He could hear Aeryn behind him, laughing softly at D'Argo as he played with her hair, but he didn't turn to look at them—he wanted to, but he was drawn inexplicably away from them instead, a feeling inside of him, something, something familiar, tugging him inevitably towards the window as he watched the empty space.
Chiana turned to follow his movements, her new eyes shadowed and all but lifeless, before she turned away again, unconcerned. Rygel was on his thronesled, writing off John's strange movements as mere human madness.
"Quatro," John whispered into the silence, and everyone froze. They turned to look at him with disbelief. Chiana rose to a crouch. "Tres, dos…uno…"
A wormhole flashed in front of them, Pilot yelling incoherently from his den as Moya turned frantic away. John watched the wormhole carefully, and all the others watched him.
"John," Aeryn whispered disbelievingly. "How did you do that?"
He kept his gaze fixed on the wormhole. "I don't know."
- - - - -
"So it's all still there?" Chiana demanded.
"No," John said tiredly. "None of it's here. It's all gone, the equations, the knowledge—it's just gone."
"But you knew there would be a wormhole," Chiana snapped. "You asked us to come here, Crichton, and you said you didn't know why."
"I didn't know why," he snapped. "And then I did, but I don't know how I knew. I just did."
"You just did," she echoed, reaching out to grab him and pull him closer. "And that means not everything is gone. That means you can still predict them, navigate them . . . Crichton, you could—"
He pulled away. "Don't ask me that, Pip," he pleaded. "I can't, we can't—too much is at stake."
"You can save him," Chiana said, her voice filled with pure determination.
Aeryn stood silently behind them, watching. D'Argo was asleep in her arms. She would let John handle it for now.
"You can go back," Chiana said. "Back to before he was hit, and you could stop it."
"You can't go back in a wormhole before the time you last left," he whispered. "It's too dangerous. The timeline—"
"Frell the timeline," Chiana shouted, before trapping his face between her hands. "You could save him."
"Maybe," John admitted reluctantly. "But maybe I do it, maybe I save him, and we lose everything else."
"Who cares about anything else?" Chiana growled, but John wasn't watching her any longer, his eyes had slid in the direction of his wife and his son.
"I do," he whispered. Chiana followed his line of sight, and her hands fell away as she backed up.
"He'd do it for you," she said quietly, so much pain in her voice that John couldn't bear to meet her eyes. "You know he would."
"He did," John whispered. "He already did, Chiana. He already gave up everything for me."
"So get it back," she said fiercely. "You never give anything up without a fight, Crichton, don't start now." Her eyes had more fire in them now than he'd seen since they had left D'Argo behind, and as much as he wanted to keep it there, he couldn't do what she was asking. They had played with time more than once already, and almost lost everything.
"That's right, John, don't even consider it. The Nebari lets emotion cloud her thinking, don't be so foolish yourself."
The voice snapped his head up, and he stumbled back, the fire in Chiana's eyes lit instead to concern and Aeryn stepped forward calling his name, but he couldn't hear her…he could only hear him.
Harvey wearing his old I.A.S.A. uniform and his trademark smirk, as he sat perched on one of Moya's consoles. "You're dead," he whispered. "You deleted yourself."
"John, who are you talking to?" Aeryn's voice, from his left, her fingers gripping the sleeve of his shirt, trying to pull him back, but he couldn't go to her. Couldn't, because Harvey was staring at him with those eyes that still had Scorpius staring out of them, and he couldn't move.
"Did you honestly think I would not leave behind a back up?" Harvey asked coyly. "I thought you knew me better."
John shook his head, pressing the palm of his hand against the center of his forehead as though to block him out, but it had never worked before, and it wasn't working now.
"You live an interesting life, John, Scorpius did not believe you would go off simply to live some dull life with your wife and half breed child. He thought you might stumble upon something useful again, and it appears he was right."
John's hand fell to his side, he pulled away from Aeryn, backed away from them both. "No," he said. "Nothing's changed. Go away."
"John!" Aeryn yelled. "Look at me."
He almost did, but he still couldn't pry his eyes from Harvey's gaze. "Go away," he said again.
Harvey pretended not to hear him. "This is fascinating, really. The actual knowledge is gone, but the instinct remains, an invisible blueprint on your soul. Not even the ancients, powerful as they are, could take that from you."
John was trying not to get caught up in fascination himself. He'd had his obsessive kick, it had gotten him nothing but trouble. He wondered if Harvey was right, if there was no way to be rid of it. He wondered if the ancients knew the legacy they had left him.
"Doubtful," Harvey said, in answer to his unspoken question. "Einstein, as you call him, underestimates you. Not like Jack, now he saw your potential. Just as I do."
He heard Aeryn shouting at Chiana to get Noranti, and he thought he heard Rygel mumble something that sounded like fahrbot human, but couldn't be sure. The room around him was spinning, and only Harvey, at the center, remained unmoving.
"You've told Scorpius," John whispered. "You're communicating with him, and you told him I can still predict wormholes."
He could feel Aeryn's cool hand against his cheek, his forehead, his whispered name against his ear. Harvey smiled, slyly, slowly, and then glanced up, looking at the vast ceiling of the living ship. "Of course," he said simply, and with those words the ground beneath John's feet melted away to nothing, and he slid from Aeryn's grasp to the floor.
- - - - -
It was over. They had decided they were done, done with all of it, no more, finito, finished. Let the bad guys have their fun because they were retiring and moving to Florida…this wasn't supposed to happen. All of their plans weren't supposed to unravel in an instant, not from one little mistake, not because he'd let curiosity get the best of him again and led Moya right to a forming wormhole.
He shouldn't be so surprised, he knew, this was the story of his life. He was the boy named John.
"John, talk to me please," Aeryn whispered. She sounded scared. She didn't hide fear from him anymore. She came to him instead, when she was overwhelmed, when she didn't know what to do with D'Argo or why he was crying… "John…please…"
He looked over at her, their child was in her arms, and Harvey was running a leather clad hand down the small face. He felt himself tense, reminded himself that Harvey was only there for him, and resisted the urge to push him away from his son. "I'm fine," he said, but his voice broke over the words and her frown deepened.
"What just happened?" she demanded. "John, you were talking about Scorpius."
He heard Noranti and Chiana enter the room, but only glanced at them a moment before returning his gaze to his wife. "I—" he paused, wanting nothing more than to tell her everything was fine, and to get them the hell away from here. But Scorpius would find him if they left, Scorpius always found him, and sending Aeryn and his child away to protect them wasn't an option—he already knew Aeryn would never go. "Harvey's back."
Her eyes widened and she sat back on her heels. As if he sensed the change in his mother, D'Argo started crying.
"Such odd creatures, babies, aren't they?" Harvey asked, watching D'Argo with an expression akin to disgust. "They're completely useless. It's amazing any of us manage to grow at all."
John ignored him, with effort. He used to be good at it, and it looked like he was going to have to relearn the skill. He reached out towards his son, and D'Argo reached up a small hand, wrapping tiny fingers around one of his. He stopped crying, and Aeryn gave a soft smile, though tears had begun to build up in her own eyes. "What are we going to do?" she whispered.
"Maybe he won't come," John said—something of the optimist he used to be slipping back. "The war is over."
"Not for him," Harvey sneered. "You know that, don't delude yourself, Crichton. He wants the Scarran Empire to fall, and he will use you to do it. He will use them to force you to do it."
Aeryn looked almost as disbelieving as Harvey. "Even if he was content with things, John, he would still come." She watched him intently. "He would come for you."
"Not if he isn't here," Chiana said, meeting John's eyes. "If you go back, back to the start of this whole war, and instead of creating a truce you just kill off the Scarrans instead—"
"Chiana," he interrupted softly. "You don't mean that."
"The frell I don't! He will never stop, Crichton, not until he gets what he wants. He'll keep pulling us in after him, just like before, and eventually there's going to be nothing left." Chiana shook her head. "You're not supposed to mess with time, I know, but do you really want to live like that again, on the run?"
"I'm not going to do it," John said firmly. "I want to, just as much as you do, and it sounds so simple but it's not, Chiana. Have you forgotten the time I was almost erased like something out of 'Back to the Future'? Or maybe you don't remember the Jocation Memorial, and all of the innocent nurses that died because of me." His tirade faded back, and he shook his head desperately, trying to get her to understand. "We can only make things worse."
She winced at the reminders, having conveniently forgotten them both. She remembered, now, the look in John's eyes then, when he realized how they had changed history and the rewrite was so much worse, and even if she couldn't recall the bleakness that had rested there she need only look at him now. "I know," she whispered. "I do know…I just…"
John grabbed her arm and pulled her into a hug. She wrapped her arms around his neck, holding on for her life, and John buried his face in her hair. He could still see the smiling visage through the strands, the figure of Scorpius gliding across the ground in front of him.
"How sweet," he said, kneeling on the floor so he was eye level with John. "You've made the right decision, John, and I'm sure Scorpius will be pleased when he arrives."
Go to hell, John thought, having remembered enough of the rules about imaginary friends to not speak out loud.
Harvey's smile didn't falter. "It will not be so bad, you know, Crichton. You could still have that life you want so badly, you could have the protection of the entire Peacekeeper armada if you only do as he asks…you will never have to run again."
John pressed his eyes closed, and within his arms, Chiana started to shake. Sure, Scorpius probably would grant him that, protection, a five star room, an all you can eat buffet, and all John would have to give in return is what's left of his soul. All he would have to do is let himself be used as a weapon, to tell Scorpius when and where wormholes were opening, so he could arrange wars that couldn't be lost.
He heard the faint sound of Rygel's thronesled, and when he opened his eyes he saw him slip from the room along with Noranti. Aeryn's hand had come to rest at his back, and he could feel Chiana's tears running down along his neck. At least she was crying, he thought. It sounded cruel but he was glad she was, she'd been too emotionless these last weeks, too much like Aeryn when she'd come back from Talyn and he'd just been counting the days until she stole one of the transports and disappeared for good.
He didn't want to lose her, too, but he knew he had no right to ask her to stay. He held on to her a little tighter as he realized that really, he was the one that had no right to stay.
- - - - -
"It'll just be for a little while, just until things calm down."
John didn't stop moving as he spoke, and he didn't dare turn to meet Aeryn's glare. He threw his old duffle bag through the open door of the transport, and went to grab a box of food cubes.
"You're not going," Aeryn said fiercely, "if I have to tie you to our bed."
He grinned at her. "Kinky," he said, "and tempting." He paused, his smile fading away. He pulled his eyes away from hers again. "I can't ask them to go through it all again, Aeryn, I can't. I'm not going to ask you to either."
"Then we'll leave," Aeryn said firmly, "we'll leave together. We're a family, John, you've taught me that that's what they do."
He took a deep breath, and turned to her, placing his hands on either side of her neck and tilting her face up to his. "And D'Argo?" he whispered. "We can't tote him across the universe with us like he's some pulse rifle, Aeryn, he needs a home."
"We're his home," Aeryn snapped. "I grew up on a ship; he can grow up on a ship. It doesn't have to be this one."
"Aeryn," John said desperately. "I can't protect you, I've tried, it never works. The best thing for me to do is to get the hell away from you, as far as I can. Scorpy'll find me, you know he will. He's got a frelling homing beacon in my head and it ain't comin' out."
"What if it did," Aeryn whispered. "We could find a diagnosion…"
"Been there, done that," John said softly. "Got the t-shirt."
"You're not leaving me, John," Aeryn said, and though her voice remained calm, it was as dangerous as he'd ever heard it. "We find trouble together, but it's worse when we're apart. It never solves anything, and maybe you think D'Argo will be better off with me, but you're wrong and I know nothing about being a mother, you can't—"
"It's not forever, Aeryn, just for a little while," he said, moving his hands down from her neck and grasping hers, trying to still their sudden shaking.
"Leaving will change nothing, time will change nothing, and you know that as well as I do." Aeryn turned her hands over so she could grab his instead.
"Yeah, so give up, old man." The wry voice caused both Aeryn and John to turn towards the doorway. Chiana stood leaning against the wall, smiling slightly, not quite a real smile, but as close as she'd come in awhile. "I had a little chat with Pilot," she said. "We decided not to let you leave. We started this together, we'll see it through."
"I've made up my mind, Pip," John said softly. "I'm not putting you guys at risk."
Chiana shrugged, as though this didn't really interest her, and the small smile didn't disappear. "Fine, have it your way. But it'll be a little hard to fly out of here if Pilot won't open the doors."
Aeryn broke out in a smile at the words, so bright that John almost decided it was worth allowing them both to pull one over on him. He turned towards Chiana. "You've been through enough because of me," he said.
"Yeah," she shrugged again, the smile growing marginally wider. "But you're worth it. D'Argo thought so too."
"Then it's settled," Aeryn said, her voice controlled and confident again. "We do this together, and if Scorpius comes, we deal with it together."
"We kill him," Chiana broke in, her smile now gone, leaving no trace. "We don't deal, we don't ask questions, we kill the fekface before he can screw us over again."
Aeryn glanced over at her, thought about her son, about his namesake, and then she looked at John, and she knew he was thinking the same things. He shook his head and reluctantly pulled his bag from the transport. "It's a plan," he said softly, heading out of the room without looking back, "but you know how those go."
- - - - -
John frowned as he watched the stars outside the terrace. D'Argo was strapped to his chest in a baby carrier that Noranti had fashioned, and he'd had Chiana crash test for durability before he'd use. Aeryn got endless amusement watching him walk around with it, though she refused to wear it herself. He didn't mind it, it was like the ones he used to see on Earth, and it kept D'Argo happy to pull and tug at his black leather collar.
He couldn't seem to focus on the simple enjoyment his son could bring at the moment, and not even the stars brought any comfort, because he knew somewhere out there Scorpius was lurking behind them, biding his time…
Part of him was still holding out hope that Scorpius would leave them alone, that because John could no longer create wormhole weapons Scorpius wouldn't bother, but he knew better. He could still predict them, like an alert service in his mind, and to Scorpius, the commander of the fleet, that knowledge was invaluable. Unique.
And he was screwed. Again.
"I was wondering where you had gotten to," Aeryn said softly, walking up beside him. She smiled when she caught sight of their son, and grabbed one of his hands. He giggled and her smile grew wider, but the smile John gave in response was weak and fading. "You look ridiculous with him strapped onto you like that," Aeryn said slyly, and not for the first time. "Wasn't it you that said we can't tote him around like a pulse rifle?"
A genuine smile broke free as he met her eyes. "Yeah, yeah," he said teasingly. "I'm a poor weak human, remember? I can't carry him around all day like you do. My arms go numb."
Aeryn smiled and leaned forward to kiss him softly, mindful of D'Argo between them. "I haven't forgotten," she said, her eyes sparkling.
When she pulled back, and stepped aside, John caught sight of something black moving to block the light of a star. He froze and Aeryn spun around, in time to see it start to loom closer. "He's here," he said, resignation suffusing his voice, and Aeryn gave no response other than to reach out and grab his hand as they watched the command carrier approach.
- - - - -
"Chiana, stop fighting me!" John yelled. Aeryn was standing firm behind him, a pulse rifle thrown over her shoulder. "Take D'Argo, and hide. If something goes wrong, you take him and you get the hell out of here."
Chiana looked at the baby she was holding with terror. "I don't know what to do with him! Give him to Noranti, I can help, Crichton. I'm not leaving you to do this alone!"
"Noranti?" John repeated incredulously. "Do you know Noranti? Have you met her?" Chiana winced and John softened, moving closer. "Chi, darlin', pipsqueak...I only trust you with him."
Chiana felt herself giving in even as she said, "You shouldn't."
"I know it’s a lot to ask," John said, quietly. "But I want you and D'Argo to be safe. I'd send Aeryn with you if I could, but I'm sure you can guess how much luck I had with that."
Chiana glanced at Aeryn's steely expression and knew that yes, that had probably been an interesting conversation. Rygel, behind her, snorted haughtily. "What about me? No one ever worries about me!"
John glanced at him then back to Chiana. "You can take Rygel," he said.
Chiana met his eyes incredulously. "Gee, thanks."
John smiled tightly. "If it comes to it, you guys go to Hyneria, get his throne back, live in peace and take care of D'Argo, okay?"
"A domestic life," Chiana repeated dully. "Crichton, you know me so well."
"Chiana," John said slowly, drawing her name out, and she winced and nodded.
"Yeah, yeah. Alright. But we're not going anywhere unless it's absolutely necessary," she snapped. "We said we were going to do this together."
"We are," John said, carefully. "But you know we can't predict Scorpius. We have no idea what's going to happen, and it doesn't hurt to have a backup plan."
Aeryn moved up beside John. "Take care of him for us, Chiana." Her voice was tight and controlled, but those closest to her didn't miss the emotions swirling underneath.
Chiana let out a shaky sigh and nodded, though it was Rygel who spoke. "We shall guard him with our lives," he said, causing all eyes to snap to him in surprise.
Rygel seemed strangely uncomfortable under the attention. "I feel…a responsibility towards him," he explained. "I did harbor him for a short time, lest you've forgotten."
John smiled brightly. "All these years and you still surprise me, Sparky. I know you guys will take care of him. And take Noranti and Stark, too," John added as an afterthought, more because he wanted them out from underfoot than anything else.
"Are you trying to hinder or help us?" Chiana asked dryly.
Before he could answer, Pilot interrupted them. "A prowler has started towards us, Commander. As per your request I am allowing them to dock."
"Thanks, Pilot," John said, then he pointed at Chiana while he and Aeryn began to back up. "Hide," he said simply.
The last thing he saw before he and Aeryn shot around the corner was Chiana's terrified agreement as she shouted a warning, "Just kill the frellnik, Crichton!"
- - - - -
He walked quickly down the halls, Aeryn beside him, just as they had done a million times before. This time though, there was an extra weight pressing down on them, another life they had to protect besides their own. John's hand kept gravitating to his holster, and he knew he was getting twitchy. Scorpius…he was so ready to be done with that chapter of his life.
He saw black leather when they turned the next corner, and slid abruptly to a stop, Winona aimed instantly. Scorpius smiled, devilishly, and John adjusted his grip, preparing to fire.
"It's only me, John," Harvey said sweetly, at the same time Aeryn grabbed his sleeve and hissed, "John, there's no one there." At first, he didn't know which one of them to believe, but he relented and allowed himself to be pulled away. Harvey faded out of his vision, and he turned back to look in front of him.
His fingers curled tighter around Winona's handle as they walked determinedly towards the docking room. He knew who it would be, no question, but D'Argo wasn't there to bet with and he'd have agreed with him anyway, so he said nothing as they entered and watched as the cockpit of the small ship slid slowly back.
He noticed Aeryn had moved slightly in front of him, but as much as he wished she would stop trying to protect him at the risk of herself, he knew better than to call her on it or try to stop her. They needed a united front to face Scorpius, and even that might not be enough.
Scorpius stood up slowly, wearing the same smile Harvey had been sporting microts ago. "Hello, John," he said. John lifted his weapon to aim at him, and beside him Aeryn did the same. Scorpius looked unconcerned. "I've missed you."
John bit his lip briefly, keeping his weapon trained. "They have support groups for this kind of thing, you know," he said. "Do we have to have the 'it's not me it's you' talk again?"
So much for Chiana's no deals no questions plan, he thought, he'd already let Scorpius pull him in again. Fire, he told himself. Pull the damn trigger and blast the bastard to hell.
"Do you want me to do it?" Aeryn whispered.
He shook his head and Scorpius eyed them curiously. "If you're thinking of killing me, I wouldn't recommend it."
"I always knew you were smart," John said tightly.
"I have left Braca orders to destroy this Leviathan if I should not contact him within the arn," Scorpius told them calmly.
John took a step closer, his aim not wavering, though his eyes flickered away from Scorpius for a moment, when he thought he caught a flash of something red behind him. He looked back up at Scorpius. "Ever heard of a funny little thing called starburst?" he asked. "Let the good little soldier try his best, we'll be long gone. Haven't lost a match to him yet."
"They will hunt you, Crichton, I have left Braca orders to do so." Scorpius began to lower himself down, and John thrust his weapon forward.
"Ah, ah—" he said, "don't move." He paused. "Want to tell me who your ridin' partner is?"
Scorpius's smile reappeared. "I believe you've already been introduced," he said, moving aside to reveal the passenger in the seat behind him.
The close cropped red hair and sparse scattering of black leather took less than a microt to process in Crichton's mind. Sikozu stood, meeting John's eyes defiantly, and as usual, she could not have predicted his response.
He laughed. "Sputnik! Hey, how ya doin'?"
Aeryn glanced from Sikozu to John nervously, her weapon moving from Scorpius to the Kalish whilst John's aim remained steady.
"Crichton," Sikozu said tensely.
"I thought Scorpius killed you," he said, rolling his neck as he moved his eyes between Scorpius and her.
Sikozu watched him dispassionately. "We have come to an arrangement."
"Oh I bet you have," he said with a grin. "What do you say, honey?" John asked, turning into Aeryn. "Should we kill them?"
"It seems prudent," Aeryn answered smoothly.
"If you kill me, John," Scorpius said, "you will spend the rest of your life running. It will never be over."
"No!" John snapped. "No, you're wrong about that, with you alive it will never be over."
