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Crashfic / Foot Falls (PG) - 11th Starburst Challenge
« Last post by KernilCrash on June 10, 2016, 10:50:22 AM »
Foot Falls

* * * * *

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. 

Printer Friendly Word 6.0 version.  (41KB .zip file)

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.)

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. 

Crash


* * * * *

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. 

22
Crashfic / Ship Wreck (G)
« Last post by KernilCrash on June 10, 2016, 10:43:12 AM »
Ship Wreck

* * * * *

Rating:  G.
Disclaimer:  The characters and universe of Farscape are the property of the Henson Co.  I have not made any profit off this little tale … with the exception of having a ton of fun writing it.   
Time Frame/Spoilers:  This takes place roughly within a cycle after PKWars. 
Test Driver:  PKLibrarian.  When it comes to spotting inconsistencies, continuity errors, and sections of the story where I’ve been just plain lazy and need to patch things in order to make them correct, she absolutely rocks! 

Gestation:  This story grew out of a very brief reference to a very rare natural phenomenon mentioned in a science magazine.  If I describe the phenomenon ahead of time, it will ruin the story.  I think you’ll know it when you see it.

Hope you enjoy it.


* * * * *

She was beginning to believe that she had lost John Crichton forever.

Aeryn Sun stood in the middle of the footpath leading toward the island’s minimal spaceport -- if a cracked and aging landing slab and a Landing Master dozing in a one-room office could be called a spaceport -- without a clue where to hunt for John next.  It was a sign of her steadily increasing despair that she had chosen to stop in this particular spot.  Cut off from the cooling ocean breezes by the shear bluffs dropping down to the shoreline, and a good half-metra from the shade provided by the inland forests, this was very likely the sunniest, hottest place on the entire island:  the exact wrong place for a sebacean to stand in contemplation.   

An unpleasant, aching spasm galloped from her stomach to a spot between her shoulder blades, lingered there just long enough to tighten every muscle in her back, and then moved on, eventually coming to rest at the base of her skull where it mutated into the beginnings of a headache.  Aeryn closed her eyes, pushed her shoulders downward in time with a slow exhalation, and did her best to believe that the symptoms were the first sign of heat stress, precursor to full-fledged heat delirium. She would rather have it be that, a disorder that could be quickly and easily banished by seeking out cooler surroundings, than admit that the unwelcome sensations had anything to do with the chance that she had managed to drive John away from her … possibly for all time.

“Help the lady?”

The question startled her.  She had been drifting, caught up in the imagery of what life might be like if John never came back.  Aeryn looked down toward the source of the query. 

A green-skinned, placid-looking little alien less than half her height stood beside her left leg.  He wore an emblem indicating that he was employed by the leisure facility that was the island’s primary source of income, and not much else.  “Service required?” he asked.

“This tall,” she said, indicating a height slightly above her head, “male, sebacean, wearing black.  Have you seen him?”   

The creature’s bald head bobbed up and down.  “Of course.  He arrives with you.  Yesterday evening you came, lady.” 

Aeryn bit down on her tongue, trapping a furious yell before it made it past her teeth.  “Not yesterday,” she said once she had the burst of frustration under control.  “When he was with me, I knew where he was.  I’m talking about today.  Have you seen him today?  In the last few arns?”   

“No, lady.  Not there” -- a stubby finger ending in a black, thickly-ridged nail pointed toward the disorganized assembly of parked spacecraft in the distance -- “or there or there or there.”  The finger pointed toward several groups of buildings tucked in beneath the trees, indicating in sequence the main building, the commissary where the guests could purchase meals and other foodstuffs, and the cluster of squat buildings that included the tiny residence where she and John were supposed to be spending a pleasant, relaxing five-day ‘vacation’. 

“How recently?” she asked.  Round unblinking eyes stared at her.  Aeryn tried again, searching for simpler terms.  “When were you at those places?  One arn ago?  Two arns? … Yesterday?” 

“Today.”  The finger traced out a route between the buildings, added in a loop toward the craggy headlands overlooking the ocean, completed a circuit of the outlying grounds and the spaceport, and ended with a gesture toward their feet.  “Two arns, lady.  My function, to make sure all is proper.  The paths.  The grounds.  My job.”  After making another vague motion that seemed to refer to the well-tended vegetation bordering the walkways, followed by a glance to make sure Aeryn was watching, he approached one of the nearby bushes, surveyed it for several microts, and then nibbled off several errant shoots. 

It was then that Aeryn realized that she was attempting to obtain help from a semi-sentient, living version of a foliage trimmer.  The clues had been plain to see if she had been able to focus on them.  Every other employee of this peaceful leisure facility had been intelligent, attentive, well-trained, and more importantly, fully clothed.  She forced her breath out through tightly clenched teeth.  Snapping at the creature wouldn’t help.  It would undoubtedly only upset him, and he had, admittedly, done his best to help her. 

“How often?”  Aeryn repeated the pattern the creature had traced out for her moments earlier.  “How many time each day?  Once?  Twice?  More?” 

“Always, lady.  Begin with the sun, end with the sun.” 

Her luck in being approached by the simpleminded yet diligent little worker had been better than she first thought.  Even if he wasn’t able to suggest new places to search, he had provided critical clues to where she would not find John, which was equally important.  Bits of information continued to settle into a better thought out whole.  The creature waiting patiently beside her boot had included the buildings set farthest into the trees in his gestured description of his daily routine.  That meant that his eyesight was reasonably acute.  Since he hadn’t seen John today, she could eliminate any portion of the grounds that were within sight of the network of footpaths. 

“You have been helpful.  Thank you.”  Aeryn enforced the dismissal with a wave of her hand.  The creature bobbed a silent acknowledgement before resuming his interrupted rounds.  He shuffled away, wandering from one side of the pathway to the other, seemingly without purpose, pausing frequently to nibble and munch.  He left a trail of impeccably trimmed shrubbery in his wake. 

Aeryn watched his progress until he moved out of sight.  Her eyes remained locked on the slow moving little alien; her thoughts returned to the events that had taken place several arns and half a motra away, inside the small, organic-looking hummock of a building that John insisted on calling a ‘bungalow’. 

The fight was, by far, the worst argument they’d had in all their cycles together.  The shouting had raged for arns.  It began shortly after sunup, carried on through the quiet chimes announcing First Meal, and onward into midmorning without showing any sign of letting up.  By the time John stormed out of their room in a fury, they had managed to reopen every wound they had ever laid upon each other, no matter how small or insignificant, and had ripped and gouged their way to a new level of verbal viciousness. 

There had been no carefully laid out strategies, no tactical retreats to lull the other person into a false sense of security in order to make them more vulnerable to the next attack, no attempts to convince or dissuade … no reason or logic.  Both sides had waged a full out, no-holds-barred, bludgeoning assault.   Finesse had been abandoned early in the process, giving way to head-on attacks.  No actual physical battle she had participated in had ever been so brutally forthright or as exhausting. 

The battle had come to an end when Aeryn -- knowing full well that it wasn’t truth even as the words flooded from her lips -- had accused John of secretly wanting to kill her all those cycles ago on Tocot’s ice planet.  The shouted accusation had slashed deep, exposing what she now knew was well-hidden, long-festering guilt.  John had taken a step backwards, speechless, reeling from the onslaught, and she had gone in for the kill.  The neural clone hadn’t been in control at all, she had yelled at him.  John had been in control of the module that day, carrying out a secret wish to be rid of her for once and for all. 

Aeryn snapped out of her reverie to discover that she was sitting on an earth embankment alongside the footpath.  She had moved several motras to one side while caught up in her memories and, momentarily divorced from good sense, had elected to sit down in the direct sunlight.  Her body was doing its best to let her know that she had made a mistake.  Nausea, uncontrollable shaking, and the chills had set in while she was sitting in a daze, each symptom doing its best to warn her that she was at risk of full-fledged heat delirium.

“Idiot,” she said under her breath.  “You are a frelling idiot.”  Even as she said it, she didn’t know if she was criticizing herself for her choice of resting place, or for the ridiculous accusations she had heaped on John.  A short walk into the cool shade beneath the trees cured one problem in a matter of microts; the other was not so easily remedied.  If John had been nursing a hidden guilt for over three cycles, it couldn’t begin to compare with how miserable she felt at that moment. 

“Keep looking.  Keep looking.  He has to be here.” 

Walking gave her something to do.  It burned off the energy generated by poorly contained anger, kept the portion of her mind that was attempting to panic focused on other duties, and made her feel like she was doing something productive.  Standing in one spot while she resisted the temptation to cry was helpless and weak; walking and searching meant she was in control.  Aeryn began another circuit of the grounds, following a route that ran parallel to the outermost perimeter paths, offset by twenty motras.  She would continue to expand each circuit until she had covered the entire island, if that’s what it took to find John. 

Walking, however, gave her time for contemplation; and that, in turn, led back to the fight. 

She couldn’t remember a fraction of what she had said to him.  There was only the nightmarish recall of shouting, an unquenchable desire to hit him that had lasted for arns, and a thought-robbing level of anger.  The verbal strikes, counterstrikes, parries and stabs had taken as much out of her as hand-to-hand combat would have demanded -- perhaps even more.  If they had resorted to slugging it out, trading punch for punch, kick for kick, at least it would have been over quickly and decisively.  When they ran out of energy, they could have staggered to opposite sides of the room nursing split lips, bruises, and whatever injuries they had inflicted on each other, and moved on from that point. 

Worse than any of the yelled accusations or insults was the fact that she couldn’t remember how the fight had started -- or what it had originally been about.  The trigger had been minor.  She knew that much.  It might have been Crichton’s infuriating habit of tossing his dirty clothes in a corner, or how he always left his boots right where she would trip over them when she got out of bed.  The spark might have been any one of a dozen or more of John’s habits that she found annoying, but now that she had calmed down, Aeryn was forced to admit that she had been well-primed for a confrontation long before they had dumped their belongings in the small structure the previous evening and had taken their first tour of their surroundings. 

She hadn’t wanted to come to this resort planet in the first place.  Crichton had insisted, saying they needed a break from being cooped up on Moya and that the time together could serve as a long overdue honeymoon.  It had been Crichton who had arranged to leave D’Argo with Rygel on Hyneria; Crichton who had found the secluded ocean-side resort on the southern continent of this out-of-the-way planet; Crichton who had made all the plans without checking with her other than to let her know that everything had been arranged. 

When he had vowed to find some place that both of them would enjoy, she had envisioned a gleaming, modern facility with all of the automated conveniences she had missed since the day she had inadvertently cut herself off from the Command Carrier and the only life she had ever known.  Her first sight of this sprawling, apparently disordered compound had been a crushing disappointment.  Instead of regimented order, the buildings appeared to have been set down without any rhyme or reason.  In place of the symmetrically laid out housing blocks that she had expected, they had been greeted by rustic, primitive little huts scattered beneath the trees; a crowded, noisy mess-hall arrangement for meals; and not a single servicer in sight to take care of menial tasks. 

Crichton had been delighted with the accommodations.  She had been furious. 

Aeryn stumbled to a halt.  “It shouldn’t have mattered,” she said, frustrated to the point of hitting something.  “It doesn’t matter.” 

The arns spent hunting for John had revealed what she had overlooked during their arrival.  The individual buildings were clean, well-maintained, with every conceivable modern convenience tucked away behind a variety of facades meant to camouflage their true nature.  The illogical arrangement of the units, it turned out, provided a measure of privacy; none of the windows faced another building, no doorway opened out toward another door.  The inappropriately named ‘commissary’ would deliver prepared meals to the residences, if that was what the guests preferred; or would arrange a private dining area for two, with full services, inside the main building.  The cuisine of more than a dozen cultures were available, each of them expertly prepared.  And the apparent lack of servicers was nothing more than a highly trained staff that excelled at staying out of sight. 

Most important of all was that John had selected a balmy, temperate location that seldom got hot.  He had chosen this place because it was perfect for a space-bred sebacean.  Strong coastal breezes kept a majority of the landmass cool even on the sunniest day, and the few areas protected from the ocean air were heavily forested.  Rain and fog bathed the entire island each morning, which in turn encouraged lingering in bed and a slow start to the day; cool, clear evenings were a perfect excuse for late nights spent sitting on an outcrop of rock with nothing but ocean and stars spread out before them as far as they could see. 

None of it meant anything if John had decided he had had enough of Aeryn Sun for one lifetime.  The idea of spending several arns wallowing in bed while the rain played hushed rhythms on the roof didn’t appeal to her unless she could imagine that John was lying alongside her.  Cold tendrils of fog drifting in through the slatted shutters were nothing more than damp air unless there was friction, passion, laughter, and sweating exertion to offset the chill.  And the solitude of a rock overlooking the ocean would be just that unless she found the one man who made the sea and the stars a welcome symbol for the cycles stretching out before them. 

They had managed to survive so many catastrophic events, any one of which could have driven them apart.  After all the hard times and heartache; the disasters, forever deaths, and near death experiences; the gun fights, fist fights, lonely nights, fatal blights, and horrific sights, it didn’t seem possible that she had lost John as the result of something so insignificant as a verbal disagreement.  They had fought before, although never so viciously, and John had always reappeared within an arn -- sometimes furious, sometimes sheepish, sometimes ready to make up, but he had never stomped off and disappeared. 

Tears threatened, provoked by equal amounts of frustration and what she hoped was premature grief.  Aeryn fought it down, tapping into the last reserves of anger to quash the useless emotions.  “Frell you, John Crichton!  Where have you gone?” 

The anger was gone as fast as it had reappeared, vanquished by concern.  Her list of possibilities was rapidly spiraling in toward two unavoidable conclusions.  Either John had found a way off this planet without leaving any trace; or he had been kidnapped. 

“Except no one is after us,” she said.  “And the Landing Master said no ships have left the island.” 

All the evidence said that he was still here.  Her arns worth of fruitless searching was telling a different story. 

“I’m sorry,” she said to the person who had disappeared.  “I didn’t mean any of it.  I would take it back if you were here.  It was cruel and stupid, and I didn’t mean any of it.”  The apology went unanswered.  He did not magically appear, smiling, willing to forgive and forget.  “John, where the frell are you?  You’re starting to scare me.”

She had completed her first expanded circuit of the grounds.  Aeryn paced off an additional twenty motras, shifting outward so her route would take her farther into the trees, traverse more of the headlands near the shoreline, and would include a larger portion of the spaceport, and started again.  She walked and watched, letting her eyes coast automatically from one edge of the horizon to the other, trusting that if they encountered a familiar object, such as a distinctive male figure, that she would notice immediately.  And in that half-aware state, where her brain was left primarily untended, she suddenly found herself making bargains with a deity that she did not believe in.  She vowed that if she located John, she would never again threaten to shoot him, even in jest.  If John reappeared unharmed, she would never yell at him, no matter how severely he provoked her.  The deal-making began to escalate, spiraling out of control:  she would stop badgering John to allow her to teach D’Argo self-defense as soon as he was old enough to walk; she would stop wearing a pulse pistol every waking moment of every day; shooting would no longer be her first solution to most problems. 

Aeryn stumbled to a stop at the top of the bluffs leading down to the shore, stared out at the water, and tried to use the slow, rhythmic surge of the waves to steady both her thoughts and her runaway emotions. 

That was when she saw him. 

John was no more than twenty motras away from where she was standing, only straight down.  He was on the beach, stripped down to nothing but his black trunks, performing some sort of repetitious exercises on the damp, compacted sand.  From the extent of the tracks around where he was standing, it was clear that he had been down there the entire time she had been searching. 

“I will frelling kill him!” 

She began working her way along the edge of the cliffs, looking for a route down.  The sheer faces were made up of vertical rock ledges, long spills of loose dirt and gravel, and areas of scrubby vegetation that seemed to be begging for an excuse to release their grip and tumble to the beach below.  There were also rock stairways provided at regular intervals, but the closest one was almost a half a metra away. 

“Frell that,” she said.  After all the walking she had done that day, Aeryn didn’t feel like backtracking the extra distance just to make her descent to the beach easier.  There was also the anger to be considered.  The difficult scramble down through a jumble of boulders, dirt, and waist-high bushes would serve to burn off some of the aggravation that was urging her to go back to their room, grab her possessions, and leave the planet.  The longer she watched John exercise, the more difficult it became to ignore the fact that he had been here, on the beach, all morning.  While she had been worrying about what might have happened to him, envisioning a variety of horrific possibilities and worrying that their marriage might have ended in a barrage of poorly chosen words, he had been basking in the sunshine and cool ocean breezes. 

“He is a dead man,” she said.  “It will be a slow, painful death.” 

She found a small ravine of sorts, more a shallow notch carved into the rock by wind and weather than an actually gulley, bounded almost entirely by rock.  The footing looked stable enough to make the descent without setting off a landslide.  Aeryn glanced back toward John’s spot on the beach in order to make sure he hadn’t seen her coming. 

There was something wrong with him.  He was still exercising, just as he had been when she first discovered where he had been hiding, but the movements made no sense and he was repeating the same peculiar movements over and over again.  She noticed for the first time that he had rearranged a number of medium-sized rocks into a rough walkway, and several deep gouges in the sand showed where he had dragged a water-smoothed log so it lay with one end near the surf’s edge and the other near the base of the cliffs.  The pattern began again as she watched.  It consisted of strangely rhythmic leaps and bounds with no upper body involvement.  It wasn’t a dance, and it wasn’t self-defense.  As far as she could tell, he was simply hopping around on the beach.  The circuit came to an end near the bottom of the log.  John ran up its length, bounded athletically across his arrangement of rocks, and began to repeat the routine. 

This concerned her more than his arns-long absence.  She had watched him exercise aboard Moya quite often.  None of his workouts resembled what he was doing on the beach.  What he was doing here was inexplicable and erratic.  Several explanations occurred to her.  This could be the result of a human version of heat delirium.  John had once explained that humans were susceptible to overheating, although not to the same degree as sebaceans.  Or he might be reacting to a poison.  He was wearing nothing but his black trunks.  It was reasonable to assume that he might have gone swimming at some point, and come in contact with some venomous sea creature. 

Or he might be trying to send a signal. 

Aeryn hunkered down so her body wouldn’t show against the skyline, and methodically studied every dench of the beach and the cliffs that was visible.  There were no flickering, quickly arrested movements; no symmetrical patterns to indicate that a craft had landed or passed over the sand; no footprints other than John’s.  As far as she could tell from her limited surveillance, he was alone.  That left either some sort of poisoning, heat-related breakdown, or emotional imbalance:  none of which could be diagnosed from where she was crouched in the bushes. 

She made her way down to the beach, moving slowly, taking her time, concentrating on not making any noise.  John was acting so strangely, Aeryn wasn’t sure how he would react once he saw her approaching.  She wanted to be sure she was close enough to catch him if he decided to bolt.  Three motras from the bottom, a rock slid out from under her boot.  It clattered down the remaining distance, fell free for a single instant, and plopped into the soft sand.  John spun around, his right hand headed for his thigh.  It hovered there, confused by the absence of his pulse pistol, then moved upward and slapped the middle of his bare chest. 

“Good god, woman.  You can’t be sneaking up on a guy like that.  You’ll give me a heart attack!” 

“I wasn’t sneaking,” she said, snapping at him.  It was not how she wanted to start the conversation.  Aeryn took in a breath, held it for several microts, then tried again, more calmly.  “I did not mean to sneak.”

John was shifting to his left, moving with exaggerated caution.  “What are you doing?” she asked.

He craned his neck to one side, peering at her right hip.  “Just making sure you’re not armed,” he said. 

Aeryn held her hands out to the sides, letting him see that for once she wasn’t wearing her pulse pistol.  “Why?” she asked.

“After that blow up this morning, I was concerned about getting shot.” 

He was attempting a joke.  That was a good sign, she decided.  Aeryn hopped down the final motra; she sank ankle-deep into soft sand.  “I’ve been looking for you for arns.  I was beginning to think you had left.  Are you all right?” 

“I’m fine.  Left the planet, you mean?”

“Yes.  I couldn’t find you.  No one had seen you.” 

He stepped closer, paused to check on her reactions, and then gave her a cautious, stiff-bodied hug.  “Aeryn, it was just a fight -- a stupid, mean, idiotic fight.  There will probably be more.  It’s part of being married.” 

“I didn’t like it when you disappeared.”

“I took off because I was about to hit something, probably you, and you had your hand on the butt of your pulse pistol.  I knew you could blow a hole in me before I got off the first punch --”

“True,” Aeryn said.

“So I boogied,” John continued as though he hadn’t been interrupted, “before either one of us did something we couldn’t take back.  Next time I’ll stay and slug it out, if that would make you happy, just so long as you remove the chakan cartridge from any weapons in the room.” 

John seemed to be taking the entire situation in stride.  As far as Aeryn could tell, he wasn’t angry or upset.  If anything, he seemed more relaxed than when they had arrived on the island the previous afternoon.  Wary perhaps, but relaxed.  Almost lighthearted.  She had expected him to be wounded by the accusations she had made in the heat of the battle.  His behavior confused her.  It compounded the already roiling mass of emotions struggling to break free, made it difficult to think, and stripped her of the logic that was keeping a rein on her anger. 

Aeryn turned her back on John.  She moved several motras away, seeking time and space in order to think.  The waves thundering onto the beach provided a focus for both her eyes and her thoughts.   There was a pattern to the way each one rose, crested with foam, tumbled head over heels, and collapsed onto the sand.  There was a math to the patterns.  Given enough data, each and every breaker could be forecast:  the height, the longevity, when and where it would crest, from its birth somewhere mid-ocean to the moment it flattened itself on the shore.  The heavy surge and suck, mesmerizing in its regularity, tried to convince a portion of her psyche that she should be able to align her emotions into the same rigidly regimented order; if she stood here long enough, with her gaze fixed on the stretch of sand where the water rushed up, paused for a moment in a shimmering pattern of bubbles and sunlit before running back to the sea, she would eventually lift her eyes to the horizon and find that she felt as ordered inside as her surroundings.

It didn’t work that way.  The longer she watched, the more churned up she began to feel.  The eternal rumbling crescendo only served as a backdrop to the chaos that had taken over her head and her heart.  For the first time in several cycles, she ached for the rule-bound simplicity she had known aboard the Command Carrier, and didn’t know how to untangle the snarl of feelings and thoughts currently raging inside her.  The tension began to compound with each breath that she took.  Before she knew what was happening, it had begun the hazardous transformation into anger.

“Look at me,” John said.  She hadn’t realized that he had followed her.  From the sound of his voice, he was less than two motras away. 

“I can’t.”   She was afraid that if she turned to face him, she would start the senseless argument all over again. 

“Aeryn, the answer isn’t out there.”  He stayed silent for several microts, then added, “Feelings are supposed to be messy.  If they aren’t a mess, then something’s wrong.” 

