"And you know what Bialar? If I squeeze my eyes closed tightly enough… you could be someone else."
Her words cut into him like a knife. They slice through all his pretence that he cares only so much that she is safe, that what he wants from her is the same passing interest he has shown others, and embed themselves in a vulnerable area he did not even know existed until she spoke.
He grunts as they impact almost as a physical blow, closes his eyes against the sudden pain, pulling back as far as her grip and the restraints around his wrists will allow.
"No! Come on! Right here! Right now! Give it to me. Give me what you've got!"
It is not about that, he thinks but is not so foolish to say those words aloud. Her attention has already shifted elsewhere and he listens to her verbally strike out to those closest to her, understanding the depth of her grief all too well.
All I wanted was to protect you.
It's almost true. It's certainly all he knows. "Bialar, look after your brother!" was all he heard from the moment Tauvo could toddle until it was ingrained into him. He grew up with it as a mantra, took it with him into service with the Peacekeepers. His only thought, running through his mind like blood through his veins and as vital to his system.
"Get out of here!"
He goes, not because he wants to but because she wishes him to. Guilt washes over him, salt to the new wound that his discovery of just how much she matters to him.
For two cycles since he stole Talyn from under her, he has been convinced that what he wants is what is best for the ship - which is Aeryn joined as he is, that though he has been, and is, attracted to her that was secondary and unimportant. He did not realise the depth of his emotions until she took them and threw them in his face.
He wonders now how he could have been so blind. He sees now what she has seen all along, and the irony is very bitter. She has seen him as he truly is.
I just wanted to protect you.
It is a want born from being raised as a protector. He was never asked to love Tauvo. Perhaps his childish mind could not conceive that the two things could go together, that Tauvo might have wanted a brother rather than a guardian. He is too old to change now; all his feelings funnelled into this one permitted expression of affection.
He knows he limits himself to showing how much he cares by keeping those he cares about safe. He did it with Tauvo, does it with Talyn and with Aeryn. He knows he has refused her offers because he was trying to protect her from herself, but somehow neglected to admit he refused because he loved her too damned much to hurt her.
I don't understand. He doesn't. Not himself, not her. Somehow they have forgiven each other so much, or they ignore those things at any rate, and if he is very honest with himself he is still surprised she even talks to him.
Perhaps it was her death and her return. Perhaps it was his giving her something of her family back. Whatever happened, they are at least capable of working together. He remembers her joining, the closest he has come to having everything he ever wanted. Or so he believed. Now he knows that what he wanted was so much more. More than she will ever give him, he is well aware of that.
I wanted your love, not an offer of yourself.
He wants to tell her that, but suspects her reaction will be harsher still that what she has already done. And what does he know of love, save seeing the expression of emotion between the object of his affections and another man? Well, not quite. He has vague memories of his parents and somehow the knowledge goes deep. He knows that love is need and being there when necessary; it is taking pain and not holding that against the one who has hurt you.
What she said hurts him as much as Talyn does. Wild and out of control, striking out in fear and pain and grief. He never holds Talyn's actions against him. He cannot hold Aeryn's against her.
And so he goes back upstairs. Her mother is here with death on her mind, and he is needed to protect her whether she wishes it or no.
"Crais... you... find the better part of yourself. You... have to take care of them."
He knows he can do that. It is all he does know. He can offer her nothing else, nothing more, and knows that she would not accept it even if he could. Whatever he feels does not matter, what matters is he fulfils the mandate that has been placed on him.
Follows his orders, like the good soldier he should be.
He slams open the door and fires as she screams "No!" It sounds all too much like the cry of loss that echoed through the trees the last time he took her mother from her. That time he had managed to protect her and her future, though his own was lost the microt she started holding him responsible for her mother's death.
He cannot take it back this time - he is too good a shot and Xhalax is mortally wounded. He can only stand and witness as Aeryn lets go of the last thing she might care for.
I tried. He does not say it aloud. He watches Aeryn watch her mother fall and wonders where they go from here. I cannot protect her from everything. I cannot protect her from myself.
When she turns, she does not acknowledge what he has done. He holds her blank gaze and cannot say a word. It is one thing too many and surely he has lost her now. Not that he ever had her in the first place.
How far back? How much do I need to undo to make this alright? He wants to ask her that, but he does not. Another thing that will remain unspoken between them. He wants to ask her to forgive him but he does not even forgive himself. He has no reason to believe she will be any more generous.
All I wanted was to protect you.
All I wanted was to love you.
He leaves her to her grief, carrying his own back to Talyn.
Perhaps he should leave her to Talyn; she is surely the better choice even as she is. She was always the better choice. She is capable. She can protect herself and Talyn far better than he has proved able.
He has failed her, failed Talyn, failed the promises he made.
"You... have to take care of them."
And he thinks, I tried.
But trying was not enough to save Tauvo, so why should it have saved Aeryn? He is damned by his own hand and how can trying save him when he fails at doing the only thing he can.
So much for the better part.
He is not her protector or her lover or anything else that matters.
He is nothing at all.