Aeryn stood rooted to the ground for a microt and just stared at the exit. Then she closed her eyes and sighed deeply. Chiana had hit a nerve and perhaps she was overreacting to this situation, but how the frell was she supposed to trust in him when he never told her the facts?

She smoothed her hands over her hair, drew in a deep breath and straightened her back. In one respect she would prove that frelling Nebari wrong. They were going to work this out right now.

That decided, she finished shutting down the pod and finally left to go in search of John. There were a few things he needed to understand about her response to this.

She found him in the center chamber, where he was talking quietly to Chiana. The girl gave Aeryn one look and took off without a word.

John eyed her until she settled down on the bench across from him. Then he pushed the cup of water he had standing in front of him across the table toward her. "Aeryn, we need to talk about this."

"I agree," she countered although she didn't. Most of all she wanted to leave right now, but she stayed put. They did need to work through this. And she was going to prove to that frelling Nebari that John had every reason to care about her. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"Tell you what, Aeryn? That I frelled someone in a fit of desperation?" he asked, his tone laced with sarcasm. "I was scared out of my frelling mind. It was a no-win situation for me back then. And you had made it pretty clear that there was nothing going on between us."

"No, I said I needed space, John. And I did. To a certain extent, I still do. The problem is, I don't know what to do with that space just yet. All these ... emotions I have ... I don't know what to do with them half the time." She folded her arms on the table top and leaned forward a little. "I know you were scared on the Royal Planet. I don't blame you. But ..." She closed her eyes and sighed.

"But what?" he asked with a light shake of the head. "Aeryn, if this thing between us is ever going to work out, we need to be more open with each other. You can't just run off every time the slightest problem rears its head. And I ... well ... I guess I need to work on my communication skills as well. What happened on the Royal Planet was the pits for me. I was caught between a rock and a hard place and ... quite honestly ... you weren't very supportive."

Aeryn felt a sting at his words and made a face. Her immediate reaction to that sort of accusation would have been to get up and walk out on him, but he was right. If they were to work this out, they needed to talk about it. And talking involved them both being in the same room at the same time. "Fine, I wasn't very supportive. But I had my own issues to deal with. And you ... wimped out, John. You didn't even try to fight."

"If I had rocked the boat back then, Aeryn, the Empress would have fed me to Scorpius and the lot of you too. And you know what Scorpius would have done with you?" He shook his head, not expecting an answer. "It's the past. It shouldn't matter. We weren't an item back then and you ditched me. You went rock-climbing with Barbie's boyfriend while I was getting ready to spend the next eighty cycles as a frelling statue."

"You didn't want to talk about it," she countered a little heatedly.

"I did too want to talk about it," he shot back. For a microt, he looked like he was about to say something else, but instead he lapsed into morose silence.

Aeryn marveled at her own resilience right then. She didn't leave. She couldn't leave. Not any more, not now. "John," she said and slid a hand across the table. "You're right. It's the past. It shouldn't matter," she agreed and wondered if he understood what a big leap this was for her; to admit defeat.

"Then why does it?" he asked. He was angry now and she quite honestly couldn't blame him for it. Her response to this revelation had been completely out of bounds.

"It doesn't. Not anymore," she assured him and sighed. "Please, let me explain."

He stared at her, made no move to take her hand or move closer. But he didn't leave either.

"Just listen to me," she repeated. She dropped her gaze to the table top and pensively rubbed the bridge of her nose for a microt. "I was jealous," she finally said and looked up to meet his gaze again. "I didn't know it back then, but I was. I ... didn't know how to handle it, didn't know how to respond, so I cut you off and walked away."

"I noticed," he grumbled. "What the hell were you jealous of? I wasn't exactly in a great position."

"You were going to get married," she said, realizing along the way what had really transpired back then; what she had really felt. "And you weren't going to marry me. It made me angry. I felt betrayed. I had all these emotions and you were the only one who could teach me more about them, but you weren't going to be there. You were going to marry a princess and be a block of frelling stone for eighty cycles." She leaned back, gave up on reaching for him for now, and shook her head lightly. "I didn't know how else to respond. I tried to talk to you, but I didn't know what to say. Chiana was right," she added.

