Author's Note: Time line on this is sometime in the future, after John and Aeryn have become a couple. References are made to EXODUS FROM GENESIS, so there may be slight spoilers for those two or three of you who have not seen the ep....
The crew of the Marauder had been loaded back onto their ship, and Pilot was finally able to begin turning the heat down. John and D'Argo grinned at each other over a job well done, though the Luxan seemed a bit less certain than the human. "I hope this wasn't a mistake," D'Argo said.
"It'll work out, you'll see... I hope." John hit his comlink "Zhaan, the heat's coming down starting now. How's Aeryn?"
John tapped the comlink again, not sure if it was working. "Zhaan, do you read me?"
A moment's pause, then Zhaan's voice came, muffled and .... did he hear something more? "John, D'Argo... hurry!"
Cold panic broke over John like a wave as his eyes met D'Argo's equally alarmed ones. They both sprinted to Aeryn's quarters.
John slid to a stop at the doorway. Aeryn was stretched out on the bed, mot moving, hair in wet streamers around her. Zhaan looked up as John entered, tears standing in her eyes. "I did everything I could, but I couldn't get her core temperature down in time. I'm afraid we've lost her.... "
"No!" A tremor shot through Aeryn as John came around to the other side of the bed and knelt next to her. The blank unseeing stare in her eyes changed for a moment to a look John had no words for, but knew if he saw it again, a piece of his soul would die. Then her gaze went cold again, dead....
"Aeryn, don't do this to us....don't do this to me.... Aeryn!" John turned her face toward him and gripped her arms, pleading. "Come on, Sun, you've never given up without a fight in your life, don't start now!"
"Crichton, she cannot hear you." D'Argo's voice was quiet and full of sympathy. "I have seen the Living Death. Sebaceans say the pain is unbearable, but there is no way to stop it short of death. She will remain as she is until someone ends it for her."
"Her body can't take that for very long .... can it?
"It depends. With someone as strong as Aeryn, she can stay in this state for many years."
Aeryn in incredible pain, no way out, hell without benefit of dying first... now John understood why she feared it so. Her words echoed in his head: Remember your promise .... it's the only time we kill our own from mercy .....
This time when Aeryn spasmed, her eyes closed and John didn't see the inferno raging inside her, but he didn't need to. "There must be something we can do," he said, barely getting the words past the stricture in his throat. He looked from Zhaan to D'Argo, searching for an answer and finding none in either face.
"There is nothing else that can be done once the Living Death takes hold, only this," D'Argo said as he pulled the knife from its scabbard on his belt . "She is a Peacekeeper, but she is also a warrior. She does not deserve to go on like this."
Remember your promise .... a friend would do it, family would, swiftly....
"No, D'Argo," John said, stopping the Luxan's hand. His own hand trembled as he took the blade, feeling the sharpness, the hardness, the deadliness of it.
"Crichton, are you sure you can do this?" Zhaan asked softly.
"I have to - I promised her." He took a deep breath, and positioned the point of the knife over her heart, just touching her. Swiftly .... He willed his hands to be still, made his mind a blank, closed his eyes and plunged the blade in with all his strength. He felt her arch up, then go still, so very still. He felt something warm and wet on his hands, and his eyes opened to see blood on them, her blood. He couldn't see the peace on her face, couldn't see the way her body relaxed. He could only see the blood on his hands, the knife in her chest, the silent indictment of what he had done.
He felt D'Argo's hand on his shoulder, trying to comfort him, but he didn't want it, didn't deserve it. Something broke loose inside him, hard and sharp as the Luxan's blade, and he gave voice to the pain in a wordless scream ....
...that echoed as he woke, sweating, disoriented. A light went on by the bed, and a voice asked, "John, what is it?"
Aeryn. Here, next to him, impossibly blue eyes radiating concern. He didn't answer, just gathered her to him, burying his face in the softness of her dark hair. He felt hard muscle under soft skin, felt the warmth of her, the vitality, the life....
