_Prologue_

Crichton! Councilor Mele-On Grayza slapped her palms on the console in front of her, the image of Aeryn Sun still burned into her brain. On the view screen, Captain Braca stood at attention; she saw him flinch at the smack of her skin against the hard, smooth surface of the console but his expression remained neutral, his gaze averted from hers. It was true Peacekeeper etiquette. An officer never looked his superior in the eye unless ordered to.

"How?" she said. She felt her jaw tighten. "How did the traitor Aeryn Sun and her Nebari accomplices commit this crime?" Grayza turned away from the console, arms crossed over her chest as she paced slowly. "It has been three solar days since Lyczac, his daughter and Melanie managed to escape your watch. How exactly did that occur, Captain Braca?"

"Ma'am." Braca fidgeted from his place on Beta Station. His eyes darted to the right, then back towards her. "Ma'am, your orders were to get them off the station."

Grayza took a deep breath and stopped her pacing, looking at him like the imbecile he was. Crichton's defiance in front of her daughter was unacceptable. His reunion with the traitor was unimaginable. And his daughter's attempts to defend him were unpardonable.

She had done her best over the cycles to engender loyalty in Crichton for her, in spite of the control collar. She'd given him another daughter. She'd allowed him a freedom with his offspring that no other officer had ever been accorded. She had been an attentive lover, had indulged his fantasies of his home planet and had protected his life by completely erasing his true identity. And this was how he repaid her.

"And do you think I intended that arrangement to be permanent?" She paused, trying to maintain her composure. "Have you alerted First Command?" she asked.

"They've instructed your Carrier to escort the Nebari host vessel to the edge of Peacekeeper space, Councilor. The situation between the Peacekeepers and the Nebari Resistance is delicate; they don't want any missteps."

He cleared his throat and again averted his eyes sideways.

"Missteps," she repeated. "They've taken my daughter, Captain. And Lyczac." She uttered the word through gritted teeth. "This attack was unwarranted and cannot be ignored. Braca, engage a Marauder and join me on the Carrier. I will require your assistance." She tapped the view screen link and the captain disappeared from sight. "There will be no missteps this time."

*

"Admiral?" Braca turned from the blank view screen to the older Sebacean who sat off to the side. Admiral Telko Relnik was Grayza's peer but where Grayza was military, Relnik was a diplomat. The diplomatic corps had regained stature not long after the Scarran war had ended. Relnik and his kind liked to speak of the Peacekeeper heroes of old, those who had risked their lives to protect lesser, defenseless civilizations. Braca knew such rhetoric was useless to Councilor Grayza. The Scarrans would never have been defeated with words.

Relnik had arrived at Beta Station just in time to see the Marauder return with the two Peacekeeper officers as the Nebari had promised. There was no sign of Crichton or his daughters. No one had explained the reason for Relnik's business on Beta Station and Braca had not asked.

"This incursion of the Nebari into Peacekeeper spaceŠwhat do you make of it, Captain?" Relnik asked. His black eyes invited openness, camaraderie, but Braca knew better than to trust any superior officer with his opinions. His opinion? If he could be done with the entire Crichton/Grayza mess that had dogged him over the last fifteen cycles, he would die a contented man.

"Sir, it would appear the Nebari were searching for Captain Lyczac." He glanced at the Admiral then looked away. Relnik was a big man, older than Braca by possibly thirty cycles. His visit to Beta Station had come as a surprise; rumor had it that a visit from Relnik never resulted in anything good.

"To what purpose, Captain?" Relnik asked. "Of what importance is Lyczac to the Nebari?"

"Sir, Lyczac does understand wormhole technology better than anyone. And he is at work on a new project, one that could interest the Nebari." It was a stretch, to some extent. Braca had his own suspicions but wasn't sure how to address them with a superior officer. Aeryn Sun was among the group who had taken Crichton. In his mind, the thing spoke for itself.

"And Lyczac himself?" Relnik asked. "What does _he_ mean to her?" He looked at Braca, who blinked in surprise. The Admiral seemed remarkably calm, even for a diplomat.

"SirŠthatŠis a personal matterŠ" Braca stuttered.

"You're her adjunct. Certainly you have some knowledge of her private affairs. Her offspring, Captain LyczacŠ "

"I cannot answer that, Sir," he maintained. He swallowed and resisted the urge to adjust the collar of his uniform, feeling a sudden tightness in his throat. "I can only state that I am sure she will do as commanded."

The man's black eyes stared Braca down then he turned towards the blank viewscreen. "How long till we can rendezvous with Grayza's Carrier?" he asked.

"Approximately three solar days, Sir."

"And for the Nebari to reach the edge of our territory?"

"Nine solar days, Admiral."

Relnik put his fingers to his lips in thought. "Well, let's not keep the Councilor waiting, Captain. I will accompany you. I expect you will not let the Councilor know of my presence." The man stood and Braca saluted as he watched Relnik clear the doorway.

*

"Hey, kid, what's the matter?" Chiana stood in front of A'lya, the Nebari's body held at a sideways angle, one that so far had managed to confound A'lya as much as anything else. Everything about Chiana was disconcerting‹her voice, her mannerisms, the ease with which she addressed them. It was like she'd known them forever when, in fact, they'd only just met.

"The matter?" A'lya repeated. She picked up the clothing that Chiana had laid out for her, a dark red jumpsuit that hung loosely in her hands. Melanie had already gone to the fresher to try hers on, excited at the prospect.

In a way, A'lya was both disappointed in and envious of her sister. Melanie seemed to be adapting to this abrupt change, enthused at everything they'd encountered. A'lya questioned the depth of her sister's loyalty to their father and even to Grayza. Their comrades had been injured or killed in the fight with the Nebari invaders. The two of them had been torn from the only life they'd ever known. Their father had almost died and all Melanie thought of was trying new food and new clothing.

"Yeah." Chiana took the jumpsuit from A'lya's hands and tossed it onto the bed. "You don't like the clothes, don't wear them. We have plenty of uniforms to go around."

"They're fine," A'lya said. She furrowed her brow, looking at the jumpsuit thoughtfully and then she felt Chiana's hand under her chin, raising her head so that their eyes met.

"Ha!" Chiana laughed. "You're Aeryn Sun's daughter all right. She never took to change very well either. Matter of fact, she was a real pain in the eema most of the time. About everything."

A'lya turned her head away. "I don't want to talk about it."

"Yeah, she was big on that too. Still is." Chiana put her arm around A'lya's shoulders and sat her on the bed, then plopped down beside her. "I know you're scared, A'lya. And it's okay."

"You don't know anything about it," A'lya said without thinking.

"No? I've been scared for the last fifteen cycles. I lost one of my best friends when Crichton stayed on that Carrier. I've said good-bye to friends who've moved on and watched friends die in battle. I think I know a little bit about fear, kid." She stood up and chucked A'lya under the chin. "What about you, huh? I'd say life's been pretty soft on you so far. What, some battle simulations, studies? Stuff like that? Grayza's patronage? You owe all that dren to your parents‹both of them."

"YouŠyou don't understand." She wiped at the tears that had sprung to her eyes, not wanting to show any fear or shame to the tenacious female who stood over her.

"I understand a lot," Chiana replied. "But mostly I understand that Crichton adores you. So don't act like you're second best or like he's going to forget you now. You're his daughter, his flesh and blood. Aeryn is‹" Chiana stopped, her expression softening. "Aeryn is his life-mate. And your mother. So, Cadet LyczacŠ" She drawled out the words. "Quit being a fekkik and get used to it."

A'lya grabbed the jumpsuit and stood up, brushing past Melanie who was just exiting the fresher.

"A'lya?" Melanie said and then turned to Chiana. "Is she all right?"

"She's fine." A'lya heard Chiana's voice drifting towards her. "She just needs a little time, Mel. She'll be fine."

*

Fine? That was laughable. A'lya shut the fresher door behind her and peeled off her clothes, then turned on the water as warm as she could stand it. Steam rose, covering the reflective glass, wiping out the image that stared back, one that she could hardly stand to look at. No matter how A'lya tried, she knew that every time she looked at herself, she'd see Aeryn Sun staring back.

She stepped under the water, flinching at the heat until her skin grew used to it. How many weekens since Jamoh had shown her the data chip that identified what she was? It had all started then, the unraveling of the lie. Meeting Aeryn only solidified what A'lya had seen on the chip. Up to that point, she could believe the lies that had been presented to her. She was a Sebacean, a purebred Peacekeeper. Her father was a hero. Her patron was a Councilor who commanded respect and admiration and who treated A'lya the way she treated her own daughter. As long as A'lya Lyczac had been in Peacekeeper space, living among her people, she could believe the lie.

Aeryn Sun had changed all that for her. Aeryn lived. She loved a man named John Crichton. How many more lies would be stripped away until the truth was finally revealed? Didn't they even think they owed her that?

She scrubbed her skin raw, wishing for Nila or Jamoh, for someone she could talk to who would understand it from her position. Not John Crichton's or Aeryn Sun's or even Melanie's. Hers.

"Frell. Frell, frell, frell!" She pounded her fists against the enclosure's walls, the image of her father's face imprinted in her mind. He loved her. They‹she, her father, Melanie‹were a unit, stronger together than their individual parts. She had shared him easily with her sister, with Councilor Grayza. Why was it so difficult now?

She finished bathing and turned off the water, then stepped out and dried herself off. The red jumpsuit was on the floor where she'd thrown it. She reached for fresh underclothes from a receptacle in the fresher and dressed quickly, tying her wet hair back away from her face.

The sound of the fresher door caught Melanie and Chiana's attention as A'lya stepped towards them. Melanie ran to her and hugged her; A'lya returned the gesture and ruffled her sister's hair, which hung loosely about the child's shoulders.

"Feeling better?" Chiana asked. "Saying frell always worked for me. Frell in general, as a matter of factŠ"

A'lya bit her lip. The Nebari kept her focus on A'lya, not allowing her to slip away so easily.

"Tell me everything, Chiana," A'lya said. "Tell me why Aeryn Sun abandoned us for fifteen cycles."

Chiana cackled, cocking her head sideways. "Abandoned? Huh. I guess that's the way you'd see it. Uh-uh, nixa. That's Aeryn's story to tell." She reached out for A'lya and put a hand on her shoulder. "You're just going to have to be patient."

I.

 

There'd been no time. To Aeryn, it had seemed like one battle after another since they had brought John and the two girls on board. Breaking away from the Peacekeeper Command Carrier, Grayza's voice rising in anger as she had argued with Nerri. Meelak, wanting to discuss strategy. Chiana's giddiness over Crichton, another long lost brother returned to her. All of it, pulling at Aeryn until, finally, she had found time for herself. Time for them.

She sat next to John as he slept in the med bay, the scar from Grayza's control collar a line of demarcation across the soft flesh of his throat. The blanket covering him was black, the lights a cool gray. The whole thing made him look almost like a Nebari; she found herself putting her hand to his chest to feel the beating of his heart, to make sure that it was truly him, alive under her fingertips.

Three days after their escape, he was still under sedation. She and Chiana had brought him to the medical bay and she had stayed by his side the entire time, in the event he woke up before the sedative wore out.

