Title: This Side of Paradise
Author: Karolyn Gray <kmgray3@aol.com>
ScifiBB/Chat Handle: Gray3
RATING: PG
Synopsis: Crichton & Co. must deal with the side effects of the Aurora Chair.
Spoilers: "Nerve", "The Hidden Memory"
Archiving: Yes to Kitsah, Browny, and A 'Scapering We Go. Anyone else please ask.
Disclaimers: All Farscape names, characters and other related indicia are the property of Jim Henson Productions, Hallmark Entertainment, Nine Networks, the Scifi Channel and all associated parties. No copyright infringement is intended.
Notes: Special thanks to all the beta readers, but especially Anna, Jackee, and Shar for their input. Any errors that remain are mine alone.

This Side of Paradise by Karolyn Gray


Part 1

Tension filled the air of Command. For a moment Aeryn could almost envision wave after wave of anxiety coming from those around her, but there was no need. She could clearly see D'Argo through the holographic image being displayed and what she saw added to her own unease.

While the Luxan was rarely ever relaxed in the presence of others, his stern expression and the manner in which his hands gripped the table was enough of a confirmation of the situation. She was certain her own knuckles would be turning white with the force of her own grip, but with good reason.

Peace Keepers. Or more properly, a lone Marauder that had been picked up on the edge of Moya's sensors.

"Pilot, any movement yet?" Aeryn asked softly as if fearing somehow breaking the silence that had arisen in Command would attract the attention of the Marauder. She knew it was a ridiculous notion, but it still seemed oddly appropriate.

"Confirmed, Officer Sun. The Marauder appears to be continuing on a course away from our current position." Pilot replied with equal parts concern and relief.

"That was too close." D'Argo muttered as he visibly relaxed.

"Maybe not." Aeryn replied, bringing up the image of their intended destination: an asteroid debris field. "We're still days away from any other planetary system. That Marauder could be back this way on another sweep within a solar day."

Aeryn's words only added to the uncomfortable looks on Zhaan and Chiana's faces. They all knew how fortuitous Gilina's crippling of the Peace Keeper's scanning system had been. It had been the only reason they had gotten this far undetected. It would only been a matter of time before Crais or Scorpius would start sending out patrols and now it appeared their time was up.

"Moya's scan of this system indicates that there are ample places in which to conceal ourselves from Peace Keeper scans once we arrive at the debris field in two days." Pilot supplied.

"Excellent. That may give us all the time we need for Moya to prepare for Starburst. If they find us before then..." D'Argo's voice trailed off unwilling to say what the others undoubtedly knew. Instead he turned an eye on their newest traveling companion. A strange, quiet being that had shared Crichton's cell at the Gammak base calling himself Stark. "It may have been better for you not to join us."

Stark blinked once as if just realizing D'Argo was speaking to him, his face contented. "Fear not for me, Luxan." With that he turned and left Command.

"What a strange fellow." Rygel commented, speaking for the first time since the crisis with the Marauder had started.

"You'd be a little strange too is you'd had Scorpy trying to turn your brains into mush for two cycles." Came the almost bored reply from John Crichton. Rygel seemed at a loss for words at that and simply left Command.

Aeryn looked over at John, concerned at his haggard appearance. His face was pale with dark circles under his eyes, indicating the lack of rest he had been unable to obtain since his rescue. His blue eyes were fixed on the map, but the emptiness of the gaze instantly told her he was distracted, his thoughts elsewhere.

It was then she realized he was completely and utterly relaxed, as if the danger the Marauder represented were as common and insignificant as a DRD on its usual maintenance routine.

'If I didn't know any better I would say he was happy.' She thought.

And that concerned Aeryn. Mere arns ago she had seen John stalking about the ship with an anxiousness that had even caught the attention of Pilot. The Navigator had answered the human's constant inquiries on ship scans of the area and possible pursuit without any apparent annoyance.

It had been Stark's suggestion that he and John inventory the ship's stores that had finally provided a welcome relief. The others knew Chiana and Rygel had already completed this task the day before, but by silent agreement let this fact remain unknown to the human.

"Yes, well we should make preparations in case the Marauder should return before we reach the safety of the debris field." Aeryn said, pushing aside her personal concerns for Crichton for the more pressing matter of remaining free from the Peace Keepers.

"Why bother? We'll smoke those Hyundais like we always do." John actually chuckled at that, the sound edging towards hysterical. He looked around at the others staring at him with various expressions of concern. "What?"

"John, perhaps you should finish that inventory check and then get some rest. Tomorrow will be busy enough for all of us I suspect." Zhaan said with a serene smile.

"Sure." The human shrugged, his eyes becoming distant once more as he departed.

"Is he going to be all right?" Chiana asked slowly, her dark eyes watching the human with a troubled expression.

"I'm afraid only time will tell." Zhaan replied with a sigh. "I've done all I can for his physical injuries and he will not even acknowledge the psychological wounds he carries."

