Aeryn watched him go, but then reached out and stopped both D'Argo and Chiana from rushing after him. "Leave him be," she said darkly. "He needs time alone."

"He's hurt. He doesn't know what he's doing," D'Argo tried.

Aeryn turned her head and gave him a dark look. "He knows exactly what he's doing. So just leave him the frell alone," she repeated tensely. "We'll be at that commerce planet soon. Then he'll get the help he needs. Until then, leave him alone," she added, stressing each word.

Aeryn herself would settle for staying out of his way for at least half an arn. Then she would go looking for him and she had a feeling she knew where to find him when the time came.


Half an arn later, Aeryn left the others behind in Command and went in search of John. She headed straight toward landing bay 3, the present resting place of his precious module, and she was not in the least surprised to find him sitting on the floor across from the module, his back against the wall, his head down. His right arm was resting on top of his drawn-up knees and his left arm was draped over his head.

"John," Aeryn said and squatted down in front of him.

He remained immobile for a few moments, his face pressed against his knees, but then he slowly raised his head and met her eyes. His were bloodshot, the skin around them puffy.

"We're almost within reach of the commerce planet. I've contacted the medics there and they do have a charity section. They'll do the best they can for you," she said, finding it necessary to inform him about what had happened. But his tear-streaked face and the anguish in his eyes tore her up inside. She reached out to cup a hand against his cheek and gently caressed his face with her thumb. "It'll be over soon. One way or another," she added.

He closed his eyes and leaned into her touch. "I hope so," he whispered. "I can't stand this much longer. I've been in pain for two frelling weekens."

"I know," she agreed and sighed. She sat down on the floor and crossed her legs. "John, we need to talk," she added. "About your ability to get into trouble." She paused and eyed him thoughtfully. He looked hurt already and she wasn't so sure she wanted to add to his mental pain right now, but they needed to clarify certain issues before more could go wrong.

She dropped her head and considered what to say for a moment. Then she looked up again to meet his eyes. "If Scorpius has survived the Veridian attack B and I would be surprised if he hadn't B he's going to come after you again. You know that," she stated. "So the question is, John, what do you want to do about it? How do you want to handle this situation?"

He shook his head lightly and started chewing on his lower lip. "I don't know, Aeryn. Short of physically ripping his damned head off, I don't think there's much out there that can kill him. And as long as either of us are alive, he'll keep coming after me."

Aeryn considered his words for a moment and nodded. She understood his predicament, but she wasn't so keen on the currently propose solution. "Well, I am not going to stand by and watch him torture you to death. So I suggest we ... deal with the situation."

"And how do you suggest we do that?" There was not much hope left in his voice.

"Any way we can. But it is going to be dangerous. That's why we need you back in action as soon as possible. We need a good medic, one who can restore your damaged hand, one who can heal your broken bones and fix your various ailments. We have nothing of value to trade with, so we're going to have to do this the hard way. At gun-point if necessary," she said. "And once you're feeling better, we have to make a plan. One that will work."

"Anything short of sunlight and a wooden stake through the heart isn't gonna cut it, Aeryn," he said with a light shake of the head. "He's one of the undead and he just won't stay down."

"I think I know what his weak spot is," she said with a smile. "His cooling device and the suit. I have a plan, John. One that will work."

He narrowed his eyes a little while he stared at her. "The only way you can abuse the weakness of the suit and his cooling device is by subjecting him to high-level temperatures. And that would kill you just as effectively. So that's a no-go."

Aeryn kept on smiling as she got back to her feet. "I have a plan," she insisted. "Can you get up on your own?"

He made a face and got to his feet with her holding onto his left arm. "I feel like a frelling invalid," he grumbled.

Aeryn slipped an arm around his back. "You are a frelling invalid. But not for much longer. By the end of this solarday, you'll be free of the pain. This I promise you."

"Thanks," he mumbled and carefully cradled his right arm in his left.


The commerce planet was rich compared to other worlds they had been to and looked a lot cleaner too. Aeryn hailed a vehicle to take them to the medical facility that was on the other side of the vast town and John had a moment of respite when he ogled what he in his mind immediately dubbed a landspeeder. It was like taken right out of a Star War movie.

Public transportation was not a common sight in the Uncharted Territories and to find something like this was extremely rare, Aeryn had told him. Aeryn called the taxi-like vehicle a hover-craft, which described it fairly well. John was just more inclined to call it other things.

The seats were soft and because the hover-craft did not have contact with the ground beneath, the ride was very smooth. The driver was obviously experienced, a hairy little creature who talked incessantly and found an attentive audience in Chiana.

D'Argo complained about the smell, but neither John, Aeryn or Rygel were aware of any smell. The drive took less time than John had anticipated, not that he had any frame of reference. He felt a little worse for wear by the time they got off the transport again, but Aeryn, D'Argo and Chiana instantly created a shield around him while they walked toward the medical facility on the other side of the street.

