- Epilogue -

The present

Pain had a new name, a new face, a new reality. Pain was what she had suffered through a few cycles ago, a pain that had left scars on her body and in her mind. Scars so deep, they would never fully heal.

She stood in front of the mirror in her quarters, naked and wet from the shower, the towel she had used to dry herself with hanging limply in her hands while her gaze rested on the reflection of her shoulder and the scar there. The bite mark was very visible. She reached up and brushed her fingertips over it, feeling the slightly bumpy skin with dark eyes. Four cycles ago, she had lost the only male she would ever love, for the second time, and she could not for the life of her understand how it had come about. If he had died fighting, she would have been able to move on. If he had died at the hands of his tormentors, she would have been able to put it behind her and continue to live. But the way he had simply faded out of existence was something she could never get over or forget.

It haunted her dreams even now. She woke up screaming some nights, bathed in sweat others, and no matter how she tried, she could not put it behind her. She could not let go and move on, because in the deepest recesses of her mind she believed she could have done things differently. She believed she could have saved him.

Her hand slipped over the scar and covered it as she closed her eyes and tried to dispel the horrors she had seen. But no words of consolation could drive the shadows from her mind. The only time she found respite was when her daughter smiled at her and called her mommy. The only time she could see the light was when Ayla wrapped her arms around her neck and whispered in her most endearing tone of voice how much she loved her.

But what it all came down to was that she did not feel worthy of her daughters affection nor did she feel she had the right to call this little being her own. She had deserted Ayla's father and she would never forgive herself for that.

"Oh, put on some clothes. It's bad enough that I've had to have my eyes insulted by that blue bitch and now another green bitch. I do not need to see a pale white bitch as well."

Aeryn turned her head and eyed Rygel for a microt, but she made no move to cover herself. "If you are so offended by my nudity, Rygel, why the frell don't you just stay in your own quarters and stop bothering me?" she asked. She knew her tone was cold and that the little Hynerian was only trying to cheer her up in his own odd manner, but she did not feel like being cheered up. "What do you want?" she then asked.

"Pilot tried to com you, but you are obviously too busy admiring your obscene body to pay attention to others around you," Rygel huffed. "He requested I ask you to contact him."

"You've done so. Now leave," Aeryn replied and returned her attention to the mirror. Rygel grumbled under his breath and sped away on his thronesled while Aeryn finally wrapped the towel around herself and went in search of something clean to wear. Life seemed almost normal at times, but she knew it was an illusion, a mind game life was playing with her. Because just when she thought things would be all right, she saw something, heard something, or felt something that reminded her of John and her mood would crash and burn out in a matter of microts.


Four cycles earlier

She sat on the floor in the rear storage compartment, a bandage around her arm and one covering her shoulder. And all she could do was sit there with her back against the rigid wall, her knees pulled up and her arms wrapped around them. Her mind was torn in two. One part wanted to just give up and die while the other urged her to go on; she had another obligation now. But this obligation, this tiny seed lying dormant inside of her, seemed insignificant compared to what she had just lost.

Lost? She snorted with contempt at her own insolence. She hadn't lost him, she had abandoned him, left him behind on a ghost ship, and there was no forgiveness in the universe that would be big enough to make her feel better about this.

She snapped her head back, bumping it against the wall, and closed her eyes at the stinging pain this created. Then she did it again while she tightened her grip around the bite wound on her arm. He had given up his freedom to save her when Grayza had threatened to kill her and this was how she repaid him? He had nearly given up his mind for her cycles ago on that Gamak base, to save her from certain death after her run-in with Larraq; to protect her.

"I don't need your frelling protection," she whispered angrily.

The bite wound on her shoulder burned and she knew it was infected. She had not allowed Zitta to clean it, only to patch it up, and she couldn't for the life of her say why. Was it because this and the embryo she carried were the only things left of John Crichton? Or was it because she had a subconscious need to punish herself for not trying harder?

She released her arm and leaned her sore head back against the bulkhead. What else could she have done? How could she have acted faster? "I could have triggered the frelling weapons earlier. I could have come up with the crane idea myself," she berated herself and pressed the heels of both hands against her brow. "Frell it, I could have saved him."

"And maybe not."

