Keep It Precious

Disclaimer: Babylon 5 and its characters don't belong to me. Susan Ivanova, Marcus Cole, and the rest of the gang belong to J. Michael Straczynski, and my amateur efforts probably can't do justice to his work. But I do try. :) The song "Keep it Precious" is by Melissa Etheridge, from the "Never Enough" album, and it doesn't belong to me either. Anla'shok Catherine Lane, however, does. Lucky me. :)

Author's note: This is my first Babylon 5 fic, and I don't know how accurately I've written some of the characters; if they're badly done, I'll improve with practice, I promise. I was inspired to write it after watching "Endgame" for the first time, so there are spoilers for that, but not much else. This is a sad story, maybe a bit depressing, even, but I wrote it because the hopeless romantic in me couldn't see things end as they did.
Oh yes, and I know nothing about what Rangers do when one of their own dies, so I improvised.

"Keep it Precious"
by Christine Anderson
aka Anla'shok Ivanova

Susan Ivanova knew pain, and darkness, and little else. She hardly stirred as some of the pressure upon her decreased, didn't hear a sound as Marcus Cole tossed aside the wreckage to reach her. She was dimly aware of motion, of hands raising her up, gently, so gently, but had no other way of knowing she'd been lifted into his arms, or that he carried her with great care and speed alike.

"Susan..."

She felt herself lowered, onto a soft familiar surface, felt its awkward forty-five degree angle reduced until she was lying flat, the way she preferred when she had a choice in the matter. Susan heard voices above her, quietly arguing, but could not place either of them.

"...bad luck."

"No. This is the way she likes it..."

Then darkness again, a deep sleep she couldn't wake from. A part of her was comfortable there, glad to be away from the pain, glad to be able to rest. Other parts of her, however, sought to claw their way back from this brink, back from...wherever.

Susan woke, unaware of the passage of time, to feel a hand holding hers. Slowly, with great effort, her eyes opened. A face looked down upon hers, blurry at first, and then coming into focus.

"M-Marcus?" she asked, shocked at how soft, how fragile, her voice sounded.

"Good, you're awake. Do you remember what happened?"

"Of course I do," Susan replied. "Should have just stayed in my chair, that's what I should have done."

"Yes, well...how do you feel?"

"Like several tons of White Star fell on me. How did I get here?" Her other hand gestured about them.

"I brought you."

"Did you? Thanks, Marcus."

One of the doctors said something over his shoulder to Marcus, who sighed, but nodded. "They're throwing me out, it seems. You should rest."

"I will."

Hours passed, and she was aware of only some of these. She was aware of Delenn's cool hands upon her, the Minbari's soft voice asking a question of the doctor, and the man shaking his head instead of answering. She recalled the conversation with Sheridan, the shattering truth she had long known, which none of them had wanted to tell her. She reached out, taking Marcus' hand, which was nearest, and squeezed it, hard. He turned quickly away, brushing at his eyes with the back of his sleeve, and she realized he didn't want her to see his tears.

Still holding the Ranger's hand, she spoke quietly to Sheridan. The captain nodded, and listened to her speak, and then nodded again. As he and the others left, she felt the darkness reaching out for her again. Reality began to merge with strange dreams, and so she could not be sure, but she thought she felt the touch of lips upon her forehead, thought she heard a familiar voice say her name.

"Marcus," she whispered. "Marcus?"

"...alright, let's up the dosage- not much more, she can't take it..."

* * *

Hands holding hers now, their fingers long and slim. "Susan. Open your eyes."

She did so, and saw turmoil in Delenn's serene features, barely concealed in her eyes. "They are going to take you to Babylon 5."

"No," Susan managed to gasp out. "I...want to...stay. Stay here."

"You cannot remain," Delenn said. "There they can make you more comfortable."

"I don't...give a damn...about comfort. I need...to be...here. Captain needs me. Marcus...needs me. We're a team. Together... we work together... Delenn?"

"I understand," Delenn said, smoothing back the hair from her forehead. "But we must all say our goodbyes now, and then you must go."

"Delenn, tell them... tell Marcus I..."

"Marcus," she heard Delenn's voice say, as if from a distance, and then she was slipping back again.

"No... Marcus!"

The sound of running footsteps, then the touch of a hand in hers, fingers intertwined with Susan's own and holding tight. "Tell me what, Susan? Susan?"

"She's out," the doctor said.

Susan Ivanova's lips moved, and it was possible she was not even aware of it. The words were Minbari, quiet, and Marcus bent his head close to hear. He gasped softly, and turned from the room quickly, tears brimming over now. Delenn heard as well, and for a moment her eyes widened in surprise, and then she seemed to nod as if something quite obvious had just been made clear to her.

By the time Delenn followed, several long moments later, Marcus' eyes were dry, his tunic sleeve dark with absorbed tears, and she said nothing of it. They spoke of moving Susan to the station, and Marcus protested. Delenn persisted, and at last he nodded and turned away.

* * *

Motion. Unfamiliar hands lifting her, gentle but unknown, transferring her from the perfectly flat bed to a mobile one, held at a slight angle. She sighed in her dreams, fingers reaching for the bed controls. She always hit the damned thing in her sleep, and she'd probably done it again.

"...tremors. Think we ought to...?"

"...no. She's gone..."

Her dreams intermixed the real and the unreal, and in their midst she knew the kiss upon her brow, knew the lips that touched her were those of Marcus. She heard the words spoken in Minbari so long ago, and this time at the first knew them for what they were. She reached for his hands and drew him close, "thank you" whispered from her lips an instant before they met his and fused, a fire of joy and hope, and a great sense of rightness, overwhelming her. His arms circled around her, holding her, supporting her...

You brought me to trust

"...rapid eye movement..."

"...she's dreaming... hope they're good ones..."

Susan knew light, and movement, knew the feel of a ship entering a jump point. And she knew pain.

* * *

In the dream, Marcus spoke her name, concern in his eyes. She shook her head, at a loss to explain. The pain had come on suddenly, inexplicably. She did not know why, but it came and then was gone, and she paid it no more mind as Marcus took her in his arms again.

They danced, now, heads bent close together. She felt the softness of a skirt at her feet and looked down, seeing yards of deep blue silk embracing her tall, slender form. She turned her head and her long hair brushed past her shoulders.

"You are beautiful," Marcus said softly, and she smiled. "Five years I've been married to you, and you are as lovely as ever."

"Susan!" a familiar voice called. "Marcus!" And they turned as one, smiled as one when they spotted Delenn and John Sheridan. It was Sheridan who'd called out, and he approached them with a wave, the Minbari ambassador at his side.

"My God," said Sheridan. "I almost didn't recognize you, Susan Ivanova!"

Delenn shook her head as she took his arm. "Susan Ivanova Cole, John. And you are going to make Marcus jealous."

Marcus shot Susan a 'do you see what I have to put up with' look. "Really now, John... You have your own lady of absolutely stunning beauty. Leave mine alone."

Susan laughed. "Now I'm jealous."

"You don't need to be," he said, and they stood with their eyes fixed upon one another.

"I know."

Out of the corner of her eye Susan saw Michael Garibaldi tugging on Sheridan's arm. "What do you say we split, huh?" he asked quietly.

But Lise Hampton Edgars Garibaldi was having none of that. "Michael, I don't think I've ever been formally introduced to your friends."

