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" (4/?)
by Christine Anderson
aka Anla'shok Ivanova
Ivanova had paced past Marcus on her crutches approximately six times before he decided he'd had enough. He reached out and caught hold of her arm, and beckoned her closer. Ivanova scowled, but limped over to stand beside him.
"What?" she asked irritably, but Marcus had learned long ago how to shrug off her little fits of temper, at least those that weren't directed at him, as this one wasn't. Her annoyance was situational, not personal, and that was something he could understand very well.
"You're making me dizzy."
"Oh?" she asked. "I'm making myself dizzy, too, but at least I'm accomplishing something."
"At least you're alive to be accomplishing anything," Marcus replied.
Ivanova dipped her head in a nod, then groaned quietly as the world spun before her. "One of these days I'm going to remember not to do that." She paused. "You're right, you know- and that doesn't help, either."
"I know." Marcus paused. "Shall we limp our way to the bridge and see if Lennier's heard anything?"
"Why not?" Ivanova asked, bracing herself against the crutches once again. "Ready?"
"Absolutely," Marcus replied.
It would have taken them quite some time to reach the White Star's bridge, Marcus moving with a halting limp, Ivanova shuffling her crutches forward and then swinging herself along in their wake. Stephen Franklin had made his first mistake of the day by releasing Ivanova, but not Marcus, from Medlab. He'd then made his second by absenting himself while the Ranger appeared to be unconscious. It hadn't taken him more than fifteen minutes of very slow and careful walking to catch up with Ivanova. Since then they had sometimes paced, sometimes rested, in a little-traveled corridor of the White Star, Marcus propping his hands against the wall when he grew weary of pacing, since he could not rest his back without a lot more pain than it would've been worth. In keeping with Stephen's orders, both took it easy, but seemed determined to do it on their own terms.
Theirs was a frustrating lack of progress, and they did their best to mask their relief when, little more than halfway to their destination, they encountered Lennier.
"Marcus- Commander Ivanova- Should you be up yet?"
"I don't know, Lennier," Marcus replied with an approximation of a shrug, immediately followed by a brief wince of pain, "but we're here. Have you heard anything?"
"No," Lennier replied, "not since the fighting began. Delenn sent a message saying it had started, but-"
"Delenn?" Marcus asked.
"Yes, she departed some time ago, to catch up with the others. She will wait with them in hyperspace near the Earth jump gate."
Ivanova nodded. Of course Delenn would want to be there. She wanted to be there too, and was more than a little annoyed because she couldn't be. Ivanova wasn't used to be left behind; no matter how badly hurt, she wanted to be in the thick of things, not sitting on the sidelines waiting for news.
None of which, of course, was Lennier's fault, and Ivanova sighed and nodded. "Alright. Come find us if you hear anything at all."
"I will." Lennier paused. "And where will I find you?"
"Medlab?" Marcus suggested. Ivanova swung one of her crutches at him. "Or not."
"Bunk room?" Ivanova suggested.
Marcus shrugged. "Why not? Doubt we'll get much rest, but at least we can say we tried. And it'll keep us out of Stephen's clutches a while longer."
Ivanova nodded. "That's where we'll be, then."
Lennier nodded back. "Commander, can I-? That is, do either of you require assistance?"
"We got this far on our own," Marcus replied, "I think we can just about manage. Thanks, though." He turned to regard Ivanova. "Unless perhaps you'd like some help?"
"Sorry, sorry- just a suggestion."
* * *
Despite Marcus's doubts, both he and Ivanova fell almost immediately asleep, thanks in no small part to Sinclair and Lorien, and as they slept, they dreamed.
Together they walked under the crystal spires of Tuzanor, a place familiar to Marcus but virtually unknown to Ivanova. They walked hand in hand, and as they did, it seemed to Ivanova that she saw images in the crystal, reflections of what was not there, and she understood somehow in the way of dreams that these were images of the future, of what might be.
They stopped to watch the images, and they saw both the amazing and the terrible. They saw those that they knew raised to greatness, saw others falling to ruin, saw the world as it would be in coming years and coming ages. And there was a day, a day twenty years into the future, when they, older, far more weary, gathered about a table in a room of vaguely Minbari style, and they raised their glasses to absent friends, to those who had gone before...
