John dreams of it, sometimes, of the wormhole opening and his beautiful blue planet waiting at the other end. There are always differences, though. It’s D’Argo in the module with him, instead, and he can’t go, he can’t take a Luxan home with him, he can’t take away D’Argo’s chance of finding his son. Or the wormhole closes at the last moment, sealing off his only way home. Or they lose control on the way down and crash, and the last thing he sees is the ocean, swallowing them, as he loses consciousness.
It wakes him, usually. On the night he dreams of their rescue from the crash by scientists who take Aeryn away, he gets out of bed, and walks across the hall to stand in her open doorway. He watches her chest rise and fall, and remembers how it really happened.
The wormhole opens and there’s no time to take her back to Moya. It’s destabilizing too quickly, Pilot tells them through the comms. Either they both go, or they both stay. “Aeryn,” he says, and he doesn’t know what to do, doesn’t know what he’s asking, if he’s asking anything.
There is resolve in her eyes, and a braveness borne not of her upbringing as a Peacekeeper on a Command Carrier, but somewhere deeper. “This is your only chance, Crichton. Let’s go.”
And they do.
She’s a soldier, and she sleeps like one, waking quickly as she feels him watching her. “What are you doing, Crichton?”
“Just makin’ sure,” he answers, shifting his weight.
She sits up in bed, irritated. She’s wearing one of his t-shirts and probably nothing else, and it’s a thought he can’t help but be distracted by. “Of what?” she asks.
That she's all right, that she's still there, that this part is real and not the dream goes unsaid. Instead he tells her, “Nothing. Go back to sleep, I’m sorry I woke you up.” He turns and goes back to his own bedroom, crawls back into bed.
It would be easier if she weren’t here with him, certainly. Easier, but so much worse.
They land the module carefully in the middle of a forest, and do their best to obscure it before abandoning it. It’s nighttime and the air is cold, and John almost doesn’t believe it when he looks up through the trees to see the moon shining down on them.
“We did it!” he yells as soon as he’s standing upright on the solid ground of his planet, ripping his helmet off and just barely resisting the urge to pick her up and swing her around. “Aeryn, we did it!” His laugh borders on hysteria.
“Yes,” she says. “You did.” She is almost smiling, and it’s enough for him to throw his arms around her and hold on tightly.
“We did it,” he says again, and her arms come up around his back. “We’re here.”
“Well, let’s go then,” she says, slipping out of his embrace. “I trust you have some sort of plan.”
He doesn’t, not really. He teaches her to hitchhike on the side of the road in the middle of God knows where, and prays they’ll be picked up by someone who won’t ask a lot of questions.
They’re lucky, in that respect. They’re picked up by a man around his father’s age, who eyes their leather clothing curiously but doesn’t pry. John tells him their car had broken down and they’d started walking and gotten lost, and if he could just drive them back into civilization they could call a friend to pick them up.
Aeryn grabs his arm before he can get into the backseat. “Is this safe?” she asks, eyes wide, and he is always taken by surprise, any time he sees her truly scared.
“Whoa,” the man in the car says. “What language is that?”
John laughs nervously. “It’s, ah. It’s Czech. She’s from Europe.” He turns to Aeryn. “It’s all right. Come on.” He gets into the car and slides over to make room for Aeryn, who reluctantly follows. Off the man’s confused look, he adds, “She understands English better than she speaks it.”
They’re silent on the half-hour drive into town—John watches for road signs and determines they’re in Georgia, probably about a nine hour drive from his home in Florida. He tries to remember what month it would be on Earth and can’t, but it feels like fall. The south will be safe for Aeryn through the winter, but once it starts warming up they’ll have some decisions to make.
He leans against the window and lets it sink in, lets himself grow delirious with excitement and relief. He is home, he is home, he is home. He turns to see Aeryn staring out her own window, her reflection in the glass completely unreadable. “It’s okay,” he says, putting his hand over hers in the seat between them. “We’re gonna be okay.”
The man drops them off at a bus station in town, and John calls his father on a payphone with a borrowed quarter.
“Dad!” he says when Jack answers. “Dad, don’t hang up, it’s me, it’s John.” Aeryn stands next to him, watching curiously.
“Who is this?” his father says gruffly.
“It’s me, Dad. I’m back. I’m alive.”
“This isn’t funny. How did you get this number?”
“Dad,” he says, anxious. “Listen to my voice. This is your son. On my tenth birthday we went fishing and I caught a trout. When I was twelve, you and Mom had a fight so bad that Susan took Olivia and me to a hotel for the night. When I was eight, Susan double-bounced me on the trampoline and I fell off and broke my ankle, and you held my hand in the hospital and told me I was the bravest little boy you’d ever met. It’s me, Dad.”
For a moment there is only silence on the other end of the line. He looks at Aeryn and she meets his eyes, her gaze steady. Finally, Jack speaks again, his voice wavering. “Son. Where are you?”
John tells his father he’s at a Greyhound station in Athens, and Jack tells him to stay, to wait for him, and he’ll be in his car and on the way in five minutes. When he hangs up the phone he looks over Aeryn’s shoulder to see a woman pretending not to stare at him, and he wonders, as an astronaut who disappeared in space, how recognizable his face is. If she knows who he is, or just thinks she might have seen him somewhere before.
“Come on,” he says to Aeryn, and heads toward an empty waiting area in the opposite direction. “We’ve got a long wait ahead of us.” They sit down in the uncomfortable chairs, and John’s stomach growls. It’s been hours since they’ve eaten, and he’s starving, but he doesn’t have any money. All they can do is wait.
“So this is it,” Aeryn says quietly, sounding unimpressed. “This is Earth?”
