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He took her long tendrils and wove them through his roughened hands.  Just more than a cycle – it had been just a little more than a cycle since he’d touched her this way – held her with such ferocious intensity.  The last time was right after she herself had come back from the dead – her return assured because of his love for her.  It was their love had lead to the sacrifice of Zhaan . . .

He remembered the anguish coursing through his veins after Aeryn’s death, wanting to die himself.  The tremendous burden of guilt – the guilt he bore knowing that he had taken the life of the woman he loved.  He came back to the present, but found that he had to kiss Aeryn even deeper at the memory to assure himself that this was really happening.   She kissed back with a similar urgency, grasping his neck and pulling him into her.  He found himself remembering what it was like to have her utterly and completely gone – all three times.  The wounds were deep.  He needed to touch her – to reassure himself that this time she was really here – that this time she would stay. 

He recalled how she had fleetingly confessed her love to him after she had been miraculously revived from death on the ice planet.  Yet immediately after her declaration she froze him out.  He knew she did this because she felt responsible for the death of Zhaan, even though she had no say in the matter. Zhaan’s choice had been her own.  And back then he had been patient; he had bided his time.  He had absolute confidence that she would come around; that she would return to him given enough time to heal.  But it did not work out that way.  They had wasted so much time - too much time.

He slid his hands ever deeper into her raven tresses, savoring the feel of her satiny smooth hair. He eventually broke free from the kiss in order to breathe in the scent of her – hardly believing that she was finally with him after all of this time.  With his lips at the base of her neck he began a slow trail of soft kisses leading to her delicate earlobe.  His nose reached there first and she emitted a delicate sigh as he ducked it behind her ear, his lips finding the lobe. 

. . . . . . .

As she began to melt even more against him; her hands began to search for the belt loops around his waist so that she could pull him into her. She needed a way to let him know what she wanted.  What she was ready to share with him; hoping that he was finally ready as well.  She had shared this with the other one before, but never with him. . .

She had been waiting. . .

Close. They had come close, very close that evening on the false Earth.  The wonderful atmospheric phenomenon he had called rain was producing soft pounding noises outside of their window.  He had rested his head on her shoulder.  She had been uncomfortable and untrained in the ways of comfort back then and had just sat still, wondering what he was going to do next.  Wondering what he needed.

She could not believe the feelings this human could stir within her with just a simple touch.  He had begun tracing his nose up the side of her neck, similar to what he was doing now, electrifying her to the core.  And then when he leaned into her, silently begging for a kiss, she found that she could not deny him.  The sweet soft contact of his lips had provided her with some comfort in this strange place and she wondered if this was providing him with solace as well.

This had been very different than the other time she had kissed him - that time on the transport pod when they thought they were going to die.  She had been so afraid to die alone.  They were both desperate souls that time, clutching at each other frantically, displaying their all-consuming hunger for each other, trying to get in one last act of procreation before it all ended.  She had always considered that that had just been instinct getting the better of them.  Two animals cornered.  But this - this soft kiss had been like nothing she had experienced since Velorek.

The kiss had deepened as he parted her lips gently with his warm tongue and slowly pressed her back onto the bed, covering her with his warm body.  She had arched her chest against him, and slid out one of her legs, adjusting their position to allow him to settle comfortably in between her thighs.  Even through the thick rough material of the pants he was wearing, she could feel him begin to stir and harden.  She had wanted to continue like this – he was so delicious and gentle, stroking her cheekbone, trailing his fingers through her hair. She had finally let his hand find its way slowly down to her breast. 

Once he did, the heat ignited for her and she moaned under the spell of his hands manipulating her nipple through the fabric.  He had buried his head in her expanse of black hair, found the tendon running along the side of her neck, and began nipping her lightly there with his teeth, causing her to involuntarily undulate her hips.  By then he was rock hard and was matching her rhythm.  She had begun to lose control of the situation. 

And when she couldn’t bear it anymore, she grabbed his head roughly by both ears, pulling him away from her neck.  She then quickly rolled him over onto his back, straddling his pelvis, taking him completely by surprise.  She had found the quick look of shock in his bright blue eyes to be quite pleasing. . .

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She had pushed him away, countless times. They had been close on the false Earth, so close. She had accepted his kiss, even fell back into the bed with him. The scent of her mixed with the rain had been intoxicating.