It was Vir who spoke the first name, his voice joined by Sheridan's, a Vir they hardly recognized, such was the change that had come over him. Resplendent in the Imperial white, he looked out at the world from eyes that had seen too much, but for a moment he was again the lighthearted fool who had come to Babylon 5 so many years ago.
Delenn's hair was cut short and streaked with the first touches of grey, and there was about her a great sense of sadness, her shoulders maybe just a bit stooped under the accustomed weight of long pain. She spoke her old friend's name as if it were only a very small part of that pain.
Garibaldi, a glass of water before him, and that as much as anything else about his bearing spoke volumes for the ways in which he had changed, speaking the name of the one who had risked much and lost even more to find him so very long ago.
Ivanova spun, eyes widened in horror, to regard her older self, a Susan Ivanova who looked so haunted, so old and so very weary, that she wanted to weep. The others had spoken of those they had lost, and she had done no different, but the pain in that statement was so much greater, and everyone at that table knew it...
The world twisted and turned before her, and Ivanova, unable to stand, fell to her knees. It was only then that she realized she was alone, that Marcus was not with her, and a scream tore lose from her, leaving her throat raw in its wake. It was wordless, and then somehow it became a word, and the word was a denial of such horrible truth-
Hands caught her, raised her up and held her, and Ivanova felt the tears spring free of her eyes at last as she looked up into the kindly face of Jeffrey Sinclair.
"Damn you," she whispered, her voice hoarse. "Damn you, Jeff- You should have let me die!"
"No," Sinclair said softly. "No, Susan. You're wrong."
"How could I be?" she asked. "How? If this is how it ends- If that's where I'll be twenty years from now, Sheridan dying and the rest of us having lost so much, and Marcus- Marcus..."
"This," Sinclair said, still speaking softly, "will never be. Not like this. I- you- we -have seen to that, the three of us. You did your part, and I did mine."
Ivanova saw in her mind's eye then the doorway between life and death, and herself standing at its threshold. She heard the words they'd spoken to one another then as if at a great distance.
"You cannot change today, and you cannot change tomorrow, but if you wish, you can change one small thing of yesterday."
"You could have said so," Ivanova said.
"No," he replied. "I couldn't explain any more than I did."
She sighed. "I know, but..." Ivanova gestured to the scene before them, frozen now and grown dark, as if fading. "What about all of this?"
"This day will still come- you know that. Sheridan will die, and before he does he will call you to his side. He will call Vir, Michael, Stephen, you, and Marcus. And all of you will go. You will bind together oncemore in your grief, and it is your friendship which will sustain you through that grief. It is also that friendship which will enable you to transform it into something which will insure that Sheridan's dream lives on beyond all of you, and your children's children. Things can't always stay the same, Susan, but what is built, if it's built well- endures."
Ivanova nodded, wondering whose name she would speak when the years had passed and they sat, old friends gathered once more around this table.
"The sad part is that you'll have no shortage of fallen comrades to remember, Susan," Sinclair said in answer to her unspoken question, "but you won't be grieving for each other, any more than you should..."
"And the others?" she asked. "G'Kar, Londo, Lennier?"
Sinclair shook his head. "I'm sorry, Susan. Even I cannot change the paths they are walking- only they can do that, and that only if they choose to." He paused. "Remember what I told you- that you owe yourselves, not me. You and Marcus did the difficult things; I only pointed you in the right directions."
"And saved us a time or two," Marcus added as he came to stand beside them.
"I thought I made it clear you weren't supposed to remember that," Sinclair said with a sigh, but his tone of voice and his expression both were amused.
"Sorry about that," Marcus said, not sounding particularly apologetic. "I know lots of things I'm not supposed to, though, and I've always kept secrets rather well, or so I like to think-"
"Most of the time, yes," Sinclair said. He shook his head and smiled, but then his expression turned serious oncemore. "This day," Sinclair gestured to the scene frozen before them now, "will still come. But it will come as tomorrow comes, in its own place and time. And in the meantime, in the years between now and then... What happens, I leave in your hands."
