A weeken later

Like an angry beast awakened from a long-term slumber, the war between Peacekeepers and Scarrans erupted. The Peacekeepers attacked and the Scarrans counterattacked. At first, it seemed as if the Peacekeepers wouldn't last long against a suddenly massive fleet that appeared out of nowhere at the border of the Scarran sectors. But then the Peacekeepers showed their true colors again and released their dogs of war that consisted of a literal fleet of stubby-nosed vessels that could conjure up wormholes that swallowed dreadnaughts whole. The direction of the war was rapidly changing balance in favor of the Peacekeepers; and Moya and her wayward crew were stuck in the middle. Over the past weeken, they had dodged more convoys than John cared to think of, but that was not at the forefront of his mind at this point.

After they had been dodging patrols and had nearly been detected by several marauders, Pilot had lost control over the suddenly terrified leviathan and Moya was exhausting herself in order to get away from the warring parties. Everybody had to hold on for dear life ever quarter of an arn, when Moya did another hap-hazardous starburst, which was already threatening to tear the leviathan apart at the seams. She shook and rattled with every extended starburst and everything that wasn't nailed down was thrown about.

After the tenth starburst had ended as abruptly as it had started, John picked himself up off the floor in Command and eased into a pained stretch. His latest collision with a wall had nearly thrown his back out and he was extra careful to not overexert himself to avoid a cramp. "Jesus Christ," he groaned and pressed both hands against the small of his back. "Could someone please tell Moya to take it easy?"

"She will not listen," Pilot replied. His image on the clamshell had flickered out of existence during the fourth starburst and had not come back and he sounded dead tired. Moya's antics were affecting him as much as they were affecting her.

"Great," John grumbled under his breath. "Aeryn? Where are you?"

There was no reply.

"D'Argo?" he tried. "Chiana?" He hesitated. "Sputnik?"

"I'm fine if anybody cares," Rygel's grumpy voice sounded from his comm.

"Good to know, Ryg," John replied and grimaced. In periods of stress, he had a tendency to forget all about Buckwheat. "Have you seen any of the others?"

This was answered with nothing but morose silence.

"Rygel?" John called and frowned up at the ceiling. "Sparky, answer me," he demanded.

"No, I have not," Rygel finally replied. This was followed by the distinct sound of a comm badge being violently shut off.

"Have it your own way then," John grumbled. "Aeryn?" he tried again, a little louder this time. "Damn it, somebody answer me," he snapped impatiently when nothing but rushing silence answered him.

"Could you shut the frell up and give me a microt here?" Aeryn's voice interrupted the silence angrily and that could mean one of two things. Either he had done something wrong or she was hurt.

"Where are you?" John asked with slight concern.

"On my way up to Command," she replied. "Where are you?"

"In Command," he replied and couldn't help grinning at the way that sounded. But then the grin on his lips died again. This insanity that had Moya running scared was his fault. No matter what the others might say, it was still his fault.

"Stay where you are," Aeryn responded to his preposterous claim and it drew another slightly cynical smile from him.

"Yes, ma'am," he said and mock-saluted.

***

Aeryn strode into Command as much as her presently painful hip allowed. In other words, she limped heavily and had to hold onto the wall to walk upright. Moya running scared was not something she relished. She both feared for the leviathan's health if she kept this up and she was also annoyed at the fact that this frelled situation was causing them all injuries.

John stood near the forward view screen, both hands pressed against his back, and he looked pale and in pain. She came to a stop and just eyed him for a moment. "Are you all right?" she asked.

"Yeah, just dandy," he replied with a snide smile that didn't last long enough to be convincing.

"You don't look fine," she stated. "Did you hurt your back?"

John nodded mutely and shifted a little. "One more jerk like that and I'm going to take a headlong dive through the view screen," he said and arched his back with a grunt.

"You can't. The view screen is solid," she said, well aware that he was using another of his odd metaphors.

"I know that," he grumbled.

"HOLD ON ..." Pilot suddenly yelled, but before he could finish, Moya had thrown herself into another starburst that sent John reeling back against the wall again. He hit a rib with crunching intensity and it didn't help when Aeryn was thrown into his arms full force.

The force of this latest starburst kept them both pinned to the wall and no matter how Aeryn tried to ease the obvious tension her added weight was causing John she couldn't build up enough strength to push herself off him.

