Scorpius expected much from John, and he felt fairly certain he knew him well enough to determine any move the elusive Human would make. He had, however, not expected John to turn up on his command carrier, waving a pulse pistol about and shooting his staff without hesitation.

Now that Scorpius had said pulse pistol aptly aimed at his head, he had to revise his opinion of John. It seemed that if the Human was desperate enough, he would push aside his high morals and become as ruthless and cold as the rest of them.

"Where are they?" John pressed out through clenched teeth. His eyes were alight with hatred, beads of sweat brought on by the restraint he put on himself dotted his brow, his posture as tense as it could be.

Scorpius was in no doubt that John would shoot him without the slightest hesitation if he pushed the situation past the breaking point, but Scorpius had spent his entire life manipulating others to do what he wanted them to do. None so far had managed to slip past his defenses and that was as it should be. "Where is who, John?" he asked and tried for a smile.

John sneered with the sheer intensity of his feelings. The hatred and anger rippled off him in waves and there was nothing calm or controlled about him. "My family," he hissed in a tone that cracked and broke.

Scorpius frowned lightly. "Your family is dead, John. You know that. You were there when it happened," he replied, lending his voice as much calmness as he could muster.

"No, they're not," John pressed out. "You only wanted me to believe that they were to ... to ... get me to do whatever the hell it is you want me to do."

"And who has put such ideas in your head, John? Why would I want to keep you from your family? What would the purpose be?" Scorpius countered evenly, lending his tone just enough hurt that John would pick up on it.

"I don't frelling know, do I?" John snarled and tensed his grip on his weapon. "But if you must know, Sikozu told me and I believe her. And you know why? Because that's just the kind of thing you'd do."

"Sikozu?" Scorpius effectively clamped down on his surprise. While Sikozu had been with him, she had expressed nothing but sheer disgust for John Crichton and anything that was connected to him. He knew that she was vengeful. Her hatred toward the Scarran oppressors of her people was almost as intense as his own, but he would still not have suspected that she would willingly deal with Crichton in any way. Granted, she had apparently saved him after the explosion that had obliterated Crichton's family, but still. Scorpius was a little disconcerted by the fact that he had misjudged her that much. "And why, if I may ask, do you listen to her, John? Sikozu has a grudge against me. She will say anything to enlist you for her cause."

"Bull," John snapped. "She's right. You are an exceedingly arrogant prick. I want my family back, Scorpius, and I will take this frelling command carrier apart if you keep them from me."

Scorpius sighed dramatically. "What must I do to convince you, John? I do not have your family because your family is dead. I realize that you are in mourning and I ... understand. You have my deepest sympathies. But has it ever occurred to you that Sikozu might have planted that bomb that killed them and then blamed me for it in order to force you to help her destroy me?"

The first flicker of doubt rippled through the human. The look in his eyes became briefly distant, but then he focused sharply on Scorpius again. "You're lying," he hissed.

"Am I?" Scorpius asked, now lending his tone a sharp edge. "Am I indeed? Think about it for a moment, John. Sikozu conveniently showed up 'after' the fact to save you from me. If you knew her at all, you would know that she does not ... save others unless she can find use for them. She is manipulative. She had me fooled for quite a while before I realized that she was spying for the Scarrans, feeding them information. She was the reason for that your Luxan friend's ship was destroyed. The Scarrans knew where we were all the time. Because of her."

The doubt intensified. John blinked rapidly and the level of both hatred and anger decreased. To Scorpius' unique vision, it was like turning a heater off. The pulsing red aura surrounding John decreased in color and became calmer. But he shook his head, still refusing to believe.

"Lower your weapon, John, and let us speak on more friendly terms," Scorpius suggested with a slight smile on his lips. "She has you fooled. She will do anything to get back at me. Such is her nature."

Again John shook his head, but his hand holding the pulse pistol was no longer so tense. He bent it a little at the elbow, then suddenly lowered it. The tension of anger and hatred ebbed out of him, leaving behind a tangible sense of defeat and renewed sorrow.

Scorpius waved at a chair. "Sit down, John. Listen to what I have to say," he said quietly.

For a long, silent moment, all John did was just stand there, shoulders slumped, pulse pistol in hand, while he stared ahead of himself with a look of utter devastation in his eyes. "So they're really gone," he whispered and blinked rapidly a few times.

"I'm afraid so, John," Scorpius agreed.

John glanced at the offered chair, then closed his eyes and shook his head. "No. I gotta get out of here. I need some air," he stated, holstered his pulse pistol and left the officer's lounge.

