Present day, the terrace, 17:21 hours
John grabbed the ball and danced backwards, yelling. "Sun goes long...she's running....she's going for it..."
Aeryn stopped running and turned back to him with an exasperated look on her face. "Why exactly do you have to give commentary on everything I'm doing?"
He grinned goofily at her. "Told you...the announcer is an essential part of football. You get to do it next time." He shook his head. "At some point I'll teach you about instant replays. You'll like those. Really."
The ex-soldier propped one hand on her hip and regarded him quizzically. "You are--"
"Yeah, yeah, the 'most bizarre creature you've ever met'. Whatever. You're holding up the game."
She stalked back to him and grabbed the ball, turned around and bent over.
"Okay," he said, crouching down behind her, "44...1,640,054...163...2010 a space odyssey...now!"
Aeryn flipped the ball back to him and bolted for the opposite end of the terrace, bare feet pounding on the floor.
"Sun goes long, she's going for it, she's really working it..."
Aeryn turned around and John threw the ball. It arched high overhead, outlined for a brief moment against the stars.
Aeryn angled herself toward it, leaped up and caught it in both hands. Then both she and John took off toward the end of the terrace they'd set as the goal. Aeryn was quick but this time John was quicker. He grabbed her around the waist and slung her around, dropping them both to the floor.
"...and Crichton makes the tackle. The crowd goes wild!" He grinned down at her. "Another point for the home team."
The terrace door swung slowly open. John rolled over and sat up, breathing quickly from his exertion. "Yo, D'Argo, big guy," he said as the tall Luxan stepped through, "change your mind about playing?"
D'Argo stared down at them. "No."
"Suit yourself." John levered himself to his feet.
"Crichton..." Aeryn said slowly, accepting his hand up, "why do you get a point if you tackle me? I don't get one when I tackle you...."
His blue eyes gleamed mischievously. "Home team always gets the points for tackle. Rules of the game, darlin'."
She looked skeptically at him but shrugged.
"Will you be here long?" D'Argo asked.
Something in his tone--something dark, almost melancholy--gave John pause. He turned back to D'Argo. "For a little while. You okay?"
"I am fine."
But he didn't sound fine. Sounds like you need some major down time, buddy, John thought, especially after the last few days. "Well, we're just about finished. Coming, Aeryn?" He shot her a significant look.
She rubbed her aching shoulders. "Sure." They walked toward the exit. "I'm winning anyway."
"What? You think you're what? Oh, in your dreams maybe..." The door swung shut behind them, closing off the sound of their conversation.
D'Argo lowered himself slowly to the floor, leaning against the wall. He stretched his long legs out in front of him and stared into space. He didn't recognize any of these stars. All those years dreaming of freedom...and now I'm free and I still can't keep my promise to protect our son. But I will. I will.
D'Argo's face crumpled and he hissed. Lo'laan.
March 21st, the Towl villa on New Sebacea, 12 cycles ago
The eighteen-year-old Luxan warrior stepped through the ornate, carved doorway into the vastness of the Towl summer villa, trying desperately not to gawk openly. He'd come to this planet to recover from wounds inflicted during his last campaign--and was unexpectedly invited to the house of one of the great Peacekeeper military leaders. He still wasn't sure why, and not knowing why made him very nervous.
He cleared his throat.
The obsequious servant turned back to him and bowed efficiently. "Senator Towl is out on the terrace, General D'Argo. If you'd care to follow?"
The man led him through an incredible room filled with purple vineflowers which twined around elegant fluted stone columns. D'Argo tried not to gape too openly. The servant then swung open the doors, leading D'Argo a stone terrace. The air was cool but sunny--as Sebaceans preferred-and clear. More of the little purple vineflowers dangled from wire baskets on the terrace, and other flowers grew in profusion on the terrace and the garden beyond. "General Ka Dargo!" An elderly man rose from his seat at one of the iron tables. "I am so glad you accepted my invitation."
D'Argo nodded awkwardly. "The honor is mine, Senator Towl." The older man was an exact image of the younger, leaner man beside him, who was introduced as Lt. Macton Towl. The father's features had become blurred and puffy with age though and his face was scarred from wounds received in battle.