She leaned forward, her lips gingerly tracing the circular scar that, for her, marked fifteen cycles of her life. The skin was raised and pink, tough under the softness of her lips. Fifteen cycles. She allowed herself the brief indulgence of looking backwards, something that had never served her well. She was a soldier, a warrior. Regret and doubt and clouded thinking had led her to Grayza's Command Carrier fifteen cycles ago, she was certain, and had formed the scar that she could not overlook.

She pulled her hand away from his chest and drew the outline of his face with her finger, lingering over his brows and the temples that were flecked with gray. There were lines under his eyes that she didn't remember from before. Her own face had grown thinner, her eyes harder over the cycles, a process that had begun after D'Argo had found her on the empty transport pod.

That moment of agony on the Command Carrier at the hands of Mele-On Grayza had guided her life ever since; she had formed alliances with criminals and heroes alike, all in exchange for any scrap of information that might lead her back to Crichton and A'lya. Commerce planets with a strong Peacekeeper presence had become her overriding objectives, every Command Carrier the one that held John and their daughter. Only D'Argo had kept her from the most dangerous of those missions. Each stop had been brightened by the possibility that it would be the last piece she needed to find them; each cycle had brought disappointment and failure until they'd found the Nebari resistance. Without their hunger for Crichton's knowledge, she would have spent another futile cycle looking for something that she hadn't even been sure existed anymore.

Her fingers moved to his lips; she leaned over again and kissed him softly, her hair falling around his face. She felt him stir and moan slightly. He squinted at her, his eyes opening to slits, as she drew back.

"I'm dead and the angels are here," he mumbled.

"Not funny," she said, putting a finger to his lips.

"Aeryn," he breathed. "Trying to get my heart beatin' faster, baby?"

She smiled and ignored the stinging she felt in her eyes. "That might kill you," she said with a laugh.

He closed his eyes and shook his head slightly. "But what a way to go." He raised his hand to cover hers where she'd rested it on his chest and squeezed her fingers weakly.

She kissed him again and drew back a little, touching his hair. "There are cycles ahead of us for that. You're fine, just sedated while the effects of Grayza's frelling collar are purged from your system." The name "Grayza" came out like a shot and he opened his eyes as much as he possibly could.

"Aeryn," he said again. "You haven't changedŠ"

She laughed softly. "Is that the human way of flattery?"

"A day didn't go by that you weren't in my thoughts‹"

"No." She reached out her hand. "I don't want to go backwards, John. There's nothing there." His presence was a gift, something that she had awaited for fifteen cycles, yet amid the joy was bitterness. What she had lost, in time, in *life*. Once the Peacekeepers had captured John Crichton, Moya's most notorious and valuable member, no one had been interested in the rest of them. For her comrades, that had equaled freedom. For her it had meant only emptiness. She had fought other people's wars, while inside her own battle had raged.

She had tried once, on Valldon, to go back to the old way, the Peacekeeper way. No emotions, no feeling, no attachments to rip apart what was left of her. She'd tried to stay cold and clinical, the soldier she had been bred to be. But Aeryn Sun was no longer a Peacekeeper, and she had found the former shell of herself cracked and ill fitting. She could not go back any more than she could go forward alone.

As she had lain barely alive in a jettisoned transport from Grayza's Carrier, waiting for D'Argo but wishing for death, Aeryn had realized there could be no refuge in the old ways. Instead, the emptiness had fermented over the cycles into rage. She had directed that rage towards causes that hadn't been her own. Luxans, Nebari, Hynerians, fellow ex-PeacekeepersŠanyone who needed a warrior, until Moya's crew had become little more than a band of mercenaries, the same kind she had thought to join so long ago after she'd left John on Moya.

She stared unseeing at a patch of light over his head until she felt his fingers cool against her cheek, leading her eyes back to him. Her face broke into a smile as he fought against the Nebari drugs to keep his eyes open and locked onto hers.

"Don't go there," he said finally. "You're right. It's not worth it."

She nodded against his hand, feeling both pain and joy as tears spilled from her eyes and dropped onto the shirt that loosely draped his chest. It was a soundless crying and something she couldn't stop. He kept his hand to her face, now and again wiping a tear away with his thumb. She could feel the muscles of his arm shake, but he fought his stupor, keeping his palm to her cheek until she finally pressed her hand over his.

She didn't know how long they stayed like this or even notice that she had laid her head against his chest, her hand still clutching his as he went back to sleep. The presence behind her startled her awake. She raised her head quickly and looked at the small, sturdy shape silhouetted just inside the doorway.

Melanie Grayza's lavender eyes took in Aeryn and Crichton, the child's small features questioning, trying to comprehend what she saw. Aeryn stood and pulled her hair back, breathing deeply to regain her composure. The child was Crichton's in appearance, the same stocky build and soft mouth but the black hair and those eyes were Grayza's.* This is a child,* Aeryn reminded herself, Crichton's child, raised under his influence. Yet she'd seen A'lya in action and had seen so much of herself in the girl that she couldn't help but wonder how much of Grayza resided in Melanie.

"Cadet?" she questioned, approaching the child who stood fixed by the door.

"Will my father be all right?" Melanie's voice was thin and frightened.

"Yes." Aeryn crouched down in front of her, searching those lavender eyes for any sign of the child's mother. "How old are you, Cadet?"

"Ten cycles." Melanie looked past Aeryn at John. "When will he be awake?" she said. "I want to see for myself that he's all right."

Melanie wore a soft Nebari tunic. It occurred to Aeryn that she'd had no contact with either girl at all in the last three days, completely preoccupied with John's condition.

"He's sleeping, as you should be," Aeryn said. "Where's A'lya?"

Melanie shrugged, one shoulder barely moving upwards in response. "Am I going to see my mother again?" she asked.

Aeryn sat back on her heels and sighed, her eyes cast down. "IŠ" she began.

"No, Mel, I don't think you will."

Aeryn looked up to find A'lya standing behind the little girl, both hands firmly on her sister's shoulders. Melanie tilted her head so that she could see A'lya; Aeryn caught the faintest trace of a smile on her daughter's lips and then the emotion was buttoned up again under the cool exterior of Peacekeeper Cadet A'lya Lyczac.

"A'lya," Aeryn said, rising. "Do you girls want to sit with your father? He won't be awake again any time soon."

"Again?" A'lya said. "No one informed us that he'd been awake at all."

Aeryn shook her head. "It was just for a few microts."

A'lya looked at her distrustfully. She pursed her lips and stared past Aeryn at John, who was stirring again.

"Can we wait for him to wake up?" Melanie asked but the question was directed at A'lya, not Aeryn. A'lya nodded and the little girl ran past both of them to her father's bed.

"You seem to have a good effect on her," Aeryn said. She felt herself fumbling for words in the face of this stoic girl, her daughter. Time. Fifteen cycles had brought Aeryn here, facing the child whom she'd first seen held aloft in Braca's hands. Her words came back to her‹*"We have time now, all the time in the world."* Yet those eyes‹Crichton's eyes‹stared at her with no warmth or familiarity and she wasn't sure if all the time in the world would be enough.

"She is my sister." A'lya folded her arms across her chest. "You don't have any family, do you," she said.

Aeryn raised an eyebrow. "You. Your sister. Your father. Chiana has been like a sister to me."

A'lya nodded. "Yes, that's right. You have us." But the tone was flat, dismissive and disrespectful. A'lya tried to move past her but Aeryn caught her arm and the girl whirled around and tried to wrench free.

"Cadet Lyczac," Aeryn said sharply, years of Peacekeeper training coming out of hibernation in her voice. "I understand this isŠunexpected." She released her grip on her daughter.

"Unexpected?" A'lya's voice rose. "Unexpected. That. Is an understatement." The speech pattern was Crichton's. A'lya stared at Aeryn, not backing down and Aeryn stared back until her daughter finally looked away.

"I understand you are my mother," A'lya said. "I can see it. Yours is the face he saw every time he looked at me. It's the face I see every time I look at myself. I just didn't realize it until I met you."

Aeryn reached out her hand. There was too much behind her in this moment, the weight of history bearing down on her shoulders. She'd had a mother once who'd wanted her dead. A father who'd never known her. A lover who had given his life for the lives of millions of unknowns. And then that one brief moment where she'd almost had it all, A'lya and John, only to have it wrenched away in the same instant. It was looking backwards again and the pain was as sharp and fresh as the one the Peacekeepers had visited on her so many cycles ago.

"A'lya, he's waking up." Melanie's voice broke the stalemate, and Aeryn let her hand fall to her side. Without another look, A'lya brushed past her to John's bedside. Aeryn turned and saw both girls lean into John as he opened his eyes, this time almost fully awake. His gaze caught hers and he motioned her towards him but she shook her head quickly.

"John, I think the girls want some time with their father," she said.

"Just us, Dad," A'lya said childishly.

"Aeryn?" he began, struggling to sit up. A'lya supported him immediately as Melanie propped a pillow under his head. Aeryn stared at her daughter, whose eyes lifted to meet hers. The message was clear. *We don't need you.*

"I will be back, John," Aeryn said, her voice strong. "But your daughters need you now." She walked to the bed and leaned down to kiss him.

"Stay." He caught her hand in his.

"This has beenŠa lot for all of us. Give the girls their time." She ruffled his hair as he released her hand and then she turned, feeling A'lya's eyes boring into her back as the door slid shut behind her.

 

*

Chiana caught up with Aeryn as she rounded the corner towards her quarters.

"Hey," Chiana said. "Crichton awake? I was starting to think I was going to have to carry you out of there."

"What?"

"You've been sitting there for three days. I finally let them go up to see him. Three days, Aeryn. Those daughters of his don't have a lot of patience. They've seen every inch of this ship. And your kid's gotten quieter the whole time."

"A'lya," Aeryn said. *Three days*. Whatever ground she had gained with A'lya after they had broken away from the Peacekeepers had undoubtedly been lost. She smoothed her hands over her hair and turned to Chiana as they stopped at the entrance to Aeryn's quarters.

"ThisŠthis isn't going the way I'd planned it would," Aeryn said.

"What, with the kid? It's going to work out." Chiana punched her lightly on the shoulder. "She's a lot like you, and not just the way she looks." Chiana palmed the door control and the door slid open soundlessly. Aeryn stepped in and Chiana followed.

Chiana had transformed Aeryn's sparse rooms into something lush and warm. The lighting had been brought down to a soft bronze. Silk throws and pillows in a prism of colors lay on the floors and furniture. Blankets softer than anything Aeryn had ever experienced draped the beds. She had never asked Chiana when, where or how the goods had been acquired and Chiana had never offered an explanation.

"Yes. She has my temperament," Aeryn said, plopping down on a chair.

Chiana laughed. "Maybe you should just slug the hezmana out of her. Show her who's boss."

"Oh, yes, that would be helpful." Aeryn pulled off her boots and stretched out her legs.

"It's a joke. Come on, lighten up." She went to Aeryn and sat across from her on the floor. "You've got this whole new family now. It's going to take some getting used to. Once Crichton's up and around, she'll know her place. She's just trying to show you that she's used to being his number one."

"I see that very clearly. It's the little one I'm more concerned about."

"Not because of Grayza," Chiana began. "She's a kid!"

