Two and a half monans later

Pain. Fire licking at exposed skin. Screaming, inside and out. Constant and total agony. Scenes repeating over and over, madness lurking at the edge of oblivion. More pain, fire everywhere, sharp, digging pain, slow, lingering pain, pain in all shades and colors. Nothing but pain, mental and physical alike. Horrible visions, dark intentions, promises of an eternity of pain and suffering. Infernos and hellfire, brimstone and harsh laughter, hoarse and anguished screams, pleas for mercy where none can be found.

Flickering air, an end to the crescendo, brief and ringing silence, darkness, an end to pain.

Flickering darkness, then fire again, screaming, pain, agony, creatures that bend the mind.

Flickering again, more darkness, more silence, no pain.

Then back to fire, pain, horrible pain, intolerable pain.

He moved around the cell without purpose, lumbering, feet dragging, eyes white and silent, mouth ajar, teeth blackened, a stench from the grave rising from an unwashed body; unwashed for four cycles.

Aeryn sat on the floor across from the cell and watched him through the latticework. His movements were slow, uncontrolled, relaxed to the edge of bonelessness. His arms dangled, his head lolled unless he was being fed. He ate. He even drank. But all with the mental abandon of a thing without a mind, a creature without thought, a being without a self.

He lived and yet he didn't. The body was active, sustaining itself in the most basic of manners. But the eyes were empty, the mind gone.

How long could she let him go on like this? How long would he want to go on like this? Would he be freed from torment if she killed the body? Would there be an end to this if his body died?

She closed her eyes. Why was she thinking like this? This was the living death in reverse. He was there, yet not. The body moved, but the higher brain functions were gone. He did not even have the most basic of skills. All that mattered to this thing lumbering around inside that cell was one basic need. Feeding.

For two and a half monans she had kept him here, fed him every day, sat there and watched him for arns without end. And there was no improvement in sight. Yet she could not bring herself to end his life any more than she would put the muzzle of her pulse pistol against her daughter's head and pull the trigger.

D'Argo never came here. He couldn't stand the smell, he said, but Aeryn knew better. He couldn't stand seeing his friend like this. Granted, the smell had to be bad for D'Argo's sensitive nose. It offended all her senses and she had gotten used to it. But it still hurt somewhere that he would refuse to check on John.

Every time she approached the latticework, his lumbering gait became purposeful. He would move to the border between them, stick his hands out through the openings and try to reach her. She stood close enough for his fingertips to brush her face, but always far enough away so he couldn't grab her. At those times, he would salivate, dirty-brown liquid oozing from his mouth while white, dead orbs regarded her hungrily. If he got a hold of her, he would try and eat her.

Zitta had been down twice in the time he had been here, to look at him, to tell her something, but she never stayed long and she rushed away as fast as she could without seeming to hurry once her purpose was fulfilled.

Rygel had been by a few times, but had said nothing. He did not seem to have anything derisive to say about the creature they had all once known as John Cricthon.

Chiana stayed away, too. She had seen him once and she had cried openly at the sight. Aeryn didn't blame her. This was not John any more, hadn't been John in a long time.

Pilot had questioned the validity of keeping him alive. He had called it cruel. But Aeryn could not let go of him. She had done some calculations, had estimated that it would take up to four monans for the effects to wear off, so she was going to give him that time. But in truth, she knew she would give him all the time in the universe if that was what it took. She would tend to him and wait.

He ate anything she gave him. Mostly, she fed him food cubes. They had everything his body needed. And water. There was always water around too.

"Aeryn? "

She jerked at the crackle from her com, then tapped it lightly. "Yes, D'Argo?"

"We are going to have evening meal now. Will you join us? "

She sighed. "Yes, D'Argo. I'll be there in a few microts," she replied and got up.

The thing inside the cell noted her changed position and turned toward the bars.

"Don't bother," she told it. "I'm not coming over there anyway. If you had any sense left, you should know that by now."

It lumbered toward the barrier and stuck its arms through the openings, reaching for her.

Aeryn sighed. "I'll be back later," she promised and reached a hand out toward the reaching fingers. Fingertips bumped against fingertips and for a few microts, Aeryn felt the greatest need to grab that dirty hand in hers and beg him to come back to her. But no begging or threatening had any influence on what he had become.

"I'll be back," she repeated, let her hand drop and walked away.


D'Argo eyed Aeryn thoughtfully while she ate almost mechanically. Ayla was in bed already and Zitta was with her all the time now. Either her or Chiana. Sometimes D'Argo took the little one with him when he did repairs, but most of the time Ayla was with Zitta.

