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Just Say What You Can

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A few arns from now, they'd be leaving. Crichton, Crais, Sun. A very small crew. A grandiose mission. They'd have to be sharp, get in synch. To let this fester between them – it could get someone killed.

He'd been giving her room. He was not going to push. He'd taken John's holo to heart. She needs time. And time was the thing they had least. Will she see John Crichton die, again? Captured, again? Will she rescue him with a mercy shot?

John flew that last time, despite her pleading. Flew with those burned, swelling hands. Do the right thing, or live with that bitter taste in your mouth. Things are going to happen. He was going to do what he'd do. She thought of the words she'd learned with him: frustration, jealousy, longing. Learn to choose between pains. Choose the acts you can live with. Die with. Regret is the worst. More than grief. More than fear.

      When she used to stand frozen, he'd say, "Talk to me."

      Shake of her head. Don't know. Negative. Can't.

      "Look, give me something. Just say what you can."

It was late. It was time. She stood at the door to the Terrace, and couldn't step through. She didn't have much of a plan: Find him. Don't flee. See what comes next. Right, then. Go out. Say, "Hey."

"Hey," she said. He didn't move.

"Hey. Packed to go?"

"It doesn't take long."

"Then this is the place to be. This is something I'll miss."

She nodded, and slid her spine down the wall. Not too close. He kept talking. Something she could rely on him for. "My first night here, life was so simple. Get the hell away, try to get home. I thought that day would be hard to top." She thought, He always looks back. That day, they were only distrustful. Only hostile aliens. Only afraid. How long 'til tonight would look simple, and safe? Say... something.

"The day you ruined my life."

"The first time a girl beat the crap out of me."

She laughed, caught herself, looked away.

      She used to try to evade, to deflect. 'I don't KNOW what I feel.'

      'Then I'll tell you a trick. Say what just happened. Give me a clue.'

Well, she just caught herself laughing. How crazy was that? Say that. Stumble onward. "Sometimes I forget – It's strange, just talking with you."

"I guess... I've got nothing for that."

She thought all the way back to that first, lost world. You could bleed off the pressure, settle each other. "My old ways don't work. If I were back in barracks, before a campaign, we could recreate ..." He winced at the word. Lips tight on his teeth. That look.

      'Look,' she had said. 'We can HAVE sex, if' you want.'

      'That's NOT what I want. Not Peacekeeper sex!' he had spat.

I know what he's thinking, right now. There's a frightening thought. "Don't be superior," she said. "That's what it was, then. That's all dead and gone."

He flushed. "I didn't mean – Look, forget it," he shrugged.

"Or, if you were him, if he was here now – " She had no words for that. None at all. "But you're not him. That's lost." If I just had him back... John had known that wish, too. But the night she'd come back from the dead – He had stood there, both of him, all of him, before he was split – and what did she do? Frelling coward. As if not acting could keep us safe.

He began, "Aeryn, you..." Her look stopped him cold. The man was not stupid. He started again. "You know, you make me think of my dad. Think back on my dad. You know those first guys who left your home world, went into space? Maybe centuries ago? My dad, Jack, he was one of those guys. I've heard cockpit tapes where he shouldn't have lived, and he sounded so cool. So straight ahead. And Mom was his match."

"Then Mom got sick. They shot her with poisons, cobalt, ugly shit – man, she was tough. She just – It took her a long time to die. He... Dad... All he could do was watch." He talked to the stars, his voice restrained. An arm's length away. "Later, after – He'd prowl the house. Three or four in the morning, he's out on the porch. I'd get up to run, he's asleep in his chair. It was hard. It took a long time."

"I only saw him lose it once. She was really in pain. It was in her bones, it hurt just to lie still. He went after the doc to get better drugs. Scared them all shitless. Anyone but Jack Crichton, they'd have called the cops. But he never cried, not that I saw. Just drank every night to take off the edge."

