Four monans later

Another commerce planet, another sector of the Uncharted Territories. John was still able to feel a certain amount of wonder at all the different species he encountered, but in general he was not interested in others. Commerce planets relieved his at times aching need for contemporary companionship, but once he got there, he bought the few things he needed, bartered his way to more cash and ended up leaving without really connecting with anyone.

Pilot had become his confidant and closest friend and it had been ages since he had seen a wanted beacon. Not a single Peacekeeper had looked at him twice and that was as it should be.

The humdrum of this particular commerce planet was no different than any other he'd been on and John took a moment to stop and stare up at the blue sky over him. So many of these worlds looked like Earth from a distance. And all of them were so unlike his home world that it was almost painful at times. It was the familiar he missed, the contemporary company of another male or female who could relate to him without having to twist his or her imagination.

The absence of his friends and family made it hard to breathe at times, but he had reached a point where thinking of them didn't make him choke up any more and he really had no more tears left to shed. But he did feel the void inside him opening up again, sucking away all happiness for the time being. At those times he wanted to grab the nearest bottle of booze and drink himself into oblivion, but then he thought better of it and returned to Moya and communed with Pilot. And that always made him feel better.

He made a face, hefted the bag of spare parts to be bartered away over one shoulder and continued into the buzz of the market place. First he got rid of the parts, which loaded his pockets with currency. Then he went shopping for a few essentials.

"Are those for sale in bigger quantities?" he asked a vendor who was making grolash.

The vendor eyed him for a second, then shrugged. "Yes, if you want. But they are better fresh."

"I know," John agreed with a rueful smile. "I'm just not a whiz in the kitchen, so ... how long can they last if they're refrigerated?"

The vendor shrugged again. "Up to a monan," he said. "All you have to do is reheat them before consumption. The taste just goes a little stale in the end."

"I can live with that. Give me enough for a monan," he said and paid the man.

"Crichton!"

He stopped short and stared ahead of himself, then eased the bag of grolash onto the ground and turned around. "Well, look at what the cat dragged in," he said and made no move to smile. "Sikozu Shanu. What brings you to the butthole of the universe?"

She sneered, as usual affronted by his choice of words. "I see that your attitude has changed," she stated.

"I see yours hasn't," he countered. "What are you doing, Sikozu? Following me?"

"As a matter of fact yes," she admitted.

"Well, find yourself another hobby, Red. I'm not going to fight your war for you and I'm not going to get you close to Scorpy either. He let me go and I'm counting my blessings," John said and started to turn away.

"I have seen the Luxan," she was quick to say.

John paused and glanced back at her. "The Luxan?" he asked and briefly wondered which one she might mean. Jothee, maybe?

"Your Luxan. D'Argo," she specified.

Even after this long, it still felt like a slap to the face and it made him angry that her words stoked the fire that was threatening to consume him at any given moment. "Contrary to what you believe, Ms. Britannica, I'm not an idiot. D'Argo's dead. Why don't you just give it up? It's not going to work."

Before he could make another move, she had grabbed his arm. "He is here, on this planet. He is searching for you."

John glanced down at her hand on his arm and then looked up to meet her eyes. "Right," he said and pulled out of her grip. "Tell that to someone who cares."

Without another look back, he grabbed what he'd bought and headed back toward the pod, intent on leaving this commerce planet behind and forgetting what he'd heard. That bitch would really stoop so low as to pretend she'd seen D'Argo? Obviously nothing was sacred to her any more.

He stepped around the pod when he reached it and came to an immediate stop when he realized someone was there waiting for him. The bag with the grolash slipped out of his hand and hit the ground with a wet slap. John's immediate inclination was to reach for Winona and aim her at this obvious phantom. But in truth he couldn't move. He was frozen to the spot. It had been a while since he'd stopped hallucinating and had started accepting reality. And this phantom was messing it all up.

D'Argo stood there, arms crossed over his chest, his expression serious. There was no doubt in John's mind that this was D'Argo, but he was exceptionally careful about accepting what he saw. He'd seen too many ghosts in his time to believe outright.

