Tough Love - Part 2
John ran into Command, tossed Winona carelessly onto the Strategy Table, and slid to a stop by the DRD
hatch on one leathered hip. He yanked the grating loose, tossed it half way across Command in his rush, and
then peered in, expecting to find the bottoms of Aeryn’s boots. The tunnel was empty.
“IAN?” he yelled. A sickening gut-lurch accompanied the irrational fear that perhaps there’d been a second
ship, and both Aeryn and his son had been taken captive while he’d helped D’Argo and the DRDs finish off the
last of the Scarran-bioloids.
“Dad?” It was a weak, shaking reproduction of Ian’s usual cheerful shout. “DAD?”
“Where are you? I can’t see either of you.” He lay down on his stomach and peered into the gloom.
“Further in. Pilot told me he could make the air colder in one of the other tunnels, but I had to move Mom.
She’s still asleep. I’m scared, Dad. She won’t wake up.” A quiet hiccup of distress echoed quietly in the dark
“Here I come.” John got to his knees long enough to pull off his vest. He’d managed to squirm through the
small openings countless times over the last cycles, always in pursuit of a mischievous toddler who had a talent
for getting lost in Moya’s innards, but it was a close fit every time. Even the small addition of his vest might be
enough for him to get stuck.
“Pilot, how far in are they?” Although most of the tunnels opened up almost immediately, many of them turned
into impossibly narrow passageways within two motras. His concern for Aeryn was making it hard to think, and
he couldn’t remember which type this was even though he’d been in there more than once.
“Young Eiyan is five and a half motras from the bulkhead,” Pilot answered, using the Sebacean pronunciation
that Aeryn preferred. “The access tunnel opens up immediately beyond the bulkhead, and does not narrow
again.” Pilot had participated in enough of the rescues to know what information John would want before he
needed to ask. “Aeryn is no more than twelve motras from the Safe Room, close to the intersection of the
primary fore-and-aft access shaft.”
Crichton slithered through the triangular opening. As soon as he got inside, away from the brighter lights in
Command, he could see Aeryn lying in the center of the narrow corridor. There was a damp cloth and a small
basin of water next to her, and a very small shirt had been folded and placed beneath her head as a cushion.
Ian was sitting beyond her, knees and arms tucked up against his bare chest, shivering in the abnormally cool
draft. He watched John approach, eyes flicking back and forth between his father’s hunched-over scuttle and
his mother’s motionless body, and didn’t move.
“How you two doing?” John asked as he sank down beside Aeryn. She was breathing easily, her color was
better, and she was unnaturally still.
“Okay.” It was a small sound, barely managing to turn into two syllables.
“Has Mom said anything yet?”
Ian shook his head this time, not bothering to answer out loud. John looked at him more closely. There wasn’t
so much as a hint that Ian wanted to cry, but the dirt on his face was smeared in broad lateral patterns that
suggested he’d been wiping his face frequently, and there were wandering clean tracks down both cheeks. Ian
had been waiting here for nearly two arns, crouched in the dark beside his silent mother, obediently following
the instructions his father had given him before disappearing to fight large, ugly creatures.
“Come here, buddy,” John summoned him. He turned so his back was against the curving side of the tunnel
and braced himself for the impact. “Come on. They’re all dead. It’s over.” The little body unwound all at once,
the uncharacteristic lack of motion disappearing in a flash. A split microt later, Ian crashed into John’s chest
and wound his arms around his neck.
“I was scared you were never coming back,” the small voice wailed into his shoulder. “Nobody commed for arns
“I’m here,” John assured him over and over again. One of Ian’s knees was coming close to permanently
damaging his most prized anatomy, he was getting choked by the desperate embrace, and he didn’t try to
change his son’s position except to hug him more tightly. “I’m not going to make you stay by yourself again.
Quivers, jerks, and uneven breaths continued for tens of microts while John continued to murmur small
assurances, rocked him, and hummed the calming rumbles deep in his chest that had soothed Ian from the time
he was an infant. Ian’s breathing evened out first, then the shaking slowed and stopped. There was a long
gusting sigh against the side of John’s neck, and the choke-hold on his neck was released. John shifted him,
easing Ian’s knee away from his pummeled groin.
“Better now?” he asked once they’d gotten settled into a more comfortable position.
Ian nodded and wiped a grimy hand across his eyes. The pattern of dirt and smears on his face became more
intricate. He wasn’t crying though, only hovering on the verge and fighting hard to stay in control. John waited;
his son wouldn’t stay silent very long if there were things on his mind.
“The Scarrans are all dead?” It was the small, whispery voice again, as if saying it more quietly would make it
“Deader than doornails,” he answered as lightly as possible. “We’re gonna make handbags out of them.”
Ian nodded, unbothered by the portions of the explanation that didn’t make any sense. He’d long ago come to
accept that there were times when no one aboard Moya understood what his father was saying. “Dad?”