"He will do so when he is ready." D'Argo stated gruffly.

"How can you be so sure?" Chiana asked, unconvinced by the Luxan's words. "I mean that chair frelled his mind over."

D'Argo hissed lightly in resignation at that. "I am not certain but Crichton has shown himself to be quite resilient. If he does not confide in one of us and continues to worsen then we may need to take a more direct approach."

Aeryn felt all eyes shift to her at D'Argo's words. She met each gaze in turn before nodding once in acquiescence to their demand. They knew of the closeness between her and Crichton. She was mildly surprised that their knowledge did not bother her in the least.

"Yes, now about the Marauder...."

*****

John walked the corridors and passageways of Moya, absently dragging his fingertips along the wall as he went. He had given Rygel the inventory a short time earlier and now wandered the ship aimlessly, his path as erratic as his thoughts. He felt drained but had no desire for the hell sleep would bring him.

'How long now? How long since she died? One day? Two? More? Damn, why can't I remember? She died for me and I can't even freaking remember how long ago.' He sighed to himself switching to another corridor.

'And why are the others so worried about a piss ant little Marauder? Hell we went toe to toe with ol' Scorpy, Peace Keeper Barbie and the gang.' John started giggling at that as his thoughts drifted elsewhere. 'I wonder if Aeryn likes me? Shit, of course she likes me. She came after me, didn't she? If only she'd...' He snickered again as a fragment of song wandered into his head. '...Cause this is paradise....'

His thoughts shifted again and with it he wandered on to a new corridor. "Zap. Zap, Crais." He muttered to himself, giggling at the remembered look of outrage and fear on Crais' face at the false memory conjured by some technical feat of Gilina's in the Aurora Chair.

A DRD darting across his path at an intersection held his attention for a brief moment before he continued down the hall with an occasional giggle escaping from him.

'I wonder if Pilot would get mad if I painted a few checker patterns on the little guys? ....I need a beer.....Why did I think Alex would marry me anyway?..... I knew I should have gone to that rave with DK. .......Why did you miss my birthday, Dad?...... Where the....'

As his continued onward in his own disjointed thoughts he never noticed the form of Stark following behind him, quietly watching him with a concerned look.

*****

Part 2

He stood staring at the hatch for who knows how long. Microts, minutes, arns, hours? It didn't matter. All that mattered was the cold emptiness inside as he stared at the bay doors. The doors that had sealed themselves for Gilina's body to be launched out into space.

Maybe it was the effects from the Aurora Chair, maybe he was still in shock that he was alive and aboard Moya once more, or maybe he still refused to believe what had happened, what was happening.

Whatever the reason, he had felt nothing as Aeryn and D'Argo had respectfully carried in the body bag containing Gilina's remains and set it down on the bay floor. Felt nothing as the others looked at him as if expecting something and he'd return their frank gazes until one by one they turned away.

Even the hiss of the bay seal being released garnered no reaction from him. He had simply stood there, staring blankly. He had been vaguely aware of the others speaking to him, but he had ignored them. One by one they had departed. Rygel, then Chiana, D'Argo, and then Zhaan. Aeryn and Stark stayed longer, her gentle spoken words lost in his emptiness until she too finally departed and only his fellow cellmate remained.

He turned, knowing Stark would be there, willing to listen, a lifeline to the peace and serenity they had shared in that all too brief moment in the cell. "Stark, I..."

"You killed me, John."

John gasped, jerking away from the bloody form of Gilina Renaez stalking towards him. He shook his head, the emptiness gone in a flood of emotions. "Gilina..." He managed to strangle his words out.

"Do you remember our kiss?" The apparition asked with a sweet smile on her face, a smile that sent a wave of sorrow through him.

"Of course, I do." John replied, stepping towards her, grasping her hands in his own.

"Then why are you keeping a secret from me?" She asked, her expression becoming cold and cruel.

"What?"

"Stop resisting the chair and this will all be over, Crichton."

John whirled to find himself face to face with Scorpius, his body strapped once more into the Aurora Chair. "No!"

"He's resisting. He's still holding something back." Gilina said over Scorpius' shoulder.

"Increase the extraction level." The odd looking Peace Keeper replied, his gaze fixed intently on Crichton's own.

"NOOOOooooooo!"

John jerked up, trembling, hearing a strange choking noise in the back of his throat that he dimly was aware had been his nightmare scream. Blinking his eyes rapidly he looked around seeing the familiar muted tans and golds of his quarters, his tools on a nearby table, his carelessly tossed aside clothing from the previous day. Sighing, he rubbed his face with both hands and flopped back onto the bed.

"God, I'm so tired." He murmured to himself, certain he would not be able to sleep the rest of the night. A moment later, he was asleep, unaware of a shadow that came to peer through the gated entrance to his chamber.

Zhaan frowned in concern at the lingering fatigue and stress that were clearly visible on the human's face, even in slumber.