“Part of it,” he answers. “Not a very exciting part, I’ll grant you that, but there’s plenty to see other than a bus station in the middle of the night. When we get home to Florida, I’ll show you.”
“Home,” she repeats, and the word sounds funny coming out of her mouth, like it’s a new one she’s not had much practice with.
“Yeah,” he says. “Look, Aeryn, I know this isn’t what you had planned. I know that nothing since you met me is what you had planned. But it’s gonna be good, here. Remember what I told you? You’ll fit in just fine. I’ll help you.”
She rolls her eyes at him because she’s not used to being helped, and bristles at the idea of needing it. “What will you tell your father? The rest of your family… your friends.”
He shrugs. “Well, I planned on telling my dad the truth. Everyone else… I’ll come up with a lie. It’ll be safer if I lie.”
“Safer for me, you mean.”
“Yeah.” He keeps his voice low, though there’s no one around. “Unless you believe a bunch of crazies down in Roswell, you’re Earth’s first alien. You’d be poked and prodded. Maybe locked up. Maybe… maybe worse. I’m not gonna let that happen.”
She looks away, and her eyes dart around the place. He’s so unaccustomed to seeing her on edge like this, and he wonders if she already regrets coming with him. “So you’ll hide me? Better locked up with you than with them?”
“No. Aeryn, I wouldn’t… this isn’t a prison, this is—”
“Your home, I know.”
“You’re not going to be locked up.”
She lets out a quick, irritated sigh. “What, then?”
“Well I haven’t had a lot of time to plan, here, but I was thinking we’d get you a fake identity, somehow.” She looks at him blankly, and he tries to explain. “Papers, you know. That say you’re a US citizen. I’ll teach you how to speak English. We’ll figure things out as we go. You’ll have a life here.”
She had a life there, he knows, but she doesn’t say it. “You’re so sure everything’s going to be fine.”
“It will be.” He won’t allow himself to consider any other option, now that he’s made it this far. He runs a hand through his hair and briefly wonders how disheveled he looks. Aeryn is visibly tired, but not quite ragged, her hair windswept but not a rat’s nest, and he thinks his own appearance must be similar. His stomach growls again.
“We don’t have any food,” she says flatly.
“I didn’t exactly think we’d need a bag lunch when we went out to test drive the module,” John answers, and offers her a small smile.
Her eyes soften for a moment, and it’s enough. “How long until your father arrives?”
“A while. It’ll be morning before he’s here. We should try to get some rest.”
It’s maybe the most uncomfortable place John has ever slept, but his quickly mounting exhaustion allows him to doze off eventually. His dreams are fleeting and fragmented. He is looking for something, someone, but she is always out of reach, always turning a corner five steps ahead of him. When he wakes up a couple of hours later, Aeryn is asleep, her head on his shoulder. It’s not the same, not similar at all in fact, but the contact makes him think of the flax. He had lied to her, afterwards. Maybe she knew. Maybe she had lied, too.
She stirs, and wakes, but they don’t speak. He offers his hand, palm up, and after a moment’s hesitation, she takes it. They sleep and wake in fits and starts, and their first night on Earth passes quietly.
It’s early morning when Jack enters the bus station, looking around wildly for a few moments before he finds his son. He looks halfway out of his mind, rumpled and sleep-deprived, and John is suddenly nervous as he bolts out of his chair, waking Aeryn again.
“John,” his father says, his voice breaking in a way that reminds John too much of his mother’s funeral.
“Dad,” he answers, and is wrapped up in a hug so tight he can barely breathe, but he doesn’t care.
“You’re alive. You’re alive.”
“Sure,” John says, clinging to his father more tightly than he’d done since he was a boy. “You thought I was just a disembodied voice on the phone?”
Jack just holds on, and doesn’t answer. When he finally lets go, he notices Aeryn for the first time, standing silently next to John.
“This is Aeryn,” he says. “I’ll explain everything in the car.”
Everything in John’s house is exactly as he left it, with one exception. Someone (his dad, or maybe Susan) had been in at some point to clear out whatever perishable food he’d left, but everything else, every room, was untouched, as if he’d just been out of town for a weekend. His bed was unmade, sheets twisted—he’d hardly slept, the last night he spent here. A half-empty tube of toothpaste in the bathroom, a jacket he’d thrown over a chair in the kitchen—everything was the same. Jack had kept the yard mowed, paid the utilities, and if his daughters had thought it unhealthy, they hadn’t been able to stop it. John’s house, like his father, had been waiting for him to come home.
It’s surreal and strange and not as comforting as he hoped it would be. For the first time, it hits him that he will never set foot inside Moya again, or see those strange people who had become his friends. From the way Aeryn stands in the center of her new bedroom, looking resigned, it seems she’s realized the same thing.
The room is empty, an extra bedroom he had never needed or bothered to furnish. “It’s yours,” he tells her, coming to stand beside her as she looks up at the ceiling. Low, he realizes, compared to a spaceship’s. “I know it’s not much to look at, but we’ll get you furniture and stuff. Clothes. You can take my bed until we get you one, I’ll sleep on the couch.”
“You don’t have to give me your bed, Crichton. I’ll be fine.” She looks confused when her gaze flickers away from the ceiling, and John thinks there have probably been very few people in her life who have offered to do her any favors.
“I was raised to be a gentleman,” he says. “You get the bed, I get the couch.”
“We’ll alternate,” she decides.
He relents. “Okay. We’ll alternate.”