Scorpius watched him go until the door closed again. "Captain Braca. Crichton is leaving us. Please make certain that nobody tries to stop him," he said to the comm without ever taking his eyes off the closed door. "Just let him leave."

***

The fact that Scorpius had let him go, that none of the Peacekeepers had made a move against him, was something that did not register with him at all. All he could feel was defeat and mental agony. All he could think was that all of Sikozu's words had been nothing but lies. He was in hell and, obviously, that was where he belonged.

A barrage of bottles sat on the table in front of him, unopened. The center chamber was silent but for the low hum that was Moya herself and the occasional twitter of a DRD passing by the open door. That blasted Kalish hadn't shown herself yet and he would wring her neck if she did. But right now all he could muster was the near inanimate state of staring at the bottles lined up within reach. There was enough alcohol here to put him in a coma and he was generally in favor of that idea right now. What was the point, after all? Why should he bother going on when all that had been important to him was gone?

He felt numb. There was a light tingle in his body, under his skin, that deafened his nerve endings and made him feel like this was all a dream. "To be, or not to be - that is the question - whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them? - to die - to sleep - no more; and by a sleep to say we end the heartache, and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to - 'tis a consummation devoutly to be wish'd. To die - to sleep - to sleep! perchance to dream - ay, there's the rub; for in that sleep of death what dreams may come, when we have shuffled off this mortal coil ..."

He snorted halfheartedly and closed his eyes. He never could remember all of that passage. Shakespeare had never been his strongest topic during history lessons and he'd always considered Hamlet to be a wounded bird that gave up too easily. He popped the top off one of the bottles and raised it toward the ceiling. "With this regard, their currents turn awry, and lose the name of action. - Soft you now! The fair Ophelia! - Nymph, in thy orisons be all my sins remember'd." He took a swig of the bottle and made a face at the hot, molten lava running down his throat. "Should be Aeryn, shouldn't it?" he asked no one. "The fair Aeryn! - Nymph, in thy orisons be all my sins remember'd." He emptied the bottle and threw it aside. It shattered against one of the ribs and a hoard of DRDs came racing in to clean it up.

He pulled the top off another bottle and took a moment to contemplate how fast he would get drunk. He hadn't eaten since the day before. His stomach was growling, hunger pangs rippling through him, but he knew his guts would quiet down once he poured some more of this crap into them. "From childhood's hour I have not been as others were; I have not seen as others saw; I could not bring my passions from a common spring. From the same source I have not taken my sorrow; I could not awaken my heart to joy at the same tone; and all I loved, I loved alone." He made a face. Poe wasn't much better at dishing out hope. He knew why he remembered all these sad poems right now, why he could recite them without trouble even if he didn't remember all of them.

"Frell it," he growled and emptied the second bottle in one go, then sent it the same way as the first. He would get drunk fast today. Two bottles of extra strong raslac had already managed to twist his mind. "Ain't life just frelling beautiful?" he asked and raised another bottle toward the ceiling. "I will drink all of this," he added. "And if it kills me, so be it."

"Drinking yourself stupid will not accomplish anything."

Her tone made him cringe, but the hatred was gone, subdued by the alcohol he had already consumed. "Take a hike, Red. I'm not liking you much right now," he growled and emptied the next bottle.

Sikozu moved closer. "You are back. Does that mean you never went?"

"Oh, I went alright. And guess what? Scorpy doesn't have them, because you frelling killed them," he replied and grabbed the next bottle.

Sikozu lashed out and took it away from him, then wiped the rest of the bottles off the table top onto the floor where the majority of them shattered.

"Hey!" he snapped and tried to grab the one she had taken. "Those are mine."

"I did not kill them," she snarled. "He arranged it."

"You know what, Sputnik, I'm not going to get stuck between you two while you hash out your differences. There's only one thing I want ... well, there are a few, actually. I want Aeryn back. I want my son back. I want my friends back. In the whole of things, that's not a frelling lot to ask. Actually, there's a hell of a lot more I should ask for." He rose unsteadily, lashed out and snatched the bottle back from her. "I should ask for compensation for all the bullshit I've been through. I didn't frelling start this. I didn't ask for it. Why the frell do I have to pay so much, see so many people die, lose so many of my friends and loved ones? Who did I piss off so much that this is what Fate dishes out to me?"

