Archive: Go right ahead just please drop me a line as you're doing so - I'd like to know where it is.
Category: Drama, Angst, John/Aeryn-centric.
Spoilers: Die Me Dichotomy.
Rating: PG-13? (for tone and subjects dealt with I suppose. It's not overtly violent or sexual).
Feedback: Well, this is my first fanfic, so [insert god/higher power/spirit/celebrity/species of frog/kahlaan] bless you for reading this. And any feedback (even flames are better than nothing, at least I'll know someone out there's read it *g*) would be fantastic. Send feedback here: Scapekid@email.com
Author's Notes: Thanks to everyone who encouraged me (beta people!) and thanks to Tav for reminding me about D'argo's Qualta blade and thanks to Sorlk for inspiring the title.
DISCLAIMER: Ain't mine, never were, they belong to the Henson Co & Sci Fi and a probably a whole load of other people. But definitely not to me. It's sad but it's true. I intend no copyright infringement, I just like writing.
The chrome metal was smooth and cool beneath his finger tips. Pitted in places, dented, lived with, held. Subtle differences of texture reminded him how to rest his fingers across the casing, and a hairline indentation around three edges of the cassette sized machine told him how to open it and pry inside.
"Cassette," he murmured to himself, feeling the gutted insides of his recorder, the plastic spools like the noses of shuttle craft, and sharp biting wires. "Audio Cassette," he rolled the word across his tongue, felt it vibrating against his teeth. He stored it carefully in his mind, protected it from the darkness of his broken memory. "I had one. I recorded messages."
In the darkness of his cell, he set aside the device with the care of a blind man. Feeling across the work surface, he began to explore a microchip by touch. It would fit in somehow. Once he would have known how to repair his recorder. He would remember again.
Exhaling deeply, John Crichton leant back in his chair, his head seesawing regressively and finally resting, held only by the tension in his neck. He sank through inky blackness, recalling, and trying to recall. Earth. His home. Dad. DK. How had his mother died? A strange image of Scorpius in a Hawaiian shirt drifted to the fore, and was quickly replaced by rationality. It was like a slide show; fragmented dreams and half-remembered truths crisscrossing and merging in a little shop of horrors that was uniquely his own. Only his own.
He grasped at them as though they were more precious than amethyst, another word that was all his. He remembered them as though they were all he had left in the universe. He polished them until they gleamed, and hunted for new ones amidst the dark confusion. They were his treasures, delicacies of thought to be enjoyed at times like this, when the going was slow.
A burning moon. Frogs that spat fire. The severed head of a general. A control collared slave eating from his hand. Floating in space, waiting to die. A faceless rescuer. A woman with raven hair shaking in his arms, crying so hard he thought she would be sick.
Always it came back to that one, rarest of the rare because she was in it. Aeryn, they called her. They didn't like to speak about her with him. There had been an accident.
He would remember that too, in time. He was sure of it, no matter what Zhaan might say. Relaxing, he plumbed the depths of his memory again, hoping to catch a glimpse of this Aeryn.
For the space of twenty heartbeats, he listened. He heard the small sounds of the never silent ship, the scuttling DRDs, the rushing of his blood. Sometimes the space between one beat in his breast and the next seemed endless, as though the universe were holding its breath, waiting for the sound of a falling pin.
Soft footsteps padded down the hall, and paused for a moment outside his cell.
"John?" The voice was soft, like warm molasses. Crichton smiled as another memory returned to him. Molasses. "John?"
The intruder knocked once, and then tentatively pulled aside the curtain, letting light from the corridor dive through the bars and into the cell.
"Stark?" John turned, shading the light from his eyes with his palm, and squinting.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to startle you. You seemed worlds away."
"Yes," blinking, trying to get used to the light, John rose and paced over to the control panel, hit some buttons in a motion so familiar his fingers recalled it even if his mind could not, and the cell door opened. "Yes, I was."
"Where were you?" Stark asked, seating himself on the bed.
"Uh," half closing his eyes, enjoying the detailed attention Stark was willing to give, he slipped backwards. "With my dad. My sister. We had this cabin - logs you know, like Abraham Lincoln's."
"Who would he be?"
John moved a crate into the darker shadows and sat. "Oh, just some guy with a stovepipe hat and a beard. Born in a log cabin, assassinated at a theater."
"You remember all that?"
