John was asleep again after Sikozu had given him more of her tea. Aeryn, Chiana, D'Argo, Rygel and Sikozu had withdrawn to the center chamber to give him some time to rest and Aeryn knew what she should do. Well, there were many things she should do, but none of them appeared as important right now as the fact that she had suspected Sikozu all along for something she herself was causing.

From where she was sitting at the table, she had to turn her head to look at the Kalish. Sikozu sat aside from the others, nursing a cup of water, and Aeryn wondered why she made such an effort to seclude herself. "Sikozu," she said. The other female raised her head and looked over at her. Aeryn met her eyes for a moment and thought about all the things she felt she should say as well as the things she did not feel she needed to say. One thing was imperative, though. "I'm sorry."

Sikozu stared at her, unblinking, her whole demeanor that of someone who didn't understand. Then she arched a perfectly sculpted eyebrow, nodded once and returned to nursing her cup of water. There was no indication of whether or not she accepted the apology or if her nod had just been an acknowledgment of Aeryn's words without the acceptance behind it.

Aeryn sighed lightly. D'Argo, who sat across from her, gave her that look she knew so well, the 'don't bother about her, she's not worth it'-look, but she could not get herself to acknowledge the backup. The tracking device embedded somewhere in her body made her feel like a liability and her upbringing was hard to shed at times like these. Being a liability was not acceptable to Peacekeepers and if she had still been one and had realized something similar, only two options would have been open to her. She could have remained with the team and waited for one of them to shoot her or she could have left.

But an option like that – either option – was not going to work here and it was a bit confusing. Even after so many cycles away from the Peacekeepers, after so many things had dawned on her that she had actually always known somewhere deep down, she still found it hard to bypass her life-long training in times of stress. "Frell," she muttered, grabbed a piece of tella-fruit that Chiana had cut out for all of them, and bit into it. But not even the nourishing and sweet tella-fruit could take her mind off this predicament.

"You shouldn't worry, Aeryn. John is right. We will find a way to rid you of that device," D'Argo tried to reassure her.

Aeryn avoided his eyes. "I know," she said, but knew no such thing. What way was there? The only option, apart from removing it herself if she could only find the frelling thing, was to go back to the Uncharted Territories, find a medic or a diagnosian somewhere and have them remove it. That would cost credits they didn't have and, besides, the microt they reentered known space, Scorpius and his frelled entourage would be right back on their tracks.

Without a word of explanation, she rose and left the center chamber in a fast stride, hoping that none of the others would follow her and ask her awkward questions. She steered her steps toward the med-bay, where she was going to check if the device was as good at hiding as Pilot had suggested. If she even got an approximate idea of where it was, she would remove it herself. To Hezmana with the rest.

Once in the med-bay, she stripped down to her underwear, activated the automated cycle of the bio-scanner and slipped onto the examination table. She closed her eyes and tried not to hope for anything. What was it John had said once? Hope for the best, but expect the worst? That was good advice.

The scanner whirred as it slid by above her, once, twice, then a third time. Then it shut off again.

"It is not visible on the scan," a voice said.

Aeryn sat up and turned around to face Sikozu, who stood by the console and eyed the three-dimensional rendition of Aeryn's body. She was quite right. There was no trace of anything mechanical or electrical inside her. "Frell," she grumbled. "What are you doing here?" she then asked.

"I assumed that you might need some help," the Kalish replied without looking at her.

"Does that mean that you have accepted my apology?" Aeryn countered.

At that, Sikozu did glance at her, but only briefly. "Of course. Why should I not?" She then turned her attention fully to Aeryn. "Perhaps it would be wiser to go to Scarran space. There are many more that might help you there than in Peacekeeper-controlled space."

Aeryn eyed her while she started putting her clothes back on. "It would also be a convenient thing for you, wouldn't it? You could rejoin your resistence or whatever the frell it is you want to do."

"Yes, I could," Sikozu agreed. "My people are in jeopardy. Every solarday that goes by brings them closer to the brink of extinction."

"And what makes you think that Scarran space will be any safer for us to go to than the Uncharted Territories? The Scarrans and the Peacekeepers are at war, Sikozu." Aeryn knew she was preaching to the perverted. Sikozu did not care about the war between the Scarrans and the Peacekeepers. All she cared about was her kind. In the end, she might not have learned so much after all.