She stared at him, her unfeeling eyes making him want to scream at her to get lost. Instead he laughed while tears rose in his eyes. "And you're all I've got left. A cold, derisive, logical, limb-reattaching bitch from hell. You think I want to help you? You've never given me anything other than pain. You've never made me feel anything other than base and stupid. Who the frell died and made you the master of the universe, you stuck-up stupid little brat?"

He didn't even register that there was emotion in her eyes, that she actually managed to look as hurt as he felt presently. He didn't care anyway. She had never done anything to help unless it was in her own favor. She had fallen for that sick twisted son-of-a-bitch Scorpius and hadn't even had the decency to admit that she'd been wrong about him.

"I reached out to you. I offered you help. But you were just too frelling smart to accept help from such a weak, feeble species," he growled. "Well, here's what it's brought you, you bitch. Get off my leviathan! Exact your own vengeance. I have no need for you and neither Pilot nor Moya want you around. So get lost. Scram. Frell off! Get your stuff together and leave before I space you." He wasn't yelling, wasn't even raising his voice. He was telling her what he felt and he meant every word of it.

She took a hesitant step back, her lips pressed together into a thin line. "Crichton ..." she tried, but he raised the bottle, pointing at her with the bottom of it.

"I'm not saying it again, Sputnik. You've been nothing but trouble since you turned up. I've had my fill of you. I can't stand you. You're the most corrosive creature I've ever met. Scorpius could be family compared to you," he said, pulled the cork out of the bottle with his teeth and took a swig of the raslac.

Her peculiar eyes brimmed with tears as she took another step back, but to her credit she made no further attempts to talk her way out of it. John watched her leave and could honestly admit that he felt nothing at seeing her pain. "I'm not the frelling savior of the universe," he muttered and took another swig of the bottle.

It didn't take long before Pilot's image appeared on the clamshell. "Commander, she is gone," he said.

"Good riddance," John said and emptied the bottle. Then he crawled up over the table and looked down at the pile of broken glass in a puddle of raslac the DRDs were trying to clean up. Three of the bottles hadn't broken and he smiled at them as if they were long lost friends.

"Thank you, Commander, for making her leave. Moya and I have never met a more disagreeable person," Pilot added.

John glanced up at the clamshell, still smiling. "Same here, Pilot. I should have booted her off a long time ago," he agreed, slipped off the table and picked up the three whole bottles. "Now, if you'll forgive me, I'll go to my quarters and get drunk."

Pilot refrained from responding to that and it was just the same. He wouldn't have listened anyway. On unsteady legs, he made his way back to his quarters while Moya geared up for starburst and took a long jump away from the place where Sikozu had left them behind. John hoped never to see her again and vowed solemnly that he would kill her if she should ever return. She had deprived him of his chance of getting so drunk it might have killed him and Scorpy had blamed her for getting Aeryn and the others killed, just like she blamed him for it. It was hard to know who to believe and even harder for him to care. Sikozu had lied to him, made his hope bloom, only to crush it out again in the most heinous of ways, and he hated her for that. Scorpius had treated him kindly, which was off key and made him hate the half-breed even more.

"To hell with all of them," he whispered in a teary voice and dropped down on his bed without bothering to take off his belt or his boots.

"What are you doing?"

He turned his head and eyed the phantom living in his mind nowadays, the ghost of Aeryn.

She was sitting on the edge of the gaming table, ankles crossed, her hands clasped in her lap, while she eyed him with her head cocked to one side, her long hair braided and hanging over one shoulder.

"Getting shitfaced," he countered and managed a half-grin that immediately turned into a grimace.

"To what purpose?"

"No purpose," he countered and shook his head as much as he could without raising it off the bed. His vision blurred with tears rising in his eyes. "God, I miss you so much," he whispered hoarsely.

"I know. Drinking yourself into oblivion won't bring me back, though," she admonished kindly.

He grinned and rubbed his face into the pillow, clearing his eyes without having to release the bottles he was holding. "Wanna come over here and stop me?" he asked hopefully, some small part of him desperately wishing that she wasn't a dream.

She merely smiled and the next moment she was gone again.

He stared at the empty gaming table while more tears rose and trickled from his eyes. "Come back," he whispered, then snorted and pulled the cork from another bottle with his teeth. He spat it out and drank while lying down, spilling some of the raslac onto the pillow without noticing. Once again, he cried himself to sleep, his heart aching for what he had lost, his mind reeling in the fever-pitch dreams induced by the alcohol. There was not much more he could do than wallow in self-pity.

