lasts almost ten microts.  “Are your sons with you?”  

“Yes.  They are both listening.”  

He sounds more assured when he answers, his usual domineering self.  You aren’t fooled by the shift.  The
message is clear.  He is hiding something from the boys.  “Tell them their father is going to be fine.  I’ll meet you
outside the maintenance bay.”  

You urge Ian to move away from you, and begin to slide toward the edge of the strategy table.  “Will you be all
right on your own for a little while?” you ask DJ.  “Do you want to go up and wait with Pilot?”  

“Can’t we come with you?”  He checks with Ian, receives a vigorous nod of agreement.  “We want to see Dad,
too.”  

“He will want to see you too, but he’s been very sick.”  You search for a better excuse.  For once, you wish you
knew how to lie to your children.  

“We should wait until he’s feeling better,” he finishes while you are still fumbling about for an explanation.  “He’ll
need to rest.  We can see him once he’s had time to get better.”  The self-assured person is back, confidence
fully restored.

“I am very, very proud of you,” you say.  He blushes the same shade of red as his father.  “Would you feel
better if you waited with Pilot?  Or do you want to go back to Quarters or stay here?”   

He doesn’t answer your question.  His attention, as well as Ian’s, is fixed on the forward view portal.  “Mom!  
Look!”

The star field taking up the entire front section of Command is spinning as though someone has wound a string
around its outer rim and given it a vigorous pull.  The constellations come to a stop, and then disappear from
view as Moya noses upward into the night sky and rolls over on her back.  Galaxies rush from one edge of the
view portal to the other and back again, nebulas spiral crazily, gas clouds dance and gyrate, and in the far
distance, the spark of a faraway supernova performs dainty pirouettes.  Moya is dancing.  She continues to
shift between the fast spins along her central axis that make the stars in the view portal appear to whirl in a
carefully choreographed spiral, and the playful acrobatics and end-for-end tumbles.  

“We’re not the only ones who are happy to hear that your father is going to be all right,” you say to DJ and Ian.  

“Moya’s playing!” Ian says.  He has one finger in his mouth.

“Yes, she is.  Why don’t you stay here and watch.”  

“We’ll be okay,” DJ says.  “We’ll wait for you here.”  

You leave them when you would much rather stay.  Now that the crisis is over, you want to sit on the floor with
your children, hug them with an exuberance you seldom display, and let your emotions run wild.  But Rygel’s
reticence needs to be addressed.  He said that John will recover, which means that something else must have
gone wrong.  You wonder if this means the disease is once again loose on Moya.  

You cover the distance in record time.  Rygel is waiting, as promised.  

“What’s wrong?  Is it John?  Is it the virus?”  

He makes placating motions with both hands.  “Nothing.  He is going to be fine.  Calm down.”

“I am calm!”  Your voice echoes in your memory.  You did not sound calm at all.  You sounded deranged.  “I am
becoming calmer,” you say on the second try.  “What went wrong?”

“Nothing,” he insists.  “It’s just that --”  He squirms in his seat.  “We were fighting an extremely aggressive
variant of dermifolica.  Worse than most.”

You let the breath you had been holding out in one long sigh.  “You’re worried about how he looks!”  

“Yes.  Perhaps --”  Rygel spends several microts fidgeting.  You have never seen him this off balance.  It is
uncharacteristic of the overly self-assured monarch.  After another interval of indecision, he makes up his
mind.  “I believe it would be best if you wait one or two solar days before you see him.”

There is a soft internal thud in the pit of your stomach.  After the endless arns of fear, uncertainty, and waiting,
every single microt of which was accompanied by the nausea-producing cramps that had taken up permanent
residence in your midsection, the new sensation is pleasant by comparison.  Several moments pass before you
manage to assign an emotion to the physical reaction.  

Surprise.  

Even then, you’re not sure if it is surprise that Rygel would care enough to keep you from entering the
chamber, or surprise that he has forgotten.  Either way, whatever expression has shown up on your face, it has
obviously gone astray.  The throne sled is backing away in a hurry, and Rygel seems to be trying to merge
himself into the cushions.  You take a deep breath, and then attempt to produce a wry smile.  It is difficult to tell
how it turns out; the muscles around your mouth feel as though they have forgotten how to form a cheerful
expression.  “Has it really been that long?” you ask.  

The retreat comes to a stop.  He peers at you intently, his earbrows performing a slow upward extension that
moves at the same pace as his comprehension.  “Yes,” he drawls.  “I had almost forgotten.”

“Forgotten,” you prompt him, asking for more.

“That the two of you are fahrbot,” he says.

