THIS TIME, I STAY STRONG

SUMMARY: Obligatory post-"The Choice" angstfic. The Queen of Angst must provide for her subjects *grin*. This probably doesn't have a summary. General weirdness and Aeryn-angst. Vaguely humorous in a very bitter way…

RATING: I'll give it a PG-13 to be safe.

SPOILERS/SETTING: Set during "The Choice", so therefore spoils that and, of course, "IP:IA".

DISCLAIMER: Characters, etc. not mine. The story and ideas within it are.

AUTHOR'S NOTES: This has been nibbling at my cerebral cortex for a while. Angst, haze, graffiti, pretty much how the episode was. And lots of swearing, 'scape style =) This is also Aeryn-centric, as the episode was (we love you, Claudia!) and switches between first and third person POV. So don't review me telling me I switched perspectives. I know I did. If you're going to review it, be nice =) I would also like to give a warning to everyone - NEVER listen to "My Lover's Gone" by Dido whilst writing angstfic… *sniff* Actually, that goes for most of the "I'm No Angel" album… Mucho depressive…

Enjoy.

This Time, I Stay Strong

© T'eyla Minh 2002

"This is my world now. I think I liked yours better…"

Did I say that? Who was I talking to? And wasn't there someone sitting there a microt ago? Frell. I did it again…

~*~*~

Aeryn took another swig of the noxious blue liquid sloshing in the bottle, knowing full well it wouldn't help in the slightest, but craving the brief numbing of her senses. Numbness, she'd decided, was far better than the dull ache in her chest, and the alcohol buzz seemed to fill the almost endless void in her soul. The fellip nectar was a brief substitute for feeling anything… but it didn't last very long.

She surveyed the proof of this fact as she dredged the bottom of the bottle and instinctively sought another, turning to look behind her. The floor was littered with discarded bottles, the flashing neon outside reflecting dully back off them. She laughed bitterly at herself, then spotted a final, glorious dosage of the nectar on the table.

She stood, staggered a little (more from lack of sleep than anything) and headed towards it. She tripped, crunching glass underfoot, and cursed out loud.

~*~*~

I didn't even drink this much in the troops. How many bottles is that? One, two, three… eleven? Frell! No wonder I can't even stand.

Crais would just love this. Any excuse to make himself feel like an officer again, my superior, so perfect and logical, waiting to reprimand and give orders…

Ow! Where did that frelling chair come from? Another bruise for the collection.

If Crichton were here, he'd laugh. Make some stupid comment. Probably be proud of me for getting so completely dranjed I can't even think straight… Frell, if Crichton were here, I wouldn't be so completely dranjed…

~*~*~

Finally, she reached the table and the fellip nectar, and sat down heavily. She threw the bottle cap onto the mess by the window and half-drained the bottle. Woozily, she tried to identify one of the myriad scrawling on the opposite wall. It began to rearrange itself, slowly at first, then faster, forming words and pictures, and ending on a name. She blinked, but it remained.

Frowing, Aeryn sidled over to the pile of empty bottles and picked one up. When the name on the wall refused to vanish still, she threw the bottle at it and watched it shatter, barely flinching.

Microts later, all eleven lay in angry shards near the wall, and finally, blissfully, the graffiti became indistinguishable once more.

~*~*~

That's for dying…

That's for ever existing…

That's for leaving your stupid hezmana of a planet and invading my life…

That's for telling me I could be more, and making me believe you…

That's for expecting me to live up to it…

That one's for dying again. You're not getting off that lightly…

That's for killing me… and for bringing me back to live through this dren…

That's for loving me enough to do it…

That's for loving me at all…

That's for making me love you back…

And that's for myself… for being stupid enough to let you…

~*~*~

Her anger finally spent, and ammunition deployed, Aeryn backed away and collapsed into an armchair. She briefly considered throwing herself at the wall, but was too lethargic to stand up again, and resigned to stay put. Besides, damaging herself wasn't going to help anybody.

When an all-too-familiar figure towered over her, she tried to ignore it, drinking half-heartedly.

"That stuff's not good for you, you know."

"Go away."

"If you really wanted that, I wouldn't even be here." It sounded hurt. Aeryn looked up, fully expecting what she saw. John, just as she'd always remember him, complete with goofy smile. But it wasn't him, not really. She knew that. She wasn't fahrbot yet.

Exhausted, she said, "Fine. Stay then. Makes no difference anyway." She took another swig and winced. Fellip nectar didn't stay fresh for very long.

"What makes you think I'd leave?"

Aeryn laughed. "Do I even need to justify that with an answer? You did leave, Crichton!"

"But I'm here now, aren't I?"

"And can you promise me you'll never leave me again? Can you give me that?" For what seemed like the hundredth time, she was fighting back tears and being only partially successful. The John-who-wasn't-John merely smiled, and said nothing else, turning her face to his when she looked away. Slowly, he brought his mouth to hers.