“I want them to make sense.  I want --”  She had to stop because all of a sudden she didn’t know what she wanted. 

“You want rules.  Boundaries,” John said. 

“Yes.”  She thought about how it had felt the first time she had known that she was falling in love with John, and changed her mind.  “No.  I don’t want boundaries.  I want --”

He waited her out this time.

“I don’t know what to do.”
 
She heard him move closer.  “You’re losing me,” he said.  “Do you mean what to do about feelings, about the fight, about being married, or some other part of it?”

She turned to face him.  “About what we said.  About how we feel about what we said.”

He scratched the top of his ear then ran his hand through his hair several times.  It looked as though he was giving himself time to think.  After several microts of contemplation, he shrugged.  “Our choice.  It was a stupid fight, and we can decide to forget about it and never mention it again, if that’s what you want.”

“It is.” 

She wanted to forget about it as quickly as possible.  The entire battle had been senseless.  Then, in the space of time it took to produce the single small word, she remembered the look of guilt on John’s face when she had accused him of wanting to kill her on the ice planet.  She didn’t care about anything that John had said to her.  She wanted to make sure he didn’t go through the rest of his life thinking that she believed any portion of the absurd accusation. 

“No.  That’s not want I want,” she said, reversing her decision.  It was the right choice.  She saw it in the brief flicker of disappointment in John’s expression between her initial answer and the revised version.  A problem remained, however.  “I don’t know how to do this.” 

“Talk about it but not talk about it?” he said.

“Yes.  I want to never fight like that again.  I did not enjoy that.” 

John let out a short, surprised laugh.  “No one does, Aeryn.  Not many people actually enjoy that kind of hullabaloo -- not sane ones anyway.  But sometimes it’s part of being together.”  He scrawled an intricate symbol in the sand with his big toe.  He spent several microts patting one or two small ridges of sand down with the ball of his foot, then wiped the entire thing out with his instep.  “This part of a relationship doesn’t come with an instruction manual,” he said when he was finished.  “We’ve survived a lot worse, Aeryn.  We can just … talk about it.  Not all at once, and we don’t have to talk about all of it.  Only the parts we want to talk about.” 

“That doesn’t sound like much of a plan,” she said.     

He smiled.  “Probably better that way.  You know how my plans work out.”

“Too well.”   

For the first time, Aeryn noticed that his entire body was coated with a fine layer of sand.  He had been sweating, and the breeze had deposited a dusting of glittering particles anywhere that he was damp:  thicker across his chest, fading away to no more than a hint of grittiness across his shoulders, trickling into small silt-laden rivulets along his ribs and the underside of his arms.  Fingers, feet, ankles, legs, and even his shorts; he was coated from head to toe.  She wanted to touch him, to brush it away and feel the warm slide of sun-reddened skin beneath her fingers.  She wanted John to bend over so she could ruffle the sand out of his hair, and then to straighten up with a smile, eager for the touch of her fingers against his body. 

He noticed.  Aeryn raised her eyes to find that John was watching her in much the same way she was watching him.  That was when she knew for sure that the fight was over. 

The knowledge was a relief.  It lightened the heavy sensation in her heart, loosened the tension across her shoulders and throughout her midsection, and invited the muscles around her eyes and mouth to smile.  For the first time in arns, she no longer felt like her world was coming to an end or that her heart would implode out of remorse and worry.

One issue remained that begged for an explanation.  Aeryn gestured toward the log, the rocks, and the churned up sand.  “What are you doing?” 

John scrubbed the palms of his hands together, suddenly energetic, and grinned.  “I’m glad you asked!  This is great, Aeryn!  You won’t believe what I found.  On Earth, we call this kind of place singing sands.”  He surveyed the pattern of tracks on the beach, detoured to one side until he was standing in an unmarked area of sand, and then hopped up and down on one foot.  Each time he landed, the impact triggered a hushed sustained note.  The tone was coming from the beach itself, emanating from an area beneath where he was standing. 

“Harmonic compaction,” Aeryn said, recognizing the phenomenon immediately.  “The friction between the grains of sand causes them to resonate --”

“I know, I know,” he said.  “It’s like when people play tunes by running their finger around the rim of a water glass.  Don’t turn it into a mathematical equation, Aeryn!  Just --”  He made an exasperated gesture.  “Just listen.” 

He began the circuit she had seen from the top of the cliff, this time singing along with each light-footed impact.  The notes rang clear and true in the quiet air at the base of the bluffs. 

Hop hop step jump hop bound --  “I give her all my love,” John sang in time with his efforts. 

Bounce hop step lunge slide -- “That’s all I do.”

He veered to one side, balanced the length of the log, bounded across his roughly arranged rock pathway until he was back where he had started, and began the route over again, this time with a minor difference near the end. 

Hop hop step jump hop bound --  “And if you saw my love” -- Leap bounce jump hop hop -- “You’d love her too.” -- Step step bound twist -- “And I love her.” 

He ran back to where he had started and began the circuit again, this time with a different set of words. 

“She gives me everything,
And tenderly,
The kiss my lover brings
She brings to me
And I love her.”
 

Panting slightly, John bounded back across the rocks one more time, and landed beside her with a happy grin in place. 

“You’ve been down here all day working this out?” Aeryn asked. 

“All day?”  John spun in a circle, searching for and finding the sun.  He looked sheepish when he continued.  “I lost track of time.  It took me a while to find the right notes once I realized that this part of the beach sings.  I was hoping you wouldn’t find me until I had the whole thing figured out.” 

For the first time since she made her way down to the beach, Aeryn understood that John’s disappearance hadn’t been intentional; he hadn’t been hiding from her as some form of indirect punishment.  This was pure Crichton.  He had stumbled upon a phenomenon that fascinated him, and had become every bit as entranced by his latest discovery as he ever had been with wormholes.  Then she considered the song he had chosen to play upon the beach, and saw that her first conclusion had overlooked one crucial factor.  All the energy he had put into this endeavor -- moving rocks and logs so his return route wouldn’t disrupt the tenuous compaction, testing each square motra of the beach for specific notes, locating and memorizing the tune -- had absolutely nothing to do with the unique arrangement of glassy crystals of sand.  John had been immersed in an entirely different obsession.  He had been thinking about love.   
   
“You honestly didn’t know that you had been down here most of the day?” she said. 

“I got carried away.”  He watched her for several microts.  His expression shifted from semi-gleeful embarrassment, to concern, and finally to comprehension.  “Aeryn, I would never just take off without telling you.”  He stepped closer, to where he needed to tilt his head downward in order to look into her eyes.  “I love you, Aeryn Sun.  You can’t get rid of me simply by yelling at me.” 

“I am finally beginning to understand that.”  She unfastened her boots, slid out of them, and tossed them to one side.  They were followed in quick order by her socks, her vest, and her pants. 

“You’re getting undressed,” John said, eyeing the remaining black briefs and top.  “Is this good news for me?” 

“Not the way you think.”  She walked past John, stopping when she got to the beginning of his pattern on the beach.  “Show me the notes.  Show me the rest of the song.” 

He moved up to stand beside her.  “The next part is tricky.” 

“Then we might have to try it several times.  It might take the rest of the afternoon.” 

John draped his arm over her shoulders, tucking her body in tight against his so their feet would land as close together as possible, and together they bounced and jumped and laughed their way through the rest of the musical pattern, with John singing along in time with the notes emanating from the sand beneath their feet. 

“A love like ours
Could never die
As long as I
Have you near me.”
 


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *




Edited to add:  There is a reason why you shouldn't post a story at 2:00am.  I forgot to add a small 'extra'.

John drew a symbol in the sand with his foot, and then wiped it out without explaining to Aeryn what he had drawn.  Aeryn didn't recognize it, in part because she was looking at it upside down.  This is what he drew. 

(click to show/hide)

23
Crashfic / Inferno (PG-13)
« Last post by KernilCrash on June 10, 2016, 10:42:19 AM »
Inferno

* * * * *

Rating:  PG-13.  This one is a little bit ugly, so I think a parental check on younger Scapers is a good idea.
Disclaimer:  The characters and universe of Farscape are the property of the Henson Co.  I have not made any profit as a result of writing this tale, other than learning some new lessons about writing.   
Category/Time Frame:  Future Fic.  Roughly 3 cycles after the end of PKWars.
Test Driver:  PKLibrarian, of course.  She is always there to ensure that I toe the characterization and credibility lines.  Her input was invaluable this time around.  Inferno is a far better story as a result of her efforts.
Word 6.0 Printer friendly version available (WinZip file).

Note to the reader:  In one of my earlier stories, Yesterdays and Tomorrows, I began using a nickname for D’Argo (Little D, not the big one).  I am playing with the same version of the future Sun-Crichton family in this story, so I am still referring to him by that nickname:  DJ.

Gestation:  This story is a little unusual for me.  I call it a “catharsis fic”.  While I am quite happy to acknowledge that events from my life or things I read in magazines often show up in my stories, I do not normally inject portions of my immediate life into the lives of our beloved characters.  I have made an exception this time.  For too many years, I wasted a lot of energy by  carrying something violent, ugly, and ultimately damaging (to me) bottled up inside:  Anger.  A number of months ago, I finally managed to get the feelings resolved, and at some point after that, I decided to tap into the emotions I had been living with for too long, magnify them by several orders, and express the result in a story. 

I hope it was worth the effort. 

* * * * *


He had known for a very long time that the rage was there:  lurking, no more than half-hidden at the best of times, buried beneath layers of self-restraint, fermenting, waiting for an excuse to break free.  He had become the incubator for an indestructible, malevolent parasite that had been destined to take control of his body since the first moment the creature was spawned.  That the parasite had been psychic in nature and the malevolence a product of his own fury made little difference; the outcome was no different than if he had spewed forth a monstrous alien entity. 

He had hoped that with time, with the slow wheel of the stars across the permanently night sky and the relentless passage of solar days, the more volatile elements would have lost their power to goad him into sporadic displays of unpredictable, frequently unforgivable behavior.  Far too late, he realized that it had worked out the other way around.  The steady simmering of subdued but sustained anger had seared the damage into his soul.  Containing the rage, instead of banishing it, had become a way of life.  The warning signs had been there if he had chosen to pay attention to them:  the sudden outbursts of anger for no good reason, the explosive zaps of fury that vanished as fast as they appeared, inexplicable reactions to minor problems, random discharges of aimless frustration that targeted anyone unfortunate enough to be close to him when they happened. 

The one thing he had not been able to admit to himself was that he did not have it under control. 

Anger struck, swept through what he had thought were carefully erected barricades, and hurled him into a conflagration of his own making.  He became both burner and the burned, fire and fuel, ignition source and the ongoing inferno inextricably tangled together until he was little more than a searing, soaring, scorching form of fury.  Oxygen gave it life, energy gave it momentum.  It gained strength, took over what was left of his universe, and exploded into an all-encompassing storm that defied restriction.  He reveled in the destruction, reached out with the full limits of his physiology, and lent it power with each breath and joyfully expended movement. 

The heat was a living thing, sucking him in, devouring him faster than he could feast on the warmth.  He basked in the hot molten spatter, turned his face to catch the sizzling rainfall, sucked in great gulping breaths of overheated cinder-metallic air.  The beast billowed from chest to head, a mental crown fire leaping from thought to thought, treetop to treetop, carrying the licking tongues of anger with it, moving faster than reason or self-control could ever hope to race.  Another lunge, another exuberant blossom of magma release.  Hot charcoal briquette smell, the rank sourness of the underworld thick on his tongue for the length of time it took to suck in a breath, and then gone, driven away by the howling winds of physical effort. 

Chest heaving, gulping down oxygen to fuel the flames, finding himself temporarily overwhelmed by the sour cinder smell of summer campfires long gone cold, the scent of exhausted embers shrieking into acrid crystalline shards beneath his boots.  The moment passed; movement and purpose returned.  He waded into the reeking stench of his past, dipped down with both hands, fingernails scraping across the screeching scream of blackened tree skeletons, raised up the wreckage of his conflagration and battered it back down again.  The firestorm was within and without, coursing through his muscles, scouring his sinuses, diving into his lungs -- hot, undeniable, unstoppable, unquenchable. 

He wanted it to go on forever.  The blazing frenzy would free him, cleanse him, burn away the rotting putrefaction that had been festering for too long.  If he could find one more striking flash of incineration, one final stockpile of fuel to feed his personal pyre, he was certain he would emerge purified, forged into something better than what had first waded into the inferno. 

His quest ended unexpectedly.  There was a flailing grab at his arm, a wrenching pull, the impact of a body slamming into his, and a voice yelling at him to regain his sanity.

“Stop it!  John, stop!  What are you doing?” 

Aeryn parried another wild punch, grabbed his arm with both hands, and pivoting, throwing all of her body weight into the fast movement, flung him down the corridor.  Crichton tripped, rolled over several times, made it to his hands and knees just in time to slam up against a bulkhead, and finally slumped to a panting, heaving, gagging stop.  He stayed where he was, crouched in the recessed alcove between two of Moya’s ribs, and tried to make some sense of his surroundings.

Aeryn had followed his brief, unplanned flight.  She was poised just out of range of an unprovoked attack, squatting on her heels and watching him intently.  “Have you lost your mind?  What the frell are you doing?”

Still gasping for breath, stunned by both the impact against the wall and his sudden emergence back into a world of sense and sanity, he stayed where he was, trying to remember what he had been doing before Aeryn attacked him. 

Somewhere nearby, a child was crying. 

“Where’s DJ?” John asked.  “What’s wrong?” 

“Muoma has him,” Aeryn said.  “He was frightened.”

Crichton blinked once in surprise at the thought of the eidelon high priestess assuming guardianship of their son, even if only for an arn; then he thought it over for an additional microt, and began to relax.  In the three cycles since Muoma had acquired Yandalao’s knowledge, she had become something more advanced than the priests of Arnessk ever would have expected or could have predicted.  She had combined the reawakened abilities of the eidelons with her own deep spirituality, leavened the outcome with the wisdom she had gained during her cycles as one of her culture’s most respected leaders, and had produced a new level of insightful compassion that sometimes rendered her eidelon aura unnecessary.  For Muoma, the woman who could bring the most aggressive scarran to a humbled, apologetic stop with a single word, and had one time silenced the arrogant bluster coming from a member of Peacekeeper High Command with nothing more than a look, calming a frightened child was a walk in the park. 

Concern for DJ temporarily put to rest, John turned his thoughts back to why he was kneeling in the middle of one of Moya’s corridor feeling like he had just been mugged.  He wiped a shaking hand across his face.  It came away coated with something vile-smelling and viscous.  Shuddering, repulsed by the slick putrid slime dripping from his chin, he yanked the bottom of his shirt out of his pants and scrubbed compulsively at his face until it felt clean.  “What’s going on?” he asked when he was finished. 

Aeryn moved closer.  This time she knelt down alongside him, close enough that her knee was touching one of his.  Her hands conducted a fast inventory of his head, shoulders, and arms, then returned to his neck and began a more thorough inspection.  Only then, when she had confirmed that he was basically intact, did she answer his question.  She started with an almost imperceptible tilt of her head, indicating something behind her, and said, “You tell me.”

John looked past her, toward the spot where he had been standing before Aeryn threw him down the passageway.  Four motras away, Scorpius lay in the middle of the corridor, ominously still.  The only movement was the slow crawl and drip of the half-breed’s whitish blood, and the wet, gradual migration of something even more sickening creeping out from beneath his head. 

As John continued to stare at Scorpius’ body, a number of Moya’s current compliment of passengers rounded the corner at the far end of the tier.  The group slowed, jostling and banging into each other for several moments.  After a brief pause, they moved forward again, this time more slowly.  Four eidelons, two luxans, half a dozen Peacekeepers, and a single scarran:  a small portion of the delegation that was currently traveling aboard Moya -- one of the few ships in this sector of space with no allegiance to any of the parties involved -- on their way to the periodic negotiations that were an integral part of the fragile, three-cycle old peace agreement. Scorpius, as arbiter, played a critical role in maintaining the accords.   

“I did that?” John asked.  On one level, the question didn’t need asking.  He wore the proof that he was the one who had beaten Scorpius to a pulp.  He was liberally adorned in spattered blood, dripping viscera, and several other oozing fluids, the source of which he did not want to consider.  But another portion of his mind needed the confirmation, as though he could not acknowledge that he was capable of this level of savagery unless Aeryn confirmed it.  “Aeryn?” he prodded when she didn’t answer. 

She was concentrating on her inspection.  While he waited, her fingers worked from one side of his left hand to the other, gently probing each knuckle and finger bone before moving on to the next.  Bone grated against bone, a sharp metallic jolt that radiated up his forearm.  “That's broken,” she said.

“I can tell,” he said.  “Answer me.”

Aeryn finished checking his hand, moved up his forearm as far as his elbow, and switched to his other hand before answering.  “Yes, you did that.”

“Me and what army?” John said.  “I can't beat Scorpius in a fair fight.” 

“There’s no such thing as a fair fight,” she said.  “Not where Scorpius is involved.”

“You know what I mean.” 

Aeryn sat back on her heels, stared at him for several microts, and then looked over her shoulder again, toward the group still gathered in the center of the corridor.  John followed the direction of her gaze.  It took several moments of searching and more than one glance back at Aeryn before he spotted the object that was holding her attention. 

It had taken him close to half a cycle to find the right kind of wood to make it.  It had not mattered to him that there was no ruling authority to check it for weight and density; he had wanted it to be as close to what they had on Earth as humanly possible.  He had known ahead of time that he would make mistakes, so he had hauled half a transport pod worth of lumber back to Moya.  It had taken a full half-cycle to fabricate a lathe to turn it, and another to transform log after log into a pile of shavings until he was satisfied with the results.  He had finished polishing it just that morning -- a cycle’s worth of work finally ready to teach DJ about a uniquely American past time.

John had trouble getting air into his lungs.  It took several tries before he could speak, and even then it was a close-run contest between producing words and vomiting. “I was going to give it to DJ.” 

Aeryn rested a hand on his shoulder and began to rub the back of his neck.  The firm rhythmic pressure seemed to be as much to steady herself as it was to relax him.  “You didn’t.  You hit Scorpius with it.” 

A memory crawled out of whatever dark, psychic lair it had chosen to hide in.  He remembered winding up, stepping into the swing as though trying for a home run, the impact when he connected.  No portion of the sensation had resembled connecting with a fast ball.  It had been closer to the time he and some of his friends had tried hitting lines drives with half-grown, undersized watermelons.  Initial resilience, the outer skin giving way to bludgeoning force, the sloppy follow through spraying innards over the entire group of laughing, running teens.  They had gone swimming afterwards, cleansing themselves of the sticky juice-and-seed entrails.

There was no place to go swimming aboard Moya.

He wanted to say something about how after today he would never be able to teach DJ about baseball and couldn’t find the right words.  He could not move beyond the paralyzing thought that DJ had watched the entire beating from the first preemptive strike to the final blow.  It was no surprise that his son had been howling in fear.   

“John.” 

Compassionate pressure from her hands forced his head away from the group gathered around the motionless, battered and spattered body.  Crichton’s eyes lingered even after his head was turned; horrified fascination kept his gaze trapped on that vision of inhumanity for as long as he was able to keep it in view. 

“John.” 

This time he looked at Aeryn.  “Why the hell didn’t I just shoot him?  It would have been quicker and easier.”  Winona was right where she belonged, securely clipped into the holster on his thigh.

The comment drew a humorless smile from Aeryn.  “I don’t believe this had anything to do with trying to kill him.”  She paused, then added, “Do you?”

“I -- I don’t know.”  The group around Scorpius had begun to break up.  Crichton tried to look in their direction.  Firm fingers against his jaw kept his head turned in Aeryn’s direction.  “Is he dead?” he asked.

Aeryn’s nonchalant shrug seemed to suggest that she didn’t care about the answer to that question.  “That doesn’t matter right now.  We have to talk about something more important.  John, you’re going to have to explain why you did this.  Do you understand?  The eidelons, they think you’re --”

He missed the last word.  “Say it again.  I’m what?”

“Krijsho’ol, John.  They’re saying you’re krijsho’ol.”

The word refused to translate.  Even after three tries, his microbes weren’t providing an English equivalent.  It didn’t matter, though.  He had heard the term before, cycles ago, in the most horrific surroundings imaginable.  He had learned the word from a half-crazed, disarmed pilot that had survived too many cycles aboard a rotting, dying leviathan. 

“Criminally insane.”  The syllables emerged in a distorted parody of speech, produced by lips and a tongue that had gone numb from shock.  “They think I’m nuts.”

Aeryn scrunched down lower so she could face him eye to eye.  She lowered her voice to a sibilant gust of air, quieter than a whisper.  “They say they won’t intercede on our behalf unless you convince them you had a good reason for doing this.  They won’t protect us, John.  They won’t interfere if either side decides you should be imprisoned.” 

He watched the subtle play of muscles in her face, interpreting each miniscule shift, adding layer upon layer of meaning to the simple statement. 

Too many people living at this end of the universe knew the name John Crichton.  Too many power-hungry governments still believed that he held the secret to ultimate power.  If the scarrans or the Peacekeepers decided that today’s demonstration of psychotic brutality was sufficient excuse to take him into custody -- effectively putting him at the questionable mercy of those two twisted regimes or any other remorseless autocrat with both a taste for power and the wealth to purchase John Crichton from his captors -- then he and his family would be forced to pack up all their possessions and run.  The likelihood that they would ever find another place where they could raise their children in safety was slim.  Perpetually hounded, living on nothing but nerves and bad luck, jumping from one disaster to the next, always wary, always wondering where the next attack would come from:  He couldn’t do that to his family. 

A suspicion he had been harboring for several dozen solar days suddenly seemed of critical importance.  He needed to ask a question, needed to hear the answer even if it had little bearing on his decision how to handle the next several arns.  “You’re pregnant again … aren’t you?” he whispered. 

Aeryn’s fingers were conducting a systematic search pattern from his forehead to his chin, continuing her slow, methodical check for injuries.  A thumb stopped next to his right eye.  It prodded, a cross between a caress and a cautious touch with more intent behind it.  There was the hot ache of bruised flesh, underlain by a needle-sharp spike that radiated outward from wherever her thumb was probing at the moment, signaling that there was a deeper, more serious injury.  Scorpius had gotten in more than one or two blows. 

“Aeryn, are you pregnant?” he asked again when the silence had stretched out for too long. 

The dark hair swung and bounced briefly.  A nod.  “Yes,” she said. 