His story’s utter improbability has most of the world dismissing it as a hoax. He is examined and evaluated by a team of the best doctors on IASA’s payroll. His module, retrieved from its makeshift landing pad, is inspected inch by inch, but it offers no explanation. Officially, he remembers taking off, and he remembers landing, and nothing about the months between. No living space ships, no strange races of people, no other worlds—only an unfamiliar forest, a long walk into town, and a phone call to his father.
Reporters descend in droves, cameras rolling, while Aeryn waits out of sight. His picture appears in every newspaper and on every news program in the country, and if the woman from the bus station didn’t know him before, she certainly knows him now. He gives them the same story every time: He doesn’t know. The doctors say he may never remember, that that happens sometimes when people go through traumatic events. He doesn’t know where he was, only that he’s home now, grateful to be back with his family, and looking forward to going back to work at IASA.
But there’s a man in Georgia telling everyone he knows, and anyone else who will listen, that he picked up that astronaut. He picked him up on the side of the road, and he had a girl with him.
Luckily, most people think he’s crazy.
In the middle of the media frenzy are more reunions, more reasons that John must hide Aeryn behind the closed door of his bedroom.
“I’m sorry,” he tells her, sounding pained. “I said this wouldn’t be a prison and I meant it, and you’ll meet them, just. Not today.”
“I understand,” she says. “It’s temporary. Until I can do a better impression of a human.”
He grins and reaches for her hand, tugging lightly at her fingers. “You’re more like us than you think, Aeryn.”
She insists that she’s fine, and he shows her how to use the TV remote before he goes downstairs. “This’ll keep you occupied.” She looks only slightly out of place as she sits on the bed flipping through channels, dressed up like a human in a black t-shirt and dark jeans. He can’t help but stare at her for a moment, trying to imagine their lives a year down the line when this will all be normal.
“I’ll be back as soon as I can,” he promises, and turns to go, shutting the door behind him.
His sisters show up together, their mouths falling open in tandem as he opens the door, as if they didn’t truly believe he would be there.
Susan cups his face with one hand and rests her forehead against his, whispering, “Oh, God, John.”
Olivia just cries, throwing her arms around his neck.
DK arrives right behind them, and pretends not to have tears in his eyes, but it’s the wrong time of year for allergies and John doesn’t buy it for a second.
It doesn’t feel like he thought it would, being back with them. He was gone for less than a year, but he feels like he’s come back different, like he’s just as much an alien to this world as Aeryn. That’s okay, he decides. They’ll become human together.
John wakes up to the sound of Aeryn retching. When he gets to the bathroom, she is on her knees, forehead resting against the side of the toilet. Her cheeks are colorless, her hair is stringy with sweat, and she’s breathing slowly, in and out.
It takes him a moment before it clicks into place. In the last two days she’d been exposed to a million times the amount of germs that would ever have been allowed to circulate in Sebacean society, all of them unfamiliar. He crouches down next to her and starts to brush her hair out of her face, but she raises her hand to weakly push him away.
“Hey,” he says. “How long have you been sick?”
“Arns,” she answers, and she looks it, pale and shaky.
“Hours,” he corrects her gently, and reaches for her hair again, tucking it behind her ear. “You should have woken me up.”
“Why?” she says, and there’s that tone again, the one that’s meant to keep him at a distance.
“So I could take care of you. Hold your hair back, force feed you electrolytes.”
She would protest being taken care of, surely, but her body tenses and convulses and she throws up again, instead.
True to his word, John gathers her hair in his hands, and when she quiets, runs his fingers over it, smoothing it down. He rubs her back as she sags to the left, leaning against him. “You’re all right,” he says. “You’re all right.”
He tries to get her to drink some water so she won’t be dehydrated, but she throws that up, too. “What is this?” she says, not understanding how her body could find even water so offensive that it must be expelled.
“It’s a stomach bug,” John says, hand running up and down her back again.
She looks determined, suddenly. “There must be a way to remove it.”
To his credit, he doesn’t laugh. “No, it’s not an actual bug. That’s just- you’re just sick. You’re not used to all these human germs floating around.”
“How long does it last?”
He thinks she might get sick a lot, right at first, but he doesn’t tell her that. “Probably about a day.”
She nods. She can handle a day.
They sit on the bathroom floor for a while, leaning against the bathtub. Aeryn is clammy and shaky and limp against him, and when he presses a kiss to her temple, she doesn’t resist. Relaxes, even.
“You shouldn’t be so close to me. I’m contagious,” she says, but she doesn’t move, she’s too tired.
“I’ll risk it.”
An hour passes and she doesn’t lurch towards the toilet again, so he helps her stand and watches her brush her teeth, and then leads her to his bed, even though it’s her night for the couch. He dabs at her forehead with a damp washcloth, and places a glass of water by the bed, in case she wakes up and feels okay enough to drink it.
He turns to leave but then stops, turns back around and slips in under the covers next to her.
“You don’t have to stay,” Aeryn mumbles, half asleep. “I’ll be fine.”
“I know. Gonna stay anyway.” She doesn’t protest and he doesn’t leave. He closes his eyes and listens to her breathing.
In the morning, they are not exactly cuddling, but their bodies are turned toward each other and their hands are touching in the space between them, and John’s leg brushes against Aeryn’s as he gradually wakes.
John rubs his eyes and rises, reluctantly, half-stumbling downstairs in pursuit of the coffee maker. He hears the shower turn on a couple of minutes later as he sits at the kitchen table with a newspaper, trying to make sense of all that’s changed in the time he was away.
When Aeryn comes downstairs, her hair is wet, she’s dressed, and she’s not near as pale as she’d been the night before. “Well, good morning, my little invalid,” John says, looking up from his paper. “How are you feeling?”
