Disclaimer: Not mine. I'm just playing. I'll put'em back when I'm done.

Rating: PG

Synopsis: The future may seem bleak, but there are always escapes and second chances.

Sequel to Happy Endings Are For Fairytales

The expanse of space, dark and terrible like the fabric of hell itself, stretched out in all directions, dotted with pinpricks of light from more worlds than any one man could fathom in a lifetime. It had been a dream, a wish upon a thousand stars, a longing deep inside a treacherous heart, yet upon realization it had turned out to be more of a nightmare than a dream. It only proved that the human mind was capable of such betrayal, that it would refuse to accept reality for its cruel, old self and paint roses in bright colors on the bloodstained walls of a tortured mind.

A finger, sore with wear and tear, slipped in between the sore-infested skin and the collar that kept the body in check and the mind captive. It gave a little air and a tiny fraction of relief for as long as it lasted. Space was glimpsed through the heavy, transparent barrier of the lab, the material unreflecting. He could not see himself in the steel-glass. All he could see was space and all he felt was the sorrow of lost dreams and the dread of renewed acquaintance with the collar around his neck or the rippling energy of the chair.

He was a slave now, whipped into submission, tortured into betrayal of his own moral code, and all he could do was comply or die. He had long ago, in another lifetime it seemed, believe that he would rather die than submit. But the human will to live, the basic survival instinct, had seen him scurrying away from the idea in the end.

One hand supported him against the steel-glass in front of him, the knuckles cracked and dry, the skin pealing in places. He did nothing to maintain himself and the atmospheric scrubbers of the command carrier created air that was too dry for his skin. It sucked moisture out of him like the sun bled a jellyfish dry on land. At first he had thought it would be a means to an end. If he didn't replenish himself, didn't drink on a regular basis, he would die from dehydration. But dehydration, like starvation, hurt too much. And he'd had enough of pain to last him many lifetimes.

So all he did was dabble. He sat on the stool in front of the console and stared at equations that no longer mattered to him. He solved insignificant ones to keep himself alive, but left the bigger, harder ones to their own devices. He could solve them with the snap of a finger, could complete the equations and hand over the finished result in a heartbeat, but he wasn't about to. He could not, would not put the plans for a doomsday machine in the hands of the enemy, no matter what they did to him.

If they killed him, he would accept it gratefully. But they would not do that. They needed him and they would wait for him to finish. They threatened him on occasion, put him through the wringer, but they would not kill him. He felt demeaned, used, raped in body and mind.

No, this was not his dream. This was not what he had imagined space would be like. His mind had been overfed with images of benevolent, intelligent aliens that came to Earth in peace, offering cures for all sorts of ailments and teachings that would give mankind the chance to live in harmony. His senses had been bombarded with ideas of smooth-faced, grey-skinned little aliens with big black eyes and the ability to use their mind's capacity to the extreme. He had believed that they would be like that. Not the crude, power-hungry, murderous aliens he had met out here.

Granted, there were exceptions. Zhaan with her infinite wisdom. She'd had enough love to evoke a change in anyone. Chiana with her forgiving soul and sex-hungry nature. She would be able to create peace between nations merely by being who she was. D'Argo, who despite his wild nature was able to be a diplomat at critical times. Even Rygel had his moments. Pilot and Moya, so eager to serve, so much in love with each other. And then there was his corner stone, the corner of his existence, his life, his light, his heart and soul. The radiant Aeryn Sun.

Lids closed over tired eyes while what little moisture his body still had to give rose into his eyes. He could feel it seeping out between the rims and nestle in his lashes. He cried when he thought of her. Silent, private tears shed in the darkness of his cramped cell. He missed her so much, it was a physical pain. For the first part of his involuntary stay on this ship, he had hoped, even prayed, that she would come for him, that they all would, but after awhile it had become clear to him that it wouldn't happen.

He squeezed his lids together, forced a drop or two out into the open. They rolled down his face and got stuck in the day-old stubble on his cheeks. Was it day-old? He couldn't remember and it didn't matter either.

"Why are you not working?"

He kept his lids shut, his back to the lab, while he tried to ready himself for the expected onslaught. But he said nothing. He knew his captor felt extremely aggravated when he didn't reply, but his voice would betray his emotional state right now and he would rather suffer the pain of the collar than have Scorpius see his tears.