Garibaldi sighed. "You've met John and Delenn, of course," he said.

"Yes, they were at our wedding. The others, though..."

"C'mon, Lise, you know Marcus Cole, and the lady with him is none other than Susan Ivanova Cole, who used to be just plain old Susan Ivanova of Babylon 5-"

"There is absolutely nothing 'plain' about Susan," Marcus interrupted. "Really now, Mrs. Garabaldi, I still wonder what you ever saw in this rogue."

"Speaking of rogues," Susan said, fingers sliding beneath his suit jacket to tickle his sides. Marcus, despite his best efforts at stoicism, doubled over laughing, trying in vain to brush her hands aside.

"Stop that, you wretched woman!" Followed by more laughter. "Susan, I'm not kidding..."

Lise turned to her husband. "How come you never let me do that to you, huh?"

"Because," Michael Garibaldi said, "you're not near as...ah, imposing, as Susan here..."

"What he's trying to say," Susan explained, all the while continuing her unrelenting attacks upon her husband, "is that Ranger or not, Marcus is scared of me."

"I- am- not-! Susan!"

Susan grinned, and held up her hands in a gesture of surrender. "What did I do?"

"You'll pay for that, my dear," Marcus said. Before she could protest, were she of a mind to do so, he drew her close, spun her 'round once, and kissed her deeply. "Later," he whispered.

"Now can we get out of here?" Garibaldi asked.

"Men are such cowards," Lise remarked to Delenn, who despite Sheridan's pleading look, was nodding quite seriously.

"At times they are wise to fear us, Lise," Delenn agreed.

"Say, Marcus..." Sheridan began. "I don't suppose I could steal her from you, just for a moment?"

"No."

"I wouldn't ask, it's just that-"

"Absolutely not," Marcus interrupted. "I can tell it's business, and I refuse- for the love of God, John, not today."

"I need her help, Marcus. I need both of yours."

Susan sighed and closed her eyes. Business. Somehow it was always business that managed to intrude upon the lives they had built. She had thought leaving EarthForce would spell the end of these intrusions, but it seemed that was not to be. "Sometimes I hate you, John."

"I know. Just- come with me, please? Marcus can come along."

"Marcus," the Ranger said, "was going to come along regardless."

* * *

Susan became aware of the dream's fading, of a voice speaking that was no part of that dream. It was a kind voice, but one detached- the voice of a doctor, she was almost certain.

"Commander Ivanova? I don't know if you can hear me, but you're on Babylon 5. You were injured in the battle to free Mars-"

"I know that," she said quietly but with force, coming entirely awake now. "I also know I'm dying, so you can cut the crap any time you'd like. What's the situation on Earth?"

"They're about to begin, I understand..."

"Good. If I'm still with it when you get any news, good or bad, I want to hear it. And when any of the others- the Captain, or Marcus Cole- Delenn, Lyta, Dr. Franklin, anyone- when they get back to the station, I want to see them."

"You're that sure they'll be able to do this?"

"I am, and anybody who thinks different needs to stay the hell away from me."

To the dream she returned, and it was as if she had never left it. She did not recall her conversation with the doctor upon the station, and knew nothing of her pain, or of the approach of death.

* * *

She and Marcus followed Sheridan into the kitchen, and paused long enough to shoo William Cole back out to the party. If there was anything uncanny about his being there, Susan did not know of it; she simply nodded at her brother-in-law and waved him away again, and William went with a grin. She twisted the kitchen door's lock behind him, and leaned back against the countertop and Marcus' arm.

"This had better be good, John," Susan said, aware for the first time that Delenn was not with them, that she had remained with the others at the reception. She felt Marcus' arm tighten about her shoulders as if he himself were suddenly aware of the same fact, and knew as she did that it didn't bode well.

"I'm afraid it is, Susan, Marcus," Sheridan said quietly. "Actually, I'm afraid it's rather bad. I don't want Delenn to know this yet, because there's nothing she can do, but... I think it's begun. I can feel the time slipping away from me now, can feel the end drawing near. And I've done almost everything I wanted or needed to do... But there are a few things left that still need to be done, weather I live or die tomorrow. Susan, you've been my second from the very beginning. You've stood by me for years, and if it weren't for you, we wouldn't be here, almost fifteen years after the war to free Earth-"

"John," said Susan quietly, very concerned. She looked up at Marcus, and he nodded.

"It's only been five years," Marcus said softly.

"Well, alright, five years then." Sheridan laughed. "They've been such long ones that it seems like a decade's gone by, though, that's for sure!"

Susan nodded, smiling, and hoping Sheridan wouldn't see just how nervous that smile was. "Whatever you need us to do, John, we'll do," she said. "If you're worried about not having things done before- Well, we can both understand that." She looked again to Marcus, who nodded.

"Of course," the Ranger said. "Whatever you need."

"That's a relief. I want to sit down with you two, and Michael, and a few of the others and get into the details later, but for now- I think I'd better get back to the party."

He went to the kitchen door and unlocked it, then stepped back out. The sounds of their friends celebrating the five- year anniversary of the liberating of Earth rose up to meet him, then fell silent again as the door clicked closed oncemore.

Marcus sighed, and twisted the lock back into place again. "We-" he began.

"Need to talk to Delenn," Susan finished. "Now, if at all possible."

Just then, the kitchen's side door, the door which lead out to the back yard, opened to admit Lyta Alexander. The telepath sighed, shaking her fists at the closed door. "ISN's out back," she reported.

"Not for long, they're not," Marcus told her. "Say, Lyta..."

"Yeah?"

"Could you tell Delenn we need to see her, without going out there?"

The telepath heaved another sigh. "Damnit, you know I'm not supposed to do things like that- Wait. What's wrong, Marcus? Susan?"

"It's- about the Captain," Susan said at last.

Lyta nodded. "Alright, but just a message. I can't compel her, and I won't." She grinned. "'Sides, Sheridan would kick my ass." She closed her eyes for a moment. "Done. I think-" A knock sounded at the kitchen door. "Never mind." Lyta went to unlock the door, and slipped past Delenn without a word.

"Thank you," Susan said, projecting the thought a bit so that the telepath might better be able to pick up on it.

"Just a moment," Marcus said to Delenn. He stuck his head out the door and beckoned to Lyta. She sighed.

"What now?"

"Find my brother- the old-fashioned way if you'd like. Ask him to pay a visit to our ISN friends and tell them to bugger off. I don't want those people in my backyard. If they've destroyed any of Susan's flowers, she'll be furious."

"Flowers?" Lyta asked. "She doesn't seem the type."

"Roses," Marcus said with a smile. "Beautiful flowers- with very sharp thorns."

"Ah," said Lyta. "William!"

The younger Cole brother turned at the sound of his name being called, and smiled as he approached the beautiful telepath. "Lyta. What can I do for you?"

"How would you like to take a walk out back with me?"

Marcus returned to the kitchen and re-locked both doors, shaking his head. That's cruel, Lyta, he thought. "Sorry about that. We've got the usual gate-crashers."

Delenn nodded. "You wished to speak with me?" she asked.

"It's- Delenn, it's about John," Susan said as Marcus returned to her side.

"Yes, I knew it would be. He is losing track of time. Sometimes he cannot remember things that happened yesterday, or if he does- Well, you saw. He did not remember that you were married five years ago."