Inside, all was hectic and a blur of movement. John felt a little bit queasy and found a wall he could lean against, since all seats were taken. It appeared that this city wasn't safe if he considered the masses gathered to see a doctor. D'Argo, Rygel and Chiana remained closed to him while Aeryn pushed through the thrum of people toward what appeared to be the reception desk.

All John could do was stand and wait and desperately hope for release from this everlasting pain. His hand was throbbing badly, indicating another infection and it was beginning to worry him beyond reason that the wound showed no signs of healing. It made him fear that Scorpius had done more to him than just nail him to the wall.


Aeryn stopped at what passed for a desk. It was a slim, streamlined base with a drop-shaped top. The female standing behind it, looking all official and a little bit haughty, arched an eyebrow, probably taking in her attire.

"May I help you?" she asked and for all intents and purposes sounded like there was nothing she'd rather avoid.

"Yes," Aery replied and jabbed a thumb over her shoulder in the general direction of John. "My mate has a badly injured hand. He needs help now."

The medical assistant gave her a scrutinizing look. "I see," she said. "Do you have insurance?"

Aeryn's eyes narrowed a little. She had hoped to avoid questions like that at the beginning. Keeping in mind that John loved honesty, she pursed her lips, her jaw set. "No, we don't, but ..."

"Can you pay for treatment then?" the med assistant asked dismissively.

Aeryn sighed and wished she had lied to this tralk immediately. "No, we can't ..." she tried again, but once again the med assistant cut her off.

"Then I am sorry. We cannot help you. You need to go to the charity center at the other end of town. It's right next to the space port," the female said, her tone definitely haughty now. "You can't miss it," she added and returned her attention to whatever was happening on the drop-shaped column.

"It was my understanding that you also take charity cases here," Aeryn said, trying hard to keep her temper at bay. It was difficult. Most of all she wanted to pull her pulse pistol and threaten the female into submission.

"Oh, we do. A few per cycle. Our quota is full," the medical assistant replied, her tone decidedly derisive now. "Our medics have to live too," she added, gave Aeryn the once over and turned her attention away from her again.

Aeryn's hand slid onto the butt of her pulse pistol while she felt her temper evaporate like steam off an engine block. Patience might be a virtue, as John said, but he did not have piles of it either.

Right before she could draw the weapon, she heard someone yelp in pain. Swirling around, she sought out John immediately and saw him supported by D'Argo, who was also lashing out at Rygle, who was speeding away on his thronsled.

"You frelling slug," D'Argo snarled while he attempted to keep John on his feet.

Aeryn ignored the medical assistant and rushed back toward them only to be cut off by three other medical assistants who appeared out of seemingly thin air.

"What the frell is going on?" Aeryn demanded.

"Rygel rammed him," D'Argo said and stepped back to let the med assistants take care of John. "I think he did it on purpose this time."

The med assistants urged John along and Aeryn followed. She gave D'Argo a brief nod and followed the four into an examination room.

John was seated in a chair immediately and the two females and one male med assistants were very obviously worried about him. This appeared to be the first time ever that strange Sebaceans took pity on him and it somehow made Aeryn feel good inside. She stepped up behind him and put her hands on his shoulders. "Just relax and let them do their job," she said quietly.

His shoulders were like rock beneath her hands and she made a more or less conscious decision to do something about that once they were back on Moya.

Microts later a medic came in. The male looked a little flustered, like he was in a rush, but Aeryn soon realized that he was worried about his patient before even having seen him.

"So, what happened here?" he asked and carefully took John's right wrist. He looked at first John and then Aeryn. "Who are you?" he asked her.

"His mate," she said without delay, well aware that she would be thrown out if she said she was anything else.

The medic nodded. "So, what caused this?" he asked, then glanced at one of the assistants. "Let's get these bandages off. And give him something for the pain," he said to her.

"Hull repair accident," Aeryn said immediately, lying through her teeth to avoid a formal inquiry that might bring the PKs down on their heads immediately.

One of the med assistants quickly removed the bandages after giving John a shot for the pain and the painkiller seemed to be strong enough to nearly knock him out. He leaned his head back against her, his eyes half closed.

Just then, the haughty med assistant from the entrance hall stepped into the room. She glanced around at them, then stepped up to the medic. "Sir, they are not insured," she said. "They cannot pay."

The medic glanced at her. "It's still early in the cycle. And I have not had any charity cases this cycle," he said, his tone dismissive. "Besides, this male needs all the help he can get. Now, would you please get back to your station? You're in the way," he added.

One of the other med assistants ushered her out of the room and Aeryn couldn't refrain from smiling a little viciously.