She dropped her hands and looked up at Zitta. "Yes, I could have. I know I could. If only I had acted faster," she countered.

Zitta squatted down in front of her and put a hand on her arm. "Aeryn, you could not have acted any differently. And even if you see paths undiscovered now, they do you no good. You will not help yourself to move on with your life if you berate yourself about what could have been." Her emerald gaze dropped to Aeryn's knees covering her stomach. "And you will not do your child any good either," she added. "Be happy that you still have a reminder of the male you love. This child will be as much his as it is yours. His genes will live on."

Aeryn stared at her and knew she was right, but she still could not allow herself to let go. "I don't want his frelling genes," she said quietly. "I want him." With a light shake of the head, she came to her feet and sighed deeply. "You don't understand, Zitta. I have lost him once before and I cannot lose him again."

Zitta frowned and tilted her head to the right. "You have lost him before?" she asked, obviously confused by that statement.

"It's a long story. I'll tell you about it someday," Aeryn replied.

"We have time enough," Zitta agreed with a slight smile. "I found Veeton, by the way," she added.

"Veeton?" Aeryn asked with a frown. "Oh, yes, the Sykaran. I thought ..." She trailed off and shook her head. "I don't know what I thought," she admitted. "Where was he?"

"Hiding in a supply cabinet," Zitta replied. "He says he saw terrible things and tried to hide from them in the cabinet. Judging by his demeanor, it didn't do much good though."

"Maybe John should have hidden too. Perhaps the ship wouldn't have claimed him then," Aeryn theorized and sighed again. "I'll take you both back to Moya. Then you can decide where you want to go from there," she added.

Zitta smiled. "Thank you," she said. "If it's all the same to you, I think I might stick around for a while. I really have nowhere else to go."

Aeryn eyed her for a microt. "What about going home? Wouldn't you want to go home?"

Zitta's smile turned a little sad. "I have no home, Aeryn. I'm an aberration, a freak. Once in a while a Delvian will be born with green skin. It's not comon and is viewed as a mutation. Hence I am regarded as an outcast and have no home."

It was painful to realize that even Delvians would shun their own. Aeryn nodded. "Then stay with us. We're all outcasts too," she replied with a cynical little smile and left the storage compartment and headed back to the cockpit to set the marauder on the right course.


The present

Fully clothed, Aeryn made her way to the center chamber for first meal and found Zitta and Ayla there already. After Aeryn had decided to release the pregnancy and raise this child, Zitta had offered to lend a helping hand. She loved children, she had said, and took good care of little Ayla, which gave Aeryn time to adjust to the thought of having the child and raising her. She was grateful that she did not have to face this particular challenge alone.

Ayla looked up from her quiet meal and stared at her with huge eyes that seemed to fill up her entire face. All Aeryn saw when she looked into those eyes was John. She smiled vaguely at her daughter, grabbed some food for herself and settled down next to her.

The girl said nothing, just glanced at her and then returned to her meal. She ate slowly, meticulously, making sure no crumbs were missed, and almost always managed to leave her plate the way it had looked when she had first retrieved it.

"So, what have you got planned for today?" Aeryn asked her after a moment. The hardest part for her to get used to was that her daughter, this child, was not a grownup and hence did not think that way. The only 'children' Aeryn had ever encountered had been would-be Peacekeepers and they B seemingly B had the mind set and manners of adults. Ayla was different because she had not been raised a Peacekeeper. Her upbringing was much loser, much more flexible, but still Aeryn missed John's input on this. This child was half human and on that account alone, she had to experience things on a different level than a fully Sebacean child would.

Ayla paused, her lips pursed in quiet contemplation, then she glanced at Aeryn. "Auntie Zitta and Auntie Chiana will teach me something," she said quietly, then frowned. "I don't know what, though," she added.

Aeryn smiled. "That's good," she said and brushed a hand over Ayla's hair. "You learn all you can. Are you seeing Pilot later?"

Chiana glanced from mother to child and back again and Aeryn could see the disapproval in her eyes. The Nebari was the only one among her present shipmates who openly displayed disapproval of Aeryn's way of raising the child. Well, Aeryn thought, she wasn't really raising her daughter, now was she? She left that to those who knew better. And that was just about everybody apart from herself.