"John," D'Argo finally said. "You are very hard to keep up with."

A quick glance around showed John that they were alone. "You're dead," he claimed, then snorted when the futility of that comment hit him like a ton of bricks. "Again," he added.

"We have been one step behind you for a cycle now, John. Every frelling time we thought we could catch up with you, you vanished again," D'Argo continued, his tone grave, his expression not wavering from the serious.

"Right," John agreed, trying to dismiss this as a remnant of his hallucinations. "And you're real and all that. I get it. My mind's acting up. I've been thinking about you guys too much again." He reached down to pick up the bag he'd dropped and gave D'Argo a tired look. "Would you mind moving? I can't get into the pod if you're in the way. And there's no way I'm going to walk through you."

The Luxan frowned. "What the frell are you talking about?" he demanded.

"Nothing, D. Just move, okay? I'm not in the mood for mind games right now." He wished this vision would just go away, that his subconscious mind would stop conjuring up images of his lost friends. Only rarely did they become as annoying as this, but he knew where it came from; his own annoyance at Sikozu's lies as well as the fact that she had claimed to have seen D'Argo. There was a logical explanation for all this crap and that was it.

"You think I'm a figment of your imagination?" D'Argo asked and there was a dangerous tone to his voice. "You're more frelled than that blasted Kalish claimed."

"No more so than that I know the difference by now," John argued and wondered how stupid he had to look to others if they saw him arguing with thin air. "Just get out of the way or vanish or whatever the hell it is you figments do when you're through tormenting me."

D'Argo's response to that was to lash out at him. His fist connected squarely with John's jaw, hammering him off his feet and onto his back. The impact hurt, but the pain was nothing compared to the shock it was to be physically attacked by what he considered to be a figment of his imagination.

"Does that feel like a figment to you?" D'Argo demanded angrily. "Would you snap out of it and listen to me?" he added and held a hand out to John.

At first all he could think of doing was rub his jaw lightly. He flinched at the bruised pain and then looked up at D'Argo, really seeing him for the first time. "You're real," he muttered, but then shook his head. "Nah, you can't be. I thought Aeryn was real too and she wasn't. I turned my back and then she was gone."

D'Argo hissed with annoyance, grabbed the front of his t-shirt with both hands and yanked him back to his feet. This close up and personal the peculiar smell that was a Luxan made him even more real to John. "I am not a frelling figment of your imagination. What do I have to do to prove it to you?"

John grinned helplessly. He didn't really think that imaginary friends could feel that real. Then again, the clone of Scorpius had been able to throw him around. That had been implemented by the chip in his brain, of course, but still. "You're dead, D. You died. We left you behind and you died."

"I got better," the Luxan huffed. "Saved by that frelling Kalish."

Somewhat reluctantly, John wrapped his hands around D'Argo's wrists, felt the warmth and the solidness and wondered if he'd completely cracked by now. "You got better? You were dying, on a world that blew up moments after we left it, and you got better?"

For a moment all they could do was to stare at each other. Then D'Argo sighed. "Alright, I grant you that this sounds farfetched, but yes. Sikozu found me, together with that Grnshlik and they had a ship. We got out just in time. Grnshlik fixed me up and I spent a monan on my back, recovering."

The thing was that it sounded plausible. It didn't really sound that farfetched. But it raised issues in him that he could barely stand to consider, issues that made his skin crawl. They had left D'Argo behind to die, yet he hadn't died. He had survived. And despite his previous idea that he had no more tears left to shed, he still felt them rising in his eyes. "You're real?" he whispered.

That brought a smile to D'Argo's lips. "Yes, my friend. I am real," he confirmed and to support that claim, he yanked John into a bone-crushing embrace.

"Aw, too tight, big guy," John gasped.

D'Argo released him again and John spent a moment rubbing his sore chest. "You look like dren, my friend," D'Argo said, his tone bordering on concern. "Sikozu tells me that you think Aeryn and the others are dead."

