Never To Be Alone In The Dark
Disclaimer: Babylon 5 and its characters don't belong to me. The characters mentioned all belong to J. Michael Straczynski, and my amateur efforts probably can't do justice to his work.
"Never to Be Alone in the Dark" (2/?)
by Christine Anderson
aka Anla'shok Ivanova
Alarms blazed throughout the ship, Minbari and Humans dashed for their stations, and Susan Ivanova stood from where she had bent over a console, speaking quietly with the Human Ranger stationed there. Quick, nearly running strides carried her to the command chair, and as she neared it, tossing herself towards her destination, Marcus Cole reached his own place at her side. As he slid into position, as Ivanova landed in the command chair and swerved it around quickly to face the forward screen, her upraised hand reached out to Marcus's, palms slapped this time in a gesture of good luck (not that he believed in it, and not that she had much faith left in it by this point), and for the briefest instant his fingers intertwined with hers.
No one but Lennier was close enough to hear what he said to her as Ivanova's hands danced over the readouts before her, checking status lights one last time. "Entil'Zha veni. In Valen's name, Susan- I love you." Lennier, who had rather suspected something of the sort for over a year now, said and did nothing to indicate he had overheard, and indeed he swore to himself that he had not, for he knew that moment as being rare and powerful between the two, and he would do nothing to mar its beauty.
Ivanova turned to regard him with a wolfish grin. "I know, Marcus," she said quietly. Here and now she could allow herself to say nothing more, not a word beyond that, and he not only knew it but understood it as well. Then, aloud to the others, her expression still fierce, "Alright, go!"
White Star 90 jumped from hyper- to normal-space in a silent crash of lightning and thunder, and Susan Ivanova rode that storm into the heart of the fire.
EarthForce's advanced destroyers, with their unholy blend of human and Shadow tech, danced around the White Stars, but the sleek and deadly Minbari-built ships knew their business well, and if they went about it with sorrow that it must be done, they also went about it with a far greater percentage of anger, of fury such as Ivanova herself knew on her White Star's bridge, for the wrongs done innocents in Earth's name, for the things that they had come to the table too late to stop.
And as they danced, as Susan Ivanova shouted orders to her crew, as Marcus Cole, Lennier, and the others carried them out, the man who had once been Jeffrey Sinclair, and once Valen, waited and watched. Sinclair watched very closely indeed, and he saw a particular moment approaching, drawing ever closer, and he waited, until the time was right in which to act.
Ivanova had put a tight rein on her temper and held it in check after her first initial explosion... waiting, a part of her knew, for the moment to unleash it, to channel it into what would come. And when that moment came, no one who stood beside her could help but be aware of it, and while some of the other Rangers appeared a bit startled, Marcus nodded a bit to himself. Inwardly, though, he was a bit less calm about the matter- he had expected something of this sort; Ivanova was far too angry for her fury to simply fade away, but he hadn't been quite prepared for the manner in which she would go about letting it out. She spoke, and something in her voice was great and terrible, dark and frightening and so much a part of her that she could not have let it go even if she had wanted to- and somewhere within Marcus, there was a part of him that found itself looking into a mirror- that saw that great and terrible something and recognized it, understood it.
"Who am I? I am Susan Ivanova, Commander, daughter of Andrei and Sofi Ivanov. I am the right hand of vengeance, and the boot that is going to kick your sorry ass all the way back to Earth, sweetheart. I am death incarnate, and the last living thing that you are ever going to see. God sent me."
And she fired. Ivanova's fingers traced a delicate dance of death over the silvery keys of her chair's console, and where she focused her attack, little remained but twisted metal. In that moment she seemed everything she had spoken of herself as, and the stars seemed to tremble...
Once again she snapped out her orders to the fleet in a voice as cold and unyielding as space, and her eyes blazed with anger as an Earth destroyer blew away one of her ship's consorts. The White Stars shifted formation at her command, spinning away from the Earth destroyers and then banking to attack oncemore.
The instant Sinclair was waiting on came quite suddenly, but he was ready. The firestorm of battle swept White Star 90 and her sisters, and the stars spun before Ivanova and her comrades as the White Star ducked and whirled to avoid the killing shots of her foes.
All of this Jeffrey Sinclair saw and heard; even the most softly-spoken words he heard, and he gave a moment's thought to the idea, unsuited though it was to an Entil'Zha, of giving Marcus Cole what would seem to have been a much-needed kick in the shins as a reminder that some thing should not be spoken of so openly. But it was only a passing thought, and Sinclair shrugged it aside with a mental sigh.