Moya rattled and shook and every jerk in any direction drew a pained grunt from John. Aeryn struggled angrily against the force that was squeezing her into him, but with no luck. All she did was manage to overstrain one arm, which cramped painfully. "Frell," she snarled as her attempt to keep as much of her weight off John as she could failed miserably. She slipped and was pushed mercilessly against him again.

The result, moments before Moya suddenly slipped out of starburst again, was a muffled crunch and a considerable increase in the strained expression on John's face. He said nothing, but Aeryn knew that he had probably cracked a rib. The microt that thought popped into her mind, Moya rattled out of this latest starburst and the entire leviathan groaned with fatigue.

The sudden stop landed Aeryn on the floor and John on top of her. She grunted when he hit her, but was quick to support him so he did not hurt himself more than necessary.

With an effort that seemed almost beyond him, he struggled up on his hands and knees and groaned in agony. "Shit," he hissed through clenched teeth. "I think I broke something."

Aeryn sat up and eyed him for a moment. "I think so too," she agreed and got up. Her hip was hurting worse than before, but her own pain was irrelevant compared to John's injury and the continued groans of fatigue going through the mighty ship.

She grabbed John's arm and helped him back to his feet before she pulled his t-shirt up and ran her fingers lightly over his ribcage. "Maybe not broken," she said after a moment and pulled her fingers away when he hissed and jerked, "but definitely cracked."

"Whichever," he groaned and shifted uncomfortably. "It hurts like hell," he added.

"I can imagine. But that's not something you should worry too much about right now," Aeryn replied and glanced up at the ceiling. "I think Moya overdid this last starburst," she added quietly and listened to the groans of the structure with deep concern. "Pilot?" she tried, but there was no reply. "Pilot," she tried again. And still there was nothing. "Frell," she muttered, and then focused on John again. "Can you walk?"

"Do I have a choice?" he asked and gave her a pained grin.

"No," she countered, took his arm and pulled him with her, although her tugging on his arm was gentler than normal. "We need to get you fixed up and we need to find the others," she added. She herself was limping heavily and John was walking awkwardly. All in all, they were in a sorry state and Aeryn was not about to go looking for the others while neither of them could walk or help them out if necessary.

***

When they reached the med bay, they found Sikozu there, who was in the process of reattaching her left arm. She looked strained and couldn't seem to fit the presently useless limp back onto her body. Aeryn eyed her for a moment, and then decided to help her out. She helped her position the arm correctly, and then bandaged it in place. Once that was accomplished, Aeryn returned her attention to John without uttering a word to the Kalish.

John didn't know exactly what Aeryn intended to do to him, but found that her bedside manners were much less harsh than he had thought they would be. She dealt with his cracked rib professionally and quietly, her expression and manner intense. The gadget John silently had dubbed a bone-mender in want of a more professional word while keeping in mind that he could not pronounce its real name although Aeryn had told him a dozen times what it was called, came into its own right once again when it fused his cracked rib back together again and alleviated the pain he was in. He would have to take it easy for about a day, but he could live with that if only Moya did not take further jumps into the space between.

"Better?" Aeryn asked and put the gadget aside.

"Yup," he agreed and shifted a little to make sure there was no pain. Aeryn started to wrapped supportive bandages around his chest to steady him until the bone had mended completely and that gave him some much needed time to consider issues he had not yet had time to think about. "Aeryn," he said almost quietly. She finished by taping the end of the bandages to his chest, and then looked up to meet his eyes. "There are certain issues I think we need to discuss," he said.

"First things first," she countered. "We need to find out where D'Argo and Chiana are. And we need to find out how much damage Moya has caused herself and Pilot by running scared." That said, she turned around and looked up at the clamshell. "Pilot?" she tried. There was still no answer. "Well, that does it for me. I'm going to check on Pilot first of all," she said.

John grabbed her arm when she turned to leave. "Aeryn," he insisted. "You do know that all this is my fault don't you?"