"We do not have to be enemies…"
"I am so sick and tired of this speech, save it for the afterlife, Scorp, I don't want to hear it." John aimed and his finger shook where it hovered over the trigger. Aim for the face, he told himself, the suit will keep everything else out.
Harvey appeared in front of him, blocking his view. "Don't do this, John."
"Shut up!" he yelled.
Aeryn glanced at him in concern, and moved to stand right beside him. "I will do it," she whispered, but when she raised her gun, Sikozu stepped in front of Scorpius.
"We must talk," she said. "You must listen to him, Crichton. You never listen—look at all the trouble you would have saved yourself had you simply followed his guidance from the beginning."
John took a step forward, straight through Harvey, and glared at her. "So you're back to his number one fan, then? After almost killing him. After almost killing me, my wife, my child. After killing D'Argo—an entire temple of innocent priests!"
Sikozu flinched, and John knew she wasn't the emotionless robot she would have him believe. Strangely, he found he didn't care. He was tired of trying to see life from two points of view, from now on, he was sticking to his.
Sikozu bit her lip and then met his eyes unflinchingly. "You were willing to commit mass murder for your cause, do not begrudge me my willingness to trade yours for mine. I was trying to save my people, Crichton, just as you were trying to save yours."
It was on the tip of his tongue to say it was different, but despite the fact he'd just said he wasn't going to do it anymore, he couldn't help but understand her. He wondered sometimes why he still let himself get suckered in, why he still showed at least some compassion, and then he looked at Scorpius and knew. He wasn't going to be like him. "Leave," he said, and he saw Aeryn turn to him in disbelief. "Both of you, just leave, and don't ever come back."
Scorpius glared down at him. "Unacceptable."
"This is the deal, Scorp," John said, jumping up on the side of the prowler before Aeryn could snag his jacket to pull him back. He met Scorpius's eyes. "You leave, or I kill you. Either way, I'm done playing. Got it?"
Scorpius tilted his head back, as though he was listening to something. "Braca has targeted tier three," he said simply.
John blinked, dropped down from the prowler, and he was about to say 'so?' when he knew. "You son of a bitch," he said, raising his gun again.
Aeryn glanced at him. "John, what is he talking about?"
Scorpius grinned. "Their energy signatures were easy enough to locate," he said, and Aeryn paled. "You are not in control here, John, you will stop making demands and you will listen to me—or Braca will open fire on your offspring's location."
John felt the bravado slip from him even as he held his gun steady, and he could feel Harvey's hand running along his shoulders as he moved from behind him. "He'll do it, John," the neural clone whispered. "You know he will. You know what you have to do."
"So talk," John said, emotionlessly, and Aeryn paled even further.
Scorpius very carefully removed his smile. "You come with me, John, and I will leave your family and your friends alone."
John hesitated, which didn't go unnoticed by Aeryn, who quickly grabbed the sleeve of his jacket to pull him back next to her. "John, no," Aeryn said tightly, her hands twitching around the pulse rifle. "You even consider it, and I'll kill Scorpius, even if it means Braca kills us all. You're not leaving with him."
John glanced at her, before his eyes moved back to Scorpius. "The missus doesn't like that idea," he said. "You'll have to do better."
Scorpius sighed. "She is welcome to join you, of course," he said. "The child as well. Care will be provided—"
"No, no, no," John said. "We're not living on casa de Scorpy. Now you tell me what you want."
"Wormholes, John," Scorpius hissed. "What I always want. I want to know where they are, which are stable, where they go."
Which, John knew, wasn't something he could just tell Scorpius all at once anymore. Now he only knew at the moment he knew, and after it would slip away again. He had no way to control it, no way to harness it. Scorpius was only going to be happy when he could control him.
"I'll go with you," he said, and pushed Aeryn's hand down when she grew dangerously close to pulling the trigger. His expression was pleading. "Aeryn, wait, let me talk." She nodded almost imperceptibly, and he continued, "But not on a permanent basis. I ain't gonna be your little love slave."
Scorpius frowned. "What are you suggesting, Crichton?"
He winced, wondering if he would be able to go through with it. "When we were with the Scarrans, we came up with this idea. Enter the negotiations with me at their side, so that all you Peacekeepers would think they had wormhole weapons and surrender. You want something from the Scarrans, I'm willing to let you use me to get it."
Scorpius hissed. "I don't want anything from them, Crichton. I want them dead."
"You're actually trying to start another war," John whispered disbelievingly. "You can't, we just stopped one!"
Scorpius watched him coolly. "Thousands of Kalish are still subjugated. They did not benefit so much as you from this peace."
John glanced from Scorpius to Sikozu. "Okay, so that's her reason, don't try to tell me it's yours. You don't give a damn about the Kalish, Scorpy, and we both know it. This is about revenge—always about revenge, and I'm not going to be a pawn in your vendetta."
"You don't have a choice, Crichton," Scorpius snapped. "You either come with me or your offspring dies. I don't care about your child, I don't care if it lives or dies, but if you force my hand I will take it from you."
John was so tired of being the door prize of the universe, his son wasn't supposed to be caught up in this. His son was supposed to live in peace—the universe as his playground. He glanced over at Aeryn, and she shook her head at him. Together, that was what he could see in her eyes. She wanted to die together if they couldn't live but it wasn't so easy for him, because he could stop it. He'd always had the power to stop it.
He could give them peace, even if he wasn't ever going to have it for himself. He slid his hand down Aeryn's until he felt the handle of her pulse rifle, and then he pulled it from her grasp. "John, no," she whispered.
He didn't look at her as he dropped the rifle and his pistol to the ground, and kicked them across the room. He didn't look up to see the smile on Scorpius's face. Aeryn grabbed his shoulders and jerked him around to face her. "No," she said. "We decided. Together."
Crichton's weren't supposed to cry often or long, but it seemed like he'd done it a hell of a lot, and he could feel the tears in his eyes again. "Together we'd all be dead."
Aeryn's hands dropped away, and she took a stumbling step back, shaking her head, looking for her gun. "No," she said. "No, I won't let you."
"You take care of our son," John demanded, backing up towards the prowler. Aeryn stood, frozen with denial. "You starburst the moment we're out of here, and you don't come looking for me. I'll find you if I can…but don't…don't try anything stupid, Aeryn, D'Argo needs you."
"He needs you," she snapped, starting towards him. "You can't—"
Behind him, Sikozu moved into the front with Scorpius, standing flush against him with a teasing grin, completely unaffected by the heartbreak a few feet away. Scorpius didn't smile, but the look in his eyes was the same as the look in hers.
John shook his head, stopping only when his back hit the prowler. "I love you," he said. "And I can't let you die for me." He turned and got into the prowler, dropping into the back. Aeryn started screaming then, yelling his name, shouting threats at Scorpius, and only when the cockpit clicked closed did the glass filter them out.
- - - - -
Aeryn stood transfixed as the prowler sped away, her pulse rifle lying useless at her feet. She should have known this would happen, she should have predicted John would do something like this. No one knew better than her how Scorpius affected him, and with Harvey back, she should have known better than to let him anywhere near him. She should have come here alone, or with Chiana, and they should have killed them and starburst away.
She knelt down, picking up the pulse rifle, and she noticed as she did, that her hands were shaking. "Pilot," she whispered. Her voice was shaking, too, but she knew, whatever measures she might have taken to prevent this it was in motion now—and John was right, they had to leave, or they would remain as leverage to be used against him. "Is the prowler clear?"
"Yes, Officer Sun…is…is something the matter?"
Aeryn blinked back tears as she got to her feet. "Starburst immediately, Pilot," she said, before shutting down the comms and starting towards tier three.
She placed her hand against the wall as she walked, keeping herself steady. She didn't know why she felt so suddenly weak. So suddenly cold. She could hear her own voice in the back of her mind, whispering, I will not accept this as a trade off for losing you…
Chiana, with D'Argo in her arms, and Stark, Noranti, and Rygel behind her came out in the hall to meet her. Chiana froze when she saw her, and carefully handed off D'Argo to Noranti. She took a cautious step forward, watching Aeryn warily. "We went to starburst," she said.
Aeryn nodded dully. The weapon in her hand slipped to the ground, but she didn't flinch when the metal crashed against the floor.
Chiana swallowed. "Where's Crichton?" she asked, and when she got no answer tears began to build in her eyes because she already knew. "Where is he?" Chiana was almost shouting now, but Aeryn remained unmoved, she stood there, her eyes fixed on D'Argo, like a statue.
"He's gone," she whispered finally, her eyes moving from D'Argo to Chiana and sparking somewhat back to life. "He had to be the frelling hero again."
Chiana shook her head. "No, no—he couldn't…why…why didn't you just kill Scorpius?"
"He would have fired on your position," Aeryn said tonelessly. "So he went with him."
The three others standing behind them had been silent through this all, stunned by the realization of what had happened, and when Stark reached out to place a hand on Chiana's shoulder she pulled away. She shook her head. "Well…ah…we'll just have to get him back," she said determinedly. "We always do."
"He said not to come for him," Aeryn said uncertainly. "He wants us to get D'Argo somewhere safe." If this had been a few monens earlier, if it was just her and John, she would already have been gone. She would have taken on the command carrier single-handedly and dragged John back with her, but that wasn't practical now. Not with another life in her hands.
She wondered if this was how her mother had felt, when they had asked her to choose, asked her to pick, her lover's life or her child's. She looked at her child, her son, and she knew she had to protect him, but she wasn't Xhalax, and she didn't think she could trade John's life for his. She couldn't trade his for John's either—she needed them both.
So, yes, she had to protect her child, but she couldn't leave John with Scorpius, either. Not for anything. She just needed a plan, and she needed somewhere safe to place D'Argo. "We need to get him away from all of this. Somewhere safe," she said again, as though such a place might actually exist.
Chiana shook her head. "Moya's always been the safest place for us, and we said we were going to do this together. Crichton may have decided he doesn't need us, but that doesn't mean we don't need him." Chiana moved up to Aeryn. "We get him back," she said firmly. "Right?" Aeryn met her eyes. "We get him back, Aeryn, no matter what."
Aeryn nodded, and then glanced at the others. Noranti smiled at her sadly, and even Rygel didn't protest. Stark watched her quietly, his mask still off, the scarred pink flesh moving slightly as the energy caught underneath fought to get out. They were a strange group of people, she knew, looking back to Chiana's determined gaze. But they were also the best friends she could have hoped for, and she realized that she had forgotten, as John had forgotten, that they were supposed to stick together.
They were so much stronger that way. She tilted her head back and took D'Argo from Noranti, before starting for command. "We need a plan," she said, her voice remaining steady.
They followed her without a word.
- - - - -
The prowler landed inside the command carrier docking bay with a dull thud, and John winced. His memories of command carriers were always less than fond, and it had always been the last place he wanted to find himself again. He heard Scorpius's voice whisper, "Welcome home, John," but he knew it was Harvey speaking, because Scorpius was looking at him, from the front seat, and his mouth wasn't moving.
He was going to have to live with two of them. Sikozu smiled at him before she jumped down to the metal floor and he winced again. And Sikozu. Two Scorpius's and one Sikozu, on a command carrier. With his luck, Grayza was probably lurking around somewhere, too.
Scorpius and Sikozu watched him impatiently. "Crichton, are you coming?" Sikozu asked haughtily and he reluctantly pulled himself up, and fell down next to them.
He noticed the way the sentries lining the back wall tensed when they saw him, and though their weapons weren't quite aimed at him, they were only a hair away. "Nice welcoming party," John said. "You arrange all this for little 'ole me?"
Scorpius gave one of his not-laughs and aimed a smile at the floor. "Not quite, John, I'm afraid the precautions were not my idea but the crew's. They fear you."
John glanced at them and saw Scorpius was right. The last time he had been on Scorpius's command carrier they had watched him with disdain, certainly, suspicion and curiosity, but this was more than that. This was terror—directed at him. He supposed he couldn't really blame them. He had almost killed the universe.
"You should not have to worry about them harassing you, Crichton," Sikozu said sweetly. "I'm sure they are all too frightened to get too close. They do not know you as I do."
"Did you ever think maybe you don't know me as well as you think?" John asked, glancing at her sideways.
Sikozu raised her chin and continued to watch him, but she didn't respond.
When neither Scorpius nor Sikozu immediately moved, John raised his eyebrows. "Well? You gonna give me the grand tour, or what?"
Scorpius nodded and motioned Sikozu ahead of him. "Follow me, John."
"You're the boss man," he said, before catching pace beside him and humming 'Follow the Leader' under his breath. He figured if he was going to be stuck here for awhile, the least he could do was be annoying until he found a way out.
The room Scorpius led them to was large and circular, with a round table in the center that took up most of the floor space. He assumed it was some kind of conference room, or planning area, and he ran his hand along the edge of the table, his fingers absentmindedly running over a series of keys, as he looked around. "Nice set up you got here, Scorpius. All you need is a big chair at the back wall and a white cat."
Scorpius ignored his words, but followed his progress closely. "This is the map room. This is all we have charted of the Uncharted Territories," Scorpius said, hitting a button and bringing a translucent star map to hover above the surface of the table.
John glanced at it and whistled, impressed despite himself. "You better be careful, Scorp, you chart too much more of it and you're gonna have to think up a new name."
Scorpius glanced at him, almost looking amused. "Your wit never ceases to amaze me, John."
John grinned at him widely, falsely, as though he actually gave a damn whether or not Scorpius had reason to be amazed. "Flattery will get you nowhere. Why don't we get to the point?"
"I'm planning a series of attacks on the Scarran Empire," Scorpius said simply, and John was less than surprised. "I want you to give me locations of stable wormholes, so I can arrange surprise attacks, do reconnaissance with a fail proof escape route—"
"Ect, ect, ad nauseam," John said, cutting him off. "What do you really want?" Scorpius didn't answer and John wandered back over to him, until they were less than a foot apart. "I saw you…" John said softly. "When that black hole was doubling and doubling and taking everything with it and you…you were getting off on it, weren't you? You didn't even care that we'd be the first to go. You just wanted them all dead."
Scorpius glanced at him, contemplatively, but did not speak.
John shook his head and turned away from him. "I'm not going to be some instrument for you to use to destroy the universe, Scorpius. I've done enough damage to it already."
Scorpius acted as though he had not heard him. "Enter the coordinates of all the stable wormholes you can remember, Crichton. If you have trouble, Sikozu will assist you." He turned to her. "Sikozu, take him to his new quarters when he is finished. See that he is guarded well."
Sikozu nodded and Scorpius, with a glance back at John, left the room. John, for his part, leaned forward on the table, his eyes caught up in the swirling mass of stars and planets hovering in front of him. So much life, he thought, and he wondered how much of it would be destroyed if Scorpius had his way.
"You have no intention of helping us," Sikozu sneered, "do you? You've never cared for anything but your own pathetic problems."
John didn't look at her, and didn't answer the question. "Tell me, Ms. Sikozu Svala Shanti Sugaysi Shanu," he said, turning towards her now, and noticing with some satisfaction the way her eyes widened at the use of her full name. He just bet she hadn't thought he would remember it. "Just how did you keep Scorpius from killing you?"
"You've done worse to each other than I ever have," Sikozu said self-importantly. "And he always forgives you." When John didn't look convinced, Sikozu turned her eyes back to the map and continued. "Our goals, which were at one point diverging, have merged again. Scorpius will not waste an ally for the sake of revenge."
"As long as said ally isn't Scarran, you mean," John said.
Sikozu tilted her head in acknowledgement. "He told me that he would have done no less in my position, and I wonder, Crichton, would you?"
He didn't look at her. "I…tried to save the Eidelons, and now they're all almost dead. I tried my best to create peace, and Scorpius wants to make war again. I'm done, Sikozu. You want to save your people, then good luck, I hope you do, but you're on your own. I'll just give you one last piece of advice--don't trust him."
"We had an agreement, if he freed my people, I would serve him for the rest of my life." Sikozu watched him carefully. "I intend to keep it."
"And you're okay with that? You don't want to maybe switch sides, change your mind, because from what I remember, you've done that before and had no qualms about going back on promises," John snapped. "I have never promised you anything, Crichton," Sikozu said coldly, and he had to admit, that was true enough.
"Yeah, I guess you didn't," he said. "That's what I get, I suppose. For not realizing that I should have tried to get your friendship in writing."
Sikozu's mouth tightened, and as she entered something into the keys, John noticed she was using slightly more pressure than was strictly necessary. "You asked why Scorpius did not kill me, but you never asked how I remained alive at all."
John scanned the planets on the map, looking for something familiar and seeing nothing. "What makes you think I would care?" he asked.
Sikozu cast him a quick furtive glance, before looking away again. "You destroyed that entire planet," she said, "and almost me with it."
"My heart bleeds," Crichton said, stepping back from the table to examine the wall instead.
"Grunschlk, of all creatures, aided my escape," Sikozu continued, either oblivious to John's disinterest or simply ignoring it. "Together we were able to find an old transport and escape the planet before it broke apart. Grayza intercepted us, and pulled us aboard her ship. She did not know, at the time, that I had been…providing information to the Scarrans, she knew only I had fled with Scorpius and believed I might be useful."
"How lucky for you," John said vaguely.
"Grunschlk," Sikozu said, "was not so lucky. Grayza had him executed on sight, and would have me as well, later, had Scorpius not intervened."
"Is there a point to this little fairy tale?" John asked impatiently.
Sikozu tensed slightly, but ignored him. "The other with us, well…there was no hope for him, but Grayza, in a moment of rare optimism, put him in stasis to use as a possible bargaining chip."
John frowned slightly, glancing at her for the first time since she had started her speech. "What other—who else escaped?"
Sikozu took a deep breath and wouldn't meet his eyes. She moved over to another console and started speaking in a deliberately casual tone, as though she were trying to pull his mind to a different subject. "What you said, earlier, about my killing D'Argo, that isn't true."
John felt the anger build back up again, along with something else he wasn't willing to face, and he glared over at her. "You sold us out, Sputnik, they found us 'cause of you, ergo, he's dead because of you."
Sikozu paused and glanced up at him. "Perhaps some of the blame of what happened might rest with me," she said, "but he is not dead."
John felt the whole room tilt, he grabbed onto the console next to him, his fingers spreading out over the keys—heedless of which ones he pushed. "You're lying," he said, and the words sounded harsh, as though his throat had dried up and he'd forgotten how to speak.
Sikozu stepped forward, watching him with something close to compassion. "He is in stasis aboard this command carrier," she said. "Do not allow yourself hope, Crichton, he is, as Grunschlk said, effectively dead. The wound is fatal. The blood would not run clear."
He closed his eyes, and he could hear his heart pounding so loudly in his chest he was sure Sikozu must hear it too. "Why is he in stasis then?" he asked, quietly, his voice breaking over the words. His eyes snapped up to glare at her, and when he took a step forward she took one back. "What is he, some kind of goddamn trophy?"
Sikozu shook her head, holding out her hands to appease him. "It isn't like that."
"Then tell me, red, what it is it like?" John's voice had shifted again, become falsely seductive, and Sikozu had watched him long enough to know giving the wrong answer would be a very bad idea.
"There might be a way," she said haltingly, "there might be one thing that could save him."
John tilted his head to the side, watching her for lies. "What one thing?" he asked slowly.
Sikozu shook her head. "You'd have to ask Scorpius about that."
John's eyes were burning brightly, dangerous, as Sikozu could see, and she understood now, though it had taken monens and a war, just how very dangerous he was. "I want to see D'Argo," he said firmly. "Now. I want to see him."
Sikozu shook her head. "There is nothing you can—"
"Don't waste your time, John," Harvey whispered in his ear, but John pretended as though he wasn't there, and for Sikozu, he wasn't. John stepped up to her, lowering his head to meet her eyes. "Now," he said slowly, and Sikozu didn't dare say no.
- - - - -
John walked into the room, and the cold mist that covered the floor swirled around his boots. There was a cryopod in the center of the room, one similar to the one that had held Jool, and he approached it slowly, his heart pounding in his ears. He could see the frost covering the glass when he stepped up beside it, and he could hear Sikozu shifting impatiently behind him. He ignored her, he couldn't move any faster than he was.
He placed his hand against the glass, spread the bits of ice off to the side, and his breath caught when he saw D'Argo asleep inside. Blood stained his shirt and his braids, the corners of his mouth, but he looked strangely peaceful beneath it all—John found that to be a small conciliation. His hand was shaking when he removed it from the glass and he took a staggering step back.
Harvey appeared on the other side, in medical scrubs, and he stared at John over D’Argo with manic eyes. “Pull the plug, John! He suffers, have some mercy!” John blinked, conscious of Harvey but trying so hard not to be, as the neural clone yelled, “Pull the plug!” one more time before he disappeared.
Sikozu moved up beside him. "He took out an entire unit of Scarran and Charrid troops before we found him," she said softly. "He was still conscious, but barely. Grunschlk and I carried him with us. By the time we reached Grayza's command carrier I was sure he was dead, but he is exceptionally resilient."
John said nothing in response. Nothing she said had surprised him. He already knew what D'Argo was capable of, but he was worried that it didn't include surviving this.
"Luxans always have been an amazing species." This voice was soft like Sikozu's, but it did not hold the same semblance of regret, and John winced when he heard it. "Built for war."
