Setting, Spoilers and Warnings.
This is set straight after ..Different Destinations in Season 3.
Characters aren't mine but belong to the Jim Henson Company.
They filed into Moya's pod like a funeral procession, each robotic in their movements, step after mindless step. D'Argo led the way followed by John and a muttering Stark with Aeryn bringing up the rear.
D'Argo took the commands of the pod without a protest from any of the others, a quite strange occurrence all of its own and a clear sign of the pervading mood of the group. He quietly and efficiently piloted the craft in a straight path back to Moya surrounded by a silence only broken by unintelligible babble coming from one of the rear corners where Stark was crouching and wrenching his hands.
John had taken the co-pilot seat, helped D'Argo with the few required pre-flight checks and now that they were on their way he sat dazed, unwilling to make conversation, feeling drained after the experience of their trip back through the rip in the fabric of time and the horrors of the slaughtering of the Jocacean nurses.
Kelsa's haunted screaming of his name in desperation and fear just before the Horde had silenced it, was still echoing in his brain. The emotion of the last few arns and utter sense of helplessness and failure coated his throat like coal. He sat feeling broken, head bowed, avoiding eye contact with the others, wondering if the horrors were ever going to end, if a sliver of light would ever enter their lives and brighten them up, if some sweetness would ever dull the bitterness, like dessert at the end of a sour meal. He mentally tried to shake himself, to bring back the hope and optimism that had sustained him through thick and thin for the last couple of cycles but, hell, he was tired. He was tired of the constant roller coaster of emotions, of the few highs and uncountable lows.
Aeryn, standing behind the two seated men, could literally feel the waves of dejection emanating from John – she had come to know him so well, better than she had ever known anyone in her life and she just knew that his breaking point may not be far off.
She had tried in the best way she knew how to comfort him back at the memorial but she instinctively realised that sometimes there are no words or actions that can actually help and this was one of those times. She knew it only too well, she had been herself deeply affected by the tragic turn of events with the nurses and Dacon's trusting eyes and sweet smile would be forever etched in her memory.
She struggled a couple of times with the instinct of placing her hand on John's neck in an attempt to massage away his ghosts but thought better of it. Their relationship at this point was complicated and she did not want to raise hopes in him, which she felt unable to meet.
She wearily brushed a hand across her eyes. They were all tired, Zhaan's death had taken its toll on all of them and her own decision to keep John's at a distance was as heartbreaking for her as much as it was for him, but it was necessary, her training dictated it and she would do anything, anything at all to protect them, all of them. She would not let Zhaan's death be in vain. She only allowed herself a microt of weakness and then she straightened her shoulders and set her face in an unreadable expression…John and Stark needed her strength and she would not let them down.
The pod entered the landing dock and gently settled on the tier floor with a soft thud.
D'Argo switched off the engines, got up and with a brief look in Aeryn's direction, walked firmly towards Stark.
"Get up, Stark, come on, we are home"
"No, no, no, no, home, home, home, I have no home. Home is gone, home..time, time time…failure, failure…pain, death, more pain…"
With something resembling pity in his eyes, D'Argo physically lifted the Stykera from the floor and directed him towards the exit hatch of the pod all the while supporting him. He turned around to Aeryn and said:
"I will get Jool to give him something to calm him down, he will be fine after some sleep…"
Aeryn briefly nodded. John had not moved a muscle through the landing and the brief exchange, oblivious to everything going on around him…she lightly touched his shoulder and in a low controlled voice wrenched him back to reality:
"Come on, John, we are back on Moya. Let's go."
After a few microts of further silence and immobility, his voice as from a deep chasm asked:
"Aeryn is there anything we could have done to help them?"
"No, John, we did our best. It may not have been good enough but it was our best. We will have to learn to live with it and carry on. You just have to accept that."
John suddenly let out a rough laugh and in a bitter voice laced with sarcasm said:
"My warrior princess, you ALWAYS know what's best…I wish I could be as sure as you are about things" he got up in a long fluid movement and exited the pod without even a glance in her direction.