"Please...sit down. Lunch will be served shortly." The old man pulled out another of the iron chairs. "Macton won't be joining us for lunch today, I'm afraid, General. He has other plans...Betse, I believe is her name..." The Senator grinned slyly at his son.
"Father, please," the voice which spoke then was soft, lilting, and rippled with suppressed laughter, "you're embarrassing Macton in front of our guest."
D'Argo rose awkwardly to his feet to greet the young lady who entered the garden. Her hair was elaborately braided but was in the process of escaping--loose tendrils straggled around her slender face. Her face and coloring were very similar to Macton's but her eyes were deep, deep blue. She wore a loose sundress.
"General D'Argo, this is my daughter Lo'laan."
"Pleased to meet you," she said. "I'd greet you more formally but I just got in from the garden and--" she extended her very dirty hands and wrinkled her nose. "I'll go wash up for lunch and we can pretend we just met, General." She tilted her face mischievously. "If that's all right with you?"
Her grin was infectious.
Present day, the terrace, 17:57
D'Argo started out of his reverie as the terrace door swung open.
He saw a flash of dark, wavy hair and his hearts gave a jump inside his body. For a moment, just a moment, he'd believed that Lo'laan was going to come walking through that door. But it was only Aeryn Sun.
"Sorry...forgot Crichton's ball." She bent down and scooped up the ball in one hand, tucking it under her arm. Aeryn nodded tersely to him, obviously sensing his need to be alone.
Of all the crewmembers, he understood Aeryn best, although their relationship had been rocky at first. She was a fellow soldier, even if she was--had been--a Peacekeeper like Macton. They shared a certain way of thinking that the others couldn't follow.
She paused just outside the door, obviously hesitating, and then decided just to leave. The door shut behind her, and he breathed a sigh of relief. She reminded him too much of what he had lost, both in Macton and in Lo'laan. Lo'laan.
Five weeks later, the Towl villa on New Sebacea, 12 cycles ago
"D'Argo..." Lo'laan smiled as she saw him come around the corner from the terrace. Her hair was unruly, as always, no matter how she tried to tame it with clip and comb. "I wasn't expecting you today!"
"Am I intruding?"
"Of course not! Father's not here right now though--and Macton's off with Betse again." She wrinkled her nose. "You have to tell me what you think of her when you meet her."
"You don't like her." It was half-question, half-statement.
She shook her head quickly. "Don't tell Macton that, though. He's head over heels in love." She laughed, glancing up at him from the corners of her eyes. "Personally," she whispered, "I think she's horrible. You can't tell anyone that I said that...promise me!"
"And," she continued mischievously, "you can't tell anyone this either...but Macton spends all of his time composing love poetry to her. I sneaked in and read some of it...."
She laughed. "It's horrid." Then she shook her head. "I'm sorry you came all the way out here to hear me gossip about my brother's love life when you were looking forward to seeing my father."
"Actually I came to see you."
Her eyes were pleased. "What for?"
"You had said you were interested in Luxan musical forms..." He hesitated.
"Yes." She urged him to continue.
"I have just finished making a shilquen. I thought you would like to hear it played."
Lo'laan smiled in delight. "Oh, yes, I'd love to!" Her smile faded a little. "I can't now, though. We're having a dinner party tomorrow night and Macton promised to go with me to town to buy a new dress. He should be back any minute."
"Maybe later then."
"I'd like that....Macton!" Lo'laan waved to her brother as he came in the front door. "It's about time! We're not going to be back for dinner if..."
"Just to let you know, Lo'laan, I'm inviting my senior officers over tomorrow night for dinner. I know, I know it was just supposed to be relatives, but..." he shrugged. "I hope you don't mind."
Lo'laan hesitated. "No...no I don't mind, if you don't mind if I invite D'Argo." She'd absolutely die of boredom if she had to endure another evening with Macton's stuffy friends.
"Lo'laan-" D'Argo protested. "Really--"
The uncomfortable look on Macton's face only confirmed D'Argo's misgivings, and strengthened Lo'laan's resolve. It was going to be another of those evenings, if Macton had his way.
"No, please, I'd love you to come. You're coming." She decided. "Macton doesn't mind. And anyway, then he can invite Betse."
Macton's frown deepened. "Lo'laan," his voice was soft, intense, "it's not exactly the same..."