"Right about what?" He didn't sound so angry any more, more put off and a little curious.

"She said I should tell you what I felt. I thought it would have made no difference, your mind was made up. And you went ahead with the frelling marriage. So I took off. I couldn't be there, couldn't watch you make life-long vows to another female, no matter who the frell she was," she explained.

"So, essentially it's my fault that you took off?" he asked and the note of anger was reasserting itself in his tone.

"No," she countered instantly. "That's not what I'm saying." She was getting frustrated, didn't know if she was making any sense at all. He obviously didn't understand the point she was trying to make. "I was confused, John. I didn't know what I was feeling, couldn't interpret it. When you made that remark about my hair, I so wanted to give in. But I couldn't. My upbringing, my ingrown prejudice against other species, everything I had ever been taught got in the way. I needed space to sort it out. You wouldn't give me that space. And you got angry with me when I asked for it."

For a microt longer, he just sat there and stared at her, and then it was his turn to look away and sigh. "I didn't know," he said quietly. Then he returned his attention to her. "I've never been good at getting the point, have I?" he asked and smirked lightly.

"No, you haven't," she agreed with a grateful little smile. He was no longer angry. She didn't like it when he was angry; even when she was the one making him angry. "When I realized where you had contracted that disease ... I got jealous again. I ... know it's foolish. It is in the past and shouldn't matter. I'm sorry."

"It's not foolish. Not really," he disagreed and with a smile reached his left hand out to her.

Aeryn took it and squeezed it lightly, not wanting to overexert his newly healed fingers.

"Woman, you are driving me to distraction," he said with a smirk, which faded away as he lapsed into an oppressive kind of silence and the look in his eyes grew distant.

Her own smile died on her lips. Something was obviously bothering him. "What is it?" she asked quietly.

He pressed his lips together into a thin line and stared into space for a moment. But then he focused on her again. "He's never gonna stop hunting me, is he?"

There were so many things she could say to that, most of them untrue, but in the end there really was only one answer she could give him. "No, probably not," she said. "So what are you going to do about it?"

A frown furrowed his brow and he narrowed his eyes a little. "What can I do?" he countered.

"I don't know. Maybe you should think about it a little," she suggested.

He nodded. "I will. Tomorrow. Right now ... I'm completely wasted," he said and closed his eyes.

"Well, then go sleep. You look like you need it," Aeryn replied and rose. "Are you going to be all right? You don't need any help?"

He shook his head. "No, I don't," he said and smiled crookedly at her. "Aeryn?"

"Yes?" She wondered what came next, but didn't push him for it.

He remained silent for a few microts, just stared at her. Then his smile became full-fledged. "Love you," he said.

"Love you," she replied, turned around and walked out. If there was one thing she would never let go of again then it was him.


A monan later

Command was quiet. John sat on the forward bench, slowly flexing his pretty stiff fingers, making every effort to loosen nearly petrified muscles. The bandages were off and his right hand had healed up nicely. Now was the time to deal with the follow-up, which included sometimes painful daily exercise sessions where he worked his fingers until he felt like screaming. But it was working out. His fingers were becoming steadily more mobile and he hoped that it wouldn't be long before he could use his right hand properly again.

Aeryn stood leaning against one of the consoles, her arms crossed over her chest, her gaze on the floor.

D'Argo stood halfway between John and Aeryn, feet splayed, arms crossed over his chest, while he stared ahead of himself in quite contemplation.

Rygel sat on his thronesled, hovering near the door, while he was once again munching away on something.

Chiana was sitting in one of the window alcoves to the right, staring out at the stars.

John glanced around at them and sighed lightly. "Look, guys, I know it's not the best idea I've had, but ..."

"Best?" D'Argo snorted. "It's worse than the worst idea you've ever had, John. I vote no. I will not support you in this insane endeavor. Leaving us behind is not a good idea. You'll never survive out there."

"Thanks for the vote of confidence, big guy," John grumbled. "I'm endangering you guys and I am not gonna be responsible for anybody else's death or injury," he added.

