Author's note: This one got way, way, way out of hand. I was reading a collection of the Chuck Dixon G.I. Joe comics, and I couldn't help being struck by Zanya—the delinquent, mildly psychotic, severely badass teenage daughter of Zartan. Her biography revealed some surprising inconsistencies (like the fact that she originally loathed Zartan, since he left her mother before she was even born), and overall she showed a level of competency not usually associated with teenagers. Somehow, this came out.
Zanya comes off a little immature in some parts of this, but that was the intention. In the comics we mainly see her war face—her interacting with Cobra, with the Dreadnoks, with the Joes—but there are occasional flashes of genuine affection for her father, as well as a definitely immature tendency to make fun of and alienate Zarana. I kind of wanted to see her off-duty, in the moments when she's not busy attacking or defending, and get a sense of the teenage side of her.
In such scenes, Zartan too would also be different from what we usually see; we get glimpses of the fact that he does care about Zanya, or is at least proud of her, and in the original '80s comics we see that he definitely deals with guilt and remorse left over from his time in with the Arashikage and Professor Onihashi. Zartan's an amoral bastard a lot of the time, and he's definitely a bad guy, but if even Cobra Commander can have the (occasional, brief, now-gone) soft spot for his kid, Zartan could be the same.
TL;DR: Family story, some drama, some humor.
Rating: T for language
Disclaimer: G.I. Joe and all associated characters and concepts are property of Hasbro Inc, and I derive no profit from this. Please accept this in the spirit with which it is offered—as a work of respect and love, not an attempt to claim ownership or earn money from this intellectual property.
by Totenkinder Madchen
Zanya couldn't sleep. No big surprise there, considering that the small back room of the abandoned gas station was also the sleeping quarters of seven extremely large, rather odorous men who considered snoring an art form, but it didn't change the fact that she was still having some serious trouble getting her beauty snooze. Groaning and mumbling a little, she sat up, running a hand through her dreadlocks and wondering just how snippy Aunt Zarana would be if she fell asleep on the ride into Washington tomorrow. Aunt Zarana always liked to dig the knife in any way she could . . .
Ahhh, Aunt Zarana. Auntie Z. The Old Lady. Second-in-command until Zanya had come along, so there was definitely some bad blood there. Whenever the two of them got into it, though, Dad would break it up: he'd give them the whole blood-is-thicker-than-water thing, or just glare, and that would be it. For a while, anyway. Uncle Zandar always said that nobody fought like family, and he had the scars to prove it.
When Zanya and her (complete idiot of a) boyfriend Kevin had set out to become Dreadnoks, and Zanya had first formulated the plan of finding and beating the shit out of her long-lost father, she hadn't realized that she would be getting a whole new family in addition to what Donald called the "paterfamilias." Certainly, when she'd started looking for information on the elusive Zartan, she had only been able to find a few facts: big scary guy, tough as nails, wears a cowl a lot for some damn reason, capable of blending in anywhere, "the human chameleon," blahdy blahdy blah. He was the leader of a powerful gang and in cahoots with some major terrorist organizations, but he was also the guy who hadn't phoned her mom in fourteen years. Suffice it to say that Zanya had gone into those initial meetings with hostile intentions. Acquiring a new family had not been at the top of her list of priorities.
Now, holy shit, there they were. Dad: spooky bastard, but seriously hardcore, and much calmer about suddenly acquiring a fourteen-year-old daughter than a lot of the gang leaders and career criminals Zanya had met. They didn't do the hug thing much, but he said he was proud of her, and he trusted nobody more. Not even Auntie Z, who'd been his sidekick since before Zanya was born. (Take that, old lady.) And then there was Uncle Zandar, who despite sharing Auntie Z's affection for hot-pink hair (there was a story there, Zanya was guessing, but nobody's gonna catch her asking) was able to blend into anything. Literally. You couldn't get him to stop. Zanya had once grabbed a chair in front of the TV only to find Uncle Zandar occupying it first—kind of creepy and wayyyy awkward, especially since she'd landed on him hard enough to have him squeaking and walking funny for the rest of the evening . . .
A loud snore interrupted her contemplations, and Zanya swore. It was a classic Florida night outside, hot and thick and damper than sleeping in a sauna, but she was willing to give up the air-conditioning inside the gas station if it meant she could just get some rest. She slithered out of her sleeping bag, pulled on a new pair of shorts, and made her way to the door. If she "accidentally" stepped on Thrasher's face? Well, that was his problem.
(Despite still being only barely old enough to drive, nobody had ever questioned the wisdom of Zanya sharing sleeping quarters with several large antisocial thugs. Even if she hadn't been the dirtiest fighter this side of Zanzibar, no Dreadnok was going to lay a hand on Zartan's little girl. It was a matter of survival.)
Ugh, she had been right: it was horrible out. Still, there was a little bit of breeze coming from the direction of the highway, and the sound of crickets and frogs was infinitely preferable to the snoring and the sleep-talking. Zanya shook out her 'locked hair before pulling it back again, tying it into an awkward ponytail that would at least keep it off her neck, and nicked a grape soda from the ever-present cooler by the door.