They hadn't gotten very far before she took him by surprise and rolled him; and he had figured he was in deep trouble at that point. He had found himself worrying about what the standard PK female defense was for when a male got fresh. But within seconds he realized he had worried for nothing, because she got a devilish expression on her face and began peeling off his shirt, taking her time, slowly moving her hands up the hairy expanse of his chest.

Once she had his shirt off, she raised one half quirked eyebrow at him, and then led both of his hands to her waist, settling them underneath her shirt, practically daring him to touch more. His shocked look had turned to wonder as his fingers reached up under it and settled at their destination. He cupped each of her firm breasts in his hands as his thumbs reached out and began to trace circles around her nipples. She closed her eyes and leaned back at his touch, grasping his forearms for leverage as she began to rub against him ever so slowly. Soon they found themselves holding onto each other and grinding furiously, fully clothed, to the rhythm of the rain outside. The storm had picked up in its intensity and so did they. Their clothes had started to loosen around them as their bodies tried to find even more satisfaction in each other.

. . . . . . . .

Aeryn had found herself moaning, matching the groaning that had just begun to emanate from John when she came to her senses. This was Crichton! The human! He wasn't even Sebacean. She couldn't do this.

"John," she had said sternly, "We have to stop now."

"Wha - ?" he had grabbed her hips, holding her to him, pressing against her firmly through his pants, "But we're so close. . ."

"I know we're close; and that's why we have to stop now."

She had extracted herself from the bed and found another shirt in the closet to change into – the one she had been wearing was doing something to her breasts – pulling at them and reminding her of his hands, his fingers manipulating her into ecstasy. She had not wished to be reminded of his hands, so she admonished herself sternly - telling herself that this was only making her vulnerable. And she would not allow that. She had pulled off her shirt with her back to him and covered herself with the big blousy blue thing she had found in the closet.

"But, Aeryn. . ." she had found that she couldn't even look at him. Didn't trust herself with him. He was too. . . Too something she couldn't find the words for.

"Go to sleep now, John. You'll need your rest for the morning."

She had heard him slump back onto the bed, defeated.

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She had pushed him away, pushed him away so many times it was painful to recount. And he could never figure out why he always came back for more – always. But this last time had nearly broken him. The only thing that had been allowing him to heal was her persistent presence. Even amidst his now continual rejection of her, she stood fast. Ever since her return to Moya she had been showing him that this time she was determined to stay. He needed that reassurance now in order to trust her again.

He wanted to talk to her so much, but he knew he couldn't. They had to maintain absolute silence if they were going to be in each other's presence like this. He tried to tell himself that it was enough to touch her, to feel her, to have her back again. Aeryn found his belt loops and insisted with her body that they complete what they had started so many cycles ago.

He pulled back so that they could each look into the other's eyes – understand each other. They had both changed so much and he wanted her to really see him – to see the all ways in which he had been broken since their time apart. How he had hardened under the continual stress of living on Moya . . . and from being without her companionship for so long. He wanted her to see HIM – not the other one - and accept him where he was in this moment. He was searching for the validation in her eyes.

What he saw instead was the pain that his own brokenness had inflicted upon her. He had desperately longed for her during the time she was on Talyn with the other one. But after he had died and she returned to Moya it had completely devastated him that she would not return to him. After all that time he had spent without Aeryn's physical presence - when he had thought he would go insane - he couldn't even conceive that her return would be so bleak. And he had never imagined that he would become as lonely as he did once she returned. She treated him like a ghost, like a memory she couldn't bear.

He didn't think things could get worse from there – but they did. Aeryn had decided to leave him just when his world was falling apart, when he had needed her the most - when everyone was leaving him – everyone.

He had done the right thing, the heroic thing – just like the other John – he too had kept the dangerous wormhole knowledge away from the Peacekeepers, away from Scorpius. The only difference was, he had survived. Did she despise him for being the one to live?

When he had needed her, wanted her more than ever, she had severed all ties. It became clear that she had come to the point where she could not bear to be in his presence any longer. He had tried to force her – to show her that he, too, was the man she loved. Painfully, he remembered that final kiss in the hangar – she had resisted him all the way. Even though he tried to deny it at the time, he now remembered that she had been cringing beneath his touch. Every part of her being had been rejecting him.

When she left him that day he had never felt pain so intense - loneliness so deep. He had no idea that loving her could cause such pain until the moment that coin hit the floor and read them their fate. He hadn't realized how deeply it could rend his soul. But, now he could see his loneliness and pain mirrored in her eyes. Somehow, she intimately understood that part of him.