"I think so. Uncle D'Argo said he would take me," Ayla said and returned to her meal.

Aeryn glanced at D'Argo, who was quick to look back down at his plate. Zitta, who sat on the other side of Ayla, ate in silence, not voicing nor showing any reaction to Aeryn's totally hands-off approach to this child. Chiana and D'Argo didn't like it. Rygel claimed to understand her, it was only right for the parent not to raise the offspring, as he said. Pilot had on one occasion questioned her approach too, but nobody really said anything apart from Chiana. But they didn't need to say anything. Aeryn knew they disapproved and she didn't care. She did not feel that she had anything good to offer her child and would rather leave that in the hands of those who did have something to give her.

Her mind drifted back in time again, back to the things she could not change.


Four cycles earlier

She sat in the pilot's seat, the course locked, the low band frequency emitting a steady pulse in an attempt to contact Moya wherever the leviathan might be. The rendevous time was long overdue and Aeryn had no other options than to let the marauder drift on a minimum of propulsion while they searched for her friends.

Veeton was adamant about wanting to get off the marauder and away from this part of space. Aeryn had, however, convinced him that he should come with them to Moya and that they would then let him off at the next commerce planet they came across. It had not escaped Aeryn how close to being hysterical the Sykaran was, but there was little she could do to remedy the situation at this point.

Hugging herself against the cold shivers running through her, she watched space glide by and thought of John. How was she ever going to explain to their child what she had done to its father? How was she ever going to learn to live with herself after having abandoned him on that carrier?

The infection from both wounds were raging within her, threatening to devour her alive, but she could not find the will or the strength to do something about it. At this point, she wished she would get heat delirium and suffer the Living Death. Anything else would be too good for her.

But whenever her mind grew too dark and her thoughts too heavy, that small beam of light that was her child made her reconsider any drastic actions she might be desperate enough to try. Still she could not forgive herself for what she had done.


A soft voice speaking a hated name. Aeryn closed her eyes and leaned her head back against the headrest of the chair. "Go away, Zitta," she whispered hoarsely. "Leave me alone."

A cool, soft hand slipped onto her brow. "You are burning up. I cannot let this go on," Zitta said, slight reproach in her voice. "Is this how you wish to honor his memory?"

Aeryn jerked forward, away from the comfort offered, and rose unsteadily to her feet. "I do not want to honor his memory," she snapped and turned back to face Zitta. "I don't want to honor it, because I do not accept that he is gone. I cannot lose him twice."

"But you have lost him, Aeryn," Zitta said quietly. "He is gone. You know this to be true because you saw it." She reached out to take Aeryn's arm, but Aeryn reeled back and slammed into the console behind her.

"NO," she yelled. "I don't want your help. I will not accept this." A shudder ran through her when she accidentally bumped her infected arm against the edge of the console. "Frell this," she spat and grabbed her arm.

"Aeryn, please," Zitta said, holding both hands out toward her. "If you will not do it for yourself, then at least do it for your child. This infection could hurt the embryo."

For the first time in a while, Aeryn saw reason. Her need to punish herself for what she had done was maybe harming her child, the only thing she had left of John. The mere thought of harming the fetus made her stop and think. It was a struggle, but eventually she let the anger and resentment ebb away and allowed Zitta to guide her to the med bay.


The present

Aeryn drew in a deep breath and put the food cube down. Ayla was still eating quietly, and Aeryn allowed herself the brief respite of closing her eyes and tuning the sounds around her out. So very rarely could she do this without remembering, without 'seeing'.

She tilted her head to the right and just listened to that inner voice for a few microts. Even after four cycles, she was still not able to dispel the terror from her mind. It was there, like a nagging little bug in the back of her mind, constantly reminding her of her misdeeds, constantly whispering of chances missed.

The memory of that dream that had haunted her ever since her return to Moya made her feel physically ill now, but all she could do was try and go on, rise above and beyond it like she had been taught to do as a Peacekeeper.

Ayla did not sleep in nor anywhere near her quarters for one reason and one reason only. Aeryn did not want the child to be scared out of her mind when her mother woke up screaming every night. The guilt and the pain were alive and doing well inside her and she could not shake the dreams. Nor did she want to. They were a part of the self-punishment she had bestowed on herself for not standing by John as she felt she should have.


