title: pretend it means fate

author: ellen milholland
rating: pg-13
codes: a/j, spoilers for Dog With Two Bones
disclaimers: to whomever they belong, my apologies.

summary: here they are, at this convergence of realities.

for G, my expert on things Aeryn and then, the soft things.

*

There she is, at this convergence of realities, her face reflected back at her, lit red, by the control panel. Her eyes are stars, there, big and dark, cold and dying black dwarves. She ignores the way they say to her, "You've torn everything apart."

She doesn't want to think of those edges, just wants to fly and fly until she hits the border of space and falls off the other side. She wants everything to shatter like she knows it can, into little shards of could-be and would-be shimmering until she sweeps them away.

More practically, she's looking for a Sebacean colony or a friendly ship where she can have her child. The laziness of time and a ten month gestation mean that she doesn't have to rush, but she's burning off fuel too fast because she doesn't want him to find her. She lets herself go for a while, then spins back around, far enough away that she knows they won't detect her, pulls it back and heads away.

It's fine. Coins flip and just because he made her cry doesn't mean she has to stay for him. Loving the idea of a man is not the same as loving the flesh of a man, though the little fish of a baby inside of her will attest to the fact that she is not afraid of the realities of flesh. But she had known the other John and his particular scars and folds.

Once, under cover of darkness, all the lights out and just the velvet radiance of space, the other John had said to her, "The secret is to jump first and worry about the bruises later," and once he had said to her, "You could make a grown man cry."

He had said the true and beautiful things she didn't think existed, and he had taken them with him when he died. This is all she can remember, all she knows beyond the reach of her hands and the quivering in her chest. That he had taken the true things with him and left her with the lies.

She breathes in then out then in again, and at the cusp of each, her lungs threaten to say, "No, not this time," threaten to suffocate her. Every moment is another lost opportunity, and none of these stars mean anything to her.

The fuel gauge dips precariously, a question. Life or death, now or never? It says these things, sliding down towards empty, and she blinks slowly once and twice, and says aloud, "Fate, then."

And she doesn't have to make the difficult decisions, but the universe loves her so much, her hair and her perfect mouth. The coin flips, death is thwarted. A moment, skimming the knives and coming away cut free.

So she finds a ship, another ship, and it's easy enough to beg asylum, beg amnesia. She thinks they know she's a runaway Peacekeeper, if that's really what she is, but they don't ask any questions, just smooth her hair and pat her hands, and ask her if she's got anything worth giving. There isn't much, but they'll take it. Of course they will. The woman in charge, Qar, has eyes the red-black color of drying blood and doesn't blink.

Aeryn says her name is Ialya, and nobody believes her but they'll use it anyway. Ialya is quiet, complacent, a woman hiding from something or everything. Qar assigns her mess duty or simple mathematical tasks. She suspects this Ialya could run the ship, could redesign the engines or the weapons, because Ialya has the hands of a woman well trained.

Qar asks, baring sharp white teeth, "You could do more." It is a melodic growl in her own language, a sing-song in Aeryn's.

Aeryn says, "Yes." She likes to look at Qar's feet, bare and sharp-clawed and feathered.

"Would you, if I asked you to?" Qar asks.

"Yes," Aeryn answers, simply enough.

"Okay, then," Qar asks, then flutters her wings about her head, a gesture of disinterest.

So she hides there and tries to plan something, anything to keep her hands busy. She thinks about becoming a renegade, thinks about getting the drugs to help her lose the baby, thinks about nothing. Thinks about trees and sand and rain. Thinks about Crais.

The nights are much worse than the mornings.

When she starts to see the baby in the shape of her reflection in the mirror, she knows what she must do. Fate again, heads and tails, the swell of her abdomen and a dream or fantasy in which she was carrying a perfectly beautiful, perfectly dead infant and showing him the sights of Earth. Of course, there was nothing, just blank whiteness and the cold child, because she knows nothing of Earth except what she's been told.

Of course it seemed perfectly reasonable.

They keep the prowler below decks and one day she announces her intention. Qar is unsurprised, offers her supplies, and Aeryn accepts them. She's only stupid when it counts, John might say. She might ignore him. She says, "Thank you," and Qar gives her a brilliant, emerald-colored feather. There are no words for that, to say the meanings and the directions, but the feather is hot to the touch.

"My name isn't--"

"Neither is mine," Qar says, and that's the end of it, and the prowler makes little growling noises but otherwise is none the worse for wear. Aeryn likes the aimless trawling on a river of dark, would drag her fingers in it if not for the walls, and she wonders if this is going mad.

When she feels the first stirrings of the child inside of her, that is the first time she feels afraid. She wants to vomit from the sudden realization that there is no turning back from this, from the arms and the legs of an infant with his eyes. It kicks her like its angry. She just goes, thinking that whatever happens will happen.

She doesn't learn from her mistakes, so she still believes the pretty hands of fate will scoop her up and deliver him to her. She comes upon another ship, equally unlikely and equally hospitable. She thinks she might be a fantasy, a tumbling dream, but she doesn't think it where she could know, only in the back of her mind where the quiet thoughts live. Sebaceans don't dream, have no use for fantasy, but those things that made her Peacekeeper slip away a little more each moment. She dreams, now, sometimes, and wonders if it was the punishment she deserved for being unable to stay. This is as likely as anything, as likely as meeting a man named John and loving him because of his eyes only.

This time she says, "I am a civilian. I am pregnant." She does not say, "Help me," or, "You cannot possibly be real." She accepts their woolen blankets and their warm soups and she rests with her hands against her swollen belly and hums. She does it because she wants the baby to know its mother by her voice.

Time is malleable, and thoughts turn into weeks or months. She is big and heavy, breasts and stomach hard. She says, "Tell me when he comes for me," and the girl who brings her food, Ro, just nods. She thinks Aeryn, again Ialya, is crazy, but she has nothing against crazy people. Ro is tiny and she loves Ialya for her strong legs. Aeryn lets Ro put her hands on her taut stomach, to feel the baby moving. Ro says prayers to her family's gods for the well-being of the woman and the infant.

Ro believes in the gods more than anything, and Aeryn believes that John will come for her, and they are the same things, really, except Aeryn's incense is her breath in the cool air when she sleeps soundly knowing he is on his way. Her breath, Ro knows, smells like herbs. Ro has checked.

So he comes. It is how this works. She says, "Finally."

He says, "You ran away."

She says, "You found me." Her eyes are cold. She doesn't know how to love, not really, maybe never will. She does not waddle when she walks to him and places his hands against her belly.

"It's mine?" he asks, as if there is any question. He likes the obvious, because it is safe.

"If it's green, we'll know it's Rygel's."

"Aeryn": a breath, an answer, a sigh, a groan, a song, a sparkling star-plain, golden marbles, his hand in hers, a question.

"John": a flipped coin, falling andů

There are stars everywhere. When the baby's born, a perfect little boy with curled fingers and a mop of black hair, he knows the child's more Aeryn's than his, made of her flesh, and so he says, "What will you call him?"

"Kirin," she says, without hesitation. It is a garble through the translation, a low glissando. Only later will he learn to say it Kirin. The music is enough of a name.

"What does it mean?" he asks.

"Pretend it means fate," she says, though it doesn't. Scraping by the edges and finding stardust far below and far within.

He says, "Anything," and his voice is a shimmering coin sparkling against the ground. They ignore it when he kisses Kirin's head and says, "Anything."

Back to the one-offs.