Susan Ivanova reached out to the rails on either side of her chair, caught their grip as if to stand, even went so far as to start to rise up- and in that instant, Sinclair saw the reason he had come, and he acted. The warmth and soft pressure of his hands came down upon her shoulders, anchoring her to that place and that time, and Sinclair put everything he had into keeping her rooted to that spot. And somehow, she knew it. Somehow, impossible as it should have been, she recognized the presence that held her fast, and knew it by name.
No, Susan, he said. Your place is here, whether you know it or not.
Trust me, Susan. Stay where you are, and hold fast.
Sinclair's hands tightened about her shoulders as the White Star skipped into the path of a stray bit of wreckage, which struck her bow and knocked her aside like a child's toy- and the forward bridge came crashing down around them, punctuated by a few quick shouts as crewmembers leapt out of the way of sparks and falling rubble.
When the smoke cleared at last several long moments later, none of them seemed aware of the events going on around them. Lennier, though he listened with one ear to the comm traffic, did not seem to notice that the fight had ended, the last of the still- fighting destroyers broken into dust and small fragments- though not, one should think, quite small enough, considering- and nor did Marcus. The Ranger stood still beside Ivanova, as he had stood for what could have been days or weeks or only hours, and he seemed equally unable to process what he was hearing. His hands moved over his boards as if by rote, shunting the appropriate information to Ivanova's console, but she was paying it little more mind than he.
Marcus had been sure- they had all been sure, in fact- that Ivanova had taken in into her head to rise from her chair and approach the forward views. It was, he knew, second nature for her to desire that closer look, the need that drove her to see with her own eyes so much a part of her that he'd thought she could not deny it. But just this once, it seemed to have worked in her favor that she hadn't done it, and Marcus knew he could not be the only one to realize it. Not the way Lennier and the others gazed at the wreckage on the deck before them, a mixture of horror and relief on their faces that he knew his own expression must have mirrored.
Ivanova, for her part, knew better than anyone what she had intended to do, but she knew, while the others did not, what it was that had stopped her. And as she gazed at the twisted heap of metal before her, she understood why. Jeff, she thought. There had been no question in her mind at all when the hands that were not there settled over her shoulders, just whose hands they were, and his words had only confirmed what she already knew. He said- I seem to remember him saying- Her thoughts paused, and she struggled to track that one back to its source. He said that I could only change one small thing, but he never said what he could change- or what he might.
"Susan-" Marcus said, breaking the silence at last.
Ivanova shook her head, and looked just to the side of the forward bridge, the fingers of one hand counting off the Minbari workers, scraped and smudged with soot, who had barely made the dash to safety, and she nodded. She still felt weighted to her seat and unable to stand, but she wasn't entirely sure her legs would have held her yet in any case.
"Is everyone alright?" Ivanova asked.
Marcus translated to the workers, and one of the three replied with only a slight hesitation. Ivanova looked at the Ranger for a moment before he took the hint- she still had a bit of trouble with her Minbari at times, and just then her brain was a bit too rattled to properly translate. "Sorry. Bit startled there, I guess. He says their wounds are only superficial, nothing serious."
Ivanova nodded her thanks, then turned to Lennier. "What's going on out there, Lennier?"
"The battle appears to be over, Commander. The Earth units have signaled their surrender- those units who are in any shape to surrender, at least." His voice was quiet, and the sobering truth of Lennier's words struck them all as what had once been an Earth destroyer drifted by before them, warped and scarred metal still clearly emblazoned "Cassandra". The name, Ivanova thought, was apt enough, for a destroyer built with Shadows at her heart, but her soul had still been very much that of an Earth Destroyer, and her crew, however loyal to Clark's new order, sons and daughters of Earth as well... Ivanova drew a deep sigh, then nodded.
"Status?" she called out, and after a pause, the reports began to come back.
* * *
Jeffrey Sinclair stood in the moments between moments, and this time he was not alone. Lorien, the First One, stood at his side, and the ancient alien shook his head slowly.
"You should not have done that, Entil'Zha Valen," he said, but though the words were chastising, the tone was kind, even understanding. "You have changed more than you realize."
"No," Sinclair said. "I repaid a debt that I've owed for a long time. I have seen too many people I care about die for no reason- and it was time to repay what I owed."
"She would not have died," Lorien said. "Marcus Cole was meant to die to save her."
