Crichton answered the door, Winona in hand. On the threshold stood a blonde Sebacean woman, probably somewhere within ten years either side of Aeryn’s age.
“Are you John Crichton?” she asked.
He countered, “Who wants to know?”
She gnawed on her lower lip, and looked nervously at the pulse pistol.
He shrugged. In the two years since the Scarran-Peacekeeper conflict, he’d managed to keep his family off the beaten track and out of the public eye, and he liked it that way. “You’ll excuse me for the caution. Our number’s unlisted.”
“I didn’t mean—” Her attention was drawn behind him.
John turned his head to follow her gaze, though he could guess what she saw.
Aeryn was staring quizzically at their visitor. “Do I know you?” she asked.
The woman at the door took a deep breath. “Talyn Lyczac was my father.”
* * * * * * * *
Aeryn crossed the room in stunned silence, stopping perhaps a motra from the door. She stared at the figure that had seemed somehow familiar to her when she’d first entered the room. The woman had short blonde hair, a worried round face, and dark brown eyes. Her build was average, and the intricate geometric patterns on her clothing marked her as coming from one of the colony worlds on the edge of the Uncharted Territories. Aeryn was sure she’d never seen her before. She couldn’t think of a thing to say, but that seemed to be all right, because the woman spoke up on her own.
“Is he ever going to put that down?”
Aeryn followed her gaze to where John still held Winona loosely in his hand. It was clear he wasn’t actually aiming the weapon at their visitor any longer although he wasn’t ready to put it down, but apparently the woman didn’t recognize that. Aeryn twisted her mouth into a wry grin. “I don’t think so.”
Almost before she’d finished speaking, John said softly, “Aeryn?”
It was amazing how much worry and concern he could pack into that one word. She flashed him a smile meant to convince him she was fine, even if she wasn’t, and then turned back to the door. “I guess you’d better come in, whoever you are,” she said.
Their uninvited guest scowled at her skepticism, and crossed the threshold looking for all the world as if she were walking into a Scarran stronghold.
For once, John seemed content to let Aeryn take the lead. She used the time as they all settled down in the living area – John by her side on the sofa and the visitor on a chair across from them – to try to settle her swirling thoughts down into something coherent.
But once again, the stranger spoke first. “My name is Lynia Danesk. I’m your sister. Half sister. Talyn—”
Aeryn shook her head. “No you’re not. If you were Talyn Lyczac’s daughter, you would be a Peacekeeper.”
“You’re his daughter. You’re not a Peacekeeper,” Lynia challenged.
Aeryn ran a hand through her long black hair, so different from that of the woman in front of her. “No, but I was. I was born and bred a Peacekeeper. You weren’t.”
Lynia didn’t deny it, and didn’t ask how Aeryn knew that, either. “Nonetheless, it’s true,” she said. “He is my father.”
Anger welled up from somewhere deep inside, and Aeryn snapped, “Talyn Lyczac was a Peacekeeper officer! He would never have fathered a child outside of the ranks!” Her own sense of honesty reminded her that he’d certainly gone outside of regulations when fathering her, but she didn’t frelling care! She was starting to rise to her feet when John grabbed her hand.
“Aeryn. Honey. Let’s hear her story before we go booting her out the door, okay?”
She looked at him, searched his eyes. Of course he would want to hear more of this preposterous story. She scowled. All right, she’d humor him. She settled back down on the sofa and looked at the storyteller. “All right, talk,” she said, grudgingly. “But talk quietly. My son is sleeping.”
* * * * * * * *
Lynia sat on the chair in her sister’s Spartan living quarters, twisting her hands together in an effort to keep them from shaking. It was harder to tell the tale than she had expected; after all, her mother had told it to her over and over throughout her childhood. She was sure she could recite the story in her sleep – how her mother Cynessia had met and fallen in love with a handsome Peacekeeper pilot who had been stationed on their planet during the late civil war. But she’d reckoned without the ability of Aeryn Sun and her husband to maintain studiously blank faces during her recitation. It didn’t help that they were both dressed in black – they looked so much like Peacekeepers, it was unsettling. She ground to a halt at the point where Talyn Lyczac had left with his unit, leaving her mother behind, with child.
After a long silence, Aeryn said, “I’ve heard of the campaign on the Cluster Worlds.” She glanced at her husband and added, “It was about five cycles before I was born.”
Crichton and Aeryn seemed to relax just a little, which gave Lynia the courage to lean forward and say, “Which makes you my little sister.” Her smile was weak, she knew, but she meant it.
Aeryn started and looked at her husband, her expression indecipherable. Then she sighed and turned back to Lynia. “I suppose it is possible,” she admitted. “It isn’t encouraged, but soldiers do recreate with the locals during a long deployment.”
“So you believe me?” She shouldn’t have said it, shouldn’t have pushed, but it was so important that this woman accept the truth of their relationship!
Aeryn stiffened, and Crichton held up his hands. “Let’s just say we’re entertaining the notion.” He paused for a moment and then looked directly at her and said, “How about you tell me how you know who my wife’s father is.”
Lyn looked at them in surprise. “Everyone knows,” she said. When they looked at her with eyes full of doubt, she said, “I’ve seen it in lots of newsfeed stories about you since the Scarran-Peacekeeper War.” They didn’t need to know that her heart had nearly stopped the first time she’d seen her own father’s name connected with this dark-haired woman who looked nothing at all like her – and who was married to a man who’d brought both the Peacekeepers and the Scarrans to their knees! Under other circumstances, she’d never have had the courage to approach them, but now....
Aeryn shook her head in disbelief. “Why would they say who my father was? I couldn’t even tell you the parent of a single Peacekeeper hero, and I’m no one.”
Well, her newfound sister might not be a Peacekeeper any more, but she certainly still thought like one in some ways. Lyn shook her head and said, “You’re famous! Lots of people are interested in learning all about people who do the kind of things you two have done! And there are lots of newsfeeds besides the official Peacekeeper channels!” She paused and looked at Crichton thoughtfully. “They don’t know as much about you, though.”
Crichton turned to his wife with a snort and drawled, “Jeez, Babe, maybe we should take a look at some of those supermarket tabloids and see what else they’ve been saying about us!”
A hint of amusement flickered in Aeryn’s gray eyes. “Probably that you’ve got green skin and four eyes. Or perhaps two heads.” She paused, then widened her eyes and added dramatically, “Maybe they have the recipe for your Aunt Ruth’s special jello.”
Crichton grinned back at her.
Lyn wasn’t entirely sure what they were talking about, but the man’s comment had broken Aeryn’s testy mood, as he’d obviously intended. Lyn decided she was jealous of her sister’s relationship. Not that her own was bad, not at all, they were very happy, and Keret was a wonderful father— She cut that line of thinking off right then and there, lest it lead her to do something reckless. She retraced her thoughts back to the beginning, which was that the pair in front of her seemed to be perfectly matched.
But the silence stretched, as it seemed none of them knew what to say, and Lyn guessed that Aeryn and Crichton needed some time to digest what she’d told them. She was incredibly grateful when the sound of a small child crying came from further inside the home.
Aeryn leapt to her feet quickly enough that Lyn guessed she, too, welcomed the interruption. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I’ve got to go see to my son.”
“Of course,” Lyn agreed immediately, getting to her feet as well. “I shouldn’t impose on you any longer anyway. We can talk later, I hope?”
Aeryn nodded briefly and said, “Of course.” Without further comment, she turned and left the room, leaving Lyn alone with John Crichton.