She had just passed his quarters when she had heard him moaning softly as if in pain. Intent on helping him, his sudden gasp had frozen her mid stride, aware that he was now awake and quite probably confused. Only when she was certain he had lain back down had she looked in.

She watched him for some time, noting when the nightmares began again. His breathing becoming harsh and uneven, and a sheen of sweat began to cover him as it worsened. Unwilling to allow this to continue, she gently reached out with her mind and pushed away the ripples of fear and uncertainty and pain she encountered. When done, she grasped her head as a dull ache formed from her ministrations.

Looking over John's sleeping form, she was satisfied that she had done all she could. He would perhaps get a few more arns sleep uninterrupted by his personal demons. It wasn't much, but it was all she could do until he was willing to face what troubled him.

With one last look, Zhaan glided down the passageway towards her own quarters to meditate further on the matter.

*****

"You should be resting." Came the deep voice.

Aeryn looked over at the large Luxan with a tired expression, shaking her head. "Couldn't sleep."

"I didn't say you should sleep, Aeryn Sun. I said you should be resting." D'Argo chided with an almost amused growl.

His words had their intended effect as Aeryn smiled slightly. "I'm fine. The paraphoral nerve is healing amazingly well."

D'Argo resisted the urge to sigh in irritation at the sebacean woman's remarkable composure. While quite laudable for a soldier it made it difficult to broach subjects of a personal nature, like the one he wished to speak with her about.

He debated with himself momentarily as she turned her gaze to the starscape view from Command before finally coming to a decision. "Yes. Zhaan made a comment of how surprised she was at your recovery."

"She was impressed then?" Came the almost casual reply, as if Aeryn were purposefully being obtuse with him.

"Quite." He confirmed, not allowing his smile of triumph to be seen at the opening Aeryn had given him. "Unfortunately the same cannot be said of Crichton."

Instantly she faced him a worried expression in her eyes. "Crichton? Is he worse?"

"You should be telling me." D'Argo stated, crossing his arms in disapproval. He saw the flash in her eyes at the unspoken accusation, but was surprised when she actually turned away from him with a shamefaced expression.

"I said I would speak with him, and I will," Aeryn said with a defensive note in her voice.

"You know as well as I, he's getting worse," D'Argo said softly. "If you will not keep your word...."

As he expected, she whirled on him with a furious expression. "I *said* I will speak with him." Her eyes narrowed ever so slightly.

D'Argo nodded his head once in acquiescence, inwardly smiling at his success. If John Crichton would talk to anyone he was certain it would be Aeryn Sun. And it was that knowledge he now laid his faith upon.

If he was wrong....?

D'Argo shook his head, banishing the thought before it could take form.



Part 3


The tranquility Zhaan had achieved from her nightly meditation dissipated with each step as she walked to the central chamber. What had started as just the calm, harmonious background hum of Moya had soon given way to loud voices which seemed to grow angrier with each passing microt. As she rounded the final corner to the chamber she frowned to herself as she recognized John Crichton's strident tone.

"I don't care, D'Argo. I'm going to fix that faulty conductor and that's that. End of discussion."

"John..." Aeryn started to speak, sounding tired. That was something that worried Zhaan. Neither Aeryn nor John had fully recovered from their ordeals. The stress of an argument was definitely not what they needed.

Zhaan entered the chamber in time to see D'Argo hiss in frustration, cutting Aeryn off with a wave of his hand. "I have already said Chiana and I will fix the problem."

'Kahalenn help me.' Zhaan sighed, knowing by the furtive looks Chiana and Rygel gave her they were hoping she would resolve the morning's dispute. Across the room near the view port stood Stark watching everything with an unreadable expression. His eyes met Zhaan's briefly and he nodded as if agreeing to her unspoken sentiment.

"Look D'Argo, it's a small crawlspace, way too small for you to be able to get in there and complete the repair." John countered. Glancing at Chiana, John shrugged apologetically. "And no offense Chiana but you just don't have the technical skills for this repair."

The young Nebari simply nodded in agreement with the human's words, though Zhaan suspected it was intended only as means to help end the pointless argument than an admission of a deficient skill.

"Good morning."

Zhaan's cheery greeting froze both D'Argo and John for a moment. D'Argo looked down, feeling suddenly embarrassed with himself before meeting her gaze. "Good morning, Zhaan."

"We seem to be having quite a spirited discussion this morning." Zhaan noted, a gentle smile concealing her concern as Crichton didn't even acknowledge her greeting and sat down heavily next to Aeryn. "May I know what it concerns?"

"There is a minor leak in one of the secondary conjulation coils on tier seven. We were just discussing who should fix it." Aeryn replied before sipping her drink.

"I said I'm fixing it." John said with an irritated look.

"Crichton..."

"D'Argo, please." Zhaan silenced the Luxan gently with a look. When he nodded his head in silent apology, Zhaan turned her attention back to the human. She did not like the distracted look in his eyes, understanding now why D'Argo was adamant in his refusal towards the human. "Who will assist you, John?"