He did not bother asking if she had released the stasis.  It did not matter.  He held three lives in his hands now, not two.  Three lives, not counting his own, had been forfeited the moment he wound up for his first home-run blow to the side of Scorpius’ head.  The weight of that additional life, as well as Aeryn’s, since she would be more vulnerable during her brief pregnancy, settled onto his shoulders.  He could just barely envision being on the run with Aeryn at his side and DJ in tow.  The three of them might be able to make it on their own if they were forced to leave Moya.  They might be able to find a secluded corner of the galaxy, hide, lay low until the name John Crichton no longer meant anything to anyone who mattered, and live out their lives in wary, permanently vigilant peace.  The addition of an infant to their family would change everything. 

The words didn’t exist to tell Aeryn how badly he had just screwed up their lives.  The best he could do was a whispered, “I’m sorry.”

Aeryn’s response was calm, carrying no anger or blame, and left no room for argument.  “Don’t be.  I understand why this happened.  But you’re the only one who can fix it.”

Crichton pried his eyes away from the blue-gray ones that were watching him so intently, and focused instead on the spot four motras down the corridor.  The body encased in black leather was gone, as was the small crowd surrounding it.  Four eidelons remained:  serene, patient, their thoughts hidden behind impassive stares, bodies almost unnaturally still, waiting for some kind of explanation.

Aeryn said, “I can explain it to them, but it won’t be enough.  They are going to want to hear it from you.  Can you do it?  Can you explain to them why you did this?” 

The easy, overly-simplistic answer was that he had done it for his son.  He had been searching for DJ in an absent-minded fashion, allowing his route through Moya’s corridors to wander as badly as his thoughts, thinking about baseball, about teaching DJ how to throw and catch, about Earth and home and his father and everything that made childhood safe and fun.  He had strolled around the corner without a care in the universe to discover Scorpius down on one knee, smiling in his feral, cadaverous way, talking to the boy and about to hand him a shiny object.  That was the last thing John remembered clearly.  There had been a click inside his head, a furnace-like heat had sprung to life in the center of his chest, and the next thing he knew Aeryn was tossing him halfway across the tier. 

“DJ,” he said.  “Scorpius was talking to DJ.”  Even as he said it, he knew he was explaining the trigger, not the underlying cause. 

Aeryn put the problem into words for him.  “That won’t be enough.  They won’t understand.” 

He didn’t need to look at Aeryn in order to know what he would find in her eyes.  She knew all too well the sorts of things he would have to tell the eidelons in order to safeguard his family, and she knew what it would cost him.  He would have to go all the way back to the beginning.  He would need to find the words to explain everything he had been through during his first five cycles in the Uncharted Territories, and how each event had been heaped one on top of another until enough had gone wrong to transform him from mislaid astronaut into terrorist and homicidal psychopath.   

Bewilderment, loss, and confusion; heartache, heartbreak, and the ultimate Aurora Chair headache.  Death, hunger, and cycles worth of despair; torture, fear, and anguish; starvation, humiliation, and the worst possible kinds of degradation.  Every last detail would have to be laid out for the eidelons to examine.  He would have to strip himself of his emotional armor, bare each and every psychological scar, stand naked before them, and willingly show them every horrific event he had encountered since the moment he first laid eyes on a leviathan called Moya.  He would have to put into words how many times he had failed his friends and family, how he had discarded all the values he had been raised to believe in, and had, in the end, resorted to a threat a million times more horrific than nuclear terrorism in the vain hope that it would broker peace. 

And worst of all, he would have to make them understand how Scorpius had been intertwined into each and every one of those events. 

“I --” 

He wanted to say that he couldn’t do it.  John dropped his gaze to his hands for several microts.  When he looked up, Aeryn was still waiting -- patient, confident in her love for him, aware of the price he would have to pay in return for their continued safety.  She would go with him without a single complaint if he said he couldn’t do it.  Aeryn would pack up all their possessions, say goodbye to Pilot and Moya, and strike out into the unknown stretches of the galaxy with him if that was what he said he had to do. 

“I’ll talk to them,” he said.

“Let’s take care of you first.”  She nodded toward his broken hand, the least of his injuries. 

John flexed his fingers several times before closing his fist tightly.  He waited, assessing the level of discomfort, then squeezed harder.  The pain flooded up his arm all the way to his shoulder; it cramped the muscles in the back of his neck, knotted his stomach, and flooded his mouth with the taste of burnt sand.  It was good.  The pain would help.  It would distract him, give him something to concentrate on when a different kind of agony urged him to cut his story short and leave the room.  He shook his head.  “After.” 

Aeryn didn’t argue with him.  All she asked was, “Do you want me to come with you?”

That decision took longer.  He wanted her there with an intensity that would, if he relaxed his control for too long, summon tears.  Having Aeryn there, even if only to stand silently in a corner, would lend him strength and keep him focused on why he had to explain the unexplainable.  But at the same time, he did not want her to listen to some of the confessions he would have to make over the next several arns.  “Yes … and no,” he said. 

Aeryn answered that demonstration of indecision with a kiss.  It was gentle and yet demanding, full of the promise of the time they would spend together in the cycles that lay ahead and an affirmation of what they had endured in the past.  It told him more about how much she loved him than words could ever express.  “Which would be better?” she asked.

“I think … no.  I don’t want …”  He trailed off, searching for the right combination of words to explain why he did not want her there, and afraid she would be hurt because he had said no. 

Aeryn smiled at him and confirmed what he had always suspected:  that under certain circumstances, she had the ability to read his mind.  She struck directly at the heart of what he was having trouble expressing, leaving no room for uncertainty.  “You aren’t weak,” she said.  “No matter what you have to tell them in order to make them understand, remember this one thing:  Nothing you say could ever convince me that you are weak.” 

Aeryn rose to her feet in one of her deceptively graceful movements.  She paused beside him long enough to bestow a gentle caress on the top of his head, and then turned to leave.  “Comm me when you’re done.  I’ll be waiting.” 

Aeryn would be waiting.  No matter what he did, no matter how lunatic or stupid or mindless he behaved, Aeryn would always be waiting for him -- Aeryn and DJ and a second child yet to come.  It was enough.  That single thought would give him the strength he would require over the next several arns. 

Crichton struggled to his feet, feeling the hot cramping evidence all over his body that said Scorpius had not gone down without a fight -- that the battle had not been as one-sided as the outcome had made it appear -- and began his slow journey toward where the eidelons were waiting.     


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
24
Crashfic / In Passing (G) - 4th Starburst Challenge
« Last post by KernilCrash on June 10, 2016, 10:41:02 AM »
Good evening, Scapers!

Once again, I offer you a hideously late response to a Starburst Challenge!!  The good news is I'm making some progress at finishing up a few of these poor, dusty, languishing fics.  The bad news is that I'm not completing one a month, so I'm falling even further behind.  :laugh:  I'm holding out some hope that I may manage to reverse that trend at some point this year.

Hopefully the story is worth reading even if it's over a year late.  Thank you to Nanse for posing the challenge, and spurring the creation of this story. 

Hope you enjoy it.

Crash
:sonar:




In Passing

* * * * *

Starburst Challenge 4 (hosted by Nanse):  Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to choose a character that you either do not like, or you don't normally write and craft a story from their point of view.  This can be first person or third person as long as we get a peek into the character's head.  Main characters are not just welcomed they are encouraged.  The only requirement is that the character you choose is someone you normally don't write about.

Rating:  G.
Disclaimer:  The characters and universe of Farscape are the property of the Henson Co.  I have not made any profit off this little tale … with the possible exception of having a ton of fun writing it.   
Time Frame:  Future Fic. 
Test Driver:  PKLibrarian test drove this just prior to the final edit.  I have made a very few changes since then.  Any errors, omissions, or typogoofical errors are all mine.   

Note to the reader:  I combined two writing challenges into one with this small tale.  I have wanted to tackle a story written in second person for a very long time.  Nanse’s challenge and my own personal challenge came together.  I hope it works for you. 


* * * * *


So many souls.  So many voices.  Talking, shouting, singing, gibbering, crying, wailing, weeping, rejoicing, recanting, chanting, each one screeching out a tale of life, love, and eventual loss.  Each one clamoring for attention.  Tens of thousands of life energies, the chaotic harvest of more than five hundred cycles awash with life and death.  A furious chorus, gravel-throated and scaly-hided, rises above the swelling tide of confusion, shouting louder, making more strident demands, insisting that you give them ascendancy over all the rest.

“So many,” a voice croons.  “So many, so many, so many.”  It takes several microts to realize that it is your own voice; your own vocal chords that slide easily into a repetitive rhythm when you would have preferred that they stay silent.  That has been happening too often over the past several cycles. 

“So, so, so many.  Many, many, many, many.”  It becomes your mantra.  The words roll from tongue to lips in comforting rhythms, gradually rising to a chant.  They soothe your soul, exerting some small measure of order over the bedlam inside your mind. 

“Be calm,” a different voice says. 

You remember that you are not alone.  There are others gathered in this place, living beings made of flesh and blood … not mental specters, not remembrances of lives long past.  They stand in silent, respectful attendance, waiting to witness your final moments. 

“So, so many,” you say again, this time in a whisper.  You want them to understand the storm of souls raging inside your mind.  You want them all to know why it is so difficult to understand what they want of you.  What they -- the host of living, sentient creatures who have traveled from more than a dozen different galaxies to witness this moment -- want of you.  You want them to understand the chaos.

“Yes, Stark.  Many have gathered.  They are here to help you cross over to the next realm.” 

“No.  No, no, no, no.  You must listen.  Listen to me.”  You grab at the front of his clothing, pulling him close.  He is Stykera, as are all who fill the chamber.  This one looks familiar.  He does not wear the mask of the Stykera.  None of them do. 

This is your gift to them -- the gift you bestowed on your entire race.  It was you who discovered the secret to spiritual calm.  The memories come back in a rush, pushing the psychic mayhem to one side for the moment.  You clutch more fiercely at the attendant’s robes, hoping he will understand.  “Crichton!  It was Crichton who forced me to do it.  It was Crichton who gave us our future.” 

“Rest,” he says gently, trying to calm you.  “It is part of our history.  No Stykera will ever forget.” 

It was Crichton who had demanded that you become a repository for Yondalao’s special abilities; Crichton who forced you to find strengths within yourself that you never knew could exist.  You found new balance, shared the knowledge with the others, and in the end, an entire race cast off the mark of their servitude.  Baniks are still a slave race, but they are the mostly highly valued slaves in over four dozen galaxies.  Your people command inconceivable power, influencing the rulers of dozens of empires, all from a spot at the foot of the throne.     

“It was him,” you hiss to whoever is beside you.  Your voice shifts from whisper to a shriek.  “Salvation through violation!”  They have to make an exception.  You have to make them understand.  “You must, you must, you must,” you sing to him.  “I promised.  I promised them.” 

“You promised what, Stark?” 

“You have to take them.  Someone … someone has to take them.  You must.” 

“We cannot.  We will ease your passage, but we cannot touch the spirits that you carry within.” 

You are Stykera, too full of the remnants of life energies for even the most powerful of the priestly ranks to risk opening their minds to the potential deluge.  It is too dangerous.  It is forbidden.  But if they do not, the secret you have carried for over four hundred cycles will die with you.  You must make them understand. 

You try to tell them about the quiet core that rests deep within, about how it harbors strength, fortitude, a quiet sense of humor, and unquenchable love.  When the shrieking inside your mind becomes too much, it offers you solace; when your grasp on reality begins to slip, it provides a peaceful respite.  Without it, you never could have taught the others how to curb their energies, cast off their masks, and step out from beneath the weight of slavery.  There is a debt that must be paid.   

Your words tangle into senseless rhythm and rhyme, devoid of reason, empty of sentience.  Heads shake; eyes are downcast.  They don’t comprehend what you are talking about.  Your wail of despair echoes about the chamber, startling all who are gathered to witness your departure from this realm.  Mutters, grumbles, sibilant whispers.  They think you are insane.  It is nothing new. 
 
“You must,” you cry out.  “Just two!” 

“It will destroy whoever attempts it,” says the Stykera at the side of the bed.  “No one has learned how to select the essence of just one or two individuals from amidst the thousands that we carry.”

You pull yourself up, leaning close to whisper to him.  “I can protect you.  I can.  I will hold the rest back.  I know a way.  I have” -- you fight down a giggle -- “a plan.” 

He gets to his feet, unconvinced, and turns toward the assembly.  Several others approach; they join the hushed, conspiratorial discussion.  They discuss the matter for what feels like arns.  Finally, one of them kneels down.  “If you do this, you may be trapped between realms.”

You don’t care.  As your death approaches, you want this one thing more than you wanted anything throughout your entire life.  The debt must be paid.

A young one comes forward, full of vitality and strength, reeking of youthful confidence.  He is willing to make the attempt. 

“It is time,” someone says. 

There is no fanfare, no announcement.  All draw near.  Your world turns to pale spun yellow, suffused with a wondrous, spiritual light.  You concentrate, remembering, drawing out the moments of laughter and strife from amidst the jumbled chaos.  Thousands of others are held back.  Only two are allowed to fly free.  The plan is working.   

“There is only one,” the youngster says.  “I can find only one.”

“It is two,” you assure him.  “It only feels like one.  Take them.  Take them now.”

Crichton had passed over first, tens of cycles before Aeryn.  She had sought you out when her time drew near.  She had searched the galaxy for nearly two cycles just to be sure you would be there when she finally gave in to the passage of time.  You remember it as clearly as if you had helped her pass over just yesterday:  the rightness; the peace; the perfect, eternal melding of two souls into a single entity.  The happiness.  The love. 

They will be united forever this way, sustained through eternity by the energy of the Stykera, transferred from one generation to the next.  They sing to you as they make the transition, an entire symphony of gratitude and hope enfolded into a single two-microt burst of joy.  “Thank you.”

You look upward into the eyes of the young one.  Success.  He has them.  He knows.  He understands. 

“Promise,” you tell him.  It is so difficult to speak.  You are spent.  You have nothing left to give but the promise of the future.  “When it is your time, you must --”

“-- pass them on to another.”  He smiles.  “You have my word as a Stykera.  Be at peace, Stark.” 

You can let go then. 

The corporeal world fades from your senses, losing substance, releasing its grip for what you know will be the last time.  Your mortal body dissolves into fizzing energy and light, and then … nothing more.  No transition, no journey to the next existence.  You have not passed over.  The golden hued glow that represents the neither here nor there that exists in the tenuous space between realms begins to fade.  As warned, you have become trapped, forever suspended between one life and the next, stripped of the energy to complete the transition. 

The emptiness turns your shriek to silence; absent a body, you cannot flail in despair.  Handless, faceless, bodiless, you drift, dissipating into nothingness.  Everything you ever were will soon be lost, dispersing into an ever expanding cloud of separate twinkling energies until those too, at last, die out and go dark.  With the knowledge of irrevocable death comes peace.  The soundless hum of your energies shifts downward, becoming calmer, more at rest with what lies ahead. 

Gold turns to pale yellow, darkens to gray, fades toward the first hint of black.  But then, just as you are reaching outward into the void with acceptance, deliberately hastening your dissolution, your surroundings brighten.  Black turns to shimmering cobalt, lightens to luminescent blue shot through with gold.  You are gathered up, enfolded, gently coalesced into permanence and then firmly drawn through to the next realm by a force that you have only been able to dream about for hundreds of cycles.   

"Stark ... my beloved." 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
25
Crashfic / Wet Behind The Ears (G) - 3rd Starburst Challenge
« Last post by KernilCrash on June 10, 2016, 10:40:09 AM »
Good evening, all you wonderful and wacky Scapers!!!

I present for your reading enjoyment yet another over-a-year-late response to a Starburst Challenge.  I'm hoping to catch up one of these days ... weeks ... months ... whenever.  :laugh:  In the meantime, I hope you enjoy my latest late contribution. 




Wet Behind The Ears

* * * * *

Starburst Challenge 3 (hosted by guider): Your task is to come up with a story in which the religious or spiritual beliefs or rituals of one of the major characters (or one of the major races) is central to the tale.

Rating:  PG for a smattering of profanity (in English, not Sebacean).
Disclaimer:  The characters and universe of Farscape are the property of the Henson Co.  I have not made any profit from this story … possibly the opposite, considering the cost of paper and ink cartridges (for proofreading) these days.   
Time Frame:  A short time after the end of PKWars.   
Test Driver:  PKLibrarian.  I wasn't as tough on her as I was the last few stories.  She came through the process unscathed for a change.  :flower:

* * * * *

With the exception of several challenges unique to caring for a newborn while living aboard a space ship, fatherhood was shaping up much the way John Crichton had always imagined.  As expected, being a parent consisted of enduring arns of his son’s crying, impressive amounts of toxic biological waste, midnight feedings, a steady stream of diapers that needed to be washed, and very little sleep. 

The first three items didn’t surprise him.  He had done his fair share of watching over young cousins or neighbors during his teens on Earth, which meant that he remembered the ear-shattering shrieks with painful clarity, and the various types of hazardous waste that an infant was capable of producing were engraved on his memory for all time.  John had also overheard enough stories about middle-of-the-night meals that he had been sufficiently prepared for his role in the breastfeeding process.  As far as he was concerned, the rules were simple:  Never fall back to sleep while Aeryn was awake; be as helpful as possible considering that there was very little he could do aside from fetching burp cloths and making sure Aeryn was warm and comfortable; and never ever snap at her when she was tired and impatient.  He had already learned that snarling at a sleep-deprived, ex-Peacekeeper wife and mother was the fastest way imaginable to find himself holding a hungry, unhappy child while Aeryn very deliberately disappeared for an arn or two. 

The diaper situation he had misjudged completely.  The sheer volume of material that needed to be laundered on a daily basis was rapidly turning into a reeking, mountainous problem.  Leviathans had not been designed with daycare in mind.  Moya’s complex system of sluice troughs and reclamation chambers were capable of handling adult-generated types of waste, the occasional load of dirty laundry, and that was about it.  As far as John could tell, no one on this end of the universe had come up with an Uncharted Territories version of a Maytag washer and dryer.  When he asked Aeryn how clothes were cleaned when she was growing up on the command carrier, she treated him to one of her trademark ‘Prowler pilots don’t do that kind of labor’ stares, and stalked off without a word. 

His pursuit of a solution led to an extensive inspection of Moya’s fluidic and waste systems; followed by arns of contemplation about how an Earth-style washer and dryer worked, a scavenger hunt for the parts he had decided he would need, and half a solar day spent brainstorming with Pilot.  Two solar days of tinkering and swearing had converted several different sized cargo containers, some motors, a pump, a metra or two of pipes and tubing, and two sacrificial DRDs into a rudimentary front-loading combination washer and dryer.  To his dismay and the raucous amusement of everyone who had gathered to watch, the inaugural run of the Crichton Cleaning Service had transformed a load of soiled diapers into an enormous wad of shredded fibers.  An additional two day marathon of modifications and non-stop fiddling had, in the end, yielded their first load of spotlessly clean, dryer-warm diapers. 

The entire endeavor, while more than worth the effort, had been at the expense of sleep.  By the time John shoveled their third load of laundry into the cargo-container inner drum, added some cleanser, latched the door, and slapped the activation switch, he had been awake for the best part of three days straight.  So when he woke from an unplanned, unintentional nap to discover that Aeryn had relieved him of his scheduled baby-sitting duties, he didn’t question the baby’s absence for a single microt.  He murmured out a heart-felt, grateful, “God bless you, woman,” pulled the covers over his head, and went back to sleep. 

Paradise didn’t last long.  He was yanked out of blissful unconsciousness after what felt like no more than a few microts. 

“JOHN!  Wake up!” 

The thermal sheet and thicker insulation layers disappeared in a single, startling jerk.  Crichton sat up, bewildered, thick-headed from the combination of exhaustion and being hauled out abruptly of a deep sleep, feeling as though he had contracted an advanced and incurable case of amnesia.  Several microts passed before he remembered where he was and what he was supposed to be doing at that moment -- namely sleeping.  Aeryn was hovering over him, her entire body emitting sharp spikes of alarm. 

“What?” he asked.  “What’s the matter?

“Where’s D’Argo?”  She tossed the jumble of bedding into an empty corner of the cell. 

He started to say, “Dead, on Quajaga,” but caught himself before he could commit that particular mistake.  His brain continued to trundle along somewhere between ‘slow’ and ‘dead stop’.  “DJ,” he managed instead, differentiating between the Big D and Little D. 

“Yes, DJ!”  Aeryn grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him.  “Wake up!  Where is DJ?  Pilot doesn’t have him.  Neither does Chiana.  I checked the microt I found you asleep.  Where is he?”

That jerked him from nearly senseless to full alert in a single, unpleasant lurch of his stomach.  “I thought you took him.  I dozed off; he was gone when I woke.  I assumed you’d taken him.”  He was on his feet without any conscious recall of making the transition from lying down to upright; chilled, sweating, and panicked all at once.  “He can’t crawl yet; he’s too little.  Oh god, someone took him.” 

“PILOT!” they yelled together. 

“Pilot, has someone docked with Moya?” Aeryn continued alone.  “Who came aboard?”

John spent half a microt debating whether to grab his pants and boots.  Even at the worst of times, he didn’t usually dash about Moya clad in nothing more than a t-shirt, and black trunks.  Finding DJ was more important than taking the time to pull on footwear or clothing, he decided.  Pausing just long enough to snatch his pulse pistol out of its holster, he followed Aeryn into the corridor at a slapping, barefooted run. 

“No one has docked with Moya,” Pilot’s voice was saying over the comms.  “There are no ships within her sensor range.  We have detected nothing out of the ordinary for several solar days.” 

“Cloaked, then,” John said.  “Stealth trajectory or something like that.”  He waved Aeryn to the left, waited for her nod, indicating that she knew they were splitting up, then banked to the right.  “DJ is missing, Pilot!  Close all hangar doors.  Lock Moya up tight!” 

Guilt was combining with shock and fatigue to form a new emotion that felt like a heart attack.  The unpleasant sensation continued to spread, compounding with each additional microt that ticked by, transforming into a nightmarish level of confusion and disbelief.  He didn’t know where to start looking for DJ.  A single thought was derailing his attempts to make sense of what was happening:  This disaster was his fault. 

Once again, he had allowed himself to become fixated on one task to the exclusion of everything else … including good sense.  They could have muddled by washing diapers by hand for a few more solar days.  Driving himself to the brink of exhaustion in pursuit of a home-grown washing machine had been irresponsible.  Not confessing that he was having difficulty staying awake was irresponsible.  Falling asleep with DJ in his arms was irresponsible.  Not checking with Aeryn the instant he discovered that DJ had disappeared was criminally stupid.   

This entire mess was his fault. 