"I say that whatever gets that madman Scorpius off our backs is what we should do," Rygel inserted between mouthfuls, but stopped stuffing himself when Aeryn gave him a deadly glare over one shoulder. "Of course, there might be other options," he added quickly.

"Yeah, you can't think of going out there alone, Crichton," Chiana intoned. "Besides, you didn't get others injured this time around. You got yourself injured. You think you're gonna have an easier time if you're on your own?"

"Pip, I realize that I'd be setting myself up for trouble if I leave, but if I only have to look out for myself ..." John stopped and shook his head. "I've been almost completely handicapped for one and a half monans, guys. It could potentially have become a hindrance to you guys. And Scorpius seems to have a sixth sense where I'm concerned. I just don't want you guys to get into more trouble than we already are."

"I realized that, John, but you are not going to leave here to keep us safe. We are your friends. And this is what friends do. They help each other," D'Argo insisted.

"Yeah, D'Argo is right," Chiana agreed and dangled her legs from the edge of the alcove. "Those fekkiks would find you at once and you'd be in deeper dren than you were the last time. You can't make it without us," she added.

John closed his eyes and wished this conversation had never been started in the first place.

"I have a plan," Aeryn said. It was the first time since this discussion had begun that she opened her mouth.

The others turned their attention toward her. John did so with some apprehension. Even after their lengthy chat and her reassurance that she forgave and forgot, she had been a little prone to poking him and reminding him that being reckless out here didn't pay off in the long run.

"And is this plan gonna work?" he asked. They did have plenty of proof for that his plans at least didn't work.

"Yes," she said and looked straight at him. "Unless you frell it up, of course."

"Well, I can't tell you if I will do that or not unless you tell me what it's about," he countered and pursed his lips.

Aeryn just stared at him for a moment, and then shrugged lightly. "There is a world in this sector that we can use. I studied it and found it to be adequate for our needs," she said, her gaze never leaving John.

He frowned. "What are you cooking up, Aeryn?" he asked. He had a strange feeling rumbling around in his guts. She was up to no good.

She blinked and looked away, a sure sign that she knew he wasn't going to like the idea. "This world has what is commonly known as heat-flashes. It's adequate in temperature most of the time, but has B at regular intervals B these bursts of uncontrolled heat waves. It's impossible to predict them if you haven't studied the planet. I have and I know the intervals. So, all we have to do is lure Scorpius to this world, dangle some bait before his nose, and watch him wither and die. Not even his cooling suit will be able to protect him from this."

"And who do you suggest goes down there to receive him?" D'Argo asked. "I could go. I don't mind heat. But I doubt he would come if it were me asking."

"He won't. That's why John has to contact him," she said, her gaze still on John. "Tell him that you've changed your mind, that you're tired of running. You won't even be lying to him in a sense. Tell him you want to meet on neutral ground one solar day from the dispatch of the message. I'll meet him on the surface and make sure his suit does him no good. I'll leave before the heat wave hits and he will die," she added.

D'Argo glanced at John, who in turn stared at Aeryn as if she had lost all sense and reason. "You don't see the flaw in that plan, do you?" he asked. "I mean, my plans never work. That's a given. But this? I can't let you do that."

"It's not up to you to decide whether I do this or not," Aeryn countered. "This is the only way."

"No, it's not," John disagreed and got up. He gingerly flexed his right hand a little and made a face. "I'll do the shooting. He won't suspect a setup if I'm actually there. And if you're right and the heat wave will kill him if I put a few holes in his suit, then I've got nothing to worry about."

"Yes, you do," Aeryn disagreed. "He won't come alone. And it's too risky for you to be there. If it goes wrong for some unknown reason, he will be able to capture you. And the last thing you want is to have him capture you after you try to kill him."

"And what if you can't get out in time, Aeryn?" he asked, getting worked up about this deal now. "What if you can't get away when the heat wave hits? It'll fry you alive. There's no way in hell that I'll let you do this."

"It's not your call," she insisted. "We are all under pressure from Scorpius. He is hunting you non-stop. You know that. There is no frelling way that we can continue to outrun him. Unless you want to leave the known galaxy and we can try our luck in unfamiliar territory."