"Should I just turn my back on them, then? Become an outlaw and stay on Moya for the rest of my life?" Sikozu countered, her tone tense. "I cannot and I will not do that."

"Then what will you do? Facilitate peace between two races that have been at war for as long as anyone can remember?" She eyed the Kalish with growing concern. Maybe her sense that Sikozu had her own agenda was more right than she would like to know.

"If I can, then yes," Sikozu replied. "I had hoped to influence Scorpius enough to keep him away from a war with the Scarrans, but obviously my influence on him was far too weak." She paused with a look in her eyes that Aeryn had never thought she'd see there. It didn't last long, but long enough to make Aeryn reconsider her previous fear.

"Scorpius did not start this war," she tried.

"Oh yes, he did. That was his agenda all along; to incite a war with the Scarrans with Crichton's wormhole weapons in hand so he could wipe them out. It is all that he lives for, his hatred of the Scarrans. Nothing else is more important, nobody and nothing matters. Why else do you think he would put a tracking device in you? Or a neural-tracer chip in Crichton? Why else would he go to such extremes?" Sikozu shook her head and her tight curls bounced around her face. "Nothing else matters to him," she repeated sadly.

Aeryn stared at her with dawning realization. What she felt for John was what Sikozu felt for Scorpius. But Scorpius had turned out to be something other than what Sikozu had expected; not a like-minded soul who could teach her new and better ways, but a bloodthirsty, power hungry animal with no sense for anyone but its own agenda. "Scorpius has never cared about anyone but himself, Sikozu. I do not know what happened while he was here, on Moya, to convince you that you could ever win him for your cause, but know this. There is no Peacekeeper more dedicated than Scorpius and there is no one who hates the Scarrans more than he does." She paused, intending for the message she was trying to convey to sink in before she continued. "In part, I understand his reasoning. I understand the pain that must lie buried beneath the hatred. His can not have been an easy life in any way. But others have had harsh lives and have not turned into killers like him. He is flawed. No matter how much of a genius he is, he is still flawed."

Sikozu made a face, but then nodded. "I know," she said quietly. "And he is my biggest mistake." She looked up to face Aeryn again. "What I do not understand is why you will settle for something as flawed as Crichton obviously is. He does not appear to be able to take even a single step without getting in trouble or getting hurt. Why would you, a former Peacekeeper, find anything attractive in someone like him?"

Aeryn eyed her for a moment and could not stop a smile from spreading over her lips. "Because ... with all his flaws ... with his inability to fend for himself ... he is the most perfect being I have ever met."

The Kalish stared at her, obviously dumbfounded by such a peculiar statement. "Perfect?" she asked. "How can you find perfection in imperfection?"

"He teaches me better ways, Sikozu. He has taught me how to live. I never knew how to live before. I existed to serve. I had no ambition outside of my rank. My life was laid out for me by others and I had no say in it. Now I do. It may not be a protected life and it may not be regulated, but at least it's free." While she spoke, Aeryn realized that she had never consciously thought about these things before, but knew they were true.

"And how much longer do you think it will be free when either side wins the war?" Sikozu countered, her eyes wider than normal.

Aeryn pulled her boots on and fastened the straps, then straightened and met Sikozu's gaze dead on. "I don't care which side wins. It doesn't matter. I can never go back to being what I was and I don't want to. Peacekeepers are not superior. Scarrans are not superior. They are flawed beings with flawed logic. Neither should rule this galaxy because neither knows how. A ruler should rule by example and they don't. Hynerians are better equipped to rule this galaxy. Frell, even Luxans are better equipped for it. But not the Peacekeepers and not the Scarrans." She grabbed her vest, shrugged into it and pulled the zipper up. "Come to think of it, a reluctant ruler is probably the best choice. Someone like John. His sense of moral, of ... fairness would make him a better ruler than anyone else."

"Then why don't you try to convince him that he should use his frelling wormhole technology to rule the galaxy?" Sikozu asked, her tone a tad sour.

