Author's Note: To those that I just know are going to call parts of this homoerotic - well, I'll be polite here, but email me with your comments if you dare and you'll hear what I REALLY think of such nonsense.....
To Laura and Lauren for their excellent suggestions, and to Sarah for listening to me gripe as I was trying to get this out of my head and onto paper. Special thanks to the incomparable Andrea Bocelli for the magnificent music that provided the backdrop for this piece.
This is set between HM and Bone - my take on life, death, pain and the power of friendship .....
Disclaimer: I don't own these folks, yada yada yada, you know the drill....
"Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart...."
--William Butler Yeats, "Easter 1916"
It was at the burial service for Gilina that they first noticed the change in John.
The funeral was a makeshift affair, a hodgepodge of customs from the entire crew. Each person wanted to honor the tech's sacrifice in his or her own way, and Aeryn had confirmed that, since Sebaceans didn't believe in an afterlife, a funeral for one of her people would normally be a brief and businesslike affair. They all felt Gilina deserved better than that for everything she'd done for John, for all of them. The only one not in attendance was Stark - he was in hibernation, repairing his body and mind after two cycles as a captive of Scorpius.
The service was held in the cargo bay - not what any of them would have chosen, but the only place from which to dispose of her remains. John laid Gilina gently in a packing crate, the closest thing they could find to a casket, and then stepped back and stood a little off to one side, not speaking or meeting anyone's eyes, lost in his own thoughts.
Zhaan went first, clad in the vestments John had smuggled back from the Delvian colony and insisted that she keep 'just in case'. Tears streamed from her pale eyes as she chanted an invocation to the Goddess and anointed Gilina's forehead with a fragrant oil. "The blessing of K'halenn go with you on your journey, and the stars give you shelter. May your spirit find the happiness it was denied in life."
Chiana stepped forward, looking nervous. A gentle touch on her shoulder from Zhaan, and finally the words came out: "I ... I didn't know you like the rest of them, but I think I'd have liked to. My people believe in everyone fitting a pattern, and I guess yours do, too. You didn't fit the pattern - maybe we could have been friends, and now I'll never know...." The Nebari's voice cracked, and she buried her face against Zhaan.
Aeryn, forcing herself to remain steady on her feet, took her turn. She pinned an insignia patch from her flight suit on the front of Gilina's jumpsuit. "This is the symbol of Pleisar Regiment - you've earned the right. You were born a tech, but you died a warrior. You will be missed." She stepped back, looking down so no one would see the sheen in her eyes.
Rygel glided forward, uncharacteristically somber. "Sebacean, Peacekeeper, at the end honored comrade. Go to the hallowed realm in peace." He looked longingly at Gilina's boots, but one sharp glare from D'Argo was enough to make him change his mind. He backed his thronesled up and hovered silently, earbrows drooping.
D'Argo drew a small knife from his belt as he approached Gilina. He slid the blade under her folded hands and brushed a stray lock of hair off her face. "To protect your spirit from any evil that might try to keep it from its rightful resting place. May the gods go with you ... yours and mine."
John picked up a gold blanket and spread it over Gilina, covering her to the chin. Straightening, he stood silently for a moment, then said, "Let's do this."
"Don't you want to say anything, John?" Zhaan asked.
"What's the point? She's dead. Let's get this over with." He placed the lid on the crate, ignoring the looks of shock from the others, and he and D'Argo rolled it forward to the airlock. The inner doors closed, the outer ones opened, and they all watched through the viewport as the crate floated into space and disappeared from sight.
Aeryn let out a tired sigh and swayed slightly. Immediately D'Argo's arm went out to steady her, and she shook it off in annoyance. "I'm all right."
"No, you're not," Zhaan said. "You still need several days' bedrest for your paraphoral nerve to finish healing, and you are going to take it, starting right now."
Zhaan's eyes went steely. "Do not attempt to argue with me, Aeryn. I will drug you if I must to get you to rest."
"And I will hold you down so she can administer it," D'Argo added, towering over her.
