D'Argo had woken up at almost the same time as John had gone outside, but he hadn't been aware enough to see any potential threat. Aeryn briefly informed all four of them of what had happened and that left D'Argo feeling a little uncomfortable.

"Frell it," he growled. "Why did you go outside anyway?" he asked, turning his question to John.

"Because I felt sick," John replied and rubbed the back of one hand over his clammy cold brow. "Actually, I still do," he added as if on second thought.

"Well, this only goes to prove that someone's out to get you," D'Argo told him needlessly. "I say we head back to Moya right now. The sooner we're off the frelling planet, the better."

"Oh, I agree. I did not see this one coming," John said and closed his eyes. The world around him had started seesawing and his head was starting to pound mercilessly again.

"Of course you didn't. You're still drunk," D'Argo claimed, not looking too steady himself. "Let's get out of here."

Jool whined about feeling ill while Chiana just leaned on D'Argo, looking more asleep than awake. John took a deep breath, then another, wishing desperately that he'd been more modest about his intake of the local beverages. He couldn't for the life of him figure out why he always had to overdo it when he finally got a chance to drink. 'That might be the answer, old boy,' he thought to himself. 'You're not used to it.'

"Are we about ready to get out of here?" Aeryn asked, gingerly avoiding putting too much weight on her ankle.

"Ready whenever you are," Rygel replied and purposefully bumped into John.

"Watch it, Buckwheat," he growled, really not feeling up to dealing with the insolent Dominar.

Aeryn eyed John for a moment, a little aggravated. "Are you going to make it or do we have to carry you?" she asked a little pointedly.

John met her eyes and made a face at her. "I'll be fine. Let's get out of here," he replied, turned and headed for the door.

Aeryn caught up with him despite her disability, grabbing his arm. "Oh no, you're not," she told him, pulling him back a step. "You nearly got your head blown off out there," she added when he gave her a strange look. "You're not taking point."

***

They gathered themselves together and left the nightclub with its still slumbering patrons to return to the transport pod waiting for them on the landing strips outside of town.

With D'Argo at the front and Aeryn taking up the rear, they moved as quickly as they could through the quiet morning, keeping an eye out for anything suspicious. There wasn't much going on at that hour, but that didn't set anyone's mind at ease. The bounty hunter had been a warning and Aeryn was certain there was more trouble ahead. If there were bounty hunters in the area, looking for John, she was certain that the Peacekeepers couldn't be far behind. She favored her foot as much as she could without losing ground, constantly keeping an eye on the rear of the group and on whatever might be going on behind them.

Her fears came true when they rounded another corner and ran into a small group of Peacekeepers, who quite obviously weren't on this world to have fun, considering the fact that they were heavily armed.

"There he is," one of them called out and they all raised their weapons at the same time.

D'Argo's response was as swift as Aeryn's. They both started firing angrily at the group, dispersing them and killing over half of them on the spot.

***

John stood a few steps behind Aeryn and D'Argo, watching the commotion with a sense of detachment, somehow incapable of responding in any way at first. Why was everybody suddenly out to get him again, he wondered, unable to act because of his present condition. He could barely remember his own name right then. All he wanted to do was lie down somewhere and sleep.

Next to him, Jool started screaming when the shooting started, and that sort of ripped him out of this mind-numbing inability to act. He felt compelled to shut her up because her high-pitched scream cut through his head like a hot knife through butter, so he grabbed her and clapped a hand over her mouth. "Shut up, Jool," he snapped and pulled her with him toward one side so they could avoid being hit in this random shootout.

***

Aeryn fired a few more shots and finally stopped, scanning the area with a dark look. Then she glanced back at the others. "Let's move," she snapped, urging them all along. They hurried their departure along the alleyways instead of taking the direct route, weaving through the town in a random pattern.

Aeryn led the way, her pulse pistol drawn, her attention undivided despite the fact that she too was experiencing a pretty bad hangover. The light bothered her eyes, but with her Peacekeeper upbringing backing her up, she valiantly ignored it as much as she ignored her still sore foot. She was limping slightly and she could sense the soreness with every step she took and figured she would need some more rest once they were back on Moya.