John's eyes remained fixed on D'Argo's face. "Can you save him?" he demanded without turning.
"It's possible," Scorpius admitted, "but unlikely."
"You've underestimated us before," John said, his tone lacking the bravado he usually would have taken the effort to put there.
"You are correct, John," Scorpius allowed, "but not even you will live forever."
"I don't want to live forever, Scorpy. Getting to see my kid's tenth birthday, that would be nice. His first date. Graduation. A wedding in black leather." John spun around. "That would be nice." Scorpius watched him, his gaze calculating, and John stepped forward so they were face to face. "And D'Argo, see, he had dreams too. So you tell me, how do we fix this?"
Scorpius paused for a moment, and cast a mildly censuring glance at Sikozu.
She was quick to defend herself. "I had to tell him about D'Argo, Scorpius, he wasn't planning on cooperating. And Moya will be extremely difficult, likely impossible, to track down without Crichton on board and your ability to locate him. I thought we needed to give him new incentive."
"And here I thought you told me out of the goodness of your heart," John said slowly, his eyes remaining on Scorpius. He paused for a moment, making sure he had Scorpius's attention, before speaking again. "You save him, Scorpius, and I'll help you."
"I've heard that from you before, Crichton," Scorpius said slyly. "I thought when I spared your family you were going to help me."
John flashed him a grin. "That deal stands. He's family. You help him or you get nothing from me."
Scorpius looked past John towards D'Argo. "His injuries are severe. Medical attention alone will not save him. However, I know a Luxan Orican who is indebted to me," Scorpius said reluctantly, "and who may be able to facilitate his healing with their Ritual of—"
"Renewal," John said, finishing the sentence. "Yeah. I've heard of it. My last experience didn't go so well."
Scorpius glanced back at John, and he looked impressed. "You are well traveled, Crichton."
John was unmoved by Scorpius's admiration. "I've got the postcards to prove it."
Scorpius looked back to D'Argo. "The Orican lives on a small insignificant planet that is out of our way, I have not as of yet had the opportunity nor the inclination to hand Ka D'Argo over to her care."
John stepped directly in front of him. "You've got the incentive to now," he whispered, his voice deadly. "Because if you don't…I'm not going to help you."
"I will do what I can for your friend, John," Scorpius said, measuring his words, "but you must do something for me first."
John watched him warily, and he had the worst feeling that whatever Scorpius asked of him, for D'Argo, he would do it.
- - - - -
Chiana let Aeryn talk and plan, she let her explain how she would stay here with D’Argo, while Aeryn posed as the prowler pilot she used to be on Scorpius’s ship, and she didn’t say anything. She let Aeryn talk, but that was all she was going to let her do. She wasn’t staying behind this time, because if she got herself killed she wasn’t leaving a child behind, she wasn’t leaving anything behind.
Aeryn was the one with something to lose, and Chiana wasn’t going to let her.
When Aeryn looked around to confirm the plans she hadn’t really been listening to anyway and met her eyes, she said, “Nope.”
Aeryn raised an eyebrow. “Excuse me?”
Chiana shrugged. “In the words of Crichton, it ain’t gonna happen.”
Aeryn crossed her arms. “This is the best chance we have. I will infiltrate the command carrier…”
“How?” Chiana snapped. “Aside from the fact you’ll be recognized, Aeryn, you don’t have an ident chip. That’s why I’m going.”
“Because a Nebari on a Peacekeeper vessel is entirely inconspicuous, is that it?” Aeryn snapped. “You’ll do no such thing.”
Chiana pulled a small pouch from her side and emptied it on the table. A handful of ident chips rolled out on the surface, and Rygel’s eyes widened in obvious approval. “I collected a few during the battle,” Chiana said softly. “Not one of my finest moments, but I figured they might be needed and it seems I was right.” Chiana looked through them and picked one up. “I’m going to be Officer Marne Raen, and Noranti is going to create me.”
“No,” Aeryn said. “You make a terrible Peacekeeper, Chiana.”
“That was years ago,” Chiana said, determined. “I’d be better at it now. And with all of Noranti’s potions and paints…” Chiana turned to Noranti. “Can you make me look Sebacean?”
Noranti nodded eagerly. “Yes, yes of course…you would make a fine Sebacean!”
Chiana turned to Aeryn, pleased with herself. “And though they’d recognize a Nebari, they wouldn’t look twice at a lost prowler pilot, trying to find her people after getting lost in the madness of a war.”
“I will not let you do this,” Aeryn said firmly. “This is my responsibility.”
“D’Argo is your responsibility,” Chiana said gently. “You can’t be in two places at once, Aeryn, let me help.”
“Chiana is right,” Rygel said. “She should go, and we will stay here to protect D’Argo aboard Moya.”
Aeryn turned to him in disbelief. “How noble, Rygel. Your selflessness continues to amaze.”
“Well he’s still right,” Chiana said, taking a step towards Aeryn. “I have a better chance, Aeryn, too many people know you. Scorpius will be watching for you. And D’Argo needs you here.”
Stark sat calmly, watching them. He was quiet now more often than not, no longer speaking in riddles or rants, and when he spoke at all these days he sounded almost sane. “Chiana is very capable, Aeryn,” he said. “She has infiltrated a Peacekeeper base, this is no different.”
“This is different,” Aeryn said, glancing at him briefly before turning back to Chiana. “This isn’t going to retrieve some tissue; this is trying to rescue someone Scorpius isn’t going to let out of his sight!”
“Then I’ll kill him,” Chiana snapped. “Crichton can’t seem to, so I’ll do it for him. I’ll end this, and I’ll bring him back. Aeryn, you have to trust me. I need to do this.”
Aeryn met her eyes angrily. “If you’re just going out of some need for revenge, Chiana, you’ll get yourself and John killed.”
“This isn’t about revenge,” Chiana disagreed. “This is about hanging onto the little I have left. I lost D’Argo, Aeryn, I can’t lose Crichton too. I know you can’t either.”
Aeryn watched Chiana, who met her gaze unflinchingly, and she could feel D’Argo pulling on her hair, trying to get her attention back on him. She knew Chiana had become more than capable, she was as good a fighter as her, if not better, and her aim wasn’t bad. And Chiana had bluffing down pat before they’d ever met. “If you do this,” she started. “You can’t fail.”
“I’m not going to,” Chiana said tightly. “Whatever hold Scorpius has on Crichton, it doesn’t extend to me. It’s time for this to be over, Aeryn, and we both know it.”
Aeryn looked down at D’Argo, wrapped the blanket tighter around him, heard John’s voice in her head asking if they had a black leather jacket in the baby’s size, and yes, she knew it was time for it to be over.
She just wasn’t sure how it was going to end.
- - - - -
“You know what he’s asking, John,” Harvey said, as he sat perched atop the cryopod, his legs crossed and swinging. “You know what he wants. Give it to him, not for D’Argo, but for us!”
Behind him, the nightmare mirror image was breathing down his neck. “I do not trust you, Crichton,” Scorpius whispered. “You have proved time and again you will betray me.”
“Took ya long enough to learn,” John whispered, his eyes still on Harvey, his voice lacking any real bite.
“There is a Scarran dreadnought that patrols near here,” Scorpius continued. “Hundreds of Kalish slaves labor there.”
“Things are worse for them now, Crichton,” Sikozu said, sounding almost pleading. “Since the war, the Scarrans have gone from oppressive to cruel.”
“What do you want me to do about it?” John asked absently, thinking all the time, get off D’Argo’s cryopod you son of a bitch. Harvey grinned at him, but didn’t move. “You know what he wants, John,” Harvey said again, and John had to admit, he had a good guess.
“Tell me, John, is there a wormhole forming nearby?”
The better to gobble up unsuspecting Scarran dreadnoughts, maybe? John’s eyes strayed back to D’Argo. “Why are you doing this?” he asked. He turned to look at Scorpius. “Really, what do you expect to gain? If you do this, it’s a breach of the treaty; it could start all and out war, think it through!” Scorpius remained silent and John shook his head. “Do you really think the Peacekeepers can hold out through another one?”
“Perhaps a war is needed,” Sikozu said, answering before Scorpius could.
John shook his head. “We could renegotiate,” he said, “we could try and get the Scarrans to free the Kalish—”
“For someone capable of such violence,” Sikozu hissed, “you can be startlingly naïve. We have already negotiated the Kalish free, they’re just not holding up their end of the bargain, and the Peacekeepers are so happy to have self-rule they do not care.”
John gave a startled laugh. “Oh, Scorpy, don’t tell me you’ve gone rogue again. The Peacekeeper head honchos don’t want this?”
Scorpius glanced over at him. “This is not sanctioned, no, and if we go through with this action and are caught High Command would immediately order my execution…and possibly yours, if they did not simply hand you over to Grayza.” Scorpius smiled. “However, if you do what I ask, Crichton, we will not be caught.”
John watched him. “What, you want me to make your problem go away, make it disappear through a little wormhole?”
“Yes, John,” Scorpius said, slyly. “And if you do, I will keep Ka D’Argo alive.” His expression darkened and he stepped forward. “If you do not, I will shut off that cryopod and force you to watch him die.”
Harvey jumped off the cryopod behind him, and threw his arm over his shoulders. “Well, that sounds like fun, too, doesn’t it? Whatever you choose, John, I’m behind you. Just like always.”
Harvey’s fingers were seeping cold down to his skin, which John thought was strange, because he knew from too much experience Scorpius was hot to the touch. He closed his eyes and spun around again, opening his eyes only to look back at D’Argo.
“This is a win-win situation, Crichton,” Sikozu said, in that forced way she had of speaking, “you enjoy being a hero, don’t you? You can save my people, you can save your friend, and all you have to do is give us the coordinates to a forming wormhole.”
And it seemed to him that was the only way to save people anymore—by killing just as many. Maybe it was selfish of him, but he wasn’t sure he cared about the Kalish, he sure as hell didn’t care about Sikozu, though at the beginning he had tried. What he did care about was D’Argo, and he didn’t think he could watch another friend die.
He was living permanently between a rock and a hard place, stuck between Harvey and Scorpius, stuck between the greater good and the less of evils and he didn’t know what he was supposed to do anymore. “You give into it,” Harvey whispered. “That’s what you do, John, you hand yourself over to it. Stop fighting.”
Scorpius walked over to the cryopod, opened the console, stared down at the keys contemplatively. “The touch of a button, Crichton, and all hope for him is lost; you have changed, but I do not think you have changed so much you would allow me to press it.”
Scorpius knew little about him, but it seemed that after four years, he had finally learned that much, because he was right. John wouldn’t, because he couldn’t. Not with D’Argo’s life on one side and Scarrans on the other, Scarrans that had created Scorpius, hunted him, damn near killed him. He wouldn’t let D’Argo die for them, and he didn’t care what that made him. “Fine,” he said, quietly, ignoring the responding twin smirks from two identical faces. “You win.”
It was an old game between them, battles and rounds, winners and losers. It seemed to him, the score was in Scorpius’s favor by now. He’d always had a lead. “Of course I do, John,” Scorpius said.
Sikozu threw him a genuine smile, but he ignored her, wouldn’t meet her eyes, because he knew the truth about her and it stood out clear as Harvey in his mind. She would betray him in an instant, and he could probably trust Scorpius more than her. He knew better than to trust either of them—knew better than to even trust himself with Harvey running around the back of his mind, showing up in the middle of the room.
“Crichton,” Scorpius started, moving back over to his side. “Are any wormholes soon to form?”
Veinte, diez, tres…he could sense them all, going off like fireworks in his head, waiting to be triggered, but he shook his head no. Scorpius knew he was lying, and John barely bothered to wonder how. Maybe he was chatting with Harvey, maybe he just knew him better than he thought, whatever it was Scorpius didn’t call him on it and he didn’t take it back.
“Take him to the quarters I have prepared, Sikozu,” Scorpius said, and she nodded. “Oh, and, John, do tell me when you find a wormhole that might be suitable to our purposes?”
John didn’t look back, and as he walked with Sikozu, the Peacekeepers slid out of their way like water over rocks. He tried not to notice the way they looked at him like he was something horrible, but the look was easily recognized, because he’d looked at them the same way his first day this side of the universe.
Sikozu opened the door for him, and he wasn’t surprised when after it had shut behind him, it wouldn’t open again.
- - - - -
He contacted Scorpius early the next morning. He had woken up to a wormhole in his mind, at the edge of his awareness, and he could already hear the countdown in his head. They didn’t have much time, but it would have to be enough. Scorpius had him escorted to command, and he didn’t miss the way no one reached out to touch him. No rough hands pushed him along.
He could see the dreadnought out the front window when he stepped in the room, Sikozu and Scorpius framing either side. “Did you sleep well, John?” Scorpius asked, turning to glance at him.
“Go to hell,” he said simply. Scorpius merely smiled in response. He’d never really been one to anger at insults alone, and if John hadn’t hated him so much, he might have admired that.
“Enter the coordinates,” Sikozu said, leading John to a console. “Do not delay.”
John glanced at her, then shook his head and shrugged. “I don’t have them.”
Scorpius hissed. “What do you mean you do not have them?”
“I’ll tell you what you need to know, when you need to know it,” John said slowly. “I don’t have coordinates, not exactly, not the way you think, I’m not a computer. I just know where it is.”
Scorpius made another inhuman sound and grabbed his arm, pulling him to the front window. “You will talk with them,” he snapped. “Get them to release the Kalish.”
John glanced at him incredulously. “How am I supposed to do that?”
“Do what you do best, John,” Scorpius said, giving a brief menacing smile, “bluff.”
Without a pause, a Scarran appeared in place of the stars. He looked angry, but John thought they all did, so he wasn’t sure he was a good judge. He adjusted his jacket and took a breath, before slipping into an old persona that had always served him well. “Good mornin’,” he said, grinning.
The Scarran’s expression remained for the most part unchanged. “What do you want, Peacekeepers?”
“Nothin’ much,” John said, “just every Kalish onboard your ship. As in all of them. Preferably now, but I’ll give you five minutes.”
The Scarran growled a bit, which John also found to be common among them, as well as unimpressive. “Do you have a death wish?”
“Me?” John asked, looking surprised. “No, no I don’t have a death wish. Do you? Or maybe…” he laughed. “Oh, that must be it. You don’t know who I am, do you?”
The Scarran shifted slightly, and John could almost hear his patience ticking away. He grinned brightly. “Well, I’m John Crichton, and I’m not going to ask nicely again. Send the Kalish out here now, and don’t forget any, because we’ll be counting heads.”
The first spark of something appeared in the Scarran’s eyes, though he showed no outward signs of fear. At least not yet. “You are John Crichton?” he said scathingly. “I had expected more.”
“Appearances can be deceiving,” John said dispassionately. “For instance, to look at you, I’d never guess your species had developed the ability to speak.”
That got him a reaction. The Scarran jumped from his seat, but John never flinched as he loomed closer to the screen. “You dare—”
John shook his head, cutting him off. “Look, we’ve obviously got some kind of misunderstanding here. If you don’t do what I want you to do, I’m going to summon up a big black hole, and you’re going to get pulled apart. Is any of this getting through your thick skull?” The connection was cut, leaving blue static in its place. “I guess it’s not getting through,” John said after a pause.
“On the contrary,” Sikozu said, looking up with a grin. “Their shields have been lowered; I believe they are preparing to follow your commands.”
“Magnificent, John,” Scorpius said, but John only winced. Praise from Scorpius always meant he was definitely doing something he shouldn’t be. Scorpius walked up next to him. “But I want to destroy them, if we do not, there will be trouble with the treaty. Your treasured peace will be threatened.”
“Technically the Kalish are free already by terms of the contract,” John said, “so this isn’t a breach.”
“Threatening them with wormhole weapons is,” Scorpius hissed. “And you know we must not allow them to live. You either lead us to one of your wormholes, or we’re all dead.”
John licked his lips briefly, his eyes locked on the static still playing across the screen. Scorpius had set him up for this, all he had to do was stand back while John painted himself into a corner. “Fire on them once all of the Kalish are onboard, then start straight past them, they’ll follow, threats from the great John Crichton or not. Scarrans have tempers like that." John paused, and then added, "I’ll tell you when to stop.”
Scorpius grinned then turned to look at Sikozu. “Transports are exiting the ship,” she said, pleased. “Only Kalish are aboard. They are complying.”
The minutes ticked by like seconds in John’s mind, and he could see the whole thing play through the back of his mind, perfectly orchestrated. Harvey was counting down in Spanish from where he sat on the floor, keeping track of the wormhole for him, but he needn’t have bothered, because John had the strangest feeling it would wait for him if they were late.
“All of the Kalish are aboard, Scorpius,” Sikozu said, grinning slyly.
Scorpius nodded. “Open fire on the Scarran vessel, and then pull past them. Suspend all communication.”
The crew was quick to comply, and John thought Scorpius had probably hand picked them all. Braca was standing in the background somewhere, John had caught a glimpse of him when he had come in, though he hadn’t been in the mood to say ‘hey, how ya doin’’ at the time. The pulse cannons launched and hit their targets, shaking the dreadnought, causing the shields to lift back up in the aftermath and catch the fire and smoke inside, before the vacuum could snuff it out.
The command carrier took off past them, heading into the dark space, and after a moment, the dreadnought started after them. John glanced at the Peacekeeper equivalent of radar, and watched its progress unconcerned.
“How much time?” Scorpius hissed in his ear.
John looked up, out the front window. He said, “Enough.”
Harvey’s countdown was getting close, and when he reached four John said stop. The command carrier lurched to a halt, the dreadnought continued coming at them, but the space between them was still far enough that, John knew, they would never reach them in time. Not before Harvey said ‘uno.’
“John,” Scorpius hissed, because nothing was happening yet and he didn’t understand, didn’t know like John did, that the empty space was just a breath away from coming to life.
The wormhole burst through the black, shifting and blue and huge, and behind him he heard Sikozu catch her breath. The dreadnought was caught in its pull, just as John had somehow known it would be, and it started swirling towards the center, like water in an open drain.
"John, tell me," Scorpius asked conversationally, "is that wormhole stable?"
John kept his eyes forward. "No," he said, and as he watched the dreadnought get caught in the center and disappear, he tried not to think how many lives he had just traded for a chance at saving D'Argo's.
- - - - -
Scorpius's smile was sickening. John closed his eyes as the wormhole evaporated completely. "I want to go back to the room," he said, quietly, trying to keep the desperation from his voice. He refused to call them his quarters and the omission did not go unnoticed, but John didn't care what they saw in his words. He was just trying to keep his feet as something tugged on him, and tugged, pulling him inevitably down.
Scorpius glanced at him, the smile remaining in place. "Of course, John. Sikozu?"
Sikozu walked over to him, watching him oddly. He started from Command and she immediately kept pace beside him, but when he went to go right she caught his arm and pulled him in the opposite direction. "Where are we going?" he asked, not particularly concerned.
"I need to show you something," she hissed. He followed her without another word, his feet following hers, one step at a time, as he tried to banish screaming faces from his mind.
What was another couple of hundred dead Scarrans, really, in the big scheme of things?
He stopped in the middle of the hall, and Sikozu turned to look at him. He felt sick, but she grabbed his arm and kept walking, mercilessly further into the lion's den, and he let her because he didn't see a point in pulling away. She stopped when they reached the second story of a vast room, and led him to the glass wall looking down on the floor below. Countless Kalish wandered confusedly across the ground.
They looked pitiful, and he winced when he saw there were children, too, but he knew what Sikozu was doing, and it still didn't make it right. He couldn't even convince himself that they were better off. "Do you see now, why this was necessary?" Sikozu hissed. "They are free now."
Freedom was a funny thing. He had thought he was finally free. It hadn't taken much for it to disappear. "I'm supposed to be done with killing," he whispered. Harvey walked up to the glass, placing both of his hands on the surface and looking down with wide eyes. "This is all of them? Not so many then, huh, John? But at least all of the Scarrans are dead. Thanks to you, of course."
"Nothing is ever really done," Sikozu snapped, and his gaze moved from Harvey back to her. "And they are not worth your regret. They are monsters, Crichton, and you have as much reason to know it as I."
"Monsters," he repeated. "You struck a deal with them. Tell me, what does that make you?"
Sikozu bristled. "I did what I had to in order to help my people, and it backfired, badly. I am trying to make up for that now. You are willing to ally with your enemy for your purposes, so do not judge me."
He glanced at her, his eyes holding the same kind of bleak madness she had seen on their first encounter. "Oh, but I know what I am."
Sikozu held her ground. "You have no reason to act this way, you have saved hundreds!" she snapped.
"By killing hundreds," he said slowly. Over her left shoulder, Harvey shot him a malicious grin. "How can that be right?"
"Because the Kalish are more important than they are!" Sikozu reached forward, grabbing his arm, honestly not understanding why he did not see things the same as her.
He ripped away from her, his eyes blazing. "Don't you touch me!"
Sikozu backed away, her eyes wide and focused on him. "The Scarrans are degenerates," she snapped. "Do not waste your pity on their lives when you have helped free my people from slavery."
