Chiana held him until the shakes wore off, held him until he started to relax and his suddenly icy skin became a little warmer again. He was still shivering, obviously from the chill that had overtaken him, and Chiana knew only one cure for something like that.

First, she disengaged herself from him. Then she urged him silently to lie down and draped the covers over him. Then she slipped out of the majority of her clothes, leaving only the bare essentials of a skin tight top and a pair of underpants nearly too small to be called that, and finally slipped under the covers with him. She spooned against him, draping herself around him to keep him warm, and knew it might be a while before he warmed up enough again to keep himself warm.

His breathing became steadier after a while and finally he began to breathe normally again. She pressed her lips against his neck and blew hot air on his skin, causing him to let out a sigh in reply. "Are you feeling better?" she whispered.

It took him a moment to respond and his voice was so sluggish when he did that she realized he was close to drifting off. "Yeah," was all he had to say to that before his breathing evened out even more and became deep and slow.

Chiana smiled as she felt his temperature rise again and decided to he could probably handle the rest on his own. There was no need for her to be this close to him now and perhaps cause a scene when Aeryn returned.

Quietly, she slipped out of bed and turned around to grab her discarded clothes when she realized that they were no longer alone. Aeryn stood just a few steps inside the doorway, her expression unreadable, her eyes wide.

Hoping to somehow defuse the situation before the ex Peacekeeper could go crazy on her, Chiana grinned. "That was fast. Didn't you find anything to buy?" she asked.

"What the frell are you doing?" Aeryn asked quietly.

For a moment, all Chiana could think of doing was stare at her. She knew what went through Aeryn's head and in a sense she couldn't blame her. The worst part of it was that it would be near impossible to explain the situation without it sounding like a bad excuse. But Chiana was not willing to give Aeryn even an inkling of an idea that she had been trying to seduce Crichton. "This isn't what it looks like," she said and instantly knew that was the wrong wording.

"Not what it looks like?" Aeryn countered. A tone of disbelief had crept into her voice. "What do you think I see when I look at you, standing there, half naked?" she added.

Chiana raised both hands. "Crichton had a panic attack. I don't know why the frell his temperature drops when he's scared, but it does. He was shaking so bad, his teeth were chattering. It's the only way I know how to keep someone warm," Chiana snapped, assuming that attack was the best defense right now.

"So you frelled him?" Aeryn asked, that tone of disbelief still in her voice.

Righteous indignation rose in Chiana at her words. "Are you tinked?" she snapped and dropped her clothes. "Do I frelling look like I frelled him? Do you really think so little of me that you would believe I would do that to him?"

Aeryn's eyes darted to Crichton and back again while a frown asserted itself on her brow. "Keep your voice down. You'll wake him," she replied, her tone tense.

With anger surging through her, Chiana picked up her clothes and then gave Aeryn a shove toward the door. "I want to talk to you, Sebacean. Right now," she insisted.

Aeryn gave her warning glare, glanced at Crichton again, and obviously decided that this wasn't the place for a show of force.

***

Aeryn didn't know what to think. Her initial reaction had been to believe that Chiana had done the same thing to John as Zitta had, but on second thought she knew Chiana would never do something like that.

Once in the center chamber, she turned around to face the Nebari and eyed her darkly. What it all came down to in the end was the fact that Chiana could touch him, could even go as far as sleep with him, and that she herself couldn't even get close to him without causing him to nearly panic. It hurt; badly.

"What the frell is your problem?" Chiana snapped, angrier than Aeryn had ever seen her before. She started getting dressed again while sending Aeryn angry glances.

"My problem? I don't have a problem," Aeryn countered aggressively. She knew it was wrong to take her anger and hurt out on Chiana; the girl was only trying to help; but she couldn't stop herself. "But there will be a problem of enormous proportions if I find out you did more that 'keep him warm'," she added.

Chiana's expression hitched as she froze in mid motion. "You're a frelling tralk, you know that?" she finally said and shook her head. "I would never do anything like that to Crichton. Don't you think I'm aware of what he's been through? Do you really think I'd pull the same dren on him as Zitta did?"