"I will." Stark said softly, gaining the attention of the others. He shrugged slightly. "I am not much of a tech but the repair sounds simple enough."

Zhaan noted a slight grin had come to John's face at Stark's words as she directed her question back to D'Argo. "Is that acceptable?"

The Luxan studied Stark for a moment, obviously still trying to decide how to treat this newfound ally. Zhaan was very well aware of the wariness the others held in regard for Stark. She felt it as well.

"Very well." He reluctantly agreed.

"Great. It's settled then." John stood quickly, actually looking and sounding much like his old self for a brief moment. That moment ended when he coughed lightly and shrugged on the Peace Keeper jacket he had taken as his own, an all too visible reminder of recent events. "Ready, Stark?"

"Of course, my friend." The man replied softly and followed Crichton's departure from the chamber.


*****

"Pilot." Crichton's voice sounded hollow in the narrow confines of the maintenance tunnel.

"Yes, John Crichton." The navigator's disembodied voice seemed to echo around the human.

Unbidden, an image of Gilina flashed in the John's mind that caused him to shudder before forcibly pushing the thoughts that came with it aside.

"Does it have to be so cold in here?" John asked with annoyance as a shiver rippled through his body from the cold. He swore he could see his breath in the chill air.

"With apologies, Commander, but you are working on the primary environmental thermal regulation system for that tier. I have rerouted as much of the coolant away from that section as possible." Pilot replied apologetically.

John sighed, his shoulders slumping. "I'm sorry, Pilot. I know you've done what you could."

"As have you, John Crichton."

That brought a puzzled expression to the human's face for a moment. Another shiver brought Crichton's attention back to the almost organic looking tubing before him and the green fluid seeping from the junction where organic tissue met machinery.

He had removed all the damaged organic tissue and a device that seemed to be of Peace Keeper origin. John didn't have a clue what it was and had accepted Pilot's assurance that it was left over from a previous unfinished repair while under Peace Keeper control.

"Hey, Stark. Would you hand me the injector?"

Without comment, John's former cellmate handed him the device in question and continued to watch with interest as the human quickly sealed the gaps. Crichton grinned in appreciation at how quickly the liquid bonded with the organic and machine systems.

"Better than super glue." He muttered to himself. In moments the only indication there had been any damaged systems was a small pool of green fluid, which John quickly wiped up with a spare rag.

"Does that mean we are done here?" Stark asked.

"Hold on a sec." John replied, opening his comm badge again. "Yo, Pilot? I think we're done here, but I want to make sure the sealant will hold."

"Very well. Please leave the access shaft and I shall reroute the necessary systems." Pilot requested.

"Um. Pilot, I can't tell if it's going to hold if I'm standing outside the shaft." John said.

That seemed to nonplus the large alien for a moment. "Once the procedure begins it shall become rapidly cold in your location." He cautioned.

"I can handle a little cold, Pilot." John replied.

"Are you certain, Commander?"

"Just get on with it. OK?" John asked, barely containing his annoyance. "And give me a 150 microt count once it's fully under way. If nothing's wrong after that, Stark and I'll clear out of here."

"Rerouting...now."

In seconds Crichton's perceived viewing of his breath moments earlier became a reality as the maintenance duct's temperature dropped dramatically. Swearing under his breath, Crichton snapped closed the Peace Keeper jacket he was wearing. It didn't help much with the temperature, but he surprisingly felt better.

Hearing Stark shift beside him, he looked over to see his friend had wrapped his loose fitting shirt tightly around himself. "You OK?" John asked with concern.

"F-fine." Stark managed to stutter out, a hint of a grin at his face. "Better than the cell."

"Yeah, this is paradise in comparison." John agreed, a sudden booming laugh from Stark joining John's own.

"We have reached 150 microts. There appears to be no irregularities with the conjulation unit." Pilot reported a moment later, secretly pleased at having heard the exchange between the two bipeds, though he did not quite understand why they had found it amusing.

"OK, Pilot." John replied, nodding towards Stark to leave the duct. A few moments later they had the grate set and locked back into place.

"Anything else we can do, Pilot?" John asked cheerily, feeling better than he had in some time.

"Negative, Commander Crichton. However, I have already informed the others that due to her recent birth Moya will be diverting resources to replenish her reserves. This may have unexpected effects on the lights and comms, but no vital life support systems shall be effected." The navigator informed them apologetically.

John chuckled at that, dropping a tool back into the equipment pouch. "No problem, Pilot. Let Moya take all the time she needs to get back to normal."

"I will inform her of your sentiment, John Crichton. And thank you for your assistance."

"You're welcome, Pilot." John replied leaning down to pick up the pack. Stark beat him too it and slung it over his shoulder. John looked at his friend and shrugged in response to the look he received in return.

"Well, want to get something to eat?" John asked, starting down the corridor.