They made it back to the transport pod with no further incidents and were airborne in a matter of microts. Aeryn and D'Argo had taken over the controls since John didn't seem to be up to the challenge judging by the way he looked. From where she sat, she glanced back at the other four huddled up in the rear of the transport, and sighed.

"I hate close calls," John muttered and rubbed both palms over his face.

Aeryn eyed him for a microt, then glanced at Chiana, who sat next to him, leaning heavily against him, her head on his shoulder, her eyes closed. Jool sat on the other side of him, her hands clasped in her lap, her eyes on the floor. The only one seemingly unaffected by this whole mess was Rygel, who was once again in the process of devouring something. Aeryn made a face, angry over the outcome of this little endeavor of theirs. Why did it always have to go wrong? Why couldn't they just enjoy themselves for once without running into trouble subsequently? Was it too much to ask for a little peace? Aggravated, she returned her attention to the controls, barely preventing herself from yelling at someone. Anyone would do right around now, but John was the closest to being yelled at. Mainly because she thought he had really messed up by going outside alone in the first place.

In the wake of that thought followed another and she turned her attention back to the Hynerian. "Thanks for the warning, Rygel," she said after a moment.

The Hynerian Dominar made a dismissive gesture with one hand, for once having nothing to say. That was mainly because he had his mouth full and couldn't talk.

John raised his head and glanced from Rygel to Aeryn and back again. "What warning?" he asked.

Rygel sat up straighter on his sled. "I saved your life," he claimed after having swallowed whatever he was eating.

"You did not," John replied, his tone a little offended. "Aeryn did," he added.

Aeryn didn't bother to turn around, but merely smiled a little cynically. "In a sense he did," she agreed with Rygel, who gave John a triumphant smile. "He followed you outside. He saw the bounty hunter and came back inside to alert me. If he hadn't, you would have been dead now," she explained.

John stared at her back for a moment, then turned unbelieving eyes on the Dominar, who didn't seem to be paying attention to any of them. "Spanky, I didn't know you cared," John exclaimed with a tired grin.

"I don't," Rygel huffed. "You are as clumsy and untalented as a Sebacean. Worse, you're more stupid than they are. It was my royal duty to protect you. Nothing more, nothing less."

"Yeah, right," John replied and let his head drop back against the bulkhead with a sigh. "You care. Admit it."

"I do not," Rygel disagreed. "As it were, I couldn't care less."

"Thanks, Sparky," John said, sounding as tired as he looked.

Rygel huffed again, then muttered something that sounded very much like: You're welcome.

"In any event, it was pretty stupid of you to go outside like that," D'Argo inserted, his tone saying more about his state of mind than any expression could.

Aeryn glanced at him, hoping that she wouldn't have to break up a fight here, but John wisely kept his mouth shut for once. He merely grumbled something unintelligible under his breath and left it at that. Aeryn figured he was just feeling too lousy to pick a fight right now. Arching an eyebrow, she couldn't help thinking that it served him right.

***

Aboard Moya
Half a solarday later

Standing at one of the consoles in Command, Aeryn stared at the viewscreen, engrossed in thought. John was pretty upset about the whole incident on the recreational planet they had just left behind, which was a natural reaction of course. But she feared the outcome of all this. He was still talking to that frelling neural-clone and every time he did that, it freaked her out. She knew that his previous decent into madness had been caused by the chip and that said chip wasn't in his head any more and hence couldn't control him any more, but she still felt her stomach tighten into a ball every time she realized he was talking to Harvey. Was it a sign that he was cracking up? Would he go over the edge, become desperate enough to do something really stupid if the Peacekeepers caught him? She hoped not. The thought of losing him made her stomach cramp up. She didn't really think she could bear it. Survive it, yes, but not without losing all she had become.

"Hey, baby!" John turned up behind her, wrapped his arms around her and nuzzled the back of her neck. "What's up?"

With a sigh, she wrapped her arms over his and leaned back against him, briefly indulging herself in the thought that they would be all right for now. "Nothing, really. It's all quite out there," she replied. "How are you feeling?"