For the longest moment, they stared at each other, but then Chiana finished dressing, gave Aeryn a disgusted look and walked out on her.

Aeryn settled down on the bench, propped her elbows on the tabletop and covered her face with her hands. "Frell," she hissed into her palms. In the end, this whole thing deprived her of the one thing she needed the most; to feel in control, to feel that she was making a difference for John. The end result B no matter how it was attained B should of course be that John returned to normal, but she wanted to have a least a little part in it. That Ayla could get close to him was acceptable; Ayla was his daughter. But she couldn't really stomach that Chiana was the one he turned to these days when he needed physical comfort. "Frell," she repeated vehemently. "He is my mate, frell it. Not hers. Mine!"

"Who is trying to claim him?"

D'Argo's voice broke her reverie and she let her hands drop and gave him a dark look. She knew he could see the tears in her eyes, could probably sense the state of mind she was in, but right now she didn't care. "Who do you think?" she countered and let her head drop. "Frell, I wish this was over. I wish everything was back to normal. I can't take much more of this," she added.

D'Argo settled down next to her and sat still for a moment. "You know, Chiana is only trying to help John. She has a peculiar way about her sometimes, but in the end all she's trying to do is help him. Shouldn't that count for something?"

Aeryn felt like saying no; felt like telling D'Argo to keep Chiana away from John, but she knew he wouldn't do that and she knew it was stupid to even think that way; yet she couldn't help it. "What the frell is wrong with me? I should only be interested in getting him back to normal, no matter how."

D'Argo smiled vaguely and she felt like hitting him for it. "You're jealous, Aeryn. It's a perfectly normal feeling. The circumstances are not normal, of course, but that is beside the point. I understand how you feel, but it does not justify it. And you are right. You should focus on helping John get better any way you can."

Aeryn leaned in over the table, folded her arms on it and pressed her brow down against them. "I want to wring her scrawny little neck," she growled, then sighed unhappily. "I don't want to feel like this. I want to be the one John needs. Not Chiana, not Ayla, not you. Me! He is my mate. He is the father of my child."

D'Argo chuckled softly and placed a hand on her back. "You are being childish, Aeryn. This is not about what you want. It's about John and helping him get better. Can't you try to focus on that?"

She sat up, thereby pushing his hand off her back. "I know that," she growled and slapped the table top with a flat hand. "I know and I hate this feeling. I hate feeling like this."

"It will pass, Aeryn. John needs you as much as you need him. You know that. He is not going to abandon you. You've done more than anyone else would have to save him. Your single mindedness has pulled him out of Hezmana and back into life. He just needs to heal and that takes time," D'Argo said.

Aeryn gave him a sour glance. "You wanted to shoot him," she grumbled.

"Yes, I did," D'Argo agreed and made a face. "I did not think he had any chance of recovery. You proved me wrong. You and Ayla."

Aeryn sighed again and scrubbed both hands over her face, then pushed her hair back. "Being a Peacekeeper was so much simpler than this."

"You long for the restraint and harshness of that existence?" D'Argo asked quietly.

"No," she said and shook her head lightly. "But it was simpler."

"That's a given," D'Argo said and brushed her hair off her shoulder. "You'll see, my friend. Soon things will be back to normal and you and John will be back to being all over each other."

That made her smile vaguely. "I hope so," she said and closed her eyes. "I really hope so."

***

Chiana was sitting on Pilot's console, quietly watching him work, and it worried him a little. The young Nebari usually was not the quiet kind and she never spent much time in his den. She was always 'itching' to go somewhere, do something, as the Comander called it.

"Are you all right, Chiana?" he asked after she had spent almost an arn like that.

"Yeah, sure," she replied instantly and cocked her head to the right. "Why? Don't I look all right?"

Pilot regarded her for a moment. "Actually, no. You look concerned," he said, finding that stating things the way they were was always preferable to pretending nothing was wrong.