But, he could also see the look of the widow still haunting her lovely face. He trailed a finger from her earlobe down to her chin, softly, gently. That look would probably never go away. He needed to accept that. She had had another life with another version of him and he couldn't erase that from her soul. He was not a substitute for the other – he was different and he knew that he always would be. Even if she insisted that there was no distinction in her mind anymore – he could see it in her eyes. She still carried the memory of the other John in her heart. If only she could accept him now as John Crichton. Not the "other" iteration of her lover, but as John, the one who was left behind, but still John Crichton nonetheless. He wanted to open himself up to trust her again, but he needed her to accept this first.

She looked like she was about to ask him something. He raised his fingers to his lips in a shush-gesture. She nodded her head in understanding and tightened her grip around his belt loops. The pure intensity of the fire glowing in her eyes told him that they needed to find somewhere a little more private than the hallway of this tier – and quickly.

He broke physical contact with her, preparing to take her elsewhere, but a disappointed look flashed briefly across her face, troubling him. He cocked his head to one side – motioning for them to head in the direction of his quarters. She nodded her understanding and attempted to reach for him again, but he shook his head gently, pointed upward and all around, hoping she would understand that they needed to appear "not together." She nodded again, and played along with his charade.

"Well, I guess you've made your decision then, John Crichton. It doesn't matter. You were nothing to me anyway. And I want my prowler 10K spanner back – I don't want you "borrowing" it for your module anymore. An incompetent human like you might break it. I'll be your in your quarters in a quarter arn to retrieve it. It better still be in working condition!"

He winked at her.

She smiled back.

"Sure. Whatever."

They reached for each other again, their hungry lips devouring each other. He knew that they really needed to carry this on elsewhere lest they get caught, but it was so amazing just to finally be with her again. She seemed as hungry as he was to finally consummate their union.

A low hiss sounded from just down the hall. The were both startled and broke away from the kiss, yet held onto each other's forearms instinctively, looking around. The hallway was clear but this distraction was a reminder that they shouldn't take any chances, so they finally broke off their embrace and headed away from each other down the corridor.

As he started the long journey back to his quarters, John pondered why she had looked so disappointed when he first pulled away from her in the hallway. It wasn't like her - she had always been so strong – and she usually pushed him away first. He began to realize that she was broken in ways he was just beginning to see.

God, he had wasted so much time with the Laqa. But he figured it had given him the time he had needed to allow himself to heal. Hell, maybe he had even been taking it to get back at her – trying it her way. Solving emotional problems by freezing others out. He still wasn't quite sure if he trusted her not to hurt him again at this point, but without the crutch of the Laqa he also wasn't sure if he could stay away from her either.

He thought that the Laqa had been good for him, had helped him to keep his head on straight but he was just beginning to see how it had affected her. She almost seemed insecure. His slight physical "rejection" of her in the hallway had caused enough emotion in her for it to register on her face. And that was not something he was used to seeing. There was so much he needed to learn about her - and she about him. They really should take their time. But what if they missed their chance again?

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She approached his quarters at the appointed time, but hung back in the hallway for a few microts – trying to get a handle on all of the emotions flooding through her. She knew this would be his first time with her – a new experience for him. Yet she had already been with him in another incarnation. It would not be her first time with him. It almost wasn't fair the advantage she held in that regard.

Oh, but she yearned for him. She had returned to him. Not to the ghost, but to the man she knew she loved. Even if experience had hardened him, deep in his soul he was still the man she craved. She had learned stubbornness, patience, persistence, and hope from him and had been applying those skills ever since she returned to Moya and was forced to accept that he was hurting too much to take her back into his life. He still didn't trust her. That she knew.

She sighed deeply and rounded the corner, finding the entrance to his quarters. He hopped up from where he had been sitting to greet her at the door. She looked furtively behind her to make sure no one was in the hallway. She noticed a DRD and silently pointed it out to him. Better safe than sorry. He nodded, gestured her into the chamber, and quickly found the covering for the door that gave them some semblance of privacy on this ex-prison ship.

She heard the distant running of water and gave him a questioning look. He smiled, took her hand, and led her over to the bathing unit that was just starting to fill with warm, soothing water. She noticed that he had it set in the mid-range of the temperature regulator – perfect for Sebaceans. But, wouldn't it be a little chilly for him?

. . . . . .