"He preformed the ceremony," Marcus said. "You were there. Everyone was there, including those wretched ISN people tearing up my backyard as we speak."

"I know," Delenn replied. "What- what else?"

"He talked as if it were fifteen years after we freed Earth," Susan said. "He said that. And he- Delenn, he thinks his time is almost up. He's certain of it. He didn't want to upset you, but he said he had a few things-" She shook her head, and sighed deeply.

"He has things he wants us to promise to take care of, in the event he doesn't- get to all of them," Marcus said quietly, "and of course we'll do whatever we can, but..."

"Thank you for telling me, Marcus." Delenn's expression was troubled, and Susan was sorry for being the cause of that, necessary though she knew it had been.

"Delenn..." Susan spoke up hesitantly, which was not her way at all. "What can we do to help?"

"I do not know that anything can be done," Delenn said, "but it's strange that his recollection of things seems to be the most inconsistent at the end of the fighting to free Earth and Mars..."

You brought me to tears

Susan drifted, the world before her a sea of stars like those seen from the White Star near Mars. She saw the world begin to grow dark and clouded over with grey, a blue grey that faded into a world that seemed to be the very soft green of Marcus Cole's eyes. She felt the pain of her injuries now, felt it like a fist clutching tight to her heart, a pain that seemed to tear her soul asunder. And all around her, she saw Marcus' eyes.

She wanted to scream, but didn't have the energy, and so she curled up in that hazy corner of her own mind and wept, deep wracking sobs that shook her whole body. And she spoke thorough her tears. "Thank you, Marcus. And damn you, for not just leaving me to die in the dark, before I had time to think..."

"Did she say something?" one of the doctors asked.

The other shook her head. "If she did, I didn't hear it."

Susan spoke again, the Minbari words she remembered so well, those Marcus had said, that she'd quoted back to him that very day...but she substituted the Minbari word for 'woman' for the one for 'man'. And she whispered "Marcus".

This time both doctors caught it, and they looked at one another. "That's-" The station Ranger, isn't it? One of them began to say, but never finished, for the sound of a commotion outside Medlab caused them both to turn and run for the doors. All either of them ever saw was the shadow of a man, and his fist coming towards them.

"I'm sorry-" Marcus Cole's first punch knocked out the first doctor, "about this, but I haven't got time to explain."

The second took a step back. Her eyes were fixed on the Ranger brooch Marcus wore. "You-" she began to say, but he rendered her unconscious with another well-aimed blow before she could finish.

Marcus stepped into Medlab, and looked towards Susan, currently the only patient there. He approached her bedside quickly, and took her hand. "Susan?"

The soft green haze began to fade from Susan's sight, and she opened her eyes to find the reality of her dreams standing before her. "Marcus...? Are...you... another dream?"

He shook his head. "No. Stay with me, Susan. I've come to help you."

"Don't be... stupid... Marcus. I'm... dying. Nothing... you... or anybody... else... can do."

Marcus squeezed her hand oncemore and turned away, searching about for the most likely location of what he wanted. As he rifled through drawers and cabinets, he muttered to himself, "Come on, Stephen, where is it? Where-?" He spotted the locked drawer of the doctor's desk by chance, and didn't waste time trying to pick the lock. He simply looked once at Susan, lying so near death, and was able to jerk the drawer clean out of its track. The device he wanted was in its own sealed container, and he sighed when he saw that it was protected by much more advanced technology.

Several moments' work tossing access and station override codes at it, however, and Marcus held the alien device in his hands. He approached Susan once again, and smoothed back the hair from her brow so that he could secure the device at her temples. She was unconscious now, but clearly dreaming, as she muttered now and again in a mixture of Interlac, English, and Russian.

"I heard what you said to me before they took you home, Susan, before they took you back here. And I..." Marcus whispered the same words she had spoken hours before, words both he and Delenn had been stunned by: a Minbari declaration of love. Not simply an 'I love you', but, also, loosely translated, 'You are my very heart and soul and I cannot live without you'.

In one tender touch
The pain disappears

Marcus secured the second part of the alien healing device to his own head, and drew a deep breath. She was fading quickly now, the monitors showing a slowing in breathing. It was now or never.

Perched on the edge of the bed beside her, he activated the device, a prayer, not for himself, but for Susan, upon his lips.

There was no transition between her awareness of the Babylon 5 Medlab and her awareness of the dream. She was simply standing one moment in the kitchen again, watching Delenn walk away. And Marcus stood with her, there in a way he had not been before, seeming more real, if that were possible.

"Do you think the Captain's right?" Marcus asked her. "Despite everything else? Do you think he is dying?"

"I hope not, Marcus, but there's something I see in his eyes..."

"I know, I recognize it. I saw it in yours when I sat with you in the Medlab on the White Star. An awareness... that you weren't long for this world." He drew her into his arms then, and kissed her forehead. "Oh, Susan..."

"It was a long time ago, Marcus."

"Not so long ago as Sheridan thinks," he replied. "Susan-"

Susan couldn't say just what, but she felt something suddenly shift, felt herself growing stronger, while Marcus grew weaker. Her pain faded, the dim awareness of it she had even here, now, gone, but his expression clearly saying that it was him who was hurting now...

"Marcus? What...?"

Unaware if she were awake or dreaming now, not caring, she reached out to him. In the dream they fell together; on Babylon 5, Marcus slipped from his sitting position into Susan's arms, which, filled with a new strength, rose up to catch hold of him. She brushed back the hair from his face, looked to him and saw the determination in his eyes, the pain and the sorrow, and knew. Knew his intent and what he meant to do. Knew, though she could not have explained how or why, that he was dying, and she would live, now.

"Marcus, damnit, no... Marcus, look at me."

Slowly, his green eyes opened. "Susan... oh, Susan..."

"Whatever you've done, Marcus, reverse it, now. You're dying now, not me."

"That's...the...idea. I...had to, Susan. Had to."

"Reverse it, Marcus. Do it now."

"Can't... doesn't... work... that way."

She held him tighter, as if by the gesture she could hold him to this plane of existence. "Damned fool Rangers..."

I have been to the sword
Seen it come seen it die

The kitchen door slammed open.

Didn't we lock that? Susan thought.

Sheridan stood framed in the doorway, Delenn, Lyta, the others, all gathered behind him. The Captain's expression was marked by a depth of sadness Susan had not seen in a long time, haunted in a way it hadn't been since they'd brought him back from EarthGov custody, after his interrogation.

"I understand now, Marcus, Susan," he said, kneeling beside his two old friends. "I understand. It isn't me who's dying- it's you two, the both of you. And everything seems wrong. I don't recall things the way they really happened, because it's all up in the air now..."

"John..." Susan spoke, gasping for breath, finding it very hard to speak. "You've...got...to... tell...this... damned...fool...of a...Ranger... Got to tell him... he's making a terrible mistake."

"...have to," Marcus whispered. "You, Susan... You were... my life... always. I don't... just think... you're... beautiful."

"I know," Susan replied, "I know. Reverse it, Marcus. You have to."

As we enter the dark
I beseech you to try

"Susan," Marcus said, and he was fading fast now, and knew it. "Susan... there's a letter...you'll find it. Read it. Try...try to understand. It'll... explain... what I...can't."