John wouldn't look at her. Sikozu had always had a strange kind of innocence, a complete and utter inability to see grey between the white and black. He turned his eyes back down to watch the Kalish. There were Peacekeeper Commandos at each of the doors, corralling them to the center of the room with the weapons resting in their hands. He wondered how they had lived while on that Scarran ship. Whether or not they were even happy to leave it behind.
"I am…grateful, Crichton," Sikozu said softly, and her voice was as kind as he had ever heard it—kind enough, he thought, that he almost believed she really was. "Isn't this what you are fighting for?"
He watched them, the Kalish, until their faces began to blur, and he could no longer tell them apart. "No, this is what you're fighting for. I did it for D'Argo."
Sikozu glared at him. "You are not this heartless, Crichton."
"If I were heartless, Sputnik," he said, bumping her shoulder as he pushed past her, "there'd be no problem here."
John pulled to a stop when Scorpius's voice sounded over the comm., his eyes tiredly rolling to the ceiling. "Sikozu, I need you to return to Command."
Sikozu glanced over at Crichton. "Shall I return with Crichton?"
There was a pause. "No, take him to his quarters. This does not concern him."
If he hadn't been fighting off so many warring emotions, trying so hard not to think, he might have cared enough to question when Harvey whispered in his ear that Scorpius was lying about that.
- - - - -
"Ow!" Chiana pulled away from Noranti, but the old woman just made a slight clucking sound and pulled her back.
"Do not move," she said intensely. "Delicate, yes…must be careful…"
Chiana winced, as Noranti raised the needle again and then caught her wrist. "Are you sure about this?" she snapped. "I don't want you making me blind, I know what it's like and I do not want to go through it again."
Noranti nodded. "Yes, yes, very safe. You cannot be Sebacean with feline eyes, dear!"
Chiana winced, knowing she was right. Aeryn had already retrieved a Peacekeeper uniform for her, no more frelling tech disguises, either, this time she was carrying a gun. Her skin was painted over with a thick cream white, and though it wasn't coming off at the moment, Noranti had warned her it would eventually—which was good, as she didn't want to be stuck this color all her life, and she would have asked someone else to help her if she'd known Noranti had been looking for something permanent.
Noranti had then fashioned a wig of long black hair, though Chiana didn't want to know where it had come from, and it was held tightly on her head, with the strands tied back at the base of her neck the way Aeryn sometimes wore hers.
Just like a Sebacean, except, as Noranti had pointed out, for the eyes.
She held still, and watched the needle grow closer to her eye. She almost pulled away but she hesitated a second and then it was too late, and it was already pulling out again. She blinked, tears pooling up involuntarily. "Frell, grandma!" she hissed. Noranti ignored her, grabbing her chin and placing the needle in the next eye.
Chiana pulled away from her once it was over, blinking back the moisture, the room spinning for a moment before things became clear again. She almost laughed when she caught her balance, because she could still see. She heard someone gasp and turned to the door. Aeryn was standing there with D'Argo in her arms, looking shocked.
Chiana had been right; she made a better Peacekeeper this time around. If not for the unmistakable little grin the Nebari threw her way, Aeryn might not have believed it was Chiana herself. "Your eyes," she said. "They're blue."
Chiana turned to the mirror, and her smile grew wider. "Frell me! I look like a Peacekeeper. Noranti, you are good for something." Chiana spun back to Aeryn. "Where's my pulse pistol?"
Aeryn pulled off her holster, and tossed it to Chiana, the weapon held safely inside. "Are you sure about this?" she asked again, sounding concerned.
Chiana looked over at her, strange blue eyes were hidden by black bangs and she looked more alien than she would have if she had still been grey. "Yeah." She watched her reflection for a moment, puzzling over the fact she could hardly recognize herself, before she turned back to Aeryn. "I'm sure." She walked up to Aeryn, her eyes lowering to meet the baby in her arms. She smiled slightly. "What have I got to lose?"
"More than you think," Aeryn whispered. "Be careful, Chiana, John and I need you."
"Yeah, I know," she said, exasperation and fondness coloring the words. "I'm the best babysitter around." She glanced behind her at Noranti, who disturbingly, was experimentally licking the needle she had pressed into her eye microts earlier. "Not that that's saying much," she added.
Aeryn laughed slightly, but it was tense. "I've entered the coordinates where we left the command carrier into my prowler and programmed in a course. I know, however, that you will have no trouble overwriting it if the need arrives."
She grinned slyly. "No, I wouldn't." Chiana ran a hand down D'Argo's face, another smile, a softer one, playing across her lips before she moved past them, not daring to look back. "Make sure Pilot opens the doors," she said. "I have a command carrier to catch."
"I will," Aeryn said as she watched her go, and if not for the subtle idiosyncrasies in Chiana's gait she would not have recognized her from the back. She looked almost completely Sebacean, and she sounded different, too, more like John than herself. Aeryn sighed and leaned against the wall, her eyes dropping to her son. She would bring him back, Aeryn decided. If anyone could.
- - - - -
Aeryn stood anxiously in command, D'Argo asleep in a make-shift bassinet by her feet. Chiana had flown out of sight an arn earlier in her prowler, saying 'wish me luck' and reinforcing her belief that once she got both Chiana and John back, they were going to have to spend less time together because they were sounding far too much alike.
She turned back to the window. She didn't like this one bit. She should be out there, in the prowler, heading into danger. Not Chiana. Not because Chiana couldn't handle it, just because it should have been her. It was what she did. John got in trouble and she fought to get him back, that was how it always was.
D'Argo started crying and she knelt down to pick him up, carrying him along in her pacing, bouncing enough to entertain and calm him. She glanced at him, and couldn't help the small smile that appeared. So maybe she wasn't doing nothing, but she still felt anxious. She took things head on, and it was getting harder and harder to accept the realization that she couldn't do that with a baby in her arms. She grinned at her son, not that the trade-off wasn't worth it, and she wouldn't mind a quiet life, really, not as long as John was with her—and she got to keep her pulse pistol, just in case.
"Officer Sun," Pilot's voice reached her and she stilled.
She raised her eyes, the anxiousness she had felt since Chiana had gone rushing back two-fold. "Yes, Pilot?"
"Moya and I are detecting a small vessel on approach…"
Aeryn moved to a console, D'Argo grabbing at her hair all the while, and tried to see if they were receiving a visual yet. "Are we receiving a message?" she asked. "Is Chiana coming back?"
"I do not think so, Aeryn, the ship is traveling at speeds that a prowler would not be able to achieve." Pilot sounded worried, and Aeryn couldn't blame him. When bad things happened, it was for the most part her, John, D'Argo and Chiana that took care of it. Chiana was off trying to get John from where he was being held prisoner, and…D'Argo was dead. That only left her, Stark, Noranti, and even less encouraging, Rygel.
She winced. "What can you tell me about it, Pilot? Do they seem hostile?" She shifted D'Argo to her other side, and he leaned curiously forward, trying to reach the buttons on the console.
Aeryn looked up when there was no response and frowned. "Pilot? What's wrong?"
"Moya and I can think of only one ship that can reach these speeds, Officer Sun," he said, quietly.
Aeryn moved to another console, searching the stars for any sign of a ship. "Which is what?"
There was a pause, and the weight of it fell heavily in Command. "A Stryker."
Aeryn paled, her eyes falling to her son's face. "Scarrans," she whispered.
- - - - -
"What is the problem?" Sikozu asked briskly, when she stepped onto command.
Scorpius glanced at her, a cruel smile hiding behind his eyes even as he held his expression impassive. "The Dreadnought was able to send out a distress call before they were destroyed."
Sikozu frowned, moving over to a console. "I did not think any other Scarran vessels were within contact range."
"There was a Stryker," Scorpius said calmly. "Hidden quite efficiently from our sensors until a few microts ago. They received orders from the Dreadnought before it was destroyed."
Sikozu paused, realization sinking slowly, and when it hit she glanced up.
"The capture of John Crichton's family," Scorpius continued mildly.
Sikozu paled. "We must go after them! Crichton will not—"
"Crichton will not be told," Scorpius hissed. "The Stryker by now would have informed Staleek of the situation, going after them now serves no purpose. We will continue on course for the Orican's world."
Sikozu's eyes lit up, and she stalked over to him. "If the Scarrans capture Aeryn and her child, Crichton will not help us!" She angrily shook her head. "And if he knows the Scarrans are going after his family, he will be more willing to help us destroy them. He must be told."
"If he learns about this," Scorpius hissed stepping forward so they were barely an inch apart. "There is a great possibility he will destroy us. You will not tell him." Scorpius hand came to rest on her neck, and though the touch was caressing, the threat was not lost on her. He leaned forward. "Will you?"
Sikozu met his eyes and backed down reluctantly. "I will not."
Scorpius nodded, and his hand dropped away. "After the Orican does what she can for Ka D'Argo, we will inform Crichton that the Scarrans have learned of our attack. He will not be happy, but perhaps he will finally see the need for war."
"It's possible he will not," Sikozu said stiffly. "The brief war we have already experienced seems to have damaged him irreparably."
Scorpius's eyes were sparkling when he turned them to gaze out at the stars. "Oh, I do not believe that." He smiled slowly. "You are underestimating him again, Sikozu."
Sikozu tilted her head back slightly, watching him watching the empty space. "Are you sure that you are not doing so, as well?" She had never expected an answer, and she turned and left command to see after the Kalish without waiting for one.
- - - - -
Starburst. She should tell Pilot to Starburst.
She didn't, she couldn't bring herself to say the word, not knowing the consequences if she did. Aeryn looked down at the console with blurring eyes, holding D'Argo tightly with her right arm. If they went to Starburst, they might not be able to get back here, and this was the only meeting place Chiana had for when she returned. And Aeryn was certain she would return, with John, and she wasn't going to let anything stop her from being there to meet them.
She started out of command, the bassinet dangling in one hand while she held onto D'Argo with the other. She opened her comm. to the entire ship. "There is a Scarran Stryker on the way," she announced, without preamble. "We take a stand now. If we run they will find us again, and if we're constantly hiding Chiana and John will not be able to find us either."
She heard Stark muttering, but no one provided any real input. She had expected no less. "Stark," she snapped, trying to get his attention. Chiana was best with the Banik, and Aeryn had never been able to reach him like she could. "I want you to find Noranti, arm yourselves."
"Yes, yes…" he said, and a moment later, Noranti added, "Yes! Weapons. We must fight!"
"Rygel," Aeryn continued, "meet me in my quarters."
"Me?" Rygel said, sounding distant. "I'm a little preoccupied, Aeryn, if you—"
"Now," she snapped. "If you make me search for you, you will regret it."
When she reached her and John's quarters, Rygel was hovering in the doorway, looking grim. "We should starburst immediately," he said.
Aeryn barely looked at him as she pushed her way past, and laid D'Argo gently on the bed, before turning to scan the shelves. "They would find us again," she said simply.
"Then we would starburst again!" Rygel yelled. "Crichton and Chiana have made their choices."
Aeryn grabbed their Tarkan shield belt from the bottom shelf and headed back to D'Argo. She gently placed him inside of it and set him into the bassinet. "Pilot?" Aeryn said, unconcerned by Rygel's reservations, but worried Pilot and Moya might have some too. "Are you and Moya both okay with all of this?"
"Yes, Aeryn," Pilot said after a pause. "We cannot abandon Chiana and Crichton, and the Scarrans would not give up, in any case."
"No, they wouldn't." Aeryn nodded, and they were all tired of running, anyway. She picked up the bassinet and pointed at Rygel as she headed back out the doors. "Come with me."
He followed her, grumbling. She led the way to a small access port in Moya's corridor, and got to her knees in front of it. "You," she said, addressing Rygel as she pulled off the covering, "are going to hide here with D'Argo. You will not leave him for anything."
Rygel glanced at her suspiciously. "You want me to hide?"
Aeryn met his eyes fiercely. "I want you to protect my son. I am trusting you, Rygel. You carried him, and I know you will not allow harm to come to him."
Rygel's head tilted back fractionally, as the compliments went straight to his head, and he grinned. "Of course not—he's practically family! Not as handsome as my own progeny, of course, but with Crichton for a father he is hardly to blame for that."
Aeryn was not really listening, but Rygel, in his posturing, did not notice his lack of audience. "Inside," Aeryn commanded.
Rygel got off his throne sled and pushed it inside the small opening, before following it in to the small area on the other side of the wall. Aeryn leaned down to kiss her son's forehead, and then slide him inside next to Rygel. She leaned down so she could meet Rygel's eyes. "If when I come back I find that shield on you, I will strangle you with it. If I come back and find you have left him alone, I will do much worse. Do you understand?"
Rygel nodded, not doubting it for a microt. "I will stay with him, Aeryn. Go kill the bastards."
Aeryn sat back, forcing herself to take a deep breath. D'Argo had started crying, and she could hear Rygel whispering to him. She wanted to hold him herself, but she did not have the time, so she slide the barrier back into place, and when it clicked into the wall she couldn't hear them anymore.
- - - - -
The planet was nearly black, almost blending into the space surrounding it. It would have, if not for the swirling mass of white and grey clouds that hovered in the atmosphere, giving it shape, and reminding John of the marbles he used to play around with as a kid.
He hadn't thought they would arrive to the Orican's planet so soon, and he wasn't sure how prepared he was to go through with it—but remembering D'Argo in the cryopod, remembering Chiana's face as he pulled her away, well, that would just have to be enough to push him through it. If nothing else, he had to see D'Argo out of this situation. He owed him that much at least.
"I have sent for her already," Scorpius told him. "She should return with Braca shortly."
"Are you sure she's going to help you?" John asked vaguely. "Don't they have rules about this kind of thing?"
Scorpius smiled slyly. "Look where she lives, Crichton. She is not a conventional Orican."
Figured, John thought. Of course he should only end up associating with the crazy Oricans. He didn't really care, though, not so long as she brought D'Argo back. He'd already sold his soul to the devil to save him—he might as well go all the way.
Sikozu stepped through the doors behind them. "Braca has returned with the Luxan," she said dismissively. "She is not very impressive; I don't see how she can help."
The distain in her voice was obvious, and it grated on John's nerves. "I once saw an Orican throw D'Argo across the room like he was Raggedy Andy, without ever getting close enough to touch him. She could probably fry your circuits with a blink of her eyes, so maybe you oughta show some respect," he told her, but he didn't sound angry. His voice remained level, and Sikozu was all the more disturbed because of it.
She didn't let it show as she turned her attention to Scorpius instead. "She is awaiting our arrival in the cryostasis room."
John didn't know what he had been expecting, but he guessed it was probably something closer to the aged Orican he had seen before she had used Moya and the Ritual of Renewal to make herself young, and not someone that looked closer to the after picture than the before.
She smiled when she saw Scorpius, but it was a wary kind of powerful smile, as though she knew exactly what Scorpius was capable of and it didn't scare her. "Scorpius," she said, sweetly, long red hair only slightly graying at the temples of her head, and falling behind her shoulders as she tilted it back, the ornaments on her tentacles clicking slightly before going silent. "I wondered when you would call upon me, but even for you, this is a strange favor."
Scorpius smiled at her, but as with the female Luxan's smile, it was more wary than warm. "Can you heal him, Ilien?"
"Perhaps," she said vaguely, glancing over at D'Argo's frozen form. "But why should I?"
John pushed past Scorpius, ignoring the warning hiss. "You should because D'Argo is an honorable Luxan, and he deserves a second chance."
The woman turned depthless eyes on him, but John was unmoved. D'Argo's fear of the Oricans had not touched him the first time he had met one, and he wouldn't let it now, not with so much at stake. "Honorable? A Luxan who fights beside rebels and outlaws and not his own? He does not deserve my gift."
"He assisted an Orican in the Ritual of Death," John said smoothly. "She thought him worthy. He helped to stop a war that would have killed millions. Still not worthy enough for you?"
"John," Scorpius started, false appeasement coloring his voice.
Ilien held up a hand to forestall his comment, and kept her eyes on John. "What was the name of this Orican?" she asked.
"Nilaam," John said without hesitation. He thought better of sharing the whole ordeal with her—better to keep things as simple as he could in this situation that was already more than complicated enough.
"Nilaam was a good Orican," Ilien said thoughtfully, moving to look down at D'Argo. She reached out behind her, and grabbed John's wrist to pull him closer. "You would not lie to me?" she asked.
John met her eyes, the pressure of her fingers against his wrist strangely trying to occupy all of his attention, and he knew that if he did lie right then, something very bad would happen. "No," he said, and she smiled and let him go, turning to run her palm along the clear section of the cryopod.
"If he was worthy of Nilaam's absolute trust then he is worthy of life," she said. "I will attempt to heal him." She turned to John. "You are close to him, yes? Your bond is strong?"
John nodded. "Yes."
"You will help me," she said. "It will take both of our strengths if we are to save him." One of her hands distractedly fell to her side, caressing the handle of an ornately decorated dagger. "Leave us at once, Scorpius," she said. "You can not be here. Take your sentry with you." Ilien did not take notice when Sikozu bristled at the title.
Scorpius's eyes flickered towards John, obviously wary of leaving him alone with her. "Crichton should—"
"He stays," Ilien interrupted smoothly. "I may owe you small favors, Scorpius, but do not believe you hold any real power over me." She looked up and met his eyes fiercely. "Surely you did not think you could coerce me into helping you did I not see the need?"
Scorpius titled his head, a mock submissive gesture that fooled none of them. "Of course not, Ilien, but Crichton must not come to harm."
"I would not harm him," Ilien said. "You must go now."
Scorpius gave John a warning glance before ushering Sikozu out the doors and closing them behind him. John watched with faint amusement, too tense and weary to take any real pleasure at seeing Scorpius as close to flustered as he got. Ilien walked to the doors, running her palm slowly down the slit that ran down the middle of them. "They will not be able to enter here until we are done," she said, turning to face Crichton.
John nodded, and glanced at D'Argo. "Can you really help him?"
Ilien watched him, ignoring or dismissing the question, and stepped closer. "There is evil in you," she whispered.
Harvey appeared at her side, one of his elbows resting on her shoulder, wearing a large grin. "I hope she's not talking about me!" he said in mock horror. "The nerve of some people, huh, John? They'll say anything."
John licked his lips distractedly. "Yeah. You could say that. More than one kind, most like."
Ilien's eyes narrowed. "You see something that I cannot. What do you see?"
"A neural clone," he said, dismissing any thought of lying.
Ilien nodded, needing no other explanation. She placed one of her hands at the base of his neck. "Scorpius?" John nodded. "This will not do at all. I must destroy it, or you will be no use to me."
John's eyes widened. "You can do that?"
"I can do many things," Ilien said dismissively.
"You can't let her, John! You mustn't!" Harvey appeared behind her again, eyes frantic. "You need me! You cannot face Scorpius alone."
There was a time John would have hesitated—would have thought Harvey deserved at least his indecision. He couldn't afford indecision now.
"Do it," he whispered, and with an enigmatic smile Ilien drew her dagger.
She reached out and grabbed his hand, slicing through the palm, leaving a trail of thin red in the blade's wake. Then she did the same to her own hand and placed them together. John was reminded of the time he and DK decided to become blood brothers at afternoon recess, but the memory slipped away again beneath the weight of someone else that had died because of him.
"You have much guilt," Ilien whispered. "You cannot allow it to destroy you. Focus on me." Ilien's hand clenched tighter around his. "Even good people can do terrible things for love," she whispered, and in that moment, her voice drowned out everything else.
He closed his eyes, felt something seep into the cut, push its way in and crawl up beneath the skin. Guilt wasn't something he was ever going to be able to let go of, he knew, but he tried to focus on her all the same—as much as he could with Harvey screaming in the back of his mind, pleading with him, and sounding so strangely human.
Harvey's screams got quieter as he focused on Ilien's strong presence, and soon they had disappeared completely. His eyes opened in disbelief when he realized he couldn't hear Harvey anymore, and echoes played strangely in the depths of his mind. "It is gone," she whispered, not releasing his hand. "We must hurry." She forced her dagger into his other hand, and then hit the release on the cryopod.
D'Argo let out a gasping breath, but didn't open his eyes.
"We must work quickly," Ilien said, urgently, but John didn't know what he was supposed to do, and she was moving far too fast for him to keep up. She held her palm out to him. "Cut me," she said.
He glanced at her, but she showed no hesitation, so he ran the blade along her palm just as she had done to him. She took the dagger back then, and blood dripped down the handle from her hand. She turned one of D'Argo's hands up, and did the same to him. When she grasped D'Argo's hand tightly, John felt a strange jolt, as though Ilien was a creating a current between them all.
When she started chanting the feeling grew stronger, and he could feel D'Argo's presence then as he could feel hers, pulling him in two directions and then pulling him back. He could still hear Ilien's chanting, constant and steady, and underneath, he swore he could hear D'Argo's voice too, whispering the same things.
He was caught up again in something he didn't understand, lost again, and Harvey's absence added more to the chaos than would have been there had he been dancing around in his peripheral vision in a tutu, because at least that would have been something familiar.
"It is working," he heard Ilien say, sounding pleased and triumphant, and nowhere near as weak as him.
He was sure he was hearing D'Argo's voice now, though not chanting—instead whispering Chiana's name. He would have smiled but he didn't think he had the strength, and as D'Argo opened his eyes, John fell to his knees, clear and red blood mixing and sliding grotesquely down his wrist from where Ilien still tightly held his hand.