      'You can tell me you hear. Give me that much.'

She managed to say, "Takes a lot more drink than you think it would. A lot more drink."

"Dad was controlled. He's good at that. If he draws a line, he doesn't cross it. He'd pour two drinks, set 'em by his chair, put the bottle away before he sat down. Just dull the edge." He paused. "You know, you're a kid – you know it all. You've had your girlfriends, you've had lots of sex. You've got no idea... What it would be to have your true mate, to watch your mate die. My eyes are a little more open, now. I see that it hurts like hell. No matter what kind of hero you are." He shot her a sidelong look.

He knows it, now. That thing we don't speak of. Jack's, his, D'Argo's, hers – that same widow pain. It makes a bad wound, it doesn't bleed clear. Her body ached, just hearing his words. Say what you can. She swallowed, first. "Grief," she said. "John taught me that word. My mother was shot, he said 'grief.'" Her throat was clenched, her voice was gravel, she could hear it break up.

"Aeryn, stop. Just take a deep breath." Like a fool, she did it. It collapsed her controls, in a rush of tears. "Listen to me." He was keeping his distance. "You can't not do it. Just cry 'til you're done. It'll pass."

"I am so frelling weak." Lost it entirely. He waited quietly, thumb at his lip. No shame, no alarm. Pain, exhaustion, torture, relief: he'd cried, himself. She breathed deliberately, deep and slow, while her shoulders shook. Her trainers had hammered it in: Emotions can kill. Ride your anger. Master your fear. How could a heart be part of your strength? But none of those trainers could take out a dreadnought, blow up a moon. He was human, bending, resilient. And making her frelling cry – "Who ARE you?" she sobbed. "How do you do this to me?"

"I don't know. I'm the twin of the guy who died on you." A pause. "You've just got to hack your way through it. I've just got to hope that you will."

"You're the strangest creature, to talk about hope."

"Well, we're both alive."

Silence. She sat hugging her knees. A space opened up in the tears. His frelling patience will drive me mad. So, what did she fear? I've seen how he goes to his death. Her grief was ferocious. I saw John at peace. I'm the one with the wounds. Craving, starving, unable to eat. Exhausted, unable to rest. How could her mouth stay so dry, when her face is so wet? No balance, no peace. I'd kill for a little control.

This one, this other, is Crichton, too. This man went to the Gammak Base, did that for her, so long ago. Those hands cut hair from her frozen head. She could see herself touching John, touching him. Was that obscene? It was surely absurd. But right, it felt right. This is not my mate. But he has his heart. Could she find how to breathe, before they set out? Whoever you are, whatever I choose, I will grieve you, too. I am frelled unto death. She huddled there, miserable, tired. Too tired to do more.

He could fly with those hands. You can say a few words.

"Hey," she said, frowning.

"Hey." He sounded tired, too.

"Can you draw a line, and then not cross it?"

He flashed a thin smile. "I have shown some control in my life."

True enough. "This sounds strange when I think it."

"What the hell, say it. You know I was crazy first."

"My body, it's choked, it's numb. I don't want you to touch me." He looked surprised. Her voice went fierce. "But I want to touch you. To feel you... move." She was watching the stars, not looking at him. "Could you let me do that? Do nothing to me? It feels I don't know."

"Look, if you feel it, I... trust it. That's what we do."

"You would do that for me?" A wave of relief. She turned her head toward him.

"Ah, babe, it's all right." He brushed his fingers across her brow, brushed back her hair. She went stiff, her eyes widened. That scared him. She saw it. But that move of his hand to her hair – so familiar, authentic – Just say that, name it. See what comes next. "Look," he said anxiously, "I didn't mean – "

"No," she said. "That gesture. That's... exactly his. Yours. But you're not – "

"Just tell me what feels right. That's what we'll do."

"We should go to your quarters. Give me a half arn." She pulled herself up to her feet, and walked inside.