***

Two monans later

Time passed as time does in relative silence. Pilot tended to Moya's needs and kept an eye on Crichton through the DRDs. The Human barely spoke anymore and spent most of his days and nights in a drunken stupor. More than once Pilot wished there was something he could do, but in essence he knew this was something the Commander would have to work out on his own.

Pilot communed with Moya on this topic often, aware that the great leviathan felt her passenger's pain and shared it too. They were both affected by the absence of Aeryn Sun and it pained Pilot that Aeryn's young one had not grown older than half a cycle before he was destroyed together with his mother and friends.

Pilot adjusted the flow of Moya's vital fluids gently as the giant banked around a sun, soaking up the heat and the light as she glided by. There was no need for hurry these days. They had passed several command carriers already without trouble. It would appear that Scorpius had made good on his word to Crichton and had let them all go.

"Perhaps you would like to go to a commerce planet?" Pilot asked, directing his attention to Crichton, who was sitting on the floor in front of his station, his back leaning against it, while he fiddled with something that he was slowly peeling to pieces without a word.

"Nah," Crichton countered and sighed. There was one unspoken rule between them and it was one that Crichton abided by at all times. Pilot had no need to watch him drink himself silly and therefore alcohol was not permitted in his den.

"Would it not be good for you to be among others like you?" Pilot enquired. It had always been his opinion that Humans as well as Sebaceans didn't thrive on loneliness. Especially not Crichton. He had never met anyone who had a higher need for companionship.

Crichton snorted, leaned his head back against Pilot's station and closed his eyes. "There's nobody like me out here, Pilot," he said.

Pilot had to agree with that although he did so silently. In truth it did not bother him that Crichton hung around his den some of the time. What did bother him, though, was that Crichton was obviously set on killing himself slowly. And, being unable to fully comprehend bipeds in general, Pilot was grasping at straws on how to help the unhappy Human.

After a moment of silence had passed between them, Crichton climbed to his feet. "I'll go lie down for a bit. I'm wasted," he muttered and slowly made his way across the bridge to the door.

Pilot watched him go and emphasized with his pain. But this ability to give up so completely without being able to let go puzzled Pilot.

An incoming comm-call diverted his attention away from Crichton, though. It was rare to receive any communication, but Pilot assumed it was either a hail from the nearby commerce planet for identification or someone offering something or other for the crew of Moya to buy.

***

John dropped unceremoniously down on the bed and closed his eyes. He couldn't remember when he'd stopped caring about himself, about eating every day. He couldn't really remember when he'd had a full meal the last time and most of the time it didn't matter. When he woke up after another long period of drinking his brains out, he was usually so disgusted with himself that he took a shower and then spent some time with Pilot. The nearness of another being, even one as alien from his own species as Pilot was, made up for a lot. But it didn't fill the dark, screaming void inside him that was growing bigger all the time.

He had the idea that it would swallow him whole someday, that he'd drink until he passed out and then he just wouldn't wake up any more. And it sounded like a gilded promise to him nowadays.

When he was lying here, like this, he usually saw her in his mind like he'd seen Harvey before. And she was always kind and understanding and loving him no matter what. It tore him apart that she wasn't there any more, that he couldn't feel her touch or wrap his arms around her and hold her close; her and little D and Chiana and Rygel.

He smiled joylessly and rubbed the back of his hand against his nose. When he removed his hand, she was back, sitting on the edge of the gaming table, smiling at him.

"Hey, babe," he rasped. She continued to smile and just sat there. Reaching a hand out towards her, he was dying to touch her. "Come over here," he whispered.

She rose and sauntered over, then hunkered down just shy of his outstretch hand. "Why are you doing this to yourself, John? It wasn't your fault. There was nothing you could have done."

He pressed his lips together and stopped reaching for her. Instead he pressed a fist against his lips.

"I know you hurt. But you shouldn't give up, John. There are other people out there. You can find another special someone to love, have other children. Death is not the end. We'll meet again."

He squeezed his eyes shut and pressed his face down into the pillow. "I don't want someone else. I want you," he whispered and allowed himself to sail away on another lingering bout of misery.

The thought that he should have stayed on the command carrier, should have turned Sikozu over to Scorpius and just stayed with that frelled-up half-breed had crossed his mind more than once. After all, there was nothing Scorpius could do to him now that would make him feel any worse and at least he'd have company.