John grimaced. Now there was a topic he really didn't want to get into. "No, D, they are dead. I was there. I saw the explosion," he said quietly and couldn't help staring at the Luxan. "Man, I can't believe you're here. I can't ..." He stopped because his voice broke and he knew he couldn't go on right now.

D'Argo wrapped his hands around his face, forcing him to look him in the eye. "I am here. And you are no longer alone, John," he said seriously. "And together we shall find out if that frelling Kalish is telling the truth."

John swallowed hard, nodded weakly, and wondered just how long this figment would stay around for, because he really could not convince himself that it was real, that D'Argo was back from the dead. "Great," he managed and cleared his throat. "That sounds like a great plan, D."

"And I can tell that you still do not believe," D'Argo said, released him and took a step back. "You will come around."

"Whatever you say," John agreed.

***

It had taken some doing, but John had managed to convince D'Argo to leave Sikozu behind. It hadn't suited her at all, obviously, but John had simply refused to take her along and Pilot had more than once made it abundantly clear that neither he nor Moya had any love left for the Kalish.

Even after they had left orbit and Moya had starburst several times to make sure Sikozu didn't follow them, John was still convinced that the Luxan was a figment of his imagination. What he couldn't really handle was the hope his old friend tried to instill in him. He'd been there before and had been burned badly. He was in too frail a state of mind to even consider giving in to that hope.

The whole experience had been exhausting and tiptoeing around someone he should be delighted to have back made him a bit of a nervous wreck; so nervous that it took him two full solardays before he was tired enough to sleep. In part, he guessed, it was also because he was nervous like all hell that D'Argo would be gone when he woke up again.

When he finally gave up and fell into bed, he did so with a heavy heart. He was convinced that he would wake up alone again and it broke something inside him he thought was already broken. "It's been fun while it lasted," he muttered into the pillow before sleep claimed him.

***

"Crichton!"

John reared up at the sound of that voice and nearly headbutted D'Argo off the bed where he was leaning over him.

It was only because D'Argo had obviously anticipated a violent awakening that neither of them got hurt. "Easy," D'Argo said with a smile. "It's only me."

The first few seconds of full awareness were spent with staring. Then, before John could consciously think about what he was doing, he had thrown his arms around D'Argo and was hugging the Hezmana out of him. Fortunately, the Luxan did not take offence and only chuckled.

Somewhat embarrassed and not really caring, John finally got off the bed and then spent another minute just staring at D'Argo. "You have no idea how good it is to see you again," he finally said and was a little appalled at how rough his voice was.

"I feel the same way, John," D'Argo assured him and gave him a look of heartfelt empathy. "I however never thought you were dead, which makes all the difference here."

"Right," John agreed before sending a brief look around to assess what time it might be. Either he had slept briefly or he had been out for an entire solarday, because the lighting levels were just about at the same as they were when he'd dozed off. "How long was I out?"

"Close to a solarday. I let you sleep because I figured you needed it," D'Argo said and clamped a hand onto John's shoulder. "Do you feel rested, my friend?"

It took a moment to asses that, but John finally nodded. "Yeah, I do," he agreed with a vague smile. "You're really here, aren't you?"

His question did not seem to please D'Argo, who eyed him a little sadly. "Are you so far gone that you cannot tell the difference?" he countered. "It must have been a horrible cycle for you."

"That's one way of putting it," John agreed.

Together they went to the center chamber for early meal and settled down across from each other and for the first time in a long time, John actually managed to enjoy the food he put in his mouth.

"So ... anything up since you couldn't let me sleep?" John asked after a moment and gave D'Argo a crooked little smile.

The Luxan snorted. "You bounce back fast, my friend," he stated and picked a piece of grolash apart. "And yes, there is a reason for that I woke you."

The seriousness with which this was stated made John a little antsy. "Are we in danger?"

D'Argo's expression tensed a little. "Would we be sitting here, having early meal, if we were?" he countered and shook his head lightly. "No, we are not in danger. We have, however, received a message. As a response to the one I sent out half a solarday ago."