"Because he doesn't have it any more. Besides, it wouldn't be in tune with who he is. John would never be comfortable with keeping others at bay through threats of mass destruction." She paused and stared ahead for herself for a moment. Then she sighed, shook her head and buckled her gun-belt around her waist. "In the end, all we want is peace. All of us. If I can't get this frelling tracer removed, it might be best if we stayed out here. Scorpius apparently can't follow us out here and in time I'm certain we can find a world that has something we can eat."

The Kalish shook her head in disbelief. "How the frell did you become so optimistic all of a sudden?" she asked. "With all that has happened?"

"I have spent almost a cycle in deepfreeze. I have lost a cycle of my life and John has grown a cycle older. We're closer to each other now than we ever have been before," Aeryn countered and had no real explanation for where all this dren came from. It sounded much like something John would say. "The truth is, Sikozu, I can no more live without John than I can live without air. I would kill, steal and borrow to never lose him again. I may be wrong, but I think he feels the same way about me."

Her words had an effect on Sikozu. She blinked rapidly and looked away. "My people are suffering. I have no other option than to play the cards I've been dealt." She paused briefly, then returned her attention to Aeryn. "I'm happy for you, Aeryn. I wish I could have what you have. But there are other priorities in my life." That said, she turned around and walked away.

Aeryn watched her go with her arms folded over her chest. "Priorities change, Sikozu," she said quietly. "They always change when you least expect it."

***

A few solardays later

John was definitely feeling better. Although his head was still a little sore and his equilibrium was still a bit off center, he got around on his own and didn't need to take anything for the remaining soreness. That he did continue to drink Sikozu's tea had other reasons. He didn't really need it. He did it to let her know that he trusted her. But, as usual, Sputnik missed the finer points in life.

With a halfhearted grin, John sipped the tea and then frowned at the cup. It didn't taste half bad, even though it did look like sewage. On the other hand, so did coffee, but he had still had enough of that to last a couple of lifetimes while he had been on Earth.

With a light sigh, he eyed the tella-fruit Chiana kept supplying him with and wondered if this was all they had left to eat. "I sure hope not," he muttered and picked a piece of the fruit up. It looked a bit like peach, but was blue. "However much I like peach, I wouldn't want to eat it every day for the rest of my life."

"Then have something else."

He turned halfway and gave Aeryn a grin. "What else do we have?"

"I don't know. Check the refrigeration unit," she countered and grabbed a plate and a cup.

John's grin faded. "What's wrong with you?"

Aeryn scowled. "Does something have to be wrong with me every frelling time I'm not chipper?" she growled and poured herself some water.

"Uh ... no," he tried. She had obviously gotten up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. "So, what's bothering you then?"

She sighed, pulled the refrigeration unit open and eyed its contents. "Nothing," she stated after a moment, grabbed something, kicked the unit shut again and dropped down on the bench across from him.

For a moment, all John could do was watch her. Then he almost felt like slapping himself. "Oh ... the tracer," he said and made a face. "Aeryn, I'm sure we'll find a way to get rid of it."

"So everybody says all the time," she agreed and sank her teeth into what looked like cold chicken. She chewed thoughtfully for a moment, then finally met his gaze. "The problem is, John, we can't remove it because we don't know where it is. Which means we have to go back to where we came from, locate someone who can remove this frelling device, and then somehow convince them to help us because we don't frelling have the credits to pay for that sort of treatment." She stared at him, her eyes hard. "How long do you think it will take Scorpius to pick up our trail again once we've re-entered the Uncharted Territories?"

Her words made sense, but John wasn't interested in the aspect of 'giving up' right now. He frowned, then glanced up at the clamshell. "Pilot, dude, are you listening?" he called.

Aeryn frowned back at him and glanced up at the clamshell as well when Pilot's image appeared.

"Yes, Commander," Pilot confirmed.

"When and if we decided to go home again, can you estimate where we'll pop up in the UTs?" John asked.

Aeryn's frown deepened and John almost smiled. His previous depression and wish to remove himself as a liability had been wiped away when it had turned out that Aeryn was the one who was chipped now. He knew that it on some level was stupid, but it had improved his mood. He was finally in a position where he could be the one to help her instead of the other way around. In the end, it all came down to the fact that he felt more manly for being able to play the hero.

"I believe so, Commander. Why?" Pilot countered. He sounded as confused by John's question as Aeryn obviously was.

"Do you have any coordinates on potential medical facilities in the vicinity of the spot where we left from?" John asked.