"Better," he said. "A little sleep always does wonders. We really do need to try and get a hold of more of those cleansing pills, though."

Patting his arm, she wished it would help against all his ailments. "Maybe we should avoid populated planets for a bit longer," she said, her eyes on the viewscreen again.

With his cheek pressed against the side of her head, he too stared at the viewscreen for a moment. "Might be a good idea. That last one was too close for comfort," he replied.

"My thoughts exactly. I wonder who sent them," she said with a dark look in her eyes. "They seem abnormally set on getting their hands on you."

"What can I say? I'm in demand out here," he replied, his voice dripping with sarcasm. "Looks like Scorpy really can't live without me," he added and shuddered involuntarily.

Aeryn felt the shudder running through him and briefly closed her eyes against the rising fear in her. When had she learned to need him so much that the mere thought of losing him hurt? "You can't be sure it's Scorpius. He has the chip and the technology. What more could he possibly want from you?"

"That's the same question I've been asking myself over and over again, baby, and I just don't know. But I know it's him. I can feel it," he replied, his arms tightening around her. "One thing's for certain, though. I'm not going back in that chair, no matter what."

"John," she tried, but he shushed her.

"Don't, Aeryn. We'll just make sure it doesn't get that far, okay?"

She wanted to believe it, wanted to just settle into the knowledge that things would be dealt with. She wasn't used to making decisions and it annoyed her beyond reason sometimes when others turned to her for advice. Life had been much easier as a Peacekeeper where everybody else had made decisions for her. But since joining the group on Moya, she had learned that it hadn't been good, it hadn't been living, only an existence for the benefit of others. John had shown her that there was more to life than just obeying orders blindly, without thinking, without consideration for the consequences. She still wasn't too sure it was a good thing to be this worried about others all the time, though.

***

The Gamak Base

Idly, Scorpius pushed the chip around on the surface of the table in his quarters, thinking hard about what he needed to do. The longer the human evaded them, the worse the situation became. "We must double our efforts," he muttered to himself, then pressed the com button. "Lt. Braca. Would you be so kind and come in here," he said.

Thoughts of insecurity were not usually something that occupied his mind, but lately, he had started to think more seriously about what would happen if he failed the Peacekeepers in gaining access to the wormhole technology. Admiral Turran, responsible for his power, would have his head if he failed. And if the Scarrans invaded Peacekeeper territories before he got all of the information, all would be lost. There really was nothing to discuss. They needed the remaining five percent of the wormhole technology decrypted and they needed Crichton to decipher it. They also needed him physically to determine why he had survived the trip through the wormhole when Sebaceans couldn't.

Microts later, the doors parted to admit his second in command. "Sir," Braca said, coming to a stop in front of the table.

"We must double our efforts in apprehending Crichton. Time grows shorter by the day. And remember to remind the troops that he must be taken alive. I will not tolerate any injury that might jeopardize our ability to utilize what he knows," Scorpius said, ever the soft-spoken gentleman, alas only if it suited him.

Braca nodded. "Right away, Sir. All troops have been equipped with the necessary weaponry for capture," he confirmed, turned around and strode out again.

"Indeed," Scorpius muttered and leaned back on his chair. "Once again, our paths shall cross, John," he whispered. "Only, I fear this time, it will be the last."

***

Aboard Moya

"I do not believe this. Why is he ..." John began, then stopped himself. There was no reason whatsoever to get upset about anything Rygel did. "Damn you, Spanky," he grumbled.

Pilot's image peered anxiously at him from the clamshell. "Shall I alert Officer Sun?" he asked.

John considered that for a second, but from the readouts on the planet below, it would be a very bad idea for Aeryn to go down there. Two words came to mind immediately when he looked at the temperature readings. Heat delirium. "No, let her sleep. She can't go down there anyway. It's too hot," he replied. Reminded of Rygel's involvement in helping him avoid capture on the recreational planet, he figured he owed him. "I'll go down and get him. What was he thinking anyway?"

"I do not know, Commander," Pilot replied, sounding a little worried. "Should you go alone at this point? Maybe I should alert Ka D'Argo," he then suggested.