He noticed her pondering and grinned widely. He was happy she realized that he had set the temperature just for her. Just touching her should keep him warm enough – or at least distracted enough not to notice a little thing like tepid water. He reached for a comb/brush – he still couldn't figure out what these things really were – took her back to the bed, and sat her down. He crawled across the bed and settled himself behind her straddling her, wrapping his arms around her waist while still holding the comb/brush in his hand. He buried his head in the expanse of hair at her neck and breathed her scent in deeply, letting out a small groan of satisfaction with the exhale.

. . . . . .

She noticed his groan and wondered if it was loud enough to be picked up by the comms - They had to be careful. She knew intimately how loud both of them could get. Especially him. He released his hug on her waist, but quickly replaced his arms with his legs and began to brush her hair. The feel of his hands tracing down her hair after each stroke of the comb/brush was driving her to madness. She wanted him take her right now. But she knew that he would want to take his time. And that this time he might need a lot more time than before. Because he was different now - different and hurting. Wanting to share this intimacy - but afraid of her. She could sense that from his touch. She would wait for him.

He finished brushing out her ebony hair and paused to set the comb/brush aside. She could hear him removing his shirt and then felt him reach into the back of her pants to untuck hers. She raised her hands over her head, making it easy for him to slide her shirt off. He brushed her breasts lightly on the way up, making her involuntarily sigh. Once they were both bare from the waist up, his fingers reached around to stroke her collarbone, then traced a path back over her shoulder, moving her hair out of the way. He continued to collect her long dark mane in his hands behind her back. He then placed it all gently over one shoulder, completely exposing her back. He began to kiss and bite her in an exhilarating pattern starting at her spine and moving up over her shoulder blades, finding his way to the spot between her neck and ear. He rested his head there and pressed his hot, searing chest into her back, spreading his warmth and desire throughout her. She could feel him grow hard against her back.

He began nipping at her earlobe as one of his hands reached around to find an exposed nipple, which he began to stroke and pinch in succession. She found it impossible to restrain a small moan, to which she was answered by his warm breath at her ear, "Shh." His lips were searing hot to the touch. And he wasn't making it any easier when his other hand reached under her arm and through the thick mass of her hair to find the other nipple. Oh, the things this man could do to her!

. . . . . .

He got way too excited and took a deep breath. Need to slow down, take my time. Want to savor this. I need to know that she accepts me for who I am. She's responding to me, which is good. But, damn, we need to talk. So many things to say. . .

He could feel her responding to his touch and almost jumped out of his skin when she moaned. "Shh," he breathed very quietly into her ear. If Scorpius somehow found out that they were doing this all would be lost.

. . . . .

He broke away, and settled on rubbing her back for a while, to bring things to a slower pace. But, she soon grew tired of that and turned herself around to face him, reciprocating with a chest rub. Running her delicate fingers through his chest hair, she pressed him back to lie on the bed. She saw the delight in his eyes, but also the sadness - the bittersweet ache that clung to his soul. He had admitted to her that she was his "Achilles" – that he cared enough about her for it to finally break him and it was obvious that he was afraid of the power this held over him. He also looked as if he was afraid that this might be their first and only time together. He reached up to tuck some of her hair behind her ear.

She leaned over to kiss him, and he playful dodged her advances by running interference with his nose. She could play at that game. If he wouldn't let her kiss him on the mouth, his nose would have to suffice. She caught it between her teeth and held it fast. His face tightened into a small grimace of, "Owww." She released him with a smug grin on her face.

He tightened his grip around her waist and rolled her over in one quick movement, pinning her to the bed. She loved it when he took control like this. Now it was his turn to tease her. One hand found her breast and teased her nipple into erectness, while he inched himself ever closer to her lips. But instead of kissing her, he just ran his nose up one side of hers and down the other . . . and all the while her lips were seeking but never finding his.

. . . . . .

She got frustrated and attempted to roll him, but he had anticipated that maneuver and continued to hold her fast against the bed. He just shook his head, smiling, rubbing the tip of his nose against hers. But when she arched against him, demanding more from him with her whole body, he decided to stop teasing her and kissed her deeply in the soft hollow of her throat. He could hear her heart beating so fast beneath her cool skin. He felt himself straining against his pants and reached down to loosen them. Her hands were there in a flash, helping him.

He rolled away slightly to give her better access and began working on getting her fully undressed as well. They were smiling at the effort – and very content to help each other disrobe.

