Chapter 5

In her drugged state of mind, Aeryn was aware of only one thing. John was with her and that was all that mattered. She was not able to discern between fact and fantasy at this point and in this brief interlude where all her barriers had broken down, there had only ever been one of him and she loved him dearly. Something kept nagging at her, kept trying to break through the misty haze in her mind, but she wouldn't let it.

For the time being, she was reasonably happy and there were two distinct reasons for that. One, John was with her. Two, they had a child together. The thought of that child, which to her drugged mind looked absolutely wonderful, made her waver between feeling deliriously happy and incredibly sad.

"She's so tiny," she muttered against John's shoulder, wishing he would never let her go again.

"Yeah, I know. But she isn't very old yet," he agreed.

That made her smile. He always had an explanation. "She needs a name," she added and raised her head unsteadily. "What was your mother's name?"

"You're not going to name her right now, Aeryn. It can wait until tomorrow. Right now I just need to get you to bed," he replied, keeping his eyes on the road ahead.

"But I can't keep calling her child," she complained, not able to decipher his tone at all. "She needs a name."

"Tomorrow, Aeryn," he insisted while he crossed the square to the hotel. He shouldered the door open and stepped into the lobby. Without giving the receptionist a second glance, he walked briskly over to the levelriser. Aeryn gave the receptionist a wobbly glance and decided to close her eyes instead. She was feeling a little queasy and suddenly felt it was a good idea to get some sleep.

When she opened her eyes again, John had deposited her on the bed in their room and she wondered how he'd managed to get them there so quickly. She didn't object when he helped her out of her coat and she didn't mind when he pulled her boots off. "What was your mother's name?" she asked again, remembering clearly that he had avoided that question.

He paused in undoing the clips of her right boot, but didn't look up. "Leslie," he said after a moment and continued opening the clips until he could pull that boot off too.

"Les-lee?" she asked, nearly tasting the word, and smiled a little. "I like that."

He glanced up at her before rising again. "I'm happy you like it," he said. "Get under the covers. You need to sleep," he added.

"I'll call her Les-lee," she said. "Is it customary to name the child after the father's mother?" she asked, suddenly uncertain if that was the right course of action.

"I don't know. I guess so," he replied and pulled the covers over her.

Before he could get out of her reach, she grabbed his arm and pulled him closer. "Are you angry with me, John?" she asked, uncertain about why he was keeping his distance.

All he did was stare at her for a moment, a thoughtful look in his eyes, but then he squatted down next to the bed and took both her hands in his. "No, Aeryn, I'm not angry with you," he assured her. "You just don't know what you're doing right now and I don't want to get my ass kicked in the morning because you think I took advantage of the situation." He cupped one hand against her cheek and she thought she recognized the look in his eyes. "Now, get some rest, okay? You've had a tough night."

She sat up again, leaned forward and nearly fell into his arms when another wave of dizziness swept over her. "I would never think that," she slurred. "I know you would never do that."

Gently, he pushed her back down on the bed and rose at the same time. "Fine," he said. "Just lie back and close your eyes."

She curled up and tried to do as he said, but she didn't feel very good and was at the same time afraid of being alone. Something in the back of her head considered that notion ridiculous, but the majority of her consciousness remained unaffected by that voice of reason. "Don't leave me," she nearly whispered, one hand locked around his wrist in a death-defying grip.

He settled down on the edge of the bed and brushed his fingers through her hair. "Don't worry. I'll be right here," he said.

"No, stay with me. Here," she said, patting the bed next to her. "I don't want to be alone."

He hesitated for a microt, something uncertain in his eyes, but eventually he sighed and nodded. "Okay, fine. I just hope you remember this in the morning," he said, shrugged out of his coat, kicked his boots off and slipped into bed beside her.

With a contented smile, she curled up against him, more or less wrapping herself around him to be as close to him as she could get. The feel of his arm around her shoulders and his body this close to her made her relax and she felt the need to sleep creep up on her. No longer willing to fight it off, she closed her eyes and allowed herself to slip away.