"Do what Zhaan says, Aeryn," John said. "After everything .... " He stopped, swallowed and closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened them again, they were cold and lifeless. "Just do it," he whispered as he turned and left the cargo bay.
Aeryn shot a questioning look at Zhaan, who shrugged and shook her head. "We each deal with pain in our own way. Leave him alone for a time."
Leaving him alone was not a problem -- for the next three days they rarely saw him at all. When they did, he spoke only when spoken to, and then as briefly as possible. Even Rygel was aware of the change. "I am not sure which is worse," he commented when John left the mess hall after yet another mostly uneaten meal, "his incessant chatter ... or his silence."
"At least the chatter is normal," Zhaan said, her pale eyes troubled. "Tears or even rage would be normal. This ... this is not."
"Well, no sense in letting perfectly good food go to waste," the Hynerian said, pulling John's tray over to him and wolfing the contents happily, paying no heed to the open disgust on Chiana's face, and the contempt on D'Argo's.
"Pilot, have you noticed anything else unusual?" Zhaan asked
"Well, I've been monitoring him - just a bit, now and then .... " Pilot began apologetically.
"It's all right, Pilot, we're all worried about him," Aeryn said. She was resisting Zhaan's order of bedrest where her meals were concerned - only a soldier with a terminal wound was fed in bed, and then only with much protest. "What's he been doing?"
"He spends most of the night walking the corridors, and seems to spend a great deal of time by the cargo bay."
"The cargo bay? That's where we had the service for Gilina. What does he do there?"
"Nothing. He doesn't go in, just goes to the door and stands there, sometimes for arns."
"Aeryn, what do you know of the effects of the Aurora chair?" D'Argo asked.
"Rumor mostly. I'd heard of it, but never seen it in action - except for what it did to Crais." Aeryn smiled briefly, chillingly. "John was put through seven kinds of hezmana, had his mind sifted like vellak meal - I'm surprised we got him back alive, much less reasonably sane." Aeryn shook her head. "But I don't like it. He's just too ... quiet. Zhaan, I know you said we each deal with pain in our own way, but surely there must be something we can do, some way we can help."
"We can't help if he doesn't wish to accept it."
"What about that joining thing you said you did before?" Chiana asked. "That Unity? Can't you tie him down or something and try that again?"
"He'd resist, and I could risk sending him even further from us. Until he's ready to come to us, I can see no way to get through. D'Argo, do you have any thoughts .... " Zhaan turned to the Luxan, but his seat was empty. The women looked at his retreating back as he left the room, and heard his muttered, "Females!"
D'Argo found John in the maintenance bay, head and shoulders inside the engine of the Farscape. He watched the human silently for a moment, then said quietly, "Crichton, we need to talk." There was no acknowledgement. "Did you hear me?"
A pause, then: "I heard you."
"Then do me the courtesy of answering."
John did not turn around, but his head came up out of the engine. "Nothing to talk about."
"I think there is. And it's going to eat you alive if you don't get it out."
"Yeah, like you're some kind of expert, right?" John's hands had stilled - his back was still to the Luxan, but he was listening.
"In a way," D'Argo said, coming closer. "I've seen men like you on the battlefield - men who have seen more horror than they can handle. Men who die a little more every day, become walking corpses because they can't let go of what they've been through."
John did turn around. "And just what would you know about what I've been through?"
"I know more than you think, because I've been where you are," D'Argo said quietly. "The Peacekeepers imprisoned me, tortured me, tore my hearts from me. And I will live the rest of my life knowing that a woman died because she loved me."
D'Argo saw a flicker of .... something .... in John's eyes, and kept going. "Burying the pain is not the way to deal with it. It only gets worse, and it dishonors Gilina's memory. You deny the pain, you deny her sacrifice ... and your own."
"My sacrifice? You have no idea about my sacrifice," John spat, anger setting the muscles in his jaw jumping. He came down the small ladder and faced D'Argo. "You will....NEVER....know what it was like, to have my mind put through a high tech Cuisinart, to feel the memories ripped out of my skull, and nothing I could do to stop it, to stop them .... " He chuckled, and D'Argo didn't like the sound of the laugh - low, with an edge of madness to it. "But they couldn't get it all, they couldn't find her, not until she .... " John clamped against the words, and the coldness descended again, like a steel hatch being slammed shut. "And why am I telling you this? What does it matter? What does any of it matter? She's dead, it's over."