"God damn you, Marcus, I don't want some letter... I want you. Do you hear me? Answer me, Marcus. I didn't realize... until I saw you when you woke me... I've loved you a long time, Marcus Cole, and if you leave me now, I swear I'll- I'll-"

"Kiss me...goodbye, Susan," he whispered.

"Marcus..."

"Can't...hold on...much longer. Please." Tears streamed down his face, and she brushed them away. "You've got...your whole...life... ahead of you... Susan."

"I don't want it. I was... ready to go."

"Not as ready...as I've... been... for years. You... gave me... reason...to live, Susan. Without you... I can't, I won't, go on. But you...must. Live, love..."

"Go to hell, Marcus," she whispered, and kissed him. It was not like the kiss in the dream, for it was desperate, and bittersweet, but she held it long as she could, savoring the moment she knew would not come again in this lifetime.

In prophecy all good things must end

"Stubborn... arrogant..." Marcus gasped out.

"You, too."

He tried to smile. "Maybe... that's why. So... much alike..."

Tears blurred her vision, and Susan blinked them furiously away. She knew she would not see him alive much longer, and couldn't stand to loose sight of him even for a second. "We hardly even had a chance, Marcus," she said. "This is only the beginning, or it should have been."

"Tell Sheridan... tell him... the fight was... a good one. We did... what we... had... to. I'm sorry... disobeyed...orders. But... no choice. Tell... him."

"Now's not the time to be asking me for favors, Ranger. I'm not happy with you."

"And I... wouldn't have been... happy... without... you."

So take care my love my friend

"I'll tell Sheridan," Susan said. "But I won't- I can't imagine loving anyone else. You... you and me, Marcus, that's all there ever was."

"Then... if you... won't...change your mind... look for me... at the end of your... life's road. I'll be...there."

"Why?" she asked. "Why are you so damned stubborn, such a fool?"

"There... is... only one... Susan Ivanova," he replied.

"I dreamed... before you came," Susan spoke hesitantly. "Delenn called me Susan Ivanova Cole. Do you think..."

"Susan... my Susan. I'd... ask you... to marry me... but there's... no time. I'm... sorry."

"Shut up, Marcus," she said, running her fingers through his hair, crying continuously now, ignoring it as best she could. "Don't say another word. Just let me hold you."

Keep it precious
Keep it precious

"Remember, Susan." Weakly Marcus reached out for her again, his head pillowed upon her shoulder. "Take... care... my love."

Susan gave a shaky nod, unable to speak. She saw the pain once hers reflected in his eyes, saw the way the corners of his mouth pinched, and all she wanted in the world was to wake to discover it was only another dream.

"This pain is...actually... rather bad. I don't know... how you stood it."

"You were always with me," Susan replied.

"As... I'll always be...with you."

"You promise?" she asked.

"I do."

"Oh, you damned fool..."

This yielding is fine
This promise rare

"No one... can curse me... like you do, Susan... you're one of a kind... and it's not your time."

"It was," she replied. "It was. How can I-? How do you expect me to ever...?"

"One...day at a time, Susan... like I lived... after my brother's...death." He drew a deep breath. "The letter..."

"I'll read it," she said, and with what was nearly the last of his strength, Marcus kissed the tears from her eyes. "I'm sorry I never said anything. I should have... but I thought..."

"Thought... I only wanted... to be your friend. Likewise... Both...stupid."

Susan smiled sadly. "Yeah. Marcus?"

"Mmm?"

One day at a time
We've agreed to dare

The dream again, Sheridan kneeling beside them now, with the familiar faces of their friends clustered behind him.

"A man lives and dies by his own choices, Marcus, and I can't tell you now that you did wrong, or right. Then, though... I'd kick your ass if you weren't dead."

Susan smiled at their captain. "I'll always beat you to it, John." She sighed and closed her eyes. When she opened them, another dark-haired man knelt beside Sheridan, one she recognized immediately: William Cole. He extended a hand towards his brother.

"You," Susan said sharply to William, "take care of him."

"I will," William replied. "Come now, Marcus..."

"Still as impatient as ever, William," Marcus retorted. "I'll be along in a moment. Now I'd like to say goodbye to my friends." He looked to Sheridan. "Will any of you remember this?"

"I won't. Susan might. If there's anything important you need to say, she'll find a way to relay it."

Marcus looked out to the others. "I haven't got a lot of time, but- Stephen, if you don't release Susan from your clutches in a timely manner, you will be the first person I haunt, I guarantee you that. Garibaldi, for the love of God, shape up, please. Delenn... I'm sorry. You'll be angry with me for this, I know. Don't blame Lennier, nor let him blame himself. Not his fault, he only started me thinking about this, and I was determined to do something... anything. No matter what the cost." Marcus turned to look at the others. "Lyta... what, Susan?" he asked, for Lyta had mouthed a word, and both Susan and Stephen were nodding.

"I'll remind you all," Susan said.

Holding you tight
With wide open arms
I'm letting you go
No stranger to harm

"Marcus. Marcus!"

The Ranger's eyes opened slowly. He was aware of his surroundings, aware of Susan's embrace, aware his time was fleeting. Anything else, for that last moment, did not matter. He met her gaze and held it, and kissed her gently.

"I love you..."

And then he was gone. His eyes remained open, but everything that had made him Marcus Cole was gone. Susan wept as she held him, having known only too late the truth of his feelings, and her own. And yet, in death she knew Marcus and his feelings intimately, as if in being given Marcus' life energy, she had also come into possession of something which she could not put a name to, but which was so very distinctly Marcus that she thought it what his presence might have felt like to her, were she a telepath.

"I love you, Marcus. Goodbye."

Ride your way
Do not break or bend
Just take care my love my friend
Keep it precious
Keep it precious

Marcus took his brother's hand and stood, turning back to gaze at Susan Ivanova. The sight of her hale and healthy and strong oncemore told him he had done the right thing. He wouldn't have been able to live with himself had he done anything else, or even nothing at all.

"She said she was Susan Ivanova Cole in this future," Marcus said.

"And she still might be, in a different one," William said. "Maybe even...the real one, the one you just departed."

"Impossible."

"I don't know her, but I'd be willing to bet that lady doesn't put much stock in what you or I or anybody else might call impossible," William said. "Rather like someone else I know."

Marcus said nothing in reply, having turned back to regard Susan one last time. "You'll be alright, Susan," he told her. "You will. I'll be watching- and I'll be waiting. But don't hurry after me, love. I mean it. If you do-"

"You'll what, haunt me?" It was Susan, sounding close though he was getting farther and farther away. There was a rough edge to her voice now which had not been there before, but it was her voice, however different, and there was as much joy in it as there was pain.

"Yes," Marcus replied with typical sharp wit, "I will. And you won't like it, either."

And the wonder
Let the wonder never cease

Susan drew a deep breath, and carefully flexed her fingers. They brushed against the dark hair of the Ranger she held in her arms, and she cried out softly, in wonder. This man had loved her, and she had loved him, and yet they had never known, had never dared to speak of it until it was nearly too late. He had given his life for hers. There was something both beautiful and terrible about that sacrifice.

She opened her eyes, looked into the Ranger's lifeless gaze, and held back a sob. "Haunt me, will you?" she asked, her words something between rage and despair. "We'll see who haunts who, Cole..." Then the dam burst, tears spilled forth, and for the briefest instant she thought she felt a ghostly hand brush them aside.

