SPOILERS: Til the Blood Runs Clear
DISCLAIMER HAIKU: Though I love them so / And they are fun to play with / I do not own them
NOTES: Thanks to Kixxa and Katya for the challenge, many thanks to FBF for the encouragement and the beta.
He reached the crest of the dune before the pod blew, but it wasn't quite goal and he wasn't quite safe. The force of the explosion pitched him ass over teakettle down the hill.
When he woke up he was simply another piece of shrapnel on the sand, one of the few not burning. A pillar of oily smoke smudged the clear sky, at the deep blue edge opposite the sinking sun. He activated comms, rolled onto his side and levered himself up. "Hey guys, I made it down safe but the pod is frelled. Guys?"
He trudged back up the dune and tried again, but still no response, so he added his knee and his comms to the list of things that were frelled. He saw a little round adobe house a stone's throw away, where the sand smoothed out to ripples. Shelter, possibly help.
It was a farmstead, with an empty pen to the side and enclosed with a low rock wall that he stepped over gingerly, favoring his injury. No one answered his hellos.
Any minute he expected Aunt Beru to come waltzing around the corner with her pitcher of blue milk. But sand drifted through the doorway and into the one room house, as if the last time the place had been cleaned out was when the stormtroopers came through. No one lived there.
There was a small pile of what looked like coal, a metal box, and a squat canister with a spout. A few simple stick chairs and a heavy cot with a wooden frame and straw mattress were grouped around the central hearth.
The walls were lumpy stucco, curved into doorways and ceilings so the place looked like it was smoothed from mashed potatoes. He muttered to himself, never mind candy, Crais could lure him out of hiding with a house made of diner food; chicken fried door knobs, faucets with a hot tap of sausage gravy and a cold tap of cherry coke.
Little table jukeboxes built from various slices of pie.
Instead, he found food cubes in the metal box and water in the canister, stale and deliciously cool. He'd asked Aeryn once how to tell if food cubes had gone bad.
"Yeah, like inedible?"
"Well you may need to rehydrate them after a few dozen cycles, but only if you don't like them chewy."
That was early on. Experience had taught him that old wet food cubes tasted about the same as that dog food that makes its own gravy, so he chewed them dry. Deserts get cold at night, he remembered as he ate, and the sky through the smoke hole was darkening blue. He tried not to think about the last time he was separated from Moya. Three months of a Jamaican vacation had been much easier to take than three months of Dam-Ba-Da would be.
By the coal pile he found kindling and a device, which clicked and made sparks after he'd knocked enough rust off to work it. He built a fire in the hearth and whispered, "I'm golden."
He lowered himself onto a chair and leaned over to rub his sore knee. He noticed that it was swollen right before the legs of the chair gave out and chucked him onto the floor.
He allowed a moment for self-pity before he pulled his body off the floor. Then he put the chair bits onto the coal pile and surveyed the room again. The cot seemed his best bet. He thumped the mattress a few times to check for vermin, and found it sandy but sturdy. He slid the cot closer to the hearth, coddling his bruises with heat.
Stars glittered through the smoke hole, but the room was cozy warm. The comms were still unresponsive. He thought to himself, 'I should get up and walk around a bit', but his body was pleasantly heavy and the pain in his knee had numbed. He thought, 'I should open my eyes before I fall asleep.'
Voices pelt down into his consciousness like soft rain. The adobe room resolves around him but he's unable to move. He's on the cot, untied, free to go if he can get to the door, but he can only move his eyes. He can't even control his breathing. It takes him forever to focus his eyes in the dim firelight.
"I've gotta say I'm not convinced." Furlow, dressed for the desert in flowing indigo. "PKs only have as much authority here as they can buy, and I'm under no obligation to do business with you."
"I may be persuaded to be more generous with the reward." Crais, his Dapper Dan uniform as crisp and tight as the wrap around his stiff ponytail. His eyes glint in the coal light. "After all, he is a wanted criminal, guilty of murder and subversion."