"Not concerned," Chiana said and sighed. "Angry is more like it." But she didn't sound angry.

"Why angry?" Pilot asked while he continued his tasks.

"At that frelling Peacekeeper skank," Chiana spat, then clapped a hand over her mouth. "Sorry," she added into her palm.

Pilot arched a brow. "No harm done," he assured her. "Why are you angry with Aeryn?"

"She thinks I would deliberately hurt Crichton," Chiana said and made a face.

Pilot glanced at her, noting how close to tears she was. "I am certain Aeryn knows you mean him no harm. It is just a difficult time for her."

"It's a difficult time for Crichton," Chiana disagreed. "She should not let her frelling needs come first."

Pilot silently agreed, but did not know what to say. He settled for a non comittal grumble and continued with his tasks. It would be good when things were finally back to normal, although he had to admit that he did not miss the bickering that sometimes issued between the Comander and D'Argo.

"Chiana! I want to talk to you. Where are you? " Aeryn's voice rang from the com pinned to Chiana's bodice.

Pilot glanced at her, at the set expression on her face as she glanced down at the com badge and said nothing.

"Chiana! Answer me! " Aeryn repeated.

"Should you not answer her? Perhaps it would be best to get this out of the way?" Pilot tried.

"She's so frelling superior. I'm not talking to her right now. Let her stew," Chiana growled and switched the com badge off.

Pilot just eyed her for a microt, then sighed and returned to the tasks at hand. He did not want to get involved in the internal strife between these two females and Moya comended him on this. On some level he did feel like telling them off for being so stubborn, but it always disturbed his inner peace when he was caught up in their strange little rituals, so for now he decided to stay out of it.

***

Aeryn's attempts to get in touch with Chiana failed miserably and since she wasn't in the mood to search all of Moya for that little fekkik, she decided to check up on John instead.

When she stepped into his quarters, all she could do was smile. Ayla was sitting on the floor, her back leaning against the bed, while she was playing with her doll. She did so quietly while John slept restfully for the first time in a long time. Aeryn settled down on one of the stools by the table and watched them for a while. She was sure that Ayla had realized she was there, but the girl took no notice of her and continued to play.

Aeryn glanced at the chessboard and noted that some of the pieces were missing. With a slight frown, she glanced over at Ayla and noted the figures on the floor in front of her.

Ayla set her doll down on her crossed ankles and started playing with the chess figures instead. The figures were having quite conversations, but they also did a lot of avoiding and after a while, Aeryn realized that Ayla B not having much else to base her play on B was simulating life on Moya through the figures from John's chess game.

The white king was D'Argo, the white queen was Chiana. Aeryn grinned vaguely at the comparison. The black queen was her, a lonely secluded figure in Ayla's game, which made the smile on Aeryn's lips fade again. One of the small figures B Aeryn couldn't remember the name of them B was Rygel. The two white towers were Moya and Pilot. At this point, Aeryn realized that Ayla didn't have any figure representing the sleeping human behind her and that made Aeryn wonder. Maybe it was because of the lack of interaction John had with the rest of the crew right now. She glanced back at the chess board and grabbed the black king, got up from the stool and settled down on the floor across from Ayla. "Here. You forgot John," she said and put the king down next to the solitary black queen.

Ayla eyed the black king for a moment, then glanced over her shoulder at John, before she grabbed the black king and laid him down in the middle of the other characters. "He's not standing," she said. "He's sick and has to stay in bed."

Aeryn smiled sadly. This was not how she had hoped Ayla would know her father; frail and sick. "But he'll get better, won't he?" she asked.

Ayla frowned, narrowing her eyes at the scene she had set up, then nodded. "Yes, he will," she agreed. After a moment, she raised the black king again, but left him in the middle of the other characters and at that Aeryn realized that Ayla didn't know where John belonged. Almost as if to prove her right, Ayla looked up at her with a slight frown still furrowing her brow. "Auntie Chi and Uncle D'Argo are together, aren't they?" she asked.