“Better.” She stands in the doorway, leaning against the frame. “Not fully recovered, but better.”
“Good,” he says, and pushes the newspaper aside. “You look better.”
She pushes away from the door frame and crosses the kitchen to sit down with him. “You didn’t have to do that, last night.”
“Yeah, but I wanted to. I wasn’t gonna leave you sprawled out alone on the bathroom floor all night, Aeryn. I wanted to be there for you.”
“Aeryn,” he interrupts. “It’s not just gonna be me taking care of you, okay, I know you hate that. We’ll help each other. You’ll help me.”
She blinks. “I was going to thank you, not argue with you.”
“Oh.” He smiles. “Well, you’re welcome.”
They sit at the table together, and it feels so normal for a moment that he forgets everything about it that isn’t. He makes dry toast for her and she keeps it down, so he decides she’s well enough for him to suggest something.
“You feeling stir crazy, yet? Wanna get out of the house for a while?”
He drives them out to the nearest beach. “This is the Atlantic Ocean,” he tells her as they walk along the water, bare feet in the wet sand.
It’s not quite deserted, but it’s October and still fairly early in the morning, so there aren’t many people around. The few that are have probably recognized him, are probably whispering to each other that it’s him, it’s the astronaut, but who’s that woman with him? But John doesn’t care. He just focuses on the salty air, seashells half-buried in the sand, and Aeryn beside him.
She looks out at the expanse of ocean before them, the waves rolling towards the shore. “It’s beautiful, John,” she says. “You were right.”
She falls asleep in the car on the way home, and he starts to feel guilty. She should have been in bed, resting, but he had to show her she wasn’t trapped. That there was a whole world out there and she was going to be a part of it.
He glances over at her as they turn onto his street. She looks peaceful, and he decides it was worth it.
His dad’s car is in the driveway when they get home, and as John nudges Aeryn awake with a gentle “Come on. Time to go lie down,” he gets an uncomfortable feeling in his chest that something is about to go wrong.
Jack is pacing the living room when they get in, and when he looks up at them, panic is draining from his face and being replaced by something else that John is not familiar with. His absence has changed his father as much as it changed him.
“Hey, Dad,” he says carefully, neutrally.
“I came over and you were gone. I called you and you didn’t answer your phone.”
“Yeah, Dad, my cell phone payments sorta lapsed while I was gone,” he answers, and he knows it’s the wrong thing to say.
“That’s not funny, John.” He seems angry and embarrassed all at once.
“I didn’t know where you were,” Jack says, and John feels a pang of guilt that he’s done this to his family.
“You’re not always gonna know where I am, Dad. You never did. But I’m not going anywhere. I’m here, I’m home.”
Before Jack can answer, Aeryn sways slightly and puts her hand on John’s arm to support herself, closing her eyes for a moment.
“Is she all right?” Jack asks.
Jack and Aeryn had so far not so much spoken to each other as spoken around each other, though John had explained to his father that she would understand everything he said. They made each other uncomfortable, John thought—Aeryn, a walking, talking reminder to Jack of the unfathomable things his son had described to him—and Jack, someone who knew what Aeryn was, where she came from, though she didn’t know him well enough to trust him with that knowledge.
“She’s gonna be fine,” John says, placing his hand at her back to steady her. “I think it’s just a 24 hour bug. She’s a little weak against human diseases, right now.”
“Weak?” she scoffs, raising an eyebrow and standing a bit straighter, and Jack doesn’t have to understand Sebacean to recognize her displeasure.
“Don’t let him call you weak,” he says, addressing her directly for the first time. “You should see John when he gets sick. Big baby.”
“I assumed as much,” she says, looking from John to his father.
“She says she thinks you’re lying.”
“Interpretation is not an exact process,” John says innocently. “There are nuances.”
Aeryn ignores him and makes eye contact with Jack. “I will be fine. So will your son.”
“What did she say?”
John’s hand still rests on Aeryn’s lower back, and he rubs light circles with his thumb. “She said don’t worry so much, Dad. You’re not gonna lose me again.”
It’s painstaking, teaching Aeryn English. Every word John says is Sebacean to her ears, and she’s frustrated, wanting to know how anyone on this godforsaken planet communicates with each other if they all speak different languages and have no translator microbes.
“Not well, sometimes,” he answers her with a rueful grin that widens into amusement as she scowls at him.
She’s a stubborn student, but he’s patient, writing down letters and pointing to them, making their sounds for her to parrot back. Letter by letter, sound by sound. Basic building blocks that the microbes aren’t able to translate. It makes her cross, the way some letters make more than one sound, and he starts to think it might be easier to teach her sign language, instead.
She doesn’t know what that is.
“No deaf people in space?” he asks her.
She looks at him blankly. “Deaf?” she asks, and he can tell by her hesitance, the deliberate pronunciation, that she’s saying it in English. There is no Sebacean equivalent, which is as good an answer as any.
“People who can’t hear,” he explains.
She shakes her head slowly, as if she can’t believe such a condition is allowed to exist here. “If something’s wrong with your hearing, you go to a diagnosan and get it fixed.”
He wonders if everything in Aeryn’s world is that simple. If one of her diagnosans could have fixed his mother.
He finds a website and teaches her how to spell her name, shaping her fingers into the right formations. A-e-r-y-n, and then his own name, J-o-h-n. He smirks and holds his hand up, showing her a new sign. “This one means ‘I love you.’”
She grabs the mouse and clicks away to a new list of words. “Show me something useful.”
John realizes belatedly that sign language might not be the best use of their time, since most people Aeryn will run into won’t know it. But it’s an Earth language, safe for her to use in public, and she takes to it quickly, though they don’t abandon English entirely. She speaks to him with her hands, her face impassive, and he starts to miss the sound of her voice.