Now, Ayla's mother was a totally different case. Since her return from the ghost ship, she had not smiled once. She was tired from lack of sleep and too much worry, and yet she spent most of her waking arns down in the bowls of Moya together with that creature they had all once called John.

D'Argo could not get himself to call it that, for there was nothing left of John but a passing resemblance. So far, they had all kept quiet, had allowed her time to adjust to the fact that this thing down there would never turn back into the man she had lost. But D'Argo was running out of patience. He did not like seeing her like this, hopeful and despairing at the same time. It was time to end it.

"Aeryn," he said.

She blinked and turned bleary eyes toward him.

"When will this insanity stop?" he asked her. He knew that being gentle with her gave him nothing. She was not the type to break down and cry over harsh words. "Has it not occurred to you yet that ... that John is no more?"

She just stared at him, her expression a little dull. Then she sighed and returned her attention to her food cubes. "I don't care what you say, D'Argo," she said tiredly. "I will give him the time he needs to come back to us. And he will. Eventually."

"How do you know this?" D'Argo asked irritably. "You've had him down there, caged like the senseless animal that he now is, for what? Two monans? Three? How long are you going to go on like this? Your daughter hardly knows you any more."

"I will give him all the time he needs," she repeated indifferently.

"No, Aeryn. Enough is enough," D'Argo stated. "This has gone on long enough. You are worrying all of us. What if he gets out? Have you forgotten what he did to you? Do you want to subject your daughter to that danger?"

Aeryn turned now burning eyes on him. "Leave Ayla out of this," she growled. "And he won't get out. He does not have the sense to try anything like that. Not yet."

"And what if he does regain enough sense to try and break out?" D'Argo demanded.

Aeryn sighed again, shook her head lightly and continued to stare down at her plate. "Then he will no longer be a danger to us. Besides, John has no idea how to pry open a lock out here. Even when he gets his mind back, he won't know what to do."

"You are not thinking straight, Aeryn," he claimed.

Chiana put a hand on his arm. "Leave it be, D'Argo," she said, her dark eyes on Aeryn. "Just leave it be."

He glanced at her, then sighed with irritation and returned his attention to his meal. For a few microts, they all continued to eat in silence, but D'Argo had reached a point where he could no longer be silent about this. "Aeryn, for frell's sake," he snapped and returned his attention to her. "We all care about John and there's nothing any of us would rather see than him returned to full health, body and mind. But it is not happening. He has been down there for over two monans and there's no change. This is not a worthy existence for him. This is not what he would want."

"What the frell do you know about what he wants?" Aeryn snapped, suddenly angry. She rose abruptly, pushing the tray away from her as she did. "Stay out of this, D'Argo. The only way you will get to kill him is if you kill me first," she stated, turned and strode away.

D'Argo watched her go and then sighed. "Frell," he muttered.

"You should have left it alone," Chiana chided, not once taking her eyes off her food.

D'Argo didn't deign to answer that. He had his own thoughts on the matter and felt it best to keep them to himself right now.


She had gone to bed to sleep for a few arns, but woke up soon after, that dream still haunting her. She lay still for a while, one arm above her head, the other draped over her stomach, while she tried to determine what to do.

D'Argo had a point. She knew that. But it still did not make it possible for her to give up on John. Not yet. She made a silent vow that she would terminate him herself if he had not shown any signs of improvement after four monans. Only then would she be able to give up and give him the peace she was certain he needed.

With that on her mind, she finally managed to fall asleep again and dreamt oddly disconnected scenes which intermixed John as he had been and John as he was now. It was all jumbled and confused, but it was better than the nightmare.


Pain. More pain. Only pain. Always pain. Pain for as long as he could remember if he could remember at all. There was no conscious thought, nothing beyond the leering dead Comandant, her whip and the pain. Fire and pain. This was hell, pure and simple. Hell was nowhere specific and everywhere. Hell was where the sinners went, the ones that had done horrible things. And he had done those, so he deserved this. But he could not think. Pain.

And then suddenly darkness again. Suddenly everything went quiet and dark. He felt briefly physically exhausted.

And then he was back to being in pain, back to the inferno and the screams from thousands of tormented souls, pain, hatred, anger, fear. Screaming, his screams mingling with those of others nearby. Fire, choking hot air, ice cold at the core. He screamed and knew the screaming would never stop.

Aeryn stood still and watched him move. He moved slowly, step by step, one foot in front of the other, his feet barely raising from the floor as he shuffled on; the constant whoosh-whoosh of his feet dragging across the surface beneath him.