“Is Grammy dead?”
“Yeah, she’s dead, Ian. She saved me. Were you watching that part?”
“Yes. I didn’t want her to go out there, but she said it was time for her to meet her destiny. What did she
John sighed in something approaching despair. What it meant to him was that this eight-cycle-old child had
seen his crazed attempt to keep Grisvolk from burning Aeryn, had watched as he’d deliberately allowed himself
to be burned, and had also observed the entire devastating process of Aeryn’s collapse. Ian knew about the
Living Death; they’d explained his mother’s susceptibility to heat to him when he was four. He’d never had to
watch her succumb to it though. And Ian had waited silently through it all, crouched inside the tunnel until it was
the right moment to act. It had been a very tough day on his son.
Before John could formulate an answer to Ian’s question, something else occurred to him. During the chaos of
the preceding several arns, there hadn’t been time to consider several facts. “Ian, where did you get the pulse
“Grammy gave it to me. She shut off the DRDs too, so I could leave the room.” Ian squirmed around in John’s
lap until he was facing the spot where Aeryn continued to lie without moving or making a sound. “I disobeyed
orders. Am I in trouble? Is Mom going to be mad at me?”
Aeryn was a harsher disciplinarian than John had ever been. In a reversal of his own childhood, “Wait until
your mother hears about this,” carried a threat great enough to turn Ian into a temporarily well-behaved little
John wanted to go to that strict, disciplined person and try to wake her. He wanted desperately to get Aeryn out
of this dark, musty smelling place, and down to the medical bay where he might be able to determine if she
would ever look at him again, make fun of his remaining Earth-habits, and gently tease him in the way that left
him breathless with love. He shifted several denches closer to her and answered Ian instead. Right now, his
son needed him more than Aeryn did. Her recovery was dependent on how far toward the Living Death she’d
been driven before Ian’s heroic arrival had stopped the process. There was nothing he could do except wait to
see if she would recover.
“She won’t be mad this time. You were our own Jedi Knight today.” Ian giggled briefly, pleased with the
pronouncement. Jedi knights and beyond-death assistance from Obi Wan Kenobi he understood; forever
sleeping mothers, he did not. John laid his cheek against Ian’s head and tried to derive some strength from his
newly knighted son.
The pair sat quietly in the maintenance tunnel for a while. The only sounds were Ian’s occasional sniffles once
his short-lived giggles had faded, and the nearly inaudible whoosh of cool air.
Ian’s already high-pitched voice shifted upward more than an octave, into a stress-filled wail. “Is Mommy
“No, Ian. She’s still breathing. Only people who are alive breathe.” Life and death weren’t the only options for
Sebaceans though. John closed his eyes, fighting back the fear that Ian’s question had let loose. It had been
a long time since he’d sent a message to the single deity of Earth-type religions; he found himself pleading
mentally with an imagined all-powerful father-figure to let Aeryn recover. “She’s not dead,” he repeated to Ian,
hoping it was entirely true.
“I tried to get her to wake up. I tried and tried. She won’t wake up, Dad.”
“Ssshhhh,” he urged. “You did good. You did a great job taking care of her.”
“Pilot helped. Pilot told me that he could make the air colder back here. I couldn’t move her, Dad. I had to pull
and pull, and the DRDs came to help, and we still had trouble, and then she finally slid only I couldn’t get her all
the way back to where it was coldest.” The explanation tumbled out, words falling in odd cadences that merged
the syllables together into indecipherable groups, then separating into coherent sounds microts later.
John let him ramble.
“Pilot sent a DRD with some water, and another one showed up with a cloth and I tried to make her colder like
you said. She kept sleeping, Dad. No one’s supposed to sleep when they’re getting wet, are they? Mom
moved a little and made some noises, and I thought maybe she should sleep some more, like I do when I get
sick? You know? So I told her a bedtime story, that stupid story you told me about the crunchy critters that you
squished? I know she hates it, but it was the only one I could think of, and she was quieter after that, so I didn’t
try to wake her anymore.”
The flood of words eased, slowed to a confused trickle, and finally trailed off. Ian took a steadier breath and
made the heartbreaking request that John had been expecting. “Dad, I think Mom should wake up now. Please
make her wake up. She’s going to wake up, right?”
John closed his eyes, searching for the wisdom that would tell him what was best for his son: the brutal truth or
a pleasant tale that might turn out to be a lie. “I don’t know, Ian,” he said truthfully. “I want her to wake up, but
they did something to her that might make her sleep for a very, very long time.”
“I want her to wake up, Dad.” Ian’s pleas continued despite the explanation, increasing in desperation with
each repetition. “I want her to wake up now. Wake her up. Please, Dad.”
“She needs time. We have to wait.” He rocked Ian some more, trying to soothe him. Tens of microts slid by;
Aeryn didn’t move or make a sound.
“They hurt both of you,” Ian said abruptly.