The look in Aeryn's eyes changed. She was catching on to what he had in mind. John winked at her and finally did allow the grin to spread over his lips. Aeryn's eyes narrowed.

"Yes, I do," Pilot confirmed. He was obviously also catching on. "There is such a facility within a day's travel from where we left."

"I suggest we try them," John said. "We can go in, have the tracer removed and be out again before Scorpy catches on to what we're up to."

"No," Aeryn said, shaking her head without taking her eyes off him. "It's too dangerous. There's too big a margin for fault."

"Nah, not if we do it the Butch-and-Sundance-way," he said, not willing to let her thwart his effort to be the one with the good idea for once. "Do you have any better ideas?"

"Your plans are always frelled, John. For all we know, Scorpius would anticipate that move and will be waiting for us when we arrive," she countered.

John shook his head with a smirk. "He won't see this one coming and I feel like kicking some ass. So it's now or never," he said and rose. "Pilot, would you do the honors? And keep an eye out for that big bad command carrier."

"Yes, Commander," Pilot replied without hesitation. "Shall I inform the others of your idea?"

"Yeah, why not," John said and stepped over the bench. Just the thought of having something to do made him feel so much better than he had in ages. Concerns were wiped away, worries subdued, and the lingering soreness was but a memory when the mind was occupied with new possibilities. "You'll see, Aeryn. We'll get it right this time. I just know we will," he said and left the center chamber to go to Command to keep an eye on things.

***

Aeryn watched him go, so stunned she had no idea how to respond at first. John had had frelled ideas before, but this really had to be the worst so far. How the frell was he going to pull this off?

Shaking the temporary immobility that had overcome her, she rose from her seat, her meal all but forgotten. "You're not a frelling Peacekeeper, John," she yelled after him, stepped over the bench and hurried to catch up to him. "John, did you hear me?" she snapped when she finally reached him.

"I heard you," he countered indifferently and kept on walking. "It's about time we take matters into our own hands and staying out here is the same as starving to death. You know that. Since there's no chance in Hezmana that we'll leave you behind, we've got to come up with another option. And this is it unless you or any of the others come up with something a little more bullet proof."

"Than what? John, for the love of Cholok, what the frell are you trying to prove? That you're a male? That you're in control?" She lashed out and grabbed his arm, dragging him to a stop. "You've got nothing to prove, John," she tried.

He turned back to face her, his expression unreadable for a moment. "Look, Aeryn, I've been sitting on my ass for the better part of forever here, doing nada, nothing, zip, zero. I've been a liability to you guys from day one. Or at least ever since Scorpy realized I was interesting enough to chase all over the damned galaxy," he said, his tone tense. "But even before that I wasn't exactly safe to be around, considering that Crais was just about as gun-happy about getting to me as Scorpy was. And for both of them it was a matter of revenge. Crais' was a bit more personal than Scorpy's because it was aimed at me directly. Scorpy just wanted to pick my brain to kill a couple of million Scarrans. I'm rid of the hardware, I'm rid of the injuries, and I've come to the conclusion that I'm not going to let you go through the same shit I've had to go through for the better part of ... however long I've been out here now." He grabbed her shoulders. "I love you too damned much to let that happen to you. Sure, the tracking device isn't going to take control of you and make you do stuff you wouldn't otherwise, but I'm not going to damned well abandon you out here either just because you've got a piece of hardware stuck in you somewhere that Scorpy put there. That damned half-breed isn't going to cause any more trouble for us. And if that means I'm going to have to go into that medical facility with guns blazing, then I will."

Aeryn blinked rapidly a few times, then wrapped her hands around his face. "John, this isn't the way to do it. We'll locate it somehow and remove it ourselves. It's much safer that way. Then we can return to the Uncharted Territories unnoticed and ..."

"No," he interrupted her. "No more sneaking around. No more hiding in the shadows. I've had enough of this running away crap. We're gonna make a stand. If we go down, at least we go down fighting. I'm tired of all of this. My life hasn't been my own for ages and my stamina and faith in my own abilities has been close to zero. I'm back on top now and I'm not going to sit by and watch you struggle with whether or not you're going to leave us behind to protect us, Aeryn. I lost you once and it nearly killed me. There is no way in hell that I'm losing you again."