Then he suddenly stopped. His head came up and he stared ahead of himself. It was if he heard something and he was listening for it. Then his head lolled forward again, his chin hitting his chest, and he started moving again.

She had seen this happen a few times now. It was like the flow of information from his brain to his body was interrupted and everything just stopped. Maybe it was a sign? She hoped so desperately that it was, that he was beginning to come back. But D'Argo's words still rang in her ears and belittled any hope she had for improvement.

Who was she to decide that he should go on like this? Her hand slipped onto the butt of her pulse pistol and she considered drawing the weapon for a microt and doing what D'Argo thought she should have done long ago. 'Put him out of his misery, Aeryn. He would not have wanted to go on like this. Show him the mercy you would show one of your own people if they were befallen by the living death.'

Then her hand dropped away and she sighed heavily. 'Give him time,' she thought. 'He needs time. He's slow.' That thought made her smile a little, a weak representation of what she was capable of. Four monans. She would grant him four monans. If there was no improvement, she would consider D'Argo's solution.

"I will see you later," she said, well aware that when he heard her voice, he thought of food. He approached the bars as she turned around and left.


Another senseless discussion drove Aeryn away from the others once more. But this time D'Argo followed her. He was angry, had accused her of cruelty, had insisted she end this farce now, and Aeryn knew why he followed her when she headed back down to the cells on the lower levels.

"D'Argo, you have to give him time," she snapped, angry and afraid. If D'Argo really wanted to do this, he would do it and there was not much she could do to stop him short of killing him. "He needs time. He is slow," she added.

"You are not listening to what I'm saying, Aeryn," D'Argo growled. "This is cruel. You are cruel to him. This is no life for him. He will never return to normal. He is a ghost, a shadow of himself, and keeping him alive is cruel."

"He deserves a chance," she insisted and stopped an arm's length short of the latticework of the cell before turning back to face D'Argo. "We deserve a chance. John and I. He will come back."

D'Argo blustered, ready to let her have it with both barrels, but then stopped short, his gaze shifting from her to the cell beyond. "Where is he?" he asked and his temper briefly deflated.

Aeryn frowned, then turned around and scanned the cell, which presently appeared to be empty. This could not be right. "He was here an arn ago," she said, unwilling to believe that D'Argo's worst-case-scenario might have come true. She stepped up to the latticework and scanned the entire cell again. "He cannot have gotten out," she added.

"Well, he must have because he isn't here," D'Argo snarled. "I warned you this could happen, Aeryn. Are you comfortable knowing a creature like that is roaming around Moya free in search of a meal?"

"Shut the frell up," she countered angrily, her attention still on the cell. "He's still in there," she added.

"Oh? Well, has he now developed the ability to become invisible?" D'Argo asked cynically. "Because I don't frelling see him."

"I do," Aeryn replied, her tone quiet now. "Over there. In the corner," she added and pointed toward the corner furthest from the latticework. It was darker in that corner. Shadows were playing over the floor and walls there and that was why she hadn't seen him at first. But he was there, huddled into the corner, one arm draped over his head, knees pulled up to his chest, his brow pressed against the top of his knees. There was nothing left of the living dead he had been for the past two and a half monans.

"John," she whispered and started toward the door to the cell. But D'Argo stopped her by grabbing her arm.

"No, Aeryn," he said firmly. "It could be a trick." He glanced into the cell for a microt.

"He's not capable of that," she disagreed, but assumed that caution might be a good idea just the same.

Instead of going for the door, she circled around the latticework wall until she was as close to him as she could get and squatted down. Holding onto the bars, she eyed him for a long moment. "John," she repeated, a little louder. "Can you hear me?"

He didn't move, didn't even seem to breathe, and it worried her. She watched him intently, the biggest urge to just rush in there and wrap her arms around him growing inside her to incredible proportions. "John," she tried again, a little louder still. "D'Argo, he's not breathing," she finally said and rose. "I don't care if it's a trick. I need to make sure he's breathing," she added, strode back to the door and opened it before the Luxan could stop her.

D'Argo huffed with annoyance, but said nothing further. Aeryn slowed down once she was inside the cell. She hadn't dealt with a whole lot of catatonic people in her life and wasn't entirely sure what to expect other than the fact that he might get frightened by her presence. She didn't even think of what his response might be, only that she needed to be close to him, to know he was still alive. As long as he was still alive and responsive, there was still a chance that he would return to normal.