Can’t find the-
“Talk, Aeryn,” he tells her, grabbing her hand mid-sentence.
She pulls out of his grip. I am talking.
“With your voice,” he says. “It’s too quiet.”
Not an Earth language. Her hands are lovely, her fingers long and slender.
“It’s all right. You can speak Sebacean at home.”
Not my- she stops, her hand falls to her side. “It’s not my home.”
There. He’d been expecting that, but he always thought the words would hold more anger, less emptiness. “I’m sorry,” he says. “I’m sorry you didn’t have a choice in coming here.” He signs his next apology: I’m sorry you’re stuck with me.
She stares at him for a moment. “Given the choice… I would have come with you anyway.” Before he can say anything else, she continues. “I can’t find the remote control. It’s time for General Hospital.”
Aeryn likes TV. She likes everything on TV, mostly, but she particularly likes soap operas. John can’t figure out why, as she seems to spend more time complaining about them than watching them.
“This woman,” she says, gesturing at the television, “recreated with her husband’s brother, and now she wants him to take her back. And he’s actually going to do it. But she hasn’t told him that she’s pregnant, and she doesn’t know which of her lovers is the father.” She looks at John. “This is ridiculous. Who would ever behave this way?”
He laughs, just a little. “Well, it’s not unheard of.” He thinks about showing her Jerry Springer, and then decides that perhaps she’s not ready to be introduced to the absolute worst of what the human race has to offer. “These kinds of shows are a caricature, mostly,” he adds.
“An exaggeration. Heightened drama, for entertainment value.”
“Ah,” she says, and he thinks he can just see the hint of a smile on her face. “So, not like your television interviews, then?”
He grins and puts his arm around her shoulders and she doesn’t shy away. “Nope. Not like those.”
Most people think John is lying, that he’s been holed up in a cabin in the wilderness somewhere, biding his time, and now he’s back to try to grab fifteen minutes of fame—but that he’s not doing a very good job of it, without any interesting stories to tell. It’s better this way, he thinks. Much safer than if he’d tried to tell the truth.
“Just as well,” Aeryn says. “It’s probably best that The View canceled. I don’t like the look of those women.”
John goes back to work after a couple of weeks, but he’s mostly a consultant now, from what he understands. IASA won’t clear him for anything that an actual astronaut does, and in another life—the one he was forcibly removed from months ago—he would have cared a great deal more. He does care, it’s not that he doesn’t, and he wishes they would let him do more than work on calculations and simulations for the project they’re calling Farscape 2. But what would be the point of going into space now? When nothing will be like Moya, like what he’s left.
He realizes, little by little, that all he’s gotten back won’t make up for the things he’s lost.
He calls Aeryn in the middle of the day when he should be working, to remind himself that he didn’t lose the most important thing.
She tells him that she went down the street to buy milk, just a little while ago, and it’s such a tiny thing, but such a milestone.
“That’s great!” he says, pride swelling within him.
“It’s really nothing,” she says, but she sounds pleased with herself all the same. She’s done something normal by herself, something human.
“It’ll seem like nothing later, but it’s not nothing now. I’m proud of you.”
He imagines her reluctant smile as she concedes, “All right. It’s not nothing.”
They’re quiet for a moment, and then he asks her, “Do you miss what we left behind?”
It’s a while before she answers, so long that he prompts her with a gentle “Aeryn?”
“I miss being in a place that makes sense to me,” she tells him, finally. “I miss having things around me that are familiar, knowing my purpose. I miss Pilot. But I don’t miss being a Peacekeeper anymore, I don’t miss that life. I’m not sorry I came, John.”
“Good,” he says. He doesn't say it, but he hopes she knows—he wouldn't want to be there without her.
Susan calls him on his newly reactivated cell phone as he’s leaving work. “I saw you in a tabloid,” she says as a greeting.
“Hey, Suze, being back at work is going great, thanks for asking. That’s really thoughtful of you to call and check on me.”
She sighs, long and weary, and he’s glad that at least his big sister isn’t treating him any differently.
“I’m in all the tabloids, Susan, that’s not news. Did you know that I’m actually a little green alien wearing the skin of John Crichton, and I’m here to infiltrate Earth’s defenses?” He unlocks his car and gets in, fumbling to turn down the radio as he starts the engine.
“No, I wasn’t aware of that, but I’ll keep it in mind.”
“Yeah, I’m pretty dangerous.”
“It was pictures of you with a woman, John.”
“Oh.” He should have expected that, he’s sure. “You know, being watched is getting old pretty quick.”
“So, who is she? It’s not Caroline, I can tell that much.”
“I don’t know that it’s really your business.” It’s not an answer she’s ever accepted before, but he decides to try it anyway.
“You’re my little brother and we just got you back, and I’m making it my business.” She sounds like their dad, and it’s as oddly comforting as it is irritating.
“I don’t know what you want me to say.”
“I’m just worried about you, John. It’s a little soon for you to be jumping into a relationship, don’t you think?”
He laughs. “Whoa, whoa, whoa! Let’s just take a step back from all those conclusions you’re jumping to. Who says I’m in a relationship?”
She doesn’t answer, and he knows she has one eyebrow raised, just waiting.
“Her name is Aeryn. We’re very good friends,” he says. “I’ve known her for a while now. But we’re not in a relationship.” He leaves out the part where he’d like to be, the part where she’s living with him, the part where Aeryn means more to him than he ever could have imagined.