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She realized partway through that they would both probably have to take their boots off first, or else their pants just wouldn't cooperate. She unbuckled and removed one of his boots. But at the first sign of a few of those toes, she stopped suddenly. She remembered those feet.

The playfulness vanished from the room. It may be his first time with her, but it was her first time since. . .

He saw the look on her face and immediately adapted to the change in her demeanor. He tipped her chin up to look at him and she forced herself to hold a steady gaze. She was thinking about the other one, but she knew what she wanted. She was certain – she wanted HIM – the one before her. Something in him relaxed and he immediately enveloped her in a comforting hug and rocked her quietly for a while. She knew this was right – to be with this man. This was where she was supposed to be.

. . . . .

They slowly unfolded from the hug and continued to help each other undress, more solemnly this time, with more care and purpose. Once they were fully naked, they just laid there on the bed for sometime silently drinking each other in. They held hands, but did not initially make eye contact. When his thumbs traced slow soothing circles in her palms, he allowed his gaze to rest on her. They were fully exposed to each other, bare and vulnerable, yet safe in each other's keep. He was seeing all of her for the very first time and even though she was remembering the other, she truly saw him. All the changes, all the hardness and bitterness that had crept over him – yet this was still the man she loved.

After what seemed like a million microts, they found their way to the bathing unit. She settled in first, and he slid in behind her. He had held her hair up and out of the water the whole time she was getting in, which was no small feat, but now he was twisting it, piling it atop her head, finding something to secure it with from behind them. Once his task was complete, he slid his arms around her waist and began that delicate trail of kisses and nips down the tendon of her neck again. The water had been kept at the perfect temperature to be soothing to her; so he held fast to her from behind in order to stay as warm as he could. She collapsed back into him, sighing deeply.

His hands tentatively crept down from her waist, reaching for the valley between her thighs. She parted her knees, inviting him to touch her there. She reached back around with her head and caught his lips in a kiss, opening her mouth to him almost immediately. Letting his tongue penetrate her, paving the way for more to come.

His hands never made it. Once she started kissing him, he got distracted from his task, and turned her around. She sat on his lap facing him as they continued to kiss in the luxurious water. His hands seemed to touch her everywhere all at once, while her hands dug into his neck and back, imploring him to take her further.

. . . . .

Yet, he broke from their embrace once again and leaned her back away from him. She was starting to get really frustrated, but hid this from him – she knew he needed to take more time. So much like the other one. Yet she knew she needed to be even more patient with this John, because he needed more assurance; he needed to be able to trust her again. She had caused him so much pain and she intimately understood his fear.

As he pushed her back and his hands began trailing down one of her legs, her frustration turned to excitement as she realized what he was really doing. She began to slightly tremble in anticipation.

. . . . . . .

Oh, God, her feet. Mmm. When his hands reached her knee, he began slowly massaging her calf, inching his way down to her ankle. Her delicious ankle. When he got there he had to taste. He noticed that she was already trembling. Good. She liked this as much as he did. He smiled devilishly, and then ran his nose delicately along the inside of her arch. She emitted an involuntary noise of pleasure and he had to "shush" her. She glared at him in fury. He chuckled silently and she splashed him. But he knew how to tame her fury. He just ran his nose along her arch again and she just melted, throwing her head back, thrusting her breasts up through the water. Oh, those succulent orbs. He began to notice a flush rise in her chest. He was doing a good job. She took in a sharp breath as his tongue played between the crevice of her first two toes.

. . . . . .

Oh, he was killing her! How could he possibly expect her to stay silent when he was doing such marvelous things to her feet? Then she found herself going over the edge as he sucked her toes into his warm luscious mouth, his tongue feverishly twisting and thrusting into the crevice between them. It was just way too much for her to bear!

She must have started screaming, because the next thing she knew, everything stopped, and he was on top of her, his hand covering her mouth. She still hadn't quite finished and her body was arching against his, begging for completion. He slowly removed his hand from her mouth and looked a little sheepish. He then pulled back from her completely and motioned that they should get out of the bathing unit. She frowned slightly, but saw reason, so she stood up and got out with him.

. . . . . .

He could tell she was disappointed, but as much as he loved doing those titillating things to her feet, he just couldn't risk Scorpius finding out about them. And Aeryn seemed to have a problem controlling her volume when it came to doing this. There was way too much as stake. He loved her and the baby too much to put them at risk.

