In Fortune's Fist
Title: In Fortune's Fist
Content: Angst. Don't say you weren't warned. Summary: They were all caught in Fortune's fist, and she was beginning to squeeze. Spoilers: For Dog With Two Bones.
Disclaimer: Not mine. Derivative use.
Feedback: makes me do the wacky - send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. But if you spoil me I'll have to kill you.
In Fortune's Fist
She was leaning over the engine of her Prowler when John finally found her, fifteen planets and six months after he first heard the name "Aeryn Sun" spoken by a voice other than his own.
He'd left the Nekloa ship at the other end of the spaceport, his module safely tucked away inside. Pasquale had stayed on board -- agoraphobes don't do well on commerce planets -- while John went to check in with the portmaster. It was his first stop at every planetfall, routine for nearly a cycle now. First check in with the portmaster for word of Aeryn, D'Argo or Moya. Then find an escape route in case someone unpleasant showed up. And then lay in supplies.
When the portmaster tilted his head affirmatively, John didn't believe him. Why would she still be here? She'd been too far ahead of him for too long. But John nodded his thanks to the purple- skinned fellow and headed down the ramps to the Lerg class docking bays.
He'd learned a lot about hope, despair, and practicality in the last cycle. The name "Crichton" had been left behind, and the module was hidden for a reason. He rolled the shoulder the Scarrans had broken; every once in a while he had to pop it, despite the professional reconstruction Pasquale had performed in the wreckage of the Nekloa medical lab.
The portmaster wasn't wrong. John stopped short at the entrance to the bay, and wrapped his gloved hand around the metal rim of the door.
The pants were still black leather, but the shirt looked blue in this light. He couldn't see her hair, but even with her head inside the canopy it was obviously Aeryn Sun.
There wasn't anyone else there. Just her, and some tools, and a battered Prowler. There was carbon scoring on its nose, and the canopy was cracked.
He'd stopped asking about children, or babies, a long time ago. Harvey was mistaken, or the old woman had lied, or the child had been stashed somewhere safe, or -- or. John's fist tightened around the edge of the door. It had been over a cycle now. He licked his lips, took a breath.
Without pulling her head out of the engine, she grappled for a wrench on a small workbench to her right. She missed twice. John couldn't pass up an opening like that.
He slipped forward and grabbed the wrench, sliding it smoothly into her hand. There was a grunt of surprise as her fingers grazed the leather of his gloves, and then a flurry, and he was hard up against the side of the Prowler, her pistol wedged under his chin.
"Aeryn." She'd cut her hair. It was no longer than his now.
She was, if possible, thinner than she'd been when she left. The lines bracketing her mouth weren't from laughter, and there was a faint scar trailing from her left cheekbone up into her hair. She still made his heart stop.
He didn't smile; neither did she.
After a moment, during which he could feel her breath on his face, she lowered the gun. "John." She looked away and slid the pistol back into its holster. "You should have said something -- I could have shot you."
"Yeah, well." He rolled his shoulders, and followed her as she moved around the Prowler to the work table at the other end of the bay. "I knew you'd figure it out in time."
She shook her head but didn't reply. He missed the swing of the braid against her back. It would be easier to ask about the hair. He was afraid to ask about any of it.
Afraid to know. The Nekloa hatchlings were so small, had died so easily. Pasquale still mourned, locked in its empty cabin, where it thought John couldn't hear. Foolish, to keep an entire species on one ship. So foolish.
"So." She put the wrench down in a toolcase -- one John had put together for her old Prowler, so long ago -- and leaned a hip against the table, facing him. She looked worn, but not angry. Not broken, the way she was when she left. She lifted one corner of her mouth, just a little. "Guess I was right about us meeting again."
He choked on a laugh. "Only because I came looking for you." Over a cycle now, never knowing what had happened to Moya, not knowing whether Aeryn was even still alive until too recently. Taking stupid chances for resources, for information, just to keep looking. Pasquale had helped, but John had been so desperate after the Nekloa had died -- he shook his head. Hostages to fortune. Chance had held the Nekloa in her fist, and then squeezed.
The past four cycles had taught him not to trust fortune.