***

Aeryn woke up with a feeling of belonging. It felt so right to be lying here, so close to him, that she didn't even allow herself to think further than that at first. All she could do to stop her mind from working was to soak up the sensation of his arm draped over her mid-section, his body spooned against hers, his slow and heavy breathing, the feel of his heartbeat against her back. Unwilling to let the moment go, she closed her eyes against the rising tears, against the heartbreak that wouldn't heal, the pain she had experienced. There had been so much pain and so little chance to get back on her feet again that she would not deny herself the temporary refuge of waking up in his arms.

She ached with longing for him, either version of him; in her mind they were still the same. Although this one was short a few memories, it wasn't anything he couldn't pick up along the way, was it?

The pain once again overwhelmed her, the fresh sensation of loss, of the dread she felt constantly of losing him again, and she pressed a balled fist against her lips to stop any outbreaks of her current emotions. How could two so versatile feelings exist in the same person? There was nothing in the galaxy she wanted more than just to remain where she was, in his arms, feeling him alive and breathing against her, yet at the same time it hurt so badly that all she wanted was to run away.

The rational part of her mind, the part still in Peacekeeper-mode, insisted that pushing him away was the only solution, that it wouldn't end well and that she should not get her hopes up for a happy ending. People like her didn't get happy endings. They got a short, harsh life of duty and then oblivion. What it came down to was that she didn't feel that she deserved to be happy. Happiness was fleeting, fickle and untamable. It would not be caught and pushed into a world of order. And her world craved order. There was no room for happiness there, no place for it. She had allowed herself to think that there might be a small spot where it could reside, where she could relish its presence. But she had found out the hard way that hers was not to be a happy life.

Instead of doing what her rational mind insisted she do, she edged closer to the warm body behind her and wove her fingers into his. He responded to her without waking up, hugged her tighter, his fingers curling around hers.

In the matter of microts she decided what she would do, what she should have done from the beginning. Whatever had brought this on, she made up her mind to take what little happiness she could get right now and then she could deal with the consequences later. It would be hard at first. She would have to deal with a lot of ingrown prejudice, a lot of feelings she had never experienced before, but she figured she could face it as long as he was there with her.

Her eyes tightly shut, she just lay there and sensed him with every fiber of her body, swearing that she would do anything in her power to keep him with her. This was dangerous ground for her, but she could not go on denying her true feelings. She needed him more than she would ever admit to herself.

Never before in her life had she allowed herself to stop and feel. Feelings had been of no consequence among the Peacekeepers and she had never been encouraged to feel. Except for Velorek, of course. He had encouraged her to become more than she was. And then John had turned up and turned her life inside out, upside down and completely around. Nothing had made sense, no one understood her, and nothing she had tried to do to change that had made any difference. So many things had been found and lost in such a short time and she had returned to her old ways to better handle the grief. But it hadn't helped. It hadn't made a frelling difference, because her feelings were open and raw and nothing she did could shut them down again.

First, there had been the loss of her life, such as it had been, a life she had liked because she had known none other. It hadn't been a bad life, but it had been limited and she knew she would never be able to go back.

Then there was the betrayal and death of Xhalax, the end of a life-long illusion about what her mother was like, the half-remembered memory of her turning up at a young Aeryn's bed, telling her the truth behind her conception, her existence. It had never really interfered with her life, but it had been a backup, a sensation she had used as a mental support whenever she needed it. The memory of that love, however imagined it had been, had also helped her through the tough spots. And it was another thing that was lost to her forever now.

And then there was John, the other John, the one that had died. When ever she thought of him, her insides cramped up. She had thought him strange and horribly weak when she had first met him. Contempt had slowly turned to a moderate sort of respect, because he seemed to be able to do things others couldn't. She had decided against being interested in this alien, but then he had gone and saved her life, put his own life and his sanity on the line for her, and that had changed everything. Something inside her had broken when she had realized the sacrifice he had made for her. It had nearly cost him his mind and she felt responsible. True, she had warned him about the dangers, had told him to leave it be, it would be crazy to proceed. But he had done it anyway, stubborn to the bone as he was.