"Jeff," Ivanova said, brushing at her eyes to wipe away a tear. "I-"
"I know, Susan," Sinclair replied. "I know. You'll see me again, don't worry." He smiled. "You'll both see me again, many, many years from now." He paused. "Try and stay out of trouble, please. I really can't come to your rescue again."
Ivanova was never sure what made her do it, but after she had hugged him one last time and drawn away to stand beside Marcus, she bowed over her folded hands. "Entil'Zha veni, Jeff. Take care."
"Goodbye, my dear old friends."
* * *
They woke just as the White Star's movement slowed, then ceased altogether. Like sleeping children whose proximity to home brought them slowly awake, they sensed that approach of the safe and the familiar. Marcus and Ivanova returned from their dreams to the sight of Babylon 5 growing ever larger in the viewers.
The next hours were a blur of words and motion, during which Ivanova remained on Babylon 5, Marcus at her side, only long enough to learn that the battle for Earth had been won. That, among other things, told where they stood and what they were to do.
A call to the Agamemnon revealed that after Susanna Luchenko had been named Clark's successor, Captain Sheridan turned himself over to her government. Though the Agamemnon's captain seemed surprised, Ivanova wasn't, nor did she doubt the wisdom of Sheridan's actions. They told her that the next phase of his plan had begun, the last and perhaps the most dangerous phase, and with that information in hand, Ivanova and the others left at once for Earth.
No one, not even Dr. Franklin, was brave enough to suggest that she might not have been up to the journey, and one look at the Ranger limping along in the wake of Ivanova's crutches said he wouldn't have gotten far making similar suggestions to Marcus, either.
When the pair reached the White Star, Delenn and several Minbari swept them up in a minor whirlwind, which they emerged from with torn and bloody uniforms consigned to the recycler, injuries expertly tended by Minbari physicians. Quite liberal doses of painkillers insured they felt no pain, and yet were still every bit as coherent as they could have hoped to be. All of this done, Marcus was carried off in one direction by Lennier, Ivanova in another by Delenn.
Making a good impression upon everyone who would see what they were about to do, the billions of ISN viewers, and those they would face in person, was almost as important as the battles they had so recently fought, and with this in mind, Delenn, Lennier, and the crew of the White Star had cleaned them up as best they could in the time they had to work with.
Marcus found himself swathed in the folds of a new Ranger cloak, worn over an equally new uniform shirt. Though his old cloak was, as Stephen had predicted, more or less ruined, the Isil'Zha brooch bore not a scratch, nor so much as a single speck of blood. It seemed impervious to harm, which caused Lennier and the other, non Anla'shok, Minbari to exclaim in shock and surprise. When one of them invoked Valen's name, Marcus had to smile to himself and bite his lip to keep from laughing aloud, because he rather suspected that his old friend, the Entil'Zha, did have something to do with it.
Ivanova draped a dress uniform coat over one shoulder, more casually than she'd have liked, but there was no help for it. Her braced wrist wouldn't go through the sleeve without ruining it. That brace, however, had been hastily dyed an almost-matching dark navy, and one of her boots was cut to fit over her cast, then fastened together over it with the magical adhesive powers of duct tape (also dyed). Ivanova knew that she looked, probably not her best, but as good as she was going to, considering.
Both still appeared hurt; there was no help for that. Marcus' range of movement was severely limited by both the injuries to his back and the numerous stitches required to keep them closed as they healed, and, despite much-wounded pride, Ivanova still bore her crutches. They would both carry themselves proudly, if wearily, now, and that would make as much of a difference to them as it would to anyone else.
"Thanks, Delenn," Ivanova said as she leaned towards her reflection in a small wall mirror, giving her unbound hair one last stroke of the hairbrush before handing it back to the Minbari woman.
"You are welcome, Susan," Delenn replied with a small smile. "Lennier tells me it is nearly time. Are you ready?"
Knowing she would have to be, Ivanova nodded once. Reaching for her crutches, she settled them under her arms and started for the door.