"We took a child from its mother," Aeryn said softly. "I know that mother is Grayza butŠFrell, I don't know. I wish I had the answers to all this."

"Well, you don't." Chiana stood up and laid a hand on her friend's shoulder. "So get over it. And I'll take the nixas off your hands again when Crichton gets here. It's been a long time, hasn't it?"

"Yes. It has." Aeryn bit her lip thoughtfully.

"I'd better get going so you can sleep in a real bed for tonight. You're going to need your rest." She winked at Aeryn who smiled back.

"Thank you, Chiana. For everything."

Chiana nodded and shrugged. "Hey, we're friends. That's what we do. Now get some sleep."

 

*

A'lya raised her head from the bed and clutched at the empty blankets where she remembered her father had been just microts before. Microts? She blinked her eyes. As they grew accustomed to the light, she jumped to her feet upon the realization that she was in unfamiliar surroundings.

A med unit, an empty bedŠFear tugged at her heart as she stood and whirled around, catching sight of her sister's small body slumped on the other chair in the room, chin resting on her chest as she slept. Finally A'lya's eyes came to rest on her father and Aeryn Sun, their backs to her as they stared out a view port at the stars in front of them.

They stood side by side, their shoulders touching as her father stroked Sun's long black hair. They were relaxed, comfortable; the sight both confused and buoyed her. These were her parents and they were nothing of what she'd been led to believe.

Jak Lyczac, Peacekeeper hero, was John Crichton, a member of a completely unknown race. Aeryn Sun was still the enigma she'd always been to A'lya. What little she'd learned could have filled one scroll of a data pad. A'lya's mother had been a pilot, a Peacekeeper who had been irreversibly contaminated, a traitor and a deserter who had left A'lya and John Crichton on the Command Carrier. A'lya still didn't know why.

Until Captain Braca had spoken the words, the name Aeryn Sun had never been part of her consciousness. All she had known of her mother had been some childish dream. Her mother, in her mind, had been a tragic hero whom A'lya resembled and whose skills she possessed, someone whom she'd sometimes seen reflected in her father's eyes. It was all the truth and it was all a lie‹she was ashamed of the part of her that wanted to act like a cadet younger than Melanie who would squirm her way between the two people who stood in front of her, aware only of each other.

She watched as Aeryn laid her head on John Crichton's shoulder and how he turned slightly to kiss her hair. She'd never seen that tenderness in him with Councilor Grayza. Other than the affection he'd shown her and her sister, he'd kept the rest to himself. He'd been serious around the Councilor and helpful with those who'd served under his command, like he had been holding something back, a small part of himself that not even she or Melanie had been privy to. Even while he'd lain there, sick from the poison of the collar, she had seen the light in his eyes when he'd looked at Aeryn Sun. It made A'lya feel like she was losing something of him.

She stood against the rail of the bed, her hands reaching behind her and twisting the blanket hard. She wanted to pretend that this woman was her mother, a real mother, but the truth was, she had never felt the need for a mother. In Peacekeepers, it had been enough that she'd had a father. To have asked for more would have been to risk losing what little she'd already had.

"A'lya," Melanie's sleepy voice reached her ears. John and Aeryn both turned. Aeryn smiled at her, apparently forgetting the night before.

"It lives," John said, affecting a deep, frightening voice. Melanie sat up, smiling and John lunged at her, tickling her ribs. A'lya suppressed the smile that came to her lips at the sound of her sister's giggle, aware that Aeryn Sun's eyes were on her and her alone.

"No, Daddy. Daddy," Melanie squealed.

"Your father's made a quick recovery," Aeryn noted to A'lya. She stepped forward and gave A'lya a quick pat on the shoulder, then moved towards the bed before A'lya could turn away in response.

"That's me," John said. "The picture of health." He smiled at A'lya and she smiled back, unable to play the game anymore. He was there, he was alive and he was happy. Shouldn't that be enough?

He and Aeryn Sun wore the same leathers as the Nebari, Meelak, the high jacket collar completely covering his neck. A'lya noticed for the first time her father's red and black tech uniform lying on the floor in a careless heap. She felt a sudden lump in her throat. Chiana had given the two girls clothing, garments completely unlike Peacekeeper leathers, although A'lya had re-braided her own hair into its familiar queue. The foreign clothing served as yet another barrier between A'lya and the life that had been hers. Would Aeryn Sun take everything from her?

"You'll want to eat," Aeryn said, looking at John with warm eyes. Then I'll show youŠ" A'lya heard the first bit of uncertainty in the ex-Peacekeeper's voice, and then the woman pushed past it. "ŠOur quarters," she finished.

"Ours." John slipped his arm around Aeryn's waist and pulled her to him. "I like the sound of that."

The door slid open and Chiana stepped in. The Nebari was almost a relief to see.

"Thought I'd take the nixas off your hands, Aeryn. Crichton." A'lya saw her wink at Aeryn. "I'm sure there's some trouble we can find. We'll meet you guys in a couple of arns or so."

"Just a couple?" John said. He turned to Aeryn and kissed her quickly on the cheek, completely unaware of anyone but the woman beside him. A'lya watched Sun's slow smile spread across her lips, the tightness around her eyes and mouth gone. Aeryn Sun was once again the woman whose image A'lya had seen in the holo-chip.

"Old man, save your strength," Chiana said with a laugh. "Those fluid build-ups can kill you."

Recreating. They were talking about recreating. A'lya closed her eyes momentarily, not wanting to witness more. Recreating was common in Peacekeepers, encouraged and accepted but there was more to it between her father and Aeryn and she knew it.

She grabbed Melanie's hand and started towards the door. "Let's go," she said to Chiana.

"Hey, no problem, kid." Chiana winked at John and Aeryn then followed the girls out of the room.

***

Aeryn led John through the winding corridors of the ship. She wanted to hold his hand, hold tightly to him forever but the Nebari still had their customs, even among the Resistance, and such a display didn't seem appropriate. She opened the door of their quarters and walked in, feeling John just behind her as the door slid closed.

"Wow," he exhaled. "Somehow this isn't what I expected to find in Officer Aeryn Sun's quarters." He picked up a pillow, rubbed it against his face and then threw it back on the chair.

"It's Chiana," she said. "IŠwe wanted it to be right for you. All of you." She walked towards the doorway to her sleeping quarters but John caught her arm and turned her towards him.

"We need to talk, Aeryn. So muchŠ" He brushed his fingertips over her temple and leaned forward, his forehead touching hers. She closed her eyes, swimming in the now and memories of another time so long ago.

"There's no talking, Crichton," she said softly. Her fingers played on the buttons of his coat.

He took her hands in his and kissed her, then he pulled away and stroked her face. "You never gave up, did you." It wasn't a question.

She shook her head. "No, that's not true. There wereŠmany timesŠbut they all kept me going. Chiana, D'Argo, even the old woman and Rygel and Sikozu. Hope." She leaned into him again, resting her forehead against his. "It was all I had left."

His hands moved to the fastener on her coat and she stood still, restraining herself. He slid her coat off her shoulders and to the floor. She closed her eyes as he tugged her tank top over her head. He ran his fingers over her back and then she felt him stop as he suppressed a gasp.

"Aeryn," he said. She opened her eyes and watched as he traced his fingertips over her torso, his expression pained.

"Don't, John." She tried to pull away. It had been easy, until now, easy to ignore what had happened to her body after Grayza had finished with her on the Command Carrier. Skin had split open and healed badly, leaving a thickened mass over several areas on her body. Only a mixture of Noranti's strange potions and a blood transfusion from an all too willing donor had managed to save her life; for cycles Aeryn had cursed the old woman's name, wishing that they'd all left her to die.

"HowŠ" He knelt down in front of her, his voice a breath on her stomach as he gently pressed his lips to her scarred flesh.

"Doesn't matter," she said. She looked down at the top of his head, at the bits of gray sprinkled through his hair. His breath was warm against her skin but she couldn't feel anything where he kissed her. He intertwined his fingers with hers and brought her towards him so that she was kneeling in front of him.

"This happened a long time ago," he said. His hand ran the length of her back.

"It doesn't matter," she repeated. She unbuttoned his coat. He shrugged out of it and tugged his T-shirt over his head. He drew her against him, his bare chest against hers, his voice soft in her ear.

"It matters," he whispered. "It matters because I love you." She felt his kisses on her neck and she tilted her head back as his lips explored her body. So many cycles of her life had been spent trying to be something more, wanting more. It had been such a long wait. The wait was over.

 

*

 

John lay spooned next to her, this woman he'd dreamed of for so long, his arm circling her waist. Aeryn Sun. He formed her name without making a sound as he felt the coolness of her skin soft against his forearm. His fingers grazed her stomach lazily. He was John Crichton again, not Jak Lyczac, not a Peacekeeper hero, not Councilor Grayza's petŠnot even the father of two daughters, but the John Crichton he once was, young, as naïve as when he'd first been jettisoned to the other side of the universe.

"I love you," she whispered. He ran one hand over her hair, the other hand pulling her closer to him.

He had done his best over the years to let her go, to concentrate on what was right in front of him. Hell, it had been easy enough to keep focused. Comply or die. Even when he'd felt like letting Grayza kill him, felt like just making a run for it in the hope that some overzealous Peacekeeper would shoot him in the back, he'd always had a reason to live. A'lya. Melanie. He had survived the years because he'd had the two girls with him, his daughters. He had decided long ago that that would have to be enough.

"I don't understand." He buried his face in her hair, taking in the smell of her. Chakkan oil and a musky bittersweet scent he'd never been able to place, something foreign yet familiar.

"Understand?" she said. He could feel her body tense next to his, the first step to her pulling away from him, closing herself off. That was the only dance he knew.

"This. Us together. Now." He pulled her closer but the moment seemed fractured, the magic that they'd cast disappearing into dust. He should have kept his mouth shut, just been content with the moment.

She turned to face him. Hurt and uncertainty lit her eyes. The harshness of the soldier had melted into the pain of a woman who had waited for him, searched for him and he was immediately sorry he'd said anything.

"Do you regret this, John?" She didn't turn away but met his gaze head on and suddenly he felt like the universe's biggest jackass. What the hell was his problem?

"No." He sighed. "This was all too much to hope for or to even imagine."

"You never thought of it then?" Her voice was firm.

He laughed softly. "Every damn day, when I had time to think."

"Did you think I was dead? Did you think I wouldn't look for you?"

"Hell, Aeryn, I didn't know what to think. The last time I saw you, a couple of Peacekeeper strong arms were pulling you away from meŠand then I woke up and got the royal treatment from Grayza."

She sat up and turned away from him, pulling the blanket to her chest. She drew her knees up and rested her chin on them. His gaze rested on the curve of her back; he resisted the urge to trace each mark with a finger.

"What do you want to know?" she said.

"What do you see now, when you look at me?" He thought he'd laid the ghost to rest, but seeing her here now, feeling her beside him, being inside her, had made him realize that it was all a new experience for him. There'd only been one other night, one encounter that they'd both chosen to overlook almost as quickly as it had happened. *"Fellip's a creature on Tarsus."* How many times had he heard those words echo from his past along with the images they'd conjured up?

It was petty to even worry about it.