Fahrbot over each other, he means.  Rygel has forgotten that nothing could keep you away from John’s side
now that the crisis is over; how there isn’t anything in the universe that could repulse you enough to keep you
away, provided your presence in that converted maintenance bay won’t jeopardize his survival.  

But Rygel has a point.  It would be best if you didn’t actually flinch, or worse yet, vomit, when you walk in.  “How
bad is it?”  

“They came very close to losing him more than once,” Rygel says.  “Crichton is even uglier than usual.”  

The laugh bursts out of you without warning.  One short, sharp bark, followed by a pause, and then another.  
The reaction continues, increasing in frequency until they begin to merge into a single entity.  Rygel looks
startled for an instant, and then joins in.  The relief continues to bubble upward, dissolving the worry, the
heartache, the almost-tears that you’ve kept hidden since the moment John collapsed, and turning every bit of
the tension into uncontrollable giggles.  Rygel moves closer, great guffaws bending him double in his throne
chair, earbrows flexing up and down in time with the rest of his body.  The two of you cling to each other,
laughing yourselves silly, staggering from one side of the corridor to the other, banging from one support rib to
the next.  And throughout it all, you know it is a warped, twisted form of crying.  You are sobbing out your worry
in raucous laughter.  You know it for what it is, and can’t get it to stop.  

“John is not ugly,” you gasp at last.  

“You’re right.  You’re right,” Rygel says, struggling for air.  “Crichton is not ugly.”  He pauses before adding,
“And neither is a Ligonian swamp slug.”  

That sets it off again, worse than before.  It takes both of you dozens of microts to get the misplaced hilarity
under control.  “I’m going to tell him you said that,” you say once you can breathe again.  

“Good.  Make sure you explain that it is a compliment.  Unless you’re a Ligonian slug.”  

“Go.”  You shove the floating chair in the direction of Command.  “Go tell the boys that John looks like a
hideous, poisonous swamp creature.  It will make them laugh.  They could also use some reassurance, Rygel,
and for some reason no one can explain to me, they trust you.  So while you’re making them laugh, make them
feel better, too.”

He gives you one of his most fatuous smiles, the one that lets you know he is pleased that you recognize the
depth of his abilities when it comes to dealing with sentient beings, and turns his throne sled toward Command.  

You stay where you are for over three hundred microts, dry-mouthed and excited, hesitant and elated.  Your
entire body vibrates with the uncomfortable whining buzz of exhaustion.  The various elements combine to form
an uncomfortable skin-crawling sensation that runs from your ankles to the back of your neck.  Your hands and
feet, for some reason, remain unaffected.  You rub your face several times, pull your hair back and refasten it
so it is neat, and cannot get your feet to move.  

“Checklist complete, pilot ready,” you say, as though giving the command for an accelerated Prowler launch.  It
works.  Old habits flourish for the single microt necessary to put you into motion.  A hand that looks exactly like
yours triggers the door mechanism.  You don’t remember the rest of your arm moving.  You move through the
open doorway as though floating, with no recollection of your feet hitting the floor, and you are inside the
maintenance bay infirmary for the first time in two solar days.

You scan the large chamber, searching for John.  It is filled with arcane-looking diagnostic equipment, lab
material, shining implements that make you uneasy, and a hoard of tall and small personnel.  Ten or twelve
hynerians specialists waddle about, aquatic feet slapping messily through puddles of spilled cryo-fluid.  Their
heads barely reach to the knees of the towering diagnosans.  It is noisy, confusing, the lights are too bright,
and the entire chamber is permeated by a stench that reminds you of an abattoir your squad had stumbled into
during a search and destroy mission.  Taken as a whole, it makes you feel like you have wandered into the
wrong chamber.  Retreat might be an attractive option if your goal wasn’t to find John Crichton.  

One of the diagnosans turns in your direction.  It warbles an unintelligible question.

“Where?” is all you are able to ask.  

The wall of bodies parts in the middle.  

John is there.  Alive.  Not frozen.  

Your footsteps seem to echo as you traverse the interminable distance between the door and the medbed.  
Perhaps something has happened to Moya’s atmospherics in the last few microts that allows the sound waves
to rebound in unusual patterns.  For each footfall, you are sure you are hearing your boot hit the floor four
times over.  Or maybe it is shock.  Every other noise in the chamber is muffled.  You know the medical experts
are talking; you can see their lips moving.  One of them drops an instrument that should hit the floor with a
resounding clatter.  The machines that have been working steadily over the past several days to keep John
alive are all still moving.  But the only noise that has the power to infiltrate the buffer of silence cocooning your
body is the reverberating thud of your boot soles.