- - - - -
Sikozu watched Scorpius with concern. A few moments after they had been forced from the room, only to have the door shut them out, Scorpius had begun shouting and hitting the door, demanding it be opened immediately. She wasn't sure, exactly, what had changed him so violently, but he had mentioned something about losing his connection to John.
If the Luxan woman had harmed Crichton, Sikozu had little doubt that whatever her powers, Scorpius would see her dead. And not pleasantly.
She watched almost invisible tendrils of smoke slip outwards from the seams of his mask, around the circular opening that protected the inserted cooling rods. If he did not calm himself, he would soon burn them all out. She was about to call for someone to bring spare cooling rods when the doors finally slipped back open.
Ilien stood with a smile three feet from them, and Sikozu did not stop to wonder how she had done it without being close enough to touch the panel—Crichton quickly became the focus of all of her attention, as she saw him sprawled across the floor.
She saw D'Argo next, holding onto the edges of the cryopod as though he would surely die if he let go, and he did not seem to be aware that there were others in the room. Scorpius pushed past her with a hiss, calling for the medical team. They all headed towards D'Argo, as they had been ordered to, but Scorpius cut them off.
"Forget the Luxan," he growled. "See to Crichton."
The moment the medical team surrounded Crichton, Scorpius turned back to Ilien with a growl. He stalked towards her, wrapped gloved fingers around her slender throat, and slammed her head against the wall. "What did you do to him?" he demanded.
Ilien smiled sweetly, not intimidated. "I destroyed your neural clone. It was quite necessary, and I assure you, he will be fine. He is better off now than when I arrived."
Scorpius's fingers tightened. "You were not supposed to touch him, you have gone too far."
"Your neural clone would have eventually led to his destruction," Ilien whispered, her voice still calm. "I was under the impression you wanted him to be well."
"You will pay for this," Scorpius said, but before he could call for the guards, his throat seemed to close in on itself. The slippery heat that had began to spread earlier rose up unstoppably now, and his fingers burned so much against her skin that he was forced to let her go.
She smiled as he took a step back, and watched the imperceptible smoke darken and grow, swirling around his head. "You should not threaten me," she said.
"Get off my ship," Scorpius said, steadily, but the threat still lingered. He was little more intimidated by her than she was by him.
"I never had the intention of staying," she said softly. She glanced over at D'Argo and John, the smile growing, before turning away and starting for the doors. Two guards came to flank her as she stepped into the hall, to escort her back to the planet.
Scorpius spun back towards John once the doors had closed behind her. "How is he?" he demanded.
"We can't find anything wrong with him," one of the med techs said. "But we can't wake him, either."
Scorpius frowned. "Have him moved back to his quarters, and monitor him." He motioned to another of the med techs. "You, see to the Luxan."
The Luxan—who was now watching him with clear comprehending eyes. Scorpius smiled faintly upon seeing this. "Ka D'Argo," he said by greeting.
The Luxan's fingers clenched around the cryopod, and he glanced from John, back to Scorpius, to Sikozu, and then back again. "What have you done to him?" he asked softly, and his voice was harsh and thin at once, alternately weak and menacing.
"He has done it to himself," Scorpius said dismissively, glancing at the wound on D'Argo's chest. It was bleeding still, but the blood now was thick and clear. "Have that bandaged," he said. "Then move him to a holding cell."
The med tech glanced up with wide eyes. "Sir, he should be—"
"Do as I say," Scorpius hissed, then he headed out of the room, following in John's wake.
Sikozu glanced at D'Argo once with something close to concern, before catching pace beside Scorpius, and neither of them turned back around when D'Argo began angrily screaming his name.
- - - - -
She knew she must be imagining it when she thought she was running out of air. All systems were functioning normally, and Prowlers were, if anything, reliable. There was just something about small ships that left her feeling like she couldn't afford to breathe. It hadn't always been that way, certainly, but after having a ship she had been in blown to pieces and thrown out into unforgiving space, she tended to want a little more between herself and the vacuum.
Those thoughts, however, inevitably led to D'Argo, and she couldn't afford that distraction. She wasn't going to let the childish fears or overwhelming grief get in her way, and her expression didn't even change when the command carrier came into view—looming like a black void in space, blocking all light from the stars behind it.
It had taken her longer to track them down than she had expected, as they were off any course she had predicted. She didn't know why they had come to this deserted area of space. Only one planet she knew of was habitable, and there was nothing more there than criminals and vagrants.
Chiana grinned a little when she saw an incoming message. She heard John's voice echo in the back of her mind. What's with the weapon's locks, you idiots? Can't you tell a friend from a foe? She would have to push down the urge to try and attempt an accent herself, she had a feeling she'd be better off without it. "Officer Marne Raen," she said crisply, hoping that whoever she was talking to had absolutely no idea who that was. "I was caught stranded on a frellin' backwater world till I finally got my prowler back," she continued, putting just enough arrogance into her tone to avoid suspicion. "You're the first Peacekeeper vessel I've come to."
"Understood, Officer Raen. You're cleared for landing in docking bay six—prepare for debriefing."
The channel was cut, and Chiana tried not to wince. She was as good at the bluff as Crichton, and she'd like to think she was better, but making her way through a debriefing without blowing her cover wasn't going to be easy. She landed the prowler smoothly, putting extra finesse into her movements to broadcast that Peacekeeper need for perfection and avoid further suspicion, but when she opened the cockpit and lowered down to the ground, she still had ten pulse rifles aimed at her head.
A female officer, the only one without a weapon, stepped forward with her hand outstretched. "Ident chip," she demanded, and Chiana quickly pulled it from around her neck.
It got snagged on the long hair she wasn't used to having, but it came free quick enough. The woman ran it through a small device she held in her other hand, and it chirped in approval. She nodded. "Welcome back, Officer Raen," she said. "Normally I would debrief you thoroughly immediately, but we're short handed as it is—so I want you to report to medical for a check-up, and then head immediately to guard duty of our Kalish guests."
Chiana was about to question the presence of Kalish, but stopped herself before she did. Good Peacekeepers didn't ask questions. "Right away," she said, taking her ident chip back, and walking from the room. She wasn't imagining it when she thought the muzzles of all ten weapons followed her progress to the door.
Once she was alone in the hall, she slipped down another way. She didn't know how to get to medical, but it hardly mattered, as she had no intention of submitting to one. It wouldn’t take much for them to realize she wasn't Sebecean. They'd probably notice a section of smudged paint before they even scanned her. She heard voices and slipped out of sight, hiding in a small alcove near a weapons locker.
Two male Peacekeepers stalked down the hall, one of them disgustedly flinging clear liquid from his hands. "I frelling hate Luxans," he said. "He got his blood all over me."
"At least it's clear," the other said with a laugh.
Chiana's breath caught as soon as they were out of sight. There was a Luxan on board then. Luxan's hated being prisoners and she felt her heart constrict without even knowing who it was. Don't worry about some Luxan, she told herself, D'Argo's dead—and she had to find John before he was, too.
- - - - -
He woke to another countdown. He wondered how long it would take to drive him mad. When he curled his fingers he felt a tug on the skin of his right hand, a thin slice pulling open and a small trickle of blood. It was all it took to remember. His eyes shot open and he pulled himself up. Scorpius was across from him, standing at the foot of his bed, eyes burning like embers and locked solely on him.
He searched his mind for something flippant to say, but as soon as something started to form it slipped away. He opened his mouth and closed it, glancing down, watching blood slip between his fingers and stream camouflaged onto red sheets.
"What you did was foolish, Crichton," Scorpius told him, his voice the same mixture of ice and fire as the rest of him.
He takes a deep breath, air catching in his throat, his head spinning almost fast enough to force him into losing his balance. "D'Argo?" he demanded. He could hear his heart pounding in the silence of his mind. No one-liners were forthcoming from behind him because there was no longer someone there.
"He lives," Scorpius said, tilting his head back. "You should not have destroyed my neural clone."
"Miss him, do you?" John asked wryly. The room was still spinning but he was catching his balance now just fine. "I kind of like having myself to…myself again. It was getting crowded."
Scorpius sneered at him, turning to grab a large metal needle from a counter beside him. John froze when he saw it, fingers clenching again, tightening around the sheets. "Do you know what this is?" he asked, calmly.
"I have a vague idea," John snapped. He resisted the urge to slide back along the bed. Once he hit the headboard there would be nowhere left to go.
"Did it truly never occur to you that I could simply inject another neural clone anytime I so wished?" Scorpius turned the needle in his hands, and despite himself, John found his eyes tracing its movement. Scorpius stepped closer, John still managing to hold his ground, and leaned so they were face to face. "I won't subject you to another neural clone if you do not give me reason, Crichton."
"You're quite the Good Samaritan," he said, his voice coming out as a breathy whisper that caused Scorpius to smile as he moved away. "But you know how I react to threats."
"Quite well, actually, from my experience," Scorpius said, the sickly triumphant smile no closer to dimming. "That is how you ended up here, Crichton."
John couldn't really argue with that. "I want to see D'Argo."
"You're in no position to make demands!" Scorpius snapped. "You have defied me, again."
"Defied you?" John repeated incredulously. "First off, you never said I couldn't kill the damn neural clone, it wasn't part of the deal, and second, are you actually serious here? Because last time I checked, we had an ongoing understanding that each of us wants to see the other screwed."
Scorpius's smile had since fallen away, and he glared down at him. "You are here to serve me, Crichton. Accept it."
"I want to see D'Argo," John said again, his blue eyes locked on Scorpius. "And I want you to let him leave. Then we'll talk."
"Do not believe me so foolish," Scorpius hissed. "The Luxan stays. He will be the one to suffer any further defiance from you."
John paled. He really hadn't expected less, but things were looking a little bleaker than they had when he'd been swaying on his knees back in that room, thinking over and over, he's alive. "I want to see him," he said, digging his fingernails into the palms of his hands—trying to harness the pain and keep from sounding desperate. The cut on his hand tore open a little more, but he was past feeling any pain.
Scorpius leaned close again, and when he spoke his voice was deceptively soft. "I will allow you to see him, Crichton, but if you try anything I will have the Luxan in chains for the duration."
John swallowed and nodded, too tired to play power games. He knew D'Argo would rather be dead than chained, as Scorpius did, and he was going to do his best to make sure that it never happened again. At his assent Scorpius stepped back, raking the tip of the needle across the side of his neck as he moved, and called for an escort.
- - - - -
John was led between two armed guards through the seamless corridors of the ship. Scorpius had left him some peace for now, apparently having had his fill of playing his games for the time being, but John wasn't naïve enough to believe whatever conversation he might have Scorpius wouldn't hear. The moment he saw D'Argo, large arms sticking through bars as he threatened the unlucky PK on watch, he couldn't bring himself to care anything about Scorpius.
He broke out into a wide grin, slipping into D'Argo's line of vision and cutting off the escalating argument before it could get out of hand. "D'Argo!" he yelled.
D'Argo relaxed almost immediately, smiling half warily, half with fondness as he observed his friend. "Do I want to know what's happened?" he asked.
John's smile congealed. He didn't speak at first, wanting to pretend for just another moment that nothing else mattered except for the fact D'Argo was there, alive, alive and talking and acting just like he was supposed to. "No," he said eventually. "Probably not."
"Chiana, the others?" D'Argo asked, his eyes tightened with concern. "How bad has the war become?"
John shook his head. "They're not here, they're safe. Better off than us, actually, and the war is already over." D'Argo looked disbelieving, and John could hardly blame him. "I used the weapon."
D'Argo's eyes became clouded and he looked towards the floor. "I'm sorry, my friend. If the war is over…"
"What are we doing here?" John asked tiredly, running a hand through his hair. "We're kind of houseguests of Scorpy at the moment. I'm working on it."
D'Argo narrowed his eyes, watching him carefully. "John, what has happened?"
"The war's not exactly over," John said, quietly. "I mean, it is, but not for Scorpius. Or for me—not so long as he can help it."
D'Argo sighed. "This is not good."
"You don't know the half of it," John whispered. "I've agreed to help him."
D'Argo's eyes shot to meet his, steely and strangely placid, though he knew there were swirls of barely restrained emotion underneath. "You did what?"
"He would have killed you," John said, clenching his right hand again. It disturbed him when he still couldn't feel any pain, the cut wasn't shallow and he knew he should. Scorpius had probably given him something to stop it. "So I did what he asked me to." John turned and leaned against the bars, his leather jacket pressing against D'Argo's arm, where it rested on the bars.
"What did he ask you to do, John?" D'Argo whispered.
"Commit mass murder," he said emotionlessly.
D'Argo didn't make a sound in response. He had never been able to comprehend the power his friend held, and he couldn't start to guess at what a burden it must be to have it. He couldn't remember much past seeing him, saying goodbye, watching as he pulled Chiana crying away while he sat there with his weapons, prepared to die. That was how he would always see John, with that compassion in his eyes, fighting for his peace. He could do anything and that wouldn't change.
"You know what's funny?" John asked, a bitter laugh sounding after the words and catching in his throat. "The other John Crichton, he destroyed a dreadnought too—and he was a hero for it. I do it I'm a monster." He paused. "Sometimes I think he was the lucky one."
"You're not a monster, John," D'Argo whispered fiercely. "Have you ever met a Scarran that didn't deserve to die?"
"Don't mean there isn't one," John said, and his voice was flat now, the laughter gone. There was no response in the back of his mind to his words, no deliberately sardonic quip, and he had never felt Harvey's absence so keenly. He may have been a constant thorn in his side, but he had also been his partner in crime. Someone to share the guilt with; however unwilling Harvey had been to see the need for it. "Doesn't give me the right to kill 'em anyway."
"You did it for me," D'Argo said, not without sadness. "And maybe I'm just as guilty, because I can't say I'm not grateful for it."
John leaned his back against the bars, saying nothing else. He could hear D'Argo's steady breathing behind him, and for now, that was enough.
- - - - -
She caught up with Noranti and Stark on her way back to her quarters. Stark was carrying an armful of pulse rifles but Noranti had only one, which she did not seem to have any interest in whatsoever and was holding rather like a purse. Aeryn glanced at the sad picture they presented and sighed.
"I've modified the weapons," Noranti told her, with a gleam in her eyes. She aimed her fingers at Aeryn like a gun, one eye squinted. "One shot and bam, no more Scarran." She smiled, pleased, but Aeryn looked at the weapons dubiously.
"What did she do to them?" she demanded of Stark.
His eye was wide as he fought to hold all the weapons. "She mixed some kind of powder in with the Chakkan oil, very volatile, she says."
"Wonderful," Aeryn snapped, taking two pulse pistols off his hands. She slung one over her shoulder, but kept the other in her hands. She checked it, and then turned and aimed it at the door to her quarters. She fired, and winced as a large explosion nearly rocked all three of them off their feet. A large black hole had burned its way through the metal. "Nice," she said, disbelievingly.
"It's to shoot at Scarrans," Noranti said helpfully.
Aeryn nodded. "Right. Sorry, Moya—just testing."
"Moya understands, Aeryn. She has no nerves in the doors and felt no pain, however, we ask you to try and avoid shooting at the walls," Pilot said dryly.
"Understood, Pilot, and I promise you, from now on, I'll be doing as the old woman says—shooting at Scarrans." She glanced over at her two companions, frowning a little. "I want you both to remain here. I've hidden Rygel and D'Argo in the conduit at the end of this hallway. If any Scarrans get past me, you need to take them out before they reach them, understood?"
Stark nodded his head up and down, quickly, his eye darting off to the sides. Noranti nodded only once, looking strangely quiet. They weren’t exactly the last defense Aeryn would have chosen for her child, but she'd found in her time on Moya that strength hid in unlikely places, and they wouldn't have been her last choice, either. They would fight if it came to it, and that was something.
"The Scarran ship has docked, Aeryn," Pilot told her.
"Seal them in," Aeryn snapped. With a final nod at Noranti and Stark, she headed off down the hallway, her hands resting steadily on the weapon. She let her fingers slip along the cold metal, grateful for the weapon. She would give her life for her child without hesitation, but she was still more comfortable with a pulse rifle in her arms than a baby.
She hoped that she would be given time enough for that to change.
- - - - -
John's head shot up as the lights started flashing red. Sikozu appeared at the end of the hall. "Follow me," she said, and disappeared again.
"John," D'Argo whispered edgily.
"I'll get back when I can." He looked over at D'Argo and reached through the bars to grab his hand. "It's good to see you," he said, and then pulled his hand away from D'Argo's firm grip.
"Sir?" one of the guards prompted softly. John didn't bother to acknowledge him, the wary respect of the guards had long since stopped registering.
"We'll get through this," D'Argo said, and John nodded faintly.
"Yeah," he said. The he turned and started off after Sikozu, without a backward glance.
- - - - -
Chiana slipped out of sight as a patrol of Peacekeepers went marching by in full gear, red lights bouncing off the black of their helmets. She bit her lip, and winced a little at the blaring sirens. It was some kind of proximity alarm, and the last thing she needed.
Chiana grinned slyly as she slipped back into the hallway, and headed for command. This might just be the distraction she needed to get Crichton out of here alive. The only worrying part was that whatever plan of attack Scorpius came up with, Crichton would most likely be at the center of it.
It wouldn't be easy, but then, Chiana did love a challenge.
- - - - -
Aeryn paused on her way to the docking bay at Pilot's quiet voice.
"They've blasted through the doors, I'm afraid they're loose on the ship."
Aeryn nodded, not really surprised. "How many, Pilot?"
"Three," he said. "I'm trying to have the DRDs track their movements, but I'm afraid we've lost track of them."
Aeryn lifted her gun, glancing behind her, stepping more cautiously. "That's alright, Pilot. Tell me if you catch sight of one."
"Of course," he said, and cut the connection.
She carefully made her way down the hall, missing for the first time in years her old unit. There was something comforting of being part of something bigger, just a piece of something else, but she knew even in her missing of it she would trade eight platoons to have Crichton or D'Argo at her back. Part of her even wished she had taken Stark with her, because if there was anything Aeryn Sun hated, it was being alone.
D'Argo, her child, needed her, though. Aeryn turned the corner, scanning the wide hall. The hall was empty, but she felt a whoosh of air behind her before she could take another step. The pulse rifle flew from her hands, and she felt the harsh edge of a Scarran weapon dig into the side of her neck as she was pulled back against his large scaly surface.
Her head was forced back, tilted up so she could only see Moya's ceiling, but she didn't need to see her captor to know what it was. She could feel the hard surface of her second pulse rifle at her back, pressed tight between them. Her hand twitched at her side, but she restrained herself from making any brash moves.
She felt the heated breath against her ear. "Where's the child?" the Scarran asked, the grating sinister voice causing her fists to clench.
"What child?" she asked, and her voice was a little manic, the kind of disbelieving amused tone that Crichton always got this end of a weapon.
"Don't play games, Peacekeeper," the Scarran snaps. "I have orders to take you in alive, but I'm sure if I only brought your head, it would make a point just as well."
Aeryn ground her shoulder blades against the Scarran, pushing her torso away, edging her right hand between them. "What are you doing?" the Scarran hissed, jamming the weapon harder against her neck.
Aeryn smiled. "Why? Do you like it?" she asked suggestively, and this part she had learned from Chiana. She caught hold of the trigger, tipped it a little more away from her, and pulled. The explosion sent her flying, and she slid across the floor, stopping right next to her other pulse rifle. She turned around, eyes widening as she caught sight of the Scarran.
One of his legs was missing, reduced to a pile of flesh on the floor, and its uniform had caught fire. The fire spread upwards fast, before he even had a chance to turn its weapon back on her. She backed away from the screaming, writhing mass. "Frell me dead," she whispered.
She would feel pity, but she could still hear him asking where her child was. She turned and ran to find the others, but its screams chased her down the empty hall.
- - - - -
Sikozu hadn't bothered to slow or wait for him. He could see her seven feet ahead, walking purposeful and slowing for nothing. His own little entourage kept pace right behind him, and the blinking lights and klaxons were giving him a headache, but of course, the alarm systems were apparently the one thing that Star Trek got right.
Vaguely, he wondered what Scorpy wanted to have him make disappear this time. Then he wondered if he would do it.
It was a little unnerving to realize that with D'Argo as a prisoner, he probably would.
When he stumbled out onto command, no one seemed to notice except Scorpius, who turned with a wry smile and motioned him closer. Closer, with Scorpius, was never a very good thing, but it wasn't like he had anywhere else to go. "What are you up to now?" he asked.
Scorpius was still smiling, and it was making him sick. "I'm afraid I have bad news," he said.
John doesn't ask him why he was smiling if it was bad news, since he was pretty sure that was Scorpius' favorite kind. "What?"
"The Scarrans are demanding that you, and I, be killed for breaking the terms of the treaty," he said.
John watched him for a moment, before spinning around agitatedly. "Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait a sec—the Scarrans know about that and you didn't tell me?"
"I didn't want to alarm you," Scorpius said, almost sweetly, as though John might actually believe him. "In any case, I wasn't sure what they intended to do about it."
"What do you want from me?" John snapped.
Scorpius tilted his head. "Staleek has agreed to a video conference…on the condition no Eidelons are present. Grazya will attend, as well, of course, if only so she can have me executed if you fail."