And the madness
Of the pleasure and ecstasy

Her hand reached out to close Marcus' eyes, but her fingers trembled, and she couldn't do it. Susan felt the unseen hand grasp hers, felt it raised, then the soft brush of a kiss upon it.

I must be losing my mind, she thought. Oh, Marcus, why? Why?

"I told you," his voice said quietly beside her. "Because I love you. Close your eyes, Susan..." She did so, and it was only then that she could see him clearly, standing at her bedside, his hands holding Susan's own. "I've come to say goodbye. I don't want to go, but I must, now."

"I can feel you, Marcus... I really can. Am I dreaming? Am I mad?"

He smiled, and for the first time she realized that the dark clouds had been lifted from his eyes. There was joy in his expression now, where in the past there had been only sorrow. "No, my love, you're not."

"Can you...?" Feeling a fool, she let her voice fall silent.

But Marcus understood, and he bent his head to hers. As in the dream, they kissed, such passion rising between them that Susan wept tears of joy, and she was not alone. "You will never be alone, Susan. Never."

Danger believing me

As he drew back, Marcus' hands worked briefly at the breast of his cloak, and pressed something into Susan's hands. It was of fine craftsmanship, she saw as her fingers caressed the piece, inlaid with a stone between two carvings, and still held the warmth of his breast.

"I don't know how much of this you'll remember," Marcus said. "Or how much you will believe. But by this you will know that I was here, and what I did. Remember the symbolism, Susan. Remember it all. But more than anything else, remember my love."

Wounding and healing me please
Keep it precious

The dream was over, now, her dream of that blissful future gone. Marcus and his brother had departed, and the others, while still present, seemed grey and faded. Only Susan remained now, and Sheridan. She felt the brooch in her hand, and the alien healing device where it was attached, and she shook her head, not understanding.

"John?" Susan asked.

"I'm here, Susan. Well, not really, but..." Sheridan shrugged. "It's close enough, isn't it?"

She nodded, her gaze fixed upon the Ranger's brooch in her hand. "This-" she began.

"It was Marcus', yes, and it's clear he wanted you to have it. It is a very powerful symbol- ask Delenn to tell you about it sometime, she can explain it much better than I."

"John..." Susan sighed. "It's going to take some time for me to come to terms with this, if I ever do. And I know you won't remember this- which is why I want to ask this here, now. You say what Marcus did for me was foolish, a terrible mistake. Maybe it was, but tell me- you'd have done the same for Delenn, wouldn't you?"

"I don't know if I can answer that, Susan. I know it's wrong sometimes to interfere with fate-"

"To hell with fate! I was dying- me, not him! Why did he have to be the one-?"

"Perhaps your work is not done, Susan. Perhaps it's not. If it were me in Marcus' place, well... I wouldn't give just my life, do you understand? My life isn't mine to give the same way his was. If I took the same path that Marcus took-"

"I see," Susan said, furious. "Your destiny means more than that of one single Ranger. Maybe Garibaldi was right about you thinking too much of yourself, John."

Ignoring this outburst, he said only, "Let me tell you something about love and loss, Susan. You are going to miss him forever, and there will never be another Marcus Cole. Your heart will never heal, but it may go on, one day..."

"No," Susan said with a shake of her head. She looked down at the brooch with new understanding. "For the Rangers there is the One, and I am not that different. Only for me, Marcus was my One."

"You're going to need to wake up now, Susan," Sheridan said. "It's time to go back."

"You'd have done the same thing, wouldn't you?" she asked as she turned away from him.

"Yes..." Sheridan's reply was barely a whisper as she opened her eyes and woke.

I believe in your eyes
I believe in your fate

Her vision blurred with tears, Susan raised her hand and opened her fingers slowly, knowing what she'd find. For the briefest instant she thought she saw the green eyes of Marcus Cole reflected in the center stone of the brooch, and then the eyes were her own, instead.

She reached out and brushed her free hand across his face, closing his eyes, caressing his cheek. "I will always love you, Marcus," she whispered, and then drew back her hand.

She looked at her hands again, then to the Ranger's cloak, and was not at all surprised to see the brooch was gone, that the one she held must be his own. Real, she thought. It was real. At least, the important parts of it were.

I believe we can fly
On the wings that we create

Her arms still encircling the Ranger's body, Susan thought back to her dreams of Marcus, and she drew a sharp breath as a realization struck her. When she had danced with Marcus, five years after the resistance and Sheridan's forces fought their last battles, Susan Ivanova Cole had worn the symbol of the Rangers upon her own heart, as well. Can one moment change futures in such a way? she wondered. Can it? Could I have been both that woman, Marcus' wife, and a Ranger? Her fingers worked across the brooch, and slowly she found herself nodding, and the path before her seemed now not so long or so dark. It would still be lonely, she knew that, but the loneliness was her choice, and the one she would live with.

"For you, Marcus, I'll live," she spoke quietly aloud. "For your love. Maybe I'll be worthy of it by the time I draw my last breath."

Susan reached out again, this time to touch the place where Marcus had worn the symbol of his order, but she drew back before her fingers brushed the fabric of the cloak. No heart would beat beneath her fingers now, no arrogant, quick-witted Ranger would draw breath to spar with her again. What she held in her arms now was not Marcus, only what remained when she knew so very well that his spirit was elsewhere.

She closed her eyes again, and remembered the kiss, the feel of his arms, flesh and blood, around her, her fingers in his hair... and she began to weep softly, her hands straining for the alien healing device, but she found she couldn't remove it.

A voice from behind
Calls up anger and fear

Susan did not know how long she lay there, warm tears making their way down her cheeks, before she heard the sound of rapidly approaching footsteps, and the familiar voice of Dr. Stephen Franklin, indignant. "Damnit, Marcus, where-? Oh, God."

Stephen stepped into the Medlab. "Marcus!" He raced across the room, skirting around the various things strewn about in the wake of Marcus' search for the healing device. His hands felt quickly for the pulse in Marcus' neck, and he shook his head with a curse.

"Damnit... I need some help in here!"

"Stephen." Susan touched his sleeve gently, with the hand that was not holding the Ranger's brooch. "Stephen, he's gone."

"Susan. Here, let me..." Stephen worked a moment at the alien healing device, then was able to remove it from both Susan and Marcus. He laid it aside, and was about to speak again when several of his assistants raced into the room. They lifted Marcus' body from Susan's arms, and she let them. Her Marcus was long gone from this room, and she wondered how long it would take Franklin and the others to realize it.

"Susan." Another familiar figure, this one Delenn, entered the Medlab and seated herself beside Susan's bed.

"Delenn," Susan said with a nod. "Marcus..." At a loss to explain she held out her hands, one empty, the other holding the pin.

"His last gift to you," Delenn said.

Susan shook her head. "His love was his last gift, Delenn. If only I'd known!"

The Minbari ambassador took her free hand. "You loved him as well, Susan. I know."

"I do love him, Delenn. Twenty years will pass, and be gone, and you'll still love only John, won't you?"

Delenn nodded, and her dark eyes were sad. "I am very angry with Marcus for what he's done- not so angry as you, I think, but angry enough. Yet there is a part of me-" she touched her heart "-that understands it very well." She paused. "How are you feeling?"

