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A Meeting of Minds

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"Feeling left out, D'Argo? We're the only one who don't have voices in our heads." -- Aeryn, "...Different Destinations"

Stark is ill.

He clings to that thought, that explanation. He is ill, and Jool has given him drugs, and that is why his mind is leaking. Leaking, all over the room, all over the ship, minds leaking into his...

Ill. That woman, the dead woman he asked for directions on Valldon. Yes, he remembers it now. Disease. He tasted it in her, mind-tasted (the Banik word: sylevo, translator microbes never get it right). He knows disease, has died from it a hundred times over.

No, not him. Not him. Others have died from it, others in his head. It's important to remember that, important to know the difference. He forgets it, sometimes. Forgets he is still alive.

Sometimes he forgets he is flesh. Forgets to fear disease, forgets to pay attention, in his haste, to the vulnerabilities of his body. Foolish Stark, he thinks, in Zhaan's voice, affectionate.

He sometimes wishes he were still energy. When he was energy, he didn't hurt. He didn't leak; there was no body for him to leak from. No inside, no outside, no my side, your side. No boundaries to get confused.

He raises his hand to his face. His mask is still on, but it doesn't matter, his energy is everywhere. Everywhere, voices in his mind, his mind in the voices. Live voices, dead voices. He thinks one of them is Zhaan's, but it's so hard to tell. "Zhaan? Are you there?" But she doesn't answer, and he thinks maybe this time he imagined her after all, that maybe it was the Zhaan inside, not the Zhaan outside.

He looks for her, though, and he feels it, the touch of her mind, but it's not her mind, only a place her mind has been. He wants to go there, too, and he stands, lurching, incarnate matter, and stumbles his way to the door and down the hall.

He doesn't find Zhaan. He does find Crichton.

For a moment, he is confused, because Crichton is dead, of that he is sure, and sleep is not death, death is not sleep. Other species' metaphors have it wrong.

But then he remembers, of course, and there's nothing strange about a sleeping Crichton, except that Stark can't usually hear him sleep. (Only "hear" isn't the word either, of course, and the microbes don't get tirashal right either. There is a word for it in Delvian, though. So beautiful, Delvian. Beautiful Delvian. Delvian chanting in his mind, kalash attar, khylenn, khylenn...)

He leans in and listens to Crichton's dreams. Jumbled images, confusion and loss. But Crichton will wake from it, he thinks, and is, for a moment, envious.

Crichton has been kind to him. Crichton knows what it's like to lose his Zhaan. Crichton knows about the Chair. Knows about voices. Poor Crichton.

Stark lifts his mask a crack and lets himself leak, willingly now. The human stirs in the glow, and moans, and Stark sends him the soothing images he can never find for himself when he needs them.

He feels the dream dissipate, feels Crichton's soul relax, still sleeping. Peaceful.

He smiles, feeling useful, pleased, but the smile changes when he hears the other voice. (They say Baniks have no feelings, because they hide them well, but Stark has long forgotten how, and they leak out, too, leak onto his physical face, every passing thought written in flesh for the universe to see.)

"Hello?" it says, and Stark hears fear in its voice, and confusion, and wonder. "Who's there?"

"You're not asleep," he says, and like the expressions on his face, the voice that should be internal (ghayst in Banik, the mind-voice, the silent-voice) is external, spoken aloud, but the Other Voice hears him anyway, he can tell. "Crichton is asleep."

"Who are you?" it says again, the voice in Crichton's head. "And what are you doing in here?"

He's not entirely sure where "here" is, whether it's Crichton's mind or his, but he does seem to be somewhere now, a sunny alien room, homelike and comfortable, and he's sitting on a flower-patterned chair, talking to Scorpius.

Scorpius.

Chair.

Scorpius.

Panic wells up in him as the memories rush in. No. No memories. No memories, must hide the memories, must not let him see...

He doesn't realize he's screaming (detalba, the mind-scream, but also a real-scream, an out-loud scream) until he feels Crichton's mind screaming with him, screaming around him, back in the nightmare.

"Stop it!" yells the image of Scorpius, as the room convulses and shakes, and the lamps on their spindly stalks lurch crazily and the primitive viewscreen cracks. "Stop it! You're hurting him!"

It hurts to have someone screaming in your mind. Stark knows.

So he stops.

John's mind sleeps on, troubled but dreamless. The room stops shaking, pictures askew on the wall. The other person in John's head straightens them, and turns to Stark with a nervous, ingratiating smile.

"Scorpy?" he says, remembering the face without the smile. Without that smile, anyway.

"Not exactly."

Not exactly. Not exactly, not exactly, notexactly. Stark realizes he is muttering to himself, doesn't bother stopping. Suddenly he remembers the name, the neural clone's name, what Crichton calls him. "Harvey!"

The clone bows. "At your service."

Harvey isn't Scorpius. Of course he isn't. He tastes different (sylevo, again). He tastes like Crichton, more than anything.

"I understand I have you to thank for the dumpster," he says.

He talks like Crichton, too. Stark remembers how to talk to Crichton, and doesn't ask.

Harvey picks an invisible piece of fluff off of a chair arm, repositions a lamp. "If I'd known you were going to be dropping in," he says, "I would have straightened up. I don't often have guests."

"Where are we?" says Stark, because it's impossible not to be curious about the inside of John's head. John's head when he's not dying.

"The living room of a house John lived in as a child. I say here often. It's..." He pauses, characteristic Scorpy mid-sentence pause. "...comfortable. Oh, but where are my manners? Can I get you something? Tea?" Suddenly, he's holding two cups and wearing a strange, friendly/frightening smile.