"You sent a message? To whom?" John asked. He had that crawling sensation that he was being set up somehow and he realized his outlook on life had changed considerably since coming to this part of the universe. Despite having convinced himself that D'Argo was indeed real, he was suspicious of this message and the reply it had earned.

D'Argo obviously picked up on his concern and shook his head lightly with a smile on his lips. "You are severely paranoid, you know that?" he asked. "I have made many friends in the cycle I have been away from Moya and I have left word with a few of them I felt I could trust to keep their eyes out for our lost shipmates. I told them I would be in touch once I found my ship and one of them responded to my query."

The niggling uncertainty and suspicion began to morph. "And?" John pressed, the food on his plate forgotten.

The twinkle in D'Argo's eyes along with the small smile tugging at his lips should perhaps have been answer enough, but the Luxan was aware of John's need to be verbally convinced as well. "A very curious group of travelers has come through the station where this friend lives. He approached them and has informed them of my message. Pilot has sent our coordinates and we are awaiting this group right now. A Sebacean female with a child, a Nebari female and a Hynerian Royal. I doubt there are two of such groups in this universe."

His mind stalled. He couldn't think, couldn't fathom that this might be happening, and so said nothing. He just sat and stared at D'Argo.

"They're coming home, John. All of them," D'Argo said. "They should be here within a solarday. I considered letting you sleep until then, but I assumed that it might be best to inform you first. The shock might kill you." This he said with mirth in his voice, but John could merely nod in agreement. He was pretty sure it would have killed him to have them come back like that. It would have been too much like that dream.

"That was a smart idea," he agreed quietly. "Are you sure it's them? I mean ... how can you be sure?"

D'Argo gave him a narrowed look. "I knew you would say that," he said and turned his attention toward the clamshell. "Pilot, could you please show the message we received?"

"Certainly, Ka D'Argo," Pilot replied.

An image of a stranger appeared on the clamshell. "Ka D'Argo. I have received your message and am happy to tell you that the party of your interest has been spotted. They are currently residing on this very station, awaiting word from you," the male said. He looked a bit Sebacean but was overall too green to be one.

There was movement in the background and then suddenly a very familiar face leaned into the camera's view frame. "Is John with you, D'Argo?" Aeryn asked. "Let us know as soon as you can."

"That should be proof enough," D'Argo said and eyed John closely.

All John could do was to stare at the recording.

Aeryn withdrew again and he found himself teetering on the edge of wanting to reach out, wanting to beg her to come back.

"As soon as you send your coordinates, your group will be on the way. Fly safe," the green male said and the message winked out.

"How long ago did you receive this?" John finally asked when he managed to pry his eyes off the now empty clamshell.

"Two arns ago. They should be well on the way by now," D'Argo countered and smirked. "Eat, my friend. Judging from the look in Aeryn's eyes, you are going to need your stamina."

The implied outcome of their reunion didn't really sink in. "One solarday," he muttered and met D'Argo's eyes again. "Is this real?"

"Shall I pinch you?" D'Argo asked good-naturedly.

"It'll take more than a pinch," John countered. "This is so surreal."

D'Argo nodded. "The moment you hold her in your arms again, you will believe, my friend," he assured him. "All it takes now is a little patience."

***

Patience, as it turned out, was in short supply these days. He wavered between denial and anxious elation and since he could settle on neither, he was driving himself, Pilot and D'Argo crazy with his constant questions and subsequent denial of their reassurances.

He ended up withdrawing to the bay where the Farscape was residing and just sat on a work bench and stared aimlessly at the module. Some part of him knew that if this was another dream, another hallucination, he would go stark raving mad. He would most likely jump out the nearest airlock and just end it. And the part of him that was in denial - which constituted about sixty to seventy percent of him at this point - was all in favor of that as it were. It was that thirty percent piece of him that had dreamt so long and hard about holding her in his arms again that stayed his hand. D'Argo was real. He had finally come to that conclusion and this mainly because D'Argo hadn't vanished while he slept. But that didn't mean Aeryn would turn up on Moya within the next twenty-odd hours. That was the promise, of course, but he couldn't and wouldn't believe it until she was there. And even then he would have a hard time believing until her reality had been established as fact.