John stumbled to a halt in the junction of two corridors, and couldn’t decide which way to turn.  No portion of DJ’s disappearance made any sense.  Racing to the hangar bays felt like a waste of time, and charging from airlock to airlock was equally futile.  In the absence of at least one clue to suggest who might have taken their child, he couldn’t form a theory, let alone a plan. 

“This can’t be happening.  It’s all a bad dream,” he said.  “Someone tell me this is a dream.” 

“Shut up and keep searching,” Aeryn’s voice snapped.   

He hadn’t even realized he had grabbed his comms badge.  It was clutched in his left fist, unnoticed despite the fact that its edges were biting deep into his palm.  That discovery only served to add another layer of surrealism to the situation.  Two longs steps carried him to the side of the corridor.  Without hesitation, John bashed his forehead against one of Moya’s plated internal ribs, testing to make sure he was awake.  It felt exactly the way it was supposed to -- it hurt.  He wasn’t dreaming. 

“Aeryn?” he called over the comms.

“Search now.  Apologize later,” she answered.

Aeryn was running.  He could hear her boots pounding through Moya’s corridors each time she transmitted a comment.  She wasn’t standing, frozen, guilt-ridden, in the junction of two corridors.  Crichton turned in a circle, trying to choose a direction.  He needed to follow orders.  He needed to do what Aeryn was doing, and start searching for his son. 

Pilot’s voice stopped him before he could take a step.  “Commander.”   

“What?  Where do I go?”  He assumed Pilot wouldn’t be calling him unless he had found some clue where DJ had been taken. 

“I suggest you try the central sluice chamber.”

“Sluice chamber!”  He ignored the fact that Pilot’s suggestion didn’t make a lick of sense, spun in the correct direction, and took off.  At this point, following Aeryn’s and Pilot’s orders was all he had left.  “Aeryn!”

“I heard.  You’re closer.  Move it!”

“Moving,” he said, put his head down, and accelerated. 

It took fewer than twenty microts to traverse the tier, find a ladder, scramble down two levels, and sprint the final distance toward the sluice chamber. 

As he approached the door, he could begin to make out a single voice over the slap of his feet and the pounding of his pulse in his ears.  Rygel was inside the chamber, chanting, and whatever the midget monarch was saying, the words were consistently defeating Crichton’s translator microbes.  In yet another bizarre twist to an already nightmarish situation, it sounded as though the hynerian was repeating, “Rub a dub dub” in a drifting monotone.  The rhythmic, entrancing syllables were interspersed by a noise that Crichton recognized as the sound DJ made whenever he emitted slobbering burbles.  His son was either engaged in the most prolific generation of spit bubbles any human had ever witnessed … or Rygel had the infant’s head under water.

John let out a wordless yell of alarm, and accelerated to a flat out panicked run.  He skidded around the corner at the doorway, nearly fell over in his haste, caught his footing at the last moment, and ran full tilt into Rygel’s throne sled.  The abandoned chair, hovering close to the floor, caught him just below the knees.  Crichton twisted awkwardly, fighting for balance, caught one foot behind the other, and went flying headlong.  He hit hard, ignored the impact, let his momentum roll him over several times, and came back to his feet in a flailing rush.  One more bounding step carried him into the sluice trough.

He snatched the baby out of the dominar’s hands, paused just long enough to make sure his child was all right, and then turned his anxiety on the hynerian.  “Rygel, you freakazoid fruit loop!  What the hell are you doing with my son?” he bellowed.  DJ let out an unhappy wail.  Crichton lowered his voice, and continued, every bit as furious but more quietly.  “You whack job, have you lost your frelling mind?”   

“No, I haven’t,” Rygel said, glaring at John.  “And at least I had one to start with.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

Rygel’s impending answer was interrupted by Aeryn’s arrival.  She rounded the corner at a run, neatly dodged the floating throne sled, and slowed to a stop.  Her pulse pistol slid into its holster with an anti-climatic slither of metal against leather.  “Explain,” she ordered. 

Rygel focused an angry scowl in John’s direction.  “As Dominar, I at least took the time to learn a few facts before accusing one of my subjects of a crime,” he said.  “For all the cycles you’ve spent here, you still insist on spending most of your time running about in total ignorance.  You’re not just a fool, Crichton.  You’re an uneducated fool.”

“That’s a given.  Everyone knows I’m an idiot,” John said, accepting the criticism easily.  “Stop stating the obvious and explain.”

“I’m performing a Hynerian ritual.” 

“What ritual?  The drown John and Aeryn’s son ritual?” 

“I wasn’t drowning him.  I would never hurt him.  Look at him.  Does he look like I have mistreated him?”

John looked down at the child cradled in the crook of his arm.  DJ didn’t look damaged.  He didn’t even look upset.  If anything, now that the yelling had stopped, the baby looked healthy, moist, recently bathed and delighted to be at the center of all the noise and attention.  He kicked both feet several times, gurgled up at his father, and stuffed the fingers of one hand into his mouth.  Common sense waged a brief battle against the massive load of adrenalin that had been dumped into Crichton’s bloodstream over the past tenth of an arn … and lost the contest.  The fight-or-flight hormone had recovered from his initial mindless panic, gotten itself sorted out inside his body, and had clearly decided that ‘fight’ was in order.  He desperately needed to yell or hit, or to slam someone or something into a wall.  Rygel seemed like an appropriate target for his mounting rage.

Aeryn stepped up to the edge of the sluice trough.  She put her hand on John’s arm, cutting off another furious outburst before it could get started.  “What ritual, Rygel?” she asked. 

“The Rite of --”  The sentence ended in an extended bout of indecipherable Hynerian.  Once again, it sounded as though he was chanting, “Rub a dub dub.” 

John looked toward Aeryn, hoping her translator microbes had fared better than his.  Dark eyebrows quirked upward; she shrugged.  John turned back to Rygel.  “The Rite Of A Frog And A Kid In A Tub.  Fan-frelling-tastic!  Except that doesn’t tell us anything.  Rygel, spit it out.  What were you doing with the bambino, and why didn’t you simply ask us first?  And” -- he raised his gaze toward the ceiling, yelling to the room at large -- “why the hell didn’t Pilot tell us about this the first moment we began to freak out of our minds?”

“Don’t blame Pilot.  I made him promise not to tell,” Rygel said.  “I was afraid you would say no, so I didn’t ask for your permission.” 

“Pilot told us where to find him as soon as he realized we were upset,” Aeryn said quietly. 

John took in a deep breath and then let it out slowly, wrestling to get his need for violence under control.  “Okay, Pilot doesn’t get executed today.  You, Rygel, on the other hand, had better start making some sense in a hurry or you’re dead meat.” 

“I was performing an ancient Hynerian ceremony.  It is supposed to be conducted four solar days after a child is born.  I didn’t dare take him before now.”

“Wise choice,” Aeryn interjected.  “It probably saved your life.” 

“Focus, Rygel,” John said.  “Get to the point.” 

“Our religious sects believe that each child must be presented to our gods, that they might be acknowledged as sentient creatures.  Only then will they be watched over and protected.”  The hynerian’s eyebrows flexed upward as he regained some of his habitual confidence.

“You want D’Argo to be protected by the hynerian water gods,” John said.  “You don’t strike me as a religious mumbo-jumbo kind of a guy, Rygel.” 

“I’m not.”  The earbrows began to droop again.  “Not usually.  This is different.”

“Why different?  Different how?” John asked.

“It is different because of your lives, because of everything that has happened since the day the two of you met.  This little one will need every bit of help he can get in order to survive to maturation.  I wanted to perform the rites and then return him to you without you knowing what I had done, but your assumption that his life was in danger is exactly why you should take my advice.”  Rygel’s stare shifted between the parents several times before finally coming to rest on John.  “You think you understand life here, Crichton, but you don’t.  Not yet.  You are still an ignorant fool, and your son faces dangers that you cannot imagine.  But take him.  Take him away, and spend the rest of your cycles praying that he never needs the assistance of the Hynerian gods.” 

The sluice chamber was silent except for the quiet slap and slosh of tiny wavelets against the side of the trough.  John turned to face Aeryn, hoping he would find some insight there.  She was staring at Rygel:  calm, apparently unfazed by the recent alarm, and thoroughly unreadable. 

Behind him, Rygel broke the silence.  “If Zhaan had asked to perform this ceremony, would you have hesitated for a single microt?  No, you wouldn’t have.  You never once questioned the existence of her goddess.”

“No, I never questioned that Zhaan believed in her goddess,” John said, turning around.  “That’s the whole point.  It’s the idea of you serving as our intermediary that’s got me nervous.”

He was lying.  It wasn’t the thought of Rygel performing a hynerian religious rite over his son that had his stomach doing acrobatic flip-flops.  It was the possibility that Rygel was correct, that DJ would need more than the protection of his parents and a small measure of good luck in order to survive to adulthood.  And it was result of something else, something he had been trying hard to ignore for a good portion of the last four cycles. 

The rapidly expanding nest of rattlers in his gut were feeding off the knowledge that the odds of a solar flare occurring at the precise moment he guided the Farscape module into orbit around the Earth and that his entry vector into the atmosphere was at exactly the right time, angle and place to open a wormhole were so slim as to be negligible.  Add in the conversation he’d had with Aeryn one peaceful evening after Last Meal, when she had mentioned that it was nearly impossible for the pilot of a small spacecraft like the Prowler to time its trajectory accurately enough to ride a leviathan’s wake through starburst, and he was left with two choices.  Either Aeryn’s presence a motra to his left was the most blindingly absurd example of dumb luck … or they had been brought together at the fancy of an unknown, unseen intelligence. 

And there was no way to quantify the size of the coincidence that it had been this specific woman who wound up inside the cell with him that first day aboard Moya.  It could have just as easily been a male Peacekeeper, or some regulation-bound, unimaginative female with a collection of habits or opinions he detested.  But it had been Officer Aeryn Sun, the woman he loved so much he sometimes felt as though the molecules in his body underwent a transmutation every time she walked into the room.   

John wasn’t comfortable with the thought that a god had intervened in his life.  All through high school and college, he had deliberately surrounded himself with science, forming a view of the universe and life in general that hinged on observable, measurable parameters.  He had been forced to toss most of what he had learned during those years right out the door the day he had arrived in the Uncharted Territories.  Despite that, he had clung to science as his route to making sense of his new universe, always seeking out the logical, demonstrable answers.   

He never questioned his beliefs during the horrific moments in his life.  Torture, violence, death, and despair never triggered the queasy uneasiness that said he might not be traipsing through the universe unobserved by a higher power, after all.  It was in the peaceful moments that he most frequently found himself questioning how or why his life had taken the mind-boggling detour that had led him to his current existence.  Waking up in the middle of the night to find Aeryn snuggled in against his back; stubbing his toe on her boots because he still hadn’t adjusted to where she preferred to leave them; finding her underclothes mixed in with his on the shelves; watching her feed or bathe D’Argo -- these were the moments when he stopped breathing, held himself very still, and wondered if someone was watching over him. 

John looked down at the helpless creature cradled in his arms, was greeted by a wide-mouthed, blissfully innocent, thoroughly toothless grin, and discovered that the decision whether to let Rygel continue was an easy one.  Taking his eyes off that smile required a conscious effort.  When he finally managed to turn his head toward Aeryn, seeking her approval, she was staring steadily at him, waiting for his reaction.  He shrugged, canting his head to one side, silently asking her for her permission, and received an infinitesimal nod in return. 

“Okay,” he said, preparing to transfer DJ into the arms of the half-submerged hynerian.  “Finish the rites.”

“No,” Rygel said, backing away. 

“You go through all this, and then --” John began.

“Not that way,” Rygel continued, ignoring the half-finished protest.  “I should not be the one to hold him.  When the ceremony is done correctly, the parents hold the child together.”

“In here?” John asked.  “All of us in the water together?”

“Yes.”

Aeryn had begun unfastening her boots the moment she gave John her silent consent.  By the time John had confirmed that everyone was going to wind up in the sluice trough, she had already stepped out of them, removed her pulse pistol, and begun unfastening her pants.  A moment later, leather slithered to the floor.  Aeryn stepped over the humped edge of the pool without a single word. 

“Kneel facing each other,” Rygel instructed.  “Hold the child between you.  You must join together in order to introduce your child to the gods.” 

Feeling as though he was casting reason to the winds at the same instant he arranged to purchase liability insurance for his son, John slopped to his knees and then shuffled around until he was facing Aeryn.  Together, they followed Rygel’s instructions, making small adjustments until their family was arranged as he wanted.  They ended up with their foreheads almost touching, D’Argo lying enfolded in their arms between their two bodies, in much the same way he had come into the universe.  They remained silent while Rygel chanted the ancient invocations, fumbled their way through the responses in Hynerian when they were instructed, hoisted their son four times toward an imagined Hynerian sun, and then, with all of their hands hovering nervously in case he began to sink, they carefully set D’Argo afloat in the warm waters of the sluice trough in order to complete the ceremony. 

Most of it felt right.  At the very least, it felt as though they were hedging their bets rather than carelessly tossing away an opportunity to ensure their son’s future safety.  There was only one portion of the process that bothered John.  Throughout the entire ritual, in spite of his best efforts to take the rites seriously and no matter how hard he tried to sort out a translation, it still sounded like Rygel was singing, “Rub a dub dub.” 

* ~ * ~ *~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

As always ... 

Thank you for reading,

KernilCrash
:dk:
Purveyor of Hallucinations
26
Crashfic / Taste Test (G) - 2nd Starburst Challenge
« Last post by KernilCrash on June 10, 2016, 10:39:13 AM »
Good evening all you wonderful Scapers,

Allow me to start by saying that the 'SC2' in the thread title isn't a mistake.  This is, in fact, a response to Starburst Challenge 2.  (Jeeeeeeezum crowbars!  I'm only a flippin' YEAR late!  What's the problem?  :laugh: )  After a very long dry spell, I'm finally finding some time to write, and one of my goals this year is to finish off the ten or so stories that I dreamed up -- but never managed to get written down -- for the Starburst Challenges. 

At long last, hauled out from beneath a very large heap of moldering fics and dusted off, here is 'Taste Test'.  Thank you VTNJScaper for coming up with the challenge.




Taste Test

* * * * *

Starburst Challenge 2 (hosted by VTNJScaper):  Write a fic that takes place during the childhood of any of the recurring characters, and include just a bit of foreshadowing into the character’s Farscape future (the foreshadowing does not need to drive the story; it can just be a tiny blip in the background).

Rating:  G.
Disclaimer:  The characters and universe of Farscape are the property of the Henson Co.  I have not made any profit off this tale, and I’ll do my best to give the characters back the way I found them.     
Time Frame:  Approximately 25-30 cycles prior to Crichton’s arrival in the Uncharted Territories.
Test Driver:  As always … PKLibrarian.  One of these days, she really ought to consider installing airbags in that test vehicle of hers.  The ride this time was a little bumpier than usual.  ;D

Note to the reader:  When the Youses Muses Gang got a glimpse of this challenge, they went charging right off into the Land of Obscurity … in other words this story involves two relatively minor characters.  None of our favorite recurring characters make an appearance.  Since I managed to send my poor test driver, PKLibrarian, hurtling into a bottomless gulch when she read this, I will give away that one of my characters is from Losing Time. 

If I baffle you completely, or you want to be spoiled, the other character is …
(click to show/hide)


Hope you enjoy it.

Crash

* * * * *

He hadn’t intended to hurt anyone. 

He only wanted to play. 

No, Tallip, one of the elders admonished him.  You must not touch them in that manner.  Never, never do that.  They are fragile.  She surrounded him with her energy, pulled him free of his residence inside with the small sentient creature. 

But --  He let the thought drift away unfinished.  Arguing never accomplished anything.  The elders seldom admitted they were anything but right. 

But what? the elder asked. 

Tallip did his best to show her.  He tried to explain why he had chosen this specific alien creature -- one made up of uninteresting matter rather than energy -- to be his new friend.  It had been the gaily spiking mental energy flowing from the being that had beckoned to him; it had been the celebration of life that gushed forth, the orderly but constantly bounding imagination, the brightness that had reached out to Tallip like a beacon.  He had known from the first moment he sensed its life signs that this individual was an immature form of the species.  That had only served to increase his curiosity and his desire to learn more about it. 

He had wanted to share his knowledge of the universe with the first youngster he had ever encountered that he thought might be able to understand.  Tallip and his kind sailed through the ether, surrounded by the ever-shifting beauty of ion storms, of interstellar plasma, and the achingly beautiful glow of charged particles swept into ethereal patterns by the last breathless gusts of far-reaching solar winds.  No one else could splash so messily through a nebula; ricochet off the condensing gravity of a slowly compacting cloud of matter that would some day become a star; or swoop in lazy patterns through a hazy cloud of atoms until their outer shells ran layers thick with amorphous matter, and then streak away in a graceful arc, trailing a beacon of glowing matter. 

Most importantly, few other species knew how to play.  Tallip wanted someone to play with him.  All the other energy riders in his clan were too old to indulge in frivolous games.  The little one he had touched liked to play.  Tallip was certain of that.  He had felt it from half a solar system away.   

No more tasting, the elder chastised him gently.  Not even if it is only to play.  They are too easily damaged.  See what you have done.  The little one’s patterns have been permanently altered.   

Tallip learned a new emotion in that instant:  Guilt.  The elder was right.  He had damaged the being that he had hoped would be his friend.  The gay colors were gone, as were the ricocheting, soaring harmonies that had been flooding from its brain in complex auras.  The tones had soured; the threads of thought were snarled into distasteful tangles, turning back in on themselves, sucking the light and bright colors out of the creature’s existence. 

I’m sorry, Tallip cried, discovering psychic agony both within and without.  Can’t someone fix it?

No.  Once damaged, they can never be restored.  The elder caressed him for a moment, wrapping a wing of sympathetic energy around him.  You did not mean to hurt it.  There will be no punishment.  But it must never happen again.  Do you understand?

Yes, Tallip moaned on a dissonant frequency.  I promise.

The elder coasted away, leaving Tallip to reflect on his crime and the fact that it had gone unpunished.  He made a silent vow, one that none of the others could detect.  He would take the elder’s admonishment to heart; he would make sure it never happened again.  From this moment forward, he would dedicate his existence to making sure that no energy rider ever damaged a member of a weak, defenseless species again. 

Come, the combined intellects of the entire clan sang to him.  It is time to go … time to move on.

He ignored the summons, lingering, searching, seeking some sign that what he had done was not as catastrophic as the elder had pronounced.  Instead, the devastation had continued.  The bright spark was gone, replaced by a malevolent mentality.  It was every bit as brilliant as it had been since the day it was born, just as exceptionally intelligent as before, but dark with twisted intent. 

This is my fault, Tallip called to the damaged being, knowing as he did that his message could not be heard.  It was something he needed to say anyway.  I’m sorry I damaged you, Kaarvok.  Forgive me.

* * * * *

27
Crashfic / Re: The Chrysalis (PG-13 / NC-17)
« Last post by KernilCrash on June 10, 2016, 10:37:13 AM »
Part 5 

Aeryn woke several arns later, momentarily confused by the combination of pressures and sensations against her midriff.  The warmth of John’s body resting alongside hers was supposed to be accompanied by the muddled confusion of drugs and unending pain.  It was a pleasure that came with a cost, an indulgence of her mind that only lasted as long as she hovered in the brief territory between waking and sleep.  This time she was fully awake, she was alert, she didn’t hurt, and John was still there.  Taking care not to disturb him, she tucked an extra pillow under her head so she could look down at where he lay sprawled beside her, half on and half off her body.  They had migrated while they slept, coming to rest with John at an angle to her, lying facedown with his head on her stomach and one arm draped across her ribs. 

She watched him sleep, half expecting him to disappear each time she blinked.  It had happened too many times while she was aboard the Command Carrier for her to be absolutely certain it wouldn’t happen again.  Finally, aching for the additional proof that he really was there despite what her eyes and body were already telling her, she ran her fingers lightly over the close-cropped hair, doing her best to balance her need for tactile reassurance against her desire not to wake him. 

The light touch triggered a small chuffing noise, a cross between a snort and a sigh, followed by John’s arm tightening around her midsection.  Aeryn froze, waiting to see if the squeeze was a random movement on his part or if she had disturbed his sleep.  As far as she could tell, it was the former.  His breath went on streaming across her stomach in warm rhythmic floods, a sensation she had at one point feared she would never experience again except in her dreams, and his grasp around her body gradually relaxed, eventually returning to nothing more than the slack weight that had been resting against her when she woke. 

Aeryn let out the breath she had been holding out in an inaudible sigh, closed her eyes, intent on going back to sleep, and for the first time in too many days, finally relaxed.  The grasp around the middle of her body had done what nothing else could achieve:  It had satisfied her subconscious that John was alive and had been returned to her in one piece.  Her quiet prayers and fervent wishes had been answered.  Whatever the future held in store for them, they would face it together.   

Just as she started to fall asleep, John became restless.  It began with a series of twitches, an uncoordinated combination of jerks, miniscule muscle contractions, and a change in his breathing.  The tiny quivers began to escalate.  They merged, compounding, developing into a non-stop battery of fluttering eyelids, larger muscle contractions, uneven breaths, and the occasional gasp for air.  A nightmare, she realized at last, and she had left him mired in its grasp for too long.

Aeryn grabbed him firmly by the shoulders and gave him one hard jostle.  “John, wake up.”     

What happened next wasn’t so much a case of John falling out of bed as a display of human levitation.  One moment he was lying beside her, the non-stop twitches and shudders the only outward sign of whatever his inner mind was viewing, and the next moment he was lunging after something that wasn’t there, hands grasping at empty air.  Two microts later he was crouched on the floor beside the bed, looking as though his worst enemy was lurking somewhere close by.  Aeryn froze, in part because he had startled her, but also in order to give him time to recognize his surroundings.  She knew all too well the short-lived disorientation that accompanied this sort of lurch from sleep to awake, and the tumult of wild, illogical thoughts that would be bombarding him at that moment. 

John’s eyes flicked from one side to the other several times, performing a fast, erratic survey of their quarters, searching for something.  There was a final attack of muscular tremors, and then he seemed to contract in upon himself, pale skin melting into the half-lit gloom of their cell until only his head and shoulders were visible.   

Aeryn sat up, moving slowly, and started to say something.  What it was, she never could remember afterwards. 

John snarled.  There was no other word for it.  It was a silent snarl, consisting of bared teeth and a defensive cower, one of feral ferocity comprised entirely of instinct, devoid of sentience, as though somewhere in the fast transcendence between dreaming and this moment he had left his humanity behind.  The pre-waking twitches returned, but with new purpose.  Crouched on the floor with his body hunched protectively behind his forearm and knee, he looked ready to bolt out of the cell at the slightest provocation. 