She rolled her eyes almost angrily and gave him a dark look. "No, John, I do not know that this is all your fault. How is this your fault?" she asked, her tone thick with sarcasm. "Would you stop being so paranoid? This is no more your fault than it is mine or anybody else's except for those frelling Peacekeepers and their frelled-up need to rule the galaxy. If this is anybody's fault, it goes back to Scorpius. Frell, if you want to take it all the way, it goes back to that frelled Ancient of yours. He put this frelling dren in your head. If he is so frelling smart, he must have known that the outcome could never be good. So, in a few words, it's his fault. Now, lay off the guilt trip and get on your feet. We may have injured friends on our hands," she added.

John found himself subconsciously straightening his back in response to her military tone of voice. If he knew one thing for certain, then it was that the Peacekeepers had lost a potentially powerful leader in her. "Okay, fine, maybe it isn't all my fault, but if I hadn't been so damned gullible ..." he began, but she stopped him by clapping a hand over his mouth.

"Stop! Right now," she said. "There are no buts and no ifs. Things happen and that's that. If you feel the need to punish yourself for that, then go do it somewhere else. I'm not in the mood and there are far more important issues at stake right now. Our friends may be in need of help. Could you forget about your own petty problems for a moment and focus on them instead?"

Her tone and choice of words left him torn between wanting to feel offended and ashamed at the same time. As he could not decide which was the more appropriate feeling, he settled for nodding. She was right, after all. The big issue might be that he should not have been so gullible and set this ball rolling in the first place, but the smaller issues were much more important right here and now. "Right, sorry," he said after a moment. "Let's find the others."

Aeryn eyed him for a moment, obviously looking for further bouts of self-pity, but then she nodded once and stepped back so he could get off the examination table he'd been sitting on. "Where were they the last time you heard from them?" she asked.

"Right here," a voice said from the doorway.

Aeryn turned around and froze. D'Argo stood in the doorway with an obviously unconscious Chiana in his arms. He looked pretty frazzled himself. A deep gash on his brow leaked clear liquid and he was limping heavily. Chiana had a big, dark-gray bruise on her brow, which suggested that she had collided with something.

"This is the most frelled thing this leviathan has ever done," D'Argo growled and limped over to the examination table, where he deposited Chiana carefully. "She collided with the wall two starbursts ago. My comm is out and that frelling slug ran out on us without consideration."

"This 'frelling' leviathan is scared," Aeryn snarled. "And I don't blame her. If the Peacekeepers win this sorry excuse of a war – and everything points in that direction – then we will have nowhere left to hide. We will have to leave the known galaxy to get away from them."

D'Argo growled, but seemed to have nothing further to add to Aeryn's claim. John wondered if she had a point and figured she might. He briefly met D'Argo's gaze and knew that D'Argo realized this too.

"What about Pip?" John asked while he eyed the unconscious Nebari with concern.

"She's got a hard head. She'll survive," Aeryn claimed and almost pensively rubbed her right hip.

John gave her a glance. "Nice, Aeryn," he said. Partly, he was still a little worried about Aeryn's reality and partly not. When she behaved this way, there was no doubt in his mind that she was the real deal. When she started 'paying attention' to others like she had when she had withheld the information about the impending war from him, he began to doubt. She seemed worried about his state of mind, a fact he could not really blame her for. He had taken drugs to get on with things, after all. The mere idea now made him shudder inside while some part of him ached for the clarity the Lakka had seemingly given him. That it could have deadly consequences had never once crossed his mind and he had been hard pressed to admit that he had a problem; a typical sign of addiction, he knew.

"We do not have time to ... what is it you call it? ... 'cuddle' anybody," she said sternly. "There are bigger issues at stake."

"Aeryn, Chiana may be seriously injured," John said, indignation strong in his tone.

"Yes, and so may Moya and Pilot. I do not hear you speaking up for them," she countered angrily.

Immediately, John bristled. Her accusing him of not speaking up for others was the last straw. "I care. More than you ever have," he snapped.

"Would you two stop it?" D'Argo boomed angrily. "We have more important issues to worry about right now than who cares the most." He glared at Aeryn for a moment, and then gave John the same look. "Tend to your injuries," he added.

Aeryn gave him a glare back, and then turned toward John. "I hurt my hip," she said defiantly.

"I noticed," he countered somewhat aggressively. Without waiting for her to ask, he grabbed her around the waist and deposited her on the second examination table. She made a face, but said nothing. He ran the scanner over the right side of her hip, but she stopped him by grabbing his wrist and transferring his hand to her left hip. He made a face and used the scanner on her left hip instead. What he found was not what he had hoped for. Her left hip was actually fractured and her walking around on it was not a good idea. "You have to stay off your feet," he said.