The air pressure returns to normal the moment you come to a stop.  After the brief silence, the chaotic din is
painful.  Metal rings against metal.  The hynerians’ medical jargon is a babbling, burbling aggravation; the
diagnosans’ high-pitched sing-song language enough to drive you to murder.  Even Moya’s perpetual grumbles
are annoying.  You think this is what it might be like if you had been deaf your entire life, and had suddenly
been given hearing.  Silence would be preferable.   

You push the anger away, aware that the stress of the past days is making you short tempered, and take the
final two steps necessary to reach the side of the bed.  Rygel was right.  John looks worse than you’ve ever
seen him.  You have seen John Crichton sick, shot, bitten, beaten, frozen, fevered, injured, and on the verge of
death, and none of it had looked this bad.  There isn’t much of his body that you are able to see, but what is
visible is hideous.  The medicians have him buried up to his ears under thick insulating layers; he is ringed by
heat-generating thermal lamps.  That part you expected.  After so many days spent in cryo-stasis, it will take
some time before John’s body begins to produce any significant amount of heat on its own.  Until then, they will
have to rely on blankets and heat lamps to keep him warm.  

What you weren’t prepared for is his constant struggle to breathe, the endless coughing, the restless shifting
beneath the covers that tells you how uncomfortable he is, and the extensive tattered devastation left behind by
the virus.  Rygel’s skin sloughing had been mild by comparison.

You lick your lips, take a deep breath, and try to say something.  Nothing emerges.  On the third try, you
manage a whispered, “Hey.”   

Cloudy white eyes turn in your direction.  The blue is more memory than an underlying hint of their original
color.  You knew that the dermifolica had developed a taste for human corneas.  It had shown up on the
scanners the fourth day he was in stasis.  “Hey,” John rasps.  The single syllable exhausts him.  

You move closer.  His eyes make an adjustment.  Reason says that he can’t possibly see through the damage.  
You assume he is following the sounds.  “I’m right here, beside you.”  

“I know.”  He spends some time catching his breath.  “I see shapes.”  It is a longer sentence, so it takes him
longer to recover.

“What kinds of shapes?” you ask while you wait.  

He smiles.  “Gorgeous shape.  Shapely shape.”  You wait through a bout of coughing, sensing that he wants to
say more.  “Aeryn shape,” he adds eventually.   

A lump under the blanket moves.  You decide it might be his hand making an attempt to reach in your
direction.  You capture the lump with both hands, stilling his efforts to move.  He needs every bit of energy he
can muster.  

“Gonna be okay,” he says.  “They say so.”   He struggles for breath.  “Everything.  It will all … heal.  All.  
Promise.”  

He spends some time catching his breath, alternately coughing out pink-tinged frothy dregs of cryo-fluid and
fighting to still his chattering teeth.  You wait patiently.  You have the one thing you need.  There is no need to
hurry.    

“Heard … you,” he stammers through a fast staccato of teeth rattling against teeth.  

You pull the covers up around his ears, rearrange them compulsively so they hug as much of his neck and the
sides of his head as possible while you search for the right way to reply.  It is difficult to hang on to the thermal
layers.  Your fingers don’t operate the way they are supposed to; they are numb from the shock.  Of all the
things you had imagined him saying, this was not on the list.  

“You were in stasis.  You were dreaming.”  

“No.”  His headshake is as erratic as his breathing.  “Heard you.  It helped.”  

He is thanking you.  The person who kept fighting to live well beyond the point when most beings would have
given up and let themselves die is thanking you for the time you spent sitting beside a chilled container holding
the frozen body of the man you love far beyond all logical explanation.  The hynerian scientists have explained
more than once:  John Crichton should not have survived.  His body had sustained too much damage before
entering stasis:  too many of his blood vessels had collapsed, too many organs had shut down, his lung
capacity had dropped to almost zero.  They had never seen anything like it.  No patient has ever clung to the
will to live like this human, they say.  

It is you who owe John a lifetime worth of gratitude.  You owe him the entire future that you thought was over
the night he collapsed on the Center Chamber floor.  You had fought to save him; he had fought harder to
survive.  The best you can come up with is, “You didn’t give up.”

He shakes his head, leaving small bits of himself on the pillow with each small motion, and once again
expresses the depth of his love for you, one erratic, spasmodic pulse of air at a time.  “Never.  You.  The kids.  
Never.”

The tears arrive then:  unstoppable, undeniable, unquenchable.  You don’t try to hide them.  For the first time
in twelve solar days, you let go.  You stay on your feet, rubbing the hummock of insulated layers that covers his
hand and spouting all sorts of meaningless comments in order to let him know you are there; you stand up
straight the way a soldier was once taught to, and you let yourself cry.  


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