"I believe I would." Stark replied, right beside the human.

As they walked Stark heard Crichton start humming what seemed to be a simple tune over and over. After hearing it repeated several times, Stark smiled and turned to inquire his friend over the song's origin only to have his question die in his throat at what he saw.

John's eyes were distant and unfocused, one hand trailing lightly across the surface of the corridor they walked. Much as he had done the previous day, he seemed nearly oblivious to those around him. He didn't even so much as pause when the lights dimmed.

Stark was tempted to reach out to the strange alien, to try and comfort him as he had once done. He knew the human's shipmates were concerned over his mental and emotional state and he had become somewhat concerned himself. He had thought....had hoped....the brief period of peace he had elicited in the human would have been enough to anchor him. Apparently it had not.

If not a memory, than perhaps...

"They care about you." Stark spoke gently.

That actually brought John Crichton to a halt with a puzzled expression as he turned to face Stark. "What?"

"Your ship mates. Your friends." Stark replied slowly. "They went through a great deal of effort to rescue you, help you.

The human made a strange noise that sounded like a cross between a groan and a sigh and looked around them as if confused by the dim lighting. He shook his head and continued down the hall. "Yeah. Well, I would've done the same for them."

That comment elicited a small knowing smile from Stark. "I know you would and that is why I am puzzled. Why you do not accept their help now?"

"It was just a simple leak." John replied his voice carefully neutral.

"I wasn't talking about the leak, John." Stark said pointedly.

"I know." Came the tired, almost whispered reply as the human stopped once again. "I-.....I can't talk about it. Not yet."

"Talking isn't the problem. Isolating yourself from them is." Stark replied.

"You've been keeping away from them." John noted with a hint of angry accusation.

Stark nodded his head in acknowledgment. "I have been solitary man amongst enemies for a long time, John Crichton. And though I trust your fellow travelers, it is not because of their actions but because of your own."

"They'll grow on you." The human replied absently.

"I trust they will, but they are your friends. If this were a Banak ship with a handful of people I cared about I would not hesitate to embrace their support." Stark replied.

A haunted look flitted across the human's face as he looked at the floor in shame. "Even if you betrayed them?" John whispered.

Stark laid a soothing hand the human's shoulder. "No one would see what happened to you as a betrayal." He paused as the human's blue eyes flicked up to study him. The wall the human had erected around his feelings was cracking and he could see unshed tears in his eyes. "They *do* understand. Maybe you should give them a chance."

John shrugged off the grip, and wiped a hand across his eyes. "I can't. Not yet."

Stark stepped away, sensing the human's tenseness. There was nothing more he could do right now. "Then at least remember that they will be there for you when you are ready."

"Sure." John replied and hurried ahead down the hall.



Part 4


"No, for the third time I have not spoken with him yet." Aeryn snapped, having finally been irritated by D'Argo's question. She slowed her pace down slightly sensing the Luxan now walking alongside her wanted to discuss the very thing she had been avoiding thinking about for the past arn. "Or maybe you've forgotten that he's been fixing the conjulation system on tier seven."

D'Argo refrained from sniping back at her, remembering only now that Zhaan had mentioned asking the same question of Aeryn a few arns ago. He knew Aeryn's ill temper was not aimed at him, but simply a by-product of her own recovery and concern for Crichton. Perhaps it was better to discuss something else.

"How are you feeling?" He asked.

Aeryn actually laughed bringing a puzzled frown to D'Argo's face. "I'm sorry, D'Argo. It's..." She shook her head with amusement. "Conversation on this ship seems to have limited to variations of two questions: 'How are you doing?' and 'How is Crichton?'."

"And you find that amusing?" D'Argo replied in feigned offense, actually pleased to see Aeryn smiling.

She shrugged in response. "No, I find it annoying to the point that I cannot help but laugh at the absurdity of it all." She waved her hand vaguely to the ship around them as they turned down another corridor, headed to the central chamber. "Here we are being hunted by a Peace Keeper Command Carrier on a Leviathan that has just given birth to a warship and is unable to starburst, we've recently lost a good friend, are carrying some strange alien, and then...." Her voice trailed off.

"Then there's John." D'Argo finished. "You're worried about him?"

"Aren't we all?" She retorted, a look passing over her face that concerned the Luxan.

"Yes, we are." He said softly. "But there's something else isn't there? Something that's bothering you that you have not revealed to the rest of us."

He was surprised when she stopped suddenly, a heavy sigh escaping from her before she turned to meet his gaze. "I have seen Peace Keepers act as John has since we rescued him from the Gammak base."

"His...nightmares, inattentiveness, his outbursts of anger. Surely you've noticed this?" Aeryn said.

"Yes, I have noticed his unusual behavior. I simply assumed that it was because he was human." D'Argo replied.

"But you've had your doubts." Aeryn added for him.

The Luxan nodded his concession. "Since yesterday in Command when he seemed so unconcerned about the Marauder and again this morning. Why do you ask?"