Not that all the Dreadnoks were asleep at this hour; Zartan was usually awake—good luck getting Dad to sleep when he didn't have to—and Buzzer, Heartwrencher and Road Pig were on lookout duty. Zanya stuck the still-unopened grape soda in her waistband, hopped onto the hood of an abandoned pickup truck, and shinned up onto the flat roof of the gas station. As expected, Road Pig was up there, sitting still and pretending to be a chimney. It was the only effective camouflage they'd found for him.
"Hi, big guy," Zanya said, flopping down next to him. Though the night was still hot and sticky, the concrete roof was wonderfully cool, and she let out a sigh as she stretched out. "Who's in there tonight?"
"Good evening, young lady," Road Pig said, looking up from his copy of—Zanya squinted-À la recherche du temps perdu, volume three. "What brings you out here this evening?"
"Oh, cool. Hey, Donald." Zanya sat up long enough to open her grape soda and take a quick swig. "Nothing much. I couldn't sleep in there, with everyone snoring and talking and shit. D'you know Buzzer doesn't shut up? Even when he's asleep? Two nights ago, he was giving a speech to some kind of selection committee!"
"That is the tragedy of Buzzer," Road Pig rumbled, carefully marking his place with a piece of human tooth. "One an academic, always an academic. He has a Dreadnok's gift for causing destruction, and a professor's gift for being unable to shut up about what he has done. There is a reason why the Joe team always g-grabs 'im first."
Zanya sighed. "And hello, Road Pig. Put down the book careful, okay? I won't be able to sleep up here if you an' Donald get into a bitchfest."
"T-that won't be necessary."
Before Zanya had time to wonder why Road Pig's voice was using Donald's phrasing, something shifted in the near-darkness, and the giant shape beside her suddenly began to shrank. Zanya yelped, instinctively throwing herself sideways across the roof and spilling her grape soda in the process. The dark form tsk'd as it settled into itself, solid and unmoving again.
"You need to work on your impulse control, I see."
"Jeez, Dad!" Zanya snapped, sitting up again and trying futilely to regain her composure. "What the hell are you doin' up here?"
"Thinking." Zartan slid the paper jacket off the book he had been reading, revealing a Chinese arms manual. "I sent Road Pig into town with Zarana."
"To check the incoming intel, right?" The teenager scootched back across the roof, half to get closer to her father and half to avoid the puddle of grape soda that was in danger of getting her bare feet all sticky. She'd made a big mistake by freaking out when the shape change occurred, and now she had to recoup her cred by showing that she was still on the ball. "The package from Destro should be here by dawn, right? If he hasn't decided to swap sides again. I remember you telling me him and the Baroness are on the outs again, so you needed muscle and brains in case the package turns out to be a nasty surprise, right?"
There was a flash of teeth in the shadows. "Actually, they were both driving me insane, so I sent them on a donut run."
" . . . Dad, you sent Auntie Z on a donut run?" Zanya whistled. "She is gonna be so fuckin' furious when she gets back!"
"It'll do her good. Even my top lieutenants can stand to get their heads deflated now and again." He shifted a little, eyeing her, and Zanya caught the implied rebuke.
Shit. He knew.
"Um," she said, intelligently.
"Especially," he added, "if they're in the habit of fighting with my other lieutenants. Plans can be very easily derailed by that kind of friction." He shifted again, no longer looking at her but out at the landscape. His eyes were fixed on the gray ribbon of the highway and the little golden lights of the cars and trucks that moved along it, too distant to even hear.
"Um," Zanya said again. "Look, Dad, I-"
"Learn from Cobra's bad example," he continued. His voice was flat, with a sharp edge, and Zanya winced. "There might be fifty different factions within an organization, and they can all hate each others' guts, but they'll only survive if they put the organization in front of their idiot feuds."
"Look, Dad," Zanya said. She scrunched up her shoulders, trying not to look as stupid as she was feeling right then. Her voice was defiant. "It was just a test, okay? I heard Ripper and Zanzibar talking about it, and I thought it would be interesting to try."
"You put sugar in her gas tank, Zanya."
"You heard what she called me!"
"She called you a bastard, Zanya. Hardly a sugaring offense."
"Yeah, but . . ." the teenager crossed her arms, visibly sulking. "She also said I was illegitimate, 'in every sense of the word.' Not a legitimate Dreadnok, and not 'legitimate' either."
Zartan shook his head. "You are illegitimate, Zanya. And in the legal definition, you're a bastard too. This isn't news to you."
"She was talking like my mom was a whore or something!"
"Actually, when I met her-"
"Dad!" Zanya shrieked. "You know what I mean!"
"I know what you mean. I also know what you're doing, which is giving away our position."
For a moment, there was silence on top of the roof. Then Zanya shrank visibly, planting her chin on her fists and glowering at the cement. "Sorry," she muttered.
She glanced up again, extremely unwilling. "Yeah?"