"John?"

He turned a little and glanced back at the door opening, finding D'Argo there. "Hey, D," he said and returned his attention fully to the module.

"Are you alright?" The Luxan came to a stop next to the workbench and eyed the Farscape for a moment before glancing at him.

It was a loaded question in John's opinion. Since coming out here, he had been teetering on the edge of insanity for too long and his ability to produce life-like hallucinations now was a very dangerous thing. "Define alright," he countered without taking his eyes off the module.

"I understand your reluctance to believe, John," D'Argo claimed, leaned his hip against the edge of the workbench and folded his arms over his chest.

"Do you?" He couldn't help a chuckle and wondered if it sounded as crazy as it felt. "I've been on the edge of the abyss since that explosion ... hell, even before that. Scorpy's chair started this for me. Over the last cycle, I have seen Aeryn and lost her again countless times. She turned up and then she vanished again. And every time it happened ... the pain was just as potent as the first time. And there's just so many times that I can go through that without cracking, you know?" He folded his hands to keep them still. "I keep going over it in my head. I keep seeing the explosion. And since Sikozu claimed they weren't dead, I keep thinking I heard Little D wailing even after the explosion. And it tears me up that I lost them all and that I've believed they were dead and had to put up with Ms. Britannica's downright acidic nature." He glanced down at his interlaced fingers and frowned because he hadn't noticed how cramped together they were. He loosened the grip a little. "I tolerated her because ..." He stopped dead, a frown furrowing his brow. Then he glanced sideways at D'Argo. "She saved you, huh?"

"Yes, her and that Grnshlik," D'Argo agreed.

"And then what? You've been searching for us ever since?" John prodded, following a trail of thought that might yet prove this to be an erratic hallucination of some sort.

"Well, both yes and no. As I said, I was incapacitated for about a monan. The microt we set down on the nearest commerce planet, Sikozu took off. She claimed she would look for you and apparently she found you too," D'Argo said. "Why? What are you thinking?"

His thoughts were a bit jumbled right now and made little sense. "I don't know. I just find it hard to believe anything she says. But ... she claims she saved me from Scorpius and his men, that they had set the explosion and where after me. Scorpius claims that Sikozu set the explosion and if I had remained, he would have helped me. But he was convinced that Aeryn and the others were dead."

"John, you know very well that Scorpius will manipulate the truth to get his way. And Sikozu seems set on the same. They are match made in Hezmana, those two. Why that didn't work out is beyond me," D'Argo countered with a grimace. "Fact is that Aeryn is alive. You saw her on the recording. And I have no reason to believe that my friend would have manipulated the recording."

"So ... you believe they'll be here in one day and that all will go back to normal after that?" John asked and shifted a little to better face D'Argo.

"That is my hope, yes," D'Argo agreed and gave him a somewhat beleaguered look. "I am hoping, though. I have no real facts."

John eyed him for a moment longer before sighing deeply. "See, that's what I would have liked to have from either of those two. But I don't know what to believe. I'm afraid to believe. I'm afraid what it'll do to me if I do believe and it turns out to be a lie."

D'Argo considered his words silently for a moment. "Then remain cautiously hopeful until they arrive, John. Do not give up hope, do not deny it, but keep it in check."

And there it was. It was all so simple when it came from someone else, wasn't it? "Keep it in check," he muttered and couldn't help a chuckle. "Yeah. Good idea, D. And how exactly do I do that?"

"Do something other than sit around and wait. Distract yourself. Go for a run, work on your module, tidy up one of the bays. Anything that will keep your mind occupied until they arrive," D'Argo suggested.

All good suggestions, John mused, but for the one detail that he knew would hobble him if he tried this. As long as he was awake, he would think about this supposed arrival every second of every minute of every hour until they did or did not arrive. And it would make focusing on anything a pain if not an impossibility. "I've got a better idea," he said and slipped off the workbench. "I'm gonna go sleep. Wake me up when you hear something."