"D'Argo's busy," John grumbled, reminded of the sounds he had heard coming from the Luxan's quarters as he had passed it earlier. "Besides, it's not like I'm going down there to stay, Pilot. I'll just go in, find Rygel and drag his sorry ass back up here. No sweat." John sighed. He didn't consider this to be a big thing, really. It just annoyed him that Rygel always went against the general consensus. They had decided not to visit any populated planets for awhile longer, a decision made to protect John as much as to protect the rest of them. Yet Rygel had taken the transport pod down to the surface of the planet they were in orbit around because he was out of whatever he felt he needed at the time. "Damn slug," John muttered as he hurried toward the landing bay. "I'm grabbing the prowler, Pilot. It's faster than my module and the pod. And keep this quiet, okay? No telling Aeryn anything until I'm back."

"Whatever you say, Commander," Pilot's voice replied. "Be careful."

John smiled a little at the concern he heard in Pilot's voice. "I will. Don't worry about me," he replied and settled himself in the prowler. "I'll be back within an arn. If I haven't found Rygel by then, I'll leave him to it," he added and closed the canopy.

***

Aeryn woke up with a start, finding herself alone in bed, and sat up. "John?" she called, blinking sleepily at her surroundings. His quarters this time. Why they didn't just shag up in one quarter was beyond her, but not really important either. "John?" she tried again with the same result. "Pilot?" she tried instead.

"Yes, Officer Sun?" came the reply immediately.

That made her arch an eyebrow. "That was fast," she muttered and slipped off the bed to pull her clothes back on. "Where's Crichton?" she wanted to know. That question was followed by a patch of silence. "Pilot?" she asked, wondering if maybe the coms were on the blink.

"Yes, Officer Sun, I heard you," Pilot replied, sounding a little hesitant.

"So, where is he?" she asked again, not really worried yet. "Is he tinkering with that module of his again?"

"Uh ... no. Commander Crichton is not onboard," Pilot said after a moment.

Aeryn froze. "What does that mean, he's not onboard?" she demanded, both concerned and annoyed now. "Where is he?" Again, nothing but silence answered her. "Pilot?" she demanded.

"Well ... Commander Crichton asked me not to ... alert you," Pilot tried, sounding a little bit sad about the whole thing. "His eminence has gone down to the surface to find some Hynerian creamsoap. He was gone before I could stop him. The commander has gone after him."

For what appeared to be the longest microt in her life, Aeryn didn't know what to do. She just stood there, her pants half on, one boot in one hand, and tried to think clearly. "What is he? Suicidal?" she finally asked. "Has he developed some mental instability I wasn't aware of over the past few arns?" Aggravated, she tapped her com pinned to her tank top. "Crichton," she demanded, hoping he wasn't too far away to hear her. All she got back was static. "John," she tried again. Nothing. "Frell it," she snapped. "Pilot, I'm going down after them," she announced.

"Uh ... that might not be so wise. The commander asked me not to involve you because the surface is too hot for you," Pilot replied.

Aeryn finished dressing in record time. "Well, then D'Argo will just have to go down after them," she replied while angrily pulling her second boot on. "D'Argo?" she called and was once again rewarded with nothing but silence. "Is everybody on this vessel deaf?" she snarled and stalked out of the room, down the hall and gave the door to D'Argo's quarters a powerful kick. "Wake up, Luxan," she yelled, not wanting to barge in on him and Chiana if they were in the middle of something. She just didn't need that right now.

"What is it?" D'Argo yelled back, sounding angry. "Have you ever heard of knocking?" he added as the door opened to reveal him already half dressed.

"You need to go down to the surface and get a hold of those two morons," Aeryn snarled.

That made D'Argo frown. "Which two are you talking about?" he wanted to know, not fully awake yet.

"John and Rygel. Rygel went down to get something, that little twit, and John followed him to bring him back," she summarized, then threw her hands in the air. "Why can't he just ask for help, huh? Why does he have to go and be the hero? What the frell is wrong with him?"

D'Argo listened to her tirade, still trying to comprehend what exactly was wrong with this scenario. "Uh ... Aeryn," he said and grabbed her shoulders, stopping her in mid-motion. "What exactly is the problem here?"