"Yes," Sinclair said quietly, and in that moment he was no longer Jeffrey Sinclair, but Valen. "Yet I have seen where that path leads, and where it leads is not a place any of my loved ones need suffer to go. Not a place anyone need suffer to go- that path is not necessary, only a chance that could have been, but did not have to be."
Lorien gave a half-bow in the style of the Minbari, but a question appeared unvoiced in his expression, and after a time Sinclair nodded.
"It was," Sinclair said, and his voice was still soft, "something that Catherine and I decided on, once we realized how all of this would end. I told her the truth, you know- the same truth I told to Catherine, to a lesser extent. To Susan I said that the greater things cannot be changed, but the smaller ones, well..."
"It is a fine line," Lorien said, "cuts between the two. In a world in which Marcus Cole lived, he, too, had a destiny that awaited him. But that is not reason enough, as you well know."
"Yes," Sinclair said, "but can you, who saved Sheridan for love, fault me what I do? They had earned a chance- they deserved a chance! I decided long ago to give it to them. We've given each of them that chance, you know- you with Sheridan and Delenn, and I, with first Michael, and now with Susan and Marcus."
Lorien dipped his head in another nod, this one an acknowledgement of points he could not counter. "You should come away from here."
"The rest of eternity can wait a few minutes more," Sinclair said. "This is not yet done, and I would see how it ends."
* * *
Ivanova and Marcus stepped into the small chapel onboard the White Star. It was a simple affair, the lines of a small crystal garden hardly suggested, so that one deep in meditation could look into them and see many things. Candles stood about the room, some alighting the crystal, some within it, and Marcus moved about to light them.
"This is," he said quietly, "something we Rangers learned to do when Entil'Zha was still with us. After each battle fought, won or lost, we come, singularly or in groups, as we like, to places like this, and we remember. Sometimes with silence, sometimes with music or laughter or tears- but we remember. We remember the road that brought us here, and those who have recently left us to walk another. We grieve, and we learn to let go- and then we celebrate the living, the gift of life we still have." Marcus paused and smiled a bit. "Or at least that's the theory. Sometimes it can seem a little silly, but there are times-"
Ivanova nodded, and when Marcus had finished with the candles, sat on the floor beside him. "Sitting here, what I remember is the CPUs of the destroyers... Oh, hell, they turned them into CPUs, but those were people, someone's sons and daughters and lovers and friends, and they-"
"I know," Marcus said, and folded his hand over hers. "I know." He spoke then, bits of Minbari Ivanova could not quite follow, and then he translated. "May those at the heart of the machine find peace at last, in the place where no shadows fall."
She repeated the Minbari words nearly flawlessly, her accent only slightly off as she seemed to choke back a sob. "So stupid, isn't it?" Ivanova asked. "So many of our own died today, and I weep for creatures who probably didn't even feel the pain except as a loss of data!"
"You weep," a voice said, "because you are human, and so were they." Jeffrey Sinclair stepped out from within the crystal, his cloak rustling against the floor in a way Ivanova was almost certain was impossible for one who should have been as insubstantial as he. "Hello, Marcus," he added, taking in the Ranger's startled expression with some amusement.
"Entil'Zha," Marcus said.
"And at least," Sinclair went on, "no one's weeping for either of you two today."
"Why would they?" Marcus asked.
Sinclair could have deliberately misunderstood the question, but he did not. "Because things could have gone differently. Things can always go differently. Sometimes a little, sometimes a lot...it all depends. Take back there, for example- it could have been this ship destroyed instead of White Star 19. Or, when the debris hit-"
"My god, Susan!" Marcus exclaimed. "You could have been killed!"
"I might've been," Ivanova said, "if he hadn't been here. Jeff...how did you know?"
"Time and again I've seen it end like that," Sinclair said quietly, "Susan nearly dying, and you, Marcus, giving your life to save her."
"How-?" Marcus started to say.
"Don't even think of asking," Sinclair said. "I know a lot of things that nobody else needs to. That's one of them, and it's going to stay that way." He shook his head at them, looking suddenly very amused. "You two can really make a muck of things, you know. This last could have taken ages to get sorted out, and that's time you might not have had. But we each have, in our own ways, the power to change things. You've exercised yours, and I- I have exercised mine."
"Jeff-" Ivanova began.
