|To Say Goodbye Again|
by Deneba, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
About To Say Goodbye Again
Spoilers: Through Fractures – S3
Category: Drama/Angst. Future AU
Feedback: Please – email@example.com
Disclaimer: These characters belong to the Henson Company, which allows them to roam freely and harass the innocent. If Henson would keep them locked up where they belong, maybe I could get some sleep instead of taking dictation from them all night.
This was inspired by the US trailer for the S3 Final Four, where Aeryn says that she can’t say goodbye to Crichton. What might happen if she were in a situation where she had the choice and truly couldn’t?
The two figures sat across from each other at a shadowed table near the back of the bar, both draped in long hooded cloaks. One had the hood thrown back and warily scanned the room out of long habit, hunched over a tepid glass of raslak that had been nursed too long. The leather clothing was worn and soft from many cycles of use; the pulse gun in the thigh holster was cracked and scratched. Silver-touched dark hair was tied tightly back from the severe face; scars, weariness and lingering grief cut harsh lines into the pale skin. The mouth was a thin slash, lips compressed by cycles of holding the dispassionate expression that the face was wont to wear. Only the blue eyes had life if anyone cared to look deeply enough, full of enduring pain.
The bartender pointed to the pair. A small, richly dressed form picked out a winding path through the unsavory crowd. This planet was the waste dump of the galaxy, and the marginalized society attracted those that could not find a place anywhere else. This latest patron was a pointed contrast to the greasy surroundings and drew hostile or lewd glances from the rabble in the bar.
A callused hand raised the glass and tipped the remaining raslak into the grim mouth as the visitor reached the table.
"Aeryn. It’s been a long time." Deep, black eyes studied her. The pitiless cycles of combat, privation and sadness had stripped Aeryn’s beauty to a mere suggestion of what it had once been. Chiana looked in vain for the woman that she had fought with and killed for.
"Chiana. You look well." Aeryn said evenly, staring at the table in front of her.
Chiana sighed. She hadn’t expected it to be easy, but Aeryn was already making it as difficult as always.
It was the one great regret of her life that she had never been able to heal the open wound that all of the surviving companions of Moya still shared. It gnawed at them that Aeryn still persisted in following her bleak course. Every few cycles Chiana was driven to find Aeryn to try to make her see reason, but Aeryn never listened. It already looked as though this time would be no different.
"How is he?" she asked, resigned. Aeryn looked up at her with a cold stare and said nothing.
Steeling herself, Chiana moved to the other side of the table to stand next to the silent figure seated across from Aeryn. She pushed back the hood, gently placed her hands on either side of the slack face and bent down to look into the blank blue eyes for any sign of recognition. Grey had streaked the brown hair since the last time she had seen him, and it had grown long; now bound into a Peacekeeper queue.
The puckered, spidery scar at his temple had finally faded to white. It was smaller than she remembered, but still jagged a thin line down the right side of his face almost past his ear. The Diagnosian had been competent but rushed, and hadn’t had time for the niceties of aesthetics.
"John, it’s Chiana," she said softly, tears catching at the back of her throat. Frell, she had told herself not to cry in front of Aeryn, and she wouldn’t.
He raised his eyes to her face in response to his name. His vacant gaze touched her eyes for a moment, and then slid off to focus on a point over her shoulder.
"He can’t understand you."
"I know, but I hoped . . ."
"There is no hope," Aeryn said in a tired voice. "Why are you here, Chiana?"
Straight to business. That at least was the same. Even at her most open, Aeryn had always had difficulty in making small talk.
"It’s been so many cycles, Aeryn. It’s never going to change. You keep holding onto the past and it’s killing you. John wouldn’t want this."
Chiana laid a compassionate hand on Aeryn’s arm. Aeryn stiffened and rose abruptly to her feet, reaching for her pulse gun. Chiana let her hand slide away with sharp regret. They had been close once, almost like sisters. Now Aeryn behaved as if she were some diseased beggar pawing at her.
"The conversation is over, Chiana."
"Wait Aeryn, hear me out. Please. It’s taken me so long to find you."
"Very well, but don’t presume on the past." The Sebacean sat down again and folded her hands in front of her on the table. She did not invite Chiana to sit with her.
Chiana would only have a few moments to make her case; Aeryn would not allow more than that. She had schemed and connived since their last meeting, breaking more interstellar laws than she cared to count just so that she would be able to offer Aeryn a different choice from what she always had before. The hard look on Aeryn’s face told her that her offer would be rejected as soon as she formed the words, but she had done too much and come too far not to at least try.