The medic examined John's hand without touching it, a frown furrowing his brow. He looked worried and that in turn worried Aeryn. The medic glanced at John, then turned his attention to Aeryn. "How long has he had this wound?" he asked.

"About two weekens. A little more maybe," Aeryn said. "It doesn't seem to be healing," she added, fully aware that he could see that too.

"That is my concern as well," the medic said.

"Hey. I'm not deaf, you know," John inserted.

The medic smiled. "You just looked like you were a little out of it. I meant no disrespect," he replied. He eyed John for a microt, then glanced down at his left hand. "Are there any other injuries we should deal with while you are here?"

John raised his left hand. "Two broken fingers," he said. "They don't seem to be healing either. And various cuts and burns."

The medic's expression revealed to Aeryn that he was beginning to catch onto what was going on, or rather what had been going on. He nodded once. "Well, I guess we'll just put you through the cycle then," he said. "Anything special I should know before we start?"

Aeryn nodded. "He's not Sebacean, but his species is pretty close to us," she said. It was necessary to state this, but she wasn't so sure how much this would help in the long run.

The medic nodded. "Good. I shall keep that in mind. Now, first of all, I'd like to see what it is that is preventing your wounds from healing," he said.


A blood test later, the medic returned. He didn't look overly worried, which in John's mind was a positive thing. The painkiller he'd gotten was very effective without affecting his ability to think straight. He assumed that it was designed that way to allow the patient to answer questions without being in horrendous pain all the time.

"Well," the medic said and made a face. "It seems that you have contracted bleeder's syndrome," he said.

John stared at him for a moment, then tilted his head back and looked up at Aeryn. She was frowning, her eyes on the medic, so he returned his attention to the man as well. "What's that?"

"It's a viral infection and just based on the fact that it is affecting you is enough to tell me that you're not Sebacean. Sebaceans can carry it, but they will never get sick from it," the medic explained.

"So, it's sort of like a space flu?" John asked. "You sneeze and someone else gets it?"

The medic glanced at Aeryn, then looked back down at John. "Not really," he said. "It's a sexually transmitted disease. You can only get it by having intercourse with the carrier."

For a moment, it wouldn't sink in what the medic had just said. On Earth, that sort of thing wasn't a joking matter. STDs were not exactly the best kind of infection you could get. "Uh ..." he said, but trailed off, not sure what to say.

"We may want to examine your blood as well," the medic said, his request directed at Aeryn.

"I do not have bleeder's syndrome," she countered, but nevertheless held her hand out to him so he could draw some blood. "I used to be a Peacekeeper. The only other person I've ever recreated with since then is him," she added, nodding down at John.

The medic handed the blood sample over to one of the med assistants, who left the room to have it examined. "You might have it without even knowing it," he said.

"Would it have an influence on a pregnancy if I did have it?" Aeryn asked and John could clearly hear the concern in her voice.

"No, this type of infection would not affect a pregnancy as such since you are Sebacean," the medic replied. "And it is very doubtful that the infant would be affected either. It would inherit your natural resistance to this virus."

Aeryn nodded, her hands tightening on John's shoulders. The med assistant returned and handed over the result. The medic eyed it for a moment, then looked first at John and then at Aeryn. "You don't have it," he said.

John just sat there and stared ahead of himself for a moment, then titled his head back and looked up at Aeryn. She was looking down at him, her expression anything but happy. "Where did you get it from?" she asked quietly.

"I don't know," he said honestly.

"Did you get it from ... Gilina?" she asked.

The medic had obviously decided to stay out of this for now because he said nothing.

"No, I didn't," John said, stressing the words. "It never got that far with us."

Aeryn nodded, her expression still tense. "Then it must have been that princess," she said.

"No, Aeryn, it wasn't Katralla either. Getting it on with her was the last thing on my mind back then," he said, both a little embarrassed and confused. This wasn't exactly the kind of conversation he'd imagined them having at any point.

"Katralla?" the medic asked. "You mean Princess Katralla of the Royal Family?"

Aeryn and John both turned their attention toward him. "Yes, the same," Aeryn agreed.

"Well ... I can assure you that the princess does not have bleeder's syndrome," the medic said. "I know the Royal Family quite well and the Empress would never allow her daughter to have any kind of disease. She's very old school. It would be a scandal."

That response made Aeryn frown before she looked back down at John. "But there haven't been any others ... unless Chiana and ..."

"NO," he snapped. "Are you out of your mind? I've spent the last few cycles blowing her off, Aeryn. Pip is like a little sister to me."

"Then where?" she demanded.

"Does it matter ..." he began, but trailed off as the memory suddenly hit him full force. "Oh shit," he muttered and winced at the thought.

"I take it you remember how you might have been infected?" the medic asked.

"I think so," he agreed reluctantly as he felt Aeryn's grip on his shoulder's tighten.