The shadows darkened and John withdrew into them, pulling them around him like a comforter.
"Yeah. Sure," he closed off. "I remember a lot of junk."
Opening his mouth to say something, muted by thick and awkward silence, Stark paused. "I know what insanity is like, John."
"Really? How nice for you. You, me and Zhaan should get together some time, we'd form a real nice little support group."
"You're angry today."
"Ten out of ten for observation."
"You used to get like this. Before,"
"Before I lost my memories, Stark, before I lost my frelling memories. For god's sake stop carrying me like an eggshell, I do a good enough job of breaking myself."
"I was going to say," Stark continued quietly. "You used to get like this before Aeryn died. After that, you changed."
"No," John shock his head, the pain in his voice apparent. "I've only forgotten. I'll remember."
"Maybe. In time. But you are quieter now. You died with her. You buried yourself so you would never be that John Crichton again. You didn't want to be him."
"But today," he murmured, the calm returning in the soothing way it always did, pushing out the hurt. He reached over to his work surface and caught a chess piece, half finished, to replace the ones he had broken. "Today I am angry."
"You were," Stark nodded. "For a moment. The others sent me down here, today, Crichton. Aeryn wants to see you."
"She was. We thought she was."
"Finally! Frog boy is speechless."
"I don't see you saying too much."
"Well what is there to say?" Chiana muttered, humorous facade succumbing to her bitterness. "Aeryn's dead. We saw her with out own eyes. It's a trick."
"Whatever it is, Talyn will be arriving soon and our questions will be answered. Bickering amongst ourselves will not help," Zhaan interjected, a blue palm resting lightly on Chiana's shoulder.
"Whatever it is," D'Argo echoed. "We will be prepared. I do not trust Crais to remain aboard his vessel."
Catching the gun that was thrown to him, Jothee jogged after his father. He went willingly and kept the pace, but his gait lacked the urgency and his face lacked the pain mirrored in the others' countenances. As he left he threw a look Chiana's way, and picking up a weapon, she followed the pair to the docking bay.
"If it is indeed Aeryn," Zhaan said. "She may be in need of medical attention. I'll go and retrieve her records from Moya's data store."
"Wishful thinking," Rygel murmured.
Every muscle in D'Argo's body was tensed. Talyn's new Transport pod sat in the hangar, releasing atmosphere in soft hissing pulses. Reaffirming the grip on his rifle, he glanced at his shipmates. Jothee was grim faced, a small pistol trained on the door to the pod. Chiana, less settled, kept looking nervously in his direction. He nodded at her in an attempt at reassurance.
Very slowly, the hatch began to open. A woman exited and dropped to the floor, her boots thudding against the deck broke the perfect silence. From her raven dark hair and the gun at her thigh to the half contemptuous gleam in her eyes, she was Aeryn Sun.
"Who are you?" Jothee called out, settling his pistol a little more firmly on the container in front of him that served as his only camouflage.
"We have met, Jothee," Aeryn cried out, glacially. "Or have you forgotten the time you arrived on this ship and our positions were somewhat reversed? It seems your welcome was a lot warmer. Call off your son, D'Argo."
"I will call him off," the Luxan replied. "When I am satisfied that you are indeed the woman you claim to be, and pose no threat to us."
She laughed. It was a sound that sent shivers up the spine. She laughed as though the laugh itself was her only remaining possession.
"Who else would I be, but Aeryn Sun. Believe me, if I'd had a choice in the matter I would choose quite a different identity. But here I am," she threw her arms wide. "Here I am."
A heartbeat passed. Nobody moved.
There were nervous glances, and breathes that hardly dared to be taken; Aeryn stepped backwards and reached through the hatch of the transport. She withdrew her arm, pulling out a long, gleaming gold sword. Holding it horizontal to her face, she sighted along the blade. And then she threw it. Arching through the air, it refracted the light, playing tricks on the shadows across the hangar bay. Spinning slowly it fell, clanging into the deck, skidding towards D'Argo. Aeryn peeled back her lips. D'Argo rose.
"Yes," a smile spread across his face. "There you are. I had not dared hope to see this day."
He ran across the suddenly vast expanse of deck and threw his arms around Aeryn. She remained stiff in his grasp, the joy drained from his face. Confused, Chiana and Jothee froze, half way to the transport, unsure, wavering.
"What's wrong? You're home."
"I want to see him."
"Aeryn, I don't..."