"Yes, she's dead, and here you are, without the mivonks to even mourn her properly. Doesn't she deserve that much from you? What are you afraid of?"
"I don't have to listen to this shit...." John started to stalk past D'Argo, but was frozen by the Luxan's next words.
"A coward, of course. Humans are even more like Peacekeepers than I thought!"
Black rage exploded inside John. "Sonofabitch!" He pivoted without conscious thought, one fist balled and swinging at D'Argo's jaw. He was fast, but the Luxan was faster. He sidestepped the blow, and John overbalanced with the force of his own momentum. He would have fallen to the floor if D'Argo's arms hadn't closed tightly around him, holding him immobile.
John tried to speak, to demand to be let go, but suddenly he couldn't breathe. He gasped, and felt D'Argo's grip loosen slightly, but the stricture in his chest only got worse, his heart pounding, a hot pain shooting through him. My god, is this what a heart attack feels like? he thought wildly, fighting to pull air into his tortured lungs. He sank to his knees with D'Argo still holding him. Words forced themselves out of him, from the depths of his being: "I can't .... can't take any more .... pain .... can't ....."
D'Argo's voice was low in his ear, compassionate. "Then let it go, John. It's time to let it go. Scorpius and the Peacekeepers have taken enough from you already. Don't let them destroy your soul. Don't let them win."
The sobs came first -- hard, dry, wracking, threatening to tear him apart. He gulped for air, his hands digging into the Luxan's arms, their strength the only thing keeping him from shattering into a million fragments. Snippets of sentences tumbled out -- about Gilina, about Scorpius, about the chair, about Stark -- none of it making much sense, but it didn't matter. Each word loosened more, and they flooded out of John, a raging river of anger, grief, outrage, despair, and betrayal. D'Argo listened silently, his hearts twisting in sympathy, all too familiar with the feelings.
" ... and she died ... in my arms ... and I didn't even ... Jesus, she came back ... for me ... and I couldn't ..... oh, shit, man ... hurts, so damn much ... "
The tears began, choking off any more words, and John wept as he hadn't since his mother died so many years before. The dam had been broken, and at first he thought his heart had burst along with it, so fierce was the burning pain inside him. His mind and his soul were being shredded in a way that Scorpius' chair couldn't begin to duplicate. It was too much, he couldn't take any more, couldn't give any more....
The Luxan, tears stinging his own eyes, held his friend tightly, tenderly, long dormant paternal instincts coming into play. He murmured soothing words of reassurance, much like the ones he had once whispered to his son on long-ago nights. It didn't matter if John understood or even really heard them -- he found his own comfort in them.
Slowly, so slowly, the torrent faded to a trickle, then finally stopped. John lifted a shaking hand to dry his face, embarrassed at his lack of control. "Sorry," he mumbled, forcing the word out of his aching throat.
"No need to be. Actually, I am the one who should apologize to you," D'Argo said, releasing his friend.
"Apologize? What .... wait a minute. You ragged on me for a reason, to push me till I blew. Why?"
"How do you feel now?" D'Argo asked.
John, surprised by the question, actually took stock, and discovered that the fire inside him had faded somewhat, eased by the cleansing power of the salt tears. "Better. It still hurts like hell, but .... I think I can live with it now."
"That is why I did it. It was the only way to get rid of the toxins ... to make the blood run clear. And it's something I wish someone had done for me eight cycles ago."
John settled into a sitting position, arms resting on drawn up knees. "When Lo'Laan died."
D'Argo nodded. "When Macton had me arrested, his hands were still red with her blood. My son was safe, but I did not know if I would ever see him again. I shut my feelings away, as you did - it was easier than trying to deal with the pain. I stayed numb for a long time, John - no matter what the Peacekeepers did to me, they could not get past the wall I built. I even invented the story about killing my commanding officer so I would not have to face the truth. You may never be able to think about what happened to you without pain, but sometimes pain is all we have to remind us we're still alive."