She turned her head and looked at him as he lay there. He glanced at her briefly and then away. Looking at her right now was like staring directly into a bright light; he couldn't look too long or she'd blind him. There was too much pain reflected back at him. He felt his neck start to itch but he didn't scratch at it.

"My future," she said. "I can't live this life anymore, John. You've had children. You've had a home. I've had nothing but hope that I'd find you."

"Nothing but hope," he murmured. He'd had everything but hope. If nothing else, he'd learned to live in the present, face the facts. Dwelling too long on the past had cost him a couple of times and only Braca, of all people, had been there to save his ass. One more drunken episode would have lost him any remaining goodwill Grayza had been willing to extend, wormholes or not. Thinking about Aeryn had driven him to binge on fellip nectar more than once, to yearn for flying, for MoyaŠfor her. He had directed that love to his children, the energy to his work. He had dreamed, sure, but he had stopped hoping a long time ago.

"Ah." A groan escaped him involuntarily and he flung his arm over his eyes. "Wormholes," he said. "I close my eyes and I still see wormholes. I see battleships sucked into nothing, civilizations lost." His mouth twisted into something that almost felt like a smile. "All that knowledge Scorpy wanted and couldn't get his hands on. Grayza had me by the balls, Aeryn, and there was nothing I could do to stop her."

"You did what you had to do, John."

"And so did you." He moved his hand towards her back, gingerly picking his way across the rough skin. "She did this to you, didn't she."

Aeryn nodded. "AfterŠI tried to fight them, John. I didn't want them to take you or A'lya but there were too many of them and there was nothing I could do. I would have died except for D'Argo finding me with those frelling coms Scorpius had left us." She paused and he saw her spine tense up. "It was my fault. All of it."

"Fate," he said. Why not? Wasn't that what it had always come down to? One guy had split off with her and he, the other guy, had gone on alone. One guy died, one lived. One guy had gotten her pregnant, the other had raised their daughter‹John's own daughter and the last part of Aeryn that he thought he'd ever see. For that gift, he was eternally grateful to the other guy.

"No," she said harshly. "There is no fate, John. We are here because every action we've taken as led us here. I left you once, a long time ago, and labeled it fate. I will not do that again. Do you understand that?" She turned her body to him, her eyes fierce, dark hair falling forward around her face.

"Why did the Nebari help you find me?" he asked but already equations began to couple themselves in his head until his mind was filled with a blue, whirling expanse that sucked everything towards it. His past. Gone. His present. Gone. Wormholes had kept him alive and useful to the Peacekeepers and they would be his saviors again.

"I promised them your help in exchange for our protection and freedom. The Resistance needs to maintain a balance of power. Without it, the Establishment will easily overrun them." She kept her eyes lowered.

He pressed the palms of both hands against his forehead. She sat naked in front of him but her words sounded like every Peacekeeper report he'd ever heard. Balance of power. The three most important words in the universe and somehow they had managed to come attached to the name John Crichton.

"SoŠyou swung this deal in exchange for meŠfor us." How many people would have to die, how many worlds destroyed so that one man could live his life in peace? He reached out his hand and placed it under her chin, lifting her face until her eyes met his. She had said something to him a long time ago, before they'd lost each other on Grayza's command carrierŠ "Before anything else happensŠI want you to know. I love you, John Crichton. You. And I'm sorry."

"I'm a coward," she said simply, her eyes finally meeting his. "I was afraid toŠto go on alone. Chiana and IŠD'ArgoŠwe found Nerri and I enlisted in their cause. Chiana tried to stop me, tried to keep me from forming the alliance with them butŠ"

"But they made promises," John said.

She nodded. "Yes. The Nebari would find you, take you from the Peacekeepers, in exchange for your assistance in harnessing wormhole technology for them." She reached out and touched his face. "I'm sorry. I failedŠI failed to see the larger spectrum of things."

"So they sent some Nebari spies onto Beta Station to find out stuff about me. How did they even know where to start?"

"Grayza is legendary and her deeds are well reported." Aeryn ran both hands over her hair, agitated. "And Chiana saw your image in a celebration on a Sebacean settlement when the Scarrans were defeated."

"ButŠgod, Aeryn, that was over ten cycles ago." Ten cycles since the Peacekeepers had won that particular war. Even now, he was often awakened by recollections of the Peacekeeper victory. The bodies of Scarrans had lain scattered over the last bits of Peacekeeper territory that the Scarrans had tried to hold, before the wormhole weaponry had been able to consume the last of their dreadnoughts. The few remaining Scarran had been scattered to the wind, put into camps under Peacekeeper watch to prevent them from regrouping. Effectively, there were no Scarrans left in the galaxy.

"Ten cycles. Yes." Her head nodded imperceptibly and her eyes held a far off look.

He reached out and touched her again, the ridges on her back, the curve of her face. She drew the blanket toward her, suddenly uncomfortable with the closeness of their bare bodies. She started to her feet, but he grabbed her hand before she was able to move away from him. He expected anger in her expression but it was calm, almost defeated. He didn't need to remind her how long ago it had all been. She carried on her body and in her eyes all the proof of their separation.

"This weapon," he began. "It should never have been created. I didn't see the big picture either. I was only trying to save our daughter's life." He took a deep breath. "She was all I had left of you."

"And I was only trying to find you both." She turned to him and tried to smile. "We should go," she said quietly. "Your daughters are anxious to see that you're in good health."

"No." He sat up and turned her towards him, his hands gripping her arms. "Aeryn. I love you."

"I know," she said simply. "I've wagered the last fifteen cycles of my life on it."

He released her. She stood and looked down at him, a slight smile on her lips. "There's so much we have to tell them, John. Your children deserve an explanation."

"I understand. Now." He watched as she walked towards her sleeping quarters then he laid back, his eyes on the closed door. The water started to run in the fresher; he closed his eyes. Merging in his mind were the wormholes and the scars he'd seen on her back and millions of beings, dying around him as she had traversed the Uncharteds looking for him and A'lya. Her body bore only the visible impetus for vengeance. What lay inside her had to be worse. It was a wonder that she hadn't tried to kill Grayza herself.

He touched his neck gingerly, resting his fingers for a moment on the raised surface, then grabbed his clothes and followed her to her sleeping quarters.

 

II

 

"I'm not so sure Crichton's going to go for this." Chiana leaned over the table, her eyes glancing around as she kept watch for John's daughters to return from the food line. The Chiadda was a well-stocked ship but it was still a battle carrier and there was no place for servers or food runners. Everyone took care of himself; this similarity to the Peacekeeper way seemed to be of some comfort to Crichton's daughters, especially the older one. Chiana could see the way the girl's posture had relaxed. A'lya Lyczac stood as if always at attention.

The Luxan across from her frowned, his brows furrowing deeply. He hissed slightly and Chiana sat back, smiling, and reached out a hand to cuff him on the shoulder.

"Now, come on, D'Argo, that's not going to scare me one bit," she said. "I'm just letting you know: CrichtonŠheŠhe's not the same."

"Did you expect him to be?" D'Argo's deep voice was almost a whisper. His eyes glanced at the girls who were still examining the food piled before them on long, silver tables. "How are those daughters going to take it?"

"Hezmana, how should I know?" Chiana nodded in the girls' direction. "The little one seems all rightŠ"

D'Argo snorted. "She's Grayza's daughter too, Chiana. And the otherŠ" He sighed and shook his head. "The other is Aeryn's daughter. A'lyaŠ" He let the word roll off his tongue like he was tasting it. "Two Peacekeeper cadets, raised in the Peacekeeper system. I wouldn't be surprised if either of them contacted Grayza herself, like a good Peacekeeper should."

Chiana dismissed his statement with a wave of her hand. "We didn't tell him about you, D'Argo, so try to control yourself. He's still a little weak." She smiled. "And Aeryn probably took the last little bit of his strength."

D'Argo shook his head. "Frell. That's all you think about." He reached over and touched her cheek playfully. "Not that it was such a bad thingŠ"

"It worked for awhile, didn't it?" Their physical relationship was long over but the fondness she felt for D'Argo would never go away. He had become more like a brother than an ex-lover after they'd lost Crichton. He had watched over her and Aeryn then, had acted as their protector and often the voice of reason. Who would have thought that a Luxan could have been the voice of reason?

D'Argo shrugged. "Chiana. Let's focus, right? Crichton. You need to tell him what Nerri wants."

Chiana sat back. "IŠI justŠI'm not sure this was the right thing to do."

"We have Crichton back," D'Argo said simply. "Did she have any other choice?"

Chiana sighed and turned her head again towards the two girls who were making their way back to the table. After three days, the younger one was still fascinated by everything around her, much like her father had once been. If anything, it was A'lya who worried her. There was something hard about her, impenetrable, more than anything relating to her Peacekeeper upbringing or DNA from Aeryn. The only time she'd seemed at ease was in John's presence.

"Got enough food there?" Chiana asked A'lya, staring at the meager portions the girl had put on her plate.

"It's not familiar to me," she said, looking around. "Where's our father?"

"He's on his way," D'Argo assured her. He leaned forward, staring at her across the table. "You're very proud of your father, aren't you?"

"He's a hero," Melanie said. "A Peacekeeper hero." She picked at the food on her plate and stared at D'Argo. "I've never met a Luxan before."

A'lya elbowed her sister in the ribs and Melanie gave her a hurt look. "It's true," Melanie said.

"It doesn't mean it has to be announced."

"Let her finish," D'Argo said. "So what races have you met?"

"Peacekeepers," Melanie said. "There were a few other races on Beta station, mostly servers." She looked at Chiana. "My father is a Captain," she continued, sounding both puzzled and resigned. "But he never even had a personal server."

Her eyes brightened as she continued. "I do know a few aliens, techs who work with my father." She hesitated, an uncertain expression barely appearing before her cool mask slipped back into place. She corrected herself with a firm voice. "*Worked* with my father."

"Hmm," D'Argo snorted. He turned to Chiana, but she dismissed him with a wave. "WhatŠhas your father told you about other races?" he ventured.

Melanie turned to A'lya but the girl was busying herself with the little bit of food she'd put on her plate. "Well," Melanie began. "He's told us that we should not dis...discriminate among other races. He says we should treat them the way we treat each other." She paused and looked down. "I'm a half breed," she said quietly. "But I know my father loves me." She lifted a shoulder in a slight shrug and turned her attention to her food.

A'lya caught Chiana's eyes. "None of this makes any sense to me. Why would the Nebari want my father? What is Aeryn Sun to them that they would do this for her?"

"I'll tell you myself if it interests you."

A'lya jerked her head around at the sound of Aeryn's voice. Chiana took a deep breath. None of them had looked forward to this moment; least of all Aeryn, but they had all agreed that it would have to be met as soon as possible.

John stood next to Aeryn, his hand resting on her shoulder. They both looked drawn, much of their earlier playfulness replaced by something closer to melancholy. The sight made Chiana turn away. It wasn't supposed to happen like this. She had told Aeryn to let Nerri break the news to John, to let him or Meelak explain what the Nebari wanted but Aeryn had refused. It was her choice and her consequence.

D'Argo stood as John's gaze rested on him. John's face lit up in a smile and he hurried around the table to embrace his friend.