His quarters seemed good. Not so familiar. A place she could leave if she had to. Go in.

No chatter to greet her. Just a soft, "Hey." He stood there, barefoot in gray tee and pants. Hair damp from the shower, just shaved.

"Hey." She stepped inside and let the door close.

"I'm glad you're here." He was waiting for her. At your service, ma'am.

"You know," she said gravely, "This is only tonight."

"Tonight is good."

She shook her head, and tried again. "This could all be a dream." She looked away. "You know how... intense a dream can be."

He shrugged. "You think it's a dream we'll remember?"

"Do we ever forget?" A wave of self-consciousness jammed her again. That awkward silence. She heard herself blurt, "The last time we kissed..." Where did that come from?


"Tell me about it."

"Uh, in the maintenance bay. Your first night... back. You'd been walking, walking all over the ship. For arns. I was talking, making sure I could talk, to myself. I finally caught you. I needed... to see you. You were angry. I didn't know, yet, about Zhaan. You thought you shouldn't be... with us. I said, it's exactly where you should be. I said I loved you. I had never quite said that before, straight ahead, to you, alive, with me. You said it, too. And we had that... moment."

She was quiet, remembering too. "I'm sorry... that I was afraid. I wish – "

He was shaking his head. "You thought it was wrong. It was a hard time." She looked away. Couldn't add much to that. But this could be done. Hadn't lost control yet. "Would you like to sit down?" he finally asked.

She nodded. There's a step. She sat down at his side. She had dressed in her sparring clothes: loose black pants snug at the ankle, a tee, a bra, a braid. Bare feet on the floor next to his. Those familiar toes. She shivered. I have clung to the arch of that foot, in the throes... Stop! She shook herself, and was silent.

"Is this just too strange?" Such a careful voice. Braced for rejection.

"He – you – remembered it. Just that way. You were both... there, that night. You're... John. And you're really not. I can't pretend – "

"Don't try to pretend. Just do what you can." The words hit too close. Tears, frelling tears. When I show the same face, this one says the same words. It's in him, all of it, waiting to happen again.

"He said – " She was choking. "He said – " This was a mistake. She was too weak.

"Stop," he said. "You don't need to explain. Would you like – Could I hold you?" She felt her head nodding. He leaned her into his arms, her face to his shoulder. Hand to her back, hand to the crown of her head, rocking softly. His hand gently moved with the beat of her breath, as if soothing a child. Was she so pathetic, to need this much care? Why did he bother? And she almost laughed. He's got no choice. She knew him too well. It was hardly fair.

She kept her eyes buried. Not so hard to talk, in the dark. "What I thought, what I'd like – I want to touch you. But I don't want – " She growled in disgust. The words were not there.

He was quiet a moment. "Is this okay? What I'm doing now?" His hand was still stroking her back. "Yes. Just, not more than this. Don't be my lover. Let me – " She was tensing again.

"Okay. That's okay," he said softly. "What else?"

"I need my clothes. But I want... could you... be naked?"

"Can you keep me warm?" The smallest laugh in his voice.

"I believe I can. If I don't, you could tell me."

"I can do that." A smile. She could hear it. "Don't worry. I won't say much."

She squeezed his arm. "Then that would be good. Tonight." She walked to the basin, splashed her sore eyes, dried her face and hands. Turning, she softened the lights. He sat on the bed. His pants were gone. As she took the last step he pulled off his shirt. You're embarrassed, she thought. But you'll do it, for me. She leaned stiffly to kiss him. Neck, cheek, lips. Here's where you left off. Many battles ago, many deaths. She broke the kiss, and stood looking down at him. He has seen me dead, she thought. She sat on the bed beside him and rested her hand on his arm. He was crazy, first. She looked away. His hand found her wrist. He had such a light touch. If she wasn't safe here, then nothing was safe. Just do what you can.