She was ripped out of her thoughts by Pilot's voice. Turning her head a little, she glanced up at the clamshell. "Yes, Pilot?"

"Did Rygel not let you know that I needed to see you?" he asked.

A frown slipped over her brow. "Uh ... now that you mention it, I do believe he did. Apologies, Pilot. I will be right there," she replied. She grabbed what was left of her food cube and left the center chamber to go to Pilot's den.

And as she walked, her thoughts drifted again.


Four cycles earlier

Days passed without end while they drifted through the Uncharted Territories in search of Moya. Aeryn became very sick from the infections and was delirious most of the time until Zitta found a way to lower her fever and save her from the Living Death. By the time the first reply from Moya came through, Aeryn was still too weak to sit up. All she cared about was her child. That was the only reason that she fought off the infection and wanted to live.

To lose those you love was always hard to get to terms with, but to lose the one person in your life twice would be too much for anyone. And Aeryn had her share of trouble dealing with it. She knew that if it hadn't been for that one thin yet incredibly strong string holding her to this life, she would have given in to the infection raging through her and would have just died. But the unborn child she carried was her link to life.

By the time the marauder settled on the floor of landing bay three aboard Moya, she had made up her mind about the fetus. As soon as she was strong enough, she would have it released and raise this child. She would honor John's memory by giving this child everything she possibly could.

A short time after the marauder had settled, the door to the crew quarters where Aeryn was lying opened and D'Argo stepped in. His expression was one of regret and she wondered what he was thinking right then. Was he angry? Was he sad? She pushed herself up a little, weakened and sad, but said nothing. She didn't have the strength.

D'Argo remained by the door for a few microts and watched her solemnly, then strode over to the bunk and settled down on the edge. He watched her, abysmal sadness in his eyes, and then he reached out and cupped a hand against her cheek. He said nothing as he gently caressed her cheek with his thumb.

She closed her eyes, leaned into his touch and said nothing either, for she had no words for how she felt, and so settled for trying to convey her anguish and pain through touch and movement alone.

After a moment D'Argo rose again, scooped her up in his arms and carried her out of the marauder. She still needed time to heal and where better than among friends?

D'Argo took her to her quarters and settled her down on her bed. The room was alight with candles and anything she might need was within reach, courtesy of Chiana who stood by as quietly as D'Argo, her dark eyes full of pain and tears.

Zitta had obviously filled them in, told them what had happened, and Aeryn was grateful for not having to explain anything right now. And the thought of being back among friends, of not having to watch her back all the time, made a big difference. Within an arn of arriving, she was fast asleep in her bed, one of the many pillows Chiana had arranged around her clutched firmly to her chest.


She awoke slowly, heavy with sleep and feeling much better than she had in a long time. Her heart felt light and a sense of joy bubbled through her. At first she could not understand why she would feel this way. But then she heard his voice. Excitement overtook her and chased away any lingering remains of sleep. She rolled of the bed and got to her feet, threw aside the pillow and hurried to the open door of her quarters. It had all been a dream. A bad, bad dream. And she couldn't wait to throw her arms around him and kiss him. "John," she exclaimed as she stepped into the corridor.

He stood there, discussing something with Chiana, but when he heard her voice, he looked up and that slow, smoldering smile she loved so much spread over his lips and his eyes lit up. "Babe," he exclaimed, pushed past Chiana and strode over to her. He wrapped his hands around her face and looked into her eyes, then kissed her. "I've missed you so much," he whispered and kissed her again.

"And I you," she replied and slipped her arms around his neck. "Where were you?"

He pulled her with him into her quarters and then turned back to face her. "Right where you left me," he said with so much tenderness it nearly broke her heart.

She eased against him, wearing nothing but a tank top and panties, and she felt like her face would burst if her smile became any wider. "And where was that?" she asked and ran her fingers over his face, tracing his features, memorizing every line.

His smile faded and his eyes became a little dull. "Right there in that bay. Aboard that carrier," he replied, his tone as dull as his eyes. He pulled her close, hugged her against him so she couldn't see his face. "Right where you abandoned me," he whispered.