John's body buzzes with the panic locked inside of him like kryptonite in a lead box.
"Subversion, uh? Looks a bit too wholesome to me for subversion."
"He irreversibly contaminated one of my best Prowler pilots."
"The brunette, I suppose." She sits on the edge of the cot, her cool robes brushing his arm. She pats him on the chest. "Big strapping lad like this? You've got to make certain allowances."
Crais takes a moment to crack his neck, then sits on the cot kitty-corner to Furlow and lays a hand on John's good knee.
He can't control his breathing but his lungs react to the adrenaline, quickening, making him dizzy with oxygen his muscles can't use. They're staking out territory, and if they stop playing nice there's nothing he can do to keep them from tearing him apart like a Raggedy Andy doll.
"Shall we discuss the reward?"
"I don't think that's necessary." Furlow adjusts the t-shirt on his chest, her robes scenting the air around her with smoke and mint. "I've taken a fancy to him and I just can bear to let him go with some stranger who seems bent on doing him harm."
"False sentimentality does not strengthen your position." Crais's grip on his knee tightens, and a yell of protest comes out of John's throat as a breathy whimper.
Furlow leans into Crais, right up in his face. She speaks quietly, each word starched and pressed for maximum clarity. "I'm not haggling, because I'm not buying. He stays with me."
John lays there like a gutted fish, waiting for Furlow to pull a shiv.
Crais's hand on his kneecap is hot, and he's positively humming with barely contained righteous rage. "It is not my wish to bring down troops. But rest assured I will not hesitate to commandeer the city and its environs if necessary."
"I own half of this planet."
Wait a second. That possessive hand on his chest is rolling its palm over his nipple.
Nipples harden with fear, right?
"Trust me, Cap-i-tan, I've got the half worth owning."
Crais's hot hand slides up his thigh. His face is inches from Furlow's, and her hand is traveling downward.
John's mind has gone as blank as his voluntary muscle control. He realizes it's not an argument so much as a negotiation, and they're looking to meet in the middle. His heart pounds. The skin beneath Crais's hand breaks out into a sweat, and as soon as he feels the sweat, he feels his cock shift.
Furlow's hand drifts over his hipbone, achingly delicate over the ticklish spot. She skims around his crotch, her pinky finger just brushing his balls. In the air space above his traitorously hardening cock, she's close enough to kiss Crais, who's staring at her like Naga staring at Riki Tiki Tavi.
John lays there in morbid fascination, waiting for Crais to pull a shiv.
Instead, he closes the gap between their lips, bracing himself on John's other knee.
John's body gasps with pain, breaking the mood.
"He's injured." With a crisp sigh, Furlow takes the cuff of his pants and rips the fabric open right past the knee. "Ah, that's a doozy. Should probably wrap that up before it gets any more purple."
Crais stands, backlit by the feeble coal light. "Wise decision."
Furlow props his knee up, unwinds a cord from her headwrap and uses the indigo cloth to wrap John's knee. Her hair spills over her round shoulder, and is the color of milky tea. The straightness is relieved by gentle waves at the ends, like a tall waterfall hitting rocks.
She ties the cloth, cuts the extra length, and sheathes the pearly blade of her curved knife somewhere in the folds of her midnight robes. "Rather cold in here, don't you think?"
Crais runs a hand over his temple, smoothing the hair down. "I see that Crichton has wood. I shall stoke his fire."
Her sarcasm is as boundless as the sand. "Good man."
Furlow leans over his propped up leg, her hands caressing his calf. Her malamute pale eyes luminesce in the half-light, and she whispers to John while Crais, glowing like Vulcan at the forge, stirs the fire. "Let me deal for you. If anyone can beat him..." she tilts her head to indicate Crais, then flashes a Han Solo smile, "I can."
He finds that if he works with his breathing, he can sometimes make noise.
"Shh, flyboy." Her cool fingertips brush the hair away from his temples, and the sleeve of her robe slides soft down his cheek. She kisses his knee. "Let Furlow take care of you."
