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Forty-Eight Words

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There were days when John would mumble something about showing the baby a new part of the ship, or maybe taking a shuttle down to the nearest planet to explore. Aeryn would stare at him until he promised it wasn't dangerous at all, and he'd even bring DRDs along for company. And after some debate, during which Aeryn usually requested more details than John was prepared to provide, she would kiss the baby, kiss her husband, and tell them to enjoy themselves.

The one thing they both knew but never discussed was that John's ideas of danger did not always overlap with hers. Earth children, she had gathered, were coddled beyond measure, but John's latent paranoia was the best alarm she could conceive.

Depending on the day and the location, Aeryn could discuss destinations with Pilot, or field messages from the minions of the newly-reinstated Dominar Rygel XVI, or assess Moya's stockpiles of food and ammunition.

Sometimes, Chiana would follow her around, muttering all the while. Aeryn could never decide if it irritated her, or if it was a welcome break from the silence. (Since the baby had been born, Aeryn had developed a greater tolerance for chatter and noise.) They didn't converse--at the best of times, conversation was not a skill Aeryn claimed as her own--but Aeryn learned the pattern of Chiana's exclamations until she could anticipate the next beat.



One evening, John sent them a comm from the planet below. "Little D and I have to stay down here overnight," he said, all impatience.

"Is something wrong?" Aeryn asked. She started to calculate how many cartridges she could carry in her right hip holster, because if she had to carry the baby, she would need to carry him on her left hip. (It was easier to fire her gun that way, though sometimes awkward to reload.) She found herself gripping the edge of the console, and it took her a moment to focus on John's voice.

"We're okay," he kept repeating. "We're okay. Aeryn, you hear me?"

"Yes," she gritted out. "What's happening?"

"Some customs mix-up," he said. "We're on the planet of red tape down here, but we're fine. See?" His image bent, and reappeared holding the baby. "Wave hi to your mama, Little D."

The baby cooed, and Aeryn smiled for his sake. "Should I come down there?"

"No," John said. "No, that'd just double the time spent waiting in lines."

"Right," Aeryn said. "Well."

"We'll call you again in a couple of arns," John told her. "Don't worry. We're okay."

Aeryn nodded, and the image of her family flickered, then disappeared. She took a deep breath, then turned to find Chiana skulking in the doorway.

"I'm starving," Chiana said, finally.

Aeryn nodded again, and followed Chiana to the galley.



Aeryn couldn't sleep.

After John sent the second comm, she prowled from bridge to galley to stern to hangar bay. She poked, listless, at a dry protein cube, and poked at the remnants of a disassembled DRD.

She lay in bed and stared at the curves and swirls of the ceiling. There was no pattern, just the soothing swoop of Moya's innards. She waited for sleep and knew it wouldn't come. Then she heard a familiar, quiet shuffle, and the mattress dipped, tilted. She turned her head.

Chiana stretched, her back arching as she pressed her shoulders back. "It's really quiet around here," she said. "You miss the kid?"

Aeryn turned on her side. "What do you want, Chiana?"

Chiana shrugged. "It's cold," she said. "Can I stay here?"

Aeryn stared at her, then nodded, her cheek shifting sideways against the sheets. "If you want," she said.

She drifted off to the low hum of a Nebari lullaby.



She woke when the bed dipped for a second time, and found Chiana's arms draped around her waist. She looked up, and John was staring at them with a smile.

"I can't say I never thought about it," he muttered.

"Funny," Aeryn asked. "Where's the baby?"

"Sleeping," John replied. "He fell asleep on the ride back. I put him in his cradle." He tilted his head. "Should I, uh. What should I do with Pip?"

Aeryn eased towards the center of the bed and gestured slowly, sleep and warmth lending safety to the room.

"Dear Penthouse," he said, then laughed when Aeryn raised her eyebrows. "Never mind."

John shed his vest, then after a moment, his trousers. He slid under the sheets and wrapped his arm around Aeryn, just above where Chiana's wrist rested.

"This is weird," he murmured.

"Be quiet," Aeryn said, and then she fell asleep.



That was the first time Chiana slid into their bed, late at night after the baby fell asleep. She would slip in next to Aeryn, slide her arm around Aeryn's waist, and tuck her chin against Aeryn's shoulder.

John usually didn't comment, except to make jokes when his eyes widened, whenever he first noticed. He seemed uncomfortable at first, but Aeryn's lack of objection dampened his concern.

After the third time it happened, he pulled her aside before breakfast and pressed his forehead to hers. "We're okay, right?" he asked. "You're not missing anything?"

Aeryn frowned. "I don't understand."

He kissed her, briefly, then leaned back with a sigh. "You would tell me if you were..." He trailed off, then laughed. "Of course you would."

"I still don't understand," Aeryn observed, but he kissed her again, for a long, lovely minute.

"You love me," he said, and there was no question in his voice.

He never explained what had really been bothering him, but Aeryn decided it was one of those human things that sometimes made him strange.



One night, Chiana came later than usual, after Aeryn and John had already settled in. As they turned to watch her, she wriggled out of her clothes--something she hadn't done before, not standing as they watched, the light from the corridor streaming in behind her.

Behind Aeryn, John shifted and half-coughed. Aeryn laughed, low in her throat, and Chiana tugged the blankets back. She pressed Aeryn down, pressed her shoulders into the mattress, and under John's eyes, they kissed.