She stopped moving and gave him a look that indicated what she might think of his mental faculties at that moment. "The problem? How can you ask me that? What if there are Peacekeepers on the surface, D'Argo? Or have you forgotten the last little slipup we experienced? You know how intent they to get their hands on John," she explained, sounding as if she were talking to a slow-witted child.

For a moment, the Luxan just stared at her, torn between anger and resentment. "Oh, for ..." he started, then sighed heavily. "Frell them both," he then growled, realizing the potential for danger that John had put himself in by going after Rygel. "I am going to go down there and I will find them both. And when I do, I am going to give that human a piece of my mind," he rumbled, grabbed his Qualta blade and strode away with long, angry steps.

Aeryn just stood there, her hands on her hips, an angry look on her face. "So am I," she grumbled. "I will shoot him in the frelling knee if he tries something like this again."

***

Planetside

John had located Rygel and had almost bodily thrown him into the pod, cursing the whole time. "What were you thinking? We decided to stay on Moya and not visit any worlds for the time being," he snapped for the umpteenth time.

"You decided," Rygel replied, sounding annoyed by the treatment he was once again being subjected to. "I never decided any such thing. I need some Hynerian creamsoap."

"Soap?" John snapped, completely stunned for a second. "You went down here for soap? Are you out of your damned mind?" Throwing his hands in the air, he didn't know what else to say. Words had deserted him at that very moment.

"Yes, soap. I am a Dominar. I must stay clean," Rygel huffed, then gave the planet a nasty look. "Not that these savages would have anything as precious as Hynerian creamsoap," he added, turned his royal sled around and hovered further into the pod.

John clapped both hands over his face and emitted what could only be defined as a hysterical squeak. "He's driving me crazy," he hissed and brushed both hands through his hair. "Do you hear me, your royal slugness? You're driving me insane."

"Pfft," was all that Rygel had to say to that. "As if I give a garantha's brax about your mental stability, which by the way has been highly questionable ever since you arrived."

"Oh, I'm going to ..." John started, but was stopped short when a powerful hand closed around his throat, cutting off his air, while he was raised off his feet by a very angry looking Luxan.

"You are going to do nothing," D'Argo snarled, angrier than John had ever seen him before. "You are going back to the prowler and you are going back up to Moya right now," he added.

"D'Argo," John rasped, barely able to breathe, trying desperately to loosen the Luxan's grip on his throat. "You're suffocating me."

"I should break your frelling neck," D'Argo replied. "Why is it always you and that slug that get us into trouble?"

"I resent that," Rygel snorted from the inside of the pod.

"Shut up, Rygel," D'Argo snapped, then returned his attention to the struggling human. "What if there had been Peacekeepers here? They would have caught you. Hazmana only knows what they would have done to you this time around. They might have shot you on sight," he went on in an angry, lecturing tone of voice.

"Let ... go," John rasped, weakly hitting D'Argo's arm. "I ... can't ... breathe."

The Luxan suddenly became aware of what he was doing and quickly set John down. The minute he released his grip, John staggered a step backward and sat down hard on the ground, one hand covering his sore throat. He coughed, then gave the Luxan a nasty look. "You wanna do their job for them?" he rasped.

D'Argo reached a hand out to him and he took it reluctantly, allowing the Luxan to pull him back to his feet. "If you do this kind of thing again, I might be tempted to," D'Argo replied darkly. "Now, get back in the prowler and get back up to Moya. We're leaving orbit as soon as we're all back," he added, then turned his attention to the inside of the pod. "That goes for you too, Rygel," he called. He barely managed to step back before the hatch closed and the pod took off.

Clearing his throat, John tried to regain the breath that attack had stolen from him. "Next time, you could talk to me before you try to strangle me to death," he snarled.

"Next time I am going to strangle you to death," D'Argo threatened and pointed sternly at the prowler. "Go!"

***

Back onboard Moya

Aeryn was waiting for them when they returned and the first thing she did was give Rygel's sled a powerful kick, sending him careening through the landing bay. He barely managed to stop before he hit the wall.