"I’ve had some successful business dealings since the war," she said, watching for any restive movements from Aeryn. "I’ve accumulated enough capital to live very well for the rest of my life and still leave a sizable fortune when I die. Let me share it with you and John so that you can retire from being mercenaries and live the rest of your lives in peace."
Aeryn shook her head and smiled bitterly. "What makes you think that I want peace? I am a warrior."
Her standard answer for everything. Chiana had hoped that Aeryn would have tired of the constant fighting by now. Most mercenaries retired after ten or fifteen cycles, or found a heroic way to die in battle. She suspected that Aeryn would have preferred the second option, but the fact was that Aeryn couldn’t allow herself to be killed. There would be no one to care for John.
"Then let me take John. I’ll provide a comfortable place for him and make sure that he is protected and cared for. He’ll have the best of everything; good food, skilled staff and innovative specialists. We’ll find a new treatment to help him."
"There is nothing that can be done for him. John is my responsibility. I’ll take care of him."
"Aeryn, let me do something," Chiana said desperately, clenching her fists to control her frustration. "You’ve shut all of us out. We want to help you."
"The way D’Argo tried to help when it happened?" Aeryn asked, leaning forward. Unaccustomed intensity animated her features. "I was barely able to stop him in time."
"Would it have been such a bad thing if you hadn’t?" Chiana asked softly. "How much are you supposed to bear? It was a mistake."
Aeryn’s fervor faded and she sat back into the shadows. "It was my fault," she said in an emotionless voice. "My lack of judgment. There will never be too much to bear."
They’d been under attack; a ground battle on some insignificant world that through the vagaries of war had become a strategic location. Aeryn, D’Argo and Crichton were in one position, Chiana and Crais about twenty metras away. Aeryn had tried to have Chiana assigned as her partner, but D’Argo was team leader that day. After a cycle and a half he was still trying to mend her relationship with Crichton and assigned him as her partner instead.
"Hopeless romantic," she’d thought wearily as she trudged off of the transport pod with Crichton mute beside her. He knew better now than to talk to her unless absolutely necessary; she’d shot him down so many times in the past that he’d finally stopped trying. He only spoke to her with those burdensome glances that he thought she didn’t notice.
The Scarrans came steadily, although it was a company that had recently been in many battles without being able to make contact with a supply vessel. They had run short of weapon charges and many of the soldiers were using their weapons as clubs. The small band was able to easily defeat the stronger fighters based on fire power alone.
The bodies of the fallen had mounded up around them, and finally the steady barrage of soldiers slowed to a few and then stopped. D’Argo began to methodically shoot the bodies around them with his qualta blade as Aeryn and Crichton surveyed the horizon for another wave. Chiana and Crais followed the same routine in their position. It sometimes seemed a waste of chakon oil but it was better to make sure that their enemies were dead than to risk an attack by a wounded foe from within their line.
"I think that they’ve called a temporary halt," Aeryn said cautiously. "I don’t see any more soldiers advancing on our position." Crichton nodded his agreement, and began blasting the bodies at his feet.
Aeryn turned her back to the acrid smoke from the scorching Scarrans and rubbed her stinging eyes for a moment, blinking away the dust and dryness. It had been a short night and a long day; she looked forward to getting back to Moya.
D’Argo noticed Aeryn stretching her shoulders; she should ensure that their enemies were all dead before she rested. He shouted her name to get her attention.
"No!" she heard Crichton yell at the same moment, and she was suddenly shoved to the ground by a fast-moving mass. She rolled and came smoothly to her feet, pulse pistol drawn. A wounded Scarran stood with his weapon grasped in both hands and raised high in the air. Crichton lay on the ground where she had been standing, blood oozing from the side of his head and running down through his hair into his collar.
"John!" she screamed and shot the Scarran before he had the chance to deal his second blow. He dropped headless to the ground next to Crichton, his blood vessels cauterized by the pulse blast.
D’Argo rushed in, scooped the downed man into his arms and ran to the transport pod with Aeryn pounding in his wake. Her mind was a frozen void, her body automatically running after them without volition.
D’Argo laid his friend on the floor, slapped a self-sealing dressing over the head wound and began to feel him over for any other injuries beside the obvious one.
"Is he alive?" Aeryn asked anxiously from behind the huge Luxan, blocked from entering the pod by his bulk. D’Argo didn’t answer, intent on his examination.
"D’Argo, is he alive?" she cried. She shoved her way past him and dropped to her knees to check for herself.
John was pale and still, his head turned slightly away from her. His eyes were half-closed and slightly crossed, fixed on nothing. It was too familiar. Her hand shook as she fumbled to find the pulse in his throat. The steady throb against her fingertips was reassuring, and she released the breath she didn’t know that she’d been holding.
