Xhalax falls without a cry, a broken figure lost in smog and flickering lights. Aeryn turns slowly, black silhouette against a metallic sky. He can't see her face, and somehow that makes it worse.
"Crais, you welnitz!" The Hynerian's voice startles him, tinny and distorted. "What's happening?"
He lowers the gun.
Engines hum below the window, a passing aircar's headlamps spilling yellow light across the ceiling. Her eyes meet his, numb before he turns away, stumbling in the dim hallway. Wide glass panes rattle behind him. He isn't sure what he expected.
The dead do not scream.
The service elevator is gone. Debris litters the stairwell. The air between narrow walls is musty and still. "Aeryn!" Stark, this time. "Where are you? Aeryn!" Outside, in the street, he rips off his comm, flings it aside, watches it skitter across wet pavement and slide through a metal grate. The Banik's frantic cries echo from the sewer.
Crichton was right. Subdued voices blur together at the edges of his hearing, but no one else is here. Only an alien collapsed against an abandoned building, pile of filthy rags and a face half-turned away. You never killed Xhalax!
What passes for sunlight on this planet is dying, shadows crowding close. Ahead a sign blinks fitfully, green light in a script he cannot read, over the first building in a long alley that isn't dark and crumbling.
When you left me to kill Xhalax ... I saw, instantly, the end. He does not doubt she kept her promise. High Command believes they are dead.
It had seemed like a good plan at the time.
A whisper, familiar this time, brushes the back of his mind. He raises a hand to his neck, hesitates before wrenching the transponder free. He cannot face Talyn's questions now.
He stops in the doorway, halted by the reek of raw liquor and unwashed aliens. None are species he knows, but the hollow eyes that follow him across the crowded room are all the same. All refugees, fighting for tent space. All running from something, dragging their ghosts behind.
Whoever ordered Xhalax after them thought Aeryn's loyalties could be swayed by her mother's presence. Like a fool, he assumed Xhalax would be swayed by her daughter's. Orders mean little against the pull of blood ties.
He did not think it would end like this.
The barkeep looks up, eyes silver and luminous as he throws down a handful of coins. He shrugs one shoulder, points at a bottle, watching the creature slosh a generous slug into a cracked flask.
The woman killed her lover to save Aeryn. He hadn't told Aeryn that part, but he suspects Xhalax did. Twenty cycles she'd mourned Lyczak, then out of nowhere the daughter he died to save was in her sights.
Green fluid fizzes and pops. He should have known. He drains the flask in two long swallows, slams it down on the bar, coughing. The stuff tastes like some unholy combination of unrefined chakan oil and fellip urine, raw and strong enough to make his eyes water.
The barkeep grunts, a wordless question. He shoves the flask forward, watches the glimmer as the green splash spills on the bar, tosses it back, feels the liquor burning the back of his throat, all the way down. He has no plan now beyond drinking until he can no longer remember his own name.
When he first saw Xhalax Sun, firing at him through a screen of trees and vines, he saw nothing of Aeryn in her face, even less of the woman in that old recording.
Red light reflects on water, makes it shine like blood before his eyes can focus. Rain whispers on broken pavement like static, slides across his face, cool against fresh bruises. He can still hear her laughter, ringing and cold, memory fading in and out like a bad transmission. "What can you possibly offer me?"
"Your life." Part of his mind gropes instinctively for Talyn's, but no one answers. The ground smells like rot and spilled fuel, rough and wet against his face. He doesn't remember falling, can think of no compelling reason to get up, even if he could make it to his knees. "And the chance to save your daughter's."
Running lights pass overhead, yellow-green through smoke and fog, wavering through curtains of rain. "She is a traitor."
"She is your family." She is what you made her, he had wanted to say - not sure, anymore, if that had been gift or curse to both of them. Hate was easy and rage was blind, and there is nothing here he wants to see.
"She is not yours. You exiled her yourself." She was nothing, then, and Tauvo was everything, and it had been so much easier to see her as one of a faceless crowd. Significant only in who she wasn't, her whole life and future under his heel, crushed without thought or hesitation. How dare you live when he is dead? "Why do you protect her?"
"Talyn trusts her." The first shot had splintered the base of a tree; he remembers birds scattering in a cloud of panicked squawks, hiss of dying flames in wet wood and Aeryn's anguished wail. "She is useful."
An easy answer, the same he'd always given himself, and until now it had been sufficient. But he had never heard Aeryn make a sound like that before. Five more shots, hardly necessary, but the echoes shivered through the dying forest, loud enough to drown all else, and by the time they faded the only sound was Xhalax's breathless laughter.
Come on, Crais, you can tell the truth ... Words like a notched blade, ragged with pain. Half a night's determined effort at drinking himself senseless, and he can still see her eyes, cold ash and dull steel, ravaged, mocking. "Oh, Crais, you are a fool."
A lighted sign flares above him, bright white before dying in a fall of sparks and sizzling smoke. He closes his eyes, doesn't open them again until a shadow blocks the distant streetlamps. His lips form her name, a whisper below even Sebacean hearing, but she stops.
She looks smaller in the dress, staring down at him with her mother's eyes. Wet silk is translucent, molded to her thighs; her hair is hidden by her shawl.