"Yes, they are," Aeryn agreed. Ayla had not so far shown any interest in relationships, but Aeryn knew questions like that would become more frequent as she grew older.

Ayla nodded and returned her attention to the chess figures. "Are they going to have babies?" she asked seriously.

For some reason Aeryn couldn't help a smile. "I don't know. If they can, they might. Why? Do you want someone to play with?"

Ayla considered that for a microt, then nodded. "Yes, that would be nice," she said and looked up at Aeryn again. "Are Zitta and John together?"

Aeryn mostly felt as if she had been slapped and she suddenly realized that Ayla knew more than she had expected. "No, Zitta and John are not together. Zitta was very mean to John, but she is gone now."

"Dead?" Ayla asked and eyed her intently.

"Yes, Zitta is dead," Aeryn agreed.

"But ..." Ayla started, but Aeryn stopped her by reaching out and place a hand over her mouth.

"Listen to me, Ayla, all right?" she asked and the girl nodded. "We won't talk of Zitta around John, okay? She hurt him and he's a little ..." She faltered, not really sure how to explain why it wasn't a good idea to talk about Zitta in front of John. Zitta had, after all, been an intricate part of Ayla's life and Aeryn didn't want to scare her daughter by being too straight forward with information about that conniving tralk.

"John is afraid of Zitta," Ayla agreed. "And that's okay, because she did a bad thing to him, didn't she?"

Aeryn nodded. "Yes, that's right," she agreed and rose. "Let's go for a walk, Ayla. John needs to sleep in peace."

The girl nodded, picked up the chess pieces and put them back where they belonged; except for the black king. She eyed the piece for a moment, then put it in her pocket before turning around and stretching her arms out to Aeryn.

Aeryn picked her up, positioned her on her hip and glanced back at John. He appeared to still be asleep, but she wouldn't risk discussing Zitta with Ayla where he might hear it. There was no sense in tempting fate. He was doing so well now that it would be horrible to have a setback of any kind now.

***

Ayla sat still on Aeryn's hip while she went over in her mind how to explain this situation to Ayla so she understood but wasn't scared by it.

"John is very sick, isn't he?" Ayla asked after a while.

Aeryn nodded thoughtfully. "Yes, he is."

"Did Zitta make him sick?" Ayla asked on.

"No, Zitta didn't make him sick. He was sick when he arrived, remember?" Aeryn countered and the girl nodded, reflecting the same thoughtful look back at Aeryn that Aeryn knew she wore herself. "But Zitta didn't help him get better either. She ... wasn't nice to him and it made him feel worse again." Again, Ayla nodded. Aeryn could only hope she understood. "Because of what Zitta did to John, he's not happy about hearing her name. He wants to forget and he can only do that if you don't remind him of Zitta, okay?" Ayla nodded once more.

"Who is John together with?" Ayla asked.

There was that question Aeryn had been halfway dreading Ayla would ask at some point. Because of the distance Aeryn herself had to keep to John, it would not be apparent to the girl that Aeryn loved John. But how did she explain concepts to Ayla that the girl had no frame of reference for? She drew in a lung full of air, held it for a microt and then let it out again slowly. "Well, John was together with me," she said. "But then something happened that took John away from us and for a very long time I thought John was gone. But then I found him, only he wasn't well when I found him and it is taking him a long time to recover, to get better." All Ayla did in response was frown at her. "Do you know what a father is?"

Ayla pursed her lips. "Uncle D'Argo is a father. He has a son," she stated, but looked a bit confused. "I don't know what that means," she added. "What's a son?"

"John is somebody's son. His father's name is Jack and Jack lives very far away. So far away that we probably can't go visit him," Aeryn said, but knew that this cleared nothing up for Ayla. She would have to get down to basics to explain this one to her daughter. "Do you know where babies come from?" she asked and glanced at Ayla.

At that, the little girl's expression brightened. "Yes, Zitta taught me that. She said that babies come from pods," she said.