Obviously this decision was surprising to D'Argo, but to his credit the Luxan had nothing to say to the matter other than, "Rest well, my friend."

***

To John's immediate surprise, he was actually able to sleep. Lack of it over the past cycle was probably contributing to it now, but it still surprised him when he woke up again to realize he'd dozed off. With no real way of telling how long he had been out, he was off the bed before he had a chance to think. "Pilot?" he called.

"Yes, Commander," Pilot replied instantly.

"Any word?" That question came out a little rough and he felt his stomach cramp up in sheer anticipation.

"Ka D'Argo is on his way to you to wake you up. The shuttle will land in a few microts," Pilot countered and he sounded very pleased.

Cold sweat broke out on his brow and he was confused by his own reaction to the situation. This should be a moment of joy, yet he felt almost nauseous with tension. A little dizzy, he grabbed hold of the latticework of the wall to steady himself. "That's great," he managed.

"Commander?" Pilot now sounded concerned. "Are you alright?"

He slumped against the wall and closed his eyes briefly. "Yeah, Pilot. I'm fine," he said after a moment, then pushed away from the wall and straightened up. "Just ... nervous."

"It's time." D'Argo had obviously overheard his conversation with Pilot.

"Yeah, D, I know," he agreed and tried a tentative smile.

"You look like dren, my friend," D'Argo observed and only then did John realize that he was sweating profusely and was probably pale as a ghost too.

"Got a little anxious there," he admitted and managed a better smile the second time around. "I'm fine, though. I'll be fine."

Looking unconvinced, D'Argo nonetheless waved at the door. "Shall we?"

"Might as well," John agreed. He figured he was equal parts excited and scared out of his mind right now. Only time would tell which would win.

***

When the bay doors started to cycle open, John just stood there and stared at them. The shuttle came into view and it was a sleek, white thing that looked like someone's private yacht. "You think they stole it?" he asked and glanced at D'Argo, who was eying the yacht as well.

"I doubt it. This must be a gift from Me'khar," he said. "He's a merchant and very wealthy. It looks like his kind of yacht."

"A gift?" John pursed his lips and wondered what new wonders a vehicle like that might hold. Then he shifted his attention along its side, searching for the door, until he figured it had to be a backside entrance like in D'Argo's ship. "That's one hell of a gift," he muttered.

"Not really. For a man like Me'khar, this is a trifle," D'Argo said.

Any further conversation was cut short by a sound very familiar to both of them; the whirr of a thronesled. Rygel the Sixteenth rounded the back of the yacht and steered right towards them and John could honestly say that he had never seen anything more beautiful.

"Ryg," he muttered and blinked rapidly to keep his raging emotions in check for a moment longer.

The little Dominar brought his thronesled to a halt and smiled. "I never thought I'd say this, but it is good to see you, Crichton," he said.

Nodding, John took a step forward. "Right back at ya, your Eminence," he countered with tears in his eyes.

Rygel arched an earbrow. "Finally he gets it right," he huffed, but the underlying bemusement and emotion was very evident.

All John could do was chuckle before he turned his attention back to the yacht's backend and the second figure emerging.

Chiana let out a squeal of delight and literally threw herself at both of them, the force of her impact driving them together, and she spent a moment just kissing both of them repeatedly before she released John and aimed all of her attention at D'Argo.

In the commotion, the final two occupants of the yacht had disembarked. Aeryn stood there, alive and radiant as ever, and watched with a slight smile on her lips. On the floor next to her, clinging to her leg, was a boy who looked to John to be at least four years old. He stared at the kid for a second, then decided it could wait and focused on her instead. And for the longest moment all he could do was just stare.

Aeryn took a slow step toward him while the boy remained behind, watching with big eyes. The smile on her lips became a little more everything. "There you are," she finally said.