There was too much Aeryn didn't know. She hadn't been there when the wormhole swallowed Moya; when the Nekloa picked him up out of the kindness of their little green fuzzy hearts just before he went hypoxic; when the Scarrans boarded the Nekloa ship.
But wasn't that the point, not to be with him?
But he hadn't been there for her either. It couldn't have been easy. He was too tired to be angry, and it was so good to see a familiar face. He dropped his gloves on the table and tried to smile. His hand was steady as he put it up to her cheek, to trace the scar. "How'd you get this?"
She didn't pull away. "Nebari."
"So that's what you've been doing." He'd heard rumors, never knew what to believe.
By the time John had found the ex-Peacekeeper group she was gone. They said she had taken off in convoy with a Berillian freighter caravan. He lost her for a while after that, and then got lucky when he stumbled across some of the Nebari resistance on a backwater station on the Luxan-PK border. None of them had ever heard of Chiana, but they worshipped Nerri like a rock star.
The resistance fighters told him about some scrapped-together guerrilla groups making a stand against Nebari and Scarran expansionism in the Sugthan Nebula. Sounded like the kind of thing Aeryn would do. She wouldn't fight her own people; the wormhole tech was gone, and the Peacekeepers were the only thing keeping the rest of the galaxy safe from the Scarrans. Bad strategy, to destabilize the one entity keeping you safe. But she could fight the Scarrans and the Nebari.
She nodded, offered something between a smile and a grimace. "I do what I can for these people." Her vague gesture took in the port, the planet, the whole complex of independent systems scrabbling for survival in the shadow of three giants.
Standing so close, his hand still on her face, John dropped his gaze from her eyes to her stomach. It was enough: the smile fell away, and she opened her mouth, then closed it again.
He lowered his hand. Here it was, then. Harvey hadn't been mistaken.
This was going to be hard. John pushed the toolcase to one side and hitched himself up onto the table.
He had a whole new set of nightmares now: Moya, Pilot, Jool screaming down the wormhole; Chiana in a new collar; and the Nekloa babies dying before his eyes, their nestparents bleeding purple all over the upholstered hatchery walls.
He didn't dream about Aeryn's child, though. Insufficient data, he thought with a flash of the old black humor.
She looked away, and then back at him. Aeryn Sun had never been a coward, either. Not until the very end, and who could blame her? No one had ever been caught like she was between the living and the dead.
"I was pregnant. I didn't know."
John didn't close his eyes. He didn't want to see a child with his hair and her nose, a child less real than Katralla's hologram. The last children he had touched had been Nekloa hatchlings.
Her eyes flickered suddenly. She swallowed, but her voice was firm. "I -- stopped it." The scar stood out starkly for a moment against her skin, and then she loosened her jaw. "I had to. I couldn't protect it, you couldn't protect it. And there will be war, John. It's already starting."
He'd known this was coming, but god, it hurt. He wrapped his arms around himself, and curled over his knees. He couldn't see the child, though -- just the smashed ebony shells on the floor of the Nekloa hatchery. All their eggs in one basket, and all dead.
She was right. War was coming; he could feel his bones humming like a tuning fork, disaster upon disaster barreling down the pike. They were all caught in fortune's fist.
She was right, and he couldn't have done it. Only she could have done it, and he was -- oh, god forgive him -- he was relieved, and he wanted to hate her for it.
He felt Aeryn step closer, and a light touch on his shoulder. He didn't move -- couldn't, bent over the grief and the shame roiling in his gut -- and her hands swept over his head, ruffling his hair, smoothing cool over his neck and shoulders.
There wasn't going to be a little girl running down Moya's halls, swinging on Pilot's arm, playing hide and seek in the cargo bays. No little boy learning to cook from Chiana, making up constellations on the terrace with the old man.
There was just going to be war. And the shells of innocents smashed on hatchery floors.
Written in response to a challenge on the Wormhole list: this is all Maayan and Vehemently's fault. Also Marasmus and Max's, for egging me on. Beta by Fialka, KodiakkeMax, and Marasmus.
I am the darkness in your daughter
I'm the spot beneath the skin
I'm the shadow on the pavement
I'm the broken heart within
- Yes Virginia I Am -- http://mouldiwarps.shriftweb.org/
If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to cofax
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