She looked at him nervously, but after a few microts, he simply got to his feet and ushered her to the door. Before he opened it, he cleared his throat and asked, “Where’re you staying?”
She told him where, and thought to herself, it was a start. It wasn’t an invitation into their lives or their home, but from everything she knew of their history, they had reason to be cautious. She wished she could assure him that she didn’t want anything from them, but she couldn’t. “May I call tomorrow?” she asked instead.
“Yeah. Just give her a little time to chew on what you told her, okay?”
Did that mean he believed her? Or only that he would follow his wife’s lead? It didn’t matter. It was enough. “I do understand it’s a shock,” she told him. “It was quite a surprise to me, too! I never imagined I had any siblings, or would know of them if I did.”
“I imagine it would have been a surprise at that,” he said, opening the door.
“Thank you,” she said, for his kindness, and left without saying anything more.
* * * * * * * *
Aeryn was damned quiet the rest of the afternoon, but John figured she’d talk when she was ready. Keeping up with D kept them both busy, anyway. That evening, when Daddy John finished his regular bedtime ritual with the boy, he found Aeryn sitting on the sofa, lost in thought. He sat himself down on the other end of the sofa to give her a little space, and said, “Hey.”
She came back to the here and now and smiled. Well, that was a good sign. Aeryn didn’t smile like that if she didn’t mean it. “Come here,” he said, patting the seat right beside him.
Instead of sliding over to sit next to him, she laid down on her back and scooted over so she could settle her head in his lap. She pulled her knees up so her feet weren’t hanging over the armrest, and dropped her hands on her chest.
“Comfy?” he asked, when she seemed to be settled.
The smart move would be to let her start the conversation, but John was busting with excitement. Either this woman was pulling some kind of elaborate scam, or she was family...or both, of course.... “You doing okay?”
“Mmmm.” After a brief silence, she asked, “Do you think we look alike at all?”
He closed his eyes and pictured their visitor, trying to imagine her with long black hair instead of the blonde fringe that framed her face. Nope, that didn’t help. The shape of the face, the features, they were all wrong. “No, not at all,” he said honestly, opening his eyes again and wondering if he were crushing her hopes. “But,” he said, thinking of the vid chip she had from her childhood, “you look a hell of a lot like your mom. Maybe she takes after her mom, too. DNA is funny like that.”
Aeryn closed her eyes and retreated into thoughtful silence. It was tough to keep his mouth shut, but he managed it, and finally she opened her eyes again and looked at him. “I do look like Xhalax.”
John looked away a moment, then back at Aeryn. “You believe her?”
There was another silence, this one, he thought, more because she wasn’t sure how to say something. “When I was on Valldon...there was a man there....”
John felt his stomach tighten, because Valldon was, well, it was somewhere they didn’t go much, if ever, in conversation. All he really knew about it was that she’d gone there to try to escape from the pain of the other Crichton dying, and that her mother had died there. From what little Rygel had let slip, it didn’t sound like there was anything good about the experience....but Aeryn was talking again, and he dragged his attention back to what she was saying.
“When he told me he was Talyn Lyczac, for just a microt, I was thrilled.” She shook her head and turned so she could see his face. “But I knew right away, I felt it in my heart, that he wasn’t my father.”
“And, he wasn’t.”
“Ah.” He’d have to see if he could get her to talk some more about that one of these times, but for now, he brushed her hair out of her face and asked, “And what’s your spider sense telling you about Lynia Danesk?”
“That she is Talyn Lyczac’s daughter.”
“But, I think she’s hiding something.”
Well, they were on the same wavelength there. “Yeah, I kinda got that vibe from her, too. What do you want to do?”
“See her again. See what transpires.”
“Sounds like a plan,” he said softly, and then abruptly yawned.
“We should get some sleep,” Aeryn said.
He stifled another yawn and agreed without hesitation, though it was much earlier than they usually went to bed. He didn’t say it out loud, but he thought, This meeting long-lost relatives is exhausting!
* * * * * * * *
Lynia was waiting in the local recreation area when they arrived at midmorning. The sky was overcast, but rain seemed unlikely. John had suggested this place because there were things to occupy D’Argo. Aeryn had agreed to it because it was public. It wasn’t that she expected ambush, but, it was hard to let go of old habits. D’Argo started to take off at a run, but she scooped him up and settled him on her hip despite his protests.
As the three of them walked across the grass towards where Lynia was standing, Aeryn chided herself for feeling so ill at ease. It wasn’t as if she hadn’t known she probably had genetic siblings. That’s what the Peacekeeper breeding program was all about, mixing and matching DNA to produce healthy cadets with needed traits. But you never thought about them, did you? And you certainly never thought of them as family! To meet someone who called you ‘sister,’ and wasn’t even a Peacekeeper...well, maybe it made sense for her to be a little ill at ease, after all.
They reached Lynia and stopped. D’Argo looked at the strange woman with interest, and she smiled at him. Aeryn gave her points for that, and introduced him. “This is our son, D’Argo. This lady is called Lynia,” she told D’Argo. “She’s come to see Mommy.”
“Hello, D’Argo,” Lynia said, still smiling. “You can call me Lyn,” she said, and then looked up at the adults and added, “All of you, please.”
“Lyn,” Aeryn agreed. D’Argo shoved two fingers in his mouth and nodded without speaking, perhaps picking up the nervous vibes from the adults. Things ground to a quick halt, and Aeryn looked at John.
He nodded imperceptibly and took D’Argo from her arms. “We’ll just be over in the play area,” he said, pointing in that direction. “You two can catch up on old times.”
“Okay. Have fun,” Aeryn told him, smiling to assure him she was fine. He touched the small of her back as he left, which gave her the courage to stand up just a little straighter.
She and her new-found sister looked each other up and down. Lyn nodded over her shoulder towards the play area and said, “He’s a beautiful boy, your D’Argo.”
“Thank you. We think so, but I suppose we’re biased,” she said with just a hint of a twinkle in her eyes. It still surprised her after two cycles how intensely she felt about the little life she and John had created.
“All parents are, aren’t they? Their own offspring are the most amazing in the universe.” After another pause, Lyn drew a deep breath and said, “I thought you might not come.”
Ah, honesty. Aeryn gave it in return: “I considered it. But I wanted to know what it is you’re not telling me.”
Lyn gnawed on her lower lip for a microt, then seemed to come to a decision. “Can we walk a little? I feel silly just standing here.”
Aeryn shrugged. “Sure.”
As they walked, Lyn looked over to the children’s area where D’Argo and a number of other youngsters were climbing on a play structure. John could be seen hovering protectively. Lyn turned back to Aeryn and said without preamble, “My husband and I have three children. Two boys and a girl.”
Feeling guilty that she hadn’t even asked about family – even as she wondered what Lyn’s children had to do with what she was hiding – Aeryn said, “Three? Congratulations! John always says three is the perfect number.”
Lyn gazed ahead, in the direction they were walking. “Leeom is ten, Klein is eight, and Lara just turned three cycles old.”
“Your little one isn’t much older than D’Argo, then,” Aeryn said, unaccountably pleased that they had something in common.
Lyn stopped walking and turned to face Aeryn. “She’s the reason I’m here. Lara. She’s sick. She has Cassutt’s Syndrome.”
Aeryn frowned. “What’s that?”
“Her body is attacking her paraphoral nerve.”
Aeryn stared at her in shock. “That’s not good.”