Aeryn closed her lips on the words she had been about to utter, certain that whatever she chose to say would only make matters worse.  Shifting closer to the edge of the bed was accomplished in a series of slow cautious movements designed not to startle him.  Her silence and the absence of fast movements worked.  By the time she reached the limit of the padded mattress, he had already begun to relax.  There was no change in his position or in the wary scowl that remained locked on Aeryn, but he no longer looked as though the smallest noise would send him fleeing into the corridors.  She reached toward him with one hand, inviting him to return both to where he had been lying just moments ago as well as to the waking, tangible world. 

John stared at the outstretched hand, started to reach for it, retreated, and then made a second, more hesitant foray toward her fingers.  His hand stopped a full four denches from hers.  The twitches and jerks increased in intensity. 

Dreams, she remembered, and froze with her hand extended, uncertain whether words would make it worse or break the spell.  There were ten or more phrases begging to be spoken.  She wanted to say the simple and concise, “Come back to bed,” or at least assure him with an “I’m real,” hearkening back to a time when she hadn’t been sure whether John had been human or hallucination.  Her tongue and jaw ached from wanting to say, “You’re home now,” and she didn’t dare speak until she was certain she wasn’t about to repeat something that had happened in his dreams. 

In the end, after several microts worth of contemplation, Aeryn crossed the remaining distance herself.  She paused for a moment with her hand almost touching his, and then, for no reason she could explain, moved on.  Leaning forward, feeling a quiet twinge in her back from muscles that had not yet been asked to stretch this far, she touched his cheek.  John let out a strangled-sounding breath, closed his eyes, and leaned into the palm of her hand. 

“Dream,” she said. 

“Yeah,” he said on an extended sigh. 

“The bad one … from before?” she asked, although she already knew the answer.   

John’s reply wasn’t what she expected.  He pressed her hand against his cheek with both of his, leaned his head into the combined caress, and said, “Not this time.”   

He released her hand, crossed the short distance to the bed and crawled in next to her, resuming the position he had been in before his abrupt departure.  Even after he was settled with his head resting on her stomach and one arm draped across her hip, John continued to shift restlessly for a short time.  It was as though the physical contact was more than he could bear, an exquisite torture that was nine-tenths pleasure and one-tenth excessive delight that demanded physical outlet.  Whatever he was feeling, it ended quickly.  He brushed his lips across her stomach, bestowing a soft sliding kiss to one side of her navel, and then set his head down and didn’t move again except for an occasional bout of tiny trembles.  Aeryn went on caressing as much of him as she could reach without sitting up:  tracing the contours of his skull with the tips of her fingers, rubbing his shoulders, doing her best to provide his subconscious with the proof that she wasn’t a dream. 

It would be the touches, Aeryn decided, that would eventually heal him. 

Unprovoked hugs in the middle of the day; holding his hand when she normally wouldn’t choose to hang on to him; and leaning against his shoulder when they were sitting together at mealtime.   These were the things that would banish John’s lingering demons.  She would have to waylay him in an empty corridor, pull him into a secluded corner and kiss him for no other reason than to let him feel her body pressing against his.  There might have to be more long showers together, and the half-clothed hugging and wrestling silliness that John liked so much while they were getting dressed.  It would take time and effort, and deliberate intent. 

Just when she thought that it had worked, that the slow massage and her presence had allowed John to fall into the type of deep, dreamless sleep that did the most to heal and restore, he pushed himself up with both arms, rolled off the bed, and was gone.  It took Aeryn several microts to interpret the dim flashes of pale skin moving about the darkened chamber.  In the short time he had been on the planet, he had learned a new level of stealth.  There was no sound to provide extra clues as to what he was doing.  By the time she translated the fast moving patterns of light and dark into John locating a pair of the loose pants he preferred to sleep in and pulling them on, he had opened the grated doors of the cell and disappeared into the corridor.

Aeryn stared in the direction he had gone, considering the sorts of instincts that might have summoned him into the night when he could have remained with her.  She had hoped that the mental and emotional healing would begin right away, that there would be an immediate, even if incremental, improvement in his moods and behavior.  The silent, feral movements and his disappearance suggested that it might take much longer for him to recover.  Sighing, Aeryn mimicked his initial activity.  She wandered about the extensive mess in their quarters, managed to sort out a pair of her own pants and one of John’s insulated shirts without turning up the lights, pulled them on, and then crawled back into bed.

She had resigned herself to spending the rest of the night alone when she heard the hushed slap of bare feet striking metalloid leviathan floors approaching their cell.  John paused in the doorway long enough to wave a hand across the door controls before scrambling in under the covers, moving with a peculiar awkwardness throughout the entire process.  Even his customary athletic gait had lost its usual relaxed grace. 

It was the lack of coordination that provided Aeryn with the critical bit of information necessary to realize where he had gone.  He hadn’t been skulking about the corridors after all.  It hadn’t been the dark and the silence that had drawn him into the labyrinthine corridors of the ship, urging him to reproduce some portion of his lethal nightly patrols.  An entirely different type of summons had lured him away from their bed. 

“I’ll take him.”  Aeryn reached for the fragile cargo he was carrying, offering to relieve him of the reason for his clumsiness. 

John transferred the warm bundle of a sleeping infant into her embrace.  Then he burrowed one arm beneath Aeryn and wriggled in beside her.  She knew what he wanted without having to ask.  John loved to lie with her tucked in alongside his body, with the baby resting securely in the angle between her torso and his chest.  He didn’t care that her weight sometimes cut off all sensation to the arm underneath her.  The arrangement allowed him to hug her and cradle his son at the same time, embracing both of them while leaving one hand free to touch one or the other.  Aeryn shuffled carefully to one side to make room for him, taking care not to jostle the lump of blankets and baby.  Miraculously, they managed to get settled without waking D’Argo. 

“Told you so,” John whispered with his lips brushing her ear. 

Aeryn spent several microts trying to remember a comment or event that justified an ‘I told you so’.  A hasty mental review of most of the evening’s conversations yielded nothing worthy of what she considered one of the most annoying of John’s many habitual phrases.  She raised both eyebrows and gave him an infinitesimal shrug, signaling her confusion. 

“I told you I could get in and out of Rygel’s cell without waking the sprout,” he explained in the softest of whispers.  “Mini D didn’t even bat an eyelash when I picked him up.” 

He might as well have yelled it.  The final syllable was barely out of John’s mouth when D’Argo let out a quiet squawk of distress, looked up at his parents, and started to cry. 

John sat up, carrying both mother and child along with him.  “Me and my big mouth.”

“Could you repeat that last sentence?” Aeryn said, struggling to smother a laugh.  “I couldn’t hear it over the crying.” 

“Go ahead.  Bust my chops.  I earned it.”  He paused just long enough to make sure the bawling bundle was tucked securely in Aeryn’s arms; then rolled out of bed for the third time in less than half an arn.  There was no sign that he might be tired, no hint that he had done anything physically strenuous within the past few arns, no suggestion that the overly lean body required rest or nourishment.  Every bit of his energy was committed to the needs of his son. 

John tripped over a heap of clothes, recovered, and spun around so he faced the bed.  “This time of night, he’s probably hungry.”  He was walking backwards, headed for one of the cell doors, using both hands to puntuate his sentences.  “You check him for a toxic waste discharge; I’ll get him something to eat.  Where do I look?  Center chamber?”

“Rygel’s quarters will be faster.  He had the DRD’s install a warmer so everything he needed to care for D’Argo would be close to hand,” Aeryn said.  “There are --” she began, intending to describe the feeding containers and their contents. 

He waved off the impending description of the warmer and its contents.  “They’re baby bottles of some sort.  I’ll figure it out,” he said, and disappeared at a run. 

Aeryn stared at the empty doorway and the vacant corridor beyond, letting her thoughts wander with little impetus or direction.  It was the aimless journey of a tired mind, driven erratically from one thought to the next by a combination of fatigue and the overwhelming clamor coming from D’Argo.  Some facet of John’s exit from their cell was begging for a connection.  There was a conclusion to be drawn; she could feel it.  Her thoughts ricocheted from John’s cheerful, energetic departure through most of the evening’s insights and revelations, interspersed with fragments recalled from their cycles together.  All she managed to assemble was that she would never understand how an infant’s tiny lungs could produce so much noise.  After several additional microts worth of unproductive mental drifting, she shrugged, got to her feet, and began to wander around the cell, hunting for the absorbent cloths they normally used to mop up the inevitable messy burps and slobbers. 

Miraculously, D’Argo’s screams trailed off into irregular squawks of distress and the occasional hiccup, and then he stopped crying altogether, possibly because he was being lulled by the gentle rocking generated by Aeryn’s slow tour of the cell or because he had been shocked into stunned fascination by the devastation his parents had wrought on their quarters.  Aeryn offered up a silent thanks to any deity that might have had a role in the unexpected silence, tacked on a brief appeal that John would hurry, and kept walking. 

Under the combined influence of the unanticipated tranquility and the steady pacing, a memory tumbled loose, one with a tenuous connection to her present situation:  John holding a newborn D’Argo at arm’s length while he stared in disbelief at the cream-colored vomit adorning the front of his shirt and pants.  He had looked up to discover Aeryn watching him from the doorway, and had begun to laugh.  The disorganized morass inside her head shifted, rearranging the component parts.  Dissociated ideas fell into a swirling whirlpool, spun wildly until they bumped up against other fragments of thought, and eventually began to take on some semblance of order, all revolving around John’s delight at being a father. 

There was no great stunning revelation, no sudden thump of understanding or burst of enlightening insight.  It was as though a fog inside her head was being pushed aside by a sun-warmed breeze, allowing her to survey a landscape that had been hidden from sight.  What emerged into view was the fact that no one had gone unscathed in their latest debacle.  There were injuries all around, ranging from her physical wounds, to the emotional damage suffered by the littlest, most helpless member of their family, to the spiritual devastation that John had inflicted upon himself. 

But they were healing.  The lingering discomfort and stiffness resulting from her injuries were fading with each passing day.  Vitality was returning at the same rate that the occasional bouts of internal weakness were fading. 

“And you’re almost back to normal, aren’t you?” she asked D’Argo. 

In lieu of an answer, he took in a deep breath, standard preparation prior to unleashing a shriek of unhappiness … and then stuffed all five fingers of his right hand into his mouth and began to suck on them.  This was her son, at last.  This was the child that had come into the world in the midst of a blazing battle, who accepted most of life’s bumps and irregularities with cheerful equanimity, and who seldom continued to cry once he had his parents’ attention.  He had disappeared for a short time, replaced by a fussy, insecure, permanently unhappy creature who frequently went on crying long after he was changed or fed, despite being snuggled and rocked for arns on end. 

The pattering thud of bare feet approaching their cell at a run heralded the return of the third and equally damaged member of the family.  Aeryn couldn’t venture a guess at how long it would take John to put the recent events behind him and begin to re-clothe himself in a protective armor built out of love, humor, and intelligence.  The length of her recuperation was easy to measured:  thirty-one solar days had passed between the moment she had been shot to the day she was discharged from the Command Carrier’s medical sector and set foot back aboard Moya.  D’Argo’s emotional recovery was just as easily defined.  But only one person knew for certain the distance John Crichton would need to travel and what difficulties lay ahead; only John could predict how much time might pass before he was once again barging through life in his customary brash fashion, spouting Earth nonsense the entire time.   

The focus of her thoughts rounded the final corner into the cell at a lope, nearly lost his balance, recovered, and bounded to a stop next to the bed.  “One bottle of Chateau Moo, as ordered, warmed to twenty degrees above ambient, and elegantly presented.”  He bowed, offered Aeryn one of the absorbent cloths of the sort she had been hunting for, and then delivered the feeding container to her with an elaborate flourish.   

She checked on D’Argo’s reaction to John’s wild arrival.  Her once-again phlegmatic son was staring up at his father, eyes wide, fingers still firmly inserted in his mouth.  Somehow managing to produce a look of deeply philosophical serenity despite spit-covered fingers and a gleaming bubble of drool at the corner of his mouth, his eyes shifted to Aeryn for a moment, then back to John, and finally settled on the person who was holding his late-night meal. 

Aeryn smiled, leaned down to touch her nose to his, and whispered, “Daddy’s home.” 


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


Thanks for reading, 

Kernil Crash
:dk:
Still ... Purveyor of Hallucinations  ;)
28
Crashfic / Re: The Chrysalis (PG-13 / NC-17)
« Last post by KernilCrash on June 10, 2016, 10:34:38 AM »
Part 4 

Rating:  NC-17

John had retreated to a poorly lit corner of the cell to dry off.  He was there now, back turned toward Aeryn, the pale contours of his body flickering in a ghostly fashion as he moved about in the shadows.  The towel lingered long enough at hip level that she assumed he was busy doing something far less innocent than simply drying his crotch.  After several dozen microts worth of effort, his shoulders dropped, he let out a long sigh, and then he began toweling his legs. 

“Tired?” Aeryn asked. 

He didn’t bother turning around.  “No.” 

“Hungry,” she suggested next.   

“I haven’t been hungry since everyone aboard Moya decided I needed to be fattened up like the guest of honor at Thanksgiving dinner!  There is a galaxy-sized draft north of my ears, which is my own fault for not remembering the drawback to cutting off all my hair, but other than that I feel fine.”  John finished drying his feet, treated his barren scalp to a final two-handed flurry with the towel, and lobbed the damp cloth into the waste alcove.

“Do you want to talk about it?” she asked. 

He turned to face her.  “No!  Guys do not talk about this sort of thing!  We hide in a corner, develop a complex about it, blame our mothers or our first grade teachers for making us insecure, and we worry ourselves into permanent impotence over it, but we do not talk about it!” 

“Right.” 

Despite the loud delivery and the wild gesticulations that had accompanied it, John wasn’t engaging in any of his usual behaviors that signaled either emotional distress or anger.  Whatever was causing his lack of physical arousal, John wasn’t genuinely worried about it … yet.  Unfortunately, deciphering the energetic signals he was putting out didn’t provide Aeryn with a clue how to proceed.  She had never been faced with this predicament before.  For as long as she had known him, John had been ‘capable’ to the point of being oversexed. 

The problem wasn’t due to a physical injury, she reasoned.  If it were, John would be more upset.  That left some combination of psychological or emotional difficulty that was interfering with his usual fast rise to the occasion. 

She tried to imagine what it would have felt like if the other Crichton had miraculously come back to life and had asked her to make love to him within a few arns of his resurrection; what emotional penalty she would have paid to cast her grief aside and once again give herself over to the one person in the universe who could destroy her with nothing more than his absence.  Summoning up the emotions wasn’t difficult.  The fear was readily available, there to be tasted and experienced once again:  unforgotten, biding its time, buried deep within.  It held the power to turn each and every caress into an agony.  His kisses would taste of the sweet joy of love and the rank bitterness of loss, intermingling until there was no way to pull them apart, giving and taking away with each tenderly lipped endearment. 

The complex tangle of memories and emotions would no different for John.  Every touch, every caress, every kiss would have to be shared between past, present, and future; forever suspended between the fear of loss and the promise of what the cycles ahead might hold in store for them.  In simplest terms, this was nothing more than an advanced case of distraction.  He was attempting to divide his attention between cherishing her presence, silently celebrating the fact that she was alive, and the more visceral aspects of recreating.  The smallest, most innocuous detail -- a blink, a bead of sweat, a breath, the touch of her fingers against his chest -- might be enough to disrupt the unthinking sort of mental commitment necessary to achieve and maintain an erection.

While she had been sorting through the collection of imagined thoughts and emotions, John had begun a slow orbit of their quarters.  The course he was following kept him at a constant distance from the bed, drawing no closer and yet drifting no farther away.  Earlier, in the midst of the battle to discover what was causing his life-threatening apathy, he had circled the cell in search of an escape route, attempting to flee, his body shrieking out its desire to run away from an unsustainable level of guilt and self-loathing.  Now, with that particular crisis no more than a couple of arns behind them, he was circling again, only in reverse.  This time it looked as though he was attempting to approach the bed but was being pushed away by some invisible force. 

Each lap took him through some of the most cluttered portions of the cell.  The whispering slap of bare feet striking metalloid floors marked his progress over and through the heaps of clothing and collections of possessions that had been assembled by the DRDs.  The jumble of items didn’t interest him.  As far as Aeryn could tell, aside from the obstacles they presented, John wasn’t even aware that there was anything beneath his feet.   All of his attention was focused on something wholly internal.  She allowed him six uninterrupted circuits of the cell, and then stepped into his path, bringing him to a halt. 

“Would you like me to leave?” she asked.  “Would you prefer to spend the night alone?”

There was no hesitation between her questions and his answer.  “No.  Absolutely not.”

“What do you want to do?” she asked next. 

He stared off to one side for several microts.  Fingers scrabbled against his cheek absentmindedly, attempting to pluck at a beard that was no longer there.  “Love you,” he said eventually. 

His tone of voice turned the simple comment into an ambiguous declaration.  Aeryn wasn’t sure if he meant that he loved her, or if he was suggesting that he make love to her.  Hoping that he meant both, she placed her hands on his chest and began walking toward the bed.  It left him with two choices:  retreat before her advance or be pushed over backwards.  He chose retreat. 

“What were you thinking?” she asked as they shuffled across the cell. 

His hands dropped to rest on her hips.  Thumbs stroked her abdomen several times, and then he pulled her closer.  Their progress was just as gradual as before but better coordinated now -- a slow swaying migration across the cell that was half dance and half mode of travel.  John said, “About how much I love you.”

“And what else?” she asked.

A self-deprecating grin tugged at the corners of his mouth.  “Dear god, why won’t it work, why won’t it work, why won’t it work?”

“That explains why you were walking in circles.  It must have taken up your entire attention span.” 

“Pretty much.” 

The back of his legs hit the side of the bed.  He wobbled for a moment, struggling to maintain his balance, and then sat down with a thump.  Aeryn kept moving forward, pushing him over backwards.  John resisted for a moment, but it was only to give himself time to move further onto the bed and get turned around so his legs weren’t dangling off the edge.  After that he went willingly.  They came to rest with Aeryn perched on his hips, the soft, warm cushion of his balls and relaxed cock nestled between her legs.  It was a quietly erotic sensation, lacking force and intent.  She had sat in this spot often, much in the same manner as now, but there had always been a harder, more insistent pressure trapped between their bodies. 

John looked up at her.  The lingering grin widened into a smile.  “Hey there, missy.  Come here often?” he asked. 

The comment caught her in the midst of getting more comfortably situated straddling his hips.  Aeryn stopped moving in order to study his expression.  “Was that supposed to be one of your word trick things?”

It hadn’t been meant as a joke.  She could see it in the sudden quirk of his eyebrow and the infinitesimal shift of his eyes as he realized what he had said.  Rather than answering her question, he asked one of his own.  “Are you telling me that works out to a pun in Sebacean?” 

“No.  We have separate words for the two concepts.” 

John ran his hands lightly up her arms, paused for a moment at the full extent of his reach, and then let his fingers trickle back down to her hands.  Interlacing the fingers of his left hand into her right, he kissed each of her knuckles before answering.  “I didn’t know you were multilingual in smut.  I’ll have to watch what I say more closely from now on.”

Aeryn leaned forward to where she could stare down into his eyes.  “Perhaps not,” she said.  “Perhaps that was the right choice of words.”  It excited him.  The idea that she would derive pleasure from the evening’s activities brought a flush to his throat and chest, and a mild lurch of interest to the otherwise relaxed anatomy beneath her.  “I come here often,” she said, to see how it would affect him.  “Frequently.” 

Her verbal teasing shortened his breathing and tightened the skin around his neck and shoulders.  Tension, she diagnosed … of a good sort.  Even if there was no response from the lower half of his body, his libido was intact.  Sexual interest was clearly present, merely awaiting the right spark to achieve full ignition.  She considered asking him what would work best -- rough and strenuous, with heavy, demanding pressure and lots of friction; or a slower, less aggressive approach to generating arousal -- and discarded the idea immediately.  The last thing they needed at this point was for John to devote any more thought to what was not going on between his legs and its causes. 

After several more microts worth of deliberation, she said, “Close your eyes.” 

It was an enormous risk.  The chances that this would go wrong were greater than the potential for success.  John had spent too much time in total darkness, his grief and his fears playing out against an unyielding tapestry of black.  Asking him to willingly submit to even a voluntary form of blindness was asking that he relive a waking nightmare.  But it was also the best way she could think of to get him to focus on his own body instead of hers.  “Close your eyes,” she repeated softly. 

He ran his tongue across his upper teeth, and then caught his lower lip between his teeth and worried it, all the while staring up at her, considering her request.  The interval of silence yielded a quietly voiced, “I’ve been sleeping with the lights on.”

“I noticed.”  The lights were on at that moment, although reduced to a dim twilight that transformed all but the most distinctive features of their quarters to bronze-hued shadows.  With the exception of his short-lived retreat to the bottom of the neural plexus, John had not allowed himself to be caught in total darkness since he had returned to Moya.  Aeryn rubbed his chest several times then let her fingertips wander outwards along the ridges of his collarbones to the knobby humps at the top of his shoulders.  “This is different.  You’re not alone.  I won’t stop touching you for even a single microt.  Close your eyes.”   

His lower lip was subjected to several more microts worth of abuse.  “This could turn out to be your all-time worst idea ever.” 

“Possibly.”  She kissed him again, hoping to provide reassurance rather than passion.  When she straightened up, John’s eyes were closed. 

Staying true to her vow that she would not stop touching him was an exquisite pleasure, not a chore.  There was a body lying beneath her that cried out to be loved and cherished.  All too often in their lovemaking, John’s male physiology proved almost too easily satisfied when compared to what it took for Aeryn’s body to reach a similarly hyper-aroused state.  He was a generous lover, always concerned that she got as much satisfaction out of their moments together as he did.  But it meant that she seldom got the opportunity to make love to him -- not in the same way that he did to her.  She sometimes found herself wishing that nights like this happened more often:  nights when she could make slow, languorous love to him; first finding and then taking advantage of every erogenous spot on his body; jacking him up to a shuddering, moaning level of excitement before finally allowing him the blissful release of an orgasm, and then beginning the process all over again. 

Aeryn started with the underside of his jaw, easing from ear to ear with gently lipped undemanding kisses.  She migrated to the base of his throat, lingered there until he rolled his head back, giving her more room to nuzzle and kiss the underside of his jaw, and then worked her way slowly down the center of his body.  There were shoulders and arms and elbows for her hands to caress; strong fingers that intertwined into hers and held on tight, providing the pressure and proof necessary to convince his subconscious that she wasn’t going to vanish the instant he opened his eyes.  There were familiar ribs for fingers and lips to stroke, and the steep slide to the concave belly to be discovered.  There were hips and thighs, and knees and toes, each waiting to receive its lightly applied affirmation that she was nearby and wasn’t going to leave him. 