"Entil'Zha," Marcus said. "I don't know how we can ever-"
"Live, and live well. That is all the thanks I could ever ask for." Sinclair smiled. "I have never known dearer or better friends than the two of you, and it is I who sought to repay your gift of friendship with a gift of my own- the only gift I had to give. You owe me nothing, but you owe yourselves a great deal, and I think it's time you started taking care of those debts." He paused. "And as for the rest of it- I haven't the power to heal, at least not any more than you or anybody else. All I gave you was a push in the right direction, Susan- what you did with it was up to you. So I ask you only this- take it for what it is, a gift of friendship, freely given, nothing asked or expected in return, only this- take care of each other."
"I think," Ivanova said quietly, "we can do that. Marcus?"
"Absolutely," the Ranger said. "Entil'Zha-" And he bowed over his hands, as he'd bowed to Ivanova.
"Hold fast to one another, dear friends," Sinclair said. "Let each of you be the other's anchor, and never think that you will be lost in the darkness, for you will always have each other. Always."
Sinclair closed his eyes, and his face turned blindly upward for a moment, and then he looked down once more and opened his eyes. He approached them with hands held outward, and Marcus and Ivanova found their own hands reaching out seemingly of their own volition, and then they touched, and Jeffrey Sinclair smiled.
"I can't manage this for very long," he said, "but I thought a proper goodbye would please the three of us more than my simply fading away."
Ivanova nodded, her expression a bit startled. "I'm not even going to ask how you pulled this one off."
"The answer probably wouldn't explain very much, anyway," Marcus said. "Entil'Zha-"
"There's a lot I can't tell you," Sinclair said then, "and a lot that I'd like to, but haven't the words for. In the end, all I can say is- thank you. Your trust, your friendship, has meant more to me- to both of us- than I can ever find words to tell you. Together, you, Sheridan, the others- you dream of a better future, and I know, I believe, that you can make that happen. Marcus, you may never return to Minbar in your lifetime, but know that you don't have to. Tuzanor is a place inside you as much as it is anything else; you carry it in your heart always, and it is as close or as far as you need it to be. And to you, Susan, I give you the same advice I gave once before- follow your heart. Follow your heart, and it will lead you home."
"I think," Ivanova said, "that maybe it already has."
"Perhaps," Sinclair smiled, "but you can, as I discovered, have more than one home. Follow your heart, Susan."
"One last thing. Something you both wondered about, but were unable to ask- I can tell you now, but only if you will swear never to reveal it to another living soul, not even to Delenn, who would really like to know." They both nodded, quietly swore themselves to silence, and only then did Sinclair go on. "You both know that I went where and when I did because it needed to be done- and you both also know that there was another, a deeply personal reason which I shared with no one- but which, I came to realize, I did not have to. You knew, and yet you never asked..."
"Catherine," they said as one, and Sinclair nodded.
"Catherine. You both know how and when I lost her- Marcus better than you, Susan, because he was there, but you both know. And I can tell you now what I couldn't before- that I did, at last, find her. You would not recognize her any more than you'd have recognized me after the chrysalis, but we did find one another, and- this is the reason you mustn't tell Delenn, nor any Minbari, for I doubt some would understand it- it was our children who helped to build the future, our children and their descendants who would become known as the Children of Valen."
"My God," Marcus said. "So much of the Minbari race, descendant from Minbari not born of Minbari..."
"I think," Ivanova said, "that's the greatest irony I've ever known. And the most beautiful. I used to tease you about her, I know, but- Catherine was a good friend." She smiled. "She'd even just about talked me into wearing that awful bridesmaid's dress and standing for her at your wedding, too-"
"Which I'd have paid to see, by the way," Marcus added.
"No doubt!" Sinclair said with a laugh. "I think that Delenn would understand, but she would also either find herself compelled to share the knowledge, or burdened by the weight of yet another secret. I won't have that. In her way, Delenn is very much like one of my daughters- it's almost amazing how much she reminds me of Cailen. Or," he paused, "maybe not so surprising after all. But I don't want to see another burden fall to her because of me."
"Understood," Marcus said. "It's not our place to tell her, anyway."
"No," Ivanova agreed, "it's not. And if I told anyone- about any of this! -they'd never believe me."
"You wouldn't believe you if you weren't standing here," Marcus pointed out.
Sinclair nodded as if confirming to himself something he already knew, and drew the two of them into an embrace. "Three is a powerful number, but so is two, particularly- well, never mind, in some ways I have said too much already- as have you, Marcus."
"Me?" the Ranger asked. "What could I possibly have-?"
Sinclair replied not aloud, but silently. Entil'Zha veni, old friend. Stop that. You of all people know that she's hardly stupid, and if you persist in saying things like that-
"Apologies, Entil'Zha," Marcus said, looking a bit sheepish.