Lyn shook her head and said, “No, it’s not. The only hope for a cure is a tissue graft from a suitable genetic match.”
“And that’s what you need me for.”
“Yes. No one in the family is a match, not even her brothers, and I thought....” She licked her lips and took a deep breath. “I’ve known for almost two cycles that you were my sister. My half sister. But I didn’t think.... I never imagined approaching you.” She glanced back at Crichton. “How could I? But then.... My daughter is dying, Aeryn. My husband didn’t want me to come, but I had to.”
Aeryn blurted the first thing that came to her head. “But surely you don’t need a donor! Peacekeeper Medical can synthesize paraphoral tissue to match anyone now! I know, I’ve been a recipient.”
Lyn ran her fingers through her short hair, leaving it more mussed than when she started, then took a deep breath. “It’s more than that, is the problem. It’s not just regenerating the nerve itself that’s needed, even if we had access to Peacekeeper medicine. They have to repair the defective gene that’s causing this, and for that we need a suitable donor. Even then, the odds aren’t good.” She stopped and blinked in an effort to hold back tears, but they spilled over anyway and ran down her cheeks.
Heart aching for her new-found sister, and for a little girl she’d never even met, Aeryn reached out and rested a comforting hand on Lyn’s arm. Staring over her sister’s trembling shoulders at D’Argo, her own happy, healthy child, Aeryn realized that she was going to do something stupid....
* * * * * * * *
“No! Absolutely not! I forbid it!” It came out sharper than John had intended, but damn it, she was not going to go off with someone who claimed they were related to her and let people poke her in the spine! Not if he had anything to say about it!
Aeryn’s eyes narrowed, and she said “You forbid?” in a tone that suggested he’d better recant or he was going to be dead meat shortly.
He took a deep breath and glanced over to where Lyn was crouched down, talking to D’Argo. D was giggling, and John had to admit, it was pretty cool to see the boy with a real live blood relative. Yeah, okay, so he’d just been thinking the whole thing could be a hoax. So, sue me, he thought. I’m worried about my wife.... Even though the initial testing was supposedly painless, Lyn had admitted that the rest of the procedure was pretty rough because the donated tissue couldn’t be contaminated with anesthetics. But, Aeryn was still giving him the evil eye, and he took a deep breath and said, “You know I didn’t mean it that way. But, maybe we should get those DNA results first, huh? Make sure she’s not, uh, mistaken about who her father is?” That was the nicest way he could think to put it, and it covered a lot of ground.
Aeryn shook her head, but at least it didn’t look like John was in danger of death any more. “They’ll do a genetic match up when we get to the medical center where Lara is,” she said. “It will confirm the relationship as well as whether I’m an appropriate donor for her condition.”
John chewed on his lower lip. She was getting awfully caught up in this, and he was worried that she was going to be disappointed if she couldn’t help the little girl. But, he had to admit, he didn’t see how they couldn’t at least try. It was a little girl’s life. He let out a breath. “Okay, blood is thicker than water, I know. So when are you thinking of leaving?”
“Soon. Her daughter’s very sick.”
He came to a decision of his own. “D and I are coming with you.” When she opened her mouth to protest, he said, “Not negotiable. You’ll need us.”
She looked almost relieved, and he knew he’d guessed right that she was scared witless about going to meet family she’d never expected to have. Painful medical procedures, she could and would endure without hesitation, but facing her sister, and her sister’s kids, especially a sick one who was counting on her...that was another story. She nodded. “All right. You pack, and I’ll get us a flight clearance.”
He searched her eyes for a long moment, and then took her hand in his. “It’s a deal.”
* * * * * * * *
Lyn sat in the padded leather co-pilot’s chair of her sister’s family transport ship, and fought down nausea. She’d made the mistake as they boarded of blurting, nervously, that she’d never been in space in a personal transport before. Aeryn and her husband had both looked astonished, and Crichton had insisted that she sit up front where she had a good view of the stars. “Aeryn’s the best pilot I’ve ever seen, bar none,” he’d said with a wink of his eye. “You’ll enjoy the ride!” She hadn’t wanted to look like a coward in front of these people who’d done such great deeds, and so she’d accepted the offered seat, despite the fact that being in the cockpit area only emphasized how tiny the ship was compared to the liner she’d traveled on from her home to Aeryn’s.
To distract herself from her own irrational fears, and to keep from worrying about what she was going to find at home, Lyn studied her sister. Aeryn was clearly an accomplished pilot; there was no hesitation in her movements, no nervousness in her as she navigated them off the planet and set a course to the Cluster Worlds. Her movements were brisk and simple, focused and relaxed at the same time. Her obvious confidence helped soothe Lyn’s nerves, and gave her hope that she would get through this trip without completely embarrassing herself.
“There,” Aeryn said suddenly, flipping two last switches and punctuating her speech with a sharp nod. “Our course is laid in. There’s not a lot to do until we’re on approach to your world.” She tossed a smile behind her at Crichton and her son, and then swiveled her chair to look at Lynia. She frowned. “Are you all right?”
Frell, Lyn thought. Do I look that bad? She licked her lips. “Yeah, I’m fine,” she said, and after a pause, tried to divert the subject from herself. “You look really comfortable there. Like you’ve been doing this all your life.”
Aeryn smiled faintly. “I have been, almost literally. I was born on a command carrier and raised to be a pilot, it’s in my blood. My whole childhood I only ever wanted to be a pilot. The faster and more powerful the ship, the better.”
Curious, Lyn asked, “And now?”
“And now, I’m still more at home at the controls of a spaceship than anywhere else,” Aeryn said, with yet another glance at her family. “I’m happy with my life,” she said, loudly enough for her husband to hear. “Really happy. But flying just comes naturally. It’s easy. No stress.” She shrugged.
“Well, I could never do what you do,” Lyn said, letting her admiration show in her voice.
Aeryn tilted her head and gazed at the newcomer to her life in silence for a little while. “It’s in your blood, too,” she said at last, “if Talyn was your father.”
Lyn didn’t think that was a challenge; not about her parentage, anyway. Her sister came from such a different world than she did, that was becoming more obvious the more they talked. She shook her head and explained why she’d never followed her pilot father’s footsteps into space. “There aren’t many opportunities to fly where I grew up. We’re primarily an agricultural planet. Even if I’d been drawn to it, it would have been difficult to do, and my mother would have forbidden it anyway.”
“Why would she do that?”
Reluctantly, Lyn told her new sister the truth. “When my father left, my mother feared losing me as well. She thought the Peacekeepers would take me, if they knew, so she lied about who my father was, told everyone it was a local boy who died in the fighting. I was 12 cycles old before she finally told me the truth, and even then, she made me swear never to reveal it.” That was part of the reason that she’d never imagined contacting this Peacekeeper sister when she inadvertently discovered the relationship. “My mother grew to hate the Peacekeepers. She blamed them for taking my father away from her, and she was obsessed with keeping me from coming to their attention. For conscription.”
“Ah! They increased the conscription level after the war, to compensate for their assistance.”
Lyn nodded in confirmation. “Mother kept Talyn’s name off my records to protect me, and she always stressed I shouldn’t stand out among my peers. Looking back, I don’t know why they didn’t conscript me anyway, though, they took so many others. I had good marks, I was healthy and strong.”