The questions and observations were shifting from one topic to the next in a seemingly random order, subtle
hints of a larger, underlying trauma. John turned a hand palm-up so Ian could examine the damage. A small
finger prodded very carefully at a large blister. “Ouch,” he whispered with his lips touching Ian’s ear. He
endured the mild pain as another blister was explored.
“You were yelling a lot.” Ian started to shake. John turned him around so they were face to face. “You were
screaming, Dad.” The tears arrived at last, rolling fast as he grabbed on to his father and sobbed into his
John shifted the small, shaking body more securely into his lap and held him tightly against his chest. “You did
fine, buddy. You did great,” he said into the silky, dark hair.
“I was so scared, Daddy,” Ian wailed into his chest, using the child’s term he’d abandoned almost two full cycles
earlier. Great shuddering sobs wracked the half dressed body, pounding out his fright. “I should have come
out and shot sooner, but I was too scared.”
“That’s okay. You were supposed to be scared. Your mother and I were scared too.”
John freed a hand long enough to check Aeryn’s pulse, the self-proclaimed fear curling into a chilled ache in
the center of his chest. The rhythm pounded away under his fingertips, slow and steady, and he had to face
the possibility that the small thumping might be the only motion he ever felt from her ever again. It had been
too long for her to still be unconscious. She’d always recovered before this. And for the first time since she’d
lost consciousness, he was truly afraid. The idea of life without Aeryn was unbearable.
“Not you, Dad,” Ian protested. “You weren’t scared.” He raised his head and examined his father’s face intently
for signs of deception. The tears had eased to occasional trickles.
“Yes, I was. I still am, but it’s how you handle that scared part that matters.” John caressed Aeryn’s forehead
one more time, deriving some small bit of hope from the cool feel of her skin, and then turned all of his attention
on the leviathan’s youngest fighter. “When did you first feel scared?” he asked.
Ian bit his lower lip, looking more like Aeryn than he had at any time of his life. The last tremors died away as
he was distracted by the question. “When you first told me to Scuttle. Your voice sounded wrong. It was kind
of scratchy like it wasn’t working right.”
“So you Scuttled, exactly the way we’ve always practiced, and then what did you do?”
“I didn’t do what I was supposed to,” Ian said, admitting his crime for the second time. “I left the Safe Room.”
“And even though you were really, really scared, you came up where the big scary monsters were being --”
“They’re called Scarrans, Dad,” Ian protested.
“-- where the big, Scarran monsters were being mean to me and your Mom, and you shot the biggest one.” Ian
nodded, looking more assured. “You kept going when you were frightened, kiddo. That’s courage. That’s
what a brave person does. You saved Moya and Pilot and me and your mother and even Uncle D’Argo.”
John tucked Ian’s head in under his chin, hugged him tightly, and felt empty. He would need to be strong for
Ian over the coming cycles. It wouldn’t be easy raising him on his own, but it was beginning to look like he didn’t
have a choice. “We’re going to be brave together, Ian. You and me. We’re going to be okay.”
“What about me?” a quiet voice interjected.
“MOM!” Ian’s shrill cry echoed up and down the tunnel, setting several nearby DRDs to chirping.
John let go of the suddenly re-energized little body, and skidded across the short distance to Aeryn’s side. He
brushed a single tendril of hair away from her face, then lifted her head and shoulders and slid underneath her
to hold her upper body in his arms. “Hey there.”
“Hey there,” she returned.
“You scared the crap out of me.” The words emerged in a shaking rasp when poorly controlled muscles had to
struggle to function around a large lump in his throat. Ian was kneeling on the other side of Aeryn, holding her
hand, looking as though he wanted to launch himself into her arms. “Come here, buster,” John ordered,
holding out one arm. His son made it in one flying leap, trusting his father to snare him out of the air before he
hit the wall of the access tunnel. John hugged the two bodies together, one arm around each, and tried to
remember if there was a time when he’d ever felt this close to fainting.
“You’re squishing me, Dad,” Ian complained after several microts.
“Sorry.” He loosened his grasp and looked at his family. A moment earlier he’d felt as though he’d be able to
muddle through day to day, surviving for his son’s sake. In an instant, someone had replaced his heart and
soul; all the parts necessary for life were present.
“Eiyan,” Aeryn summoned her child. “My small miracle, come here.” He slid the short distance from John’s
embrace into Aeryn’s, snuggled in close, and wrapped his arms and legs around her body. They seemed to
merge into a single entity, drawing energy and strength from each other.
John smiled at the sight of them, content with coming in second place in Ian’s affections. He had a small
shadow that followed him all over Moya, dressed like him, and tried in so many ways to be just like John
Crichton; there was no reason to be jealous of the special bond between mother and son.
Aeryn rested her chin on the top of Ian’s head and smiled back at John’s grin. “He seems to be in one piece.”