She seizes his collar and drags him to his feet; he lurches against her, his legs weak and heavy. Garish colored lights whirl in a sickening, maddening dance and he squeezes his eyes shut, staggers as she wraps one arm around him, pulls him along.
Piles of refuse line the alley, large rodents scampering around and through them. Yellow strobe lights flicker, fading as a vehicle passes, acrid smoke blowing in their faces, hot and choking. He coughs as she steers him through a narrow entryway, automatic doors squealing shut behind them. The elevator jumps to life with a nauseating lurch, cables creaking as it lumbers jerkily upward. He leans back, swallows against the taste of sour liquor and waits for the walls to stop spinning.
The windows are still open, banging against the outside walls as the wind catches them. Rain speckles the floor by the ledge and strikes the outer walls with a dull rhythm, muting the noises of traffic below. She releases him, hardly bothering to shove, and he stumbles backward, falls onto the bed.
She moves to the window, fingers resting lightly on the wall, framed in soft, sickly light. His limbs feel heavy and useless; he tries to sit up, can only roll onto his side. The room spins lazily around him, and the scrawls on the walls come alive, twisting like firesnakes. "Aeryn."
Her outline wavers as she turns, like he's seeing her through water. Wan light glitters in raindrops like a thousand tiny stars, glows fuzzy through smoke and exhaust fumes. He could almost be looking into deep space, can almost believe she will step off that ledge to float gently in free fall.
But he can still see Xhalax falling; he cannot put this day back, cannot even stand to go to her. He reaches for her without hope, one arm outstretched toward her on the bed. "Aeryn."
Let me fall. Her eyes are blurred, distant, without the knife-cold light he remembers. Rain pools on the floor around her feet, a dark, spreading stain. Wind catches her hair, veiling her face. He cannot see where her gaze rests. His eyes close, defeated.
He doesn't hear her move until the bed shifts under her weight. Long hair brushes his face as she leans over him, damp and loose and wild. "You saved my life." Her voice is flat, and he can't tell if it is gratitude or an accusation.
She kisses him, hot and wet and sharp with the taste of stale fellip nectar, one hand clenched in his jacket as she hauls him half-upright against her. The bed creaks as she moves, one knee pushing between his thighs as she shifts closer. He leans into her touch, pain and forgotten hunger and he wants to lose himself in her mouth, hide in the darkness of her hair.
I died a long time ago. And yet, he thinks, we're still breathing, and we don't know how to stop.
Her hands are steady, tugging at the fastenings on his jacket, pushing wet leather off his shoulders. She shifts on top of him, her knee brushing against him through his leathers, a dull flutter of sensation that stops his breath for a microt, but that's all. The room whirls in slow, dizzy circles and his arm goes around her waist, clutching her like a tether.
The rest of the room is gone, swallowed by the buzzing fog stealing his mind, and he can't see beyond stained blankets and the woman in front of him. She is all sharp, broken edges, splintered fragments flying apart, shrapnel piercing friend and foe alike. How dare you live when he is dead? A silent question in her eyes, in her hands pulling him closer, her nails marking his shoulders, new scars to match the lesions already there.
Unsteady fingers stroke along her temple, tangle in her hair, his thumb tracing her cheekbone. Smooth skin is wet under his shaking hand, salt tears and acid rain. He has no answer to give her, can only close his eyes against her pain.
His other hand moves to her thigh, sliding over wet silk. The dress is flimsy, pushed aside easily over the sharp bone of her hip as she presses forward, her skin hot against his palm. Her hand trails down his chest as she leans into his mouth, light fingers slipping inside his trousers. He breaks the kiss and turns away, letting his head fall on her shoulder, his face hidden in the curve of her neck. He is far too drunk to give her what she wants now.
She pushes him backward with a soft, frustrated sound, and they fall still tangled together, into rough blankets that smell like plaster and alien sweat. His arms encircle her as she tries to roll away; he whispers her name into her hair, knows he has no strength to hold her. She freezes, and he hears nothing but her breathing, fast and ragged.
"Shhh." A sharp hiss, soft breath against his skin as she settles on top of him, her head on his chest, body a warm weight along his. His eyes open and the ceiling swims above him, veined with tiny cracks. He cannot see her face, doesn't need to, doesn't want to. "Shhh," she whispers again, gentle this time, and as his vision darkens he can feel the tension leave her.
Wind blows wet and cold and foul through the open window, moaning through cracks in the walls, and he thinks it could blow right through them, whistling through the hollow places, carrying away everything but frail skin and muscle and bone. This is all he can give her, shape of another's body next to hers. A fragile illusion and nothing more, but enough, perhaps, to let her sleep a while.
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Title: Walking Dead
Author: Flora [email] [website]
Details: Standalone | PG-13 | het | 11k | 06/13/05
Characters: Crais, Aeryn
Summary: Half a night's determined effort at drinking himself senseless, and he can still see her eyes.
Notes: Spoilers through "The Choice".
Disclaimer/Other: I'd been wanting to write something about this episode ever since I saw it, but I never thought I could really make it work. This plotbunny showed up back in December, around four in the morning stubborn little critter, but it's finally finished! Many thanks to Hossgal, Snowgrouse and Andraste for betaing this! Feedback is always appreciated! *g*
Disclaimer: I do not own any of these characters. I'm not making any money off of this, please don't sue.
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