"Nonsense. It's only fair." She glared at her brother. "Don't you have to get ready to take me to town?"
D'Argo tried again. "I'm not--"
Her hand rested lightly on his arm, and her eyes pleaded with him. "I insist."
Macton and D'Argo glanced awkwardly at one another, then looked away quickly.
"If you'll excuse us, Macton, I'll show our guest to the door so we can leave." Her voice was brisk. "Hurry up and get changed!" She called back to him, practically hauling the tall Luxan over to the door. Macton watched them go, scowling.
D'Argo tried to protest again, but again she cut him off.
"Please, D'Argo, you can't leave me alone with all of Macton's friends." She shuddered. "All they ever do is gossip endlessly and tell stories about themselves. I don't know how it is among the commandos, but the officer corps is just insufferable." Her hand tightened on his arm. "I'll go insane, I swear I will."
A slow smile drew across his face. "You're exaggerating. But....I'll come, if you promise not to let me embarrass myself."
"Promise." Her hand slid down to his and held it. "Thank you!" She whispered, smiling up at him. "Now I'd better go soothe my brother's ego." Lo'laan laughed softly and left him.
Present day, outside D'Argo's quarters, 1:05
"Crichton!" Aeryn yelled, "Crichton don't you dare walk away from me!"
D'Argo winced. Not again. Not again. He rolled over on his bed and pretended to be sleeping. If he was lucky, it would end quickly this time.
Crichton stopped and turned back to her, scowling.
She crossed her arms and regarded him angrily. "We are PeaceKeepers, human. Its what we do. Its what I did!" She strode toward him, fists clenched. "I loved my life until you-"
"Until I what?" Crichton erupted. "Until I got sucked through a wormhole, ended up in the middle of a space battle and got beamed onto this godforsaken ship? Well, I'm just in tears over your inconvenience, Princess."
Aeryn inhaled sharply, her eyes flashing. "What did you call me?"
"Princess. As in Ice Princess." His tone was soft but scornful.
"What the frell does that mean?"
"It means that--" Crichton turned on his heel and stalked off. "Oh, hell--Let's just say its what you do, okay?"
Aeryn glared after him for a moment before she, too, turned and stalked away in the opposite direction.
D'Argo sighed with relief and rolled back onto his stomach.
Two days later, the Towl villa on New Sebacea, 12 cycles ago
Lo'laan's angry shout stopped D'Argo from entering the Towl villa through the garden gate.
"I'm right and you know it!" Macton shouted back. "He doesn't belong here! If last night didn't convince you of that--"
"That wasn't D'Argo's fault-your boring, rigid, stupid friends treated him like dren!" Lo'laan's hands were twined in her skirt.
"They knew he didn't belong there either. Maybe they just wanted him to leave. I wanted him to leave. Betse wanted him to leave. Even D'Argo wanted to leave. But you have to have your own way in everything, regardless of the cost to the rest of us!" Macton turned and threw something furiously against the wall of the house.
"D'Argo is our friend! You have no right-"
"Frell D'Argo! I have every right! Betse is terrified of him. Did you see the way he looked at her?"
"The way he--Macton, you're crazy! I should've known Betse had something to do with this! Well as long as we're airing our feelings, here's mine-you can do better than that stuck-up, sniveling, manipulative little slut!"
Macton stepped toward her, menacing. "Shut up!"
"No, I won't! I'm sick to death of Betse this and Betse that! That's all I ever hear from you these days!" Lo'laan laughed then, bitterly. "What did she say about him - that 'his kind' have unnatural lusts for Sebacean women or something? Did she think he fancies her for a quick-"
Macton's hands gripped his sister's shoulders, squeezing. "Shut up, Lo'laan. She doesn't think that tattooed freak of nature fancies her... Do you even see the way he looks at you? And what about you -- holding his arm, inviting him over...." He spun her around in a mockery of a twirl, "dancing with him?"
Lo'laan stared at him, stunned into silence.
"Lo'laan, don't you ever think? What if I don't get my commission because of you? My whole career could be over...just like that!" He snapped his fingers. "You are a Towl, a member of the highest class. Our father is a Senator. I am a PeaceKeeper. D'Argo," the name was a hiss, "is a genetic freak of evolution."
She shook her head furiously. "You never used to be so hateful before the PeaceKeepers. You didn't."