“He shot Gridlock,” John told her, trying to keep his voice entirely casual. “Took the helmet right off another
one.” Aeryn’s eyes widened. “Along with its head.”
“I killed them, Mummy,” the muffled voice proclaimed into her chest. “It was awful messy.”
John caught a laugh before it burst out, and thought that perhaps Ian might emerge from this with less
emotional damage than he’d first feared.
“Want to get out of here?” The tunnel was dark, snug, and safe, but it was also drafty, and smelled of
machinery and Moya’s less pleasant varieties of amnexus fluid.
“I like it here,” Aeryn answered immediately. “Let’s sit for a while. An arn or two.”
John checked her expression in surprise, half expecting to find the gleam in her eyes that meant she was
teasing him. The grayish eyes caught his, flicked very deliberately toward where Ian was trying to fuse himself
into her body, and then fastened on John again. It was an unmistakable signal. She wanted to tell him
something, and didn’t want Ian around when she did.
“Hey, Superman.” Ian raised his head grinning with pleasure at the hero’s label. “Can you find your way to
Treasure Island and back? Your mother could use a drink.”
“Abso-frelling-lutely,” the youngster said very deliberately and disentangled his arms and legs from Aeryn’s
“Ian!” Aeryn barked at him.
“Dad says it!” the smallest Crichton protested.
“He shouldn’t say it either,” she scolded both of them at once.
“Punishment tour?” Ian asked, fidgeting. It was the Peacekeeper phrase for something far less severe than
what she’d endured at his age. Swearing normally cost him an arn of cleaning DRDs. A brief interval when
he’d first learned the new vocabulary had resulted in a shining fleet of drones that had Pilot and Moya as close
to ‘ecstatic’ as they ever got. There hadn’t been a grease spot or smudge to be found on any of the yellow
Aeryn motioned him back to her for a small hug. “I think you’ve earned one single swear. But not another!”
she warned quickly seeing the smile appear. “Go.”
Ian disappeared at a run, small enough to stand upright in the limited confines of the access tunnel.
“Can you walk?” John asked as soon as the footsteps were beyond hearing. He’d used the few microts during
their exchange to think about why Aeryn might want Ian to disappear for a few moments.
Her hand was shaking as she reached up to place two fingers on his lips, silencing him before he could voice
his concern. It demonstrated how much physical stress she’d endured, how far down the finite path toward heat
delirium she’d been forced to travel this time. There’d never been any residual damage in the past, but Aeryn
had never taken this long to recover either.
She continued to reassure him. “The feeling is back almost to my ankles. I’ll be fine. He’s been scared
enough already. I didn’t want him to worry.”
“You’re sure? You’re sure there’s no damage? What about your memory?” John pulled her further into his
embrace, rearranging her legs to lie more comfortably now that he knew she couldn’t do it on her own.
“I’m positive. I was awake for most of Ian’s bedtime story. I could hear him, but I was concerned that if I tried to
answer and didn’t make any sense, that he’d get more scared. He was so brave.” Aeryn grasped one of his
wrists carefully and turned his hand over. Her breath hissed in sharply as the damage was revealed. “These
are bad, John. We have to find a medical facility.”
“We will,” he assured her. “There’s time for that now.”
All but a few of the blisters had burst during the wild two arns it had taken to kill the remaining three Scarrans.
Both hands were a mass of raw, oozing flesh and tattered skin. John flexed his hands several times. It hurt, but
not so much that he couldn’t stand it. He hadn’t consciously noticed the discomfort until the touch of Aeryn’s
cool fingers provided a contrast to the pain. It was a gnawing ache from fingertips to above his wrists,
reverberating unpleasantly to beyond his elbows. They bent over his hands together, examining them and
discovering that although widespread, the burns weren’t deep or severe. He would heal.
“What happened? I don’t remember much. How did you stop them?”
“They were bioloids. That’s what I figured out at the last moment.”
“They couldn’t be. Bioloids aren’t that stupid,” she argued. “Occasionally some information gets lost during the
neural transfer, but they should be every bit as intelligent as the host they’re patterned on.”
“I know,” John repeated several times during her explanation. “Fact, Aeryn. There are bio-guts all over
Command and bits and pieces scattered across various other portions of Moya. What would happen if the
Scarrans were short of troops and began turning out more than one unit per host? What if they’re building
them too fast, or maybe making dozens of copies from each individual?”
“I suppose it’s possible” she said pensively, considering his theories.
John launched in again, ideas tumbling out in quick succession. “They might even be making bioloids from
other bioloids. This could be the kind of degenerative errors that begin to show up whenever someone tries to
clone a clone. Something else, Aeryn. Those warriors were all copies of the elite caste. If they’re using their
leaders as troops then they’re in more trouble than even the Peacekeepers realize.”