"D! Bro, they didn't tell me you were here." He looked at Chiana and Aeryn. "You girls were holding out on me." He put an arm around D'Argo. "Riddle me this‹a Sebacean, a Nebari and a Luxan walk into a barŠ"

"John." D'Argo returned the hug and released him. "As usual, I have no frelling idea what you're talking about."

John shook his head. "Me neither." He took a step back, his expression clouded, then he turned to his daughters. "You guys met D'Argo, right? Pip, you did the introductions?"

"Such as they were," D'Argo said.

"There's not so much to say," John said. "A'lya, Melanie, this Luxan saved my ass more times than I can count. And the times he wasn't saving it, he was trying to kill me. Man, it's good to see you." He looked down as tears sprung to his eyes and he seemed to sway. Aeryn immediately braced herself against him for support.

"John," she said quietly. "Let's all return to our quarters."

*

A'lya followed her parents, John leaning heavily against Aeryn as they traversed *Chiadda's* corridors. Aeryn Sun had carried herself like a soldier‹like a Peacekeeper‹head held high, proud, almost arrogant in her long strides. But with John leaning against her, she was humbled. Her head was bent towards him, one arm supporting him tenderly. A'lya's only concern was for her father; this morning he had looked happy, younger. Now he almost seemed like an old man.

She had tried the words in her mind: "my mother." *My mother is escorting my father through the corridors*, she thought but the words seemed forced and unnatural. Melanie walked beside her, arms swinging at her sides, her gait very much like their father's in good health‹loose, easy, comfortable. Perhaps it was the difference between being a child and a young woman but A'lya couldn't remember ever feeling as carefree or confident as her younger sister. Again, her eyes were drawn to the woman in front of her. Aeryn Sun. Was this just another part of the woman's legacy to A'lya?

She placed a hand on her sister's shoulder and Melanie smiled up at her, a comforting smile, and patted A'lya's hand. "It's okay," she mouthed and A'lya returned her sister's smile. How could she think it was okay when their father looked so fragile?

Aeryn stopped at the door that A'lya assumed were their family quarters. How long were they to live as "guests" of the Nebari? Aeryn ran her palm over the door control and the door slid open softly. She stepped in with John at her side. A'lya was relieved to see that he had regained his composure.

Warm amber light filled the room, made more remarkable by its contrast to the sleek blue corridors of *Chiadda*. A'lya noted the colorful pillows and throws scattered over the various bits of furniture, the furniture itself heavy and soft. It looked like something from a commerce planet; she had never lived in this kind of luxury, even under Councilor Grayza's patronage.

"These are your quarters, Aeryn?" Melanie asked. She walked to one of the couches and stared at it doubtfully. A'lya remained standing near the door, arms crossed in front of her.

"Our quarters, Mel," John said. He eased down onto the couch and took Melanie's hand, sitting her beside him. Aeryn sat in the single chair across from the couch. Chiana and D'Argo also sat down, D'Argo in another chair and Chiana on the floor, apart from the rest of them. John ruffled Melanie's hair. "How are you doing, hon?"

"IŠI'm confused," Melanie confessed. "I don't understand what's happening or why." She looked at A'lya and paused until A'lya nodded her head slightly. The child continued.

"I want to go home," she said. "I know whatever emergency sent us away from the station is over now. When will we go home?" She leaned against her father.

A'lya cast a glance at Aeryn. Sun gazed at her hands clenched together in front of her, then looked towards Chiana and D'Argo. Both looked back, helpless. Had none of them foreseen Melanie's reaction?

"A'lya." Her father's voice called out to her softly. "Please. Come sit with us." He patted the seat beside him. She pushed herself towards him and sat down. He put his arm around her, hugging her tightly. She's seen that expression on his face before‹he was afraid of losing her. *Honey, there's a lot you don't know about me*. He'd said that then and now she understood how sincere he had been.

His arms around her were a comfort and she leaned into him like Melanie had. "IŠI'm glad you're okay, Dad," she said. Again, she cast a glance at Aeryn but the blue-gray eyes were looking away from John Crichton and his daughters. John leaned over and kissed the top of A'lya's head.

"It's going to be okay, A'lya, Mel," he said. "IŠWe‹" He glanced at Aeryn. She met his gaze and smiled wearily.

"I love your father," Aeryn began. "Don't ever doubt that, either one of you. I would die for him if necessary." She reached out her hand and John extended his‹their fingertips touched then she dropped her hand onto her lap.

"You're a traitor," A'lya said. "A deserter." She looked at both Aeryn and John then away from them. "YouŠ" She pointed at Aeryn. "You destroyed a command carrier. A Gammak base. I know these things. You killed Peacekeepers." The words escaped her lips before she could stop them; she was surprised by the rancor she heard in her own voice.

John tightened his hold on her. "No. A'lya, you don't get it." He glanced at A'lya. "It wasn't just Aeryn."

"I know that too," A'lya said. She felt him release his hold on her.

"John," Aeryn said. She held out a hand to silence him. "John. We did what we had to do. Both of us."

"There is a reason for killing Peacekeepers?" A'lya said, staring at Aeryn. "I can understand my fatherŠHe wasn't born a Peacekeeper. But you‹these were your people!"

Aeryn's expression darkened but she didn't look away. Yes," she said quietly. "Yes, You're right. I admitted my crimes to Commandant Grayza fifteen cycles ago in an effort to gain your freedom and John's. Yours for mine. As you can see, she was not interested in that arrangement."

"My motherŠ" Melanie began. "What did she do to you and A'lya? And why?"

"She did her duty," Aeryn said. She couldn't keep the bitterness out of her voice but she stared straight at Melanie. "And her actions are not yours. You are John Crichton's daughter."

"A'lya." John reached out his hand and brushed his fingers over her arm. She turned to look at him. His eyes looked past her, lost in a memory. "A'lya, there's a reason for everything. AerynŠhad been stabbed by some PK commando who had boarded our ship. MoyaŠshe's a LeviathanŠ."

"She's still out there, Crichton," Chiana broke in. "She wants to see you again."

The Nebari's words seem to bring him back to the present and he nodded in acknowledgment. "Moya," he repeated. "A'lya, it was a long time ago, probably just monans after I'd gotten to the Uncharted Territories. Aeryn's paraphoral nerve was damaged in the stabbing and she needed a nerve graft. Chi and I took the commando's ident chip and bluffed our way onto the Gammak base. What we didn't know was that the Peacekeepers were developing wormhole technology there, under a scientist named Scorpius. Chi got the graft away for Aeryn, but I got caught." A'lya saw a tiny shudder run through him.

"That frellnik Scorpius put John in the Aurora chair," D'Argo said.

"And stuck a neural clone in his head," Chiana added.

"He thought I was a spy," John said. "I'd had an encounter with a raceŠthe Ancients, and they'd given me wormhole knowledge but not the manual to figure it out. Scorpy found all that out in the chair. He hoped that his clone would gather all the information so that he could develop this technology to beat the Scarrans. The clone took over my personality andŠ" A'lya saw him glance at Aeryn. She shook her head.

"What?" A'lya said. "You what?"

"I killed Aeryn," John said quietly.

"What?" A'lya stood up. "This is farboht!" She looked down at her father but his eyes were locked on Aeryn's. A'lya stood between them and he looked up at her.

"Sit down," he said quietly. "Sit down, A'lya. Whether you like it or not, this is your past too. And none of us really feels like re-living it so sit down, shut up and let us finish."

The words stung like she'd been slapped. She sat next to him as she was told. He made no move to comfort her but looked at Aeryn again, nodding, as she picked up the thread of the story.

"A'lya," Aeryn said. "There's more. Much more."

"So youŠdied?" Melanie looked between Aeryn and her father, overwhelmed.

"We had a Delvian shipmate," Aeryn said. "She shared Unity with me so that I would live. She sacrificed herself for all of us when another race threatened our ship." A'lya could see tears forming in Aeryn Sun's steely gaze as the woman looked at John. "She meant for us to love each other, I think." She reached out for John's hand and this time he leaned forward and squeezed her hand in return.

"It's okay," he said.

Aeryn nodded. "John and I separated laterŠ" She stared at the floor and her voice was barely audible. "John was doubled by a madman. One John stayed on Moya. I went with the other on Moya's offspring Talyn." A'lya saw her mother's hand tighten around John's.

"Two of me," John said and laughed slightly. "A'lyaŠ" He released Aeryn's hand and turned to A'lya. He brushed her hair away from her face and she saw the concern in his clear blue eyes. He was her father again, calm, loving, the man she'd known for fifteen cycles but who recently had seemed like a stranger. "The other guyŠhe was me. Same DNA, same everything until we split up and started living two different lives. He died trying to prevent the Scarrans from getting the wormhole technology. He saw how destructive it was and knew it couldn't be good for the universe. We all knew it." He glanced quickly at Aeryn.

Aeryn cleared her throat and looked at A'lya. The expression on Aeryn's face told A'lya what she needed to know but Aeryn continued anyway.

"When I returned to Moya, I was pregnant with you, A'lya. I wasn't even aware of it. I couldn't faceŠI couldn't face JohnŠ" She looked away. "But I stayed long enough to help him destroy Scorpius' Carrier so that the wormhole technology would never fall into Peacekeeper hands. And then I left him.

"A'lya." She turned and faced her daughter. A'lya snapped her head up at the mention of her name. "Your name, Lyczac, was my father's. Talyn Lyczac. John and I did not give you that name. You were stolen from me."

Aeryn's voice was soft but emphatic in its inflection. Talyn Lyczac. The name meant nothing to A'lya. She could see Aeryn's angular jaw tighten with the strain of trying to control emotion.

"How was I Śstolen'?" A'lya asked. She sat up, her attention directed at this mystery in front of her. For cycles, she'd believed that her mother was dead. For cycles, she'd been a constant reminder to her father of the love he'd lost. Now she wasn't so sure it was a love he'd ever had.

She tried to concentrate, tried to see how each event lined up against the other. There were details, things she was sure they had to be leaving out, but she dared not ask. She had already heard much more than she had anticipated.

"IŠ" Aeryn bit her lip and stared at her hands again. "Scorpius. When I left John, I attempted to join a group of Peacekeepers who still believed in the ideals I did. But it was a trap for me and for John. I was the bait. And you, A'lya, you were taken from me before I even knew that I was carrying you inside me."

A'lya pulled away from John and stared at Aeryn Sun. "My father is the other Crichton," she said quietly. She leaned against John again. "The one she lost."

"Your father is the man who risked his freedom and his life to help me find you on the Command Carrier," Aeryn said. "John Crichton is your father. He wouldn't let me go alone after I realized you had been taken from me. He knew that he had notŠbeen involved in your conception but it didn't matter to him. And he has been your father for fifteen cycles. Look at youŠ" Her voice was soft and she leaned in towards A'lya. "You have his eyes. And his heart." She reached out her hand to stroke A'lya's face, but it was too much, too much to hear, too much to be believed. A'lya turned her cheek away.

"Why haven't I heard of this Scorpius?" A'lya asked. She stood again, hugging herself as she stared at both of them, waiting for an answer.

John shook his head. "I don't know what happened to him. I‹we‹last saw him when he skipped out on us on Grayza's Carrier after Aeryn and I had *persuaded* him to help us." He looked from Aeryn to D'Argo and finally at Chiana. "Guys? You know, Peacekeepers don't carry CNN‹what the hell happened to Scorpius?"