"How long must I wait for the full set of equations?"

The anger in the half-breed's voice was evident. His tone fell to a dark growl, the words more of a hiss than actually words, and John knew he was going to be in a world of hurt if he didn't find his voice fast.

It had been awhile since he'd been in the chair. Scorpius no longer used it to extract information from him. It had become a pure instrument of torture, one John feared more than anything. It was the humiliation in combination with the debilitating pain that got to him. His innermost thoughts and feelings laid bare to those around him. He knew they snorted with contempt and stifled laughter at what they thought were ridiculous dreams in a lesser species.

The chair had thwarted his one sole attempt to get out of the collar and off this hellhole of a ship. He hadn't thought about the chair, hadn't focused on that it could reveal his plans for escape, but then Scorpius had grabbed him at the wrong time and had punished him severely for even thinking about escape.

He hadn't thought about it since. Not for any longer stretch of time. It mostly hit him when the collar was activated, either because he had been clumsy and gotten too close to the door of the lab or his cell or when either Scorpius or Braca thought he'd dabbled for long enough.

"John, I am talking to you."

He demanded attention. Scorpius was always so demanding in everything he said and did. He wanted this, demanded that, would not stand for whatever. John was so tired of hearing the half-breed's voice, so tired of the torture, the forced work, the lack of hope. He opened his eyes and looked out at the black velvet carpet of space again with its infinite number of pinpricks of light and kept his thoughts to himself for a moment longer. Then he cleared his mind of them and pushed carefully away from the window. A good scrub over his face with both hands made the traces of tears invisible before he turned around.

"I demand an answer, John. I have been very lenient with you. It is time for you to do some serious work."

John knew what lay ahead, knew that he should not anger Scorpius more than he had already, but the brief flare of his rebellious spirit made him do stupid things. "Get stuffed," he advised the half-breed.

Naturally, his insolence could have only one result. The collar was activated instantaneously and not by any means of Scorpius' either. It was automatic. If he opposed orders, the collar was activated. The needles sank into his skin and made him flinch when they hit sore spots. Despite the knowledge that it would change nothing, he grabbed the collar with both hands and desperately tried to pull it away from his sore neck. But then the first surge hit him. It buckled his knees, sent him crashing down on them while his fingers ineffectively clawed at the collar.

He didn't scream. He was beyond that now. He had learned to endure this attack without vocalization. That did not mean that the pain it caused was any less. The electric charge combined with the pain-inducing drug rippled through him, stunting his breath while every synapse in his head began to fire and the pain center in his brain went into overdrive. His body convulsed as it had the past few times this had happened and he was completely beyond control for however long this attack lasted.

Then it was over again and he lay spent and twisted on the floor, barely able to move. The pain ebbed away, the drug was counteracted by an antidote, and he began to breathe again.

Scorpius shook his head, made a disapproving noise, and left the lab again. He knew full well that John could do nothing more for the rest of the day. The collar's attacks always left him in a severely depleted state and all the other times he had not been able to move for several hours after. But John knew something Scorpius didn't. It was something he hid from the chair as well, no matter how tired he was, no matter how much he wanted to give up. He wouldn't let this little titbit of information seep out.

He had found that the pain-inducing drug was what caused his inability to move afterwards. And he was slowly building up an immunity to it. Movement returned faster now and he was able to roll over and push himself up on his hands and knees sooner.

With an effort almost beyond him, he climbed back to his feet, arched his back painfully and relocated his left shoulder, which kept popping out of the socket when the convulsions hit. He eyed the door, glanced up at the hidden camera following his every move and then turned back to the window. The window didn't reflect him. It meant he could fiddle with the collar without being seen.

With his eyes on the stars and the tiny pin he had found on the floor previously locked tightly between nearly numb fingers, he dabbled around with the lock on the collar while his eyes roamed over the stars out there. No, he didn't think about escape any more. The thought never crossed his mind. But that didn't mean he had given up on his need to break the Peacekeeper's hold on him. One victory he had won already. Grayza, with her damned gland and smooth and superior manners, had given up on him. She had left him to Scorpius after he had let himself go. It seemed that the high and mighty Commandant had no inclination to seduce him when he smelled of days-old sweat and needed a shave badly.