“If that’s true, then we need to get word to someone in the Alliance,” Aeryn said thoughtfully. “They’re avoiding
ground battles because it’s so difficult to kill a Scarran. If they can detect bioloid troops, it’ll allow a change in
tactics. But they had a heat gland,” she added, returning to the bioloid debate.
John shrugged, expressing his inability to explain it. “Sputnik had that radiation thing going that could toast
Scarrans. It wouldn’t be much of an adjustment for a bio-lizard to be able to create thermal energy instead of
radiation. It explains why my hands don’t look like charcoal briquettes. A real Scarran should have turned me
into a crispy critter.” He pressed his lips against Aeryn’s forehead, half a caress and half a check for body
temperature, and then changed the subject. “You taught Ian to shoot. I thought we agreed that we weren’t
going to do that until he was ten.”
With the exception of their disagreement over the vows, the argument about teaching Ian to handle weapons
had exceeded all others in terms of length and vehemence. They’d hammered away at each other verbally for
nearly three solar days, going without sleep or food, nearly resorting to physical violence several times. They’d
covered the same arguments repeatedly in an unparalleled display of stubbornness on both their parts. It had
been fatigue that had brought the fight to an end, and he could have sworn they’d agreed to wait two more
“You dictated; I never agreed,” Aeryn responded without any vestige of humor.
Crichton’s angry retort was forestalled by a quiet chirp from the comms and D’Argo’s concerned voice. “John,
where are you?”
“Inside the access tunnel leading off Command,” he answered. It sounded ludicrous. It was as though he’d just
announced that they were going to spend the night camping inside a storm drain. He listened to make sure Ian
wasn’t on his way back, then added more quietly, “Aeryn needs a couple of arns to recover. Do you need any
The unpleasant task of disposing of the bodies, and in some cases body parts, remained. The fact that the
intruders had been bioloids made it no less repulsive.
“I can handle it. Take your time. Do you need anything?”
To John’s raised-eyebrow inquiry, Aeryn shook her head. “Not right now. We’ll comm if we need any help
getting her out of here.” D’Argo acknowledged and the comms went silent.
John rested his cheek against Aeryn’s head and thought about their chaotic afternoon. The nightmare in
Command might have been prevented if D’Argo had been inside Moya to help them, but because he’d stayed
on Lo’La, he’d been in the right place when the three remaining Scarran-look-alikes had split up. Once they’d
left Command, the bioloid-Scarrans had shown more of the competent behavior they’d demonstrated during
their initial assault. Without D’Argo’s help, the temporary rout might have turned into a disaster.
“What are you thinking?” Aeryn asked.
“I’m trying to figure out how you got D’Argo to wait in Lo’La.” He hadn’t been having any luck reasoning with the
irate luxan, and she’d managed it in one brief sentence. “You hit him with his blood oath, didn’t you?”
The day after they’d pronounced their vows to an infant Ian, D’Argo had summoned everyone to the Den and
made a similar commitment. He’d performed a Luxan Blood Oath ritual, slashing several of his tanktas as he
first explained that he wouldn’t promise to always remain aboard Moya, and then sworn that as long as he did
he would always put Ian’s well-being before his own. His oath had included a pledge to defer to John and
Aeryn’s judgment whenever it involved Ian’s safety.
“Yes.” Aeryn bent and extended her legs several times, concentrating on that movement while John considered
“Would he have left Lo’La if I’d yelled for help?”
“No.” Aeryn dropped the single word into the hush of the tunnel without apology or explanation.
John thought about how close he’d come to losing Aeryn, and the fury was unlike anything he’d had to cope
with in the past. Pain, stubbornness, anxiety, and fear combined to goad him into a level of anger he didn’t
think himself capable of producing. It was the type of anger that only hurt and the specter of loss could
produce. “God damn it, Aeryn! We’re supposed --”
“Let me explain!” The barked order silenced him long enough for her to continue in a more moderate tone.
“Listen to me for a few microts. I want you to understand something, and I don’t want Ian to overhear, so let me
She started by taking his head between hands that had quieted to mild trembles, and kissed him. The caress
worked. The flood of anger abated to levels he could control. “Go ahead,” he said.
“You’ve been trying so hard to give Ian the kind of childhood you had. You want him to be happy and carefree
and to enjoy the same kind of innocence that you had when you were growing up on Earth.” John nodded in
agreement. “And I’ve let you because I love you both and you’re right, he should have those cycles of fun. But
despite all your cycles living here, and all the things we’ve been through together, you aren’t able to admit to
yourself that Ian can never have your childhood. This isn’t Earth, and if you continue to protect him, you’ll get
“We can keep him safe,” he interjected.
“We can try to keep him safe. You dreamed up every single facet of the Safe Room. It’s a wonderful idea, so I
let you do it without arguing, but the one thing you have refused to do over the last eight cycles is make the
hardest choice imaginable. Ian needs at least one parent. All of your precautions are designed to protect Ian
with no regard for whether it puts both of us at risk at the same time. You can’t accept that you might have to
sacrifice me in order to make sure that you survive for Ian’s sake.”