"He's dead," D'Argo said. His eyes flicked at Aeryn and then away.

A'lya saw her father pick up on that slight interaction. His expression changed as some realization dawned on him. He raised a questioning eyebrow at Aeryn. She looked at him, her face expressionless, but her posture told a different story. Her body seemed folded in on itself, elbows on her knees, hands clasped in front of her. Her fingers worked against each other, one thumb worrying a finger; it looked like she would scrape her skin raw rather than speak.

"Aeryn," John said softly. He leaned forward and reached for her hands, unclasping them from each other, and ran his fingers soothingly over hers. "Aeryn. What happened to Scorpius?"

"He came back to Moya, Crichton," Chiana said. "He was looking for you. Aeryn wasŠAeryn was dying and she needed a transfusion. He was the closest thing to a Sebacean we had. I don't know how Sikozu did it but she managed to mix the blood so that it was compatible."

"I doubt Grayza expected that Aeryn would survive or she would have had them finish the job," D'Argo said. "Scorpius followed the signal from those comms he'd given you. I don't think he ever thought that you'd get separated from him. Or from each other."

"We convinced him that helping Aeryn was the only way he'd get to you," Chiana continued. "You know‹bait. He was desperate, I guess. HeŠwell, he stuck around, waiting to see if she'd live or dieŠ" Her voice trailed off and she hung her head. "Maybe it wasn't the best idea we ever had, what with Aeryn's state of mind and all, but it seemed to make sense at the timeŠ"

At first, A'lya thought John Crichton was trying to suppress a sneeze. She heard a sound like a snort, then it was two snorts until his face was red, eyes watering. Crazy laughter retched out of his throat. Melanie stared in horror and recoiled from him but the mirthless laughter continued until he wiped at the tears rolling down his face.

"You killed the bastard, didn't you, Aeryn." He stood up. "How did you do it? How did you make sure that he was finally dead this time? I mean, we couldn't blow him up on the Gammak Base. We didn't get his ass at the depository. Grayza wasn't able to keep him in a grave. How up close and personal did you have to get?"

"Crichton." Chiana was on her feet, her hand on his elbow. "This isn't what we're here to talk about."

He pulled away, hands on his hips, legs apart, steadying himself. His coloring had returned to near normal but he was perspiring and it made A'lya afraid, both of the man in front of her and the possibility of his collapsing again. It was his true face: *John Crichton. *Destruction of Gammak base*. *Destruction of Command Carrier*. *Terrorist.*

In her mind, she could see the image of the young man in the holo. She hadn't reconciled that sight with the man she knew as Jak Lyczac. But she saw him now, the two parts of him juxtaposed so that the tender, patient, loving man she knew as her father was also John Crichton, a man capable of vast destruction. He had passion in him that she'd never witnessed. He was someone who'd been willing to do whatever it took to protect those he loved.

All of them were staring at Aeryn, waiting. Finally, she looked up at John and breathed out. "I shot him," she said simply and looked away.

"And his blood runs through your veins. That's just *fan*-tastic." John sat down with a thump, almost landing on Melanie. For him, there was no one in the room but Aeryn; A'lya could feel the burden of the cycles between them. Without meaning to, she rested a comforting hand on Aeryn's shoulder; the woman didn't react. Aeryn Sun's expression was smooth as a stone.

"See what I mean, A'lya?" Chiana said. She stood in front of A'lya, her body twisting in its odd way, her face coming within inches of A'lya's. "That's what you call abandoning you and your father. Aeryn and Crichton went to the Carrier to find you after she figured out that Scorpius had taken you. We thought she was insane. She didn't want Crichton to go but he insisted because that's what he does. He looks out for the people he loves. They got caught‹the Peacekeepers kept John so he'd create their wormholes. You were leverage so he'd do what they said. And Aeryn had the dren kicked out of her and was spaced. Got that?"

"Chiana," Aeryn whispered.

"Hey, it's the truth. And since when did we stop facing up to the truth?"

A'lya pushed away from Chiana. "Just stop. All of you." She looked at Aeryn. "So, you killed the Peacekeeper who separated us. How many other Peacekeepers have you killed between the Command Carrier and your other actions?"

"He deserved it," D'Argo said. "What he did to you and John was just a small part of all he'd done to John during those three cycles."

"No." A'lya held out her hands. "I don't want to hear it. I do not want to know any more." She turned to her father. "What does this mean, Dad?"

He shook his head. "It means Aeryn deserves an award for being the most efficient at killing Scorpius. The bastard deserved to die way before she did the job." He looked at her, his face hard. "The other John died trying to keep this weapon from the Scarrans. We destroyed the Carrier to keep it from Scorpius and the Peacekeepers, thinking that was the lesser of evilsŠ" His voice trailed off. "When all came to all, Grayza had the thing I valued most‹you, A'lya. And now the Nebari want me to do the same thing for them in exchange for our freedom."

Melanie sat up suddenly, eyes wide. "Daddy‹Dad, we were free! My mother is a Councilor. We had everything we needed." She turned to Aeryn. "The Peacekeepers will kill you if we aren't returned. She will come after us. Daddy, please."

"I never should have done this," Aeryn said. She shifted in her chair towards D'Argo and Chiana. "She must be returned."

"Aeryn‹" D'Argo began.

"It's too late," Chiana said.

"No." John's voice rose over theirs. "No, Melanie. We weren't free. I was Grayza's prisoner. To the extent that she can love, I'm sure that she cares for you as her daughter. But she is also capable of thingsŠ" He sighed. "She'll stop at nothing to get what she wants."

"Mel." A'lya knelt down in front of her sister. "You heard the Councilor. You heard what she said she'd do." She put her hands on Melanie's shoulders. "She called us half-breeds. You saw her, Mel. She's already hurt him once."

"Yes, yes, I know that," Melanie said loudly. "I know. I heard her. I saw her. I know what she said about all of us." She turned back to John. "She won't give up! Please before anything else happens or you're hurt again. Let's just go back. She'll give you another chance if we promise never do anything like this again."

"ItŠIt's not that simple, Melanie," John said.

"We have to do what Dad says is best," A'lya said. "And you're too young to make those decisions." She looked at the rest of them gathered in the room. Aeryn had turned around in her chair, head down, and her back to them. The Luxan narrowed his eyes suspiciously at her; it was easy to read his thoughts. All he saw was a Peacekeeper. Melanie's arms were crossed over her chest‹she was trying to look strong but A'lya could see the fear in her little sister's eyes.

Maybe some of what Melanie said was true but the only person whose opinion mattered or whom she trusted was her father. Jak Lyczac or John Crichton, it didn't matter. She turned to him. "You said we were a unit, Dad. We will remain one."

He reached out and took her hand. "Thanks, baby."

"*Aeryn*." All of them started as Meelak's voice sounded over a comlink in the room. "*Please meet us in the command chamber at once. Bring the Luxan and Chiana*." Aeryn stood quickly, looking almost grateful for the distraction.

"Call to arms," John said. "If it's all the same to you, I need a time-out."

"Sure, Crichton," Chiana said. She looked at D'Argo and cocked her head towards the door. He glanced at Aeryn, then paused and laid a gentle hand on John's slumped shoulder before striding from the room.

Aeryn moved towards the doorway but stopped and turned back to where A'lya sat with her sister and father. She crouched down in front of John and put one hand on his knee. The expression in her eyes was pleading; A'lya could see no trace of the Peacekeeper in the woman's face.

"For fifteen cycles, I've only wanted one thing," she said quietly. "This." She took John's hand and squeezed it. A'lya could see the pain in her father's eyes, but he pulled his hand away and rubbed his lower lip thoughtfully with one thumb, his other hand holding Melanie's.

"Tell me what you want me to do," Aeryn said.

"You know what this weapon can do," he said. "You know the destruction it's caused. JustŠjust do the right thing, Aeryn."

Aeryn sighed and stood up. "The right thing," she repeated. "For whom?" She didn't wait for an answer as she turned away, posture straight and sure, and let the door slide closed behind her.

 

***

 

D'Argo and Chiana were waiting for her just outside the doorway. "Well, we really frelled that up," Chiana said.

They walked through the corridors towards the command chamber. Nerri's summons had come at the worst time, leaving John and his daughters struggling over their next move. Too many conflicting agendas lay before Aeryn. Military strategy had never been a problem for her. The strategy of the heart was still a mystery; she knew her heart and she knew John's but she had not guessed that his daughters would be so headstrong, that her own daughter would be so unwilling to let her in.

"Why didn't you tell him the truth about Scorpius?" D'Argo said.

"D'Argo," Chiana warned. "Fekkik! Just drop it, all right?"

"There are more important issues at stake, D'Argo," Aeryn said.

"He needs to know," D'Argo said. "And you need to explain all of it, for your sake as well as his."

She pulled ahead of him then stopped, leaning against the wall for support, still surprised that even after fifteen cycles, she could still feel such hatred towards Scorpius. It was still vivid in her mind, so vivid that she often woke up with the feeling that his blood was still on her.

*

*"Officer Sun." Scorpius had woken to find her astride him, her pulse pistol pressed to his forehead. His face had fixed itself into a brittle, ironic smile. "It appears you've come to thank me for saving your life."*

*"I want my face to be the last thing you see before you die." Her voice hadn't even sounded like her own. She had spent almost seven monans recovering from her injuries and during that entire time, Scorpius had hovered over her like a scavenger smelling a near dead creature. He'd had no other place to go. His connections to the Carrier had been severed once she and John had broken its security. Co-Kurra was dead and the rest of the crew had been made aware of the breach and the consequences of any allegiance to the half-breed. She'd been his remaining link to Crichton and they'd both known it.*

*His eyes had narrowed and his body tensed to move, but before he could throw her aside, she'd fired. Bits of blood and bone had splattered her and the walls of his cell. There was nothing left of his face and she could see the cooling rods as they changed from blue to black. There was no doubt‹Scorpius was dead.*

*She'd stood, staring at him, the pistol clattering to the floor at her side, her still weak legs shaking beneath her. She'd felt strangely electric, the blast still echoing in her ears. She hadn't heard Pilot's frantic cry "Shots fired!" nor had she heard the footsteps that had run towards her.*

*"Frell," Chiana had said.*

*"What the‹" Sikozu had put a hand over her mouth in shock. "You killed him."*

*D'Argo had grabbed both her shoulders and turned her to face him. "What the hezmana did you do, Aeryn? He was supposed to help us find John." He'd shaken her until she'd blinked at him in recognition.*

*"He's dead, D'Argo. I did it. He's dead." And then she had wiped at something on her face and stared at the blood on her fingertips until her entire body had begun to shake. She had turned away from them all and shuffled back to her quarters, getting back into bed with Scorpius' blood still on her.*

*

"Aeryn." Chiana grabbed at her arm. "Aeryn. Stop. It was cycles ago. Things were differentŠ"

Different. Yes, things had been different. Her mission to the Command Carrier with John had ended in utter despair. She had never failed at anything so miserably nor suffered the consequences for so long.

She turned to both of them, D'Argo standing behind Chiana and looking sorry that he'd said anything. "You would propose that I tell John's daughters that I‹" She had killed Scorpius out of sheer hatred and emotion. Certainly, she had killed before but those deaths, while no less permanent, had been either her duty or self-defense.