"I am a PeaceKeeper, Lo'laan, like it or not. And its my job to protect you from freaks like him. We pat them on the back, send them out to die first and tell them that its because they're soooo brave. Don't you get it? He's just the entertainment!"
D'Argo backed slowly out of the garden, not waiting to hear more.
Same day, D'Argo's house on New Sebacea, 12 cycles ago
Lo'laan watched D'Argo settled gingerly to the bench with a sigh, resting his shilquen beside him. He pulled the instrument onto his lap and idly tuned the strings, still gazing distantly out into space.
"D'Argo, it's me, Lo'laan," she stepped through the high gate into the garden.
D'Argo turned away.
"When you didn't come to show me your shilquen today, I was worried." Her hands twisted nervously in her skirt, rumpling the fabric.
"You shouldn't be here." He winced at the hurt in her voice but made himself continue. "Your family is waiting for you."
"I knew it--you did come by today, didn't you? And you heard us fighting."
D'Argo was silent, still refusing to look at her.
"D'Argo, please understand. Macton didn't mean what he said. It's Betse...she's making him crazy. He's crazy about her, and she's...she's horrible!" Lo'laan's fists clenched. "You know, she actually told him that if you came to our villa anymore she'd have to end their relationship!"
"Macton meant every word."
"How much did you hear?" She settled beside him on the bench, still rumpling her skirt. "D'Argo?"
He sighed. "Enough to know that you should leave."
Her dark eyes met his, then dropped before his gaze. "I don't care what they think."
He closed his eyes. "You're too young. You don't know what you're talking about."
"I know exactly what I'm talking about."
"No, D'Argo, I won't." She kept her eyes downcast. "You--you promised me you'd play your shilquen for me. I waited all day."
"Then you will go home."
She inhaled sharply. "Yes. If you want me to."
He nodded brusquely. "One song."
Lo'laan's spirits lifted just a little as he began to play. Whatever happened next, she knew she would remember this for the rest of her life, sitting here next to him while he shared his music for her. Too soon, the melody drew to a close.
"That's very pretty," Lo'laan said softly, her eyes still averted. "Where did you learn it?"
"My father taught it to me. It's the first song he ever played for me."
She gasped shakily, and with a start he realized she was crying. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry," she blurted softly, scrubbing her hand childishly across her cheeks. "Its just not fair."
D'Argo took her other hand in his and stroked his fingers comfortingly along her palm. He couldn't think of anything else to do.
"I mean," she gasped again, trying to stop the tears, "they're just so...so unreasonable. I mean, you're the only person I've ever met who says exactly what he's feeling. I mean, without," she paused to snuffle, "without trying to figure out what you can get out of someone. Macton's like that all the time now and I can't even talk to him anymore. I wish he'd never become a PeaceKeeper."
"You won't have any more problems with Macton," he said softly, still stroking her hand, "I'll be leaving soon." But instead of comforting her, that brought on a fresh batch of tears. D'Argo stared down at her, perplexed. "Lo'laan...?"
"M-Macton's right." She sniffled. "It's m-my fault. You didn't want to go to that party and you had a horrible time. All of Macton's stuffy friends treated y-you like dirt, and....he's right. I always want my own way in everything and I don't care what it costs anybody."
"Don't be ridiculous. I'm not leaving because of you."
She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand, looking away. "When are you going?"
"A cruiser is leaving for Lux in two days."
"Oh." She wiped her eyes again. "Macton always says I shouldn't cry. I look horrible when I cry."
"You look fine," he lied, staring down at her red-rimmed, puffy eyes and blotchy cheeks. D'Argo shifted uncomfortably. "I...um, I had a good time at the party."
She suddenly laughed. "Liar! You were miserable." She shook her head, looking slyly up at him. "You have to learn to lie better, D'Argo."
"Really," he made another valiant attempt, "It wasn't that bad, except for the dancing. And the people."
"So you and the food had a good time?"
"The food was good." He agreed. "I can't dance."
She sighed and scuffed her foot on the gravel under the bench. "I could show you. If you want."
"It's hopeless." Lo'laan was no longer crying. He clung to that fact even as her quixotic moods threw him off balance. "And you should be getting home."
"I'm a very good teacher." She said hopefully.
