Author Topic: The Chrysalis (PG-13 / NC-17)  (Read 632 times)

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The Chrysalis (PG-13 / NC-17)
« on: June 10, 2016, 10:32:48 AM »
The Chrysalis
Sequel to The Changeling

* * * * *

ULTRA-SHIPPY ALERT:  If you are not a John/Aeryn shipper, this story will probably either bore you to death, or kill you from an overdose of shippiness … possibly both.  You have been warned. 

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

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

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

Hope you enjoy it.

   * * * * *

Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

“I want to see D’Argo,” he said. 

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

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

“John, look at yourself.” 

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

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

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

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

“All taken care of,” Aeryn said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What is the matter with you now?” 

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

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

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

“The what?” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Okay,” she said.  “Jacket off?” 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John hadn’t. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Good choice.  Turn around.” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What stage is it in now?” 

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

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

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

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

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

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

Happiness is not a destination.  It is a method of life. -- Burton Hills
Life is not about waiting for the storms to pass.  It's about learning to dance in the rain. -- Vivian Greene

Offline KernilCrash

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Re: The Chrysalis (PG-13 / NC-17)
« Reply #1 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. 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

Happiness is not a destination.  It is a method of life. -- Burton Hills
Life is not about waiting for the storms to pass.  It's about learning to dance in the rain. -- Vivian Greene

Offline KernilCrash

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Re: The Chrysalis (PG-13 / NC-17)
« Reply #2 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.” 


“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.   

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

Happiness is not a destination.  It is a method of life. -- Burton Hills
Life is not about waiting for the storms to pass.  It's about learning to dance in the rain. -- Vivian Greene

Offline KernilCrash

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Re: The Chrysalis (PG-13 / NC-17)
« Reply #3 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!” 


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.   

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

Happiness is not a destination.  It is a method of life. -- Burton Hills
Life is not about waiting for the storms to pass.  It's about learning to dance in the rain. -- Vivian Greene

Offline KernilCrash

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Re: The Chrysalis (PG-13 / NC-17)
« Reply #4 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
Still ... Purveyor of Hallucinations  ;)
Happiness is not a destination.  It is a method of life. -- Burton Hills
Life is not about waiting for the storms to pass.  It's about learning to dance in the rain. -- Vivian Greene