And the sick part? His knee feels better.
She takes the remnants of fabric to the canister and soaks them, then sits back down by his arm and lays a cool cloth across his forehead. She tucks his hand in the softness between her upper arm and breast, and cleans a cut on his forearm with the other cloth. The scent of her robes is more piney than mint, like a sweet resin or a volatile oil, like a spice trekked from the desert and distilled into perfume.
There's no more adrenaline to keep away the fog so he's losing her meaning in the sound of her voice and her eyes gleam like moons reflected in deep still water.
"Wormholes" she says, and John thinks about the last thing he saw before he fell down the liquid blue drain, the moon veering out of his field of vision. "Solar flares" she says, and he thinks about all the times he looked at the moon as a kid and tried to convince himself that moonlight came from the sun. Camping out in the backyard reading comics by the light of stars and a couple of jars of lightning bugs. The day Mom had to scrub ink off his cheek, imprinted from the morning dew when he'd fallen asleep on Iron Man.
"--said it wouldn't do that. See if he's seriously hurt."
"And how would I divine that? He is not Sebacean."
"Didn't stop you from darting him, did it?"
The argument vollies back and forth above him. The useless panic has subsided into bone weariness. He feels like he's sinking into the lumpy mattress of the cot. The room spins gently.
"The paralytic will not harm species related to Sebaceans or most other lesser species."
"So you've said. But he keeps passing out and I want to know why. You guys have some medical skills for the battlefield, right? Or are the grunts disposable?"
"Whatever triage training I have is for Sebaceans, which he is not. If you are concerned about his injuries--"
"We both need him alive."
"Then I suggest you obtain the necessary supplies to treat them."
"Deal. I'll go get some things out of the vehicle while you look him over and see what's what."
"It's been cycles since I've used field med technique--"
"Then take your time and do it right."
All he can hear now is the fire crackling and Crais breathing. He lets his eyes open because he can't stand to keep them closed and not know where the blow might come from.
"Welcome back." Crais furrows and flares his features like a Princess bitching about a pea. "She is concerned about your injuries, so we've taken a recess in our negotiations to attend to them." He straightens his jacket and kneels next to the cot. "It's not as if you have any basis to complain even if you could do so."
Crais starts at John's head, pressing it all over like he's picking out a cantaloupe. He lifts the eyelids and gives John a searching soap opera stare, gaze flicking back and forth to compare dilation of the pupils.
"Currently it is in both of our interests to keep you alive and functional." Satisfied, his thumbs glide down over the bridge of John's nose and across his cheekbones. Then one of them slips between John's lips and levers open his slack jaw.
Tangy and a bit salty. If there is a God, John thinks, I will one day forget this.
Crais feels down his arms, lifting his right arm and rotating the shoulder joint. Even as Maldis's raving puppet, he'd taken special note of the weak spots. He checks for broken ribs, then lays his ear to John's chest. Stray black hairs tickle his chin and John feels insane laughter writhing inside of him while his unresponsive lungs methodically raise and lower Crais's head.
Crais straightens. "It seems your heart is in the right place. As for the rest..." He hikes up John's t-shirt. He contemplates John's bareness and mutters to himself, "Who knows what kind of primitive organs you have in there?"
John thinks, 'Please don't take a look.'
"I'm sure most of them would be vital nonetheless." Crais runs a hand over his stomach, pushing here and there. He shrugs and grabs John's waistband.
The button is easy, but the zipper eludes him for a moment. From his vantage point, John can only see Crais's fierce look of concentration as he tries to get the pants undone.
On my honor there's nothing vital in there that needs checking.
"Aha." Crais unzips him with a flourish.
John tries to pass out again but his body does not oblige him.
Crais lifts an eyebrow at John. "Counterintuitive."
You got that right, Spock.
"During my first mission as a Lieutenant Commander, I saw a man die from a wound up by his hip." The lower belly check proceeds as the first, but with an extra special touch.