Aeryn fought it with all her strength. Somewhere, a rapidly deteriorating logical part of her mind told her it wasn't real, wasn't right… but she lost herself before the thought fully formed.

Two arns later, she awoke in the same chair, every muscle screaming in pain, and unfinished fellip nectar stagnating in her hand. The first thought that came to mind was wondering where he'd gone, and it was quickly followed by the familiar dread and sickening in her stomach when she realised it had been another hallucination, and that he really was gone. Then, she remembered the drink.

Moving cautiously, she sniffed it, and cringed. Thinking of Crichton again, she hurled it at the wall with the others, then, as her mind began to ramble, she threw the larger shards as well. The blue substance began to congeal where it coated the wall and floor.

~*~*~

Frell you, Crichton! This is your fault, all of it! I was doing fine until you came along. Even after Velorek I was fine, but you… you had to be different, didn't you!? You had to care… you had to fall in love, you had to love me enough to persevere, and pursue, and drive me crazy!

Why? Where did it get you? Where did it get us, in the end? Back to square one, that's where… I hated you when we met. I hated you - strange human who didn't understand a thing, and I despised you for it. But you changed me… I don't know how, but you did, and I started to respect you, even liked you… I loved you.

I loved you for so long, Crichton… But what other frelling choice did I have? Break your heart and my own in the process, or take the easy way out and just succumb to it. Soldiers don't take the easy way. I did, and it was your fault.

And now… I hate you again. You arrive, and you ruin my life… you finally go away, and you ruin it all over again. Can you explain how that one works?

But why… why, why, why do you persist in coming back? Isn't it enough that I lost you once, that I have to lose you again, and again, and each time worse than the last? It's like you're tethered to me, like Talyn was to his mother, unable to let me go. Or is it that I can't let go?

Maybe that's it.

Maybe… Frell. I'm out of fellip nectar again.

Hmm. I don't want to know what that's doing to my internal organs… I hope they don't expect me to clean that dren up.

~*~*~

Aeryn had lost track of how long she'd been in the city, but guessed it was in the region of a few days. She didn't want to contemplate exactly how much alcohol she'd consumed, either. Given the circumstances, she could forgive herself, and honestly didn't give a frell what anyone else thought of her.

It had been a good tow arns since the man who called himself her father had brought the Seer. It was still in the room, apparently asleep but seeming to watch her nonetheless. Aeryn was lying awake, wanting to sleep, but caught up in her own thoughts.

She recalled things randomly, past and present, in rapid succession until the images became blurred. Eventally, as the effects of the fellip nectar began to wear off, they clarified, and came with associated feelings.

John's death always came to her first no matter what she did; it was fleeting, but as painful as ever. In a desperate attempt to avoid another round of tears, she turned her thoughts to 'Talyn' instead.

~*~

Can I really accept it? Can I believe that that… thing is my father? I want it to be true… and even if it's not, we can both pretend. Maybe he's just a fahrbot old man who believes I'm his daughter… and if so, then maybe I can just play along for a while.

But he knows about me. He knows about Xhalax, too. So perhaps he really is Talyn. John would have told me to hope…

And the Seer… I know that's a lie and it can't bring him back… but what if it can? If it means I can never leave here, then frell, I'll stay… just to get him back. I said I'd go to Earth, didn't I? This is no different, really. I don't belong here any more than I do there. It's not like I have a home any more.

No. It's dren, all of it. People can't come back from the dead… I did, but I was somewhere Zhaan could reach me. I doubt if even she could find wherever John is right now. Besides, I've already seen him here, three times now. I don't need some Seer to bring him to me.

I suppose I should go back to Talyn soon. And Moya… Crais is planning on returning with or without me, I'm sure. I can't stay on Talyn! Moya's as bad. Having to cope with their sympathy, D'Argo, Chiana, Jool… oh. Frell! How could I have forgotten!

Crichton's frelling clone… He's going to be expecting me to… what? Love him? Act like everything's normal?

He's not John… He's just a Copy. He has to have realised what happened between me and John - they claimed to be the same, so he's not stupid. It's not like he's going to have waited for me…

I think I pulled something throwing those bottles before… my shoulder frelling hurts…

~*~

She rolled over, punching the pillow. It had all been yet another hallucination. The Seer hissed and sighed as if snoring and she shuddered. For the second time that Solar say, she briefly wondered just how many metras it was to the ground, and how much it would hurt if she fell. This time, she dismissed the thought instantly… but the first time, before Rygel hovered up to her and knocked some sanity into her hazy brain, the thought had lingered and nearly become a reality.

She honestly hadn't realised just what she'd been contemplating until he pointed it out. "Self-sacrifice is not the answer…" Was that was she was doing? And what if Rygel hadn't turned up at that point… would she have carried it through?

Talyn had distracted her, and the thought lay dormant for a while.

