Author's note: my thanks to Kent Blazy and Garth Brooks for writing the lovely song that inspired this piece, and that made me cry the first time I heard it.
"Hi, Dad, I'm back again. Unless some kind of miracle happens, I'll never get to give you this, but as long as the batteries hold out, I'm gonna keep working on the tape. It's the only way I have to talk to you - even if you can't hear me."
John paused the tape for a moment, thinking. The events of the day were still milling around in his head - making the tape was a good way of sorting things out. Good news was, he'd fallen in love. Bad news was, he'd fallen in love. Good news was, he and Aeryn had really managed to communicate. Bad news was, he had really hurt her when she'd walked in on him and Gilina. Good news was, they'd managed to get away again. Bad news was, they had to send Gilina back, and he'd probably never see her again. God, life sucked!
He restarted the recorder. "It's been a day, Dad. We ran into some really psychotic life this time called Sheyangs - these guys give the term 'dragon-breath' a whole new meaning. D'Argo pretty much scared 'em off - Zhaan told me he was real impressive. I know what Luxan hyper-rage is like - I'm kind of glad I wasn't around to see the fit he had at the Sheyangs. It'd probably give me nightmares.
"It was great in a way, though, Dad - everybody worked together. We all had jobs to do, and we did them. I guess we're kinda getting to be a family - well, as much as people from different planets can be. "Aeryn had a tough time today, though she'd die before she admitted it. The ship we boarded had some of her old crew on it. They were the closest thing to family she had, and they're gone. Her old life is gone. Like I said before, if a miracle happens, maybe the conditions could be recreated to make the wormhole open. Aeryn's life is gone, and nothing can bring it back. I've at least got a dream, even if it's a pipe dream. She doesn't even have that. I think in her shoes, I'd just open an airlock and walk out it.
"Anyway, talking with her later, I got to thinking about home, and you, and what you said before I took the Farscape up - about how you were proud of me. I still remember when you weren't. That night when we had that fight, and I wrecked the car? I'm still not sure what I was more scared of - that you'd come after me ... or that you wouldn't....
Crichton hit the doors of the hospital at a near-run and approached the nurse at the desk. "I'm Jack Crichton, I'm looking for my son John."
"Colonel?" Crichton turned to face a middle-aged man in scrubs. "Dr. Davis, sir. I'm the one who called you. Thank you for coming down so quickly."
"Resting comfortably. He's going to be fine, but his head hit the steering wheel during the crash and he blacked out for a while. CAT scan came back normal, but we'd like to keep him at least overnight for observation. He's a lucky young man - apparently he's got a pretty hard head."
"Runs in the family. Can I see him?"
"Of course. Come with me." They boarded an elevator and emerged on the third floor. "We have him in an observation room in the ICU. Don't panic, this is standard procedure. It's the best place to keep tabs on him."
As they approached the room, a figure stood up from a chair by the door. D.K., a patch on his forehead, barely met the older man's gaze. "Hi, Colonel," he mumbled.
"D.K.? Were you with John?"
"Yessir." The reply was barely audible.
"Are you all right?"
"Cut my head on some glass, I guess, but I'm okay."
"What happened? Were you two drinking?"
"No, sir. John came over to my place, 'n he was really mad - I guess you two had a fight or something - and he said he just needed to get away for a while. He asked if I wanted to come, and I said sure. My folks are out of town till Sunday - man, are they gonna be pissed when they hear about this .... "
"I'll talk to them, D.K. What happened?"
"Well, we just started driving, and it started to rain, and I told John to slow down 'cause the road was getting slick, and he just kept on talking about everybody wanting him to be what he wasn't 'cause he's the colonel's kid, and he wasn't really paying attention to the road, and he swerved to miss the cat that ran in front of us, and the car slid, and he couldn't stop in time ... "
Crichton stopped D.K.'s rant with a gentle hand on his shoulder. "Take a breath, son. It's okay. How did you get here?"
"A car was going by and saw us. The driver stopped, and I asked him to call an ambulance."
"Good. And where's the car?"
"Still sitting against the tree where it hit, I guess. We were out on one of the back roads, not too far off the highway. I can find it in the morning."
"Okay. Let me talk to John for a minute, then we'll get you home."
"Thanks, Colonel. "
Crichton looked through the window at his son. John was a strapping 17-year-old, but somehow he looked small and fragile in the hospital bed. He felt the blood drain from his face, and forced himself to take a couple of deep breaths. He's all right, he's coming home tomorrow, it's not like Nora . His wife had blacked out behind the wheel of her car driving home from the supermarket and hit a telephone pole. The accident itself was fairly minor, but she was gone before the ambulance arrived. The autopsy had shown a blown aneurysm. By the time Crichton and John had arrived at the hospital it was too late to do anything, even say goodbye. That was three years ago, but the memory was as fresh as if it was yesterday. The period of adjustment for father and son had been long and sometimes rocky, but things had been progressing slowly. Until tonight.