By becoming a slob he had managed to pull out of her clutches and avoid further rapes of both body and mind by her. Now it was only Scorpius who did the raping and fortunately the sicko stuck to raping his mind. It was not exactly preferable, but still better. At least he didn't feel so utterly humiliated and dirty because he still had some control over what the chair showed. Some very small measure of control. And it was enough to make him go on.

He leaned forward and pressed his brow against the steel-glass wall, his eyes never leaving the stars. So much space out there, so little space in here. The command carrier with all its fifty thousand souls on board felt like a cramped little box he had been buried in. But he would fight the odds. He would get out of this self-induced funk and he would break the lid and claw his way to the surface. Because if there was one thing John Crichton still had to show this universe, it was that he never said die, never gave up and never stopped.

With the chill of space seeping into his skin, cooling his mind and numbing the pain he had endured, he smiled. Scorpius and his relentless torture - 'I don't torture people, John.' - had given him a valuable talent. Hope could be shut down for periods. So could glee. He was a worthless, hopeless husk of a man when his captor was around, able to see nothing but darkness, incapable of concentrating, of seeing any sense in what he did. But as soon as that half-Scarran's back was turned, John became a different man, more like his old self than he'd been in a long time.

Hope was the one thing he had left. Hope grew like a tiny white flower in the middle of an asphalt jungle, sprouting up through a crack in the protective layer around his innermost thoughts, the ones that Scorpius didn't know about, the ones he couldn't allow the half-breed to find. He knew his time was growing preciously short. He needed to get that damned collar off and leave the area. One more trip to the chair would undoubtably rip this knowledge from him, this little piece of hope that kept him afloat in this vile sea of desperation.

Some kind of momentum carried him backward in his mind, back to the first few monans of his forced stay here, the torture sessions which Scorpius insisted were not torture, the sickening smell of Hepple oil in his nose, the fluffy feeling of his mind being wrapped in cotton by the drug, only to be shredded moments later by the chair. He tried not to think of it on a day to day basis, tried to bury these memories as useless. But they came back to him nonetheless on an endless black wave of misery and disgust. His hope had died back then. It had crumbled under the crude construction worker's boot heel that was Scorpius.

It had taken all he had left to not just die right there and then, an action he later cursed to high heaven. If he had given up then, sunk into himself like he had wanted to, he would have been spared cycles of misery. But if that day had claimed his life, he would not have been privy to the truth.

After countless sessions in the chair, his mind shredded, his body ravaged, Scorpius had stopped one session short and had leaned in to look into his eyes. John had barely been able to focus then. The torture had taken its toll, had claimed his resistence to within an inch of his life, and that was the very moment that Scorpius had decided to confront him with the unthinkable.

He closed his eyes and took comfort in the unyielding surface he was pressing his head against. So much pain and suffering, so many sleepless nights with tears burning his eyes while the total and utter sense of helplessness and regret had crowded his shaky mind. He would pay him back. He would pay them all back for what they had done to him, to her.

Scorpius had, in a calm and quiet voice, informed him that the light of his life had been snuffed out, executed for treason against her own people. He was certain that the half-breed had relished in killing his hope, in depriving him of the last life-giving notion left in his tortured mind. And the half-Scarran had actually smiled a little when he had informed him that this meant the end of their bastard child as well.

Exhausted, in pain, completely and utterly spent, he had cried openly at that revelation. Scorpius had no reason to lie about it and so it had to be the truth. His heart had dropped and crumbled, leaving a hollow space in his chest and in front of his mind's eye, the delicate white flower in a sea of black asphalt had withered and died. His hope had been snuffed out along with her life, her's and the baby's, and all he could focus on was death. He wanted to die, wanted to join Aeryn wherever she had gone. There was nothing left to live for, nothing left to hope for.

Scorpius had left him alone with his grief for two days straight. Nobody had bothered him, nobody had tortured him, and he didn't need anyone to do either, because he was doing plenty of that himself. At first he had mourned her demise, had wallowed in self-pity over the loss he had endured. Then he had blamed himself. Eventually, he had nearly been consumed by self-loathing. The white flower of his hope, withered and dead, had mutated into an ugly, slimy snapping turtle of a carnivorous flower that swallowed all he held dear whole.