"The guerrillas had traps all over, saplings and lengths of metal. This was a particularly thick piece of razorgrass that lodged in his thigh without his noticing."
Crais slips his hand into the crease of John's thigh, pleasantly cool and too damn big. "He completed the mission, got back to the Marauder and pulled it out during debriefing. Bled to death right on the bench he was sitting on." He nudges aside the scrotum to cop a good feel of the other thigh. "Luckily, you have nothing in there to worry about."
Except that the only male hand down his pants, ever, should be his own.
Furlow comes back in time to see the whole charming tableau.
Crais pulls his hands out and slaps John's stomach heartily. "There are no further injuries."
"And I see you looked everywhere."
"Do you have the medkit?"
"I've got to find a better class of goons." Furlow shrugs. "They take everything that isn't hidden or nailed down. I did find something useful, though, a message beacon the boys picked up in the marketplace a few monens back."
Crais shakes off the small talk. "I do not care what your scavengers have acquired. Let us return to the negotiations at hand."
"Huh." Furlow settles back onto the edge of the cot, arranging the robes in her lap. "Seems to me that the encrypted portion of this beacon might affect these negotiations in my favor. If not, I may be forced to...re-negotiate...with Peacekeeper High Command in order to obtain satisfaction."
"I suggest you cease being coy and come to the point. I'm not inclined to waste any more time placating you when I can take what I want and be done with it."
"You seemed eager enough to placate the former Officer Sun. Supposedly irreversibly contaminated, yet you offered her full reinstatement. 'All's forgiven, just come back home'. Ring a bell?"
Crais smirks. "You are mistaken if you think I would make such an offer, or that you could succeed with such a baseless accusation."
"Really?" She pulls a silver component from a fold in her Felix the Cat robes, and clicks a button.
Crichton watches a miniature ghostly Crais appear in the air and thinks, `Help me Furlow Wan, you're my only hope.'
The hologram Crais issues his invitation to the renegade Aeryn Sun in a tinny baritone. As if someone had said Beetlejuice thrice, the real Crais's voice rumbles like thunder in the small room. "Data manipulation."
"Seems to me that even a dismissed charge of this magnitude would cast a shadow on your loyalty to the party line...stall your career...kill whatever chance for advancement you may still have...provoke your reassignment to a territory even less valuable than the one you're saddled with now--"
Furlow shrugs, and offhandedly strokes the inside of John's thigh. He'd pay any amount of money to be able to laugh at Crais right now, because the hilarity trapped inside him is as painful as a sneeze that won't come.
Crais repeats to himself quietly, "Enough."
Furlow produces a flask, uncaps it, takes a long drink and hands it to Crais. "Let's haggle."
He sniffs the flask delicately. "Spirits."
Crais tips it back and takes a long drink.
Furlow lays her hand on his shoulder. "Better?"
Crais looks at her, then his gaze drifts to the fire. When he speaks, his voice rumbles only a bit louder than the crackling wood. "I am throwing away my career."
She takes the flask and stashes it in her robes. Her hair brushes down between John's arm and side, soft and fine as she leans closer to Crais. "You wanna talk about it?"
For a while Crais's hand fidgets on John's upper thigh, fingers tapping, squeezing the muscle, darting into the air for an aborted gesture and then landing again. "I wouldn't know where to begin."
Furlow absently traces doodles on John's skin, lulling him into a trance of relaxation. Handling and petting him like he's a bunny in a pet store. She fluffs the close curls on his chest, and plays with the pattern of hair that flows to the midline and down his belly like water. The danger of the situation seems unreal compared to the warmth of the fire and the hands soothing his heavy body.
Everything seems to move slowly as she lays her other hand on Crais's cheek and turns his head to face her. "Then just let go." She kisses him.
Crais doesn't pull away, just sucks a deep breath in through his nose and tilts his head a bit.