"No," she countered indifferently. "Fix it. We have work to do," she added.

"Aeryn," he tried, knowing that anything he said would be brushed off at this point.

"Don't 'Aeryn'-me," she warned him, grabbed the gadget and stretched out on her side on the table. "We don't have time for this dren," she added.

John arched an eyebrow, sighed lightly and placed the gadget over the fracture and held it there until a little light started flashing on it, telling him that it was done. He switched it off and removed it and before he could even think of saying anything, Aeryn was up and moving. Even though she did favor her left leg a little, it was not going to hold her back.

"I'm going to check on Pilot. The rest of you, remain together," she said and limped out of the med bay.

John watched her go, and then glanced at D'Argo. "What am I supposed to do? I can't very well tie her down, now can I?" he asked and shrugged lightly.

D'Argo sighed lightly while pressing a piece of cloth against his cut brow. "Perhaps you should help her?" he asked.

"Yeah, maybe I should," John agreed and with a sigh of his own, he followed Aeryn.

***

She had almost reached Pilot's den when John caught up with her. For a reason she could at present not readily explain, the fact that he had disregarded her order made her irritable. "I told you to stay with the others," she said.

"Yeah, and I chose to follow you," he countered and fell in step beside her. "What's your problem anyway? First you're all protective and now you're all defensive. Are you having PMS or something?"

Aeryn stopped and gave him a dark look. "Are you?" she growled. "Why can't you for once do what I tell you?"

His expression tensed as they stopped in front of the closed door to Pilot's den. "Because I'm not under your command, sweetheart," he said. "Why can't you just tell me what the hell is wrong? You haven't really been around for the past cycle, Aeryn. You have no idea what's been going on."

"And what the frell does that have to do with our present situation?" she countered angrily. She saw his point, but that did not change the fact that the feelings she had struggled with before leaving Moya were beginning to resurface. So far, she hadn't had time to think about what had happened or her responses to it, but now she was once again overcome with a wave of indecision. She had thought it possible to suppress those feelings and move on, but had been forced to realize that she couldn't do that. Whenever she looked at John now, she thought of the other one, of his death and what it had meant to her, and she could not shake the sadness.

"Seemingly everything," John said and gave the door an almost idle push. "Locked," he added.

"Not locked," she disagreed and pushed the door a little harder. It swung open. "And no, my absences and how I respond has nothing to do with our current situation. Can we leave irrelevant issues like this for later?"

John stepped in her way, stopping her from entering Pilot's den. "No, as a matter of fact, I don't think we can," he said.

Aeryn glanced past him at the dark den beyond and wanted more than anything to push him out of the way. But she also understood that he might need to clarify certain issues. "John," she said, trying to be reasonable without losing her temper. "I realize that there are things we need to talk about," she stated. "Important things. But this is not the time or the place. We have more pressing issues that need to be dealt with right now."

"There's never a right time, Aeryn. If we don't deal with this now, we may never deal with it. And I for one do not want to go to my grave without a resolution to this. You shunned me like the plague before you left Moya. You didn't give me the time of day. I understand why. I don't like it, but I understand. And then you come back, only it isn't you. And then we find you again, after a full cycle, and at first I think everything's okay. You're a bit more docile, a bit calmer, but now you're back in full-blown PK mode and I have no fucking idea how that came about. Moya goes ballistic and you freak out? What the hell is going on?"

Aeryn stared at him for a moment, and then dropped her gaze to stare at his chest instead. For a long moment, she had no idea what to say to him. Then she sighed. "I thought I could repress those feelings ... the confusion I felt after the other one died. I ... can't. I don't know how to respond around you. I feel the grief of losing you, only you're not gone. And you don't remember." She looked up again to meet his eyes and saw the pain her words were causing him. But she couldn't stop now. She had to tell him what was going on in her head and the only way she could do that was the only way she knew how. "I cannot and I will not get into this further. Just ... give me time," she added, pushed past him and strode into Pilot's den.

***

John didn't know how to respond. What could he say to that? He had assumed that it was something in that area, but without her saying so, he hadn't been sure. Now that he was, however, things hadn't gotten better as he had hoped they might; on the contrary. "Give her time," he muttered under his breath. "That's all I've done. Given her time. Great. Just beautiful," he continued and followed her into the dark den.