"You can't be sensitive about insults." Zartan was looking at her again, which for some reason almost made her more uncomfortable than the glaring and the 'illegitimate' stuff. "You're going to hear a lot of them. Most of the time they'll be easy to ignore—usually coming from self-appointed guardians of the law, or other types who have no idea what real power or influence is like.
"But an effective leader—someone who can keep a grip on that power, no matter what—can't be affected by something like an insult. Especially if that insult happens to be true." Zartan relaxed a little. The moon had begun to rise, and Zanya could see her father a little more clearly now. He was . . . sitting in lotus? That was weird.
"An insult like 'bastard.' That one applies to this entire family. 'Murderer' and 'traitor' are favorites, and they're true, too." Zartan rested his hands on his knees. "Sometimes, if you're dealing with overdramatic types like ninjas, you'll get 'oathbreaker' and 'dishonorable.' Ridiculous, but again, true."
Zanya cocked her head, a little confused. "'Oathbreaker'? That's pretty . . . uh . . . special."
"Zanya." He didn't raise his voice, and Zanya once again caught the rebuke and clammed up. "A strong fighter knows what they are. If you did something, own up to it. If you are something, admit it. If some brain-damaged, would-be Clint Eastwood with a badge or a military commission doesn't like that, break his knees. If your aunt or another Dreadnok says it, forgive but don't forget it. A leader has to have absolute control at all times."
"I know, Dad." Zanya flicked one of her dreadlocks, unsure of what to say next. "I just . . . I lost my temper, I guess. It won't happen again."
"I know it won't. Why do you think I trust you more than Zarana?" A touch of humor crept back into his voice. "Don't tell her that, though."
Zanya snorted. "I may be a little crazy, Dad, but I'm sure not suicidal."
"No, you're not. Good quality to not have." He glanced away again, checking the horizon for signs of vehicles heading in their direction.
"There's something I still don't get." Zanya shook her head again, trying to work the growing cramps out of her muscles. The air was still again, the breeze from the highway dying away, and her hair felt like strips of carpet draped over her shoulders. "You know I'm not dumb. Okay, I gotta work on my temper, but I know when I'm being conned. So what . . ." her voice faltered for a second as she tried and failed to formulate the words. She didn't know why this was coming out all of a sudden, but he had to go and turn her prank into a teachable moment, and that had gotten her all . . . Aw, fuck. She was not gonna get sentimental.
"So what—I mean-" Her voice wavered again, and fuck it all, she was gettin' sentimental. "What's the deal?"
Zartan never turned away from the horizon. "Deal. Explain, please."
"No offense, Dad, but . . . look, it was me and Mom in Chicago, with Mom's crazy-ass deadbeat boyfriend. It was such a crap shack, even Kevin looked like a step up." She spat over the edge of the roof at the name of her mercifully long-gone ex. "I met a lot of tough guys. Drug pushers. Coupla pimps. 'Joey the Tailor'—he had a real hardass rep, all 'cos of what he could do with a fuckin' seam ripper and shit."
"Your point being?" Zartan's voice was level.
"Well . . . all of those guys, they had gangs too, or at least buddies they tore shit up with." Zanya fumbled with her dreadlocks, braiding and unbraiding a twist of three strands out of sheer nervousness. "And none of 'em would be cool with some kid turning up and doing the long-lost-daughter routine. I mean, I know I got into the gang fair and square, but you didn't have to teach me any of this stuff. Kinda thought you'd smack me when I called you Dad."
"Hmmm." Zartan paused, deliberately, while Zanya sweated. "If you want a dramatic confession or a heart-to-heart, Zanya, you're talking to the wrong person."
Her heart sank, just a little. "Yeah, I know."
"If you'd been a mediocre fighter, or a whining moron, I probably would've thrown you out." No malice—simple fact. "You weren't. And you're someone I can trust not to repeat my mistakes."
"Remind me to tell you about Professor Onihashi some time." The shapeshifter raised one arm, and for a moment, Zanya could pick out a scar in the moonlight—a long, white, even scar, the kind made by an extremely sharp blade swung at a very high speed. "If I can raise you to be a strong leader, and teach you not to go wrong where I did, then there's no reason why I shouldn't. And you've made me proud." He cocked his head a little, smiling just a little bit. "Despite the occasional sugar incident."
For a moment, Zanya was silent. Then, tossing her dreadlocks back over her shoulder, she scooted a little closer to her father and settled into place beside him. Members of the Zartan family didn't hug or act sappy, but she rested her head on his shoulder for a minute, and he didn't tell her not to.
They were members of the same violent, power-hungry, dysfunctional criminal family, about as far from a healthy environment for a growing girl as the most paranoid social worker could imagine. Blood, though, was thicker than water, and Zanya had been shedding a lot of it since a very young age.
Maybe Zartan had taken her in because she was malleable, and could be a Dreadnok leader in his stamp. Maybe Zanya just appreciated her new position as the right hand of a formidable gang leader, and merely tolerated the fact that said gang leader was also the donor of half her DNA. Maybe, maybe not, couldn't rightly say.
Sure beat the alternatives, though.
And G.I. Joe and Cobra would both wonder why this crazy juvenile delinquent was so loyal.