Somehow, those words got through to John like none other would have. Before he could consciously consider his next step, he had yanked her into a hard embrace, his fingers weaving desperately into her hair, his eyes closed. This and only this could convince him of her reality; holding her, sensing her, feeling her alive and warm in his arms. The scent that was so much Aeryn filled his nose and he could barely breathe around the feelings that surged through him.

Aeryn hugged him back, her right hand restlessly moving up and down his back while her left cupped the back of his head and for a moment that lasted forever they just stood there, holding each other, until John suddenly leaned back and eyed her. He had no words, couldn't even think of any words that might convey how he felt, so instead he just kissed her, deeply, hungrily. His hands wrapped around her face and he stroked his thumbs over her cheekbones, feeling her, tasting her, never wanting to let her go again.

She was the one to break the kiss, her hands wrapped around his wrists, her eyes alight with a fire he recognized.

"Come on, Deke," Chiana said, picked up the boy and positioned him on her hip. "Those two frellnicks need a little time to themselves."

Some part of him knew this wasn't the best start to meeting his son, but right now John could not see beyond Aeryn and she didn't seem to mind the somewhat rough attention he lavished her with right now.

D'Argo, Chiana and Rygel left the bay and silence settled over the area.

With tears in his eyes, he just kept staring at her, took in every line, every curve of her face. "I've missed you so much," he finally managed and was a little appalled by how unsteady his voice was.

"And I you," she countered evenly and gently pulled his hands away from her face. "When we couldn't find you after the explosion ... I feared the worst."

He snorted helplessly. "I thought you were dead. All of you," he said and slipped an arm around her waist, pulling her close again. "I can't believe you're here," he added and brushed his fingers through her hair, feeling the silky smooth heaviness of it while the fear and elation were vying for control.

"But I am," she said. "It's been so long and I've both hoped for and feared this day. And now that it's here, I ... don't know how to respond."

That made him chuckle a little crazily. "Me too," he agreed. "You're so ... alive."

This made her smile a little wider. "And you are as tinked as ever," she countered. "It's been a long trip, John. But we're together again. Like we should be."

He nodded, pulled her into another hug and couldn't convince himself to let go again until she pulled back a little.

"Let's join the others. We have plenty of time now," she suggested while brushing her fingertips over his face. "You're thinner. What have you been eating."

"Dren," he admitted. "Food wasn't foremost on my mind."

"Drannit," she said affectionately and leaned in to kiss him briefly. "Let's see if we can't convince Chiana to whip up a feast," she added.

He had no idea how long it would be before the urge to deny this as real would pop up, but until it did he would relish every second with her. "Forget food," he whispered and scooped her up in his arms, surprising her. "It's been too long."

***

The dream would last him a while, he figured. They lay together, naked, spooned against each other, worn from their reunion. She was asleep, nested against him like she belonged there and he had his face buried in her hair, inhaling her scent with every breath he took, while his mind cringed at the need for sleep. He was tired, worn thin from too much sorrow, and he knew it would be a matter of time before sleep claimed him. And he feared it, because ... would she still be there when he woke up again? Would any of them? Or had he taken complete leave of his senses now? Would this be his future? Not memories but hallucinations of how it could be and never would?

He shifted his head a little, tightened his grip on her, and she muttered in her sleep, her arm slipping back over him, her nails racking over the skin on the small of his back. He closed his eyes, sucked up the attention she gave him even in sleep, and felt the darkness tugging at him.

And still he feared to hope, feared to believe. But the need for sleep would not be denied and when he gave into it, the only word stumbling through his mind was 'please'.

When he woke up again, he was alone. The bed felt empty and for a moment his heart sank. But then he saw those strands of black hair on the pillow, only a few but enough to stop his heart from sinking any further.

He propped himself up on one elbow and surveyed the room. Her clothes, scattered on the floor along with his. "Aeryn?"

She stepped out of the cleansing room, wrapped in a towel, her hair wet. And all he could do was smile at her, because this - waking up with her still around - this was real. It felt real. Time would tell if it was, of course, but the balance had been tipped in favor of optimism.

The End