Aeryn froze in his arms and suddenly registered how cold he was. That was odd, because he wasn't cold normally. His body temperature was usually somewhat higher than hers. To her, he always felt like he was running a fever. But not now. Now his skin was cold. She shifted her head, her cheek resting against his shoulder, and flinched lightly when she realized his shoulder was wet and sticky against her skin.

Somewhat concerned, she pulled her head back a little and noted the strings of something transparent still connecting her cheek to his shoulder. She turned her head a little to see what might be causing this and her eyes widened when she saw the wound; ugly, open and infected. It was oozing vicious liquid that was now sticking to her cheek.

Repulsed, she wiped it off with one hand and pushed back against his arms still around her. But he held on tight. She looked up to face him and for the first time in her life felt the need to scream building in her throat. His skin was pale, almost transparent and his eyes were clouded over with a hazy, white membrane.

"You abandoned me, Aeryn," he said and smiled a rotting smile at her.

She woke up with a scream stuck in her throat and sat up in bed, the pillow in her arms moist with her sweat. "No," she whispered and almost did scream when a pale white hand grabbed her arm.

"Aeryn, it's me, Chiana."

With her breath coming in ragged little gasps, Aeryn finally managed to see what was really there and not what the dream had thrown at her and she briefly closed her eyes, then leaned against Chiana when the girl wrapped her arms around her.

"It was just a dream," Chiana soothed her, gently stroking her back with one hand.

Aeryn kept her eyes closed and just allowed Chiana to hold her for a moment. Then she pulled back and gingerly wiped a strand of moist hair out of her eyes. "I know," she said and then focused on Chiana. "You know what happened?" she asked and settled back down on the bed, exhausted to the core of her being.

"Yeah," Chiana said, took her hand and held it in both of hers. "Zitta told us everything. I don't think I need to tell you that D'Argo and Rygel have a hard time believing half of it. But Veeton corroborated the story too and he's totally frelled, so I think they're coming around." The young Nebari sighed. "What she just told us first was that John was dead, but not how it happened."

Aeryn pressed both hands against her face and groaned. "He's not dead, Chiana," she finally said and let her hands drop away again. The look of confusion on Chiana's face made her grimace.

"What the frell do you mean, he's not dead?" Chiana asked.

Aeryn tapped her bandaged shoulder. "He turned into something ... bad. And he bit me," she said. "He wasn't dead when we left the carrier, Chiana. I ..." She closed her eyes and draped one arm over her face. "I abandoned him," she whispered into the crook of her arm.

The silence that followed this statement made Aeryn a little apprehensive of removing her arm. The last thing she wanted was to see resentment in Chiana's eyes. But then Chiana put a hand on her arm.

"What the frell are you telling me? He's still alive somewhere out there?" she asked quietly.

Aeryn let her arm slide up over her head and gave Chiana a brief glance before turning her eyes toward the ceiling. "Yes," she whispered.

For the longest of moments Chiana was silent. Then she sighed. "Well, you had to get yourself out of there. Whatever the frell was wrong with that carrier, it would have taken you too if you had stayed," she said.

Aeryn returned her gaze to the young Nebari, and almost smiled. Chiana was wise beyond her cycles, no matter how annoying she could be at times. She understood things that Aeryn had yet to learn about. She took Chiana's hand in an uncommon display of tenderness and gave it a squeeze. "I can never forgive myself for this," she said quietly. "I abandoned him. If only I had tried harder, he would still be here, with us."

But Chiana started shaking her head even before Aeryn had stopped speaking. "No," she disagreed. "You did what you had to do. And John should have been stronger."

A sigh escaped her as Aeryn shifted a little to get more comfortable. "He could not have been stronger," she said. "There was nothing he could do to prevent it from happening. I should have moved faster. I should have thought of a way out faster. But I couldn't think. That frelling carrier was interfering with me as well. Not on the same level as it did with those who had been on board when this dren happened. But it prevented me from thinking clearly. So I lost him. And I don't even want to know what he is going through right now, Chiana."

Chiana held her hand tightly and cupped her other against her cheek, a sad expression etched into her face. "Perhaps it's like the Living Death," she said. "Perhaps he feels nothing anymore."

The thought had struck her before, briefly, but she could not allow herself to think of it that way. It would be ignoring the events she knew had taken place and she was not going to shirk the guilt on this one. Not now, not ever.