Nobody had ever done anything like that for her. Nobody had ever cared enough. The part of her that had broken at that realization had turned out to be something she couldn't control any more. Her feelings for him had steadily grown, increased in strength, until she had been unable to stop herself from thinking of him most of the time. She had tried so hard to subdue those feelings, to convince herself that they would be ripped apart if she allowed herself to be weak and give in to those emotions. But he had continuously pushed her in that direction and she had eventually caved in.

And the price for that weakness had been bitter. She had lost him, had been forced to watch him die, and that was a feeling she never wanted to experience again. The pain was still red-hot inside her, heavy and suffocating whenever she allowed herself to think of it, to relive it. The sense of loss, of the all-consuming fear of loneliness, had nearly driven her mad, but in a sense she hadn't lost him after all, had she? He was still there with her, right now, holding her in his sleep.

She tightened her grip on his hand, her lips pressed together into a thin line, while she tried to understand what was happening to her. She realized how easy it would be to fall again, to give in to the weakness and allow herself to feel for him, but she wasn't so sure she could survive another broken heart.

She had pushed him away, tried to make him angry enough to leave, because she had realized that leaving him a second time was not in the cards. She couldn't do it, didn't have the stamina, the strength, or whatever the frell it was that drove her.

What she couldn't understand was his devotion to her. It didn't seem to matter what she did, he clung on to her like a burillnic with all its twenty arms. She couldn't shake him, couldn't make him angry enough to leave. Oh, sure, he got angry with her and he yelled at her, but he didn't leave. Giving him the silent treatment, as he called it, hadn't done anything either. It had hurt him, but he hadn't left. And she didn't understand why.

Why would he accept all this abuse without fighting back? Why wouldn't he leave? She squeezed her eyes shut again, trying to force that little voice that kept whispering the answers to her to shut up. She knew why he didn't leave and she knew why she couldn't leave any more. His blind belief in fate, his undying devotion to her, the fact that he was willing to stay with her and take care of her now that she had brought a child into this galaxy that he didn't consider his. All these things pointed in one direction and one only. And he had put it so well back on Moya, before she had forced herself away from him. He loved her beyond hope. And she had realized almost at once that she loved him the same way.

It was an all-consuming, all-out type of love and she wondered why she had to experience this kind as the first type of love she had ever come across. Why couldn't it have started smaller? Why did it have to be this huge thing that was consuming her?

Opening her eyes again, she tried to understand her own state of mind, but found it difficult to relate to the anguish mixed with contentment. Was it so wrong that she wanted a little happiness out of life? Well, yes, it was if it meant that whatever she loved had to suffer and die and that seemed to be the way things went for her.

Cold fear rose in her when she related those thoughts to the man sleeping behind her. Would she lose him too? Would he die in her arms like the other John had? She pressed her lips together with sheer desperation, edged out of his grip and pushed herself up in a sitting position before she dared to glance back at him, while tears welled silently over the rims of her eyelids and rolled down her face.

Only then did she realize that he was awake, had probably been awake the whole time. He propped himself up on one elbow, a frown furrowing his brow, his eyes dark with worry. "Aeryn?"

Shaking her head, she rose unsteadily to her feet, dizzy and sick and oh-so-lonely. How could she possibly explain to him what was going on in her mind? How could she make him understand how much it hurt just to look at him while she at the same time wanted nothing more than to hold him?

On shaky legs, she made her way over to the cleansing room and closed the door behind her before leaning heavily against the wall. How was she going to survive? To be away from him was agony, to be with him was more pain than she could stand. It made no sense and she feared that she was losing her mind.

***

"Oh man, I can't believe this," John grumbled and dropped back down on the bed. He closed his eyes and pressed both hands against his face with a groan of frustration. "Like hell is she gonna do this again," he muttered, brushed the fingers of both hands through his hair and sat up. "Aeryn," he called, turning his attention toward the closed door. "Aeryn, we should talk."