Aeryn stood rooted to the spot. The comment hurt, filled as it was with so many other issues left unsaid, heavy with much of his own pain, so much frustration and rejection permeating every word. She guessed he had meant it to hurt her and straight as an arrow it had found its target, her heart.
For the briefest of moments she wished she could go back to way back when snide comments from comrades and superior officers just washed over her, if anything, making her stronger. No point in wishing, things had forever changed and could never change back, John had seen to that.
She slowly followed the others out of the cargo bay and proceeded to Command knowing that trying to talk to him at this moment in time would be pointless and painful for both of them.
Chiana and Jool were bickering about something - always bickering - she could not be bothered listening or trying to understand what the argument was all about, so she passed them and stopped at one of the consoles.
"Yes, Officer Sun!" the kind voice answered her almost immediately.
"I think we are ready to Starburst away from here."
"Is there anywhere in particular I should…"
"No, just get us out of here!" Aeryn snapped staring straight ahead through the observation window at the planet below.
Her abruptness towards Pilot stopped Chiana and Jool's snarky remarks dead. They had never heard her use such a tone of voice with Pilot and it was startling if not downright unsettling.
They looked at each other and obviously not aware how close to personal injury this might bring her, Jool prodded:
"What is wrong with you now! You weren't the one shot, made to drink piss and dunked back into a puddle of mud, if anybody should be upset…"
Wisely and without giving her a chance to finish, Chiana snapped: "Shut up, Jool, stop moaning, we all have had more than enough of your dren!" and then turning to Aeryn: "Are you okay, Aeryn, where are the others?"
Aeryn let a long sigh out and her body sagged a little, hip propped against the console, this small crutch needed to keep herself upright: "I am fine, Chiana. Jool, D'Argo needs your help with Stark in the medical bay, go now, please! Pilot, I am sorry for my rudeness, it was not deserved or warranted."
Pilot gracefully bowed his head and replied "Moya will be ready for Starburst in 200 microts" and his gentle face disappeared from the clamshell.
Jool opened her mouth to protest about being ordered around, but after a warning look from Chiana, she just shot a "Fine!" back at Aeryn and bright red hair bobbing behind her stalked out in search of D'Argo thinking to herself that on this ship full of lunatics, the Luxan was probably the sanest anyway.
Chiana stood for a moment and then quietly moved over to Aeryn and encircled her shoulders with her arms gently laying her own head against the older woman's, white and black hair interlacing in stark contrast. Aeryn stiffened at first not used to this type of human contact from somebody other than John, however after a moment she gave in and admitted to herself that this felt good and might just be what she needed, so she relaxed her body and let Chiana hold her.
Chiana whispered: "Was it awful?"
Aeryn murmured back "Yes, it was! No matter what we tried we just could not fix the timeline, we tried our best but we still caused the death of so many innocent people. Stark is out of his mind with horror and grief and I am worried about John, I have never seen him so withdrawn and…hopeless ."
"Stark is always out of his mind, Aeryn, you know that!" Chi tried to lighten the mood "and Crichton? Crichton will be alright, just give him time, have you ever not seen him bounce back? He will be spouting nonsense in no time and we will all wish he was back in the dumps and giving us some frelling respite!"
At that moment, Pilot's voice came in over the comms "Prepare for Starburst in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…"
Both Chiana and Aeryn braced themselves with one hand on the console for the 20 or 30 microts of turbulence that followed the end of the countdown.
When the shaking of the Leviathan subsided, Aeryn lightly kissed the top of Chiana's head and delicately disengaged herself from her hug.
"I'd better go check on Stark and get cleaned up, we will need to find a commerce planet soon to restock our supplies, I then want to make sure…"
"Aeryn, you don't need to do everything, we can help!" The Nebari girl kindly interrupted "Let me look after supplies at our next stop, I can at least do that, you go get some rest."