"I will see him, D'Argo. It's the only reason I came back."
The cell was empty. The smooth carapace of Moya's inner hull merging seamlessly with the deck. It seemed a static duplicate of a beast rather than a thing alive; the contours were too fluidly perfect, the curve of an archway too flawless for a living creature. But it was empty, and that wasn't right.
Aeryn stood, stopped in the tracks of her righteous and unstoppable dash to Crichton's quarters, confused. Incomprehension, and a realization of betrayal registered on her face. She stayed there staring at the blank cell as though simply by willing it she could make the inhabitant return.
Chiana bolted around the corner at the far end of the corridor and slowed to a holt at the doorway. Tipping her head to one side, moving silently forward, she reached out and touched Aeryn's shoulder. The other woman started and tensed, her expression flicking back into resolute anger.
"Where is he? Why aren't his belongings here?" she demanded.
"That's what I was trying to tell you, before you sprinted up here like a barken out of hezmana," Chiana answered. "He doesn't sleep here anymore. He's moved quarters."
"Ask him yourself, *after* you've seen Zhaan."
"I'm fine, I don't need," Aeryn began.
"You're fine, my eema. Look, I don't know if you're sick or not, but Crichton isn't the same person he was, and you should be prepared. We haven't seen you in a quarter cycle, and you turn up with almost no warning. How do we even know it's you?"
"Do you really believe I'm an impostor, Chiana?"
"No," she conceded. "But I *am* worried about you."
"How compassionate of you," came the sarcastic response. "I wasn't aware you could be so selfless."
"If it makes you feel better, remember that you could be carrying anything."
"And its hackles rise."
"Frell, Aeryn, what the dren is wrong with you? I mean, being a bitch, that's just you, but this is way outta whack."
"Look," she rounded on the Nebari. "I came back here for one reason and one reason only, and it hasn't got a frelling thing to do with you, or Zhaan or how happy D'Argo is with his son. Now I am going to ask you once more. Where is he?"
"D'Argo," Chiana tapped her comm, hesitantly. "I found Aeryn. She's in Crichton's quarters, and, uh, I think --"
"Which ones?" D'Argo interrupted. "His old ones or the ones on tier four?"
Aeryn was gone.
"You idiot, she's gone after him!"
"Just...stay there, Chiana. I'm coming. Maybe this is for the best. She's going to see him eventually."
"I just wanted to warn her first. She shouldn't go without knowing what she'll find."
Aeryn ran through the corridors without thinking to care where she was going. In the miles of Moya and with only the fourth tier as reference he could be anywhere, but she was determined to find him. So she ran. She took random lefts and rights and veered around corners forgetting half of the time to look into the cells she was passing. Expecting D'Argo, or Chiana, or Zhaan to come after her she though only of putting as much distance between herself and the rest of the crew as she could and to hezmana with the direction. Careening around yet another corner and coming face to face with a three way junction she realized she no longer remembered where she was.
In the endlessly intertwining corridors, more like roots than tunnels, doubling around and around and back on themselves again, Aeryn ran onwards. When she finally dropped, collapsing at an intersection, she let out a scream of pain and frustration and agony that would have floored anyone near enough to listen. But she was alone, and as she balled herself up on the hard floor, shaking and unable to yell loud enough, she fell from her knife edge and everything came tumbling from her lips, vomited up from her psyche. In the darkened corridor she cried for the unfairnesses and injustices and she cried for herself.
A shadowy figure emerged, stepping as if from the walls, an embodiment of darkness. Bending down, he scooped the shuddering woman into his arms. He knelt and held her close. Without resisting, she allowed herself to be molded against contours of his chest, and for a moment remained there, quietly soaking his shoulder.
It seemed to dawn on her that she was not alone. Looking upwards, her eyes flickered with recognition, and then shut down.
"No," Aeryn pulled away. "No. You don't get to hold me like that."
"I'm," the figure pulled away, apologetic, now, and soft-spoken. "I'm sorry. I just thought - I mean, I remembered..."
"Don't give me that dren," her back was to him and John could see she was wiping her eyes furiously, angry at him for seeing her like this, and terribly, terribly bitter. "You don't remember a frelling thing about me."
That shut him up.
"You coward," her voice was a whisper of barely contained rage.
"Me? I," he paused, he had no defense. "What did I do?"
"You killed me, Crichton," she said simply, coldness descending over her features. She turned and began walking away.