Susan doesn’t seem completely satisfied- “All right, then,” she says, sounding skeptical- but she lets the matter rest, and he’s grateful. She spends the next ten minutes telling him about her dog’s bad habits, and how her husband wants to spend more than they can afford improving the house, and whether they should make a big deal for their father’s birthday or just have a quiet dinner. John listens patiently and responds in all the right places, and it’s starting to get easier, he realizes. It feels almost like it used to, listening to his sister ramble the way she’s done his whole life.
“I love you,” she says when they hang up. “Don’t forget it.”
It’s their mom she reminds him of now as he promises, “I won’t.”
John comes home one day to find Aeryn sitting on the couch, studying a piece of paper on the coffee table in front of her. It’s the electricity bill, he realizes as he comes closer and stands beside her.
“You know, it’s actually illegal to open someone else’s mail,” he says, but his tone is good-natured and he’s only curious.
“This letter is asking for money,” she says, picking it up.
“You can read this?”
She looks up at him, brow furrowed. “Of course. We’ve been working on English for some time now.”
“Yeah,” he answers, taking the paper from her. “I just didn’t realize you had gotten this good at it.”
“Crichton, what do you think I do all day when you’re working?”
“I don’t know, build elaborate houses of cards?” he suggests, shrugging. “If nothing’s on TV, of course.”
He’s teasing her and she knows it, but she glares at him anyway. He only grins in response and reaches over to lightly nudge her arm. “This is really good, Aeryn. You can read this whole thing? You understand what it says?” He looks over it quickly. “There are books in the house that are a lot more interesting than the electricity bill, you know.”
John is about to sit down next to Aeryn when she stands up. “You pay this every month?” She asks, nodding at the bill in his hand.
“Sure, they get kinda mad if I don’t.”
He thinks she’s only asking to learn about an unfamiliar concept—there were no utility bills on Moya or her Command Carrier—so it takes him by surprise when she tells him, decisively, “I don’t think you should be supporting me financially.”
“Oh.” It’s not something they’ve talked about, and in truth it hadn’t really occurred to him at all. If he takes his life one step at a time, he’s found, if he doesn’t try to look too far beyond the present day, it stops things from getting overwhelming. If he doesn’t allow himself to think about the fact that he doesn’t have a plan, then he doesn’t have to worry over the uncertainty of their future.
“I’m not your housewife, Crichton,” she says, and there’s a vocabulary word that she’s definitely picked up from television.
“Housewife, huh? So that’s why you never have dinner ready for me when I get home?”
“This isn’t a joke.”
He looks away, stares at a corner of the coffee table. “I know you don’t like depending on someone else.” He looks back at her, and the look on her face is serious but not unkind as he speaks. “I know it’s hard for you to feel like you’re not independent. Look, you don’t have to live with me forever. Dad and I are working on forging you some papers, and then you can get a job, you can… move out if you want to.”
She looks at him for a long moment, looks almost as if she might reach for him, or raise her hands to speak to him in sign, but her arms stay still by her sides as she says, “I didn’t say I didn’t want to live with you.”
Something in his chest feels like a dam breaking, like a wall coming down.
She must see it in the smile that creeps across his face, and tries to recover by adding, “I’m not accustomed to living alone. That’s the only reason.”
“Of course,” he says, willing himself to look serious again. “That’s what I thought you meant.”
“Of course,” she repeats back, and he thinks she might be speaking English, though it will always sound the same to him, her perfect voice finding the same cadence in whatever language she might choose. He wonders what he sounds like in Sebacean, and he wonders if someday she might teach it to him.
John comes home one day in early December with a cat he adopted from an animal shelter. She’s small for a full-grown cat, grey with white feet and big eyes, and she purrs contentedly in his arms as he presents her to Aeryn.
Aeryn is reading, and doesn’t look up right away as she says, “I was wondering when you’d be back. I went to the library earlier, and they seemed very irritated by a fine I’ve apparently built up on your card.” She glances up over the top of her book. “What is that?”
John grins, pleased with himself. “I got you a present. An early Christmas present.”
“What is it?” she asks again. She sets her book down and looks skeptically at John's hopeful face and the furry bundle in his arms.
“It's a cat,” he says, and sets her down on the floor. “A pet. I got her for you. I'm more of a dog person, myself, but cats are easier to take care of, and I figured for your first pet...”
The cat trots up to Aeryn cautiously, sniffs her leg, and then rubs against it. “Why is it doing that?”
John crouches down to scratch the cat's ears. “She's just getting to know you. She likes you.”
Aeryn doesn't look convinced as she glances at John and then back to the cat, who seems to be watching her expectantly. “Is the tail sentient?”
“No,” he says, silly grin still on his face. He stands and scoops the cat up again, who lets out an irritated mrow in response, as if she was not quite done deciding what to make of Aeryn and would have preferred being left on the floor to do so. She seems to like John well enough, though, and doesn't wiggle out of his arms as he says, “I named her Pilot.”
“Our Pilot was male.” Aeryn arches an eyebrow.
“I know.” Pilot begins to purr again—she and John have clearly bonded. “I thought it was a good name for her anyway, though. You like it, don't you, little girl?” he asks, addressing Pilot directly. Her purr is a steady rumble and he takes that as his answer.
Aeryn stands and tilts her head at the two of them like there's something she's just not getting. “Does it understand you?”
“Well, no. But we talk to our pets anyway. Don't Sebaceans?”
“Peacekeepers don't have pets.” She reaches out as if she's going to touch the cat, but she stops halfway. Her fingers flutter. Strange creature.
John's not sure if she means Pilot or him. “I think you'll like her. It's okay if you don't, I'll give her to one of my sisters. But I think it'll be good.”