"John," she said quietly, hoping to alert him to her presence so he would not be startled when she touched him. He didn't respond, just sat curled up in that corner with his back halfway to the room. And she still could not see if he was breathing. "John," she repeated and crouched down when she had reached him.

For a long moment, she just watched him while she did her best to ignore the almost acidic stench rising from him. "John," she tried again, but still he didn't respond in any way.

Aeryn briefly glanced back at D'Argo who stood in the doorway, arms folded over his chest, while he watched her with a frown. She knew he didn't approve, but that was the last thing on her mind right then. Confident that he was watching her back just in case, she returned her attention to John. "I cannot pretend to know what you're feeling, John," she said quietly and tentatively reached a hand out toward him, "but I can assure you that whatever it is, I will be here for you."

Her fingers touched his shoulder, lightly, brushing over dirt-encrusted fabric until they reached the neckline, slipped over it and touched skin. What she had expected to happen was not something she had given much thought, but she had not expected this.

John stiffened under her touch and with something akin to a predatory snarl, he shifted around so fast it took her by surprise. His hands snapped around her neck before she could even think a clear thought, his weight driving her backwards. She lost her balance and landed on her back, his hands cutting off her air supply while what remained in her lungs was knocked out when he right knee came down on her mid-section.

It all happened so fast that Aeryn never had a chance to respond and a part of her cursed the fact that she had not kept up her defense training from all those cycles ago when she had still been a Peacekeeper.

Whether by chance or design, he had placed himself over her in such a manner that she could not get her knee up between them and push him away. Her vision started to waver and she could hear the blood rushing in her veins and not much else while she struggled desperately to remove his relentless hands. All she saw at this point was his face, twisted with equal amounts of fear and hatred, his blue eyes bloodshot.

Then he suddenly froze, his eyes widening a bit as his grip on her neck slackened. He toppled sideways off her and hit the floor, unconscious the microt D'Argo had tongued him.

Aeryn inhaled sharply, forcing air back into her starved lungs, while D'Argo grabbed her under the armpits, hoisted her up and dragged her quickly backwards out of the cell.

At first she was too weak to struggle, found only the strength to sit down hard on the floor and bring a hand up to cover one side of a badly bruised neck, while her eyes never left John.

D'Argo closed and sealed the cell. "Pilot, lock this cell and open it for no one," he demanded hoarsely, a sure sign that he was upset. Then he squatted down and placed a hand on Aeryn's shoulder.

"Yes, Ka D'Argo, " Pilot's voice sounded from the com pinned to his shirt front.

Aeryn glanced up at him, then licked her lips and closed her eyes. "You do not have to say anything," she said, warding off any unwanted tirades.

"And yet I do," he disagreed. "Are you all right?" he inquired.

"Yes, I'm fine," she said and hoped he would leave it at that. But she knew he wouldn't. D'Argo was not one to hold his tongue when he felt he needed to speak.

"Good. Maybe next time you will pay attention to what I say," he said and rose. "That creature in there is not John Crichton. He might have been him once, but there is nothing left but basic animal instincts. And I do not care how blue his eyes are or how good his color looks."

Aeryn climbed back to her feet and locked both hands around her aching neck. She heard his words, but her eyes and mind were on the unconscious male inside the cell.

"This is cruel, Aeryn. This is not what John would have wanted. His greatest fear has always been that he would hurt you again. And he just did. I do not for even one microt believe that this is what John would have wanted," D'Argo continued, his own attention on the inhabitant of the cell as well.

"D'Argo ..." she tried, but he cut her off.

"No," he said, raising a hand, palm out. "I do not want to hear it, Aeryn. You have given me every possible reason for keeping him alive. I do admit that he seems to have improved physically, but his brainpower is gone. Even I can see that." He grabbed her wrists and pulled her hands away from her neck. "You should led Zitta or Chiana tend to that before the bruises become too pronounced," he added, then cupped his hands against her cheeks and forced her to look at him. "Aeryn Sun, you are stubborn and your heart is in the right place. But there has to be an end to this at some point. This is not what John would have wanted and you know that."

Aeryn looked into his eyes, saw the sadness there, the unshed tears he held back for his friend's final demise, and felt her own eyes well up. But she would not shed those tears. Not now. Not yet. "All I know is what I see, D'Argo," she said quietly. "And what I see is John and he's coming back to us."

D'Argo sighed heavily and released her face to take a step back. "Stubborn to the bone," he confirmed. "This cannot go on forever, Aeryn. Soon, you have to make a decision about his future. And if you can not, then I will." With those words, he turned around and left, his shoulders squared in sadness and defeat.