In the hall beyond stood Marcus, nervously intertwining his fingers, drawing them apart, then intertwining them again. He studied his hands, suddenly afraid to look at her.
Ivanova ducked her head, letting her hair fall forward in an attempt to hide her grin. "Marcus?"
The Ranger looked up. "S-Susan?"
She smiled, started to speak, then-
"Susan? Marcus?" A long pause. "Delenn."
As one, they turned, gasped...
"John!" Delenn cried softly from just behind them, then she was running past, into his arms, and John Sheridan swept her up clear off the floor. Sheridan smiled, kissed her once, gently, and set her down. One arm around her shoulders, with Delenn's head resting comfortable against his shoulder, Sheridan turned to regard Marcus and Ivanova.
Propping one elbow on her crutch, Ivanova raised a hand and waved. "Hey, John."
"Is everyone alright?" Sheridan asked, looking between Delenn, Marcus, and Ivanova, before settling his gaze on Delenn.
"We're fine. Are you?" Ivanova asked bluntly.
"Let's just say they've learned their lessons, and have been treating me very well. President Luchenko and I have come to an understanding-"
"At the point of a sword, I'd bet," Marcus said none too quietly.
Sheridan shrugged. "Maybe, but the important thing was keeping the rest of you out of trouble, and I've done that. I had to make some concessions, but it could have been a lot worse, for all of us."
A young man in EarthForce uniform appeared at the other end of the hall. "Sir? They're ready for you now."
Sheridan nodded. "Thank you. I'll be right there." He turned back to Delenn, and spoke softly enough that the EarthForce officer could not have heard, and softly enough that the others could pretend they hadn't, either. "We're ready for this, Delenn. We've been ready."
"They await only our signal," Delenn said.
Sheridan nodded. "Good. The rest of you, Susan, Marcus, you know what to do and when?"
"Yes, sir," Marcus said. He looked at Ivanova. "Shall we?"
She smiled, leaned over, and kissed him on the lips. "Let's go."
Sheridan raised his eyebrows at that, then slowly closed one eye in a wink before turning to follow his guide into EarthDome's press briefing room.
* * *
"Before I ask President Luchenko and her Joint Chiefs to accept my resignation," John Sheridan concluded his words to those assembled, "with your permission, Madame President, ladies and gentlemen, there is one small thing I would like to do, as my final act as an officer of EarthForce."
Luchenko cocked her head thoughtfully to the side, then nodded. "Very well, Captain. Proceed." Her expression, however, cautioned him that should he ask too much, they would have to have at least a brief...conversation on the subject before she granted his request.
Sheridan turned to those who stood off to one side of the podium, against the farthest wall, and gestured to one of them. "Commander Susan Andreyevna Ivanova, would you step forward, please?"
Ivanova, who of all the Babylon 5 officers had been seated, rose to her feet, clutching the arm of her chair to keep from falling. The Ranger seeming to be standing sentry at her side held out her crutches, and helped her settle her weight onto them.
Ivanova mouthed a "thank you" to Marcus, and shot him a questioning look. He shrugged fractionally, having no more idea what the Captain was up to this time than she did. Delenn, though, wore a small, rather pleased smile that led Ivanova to suspect that she, at least, had been in on Sheridan's latest scheme- whatever it was.
Sheridan smiled as she approached him, swinging forward upon the crutches. "Many of you," he said, "know Commander Ivanova at least by reputation as my second-in-command. Those of you who've ever been to Babylon 5 know that she's the one who handles its day-to-day operations, and she handles them very well. She's also more recently been the Voice of the Resistance, reporting the real news about recent events for B5, Earth, Mars, Proxima, and anyone else with the courage to listen. When Captain Sinclair of Babylon 5 became Ambassador Sinclair, Earth liaison to Minbar, he left on his desk a request that the officer who replaced him on Babylon 5 examine the exemplary record of then-Lieutenant Commander Ivanova, and consider her for promotion to Commander."
Ivanova stood beside him by this point, and, conscious of their audience, did not say any of the things she wanted to say, nor did she do any of the things she wanted to do. She did not curse her Captain, her friend, nor did she hit him. She didn't laugh or cry or dash headlong from the room as quickly as her sore muscles and broken bones could carry her. Instead she remained silent on her crutches, bad foot held off the ground.