Aeryn chewed on her lower lip, apparently thinking, and Lyn watched her, curious what she would say. “I think I know why they didn’t take you,” Aeryn said at last. She hesitated again, and then said, “Peacekeepers take genetic samples of all children on subjugated worlds at the age of six. They surely knew you were Talyn’s child. Your mother was right, the Peacekeepers would normally be very interested in a child with Peacekeeper blood.” She paused for a moment, staring out the viewscreen, and then turned back to Lyn and said brusquely, “By the time you were old enough to conscript, Talyn had broken regs with my mother, and that marked his genetic line as possibly tainted. They wouldn’t have taken the chance on you, not when there were other recruits available.”
Lyn tried to make sense of all that. The first part matched up well enough with what she’d been told all her life, but.... “What do you mean, his line was tainted?”
“Ah, the newsfeeds didn’t tell you that!” Aeryn twisted her mouth into a wry smile. “Peacekeepers don’t take mates. They don’t have relationships. Birthings are assigned to fill the ranks. Did your mother tell you that?” When Lyn nodded, she continued. “Despite the prohibition, Talyn Lyczac and Xhalax Sun somehow fell in love. Worse, they chose to have a child. Me.”
It surprised her that it hurt so much to hear that the man her mother had pined for until the day she died had fallen in love with another woman, that he’d probably never given another thought to Cynessia or the child he’d left behind on the Cluster Worlds. But she wanted to hear this, it was family history she didn’t know, and she said wistfully, “So you knew both your parents. They raised you?”
Aeryn shook her head. “Not done, remember? My mother must have said the pregnancy was accidental. It happens. I was raised in the crèches. I never met my father, and my mother....” She trailed off and then looked Lyn straight in the eye and said, “They might have gotten away with breaking the rules, except that my mother came to see me once when I was a child. She told me what they’d done. She was observed, and that gave them away to their superiors. They...they were punished.”
“That’s horrible! Punished for falling in love?”
Aeryn glanced behind her at her husband and her expression softened. “It made sense to me once. The rules were there for a reason. In the Peacekeepers, emotions are seen as a weakness, as a distraction. A...a liability in battle, or something that can cause fractures in small groups.”
Lyn thought about that. Maybe it made sense for the military, but it seemed so cold. What about the children? Even if they were simply assigned births, how could you raise a child without love? She shuddered. “So you grew up on your own, then? No one to love you?”
“Not until I was much older. But until then, I had no idea what I was missing, so it wasn’t as bad as you’re thinking.”
Irritated in spite of her determination not to alienate this near stranger who might hold the key to saving her daughter’s life, she snapped, “How do you know what I’m thinking?”
Aeryn grinned. “You’re not the first non-Peacekeeper I’ve met, Lyn. John was horrified when we first began to share stories of our worlds. I recognize the expression on your face.”
Lyn couldn’t help but laugh. She was beginning to know this woman well enough to realize that she wasn’t being patronized, and she supposed horror probably was a common reaction to the Peacekeepers from anyone growing up in a more normal society. Her mother certainly had hated them. “All right, I’ll grant you that,” she told Aeryn, and then her mind wandered back to the beginning of this discussion. “You know, if you’re right, it’s pretty ironic that the very thing that my mother thought would make the Peacekeepers take me is what made them leave me alone!”
“I’m glad they did,” Aeryn said softly. “We would never have met as sisters if they'd conscripted you.” Her cheeks flushed as if she’d said something she hadn’t meant to, and she looked down at the control panel of the ship, checking a series of readouts, but she didn’t take it back.
Lynia was momentarily embarrassed herself. She’d come seeking nothing more than a last desperate chance to save her daughter’s life. She’d never imagined Aeryn Sun would accept anything more than a genetic connection, which, after all, could be proven with a test. It was disconcerting to realize that that she had been wrong....
* * * * * * * *
The comfort that Aeryn got from flying vanished the moment she brought the transport in for landing on her sister’s homeworld. The notion that her father had been stationed on this world, had lived and loved and conceived a child here, brought back secret childhood dreams of family. Meeting her mother as an adult had destroyed most of those fantasies, and she couldn’t help but wonder if she was about to lose the rest. She hoped not.
She was grateful for John’s steady presence, and her son’s as well, while they waited for Lyn’s husband and sons to pick them up. The spaceport, on the outskirts of the town where Lyn lived with her family, served primarily as a hub of agricultural commerce for the region. Large cargo ships came and went with precision timing. D’Argo observed everything around them, pointing at the ships and chattering excitedly. Lyn, however, seemed to be nervous about this homecoming. Surely her husband wouldn’t be angry that she’d found someone who might be able to help their daughter?
If Keret was angry when he arrived, he hid it well as he approached the nervous grouping. Tall, with short brown hair and an anxious expression on his angular face, he looked very much like a man who was relieved to see his wife return safely. Their two sons ran ahead of him and wrapped their arms around their mother’s waist.
As Lyn bent down to hug the boys, Aeryn tried to guess which of them was Leeom, and which was Klein. Ten and eight, wasn’t that how old Lyn had said they were? Both boys were blond, like their mother, and they seemed to be about the same size. They were both so much bigger than D’Argo, so much more grown up, she wondered if she would be able to think of something to say to them. Unthinkable as it would have been a few cycles ago, her brain was stuck in “toddler mode,” or so it seemed, anyway.
In the end, she didn’t have to say much besides hello to all parties. Keret leaned in and kissed his wife briefly, then blurted that little Lara had had a medical setback. Lyn, clearly alarmed by something in his manner, had suggested they go straight to the med center to get Aeryn tested.
Thinking that it was just as well to get the uncertainty over with quickly, Aeryn agreed, and John went along without protest.
Seated in the rear of her sister’s family ground car with John and D’Argo, Aeryn tried not to think about the sick little girl they were going to see. The vehicle was a little larger than the passenger cars she’d traveled in on Earth, but the level of technology didn’t seem much higher. The world beyond the windows wasn’t that different from what she remembered of Earth, either, at least in some of the more rural communities she’d visited with Chiana. But thoughts of Earth made her think of family again, and she looked at the boys seated opposite them – her nephews, wasn’t that the word? – and sighed.
John leaned closer to her and asked, “Are you all right?”
She leaned back and whispered, “It’s just not what I expected.”
He brushed a wayward strand of hair out of her face. Still keeping his voice low, he asked, “What did you expect?”
“I don’t know, I guess I thought I would feel....connected.”
“Aw, baby, they’re family, but you’ve never met any of them before. You’re bound to feel a little funny for a while.”
Aeryn frowned. “I suppose you’re right,” she said, and lapsed into silence. She just kept remembering how emotionally John had greeted his father, once he’d accepted that he was real, and then Olivia and Susan, and even the assorted aunts and uncles and cousins who had arrived to see him, alive again. She felt just as much an outsider here, among her own family, as she had on Earth.
Her musings were interrupted when they arrived at the medical center where Lara was being treated. At four floors high, it was one of the tallest buildings in the area, and one of the largest. Keret explained that this place serviced the entire region. Because the little girl’s condition was genetic, and not contagious, they were all allowed to visit, including the children. Her parents, and even her young brothers, found their way through the maze of corridors effortlessly.
When they arrived at Lara’s room, Lynia and Keret went in first, and John and Aeryn hung back to give them some privacy for their grief and their worry. When they came out after a short visit, they both wore deep lines of concern on their faces. Lyn pasted a smile on her face and held out her hand to Aeryn. “Come see my baby,” she said.
Aeryn could only nod and follow her in.