"Stronger, but... sad, almost numb, like half of me has died. I swear I can feel a part of Marcus inside me, now." Susan touched her own heart. "Here."

"There he will always be with you. And here." Delenn took the pin from Susan's hands, and she was about to protest when the Minbari set it upon her blankets, where upon a uniform it would be pinned.

"I dreamed," Susan told her quietly, "Five years had passed since all of this. We won. Did we?"

"Yes," Delenn said. "At a very high cost, so many lives lost, but we saved many more, and we have won."

"Good." Then, "Marcus and I had a life together, in that dream. I wore this pin by rights, and we were celebrating, all of us, that we had come so far."

Delenn smiled down at her. "In the future anything is possible, Susan. Even that which seems impossible now."

Stephen approached them, looking anywhere but at Susan herself. "I'm sorry-" he began.

We can silence that scream

"I know," Susan told him. "He... I know, Stephen."

"What the hell could have possibly possessed him to do this?" Stephen asked. "What was he thinking?"

"Of everything but himself," Delenn said gently.

"Love," Susan said softly. "He was thinking- of love. With his last breath he said that he loved me, Stephen. I never had any idea... But he died for me, because he loved me. I've got to-" She choked up, and Delenn placed a comforting hand upon her shoulder until she was able to go on. "I've got to be worthy of that, somehow."

Stephen shook his head. "Well, there's not much we can do for him now. I'm sorry, Susan. He's gone."

"I know," she said. "Gone, but..." Her eyes widened suddenly. "Stephen. I want you to put him in cryostasis."

"Susan-"

"Only one person," she said with deadly calm, "can protest my orders using only my name that way. Do it, Stephen."

It's simple and clear
Nothing must die

"Do you really believe this to be wise?" Delenn asked. "You may only be asking for more pain, later."

"Someday there may be hope, Delenn. I can't let go knowing there might be a chance someday. My injuries killed him, not his own."

Delenn nodded, and turned to Stephen. "Do as she says."

"But, Delenn... the Captain..."

"I will speak to the Captain if anyone must. This is Susan's choice. Do as she says."

"I never knew how much I loved him," Susan said for Delenn's ears alone, "until he came to me in the Medlab aboard the White Star. I was pretty out of it, but I felt someone kiss my forehead, heard them say my name, and I knew. I wanted to tell him then, but I couldn't. I lost consciousness and I dreamed, and I saw that future so clearly then... Do you think, somehow, in some way, it can ever be real?"

"Hope, as you said, Susan... There is always hope of one kind or another, and if there is anything more that can be done for Marcus, now or later, you would always wonder, if you never so much as tried, and would always hate yourself for it. Others might think it wrong, but I-"

"You love John," Susan said quietly, "as I love Marcus."

"Yes," the Minbari agreed.

Only if failed to mend

In the days and weeks that followed, Susan recovered, but slowly. There was a part of her that did not want to go on at all, but she was determined that Marcus' sacrifice would not have been made in vain. She did not wear the Ranger pin, for it was not something she had a right to, but kept it with her, and thought of it often. Her friends kept careful watch upon her, but Susan knew that they didn't have to. Marcus had given his life for her, and she was going to live that life, and live it well.

Strangely, though, it was the Rangers who made their presence known the most. They had begun arriving on-station for Marcus' public memorial service, and not all of them had returned from whence they'd come. One of them always seemed to be within sight no matter where she went, and she thought she saw them on several occasions speaking to those she knew. They could have had any number of reasons for doing so, of course, and not all of them had anything to do with her. But she found her fingers straying to the brooch, Marcus' brooch, in her pocket whenever she saw any of them, and she had the uncanny feeling that they were aware of that somehow.

She hadn't spoken to the Rangers, but at the end of the small service Marcus's friends held, a human woman and a male Minbari had approached her and asked her to accompany them to the Rangers' own remembrance.

"You are not a Ranger," the woman said, "but you bear the brooch, that once belonged to Marcus Cole."

Susan shook her head. "I'm honored by your request, but-"

"Susan," said Delenn as she approached. She gestured to the two Rangers, and both bowed and withdrew. "I am glad to see your body has recovered so well."

"My body," Susan said, not certain she liked where the ambassador was going with this.

"The soul is quite a different matter, however. Come with us, Susan. And you will see."

Knowing Delenn would not take no for an answer, Susan nodded and walked along the corridors of the station with Delenn. As they walked, they spoke softly.

"I thought for a while that by giving me this," Susan touched the brooch in her hand oncemore, "Marcus might have been trying to tell me something. But now... Now all I know is that I can't stay here."

"What did you think he meant to tell you?" Delenn asked.

"I thought he meant to tell me that-" That I had the heart of a Ranger, she wanted to say, but found she could not. Susan shook her head. "Never mind, Delenn. I hardly know what I'm doing or saying lately."

"Come, we are here," Delenn said. For the first time Susan noticed that Lennier walked behind them, and he stopped at the door as she and the Minbari ambassador passed through it.

Beyond the door there were only those garbed as Rangers, and then Delenn and Susan as they passed the threshold. Lennier would stay behind.

"To keep away the curious," Delenn explained. "They will come, drawn by the tales that have already spread."

"If anybody's that curious about Marcus' death, I can insure they have the same experience," Susan said, and the Rangers, who had been speaking quietly, fell suddenly silent. She was very conscious of being the only non-Ranger there, and would have turned and departed, feeling herself no part of their circle, if not for Marcus.

"I...apologize," she breathed softly.

The woman who had spoken to her earlier laughed quietly. "Don't apologize, Captain Ivanova. Many of us feel the same way. Not all of us knew Marcus well, most of us hardly knew him at all, but you- you did."

"Too little, too late," Susan said. She held out her hand, the Ranger pin upon her palm. "I should return this to you. I am not a Ranger. I knew Marcus; I loved him. He gave his life for me. But I am not-"

"You are everything you need to be," Delenn said, "and not a person in this room would dream of excluding you from this." She gestured to the human Ranger, who stood in the center of the small room now.

"Many of us Rangers don't have much if any family left," she said. "It's not a prerequisite for the job, but it's why many of us joined in the first place, and so... usually what we do to start with is see to it that the fallen Ranger's most prized possessions go to those they would wish to have them. If- well, there are ritual words a lover might speak to one of us, usually the fallen Ranger's superior, but-"

Susan laughed softly. "My Minbari is terrible. I know two phrases I'd be sure of speaking correctly, and those, well..."

The Ranger nodded. "And there are other words that can be spoken, if the closest person to the one who's died is a dear friend." She touched her own cloak. "I was given this when a friend of mine died fighting the Shadows. Her spare. The other, well... wasn't worth recovering."

"There are words I should be saying," Susan mused. "Damnit, Marcus, you always said you were going to teach me someday, and here you missed a chance to give me something I could use."

"He knew that I would see you were given what he wanted you to have," Delenn said.

Susan nodded. "If there was anyone else who you feel should have the brooch... Another Ranger, maybe-"

The human Ranger shook her head. "Captain Ivanova, that you have it in your hands answers any questions we might have about where it belongs. Marcus gave it to you. Maybe people think that's not possible, but- we're Rangers, and we accept a few things that most others wouldn't. You see what you see."