But, she wasn't going to let him off the hook so easily. He saw the look of determination in her eyes and knew she wasn't going to take no for an answer all night. Just like she'd refused to take no for an answer from him ever since she'd found out about the Laqa. She had known his true heart.

. . . . . .

As they were drying each other off, it was her turn to let her hands wander. They had trouble keeping their lips off of each other the whole time anyway, yet he still emitted a little gasp as she found his member and enclosed it with her fingers. It was now her turn to dive her teeth into the skin of his neck as she began to slowly yet earnestly stroke him with a rhythm she knew he liked. It didn't take long for him to get wobbly in the knees, causing him to cling to her for support. Now she knew it was time to take this man to bed.

. . . . .

They clumsily made their way back over to the bed because she would not let go of him or change her pace – which made it quite difficult for him to concentrate on walking – or to concentrate on anything else. But he was so glad he was able to make it there finally, because as soon as he was on the bed, he was enveloped in wetness, her tongue gliding over his shaft, bringing him to new levels of ecstasy. She swirled her tongue around his head, then plunged down his shaft, as deep as she could go, stroking him with her hand the rest of the way in a maddeningly increasing tempo. Then her other hand found its way to his testicles, cupping them, supporting them, stroking them too. Oh, he was close. He was so close. . .

. . . . .

John began to moan and groan. Though it was great to have audible confirmation of how much she was pleasing him, he was getting quite loud and she was worried. It got the point where she too had to stop and place a hand over his mouth to quiet him. He looked quite startled as he came to and realized that she now had to "shush" him. Once he had himself under control, she released her hand from his mouth.

He immediately rolled her, once again taking control. Oh, how she loved this side of him. His intense blue eyes were penetrating into hers as he slowly moved himself into position, ready to take her finally – smoldering desire burning within them. With one last tender stroke of his hand over her forehead and down her jaw line, he held the side of her head and thrust.

She nearly exploded with that first penetration.

. . . . .

She held back a moan, and he could see how much effort this took from her. He stayed deep inside her, waiting for her to recover.

Once she was ready for more, he ran his fingers from her elbow up to the palm of one of her hands, grasping it and pressing it firmly into the bed, locking their fingers into their own tight embrace. The she offered up her other hand and he captured it and pressed it down into the bed in a similar fashion. She was now completely in his hands; the way she liked it.

He began again with series of slow gentle strokes, easing himself into the feel of her. Savoring every inch of their intimate contact. His head bent to her breast, warm moist lips enclosing first one nipple and then the other.

. . . . .

His tongue danced a rim of fire about her now fully erect nipples – increasing the pace of his strokes as she responded beneath him. Then he began an excruciatingly pleasurable series of gentle bites – alternating from one breast to the other. These bites quickened and matched the pace of the fullness that had found its way into her warm depths, and by now was grinding furiously inside of her.

As the cadence intensified, they both began to breathe hard. She wrapped her legs around him, pulling him ever deeper inside her. His forehead was developing a sheen and she was developing quite a deep flush herself from the pleasure he was generating within her – his warmth filling her over and over again. He raised his head from her chest, placing his moist brow on her forehead. Intense blue eyes met smoldering grey ones – and they never broke eye contact until she couldn't bear it any more and began to climax. She threw her head back and closed her eyes, barely remembering to stay silent, shivering deep inside.

. . . . .

He leaned into her as she finished, cupped her head in his hand and rested his flushed cheek on top of hers. He held head her firmly but gently in his grasp, feeling her quake beneath him. He had no idea how difficult it was for her to hold back the scream that was dying to get out. And her quivering began to take him to the brink. Just as she was subsiding and he felt the rush start to leave him, he pounded into her, his final thrusts boring deep, leaving a warm rush of liquid in their wake.

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She felt him, every thrust, every quiver of his, and felt so luxuriously alive as he fulfilled her and himself.

When they had both recovered, he was on top of her still, forehead to forehead, nose to nose. He had been sweating, so at first she didn't recognize the first few drops for what they were. But then she realized he was crying.

Very low, so that the comms would not likely pick up what he was saying, she heard him whisper.

"Please, don't . . . ever . . ." his voice began to crack and she couldn't make out what he said, but he finished with a deep sigh, "I couldn't bear it"

She knew what it was that he needed to hear.

"John," she said just as softly as he, but with resolute firmness in her voice, "I have no intention of leaving you again. Ever."

. . . . . .

She held him tightly as he sank into her and cried, releasing all of the pain he had been carrying for so long. He finally allowed himself to heal in her arms.