Aeryn's throat constricted a little at the kindness of these words, so she just nodded, gave Chiana a faint smile and left Command on her way to the medical bay.
Turning one of the corners from one to another of Moya's long corridors, she almost collided with Rygel speeding along in the opposite direction in his throne sled. Narrowly avoiding a head on crash, the Hynerian exclaimed:
"What the yotz is going on? Who ordered starburst and why was I not warned? I almost fell out of my bed, really you morons have no respect! Aeryn? Aeryn are you listening to me?"
But Aeryn had already passed him without a glance or comment ignoring his pompous little remarks. She was way too exhausted to deal with his tantrums so she chose to ignore them and carry on, which was really the best way to deal with them most times anyway.
The last words she heard him mutter before getting out of earshot were "I hate starburst, I just hate the frelling thing!"
Forcing herself to do this one last thing before seeking the sanctuary of her quarters, she approached the medical bay where, already well before reaching the entrance, she could hear Jool complaining to D'Argo yet again about her harrowing experiences on the planet and the horrid way she had been treated by all of them, her voice shriller and shriller by the microt being answered by the low rumble of D'Argo's replies, clearly intended to calm her down.
Aeryn stopped. She would let D'Argo handle the Interion, Jool was high maintenance and surprisingly D'Argo seemed to be the one with the most patience in dealing with her.
Taking care not to be seen, Aeryn just made sure that Stark had been sedated and was finally peacefully resting on one of the medical beds. He was lying under one of the thermal blankets, his one eye closed and his body relaxed.
Satisfied that for the moment the situation was under control here, she made her way back towards her own quarters all the while massaging the tense muscles in her neck. She would shower and change and then go find John, she would not let him avoid or dismiss her, not this time.
Her train of thought was interrupted when she saw that the two half doors to her quarters were ajar, she stepped up to them and looked in.
John was sitting on one side of her bed. Elbows on his knees and head in his hands.
Her heart skipped a beat, a reaction which only this man could provoke in her and which after 2 cycles still surprised her a little every time.
He rubbed his eyes with both of his hands and then without looking up he extended one arm, hand open in an invite for her to hold it. Without hesitation she took it and sat beside him on the bed, her right leather clad thigh in full contact with his left.
Still holding her hand but also still unable to look at her, in a low contrite voice, John said "I am sorry Aeryn, I am sorry for what I said before on the pod, I didn't mean it"
"Yes, you did, John"
He quickly turned his head and glanced at her sideways assessing her deadpan expression, then turned his head back down again, a rueful smile now playing on his lips: "Okay, maybe I did mean it a little but I should not have vented my frustration on you, that wasn't fair and I am sorry!"
She just nodded but said nothing. After a few microts of silence he spoke again:
"How can a piece of broken down technology, a faulty visor, create so much pain and destruction? Why, why could we not just leave it alone, what is it with us and our damned bad luck?" He inhaled hard and then tilted his torso sideways until his head came to rest in the curve of her neck and shoulder, his nose pressed against her collar bone, an exhaling sigh escaping his lips against her skin.
She lifted her right arm and put it around his shoulders, the flat of her hand kneading away at the bunched up muscles of his shoulders, neck and back.
"Aeryn, please tell me that after all we have been through, things will get better. They just must getter better…you believe that, right?"
A cold shiver of foreboding gripped her body at this muttered plea for reassurance, so much so that she found herself incapable of uttering even one word. She just silently continued holding him and touching the soft, clammy, cold skin at the base of his neck. As if passed on by mere contact, shivers started shaking his body too, goose bumps appearing all across his visible bare skin.
Frowning, Aeryn said "John, you are tired and cold, come on, lie down with me"
As one they both moved sideways and up, stretching out still locked in an embrace, unable to give up the comfort they both drew from the mutual shared contact.
Aeryn pulled up a blanket and wrapped it around both of their bodies…forcefully telling herself to let go of the cold dread permeating her bones.