Even in the child-sized bed, the three cycle old looked tiny. She was surrounded by monitors that blinked and flashed in an irregular rhythm. Steeling herself, Aeryn took a closer look at the girl. Unlike her brothers, Lara had dark hair, short and wispy. It was plastered along the side of her face. The child’s eyes were dark and sunken, and her skin was pale. Even Aeryn, who had never seen her healthy, could see that she was dreadfully ill.
Lara turned her head slightly to look at them. “Mom-my,” she whimpered. “I feel bad.”
Once again, Aeryn thought of D’Argo, bouncing around in the hallway with his new cousins, and tears sprang to her eyes. She glanced at her sister and saw that she was wearing a brave face for her child. Without waiting for an introduction, Aeryn reached out and smoothed the hair on Lara’s forehead. “Hey there,” she said softly. “I’m your Aunt Aeryn. I’m so sorry you’re sick.”
The little girl sighed and closed her eyes. Aeryn looked at Lyn in alarm, but she just shook her head.
“She’s sleeping,” Lyn explained. “She doesn’t have energy for much more.” She bent down and kissed her daughter’s forehead, and then turned and headed for the door.
Back out in the hallway Aeryn swiped her cheeks with the back of her hand and caught John’s eye. “Let’s get that test done,” she said.
* * * * * * * *
Lyn tried hard not to get her hopes up. She told herself over and over that Aeryn was a more distant relative than any of the others who’d been tested, and the odds were really pretty terrible that she would be a match. But having seen how much Lara’s condition had deteriorated just over the few solar days she’d been gone, she desperately wanted good news! She clutched Keret’s hand and prayed.
Dr. Mayotte kept his eyes on Aeryn and her husband hovering protectively behind her, leaving Lyn to flounder in her hopes and fears. He cleared his throat and said bluntly, “You aren’t as good a match for Lara as we would like.”
Aeryn’s face fell, and Lyn felt as if she’d been punched in the stomach. She’d hoped, she’d really hoped....but the medic was still talking. She leaned her head on her husband’s shoulder and listened anxiously.
“It’s not entirely bad news,” he said, glancing around to include all the adults in the room in his comments. “Aeryn is a better genetic match than anyone else we’ve tested. Good enough that I believe there is a chance the transplant might succeed.”
Aeryn asked what they were all thinking: “But?”
“But, I have to be honest with you. All of you,” he stressed. “It’s a very painful procedure, for you and for the girl, with very little likelihood of success under the circumstances.”
Aeryn exchanged a glance with her husband and then looked over at Lyn. Oddly enough, there was no fear in Aeryn's eyes, only sympathy. She turned back to the surgeon and said, “But you’ll try? If there’s a chance, then we should take it.”
Lyn felt Keret stiffen beside her. They’d been over this more than once, they’d fought bitterly over it. He didn’t want to subject his tiny daughter to the painful procedure unless there was some certainty of success. If she was going to pass over whatever they did, why not let her go without added pain. Lyn understood his feelings; part of her even agreed with him. But she couldn’t bear to let her child go if there was any chance, however small, however painful, of saving her life. Tears filled her eyes as she struggled with the decision. If only someone in the family had been a good match for Lara! The decision would be so much easier then. But they’d tried everyone....
Time stood still, and then someone opened the door to the outer office, and the sound of Leeom and Klein playing with their little cousin drifted into the room, and with it came a tempting – and terrible – thought. Without daring to look at Aeryn and Crichton, she blurted, “What about D’Argo? Aeryn’s son,” she clarified for the doctor. “He’s a blood relative.”
Everyone stared at her for a microt, eyes wide in horror, and then Aeryn said forcefully, “No!”
Desperate now, Lyn whispered, “It’s only a test. It wouldn’t hurt him.”
“Yes, but the procedure would. You all keep telling us how painful it is! He’s only two cycles old, Lynia. I won’t subject him to it. I won’t, so there’s no use testing him!”
Lyn stared at the fierce Peacekeeper warrior in front of her. She understood, she really did. If their positions had been reversed, she wouldn’t have wanted Lara to suffer, either. But they weren’t reversed, and it was Lara who was dying, and was it really so much to ask? She stifled a sob and begged, “But if he could save her life?”
Aeryn tensed as if to spring, and Crichton put his hand on her shoulder, seemingly to hold her back. He spoke her name sharply, but she shook him off and declared, “D’Argo can’t be acceptable. He’s not pure Sebacean!” When her husband started to protest, she whirled around and snarled at him. “Don’t look at me like that, John you know what I mean – he doesn’t even have a parapherol nerve!” Crichton didn’t look at all mollified, but Aeryn turned her passion on the doctor. “You tell me,” she demanded. “How could my son be a genetic match for a pure Sebacean child?”
The doctor looked back and forth between the two desperate mothers and then cast a curious eye at Crichton. Finally he shook his head. “Lynia,” he said gently, “she’s probably right. If he’s not pure Sebacean, it seems unlikely the boy will be a better match than his mother is.”
Lyn could feel tears gathering in her eyes again, tears of anger as much as grief. She knew she was being unfair – after all, Aeryn owed her nothing, they were strangers with some common DNA, that’s all, and here this woman had come all this way, was willing to undergo a painful procedure on the chance that it could help Lara – but it wasn’t fair! What harm was there in doing the test on D’Argo? If he wasn’t a match, at least they’d know! And if he was a match.... Keret seemed to guess what she was thinking, and squeezed her hand to stop her from lashing out.
Into the charged silence Aeryn said, “Do the procedure with me. If it doesn’t work, maybe—”
Dr. Mayotte interrupted, shaking his head. “Lara’s not strong enough to undergo the transplant more than once. It will have to work, or not, the first time.”
Which meant, obviously, that they should have the best possible match if they were going to do it at all. Why the frell was Aeryn being so stubborn about this?
Crichton took a huge breath and spoke up for the first time. “Look, we’re all pretty emotional right now, and we’re all tired. This isn’t the time for making this kind of decision.” Aeryn looked as if she felt absolutely betrayed by the fact that he’d left the topic open, but she clamped her mouth shut and said nothing.
Keret, on the other hand, seconded the notion. “He’s right, Lyn. There are hard choices for both children, and we all need some time to think rationally. It’s time to go home, love.”
Aeryn glared at them all and led the exodus from the room. Bringing up the rear, Lyn wished she knew her sister better. It might make it easier to hope....
* * * * * * * *
They’d hung out with Lyn and her family just long enough to have a strained dinner together, and then the Crichton clan had retreated to a nearby guesthouse.
It had been a hell of a day, and they were all exhausted – John hadn’t been making excuses when he’d said that at the hospital – but he knew he and Aeryn were going to have to thrash out the whole thing about D’Argo and this frelling test before they got any sleep. If he was really unlucky, she’d blame this whole mess on him. If he hadn’t insisted on coming, and bringing D along, the boy would be safely at home and no one would be talking about poking him in the spine. He wasn’t entirely sure he would disagree, and he sure as hell wasn’t happy to be in this situation.
But before they could get to the yelling and the talking and the deciding, one way or another, they had to get D to sleep. The kid loved to travel, so that had him all wound up in the first place, and then there were the two boys to play with, and who knows what vibes he was picking up from his mom.... Goin’ to sleep in a strange bed was just not at the top of his list of things to do. His usual bedtime routine with Dad just wasn’t cutting it, either.
So, John sat and watched as Aeryn paced the living area, D’Argo in her arms. Her voice rose and fell in soothing tones, and she patted his back regularly. God, even when they were angry with each other, he loved to look at her, loved to see her with their son. He still found it hard to believe that the universe had stopped putting roadblocks between them. D’s eyes gradually began to close, and he could see the boy’s muscles relax. Eventually the little guy was dead weight in Aeryn’s arms, and she carried him off to his bedroom.