"Crichton, can you hear me?" He didn’t react when D’Argo slapped him lightly on the face, or when Aeryn pinched the loose skin on the back of his hand between her nails.
Chiana slipped through, with Crais close behind. "What happened? Is Crichton going to be all right?"
"We’ll discuss what happened later," D’Argo said. He glanced at Aeryn, who stared at Crichton in a daze. "He’s unconscious; we must get him to the medic."
The field hospital was jammed with wounded and dying Sebaceans. The harried Diagnosian that they finally cornered had little time to spend to examine Crichton.
"The Human’s cerebral cortex has suffered multiple previous massive traumas. This last incident caused a hemorrhage which destroyed the remaining healthy tissue that he had been left with. There is no function left beyond the mechanics of physical operation."
Aeryn blanched. "He can’t be dead," she whispered. A wave of numbness washed over her and a high-pitched ringing sounded in her ears.
"Strictly speaking, he is not dead," the Diagnosian said. "His autonomic functions still operate. His body is perfectly healthy and will still respond to stimuli; hot, cold, pleasure, pain.
"There is an option, if he is important to you. I can insert a pre-programmed chip that will allow him to respond to commands in addition to the basic faculties he still possesses. He will be able to walk, feed and clothe himself, even fight. There will just be no independent thought or personality behind the responses."
"We thank you for your option, Diagnosian," D’Argo said with revulsion. The idea of animating Crichton’s mindless body horrified him. "Our friend is dead. We will remember him with honor."
D’Argo grimly swung his qualta blade up over the table where Crichton lay. The Diagnosian shrank away from the menacing weapon.
"No, D’Argo!" Aeryn cried, catapulting herself at the Luxan. She knocked him off-balance, just enough for his blow to miss Crichton and strike the edge of the table instead.
"Aeryn, he is gone." He dropped his blade and grabbed her arms, forcing her to look at him. "Let me end it. Let him go. "
"I can’t," she said simply. She stood unflinching in D’Argo’s fierce grasp, braving the tears in his eyes and the fury on his face. "Diagnosian. Perform your procedure. I will pay."
"Aeryn, no," Chiana breathed, grief twisting her features. "Not this."
D’Argo’s thrust Aeryn away from him as if she were covered in filth.
"You cold Sebacean bitch," he hissed. "You choose this obscenity to finally show that you care for Crichton; you couldn’t be bothered when it would have made a difference to him. You aren’t worth either of the lives that my friends spent to save you." He stormed from the room, his weapon clenched in his bloodless fist.
Aeryn swayed, stunned by D’Argo’s words. She hadn’t let herself recognize until that moment that John had fallen in her place. First Zhaan had given her life for her, and now John. It was too terrible to comprehend.
Crais had stood off to the side, arms crossed, watching as events unfolded. He now moved to stand beside Aeryn.
"You and I know better than anyone here how Crichton faces death," he said quietly. "He would not want this for himself, or for you." He held out his hand to her.
"Let us leave this place, Officer Sun," he said, holding her with his gaze. For a moment it seemed that she would take his hand and allow him to lead her from the room. Then her face shifted as she regained possession of herself and she turned away.
"No. The procedure will be done."
Crichton had been their binding force. Without him, they scattered throughout the UTs to either fight in or hide from the war. Aeryn bought a small ship and took John with her; his impassive eyes her personal flail.
He was just as the Diagnosian had said. He smiled when his senses registered pleasure, or shed tears if he felt pain. As long as she said his name before giving him a command, he would react readily and flawlessly execute the intricate functions programmed into his chip.
John had been a good shot; the chip made him lethally accurate, striking his targets precisely every time. With Aeryn’s formidable piloting and strategic skills, they began to develop a reputation as an elite mercenary team, as well as an oddity. Their employers noticed that the aloof Sebacean man never acted without the woman telling him what to do.
As the monens passed Aeryn grew comfortable with his quiet physical presence at her side. It became easy to forget that John no longer inhabited his body. The complex tasks he performed made it seem as if he were considering his actions and making independent decisions. His responses to sensation appeared to have emotion behind them.
She kept reminding herself that all of his actions resulted from the programming of the chip, but her senses told her otherwise. She found herself drawn to him as she had been before the war, before the twinning, when the only complication in loving him was in overcoming the absurd barriers that she herself had erected.
The night finally came when she was desperate to believe that she wasn’t alone, that there was an undiscovered vestige of John still alive in the shredded fabric of his mind. She crept into bed with him, his heat and the soft give of his skin achingly familiar. His body responded to her touch, and the inarticulate sounds that he made seemed to result from thought and desire. She stopped her own thoughts to be with him, remembering what had given him pleasure and finding pleasure herself in the feel of him.