John grinned, but he didn't put much effort in it. "Damn, Scorpy," he said. "You're making it hard to fight for peace."
Scorpius's smile disappeared and he shook his head. "It's your life on the line as well, John," he said.
"Hell, you think I care anymore?" John asked. "It's better than spending the rest of it with you."
"And D'Argo?" Scorpius asked slyly.
John turned away from him, stiffening. "Why are you suddenly wanting peace again?" he asked. "Not that I'm complaining."
"John," Scorpius said, softly, "I've only ever wanted peace."
"So I do this and it's over, is that it?" John asked guardedly. Scorpius's smile was enough to tell him what he already knew. "Didn't think so."
"We must pick our battles, John," Scorpius said, uncomfortably close.
Not that a galaxy would be far enough away. John shook off his jacket, adjusting it, trying to free himself of Scorpius's presence. "Whatever. How do you want me to play this?"
"Just get them to back off, to leave us to our plans."
John gave a lop-sided smile that wasn't really a smile at all. "And should I tell them that part, the part about your evil plans?"
"Stop playing games," Scorpius hissed. "You know what I want from you."
John's eyes strayed to the ground, but he didn't think he would ever know what it was Scorpius really wanted from him.
- - - - -
Chiana slipped out onto command, staying close to the wall. Crichton was easy to spot. He was in the center of everything, as usual, with Scorpius breathing down his neck. Her fingers twitched beside the pulse rifle in her holster, but she wasn't stupid enough to give into temptation. If she made a move on Scorpius, she'd be dead before she could make another step.
And then there would be no way she was going to get to John from here.
She glanced up when the screens blinked to life, Staleek on one side, Grayza on the other. She kept out of their view, hiding near the edge of the action. Everyone was too busy to notice her, and she pretended to work on a console no one else seemed to be manning.
"Well, the gang's all here," Crichton said, all false charm and brash cheer.
Chiana kept her head down to hide a grin.
"Scorpy here tells me you fellas have a problem with what went down earlier," he said.
Staleek growled. "You destroyed one of my ships!"
"Yes," John said, and watched him blankly.
Chiana frowned at this news, wondering what Scorpius could possibly be holding over him to get him to agree to that.
"They breached the treaty," John said dismissively. "We were forced to take action."
Grayza glared through the screen. "What breach? Why was I not informed?"
"They were keeping Kalish slaves," John said, coolly. "You weren't informed because we didn't think you'd give a damn."
Grayza pursed her lips together. "It was the consensus of the counsel to overlook that breach."
"Yes, well, if you all remember, it was me that forced this treaty in the first place, so I feel a certain responsibility to see that it's carried out." John glanced back at Staleek. "You release your slaves, we won't have a problem, you don't…" John shrugged. "Maybe I just kill the lot of you."
Staleek leaned forward. "You don't have that power, Crichton, you are only one man."
"Yeah, maybe," John said. "But I'm pissed, and I can control wormholes, so why don't you do as I say before I get restless?"
"Perhaps it would be in your best interests, Staleek," Grayza started.
John pointed at her. "Oh, it's in yours too, because I don't take sides. You break the treaty, in any way, I'll take action against you as well. We made a deal, we put it nicely in writing and everything, so why don't you all start following it so people can stop dying?"
"This isn't over, Crichton," Staleek snapped, before ending the transmissions. Grayza's grim face disappeared a moment later.
John sighed and rested his head in his hands. Chiana watched silently, wishing she could help. She knew that John didn't take things so lightly as he had tried to get them believe, not even close, and if she thought she could kill Scorpius with one shot he would be dead already.
"That didn't go as planned," John said wearily.
"You did well," Scorpius whispered. "They are both retreating, and I wouldn't be surprised if the Scarrans begin releasing the Kalish."
"Yeah, maybe until you start killing them again," he snapped, and turned to glare at him.
Scorpius smiled, almost sadly. "Not me, John. Us."
- - - - -
Aeryn was trying to convince herself she had it easy. Before the war a Stryker would have been carrying four Charrids and at least two Scarrans, but the alliance between them was falling apart in the wake of reconstruction, and Charrids were rarely trusted in such positions anymore. She wasn't having much luck convincing herself, though, as she'd take killing twenty Charrids over three Scarrans any day. Charrids were stupid.
Scarrans, despite appearances, generally weren't.
She figured one would head straight to command, and the other would search for her son and herself. She wanted desperately to join Noranti and Stark in their guard of the conduit she had hid her child in, but she carefully walked the halls to command instead. One Scarran could do a lot of damage to a Leviathan, and they can't afford to be dead in the water. When she reached command the door was wide open.
That was sloppy, so maybe Scarrans weren't so smart after all. She slipped in silently. The Scarran, not so silent, was tearing apart a console. She lifted her rifle carefully, aiming, and just as she was about to fire he looked up.
More agile than his form would allow one to presume, the Scarran growled and ducked out of the way. The shot fired ineffectually over his head, burning a scorching black hole in Moya's wall. "Frell," she snapped, before leaning back against the wall as return fire burst in her direction.
"Surrender, Peacekeeper," the Scarran growled. "We have your child already, there's no point fighting us."
Aeryn froze, cold spiraling down through her and she pressed her eyes shut--her fingers tightening around the rifle. "You captured him?" she asked, feeling dizzy. Her fingers held on tighter, tight enough she imagined metal almost touched bone. "And the others?"
"The cowards have abandoned you," the Scarran hissed. "If you want your child to live--"
Aeryn pushed off from the wall, lifting the rifle as she moved. She fired one shot, and the blast tore across the room, heading towards the stunned Scarran. The shot didn't miss its mark and Aeryn collapsed to her knees, chocking on the smoke and smell of charred flesh and weak with anxious shock.
"My friends would never abandon me, you lying son of a bitch," she whispered roughly, before glancing up. The Scarran was still standing, but its head was gone. She pressed her eyes shut and tried to push the image from her mind, like so many other things she had pushed from her mind, and then she forced herself back to her feet.
She didn't turn around when the body finally hit the ground.
- - - - -
John pushed past Scorpius, heading back for the room he had been assigned. He considered it a small victory that Scorpius let him go without a fight, instead simply motioning two of his guards to escort him. He didn't notice the third that followed him out.
Chiana stayed nearly far enough away so as not to be seen, but she didn't let John leave her sight. She hated being this close with so many things still in her way--so many things left to go wrong. She was counting on John's crazy luck and crazier plans to get them out, because she knew getting in had been the easy part and she wasn't exactly sure where to go from here.
John would know what to do, she was sure, if she could only get a moment alone with him.
She saw Crichton enter a room, and the guards closed and locked the door behind him, before one of the soldiers continued down the hall and the other leaned against the wall, looking bored. Chiana grinned. This was child's play.
She entered the guard's line of vision and smiled seductively. He stiffened immediately, smiling shyly back. He was definitely an easy mark, she just hoped the disguise would hold up close and moved over to him, leaning casually beside him. "Guard duty, huh?" she asked.
He glanced at her quickly before looking away again and biting his lip. "Yeah. What about you?"
"I'm out looking for fun," she whispered, moving closer. She grabbed a hold of his belt holster and jerked him up against her. "You got a break coming up?"
He took a shaky breath. "Um, yeah, right now, actually. Guy's locked up, right?"
Chiana grinned, letting her fingers slip a little lower. "Where are your quarters, hot shot?"
"Deck C, 23," he said. Chiana let go of him and he fell back against the wall.
"I have to report to Medical for a check up," Chiana said, seductively, "but I can meet you there in ten."
The guard gulped, nodding and obviously off-balance. Chiana pushed away and blew him a kiss, glad she still had it. She waited in the weapons closet two doors down for him to leave, but she didn't have to wait long, because he took off two minutes later.
She quickly moved back to his abandoned post and unlocked the door, before slipping inside. Crichton was laid out on the bed, his arm flung over his eyes, and he didn't look up as she entered. She walked over to him, grinning slightly, whether it was excitement or relief she wasn't sure, but either way, she knew they weren't safe yet.
"Go away," Crichton snapped.
"Is that any way to greet a rescue?" Chiana asked slyly, and Crichton, not one to disappoint, bolted up upon hearing her voice.
His eyes widened as he took her in, and his mouth opened and closed a few times before he finally forced out her name. "Chiana?"
"Yeah. I'm trying something new with my hair," she said, grabbing his arm to pull him to his feet, still smiling. "We can talk about it later, though, if you don't mind. Let's get the hezmana out of here."
"No, no, Chiana, we can't leave--"
"Frell, Crichton," Chiana hissed. "We don't have time for this now. We have to get out of here, okay? Aeryn's counting on me bringing you back."
"You don't understand--" Crichton started but Chiana cut him off again.
"I know, I get it, you've got this whole freaky thing going on with Scorpius, but if we don't--"
John grabbed her arms, stilling her and making sure they were eye to eye. "D'Argo's alive, Chiana."
Chiana went completely still. She told herself her mind was playing tricks, but she could tell from Crichton's eyes this was real, he was serious. Her knees gave out without warning and Crichton caught her, helping her to sit down on the bed. "No," she whispered. "We left him, Crichton, we . . ."
"Sikozu got him off the world before it was destroyed," John said gently. "The rest is a big long story we don't have time for, but what matters is he's alive, and he's okay."
Chiana laughed, trying not to cry, and wrapped her arms around John's neck. "He's alive?" she echoed. "Where is he?" She pulled back. "Where is he now?"
"He's being held in the detention center," Crichton told her, and Chiana flashed back to the conversation she had overheard about a Luxan.
"We have to get him," she said, getting to her feet. "Now, come on."
"We'd never make it," John said, shaking his head. "Scorpius isn't going to just let me walk out of here."
"No," Chiana snapped. "I know what you're thinking, and the answer is no. I came here for you, Crichton."
"Things have changed," John said calmly. "You need to get D'Argo out of here now."
"We're all going," Chiana said fiercely. "And this self-sacrificing trip of yours is getting a little old."
He grabbed her hand and pulled her back so they were face to face again. "I'm not having such a great time with it myself," he said, "but if I can create a distraction you and D'Argo might just have a shot, and that's more than I can say if it's all three of us trying to make a getaway."
Chiana laughed. "You just don't get it, do you? First off, Aeryn would kill me if I came back without you, second, you think even if I agreed to this fahrbot plan of yours that I would be able to convince D'Argo to leave without you? Face it, old man, we're in this together whether you like it or not."
John let her go and ran a hand through his hair. "Okay," he said. "Alright, but we're going to need a better plan than just running and hoping for the best. You're going to have to give me some time."
"Crichton," Chiana started, irritated, but John cut her off with a look.
"We need a plan," he said, firmly. "And you need to go see D'Argo."
Chiana felt a little dizzy at the thought, but she didn't want to leave Crichton alone. "I don't think we'll get another shot like this, Crichton. Scorpius is distracted and there's no one guarding your door, if we can get a Marauder off the carrier Scorpius won't shoot it down with you in it."
"He'll catch us, though," John said. "There's no outrunning a command carrier without Starburst." He paced the length of the room, biting his lip as he thought. "A guard could come back here any minute," he said. "You need to get out of sight, keep away from Scorpius especially; he'll be able to tell at a glance you aren't Sebacean from your energy signature."
Chiana's eyes widened. "I hadn't thought about that."
John sighed, but smiled at her fondly. "I think there's a lot you didn't think about," he said, "but you're here now, and we may be able to pull this off. Go see D'Argo, Chiana, tell him we might just get out of this yet."
Chiana nodded, starting for the door, because she couldn't resist doing exactly that any longer. "Stay out of trouble, old man," she said, opening the door.
"Lock it behind you," John said. "We can't have anyone figure out someone's helping me."
Chiana nodded, and then hesitantly shut the door. It was another minute before John heard the lock click.
- - - - -
"Scorpius," Sikozu said tensely. "Grayza is returning, and she's brought reinforcements."
Scorpius let out a low growl and spun to look at Sikozu's readings. "I should have known she would attempt to get the counsel to turn against me."
"She doesn't respond well to threats," Sikozu said. "Crichton's baiting of her was sure to set her off."
Scorpius couldn't help but wonder if that was why Crichton had done it. "Is she hailing?" he snapped.
"Yes," Sikozu said, glancing at him. "Do you wish to speak with her?"
Scorpius gave a small smile. "I still have the upper hand," he said. "Put her on."
Grayza appeared on the forward screen, looking calm and pleasant. It would have been less worrying had she still been angry, Scorpius knew, but he wasn't about to be intimidated by Grayza, of all people. "Why have you returned so soon?" he asked without preamble.
Grayza smiled. "High Command wishes to discuss your actions and the way John Crichton should be handled. Obviously, having him under our power is a great advantage. We are in your debt, Scorpius."
Scorpius nodded. "A few times over," he said levelly, "but is that really why you're here?"
Grayza's smile slipped away. "You will allow me and my escort to dock, Scorpius, or you will answer to High Command."
"I wouldn't want to upset High Command," Scorpius said, pleasantly, before grinning slyly. "Dock at will, Commandant."
Sikozu ended the transmission, and Scorpius stared at the blank screen. "She plans to kill me," he said casually, after a moment had passed.
Sikozu tilted her head. "She didn't even attempt to hide it."
- - - - -
She decided the best course of action would be to let the last one come to her. She was the objective, after all, her and her child, so she headed back to where she had left him with Rygel and the others. There was little chance the Scarran could take out her, and Noranti and Stark, not with the rifles Noranti had concocted.
It was a toss up as to who was more surprised when she rounded the corner and slammed right into her third target. They had both been so preoccupied with being silent they had not heard the other until they were right on top of them, very nearly literally, and though she was quicker, the Scarran was stronger, and he tackled her before she could get off a shot.
He pried the rifle from her hands and held it to her throat, pinning her to the ground and straddling her. "Where is the child?" he demanded.
She had been almost positive she had called the other Scarran's bluff on having D'Argo, but it was still a relief to have the proof. Even considering her position, she smiled.
"Somewhere you'll never find him," she forced out, and the Scarran pressed the rifle deeper into her throat.
The edges of the hall were starting to flicker black as she became unable to take in enough air, and the Scarran demanded she tell him where her child was again, as though a rifle to her throat or even her life was enough incentive to get her to reveal his location to them. Scarrans obviously didn't grasp motherhood as it was known to most races in the galaxy. She had trouble with it sometimes herself, but most of it came it easy.
She laughed, and she wasn't sure if it was the lack of air or the sparks behind her eyes that caused it, but it obviously upset the Scarran as the rifle pressed even further down. Desperately, she scrambled to reach the knife holster on her thigh and pull the weapon out. She wrapped her fingers around the handle and then lifted and jammed the knife into the Scarran's wrist.
It growled and fumbled on its hold, but was otherwise unaffected. Aeryn could feel herself slipping away. She saw white flashes bounce off the bloody knife before there was a loud explosion, and she finally let herself close her eyes and escape.
- - - - -
She could hear his voice. It sounded exactly like it should, just like she remembered, and it was holding her in place. She was afraid to turn the corner, to take the last steps and have it not be him. She was afraid to let herself get closer because she still wasn't sure it was real. He was yelling now, she could hear the Luxan curses rolling off his tongue. There were no replies, so she was assuming the guards were ignoring him, and it was pissing him off.
If she took a few more steps she could see for herself. One foot in front of the other was all it would take.
She was standing in front of the bars even before she had finally made the conscious decision to move. She told the guards that they needed to check in with their team leader. She didn't even know if they had a team leader, and she was sure her voice must be shaking, but they left, anyway, looking relieved, and she finally let herself look.
He looked just like he sounded, just like she remembered. She didn't, she knew, which was probably why he was looking at her with his mouth hanging open much as Crichton had. She let out a laugh, out of nowhere, and she wanted to throw herself at him or scream or cry but she didn't move, didn't allow herself anything but the brief mad giggle before biting her lip and closing her eyes.
He said her name like he did in her dreams. Like he did in her nightmares too, just before she watched him die. She didn't want to open her eyes because if she did he might be gone.
"Is that you? Chiana. . ." He sounded softer now than he had talking to the guards, he sounded like a different person than he had been a minute ago, but he still sounded like D'Argo to her.
"I thought you were dead," she whispered, before finally opening her eyes. He was still there.
He reached a hand through the bars and she grabbed it without hesitating. He used it to pull her close, and his hand ghosted across her cheek. She tried to blink back her tears, but there were too many to hold them all back.
"Don't cry," D'Argo whispered. "Your make-up will run . . ."
Chiana laughed again, feeling desperate and giddy all at once. "We have to get you out of here," she whispered.
D'Argo smiled at her. "It's good to see you," he said. "Even if you don't look like you."
Chiana smiled, and it was as brilliant as her smiles had been since the last time she had seen him alive. "You have no idea how good it is to see you . . ."
D'Argo's smile faded back. "You shouldn't have come here, Chiana," he said gently.
"Crichton would have come for me," she said simply. "You would have, too."
D'Argo looked down at his hands. He wanted to hug her but he couldn't do it through bars. "Did you come with a plan at least?" he asked. When he looked up Chiana was still staring at him with wide eyes, looking like she was being held in place.
"Not yet," she said, giving another anxious little laugh, "but you know Crichton. He'll think of something."
D'Argo glanced at her wryly. "That's what I'm afraid of."
Chiana wound their fingers together and met his eyes fiercely. "We're getting out of this," she said. "All of us."
She didn't say, 'I can't lose you again', but it hung unsaid in the air between them all the same.
- - - - -
John was pacing the floor of his room, and a plan was starting to take form in his mind along with a wormhole, tickling the back of his consciousness. The door slid open again, and this time the sound of creaking leather told him it was either Sikozu or Scorpius. The way his day was going, he was pretty sure which.
"What do you want, Scorpy?"
"We have a problem, John," Scorpius told him. "Grayza intends to have me killed."
"Doesn't sound all that problematic to me," John said. "In fact, that's the best news I've heard all day."
Scorpius moved so he was in front of him, watching him carefully. "Grayza will no doubt take you back with her, onto her command carrier, and perhaps I am mistaken, but I hadn't thought that was a situation you had any wish to repeat."
"Grayza doesn't scare me," John said, and his eyes were blazing. "You don't, either."
Scorpius sighed, and gave a small smile. "There's no need for this bravado, John. Neither of us wish Grayza to control wormholes . . . or you. The solution is simple enough. We can stop her."
"I can stop her, you mean," John said, biting off the words, "but I won't."
Scorpius stilled. "Surely you have not forgotten D'Argo so soon," he said. "After all you've done already to keep him--"
"It's not going to work," John said, cutting him off. "This morning it would have, but things have changed." John stepped closer to him. "You could have so much more power if you would only play the game, Scorpy, but you keep pissing off the guys in charge. Grayza is going to board, she's going to take command, and then it's off with your head."
Scorpius placed his hand at John's throat, not tightly, but strong enough to march him across the length of red carpet and pin him against the wall. "I will kill you, John," Scorpius said, sounding almost regretful, "before I will allow the power you possess to fall to her. She would use it only to further herself."
"And you'd probably be doing me a favor," John said, sounding strained despite a wide a smile, "but I never said I wouldn't get us out of this, I'm just through with sending your enemies down the rabbit hole."
"What are you suggesting, Crichton?" Scorpius asked curiously, head tilting as he flexed his fingers around John's throat.
"We go back to Moya," he said. "The Peacekeepers will kill you, so let's bail. It's my default plan. Always works."
"That is not an option, John," Scorpius said. "I have worked too long and too hard to get here to start again."
John closed his eyes. "Fine. Fine then, whatever, we'll both stay here and end up dead. But you let D'Argo fly out of here."
Scorpius shook his head. "Unacceptable."
"Non-negotiable," John snapped.
"What if I said that the Scarrens have your family?" Scorpius asked.
"I'd say you're bluffing," John said.
"I'm afraid not, John. A single Stryker avoided your wormhole. They went straight for Moya, no doubt to use your family against you." John tried to jerk free of Scorpius's grasp, but the half-breed only held tighter. "See reason. Grayza cares nothing for them. If, as you say, she has off with my head, they are certain to die as well."
"I don't buy it," John said. "Why would you only tell me this now?"
"Because I have no choice but to tell you now," Scorpius hissed. "Check with Sikozu if you think I'm lying."
John laughed. "Cause she's a paragon of truth? Thanks, I'll pass."
"I assure you, John, they will die without my aid, as will you," he said.
"Convenient," John said, "since you're going to die without mine."
"It's as I've said," Scorpius said, releasing John and stepping back. "We're natural allies."
John let out a gasping breath and slid down the wall laughing. "Oh, yeah, and I've got the bruises to prove it."
Scorpius kneeled in front of him, and looked over the bruises appearing at John's throat with a sneer. "I do not enjoy exhibiting my superior strength to you, John," he said.
John kicked out, knocking Scorpius off balance and sending him falling onto his back. There was no real harm caused, but John found it satisfying anyway. "The Scarrens really go after my family?" he asked.
"I may have omitted this earlier, but I would not lie to you, John," he said.
John let out another desperate laugh. "Makes me wonder what else you're not saying, though," he said, and watched as Scorpius got back to his feet. "We're going after them. Now."
"First things first," Scorpius said. "Grayza isn't going to let us go anywhere."