The erotic exploration spiraled slowly toward his hips, moving ever closer to the only portion of his body that had so far showed no reaction in response to what she was doing.  She settled into a pattern that had the power to evoke deep shuddering exhalations and complex snarls of tensing muscles even if it didn’t produce an erection.  Each circuit began with her fingers coasting up the inside of his thigh, pausing for a microt so her fingernails could rasp delicately along the inside of his leg a fraction of a dench short of his genitals, and then moved up and outward toward his hips.  Lips were brought into play when the route crested the angular heights of his pelvis, applying just the right amount of pressure to coax a guttural, unintelligible response out of John.  The touch of her tongue and gusting hot breaths took over as she moved down the center of his abdomen, coming to a halt a fraction of a dench short of her eventual target.  The line of his hip received a touch, a taste, a painstakingly slow traverse of lips that stopped short of the anatomy that she knew John would most want her to touch, and then the journey started over again.

She discovered a benefit to the honed-down body.  The small muscular twitches and reactions, normally blurred by healthy layers of fat, began to transmit a complex symphony of subtle physical reactions.  In the same way that an extended sequence of hand signals could combine into a graceful ballet that conveyed far more than an enemy’s location and troop strength, the tiny muscular twitches began coalesce into a saga of increasing physical excitement.  If she had been forced to rely on the deep sighs, groans, and the more obvious lack of reaction alone, she might have been fooled into thinking that her efforts were in vain. 

In the end, however, it took the most innocuous of touches to achieve what even the most vigorous and direct efforts had not accomplished.  It wasn’t until she had made a slow reverent pilgrimage back up his body in order to explore what it was like to have a nearly bald John Crichton in bed with her that the moment they were both waiting for finally happened.  It was as she was brushing her lips across the side of his head that John let out an extended airy groan and his entire body underwent a peculiar transformation, becoming at once more relaxed while achieving a new variety of tension.  He hauled in a strangled-sounding breath and let it out again, this time making the odd throaty exhalation that frequently accompanied his arousal.  “Do it again,” he whispered, opening his eyes for the first time.  “Do that.” 

She repeated it, this time running her lips across the upper edge of his ear while the fingers of her free hand stroked a whisperingly light pattern against the side of his neck just beneath his earlobe.  His eyes rolled back in his head, and he let out another of the almost-groans.  She could feel him starting to press against her hip where she lay half across his body, the increasingly rigid shaft expanding beneath her, becoming harder with each full-body surge of excitement.  Aeryn worked her way a few denches lower, this time kissing him on the underside of the jaw, on the spot close to the base of his throat that was, inexplicably, one of the stronger of his many erotic triggers. 

John let out another deep breath, this time accompanied by a slow rise of his hips, seeking out deliberate contact.  Aeryn slid her leg between his and leaned into him, massaging balls and half-stiffened cock with her thigh, subjecting them to a cautious nudging pressure.  The response was immediate.  Whatever had been interfering with his concentration -- be it distraction, depression, or concern over impotence -- was gone.  There would be no turning back from this point; she was certain.  He was fully focused on the signals being transmitted from loins to brain, plummeting into the depths of physical ecstasy. 

She moved back down his body, lips and tongue once again traversing chest, stomach, and belly, and subjected him to a warm, moist suctioning.  The noise he made this time was half way between a whine and a squeak -- the type of fast, high-pitched exhalation that came from a complete loss of muscular control.   

Aeryn pushed herself up on both arms to where she could get a better look at him.  John was blushing.  “Don’t mind me,” he said before she could comment.  “Carry right on with what you were doing.” 

“Are you hurt?”  Nudging his legs out to the sides, she delved cautiously between them with both hands, as though searching for any damage that might have gone unnoticed thus far. 

“Oh, dear god,” he gasped.  “No, no injuries.  It’s just … just been a while, Aeryn.  I’m --”  Whatever he had intended to say next was lost to a full-fledged groan that emanated from deep inside the center of his chest.

“There’s a backlog,” she said, fighting back a laugh. 

Mock inspection for injuries completed, Aeryn went on fondling the entire area between his legs, making brief forays outward to massage his thighs, alternating between a firmer grip and more vigorous encouragement, and lighter caresses of more sensitive areas.  After several microts, John shuddered, muscles leaping and quivering in random patterns, followed by the sound of his teeth clattering out a message concerning an over-charged nervous system.   

“If you’re not careful, something is going to explode,” he said.  One of his fists clutched spasmodically at the covers, knotting a fistful of fabric into a sweat-dampened bundle. 

“Should I” -- she paused long enough to kiss him -- “defuse you?”

“Whatever you do, you’d better make it quick.  There’s not going to be a whole lot of control tonight.”

Aeryn resumed the steady, firm stroking that she knew would maintain his interest.  A muscle near the top of his thigh began to tense and relax in time with the movement of her hand.  “You’re still feeling erratic,” she said. 

“Incendiary might be a better word at this point,” he panted out, “or maybe downright ballistic.  One small spark is all it’s going to take to put me into orbit.”

Aeryn took the warning seriously, hearing the truth buried amidst the humorous delivery.  If the entire evening had gone more smoothly -- if John had been able to achieve an erection more easily and it had taken less effort for them to reach this particular moment -- she might have been tempted to tease him.  She could have hovered a micro-dench above him, tormenting him with the promise of warm engulfment, occasionally lowering herself just far enough to make contact with the smooth glistening skin at the tip of his penis before pulling away; or she could have straightened up, stretched, yawned, and looked around the room feigning boredom, using nothing more than the sight of her naked body to increase his excitement.  There were nights when she subjected him to that sort of pleasurable torment, prolonging his wait for release until, according to John, he was on the verge of either getting down on his knees and begging her to let him come or staggering off to a private corner where he could finish the process on his own. 

This was not the night for those types of games.  Aeryn swung a leg over his hips, paused there for several microts because she knew that he loved this particular moment -- when he could look down along his body and see her poised there, hovering above his erect cock -- and then sank down onto him in one long slow motion.  It was a wondrous few moments, consisting of muscles stretching in unique ways to accommodate the thrusting penetration, and the delightful internal fullness that she had first imagined while they were still in the shower.  As she settled into place, she was treated to the sweet deep internal pang, the one that had the capacity to set her entire body to shivering and shuddering.  Aeryn rocked her hips hard against John’s, pressing downward, and found it again, infusing nerves she had almost forgotten existed with an ecstatic form of energy. 

It was a siren’s song emanating from the center of her pelvis, commanding her to cast aside any lingering urge to engage in foreplay, and to launch herself into the forceful, energetic thrusts that would generate that wondrous sensation again and again.  It said that the time for slow escalation had come to an end.  The desire to linger over every square dench of skin and each separate muscle was banished, replaced by an overwhelming hunger for movement, for exertion, sweat, and energy wastefully expended.  She threw herself into the effort willingly, reveling in the quiet aching burn of over-stressed muscles, the sweat slick slide of skin against skin, and the soothing cold crawl of droplets streaking down her back and ribs.   

There was a strangely quiescent lover in her bed.  John was normally an active, energetic participant.  Even on the occasions when she took the lead, he was never willing to lie still and let her do all the work.  It didn’t matter whether he was driven by passion, lust, love, tenderness, frustration, or even anger; John always seemed to be on a quest to achieve total physical exhaustion, seeking that special moment when he could slump down beside her, panting, sweating, drained in every sense of the word. 

On this particular night, he was content to lie back and watch, blue eyes performing the slow easy shift that meant he was examining each of her features in repetitive succession, noting even the smallest details, leaving it up to her to provide movement and friction.  Interest wasn’t lacking; only effort and involvement had gone missing. 

“Is this all right?” she asked, wondering if some portion of the arrangement was bothering him.

He gave her a curious, contented looking smile, closed his eyes, and, for a moment, seemed to relax.  The relaxation lasted less than half a microt, passing far too quickly for Aeryn to worry that he had lost interest in what was going on or that she had distracted him into a recurrence of impotence.  Beneath her, both inside and out, John’s body surged against hers, as though someone or something had just filled him to overflowing with energized plasma.  Almost too late, Aeryn realized that his lack of movement and involvement had nothing to do with his earlier depression.  What she had been observing was John dedicating every bit of concentration to maintaining a highly tenuous vestige of self-control. 

She froze in place.  All motion came to a stop.  Beneath her thigh, a blood vessel in his hip throbbed out a fast staccato beat.  “Do you need a moment?” she asked.

“No.”  The single word was expelled an entire lungful of air.  He took in a shuddering breath before adding, “But it might be good if you could hurry up a bit.”

Aeryn resumed the forceful, rhythmic rocking against his hips, searching for and finding the right position for the best application of pressure, deepest penetration, greatest pleasure for both of them.  “I should go faster,” she said.   

His hands, when they grasped her waist to provide added impetus, were shaking, and his breathing was becoming more erratic with each passing microt.  “No … no, that’s not what I meant,” he panted out one strained syllable at a time. 

On one hand, it didn’t seem fair to tease him at this particular moment.  On the other hand, the opportunity was too enticing to pass up.  “That’s what you said.” 

“Good god, woman.  You expect coherent thought at a time like this?” 

She watched his progression toward a physical explosion with pleasure, enjoying all the familiar signals that John was approaching the point of no return.  He started by slipping away from his surroundings, retreating to a place that she could never visit and would never truly understand.  The lingering smile gave way to a faraway dreamy gaze that meant his attention was shifting from touch, sight, and sound to wholly internal sensations; transitioning into the slack jawed, dazed look he got whenever his body was hurtling toward an orgasm; and eventually to the bared teeth and strained breaths that looked as much as though he was suffering as it resembled the final onset of physical ecstasy.  He let go of her waist.  Fists clenched.  Muscles bunched and tautened across his upper body.  He began to drive upward into her descent with more vigor, seeking the extra bit of tactile provocation that would summon him to the final culmination of their efforts.  Aside from the fluttering eyelids and the way his eyes were rolling back in his head, he looked and sounded like he was in agony.  And yet, amidst all the signals that suggested otherwise, the pleasure was unmistakable.

Life was like that, Aeryn realized.  In a revelatory flash, she was struck by the connection between John’s impending climax and the way their lives often played out.  Joy and heartache, love and loss, pain and pleasure:  they were so closely intermixed one could often melt seamlessly into the other until it was difficult to tell them apart.  Having John back, alive and well, was a blindingly bright moment in her life, and the pain of watching him struggle with his sense of guilt was every bit as intense as the pleasure.     

She had never suspected how painful heartbreak could be until she had learned to love.  And love came with the promise of heartache and loss.  There was no avoiding it.  Giving birth went hand in hand with agony, enduring the inconceivable pain of being shot had led to the ecstasy that she had managed to survive and would live to see John Crichton again, and his moral and physical starvation had been the price paid to get him back alive.  The more clearly she saw how the opposites were intertwined, the faster they knotted into an inextricable tangle that no longer made any sense. 

“Hey.”  John’s panting summons dragged her back to the here and now.  “Where’d you go?” 

She smiled and bent down to kiss him.  A trickle of perspiration streaked toward his temple, scarcely paused when it hit the short-cropped hair, and disappeared into the damp stubble.  “You distracted me,” she said. 

“Nuh unh,” he said, shaking his head.  “You had that wonderful ‘Eureka!’ look you get when you’ve had a brainstorm.”  He grabbed her around the waist and held her still.  “You’re beautiful when you look like that.  I love it.  Share.”

“This --” she began, meaning to suggest that they not interrupt their activities.

“This,” he said, nudging upward with his hips, “will be here after you tell me what set off that funny little smile you get sometimes.”  He tugged one corner of her mouth upward with a thumb.  “You never believe me when I tell you how much it excites me when you concentrate on yourself when we’re together like this.  Let me in on the secret for once.” 

“What about your self-control?  I thought I was supposed to be hurrying.” 

“I found some along the way.  Forget about that for a moment.  Tell me what you were thinking.” 

Aeryn ran the backs of her fingers up his stomach, let them drift up the center of his chest, and then ran her thumb across one of his nipples several times.  She felt the surge of response from his body, and understood how close he was to losing control.  John was hovering in that special place where every touch, sight, smell, and sound had the potential to complete the short journey to an orgasm.  If she were the one teetering on the edge, the one being touched and stroked while they talked, the sensations would be nearly unendurable and would at the same time hold the promise of an intense, unequalled climax when they chose to finish.  John was slightly different because of his need for thrust and friction to carry him forward, but all of the appropriate signs were present.  There were the small squirming movements beneath her and the occasional chuckling gasps that said he was enjoying the delicate, nearly excruciating in-between state. 

So she leaned over him, and tried to explain her revelation, starting with the grimace she had seen on his face and working through to how it related to his guilt over the wanton killing.  It didn’t come out nearly as well as when she first assembled the associations in her mind. 

John closed one eye tight, squinted at her out of the other, and looked confused.  “You’re saying that my being all torn up inside is a good thing because once I get over it I’ll appreciate not being that person even more.  Is that it?”  He was rubbing her upper arms and shoulders, one hand or the other occasionally traveling further to explore her neck or make a foray to one of her breasts. 

“I’m not sure what I’m saying.  It was clearer before I tried to explain it.”

“Good and bad go together.  One can’t exist without the other.  That’s a very old story,” he said.  Both hands migrated down to her breasts.  “You’re not nursing anymore.” 

“I couldn’t.  At first I was too badly injured; then I was full of drugs,” she said, and then returned to her confusing revelation.  “This is more than two opposites coexisting side by side.  They are the same thing.  It’s like the drugs they gave me.  What saved me took something away at the same time.  Good and bad at the same time in the same situation.  It’s like when this” -- she rocked against his hips until he let out a quiet, ecstatic groan -- “feels so good it hurts.” 

John considered that for several microts without ever stopping the slow mapping of her body with his hands.  “My doing horrible things while I was on that planet comes from the same part of me that loves you so much that I can’t exist without you,” he said finally.  It was a statement this time, not a question. 

“Mmmhmm,” she agreed.  It seemed like a good time for another kiss:  one-tenth reward for deciphering what she was having so much trouble trying to convey, and nine-tenths because she wanted to feel his lips, his tongue, his body touching hers.  Several tens of microts passed before the conversation resumed. 

“That’s a bit twisted, even for a Peacekeeper,” John said with his lips brushing hers.

“You believe I am wrong.”

“No, I think you’re probably right, and I’ve never had to figure it out before this happened because my life on Earth was so mundane.  There were no monumental personal disasters, but there was no great love of my life either.”  John looped an arm around the back of her neck and shoulders, trapping her where the kiss had ended, close to his body.  He stared up at her from a distance of less than four denches.  “You’ve been doing the Confucius thing the whole time I was doing all my thinking with the small brain.  When did you get so smart, woman?”

“I have always been exceptionally intelligent.  I simply needed someone to show me how to use it,” she said.   

“Exceptionally intelligent,” he repeated.  A grin and the much-missed light in his eyes appeared at the same time.

“Exceptional breeding.  Far superior to other species,” she said, smiling down at him. 

“God, I love you,” he said, and then wrapped his other arm around her and rolled them over. 

John made love to her after that.  He made love to every dench of her body from her toes to the top of her head, exploring it as thoroughly as she had repeatedly traversed his.  He led with his fingertips; lips and tongue trailed behind, drifting dream-like along the long lines of thigh and arm, dipping into the hollows, rising up to crest the arc of breast and shoulder.  Strong hands urged her toward a quivering, gasping level of excitement; firm but gentle fingers, moving with thorough familiarity, sought out every one of her favorite bits of anatomy and stroked her to an agonizing degree of desire. 

He held her there for what felt like arns, just as she had held him just short of the point of no return while they talked.  Sweating, panting, straining to achieve the last bit of excitement necessary to achieve a climax, she wallowed in the agonizing pleasure that she had tried to explain to John.  Time and again he withdrew, each time returning with the heavier pressure of hands stroking her thighs, shoulders, and lower back; more lightly applied devotion drifted endlessly across her breasts and the base of her throat.  He carried her up, paused, and let her drift back down again repeatedly, until the tension and desire demanded a far more vigorous response from her. 

Their union became a limb-tangled cooperative wrestling match, full of straining muscles on both their parts, liberally fueled by sweat and effort, punctuated by panted vows of love, quiet laughs, and the more frequent but unintelligible groans and gasps of delight.  There was an unforgettable moment when, in the midst of a laughing, ridiculous endeavor to change to a different position without bothering to first pull apart, her body decided that it was time to release its pent up energy.  She felt the first aching signals that it was about to happen and let out a quiet cry of frustration.  Caught in a half-upright not quite kneeling posture, it would be impossible to give herself over to the internal nervous demolition.  John, feeling what was about to occur, laughed quietly near her ear and held her tight, supporting her body in midair, freeing her to concentrate on the pulsing bursts of sensation that clamored to take over her entire existence and the strong arms that were keeping her safe throughout.  It was like having an orgasm in freefall, every electron in her body set free to take up a new orbit without the hindrance of gravity affecting the eventual outcome.

She spun back to the reality of Moya and their bed to find that they were in a position that she loved, but that she knew was far from relaxing or even satisfying for John.  It allowed him the greatest freedom to stroke her entire body, coaxing an absurd level of arousal out of her, and it also required more strength and exertion from him than any other position save one.  “No,” she said, trying to roll to one side.  “This is –-” 

He interrupted before she could finish explaining that she wanted this night to be about John and his needs.  “I enjoy this,” he said.  “You know I do.” 

“I wanted tonight to be –-” she tried again.

“-- for me,” John finished.  “I know.  I figured that part out.  This is about me and what I want, Aeryn.  I promise.  I want” -- he stopped, for an instant looking both confused and frustrated -- “I want us to be … I want it to be about both of us, not just you seeing if you can give me a heart attack.”

He started to resume his fumbling explanation.  For the second time that evening, Aeryn placed her hand over his mouth to shut him up.  “I understand,” she said. 

The uncertainty in his expression eased, but didn’t disappear.  “I didn’t explain it very well.” 

“Yes, you did.”  Aeryn lay back, relaxing, finding the position every bit as pleasurable as always, loving that she could watch him, that she could see every dench of his body from his thighs to the crown of his head, and could still reach him without a great deal of effort.  John was right.  She loved this position.  She said the three words that she was sure could convince him that she truly did understand what he was trying to say.  “I love you.” 

The small phrase worked.  He smiled, bent down and kissed her, one hand resting easily on one of her breasts, the other supporting his weight, his entire body pressing against already over-sensitized nerves.  The overall effect was nothing less than shattering.  In the space of an instant she went from teetering on the brink of lethargy -- wallowing in the post-climatic whole-body buzzing that lay somewhere between sleep and the rise to another orgasm -- to full arousal.  It was that special transition, always dependent on perfect timing, when John was able to catch her before she slid too far down the scale towards relaxation, yanking her back to an exquisite, achingly intense level of pleasure in the space of a few microts. 

“Dear … Cholak,” she gasped.  Arching over backwards, straining with one hand braced against his shoulder, didn’t help.  All it did was expose her stomach and chest to additional attention, inviting his hands to stroke belly and breast; and raised her pelvis, which allowed him to push harder with each thrust, reaching previously untouched depths.  The resulting shockwave from deep inside was enough to draw a screeching gasp out of her and a moaning exclamation from John. 

It was then, with little forewarning, that she felt intensely, irrevocably naked.  The sensation went far beyond being undressed.  It was a phenomenon that never occurred except at times like this, during extended, frantic, wondrous bouts of recreating with this singular human. 

She hadn’t known there were different flavors and tastes of being naked until she had met John Crichton.  For most of her life, being naked meant nothing more than not having clothes on.  It was a fact of her existence, along with the starkly lit showers where anatomy was seldom even noticed and open barracks that provided little in the way of privacy.  It was a way of life that she had never questioned until the morning she had caught herself walking more quietly as she approached John’s quarters, hoping to catch a glimpse of him as he was getting dressed.

She never could have guessed at the number of ways to be naked until she had fallen in love.  There had been no knowledge of the end of the day nakedness that came with getting ready for bed, of turning with her shirt or pants in her hand just in time to watch him step into his loose sleep shorts with the distinctly male stretch of the waistband as he pulled them into place.  She hadn’t known about the nakedness of showering with a man that she cherished, of the slippery sliding sort of sudsy fun that always involved an extravagant level of skin-to-skin contact.  There had been no way to foresee the type of nakedness that came from having John watch her nurse their son, or of the tingling warmth that began in the center of her chest and expanded outward when he slid closer and embraced them together, enveloping both her and the baby in his arms. 

There was the fully clothed nakedness when he caught her on a seldom-used tier, backed her into corner, and made love to her right then and there, begging to be caught by anyone who happened to come by.  And there was this:  the explosive, insane kind of nakedness when every cell in her body seemed to undergo a transmutation so each one was simultaneously connected to every other cell, and even the smallest of touches traveled through her body like a demolition’s shockwave, until she was sure that she was about to dissolve into cloudy haze of individual atoms, flying apart in the exact moment that she reached orgasm. 

The effect was always profound, as though she were discovering for the first time that she had skin; and somewhat shocking, alerting every nerve ending from her scalp to the bottoms of her feet and every micro-dench in between.  John always knew the moment it happened, and took full advantage of the alteration to her physiology.  His hands moved more firmly from throat to belly, stroked her with more urgent demand, knowing that light caresses and tickles would go unnoticed in the midst of the overall storm. 

One of her hands flailed out, seeking any kind of anchor in order to keep her body from flying into a million separate parts.  It located one of his.  His fingers intertwined into hers and held tight, squeezing hard when she pressed and pulled against him, silently encouraging her to throw herself into their union with nothing held in reserve.  Her entire universe dissolved into the overwhelming presence of John Crichton, within and without, seemingly touching every dench of her body at once. 

She tried to ask John a question about his self-control and how much more time he required.  The syllables emerged in nonsensical fragments, tangled up with pleas to hurry and several confused incarnations of the word “Now”. 

Her orgasm began before he could answer, expanding like a fireball of ignited chakan oil, filling her belly to overflowing with heat and convulsing muscles.  It was too late to spend any more time considering what John wanted or needed.  She clung to his hand and abandoned the remainder of her body to the moment. 

There might have been muscles contracting in one of her legs, battling to curl behind John and trap him against her body, and his hand holding on to her ankle, preventing her from moving, which only increased the full-body spasms.  There might have been the heavier pressure of his hands massaging her breasts, urging her on, coaxing the most out of her synapses.  There might have been lips mouthing deep sucking patterns against the base of her throat, forcing her to divide her attention between that one particular spot and the aching wonder that was occurring in the center of her lower body, somehow increasing the overall ecstasy in the process; and there might have been strong hands supporting her lower back, steadying her when the bucking and shaking threatened to throw her body away from his. 