“You forced D’Argo to stay outside Moya today. That’s the same thing.”
“We got caught by surprise. There wasn’t enough time to do it differently.” Aeryn stopped to listen for Ian.
The tunnel leading toward the shielded room was silent. “I told D’Argo that if we both died, that his blood oath
demanded he raise Ian as his own son. That’s why he stopped arguing.”
“None of this has anything to do with teaching Ian to shoot, or what happened in Command today. You’re
eliminating options, Aeryn. We need more options, not less. We need to dissolve the vows. I won’t honor
them. I won’t let us get pushed into this kind of situation ever again.”
“We will not dissolve them, and you’re going to keep your word.”
“No,” he argued, suddenly close to tears. “I can’t.” His voice turned thick and guttural as he imagined having to
go through a repeat of what he’d experienced that day, possibly with a lethal outcome. They’d been lucky this
time around. “I won’t.”
“Yes, you will. You promised me, and you promised Ian. I forced you to make that promise because I need for
you to be strong when you don’t want to be,” she said gently. Aeryn brushed her fingers along his temple and
took several microts to examine his face. “After everything you’ve learned here, you are still the most gentle,
compassionate person I’ve ever known.”
“You’ve obviously been hanging out with a tough crowd.” It was designed to give him time to consider what she
was saying. He wanted to deny it, to argue with her and show her that she was wrong. John tried to formulate
some sort of argument to her carefully marshaled points, and came up empty.
“So have you, and it hardened you for a while. But you learned how to love and care again. You want that
easier life for Ian. I want to make sure he never has to go through anything like what Jothee experienced when
he lost both of his parents at once. When you get pushed into a difficult choice like today, you get desperate
and start making up your hideous plans. Until you learn to accept that sometimes you have to give up one
thing you love in order to protect another, I’m going to do it for you.”
“That’s cruel and unfair.”
“Life is cruel and unfair.” Aeryn threw his words back at him, then pulled his arms around her more firmly.
“Hold me.” She was letting him know that she wasn’t angry. John hugged her as tightly as he could without
using his hands. “What do you see when you wake up in the middle of the night and worry about Ian?”
“I keep seeing him lying dead.” He didn’t need to wake up to envision it. The blood-soaked nightmares
revolving around a grisly death for his son had begun before Ian was born. The horrors generated by his
subconscious had changed four cycles ago when they’d discovered what knowledge was embedded in their
son’s genes. Since that day, it was the dream-sight of Ian’s eviscerated body lying in a Peacekeeper lab that
woke him sweating and chilled too many nights. “Dead or dying.”
“I don’t. It’s the prospect of Ian winding up all alone that keeps me awake. I hear him crying for us -- sometimes
dressed in rags and starving, sometimes laboring as a slave, sometimes in a Scarran prison cell where they’ve
discovered what’s hidden in his genes. And every time, we’re both dead and he’s scared and alone.” Aeryn
freed a hand long enough to wipe her eyes. “I will not let that happen to him, John. I’m going to make sure that
he can take care of himself, and that he always has at least one of us there to protect him. If that means that
one of us has to watch the other one die, then that’s what we’re going to do.”
John rested his cheek lightly against the top of Aeryn’s head and thought about everything she’d just told him.
The need to argue had been buried beneath the layers of her reasoning. He was angry and hurt that she
hadn’t mentioned any of this for eight entire cycles, but every one of her arguments was so compelling, it was
difficult to debate her choices.
At some point during the long-ago half-cycle she’d never completely described to him, Aeryn had learned how
to live without him. She’d gone the whole route: watched him die, moved past the grief and the depression,
and come out of it stronger. He’d lost her again and again in different ways, and had been granted a reprieve
each time. She’d left to protect Talyn, and had come back almost immediately. The neural clone had taken
control and killed her, and Zhaan had brought her back to life. He’d survived a half-cycle without her, and
she’d returned. The interminable days aboard Elack had been painful, and he’d known that she was alive.
He’d never had to face the brutal reality that she was gone forever.
Aeryn had watched John Crichton die, and had come to terms with it. She knew she could survive without him.
He hadn’t learned the same lesson yet.
“Why didn’t you tell me any of this before?” John demanded in a shaking whisper. “You know how much I hated
the vows. If you had explained this, I wouldn’t have fought you on it.” Aeryn’s quiet chuckle yanked him back to
reality. “Okay, I wouldn’t have fought as hard. I would have traded in intolerably pig-headed for merely
incredibly stubborn. But you’ve kept this secret from me for more than seven frelling cycles, Aeryn! We’re
supposed to be partners.”
“Partners doesn’t mean we have to do everything the same way -- you know that. We compensate for each
other’s weaknesses. And I didn’t say anything because you’ve taught me about hope and love. I was hoping
that Ian would grow up without needing any of my preparations, and I love you, so I didn’t want you to be
worrying that a day like today would happen when you’d be forced to choose.”