"Not that good. No one's that good."
She sighed again, and he noted the tears forming at the corners of her eyes with alarm.
"Okay. Tomorrow. Whatever you want." Anything, anything to keep her from crying. He bent down to kiss her cheek and was surprised when she leaned into the kiss. He drew back, startled. Could she...no....she couldn't.
"No, Dargo, I won't."
He shook his head furiously. "No, you don't know what it means, what it will cost you--"
Her hands were so warm under his.
"Dargo, listen to me. I would rather lose all of this-this city-than not ever speak to you again. I know exactly what it will cost. My father may understand someday...and if Macton won't then I don't care."
But Lo'laan's fingers twined into his beard, pulling his head down. "I know you feel the same. I believe you do." She pressed her lips to his. "That's why you want to protect me. But please believe me," she kissed him again, "please believe me I would rather lose everything than lose you."
"Lo'laan..." he sighed, "It's not that I don't believe you....I just can't ask you to give that up. For me. You're only 17- this is just a crush..."
"You're leaving anyway, right?" She murmured. Her arms wrapped around his neck and she kissed him again.
Present day, the Commissary, 9:35
"D'Argo?" Zhaan's voice was soft, questioning.
D'Argo started out of his reverie and looked up at her. "Zhaan. Good morning."
Her head tilted quizzically. "You have been here all night?" It was a question...sort of.
"I...uh...I was thinking. About my wife."
Zhaan crossed to his table and sat next to him. Her blue eyes were troubled. "You haven't eaten, have you?" She gestured to the full plate of food cubes in front of him.
He pushed the tray away. "No."
She sighed and rested her hand on his arm. "D'Argo, how did you meet Lo'laan? It might help you to talk about it."
D'Argo closed his eyes. To remember was one thing, but to have her name spoken aloud hurt beyond his ability to think. "Shortly after I became a general I was invited to her house by her father. He was writing a book on the Ilaviran campaign."
"You were a general that young?" She exclaimed, leaning away from him.
He nodded. "The fighting was intense and there were many casualties among the senior officers. It was a field promotion." He exhaled heavily. "I can't stop from thinking about the promises I made her."
2 months later, D'Argo's house on New Sebacea, 12 cycles ago
Lo'laan touched D'Argo's arm with gentle fingers. "D'Argo, wake up."
He rolled toward her but kept his eyes shut, mumbling under his breath. "Already?"
"Yes," she sighed, shifting away from him. "I have to get back before they're awake."
His arm snaked around her, pulling her close. "I hate this."
"I know. I do too." Her voice caught. "Why won't you let me tell them?"
He shook his head. "No."
"You don't understand the consequences. You'll become--" She pulled away from him and slid out of bed. D'Argo opened his eyes and watched her yank on her clothes, her sleepy face set now in furious lines."What's wrong?" He sat up, alarmed now.
She tucked her unruly black hair into a quick bun then took a deep breath and turned to face him. "Well I guess it doesn't matter since you're leaving tomorrow. Like you were two weeks before that, and again the week before that."
"I decided to wait a little longer," he stuttered, confused. "I told you that."
"I want you to go."
D'Argo stared at her, hurt. "But-"
"You won't leave and you won't let me tell anyone that I love you. Are you ashamed of me? Ashamed to have a Sebacean lover? Are you?"
"No!" He growled, rising out of bed. "You know that's not true!"
"Really?" Her eyes flashed. "And how exactly," she spat the word, "am I supposed to know that? By the way you always make me sneak around? Or maybe by the way you keep trying to leave but never actually do? If you're going to go, D'Argo, just go, all right? Make a decision."
"Lo'laan," he grabbed for her hand but she jerked it out of his reach.
"No! If the next word out of your mouth isn't your decision, then I'm making one for us and leaving."
He stared down into her angry blue eyes and knew in his bones that she meant it. I can't ask that, Lo'laan, he thought. I can't. But keeping her in limbo was no life for either of them. Make a decision. Commit her to one life or the other. His hand cupped her face, his thumb stroking the curve of her cheek. "Lo'laan," he whispered, "think before you answer me."
She stared up at him wide-eyed, fear and hope warring in her face. "Umm-hmmm."
"I don't want to lose you but I can't protect you. Not from this." He thought of Macton, and Betse, and her father. "Once we let your family know, your life won't ever be the same. You will lose everything. I can't stop that."