There was no reply. It was quiet as the grave behind the bathroom door and he couldn't help wondering what she was doing in there. "Aeryn, we need to talk," he insisted and got up. He eyed the door for a moment, and then walked over to it. "Come on, Aeryn. This has gone too far. You can't keep running away from this."

He braced himself against the doorframe with both hands, leaned forward and pressed his brow against the door. "Aeryn," he tried again. There was no sound from behind the door. He sighed, uncertain about what to do next. "What do I have to do to get you to talk to me, huh?" he asked quietly. "Come on, Aeryn. Don't do this," he begged, exasperation creeping into his tone.

The seconds ticked by and nothing happened. He didn't know how long he had been standing like this, but it had been awhile. "Aeryn," he tried again and pulled back a little. "Would you at least answer me?"

It earned him nothing and he started to feel a little uncertain about the whole thing. Had she collapsed in there? "Are you okay?" he asked. For a second, he thought he heard a shuffle inside. "You can't hide in there forever, you know. I'm not going away. I'm staying here until you come out again."

The door opened so abruptly that he took a hesitant step back. Aeryn stood there, her face pale, her breath shallow, while she stared at him. "I am not hiding," she said flatly.

He frowned at her, at the obvious switch in her state of mind, and leaned a little closer again, effectively blocking her way. "Well, what do you call it then?" he asked.

"I don't call it anything," she replied, her tone chilly.

"Well, I call it hiding," John countered and shifted a little when she glanced past him.

"Just leave me alone, John," she said. She sounded as tired as she looked.

"Like hell am I gonna leave you alone. What's going on, huh? Are we back to square one? You gonna start giving me the silent treatment again?" He was fed up and worried sick at the same time, and he had no idea how to interpret her changing moods right now. Was it hormones? The drug?

Her shoulders dropped a little and she closed her eyes for a brief moment. "Please, get out of my way."

"Nope," he disagreed. "Not until you tell me what the hell is going on."

"I don't want to talk about it. I just want you to leave me alone," she said. There was a definite change in her tone. She sounded more angry than tired now. This wasn't going in the right direction.

"I am not going to leave you alone, Aeryn," he insisted angrily. "Look, I don't get this constant mood-change you're going through. Is it because of the baby? The drugs? What? You wanna do this without me? Is that it?"

Her reply was to edge past him and walk over to where her boots were lying on the floor. She stooped over to pick them up and reached out to support herself against the wall. He barely prevented himself from rushing to her aide. Despite the way this was making her feel, he felt the strongest urge to coddle her and he knew she didn't like that.

"Okay, I guess I'm not the brightest star in the heavens," he said. "So cut it out in cardboard for me."

She straightened again and gave him a dark look. "Cardboard? What is cardboard?"

"Does it matter? Just spell it out for me. Make me understand. You're not talking to me, Aeryn, and for some odd reason I don't read minds. So I don't know what the hell is going on in that head of yours." He stopped himself from saying anything more before he had a chance to think it over because he saw the pain blossoming in her eyes again. He raised both hands, signaling defeat. "Just talk to me."

"About what?" she asked and sat down on the chair by the door to pull her boots on.

"Isn't that a little dense?" he asked sourly. "About us, about the damned baby, about whatever it is you're going through."

"And that should do what?" she asked, not looking at him. She was busy pulling her second boot on and tightening the straps on them both. When he didn't respond immediately, she looked up at him. "What the frell do you expect me to tell you? I can't help you."

"Help me?" he snorted. "You're not supposed to help me. I'm not the one in mourning here. Don't you think I know how much you're hurting, Aeryn?"

"No, I don't think you know how much I'm hurting, John," she replied and rose again, even though it was a little slow and unsteady. "Words have never healed any pain. So what good is talking going to do?"

"No physical pain, maybe," he agreed, knowing very well what she meant. "But talking about your fears, your mental pain, that usually helps." He eyed her, hoping somehow to get through to her, to make her understand what he was trying to do, but there was no change in her expression.

"I don't want to talk," she replied tiredly. "There's been too much frelling talk already and it hasn't done a thing."