Well aware that she would be gone when he opened his eyes again, he did so nonetheless and found he was wrong. She wasn't hunkered down just out of reach any more. She was standing by the door now. And she looked slightly different. Her hair was loose, her clothing different. It was something he'd never seen her in before. Tan leather rather than the standard black. Unsure of where that dream came from, he pushed himself up on his elbows and wondered why she wasn't smiling. Every time he saw her, she was smiling. Now she wasn't. There was a stormy darkness in her eyes, a concern so deep-rooted that it would take a lifetime to erase it.

"John." She whispered his name. It was nothing more than a breath escaping from her lungs.

Slowly he sat up, uncertain of this phantom. Was his mind disintegrating from all the alcohol he'd had? Or was this his darker side trying to kick him back into gear?

"What the frell have you done to yourself?" she asked, her voice a little louder, but still barely above a whisper.

Before he could think of an appropriate reply, she strode over to him, squatted down in front of him and placed her hands on his knees. He looked down at them, at her hands, on his knees, and he felt the warmth seeping through the fabric of his pants; the warmth of life. Blinking almost sluggishly, he looked up again to meet her eyes, steely blue, swirling with darkness, fear and sadness.

He stared at her, felt her, and slowly his mind began to wrap itself around the possibility that this might be, could be, maybe even should be, the real deal. As if to confirm this new-found thought, a child started wailing somewhere, an angry tone to the voice. The sound was of a child being restrained from doing what it wanted.

Aeryn glanced toward the wall, then looked back up at him. "Are you sober?" she asked.

He too glanced at the wall, at the latticework, and saw the shadows dancing along the floor out there. Moving shadows accompanied by footsteps and the whirr of a thronesled. "You're real," he muttered and returned his attention to her. She was still there, her hand still on his knees, the concern still swirling in her eyes. "You're here," he added a little louder. "But ... you died."

"Almost, yes," she agreed. "The explosion would have killed us if it hadn't been for Rygel. He saw the bomb, got us out before it blew."

He felt like laughing. It wasn't real, couldn't be. But then he remembered his dive into the past, the memory of hearing Little D screaming even after the blast. "Rygel," he whispered.

At that very moment, the thronesled rounded into his quarters and the little Hynerian Dominar brought his thronesled to a halt and eyed him. "You look like dren, Crichton," he stated, but there was a note of affinity in his voice. "And fahrbot to boot."

Chiana stepped in after him with a toddler straddling her hip. The kid was fighting her with everything he had, but she held him tightly, a smile on her lips. "For once Ryg is right. You do look like dren, Crichton."

He glanced from one to the other, his gaze lingering briefly on the boy, then he settled it on Aeryn again. Finally, he plugged up the courage to reach out and touch her. If she vanished now, if there was nothing but air there, he would go mad. He knew that without a doubt. His heart could not take another mirage, another blooming of his hope that would be trod out like a glowing ember. But his hand connected with skin as he cupped it against her face. "You're alive," he whispered in a tear-filled voice, still not really able to comprehend.

Aeryn smiled, tears in her eyes too. "So are you," she countered and covered his hand with hers. "We thought you were dead. We thought the blast killed you. And then you were gone. We tried to find you, but you were always one step ahead of us."

He couldn't stop himself; he started sobbing like a little child as he pulled Aeryn into his arms and hugged her so tightly, it had to hurt her. But she said nothing, only hugged him back just as hard.

Eventually, she leaned back a little, wrapped her hands around his face and wiped the tears away with her thumbs. "Stop it," she said with a smile. "We're here, we're alive, we're together."

She had been crying too. Her face was all wet. Then he looked over at the others, looked at them standing there like he'd hoped they would all the time, and he felt fresh tears spilling down his face. But they were accompanied by a wide grin.

They rose together and for the first time in a long while John actually felt his body. And he felt weak like a drowned kitten. But that did not stop him from closing the distance to the others, his right arm wrapped securely around Aeryn. He hugged and kissed Chiana, reveling in the fact that she was here, alive, in one piece. Then he kissed Rygel on the head without a word. Finally he turned his attention to the boy straddling Chiana's hip. The kid eyed him, very alert for a child his age, then reached a pudgy hand out to him.

John released Aeryn and picked up his son. The kid was almost too heavy for him right now, but he refused to let go or let the fatigue get the better of him. "Hey buddy," he whispered, not trusting his voice too much right now.

Little D pursed his lips and frowned deeply. Then he made a face and turned his head away from John.

"You smell," Aeryn translated.

John let out a bark of a laugh, kissed his son's pudgy little cheek and handed him back to Chiana. Chiana leaned in and kissed him on the cheek, then grabbed Rygel's thronesled and dragged him with her out of the cell.