"I promised myself--promised you--that I wouldn't let you be unhappy. You'll be unhappy living with me after that."
"No. I'll be upset, sometimes, or angry, or sad." She shook her head. "But not unhappy living with you, not like you mean. Now, right now, living like this, I'm the kind of unhappy you're talking about, and I'll be that kind of unhappy if you leave." Lo'laan dropped her eyes to the floor. "You have to decide what you want, D'Argo. Stop promising me fairy tale stories and let me take care of myself."
His hand stroked the side of her neck and came to rest on her shoulder. Decide what he wanted. He wanted to stay with her. "I promise...I can't promise you fairy tales, Lolaan, but," he swallowed nervously, "I promise to protect you as much as I can. If you're sure--if you'll be my wife--will you be my wife?"
Present day, the commissary, 9:40
"...I couldn't keep my promise, Zhaan," the tall warrior said softly. "If I had left, she would still be alive."
Zhaan's hand tightened on his. "Sweet D'Argo, Lo'laan didn't want you to leave."
He shook his head, refusing her words.
"Lo'laan made her choice and so did you. You cannot accept blame for that. Would you--either of you--have been happier apart at that time?"
"I still miss her."
2 weeks later, the Capitol Spaceport on New Sebacea, 12 cycles ago
Lo'laan tucked her long hair under her hat and gave her father a quick kiss on the cheek. "I'll miss you," she said softly.
Macton laughed. "You are the most ridiculous person, Lo'laan! You're going to visit our cousins like we've gone every summer since Mother died."
"Well, I won't miss you, that's for sure." Her eyes flashed. "No one teasing me or making stupid comments or keeping me up at night talking about the PeaceKeepers. I'll actually have fun this summer."
"Children!" Senator Towl admonished them.
Lo'laan stared up at her brother slyly. "Don't spend too much time with Betse. I'd hate to come back and find you married with six hundred children."
Macton's face reddened.
"Write any more poems about her big beautiful brown eyes?" Then, just as he was about to erupt, Lo'laan leaned forward and hugged him. "I will miss you."
"Uh, yeah," he stared at her, perplexed. "Miss you too."
"I'd better be going now." Lo'laan turned and picked up her small bag. The rest of her luggage was already loaded on the transport. Just not the one her family thought she was traveling on. "'Bye!" She waved and walked into the crowd, and was quickly swallowed from view.
As soon as she was sure that she was out of sight Lo'laan stopped. She took a deep breath and wrapped her arms around her stomach, trying to still the butterflies. D'Argo should already be waiting for her on board the transport. Once the ship had starburst they were safe. Until then, anything could happen.
Her eyes closed and she swallowed back tears. She'd never let him see her cry--not over this, not ever over this. He would never have asked her to marry him if he knew that she felt the loss of her family so keenly. She clenched her fists, fear and loss and hope and love warring inside her. But she knew what she wanted, and she knew what it would cost her.
Lo'laan walked into the transport.
3 months later, D'Argo and Lo'laan's house, an Ilanic colony, 12 cycles ago
The moonlight silvered the garden, shimmering on the purple vineflowers Lo'laan had planted. It was so peaceful here, so far away from the life he had known before. Lo'laan had sent the occasional transmission to her family once they were settled here, but there had been no response. As the weeks passed, that world became no more than a fast fading memory. In that world, this would have seemed a dream. In his own mind, at least. He knew that she still missed her family however much she tried to hide it from him.
D'Argo was still dressed in the rough work clothes he had worn during the day, his shilquin in his hands. He had been working on the new melody for his wife, but the notes would not come. Unable to sleep, he had come to the garden to wait for inspiration. He played a few bars, changing rhythm, trying variations, losing himself in the flow.
"D'Argo? What are you doing out here?" Lo'laan smiled as she sat beside him on the stone bench. "After the day's work you put in, you should be snoring loud enough to wake the dead."
"I do not snore!" She laughed . "You most certainly do --I've had to roll you over more than once, and had to cover my head with the pillow to get to sleep!" She looked up at him out of the corner of her eyes as she always did when she was pleased. "I'm glad you're up, though. I have something to tell you."
D'Argo set the shilquin aside and took his wife's hands. "What is it?"