Aeryn briefly closed her eyes and tried hard not to sigh out loud. "Delvian babies come from pods," she corrected her. "But John is not a Delvian and neither are you. Delvians are plants, Ayla. They work differently than we do."

"How?" Ayla asked with a frown.

"I don't know, really. I just know that Sebacean babies and Human babies come about in the same way, but Delvian babies don't," Aeryn confessed.

"So how do Sebacean and Human babies come about?" Ayla asked, eying Aeryn curiously.

"Well, when a male and a female meet, sometimes they become more than friends. They like each other a lot and sometimes that means they have babies together. Now, when I met John, I didn't like him very much in the beginning because he was different from me and at the time I thought different was bad. But it isn't. Different is good. I realized that. And John was very different from anything I had met before. And now I love him and I don't want him to hurt any more. I want him to be happy." Ayla nodded and stuck her thumb in her mouth. "Sometimes, babies are planned. And sometimes they're not. You weren't planned, but that doesn't make you any less precious."

Ayla pulled her thumb out of her mouth again. "Is John my father?" she asked.

"Yes, Ayla, he is. But he doesn't know that yet. He has been very afraid for a very long time and I didn't tell him because I didn't know how he would feel about it," Aeryn said.

That made Ayla frown again. "You think he won't like me any more if he knows?" she asked with concern in her voice.

"No, Ayla, I think he will be very happy when he finds out. I just want to wait for him to ask me, because only then can I know that he is ready. You see?" Aeryn replied.

Ayla frowned. "But, if it would make him happy, shouldn't you tell him now?" she asked.

Aeryn hesitated. Maybe the child had a point. "Maybe I should," she then agreed with a faint smile. "John needs to find something that makes him feel better. He has bad memories that make it hard for him to sleep, you see."

Ayla nodded to that. "Like you had before he came back," she said.

Aeryn stopped short and stared at her daughter. "You know about that?" she asked. She had specifically told both Zitta and Chiana to keep Ayla far away from her sleeping quarters at night to avoid this.

"Yes, Zitta told me that you were very sad that my father was gone and that you had bad dreams about it and that was why you woke up crying sometimes," Ayla explained, her tone that of a patient parent.

Apparently Aeryn could not fault Zitta's explanations to Ayla and she felt relief wash over her that she would not have to rectify too much of Ayla's upbringing. "Well, that's true," she said, seeing no reason for withholding the truth from her daughter. "I was very sad. I blamed myself for that he was gone and I couldn't think of anything else. But now he's back and he's getting better. But he still needs a lot of help. So, whenever you can, you should spend time with him. But don't talk about Zitta. It brings back bad memories and it makes John feel worse."

"Okay," Ayla said and stuffed her thumb back into her mouth.

Aeryn continued walking in silence and wondered where her daughter had gotten her smarts from. She assumed that John had to get the credit for that one, because Ayla saw things much more clearly than Aeryn ever had.

***

Two monans later

"I hate it!"

Aeryn looked up and eyed John thoughtfully. "Hate it?" she asked. Since his four cycle ordeal and the subsequent period of healing B a period which was not yet over by a long stretch B he was doing fairly well. He was rational, attentive, could even smile at times. But he had bouts of setbacks where she would find him huddled in a corner, his face buried in his hands, and it would once again take Ayla's direct manner to untangle him from the nightmares that haunted him.

He stood at the other end of the room, his t-shirt in his hand, and looked utterly disgusted. Aeryn didn't know what to make of that coment and hoped he would elaborate. "I hate the panic attacks. I hate being scared all the time. I ... I hate it!"

Well, that was elaboration enough. Aeryn rose from the bed where she had been cleaning her pulse pistol and took a step toward him. He still very much had a no touching policy and she and the others respected that. He would come around eventually. "John, after what you've been through, it's no wonder. But you're doing much better. I can see progress every day," she tried.

"Progress," he snorted and dropped the t-shirt. "You call this progress? I can't even ..." He cut off and turned his back on her, frustrated beyond reason.