"Accepted," Sinclair replied. "My friends-"
"Take care of yourself, Jeff," Ivanova said. She wondered for a moment what it was that Marcus was apologizing for... But then, she thought, just as there were things Delenn and the others didn't need to know, there were things that she did not need to know, and that this was probably one of them.
"You too, Susan. You, too. Marcus- take care." Sinclair hugged them oncemore and then was gone, and they were left holding one another.
"He was such a pain in the ass," Ivanova said, "...and I'm going to miss him a hell of a lot."
"I know," Marcus said. "So will I. But he's right, you know- about a lot of things. We... We've got each other now, don't we?"
"Of course we do, don't be an idiot," Ivanova said, and kissed him lightly. "You're a pain in the ass, too, you know."
"Yes, and I'm all yours."
"I know," she said, and her arms locked around him. Her kiss, when it came again, was this time as desperate as it was passionate, and she wept as she kissed him. Marcus said nothing, simply taking the bruising force of her kisses, the hot tears streaming down her face, knowing it was the only way she could let these things go, the only way she could let out her grief, for Sinclair, for the friends they'd lost today, for the total strangers...
"I'm sorry," Ivanova said some time later.
"Don't be," Marcus replied, brushing a strand of hair back from her face and kissing her forehead gently. "I know, and it's alright."
"I don't know what I've done without you all this time, you damned fool," Ivanova said fondly- and that was when the world seemed to tremble around them, the deck shook beneath their feet, and crystal rained down upon them.
Now, that was a really stupid idea, some detached portion of Ivanova's mind thought at the crystal shards. Who put those there?
A bench affixed to the deck broke loose and hurtled towards them, and it seemed they had only time to see it coming directly at them before it hit-
"NO!" Marcus screamed, drawing Ivanova against him and throwing up an arm to deflect some of the debris. The bench knocked them both across the head, and Marcus was almost certain he blacked out for a moment.
As the ship rocked again and they started to fall, Marcus pushed her down and fell atop her, shielding her body with his own. Something heavy, massive, and sharp collapsed atop them, and Marcus braced himself against the pain. "Susan?" he whispered. "Oh, Susan, no..."
She blinked up at him with eyes that refused to focus, and the world spun before her. She reached out slowly, raised a hand to touch his shoulder as if to assure herself he was really there. "Marcus?"
"I'm here, Susan, I'm here. Are you alright?"
"Think so," she said unsteadily. "I have one hell of a headache, though."
Marcus smiled. "I'll bet you do. Sorry about that-"
"Don't be. Saved my life. We're going to have to talk about this selfless devotion crap, though, because I will kill you if you get yourself killed..." She trailed off. "There's something wrong with that statement, but damned if I know what it is." Ivanova reached up again, her hands brushing across the velvet softness of his cloak. Marcus winced in pain from even that light touch, and Ivanova's hands came away bloody and nearly sliced to ribbons. The blood was not only hers, there was too much of it, and piercing the cloak, and his shirt and skin beneath it, were what seemed to be hundreds of crystal shards... "Marcus. Marcus- your back-"
"Don't worry about it," he said. "Let's just get you out of here, shall we?"
"Alright," Ivanova said. "How?"
"Can you reach your link?"
"I think so." She reached for the link with her left hand, and somewhere in the midst of that journey, her elbow slammed into Marcus's stomach.
"Oof," he gasped. "Susan-"
"Sorry," she said with a sheepish look, and tapped the link. Her right hand screamed in pain, but she made herself hit it again, hard enough to activate the link. "Ivanova...Bridge."
"Bridge, Lennier," the Minbari's voice came back. "Commander, we seem to be-"
"What happened?" she cut him off.
"Apparently there were a few latecomers to the party- standard destroyers, two of them. The EarthForce ships that have joined us are taking care of them now." He paused. "You don't sound well, Commander, are you-?"
"She's hurt," Marcus said, "and so am I, rather badly as these things go..." He paused. "Susan? Susan?"
Ivanova didn't answer, nor did she react when Marcus brushed a hand across her face. Her skin was cold and clammy under his fingers, and he swore. "Bloody hell- Lennier, get Stephen. Get him now."
If the Minbari made any reply, Marcus didn't hear it; the whole of his attention focused on Ivanova. "Susan," he whispered, "Susan, please... please. I love you. I love you, Susan, and I'm not going to lose you, no matter what. I'm not..."