Aeryn watched him go for a microt, then returned her attention to the prone figure inside the cell. She stepped forward and grabbed the bars of the latticework. What if D'Argo was right? What if this wasn't John any more? What if this was all he would ever be again? Wouldn't it be kinder to end his life than to let him go on like this? She closed her eyes briefly to fight the tears back. Now was not the time for rash decisions.


The few times that Moya was truly silent were hard to count, but they did happen. Aeryn sat on her bed, hands folded loosely in her lap, the skin of her neck stinging while the bruises swelled. She made no effort to do anything about them. Instead, she just sat there and stared ahead of herself and thought about what had happened and what might happen next.

So deeply was she engrossed in thought that she did not hear nor sense the approach of someone until a pudgy little hand slipped onto her knee. She focused downward and met the blue eyes of her daughter and she had to struggle briefly to maintain a reasonable grip on herself. Ayla's eyes were big and serious as she eyed Aeryn. Without a word, she stretched her arms out toward her mother and Aeryn grabbed her and pulled her onto her lap.

"What are you doing here?" she asked and smoothed a hand over the girl's hair. "I thought you were playing with Chiana and Zitta."

"Auntie Chi is sad," Ayla stated in her most serious tone. "And auntie Zitta is ... busy." The last part she said with a wrinkled brow and Aeryn knew she was struggling to describe what her astute little mind understood only too clearly. She was smart for her age, but did not yet have the vocabulary to express what went on behind her delicate brow.

"Why is auntie Chi sad?" Aeryn asked and slipped an arm around Ayla's back.

Ayla bit her lower lip in contemplation, then she glanced up at Aeryn. "I don't know," she confessed. The speculative look in her eyes was replaced by something Aeryn could only describe as mild shock as they widened a little and the pupils expanded. She'd caught sight of Aeryn's bruised neck and was obviously aware of what the marks meant. With a quiet hiss, she reached a hand up and touched one of the welts gingerly. "Ouch," she then muttered and met Aeryn's eyes. "Did the crea ... crea ... uh ... the bad thing down there do this?" she inquired seriously, her tone a little timid as she nodded toward the floor.

Aeryn had to stop herself from correcting her daughter harshly. She held her tongue for a moment to allow her temper to settle and then brushed her fingers gently over the girl's cheek. "He's not a creature, Ayla. He's a male," she said quietly. "And yes, he did this. But he couldn't help it. You see, he's sick and he doesn't know what he's doing right now. He didn't mean to hurt me. He just got scared."

"Like uncle D'Argo when he gets the hyerage?" Ayla asked, continuously mispronouncing words she didn't really understand the meaning of.

"Hyper-rage, Ayla," Aeryn corrected her, "and yes, it's something like that."

That left Ayla with something to ponder, because she remained silent for a while, a thoughtful expression on her face. Aeryn watched her and was once again reminded of how much this child looked like her father. Humans might be inferior to Sebaceans, but their genes were incredibly strong. And that strength inherent in this race was what she hoped would pull John through this ordeal. He might be worse for wear when all this was over, but she was hoping that he would be more or less himself again at some point in the near future.

"Maybe," Ayla said and pursed her lips briefly while she contemplated how to say what was on her mind. Then her eyes lit up and she smiled timidly. "Maybe he just needs someone to play with," she suggested. "Maybe he's just afraid and lonely down there all by himself."

As innocent as this suggestion was, it still struck terror into her mother's soul. Aeryn grabbed her upper arms a little more harshly than intended, causing Ayla to look both confused and intimidated at the same time. "No, Ayla," Aeryn said in her strictest tone. "You are not going down there. That area of Moya is off limits to you. Do you understand me?"

Ayla stared into her eyes, her expression timid and set at the same time. Then she nodded her head once, a brief little twitch. It was good enough for Aeryn. The girl had heard her, she had said her piece, and that should be all it took. With Ayla, it didn't always work though. But Aeryn was confident that she had lent her tone and her expression enough conviction so the girl would obey her orders.

She relaxed a little and pulled Ayla close, hugging her to her. "I just want you to be safe, Ayla," she said. "He's sick. He doesn't know what he's doing." Aeryn felt it was safer to explain things to Ayla, to include her in discussions. D'Argo kept insisting it was a bad idea, that children had no place in grown-up discussions. Aeryn didn't see it that way. How was the girl ever going to learn anything if she was kept out of everything?

As she sat there with her daughter on her lap and the subsiding fear of her getting hurt still tingling in the back of her mind, she reminiscent back to before Ayla had been born. Back to before she had been really consciously aware of how she should handle her grief over losing John.