Susan nodded. "Alright. Just- tell me what to do, and I'll try not to embarrass myself too much in front of you people. Though I'm sure it'd give Marcus a good laugh..."

Delenn smiled, and gestured that Susan should sit with the others. She did so, taking the only open seat in the front and center of the gathering. Delenn sat beside her. In her hands she held a case, which she opened. Susan gasped quietly when she saw its contents; a cloak, several books, the Minbari pike, a few faded photographs, and several other items... Marcus' things. Wordlessly she passed the case to Susan, who took it in hands that shook.

"I-" She cut herself off, uncertain if she should speak, if it was right to do so.

"Say what you will, Susan," Delenn murmured. "It is what we do in these times, and no one here knew him as you did."

"I am sorry," Susan said at length. "Seeing these things, it reminds me again that he's gone." She touched the pike briefly. "I used to think this was the stupidest weapon possible, that its best use might be bashing somebody over the head with it- and that it might work best if that somebody were drunk, as in the case of Mr. Garibaldi..."

Laughter greeted this statement, and slowly Susan began to see that this was not only a time of sadness for the Rangers, but a joyous occasion as well, a time in which they celebrated the one who had died.

"But more than once I saw Marcus do with this pike what a dozen armed with PPGs couldn't. He looked at me once after one of those fights, and he said, 'I killed a man with this thing, Susan.' And I nodded. It's part of the job, but I hadn't understood how similar we really were until that moment. Many's the time it's just been one of us standing between innocent people and a horrible fate, and we do what we must to protect those people, to help them, not just because it is our job, but because it's our duty. Marcus would have understood what I mean by that, but perhaps you don't-"

"We do," the female Ranger said. "We do, Captain. 'We stand on the bridge and none may pass.'"

Susan nodded. "Marcus Cole died for me. Most of you know that by now; nothing spreads as fast as a rumor around this place. He died in my arms, and I watched him fade, and he left me again in the dream- a truly strange thing I'd been experiencing on and off since I was first injured- and then he returned, in spirit- but he was so real! He gave me the brooch and he kissed me, and he was real, as real as any of us sitting here." She took a deep breath, paused as if waiting for one of them to challenge the truth of her words, then went on. "I'm usually so good with words- I always have a snappy comeback for anything anyone throws at me. Now all I feel I have to offer is the truth, the truth of my own heart, for whatever it's worth.

"I dreamed of the world as it was five years from now. Or how it might be, I guess. I dreamed we celebrated the anniversary of the ending of our battles to free Earth, my friends and I. Delenn was there, with John Sheridan. I saw Lyta Alexander, Stephen Franklin, even Michael Garibaldi and his wife, Lise. Sheridan called my name, and when he called me, Delenn corrected him. Then, there, my name was Susan Ivanova Cole. I didn't realize it until after Marcus died, but in the dream- this brooch, I wore it. I was one of you, was a Ranger. And one of the last things Marcus said to me after he gave it to me was, 'Remember the symbolism'."

"The human, the Minbari," said the female Ranger, "and in the middle is the stone that represents the One, the force that makes us, one. Do you understand, Captain?"

"She does," Delenn spoke for her.

"I do and I don't," said Susan. "I see parts of what Marcus meant to tell me, but other parts..."

Delenn nodded. "Perhaps this will help." She passed a data crystal to Susan, who took it numbly. "I found it amongst Marcus' logs. It was addressed to you, and coded to your voiceprint, but I would not have examined its contents in any case. They are for you alone."

Suddenly overwhelmed, Susan bowed her head. She clutched the case to her, but it fell from her hands, and in the end she was left holding only the data crystal and the cloak that seemed to hold Marcus' scent and his very essence within it. She held the garment tightly, and wept into its soft fabric.

"Now I feel it's us who are intruding," the woman Ranger spoke quietly. "It is not you who intrudes upon our grief, Captain Ivanova, but we who intrude upon yours."

Susan shook her head. "No... no. I'll be alright in a moment."

"Perhaps," Delenn said, "you should take the crystal and view it now. We will remain here and continue on. There are parts of this you will find dull..."

Susan nodded, grateful as much for the chance to escape their well-meaning but prying eyes as she was for the chance to view the message. Rising, she passed Delenn and the others, and exited the room. Lennier did not seem surprised to see her, and he did not make any move to speak. Susan headed for her own quarters, tapping in the access code without much thought.

That was the problem, she decided. She didn't feel or think much of anything these days, she simply acted and reacted as she needed to, to get by. "Oh, Marcus," she said quietly, "I'm existing, but I'm not living."

So take care my love my friend
Keep it precious
Keep it precious

The crystal held two options for her; voice or text. She selected the text option. Later she would be glad of the chance to hear his voice again, but now it was too soon, the wounds too fresh and raw, and she could not hear Marcus' last message spoken, not now.

Words appeared on her screen, and she had to blink several times before the tears cleared from her vision enough so that she could read them.

My dearest Susan,

I would hope that if you're reading this, it's because I dug it up twenty years after Babylon 5 and presented it to you on a lark, a 'remember the good old days' sort of thing. But I'm a bit more of a realist than that, I just didn't want to start this off with the much-abused "if you are reading this, it's because I'm dead".

You are dear to me. I love you, Susan, with all my heart and soul. I came to B5 a lost man, a man without a heart or a soul. You rebuilt my soul, helped me to find my heart again. And you never knew, not until the end. I was afraid you would not share my feelings, and so kept them quiet, but it was enough just to be with you, to fight beside you, to help you any way I could, and to let you help me.

You did that in a hundred ways, and I could say that I sought to repay the debt when I gave my life-force to you, but that isn't really the truth. The truth is I could not exist in a world without you. Only later did it occur to me, when I knew that you felt as I did, that you might have very little desire to live in a world without me. I hope you won't think that statement arrogant- or at least, if you do, that you won't think it too arrogant.

I gave you the brooch for a reason, Susan. Do you still have it? You should. Delenn and the others won't take it, and in any case it was mine to do with as I pleased, and I gave it to you. I had no more need of it, and you... Susan, a Ranger lives for the One, dies for the One... you know all of that. What you may not know is that you were my One, in ways even Delenn was not. She knows that, understands it in the way only she can. In life I was unhappy, Susan; you gave me reason to live, gave meaning to my days, and it was my honor to give my life for you.

I happened to overhear something you said to Sheridan- who wasn't really Sheridan, and won't remember a bloody thing of that conversation, of course. You said you weren't really that different from me or the others; that the Rangers had the One, and so did you. That touched me, Susan, it touched me deeply. And I am all that much sorrier that only one of us could live, but in my mind it had to be you. You understand; you are One.

And that's the thing of it, Susan- the point of all of this really, though I would not miss the chance to tell you one more time, one final time, of my love, of my devotion to you. You do have the heart of a Ranger, my love. You do. The Rangers look at you and they see it. Delenn has always known it, but what none of us knew is what would have to occur before that heart within yours would truly waken. I never dreamed it would be me- Oh, Susan! In the last moments of my life I saw your dream, the whole of it as you had seen it, I felt you in my arms as we danced and saw the brooch upon your breast, and I... the dead can weep, Susan. We weep tears like cool evening breezes, like warm summer rain. I wept then. You were so beautiful, Susan- but that is not all. You were the One. Not only to me, but to all of us. Do you see, Susan?