John stayed out of the way and hoped that her time with D’Argo had helped soothe his wife’s frayed nerves so that they could start out talking. But he could see by the fire in her eyes when she came back that it hadn’t helped at all. She’d had too much time to brood and work up a good mad. This was going to get ugly quickly.
“I trusted you to back me up!” she hissed. “How can you even think
about letting them do that to your son?”
Even prepared as he was, the accusation pissed the hell out of him. Matching her tone he snapped, “I only said we’d talk about the frelling test! I didn’t promise any damn thing more than that, and you know yourself that the test doesn’t hurt!”
“You know as well as I do that if that test shows D’Argo is a good match, they’re going to want to use him as the donor for that little girl. It’s not ‘just the test!’” After a moment of fuming, she added, “What were you thinking?”
“I was thinking
,” he snapped back, “that you’re not a very good match for that little girl
, and D’Argo might be. He just might possibly be the only hope of saving her life, or don’t you care about that? Isn’t that why we came here?”
Aeryn’s face grew darker as he spoke, and when he finished, she took a deep breath and let him have it: “Oh, so this is like cutting off one of Pilot’s arms, is it? It’s okay to hurt a defenseless child because someone else needs something!”
The unfairness of that one got past every defense he had, even though she gasped and covered her mouth the moment the words were out. Too little, too late.... “Goddammit all, Aeryn,” he exploded, his tone all the more intense for trying to keep the volume down. “You are not the only one who’s worried about protecting D’Argo here! He’s my son, too! My son!
And I would die
for him if I have to. So I don’t care how pissed off you are at the universe, don’t you ever
say something like that to me again!”
When he finished, breathing hard, she squeezed her eyes shut, spilling a trail of tears down one cheek. When she opened them again, she looked at him with contrition in her eyes. “I’m sorry. That may be the single worst thing I’ve ever said to you. I didn’t mean it.” She licked her lips and repeated, “I’m sorry.”
He gave the ceiling his attention for a few microts. His outburst had diffused some of his anger, enough to let him think rather than just stomp off in a snit. They had too much still to discuss here, real life life-and-death stuff, and he told himself that he’d goaded her, even if she’d been the one to actually cross the line. He looked back at her and searched her eyes, and saw just how far out on the edge she was, emotionally. Hadn’t he thought she’d have a hell of a time dealing with the situation, even before it got personal? He stifled a sigh. “You ready to talk now?” Aeryn sniffled, and nodded, and he said softly, “I’m not trying to force the decision one way or the other here. I just want us to talk about it, honestly, no knee-jerk reactions from anyone.”
“All right.” She rolled her shoulders and took a deep breath before continuing, “Everyone just keeps saying how painful the procedure is. And I don’t care for myself, it doesn’t matter, I’ll be fine. But D’Argo’s only two, John, he’ll never understand what’s happening to him. He’ll only know that he hurts, and he’ll be terrified.”
His stomach tightened, because she was absolutely right on that one. But.... “I don’t think that’s the place to start,” he said. “I think that’s where we end.”
Aeryn stood there, an arm’s length from him, and frowned. “What?”
“I mean, we need to start with Lara. One,” he said, holding up a finger. “If she doesn’t get tissue from a compatible donor, she’s going to die. Is that right?”
“Very soon, I think. She’s very weak.”
He closed his eyes, because that was a hard thing to think about, a little tiny girl not much older than D’Argo dying. He opened his eyes again, and said, “Okay, here’s number two. You’re the best match in the family so far, and you’re not very good. I have a sneaking suspicion her father isn’t even going to want to subject her to it with the odds we’re got right now.”
Aeryn nodded solemnly. “And three, our son might, possibly, be a better match than me.”
“And he might not be. That’s number four.”
Warily, she said, “But if he is a better match, we aren’t really going to have a choice about the procedure, are we?”
John looked at her sad gray eyes and realized that she’d actually seen the situation more clearly than he had. She was right. If D’Argo was that little girl’s best chance at survival, maybe her only chance, they weren’t going to be discussing whether to put him through it, they’d be scheduling an operating room. He cleared his throat and swallowed so that he could actually get the words out. “You know it hurts me as much as you to think about our boy being hurt. It’s natural. We love him. And it’s our job as parents to protect him.” She nodded and he went on. “But it won’t actually damage him, will it? I mean, we can ask for more details, but I’m not hearing anything that amounts to real risk for him, just pain. Okay, lots of pain.”
Aeryn turned around so she was facing the room where D’Argo was sleeping, and John talked to her back. “But it wouldn’t be for nothing. It would be to save his cousin’s life.” He watched her shoulders shake, and he reached out and turned her around. “Sometimes,” he said carefully, “you make sacrifices for family.”
Aeryn slowly leaned forward and settled her cheek against his chest. He held her close, and at last she said, voice so soft as to nearly be inaudible, “All right.”
He let out a deep breath and squeezed her tight, then buried his face in her neck. “It’ll be okay,” he promised. “He probably won’t match anyway.”
“This is us, John,” she murmured, resignation in her voice. “Of course he’ll match.”
She was right, of course. Frell. What had he just done? But he couldn’t see how they could do anything else, and he was thankful they’d come to an agreement. He kissed her neck, for comfort as much as anything else, and stood there, content to be holding her in his arms.
Aeryn apparently had other ideas, however. She slid her arms around his waist and rubbed her head on his chest, and he felt his heart – and other parts of his body – quicken. Despite where they’d been at emotionally seemingly a few microts before, things escalated rapidly. With a groan, he pulled her tighter, felt her tremble against him, and a shiver went up and down his spine in response. He bent down and claimed a kiss, thinking in some dim corner of his mind, where he actually was still able to think, that this was good, this was right. They would make love, and take comfort and strength from their joining. It was right.
The fire between them flared, and he gave up rational thought. A trail of clothes followed them to their bed.
When they got there, Aeryn, his beautiful, amazing Aeryn, pushed him down on his back in the middle of the bed. The last thing he remembered was her slowly, deliberately, climbing on top of him....
* * * * * * * *
The doctor ran the test on D’Argo three times before he was willing to tell them the results, though Aeryn was absolutely certain the first time that the results were good news for her niece. D’Argo wanted to get down and explore the office, but Aeryn wasn’t prepared to let go of him, so he sat in her lap, pouting. From some of the looks the medic gave her while they were waiting, she suspected that he was trying to think of a discreet way to ask if John was really D’Argo’s father. But in the end, in another genetic irony, it turned out to be the boy’s human heritage that vastly improved the chances for a successful outcome of the transplant to his full Sebacean cousin.
Shaking his head in perplexity, the medic explained that D’Argo’s DNA contained a strong genetic base that would provide the perfect template for repairing Lara’s genetic defect. “It’s almost like it’s a....a more primitive, more hardy form of the DNA, able to correct the defect in Lara’s genes,” he said.
John caught Aeryn’s eye, and even before he spoke, she knew what he was thinking. “And you used to call me deficient! Looks like good old unaltered human genes are the superior ones here.”
“It looks like,” she agreed, though with less enthusiasm than John was showing.
The medic’s brow furrowed in question, but rather than ask for explanations, he stuck to the issue at hand. “The actual tissue match for the paraphoral nerve isn’t much better than with you, Aeryn,” he said, “but the prospects for a full repair of Lara’s genes make your son a very good donor indeed.”