“You are so damn tough, Aeryn Sun.” John didn’t like her methods, but he was beginning to see that Aeryn
wasn’t entirely wrong. Ian was far more prepared for the harsh life in this portion of the universe than any child
on Earth ever would be, and most of that was Aeryn’s doing.
“You know how to love,” she replied, using the same intonation he had. “I’ve been teaching you about being
tough, and you taught me how to love someone. Between the two of us, we can make sure that Ian knows how
to balance the two. He’s going to need more of that than ever after today. John, I didn’t want him to have to
use a weapon so soon, but I could not let him get any older without knowing how to protect himself.”
Anger, hurt, and depression mixed together, cancelled each other out, and rendered him numb and unable to
object. “He’s only eight,” he said after several microts. It was too young to take a life, regardless of whether it
was Scarran, bioloid, or something else.
“It was too soon,” she agreed. “So we’ll have to work together to make sure he adjusts. We work together well
when it comes to Ian.”
“We work together great all the time,” John countered. “There’s just a lot less yelling whenever he’s within
Aeryn turned inside his arms so she was facing him, snuggled in as closely as Ian had been less than a quarter-
arn earlier, and kissed him. John closed his eyes and let the myriad complexities of Aeryn Sun wash over him.
The smell of chakan oil, leather and the musty scent that came from lying in Moya’s innards; a mildly salty taste
that he knew from experience followed heat delirium; the warmth of her body and her fingers pressing against
the side of his neck to hold him close, her thumb rubbing him lightly behind his ear -- the deluge of small inputs
combined into a crashing wave of sensation. For a long, suspended moment his entire universe consisted of
this one woman. There was nothing but Aeryn.
“Wow.” He broke away to catch his breath, then gave her another, shorter kiss.
“I can sit up on my own now.” Her attempt to lift her legs from where her knees were bent over one of his thighs
was only partially successful.
“I like it this way,” he complained. John lifted her legs clear anyway, helped her turn so she was facing away
from him, and hugged her from behind.
“So do I, but we’re missing one son. He’s been gone too long.”
“Crap! I lost track of time.” He made sure she was sitting comfortably, and got to his feet. “Probably found
something more interesting than his parents.”
“He’s a Crichton. It’s more likely that he’s off dreaming up some terrible plan that won’t work right,” Aeryn
“And since he’s your son, when it starts to go to dren, he’ll fix it by shooting something.” John knelt long
enough to give her another quick kiss, then headed for the Safe Room at the fastest pace his hunched-over
posture would allow.
He’d made it more than halfway when he heard footsteps and a strange slithering sound coming toward him.
John dropped onto one knee, a more comfortable position in the constriction of Moya’s maintenance tunnel,
and waited. Ian appeared around a corner. He was wearing a clean shirt and his jacket against the abnormal
chill in the tunnel, and was towing one of the golden thermal sheets. The sheet was weighed down with an
organized array of items, as though he’d selected each one with great deliberation and placed it in a particular
John waited as Ian traversed the five-motra distance between them. Their son was a thorough blending of his
parents. It was as though their genes had tried to compensate for the enduring differences that continued to
lead to arguments and misunderstandings after so many cycles together. The figure coming toward him had
his own sturdy build, tempered by Aeryn’s leanness. Her fast reflexes married to his stamina had given Ian the
limitless energy that regularly left both parents exhausted at the end of the day. Ian had her glossy black hair
with his unruly waves; strange forever-changing blue-gray eyes that were never quite Aeryn’s or his own; and a
fusing of both their tempers and stubbornness that had miraculously turned into an uncaring adaptability to
whatever life threw at him.
Aeryn had conducted her pregnancy like everything else: a militarily planned campaign to be executed with a
minimum of fuss. In an attempt to control the mercurial, hormone-driven mood swings, she’d reverted to
something close to the emotionless Peacekeeper he’d encountered his first day in the Uncharted Territories.
That had eased after a quarter cycle, to be replaced by a fanatical regimen of good health and physical
fitness. He’d tried to get her to relax a little, and enjoy motherhood. It had almost earned him a pantak jab.
Kicks and punches from the developing life had elated her; her expanding waistline had not.
Four attempts to get her to a medical facility to check the baby’s progress had nearly gotten them killed every
time. He’d given up, and spent the remainder of the pregnancy praying that their interpretation of the display
from the medical scanner was accurate. The long awaited day had arrived, and their luck didn’t change. Aeryn
had delivered Ian in the midst of an attack on Moya. His exhortations to ‘breathe’ and ‘don’t push yet’ had been
met with ‘Frell this, I have better things to do’ and Aeryn had almost broken his left hand with her grip as she did
her best to hurry the process.