"Commander Ivanova and the other members of my crew have been granted amnesty for their actions in support of our recent campaign, but I still can't help but think that, were I to follow Sinclair's example, something tragic and very accidental would happen to that request. I'm sure it wouldn't be intentional," he added with a wry smile that said he was sure of no such thing, and Ivanova saw Luchenko's eyes narrow, "but it might still happen, and I cannot allow that. Commander Ivanova's excellent record of service, her dedication, and her many actions above and beyond the call of duty, say that I cannot allow that. So I ask you, Madame President, before witnesses enough to insure there is no chance of this slipping through the cracks before it can be given proper consideration, to allow me this- that you confer upon Susan Ivanova the rank of full Captain."
Ivanova had known where this was leading from the moment he began speaking, and still, when he was done, she was barely able to hold back a gasp of surprise at Sheridan's words. "Captain-" she managed to gasp out. "Sir..."
Sheridan smiled. "You've more than earned it, Susan," he said quietly, in a voice low enough that the microphones didn't catch it.
President Luchenko nodded once, slowly, and stepped back up to Sheridan's other side. "For an officer who has served Earth so very well, Captain, I can do no less. But it will be you, not I, who grants Commander Ivanova's new rank."
"Yes, ma'am," Sheridan said.
Luchenko extended a hand to Ivanova. "Congratulations, Commander- or should I say, Captain."
"Thank you, Madame President," Ivanova said.
"Captain Ivanova! Captain Ivanova!" Various members of the press began to shout her name, calling questions towards the front of the room. Ivanova glanced at Sheridan and Luchenko out of the corner of her eye, unable to think of a single reply to even one question which would be polite in the least. The only advantage she could see to that was that there was no chance they'd ever air a single word of any of those replies.
Sheridan looked as if he was moments away from saying something, but it was Luchenko who saved her, with an upraised hand. "Ladies and gentlemen, please. Commander Ivanova was only recently injured, and I am sure you will forgive her if she returns to her seat now."
"Thank you, Madame President," Ivanova said quietly, starting to turn her crutches.
Luchenko smiled, and kissed each of her cheeks. "Congratulations, countrywomen." With a few quick, quiet words in Russian for Ivanova's ears alone, the Earth Alliance President helped her turn on her crutches back the way she had come. The reporters began to shout their questions at Luchenko before Ivanova's back was completely turned, enabling her to escape into blessed obscurity.
Ivanova sank gratefully back into her chair, glad to be off of legs that trembled far more than they hurt just then.
"What did she say?" Marcus whispered under cover of taking the crutches and propping them against the wall between them. He didn't really need to be so quiet, Ivanova thought, considering just how vocal the press was becoming. With the spotlight back on Luchenko and Sheridan, their attention, and the questions each tried to shout over those of his or her fellows, was focused there once again.
Ivanova laughed softly beneath eyes hooded but smiling. "'Leave the vultures to me and escape while you can, little sister.'"
Marcus grinned. "Captain Ivanova?" he asked. "Has a nice ring to it, don't you think?"
"I could get used to it," she admitted. "I've always wanted my own ship, you know, but..."
"Sheridan's forced retirement leaves me nominally in command of B5, and I'm the highest-ranked EarthForce officer who served with him during the last year. The only thing they can't do is shoot me; they never promised not to give me command of a garbage tug, a scout ship on the edge of Pak'ma'ra space, or-"
"You," Marcus said fondly, "are a pessimist."
"I am Russian," Ivanova corrected him.
"Isn't that what I just said?"
Ivanova shook her head, but before she had a chance to reply, Lennier approached them, and handed Ivanova a small slip of paper before withdrawing again. Almost no one else saw the Minbari aide's unobtrusive arrival and departure, except those who had been watching and waiting for him and the message he carried.
"What is it?" Marcus asked as she unfolded the paper and read the few words written there.
"It's time. Help me up?"