She couldn’t stop her mouth from twisting into a grimace. For Lara’s sake, she was glad about the match, but for D’Argo’s, and her own, she was much less pleased. Still, she’d known when she agreed to the test that they would probably end up at this point, and she wouldn’t back out now. It wouldn’t be fair. She stood up with D’Argo still in her arms and looked at John. “Could you make the arrangements? I’m going to go tell Lynia and Keret the news.”
John looked her up and down for a moment, then offered to take D’Argo from her.
“No,” she said. “I want him to meet Lara. I think it will be good for him. For later.”
John frowned, but after a few microts, nodded and let them go.
As soon as they were out of the office, D’Argo demanded to be put down, and much as she wanted to hold him close, keep him safe from what was coming, she set him on the floor and took his hand. He bounced along, tugging at her arm, as they walked, and she couldn’t help but smile, watching him enjoy life. “All right, settle down a bit,” she told him. “We’re going to see your cousin Lara.”
“Yes, that’s right. Lara. She’s Leeom and Klein’s little sister.” ‘Sister’ was probably meaningless to him, but by then they’d reached Lara’s room, so she let it go.
Lyn and Keret, sitting at their sleeping daughter’s bedside, looked up as Aeryn entered with D’Argo in tow. She could see tears in Lyn’s eyes, and was afraid her sister had given up hope. She took a deep breath and told them through a throat that was tight enough to actually hurt, “He’s a match. A good one.” Her eyes slid towards Lara for a microt before she said, “You need to sign some consent papers.”
Lyn gasped. “You’re sure?” she asked. “You’re sure he’s a good match?”
It was then that Aeryn realized that Lyn and Keret had decided not to do the procedure if the odds had remained as slim as her own genetic match up had offered. She stared at them, wondering if she would have had the courage to do the same in their place, putting the comfort of her child’s last days over her own desperate need to do something
, no matter how futile. She blinked back tears and assured both parents, “The medic says very good. You should go make the arrangements. For Lara.”
Lyn whispered, “Thank you,” as she and her husband rushed out of the room.
Alone now with the two children who were bound together by simple genetics and the more mysterious ties of being family
, Aeryn looked from one to the other. Her son was crouched down on the floor, intently examining the pattern in the surface. Her niece slept fitfully, looking, if anything, worse than the last time she’d seen the girl. The comparison between the sick child and the healthy one was heartbreaking. Impulsively, she scooped D’Argo up off the floor. Before he could protest, she nodded at the tiny figure in the bed. “This is Lara,” she told him.
He stuck a finger in his mouth and chewed, then pulled it out and pointed at Lara. “Her seeping?”
She took a breath and corrected gently, “She’s very sick.”
“Yes.” She paused for a moment, thinking, and then said, “There’s something inside you that can help make her well.”
He frowned at her, trying to understand.
“It’s a special kind of blood, and only you have it.”
“Her wake up?”
Aeryn smiled at him softly. “Yes. After she gets some of your special blood, she’ll wake up.”
D’Argo grinned back, his smile lighting up his face, and Aeryn gave him a hug full of love and pride. It will be okay,
she told herself, as they walked back to meet John. It will be okay.
But when they reached the treatment room where the sample was to be extracted, she got a shock. There on the table was a child-sized board full of attached leather straps. It looked like a torture device to Aeryn’s mind. “What’s that?” she demanded of the techs setting up the equipment.
One of them glanced at D’Argo and said, “It’s to restrain him during the procedure.”Restrain?
She looked at John, who stepped to her side and said, “I just got here, baby, I don’t know anything more than you.”
They waited uneasily until Dr. Mayotte entered.
“You’re not strapping him down in that thing!”
“It’s standard procedure. He needs to be restrained.” He saw her wince at the word, and rephrased: “He needs to be held very still. Children this young will fight the procedure instinctively. The board is carefully designed for children. It won’t hurt him, and the process will go more quickly.”
“I’ll hold him,” she said, and when the doctor started to protest, she repeated more forcefully, “I’ll hold him!”
“I strongly recommend you don’t. Children are stronger than you think when they’re upset. You’ll only prolong the discomfort if you can’t keep him still.”
“I don’t give a frell what you recommend—” she began, but John broke in.
“She can hold him,” he said flatly. “So let’s just quit arguing and get this over with!”
Mayotte looked back and forth between them and gave in with a look of undisguised irritation at their solidarity. They got D’Argo undressed and prepared, and after trying several different ways of holding him, it was decided that the most stable was for Aeryn to lay on the treatment table with D’Argo face down on top of her, his head just below her chin. He was bewildered by everything that happened, but with both parents trying to reassure him, he stayed reasonably calm.
When everything was ready, Aeryn wrapped one arm firmly across his upper back, and the other across his bottom to hold him down. “They’re going to take some of your special blood for Lara now,” she told him.
John, standing beside them, reached down and smoothed D’Argo’s hair. “It’ll be okay D. Just be brave, okay? You can do that, I know you can.”
Wanting her son to be at least a little prepared for what was going to happen, Aeryn breathed gently into his ear, “It’s going to hurt, D’Argo, I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.”
“Don’t want hurt!”
Aeryn couldn’t get a single word out of her aching throat, and John answered for her. “We don’t want it to hurt either, D, but that’s just the way it is. It’s only for a little while.”
“Down, Mommy! Let me down!”
He started to struggle against her hold. Guilt-stricken at what she was doing to her son, Aeryn made sure of her grip and whispered, “Just be still, D’Argo, and it will be over soon.” She looked at John, and he turned to the medic and mouthed, “Just do it.”
As the needle entered his small body, D’Argo let out a blood-curdling scream that pierced her ears and broke her heart.
* * * * * * * *
John wasn’t sure who needed comforting more, D’Argo, or his mother, but he also knew that Aeryn wouldn’t accept the comfort if he offered it, not yet, anyway. It wasn’t like he was doing that
well himself! Damn, it had been hard seeing his son in pain, and not bein’ able to do more than hold the little guy’s hand and promise him it would be over soon.... As the procedure had worn on, D had settled down to less desperate sobs, and now that they were done, he was pretty quiet, just taking a ragged breath and snuffling from time to time. When they’d finished taking the genetic material they needed from the poor kid, they’d run some kind of hand-held healing device across his back, so at least he didn’t have any open wounds. Thankful for small blessings, John nevertheless shooed the techs out of the room, and then took another look at his wife and child.
Aeryn, still holding D in her arms, was probably more traumatized than their son, even though she knew he’d come through the procedure just fine. Her eyes were closed, but John knew there wasn’t a chance in hell she was asleep.
He considered his options, and then reached a decision. “Come here, buddy,” he said as he reached for D’Argo, trusting that Aeryn would let go. She did, but as soon as he took D, she rolled over on her side and faced the wall.
D’Argo wrapped his arms around his father’s neck, and, feeling at least a little guilty himself over what they’d put the little guy through, John hugged him tightly, avoiding his lower back, which he was pretty sure was going to be tender for a while. They’d had a damn good reason, but still – Aeryn was right, D’Argo was just a little boy, and he’d been terrified. He’d kicked and struggled at first, but in the end, he’d simply endured. John kissed the top of his son’s head. “You did really good, D! You’re Mama’s brave little soldier, huh?”