Okay, so he understood that this needed to sit on the back burner for a bit. Not so much for her peace of mind, but mainly because there were other, bigger issues they needed to deal with. But, damn, he wasn't sure he could stand much more of this. First her refusal to talk to him, then the fact that she was leaving, then the fact that she had changed so radically after she came back, then she wasn't who she appeared to be, and now they were back to square one? How the hell was he going to cope with this?

Aeryn had climbed up on Pilot's console and was trying to rouse the obviously unconscious being. John stopped halfway across the bridge and watched her. There would have been a time when he would not have been able to take his mind off how hot she looked. Right now, though, all he felt was sadness.

Shaking himself out of this funk that was trying to encompass him, he started moving again and closed the distance between them. If he couldn't do it on a mental plane, he could at least do it on the physical. "Hey, Pilot, dude," he said, trying to sound cheerful. "Wake up, will ya?"

Aeryn slipped off the console on Pilot's side and continued to try and rouse him by patting his face lightly. "Pilot, come on. We can't do this without you," she tried and sent a worried glance toward John. "What if he doesn't wake up?"

"Then you'll have to take over, won't you?" he countered with a halfhearted smile.

Aeryn sighed and gently caressed Pilot's cheek. "What if Moya is unconscious as well?" she asked, her gaze entirely locked on Pilot.

"I don't know. I kinda assume that there's no vat of smelling salt big enough to rouse a leviathan out there," John said in a feeble attempt to lighten the mood. "Pilot's been out cold before. He'll come around," he added.

"And what if he doesn't?" Aeryn shook her head. "This is no use. We have to find a way to rouse him."

John climbed up on the console and sat down on the edge of it, his legs dangling down on Pilot's side. He eyed the big creature thoughtfully for a moment. "Hey, Pilot. Remember Lomo?" he asked. Aeryn gave him a strange glance, but he ignored it. "D'Argo and I have been having some discussions again. I kinda thought you might like some peace and quite for a while. How about finding us some place like that? Drinks, beach parties, feathered girls," he continued.

"What the frell are you trying to do? Annoy him awake?" Aeryn asked.

John chose to ignore her. "I know the whole deal with Lomo sounded kinda ... well ... weird would be the word, I guess, but it was true. Still is," he continued. "You know what you sometimes remind me of? Sea monkeys. Don't ask why. I've got no idea. I'm just ... you know."

"Human?" Pilot rasped weakly and slowly raised his head. He blinked his big eyes sluggishly and focused on John.

"Welcome back, shellhead. I knew my ramblings would wake you up," John greeted him with a smile.

Pilot managed a shadow of a smile and John couldn't help grinning at the fact that Pilot was developing a sense of humor on his behalf. "I still do not believe you," Pilot claimed, and then turned his attention to Aeryn. "I apologize, Officer Sun," he added. "That last near miss with that marauder was just too much for Moya. She panicked."

"No need to explain, Pilot," Aeryn replied with a smile. "We're all right. How is Moya?"

The look in Pilot's eyes became a little distant for a moment. "She ... appears to be unconscious," he said. His voice was still feeble and weak.

"Are we safe for now?" Aeryn asked.

"It would appear so. We are drifting, but there is no immediate danger," Pilot confirmed. "My senses are limited with Moya unconscious, but for now we should be all right," he added.

Satisfied by this reply, Aeryn caressed his cheek. "That's good. Try to wake Moya up, but do it gently. We'll have a look around for any damage that may need repairing," she said, climbed up over the console and jumped off it again on the other side. She flinched when she hit the floor, but then turned around, her expression unaffected. "Come on, John," she added.

John nodded once, then returned his attention to Pilot. "You just hang in there, Purple Dude," he said. "Oh, and when you feel up to it, you might want to try and figure out where we are, okay? Just in case we've gotten too close to some border."

"Yes, Commander," Pilot agreed, his voice still a little sluggish.

They both left the den again, relieved that Pilot at least had woken up again. John walked along beside Aeryn and thought of a million things to say, but none of them seemed appropriate or halfway intelligent at this point, so he opted to keep his mouth shut until he could come up with something sensible to say; something that would not further antagonize her.

***