John thinks, `Yes, I have seen everything, thanks.' But the universe never listens, and so the show doesn't stop there. He closes his eyes against the pillowed cheeks and tanned stubbly skin, but he can't avoid the soft sighs and kissy noises. The hands on his person do not remain still, at first roaming but soon caressing with purpose. His body responds, prone and defenseless against the fondling, which is evolving from gentle bunny petting to heavy petting. Groping, in fact.
He opens his eyes wide, trying to swim up out of the feeling. Stars wink through the smoke hole, the sky painted a black shade of blue that looks poor and flat next to the indigo that pools in the draping of Furlow's cotton robes. He closes his eyes, sinks into the sensations, and imagines brighter stars.
Someone starts massaging his balls, offhandedly, like they're jingling the change in their pocket. The delicious relaxation warms and tightens.
He's lost track of whose hands are where, and he's losing track of why it's important to care. Other fingers delve through the fly of his shorts and slide along the underside of his cock. With a tease to the head, they're gone and he's glad he can't make any noise because part of him wants those fingers back.
For shits and giggles, the universe decides to listen. Someone hikes down his shorts and tucks the waistband under his balls, lifting everything for easy access. A palm grasps the island of his hipbone. Silky hair trails coolness over the heated skin of his belly.
All the hands on him are calloused, not just the one wrapped around his cock. No way to tell, no reason to care how the hand expertly fondling his balls knows that light pressure exactly there, yeah, right under them there, feels so very good; how the hand on his cock knows when to circle under the tip and flick across the head for all it's worth. Though he can't move at all to meet it, the hand knows and it quickens.
Cold wind blows down the smoke hole, and the fire flares and pops.
He's pulled back into consciousness by the desert cold seeping through his clothes and the thin mattress of the cot. The fire is dying, and he is alone with Furlow.
"One might say I've just invested in your continued existence. I think I have invested wisely, but only time will tell." Furlow stands above him, her eyes iceberg blue and her face framed in cotton the color of midnight. She pulls a cigar from a fold of her robes and trims it with the knife. The softness and empathy have retreated like a tide.
She takes a piece of burning wood and puffs the cigar alight. "It's never prudent to become sentimentally attached to an investment, because if the returns aren't coming in, well...one should feel free to divest and put one's resources somewhere else."
She props her foot on the cot and leans her elbow on her leg. Dust from her shoe scratches his arm. Her cigar dangles from her thick fingers, ashes falling to the floor. "You are such a pretty shiny thing. You may be a bauble, but now I know where I can unload you for a profit. If you are indeed a gem..." She pulls in a lungful of smoke and lets it drift out around her mouth. "Boys."
The way his head lays, he can't see them until they suddenly loom, one at each corner of the cot.
"Put him on the litter and strap him tightly. Don't want him falling off and knocking his precious head, do we?"
The cot rises into the air and puts a buoyancy into his limbs. His fingers twitch and clutch at the wood frame.
"Why don't you go up first?"
"That means you'll have most of his weight."
"Yeah, but I hate walking backwards up ramps."
"Alright." Hands shift under his arms, under his knees. Arms lift him off of the warmth and into freezing air. Stale smoke of burning flesh and burning wires. He shivers, which makes the ache of his body worse. His knee is at a side angle and it burns inside the joint.
He opens his eyes and sees Aeryn carrying his lower body like she's moving a wheelbarrow. The sight of his legs wrapped around her waist is worth the twist on his injured knee. D'Argo has him under the arms and they're boarding a Leviathan pod.
They settle him on a bench and get the pod into the air before Zhaan can unfold the thermal wrap. He's chilled, stiff, and covered in grit. Zhaan methodically finds his cuts and bruises and makes them more painful with ointment. It stings, and adds a clean mint smell to the pungent pod smoke that lingers in the cabin and tints the light a dirty slate color. Zhaan is a pillar of clear bright sky in the dim.
"You're a damn pretty shade of blue, you know that?"
Romance, finis. Your chance, finis.
Those ants that invaded my pants, finis. Bewitched, bothered and bewildered - no more --Lorenz Hart, lyrics & Richard Rodgers, music
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