At the moment when the storm inside her body began to slacken, there might have been the hard, needful thrusting leading up to John’s orgasm, the heat and weight of his body in motion close to hers, blanketing her with his presence, blocking out the rest of the universe.  There might have been strong arms on either side of her, simultaneously supporting his weight and surrounding her with safety, and a beautiful ballet of tensing muscles, pulsing warmth, heat, and the sounds of a human male in the throes of ecstasy.  Aeryn would never know for sure if any of that happened.  Since she was convinced that her body had been disassembled into its component parts, rearranged into new patterns, and then put back together so that every light touch had the power to set her to lurching, yelping, and quivering, she was quite certain that she would never be able to recall what happened during those frantic dozen or so microts. 

The moment passed, leaving her once again feeling wonderfully naked, as though no amount of clothes could ever cover up enough of her body to quell the sensation.  “Oh, be merciful,” she sighed at last, sagging into the rumpled tangle of thermal covers on the bed.  John remained poised above her for several more microts -- eyes half closed, an open-mouthed blissful half-smile frozen in place, his body unnaturally still while he eked out the final delightful frissons of his orgasm -- then he let out a chuckling groan and lowered himself so he was lying facedown alongside her. 

Aeryn waited to see what would happen next.  All too often John wanted to talk.  He had assured her that with the passage of cycles the situation would be reversed, that eventually it would be Aeryn who wanted to lie awake and discuss topics ranging from what color to paint their quarters aboard Moya to the slow revolution of the stars outside the view portal, while he fell into the post-climax coma-like stupor that he referred to as a ‘snore-gasm’.  But, at least for now, it was John who always wanted to engage in some meaningless, often philosophical conversation, when all she wanted was to lie quietly and enjoy the slow dissipation of sexual energy.  As far as she was concerned, it was the perfect moment to luxuriate in the warmth radiating from John’s body, and to expend an arn or two wallowing in the peace and quiet. 

Beside her, John sighed.  Aeryn waited for him to break the silence.  Aside from Moya’s normal rumbles and grumbles, the only noise was the quiet rustle of skin brushing against bed cloths.  John squirmed in close to her, wrapped an arm around her midsection and pulled her in against his chest.  Four microts later the thick, shaggy thermal covers that John preferred were nearly arranged over their two bodies, and they were in exactly the position Aeryn had longed after for so many days and nights.  His arms were wrapped around her, he was snuggled in close against her back, his body married to hers from shoulders to toes, and his lips were performing a slow, relaxing dance along the top of her shoulder and the back of her neck. 

She hadn’t really believed that John could complete this much of his recovery in a single evening … not down deep in her heart where it mattered.  She had dared to hope, and had planned as though it were possible, and had even spent the occasional quarter-arn dreaming that it might turn out this way; but she hadn’t truly believed that she would end up in John Crichton’s arms, loved, cherished, and feeling as though no intruder could ever breach the security offered by his embrace.  She wasn’t so naïve as to assume that his recovery was complete.  There was no doubt that the days ahead promised relapses, outbursts of unprovoked anger, and possibly several bouts of deep depression, but the John Crichton who loved her beyond good sense had returned at some point during the evening, and that meant she didn’t have to be strong for both of them anymore. 

The relief was almost more than she could keep contained.  If she hadn’t known that the sudden chill and the queasy wave of weakness passing though her body were the result of runaway emotions -- as opposed to an illness or a hidden lingering injury -- she might have been concerned about its causes and possibly even gotten out of bed until it passed.  Instead, she did the one thing that she knew would dispel the unpleasant physical reactions most quickly.  Aeryn turned inside John’s embrace until she faced him, and then carefully insinuated herself closer to his body, intertwining legs and arms until she was tucked in against his chest, one of her legs between his, as much a part of him as was physically possible. 

It felt weak, it felt immature and needful, and it felt wonderful.  John didn’t do or say anything except to accommodate her change in position.  He released his grasp on her when she began to turn over; made room for her when she wanted to snuggle in against the front of his body; and wrapped his arms around her once she had come to rest.  She wasn’t sure he even understood what was going on until he rubbed her back for several microts, and then whispered, “What’s the matter?”

“Nothing.  Just hold me.  Hold me tight,” she said.

He did more than simply tighten his embrace.  John rolled onto his back, carrying her with him so she wound up lying half on top of him.  She came to rest with her head on his chest, one leg wedged between both of his, her upper body cradled inside his arms, warm and secure.  It was everything she craved and more.  It didn’t take long for her to slide into a half-waking state where she was conscious of little other than the sound of John’s breathing and the slow repetitive drift of his hand moving from the top of her buttocks, up across the recently healed portion of her back to her shoulder blade on that side, and then back down again.  If she needed reassurance that he understood how fiercely she had struggled to survive, it was embodied in that hypnotic touch. 

The sound of John’s voice drew her back from the brink of sleep.  “I missed you,” he whispered.

The obvious response -- “I missed you, too” -- felt inadequate.  Trapped in the mental morass that lay halfway between waking and sleep, Aeryn couldn’t assemble an answer worthy of his brief, quietly voiced expression of how lost he had been without her.  She settled for hugging him more tightly, trusting that he would understand the silent message.  And at some point in the midst of the foggy, half-dreaming, half-thinking mental celebration that she had her arms wrapped around John Crichton, she went to sleep, aware until the very last moment of the light stroke of his fingers moving up and down her back.   


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *



29
Crashfic / Re: The Chrysalis (PG-13 / NC-17)
« Last post by KernilCrash on June 10, 2016, 10:34:16 AM »
Part 3

It was easily the worst kiss she had received in her entire life.  There had been some awkward, poorly delivered, overly wet kisses when she was a senior cadet that came close to being as unpleasant, but those had been the result of inexperience, the first fumbling forays into the realm of physical release by both her and her partner at the time.  This was entirely different.  It was rough and hesitant at the same time; an affair consisting of poor aim, aggression that wasn’t necessary, hunger, need, tension, and uncertainty, all wrapped up into a confused mixture that got worse as he tried harder.  She gave him several microts to sort it out, hoping he could resolve the difficulties on his own.  When the situation didn’t improve, she cradled his face in both hands and pulled away. 

“Relax,” she said.  “Don’t force it.” 

He took a deep breath, let it out slowly, and ventured a grin.  The nervous attempt at producing a smile looked more like he had a bad case of stomach cramps than an expression of happiness … which under the circumstances might have been true. 

“Relax,” she said again.  “I’m here; you’re here.  That’s all that matters for the next few microts.  Just let it happen.” 

John let out another long sigh, his shoulders dropped several denches, an outward reflection of an inner effort to relax, and he tried again.  His technique swung to the other end of the scale.  This was little more than a fleeting brush of his lips across hers, a soft, warm whisper that lingered barely long enough for her to register that he had touched her.  It was sweet, it was loving, and it was so brief it bordered on ethereal, the phantom touch of an imagined sprite that couldn’t be captured.   

He stepped back, ran his tongue across his lower lip, and seemed to quiver.  The shudder was so slight that she wasn’t sure she had actually seen it; more a suggestion of movement than visible shaking.  It might have been a mild chill from the cooler air circulating through the alcove, or it might have been an invisible burden falling away from his shoulders, an easing of a moral weight that had been threatening to beat him down.  After several microts had passed without any further attempt to kiss her, Aeryn cautiously crossed the short distance separating them, stopped with her fingertips resting lightly on his hips, and raised her lips toward his, inviting another, more vigorous contact. 

Normally, kissing John was a full-body endeavor.  It didn’t matter if they were standing, propped up against one of Moya’s bulkheads, sitting, or lying down, and it didn’t matter whether they were moving or standing still.  The touch of their lips was always the beginning of an intense physical effort, summoning a reaction from every muscle in her body all the way down to her toes.  She often thought that it was a lesser form of love making, one that drew tide-like surges of excitement from the pit of her stomach until her entire body begged to move in time with the smaller motions of lips and tongues. 

Their third kiss lacked that aggressive physicality.  As with the second, it felt as much as though he was reassuring himself that he could be gentle as an affirmation that he loved her.  All hints of desperation and hunger were missing entirely.  There was no eager escalation of tongues, no panting breaths, no sense of need or insecurity.  There was only the light touch of his lips against hers, a gentle adjustment for a better marriage of surfaces, and then a heavier but still hesitant pressure, gradually involving more desire. 

It was enough.  It was sufficient to convince Aeryn that the evening’s argument, the thrown objects, the yelling, and the almost uncontainable fear that her approach wasn’t the correct way to handle John’s depression had been worth the effort.  When his arm snaked around her shoulders and pulled her more firmly against his chest, the last of her worries dissolved so thoroughly they might never have existed.  It left behind a pleasantly empty spot in the pit of her stomach, a vacuous intestinal cavern that floated peacefully in the center of her being, waiting to be filled up with something far more pleasant than grief and concern and the type of pain that could only come from love.  It was a sphere of longing that began to take on a life and an interest all its own, paying rapt attention to their kiss, waiting impatiently for the warmth of physical proximity and sexual excitement to goad it into an inferno of desire.

Aeryn took in a breath, pressed against John a little harder, trying to coax him into a more sensuous effort, and felt the first uncoiling of the internal fullness that would eventually, given enough provocation, lead to orgasm.  An isolated tendril of mist drifting on a breath of wind would have had more substance than the warm sensation that began snaking its way upward inside her body, moving from belly to chest to the back of her neck and eventually to the inside of her head.  It was more phantom than fact; a mere suggestion of what might lie ahead rather than a true hint of arousal, a promise of ecstasy yet to come. 

There was a lingering problem however, that could not be ignored no matter how great her desire to move beyond standing quietly and kissing him.  It was a barricade standing between her and where she wanted to wind up by the end of the night, which meant it had to be resolved … soon. 

“You need to finish washing,” she said into his lips. 

John tightened his embrace.  “I’m busy.  Stop nagging me.” 

“If you don’t pick up a washball and start scrubbing in the next ten microts, you are going to be standing here with no one but the DRD’s to keep you company.” 

As one, they looked down at where two of the little robots were gathering up the last of the loose hair littering the floor.  Two pairs of eyestalks gazed up at them for several microts, contemplating the eyes staring downward, and then swiveled back to their task, perhaps silently suggesting that the two biological creatures standing above them should do the same. 

Aeryn grabbed one of the squashy washballs off a shelf and thrust it into John’s hands.  “Get to work.” 

“Only if you finish undressing,” he said.  “If you get to wear a bathing suit, then I want one too.” 

“I’m not the one who is covered in dirt.  Get in there.”  Aeryn gave him a gentle two-handed shove, grabbed a second washball and a tub of cleanser, and followed him into the warm torrents and billows of steam. 

The thick layers of dirt and the caked-on deposits of purplish sludge disappeared all too fast with the two of them working together.  After the lengthy battle to remove his clothing, the painstaking inspection for the potentially fatal rash, and the leisurely process of shaving and cutting his hair, it didn’t seem fair that this particular stage of the process should progress so rapidly.  She wanted to linger over every square dench of his skin, taking her time, acquainting herself with the alterations that hunger had wrought on him.  There were ribs and shoulders begging to be touched, the bumpy ladder of his spine flexing with each of his movements, and the small of his back waiting to be scrubbed clean and explored.  There was the new leanness through his waist that she liked, and clearly defined thigh muscles that tempted her fingers with each small shift of his weight.  There were humps and ridges, gaunt hollows, tightly strung cords of tendons and knobs of bone -- all crying out to be caressed and discovered anew. 

It seemed only fair that she should have the time to step back, a dripping washball sitting idle in her hands, and be mesmerized by the water and bubbles flooding over his skin.  The patterns, like the body, had changed in subtle ways.  She wanted to guide John to the spot where the heaviest portion of the shower pummeled the back of his neck, and then watch how the snaking waterfalls gathered between jutting shoulder blades, dropped along his spine to his buttocks, and then clung as if by magic to the back of his legs until they hit the floor. 

When he braced himself against one wall and propped an ankle on one knee in order to scrub his foot, she wanted him to linger long after it was clean.  She wished there was time to watch the water cascade over the almost hairless skull so she could pay more attention to the way identical streams ran behind his ears, coursed along the hollows at the side of his neck, and then rejoined at the base of John’s throat before continuing the downward plunge.  If John had been more relaxed, less focused on what he was doing, she might have washed his feet for him, hoping for the physical reaction that normally occurred whenever she scrubbed behind his toes. 

None of that happened.  John straightened up from washing his feet, looked at Aeryn, and tossed his washball to one side.  “Time to get rid of the bathing suit,” he said.  “Why in heaven’s name are you still dressed?”

Aeryn gestured toward the front of her body.  “You were filthy.  I didn’t feel like brushing up against all that dirt.” 

“And now?” he asked, stepping closer. 

“And now you’re almost clean.” 

John ran his fingers under the band of her top, gave it an expert stretch to free her breasts, and lifted it, waiting for her to raise her arms so it would slide easily over her head.  It was a simple, familiar movement, one consisting of nothing more than the brief touch of his fingers against her ribs and the care John took to make sure the sodden garment didn’t become tangled in her wet hair, and yet it ignited a comforting glow deep within her belly.  The ball of warmth continued to expand, egged on by the brush of the warm, moisture-laden air across her bare breasts, the streaming caresses of hot water, and the way John knelt down in front of her in order to lower her briefs to her ankles.  He could have just as easily remained standing and let her water-logged trunks drop away under their own weight, the same way his shorts had slopped to the floor earlier.  Instead, he knelt, waited while she stepped out of her last bit of clothing, and then looked up at her from that vantage point. 

Aeryn gazed down at him, ran her hand lightly down his cheek, and thought about how close she had come to losing him and what it had taken to get him back.  The near loss begged for slow, languorous exploration of his body and an endless supply of warm water.  She wanted to back John up against the wall and have him stand with his arms raised, just as she had been poised several microts earlier.  She wanted him to stay that way, muscles and skin pulled taut, while she ran her hands and the sudsy washball across his stomach and chest and tried to imagine what it felt like to be him, what it felt like to have his muscles and bones touched in that manner without the extra padding of the lost weight, to have her hands closer to the center of his being, whether the sensations would be more intense for being stripped down to the most basic essence of his physical self. 

She could only imagine what it would be like to turn him around so she was standing behind him, wrap her arms around his chest, and measure him with her body, discovering the necessary adjustments to allow for a comfortable marriage of breast to shoulders, arms to ribs, pelvis to buttocks.  They could stand like that for half an arn or more, warm and secluded, pretending for a short time that they were the last two people living aboard Moya. 

Aeryn was brought back to the less rapturous reality of her surroundings by the touch of warm fingers exploring her midsection.  While she had been dreaming of what they could do with enough soap and no interruptions, John had changed positions.  He was kneeling alongside her left hip instead of in front of her, fingers beginning a cautious exploration of her midsection.   

“Other side,” she said.  “Right side.” 

John made the adjustment.  One hand stroked her belly several times, pressing harder than a simple caress would require, and then he worked his way gradually around to her back.  With the exception of a brief stretch to one side in order to turn off the water, Aeryn stood without moving, letting him massage and prod, allowing him to investigate the focal point that had set off  so much suffering for both of them.

“Here?” he asked.  He was alternating between brushing his fingers across her skin and probing more deeply, seeking some hint as to where she had been shot. 

“A little higher.”  Twisting, she guided his hand to where the worst of the heat and agony had burrowed into her back while she was mid-stride.  “There.”  The actual impact point still had no feeling.  Nerves took more time to recover than bone and muscle.  The medicians on board the Command Carrier had assured her that the recovery would be complete.  Assuming that their diagnosis was correct, some day she would once again feel the drifting migration of John’s kisses up her side and back, and the way her lower back fit neatly into his hands whenever he supported her weight during their lovemaking.  But for now his fingertips arrived at a spot close to her hip, disappeared for the length of time it took them to transition across the center of the damaged area, and then made their way slowly up her side.

“Peacekeepers,” John said.  The single word asked how and why she had gotten help from the regime that had been their enemy for so many cycles. 

“Rygel, with full support from the Eidelon Council of Priests.”  She let John work it out from there.

“Blackmail,” he concluded immediately. 

“From the ruler of the Hynerian Empire,” she said, agreeing. 

“There’s no scar.”  A firmer touch, more insistent, tested the healed flesh. 

“Rygel threatened to declare war against the Peacekeepers if the medical personnel didn’t assign their best specialists to take care of me.  Feel here.”  She took his right hand in both of hers and pressed hard, encouraging him to dig deep in order to find bone.  “There.” 

The strong grasp lingered, two fingers pressing cautiously at first and then with more assurance when she didn’t flinch or pull away, finding and then exploring the ridged seam within her body.  John caught on as quickly as he understood most things in the universe.  “A bone graft,” he said.  The fingers walked up her side, finding each repair in quick succession.  “Several bone grafts.” 

“Four.”

“It’s my fault,” came a depressed-sounding whisper.  “It was my crummy plan.”

“These are better than the originals.  Stronger.  It’s an improvement.”  She knelt down so she could look at him face to face.  “You did not kill me.”

The guilt-ridden Crichton made a brief reappearance, mostly in his eyes.  John shook his head and refused to meet her stare.

“This was not your fault,” she said.  “We made the decision together.”   

His eyes flickered toward hers several times, finally coming to rest somewhere half way between the floor and Aeryn’s face.  Several microts passed.  The only sounds in the small enclosure were the hollow echoing gurgle that Moya’s drains sometimes made, and the slow pattering drip coming from one of the sodden washballs.  A puddle shivered, shifted to one side, and dissolved into snaking rivers that hurried toward the drains:  an everyday phenomenon that meant Moya had just changed course or velocity.  John ran his hand over the top of his head, scratched lightly at a spot near the base of his skull, and then nodded.  “Got it,” he said finally.  “Time to move on.”

“Good.”  Aeryn straightened up, expecting him to come with her. 

John stayed where he was, kneeling in front of her.  He wrapped his arms around her hips and waist, and hugged her like that, eyes closed, his head turned to the side so one ear was pressed against her stomach.  After several microts of peaceful silence, he whispered, “What about inside?”   

“Do you mean can I have more children?” she said.

John nodded.  It was an odd sensation:  the warm smooth skin of his cheek rubbing gently up and down against her stomach, as though he were performing an odd kind of massage with his face.  It wasn’t unpleasant -- only peculiar.  She was accustomed to having him put his head on her chest or stomach when they were lying together.  It was one of John’s many idiosyncrasies.  He loved listening to her heart or even her stomach, as though the sounds provided critical proof that she was alive and lying beside him.  This was not the same thing.  This involved the warmth and moisture of recently washed skin, the soft brush of the very short hair rocking out a slow tempo against a ticklish spot just beneath her ribs, and the occasional bump of his nose against her midriff.

Aeryn let her fingers drift across the top of his head, spending the microts immersed in the delicate touch of hair drifting against her fingertips.  It wasn’t bristly the way his beard got when it was the same length.  There was a lie to it -- stiffer when she brushed it in one direction, softer when she reversed direction -- but it was an enticingly soft resistance, like a winter animal’s fur that had been trimmed very short.  It felt nice. 

“Can we have more children?” John asked again. 

“Only if I feel like it,” Aeryn told him.  “I’m still not certain about this ‘three’ thing you keep talking about.” 

He didn’t move except to hug her tighter, clutching her more firmly around the middle of her body while managing to relax at the same time.  The overall effect being transmitted through their contact was one of profound relief. 

She ran both hands over the top of his head several more times, finishing off by rubbing both thumbs along the front of his hairline while using the rest of her fingers to scratch lightly at his temples.   “I think I like it this way.  Were you planning on keeping it this short?”

John’s right hand performed a hesitant, uncertain exploration of his head.  The wandering investigation lasted for as long as it took to get to his feet.  “Don’t count on it.  I forgot one thing about not having any hair.”

“What’s that?” 

He grinned.  “It’s drafty.  My noggin’s naked.” 

“That is not all that is naked.” 

“You’re naked,” he said, moving closer. 

“So are you, and you are also not quite clean.”  Aeryn caught him before he could complete the kiss he was aiming for, turned him around, and pushed him back into the center of the shower enclosure.  “Finish bathing and then we can talk some more about what is naked.” 

“I’ll finish bathing and then I want to see the squirt,” he said, mimicking her intonation and cadence. 

“That can wait until tomorrow.” 

John turned to face her.  “Aeryn, I want to see my son.”  The demand was delivered in a slow, quietly emphatic voice.  For no reason she could explain, the lack of forcefulness managed to strengthen his insistence rather than detract from it. 

“You have seen him several times over the past few days.  You can wait until tomorrow.”  Aeryn clapped a wet hand over his mouth, preventing a response.  “He is sleeping.  Do not wake a sleeping infant.  Do you understand?”  She waited for a nod. 

“Mie ken geh ihnenould mifoud magking mihm,” John said into the palm of her hand. 

She took her hand away.  “What?” 

“I said I can get in and out without waking him,” he repeated.  “I just want to see him.” 

“No.  He’ll wake up.  I shouldn’t have to tell you that.” 

“He might already be awake,” John tried. 

“If he was awake, Rygel would have brought him down here by now and demanded that I take care of our screaming brat.  D’Argo is sleeping.  I’m not going to give you permission to wake him up in the middle of the night.  He’ll never go back to sleep.” 

“Aeryn,” he began, still arguing. 

“We arrive at Hyneria the day after tomorrow,” said Aeryn.  “After that, there will be no time for us.  I want tonight.  Tonight is for you and me.”

Guilt reappeared.  It was a less intense form of what she had been seeing over the past several days, generated by a different type of remorse.  “I haven’t been paying a whole lot of attention to you lately,” John said. 

Aeryn stepped close, looking into his eyes.  She wrapped her arms around his midsection, letting her fingers rest at the small of his back for a brief moment, then slid her hands down to his buttocks and pulled his hips firmly against her pelvis.  “This is your chance to make up for that.  Tonight.” 

The lingering guilt shifted, softening several degrees into willing compliance.  This time he was the one who cupped her face in both hands while he lowered his head the short distance necessary to kiss her.  The John Crichton she knew and loved was suddenly there, with all his expertise at kindling physical desire.  Gone was the fumbling uncertainty, the ineptitude, the awkward pressure of lips that didn’t know what they were supposed to be doing.  This caress was every bit the passionate, demanding exercise that Aeryn had come to expect and crave from him. 