"I saw the healer today. No, D'Argo, don't be alarmed --it was nothing bad. In fact, it's something very wonderful. I -- we --are going to have a child."
"A--a child? Lo'laan? You can't be--this--you're--" The wonder sunk in to him then and he pulled her close. She hugged him back but he could feel tension in the line of her body against his. He searched her face. "There is more, isn't there?"
"Yes." She paused a moment, then said, "The healer said ... there is risk, that the delivery could be hard."
"There is danger to you?" D'Argo felt himself grow cold. "Then we can't --you must see the healer and .... "
"No, husband, I want this baby. I've seen you with the children in the village --you will be a wonderful father." She silenced him with gentle fingers on his mouth. "You've never been able to argue with me before, please don't try now, my love."
"I gave you the life of a fugitive, a life of hard, unending work and no reward," D'Argo said, trying to keep the bitterness out of his voice and not entirely succeeding. "And now I'm giving this to our child."
"Oh!" She pulled away from him. "Don't you dare! I chose this life, and I haven't regretted it for one moment. I'm sorry if you have--but I don't, and we'll make sure our son won't either!"
D'Argo was unable to speak for a moment, then he laid a whisper-soft hand on his wife's still-flat belly. In a voice filled with wonder, he asked, "What did I ever do to deserve you?" He raised his hand and stroked her face. "Lo'laan, you are so beautiful. I can only hope it is because I make you as happy as you make me."
"You loved me," she answered, laying her hand over his. "That was enough. And you will love our son. Now, will you play something for me?"
"This," he said to her, "is the second song our baby will hear." D'Argo smiled and reach for the shilquin. The melody that had eluded him for days now flowed from the instrument.
"And the first?"
"The lullaby my father played for me."
When the song was over, Lo'laan reached up and kissed him, a caress as gentle as the quiet night breeze around them. "That was beautiful, D'Argo. Come to bed now."
She led him into the house, into their chamber and in the soft light of the bedside lamp they loved each other, each giving what the other needed. Later, her quiet cries of pleasure still echoing in his mind, he watched her sleep. He touched her shoulder, and she stirred but didn't wake, smiling in her sleep. He smiled in response, and finally slipped into slumber himself.
Present Day, the commissary, 10:00
D'Argo forced himself to meet Zhaan's eyes.
"How long were you there?" Her voice was soft, unobtrusive.
"A little over three cycles. Jothee was...amazing. Incredible. My son, Zhaan, my child. I remember I was crying, and humming, and smiling and I couldn't stop." D'Argo smiled briefly. "But I was tired too, from working and taking care of the house and Jothee so she could rest." He gripped the edge of the table tightly. "I didn't regret a minute of it though. I wanted to give her a gift. I wanted her family to see our child. So I--"
He exhaled quietly, releasing a breath he didn't know he'd been holding. "I sent Senator Towl a transmission with the picture of the baby and my wife. But I was so tired...I forgot--" his fist slammed down on the table, "I forgot to delete the encoding showing the transmission source that time."
"Macton found you."
D'Argo nodded. "I"d taken Jothee to the mountains for the day. Lo'laan was home alone when the PeaceKeepers arrived."
January 29th, PeaceKeeper holding cell, 9 cycles ago
"Macton!" Lo'laan yelled, smacking the bars of her cell with her open hands, "Macton let me out of here right now!"
Macton pivoted slowly on his heel. He nodded tersely to the soldiers under his command, dismissing them, and then met her furious gaze.
He smiled at her. "Its good to see you again. I was worried about you, living with...with that."
Lo'laan's mouth tightened. "His name is D'Argo and he's my husband. Now let me go."
"Sure. Just tell me where he is."
She was silent.
Macton shrugged. "Either way. You tell us, or he comes to rescue you. I understand that Luxan warriors are incurable romantics."
Lo'laan stared at him. "Macton, let me go. Please."
He laughed then. "Please? Now? From you? Oh, that's good." The smile dropped from his face and he stepped toward her, menacing. "Did you say please--even once--when you took off with that freak? Did you even think the word 'please'?"
"Or how about when your so-called marriage drove Betse away from me? What," his eyes glittered, "what were her exact words? Oh, I remember now...'I could never love someone whose family was so inconvenient.'" He folded his gloves together with precision. "Remember that promotion I was up for? Well that's now a good joke among high command."