When she moved toward the door, he rushed over to stop her from leaving by pushing it shut again when she tried to open it. "Where do you think you're going?" he asked tensely. He was tired of her running away from him whenever he wanted to talk.

"Let go of the door," she said without looking at him.

"No," he said stubbornly. "You can't keep running away, Aeryn. You have to talk about this some time. If you don't, it will eat you from the inside out."

She stared at the door, at his hand, and said nothing for a moment. Then she glanced at him, her eyes angry now. "Do not pretend to understand me, John," she said. "You never will."

"Oh, I do understand you all right," he replied. "I understand that you're in pain and I figure you don't know how to handle it, so you run away. But guess what, Aeryn. When you run, you take it with you. You can't shake pain by running away. It doesn't leave because you pretend it isn't there."

"So now you're an expert on emotions, John?" she asked, tense as a bow. "What does it take for you to understand that I do not want to talk about this. It will not accomplish anything. No amount of words will ..." she started, but trailed off again.

"... bring him back?" he asked. He pushed back a little, letting his hand drop to his side, and just stared at her for a second. Then he took a step backward. "It's like I said on Moya, isn't it? I'm so much better dead."

"Frell you, Crichton," she said, sounding tired and resigned and very sad. "You don't understand. You're not even pretending to understand. This is not about you. This is not about him. This is about who you both were before you were split in two. This is about his child, your child ... my child." She hauled in a shaky breath, visibly upset now. "This is about giving me time and space. And I need both. I cannot pretend he didn't die. I cannot go on living as if nothing had happened."

"I'm not expecting you to, Aeryn," he tried, a little taken aback by the mixture of helpless anger and bottomless pain he saw in her eyes.

"Yes, you are," she countered. "How the frell can you be jealous of a dead man? Especially when that man was you?"

Her wording made it hard for him to keep a straight face. This was surreal, insane, so totally out there that it gave the whole scene a dream-like quality and he briefly felt like Alice in Wonderland. He fought the urge to smile, to laugh even, well aware that it would compound this situation into something totally unmanageable. "He wasn't me. I'm me," he said, not finding it that hard to regain his composure. "I was on Moya, he was on Talyn. With you." He paused while he tried to untangle the threads in his mind, but found it impossible to get a grasp on how to feel. "Yeah, I'm jealous. I can't help it. It's just so damned upsetting to know how perfect you two were together and how little you're willing to try again." He knew he was getting loud, but he couldn't stop himself.

Aeryn stared at him with eyes full of pain which she was making no effort to hide. "I am not having this conversation," she said quietly, reached past him and pulled the door open.

"And you think running away will solve this?" he snapped, helpless to control his own anger, which was so plentifully fueled by his jealousy. It was hard to know this and be unable to do anything about it.

She lingered for a moment longer, maybe waiting for something she felt he should say, but then she shook her head, turned and strode out without another word.

For a long, breathless moment, John just stood there and stared at the door, wondering why he always had to put his foot in his mouth when it came to Aeryn.

***

Anger, Aeryn had realized, was an integral part of who she was these days. She had spent a lot of time being angry about any given thing at any given time ever since her prowler had been pulled along when Moya had starburst three cycles ago, and it had occurred to her that she had never felt this angry before. There had been disappointments while she had been a Peacekeeper, granted, but she had never felt angry. On the other hand, she had never felt real joy either, but she had learned how to feel. As much as John Crichton had taught her to love, he had also taught her the meaning of anger and, most prominently, the meaning of pain. But mostly, she felt angry.

She was angry with the other John for dying on her. She was angry because he had died for no apparent reason. She was angry with Crais for what he had done to her. It hadn't been so much Crichton's appearance in the middle of it all as it had been Crais' sentence over her. When she thought about it, she knew that it hadn't been John who had caused Crais to determine she was irreversibly contaminated.

More so, she was angry at this John for being so frelling jealous about her relationship with the other John. Couldn't he just give it up and let it go? And why couldn't she do the same? Why was it so hard to break away and start over somewhere else?