Unaware at first that she was doing it, she took a step back. Something about him had changed and it made her feel cold with fear, yet exhilarated as well. Looking into his eyes now, she saw John, the one she remembered, the one she had loved so fiercely it had nearly torn her heart out when he had died on her. Suddenly the line between the two – the line she had forced her mind to blur – had become blurred for real. It was like watching a union of the two souls. The fire was back in his eyes.

Her response to him at this point didn't go unnoticed, though. He frowned. "What's wrong?" he asked.

Aeryn let her gaze roam over his face and it locked briefly on the scar above his brow. Then it slid back to his eyes, to the fierceness shining in them. But no, how could it be? Things like that didn't happen. This had been John all along. He had just forgotten his spirit for awhile. "Nothing," she finally said and smiled vaguely. "I'm just worried."

That made him grin. "Well, worry no more, fair lady. This time, we'll be victorious," he said with mocking drama in his voice. "It'll be just like Dam-Ba-Da," he added, turned around and walked on.

Aeryn just stood there and watched him go. Perhaps it was possible? Perhaps all the dren he had been through lately had somehow merged the souls? She almost laughed out loud at that thought. "Who am I? Zhaan?" she muttered. "I don't believe in dren like that," she added sternly to herself and followed John to Command.

***

John stood in Command, hands bracing him against the console, his eyes on the forward viewscreen, and he could honestly say that he had never felt better. Physically at least. Mentally was a different story. He didn't exactly feel bad, but he was a bit confused at the moment. His need to act, to do something about Aeryn's predicament, had risen in him like a tidal wave on the heels of the memory of how she had responded to her mother's presumed death. The presumed death that Crais had caused. There was just a problem with that memory. It wasn't his. He hadn't been there when Crais had claimed to have killed Xhalax Sun.

He pursed his lips and squinted at the viewscreen. How the hell could he remember things that had happened to someone else? Briefly, he closed his eyes, then exhaled sharply.

"Commander?" Pilot sounded concerned. "Are you well?"

"Yeah, Pilot," he replied and smiled. "I'm fine." Was he? In a sense, he supposed he could claim to be okay. But was he really? "How are the calculations coming along?"

"I have finished them. Now it is just a matter of initiating prolonged starburst to get there. Are you certain you want to risk this trip?" Pilot's tone made John glance over at the clamshell.

"What are you saying, Pilot?" he asked, trying not to lend is tone an edge.

Pilot eyed him for a moment, then let out a slow sigh. "Nothing, Commander," he said.

John frowned and turned around to face the clamshell properly. "No, let's have it. If you or Moya have second thoughts about this, I wanna know. I don't want to be told later that nobody wanted to go along with this plan."

"Both Moya and I want to help Aeryn," Pilot said, his tone sedate. "But your plans have been known to go awry from time to time," he added and looked up to meet John's gaze.

John grinned. He couldn't help it. Leave it to Pilot to point out the obvious. "I'll tell you what, Pilot," he said and leaned one hip against the console. "If that big bad command carrier turns up and scares either of you, you're free to take a hike while we try to fix Aeryn's little problem. Play hide and go seek if you need to. There's no sense in either of you getting caught in the middle here."

In part he was being sarcastic, but in general he meant every word he said. There was no sense in jeopardizing everybody. Pilot eyed him for a moment, then sighed. "Thank you, Commander," he replied and quite obviously took John's words in the spirit they were meant.

"No, thank you," John countered with a less sarcastic smile. "You and Moya have both risked your hides for us more times than anyone could ask or expect. If you feel threatened, you hightail it out of there as fast as you can. I do not want to be responsible for the two of you getting caught."

Pilot nodded once and his image flickered off again.

John just stood there and stared at the empty clamshell, well aware that his need to kick ass was linked to this peculiar double-existence that was taking place in his head now. It wasn't like having Harvey back. It was like having lived two lives simultaneously; and in a sense that was just what it was, wasn't it? The split, the twinning, had disrupted his soul. Whatever had happened lately, something had caused this disruption to be reversed. Only problem was that things weren't as easily meshed as they should have been. He had overlapping memories now, stuff he knew he couldn't have done but still saw himself doing.