Aeryn closed the distance between them and stopped right behind him, raising her hand, but never quite touching him. "John," she tried. "You are making progress. I can see it even if you can't. I know it's slow and I know it's frustrating. Believe me, I know. I would wish for all of this to be over as well, but something like this ... it takes time. Give it time. You'll feel better soon."

She shifted her hand, nearly touching, but then he arched his back and she let her hand drop. "Don't," he whispered.

"I wasn't going to touch you," she countered. She wanted to, but she wouldn't do it. Experience was a great teacher. Too much too soon would send him running for a hiding place somewhere and she wouldn't risk a setback of those proportions.

John, however, surprised her by turning around and sweeping her into his arms. He locked them around her so hard, it was almost painful. "I want you to touch me," he rasped, his voice breaking, and she knew he was close to tears. "I'm just so damned scared all the time."

Aeryn closed her eyes and just relished the nearness for as long as it would last, but she didn't dare wrap her arms around him in turn. "So, touching is okay as long as you instigate it?" she asked, hoping he would agree.

He hesitated, but not for long. "I think so," he agreed quietly.

Slowly, Aeryn raised her arms and wrapped them around him. He tensed at first, held his breath for a microt, but then relaxed into her touch. "There," she whispered and carefully stroked his bare back. "That's not so bad, is it?"

For some reason, her words made him chuckle. "You sound like a mother," he muttered into her hair, then pulled back a little to look at her. "I love you so damned much it hurts."

She smiled vaguely. "And I love you," she replied and kept stroking his back. Anything he didn't initiate was off limits, she decided. If he kissed her first, she would kiss him back, but for now, she was almost certain that the kissing part was still far off. He wasn't nearly stable enough to take this any further. It was frustrating, though. She had to admit that. Here she stood, with her arms around him, and he was butt-naked and frelling attractive. She was glad she wasn't male, because if she had been, she would not have been able to hide how she felt right now. Then again, if she had been male, she wouldn't have been standing here with her arms around him while he was naked, she mused and smiled at the thought.

After a moment, she pulled back a little and then out of his arms. He had made no move to carry this any further for now and that was indication enough that he wasn't comfortable about it. "I'm sorry," he said, well aware of what she had perceived.

"Don't apologize, John. We'll take it one step at a time," she said. "And get dressed before you catch your death. It's not exactly warm in here."

He nodded once, picked up his t-shirt and pulled it over his head while Aeryn dug out a pair of shorts and threw them at him. Once he was fully dressed, he settled down on the bed to tie his boots, but then suddenly froze. When he looked up at her however, his expression was questioning, not afraid. "Ayla," he said.

Aeryn assumed he'd seen the girl and turned her attention to the doorway, which however was sadly empty. Returning her attention to him, she eyed him. "What about her?"

"Who does she belong to?" he asked and set his booted foot down on the floor, forgetting about the laces for now.

She had known this question would come up at some point, when he was better. "Belong to?" It was a peculiar way to phrase it, she thought.

"Well, I know she's not Luxan and she's certainly not Nebari. And I doubt Rygel could produce something like her. So, she's yours?" he asked.

Aeryn just stared at him for a moment and couldn't help wondering how he would take the news. For some reason she had assumed he might have guessed the connection by now, but he had not said anything before. "She's ours," she corrected him. "Yours and mine."

He stared back at her for a microt, then glanced toward the door while his brow creased in a frown. "Ours," he muttered as if tasting the word. "She's my kid?" he asked without taking his eyes off the doorway.

"Yes, your kid," she agreed. "I was pregnant. I decided to have it released after ... you know."

The frown was replaced by a wistful smile and a faraway look in his eyes. "My kid," he muttered, then ran a hand distractedly through his hair. "I'm going gray. Have you noticed that?"

Aeryn sighed. His ability to jump from subject to subject was a tad frustrating at times. Half the time she had no idea what he was talking about when he changed topics. "Gray?" she asked and frowned at him. "You don't look gray to me."