Ian had emerged healthy and squalling, with a human’s ability to tolerate heat and a Sebacean paraphoral
nerve. He spoke nine languages interchangeably, knew his way around a leviathan better than a DRD, thought
weightlessness a definite improvement over gravity since it meant the clutter on the floor of his room would drift
into a single corner if it continued long enough, and had no idea that there was any other way to live.
He truly was their Eiyan. The Sebacean word meant ‘small miracle’, as Aeryn sometimes called him, to Ian’s
embarrassment. From conception, through Aeryn’s torture at the hands of the Scarrans, to the danger fraught
days of gestation, culminating in his chaotic delivery, every moment of Ian’s life was a miracle of survival. This
latest event was only one entry on a very long list of near disasters.
Crichton watched the coordinated movements inside black leather, spent a useless microt wishing that Ian
could have had a blissfully peaceful childhood, and marveled that this was his son. There had to be a way, he
decided. There had to be a way for them to fulfill both his and Aeryn’s goals for Ian’s safety and well-being. He
swore a new vow in the last microt while he waited for Ian to reach him -- a silent vow that he would find a way to
make sure that all three of them remained healthy and alive until Ian was old enough to be on his own.
John leaned to one side as Ian came to a stop in front of him, trying to see what he was dragging on the
thermal-sheet-sled. “Whatchya got there, Boo-Boo? Pick-a-nic baskets?” he asked.
Ian dropped the front edge of the sheet. It held the drinking water John had asked him to retrieve -- along with
three drinking flasks, a container of food cubes, what looked like all the pillows from the safe room, and a glow
lamp to provide more light. There was also a squat container of the type that lined the racks in their medical
bay and several rolls of bandages.
“I asked Pilot to have the DRDs bring that stuff,” Ian explained, gesturing at the first aid items.
“Burn gel?” John concluded.
“Yeah.” The lightness was missing from Ian. Even when he was angry or throwing one of his rare temper-
tantrums, there was always a vestige of humor lurking, waiting for the bad mood to end so it could take over.
“You’re getting to be brighter than your old man,” John tried. There was no sign that the compliment brought
any pleasure. “We were getting worried about you.”
“Dad?” Ian sat down and stared at his boot toes.
John copied his position, sitting toe to toe with him. “Yeah?”
“If I tell you something, will you promise not to tell Mom?”
“I can’t promise until I know what it is, but I’ll try.” He waited through some sighs, a scrunched up frown of
indecision, and a head shake that said Ian wasn’t going to confide in him. “If you tell me that you’ve just blown
up the Prowler, I think we’d have to tell her. She’d notice sooner or later. Same thing if you say that you
accidentally jettisoned Pilot into space. We tend to find those things out pretty quick.”
“Dad.” It was a long drawn out syllable used to let him know he was being absurd.
“I won’t tell her unless I have to,” he promised Ian. John waited silently through several more microts of
“I don’t like shooting people,” came the confession. “I don’t mind shooting the targets Mom sets up for me in
the hangar bay, but I don’t want to kill anyone anymore.” He looked up, eyes brimming with tears. “You won’t
tell her, will you?”
Until that moment, John hadn’t been aware of the spot somewhere near the base of his spine that he’d been
holding very still ever since he’d spotted Ian holding the pulse pistol. It wasn’t a muscle or a joint. It was a fear,
a hope, a held breath of desperation that was afraid his son would learn to kill quickly and callously. In the
moment that the tears began to spill down Ian’s face, the rigidly maintained spot relaxed, and a hot liquid
weakness flooded outward through his stomach and along his spine. He let his breath out slowly, and waited
for the lightheadedness of relief to pass.
“She won’t mind. You could tell her yourself,” he suggested very gently. “I won’t tell her if you don’t want me to,
but I promise you she won’t be disappointed.” John shuffled forward until his legs were wrapped around Ian
and they were sitting face to face.
“Are you sure, Dad? You don’t seem to understand Mom an awful lot of the time.”
The candid observation caught him off-guard; Crichton was laughing before he could stop to think how it would
affect Ian’s depression. The tears disappeared and a weak grin met his broader smile. “This time I’m pretty
sure I’ve got it right, wise guy. You tell your mother, and if she gets mad, I promise to do your punishment tour
“Okay!” The possibility of watching his father scrub DRDs seemed to cheer him up. The light was back. It
wasn’t shining at full intensity yet, but the promise of a full-wattage smile was waiting for an excuse to appear.
“Mom’s going to be worried about us. We better go.”
He was tough and he was loving, and more importantly, he was happy. John got to his feet more slowly than
Ian’s energetic bound, saw the unmistakable signs of both his and Aeryn’s influences, and felt better about the
cycles that lay ahead. He reached for the sheet with the intention of towing the moderate sized load.
Ian snatched the edge of the sheet away when John tried to take over for him. “I’ve got it, Dad. Your hands
Side by side, two figures in black leather, one tall and one small, made their way back to where Aeryn was
waiting for them.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *