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A response to the 500-word Challenge
by Jessi Albano

Disclaimer: The characters and situations of the TV program "Space" Above and Beyond" are the creations of Glen Morgan and James Wong, Fox Broadcasting and Hard Eight Productions, and have been used without permission. No copyright infringement is intended. However, this story is mine and should not be used or distributed without my express permission.

Jessi Albano

"Come on, Shane, you have to eat."

She gave Cooper a small smile and took the hard roll he offered. She
wasn't hungry, but he was giving her that intense look, -- half
pleading puppy, half pestering baby brother. She'd never had either,
so it was a look she found irresistible. Besides, he was a good guy,
-- he didn't deserve to worry.

She took a bite as he watched, then another. She even tasted her
freeze-dried eggs to make him happy. Mostly she sipped her coffee,
wrapping her hands around the metal cup, trying to keep them warm.

*Amazing,* she thought. Five days, and she was still alive.

She'd thought she'd lost him before. The first time he'd said he
couldn't get leave for Christmas, she'd heard the distance in his
voice, the coolness, the lie. He should've been honest, it would've
been easier. Should've spared her the painful, drawn-out process --
the dwindling letters, the missed calls, the broken promises. Most
of all, he should've spared her the death notice she'd crumpled and
tossed unread into the trash.

Why was she still on the list to be notified anyway? His last call had
been over two years ago, telling her he'd been made Captain and was
being reassigned. She'd been proud, and happy, but she had known that
was the end. He'd told her he'd call. She'd known he wouldn't.

She should have accepted it, should've let him go. By then the
relationship, the _love,_ had become so twisted it was almost
unrecognizable. The end should've been a relief. Instead, she had
hung on, fighting the inevitable.

He'd thought he was being kind. She'd thought she was being strong.

She'd had no idea, no idea what it meant to be strong. She still

Was being strong going to the funeral, looking at the casket,
accepting the flag and medal they handed her as if she had the right?
Was it saying the goodbye that should've been said years ago,
acknowledging that it hadn't been her fault, hadn't been his, and
forgiving them both?

Was it knowing she'd never ever see him again, no matter how far she
traveled, no matter how hard she fought, and driving on in spite of

"Launch in twenty mikes. Briefing in five."

She looked up, saw Nathan at the door and nodded. Cooper thrust a
couple of rolls into his pocket, shoved a huge spoonful of eggs into
his mouth and chased it down with a huge swallow of coffee.

"You coming?"

"In a while," she smiled, giving him an encouraging nod. "You go

She didn't know. Right now it was all she could do to eat her eggs
and smile when her entire world had gone dark, when all she wanted was
to clench everything inside herself and make sure nothing got out,
ever again.

What did it matter, really? John was gone. Chiggy Von Richthoffen was
dead. Nothing mattered anymore.

She stood up.

Time to go to work.

Copyright Jessi Albano 1999
19 February 1999, 9:59:27 AM