Aeryn reaches for Pilot again and makes it the whole way, this time. She touches the cat's head gingerly, carefully, looking like she might even smile. Pilot's rumble grows louder, and John decides that he's done something right.
John finds that he doesn't have much to do at work, lately. He's fairly certain that the only reason he hasn't been given IASA's civilian version of an honorable discharge is his father's influence, and as much as that frustrates and angers him on nearly every level, he figures it's better that he keep getting paid. It startles him to realize this, but there are more important things, now, than proving he doesn't need his dad.
Someday he will pass his psych evaluation, and someday he might even go back into space. For now, though, he's using his downtime at work trying to figure out a practical solution to Aeryn's sensitivity to heat. If he can figure something out—some kind of personal cooling device, something she can wear under her clothes—it will allow them to stay where they are without trapping Aeryn inside with the air conditioning for most of the long Florida summer.
It's a silly idea, maybe, but it's something to do, a way to feel useful. His lack of progress isn't helped much by the fact that DK keeps dropping by during the day to grill him about his personal life.
He's gotten it into his head that John is seeing somebody—and in some ways, it's true enough. He is, after all, living with Aeryn and spending all of his free time with her—but it's not something he's ready to discuss with anyone, so all that DK has managed to get out of him is that he hasn't gotten back together with Caroline.
“Well, that's a relief,” DK says. “She wasn't good for you, man. She's hot, but she's too self-centered. You're better off.”
“...Thanks,” John says, not looking away from his computer monitor. “I guess.”
“It's the girl from the tabloids, isn't it?”
“You been talkin' to Susan? Do you have secret meetings where you get together and gossip about me?”
“Come on, bro. Who is she? How'd you meet her? Don't get me wrong, I just didn't think you'd really gotten out much since you got back.”
John looks at DK, finally, and bites back a comment about how this isn't any of his business. “She's a family friend.”
DK shoots him an impatient look, and John wonders if he really has been talking to Susan. “I know all your family friends.”
John closes the document he's working on and stands up. “Let's go get lunch.” His tone is abrupt.
DK takes that as his cue to shut up, though a year ago, he wouldn't have. It's only the most recent in a long list of things about John's life that are suddenly unrecognizable: a job in which he's not an astronaut, a best friend who's afraid to make him mad. DK should be hounding him relentlessly over his mystery woman, but he only agrees to lunch and lets the subject drop.
Still, it's the first time John thinks he might not be able to hide Aeryn from his family much longer.
Pilot is a good cat, quiet and cuddly and doesn't scratch up the furniture, though Aeryn's still not sure what to do with her most of the time.
“I can't move,” she says, lying on the couch, one arm hanging down over the edge, Pilot perched on her stomach. She's fighting a sinus infection, which is a first, though she's had several colds. If John adds it all up, he figures she's been sick about half the time she's spent on Earth so far, but she never complains.
He stands over her and places his hand on her forehead, checking to see if she has a fever. She feels fine and he lets his hand linger as she just watches him, lying completely still. Eventually he turns his attention to the cat. “You can move her if you want, you know. She's only ten pounds.” He lifts the cat off of Aeryn's stomach and she yowls crankily, which seems to be her typical reaction to being removed from Aeryn's vicinity.
“I'm sorry, Pilot,” he apologizes, “but you were holding her captive.”
Pilot scurries off to the kitchen as Aeryn sits up slowly, and John sinks down next to her. She leans into him without fuss or hesitation, and they sit quietly together.
Maybe she should meet his sisters, he thinks. She's not like Rapunzel in her tower, she leaves the house every day, but John is her only friend. He's not sure he's good enough to be someone's whole world.
Christmas is getting closer, and John decides that the best way to teach Aeryn about it is to show her A Charlie Brown Christmas. It seems to confuse the situation more than illuminate it, though, and she has many questions. What's wrong with the dog is her primary concern, and secondarily, why do these children appear to have no adult supervision, though they must be very young? She grows quiet, though, at “Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, good will toward men.”
She looks at John. “Your God is kinder than mine.”
John doesn't know if he believes in God—he's never known, and the last year of his life had done nothing but muddy the issue further. He only smiles at her and says, “Watch what happens to the tree.”
That night he wakes up to her crawling into bed beside him.
“Hey.” He swipes at his face to make sure he hasn't been drooling in his sleep.
“Pilot's in my bedroom, playing. She's noisy,” Aeryn says as she lays down on her side, facing him, and closes her eyes.
“You can shut her out. She doesn't know how to open doors.” It's a stupid thing to say, because he doesn't want her to leave.
“I know. She'd be unhappy,” is Aeryn's answer, and it seems to signal the end of the conversation. She falls asleep quickly.
He wakes up once more during the night to find that their bodies have inched closer together as they've slept. He's slung an arm over her waist, holding her close to him. Touching her is not new, but this feels different. He's too tired to think much about why.
In the morning, Pilot is in her place, sleeping on the pillow. John hears Aeryn moving around downstairs.
“Good job, little girl,” he says, reaching over to scratch the cat's cheek. “Why don't we try that more often?”
He finds Aeryn downstairs in the kitchen, contemplating the contents of the refrigerator. There are probably better ways to ease into the subject, but he decides against them and blurts out: “Do you want to come to my dad's house with me for Christmas?”
Aeryn shuts the refrigerator door slowly and stands still for a moment, fingers still resting against the door, before she turns to face him. “Okay.”
“My sisters are gonna be there,” he says, though she would have assumed that already. “And Susan's husband. You can say no if you want. I could bail too, and we could just stay in.”