Aeryn nestled against him, holding him as tightly as he held her. She could feel his heart pounding, hear his ragged breathing, and his trembling shook them both. She knew John to be a brave man, braver that he gave himself credit for. What could there be in a dream that could frighten him this badly?
After several minutes his arms eased their pressure around her, and she drew back enough to look up at him. "What is it, John? You look like a man who's seen his own death."
He didn't answer, looking away, still holding her. She reached up and touched his face, gently forcing him to look at her. "John, talking has never been a problem for you. Frell, half the time I can't get you to shut up! Please tell me, let me help."
It took a moment for him to find his voice. "You said I looked like I'd seen my own death. I wish it had been something that easy to take." A deep breath, a pause, and then: "What I saw was your death, Aeryn. And I was the one who killed you."
Now that the floodgates were opened, the words tumbled out of him, and he told her the whole dream, reliving the horror. Tears shone in his eyes as he finished.
"... and I screamed. That's when I woke up. I'm sorry I woke you too."
"It's all right." Aeryn levered herself up onto one elbow. "Dreams usually come from somewhere, even without the help of meddling Delvians." She was rewarded with a slight smile that faded almost before it began. "And the Living Death happened a long time ago. Why did it surface now?"
"Because now I'm afraid," John said softly, running his fingers gently over her face, as if to reassure himself that she really was there. "Back then, if I'd lost you, I would have lost a friend, and that would have been bad enough. If I lost you now... "
He stopped, and Aeryn waited. The words would come, they always did. There was more here than just fear of losing her, she knew that. She had never had to delve into feelings much as a Peacekeeper - it wasn't something that was taught in commando training. In her time here, she had had to learn how to read emotions, to know when to speak and when to stay silent. This was one of the silent times.
Finally, John spoke again. "I've lost people before in my life, they've died or gone away - my mom, Alex, friends - but I wasn't responsible. Alex chose to leave, and Mom didn't have much say in the matter. You're here because of me. Because you stood up for me with Crais, you lost everything. You can never go back and it's my fault. If anything happens to you here, if you get hurt, if you die ... that will be my fault, too. And I don't know if I can handle that." He looked away, ashamed of his fear, but not knowing what to do about it.
Aeryn thought a moment before answering, then tilted his face up to look at her again. "You're right, I can't ever go back to what I was. And you're right, I am here because of you, but not because of Crais or anyone else. If I had wanted to, don't you think I could have taken the prowler and found someplace to be, someplace where I could lay low?
"I am here because I chose to stay. You challenged me to 'be more', and I am. I'm proud of what I can do, and what I've learned, even though it was hard. For the first time in my life, I have people around me who would really care if something happened to me. Not because I would leave my unit a person short, but because I'm me. You gave me that, John - you have no idea what a gift that was. And your dream tells me something else."
"Remember when I asked you, afterwards, if you could have kept your promise, and you didn't answer?"
"In your dream, you kept it. It hurt you, but you kept your promise. You've always stood by me, John - with NamTar, with Durka, with Crais - whenever I needed you, you've been there, even when I didn't want you to be. If it ever comes down to a situation like that again, I know you'll do what is needed. As I would for you. It's what people do who care for each other."
John looked into her face, her eyes, and saw the worry, the warmth, the love. It had taken a long time for her to admit her feelings for him, but once she'd committed herself, she had done so fully, without reservation. He pulled her down beside him, kissing her softly. "Thank you," he said simply.
"You're welcome. Now, do you think you can go back to sleep?" He nodded. "Good, because we have a busy day tomorrow, and we both need rest." She smiled and caressed his face with a touch that was amazingly gentle from such a strong hand. "Goodnight, John."
"Goodnight, Aeryn." She turned over, flipped off the light, and he nestled against her back, planting a kiss on her shoulder. She drew her arm around her waist and they fell asleep, lost in warmth and peace, and secure in the knowledge of promises made, and promises kept.