"Be glad to," Marcus said, standing and helping her to her feet. With everyone's attention focused upon Luchenko and Sheridan, no one noticed when he and Ivanova stepped from the room, except Delenn. She folded her hands under her chin, and, behind the podium, John Sheridan nodded very slightly.
As soon as they were into the hall and out of earshot of the reporters, Ivanova tapped her link. "Ivanova to White Star fleet. Prepare to enter atmosphere on my mark."
"Acknowledged," came the voice of one of the Minbari Rangers.
Marcus stood in the doorway, listening as Luchenko introduced Delenn, who then began to speak. He waited until she'd reached the point in her speech they'd agreed on, the moment when she mentioned the Rangers- to her people, the Anla'shok. Then he made a quick gesture with his hand, and Ivanova turned to her link oncemore.
"Now," Ivanova said, and EarthDome trembled at the passing of hundreds of Minbari-built White Stars, as they danced in the skies overhead like a flock of birds, growing ever-larger as they came in to land.
"Think they'll miss us if we go now?" Marcus asked as he stepped back from the doorway and returned to Ivanova's side.
She shook her head. "Not for a while, at least. Let's get out of here."
They passed the triple line of Rangers entering the building, and would have stood aside for that friendly invasion to pass, but the three lines of brown and grey clad Humans and Minbari seemed to flow around them like water, reforming at their backs and continuing on their way.
Ivanova looked around to get her bearings, then slipped through an unmarked door, gesturing for Marcus to follow. She had only the vaguest idea of where she was going, but propelled herself along as if she not only knew exactly where she was headed, but had every right to be there. The few people they encountered stepped quickly out of her way, and so much did Ivanova seem to belong both where she was and where she was going, that it must have been assumed anyone with her belonged as well, and so no one questioned Marcus, either.
She'd expected to find the outer room of Sheridan's 'guest quarters' both quiet and unoccupied. Quiet it was. Unoccupied, however, it was not, as the slim, dark-haired and black-clad figure of Alfred Bester sat at the table, black-gloved hands folded before him. He sat as if he had settled in to wait, and though his pose was casual, it was clear that he was going nowhere at all until he got what he had come for.
"Ah, Commander Ivanova."
Ivanova leaned back against the door and sighed. She nodded. "Bester." The name fell like a stone from her lips.
Bester turned his eyes to Marcus. "And Mister Cole. How delightful. I hope my presence doesn't keep you from whatever it is you came here to do; I'd really hate to have interrupted your little tryst-"
The Ranger all but snarled at him, and took a step forward with one hand suspiciously hidden within the folds of his cloak, before Ivanova caught hold of his arm and jerked him back.
"Marcus," she said sharply under her breath, then, aloud, "What do you want, Bester?"
"Now, really, Commander, there's no reason to be rude. I'm simply sitting here, minding my own business."
Ivanova gave a short, harsh laugh. "Right." She hobbled towards the table until it was all that separated her from Bester.
"Come into my parlor, said the spider to the fly," was Marcus' comment.
"Now, that was uncalled for," Bester said with a long-suffering sigh. "I haven't come to harm any of you- quite the opposite, actually." He toyed with a small black metal box, then pushed a button on its surface and slid it across the table towards them. "This will allow us to speak privately for a few moments. As I said, I'm not here to cause trouble. I came to see Sheridan."
"And you're still here, why, exactly?" Ivanova asked.
Bester smiled. "Would you believe I wanted to congratulate you on your promotion?"
"Well." Bester paused, flexing the fingers of his good hand. "I should just let you wonder, I suppose..."
Ivanova shrugged. "If you've got something to say, say it. Otherwise-"
"I came," Bester said then, "to ask Sheridan if one of the telepaths he used against the fleet in his little war was my lover."
"And did he tell you," Ivanova snapped, "that she wasn't?"
"He told me..." The PsiCop sighed. "He told me enough. Ivanova, I don't trust you and yours any more than you trust me- you must understand that."
"You live in a very sad world, Mister Bester," Marcus said.
"Perhaps. But it's the only one I know. In point of fact, Commander, Mister Cole, what I'm doing here is waiting for the reporters to go away and take their cameras with them. I don't think anyone else really needs to know I was here, do you?"