"John's behavior reminds me of a Peace Keeper I knew shortly before he died. He had been a member of a team from Satian Company that had been sent to put down a minor disturbance on what was supposed to have been a pacified world. When contact was lost with the unit, Icarian Company was sent in. He and two techs were the only survivors, all badly injured. The rest of his team had been butchered by a race calling itself the Chuilia.

"For his efforts he was assigned to Icarian Company, to the same team I served in at the time. He was different than the rest of us. Erratic. In dangerous situation, he was calm and detached in a way that bordered on suicidal, and in recreational time angry and paranoid. He did not sleep well and often did not pay attention. Many thought him to be the epitome of what we were, the ultimate professional soldier, the ultimate Peace Keeper, one who let others worry about strategies and tactics while he faced the enemy without doubt or fear or remorse.

"And then one day we were patrolling the capitol of some waste hole of planet. I don't even remember it's name or why we were there. All I remember was the protesters taunting us with curses and threats, but we remained calm, did not waver, did not fire and simply awaited our orders.

"One of the protesters threw a bottle at us, shattering against his faceplate as he stood next to me. He didn't even flinch when it struck him, but a microt later he....he went berserk, firing into the crowd calling out to his long dead comrades of Satian Company. He didn't even realize where he was."

"When we had finished firing, the town square was littered with bodies and he was still insisting the Chuilia would be back. He was trapped in the memory of what had happened to him. My Sergeant executed him rather than have the rest of the Company see what had happened to him."

Aeryn shuddered at the memory, knowing D'Argo would not see it as a sign of weakness. "Instead of being remembered as a man who needed treatment he became an icon to the rest of the Regiment, another warrior legend amongst so many others. But not to me." Aeryn shook her head slightly. "Never to me."

"And you now fear this may be happening to John?" D'Argo asked.

"I don't know. And I'm afraid to find out." Aeryn admitted.


*****

Stark trailed behind the human, his concern growing with each step. John has said nothing since he'd tried to get the human to talk to him. Despite his humming again, Stark could see John was tense, the slightest noise from Moya abruptly ending the human's song intermittently. He was actually relieved when he saw D'Argo and Aeryn Sun walk into the next intersection.

"Crichton." D'Argo called out by way of greeting, but the human passed them both by as if not seeing them. The Luxan and Sebacean shared a puzzled look before quickly hurrying to catch up with the human.

"Crichton."

This time the human slowed at D'Argo's call but did not cease moving. The Luxan started to reach for the human when Stark saw John's hand go for the pistol he was carrying.

"No!"

But it was too late. D'Argo spun the human around demanding an explanation for his behavior when Crichton pistol whipped him, staggering the larger alien back a couple of steps.

The human turned the weapon on Aeryn, but she was quicker, grasping his arm and delivering a blow to that knocked the air out of the human and forced him to release the weapon from his grip. She barely avoided a roundhouse punch the human threw her way in return.

"Crichton, what are you doing?" She snapped, stepping away from the human in what she hoped he would see as non-threatening. The look in his eyes froze her, remembering the last time she had seen eyes like that. Eyes of that Officer from so long ago. Eyes lost in some inner inescapable abyss.

The human took advantage of her hesitation and attacked again, only the timely intervention by D'Argo ending his assault. The Luxan threw the human into the wall before landing a blow that crumpled him to the floor. He started to draw his blade.

"D'Argo, wait." Aeryn cautioned as she saw John lean himself against the wall of the corridor, shivering, his eyes distant. She saw the pistol he had been carrying nearby and slowly reached for it and took it, never once seeing John's eyes follow her.

"John?" She called softly, the human only shivered more, leaving her to wonder what he was seeing right now, what he was reliving. She started to reach for him, when Stark grabbed her wrist gently ceasing her action.

"No. Let me." Reluctantly she pulled away and rose next to D'Argo.

Stark seated himself next to the human, closing his eyes for a moment, picking up on the thoughts that filled the human's mind. The cell again. Cold. Dark.

"We've got...got to do...something." John muttered.

"We are. We're resting until we hear from your friend. Gilina did you say her name was?" Stark replied reasonably.

John coughed for a moment. "We can't....I've got to get back to Moya...make sure Chiana..."

Stark pushed the human back down as he started to rise, just as he remembered doing a mere arn before their rescue. He had been surprised at how the small moment of peace he had given the human had rekindled his determination. "There is nothing we can do about that, my friend."

"I know." John closed his eye. "It...the chair...they'll find out what I'm hiding. Sooner or later." A tear trickled down his cheek. "I'm so tired, Stark. God, I'm so tired."

Stark patted the human's shoulder reassuringly. "As am I, my friend."

"What you showed me...that place...it was beautiful." John said softly, his eyes opening again. "Thank you."

"When they come for you, hold onto it for as long as you can. They can't touch you there. It is not for them. Only us." Stark said. "Remember that."