Her arms shifted from his waist to his shoulders, clutching him tightly, seeking even more contact.  He responded in kind.  One of John’s hands pressed against the lower portion of her buttocks, urging her upwards, encouraging Aeryn to insinuate herself even more closely against his body, the first step in transforming two entities into one.  It took a small hop, as always, and then she was where she had wanted to be from the first moment she walked into their cell over an arn earlier:  legs wrapped around his waist, the slimmer hips requiring an adjustment of thigh and knees to keep from slipping down his body, safe and enfolded within his embrace.

One of John’s arms left her shoulders.  She could see the flash of pale skin groping to one side out of the corner of her eye, and for a moment she thought her weight was too much for him, that he was reaching for the wall to steady himself.  Before she could suggest that he put her down, his hand fastened on the shower control, gave it a sharp twist, and he walked them back together into the spray. 

There were few things in life Aeryn enjoyed as much as being in the shower with John.  At times she almost preferred it to the actual act of recreating.  She had never devoted a great deal of thought to why she liked it so much; all that mattered to her was that the combination of the hot water flooding over their intertwined bodies, coupled with John’s presence, had the power to transport her to a physical state that resembled the first stages of an orgasm, where physical pleasure became so intense it took on some of the traits of discomfort.   

It might have been the all over warm massage of the water, or the way the lighter splashes and trickles increased her awareness of John’s firmer touch against legs or arms or her breasts; or it might have been the moisture itself, although she didn’t understand why that would make a difference in how her body responded.  It might have been the steady, relaxing drumming on her scalp, or the marriage of heat and the simultaneous envelopment of arm, legs, and liquid downfall.  It might have been a combination of all those factors.  But in the end, all she cared about was that John Crichton was hugging, stroking, and kissing her, cherishing her body with all the reverence he had ever shown in the past. 

“We haven’t finished,” he said with his lips brushing the underside of her throat. 

She lipped a kiss against the corner of his eyebrow, drawing away a tiny tide of fresh-tasting water.  “I thought we were just getting started.” 

His laugh was a rumbling resonation transmitted through the shared contact between their bodies, touch rather than sound conveying his humor.  “Smart ass.” 

“That’s not the part of my body I use for thinking, John.” 

“Unlike me.” 

“You don’t use that part either.” 

“Something close to it,” he said. 
 
There was no opportunity for a comeback.  They were on the move again, drifting farther into the shower enclosure until her back fetched up against the wall with a damp slap.  Aeryn didn’t question the adjustment; she knew the reason.  It was easier on John this way, less tiring if he didn’t have to support her weight and make sure she didn’t tip over backwards at the same time.  He was standing beneath the center of the downpour now, droplets bursting into a misty spray against his face, clear rivulets streaking down his cheeks and upper chest.  Aeryn grasped him along either side of his head beneath the ears and kissed him hard, intent on the full barrage of sensations, seeking the explosion of excitement that lips and tongues could achieve. 

It worked at first.  She could feel his desire in the way his body reacted, in the tensing and relaxing of muscles, the small surges of his body pressing against hers, in the increasingly demanding touch of hands and lips.  Then came a fleeting break in the progression.  It was nothing so pronounced as John drawing away; he merely relaxed for less than a microt before resuming the previous level of effort.  It was over almost before she was certain it was there.  The passionate straining against her resumed, followed by another small hiccup in his enthusiasm, and then another.  Each interruption lasted longer than the one before.

Aeryn pulled away slowly, waiting to see if he would object.  What greeted her was an expression she would have termed ‘furtive embarrassment’.  If she had caught a junior cadet looking like that while she was still a Peacekeeper officer, she would have subjected the youngster to a brief on-the-spot interrogation, expecting to turn up a minor infraction or a small bit of foolishness that violated regulations.  Coming from John, the evasive look encompassed an inner turmoil nowhere near as innocuous as a cadet’s futile attempts to safeguard a harmless secret.  Aeryn was certain that asking him about it would only make things worse.  Whatever was bothering him now, it undoubtedly had something to do with his physical reaction to her proximity, which meant that he would be loathe to talk about it even at the best of times.   

She eased out of his embrace, reaching for the floor with one foot.  He released her without putting up a fight, another signal that he wasn’t behaving normally.  “Finish washing,” she said once she was standing on her own, “before Moya runs out of water.” 

All that was left was the final thick-lathered scrubbing; two people working in tandem to search out, locate and remove the few remaining shadows of ground-in dirt.  Their progress was interrupted frequently by extended slippery hugs, by John’s attempts to kiss her, and by what he claimed were efforts to clean errant streaks of dirt off her body.  It was exactly the sort of combative, playful wrestling she had been hoping for all evening. 

There was one thing that did not occur however, and that was arousal.  John was cheerful, loving, and content to go on kissing and hugging for arns as far as she could tell.  But the usual outcome of this sort of bubbly body contact hadn’t made itself apparent.  She couldn’t remember ever being in the shower with him without it happening.  John in the shower seemed to be the definition of the word ‘aroused’.  Under normal circumstances, preventing him from getting physically excited was the challenge, not the other way around. 

The moment came when he was as clean as a single evening’s worth of scouring could get him, there was no sign that any additional water-assisted fondling was going to accomplish what her attempts had not achieved thus far, and she could think of no reason to go one splashing about in the shower.  Aeryn ran her head and shoulders beneath the shower one last time, face upturned so all her hair was swept into one thick drenched mass hanging down her shoulders, and then she turned the water off.   


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


30
Crashfic / Re: The Chrysalis (PG-13 / NC-17)
« Last post by KernilCrash on June 10, 2016, 10:33:07 AM »
Part 2

They fell into a companionable silence, treating every bit of the rash they could find, taking their time, making sure nothing got missed.  Along the way a generous supply of sores received their own application of a different but equally repulsive paste, and a watery disinfectant was applied to already healing cuts and abrasions, insurance against any possibility of infection.  The narrow shelf running along the inner wall of the shower partition disappeared under a collection of astringents, ointments, and various botanical potions.  After half an arn worth of work, Aeryn inspected him one last time, and declared him cured of all varieties of skin ailments. 

“Can I wash this stuff off yet?” John asked.  The listless, disinterested stranger had reappeared toward the end of the process.  His head and shoulders had slumped, as if to say that he didn’t have enough energy to hold them up, and the purplish paste and its associated stench no longer seemed to matter to him beyond the need to remove it at some point. 

Aeryn did her best to behave as though there hadn’t been a shift in his behavior.  The relapse itself didn’t bother her.  It had been little more than an arn since she had extracted the promise from him, too soon to expect any significant improvement in his overall mood.  It was the abrupt disappearance of the person she wanted restored to her that generated the sick feeling in the pit of her stomach and sapped her of energy.  Everything had been going so smoothly that she had dared to hope that this would turn into an evening of sloshing watery proximity, extended soapy hugs, and a return of the hovering protective presence that had become as important to her existence as breathing. 

It felt as though she had been holding herself together by shear determination and willpower for close to a cycle, not the twenty-six solar days that had passed since they had left the Command Carrier.  It felt as though enough time had passed that she deserved to have John Crichton back alongside her, the complimentary half that made her whole.  Instead, the remnant of that person was staring aimlessly at the floor, dull-eyed and listless, clearly in need of an infusion of strength. 

She wanted it to be the other way around.  She wanted to yell at him to snap out of it, to have John respond with his customary combination of shock and hurt, and for him to come to his senses.  More than that, she wanted John to wrap his arms around her, whisper an apology into her ear, and for him to be the strong one, bolstering her up both physically and emotionally.  There was a snarled knot in the pit of her stomach consisting of loneliness, fear, and hurt feelings.  It screamed out a silent complaint concerning the fact that she was the one who had been shot, the one who had battled back from mortal injuries, the one who deserved to be looked after and coddled for once.  She wanted to be picked up, cradled in one specific person’s arms, and told that she was allowed to be weak. 

But none of that would help either one of them.  Logic snared the runaway emotions, dampened them down until they no longer urged her to do or say something rash.  Cold reason dictated that at this point in their respective recoveries, John needed the support more than she did. 

Trying to provide him with some direction, she said, “Get rid of the beard.”

John scrubbed at the matted snarl obscuring one cheek, examined the smears of diluted mud coating his hand, and didn’t move. 

The idea of drawing a razor through that mess was enough to make Aeryn’s stomach knot even tighter and she wasn’t the one who was going to have to shave.  The problem was obvious, the solution even easier.  “Wash it,” she ordered. 

John looked at her, inspected the interior of the shower, gazed out at their living quarters for several microts, and didn’t move.  The apathy had returned in full force.  What had triggered the transition from an almost cheerful level of cooperation to this disinterested sullenness, she couldn’t imagine.  What she did know was that she didn’t have the expertise to talk him out of it a second time.  It would take something else to draw him back. 

“I’ll do it,” she said. 

A small glimmer of enthusiasm returned.  “You don’t mind?”

She didn’t mind at all.  It was a chance to be close to him, to touch him, and to embark on the first stage of a slow, careful inventory of his body that had a far different purpose than the clinical inspection for injuries.  John dragged a seat into the shower, adjusted the spray so he could duck under by simply leaning forward, and then took his place in front of her with obvious eagerness.  It did not take long to slide into a peaceful realm defined by the steady hissing impact of hot water punctuated by the quieter slop of lather, of being close to each other, and of small random touches amidst the more deliberate contact.

She washed his hair the first time with John leaning forward so his head was directly underneath the heaviest portion of the shower, using lavish fistfuls of hair cleanser that rinsed out as fast as she could work them in.  The floods coursing down his shoulders and back once again ran thick with dirt and grit, leaving snaking deposits of sand in their wake until the next surge of water carried them away.  She could feel the filth running between her fingers as she scrubbed, and tried hard not to envision what she was dislodging aside from mud.  It took several circuits of his scalp and face before they started to feel like they were covered with hair again, instead of a soggy, grime-stiffened pelt.

The second stage took almost as long, and worked a slightly different layer out of his hair.  Whatever she was removing this time turned frothy bubbles into a drippy anemic lather, suggesting that it consisted of oils, chemicals that he had probably crawled through, and biological substances that she did not want to consider any more than she had wanted to know what might have been alive in his hair.  All in all, it meant that John was lucky not to have died from some sort of poisoning or an out-of-control infection. 

John sat silently with his back resting lightly against her hips and stomach while she applied more cleanser and went on scrubbing.  One of his hands fumbled behind him for a microt, sought out her leg, and came to rest there, fingers gently stroking the back of her thigh, often moving in time with the motion of her hands on his scalp.  If it hadn’t been for the caresses, it might have felt as though he was simply making sure she couldn’t move away from him without his knowing it.  Aeryn understood the compulsion behind the touch without having to ask.  The way his shoulders fit into the curve of her stomach when she leaned against him and the easy slide of his hair between her fingers were restoring something critical to her existence.  There was no doubt in her mind that the slow up-down movement against her leg was serving the same purpose.   

The peaceful interval ended all too soon.  Aeryn gave John a nudge to let him know he should lean forward, and helped him rinse out the last of the suds.  The person who sat up, slicked back dripping locks with both hands, and blew several clinging droplets of moisture off the lower fringes of his mustache was closer in appearance to the man she had left behind on the planet.  A lot of the dirt on his face had gone down the drain along with the hair cleanser, leaving behind someone more recognizable. 

“Shave,” she ordered firmly, hoping that if she could keep him moving the depression might dissolve along with the layers of dirt. 

It seemed to work.  John let out an extravagant sigh, plucked at the dripping whiskers covering one cheek, and then leaned to one side so he could peer into Aeryn’s gear bag. 

“What are you looking for?” she asked. 

“You’ve got everything else in there.  I was hoping for a barber’s chair and Phil, the guy who used to cut my dad’s hair.  I may need a blood transfusion by the time I get this off.”  He went on fingering his wet beard without making a move to get to his feet.  “This is so going to hurt.” 

“Wait.”  Aeryn retrieved the last item from her bag and placed it in his hand. 

John turned the object over several times.  “This is Luxan,” he said after three revolutions.  “This is D’Argo’s.  It’s the gadget he used to trim his mustache and whatever you call the rest of that hair on his face.”

“I asked Jothee if you could borrow it.  He said D’Argo would want you to keep it.  It’s yours now.” 

John examined the bulbous, asymmetrically shaped trimmer, fingers leisurely tracing the grip and controls where his friend’s hands had once held the device.  In the end, he gave it one final caress, as though he had just received permission to use it from its dead owner and, with increasing enthusiasm, asked, “How do I make it work?”

She leaned over his shoulder and pointed.  “You put that part against where you want to remove the hair and then push that control.  Since it is Luxan, two very large sets of pincers will come out of the opening, grab the clump of hair, and rip it out by the roots.  It is very painful.” 

John let his head loll back until he was looking at her ostensibly upside down, staring up at where she was standing behind him with one hand resting on his shoulder.  She waited, meeting his stare steadily, discovering for the first time in her life how difficult it could be to keep a straight face under certain conditions.   

“We need to talk about your sense of humor,” he said.

“I’ve told you before, John, soldiers don’t have a sense of humor.” 

“That’s the point I’m trying to make.  Just show me how to keep from cutting my throat with this thing.” 

She rested an elbow on his shoulder, leaning against him more heavily than before, and pointed again.  “The cutting surfaces remain recessed until you turn it on.  Set the length with this slide.  This end of the scale is for removing a beard; the symbol at the other end is Luxan for two denches.  Press that” -- she pointed to what looked like an imperfection on the casing -- “to turn it on and off.” 

Wandering an erratic course toward the corner where the mirror was located, John peered into the opening, fiddled with the adjustment, and then gave the power nub a nudge with his thumb.  After peeking into the business end of the trimmer one more time and glancing over his shoulder suspiciously at Aeryn, he touched it cautiously to his face just above his right cheekbone.  Bare skin appeared in the trimmer’s wake.  He made a snorting noise that might have been a small laugh, stepped closer to the mirror and set to work.

Aeryn drifted in the same general direction, choosing to remain inside the shower enclosure instead of joining him in the cramped confines outside the chest high partition separating the bathing area from the rest of the waste alcove.  She rested her forearms on the top of the half-height wall, propped her chin on top of her arms, and was content to watch the slide and stretch of his muscles and the slow-motion rainfall of damp hair.

There was something indescribably masculine about what he was doing.  It wasn’t anything as simple as the fact that she had never lived in close proximity with any species where the females had facial hair.  This had something to do with the deft, assured motions, the product of cycles worth of shaving, and the way his left hand seemed to operate on its own, shifting in easy concert with the movements of the trimmer.  It had to do with the way he could glance at her in the mirror from time to time without stopping, and the way his face gradually reappeared from beneath the reddish-brown ruff of fur.  Best of all, watching him shave redoubled the warm, relaxed feeling along her spine, the sensation that came and went in time with her thoughts about having John back beside her, healthy and whole. 

They’d only been given a quarter cycle’s reprieve after the end of the war in which to get to know each other on a much more intimate basis than ever before.  That interval had been long enough for her to learn that he preferred to shave from the left side of his face to the right, and that there was a spot on the underside of his jaw where he would always slow down and take particular care when he was using a razor.  She knew the spot well.  Kissing him there had an almost miraculous effect on the rest of his body.  But it hadn’t been long enough that the spectacle of watching him shave had lost its fascination. 

John shifted his grip on the trimmer; his mustache disappeared in a series of short strokes.  It left a shadow of closely shorn stubble in its wake.  They had been together long enough for her to know what that shadow meant for her.  She waited until his eyes flickered in her direction, checking on her, to motion for him to come closer.  John dutifully presented one cheek for inspection. 

“You’ll need to shave afterward,” she told him.  “I could strip ion charring off the Prowler’s hull with that.” 

Straightening up, John nodded agreeably, turned his head to one side, and removed the first of his sideburns all the way to the top of his ear.  Before Aeryn could blurt out an objection, the other one disappeared with the same firm swipe of the trimmer.  Aside from the fact that it accentuated the gaunt look to his face, the sudden disappearance of the familiar strips of hair transformed the starvation-altered features into someone she no longer recognized.  One microt there was someone who looked and acted like her husband standing in front of the mirror.  A moment later, there was a stranger poised there, hollow eyed and behaving more unpredictably than usual.   

It didn’t stop with his sideburns.  John gave the length setting on the trimmer a fractional nudge, smoothed back the hair on one side of his head with his free hand, and before Aeryn could put together a coherent reason why he shouldn’t do it, he cut an arcing swath from his temple to the back of his neck.  The Luxan-built device worked all too well.  It took no more than twenty or thirty microts for that side of his head to be transformed from a luxuriant auburn thicket to a close-cropped dark shadow of stubble less than a quarter dench long.  He transferred the trimmer to his left hand, and the other side of his head was subjected to the same treatment.   

The segment of her reactions that operated on instinct rather than reason was insisting that this wasn’t John Crichton.  John hated his hair that short … as did she.  She liked him with more hair on his head, not less.  It was when the unruly waves and tufts developed enough length to give him a boyish, roguish look that she liked it best.  She cherished the rare moments when they had time to sit in a secluded corner with John’s head in her lap, either talking or simply enjoying the opportunity to be together, and she could tug at one lock at a time or grab a fistful and rock his head gently, reveling in the fact that he loved being manhandled in that fashion. 

In the time it took for her to recover from the shock, John had finished the back of his head and was making his first, careful foray into the hair remaining on the top, working from front to back.  If the situation had been different, Aeryn might have enjoyed watching his hairline appear, or even derived some small amount of humor from the sight of an unruly mop of hair perched on top of an otherwise hairless skull.  Or she might have even asked to finish the job in order to see what it felt like, severed strands falling away in slithering cascades.  Given the chance, she might have chosen to work from the sides toward the crest of his skull, prolonging the process by cutting away narrow swaths on each side until there was a dench-wide strip along the top, and then removed that last portion in a final front-to-back swipe. 

In John’s hands, the trimmer burrowed in aggressively, taking out a rectangular bite and then moving to one side or the other for the next assault.  The lush landscape was pushed back one thrust at a time, retreating before a firm, determined onslaught.  The quick twist of his wrist at the end of each stroke suggested that he had done something similar at some point in his life. 

Before Aeryn could begin to assemble some sort of theory why John was doing this, the last fat hunk of hair tumbled down the back of his head.  John ran the trimmer over the top of his head several more times, checking the results with his free hand, and then he snapped the device off, swapped it for his razor, and for the first time since he started cutting his hair, looked at Aeryn in the mirror. 

A dead man stared out at her.  It wasn’t just the dark shadow of remaining hair, the haircut of an unwilling and untrained conscript who was facing certain death in an upcoming battle.  It went much deeper than that.  Between the sharply exposed cheekbones, the harsh lines of a jaw stripped of all excess flesh, and the hollows near his temples, the face in the mirror belonged to a specter returned from the dead -- one well suited to play the lead role in the most frightening of her nightmares. 

“Aeryn?  You okay?”  John had stopped moving and was watching her. 

The hair at the back of her neck was doing its best to stand on end, there was a constriction behind her breastbone that felt like her heart was on the verge of coming to a complete stop, and an unpleasant tingling in her hands and feet was making it difficult to know what portions of her surroundings were real or imagined.  And underlying it all was the irrational fear that this was all a delirium-generated dream that would end with her waking to the reality that John had died fighting an unstoppable wave of charrids. 

The fragmented, frequently horrifying hallucinations summoned up by the constant load of pain killers and stasis drugs while she was in the medbay of the Command Carrier had been all too similar to the distorted dreams she had suffered through while imprisoned on the Scarran freighter.  The loss of control, both mental and physical, had been every bit as distressing, and the familiar surroundings of the Command Carrier’s medical sector had done nothing to blunt the irrational belief that she would eventually wake to find a Scarran leaning over her.  Just when she had needed John most, if only to hold her hand and assure her that her surroundings were real, he had been far away, mired in his own waking nightmare. 

Eventually, after enough repetition, the boundary between dreaming and waking had blurred to the point that she was never sure which was the dream and which was the equally unpleasant reality:  Scarran imprisonment or injuries that had been every bit as painful as deliberately inflicted torture. 

“Aeryn?  What’s the matter?” 

She had been silent too long, immersed in memories both real and imagined.  John was standing half a motra closer to her than she remembered, gazing at her intently.  The icy fist that had formed in the center of her chest made it difficult to answer him.  “I’m fine.  Don’t stop what you’re doing,” she managed to say.

“Bullshit, Aeryn.  I’m not sure what that was, but it sure as hell wasn’t ‘fine’.” 

“It was a chill,” she said.  It wasn’t a complete lie.  There was a clammy sweat creeping down her back, and she felt mildly nauseous.  “Get back to work.”

He watched her a little longer, started to say something, hesitated, and then turned back toward the mirror and began to lather his face.  It wasn’t until he had made the first careful pass with the razor, flicked it free of foam, and was getting ready for the next stroke that he said, “Something to do with a dream.” 

For the next several hundred microts, the only noise in the waste alcove was the hushed scratch of the razor, the occasional quiet rap of metal against metal, and the periodic splash of water into the funnel.  John had finished the tricky area in front of his second ear and was leaning close to the mirror to do his upper lip by the time she answered him with a simple, “Yes.”

She had to wait a while for his next comment.  John took his time, moving with what seemed to be an absurd degree of deliberation.  A dentic -- the second he had exhausted since he had started shaving -- got spat into his hand, dropped into its fluid-filled container to recover, and a fresh one was fished out.  “Thish ishn’t a dream,” John said once it was tucked into his cheek. 

Aeryn thought about his simply stated assurance and how John had known that she was fighting off an absurd, wholly emotional belief that having him back was not real.  “You,” she said. 

He spent more time than was necessary rinsing the razor, dried it, examined the blade and then rinsed it again before answering.  “Once in a while.” 

“Every time you fall asleep,” she said. 

John’s eyes flickered toward hers for a microt.  “More often than that,” he confessed.  “I can’t shake the feeling --” 

“-- that you’re going to wake up and find out that the good moments are a dream.” 

This time when he nodded, it looked like John was fighting back tears.  “After going through it thirty or forty times, it kind of sucked,” he said. 

There didn’t seem to be an adequate reply to that final summation.  Aeryn let her eyes follow his hands while the silence stretched out, watching the way they cupped handfuls of water in order to rinse his face, the manner in which his fingers wiped away the last blobs and smears of shaving lubricant, sneaking one small daub out from beneath one nostril, and made a quick but thorough circuit of his face, checking for missed patches of stubble.  One thumb, the knuckle still creased with dirt, rubbed a spot on his jaw several times.  A moment later the razor made a cautious pass across the offending area. 

John made one final cursory inspection of his lower face, wiped it dry with a towel, got rid of the last overworked dentic, and turned to face her.  “How about now?” he asked.  A glimmer of a smile appeared, showing mostly in his eyes.   

“Yes.”  Aeryn stepped around the end of the shower partition, and for the first time in almost sixty solar days, kissed him. 


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


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