After his climax, he closed his eyes and turned away from her to sleep. She lay next to him, the apathetic barrier of his back forcing her to recognize that he wasn’t really there after all. It was impossible to make love with him. All she could ever have with him was an elaborate method of masturbation.
The realization left her more barren than before; so empty that she couldn’t even find the consolation of tears. She slipped out to the observation port to stare blindly at the indifferent stars, until the arns of standing naked in the night chill of the ship numbed her body past feeling. It was the last time she let herself forget that he was dead.
The weary cycles passed. Aeryn contracted them out to uncounted forces, fighting on one side or the other. It no longer mattered to her who was in control of the galaxy; she lived outside of all political or social concern. John followed her through her solitary life, her living ghost and constant reminder of her failure to him.
Aeryn watched Chiana with narrowed eyes, the murmur of the bar a backdrop to the uncomfortable silence.
"Now what, Nebari? Unless you have some way to restore John’s mind, it looks as though we’re through here."
This was where her plea to Aeryn always ended. Chiana bit her lip, not wanting to offer her last option, though it was the solution that everyone who had been part of Moya needed. They would each have a part of their soul locked in a state of limbo until John was truly at rest and Aeryn was free.
"D’Argo can’t forget his debt to John," she said finally. "He will still end it if you’ll let him."
Aeryn laughed; an abrasive sound in a throat unused to laughter.
"So we finally come to it again," she said with acid amusement. "It doesn’t work that way, Chiana. Go back to your nice life. Tell them that I’m sorry."
Her face grew thoughtful, focused inward on the place where the present had been determined in the immutable past. It was where the part of herself that she had tried unsuccessfully to kill still survived; the part that still felt love and remorse for the people who had been such an important part of her life. She had lost John that day, but the others on Moya who had become her family; she had lost them as well.
"Tell D’Argo that I wish it could have been different between us," she said quietly. "I never got to say goodbye to him."
Chiana risked touching Aeryn’s arm once more, her eyes glinting with tears in the murky bar light. It had been no use. She had failed again.
"Tell him yourself," she whispered. "He’s waiting outside."
A pensive smile touched Aeryn’s lips. The cycles of sadness and regret were too long a distance to bridge now. She stood and tilted her head just as Chiana used to when she was young, the innocent gesture incongruous for a tired soldier.
"Goodbye, Chiana," Aeryn said gently, brushing her fingers over the wet grey cheek. Chiana clutched the battle-hardened hand, pressed it to her face for a moment, and then kissed the rough palm. She turned away before she could see the anguish flare in Aeryn’s eyes.
"Goodbye, old man," Chiana said softly. She kissed John’s brow and stroked his cheek. He looked uncomprehendingly into space, a smile playing on his lips for the tender touch and sweet smell of the Nebari woman. For a moment he seemed present and alive.
"John," she said, her voice trembling. The soulless blue eyes met hers and when she had no further command for him slid away once again. She choked off a sob and quickly traced her way through the room without looking back.
Aeryn watched Chiana slip through the door. She knew that Chiana had finally accepted defeat and would never come to her again. She allowed the hidden grief to surface briefly, and then molded her face back into the customary detached mask that matched John’s.
"John." He looked up at Aeryn. "Come." He rose and they stole to the back door that she had identified when they first entered the bar. It was a short walk to their run-down inn a few blocks away.
It was a dingy room, with only a single sagging bed for furniture. They had shared a bed for many cycles, but Aeryn was never again been tempted by the body of her lost love since that ghastly night so long ago. She filled both of their creature needs with anonymous prostitutes, always carefully watching to be sure that no one mistreated the vulnerable man.
She crawled into bed next to him, Winona in her hand. She put her arms around him, smoothed his long, loose hair back from his forehead and pressed the muzzle of the gun against the place in his temple where the chip was buried. She had brought the gun to bed so many times that she couldn’t remember the first; the nights all flowed together into an indistinguishable collage of dread.
"Please wake up," she whispered in his ear. She searched his face out of habit for any sign of consciousness, knowing that it was futile. Tears blurred her sight and her breath was tight in her chest. Her finger twitched spasmodically on the trigger. With a moan she jerked the gun away and dropped it to the floor just as she had a thousand times before.
She knew that she was a coward. Once she would have been able to fire; once she almost had fired, but that was before the first one died at Dam-Ba-Da. She now understood too well the finality of that choice and the unbearable certainty of its consequences. There was always another day to make the decision. She tightened her arms around the remnants of the man, conscious of his warmth and regular breath, and then drew the covers over them against the cold of the deepening night.