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Stranger Than Fiction

by The Inimitable Pooh Bah

Thanks to: bk for betaing.

Date: May 9 - 13, 2001

Rating: PG

Summary: There's never a good time to tell some truths. Post-ep for "Hit a Sista Back."

Disclaimer: Dark Angel belongs to James Cameron, Charles Eglee, and/or FOX.

Feedback: poohbah@gray-eyed.com

Website: http://www.gray-eyed.com/

Archive: List archives and by submission. Do not archive or repost without permission.


Zane carefully set the phone back in its cradle and walked quietly back to the sofa. He lifted the pair of bare feet that occupied his seat, then lowered them onto his lap.

Tinga hadn't told Charlie, not before it was too late to do any good.

Zane wondered how late too late was.

Ten blue-painted toes wiggled, and Zane shifted his attention up denim legs and a tee shirt that had been his until the week before, to Francie.

"Zane, are you okay?"

He shrugged.

Francie raised an eyebrow and pressed on. "Who was on the phone?"

"My brother."

"Pike, or Krit?"

"Zack."

Zane stopped at that, so Francie had to prod again.

"Bad news, Zane?"

He nodded silently, and wondered briefly if Francie was feeling the same way he always did when he tried to get details out of Zack.

--

"Truth really is stranger than fiction," Tinga said, lifetimes ago, as she ran a hand absently over her growing belly. "Charlie would never believe it."

"Doesn't he have a right to know by now?" he demanded. "You're carrying his baby."

Tinga cocked her head and gave him a shrewd little glance. "Doesn't Rita have a right to know by now? You're planning to propose to her. Where's the line, Zane?"

He never did tell Rita. Or Grace. Or Colleen.

--

Or Francie. And here she was, paying half the rent, washing all the dishes in exchange for him doing all the cooking, overlooking red socks when she washed the whites. That shade of pink had grown on him, after sleeping on it so many times. Zane didn't think anybody else in the world could duplicate that pink.

What if something happened to Francie? He wouldn't be a test subject for any more new jokes. There would be no more kisses with watermelon lip gloss taste. The smoke smell from her one and only attempt to cook him dinner would fade beyond even his perception.

All the pink tint would wash out of his shirts.

"Zane?"

He snapped to attention.

Francie leaned forward and put a hand on his shoulder. "Are you alright, babe? You're all spaced out . . . "

Zane took a deep breath. "Francie, I need to tell you something."

"I'm all ears." She waited, watching him attentively.

She waited a very long time.

"Zane?"

He swallowed, and thought about how much trouble it could cause Francie if she knew, how much trouble it could cause her if she didn't. . . . There really wasn't any way to win this, was there?

He wished they'd have told him that back at Manticore.

"Francie . . . " His voice cracked, a tear slipped past all the soldier he'd been trying to call back ever since he heard Zack's voice on the line. The reality of war is hard--your comrades go down, and sometimes there's nothing you can do, and crying won't do anything but distract you so you'll get caught too. Suck it up, soldier.

If he had wanted to be a soldier, he never would have left.

Francie slipped forward to pull Zane into a hug.

He buried his face against her pink-tinted tee shirt and let himself cry, huge desperate exhausted sobs Zack would have chewed him up and spat him back out for. He didn't want to be a soldier, if that meant denying his most basic human reactions to loss.

"Francie," he choked out.

"Shhhhhhh," she whispered. "It's okay, babe. It'll all be okay."

"Don't ever learn how to find that red sock, Francie," he begged. He wondered if Zack had cried like this for Tinga, if Zack was even capable of tears.

"It's okay, Zane."

Zane shook his head against her. His family was going one by one, and any of them could be next. Krit could be next, Van could be next, he could be next. No matter how fast he ran and how careful he was, there was going to be a day when nothing was enough. Maybe he would mourn other losses before it happened, would cry for Mab and for Syl and for Zack and for Jondy. Or maybe he'd leave them mourning him, the ones that let themselves mourn.

No matter which way it happened, it would never be okay. Francie would never understand that.

"There's some things I can't ever, ever tell you, Francie."

"Shhhhhhh . . . " She stroked his back--some twistedly analytical corner of his mind told him it was a reflexive attempt to make everything better, an instinctive expression of her concern.

The same instinct had gnawed at Jace until she deserted and ran to Mexico, and had pulled Tinga back to Portland and made her give up everything she was for her son. And somehow Zack thought that identical instincts had been completely right when Jace broke for freedom, and completely wrong when Tinga protected her baby, and completely irrelevant when Francie and every other normal woman clucked and stroked and soothed.

Zane thought that instinct was completely right in every woman who had ever lived. Tinga and Francie and Jace and all of them.

"Francie, there's people after me, and maybe someday I'll have to leave you and I won't have a chance to say goodbye. But I love you, Francie."

"It's okay," Francie cooed.

"I'd never leave you if there was any choice. Never."

He could imagine Tinga saying that to Charlie, some warm summer night while his baby slept in one arm and he held his wife close with the other. She'd made good on her promise. Zane hoped he would have the same determination as Tinga, if he ever found himself in her shoes.

Tinga's shoes were too damn big to fill. Maybe it was something nobody could understand without watching their child grow from a tiny baby to a little boy who walked and talked and asked for bedtime stories.

"It's okay, Zane."

He wrapped both arms around her waist to keep her close, and sighed against her shoulder.

If there was any choice, never. . . . What the hell kind of promise was that? There was always a choice between running and staying. The only thing that changed was what went along with stopping to live--Zack's nagging and the abstract possibility of discovery, usually. But someday Manticore would come close enough for discovery to be a too-obvious risk. Staying would mean capture and the systematic destruction of everything that made him Zane and his world falling to pieces around him.

Never could be years away, or next week, or tomorrow. He'd given Colleen that same promise about choices and never, but never had come in L.A., and he'd left. It would happen here too, and all he'd have left of Francie was some pink shirts that his next girlfriend would bleach back to an empty, lifeless white no matter how deep in his drawer he hid them.

There was only now, with Francie stroking his hair like a hurt little boy's and trying to soothe pains he'd never try to make her understand.

"I love you, Francie," he whispered.

"I love you too, babe. It's all okay."

And maybe, right here and right now, it really was okay.

--

[ END ]


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