Stark takes the cup, because he doesn't know what else to do. His hand shakes slightly, and the cup rattles against the tiny dish on which it sits.

Harvey sips his liquid and smiles, the humor-the-crazy-person smile Stark knows too well, and coming from a voice in someone else's head it's funny. So he laughs.

Harvey puts his cup down, tink, onto the tiny table in front of them. "So," he says, "why are you here? Or perhaps it would be better to ask, how are you here?"

"I'm ill," he says, and distantly he can feel the fever burning in his body. "I'm leaking. I leak. My mind... I was only trying to help."

Did that make sense? He's not sure, sometimes. He loses track of what he's said aloud, and what was only in his head. Not that there's really a distinction, here.

"I see," says Harvey, and there's another Scorpy-pause, except it's not a Scorpy-pause at all, because it's uncertain and hesitant and weirdly apologetic.

But whatever was going to come after the pause, Harvey doesn't say it, and there's an awkward silence between them that Stark's mind tries to fill up with chanting so that he doesn't have to imagine all the things the echo of Scorpius isn't saying.

"Well," says Harvey finally, "whatever you did, it does seem to have improved John's sleep, for which I must thank you. It can become quite unpleasant here when he's having one of his nightmares."

Stark sips his beverage, tastes Harvey's memory of John's memory of "tea," bitter and sweet.

But he says nothing, and the silence stretches on until Harvey, at last, picks up his cup and says, "I remember being locked in the cell with you, better than I remember torturing you. Isn't that odd?"

"Scorpius tortured me," says Stark. "In the Chair."

"Yes. You never gave him what he wanted."

"You're not Scorpius."

"No."

"Then who are you?"

"Do you know," the leather-clad apparition looks thoughtfully up at the ceiling, "I'm not entirely sure."

"I was sure, once."

Stark doesn't expect Harvey to understand that, maybe doesn't want him to, but the look Harvey gives him is too intelligent, too understanding. "Were you?" he says, and Stark finds himself answering.

"Zhaan knew who I was. She would tell me when I forgot. She told me I was beautiful." And he remembers, aching: my beautiful Stark. She told him he was beautiful, and then she was gone, and he does not know how to be beautiful without her.

"That's more than anyone ever told me." Harvey looks sad, and for a moment there is a connection between them, loss and lostness, blurring mind to mind. It is more than Stark can bear, that this creature's self-pity should be his own.

"Stay out!" he cries, explosive. "Stay on your side! Get out of my mind!"

Harvey looks taken aback, raises his hands, placatingly, but Stark sees the image of Scorpius, of ten thousand Baniks dying, of the motionless spinning of the Aurora chair, round and round and round. He sees Harvey, not Scorpius, Harvey. Harvey, who killed Aeryn. Who killed Aeryn, killing Zhaan. His fault. His. His, and Stark has been sitting here drinking with him.

"No!" says Harvey. And then, more quietly, "No."

Stark realizes his hands are about Harvey's neck, that it would be easy, so easy, to squeeze. He wonders if he could kill Harvey. He thinks perhaps he could. He tightens his grip and thinks of Zhaan, but Zhaan isn't telling him what he wants to hear, isn't applauding his thirst for revenge, and everything in his head is so confused.

"No," says Harvey again. "Please. It wasn't me." Gloved Scorpy-hands clench around his own, ineffectively pulling.

He could squeeze more tightly. He doesn't.

"Stykera," says the echo, the clone, the thing that once was Scorpius. "I am sorry. I am sorry about your mate."

"It wasn't you," he says, trying the idea out on his tongue. Not him, this weak, ineffectual thing, more Crichton than Scorpy, more lost than Stark.

"It wasn't me," says Harvey, blue eyes staring into him, fearful and intense. "It wasn't you, either."

And Stark lets go. His feet won't hold him any more. He crumples to the floor, presses his face to the fabric of the chair. Flowered fabric. It reminds him of Zhaan. Everything reminds him of Zhaan.

"It was," he says, a whispered wail. "It was. It was. It was."

"It was Scorpius," comes a hiss in his ear. An arm lands on his shoulder. "I was Scorpius, then, more than I was anything. And I hate the bastard, too."

He blinks up at the clone's fierce sincerity. "He took everything from me," says Stark.

"Yes," says Harvey. And then, "Crichton loved her, too, you know."

He knows. There was so much love in Zhaan, it filled everyone around her, overflowing back into her again.

"Crichton doesn't believe in revenge," says Harvey. "Do you?"

And the Zhaan part of him says no, but the Zhaan part of him is dead, and the Stark part, somewhere in here is the Stark part, and the Stark part remembers pain and loss, and loss upon incalculable loss, and says "Yes," with hatred and relish.

"Excellent!" says the voice in Stark's ear, the voice in Crichton's head. "Then we are on the same side."

The same side. My side. Your side. The same side. Yes.

He feels Crichton stirring around him, sliding toward wakefulness. "I have to go." Crichton doesn't need another voice in his head.

Harvey is wearing strange clothes now. An unfamiliar soldier's uniform, a helmet. The comfortable room has become a battlefield. He offers Stark a salute.

Stark copies the gesture, carefully, then raises his hands and passes them around his head, the Delvian blessing.

Harvey makes it back, then smiles, and raises his thumb, pointing upwards.

Then Harvey is gone, and Crichton is looking up at him, blinking away sleep.

"Stark?" The human's words are slurred. "What are you doin' here? You should be in bed, man."

"I'm feeling much better now," he tells John. "It's better not to be alone."

And he thinks perhaps the human understands.