Crichton opened the door quietly and entered the room. John appeared to be dozing. A white bandage covered half his forehead, and his left eye was bruised and swollen shut. Crichton reached out with a hand that he noticed was trembling slightly and brushed back a stray lock of hair from John's forehead. His mind kept repeating the same phrase, like a mantra or perhaps a prayer of thanks: He's all right, he's all right ....
Light as the touch was, it woke the boy. One grey eye opened and focused blearily. "Hi, Dad." The words came out in a hoarse whisper. It was quite possibly the most beautiful thing Crichton had ever heard. "Blew it, didn't I?"
"Yes, you did. What got into you tonight, John? You came home from school loaded for bear. I think tonight maybe you found it - or it found you."
"Yeah." John's eye closed and Crichton thought for a moment he'd dozed off again. "It was just one time too many, Dad. One more teacher comparing us - Mr. Javitz, the chem teacher this time - and I lost it. I wasn't really mad at you, I was just ... mad. You just kinda got in the way, that's all."
"So you took it out on the car?"
"I had to do something, Dad. You have no idea what it's like to be your son sometimes. My father is Colonel Jack Crichton, true-blue, dyed-in-the-wool hero, the man who walked in space, walked on the moon twice, and just about walks on water ... "
"Being an astronaut is what I do for a living, John. It's like being a mechanic, or a sales clerk, or anything else. "
"Try telling that to some of my teachers, and some of the people around town. They all expect me to be just like you. Well, I can't be like you!" John raised his head from the bed and choked back a yelp as a hot pain shot through his temple. He let his head fall back and took a deep breath. "I can't be you."
Crichton reached for his son's hand. "John, I've never asked you to be me. Hell, I expect you to be more than I ever could be. I'm a pilot. I've got a knack for getting things off the ground, and I've got a good head for numbers. When it came to the science, I was always running one step behind. I've seen your grades -- you've got a hold on the science that I would have killed for. CalTech and MIT are already sniffing around looking to recruit you. You have a future that can go way past anything I've done, and I just pray I'll be around to see it. "
"I know you'd like me to go into the space program, but I don't know that I want to. You cast a pretty big shadow. It can get kinda chilly standing there."
"You don't have to stand in my shadow if you don't want to. If you want to join the space program after college, nothing would make me happier. But you've got all kinds of options open. I've seen some of your 'doodles' - there's talent there, and there are dreams I could never have. I fly the rockets - you can help build them. Man's been dreaming about faster-than-light travel and visiting other worlds for years. Who knows - maybe you'll be the first one to prove Einstein wrong. I guess what I'm trying to say is, whatever you decide to do with your life, I'll back you one hundred percent. Believe that."
There was a long silence, then John spoke, quietly this time. "I'll try. "
"Okay. Just do me a favor, huh? The next time you blow your stack, go down to the playground and smack a few baseballs. The worst that can happen to you is a sprained shoulder or something. You took about five years off my life tonight. I already lost your mother, if I'd lost you, too ... " He stopped, the words simply refused to go around the lump in his throat.
John looked up at him. "Dad?" The only time he'd ever seen his father cry was at his mother's funeral, and the older man's eyes were suspiciously shiny now. "Dad, you okay?"
Crichton swallowed hard and made a poor attempt at a smile. "Yeah, I'm all right. Just like you will be in a few days. Look, you get some rest. I'm going to take D.K. home, then I'm coming back. We'll talk some more later."
"Okay. Sorry about the car."
"That's what insurance is for. But you're going to be mowing lawns and scraping paint this summer to work off the deductible, mister, don't think you won't."
"Whatever you say, Dad. " A pause, then: "Come back soon, okay?"
Crichton smiled, a real one this time. "As soon as I can. Try to sleep."
"Okay." John closed his eye and Crichton left the room. He dropped D.K. at the Crichton home and got him settled into John's bed, ignoring the boy's protests that he would have been all right alone at his place. He noted with satisfaction that D.K. was asleep almost as soon as his head hit the pillow. After a quick trip through a drive-in for coffee, he went back to the hospital. He didn't leave his son's side all night, and was there when John woke up the next day. There was still a long road ahead of them both, but they had walked part of it together that night.
"I remember what you said about being my own kind of hero, too, Dad. I'm trying to be that - guess you'd have to ask my shipmates how I'm doing. I keep getting the feeling I got sling-shot here for a reason. I just hope I don't get toasted before I find out what it is. I'm going to do my best to make you proud of me, even if you never know it. I wish you could be here with me sometimes - all those sci-fi movies we used to watch together can't touch some of the stuff I've seen. I know you'd get a blast out of it, too. And they did get around Einstein - if I can figure out how, I think I've got a second doctorate coming. It's something to shoot for.
"And Dad? Thanks for helping me chase my dreams, even when I fought you. This wasn't quite the way I'd planned to do it, but all things considered, it's pretty interesting. I'm gonna have some stories for you and D.K. if ... no, think positively ... when I come home.
"One more thing, Dad. I know you already know this, but just for the record ... I love you. I always have, in spite of everything, and I always will. Good night."
John switched off the recorder and smiled. There were no regrets attached to the final words on the tape - there might never be a tomorrow for the two of them, but the memories were there, and that was enough. It would have to be, at least for now.