"Like we haven't been doing that for the past many cycles," John grumbled. The more he thought about it, the less he liked the idea. "Aeryn, you are not going to meet him. The microt he sees you, he'll know something's up. Scorpius may be a lot of things, but stupid isn't one of them. It's very risky, no matter how you turn it," he said and sighed. "But you're right. We do need to do something about old Mr. Scarran half-breed. And I'm at a loss. I have no idea what to do."

"Then we go ahead with this plan," Aeryn said.

John stared at her for a long, breathless moment. Then he glanced at Rygel, D'Argo and Chiana, who were all watching them and commenting very little. He knew that they were expecting this discussion to go on for awhile until Aeryn either got enough and stalked out or he caved under her relentless pressure. He almost smiled a little. Almost.

"Okay. We go with your plan," he consented, shocking the hell out of his friends by giving in to her demand so quickly. "But we go down together. I wanna be there in case the shit hits the fan."

Aeryn's eyes narrowed a little. But then she nodded. They were both in a consenting mood. "Fine, but you will listen to me for once and not be so frelling stubborn," she countered.

"Deal," he agreed. "As long as you don't go all PK-Barbie on me," he added and pulled back with a grin when she lashed out at him with a barely concealed smile.


The planet's weather was odd. John noticed it the moment he stepped out of the pod. There wasn't much growing on the ground apart from what looked like spineless cacti in an odd mixture of yellow and purple. The local vegetation aside, this world wasn't much to look at. And the air tasted funny. It had that dry, somewhat washed out taste to it that an arid desert had. Only it wasn't that warm. Not at this point, anyway.

He jumped off the ladder and landed easily on the ground, then glanced around. There was no sign of Scorpius, which suited him just fine. He had second thoughts about this deal, was actually inclined to head right back up to Moya and forget the whole thing, but on the other hand he needed closure. He needed to do something about this menace breathing down their necks. And he couldn't really imagine that Scorpius would be missed by the Peacekeepers. Even Braca had seemed a little loathe of him there in the end.

"Coast is clear," he called up to the pod and Aeryn followed him outside. She frowned a little when she hit the ground and glanced around.

"The air tastes strange," she said and glanced at him.

"Yeah. Desert air. It's funny to have that kind of air in these temperatures. But I guess that goes with the heat flashes. Are you sure you timed them right?" he countered and glanced around again to make sure there was no obvious sign of anything sneaking up on them. The air was calm, almost still, and he felt like he could see for miles.

"Yes, I'm sure," Aeryn replied and checked the wristband. John had once thought it was a watch of sorts, but it was more a timing-device, a stop-watch, than anything else. Aeryn used it only when she needed to be exactly sure she got things right.

"Aeryn," he started, but was interrupted when they heard the whine of a prowler's engines.

"Here he comes," she said and tapped her comm-badge. "Pilot, is there any activity up there we should know about?"

"No," Pilot replied instantly. "We spotted a prowler coming in, but that is all. The scans show only one life form inside."

"Thank you, Pilot," Aeryn replied and tapped the comm-badge off again. "What do you know? He came alone," she added and arched an eyebrow at John.

"Leave it to that freak to uphold his end of the bargain," he muttered and made a face in growing frustration. Having to face Scorpius again was going to be one of the toughest things he had done lately.

Aeryn grabbed his arm and gave it a light squeeze. "Strength, John," she said quietly, obviously sensing his discomfort.

"Right," he agreed, squared his shoulders and turned to face the landing prowler.


Scorpius hesitated only briefly when he saw Aeryn. But he obviously did not see her as a threat. His gaze turned to John, who stood with his back straight and his left hand clenched into a fist. His right still didn't work well enough to do that.

"I see you have healed," Scorpius said. "And I am certain that it has taken needlessly long."

"Did you come here to gloat or talk?" John countered, an undercurrent of aggression and nervousness in his voice. Even with the odds in their favor, he couldn't hide his fear of the half-breed.

Aeryn shifted her position a little to the left to have a clear shot of the half-breed if necessary. Actually, there was no doubt in her mind that it would be necessary to shoot him at some point. Scorpius had an uncanny influence on John and she didn't like it that he was here in the first place, let alone this close to John.