At the time, she had begun to make a mental list. Scorpius. Grayza. Those who'd wronged her, who'd stolen from her, who'd hurt John and who'd torn her future from her. As she had murdered Scorpius, she had made notes, cold mental calculations of how much longer it would take her to kill Grayza and how much more Grayza would suffer.

Killing Scorpius as she had surely went against anything John would have taught their daughter. Peacekeeper training placed no value on individual life, only the good of the service. John would never have allowed his children to believe that. The look on A'lya's face was proof of that, the disgust in her eyes when she had looked at Aeryn. She clearly regarded her mother as an amoral killer.

"You need to let it go, Aeryn." D'Argo rested a heavy hand on her shoulder. "You have them back now. It's finished."

"That's the problem. Grayza still lives. I don't know that I can." She pulled away from both of them and walked towards the command chamber.

"D'Argo." Chiana's voice was soft behind her. "Let's drop it for now, all right? Nerri's waiting for us."

He nodded and let his hand fall to his side as they walked silently to Nerri's command chamber.

 

*

 

"Sister!" Nerri looked up as the door slid open and the three of them entered the chamber. Meelak stood off to the side, having shed his body armor for a black tunic and matching trousers. Nerri was dressed similarly. Chiana threw herself into her brother's arms for a hug and then stood beside him, her arm around his waist. Aeryn knew that for Chiana, the only thing better than finding John had been their ability to locate Nerri.

It had taken them three cycles to locate Nerri's resistance movement. By then, Rygel had returned to Hyneria under a flag of truce. His cousin had long since been overthrown and the Hynerian Empire had fallen into disarray. Aeryn still couldn't believe that the Dominar's people would have been so undyingly loyal to him; she'd actually found herself impressed by his leadership skills. Zhaan had been the only one of them who had ever managed to see any greatness in Dominar Rygel XVI.

Dominar Rygel XVI, in his infinite wisdom (as he had taken care to remind them) had at least set them on a path to locating the Nebari Resistance. By then, the movement had grown strong but not strong enough to have overtaken Nebari Prime and its Establishment. It was Nerri's belief that the only way to maintain a balance with Nebari Prime and its superior strength was to possess the same weapon of mass destruction that the Peacekeepers had used so handily against the Scarrans.

None of that had mattered to Aeryn, or Chiana or D'Argo for that matter. Chiana had only wanted to find her brother; Aeryn and D'Argo had planned to help her in that endeavor until Aeryn could move forward with searching for John and A'lya. She had not planned that the Nebari Resistance would bring her here, aboard its most powerful cruiser with John, A'lya and Mele-On Grayza's daughter just two tiers below.

"Hey, Nerri." Chiana tousled his hair and Nerri smiled broadly then attempted to regain his composure.

"We have a problem," Meelak interjected, his shiny black eyes staring at Aeryn. He pointed and her gaze followed his finger until her eyes met with a holo image of Peacekeeper space. The holo showed Beta Station and one Command Carrier.

"It's Grayza's carrier," Aeryn said. "Is she still aboard?"

"I assume so. I don't have the intelligence in place to make certain," Meelak said. "We have completely used up the element of surprise with the rescue of Crichton and his offspring." He slid past the rounded edge of the holo-table and planted himself in front of her. "Aeryn, we've done our part. Does Crichton plan to do his?"

Aeryn looked away. "I don't know."

Meelak sighed. "You don't know." He clasped his hands behind his back and started pacing then stopped in front of her again, leaning in slightly in an effort to intimidate her. It didn't work and she stared back until his face broke into a false smile.

"You've assisted us in many ways, Aeryn," Nerri said. He walked towards them and placed a warning hand on his second in command‹Meelak stepped back towards the holo-table. "You've returned my sister to me. You've given us information on the Peacekeeper power structure. I think we have paid you back in kind." He smiled at her and rested his hand on her shoulder.

"I wouldn't argue that point, Nerri," Aeryn said. "But John isŠ" She turned to Chiana and D'Argo. "I don't think John quite understands what the situation is here. And I'm not certain that I can explain it in any way that would make a difference."

"I know that we promised you we wouldn't force the issue until he was ready," Nerri said. "But we must rethink our arrangements. Do you see that?" He pointed to the holo again. She squinted at it and then nodded; there was a pulse of light in the background, barely visible, more of an energy signature than an actual thing.

"Do you recognize it?" Meelak said.

Aeryn nodded. She felt hollow in the pit of her stomach. Whatever happiness she had experienced in the last four days had come at a great price. These were the energy signatures of two full command carriers, the Peacekeeper elite. They were not traveling at maximum speed but rather were keeping their distance, waiting for a signal from the lead Carrier. Grayza's Carrier.

"My diplomacy can only go so far," Nerri said and smiled again. His smile was sincere, brotherly but he was also responsible for his ship and crew; he would not sacrifice them for the survival of one man without there being some value in that exchange. "Unless there is something we can do immediately, we may be at the mercy of three Peacekeeper Command Carriers. I don't think I need to pursue the logistics of that any further."

"I'll talk to him," Chiana said. All of them turned to her in surprise.

"Sister," Nerri began.

"No, no." She waved them away. "There's too much other stuff going on between Crichton and Aeryn." She looked at Aeryn, her smile almost apologetic. "Aeryn, you and CrichtonŠyou have other dren you have to work out. Don't let this frell it up."

Aeryn sighed. "Fine. It's fine. If you think you can make a differenceŠ" But, of course, Chiana was right. Things were too sensitive, too meaningful for them to discuss the military ramifications.

"I'll go now." Chiana stretched towards her brother and kissed him on the cheek. "It'll work out."

"It had better," Meelak said, "Or we're all frelled."

 

*

 

*The module spun, looping in and out of a tunnel of swirling blue until it came to land on a desolate planet. John spilled out of the Farscape, legs shaky beneath him. The smell of decay wafted through his nostrils until it permeated his entire body. He cupped his hand over his nose, eyes squinting into the blowing dust. Through the haze, he could make out thousands of Sebacean corpses carpeting the landscape, some burned beyond recognition, some lying so peacefully they looked like they were sleeping.*

*The kids‹he had to find Melanie and A'lya. In the midst of the destruction, he saw a body tossed at an angle, clad in black leather. He ran to it and looked down‹slim hands held fast to a pulse pistol. The head was turned unnaturally and blue gray eyes stared at nothing as the hot wind lifted the woman's black hair away from the dirt.*

*A voice spoke behind him, cold and smooth. Even without turning, John could imagine the hateful smile. Scorpius. "John. I told you that the Scarrans would kill us all. You just didn't want to listen."*

*John Crichton turned his face up to the sky and screamed.*

"Dad!" A'lya's hand was on him, shaking him hard enough to knock him on his side. He was still sitting on the couch where he had fallen asleep, the effects of Grayza's drug and the Nebari antidote still in his system. Too much had happened in the last few days and now the dream had returned too. His life seemed to be going in reverse, nothing the way it should have been.

"Baby, I'm fine." He shook his head to clear it and ran both hands over his face. The dream made him want to throw up; he hadn't had it in over ten cycles.

"No, you're not. You were crying. What were you dreaming about?" A'lya sat beside him and brushed a tear away from his cheek. He sat up on his own and leaned his head back, staring at the smooth gray ceiling, amber lights reflecting down upon him. The lighting reminded him of Moya.

He shook his head. "Nothing. Nothing that I want to remember. YouŠyou okay?"

"Okay? Okay with what? With all I've heard?" She crossed her arms over her chest protectively, that look in her eyes. The look was something he didn't see often‹it made him work at every explanation until she was satisfied. She had been raised a Peacekeeper and was accustomed to following orders. But she was also his daughter and that made her question those same orders.

"Where's Melanie?" he asked. Maybe there'd been some value to having the girls spend limited amounts of time with him. Those limitations had kept them from seeing how close to going insane he'd been. Or maybe "going insane" was too mild a description. How close to insane he was, all the time.

"I sent her to explore the ship." A'lya smiled at him and brushed his hair away from his forehead. "I think she was glad to do it. She'll be all right. She's just scared."

"How about you? Are you scared?" He studied her expression‹she looked down and shook her head, averting her eyes from him.

"You know, it doesn't matterŠ˛ she said quietly. "AboutŠthe other youŠ" She almost grimaced at the words.

"Oh, honey." He put an arm around her, feeling her thin body close to his. She almost felt fragile next to him, a child in a young woman's body. She had grown so much and he had missed so much of it, all those things that he would have treasured on Earth‹first steps, first tooth, first words, "daddy," birthdaysŠfunny how none of it had mattered to him. In the world he'd inhabited, in the void that had been created when he and Aeryn had been torn from each other, just being allowed to see her, to acknowledge her as his flesh and blood had been sufficient. Aeryn was right. The mechanics of how A'lya had come to be weren't important. He was her father and he had never doubted that from the first moment he'd laid eyes on her.

"YouŠyou don't know how proud I am of you," he said. "And not because of your Prowler ratings or your studies. I just wishŠ" He faltered. What did he wish, now? That he could take Aeryn and Melanie and A'lya and get the hell away from the Nebari and the Peacekeepers and live in anonymity. To take back every cycle that Grayza had stolen from him and Aeryn, to hold Aeryn Sun in his arms forever, to see her smile with unending joy, for his daughters to love her as a mother. Was it all going to be a fantasy that would never be realized?

"I'm beginning to understand," A'lya said carefully like she was stepping her way barefoot through broken glass. "You andŠAeryn. I can see that she loves you very much, more than she should have as a Peacekeeper. IŠI can understand."

"She's your mother," he said. "Aeryn is your mother. She'sŠshe's sacrificed a lot just to see you again."

"And you. She's done it for you." He felt her stiffen beside him.

"You're our daughter, A'lya. Nothing will change that. No matter what happens."

"I don't understand how she got from there to, to here." Her long fingers traced the air, exploring an imaginary timeline. "She was a Peacekeeper. I know she was irreversibly contaminated. Jamoh showed me the vid chip with that information. She's destroyed her own people. I don't understand how, as a Peacekeeper, she would do any of that."

"It's a very long story, honey." He smoothed her hair. "Aeryn was a Peacekeeper. I came through on a wormhole, completely by mistake, from another galaxy. Moya was a prisoner transport‹D'Argo was part of that‹and she had broken away from the control collar. Aeryn was pursuing us like a good Peacekeeper should, doing her duty. But then she stood up for me against her commanding officer when he threatened to dissect me just for the hell of it. She was doing the right thing‹she knew I hadn't committed any crime. She got herself irreversibly contaminated for her troubles."

A'lya shook her head. "I know you're leaving a lot out. I'm just not sure I want to hear any more."

"And I'm not sure I want to rehash it anymore. It's been a long four days and I'm just sucked dry, A'lya. One day, when we have all the time in the world, I'll explain it all. For now, you'll just have to accept that you have a mother and a father and we both love you very much. I was there when she offered her life for you‹for us‹and she was telling you the truth when she says Grayza turned her down." He paused, remembering the scars on Aeryn's body; would that be enough to move A'lya? "I know she did all she could," he finished instead.