"I don't remember much about that, Aeryn, and I'm sorry. When they took the chip from my brain they had to cut out a lot of the memories," John replied, rationally. Surely she would understand, it wasn't his fault.
"You don't remember me at all!" she spun back towards him. "Anyway. It doesn't matter now; I've seen you. Crais was right."
"Crais, that's the captain who used to chase me, right? What does he have to do with this?"
Aeryn did not look back, but as she was walking away she said this:
"He was the one who ransomed me from that frelling body depository, because you'd chosen to forget me. Couldn't you live with the guilt?"
John Crichton stood, speechless, confused. Aeryn made the sounds, but somehow he couldn't get his mind to replay them. There was a safety valve blowing somewhere in his brain, 'better not to know, better not to know.'
His legs began moving towards the receding figure without any conscious thought on his part. Soon they were pumping, and he was speeding forward. He was pressing her up against the wall in a position that seemed strangely familiar.
"Please," he began, forgetting if he had even intended to say anything. "I wouldn't do that. Tell me I didn't do that."
"What? You want my forgiveness? Scorpius had the operating theater bugged; there was a vidlink straight to his ship. Talyn intercepted it. It was all your choice. It was always your choice. So don't you give me this yotz about not having frelling choice, Crichton."
He felt as though he had been slapped in the face with the broken rim of a bottle. He wouldn't have done that. Never. He would never told them to take his memories of her. Unless.
"I... I thought I'd killed you," he said helplessly.
"Well I killed a part of myself when I gunned down a pilot of this ship, but I have lived with it and survived. We are the sum of our experiences. You told me that once, though I don't suppose you remember?"
John thought, for an split instant, that he had seen the faintest trace of hope in her face when she asked that question, and it crushed him as he shook his head. But Aeryn merely shrugged. "I guess you aren't as strong as I'd always supposed."
"No," he conceded, backing away. "I guess I'm not."
"Well," she said. "Now I have seen you, and I'm leaving."
"Back to Crais?"
"No. No, I'm not going back there. I'll take the transport pod to the nearest populated planet and get passage from there."
There was something in her voice that told him she was hiding something. A half forgotten memory surfaced as instinct and told him there were things she didn't want him to know, things she needed to stay hidden. Things that were important, he decided.
"You've been with Crais on Talyn for a quarter cycle. Why would you leave them now?"
"I don't have to justify myself to you, John. Just let me leave."
"You could stay here."
"No, I couldn't."
"Please, Aeryn, I'd stay up here, I wouldn't see you, but you don't have to go out there on your own."
"On my own?" a sour peel of laughter erupted from her lips. "I have been 'on my own' since I died. I only came back to see if it was true, if you really had changed this much. I mean, dren, Crichton, you don't even turn the lights on anymore!" the laughter continued, almost hysterical, nearly desperate.
"It hurts my eyes," he murmured softly. "I'll let the lights back on if you'd like. But tell me. What happened back then?"
She froze, and glanced at him. Bad thing to say. Bad choice of words. She's closing down. Damn I wish I could remember how to help her, I wish I could remember what this means.
"You said that to me before."
"I'm sorry, I can't remember it."
"I know. Turn the lights back on."
John padded softly along the corridor and keyed for the illumination to resume on a wall keypad. The light returned, glowing quietly. He closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them slowly, acclimatizing himself to the heightened color of the world. Returning to Aeryn he slid down the wall and sat on the deck. She paused, but followed his example and the two found themselves staring at each other across the vast expanse of the corridor.
"They didn't have many bodies with our kind of physiology," was her opening gambit.
Crichton didn't understand. His brow formed a barely perceptible frown and in the low lighting a streak of saliva gleamed on his lower lip from a lick that was almost subconscious. Aeryn reacted without thinking, immediately understanding his incomprehension.
"They aren't as scrupulous as they claimed to Zhaan. They decided I would be valuable and was injured badly enough that no one would want to pay to fix me up. Besides, who's going to question them?"
It was strange, John thought, in an abstract, disjointed way, that she knew him so completely when he could barely remember her. It was disconcerting. And comforting. If she still knew him perhaps he was still John Crichton, astronaut, worst driver in the Uncharted Territories, DK's best friend, sane.
"And Crais," he didn't finish the thought.
"Ransomed me. Took me off that rock. Starburst the frell out of there a couple of times so we wouldn't be followed."