The next few microts all seemed to fly past as Xhalax forced her way into the room. Aeryn barely remembered any of it and seemed to experience it as if detached. She was speaking with her mother, who was supposed to be dead. This wasn't that strange, considering she'd been speaking to John only moments before. Suddenly, everything made perfect sense and seemed about to be going right…

Then, just as suddenly, her mother was dead… by Crais' hand. Aeryn stared after Xhalax's falling body, and felt herself coming back to reality. It was only when she looked behind her and saw Crais still holding his weapon, looking vaguely remorseful and mildly confused, that the situation dawned. She blinked and what felt like a hundred emotions flooded through her. In that moment, she felt like curling into a ball on the floor until the torrent ended. She stayed motionless, however, staring at Crais intensely before returning her gaze to the window.

Aeryn took a step back away from the edge and then turned to walk inside. Silently, she took her pulse pistol and aimed it nonchalantly at Crais' head. He made a gesture of surrender and smiled weakly.

"Aeryn-"

"Don't move a muscle, Crais."

He complied, and dropped the smile while he was at it.

"I'm… sorry."

"For what, exactly? Not killing Xhalax when you had the chance? For having the worst timing of anyone I know? For him?" She indicated the dead man in the middle of the room. "Or for Crichton?" Crais made to say something, but soon stopped when Aeryn fired a shot very close to his head. "I said, don't move. No, I imagine you're not sorry for Crichton at all. You've been dying for him to be out of your way…"

"Aeryn, listen to me."

"Why?"

"I don't have a reason. A last request before you kill me?"

She laughed. "Kill you? I'm not going to kill you. I'd rather let you live with what you did."

Crais looked slightly irritated, as if he didn't have time for her to be going fahrbot on him right now. "I am sorry, Aeryn, for everything that happened… I thought I was saving your life, and if you could see what was going on downstairs, you'd probably agree that I did. I know you're still grieving Crichton… but Talyn has detected Moya and wants to return to her."

Aeryn lowered her weapon. "And?"

"And… Rygel, Stark and I are going to rendez-vous, with or without you… Officer Sun."

The recently buried Peacekeeper side of Aeryn forced it's way to the surface with his final words. She sat down in a chair and brought a hand to her head, fighting the headache which seemed imminent.

"Fine…" she muttered. Looking up, she said, "Tell them I'll be up within an arn."

Crais nodded, trying to hide his self-satisfaction, and left without another word…

~*~

Why, suddenly, is Crais the sane one? It's normally me. First Rygel, now him, and all the while I've been driving myself mad. They're both right.

I've got no other choice, now… I have to leave this all behind and get on with my life… even if it means being around his Copy…

~*~

A quarter arn later, she recognised herself again the mirror. The fellip nectar had completely worn off and she was almost beginning to think straight again.

The John Crichton at the window was the only indication there was something wrong, but at least she knew that, this time, and could do something about it.

"Aeryn," he said. "C'mere."

She found strength and fought the temptation. "No. You have to go now."

If only it had been that easy a few Solar days ago. She surveyed the broken glass by the wall again and cringed at the memory… she barely remembered what she'd been thinking then, but what she did remember was something she'd rather forget, just the same… Cursing him and herself… screaming his name from the rooftops… seeing him even when he wasn't there… drinking herself crazy…

As she was leaving, the Seer woke up and asked if she wanted to try again. The urge to kill the thing on the spot was overwhelming, but instead, she chose to walk away…

~*~

In a normal world, I could at least accept the fact that I'll never see Crichton again. I could block out the memories to the best of my abilities, and try to forget he ever existed at all. I could try to ignore the pain that just won't go away. I could even forget I ever loved him…

But no… John Crichton being who he is, he had to go and get himself cloned. So now, I have no choice but to live, work, and eat with the Other version of my Crichton, who doesn't have his memories of Talyn, but will still love me just the same.

If I'm weak, I'll end up loving him back. I'll fall in the same trap again, end up deliriously happy with him and feel constantly guilty that I'm betraying John's trust. And then he'll get himself killed and I'll have to go through this all again… but with no Other to fall back on.

I suppose I'm lucky, in a way.

On the other hand, if I'm strong, I'll resist him, ignore him, and if I can make him stop loving me… all the better for us both. I refuse to lose him again. I refuse to love him again.

I choose to be strong. If I break his heart again, I'll explain why and hope he understands. I know him, he'll say he does even if he doesn't, and that's good enough. I can't let myself be weak.

And yet… I know… I know, with complete certainty, that he's exactly the same, and the only difference is what happened on Talyn, and despite that, I love him. I told him, weekens before we left. I told him, and I told myself… and I can't go back on my word.

So maybe… I can still love him…

No. This time, I stay strong…

~F~I~N~

Right, well, that's my "The Choice" fic over and done with. "Fractures" fic coming soon which will probably resemble everyone else's… Please R&R. Then take a break from the angst by reading my "Sunshine and Snowdrifts" fic…