Somehow, he had survived. Countless force-feeding sessions in the med center of the mammoth vessel had probably had something to do with it. He had stopped eating, had stopped drinking, had stopped caring. And none of the people involved in sustaining him cared about him. Nobody offered any words of consolation. They stabilized him and sent him back into the lion's den. The lion then tore him apart and he was sent back to the med center to be patched up once more. This went on for a long time. He had lost track of time by then, didn't care any more if it was night or day, morning or evening. All he wanted to do was die and they wouldn't let him.

After a while, the torture became routine. He screamed in pain, he cursed them all for what they did, he stopped eating, they forced him to eat and so the cycle continued until Scorpius changed his strategy. He offered solace, absolution even, if John would comply, play ball, be a team player. The deal would have been sweet if it hadn't been offered on the backdrop of past events. He was offered a limited amount of freedom, access to the stargazer's deck at the very top of the carrier, quarters of his own with a soft bed, good food and women if he wanted them.

John had accepted. Not because he was going to play ball, but because he would take any respite he could get. For nearly half a cycle he managed to fool Scorpius. Harvey'd had a lot to do with it. Harvey kept him straight throughout it all. And all because the neural clone didn't want to die and he knew that John thought of nothing else.

The freedom was limited, but he had time to himself. The collar was placed around his neck then, about one and a half cycles after he had been caught. He spent nights on the stargazer's deck, but he wasn't watching the stars. He sat in the darkest corner and thought of nothing. His mind was blank, his feelings numb. He had to keep it that way or he would go crazy. At times he considered that the loss of his sanity would be a blessing rather than a curse. But he couldn't go crazy on command.

His shredded psyche healed, the memories of the chair grew distant, but he just kept on trudging through the day while he made half-hearted attempts to solve Scorpius' problem. He gave him little titbits, tiny advances with monans between and at first it was good enough for Scorpius. But slowly the half-Scarran grew impatient. He began to comment on it, started accusing John of stalling. John claimed that it took time, that he needed to unlock the data in his mind and that he couldn't do it on command. Scorpius backed off a little. But not for long. John had been on the command carrier for three cycles when the half-breed had finally had enough.

A brutal attack reminded him of how dangerous Scorpius could be when he lost his patience. However tolerant and civilized Scorpius usually was, that was how uncivilized and downright sadistic he was when his Scarran side took over. The attack had put John in the med center for close to three monans where the medics had struggled to keep him alive while they patched up dangerously deep lacerations.

John pensively scratched his chest. There was no sign of the lacerations now. They were good at their art, those Peacekeeper medics. But the memory remained, reminding him of how far he could go.

After he had been released from his long sick-leave, his privileges had not been withdrawn and he assumed that Scorpius was a little embarrassed over having lost his temper. One thing John had learned about the half-breed was that he hated to lose control. But the privileges didn't last long. Scorpius was still unhappy about his lack of progress and had finally decided to deprive him of what he called 'time-consuming antics'.

It was on that very day, more than a monan ago, that he had seen her. The guards had dragged him away from the stargazer's deck, shoved him forward, and he had by chance glanced down a corridor they passed. Although the sighting had been brief, all too brief, his heart had told him the truth. He had seen Aeryn, alive and well, and all the darkness had been swept from his mind for a moment.

He had been quick to subdue any thoughts of happiness, had shoved it all into that cramped little closet at the very back of his mind and had made a pact with himself never, under any circumstances, to reveal that he had seen her. And so far, he had been able to uphold that pact.

But he knew that he could not withstand the chair one more time. He had seen her and she danced in his mind every time Scorpius turned his back on him. The time would come when the images would flood to the forefront of his mind unbidden and if that happened while he was in the chair, he knew that Scorpius would do whatever he could to break his renewed spirit. He could not allow that to happen.

A tiny click made him smile out at the stars. Over the past four cycles, he had gone from terrified to devastated to numb to suicidal, all in tact with the loss of his hope. But flowers, especially the delicate, tiny ones, were a lot tougher to kill than they appeared. Somewhere in the blackness of his mind, on the tarmac of despair, a tiny white flower raised its head toward a single radiant and glittering beam of sunlight. Hope had been renewed, rejuvenated, and this time, he would do all he could to keep it alive and well. This time, no crude boot heel would come smashing down on that tiny spec of hope.


Part 3