"Why would you be followed?"
"Lets just say that some of the clientele don't take too kindly to knowing not all of the bodies are dead."
"So he hijacked the place?"
"No, he paid good money, or so he tells me. But I was scheduled to be used. And suddenly I couldn't be. And someone did a little digging and the whole ugly truth came out."
"Where did Crais come up with that kind of cash?"
"I don't know. I didn't ask. Talyn's an impressive ship. Spoils of war? Mercenary work? Or maybe," and John shuddered as that bitter smile returned. "He lied and he didn't spend anything. I was just grateful to be alive. And we'd starburst so many times we didn't know where you were."
"So Crais," John paused, not sure he wanted to hear the answer to this question. "He just helped you out of the kindness of his heart?"
"He said Talyn wanted me. He wanted me. And I had to pay him back somehow," the smile was still there.
"Oh, god," he felt something ball up in his throat. "Tell me you didn't."
Aeryn just looked at him, and he thought he could actually hear what was left of his world smashing. He pulled up his memory of her, lovingly wrapped in the satin oblivion that consumed most of his mind. He called up all the times he had heard the crew talking about her. The few times they had told him how much he cared for her. Loved her?
That picture postcard in his mind, the raven haired woman in his arms, had been his center, though he had not realized it until now and he was losing it. If he had one memory of her then there must be others. The belief he would find them had kept him going, and now there was no point. She was not his girl. He had left her for dead and now she wasn't his, maybe she never had been; so much for that fantasy. He was losing it all. Everything seemed suddenly and completely saturated with gray.
"You didn't have to do it," he said.
"I didn't have a lot of choices."
"There's always a choice."
"No, Crichton, don't you dare judge me. You weren't there. It's not your culture."
"No one should ever have to have *sex* with a man if she doesn't want to, Aeryn!" he was enraged at her lack of emotion, he was enraged at Crais for forcing her to do this. He was enraged at the world for putting her in this situation, and he was enraged at himself for not being her hero. He pounded his fist into his forehead again and again, and let out a yell of rage.
It blind sided him suddenly, slipping almost unnoticed into his subconscious; the feel of her lips against his cheek. The feel of her lips in...other places.
He realized that he had frozen, head on fist on knee. Aeryn was staring at him, unsure of where to go from here, what to do, whether to leave. Had he finally lost it completely?
"You and I," he said, throat dry, motioning between them with his hands. "We, um, we did the wild thing?"
She nodded. "Yes, once."
"I didn't mean to judge you, Aeryn. You did what you had to do. But it wasn't all right for him to force you."
"He didn't," she said, and John felt an understanding creep through him. An instinct so faint he daren't call it a memory rose and the acceptance in her eyes that had him so enraged was as transparent as a perspex microwave plate; all he could see was the exhaustion and the hurt. "But I had to repay him, and this was the only way I knew that would satisfy him -"
John slid himself to Aeryn's side silently slipping an arm around her. He pulled her close to him for the third time in his brief memory.
"He showed me the tape," she said, a little muffled by his shoulder.
"It doesn't matter," he soothed.
"No," she protested, and pulled away. "It matters. Crais only showed me the holograph of your operation when we recovered Moya. He couldn't stop Talyn from trying to find his mother. Crais had told me you were dead. He showed me the image so that I wouldn't want to return."
"But you did."
"What did you want to find? The old me, or a me who you could walk away from?"
"It doesn't matter," she echoed, shaking her head. "I didn't find it."
"You could stick around a while. He might come back."
"Crais had a chip," she changed the subject. "He said, he told me that it had information on it that I'd want to see, about my father. If I'd stayed with him he would have shown me."
"He was lying, Aeryn. He has to have been."
There was a pause, filled with a silence that was neither uncomfortable nor peaceful, it was simply an intense form of quiet, as all silences are.
"You said," Aeryn spoke into the noiselessness. "That you might remember more."
"Would you stay if I said I would?"
"Do you want me too?" she asked, not looking at his face. Not ready to see his eyes.
"I won't lie," Crichton shook his head. "My mind's a pan of runny scrambled eggs, and I think I left it out in the sun for too long. Zhaan says I'll probably never remember again."
"Zhaan's been wrong before," she still wouldn't look at him.
"Yeah," he turned her face gently, and stared at her for a long time. "Zhaan's been wrong before."