“You should be with your family on Christmas, John.” She turns away to fiddle with the toaster so he can't see her face when she says, “I'd like to be with you as well.”
Susan opens the door at their dad's house on Christmas day, eyes quickly passing from her brother to his guest. “You brought the tabloid girl!”
“Susan,” Olivia says, appearing at her side.
At the same time, John answers, “Wow. Classy.”
Aeryn looks at John with a raised eyebrow and more irritation than she's directed at him in a long while. “You didn't tell your family I was coming?”
He shrugs, guilty, avoiding her gaze as he looks past his sisters into the house. “I told Dad. Who, from the looks of things, has been possessed by some kind of... Christmas monster.”
Jack hadn't bothered to get a Christmas tree for several years, and before that they hadn't had a real once since John was young. But standing in the corner of the living room is an oversized, very real tree, covered in blinking white lights and what looks to John like every ornament the family had ever owned. There's a wreath on the door, and a garland wrapped around the banister. It's more effort than Jack had put forth since long before his wife died.
“He's just glad you're here, John,” Olivia says, hugging him. “He just wants us to have a good day.” She steps back and points at a spot over John's head. “You might want to look up.”
There's mistletoe hanging in the doorway where he and Aeryn are still standing, and he stares up at it for a moment, deciding what to do. He leans over and kisses her, finally, a quick peck on her mouth, and she pulls away, startled.
“John!” Not angry, he notes. Surprised, but not upset.
He grins at her and signs quickly, Earth thing. Explain later.
“You'd better,” she says. John's sisters watch the exchange curiously and look as if they're about to start asking questions. (He's dreaded this moment. “They combine together to form a Mega Sister,” he'd told Aeryn the night before. “It's truly terrifying, unlike anything you've ever seen before.” Aeryn had only looked at him, not quite a glare but something more tolerant, and gone back to watching A Muppet Christmas Carol without comment.)
It's a small Christmas miracle, John decides, that his dad and Susan's husband choose that moment to appear. There's a great deal of hugging and Merry Christmas-ing, and the Mega Sister is not given a chance to form.
“Aeryn,” Jack says. “Merry Christmas. I'm glad you could be here.”
She nods and steps forward to hug him, because that's what humans do. The embrace is quick and stiff. “Merry Christmas, Jack.”
It's progress, John decides.
He and Aeryn end up in front of the mantle, looking at family photos. He picks one up, a whole family portrait that his mom had insisted upon when he was about eleven.
“That's you?” Aeryn says, leaning close to him to peer at the photograph. “The little boy?”
“This kid had no idea,” he says, feeling suddenly old and far away.
“No way to go back and warn him now.” It's unexpectedly gentle, the way she talks to him sometimes. She stays close to him as he stares at the picture, and for a while it's like they're alone, instead of surrounded by his family.
She places her hand on his arm and he turns to look at her, finally, with a lopsided smile. “I wouldn't do it, anyway. Some of the surprises were good.”
Susan's made up her mind to steal Aeryn to “help in the kitchen,” even after John warns her that Aeryn has absolutely no cooking skills, which means that Susan wants to have “girl talk.”
“You okay?” he asks Aeryn, but she only looks at him strangely and he remembers that she was a Peacekeeper who has been through far worse interrogations than Susan Crichton could ever be capable of.
Olivia corners him as soon as he's alone. “Finally. You two are just joined at the hip, aren't you?”
“Well, obviously not, Liv. She's a whole thirty feet away from me right now. Wall between us and everything.”
“Suze thinks she's odd.”
John sort of snorts and doesn't bother to raise his voice in opposition, because it's not as if she's wrong.
Olivia watches him for a moment, and he can see her mulling it over, deciding to go ahead and stick her nose in it the way Susan would. “She loves you, you know.”
“You feel comfortable making that assumption after meeting her an hour ago?”
Olivia sighs and smiles at him indulgently like she thinks he's very simple. “Do you not see the way she looks at you? And her voice is different when she talks to you.” Olivia glances toward the kitchen. “You're not very hard to read, John. She probably knows you love her, too.”
They head home in the evening, just as the sun is setting.
“I've been hearing in English,” she tells him without preamble in the car.
He flips his blinker and turns onto their street. “What? Is that even... you can do that?”
“Well I didn't try,” she says. “I've been... I've been speaking it when I don't have to, when it's just you and me. I think the translator microbes have adapted.”
John steers the car with one hand and reaches for her with the other. She threads their fingers together and holds on, and when he glances over at her she looks content. Like she's finally at home.
He parks in the driveway and throws her the keys as they get out of the car, so she can unlock the door while he carries in the bags of presents from his family. He stops, though, sets them down on the porch as she's turning the key in the lock, and pulls at her arm to turn her towards him.
And then he's kissing her, finally, and it's just like it was in the flax but more, better, and she's not startled this time—like she's ready, like she's been waiting. She tastes like he remembers, and it seems suddenly outrageous that he's been living without this for so many months.
“I love you,” he says as they pull apart. He's been carrying it with him so long that he can't believe it's the first time he's said it.
Her hand is on the back of his neck, her thumb stroking gently. “I know,” she says. “I'm not oblivious.” From anyone else it would sound like a brush off, but from Aeryn Sun...
He dips his head down to kiss her neck, and then smiles against her skin. “What, that's all I get? You're not gonna say it back?”
He looks up as her hand slides back from around his neck and her fingers brush his jaw briefly. She forms the third sign he'd taught her, after their names: I love you. Her eyes are soft and he pulls her to him, holding her tightly. She laughs.
“Of course I love you, John.”
And suddenly he feels something, something in him that's felt lost ever since that second trip through the wormhole, settle into place.