John got to his feet as well, and adjusted his jacket, before working out a crick in his neck. "You leave Grayza to me."
- - - - -
Scorpius agreed to send John to meet Grayza alone. By alone, he apparently meant with three armed guards trailing in his wake, but John didn't mind them. Peacekeeper commandos didn't ask questions.
If Harvey were here he would advise him to side with the devil he knows, but Harvey’s gone and John can’t quite allow himself to regret that, even as some strange part wanted to.
“Too old for imaginary friends,” he muttered to himself, turning away. Grayza was after power, pure and simple, but that had never been Scorpius’s game, not really. Scorpy wanted revenge and he didn’t care how he got it--he’d do demeaning work without thought if it got him where he needed to be, but Grayza wouldn’t.
Grayza was only concerned with climbing to the top. Personally he hoped she fell hard if she ever got there.
She looked him over from his boots to the tips of his hair, smiled a little, placed a hand on her hip to emphasize the return of her Peacekeeper Barbie figure. "Find Scorpius, take him into custody along with Captain Braca and the Kalish," she said, and motioned her guards, as well as John's, to go on ahead so that it was only them, standing there together in the vast docking bay.
She titled her head a little and smiled wider. "I had not believed Scorpius would send you as the welcoming committee," she said. "You're looking well, Crichton."
"You too," John said. "I see you got the bun out of the oven. Where is the little tyke? Flying prowlers yet?"
"She has been assigned a unit," Grayza said. "She will be in nursery for a few cycles more."
"Charming," John said. "You've got that maternal glow."
Grayza stepped closer. "You never asked me, Crichton," she said slowly, "if the child was yours."
John laughed and looked at the floor. "I figure someone probably would have noticed if you were carrying around a part human child, and that's pretty much as irreversibly contaminated as it gets with you guys, isn't it?" John asked.
She nodded in acknowledgement. "You are correct, but I am, of course, exempt from such things," she said.
"Yeah, I've noticed that, you and your magic sweat, Scorpy and his cooling rods, you all taking your cues from Hitler or what? Be as I want to be, not as I am?"
"I do not know what you mean," Grayza said.
John laughed again and shook his head. "Yes, you do," he said. "Because you're a lot of things, but I don't think you're stupid. So let's make a deal, Mata Hari. You've done a lot of talking about peace, peace this, peace that, peace out--let's have a little less conversation, a little more action."
Grayza acknowledged this by meeting his eyes. "What are you suggesting?"
"The Scarrens are after my family," John said. "Scorpy's promised to save them if I get rid of you."
Grayza smiled. "And you're telling me this because?"
"Because if you help me save them now, then I'll help get rid of him instead," John said.
"I admit that I would like to see Scorpius die," Grayza said thoughtfully. "But he has a habit of not staying buried."
"Maybe you should have gotten into that grave and checked for a pulse yourself," John said.
Grayza smiled. "Maybe I should have just shot him myself," she said. "My faith in Braca almost undid me."
"That too," John said.
"I admit I am surprised, Crichton. I had believed that you and Scorpius were becoming allies," she said.
"He likes to think that," John said. "The truth is I want him dead more than anyone. Even you. So you win the lotto. Congratulations. I'm sure we'll all see great things from you."
Grayza's smile widened. "And from you as well," she said.
"Is that a deal?" John asked.
"You realize, of course, to save your family, you would have to know where they are," she said.
"The thought had occurred to me," he said.
"And do you know where they are?" she asked.
"You don't need to worry about that," John said. "I know how to find them."
"Going after Scarrens is a breach of the treaty," she said carefully. "I was threatened, just earlier today, by you if I remember correctly, against any such actions."
"You keep playing coy and I'm gonna get bored," John said. "Don't delude yourself. You're not my only way out of this, you're just easy, is all. You need me a hell of a lot more than I need you."
Grayza shook her head. "To be honest, Crichton, I think the sanest course of action is to put you to death. What you are capable of--" she trailed off. "Well, you horrified even me, and I do not frighten easily."
"You need to understand something," John said. "I don't stay buried well, either, but the fact that that power scares you? That's why I'm here talking with you and not Scorpius. Cause it doesn't scare him, and that's why he's not my ally, that's why he won't ever be."
"This power scares you?" Grayza asked.
John stepped up close to her, close enough he could smell the sick sweetness of her sweat, but he gave no sign that he noticed it. "Lady, I've spent the last four cycles terrified out of my mind, my tolerance has gotten pretty high, but yeah, it scares the hell out of me, and that's why it works. And that's why you're going to do what I tell you to."
"Speak your terms," Grayza said, tilting her head back.
- - - - -
Chiana stepped out of the way as five Peacekeeper commandos went running past the cells. She turned back to D'Argo in alarm. "We've got to get you out of there," she said.
D'Argo shook his head. "No, if Scorpius comes to check on me, I have to be here," he said, "and you need to stay out of sight."
"You sound like Crichton," Chiana complained. "We don't have a choice. From the sound of it, his plan is already going to hezmana."
"Chiana," D'Argo said quietly, "that's why you have to go find him. I'll be right here. You can come back for me."
Chiana shook her head. "No, no, I'm not leaving you here, D'Argo, I'm not, what is it with you frellniks? Why do you think it's okay to put yourselves at risk but not the rest of us?"
"It isn't like that," D'Argo said with a sigh. "I want nothing more than to get out of this cell."
"Good," Chiana said, moving to the lock. "Then let's do it."
D'Argo reached through the bars to grab her hand. "But we have to trust Crichton."
Chiana let out a breath. "I love Crichton," she said. "He's family, and I'd do anything for him. But he doesn't think clearly when it comes to Scorpius. We can't leave this to him this time. We need to come up with a plan of our own and then get him out of here."
D'Argo glanced down the hall as more commandos went running by, ignoring them both. "As good as that sounds, it would never work and you know it. As usual, we're going to have to try one of Crichton's fahrbot plans, and that means I stay here, and you go find him."
"D'Argo--" Chiana started.
"We'll get out of this," D'Argo said. "We just have to play along a little longer."
Chiana glared at him, but stepped away from the lock. "I'm tired of playing," she said. "You better still be here when I get back."
"I'm not going anywhere," D'Argo assured her.
Chiana followed after the commandos, without looking back, cursing both of the men in her life all the way down the hall.
- - - - -
Aeryn took in a deep gasping breath, not quite sure how she was still alive. The world came into focus slowly, and there was Stark, looking down at her with a little frown. "Are you alright?" he asked.
"You're supposed to be looking after D'Argo," she said.
"I left him in the care of Rygel and Noranti," Stark explained.
"Exactly," Aeryn said, before getting carefully to her feet. She dusted bits of Scarren off her shirt, and stared down at the mess lying at her feet. "What did you do to him?"
"Radiation," Stark explained. "Such as the one you call Sikozu emits. Designed to destroy the heat gland. Very messy death, very messy, but effective, yes, very effective, he blew up everywhere."
"I can see that," Aeryn said. "Stark, if you knew how to do that, why didn't you just kill them all?"
He stared up at her with that one crazy eye like that was the most ridiculous thing he had ever heard. "I didn't know I could to do that," he explained.
"Of course you didn't," Aeryn said, before turning and heading towards her son. "Noranti, how is D'Argo?"
"Oh, quite well," Noranti said. "Are the Scarrens dead?"
"Yes," Aeryn said. "Your weapons worked amazingly well."
"Yes, yes, I thought they might, just an idea I had, strangely enough from the Eidelons, who really only like peace, you know, but I--"
Aeryn tuned the old woman out and switched her comm. to contact Pilot. "Pilot, are you and Moya both alright?"
"We are fine, Aeryn. All the Scarrens have been killed," he said, sounding rightly a little surprised.
Aeryn let out a breath. "Any sign of reinforcements?" she asked.
"No," Pilot said. "I am detecting no ships on sensors."
Aeryn nodded, knowing that it was good news as much as bad. No ships meant no Scarrens, but it also meant no Chiana and John. She let out a sigh of relief when she turned the corner and saw Rygel sitting with D'Argo in his arms. D'Argo was laughing and pulling on his ears. Aeryn kneeled down beside them, glancing up at Noranti and then back to Rygel.
"Thank you, all of you," she said. "I can never repay you for protecting my son."
She leaned forward and placed a kiss on Rygel's forehead, the way she had seen John do once or twice, and Rygel pulled away, uncomfortable with this affection. "Yes, well, don't expect it to happen again," he said. "This baby is going to get as big as that gangly husband of yours. He's already getting hard for me to hold."
Aeryn carefully took D'Argo from his arms and placed a kiss on his forehead, as well. "He will," she agreed. "He's going to look just like him, aren't you?"
D'Argo laughed again. Aeryn had noticed that D'Argo rarely cried. He laughed almost all of the time. "Yes," she said, holding him closer. "You're going to be just like him."
"The Divine Eternal help us all," Rygel muttered.
- - - - -
"So we're agreed then?" John asked.
"It seems I have little choice but to acquiesce," Grayza said. "I will do as you say."
"Good," John said, and grabbed Grayza by the arm to pull her closer. She grinned and fell against him. John ignored her and carefully pulled her pulse pistol from the holster on her thigh. She let him without complaint. "You know, you should really think about investing in some anti-perspirant. I hear Secret is the way to go, made for a woman, strong enough for a man."
Grayza pushed him away. "Go, before I change my mind."
She didn't have to tell him again. John pushed the pistol in his waistband and covered it with his jacket before moving out into the hall. There were no guards waiting for him. Grayza had reassigned them all to one task--find Scorpius.
No one was paying any attention to him for the first time since he stepped on this godforsaken carrier. John had his suspicions that Scorpius wasn't surrendering without a fight. He started back towards D'Argo's cell, and let out a yelp when someone grabbed his arm and pulled him into a closet.
"Shh," she said, pushing hand over his mouth and leaning past him to shut the door. "What's going on?"
John pulled her hand down and grinned. "I've got a plan," he said.
Chiana groaned. "We're doomed, aren't we?"
"Probably," John agreed, and opened the door, checking down the hall. "You ready to go get D'Argo?"
Chiana nodded, and they slipped out of the closet. Chiana grabbed John roughly by the arm to pull him in front of her. "Hey--" he started.
"Keep moving, Crichton," she said loudly, as a group of commandos went by. They glanced at them for a moment, but kept moving on.
"You're enjoying this, aren't you?" he asked.
"What, not being a tech or your server girl?" she asked. "Yeah, it's kind of nice."
"I do love a girl in uniform," he told her.
"You don't look so bad yourself," Chiana told him.
John opened his mouth to respond, but D'Argo loudly cleared his throat. "If you two are through. . . ?" he said.
John turned to look at him in surprise. He hadn't realized they had already reached the cells. "Right," he said. "Okay. Bad news first. A Stryker's gone after Aeryn. But, hey, Grayza's on board."
Chiana tensed. "I'm gonna kill her--" she said.
"No, Chi, believe it or not, that part was the good news," John said. "I made a deal with her."
"Wait--you're double-crossing Scorpius?" D'Argo asked, leaning against the bars. "Is that a good idea?"
"Of course it's not a good idea," John said. "But here, look, it's not a double-cross exactly, it's just playing the odds. Scorpy. Grayza. One of them is going to screw me, and only one is going to come out on top. So I'm making deals with both of them just in case. We'll call Grayza plan A. Scorpy is plan B."
"But we always end up going with Plan B," Chiana complained.
"Okay, Grayza can be Plan B," John said.
"That isn't any better," Chiana said. "How about Plan C? We all get in a ship and you make us disappear through a wormhole so we can go rescue Aeryn and D'Argo?"
"I don't need rescuing," D'Argo protested.
"Not you, the kid," Chiana said.
"What kid?" D'Argo demanded.
"My son," John said. "We named him D'Argo."
"You named your son after me?" D'Argo looked touched and nearly teary-eyed, so John decided to mess with him.
"No, we named him after some other Luxan warrior," John told him.
D'Argo reached out and grabbed him for a full on Luxan body hug. John sucked in a breath and thought he heard his ribs snap. Those hugs were painful enough when there wasn't a set of bars pressing between them. "That's the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me."
"Hmm," Chiana said speculatively. "I'm pretty sure I could top it."
John felt a familiar presence tickling at the back of his neck, and he turned to look down the hall. "Pip, get out of sight," he said.
She slipped around the corner just as Scorpius was escorted into the hall along with Braca, and thrown into the cell across from D'Argo. John watched as the cell was locked. The guards glanced at him, and then retreated again without a word.
John stepped forward. "Now that's what I call poetic justice," he said.
"Have you betrayed me?" Scorpius asked, leaning forward with his hands on the bars. Braca was pouting behind him. John was not surprised Sikozu had not been caught.
"You really need to stop being surprised," John said.
"I was not lying about your family," Scorpius said.
"No, I don't believe you were," John said. "But I don't trust you to help them, and they can take care of themselves."
Scorpius shook his head with disappointment. "I gave you too much freedom, too much reign on this ship. Rest assured, John, when I get out of here, I will not make the same mistake. This I can promise you, Grayza will not help you, your plans will fail."
"I think Grayza is willing to do whatever I ask, as long as I get rid of you, as long as I hold off this war," John said. "But you? You want me to start one."
"You've ruined us all," Scorpius hissed.
John stepped forward. "You know how I know for sure when I'm doing the right thing? When you tell me I'm not." John looked back behind him. "Chiana."
Chiana moved around the corner, smiling, her pulse pistol un-holstered. "Yes, John?"
"Let D'Argo out," he said. "We're moving up the timetable."
Scorpius' eyes widened as he took in the transformed Nebari. "You're making a mistake," Scorpius said.
"Add it to the list," John said, turning away. Chiana deactivated the lock on D'Argo's door with her ident chip. He stepped out beside them.
"She won't let you leave, John, I could help you," Scorpius said.
John laughed out loud, spinning back to face Scorpius. "It's always the same thing with you, isn't it? Always wanting to help me. It's time you face facts, Scorpy, you're not my peer counselor. I don't want your advice, and I don't want your kind of help."
"He wants you dead," Chiana said, before lifting her pulse pistol and firing.
Scorpius was thrown back into Braca, specks of white blood leaking out his lips. John watched dispassionately. "That won't kill him, Chi," he said. "It's been tried before."
"Maybe not, but it was fun," Chiana said.
John looked up as the alarms started blaring. "And it also just advertised our little prison break."
Chiana leaned past him to look at Scorpius gasping on the floor. "Still worth it," she said, nodding, and then aimed her pistol, and fired at his chest again. There was a small blue explosion as the pulse blast impacted his suit, and Braca and Scorpius were both thrown a little way across the floor at the impact.
"Woah," John said, reaching out and bringing her arm down. "Are you trigger happy or what?"
"He needs to die, Crichton," Chiana said, trying to lift the gun again.
"Stop it," Braca demanded. "Haven't you done enough?"
"We're not even yet," John said.
From the floor, Scorpius laughed, coughing up more of that strange white blood. John winced as he watched. He could still taste it on his tongue. "Oh, but you're gaining on me, John," he said weakly. "Look how far you've come."
"We have to go, now," D'Argo said roughly, grabbing John's arm in one hand and Chiana's in the other, before dragging them down the hall. "It looks like Plan C wins out again."
"I don't know why I even bother making a Plan A," John complained. "No one ever listens to me, but no, we're still smack dab in the middle of Plan B. Chi, you take D'Argo to the docking bay, make like D's your prisoner, and Grayza sent you to move him to her ship."
Chiana's eyes narrowed. "And where will you be?"
"Tying up loose ends," John said, turning to head back down the hall. D'Argo grabbed the neck of John's jacket, and tugged him back before he could make it two feet.
"I don't think so," he said. "We're leaving now."
"D, man, hey." John tried to disentangle himself from D'Argo's iron grip, but wasn't having any luck. "I'll be there, okay? I just need to take care of something."
"Knock him out, D'Argo, we'll carry him out of here," Chiana said.
D'Argo shook his head. "We're not getting out of this unless he leads us to a wormhole, and that's just what you're going to do, isn't it, John?"
"Yes," John said, pulling away and taking a step back from them. "Right after I finish this."
"John," D'Argo snapped, stepping after him.
John moved further away. "You have to trust me," he said. "I'll be there. I promise."
D'Argo pointed at him. "You had better be," he said. "You do not want me to have to come and find you."
"Noted," John said. "Now go. We're running out of time."
John spun on his heel and started back towards the cells. Chiana let out a strangled cry of frustration, and D'Argo grabbed her to get her moving. After a few feet, she shook off her anger at this further detour to their plans and started to lead D'Argo down the hall.
"Move faster, Luxan," she said, when a few Peacekeepers passed, but her heart wasn't in it. She sounded closer to tears than anger.
She supposed she should be grateful everyone was moving too fast to notice them at all.
- - - - -
Sikozu watched as the Peacekeepers went running past the doors, and pulled her hood further down over her eyes. The Kalish refugees were being entirely ignored by the Peacekeepers. Sikozu had slipped inside with them, and disappeared.
She had tapped into the communications system and learned that Scorpius and Braca had both been taken into custody for breaking the treaty. The Luxan, on the other hand, had escaped. No one was saying anything about Crichton, but Sikozu knew he would be behind whatever was going on.
She moved towards the door, dropping her borrowed cloak to the floor. She would be safe here, with her people. Peacekeepers did not pay attention to those they viewed as lower races, whether the supposed lesser races were actually their betters seemed irrelevant to them, and she knew if she just stayed here she would go unnoticed.
But Sikozu had changed much in these last cycles. She no longer ran from her problems. She faced them head on.
She slipped out into the hall, and moved to an armory. It had been nearly picked clean already, but a few weapons remained. She threw a pulse rifle over one shoulder and grabbed a pulse pistol.
She knew she had become something other than what she was intended to be. She was an engineered soldier, true, but as was the Kalish way, her methods of war were always meant to be intellectual--she was supposed to outsmart the Scarrens, kill them with radiation only if given no other choice. She was not supposed to be so comfortable holding weapons.
She wondered who she had to thank for that. Scorpius, or John Crichton.
It was not hard to avoid being seen. If someone was coming around the corner, Sikozu simply walked up the wall--and waited on the ceiling for them to pass. It was slow going, but she still understood caution. This rescue would have to be timed well.
Sikozu stopped at Scorpius' quarters. She was surprised to see they were not guarded. No doubt Grayza did not believe the single missing Kalish to be a threat. Sikozu grabbed the medical kit from the table and then ran out the doors, heading towards the containment area.
D'Argo was the last person she expected to run into. Sikozu came to an abrupt stop, wary when she realized he had been captured. She glanced at the Peacekeeper and raised her weapon, ready to defend herself. That was when she noticed the smile the girl was wearing.
She knew that smile. "Chiana?" she said, with disbelief.
"Hey, how you doing?" Chiana asked, and then sent her sprawling to the ground with a sucker punch. Chiana shook out her hand. Her knuckles were grey where the paint had chipped. "That felt good."
D'Argo stared at Sikozu for a moment with a look of disappointment, and then stepped over her and took off down the hall. He was half way down the next hall when he realized that Chiana had not followed.
He returned to where he had left her just in time to see her kneeling by Sikozu, snapping a small black case shut. "What are you doing?" he demanded. "Leave her."
Chiana got to her feet. "Nothing," she said innocently, and hopped over Sikozu. "Let's go."
- - - - -
John came to an abrupt stop in front of Scorpius' cell. "Oh, you still here?" he asked. He looked Scorpius over. He was on his feet, but breathing hard. "You're looking a little peaked."
John let out a startled cry as Scorpius' hand shot out and grabbed his wrist, tugging him against the bars with almost enough force to break it. Recovering quickly, John laughed and pulled his pulse pistol out to press against Scorpius' head. Braca just hung back and watched.
"Oops, sorry," John said, "forgot you're not supposed to taunt the wild animals at the zoo. You want to let my arm go?"
"Go ahead and shoot, at least have the decency to finish the job yourself," Scorpius hissed. "You owe me that much, Crichton."
"No," John said, slowly drawing the word out.
Scorpius let him go in disgust. John stepped back out of reach, but no farther. "You can destroy a dreadnought but not me, why, Crichton?"
"I never wanted to hurt anyone," John said softly. He laughed suddenly, but the sound was filled with pain. "Back on my side of the universe I used to watch the news, channel eleven, you know, and look at all the horrible things people did to each other and just think--how could they do that?"
John heard the click of heels coming down the hall. He didn't take his eyes from Scorpius. "But we all have it in us, whether we know it or not. It's all about control, Scorpy, and you strip mine away every single time. I'm through letting you."
"Letting me live is a tactical error," Scorpius said, smug, because he could see whatever he said it didn't matter--John was incapable of pulling the trigger on him. "I taught you better."
"Everything you taught me I plan to forget,” he said.
"A wise plan," Grayza said smoothly, coming to stand beside him. She ran a hand across John's shoulders. He tightened his jaw but said nothing and didn't pull away.
Scorpius hissed at them. "You think you've made a deal with him, don't you? But he's betrayed us both. He's freed the Luxan and another of his friends is here in disguise. You should have let us be, Grayza. He'll destroy you the same way he has me."