“Ouch, Daddy,” D complained petulantly, making John think for just a microt that he was actually hurting the boy right then. But apparently the little guy just wasn’t done with his complaining yet. He shook his head and stuck out his lower lip, then said decisively, “No more ouch!”Ah, dammit....
“No, no more ouch, bud. They’re all done with you. No more poking or hurting.” As the words left his mouth, John vowed that they would be true, at least in the here and now. If this transplant didn’t work out, well, that was going to be the end of it. D had done his bit.
The boy was quiet for a while, and then he lifted his head up to look at his father. “Lawa wake up?” he asked in great seriousness.
What the frell? John appealed to his wife for translation help. “Aeryn?”
She didn’t turn around, and her voice was muffled, but she answered. “He wants to know if Lara is going to be all right.”
Exactly how she’d worked that out, he didn’t know, but D’Argo was nodding in agreement, so John did the best he could to answer. “Well, D, we don’t really know that yet. But they’re going to try to make her better with what they took from you.”
“Lawa seep,” he said, his blue eyes mournful.
John couldn’t help but be touched by the two cycle old’s concern for a little girl he’d only just met. He wished he could assure D that she’d be okay, but he wasn’t going to make a promise he couldn’t necessarily keep. “Sleep’s not bad, son. Even if she’s getting better, she’ll have to sleep a lot, I think. But,” he added, dropping another kiss on his son’s head, “you have a really good heart. Just like your mama.”
At his words, Aeryn rolled over 180 degrees and looked at the men in her life. She examined them critically through eyes that still sported a hint of tears, taking in D’s alert, if worried, appearance, and the way he had settled comfortably into the crook of John’s arm. At last, she sat up, swinging her legs over the edge of the table. Her expression said more clearly than words that she appreciated the vote of confidence, but she wasn’t buying it. She was going to be beating herself up over this one for a while, he could tell, even if the little girl made a complete recovery because of what they’d done. Well, they were both good at that one, he had no right to be calling the kettle black. He shifted D’Argo in his arms and said, “It’ll be a while before we know anything. We should probably go back to the guesthouse, maybe get some food on the way.”
Aeryn looked as if she was going to argue, but abruptly she agreed. “Fine. Let’s get out of here now.” She hopped off the bench and started for the door.
“Mommy!” D’Argo called.
She stopped, but didn’t turn around. “What is it, D’Argo?”
The boy lunged for her, and John almost lost his grip on him. “Whoa there, buddy!” he exclaimed, and Aeryn whirled around. D’Argo reached for her again, and, blinking back tears, she crossed the distance between them and took him. She settled him on her hip, like always, and, nodding to John, headed out the door.
* * * * * * * *
The next morning, Lynia sat on Lara’s bed, just watching her daughter with what she was sure was a silly grin on her face. Lara herself was sitting – Sitting! – on the bed beside her, cuddling a doll in her arms and talking to her “baby.” No question, she was still a very sick little girl, and Dr. Mayotte wasn’t making any promises, but the turnaround from even the day before was nothing short of astounding. Lyn still couldn’t look at Lara without tears of happiness and hope blurring her vision.
There was movement in the doorway, and she looked up, half expecting to see Keret and the boys, who’d headed down to get something to eat a quarter of an arn or so before. Instead, she saw the cause of their miracle: Aeryn Sun and her family stood awkwardly just inside the entry to the room, D’Argo in his father’s arms. Despite her joy over Lara’s progress, Lyn couldn’t help but feel guilty that she’d made contact with her sister under such circumstances. She licked her lips and stood up nervously, completely at a loss for words. “Thank you” should have been obvious, but somehow it seemed totally inadequate.
It was her little nephew who broke the silence. His eyes widened and he pointed dramatically at Lara, announcing with a wide grin, “See! Her awake!”
That was a funny way to put it, but Lyn got the idea. “Yes, Lara is awake. She’s feeling much better today thanks to you, D’Argo. Would you like to come say hello?”
The little boy nodded. Crichton brought him over to meet his cousin, but Aeryn hung by the door.
After the introductions, Lyn left Crichton with the children and walked over to see her sister. “Thank you,” she said, glancing back at D’Argo. “I know it must have been very hard, and I’m so sorry for the pain he went through.”
Aeryn looked up and away, into a corner of the ceiling, and said, “As long as it did some good.”
“We can’t be sure yet that there will be a complete recovery, but the doctor says that it’s as if D’Argo’s DNA is completely overwriting the damage. Even if it isn’t perfect.... You saved her life, I’m sure of it, Aeryn. We – I – can never repay you.”
Aeryn abandoned her study of the ceiling and looked back at Lyn. After a microt, she shook her head. “There’s nothing to repay.”
Lyn blinked at the stark pronouncement. Was Aeryn angry? Resentful? There was that Peacekeeper control again, so very different from the frantic mother she’d seen the day before. She was just thinking how nice it was going to be getting to know her sister better when Aeryn squashed that fantasy.
“I just came to tell you, we’re going to be going home as soon as D’Argo gets checked over,” she said.
Heart sinking, Lyn tried to tell herself she shouldn’t have been surprised. She’d revealed herself to her sister with a huge demand; now that she had what she wanted, why would Aeryn think she had any other interest in her?
Her dismay must have shown on her face, because Aeryn hastened to add, “No, no, we’re not angry or anything like that. It’s just that....you have so much else to deal with right now. You don’t need us here.” She glanced over at Lara, who, despite improvement, was showing signs of tiring. “We’ll come back for a planned visit, I promise. Or you can come to us. Bring Lara when she’s well.”
The tears snuck up on her again, just hearing someone talk about Lara being well. She’d wanted a miracle so badly, but she hadn’t really believed it would happen. Now she saw understanding in Aeryn’s gray eyes, the eyes that looked nothing like her own, and she smiled. “We will,” she promised her Peacekeeper sister. “We will.”
* * * * * * * *
All things considered, the trip had gone better than John expected it to. Aside from poor D turning out to be the one that had the magic genes, they’d done what they set out to do, and Aeryn’s little niece had a very good chance of living a long and healthy life. He gave D’Argo one more glance to make sure he was asleep in his flight seat, and headed up front to the co-pilot’s seat next to Aeryn.
She tossed him a weary smile and said, “Hey!”
He dropped into the chair and shook his head. He reached out to play with her hair. As he curled a few dark strands around his fingers, he asked, “You okay?”
“Mmmm. I was just thinking how strange it is to have family all of a sudden.” She wrinkled her forehead. “A sister, cousins for D’Argo.... I never imagined. And here they are.” After a few microts, she broke into a smile. “It’s amazing, John.”
Her talk about family made his chest tighten, in that way that happened whenever he thought about his own family back on Earth, so far away as to be lost to him forever.... He didn’t want to dampen her enthusiasm, so he forced a smile and told her, “It will be even more amazing when you get to know ‘em a little better. You’ll see all the ways you’re the same – and all the ways you’re different. You and Lyn’ll probably make each other crazy when you’re not swapping recipes.”
She wrinkled her nose at him, and laughed, as he’d known she would, and turned her attention back to flying.
He sat beside her, surrounded by the sounds of a ship in space that were now so familiar to him as to be comforting, and tried to figure out what else was making him feel just a little funny. He watched the stars out the viewscreen, one part of his mind automatically looking for the brightest one, even as he tried to solve the mystery of his feelings. Finally, it came to him: He was jealous – jealous that there was someone besides him and D that Aeryn was calling “family.” How petty was that
Well, he’d just have to get used to it. After all, blood was thicker than water.... And hadn’t they just proved it?