"I came here to talk," Scorpius said and inclined his head to the right. "I also come alone, as I thought you would."

"Aw, don't give me that dren, Scorpy. You didn't really expect me to show up alone, did you?" John countered. The aggression in his voice was stronger now, his body language tense.

Scorpius eyed him for a long moment. "I have the feeling, John, that you have no intention of giving me what I'm after. Am I correct?" he asked and narrowed his eyes a little.

John glanced back at Aeryn, who nodded. It was time, so he might as well tell Scorpius the truth. Scorpius would know if he was lying anyway. "You're correct," John agreed when he returned his attention to Scorpius. "I have no intention of giving you what you're after. As a matter of fact, I lured you here to tell you that there is no way in hell that you'll ever get within spitting distance of this again," he added and tapped his head. "It's not mine to give in the first place and I'll be damned if I'm gonna let you mess me up even more than you already have."

John was getting agitated while he spoke and Aeryn began to get a little nervous. When he worked himself up like this, he did stupid things. She didn't blame him for his anger and resentment, but she felt the utmost need to tell him to cool it.

"Who the frell died and made you God, huh? You think you can just walk all over me and take what you want? Because if that's what you think, Mr. Scarran-Half-Breed, sir, then you've got another thing coming," he rambled on, his body language becoming more and more animated. He was moving, walking back and forth, getting closer to Scorpius, and Aeryn didn't like it one bit.

John moved to one side and Aeryn decided that there had been enough talk. Without hesitation, she raised the assault rifle and fired. The bolt of energy slammed into Scorpius and knocked him back a few steps, but it wasn't enough to bring him down and Aeryn was very dissatisfied with that development. The impact did leave a hole in his suit, though, and he was bleeding, which in essence meant it would do the job. John kept out of the way while Aeryn fired again and again, driving the half-breed back until he stumbled over a rock and fell backwards. He hit the dusty ground with a thud and stopped moving.

Aeryn remained motionless for a microt too long and John took the opportunity to walk into her line of fire and straight up to Scorpius. "Lie there and bleed to death, you bastard. You've made my life a living hell. It's payback time," John growled and kicked Scorpius' foot.

Again, Aeryn shifted her position in an attempt to get clear of John without getting too close to Scorpius. But try as she might, she would not be able to get a clear shot of the half-breed unless John moved to either side.

"John," she said, intending to tell him to move. Something in her voice perhaps caused him to turn around to fully face her and Aeryn knew that was a mistake the microt he started moving. "Get out of the way," she yelled, but too late.

Scorpius had regained his feet in a split microt and had wrapped an arm around John's neck and had tightened the grip. John immediately groped for his weapons, but without trying too hard, Scorpius disarmed him, removing both of them before John could get a hold of either weapon.

Aeryn bared her teeth in sheer frustration. She had just known this was going to happen. If John had only stayed calm, he would have been far enough from Scorpius for her to finish the job. "Let him go," she yelled, knowing already that it was a futile attempt.


Aeryn just stood there with a dark look in her eyes, her expression a little desperate. Scropius' arm was tight around John's throat and he could feel the Scarran half-breed's hot breath on his neck.

"There is no use in aiming that at us unless you intend to shoot Crichton too," Scorpius said, his tone overbearing.

John tried to side-step the bastard to get out of his grip, but Scorpius was obviously predicting his moves and held him in place easily. "Aeryn, leave," he yelled.

Her gaze shifted and she stared right into his eyes. "No," she said, almost too quietly to hear.

"Leave, Aeryn," he repeated. "Get the hell out of here. There's nothing you can do for me now." In a sense, he was right about that. This world had let them down. The heat wave had not come when it was supposed to and Scorpius had turned out to be tougher to kill than a whole sack full of cockroaches. "Just leave," he begged her.

Aeryn's gaze shifted again and her expression changed minutely. Her eyes widened a little bit, then her gaze snapped back to him. The sadness was gone. The heat wave was coming and it was coming in from behind them. John grinned. Scorpius would not know until it hit him.

"GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE," he yelled at Aeryn, who finally lowered her assault rifle and took a step back.

"I'm sorry, John," she said and shook her head with regret. "I'm sorry." That said, she turned around and ran back to the pod.

"Well, there you go, John," Scorpius said. "In the end, even those you thought you could trust abandon you."

"I told her to go," John replied with that grin still on his lips. "I got a surprise for you, Scorpy, and I don't want her to be here to share it."

Scorpius stiffened a little. "Unless you have a cluster-bomb on you somewhere, then I know you are not armed with anything more useful than your pulse pistols. And I think you know by now how useless they are against me."

"Yeah, I know," John consented. He had relaxed a little. He felt the first faint trace of heat touching his skin in a light breeze that was rising around them. "How do you feel about a little heat?" he asked and couldn't stop himself from chuckling.

Scorpius turned his head. "What the frell?" he hissed.

The breeze intensified and became a light wind that brushed burning hot air over them. Scorpius was distracted by this change in temperature and John took that moment to rip out of his grasp, turn around and back up. "Didn't you know that this world has heat flashes?" he asked in mocking surprise. "Why, Scorpius, I thought you were supposed to be smart."

The half-breed bared his teeth in anger and obvious concern and hissed like an angry snake. "You lured me here on purpose," he snarled.

John chuckled and backed up another step while the temperature around them rose rapidly. He was beginning to sweat heavily. But Scorpius wasn't sweating and he looked very uncomfortable.

With another angry snarl, the half-breed turned around, obviously intent on heading back toward his waiting prowler. But John couldn't allow that. For once since he'd arrived in this armpit of the universe he wanted to ensure that something went his way.

To stop his enemy from escaping, he launched himself forward and hit Scorpius in the back. To his immediate surprise, he managed to bring the half-breed down and landed heavily on top of him. Scorpius' spiny back dug into his right side, but didn't break the skin.

"You are gonna stick around and enjoy the heat, Scorpy," John snarled through clenched teeth. "This time, you're not gonna come back to haunt me, you fucked-up bastard."

Scorpius was working hard on defending himself, but the still increasing heat was obviously hampering his strength, because John had no particular trouble in keeping him face down in the dirt. He worked his way forward while still keeping the squirming half-breed on his stomach and reached out for the cooling device in the half-breed's head.

"Not this time, you stupid son of a bitch," John snarled and pressed the release. The device cycled out of Scorpius's head, the cooling rod still a bright blue. "You should never have shown me how to do this," John added with a tense grin on his lips as he grabbed the rod, ripped it out of the device and threw it away.

Scorpius roared like an angry beast and bucked against him, very nearly throwing him off. So John decided to give this turn of events another twist. He grabbed Scorpius' shoulder and forced him around, then used his body's weight to grind him down into the soft earth beneath while he groped for something to hit the bastard with.

"You are not getting away this time, you freak," John yelled at him over the now howling heat storm, which was wiping up dirt and dust around them. The fingers of his left hand locked around something big and flat and he retrieved it and raised it above his head with both hands. "Here's for every frelling nightmare you've given me," he roared and brought the rock down on the half-breed's face.

Scorpius turned his head at the very last second, obviously trying to protect his face, but that made things a lot worse for him because the rock shattered and broke off the cooling device still sticking out of his head.

John lost it a little at that point and brought the rock down on his nightmare repeatedly. "NEVER! AGAIN!" he snapped over and over while he continued to pummel the half-breed's more and more shattered face with the rock.

First when the rock broke in two did he back off. He got off his nemesis and backed up, his coat billowing out behind him in the thundering storm. The heat was beginning to bother him as well, so he shrugged out of the coat, hesitated for a moment and then pulled his t-shirt off as well. But he didn't back away.

Scorpius lay on the ground where he had left him, squirming in the blistering hot wind, foam around his bloodied lips. His face was barely recognizable and he was obviously having trouble breathing.

John watched him squirm and undeniably felt a little crazy right then. He wanted to stay and watch the half-breed son of a bitch die even if the wind burned the skin off his body. The thought was dangerously funny for some reason and he started to chuckle again.