He squeezed her wrist and then he slid down the bed. He lay there, waiting. She stretched out at his side. His body, his skin. Muscles, hair, proportions, fit. Her hands went straight to her favorite spots. His belly. His waist. The hollows just next to his hips. His skin was so rich. She brushed her lips lightly along his neck, taking his scent. She kissed him again, slow and thorough this time. His mouth was so right. Memory flooded her body.

His arms went around her. She tensed. She needed more room. She turned head to toe and settled against him. Opened his legs. Fit herself close. Began to stroke him, cheek on his thigh. She had grown to love this strange and delicious human way. His leg on her belly, warm and firm, grounding her safely. Her fingers played in the fur at his cock, just grazing the boys.

"Careful," he breathed.

"Don't worry, I know." He jumped at that. His first time for this, not hers. She stroked his cock. That familiar rhythm of touch. It soothed her, lulled her, centered her down. She soaked up the comfort, sank into the trance. The vial in her pocket, the liquefied silk his body loved. She had almost smashed it. Never thought she would want it again. Touch him with that. His crown stretched smooth, glowed warm. She curled her palm, swirled it around and around, as her other hand grasped his shaft. His hand slapped the bed. He clutched the sheet in his fingers. A moan from his throat broke out into words. "Aeryn, you've got me real close to the edge." At once she froze. She found the spot just under his crown, and pressed. She felt his cock soften. Let's not rush. We have plenty to do. She went back to his skin. Her hands traced down the folds of his thighs, the edges where one part transformed to the next. The curve of his buttocks, the crease between. That sensitive skin, so alert, so thin, so glad to be touched. All those sweet spots the world never saw. Touch him everywhere, leave nothing out. Light up the whole board. I know your body, what it can do.

The only thing strange was to have him so quiet. Giving her room. Staying out of her head. He knows how a voice can invade. But, oh, he was there. His responses were everywhere, chasing her touch. All she'd learned over all those nights. Build the charge. Press him forward, edge back. That last night, if I'd known – He absorbed her tension, her hunger, her rage. He took it into his body, his heart. Could that all be somehow transformed?

Her fingers were silky, slippery, wet. They met no resistance. A sigh, a surrender. Break a thin film of sweat. Let it in, blow it out. Let it go. Let it build. Slip up inside him, softly, steadily, go with his breath. Caress his gland at just the right spot, spread a hand on his belly. Gather his power between those two hands. Build the charge. His hands hid his eyes. He would bear it, absorb it, let it roll through him. He would not ask her to stop. Her hands made him float: his pelvis and hips rose up off the bed. His weight pressed on his shoulders and heels. Yes, you can do that. Her fingers were glowing. All her intensity flowed into him. It satisfied something she'd thought was dead. Stroke all those exquisite hidden spots. Filling, straining, asking for more. Look hard at those beautiful parts.

Ah. He gasped for that deep, deep breath. He was out on the cliff, the crumbling edge. She watched his palms grinding into his eyes. He said, "God, baby, god, it's too much," and her hands fell away. His body dropped back to the bed. She knew what he meant. Take me in. Finish me. Melt off my skin. Catch me, catch me, flying or falling. Bear me to safety. Take my body, you have all the rest.

She felt so calm. Yes, she thought. I have it, sir. His breath was ragged. She gave him a moment, shifted and settled. She brought her face to his groin. His scent was so clear. Unmixed, undiluted, it rose from his well-scrubbed skin. It filled her lungs and went straight to her gut, her spine. Her chest relaxed. It opened her heart. She was grounded, safe.

It made her mouth water. Her tongue went to her lips and wet them well. Her lips and tongue fit to the tip of his cock. He shuddered. Yes, that. She mouthed just his crown, so warm and smooth, that perfect curve. This felt so much like kissing him: flesh to lips, tongue to tongue. His smells at their richest, deepest here, caught in his fur. Her fingers threaded into his curls, spread to grasp his belly, the root of his cock. Her saliva mixed with the slick, silky lube to a warm, thick cushion. No friction at all. Smooth pressure, soft warmth. So close, so close. His warmth in her mouth. He felt so alive. Against her. Into her. Now. Here.