"All of it--all the whispers in the street as we passed. Father's illness. My career. My fiance. And now you say please?"
Lo'laan swallowed hard. "I'm sorry for that, I truly am."
"Then come back with me." He folded his strong hands over hers on the cell bars, trapping her. "Say that the freak kidnapped you. Or something. Maybe we can still set things back the way they were. I miss you."
"I've missed you too, Macton." She said softly. "I have."
He grinned. "Good! Then we can leave tomor--"
"I am married Macton. I love D'Argo. Pleas--I mean, you have to understand that."
Macton hissed under his breath, struggling with himself. He turned his face away abruptly from her searching gaze. Suddenly he turned back and opened the cell door.
Lo'laan's eyes widened in relief. "Thank you!" She hugged him impulsively.
He hugged her back tightly with one arm. "You know, sister," he whispered into her hair, "we PeaceKeepers have a sort of oath we take. Among ourselves."
She drew back a little, confused.
"Death before dishonor."
He slid his hand up into her hair, tangling his fingers around her unruly black curls. He drew her head back, exposing her pale throat, and stared into her frightened eyes. She tried to struggle but he pinned her easily. "You have no name. I don't know you." Macton reached down to the holster on his leg and drew his knife. "You have no name!" His voice raised in a shout. "No name!"
Blood ran over his hands and soaked his uniform. "No name."
He let her drop.
Present day, the terrace, 1:17
Aeryn tucked the ball under her arm and bolted for the goal, dodging Crichton's frantic grasp. He was right behind her, gaining speed. She threw herself at the end of the terrace in a last ditch effort and made it. She caught herself on the lip of the control panel and flipped over it, dropping to the ground.
"Aeryn!" Crichton scrambled over to her. "God...you okay?"
She pointed at him and laughed weakly. "Score one for the home team."
His eyes narrowed. "Yeah, you're fine. And you're the away team."
"Whatever." She imitated his intonation flawlessly. "Just the first point of many."
She grinned at him and sat up. "Score is...one to zero, my favor. Of course."
He snorted, then his eyes lightened. "Not just yet."
"You forgot the dance."
Aeryn stared at him.
"Yeah," he kept his face blank, "to get the point, you have to do the victory dance."
D'Argo, observing them quietly from the back of the terrace, hid a grin. The human was not going to make up a new rule, was he? He saw the look on Aeryn's face and knew that she knew that Crichton was making up rules to win. He wondered idly why she didn't call him on it and then realized that, to her, she should be able to win no matter what the odds were against her. So she'd keep playing until she won--on his terms.
Winning. That was what Macton was always trying to do. Everything for him was gain or loss, and he could never, ever be the loser.
He studied Aeryn warily. She knew about Jothee. She'd given her word, sure, but if they were captured, would she tell her own kind about his son? He knew how powerful the drive could be to return home. To her, Jothee must seem like a monster, whatever she said to him.
No, he thought, still watching her. Aeryn was a PeaceKeeper, but she was no Macton. She was more like Lo'laan, in her own way. Macton would never have surrendered his dignity this way. He walked toward them, clearing his throat.
"Okay..." Crichton helped her up, "now, hold the ball in one hand, lift it up high and throw it down..."
Aeryn tossed the ball down and it bounced toward D'Argo. He bent down to retrieve it.
"All right, now...go up on your toes, like this...." the human demonstrated and Aeryn, scowling fiercely, followed his lead. "Okay, now dance." Crichton grinned at her.
"Dance?" She stared at Crichton, her eyes wide in disbelief. "Just...dance?"
D'Argo found himself smiling too. "Room for one more player?"
"Sure, D'Argo. Boys against girl?" Crichton glanced sideways at Aeryn to see if she registered the jibe. "Or maybe you and Aeryn can play together against me, since it seems she needs the help. How well do you dance?"
D'Argo cleared his throat. "I don't dance."
"Hmmm, well, we'll have to work around that then. Aeryn can dance for you."
Aeryn's eyes narrowed, and they were off into another argument.
D'Argo sighed and sat back to wait for them to finish. The game looked like fun. Someday, he promised himself, I will teach Jothee this game. I promise, Lo'laan.