She slapped a flat hand against the door mechanism of the levelriser to close the doors. She did need time and space and if he would not give it to her freely, she would have to take it herself; even if it took her far away from him. Maybe she would be able to think more clearly when he was not polluting her every thought with his constant need to talk.

"Frell you, Crichton," she muttered halfheartedly. The fire of her anger still burned within her, ripping through her, but by the time the cabin reached the ground floor, it had all but burned out. Tired to the bone, she stumbled out into the lobby and came to a brief stop. Her eyes settled on a couch in the far corner and she made her way over there so she could sit down and regain her strength.

Frell him for being right about her strength, and frell him twice for being unable to see the truth behind her pain. How could she tell him how she really felt when all he could see was jealousy? He was jealous of his double, jealous of this 'dance' that he had missed. She could understand his reasoning to a certain extent, but she didn't understand why he kept it up. It had made more sense if the other version of him had still been around, but he wasn't. He was dead and gone.

With an anguished sigh, she settled down on the couch, covered her face with her hands and rested her elbows on her knees. They could work together, they could live together, but as long as he couldn't let it go, they couldn't exist together.

Fatigue took her over completely and she leaned back and closed her eyes. She just needed a few moments to gather her strength before she could leave. There was a tiny life form waiting for her in that med facility. This being, this child of hers, would not judge her.

Something made her jerk forward and blink at her surroundings, totally disoriented for a moment. The shadows on the floor had grown longer and changed direction and she realized that she had been asleep for a while. "Frell," she muttered and ran both hands over her hair, smoothing it back hard enough to pull it tautly against her scalp. She couldn't even leave the hotel room or reach the lobby without collapsing. That could not be good.

"You feeling better?"

That voice came out of nowhere and it made Aeryn raise her head and stare directly at the source, which turned out to be the pale-skinned receptionist. "What?" she asked, a little surprised. She hadn't given the girl behind the counter a thought as she had stumbled by and dropped down on the couch and she wondered briefly how long this girl had been watching her.

"I was just wondering," the receptionist said. "After last night and all," she added. "Besides, you were out for quite a while. I was beginning to worry."

"I'm fine," Aeryn told her, wishing she would just mind her own business. She wasn't interested in talking to strangers.

"Good. Cause the hunk in the leather pants looked really unraveled when he asked for the way to the med facility last night," the girl said.

Aeryn stared at her. "Unraveled?" she asked, ignoring the girl's apparent attraction to John. "What do you mean, he looked unraveled?"

The obvious signs of uncertainty, so often encountered in other races when they met Peacekeepers, started to show up. The girl pulled back a little, nervously rearranging things on top of the counter. "Well ... uh ... when he carried you down, you know. He was upset, looked afraid." A quick glance toward the levelrisers told the girl that John wasn't going to follow any time soon. "So, it's good you're feeling better and all," she added and quickly disappeared into the backroom behind the reception desk.

Aeryn sat there for a moment and stared ahead of herself while certain things clicked into place in her mind. John had been afraid? She hadn't really thought of that before, having been too engulfed in her own fears and traumas to deal with anything other than herself. She vaguely recalled the trip to the med facility the night before and John's behavior suddenly took on another meaning. He was more than worried about her and for some reason she couldn't really define, that changed things quite a bit. When he had taken her to the med facility, he had put himself in danger. It was much more likely that he would be recognized before she would and the med facility was staffed with Sebaceans.

"Frell," she muttered. Here he was, sticking his neck out to help her, and all she did was try and bite his head off every chance she got. And she had never stopped to think how this might affect him. No wonder he was frustrated and annoying the frell out of her with all his I'm-not-him-dren.

Slowly, she rose from her seat and took a moment to compose herself, to find her balance. Then she walked slowly back toward the levelriser while trying to work out how exactly to deal with this situation. Despite her fatigue and the fact that all she really wanted was to go back to sleep, she knew they had to hash this out right now or there truly would be no future for them. And the more she thought about it, the less she wanted that to happen.

***