I can't tell you what to do- wouldn't dream of it, either, because you'd just make another of your wonderfully witty comments and go your own way, as you have always done. But I can tell you there is truth to what I, and the other Rangers, see. That the heart exists within you, if you have the courage to find it.

It isn't an easy road, Susan. You had only to look at me to know that. And yet- it is a quest of a lifetime, a thing which can carry you along until the end, doing good work, helping those who are truly in need of it. It is a change, too- something I know you will want. Had you died, I would have left Babylon 5 quite soon after. I wouldn't have been able to walk the same halls you once did without remembering, remembering too much to go on.

But whatever you wish, Susan- whatever you want that I can give you, you'll have. If you want to return to Earth and forget, you can do that. Somewhere amongst my things- I don't know just where, haven't needed them in years, but you'll find them if you wish to -are the codes to my accounts, deeds to the mine and my family's home- or what's left of either. Feel free to make them yours if you wish. I will never fault you for the choices you make, even if those choices are not to follow in my footsteps. It was a hard road I walked all the days of my life.

In life you made it worth it, and in death I knew that you would go on. Do that, Susan. Hold on. You are stronger than you'll ever know- your strength held both of us up. Use it now; you must. You will never know of my presence again, I don't think, but I will always be with you.

I love you, Susan.

Eternally,
Marcus.

My love, hold on
Keep it precious
So precious

Susan nearly ran the length of the distance between her quarters and the gathering of the Rangers. Lennier wore a ghost of a smile now, and Susan returned it before stepping back into the room.

"Susan," Delenn greeted her. "Did you-?"

"Tell me, Delenn," Susan said quietly, "what it means to be Anla'shok."

"You have been learning Minbari," Delenn said.

"Everybody needs a hobby," Susan replied.

Then: "You know what it means, Susan," Delenn told her. "It means to be all that Marcus was. Can you do that? Will you?"

"I swore," Susan said quietly, "that I would live my life now and live it well, and be worthy of the sacrifice Marcus made for me. And I think that this may be just the way for me to do that."

"Maybe," the female human Ranger spoke up hesitantly, "Maybe now isn't the best time to be making these decisions, Captain..."

"Catherine," Delenn said, but Susan waved off her protests.

"No, I want to answer her." She paused. "Catherine... the rest of you, too. You brought me here even though I'm not a Ranger, because I knew Marcus, knew him better than most, you've said. That no one knew him like I did. Well, you know something, folks? You're damn right. You didn't know him at all, none of you did! You should have been there for him, and yet somehow you weren't. Somehow he ended up turning to me- to me! -me who ignored him and sometimes mocked him, me who laughed at some of his jokes and raged at others, and never saw until it was too late that I found him maybe just a little too irritating and obnoxious- And d'ya want to know what I said to Stephen the other day? Do you? I said I should have-" Susan clamped a hand over her mouth. I told Stephen I should have boffed him just once, but...

"No. You know what? Nevermind. That's not any of your business, either."

"Susan-" Delenn began.

"You are an exception to what I was just saying, Delenn. You knew Marcus. Even for a Ranger, he was- he was special, and you knew it."

"Yes," Delenn said.

"Go on, Captain Ivanova," Catherine said. "Go on..."

"You! Little miss Sunshine Ranger. Who the hell are you to be running this show? Marcus Cole was just a name to you, if that, before he died, wasn't he?"

"We are all one, Captain-"

"If that's not the stupidest thing I've ever heard, it's damned close. Look, Catherine... cut the crap, okay? How long have you been a Ranger? Six months? Two years? NOT LONG ENOUGH! You don't understand anything, and you never will..." As abruptly as it had begun, Susan's outburst seemed to be over. Once again she buried her face in Marcus' cloak and wept. Through her tears and the thick fabric she muttered to herself, "I don't know what in the hell I'm doing here, anyway... bloody damned Rangers. It wasn't just Marcus who was out of his mind, it's every last one of you..."

"Well," said Catherine. "I've seen enough, how about you guys?"

"You must remember, Catherine, that the heart takes time to heal," Delenn said. "We cannot ask Susan to put on Marcus' badge of office today or even tomorrow. And we can demand, nothing. Do you understand?"

"Not at all," Catherine said. "And it's a year and a half, Captain Ivanova- but I've seen a hell of a lot in that time."

Susan looked up at that, her expression dark and haunted. "You haven't seen shit, honey," she rasped.

"Crudely put, but true," Delenn said. "Susan..."

"Can you- teach me, help me somehow to deal with this pain?" Susan asked. "Can I have the discipline that Marcus had, without the shadows that haunted him?" Immediately after she'd said it, she realized 'shadows' wasn't the right term, and that it might have unpleasant associations for not just her, but the others as well.

Delenn smiled sadly. "You have your own... 'inner demons', I believe is the term? We cannot rid you of those. Many are already like old friends, and Marcus' death will be a thing you will never forget."

"I don't want to forget!" Susan exclaimed. "I just want it to not hurt so badly that I can't function. And I want to do something- I want to stop existing but not living, want to stop taking Marcus' gift for granted. And if I die tomorrow because of these choices I've made, well, hell- How many of you can honestly say that you aren't occasionally suicidal?"

Catherine ducked her head; that shot had apparently struck home.

"I am what I am, Delenn," Susan said. "I am tired, bitter, cynical, and getting old. You know, in ways the others never will, how Marcus's death has changed me, how it's going to keep changing me. I'm already not the same woman who came to Babylon 5 long before all of this began... But I-" She bent her head close to Delenn's, speaking for the Minbari's ears alone. "Marcus said that I had the heart of a Ranger, and there was that something in me that called out to him, that looked at him and saw part of myself reflected there..."

Delenn nodded. "I suspect," she said loud enough for everyone to hear, "your most difficult task may not prove to be that of learning Minbari."

No, Susan thought, Delenn was quite right about that. "My most difficult task," she said in a hoarse whisper, "is going to be trying to heave this huge weight they call survivor's guilt off my shoulders- or finding a way to live with it, if I can't." She laughed, a short and bitter sound. "That's really the heart of the matter, isn't it? My being alive, Marcus being dead, dead because of me. And I hate him, I hate him for doing this, but I'd never forgive myself for wasting what he gave me... and I can only hate him so much, because I'd trade places with him in an instant to undo what he did. Only I can't do that. And I have to do something- I have to do something! So let me join you. Let me be one of you."

Delenn nodded and rose, and placed her hands on either side of Susan's head. She spoke, several words in Minbari. Susan recognized only "Valen" and "Anla'shok".

"What did you-?" she began.

"I said, in Valen's name let us welcome this woman as a Ranger initiate. You come to us bereaved, Susan Ivanova, in need of purpose, change, and strength. We can offer those things and more, but also less. You know a Ranger's path is a sometimes dark and lonely road."

"We stand on the bridge and none may pass," murmured Susan.

"So I ask you now," Delenn continued on, "will you walk it? Will you walk it, sometimes alone, sometimes with others, holding true what you will be taught, and what you know?"

"Yes."

"Then..." Delenn spoke quietly, for Susan's ears alone. After a moment the captain nodded.

"I am Susan Ivanova. I will be Anla'shok." Inspiration struck then, and she added, in flawless Minbari (for these words she knew well): "My heart, my soul... Forever, Marcus."

Feedback?

fanfiction