"No," Ivanova said. "They don't."
"But," Marcus added, "you could have left while things were still quiet. If there's one thing I'm certain of about you, it's that you can probably sneak just about anywhere without being seen by anyone you don't want to see you."
"Let's just say I had a vested interest in seeing whether Sheridan complied with the President's demands or not."
Ivanova smiled. "That's President Sheridan to you. Or hadn't you heard?"
"I think the entertainment value of this conversation has been exhausted," Bester said as he rose from his chair. "And as for your President Sheridan, you'll tell him I want the rest of my people returned with Carolyn. He won't use even one more, single, no family, or not."
"You talk about the way we used the Shadow-altered telepaths in our 'little war'," Ivanova said, "but we didn't put those implants in their heads, did we? We tried to help them, for all the good it did us- and the truth is that you'd have used us the same way we ended up using them, probably with less compassion, if our places were reversed."
"Never," Bester said flatly. "A telepath never relies on normals to save him, because they won't."
"Maybe not," Marcus agreed, "but your attitude is part of the reason why that's true."
"You don't have any right to judge me, the things I do, or my reasons for doing them," Bester said flatly. "I never expected any of us to be friends, but I had thought we might come to some understanding."
"How could that ever be possible?" Ivanova asked. "You look at us, and all you ever see is the things you'd do, the way you'd betray people to get what you wanted, the way you'd go after revenge as if it were the only thing in the universe that mattered." She leaned forward over the table, and when she spoke at last, her voice was almost a whisper. "Do you really think," she asked, "that any of us could be so cruel as to intentionally take away from you the only thing you ever gave a damn about? I'm surprised a creature like you can love anyone at all, but we- Damnit, Bester, right now I understand you a hell of a lot better than I ever wanted to. Do you think we haven't lost enough over the years to know how much losing her would hurt you? Oh, we know, Mister Bester- we know better than you think. But the truth is that none of us could be that cruel even to you, no matter how much we might think you deserve it."
Bester said nothing.
"Do you think I can't see how afraid you are of losing her?" Ivanova asked.
"I've already lost her, Commander, and right now I would give everything I have to get her back."
"I know," Ivanova said. "I know."
"Do you?" Bester asked. "Carolyn and I- All we ever had was each other."
"We know," Marcus said. "I almost hate to say this, really, all the more because it's true, but we're really not so different, you and I. I was lucky once, but the Shadows took everything I had, and the day that happened was the day I stopped believing in luck. I only have two things now, Mister Bester, only two things in all the universe that matter worth a damn- The Rangers, and her." He gestured to Ivanova. "And when you get right down to it, Susan and I- We have each other. No more, no less."
"You have Carolyn, and the Corps," Ivanova said. "And the Corps doesn't care."
Bester sighed. "I don't want your sympathy, Ivanova, or yours either, Cole."
Marcus nodded. "Of course you don't. And that's part of the reason you've got it."
"Don't think this conversation changes anything between us," Bester said. "As you've said, we live in different worlds." He rose smoothly to his feet. "You'll tell Sheridan that what I said still stands. And again- Nothing's changed, Ivanova. Don't make the mistake of assuming we're all friends now."
"We'll pass that along," Ivanova said. He had nearly reached the door when she said, "Bester."
He turned back. "Yes?"
"A word to the wise. I hear Garibaldi's looking for you. If you have the slightest shred of self-preservation, you won't let him find you."
Bester smiled, a shark's smile. "Really, Commander. I guard my back a little better than that. No matter how much he wants to, he can't hurt me. Have a nice day."
"Bastard," Ivanova said as the door closed behind him. "I hate him- and I still feel sorry for him."
"So do I," Marcus said. "What you said, about Garibaldi-?"
"What about him?"
"Does that mean you believe his story? I thought you didn't trust him."
"I still haven't made up my mind about that," Ivanova said, "but no matter how sympathetic I am to Bester, I'd be crazy to trust him more than Garibaldi. As for what Michael says happened, well- I sure as hell wouldn't put it past him, would you?"
"No," Marcus said, "and I think that's the saddest thing of all."