Aeryn eyed John for a long moment, then grabbed his arm and turned him toward the mirror. "Look at yourself," she said quietly. "What the frell have you done to yourself?"

He eyed his reflection in the mirror and had to admit, reluctantly, that she had a point. He looked awful; nothing but skin and bones, cheeks sunken, with dark patches under his eyes. "I haven't been eating much," he confessed shakily.

"No, I saw your 'diet' in the center chamber," she agreed. "We'll have to do something about that and fast. You're one step away from being undernourished. Chiana will make you some food. We brought supplies."

He grinned, then pulled her into a bone-crushing hug again. "You have no idea how much I've missed you," he whispered into her hair.

"About as much as I've missed you," she countered, then pushed him away. "You stink. Go take a shower. I'll find you something clean to wear," she added.

For a moment he hesitated, not sure he wanted to let her out of his sight. She might vanish again and he wouldn't survive that if she did.

"I'll be here when you get back out," she said as if she could read his mind. "Go! Shoo! D'Argo won't come anywhere near you until you've bathed. He said he could smell you the microt we got off the pod."

"Nice," he countered and decided this probably was for real. No vision of his had ever been so bossy. "You'd better not go anywhere," he added just in case.

"I won't. I'll be right here," she promised.

***

The water cascaded down over him, washing away the stink of sorrow and defeat, while he leaned heavily against the wall, his eyes closed, his neck bent. Through the din of the falling water, he listened to the silent ship, to the absence of sound, and wondered if his mind had finally snapped.

Some part of his subconscious mind knew what the silence out there meant, but for now he would not think of it, would not focus on anything other than the sedate feeling it gave him to have held Aeryn, to have kissed his son, to know that Chiana and Rygle and D'Argo were around, waiting for him.

"To sleep, perchance to dream. Ay, there's the rub; for in that sleep of death what dreams may come, when we have shuffled off this mortal coil," he whispered and smiled vaguely. Dreams weren't so bad, not when they allowed him to feel like this.

A while later, he finally turned the water off, grabbed a towel and wrapped it around his waist, then stepped out of the shower unit. The silence was almost touchable and much more so when he stepped back into his quarters and came to a stop. There were no fresh clothes on the bed and no sound to be heard.

Melancholy hung in the air like a flavor, bitter-sweet and softly evasive, leaving him longing for more, but he knew within his heart that there was no more. Even so, he listened for the sounds that rightfully should have been there, the sound of ghosts in a ship of lies. "Aeryn?" He spoke her name softly, hoping against hope that she would answer him, that she would turn up from somewhere and chid him for dripping on the floor.

But there was nothing but silence out there. Nothing but emptiness and loneliness. "Should have known," he muttered and shook his head lightly. "Should have seen it coming." But she was right, no matter which version of her. He couldn't go on this way. "Either end it or pull yourself together," he told himself quietly, then glanced up at the ceiling. "Pilot?" he called.

"Yes, Commander?" Pilot replied at once, telling him without doubt that he had been listening.

John grinned ruefully. "We don't have any visitors, do we?" he asked. Despite everything, he needed confirmation. He needed to know the truth.

"No, Commander," Pilot replied, sounding sad.

"Didn't think so," he said and sighed. "Are we still anywhere near that commerce planet?"

"Yes, we are," Pilot countered, sudden hope in his voice.

"I think I need to get some supplies. There isn't much to eat around here," he said with a vague smile.

"That sounds like a good idea, Commander," Pilot said and John could hear the relief in his voice. He knew that Pilot had been very worried about him.

Despite the lack of reality in the vision he'd had, he could still feel Aeryn's arms around him, could still smell that unblemished baby-smell his son would undoubtedly give off if he were still alive, and it would sustain him. He lacked the courage to kill himself and, to an extent, the drive as well, and since dying slowly from too much drink and too little food was not a preferable way to go out, he figured he just had to pull himself together and get back in the saddle. Maybe, some day in the near future, he would be able to find a way to get back to Earth and seal it off from here forever.

He smiled, then turned around to face the ghost of Aeryn. "You're right," he said. "I can't keep doing this to myself. So I'm gonna suck it up and get back out there and do whatever I can." She smiled. "Just promise me one thing. Don't you ever go away."

"I'll be right here whenever you need me," she promised and he believed her, because she only existed in his mind and it was his imagination that conjured her up. In that sense he would never be alone.

***