Grayza watched him dispassionately. She gave no reaction at this declaration. She only turned to John, and handed him a stack of clear plastic documents. "Diplomatic immunity, for you and all your friends, as agreed," Grayza said. "These papers will protect you from any Peacekeepers. I cannot promise the same of the Scarrens."
"And Scorpius cannot void these?" John demanded.
"He cannot," Grayza said. "He will not be in any position to do anything, in any case. I suggest you get on your way."
John nodded. "I'm not going to say thank you," he said.
"I do not expect or want your thanks," Grayza said. "I do suggest you leave quickly."
John nodded, and with one last glance at Scorpius, he took off back down the hall after his friends. Realization was dawning slowly in Scoripus's eyes, and he forced himself to stay on his feet, breathing heavily and holding onto the bars for support. "You're letting him escape!" he roared.
Grayza glanced at him. "Yes," she said. "His presence here disturbs the Scarrens. We were returning to a state of unrest. The threat of this power keeps the peace, but Crichton must remain a neutral party. As long as he is the sole arbitrator and neither side controls him, there can be peace. The moment one side possesses him the balance is disturbed."
"Do you have any idea what you've done?" Scorpius demanded. "We could have destroyed the Scarrens!"
"At the cost of my people?" Grayza asked. "No. No, I think not."
"He played you," Scorpius said, disgusted. "He talked you into setting him free."
"Perhaps," Grayza said, "but if that is so, I let him do it, because his reasoning was sound. I do not wish to possess his power. I do not believe anyone should have that power. But he is right. The fact that he does hold it is all that keeps us from killing each other. John Crichton will be the man we speak of in fearful whispers, the man who could turn space against itself. He is like a story meant to frighten us, to keep us on our best behavior."
"You are weak," Scoripus said. "You are frightened and you are weak."
"Frightened, yes," Grayza said. "But weak? It takes strength to choose peace over violence, Scorpius. This, I fear, is something that you will never understand."
"You fear much," Scorpius growled, and little specks of blood came flying out with his words.
"But not you, not any longer," Grayza said. "Your reign of terror is over. We will have peace despite your efforts."
"This is not peace, this is a stalemate," Scorpius said. "Crichton will not live forever."
"The threat of what he can do will live on past his life," she said. "And with him out there, somewhere unknown, unreachable? We'll never know if he's watching. Waiting. The peace will hold."
Grayza glanced at Braca and then back to Scorpius. "But it is no concern of yours any longer. Braca is to endure the Living Death. You, Scorpius, are to be beheaded."
Scorpius let out a choking laugh. "Was that a condition of Crichton's?"
"It was a condition of mine," Grayza said. "I want to make sure you're not coming back this time. Once we reach High Command, your sentences will be carried out publicly as an example to us all."
Grayza stepped away, and motioning to the guards to watch the prisoners, headed back to command her new carrier.
- - - - -
Sikozu woke to someone shaking her. "Wake up, Kalish."
She opened her eyes. A Peacekeeper commando was staring down at her with distain. "It's time to join the others," he said. "You've just been relieved of your command. Whatever your job actually was, anyway."
He pulled her roughly to her feet. "I’m sorry," she said.
He laughed. "Yeah, well, believe it or not, we're expecting a bit more than an apology," he said. "I'm still locking you up."
"You misunderstand," Sikozu said, and held out a hand. A burst of fire slammed into him in the chest, and he started screaming. She reached down and grabbed the pulse rifle and medical kit, before moving around him and down the hall. "I meant I was sorry for that."
Peacekeepers died much more easily than Scarrans. He had stopped screaming by the time she turned the corner. Her time to play it safe was at an end. She had no idea how long she had been knocked out by that stupid tralk, and she had to reach Scorpius fast.
Another guard came at her, and she lifted the pulse rifle and shot him once, sending him flying back. "Sorry about that," she said, again, and kept going.
The two guards standing watch over Braca and Scorpius were similarly easy to kill. It amazed Sikozu the way these commandos looked down on techs, when they were the only reason they were any use at all. Without all their technology, they were next to nothing. They had no innate internal defenses, no outwardly impressive strength.
"Pathetic," she said, and shot the lock off the cell door.
Her eyes narrowed when she saw Braca holding Scorpius up. "What happened?" she demanded.
"Not now," Scorpius hissed, surging forward. Braca followed and caught him, keeping him on his feet. Sikozu immediately stepped forward to support him on the other side. "Crichton is escaping."
"As we should be," Sikozu said. "Grayza has ordered all of our deaths."
"Why did you come back for us?" Braca asked.
"I did not come back for you," Sikozu snapped, and left it at that.
- - - - -
"Five more microts, and then I'm going after him," D'Argo snapped.
Chiana shook her head. "No, you're staying here. I'm going after him. I’m the one with the disguise, remember?"
"Chiana, I'm not going to argue about this," D'Argo said. "I'll go, because I'm the one that can drag him back here whether he wants to come or not--"
"You two arguing over little ole me?" John asked, as he slipped past them and straight into a Marauder. The others followed him quickly.
"Crichton, where have you been?" D'Argo demanded, and added, after noticing what he held, "and what are those?"
John dropped them on the floor and slid into the pilot's seat. "Tell you later," he said. "Let's get the hell out of dodge while the getting's good."
"Are you certain that Grayza will not fire on us?" D'Argo asked, leaning over John's shoulder.
John started the ship up. "Not at all," he said.
"Great," Chiana said. "This is great."
"Anyone coming, Pip?" John asked.
Chiana shook her head. "Whatever Grandma did to my eyes, I can't see through walls at the moment. Your guess is as good as mine."
"Okay then," John said. "I suggest you all cross your fingers."
"What in hezmana for?" D'Argo demanded.
"For luck," John said, as he took the ship out into space. "We're going to need it."
D'Argo looked down at his hand, and attempted to cross his fingers. Chiana leaned forward on John's other side. "What about our exit strategy, how's that coming, old man?"
"Oh, it's coming," John said, continuing to pilot the craft.
Viente. Diecinueve. Dieciocho . . .
- - - - -
Braca and Sikozu stumbled into the docking bay, holding Scorpius up between them. Scorpius growled as they watched the Marauder speed off just as they entered. "We have to follow them," he said. "Quickly!"
"A Prowler is quicker," Braca said. "We may be able to catch them."
"No," Sikozu snapped. "Grayza will not risk firing on Crichton, and Marauders can not be penetrated by sensors. We take a Marauder. She will not know which holds Crichton."
"Agreed," Scorpius said.
"Then we had better hurry," Braca said, nodding towards the open space beyond the bay. In the distance, vibrant and spiraling, a wormhole was coming to life.
- - - - -
Grayza watched over Command. Crichton should be making his miraculous escape at any moment. She would feign surprise but command her soldiers not to fire on his position. After all, he was, as always, too valuable to kill. Unique was the word Scorpius used, in all of his many long-winded reports.
"Ma'am! The prisoners are escaping!"
Grayza nodded, smothering a grin. She turned. "Send out the Prowlers, but attempt only to disable the ship, Crichton must be brought back alive."
Grayza knew they would not reach Crichton in time, not if he kept his end of the bargain. If he didn't, and he was caught, she would be able to work with that. Either way, Crichton was her asset now. She would not make the same mistakes as Scorpius.
"What about the others?" a solider asked.
Grayza frowned. "The Luxan? He is of no consequence, but he will be with Crichton, and I--"
"No, ma'am, Scorpius, Captain Braca, and the Kalish spy," he interrupted. "Your orders regarding them?"
Grayza froze. "They have escaped?" she demanded.
"Yes, ma'am," he said. "The guards watching them are dead."
Grayza frowned. That wasn't really Crichton's style. She doubted that he had double-crossed her. The Kalish must have set the others free. "Stop them," she said. "Kill all three of them."
He nodded, and turned to leave command, motioning his subordinates to follow him. One of the techs ran up to Grayza, looking terrified. "Two Marauders have just launched without authorization."
Grayza grinned. "Good, shoot down the one holding Scorpius," she said. "Retrieve the one with Crichton."
"But we do not know which is which," the tech explained.
Grayza turned to stare at the viewscreen. A wormhole was opening, and there were two Marauders racing towards it. "Find out," she yelled. "Scan them! Which one is Crichton's? We cannot let Scorpius escape!"
Grayza turned to glare at the tech, and she stepped back, going pale. "We cannot tell," she said. "Our scans cannot penetrate the Marauder's shields."
When Grayza turned back to the wormhole, both ships had already disappeared.
- - - - -
"There's a Marauder right on our tail," Chiana warned.
"It can't be Grayza's," John said, looking at the sensors. "She promised more of a head start than that."
"And she's so trustworthy," D'Argo said.
John watched the ship for a moment, and shook his head. "It's Scorpius," he said.
"You can't be sure of that," Chiana protested.
John pulled the ship to the side of the wormhole, skimming at the edge of the anomaly like a surfer on a wave. "Don't worry, we'll lose them," John said. "They're never going to be able to follow our exit. They don't know where they're going."
"And you do?" Chiana asked.
John nodded. "Like there's road signs," he said. "I know where every exit leads."
Chiana watched the progress of the Marauder behind them, but its course was erratic. They seemed to be having trouble staying on course. She grabbed onto the edge of the console as John sent them spinning straight out into normal space. D'Argo reached out and grabbed her, holding onto her waist and balancing them both.
"Home sweet home," John said, and looked up expectantly. There was nothing there.
"Where's Moya?" Chiana asked, searching the sensors.
"Are you sure you came out at the right place?" D'Argo demanded.
"What? Yes," John said. "These are the coordinates Chi gave me. Moya should be here."
"Maybe they Starburst," Chiana said, nodding. "When the Stryker came, they must have Starburst away. I'm sure they're fine."
John glanced frantically at the empty space around them. "Yeah," he said. "Yeah, that makes sense, they probably--"
"John," D'Argo said. "I'm picking up a ship on sensors."
"I thought you said that Marauder couldn't follow us through?" Chiana demanded.
"It couldn't have," John said, moving to look at the sensors. "That isn't a Marauder."
D'Argo nodded in agreement. "That is a Stryker. And they're sending a transmission."
"Marauder. State your business here." The transmission was grainy, but they all recognized the voice. John burst out laughing.
"Aeryn, baby, it is good to hear your voice," he said.
"John? John is that you? Chiana? Are you both alright?" Aeryn sounded somewhere between frantic and relieved. John could relate.
"We're here, we're all alright," John said. "How about you? Where are the kids?"
"Safe on Moya," Aeryn said. "We had a little run in with some uninvited guests. I borrowed their ship to wait here for you and sent Moya to hide in a nearby nebula."
"You all okay then?" John demanded.
"We're all fine," Aeryn said. "I want you to dock here and get on board this ship. The Stryker is much faster than a Marauder, and I want to return to Moya as quickly as possible so we can Starburst away from here."
"You got it," John said. "That little bitty ship going to be big enough for all of us, though?"
"It will hold three of us no problem," Aeryn said. "Three Scarrens were on it previously, and we're all considerably smaller."
"What about four?" John asked. "One of whom is considerably larger?"
The comm. went silent for a moment. John could imagine the wheels turning in Aeryn's head. "What do you mean four?" Aeryn asked. "John, Scorpius isn't--"
"What? No, god, no, nothing like that. This is one surprise you're gonna like, darlin'," he said.
"I don't like surprises," Aeryn said sternly. "John--"
John laughed. "You will. I got nothing but good news for you, I promise," he said.
"I'll believe it when I see it," Aeryn said.
John glanced at D'Argo. "Yeah, you will," he said. "Docking now."
John secured their air duct to the one on the Stryker, and heard the hatch on the other side opening almost immediately. He quickly grabbed up their pardons and then headed towards the back. "I think she's a little impatient," John said, reaching out to open theirs.
He barely had the door open and Aeryn was in his arms, gripping him tightly. One of her hands was wrapped in his hair, pulling him down so her mouth was level with his ear. "If you ever, and I mean ever, do something like that again," she whispered.
"I think between the three of us we can keep him in check," D'Argo said.
Aeryn froze, the hand she had wound in John's hair going slack. John smiled at her brightly as he spun them around so she could see the Luxan face to face. "D'Argo?" she whispered.
D'Argo stepped forward and grabbed Aeryn up in a hug. "I hear you named your son after me," he said.
"You were dead," Aeryn said, and she was so relieved she had started shaking. "How did you survive?"
"That's a long story," Chiana said. "They haven't even told it to me. Personally, I don't really care how, just that he is."
Aeryn turned to Chiana, and reached to grab her arm. "Thank you, Chiana, for everything, for bringing them both back."
John moved past them into the Stryker, and the others followed. John gave it a cursory once over, and decided he had no idea how to fly it. "Aeryn, honey, what do you say you take us home?"
She grabbed him again and kissed him. "We will talk more later," she said sternly.
"That sounds like a threat," John said, calling after her. "You can't be mad! Everything worked out!"
"I said we'll talk later," Aeryn said coolly.
Chiana laughed. "Oh, she's definitely mad," she said. "Hey, Aeryn, how about this? Next time we get ourselves knee deep in hezmana, we can make D'Argo and John stay behind and watch the narl and we can keep all the excitement for ourselves."
"Well, that's a start," Aeryn said reluctantly.
John laughed and leaned against the wall, he pulled the pardons out of his jacket and gave a low whistle. "Maybe these will help too?" he asked.
"What are those?" Aeryn asked.
"Diplomatic immunity," John said. "We're free agents. No more bounties. No more insane military commanders riding our ass. We're free, baby."
Chiana let out some kind of war cry and jumped on John, hugging him tightly. "Are you serious?" she asked.
"As a heart attack," he said.
Chiana grabbed hers from him. "I don't know what that means, but it better mean hell yeah," she said.
John sat down next to Aeryn as D'Argo and Chiana looked the documents over. "You know that those are meaningless the next time they need you," she said.
"Next time they aren't going to find me," he said. "Harvey's gone. We can go anywhere. We can do anything. Anything you want."
Aeryn turned to look at him. "I love you," she said, placing a hand on the back of his neck to pull him in for another kiss.
"Hey, eyes on the road," Chiana said with a laugh.
"She is sounding more and more like you every day," Aeryn said wryly.
"It's not my fault, it's all that television she watches," John protested.
"I like the soaps," Chiana said. "I could always relate to those the best."
John laughed and leaned against Aeryn, watching out the window and waiting for Moya to appear.
- - - - -
"You must have gone the wrong way," Braca yelled.
"It was not me," Sikozu snapped defensively. "It is the wormhole. It did not take us to the same place, or perhaps, not the same time. They are not here. There is nothing here. We are stranded."
Sikozu turned around at the soft voice, and kneeled beside Scorpius. The pulse blasts had not even broken a hole in his suit, but the damage was there. He was still spitting up more blood than she liked, and there was smoke coming from his old cooling rods. "You are getting worse," she fretted. "Did Crichton do this?"
Braca kneeled beside them, and shook his head. "It was the Nebari," he said.
Sikozu looked startled. "Chiana did this?"
"Without hesitation," Braca said. "I believe she has gone slightly mad."
"I'm fairly certain she started out that way," Sikozu said. "Still, I would not have expected this of her. Braca, hand me the medical kit. We need to change his cooling rods. He's overheating."
Braca handed her the kit, and Sikozu gratefully took it from his hands. She opened it up, and stared down at it with disbelief. "They're not here," she whispered. "The cooling rods. When I retrieved it--someone must have--"
Scorpius watched her expressions, and let his eyes be drawn to the empty case. He could feel the heat inside him building. He couldn't hold it off much longer. "This is why he always wins," he whispered.
"Scorpius?" Sikozu said. "Stay with us."
"We're always so preoccupied with him, we pay too little attention to the rest of them," he explained, and he laughed, choking on more of his own blood. "I always thought it would be him. I always thought he would be the one to kill me."
Scorpius watched as Sikozu continued shouting at him, but he could no longer hear her words.
"At least one of them was learning," he said, and closed his eyes.
Her eyes were fading back to normal. Every time she blinked they got a little less blue. She had spent almost an arn in the shower, washing everything off. It was novel to see the black and white mixing and going down the drain, instead of the blue or red that she was used to.
Their reunion with Moya was everything that she could have hoped for. Moya hadn't quite felt like home anymore without D'Argo, but now they were almost all of them back where they belonged. She still ached a little when she thought of Zhaan and Jool, but she didn't miss Scorpius or Sikozu one bit.
D'Argo adored his namesake. John and D'Argo had spent arns just sitting with him since they had come back. Neither had thought to see any of the others again. Aeryn had simply stood guard over them. Chiana had hung back, leaning against the wall. She still felt a little off center.
D'Argo's miraculous reappearance should have fixed everything that was broken in her, but then she hadn't exactly been whole even before she had thought she lost him. D'Argo was distant as well. He had joined the ranks of their dead. Aeryn, John, they had been through this before. Returned as ghosts. Not quite the same as they had been before.
After Chiana had emerged from the shower, Nebari again, wearing her familiar clothes, she went looking for D'Argo and found him in command, not in his quarters, though they had left everything exactly as he had it. Not even Rygel had taken one single item from his room.
"How you doing?" Chiana asked softly.
He was at the window, looking out at the stars. They had left the nebula behind, Starbursting themselves even further towards the edge of space. Chiana always felt a little better, the farther from Nebari Prime she got.
"I'm alive," D'Argo said.
"Yeah," Chiana said. She took a slow step forward. "And there's peace and everything. I keep waiting--well, I keep waiting to wake up."
"Peace," D'Argo said wryly. "Right. And how long do you think it will last? How long until Scorpius shows up again?"
Chiana leaned against the wall, and continued to watch him. "He's not going to show up again. He's never going to hurt either of you, not ever again," Chiana said.
D'Argo kept his eyes on the stars. They were all new ones. It didn't matter that Crichton's pardons, those proclamations of diplomatic immunity, meant that they could go back. The rest of them had spent so much time looking for home, and none of them wanted to go there now that they could.
D'Argo sighed and leaned his head against the window. "How can you be certain of that?" he asked. "Are you seeing the future again?"
Chiana pulled the thin blue rods from her pocket, and dropped them into the waste receptacle, one at a time. "Something like that," she told him, and watched as the last one was flushed out into space.
D'Argo turned to face her. "You never answered me. How long do you think this peace will last, really?"
Chiana gave a sly little grin, and moved over to him. "At least until morning," she said. "So let's sleep, and get back to saving the universe tomorrow."
D'Argo smiled and pulled her closer, kissing her and then just holding on, as tight as he could. "Stay here with me, then," he said softly. "Until morning."
"Even after, for as long as you want," Chiana said, and framed D'Argo's face with her hands, kissing him again.
He never asked her why her hands were so cold.
- - - - -
John rested his head on his arms, watching little D'Argo sleep. "You know what dad did at work today? I sent a Dreadnought down a wormhole," he whispered. "They had already surrendered. I killed them anyway."
"John," Aeryn whispered, reaching out.
He stepped away, pacing to the other side of the room. "Everyone keeps saying I did the right thing, Scorpius, Sikozu, D'Argo, Chiana, you, but Aeryn, how could it be?"
Aeryn caught his face between her hands, stilling his pacing, forcing him to look at her. "You did what you had to," she said. "No one should have the power you were given, John. No one should have to make the choices you were forced to make, and maybe there was no right answer; you just did what you had to."
"I don't know I can forgive myself this, Aeryn," John said tiredly, and he sounded as though he already knew he couldn't.
Aeryn met his eyes fiercely. "And if you had let D'Argo die, John? That would be better? You could forgive that?"
He tried to pull away, but she wouldn't let him go. He thought she probably never would, and he found it comforting even as he fought to be left alone. "No," he said. "I wouldn't forgive that."
"Then you did the right thing," she said firmly. "Not the easy thing, because you never take the easy way out, John. You never let yourself get away with anything, and that's why you're not like them, that's why you're different. They do things like this and don't care."
John laughed. "It's the caring that's killing me," he said.
"No," Aeryn said, shaking her head. "No, you've taught me better than that. It's what keeps us alive."
"How do we know that this time it's over? How do we know that this time we'll be safe?" he asked.
"Who says we have to know?" Aeryn asked. "What comes will come. Look at what we have now. That's all that matters."
John leaned into her, placing their foreheads together. "When did you get so smart?" he asked.
"I've always been this smart. Now come to bed," she said. "You'll wake the baby."
John let Aeryn lead him over to the bed, and she pulled him close. They were both still wearing their clothes, their boots. Somehow it didn't seem to matter. Just down the hall he could hear D'Argo and Chiana laughing as they went to their room. It wasn't something he thought he would ever hear again.
He could still hear the wormholes too, going off like firecrackers in the back of his mind, fighting for his attention. He could still hear Harvey, even though he wasn't there. His voice played like an echo in his head anytime he closed his eyes. We can go to the beach! I know a place with naked Sebacean girls and margarita shooters!
They would tear him apart if he let them; wormholes, Scorpius, Harvey, all of the dead. If he let them, they would pull him to pieces.
Aeryn weaved their hands together, saying nothing, and he rested his head on her chest so he could let her heart beat drown them all out, and hold onto the things he still had. Moya. Pilot. Stark. Rygel. Noranti.
Big D and Chiana. Aeryn and Little D.
And Hope. Always there was hope.
Hope that maybe this time they would manage it. Maybe this time they would outrun them all.