A'lya nodded but he could see doubt and distrust lingering in her eyes. He was almost too tired to care. His weariness had to be more than just the collar or the Nebari medication; it was something from the gut that wove its way through his bones, making him not want to do anything more than just sit and consider the ceiling over his head.

The door slid open and A'lya stood like a Peacekeeper cadet at attention. Chiana stepped inside and smiled.

"AtŠat ease, Cadet," she said. "Never thought I'd say that," she added, bounding over to where John sat.

"Chiana." A'lya planted herself between the Nebari and John. "What brings you here? Where is Aeryn? Have you finished with your brother?"

"I see you've got a bodyguard, Crichton." Chiana stood on her toes and looked over A'lya's shoulder down at where John sat. He smiled at her and shrugged.

"It's a Peacekeeper thing," he said. He tugged on A'lya's sleeve and she turned around, her face flushed, undoubtedly still irritated by Chiana's outburst earlier in the day. Were they still on the same day?

"A'lya, go find your sister. Chi and I have to talk." He waved her towards the door.

"Dad," A'lya began. He tried to suppress a smile at the whine in her tone; she sounded just like a teenager.

"He'll be in one piece when you get back," Chiana said.

"Honey, justŠgo on." He leaned forward and patted her reassuringly on the arm. She gave him one last, sharp look, resembling Aeryn so much at that moment that he turned away. Then she gave Chiana a quick nod, turned crisply on her heel and walked out.

"Frell," Chiana said. "You can take the nixa out of the Peacekeepers but you sure can't take the Peacekeeper out of the nixa." She plopped down next to him, careful not to leave any space between them.

"Nice analogy. Sounds like you've been taking John Crichton speech lessons." He put his arm around her and kissed her quickly.

"Now don't put the moves on me, Crichton. Aeryn would shoot me and you're too tempting to refuse." She laughed and kissed him on the cheek.

"I'll never tell."

"Promises, promises. Crichton." She looked at him, her expression serious.

He nodded. "Yeah, I gotcha. Are you going to tell me how you and D'Argo and Aeryn ended up as part of the Nebari Resistance? Cause, if so, let me just put my feet up and grab some popcorn for this afternoon's show."

She shook her head. "No time for that. The fact is, Crichton, Aeryn helped me get here. And Nerri needs your help."

"Yeah." John ran a thumb thoughtfully over his lips. "Yeah, I got that part. Aeryn told me." He stood up and paced, working out the stiffness that had settled in his legs. He couldn't remember the last time he had spent so much time just sitting and doing nothing.

"The Resistance wants some wormhole help so they can have the same weapon as the Peacekeepers and still hold back the Establishment," he recited. "They're fighting on two fronts. Yeah, I get it. Mutual assured destruction, I think they called it back on Earth. You figure the other guy won't launch his nukes at you because you've got the same nukes and you'll just launch them right back. That way the Peacekeepers won't screw with the Resistance and the Resistance can kick the Establishment's ass if it needs to. I mean, the Establishment still has their contagion and god knows what else. Makes sense, right? Turn the whole galaxy into one giant hole? No winners?"

"CrichtonŠJohn." Chiana held out her hand to reach his arm but he kept moving.

"This one song keeps going through my head. I can't remember any words but theseŠ'*never comes the day, for my love and me.'* Hell, I can't even remember who sang it."

He stopped pacing and knelt down in front of Chiana. His face was wet and he realized that he was crying‹again. But this time, it was the reality, not a dream, which brought on the tears. He gripped her arms and leaned towards her.

"Chi, I've lived for fifteen cycles believing that I'd never see Aeryn again. Here she is. I've done my duty, I've protected my kids, I've been Grayza's whore and I've been her pet project and her decorated tech. I've done everything I was supposed to do. I don't want to do it anymore. Ś*Never comes the day, for my love and meŠ* I just want the hell off this freak show of a life to someplace where no one knows who I am or what I know."

The last words were broken. He buried his face on the couch cushions, the fabric rough against his face. She ran her fingers through his hair soothingly, humming something indiscernible.

"John," she said quietly. "IŠI'm sorry. Maybe we completely frelled up your life by rescuing you. Maybe Melanie was right."

He shook his head and looked at her. "No. Even for one day with AerynŠno. I just don'tŠ" He faltered. "I just don't know if I have it in me to go on the run again. If I give this information to you, I'm a traitor. My children are traitors and there won't be one place in this universe where we'll be safe. Not with Grayza on our asses."

Chiana sighed heavily. "That's the problem. She's already on our eemas, with two other Carriers to back her up. One on one, she's no match for this host ship. With two othersŠEither we find some way to outrun her, out gun her or we're frelled. That's what I came to tell you."

He rolled onto the couch, partially lying down, then cleared his throat. "Well, then I guess the decision is made. I'm not starting a war. I'll turn myself over to Grayza. I'll take Melanie with me; I know Grayza won't hurt her. A'lyaŠA'lya stays with you and Aeryn and you get them both the hell out of here to someplace where Grayza will never find them."

"No." Chiana shook her head. "No, no, no. I can't believe you're giving up, Crichton. Frell!" She stood and paced then knelt down in front of him. "Don't you get it? Either we all go or none of us do. But there's no way I'm going to let you go back to that tralk Grayza. If you do, I'm not going to be able to stop Aeryn from going after you."

"Pip, I don't think you have much of a choice. Even if I were willing or able to do something for the Nebari, there isn't time."

"MaybeŠmaybe there's some other way."

"I don't see it."

"You don't. But I do." She jumped to her feet. "I'll be back, Crichton. Don't do anything stupid in the meantime." She went to the door and was gone quickly.

Nothing stupid? She was putting a hell of a lot of faith in him.

*

A'lya had wandered the corridors of *Chiadda* but had finally found Melanie in the last place she looked‹Chiana's quarters. Melanie sat alone on one of Chiana's small, soft chairs, her attention directed at the pulse pistol she held in her hand. A'lya had stowed their weapons in a locker in Chiana's quarters, believing that the Nebari would be less likely than Aeryn Sun to disarm the girls.

Melanie appeared to be very little from where A'lya stood but there was something about her sister's serious expression that made her look grown up.

"Hey," A'lya said from the doorway.

Melanie looked up, blinked and smiled slightly. "Hey yourself, A'lya." She put the pulse pistol aside.

"I've been looking for you. What are you doing here?"

Melanie gave a half shrug and looked down. "Chiana told me I could come back here whenever I want to. I thought Daddy wanted to be alone so I didn't go back to Aeryn's quarters." She reached for the pulse pistol and held it in her hand again. "I don't think anyone even noticed that I still have this." She raised the pistol, looked down its barrel like she was taking aim, then lowered it.

A'lya thought she heard a slight emphasis on the word "Aeryn's." She approached her sister and knelt down in front of her. "Melanie. You can talk to me, you know?" She took the pulse pistol and set it back on the chair. "I know you're scared."

"She's your mother, A'lya. Not mine." Melanie tugged at her lip. "What does she really want with us? Was it just to get Daddy here to help her comrades? He's almost died because of her." Melanie's lavender eyes met hers, a frown creasing her forehead. "A'lya, if she was a Peacekeeper why isn't she one any longer? All those things you knew about her, all those things you said‹how do you even know all this? And why haven't you told me?"

A'lya sighed, her own conflicted feelings towards Aeryn Sun not helping her get a clearer perspective on the whole thing. What her father had said to her was still sinking in‹that Officer Aeryn Sun had spoken out on his behalf, had sacrificed her career and her way of life for a being from another world. That being was their father and she knew that John Crichton would have done the same thing himself.

"Jamoh," she said heavily. Jamoh. She felt a tug at her chest at the thought of him but she let it go. Peacekeepers didn't form emotional attachments or they ended up like Aeryn Sun. She understood the logic in it but it was completely against anything that her father had shown her. Without those emotions, she wouldn't have him or her sister.

"What? What does he have to do with anything?" Melanie said.

"He found a chip. I wanted information on my mother. I didn't think we'd find anything other than a service and death record. I imaginedŠI assumed that she had died in battle. I wanted to know her name." She paused. "Instead I found out all that other dren."

"Do you believe it? What you saw on the chip?" Melanie stared at her, frowning.

"Yes. It's true. How can it be otherwise? Dad admitted to it." She paused. "She's irreversibly contaminated because she was with him."

Melanie's frown deepened. "Because of you."

"No." A'lya shook her head slowly. "It was before me. It was right after Dad got here fromŠ" she faltered. There was so much they hadn't told her, so much she had a right to know if she was ever going to explain it to her sister‹or to herself.

"My mother isn't going to let us go," Melanie said softly. "You know that, A'lya. I know she called us half-breeds. I know she hates him now. But she hates Aeryn Sun even more for doing this to her." Melanie looked at her, eyes narrowed. She had observed what the rest of them had failed to acknowledge so far, that Councilor Grayza would not suffer the humiliation that Aeryn and the Nebari had brought to bear on her. Not without a fight.

"You're right," A'lya said. "And I think he knows it too." She took the pulse pistol from her sister's hand and held it in her own. "I trust our father, Melanie. But I don't think we can depend on anyone else."

"We should contact the Councilor," Melanie began.

"No, he says we shouldn't. He doesn't trust her. And I don't either. I think that we're going to have to find our own way out of here, without the Nebari or Aeryn Sun. Some way to get Dad off this ship without any of them."

"Remember the ships in the landing bay? I looked at them again while I was wandering *Chiadda*‹no one noticed me. Even though the readouts are in Nebari, they look a lot like Prowlers soŠ" She looked at A'lya, bravado masking her uncertainty. "We could take one and go. There are small planets all over this sector. The charts have them all laid out."

"Charts?" A'lya shook her head in wonder. "Melanie, what have you been doing?"

"What daddy would have expected me to do‹learn something, study it, understand it. A'lya, you can fly one of their ships, we can plot a course to one of those planets, at least for awhile, enough so that maybe the Command Carrier will follow *Chiadda* without knowing that we're no longer aboard."

"Before we do anything, Melanie, we need to be sure or we could be jeopardizing him further," A'lya said. "He's still not completely well." She could feel her own fear growing in the pit of her stomach. The easy way was to wait it out, to look to her father for a decision, for guidance. She loved him, she trusted him but she also wondered whether he was capable right now of making a decision with his head and not his heart or whether he should even be called upon to do that.

Melanie nodded. "But we should be ready. Just in case."

"Yes," A'lya said. "Just in case."

Days of Furture Past continues with parts III & IV >>

 

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Title: Days of Future Past

Author: officersun524, eporter70@cox.net

Rating: PG

Type: AU.

Sequel: Part 3 of the "Future" Series

Part 1: The Future or Something Like It by officersun524

Part 2: Futures End, by Kernezelda.

 

Notes: This is my answer to the challenge Kernezelda put forth for writing part 3 of this series. Her answer is A Shared Future, also on the Leviathan list. Many thanks to Kernezelda for pushing me to finish this and for offering encouragement, feedback and, of course, beta work. Also thanks to Cathy for putting up with my whining. When I wrote the original story, I never thought it would go this far.

Summary: Fifteen cycles earlier, John and Aeryn had tried to retrieve their daughter A'lya from Grayza. Now they are facing the consequences of their reunion as their pasts complicate their futures.

 
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