But one of those memories put a smoldering smile on his lips. He closed his eyes and allowed himself to swim in that memory for a moment, to experience as if it was his own. And it felt like his own. "Gawd, what I wouldn't do for a bit of drexim right now," he muttered and smirked.

Then he shook himself out of that memory and wondered briefly if the merging of the two halves of his soul made him younger or older. "You're tripping, John," he muttered to himself and returned his attention to the console.

Moments later, footsteps announced the arrival of his shipmates. He didn't bother turning back to face them, merely eyed the readouts and wondered if life would ever be easy.

"John, what the frell are you up to?" D'Argo sounded partly concerned and partly intrigued as he came to a stop beside John.

"Yeah, Pilot was going on about some dren," Chiana chittered like a nervous bird and hauled herself up on the edge of the console on John's other side.

"We're going back to the UTs, guys," John said without looking at them. "It's going to be a hit-and-run kind of thing. We go in, we bully some medics into removing that device from Aeryn, and we leave again. If anybody makes a fuss, we get nasty. The faster we do this, the better."

Chiana let out a half-chuckle, her dark eyes wide and fully of glee. "You're tinked, Crichton," she stated. "Your plans never work."

"That's why I suggest that you guys remain here on Moya. Moya and Pilot will hightail it out of there if there's even an indication of a command carrier in the area. I'll take Aeryn down to the surface and I'll stick with her until that thing is removed," John countered and glanced at her. There was definite respect in her expression and it made him smile.

"Why the change in attitude?" D'Argo asked. John turned his attention to the Luxan. "A few days ago you were almost ready to give it all up."

"Yeah, well, buddy, things change. I got wacked on the head and apparently it shook a few things back into place. So this is where we're at right now. We're going to go in shooting if need be. I'll force them to fix Aeryn's problem at gun-point if I have to and I will damned well blow up anybody who gets in my way."

D'Argo eyed him and it would seem that the concern had won for now, because he didn't look happy. "Even if that someone is Scorpius?" he asked quietly.

John stood still for a moment, his eyes on nothing, but then he glanced at the Luxan and smirked. "Especially Scorpy," he agreed. "The brakes are off, D. I'm in control of myself again. No wraith spooking around my head to put spokes in my wheel. If that ugly son-of-a-bitch gets in my way, I'm going to put a fist-sized hole in his head."

It was no surprise, really, that D'Argo looked unconvinced, but John felt it in his heart that he had it in him now. He had killed and now that Harvey was gone, the neural bleed had been cleaned up and all the hardware was out of his head, he felt certain that he could shoot that ugly SOB if he had to.

"And what if you can't? What if you freeze again if you come up against him?" D'Argo asked and put a hand on John's shoulder.

John grinned tightly. "This time around, I won't," he said. "And if I do, then it was never Harvey doing the deed to begin with."

"You see, John, it's the 'if' that worries me," D'Argo said quietly. "There is too much margin for mistakes in this equation – as always. And that is why I cannot let you go alone. Aeryn will be incapacitated for the duration of the operation. And if you stall, there's nothing between you and Scorpius. I'm coming and that's final."

Despite his conviction that he was completely in control of himself again, John had to admit – to himself – that it took a weight off his shoulders to hear D'Argo say this. "Promise me one thing, though," he countered and reached up to grab D'Argo's hand.

"Anything, my friend," D'Argo said.

"If – and it's a pretty big if – we do come up against that freak and I stall ... promise me that you'll take him out. Don't let him get away." His voice had dropped to a near whisper. He did not want to admit that this could happen, but he knew the possibility existed. It was better to be safe than sorry.

"That is an easy promise to make, my friend," D'Argo replied and tightened his grip on John's shoulder. "I swear it," he added solemnly.

"It's one thing that he messes with me, you know," John said with a more relaxed smile. "But when he messes with my girl, I get pissed."

D'Argo eyed him for a moment, a gleam in his eyes, and then he started laughing. "You are totally fahrbot, my friend," he finally said, clapped John's shoulder and left Command again.

"Tinked," Chiana agreed, slipped off the console and planted a kiss on John's cheek. "That's why we love you, old man."

All John did was smirk. He had all the backup he could ever need and something told him that life as he knew it was going to get a hell of a lot better from now on. "You messed with the wrong guy, Scorpy," he muttered after Chiana had left. "It's payback time."

***