Her eyes had closed. Slow, even breaths as her head rose and fell. Sound caught in his throat and he swallowed hard. That's right, your throat. Just imagine that, John. It was easy, easy, deeper each time. That warm caress of the back of her throat, hypnotic, soft. With each stroke she made she was centered and soothed. She loved this so much. With a different man, wrong body, wrong smells, wouldn't she choke, recoil? But her breath came so smoothly, it fit in each gap. Her throat filled at each stroke, with perfect ease. Such a natural thing.

Time opened out. She was weightless, floating. Profoundly composed. No words, no names. An ocean around her, too salty to sink. She could only rise, up to the light, the air, no matter how tired she might be. She could rest. It would lift her to safety with him.

He was holding so still. He would not take over. He would not thrust. Such a strong will, to surrender and stay. His father's son. He would stay in her hands as long as he could. She could feel him trembling, feel him strain, as her head rose and fell. Her palm gripped his thigh. Here, push against me, push here. All of her senses were open, wide open. Under her hands his muscles were jumping, fluttering. Oh, he was close.

Yes, I have you. No stopping now. She eased up her head to give him room, and he let himself jerk. Her hands closed around him. No translators needed – groans and growls from the oldest, deepest parts of his brain. His sounds. Fly, love, fly. He was in her hands, he was out of his head. He was moving, moving. That fresher smell was a shot to her heart, a scent from a warm, blue world. She was with him, with him, nowhere but here. Every cry, every jerk of his body cut through her. Yes. That. Please. She lightened her hands to the barest touch, too much is too much, just carry him home. Her body flexed in rhythm with his, her head on his chest. They rode in the same wave together.

She fit herself over him, covered him. Brushed cheek to cheek. Lips on his eyelids. At last he lay still. Close those eyes, but only for sleep. She pulled back to look: Blissed. Blown away. All tension gone. Resting in peace in her. John always loved this moment, too. A place where his generous heart could rest. Nothing that mattered withheld.

His eyes opened under her gaze. Liquid, unfocused, astonished. So blue. Yes, you. She found she could smile. She closed her eyes, and slowly, slowly she let herself sink. The gravity's back. He could have her weight. She could keep him warm. He was gripping her braid. When had that happened? Then his hands found her neck, the small of her back. His touch was so light. Their heartbeats had slowed. They were breathing in tandem. His chest fit her cheek so well. Breathe, love, breathe. Tears flowed again, but with easy release.

"Thank you," she murmured. She still had a voice.

"Oh, babe, I'm so sorry. You loved him so much."

Without deciding to stay or go, she slept.

She snapped awake. Dark. Pounding heart. Unfreeze. Easy. Focus. Deep in the sleep cycle, arns to go. Another day. Right. She shifted and stretched. His hand gripped her waist.

"You okay?" he mumbled.

"Ssssh," she said. "Roll over."

Those tall bones. He could curl so small. Mold herself to his back. Reach across to his knee and gather him in. His warmth soaked into her belly, her breasts. She found the spot for her face to rest, just below his neck. He takes so much onto these shoulders. A wave of tenderness. Right. Get up, or you'll start. No more sleep for her, not tonight. Just let him sink back, and then she would go.

Stay alive, she thought. Just please stay alive. As long as I do.

She passed the time.

Cleaned her weapons, checked the transport, prowled the ship.

We had good times, you bastard. We had good times.

She stood on the terrace and scanned the stars: Huey, Louie, Dewey. It's going to happen again.

They boarded the transport along with Crais. Everything stowed. Everything ready. "Sleep well?" she asked.

"Oh, yes," he said. Nothing to make Crais notice.

Grey eyes met blue with a level gaze. She would not flinch.

We'll do what we can.