"You Hynerian slug," she snapped. "When we agree to stay onboard, we all stay onboard."

"Savages. The whole lot of you," Rygel snorted and hurried out of the bay before she could pull her pulse pistol and shoot him. She looked about ready to do that.

Aeryn drew in a deep breath and turned back to face John, who was already showing signs of bruises on his neck. "And as for you," she started, her anger very apparent.

Holding up both hands, he took a cautious step back. "Wow, easy, baby. I was only going after Rygel," he tried to defend himself. "Besides, no harm done. There weren't any Peacekeepers on the surface."

Before he could stop her, she had closed the distance between them, had grabbed the front of his t-shirt with both hands and slammed him back against the pod, anger sparking in her eyes. "We are not only worried about the frelling Peacekeepers, now are we?" she snarled. "What about bounty hunters? Or other mercenaries out to collect the bounty on your head? Did you look out for them too?" Her anger cooled at the absolutely stunned and somewhat intimidated look he gave her. "Use the inside of your head on occasion, John, would you?" she demanded. She was still angry, but no longer felt homicidal. Taking another deep breath, she stepped back and let go of him, aware that he hadn't thought of that possibility. "We decided to stay on Moya for the next weekens and not visit any populated worlds. That is a sound idea. Why can't you abide by it? We're not doing it for fun, you know."

He straightened his t-shirt, torn between being offended and embarrassed. "I just figured I needed to get Rygel back onboard as soon as possible."

"He would have come back on his own, John," D'Argo said in passing, still fuming. "That world down there is no commerce planet. He would have figured it out on his own and come back. You didn't need to go after him. Why do you always have to be so frelling stupid?"

Aeryn shook her head a little sadly, then grabbed John's arm and hauled him with her out of the landing bay. "Pilot, seal the bay and don't open it again for at least one weeken. For any of us."

"As you wish," Pilot replied and the doors closed behind them.

"There. Now nobody goes flying anywhere until we're far away from this sector," she said.

"I think you're both going a little over the edge with this," John accused both her and D'Argo. "Nothing happened," he added and rubbed the side of his neck with one hand. "And you really gotta be more careful," he added to D'Argo.

The Luxan's eyes narrowed and John took a careful step back, not wanting another set of bruises. "Then stay on the frelling leviathan," D'Argo advised him in a dark tone of voice before he turned and strode away.

After D'Argo had stalked off, John let out a sigh and leaned back against the doors. "I can understand this if you got upset because we knew there were Peacekeepers and bounty hunters on the surface, Aeryn. But we don't. So I don't get it. Why so angry?"

She stood still for a moment, her eyes on nothing, her mind racing. Then she inhaled deeply and held her breath for a moment. "Because," she started, wondering if this would make any sense to him at all, "I don't want to lose you again." Turning around to face him, she couldn't quite determine if he was surprised, happy or sad about her words. He just stared at her.

"I'm not going anywhere," he claimed after a moment.

"Aren't you? If there had been bounty hunters down there, or Peacekeepers, and they had grabbed you, what would have happened? I don't have the impression that you're gonna go peacefully," she said, scrutinizing him for a microt.

"Hell no," he agreed. "But, then again, I have no intention of being grabbed. And it's not like we're in Peacekeeper territory or anything," he added, pushed away from the door and stepped up to her. Gently, he wrapped his hands around her face and kissed her brow. "I love you, okay?"

She closed her eyes, allowing herself the comfort of believing him for a microt, then she shook her head and took a step back. "If they really want to get a hold of you, John – and they do – you don't stand a chance."

"They won't get me. I'll be careful. I promise," he said and stepped closer again. "I'm sorry for worrying you. I won't do it again," he added quietly, gently caressing her cheek.

She eased into his touch, eased closer to him, while trying to focus past the point where she was willing to let it slide because she loved him. Reaching up, she took his hand and kissed the palm before meeting his eyes. "Swear," she told him.

"I swear," he replied and made a cross over his heart. "Cross my heart and hope to die," he added and slipped his arms around her again.

"That's a frelling weird saying," she told him with a smile.

"That's me in a nutshell," he told her. "Frelling weird."

***