"The princess?" she asked, obviously wanting to verify a suspicion she had.

"No," he repeated and wasn't too sure it was such a good idea to let her know who it had been. "Clavor's girlfriend," he added and closed his eyes.

"Clavor's?" Aeryn asked. "That ... Jenavia or whatever the frell her name was?"

"Yeah," he sighed. "Look, can we talk about this later?"

"Sure," she replied curtly and tightened her grip a little more on his shoulders.

"Ow," he mumbled under his breath. It didn't hurt, but he responded to it anyway. She relaxed her grip and stepped back, letting her hands fall away.

The medic nodded once. "Let's deal with your injuries. And the bleeder's syndrome is easily cured," he said and returned his attention to John's damaged hand. "Your broken fingers are easily healed and so are the cuts and burns you have. But this," he added and pursed his lips briefly. "This will take some engineering. And you will be unable to use your hand for at least a monan longer."

"Well, right now I can't use it anyway, so it won't make that much difference," John grumbled. He felt a little on edge because of this latest revelation. Finding out he had STD wasn't his favorite thing. And having to explain to Aeryn why he'd gotten it would be even more fun.


Aeryn watched and waited while the medic put John back together. The crushed bone in his hand was replaced by a growth-agent that would eventually be eaten away by the new developing bone. That was why it would take so long to heal. The Bleeder's syndrome was cured in microts and so was his left hand. He would have to do some exercises with it to get his fingers up to speed again, but essentially his left hand was back to normal.

At the end of the healing session, the medic gave her a little bag. "This contains dressings and bandages for the wound along with painkillers and anti-inflammatory medication, which he should take on a regular basis for the next weeken."

John got up and flexed his leg a few times to test it, then grinned. Aeryn narrowed her eyes at him and his smile died. Without giving it a thought, she returned her attention to the medic. "Thank you. When can he remove the splint?"

"Give it two weekens. But it would be preferable to leave it on for a monan if he can stand it that long. After that, you can remove it and then he should exercise his hand thoroughly," the medic said.

Aeryn nodded. "I'll make sure he does that," she said with a sideways glance at John. He swallowed and looked away.


The trip back to the space port was one of the longest Chiana had ever taken. She had no idea what had transpired behind the closed doors in the med facility, but she knew it had to be bad. Aeryn was cold like the surface of an ice planet and kept at arm's length from John.

John, in turn, looked depressed and tired and she mostly got the impression that he wanted to be anywhere but here.

Chiana kept an eye on both of them, watching them intently and wondered what was going on. She would have expected John to be happy and relieved and Aeryn too.

She nudged John's left arm lightly. "Hey," she said and tried a smile. "What's up? Couldn't they heal your hand?"

John glanced at her and sighed. "Yeah, they could," he muttered and sent a quick glance in Aeryn's direction. Aeryn, who was sitting on the seat across from them rather than next to him, was watching the city go by and apparently paid no attention.

"Then why the long face?" Chiana inquired, using one of John's phrases to perhaps get at least a smile out of him.

He remained almost morosely silent and just stared ahead of himself.

Chiana glanced at D'Argo, who shrugged lightly and looked as confused about this as she felt. Instead of pushing the issue, since neither of them seemed inclined to even acknowledge that there was one, Chiana just stayed close to John.

Once they arrived at the space port, she was the one to help him when he needed it while Aeryn mostly kept her back to him. But John's response to this was beginning to change. Chiana could feel the anger growing in him and wondered what the frell was going on. She was bursting with curiosity, but knew that pushing either of them would do no good.

On the pod back to Moya, John remained in the rear part of the cockpit while Aeryn and D'Argo flew the pod and not once did Aeryn turn back to look at him or ask him how he was doing.

By the time the pod settled in the bay on Moya, Chiana was about ready to blow up at her. Rygel left in a hurry and D'Argo and John followed close behind. Chiana lingered while Aeryn shut down the pod.

"Why are you still here? You don't need to stay," Aeryn asked and glanced sternly at her.

"Why the frell do you think I'm still here?" Chiana countered. "What the frell is going on?"

"None of your business. This is between John and me," Aeryn replied, her tone dismissive and cold.

"Oh, and we all know how frelling brilliant you two are at resolving your issues," Chiana snapped. "What the frell is wrong now? Did he look at a med assistant wrong?" she demanded. "Or was it because he didn't show enough stamina? Did he whine too much? Is that it?"

Aeryn turned back to face her fully, her expression one of impending doom. "Do not get involved in issues you know nothing about, Chiana," she warned.

"I know more than you think," Chiana hissed. "I don't know what he frell he sees in you in the first place. You've never been anything but a cold Peacekeeper skank," she added heatedly, swirled around and ran out. She'd had her say, but that didn't mean she felt better about this situation.