"Yeah. I'll try." Came the tired reply, as John, pulled his arms closer obviously trying to keep warm.

"You should rest." Stark suggested.

"Naw...need to think of a way out." John replied.

Instead of acquiescing to the humans statement as he had in the cell, Stark gently sent images of comfort and rest to the human. "Rest now, John Crichton. All will be well."

He saw the human struggle for a moment against the sleep that dragged at his consciousness before succumbing with a soft sound that might have been the question Stark heard from the human's mind. He lay a hand on the human's forehead for a moment, nodding once to himself before rising.

"He's resting now." He said in response to the pair of questioning looks he received.

"What happened?" Aeryn asked.

"A flashback, disjointed memories. I've seen the Aurora Chair do that to others." Stark replied slowly. "It was why he attacked you. I suspect he was reliving his capture."

"Then why was he so calm a moment ago?" D'Argo asked, eyeing the unconscious human warily.

"He won't allow himself to remember what they did to him in the chair and so went to someplace relatively safe." Stark replied. "I don't know why or even how he did that."

"He was back in the cell with you. Wasn't he?" Aeryn asked.

"Yes, at a time roughly an arn before you rescued us. I altered the memory slightly to get him to rest this time." Stark replied, rubbing his temple in obvious discomfort. "Perhaps you should take him to his quarters to rest."

"I will do so. Aeryn shall get you something for your pain." D'Argo picked the human up with a surprising gentleness and headed towards their quarters before either could protest.

Seeing there was no arguing with the retreating Luxan, Aeryn turned back to Stark. "Come on."

"I am fine, Aeryn Sun. This experience has drained me. I merely require rest and I shall be well." Stark assured the former Peace Keeper.

Her eyes lingered back down the hall D'Argo had carried John, worry in her eyes. "But will he?"

"Yes, Aeryn Sun, he will, but you must be willing to make him understand that you and the others are there for him. Not through words, but through your actions." Stark replied.

"It seems like that's all we've done. It only seems to make him angry." She commented, bringing a smile to Stark's face.

"Do you not get tired of the inquiries for your injury?" Stark asked.

"Yes, I suppose I have become annoyed with them. Only John has stopped asking." Aeryn replied after a moment's consideration.

"Because he is aware that you know he will be there for you without hesitation." Stark concluded. "Perhaps you should show him the same is true for you and the others."

Aeryn looked thoughtful at that. "Perhaps I should."


Epilogue

John awoke startled momentarily by the dim lighting of his room and the shadowy figure by the door. After a moment's pause he relaxed as recognition set in. "You startled me."

"My apologies. I had not intended to wake you, simply observe." Stark replied.

Something about Stark's manner shook off the last vestiges of sleep John felt. "What's wrong?"

The Banak smiled broadly at that. "You are more perceptive than I had thought, my friend." The man sighed softly, walking over and seating himself on the edge of John's bed. "I had hoped to avoid this, but I suppose I knew I could not."

"Avoid what?" John asked, watching his friend with confusion.

"I am leaving." Seeing the panicked look on the human's face, Stark shook his head. "Please, just listen to me. I cannot tell you why, but I simply must leave."

"You could stay with us. We could help you find your people." John said. Seeing his friend shake his head, John sighed. "I don't want you to go."

"And that is part of the reason I find I must leave." Stark looked away regretfully. "My path lays elsewhere, John Crichton." He rose quickly and headed towards the door, stopping after only a few steps.

"Do you remember what I showed you?"

"Always." John whispered. Stark's shadowed form nodded and started to leave. "Will I see you again?"

When John awoke later he would remember Stark turning to him, with an unreadable expression on his face, before he loosed the ties to his mask, revealing his true nature to human one more time.

John Crichton had his answer.

*****

"Final scan analysis confirms that Stark is no longer onboard Moya, nor has he boarded Moya's offspring." Pilot reported.

"He can't have just disappeared. He must be hiding in the access shafts." D'Argo growled in annoyance.

"If he is then he's going about this ship undetected better than Rygel or Chiana." Aeryn put in. "Has anyone asked Crichton if he knows where he is?"

"No, John was still sleeping when I went to inquire with him." Zhaan replied, as her hand flew over the controls.

"Then I believe it is time we wake him and be certain." D'Argo said.

"Be certain about what, big guy?" John's voice carried into Command moments before Crichton walked with an amused look on his face. The only trace of the Peace Keeper uniform he'd taken to wearing was the jacket he had slung casually over his shoulder.

Zhaan moved protectively over to him, relieved to see his amused look at her concern. "How are you feeling, John?"

"Better." He replied honestly. "So, what's up?"

Zhaan looked uncertainly at the others for a moment before laying a calming hand on his shoulder. "I do not wish to upset you, but..."

"Stark is gone." He finished with a slow nod.

"You knew?" Zhaan and the others looked incredulously at him.

"Where has he gone? None of the transport pods are missing." Aeryn asked.