"No, my hair," he countered and a smile flitted over his lips. "My hair is going gray."

"So what?" She didn't really see the problem and it made her frown that it was a big deal to him.

"So, it reminds me of my mortality," he countered, then let out a bark of a laugh. "I should have been dead, shouldn't I? I mean, for pity's sake, who the hell survives four damned years on the zombie cruiser from hell? There can't have been any air to breathe. Or food to eat. I wonder what ..." He stopped short and focused on her, a now downright uneasy look in his eyes.

"I wouldn't worry about that," Aeryn said, guessing at the meaning of that look.

"But I do worry," he countered. "Just the thought ..." he added and made a face in disgust. "You said I ate ... after I came back here, but before ... before I came out of it. So I must have been eating. What could I possibly have been eating on a dead command carrier?"

"The same as everybody else, John," Aeryn said and sighed lightly. "A carrier is equipped with enough stored food to last the entire crew several cycles. Food would have been easy to come by. And there was air too."

Her words calmed him a little and he nodded and continued to tie his boot laces."I just don't want my kid to grow up with the knowledge that her old man had to ..." he tried and broke off again, now looking downright queasy.

"The worst you could have eaten on that carrier was spoiled food, John. But considering the more or less emaciated look you had when I retrieved you ... I don't think you had been eating much of anything for a good long while. Maybe a food cube now and again."

Again her words seemed to calm him and he nodded once more.

"Are you sure you want to stay? Maybe getting ground beneath your feet would expedite healing," she suggested. She and D'Argo were going on a supply run and she had suggested that he should come along.

"Yeah, and the moment we hit crowded streets, you'll see me running off for the nearest sewer to get away from it. No, I think it's better if I stay here. Pip and Ayla can keep me company. I doubt Ryg is up to much socializing. He's been a bit grumpy lately, hasn't he?" he countered.

"Rygel is Hynerian. It would make me grumpy too if I had to waddle through life on useless little legs and eat until I nearly burst," Aeryn countered with a good natured smile and strapped on her belt. "Behave while we're gone. We'll be back as fast as we can."

He nodded and rose, almost nervously drying his palms on his pants. Then he took one step forward and leaned towards her. "Be careful out there, okay? I'm gonna have a hissy fit if anything happens to you." That said, he leaned in to quickly and almost insecurely peck her on the cheek.

Aeryn smiled and raised a hand to touch his cheek, old habit nearly making her break her own rules. She saw him jerk a little, but then he reached up, took her hand and pressed his against his cheek. He felt more comfortable if he was able to decide the when and where and it was a small thing for her. "No hissy-fits, please. We've had enough of those to last us a lifetime," she countered. For the love of Cholok, she wanted him so badly it ached. And to think that she could not touch him without having to think it through.

He made it easier for her to pull away when he released her hand and took a step back. He made a cross over his heart. "Cross my heart and hope to die," he said with a halfhearted grin.

She couldn't help a grin. There was some of the old spark still left in him and if she had anything to say in the matter, she would help to fan it back into the roaring inferno of stupid phrases and cocky grins that she now missed so dearly.

"Fly safe," he added.

"Is there any other way?" she countered.

"She called me daddy," he said as if on second thought.

Aeryn frowned. "Who did?"

"Ayla," he replied and sighed. "That's why I asked, you know. Could be a glitch, her calling me that," he added thoughtfully. "So she knows, does she?"

Aeryn just stared at him for a microt. She couldn't remember him having been that bad with the topic jumping before; not that it really mattered. "Yes, she knows," she agreed. "Are you all right?"

That question made him frown. "Yeah. Why? Don't I look all right?"

"No, you look fine. You're just all over the place today, topic wise," she replied and shook her head. She assumed she would have to get used to him being back among the living again. Not that she hadn't spent the last half cycle trying to do just that.

She sighed lightly, gave him a small smile and left him to join D'Argo for her first time off Moya since John had really returned to himself. How long had it been now? Three monans? Four? She couldn't remember and it didn't really matter either.

***