"So how do I deal with it? How do I live with Gilina, with .... the rest of it?"
"By living the life Gilina gave back to you, not closing yourself off from it. By not being ashamed to ask for help from those who care about you. This is a battle, and you cannot fight it alone."
"No, I can't, and I promise from now on I won't try."
"Good. Because if I have to do this again, I will simply save us both trouble and throw you out the airlock." This got the first real grin out of John in days. "Now I think you need a reminder of why you did what you did in the first place. Go see her, John, she's been worried about you."
"Yeah, I think you're right." D'Argo got to his feet and helped the human up.
John rose unsteadily, tremors of weariness racing through his frame. He fought them back - he had things to do before he could give in to the exhaustion. "Thanks, big guy." He held out his hand, and the Luxan took it, smiling softly.
"I told you before - I will not desert an ally in battle."
"I know, and I appreciate it."
John massaged his aching temples as he headed toward Aeryn's quarters. The DRDs were making their rounds, the quiet hum of Moya's systems soothed him, and as he passed a viewport, he looked out at the new life that had come into being in his absence. He smiled -- life as a whole went on, even when a part of it ended.
He stood silently at Aeryn's door, watching her for a moment. She was restless, fidgety, annoyed at her confinement. He jumped as she snatched a tumbler from her bedside stand and threw it across the room with an oath the translator microbes didn't even attempt to decipher. He bit back a laugh - oh, yeah, she was feeling much better. He cleared his throat to announce his presence. "Mind if I come in? Looks like you need some distraction, before you really do break something."
"Please." John came in, settling gently on the edge of the bed, and Aeryn searched his face. His eyes were bloodshot and swollen, but the life was back in them again. She covered her relief with a frank: "You look like dren."
"If you think I look bad, you should see the other guy. No, on second thought, maybe not - you'd have a relapse. But you look pretty decent, considering you were coughing up blood a few days ago. How are you feeling?"
She smiled and said, "Another day or two, I'll be able to take D'Argo down in our sparring sessions."
"Well, don't push it. You work on getting well - so help me, you die on me now, I'll kill you." He smiled slightly, then sobered. "Don't let it all be for nothing."
Aeryn saw the shadow pass across John's face, heard the unspoken pain. "I'd never do that, I owe too many people too much." She hesitated, then said, "You know, I never said thank you for everything you did for me."
John smiled. "Yes, you did, when you came through that cell door. I reckon we're pretty close to even. Look, are you up for a little walk? If Zhaan gives you hell for being out of bed, you can blame it on me, tell her I hijacked you. I've got something to do, and I could use some back up."
"I think I could manage. Where are we going?"
"To send a package to a friend."
John took a deep breath and entered the cargo bay. In his hands he carried a flower, of no species he knew, but which Zhaan had managed to cultivate in her quarters. He told her the reason he needed it, and she'd given it to him without hesitation, though he was sure the plant had taken a great deal of nurturing.
He walked through the door of the airlock and laid the flower on the floor. Straightening, he spoke softly, confident he would be heard: "Hey, Gilina. I'm sorry I couldn't do this before. It's kind of a tradition with my people, to give flowers to folks who die. Don't know why, it's not like they can enjoy them or anything - just chalk it up to human weirdness, I guess. I hope it gets to you, wherever you are, and I hope wherever you are is happy."
His voice faltered, and he swallowed hard. "It's not enough for what you did for me, for all of us, but .... thank you." He turned, closed the inner doors behind him and opened the outer doors. He watched the flower float into the stars, and the tears he had been unable to shed at Gilina's passing now slid silently down his face. "Goodbye, Gilina," he whispered. "See you on the other side."
He felt a gentle hand on his shoulder, and gave Aeryn a wan smile. "You'd think if you said goodbye often enough, it'd get easier. It doesn't."
"No, it doesn't. Are you all right, John?"
John looked into her eyes, saw the compassion there. "No, not yet, probably not for a while," he answered quietly. "But I will be."