John shrugged. "He woke me up accidentally and then told me he was leaving. I don't know where he went. He didn't say."

"And it didn't occur to you to ask?" D'Argo growled in irritation.

"No, he's my friend and I trust him." John replied evenly. D'Argo considered that for a moment before relenting, deciding now was not the time for this discussion. He shot Aeryn a knowing look, which earned him an almost imperceptible nod in return.

"Well, then I suppose we should end our search." Zhaan said.

"I'm going to get something to eat." John said to no one in particular and started to depart the chamber when Aeryn chimed in that she would join him. Once the pair had gone, D'Argo chuckled and mumbled something about Aeryn and subtleness that brought a grin to Zhaan's face that remained there the remainder of the day.

*****

Aeryn followed John onto the terrace, a small smile playing at her lips at just watching him, far more relaxed than she had seen him in what seemed like an eternity. An arn ago she had joined him in the central chamber to eat. Following the advice Stark had given her they had talked about simple, trivial things: food cubes, the post-partum system fluctuations Moya was going through and their more humorous side effects.

She had been certain John would give himself a hernia as hard as he laughed at her retelling at D'Argo's fury over the water becoming ice cold half way through his cleansing cycle, but she had felt relieved to see him laugh again.

By silent agreement they had left the chamber and wandered the halls and passageways until finally coming to the terrace. She watched him as he moved to the center of the room and sat down on the floor, looking out at the expanse of stars before them. A moment later she joined him.

For a long time neither moved nor spoke, each lost in their thoughts that were ironically of the other.

"Thank you." He said softly, bringing Aeryn out of her reverie of their first encounter.

"For what?" She asked, her question earning a gentle smile in return.

"Everything." He replied, his eyes searching her own. "For being here. For not asking."

She nodded in understanding, her smile growing. "Just returning the favor."

John chuckled at that, reaching up and trailing is fingers along her jaw. A moment later, he withdrew his hand looking embarrassed and a little surprised at himself. Aeryn wasn't so willing to let it pass and copied his gesture, enjoying the warmth and texture of his skin. The reality that he was alive, was here, with her.

"If you ever do something as stupid as infiltrate a Peace Keeper base again, I'll shoot you myself." She said suddenly, meaning every word.

John actually laughed at that, pulling her into a hug, one that she willingly settled into. "Tell you what, you don't hide secrets like the fact you're dying and I won't go 'Mission Impossible' on you. Deal?"

"Mission Impossible? Sounds like an accurate description." Aeryn commented. "And yes, it's a deal."

"Good." John said still pleased, albeit a little surprised, that Aeryn was still resting in his arms. Not that he was complaining any. Quite the contrary. He was enjoying it very much, feeling more relaxed and at peace than he had in some time.

With out even realizing he started telling her about his experience at the base. Slowly. Painfully. Stopping when the emotion became too much, continuing when he felt steady enough.

And all the while, Aeryn listened, squeezing his hands in equal parts
reassurance and support, giving him a shoulder to cry on when the pain became too much for words to convey. And finally a brief kiss followed by a long hug before they left the terrace to wander the ship.

Their first stop had been the maintenance bay, where they had remained talking for some time as they looked over their respective vessels. They later wandered the many corridors and tiers on Moya until finally they found themselves at the entrance to his quarters.

An uncomfortable silence arose between them, both wanting to say more to each other but unable to bring themselves to do so. It was Aeryn who finally broke the silence.

"I should let you get some rest." Aeryn said, wishing instead that she had spoken the words she really wanted to say, but was afraid to.

"Yeah, I guess I'm kind of tired." John agreed sounding strangely disappointed.

"Yes, well. Goodnight, John." Aeryn replied, turning away to hide any betrayal of her emotions that her face might have given away to the human.

"Hey, Aeryn?"

"Yes, John." She replied tiredly, only wanting to get away from him to keep the longing she felt in his presence at bay.

"Thanks for listening, for being there for me."

She looked back, seeing the wistful look in his eye and changed her mind about leaving. She walked back to him a small smile on her face as she rested her palms on his chest. "It's the least I could do." With that she kissed him lightly on the lips.

For a moment he seemed shocked, a look that actually caused her to grin in delight. After a moment her face sobered as she traced a finger over the cloth of his shirt just below the collarbone.

She had never been one to be reluctant in initiating intimacy with someone she liked and she had particularly enjoyed being with John but this time was different. They had both been through ordeals, both physically and mentally, that had changed them.

She actually felt nervous, but was determined to press on. "I want to be with you tonight, John. If you don't mind, I mean." She asked. Not her best approach she knew, but it was simple and direct.

A slow smile came to his face. "I-...I mean I was hoping you'd stay." He stammered out, revealing his own nervousness. Before he could say anything more she kissed him and palmed open the door to his chamber.

He was far from healed. Aeryn knew that. But it was a start. And that was enough for her.



Fin.