Never To Be Alone In The Dark

Disclaimer: Babylon 5 and its characters don't belong to me. JMS owns everything except my crazy plot twists, and Lorell.

"Never to Be Alone in the Dark" (5/?)
by Christine Anderson
aka Anla'shok Ivanova

The ceremony marking Ivanova's promotion to Captain was more public than she would have liked, with only a few less reporters and cameras than had been present for the earlier speeches. The sheer joy of that moment, though, a moment she'd worked long and hard to reach, all but obscured her annoyance at being the subject of such a spectacle. When Sheridan traded her Commander's bar for that of a Captain, pinned it to her crisp, new, deep blue EarthForce uniform, as he shook her hand, Ivanova felt tears spring to her eyes and was unable to hold them back.

"Congratulations, Susan," Sheridan said, then tossed formality to the winds and hugged her tightly, an infectious grin crossing his face.

The applause was almost deafening when Captain Susan Ivanova turned and saluted President Susanna Luchenko.

Under cover of that not inconsiderable racket, Luchenko said, "We've organized a small celebration in honor of the liberation of Earth tonight, and I would be honored if you chose to attend."

Ivanova shook her head. "Thank you, Madame President, but I'll have to decline. I have a prior obligation."

"Oh?" Luchenko asked, as she again embraced her countrywoman and kissed first one cheek, then the other.

"I'm standing- well, limping along, is more like it -at President Sheridan's wedding."

Luchenko smiled. "In that case, I'm sure our little party will go on without you."

"Yes, ma'am," Ivanova said. "If you'll excuse me?"

"Of course," Luchenko said.

Ivanova hobbled back towards Sheridan. She beamed at him, and hugged him as best she could without dropping her crutches. "I'll get you for this, John," she said quietly.

Sheridan laughed. "Sorry, Susan. It was the only way I could be sure they'd do right by you." He paused, and turned as if to help her towards a nearby chair. "Hear you had a visitor."

"He was your visitor first," Ivanova pointed out. "I figured the one place the reporters wouldn't be was your, ah, guest accommodations-"

"Ah, the gilded cage," Sheridan said, escorting her out into the hall. "And you were right- about that, at least."

Ivanova nodded. "Did Marcus tell you-?"

"What Bester said? Yeah. I- well, hell, Susan, some people never change."

"No," she agreed, "they don't. Whatever his faults, though- and I'll be the first to tell you Bester has a lot of them- he really does love her. It's not his fault that threatening us is the only way he knows to show it."

Sheridan nodded. "Maybe, but if it were Delenn, I don't doubt I could be just as ruthless, and you-"

"What?" Ivanova asked, but he only laughed and shook his head, and she let it go. "Speaking of Delenn, where is she?"

"She didn't say where she was going-" Sheridan began, but before he could finish, a door opened at the other end of the hall, and Delenn herself stepped through.

"John? I have someone here who I think you'd like to see."

"Dad?" Sheridan asked, as an elderly man followed Delenn through the door.

Ivanova smiled, gave Delenn a sketchy wave, and hobbled off in search of Marcus. She didn't have to look very far; the Ranger was trailing her by only a few feet, and finally made his presence known.

"Susan?"

She jumped approximately a mile and whirled on her crutches. "I really hate it when you do that."

"Sorry," he said, grinning. "But you're not too easy to catch. I just wanted to say congratulations. I'm quite proud of you, Captain Ivanova."

Ivanova found herself blushing. "Thanks, Marcus."

"It's true, you know."

"Yes," Ivanova said, still blushing. "I know."

"Good."

David Sheridan stood arm-in-arm with his son and future daughter-in-law at the other end of the hall. Ivanova saw the three of them talking amongst themselves for a few moments before the elder Sheridan grinned at the pair and gently pushed them on ahead of him.

"Don't worry, I'll catch up," David said over his shoulder as he walked back towards Ivanova and Marcus.

"Hello," Marcus said when the retired diplomat reached them, his tone respectful but curious.

"Hey, kids," David said with an easy grin. "My son and that charming lady who's going to marry him have decided to get out while the getting's good, and they asked me to tell you to do the same. The bus is leaving for Babylon 5, and a little bird tells me they're up to something you won't want to miss out on."

Marcus raised an eyebrow. "You don't think-?"

Ivanova shrugged. "If they want to keep it private, there's nowhere better than the White Star-"

They heard Lennier before they saw him, and at the sound of his footsteps Ivanova cut herself off mid-sentence, fearing something else had gone wrong. Lennier's running footsteps rang out in the hall, and he stopped just short of crashing into the trio. "Excuse me, Captain, Ambassador Sheridan... Marcus?"

"Yes, Lennier?"

"There's a call for you- it's Mister Garibaldi."

"Garibaldi?" Ivanova asked. "I thought he was here."

Lennier shook his head. "He asked to borrow a shuttle while we were still in Mars orbit. There didn't seem to be any harm..." He paused. "I'm not sure, but I believe he said something about going in search of Lise Hampton Edgars."

Marcus nodded. "Alright. We were just about on our way back to the ship anyway, I'll speak with him as soon as we get there."

* * *

"Marcus, good," Michael Garibaldi said from the small viewscreen in the White Star's bunk room. "Listen, I know you're kinda busy, so I'll keep this short."

"Take your time," Marcus said, leaning back carefully against the nearest wall. "We're not going anywhere for a while, and there isn't much to do until our guests of honor arrive."

Garibaldi nodded. "When you see him, tell Sheridan I'm sorry I'm going to miss this, but there's something I've gotta do. By the way, how's Susan?"

"She's, ah-" Ivanova glared at him from where she sat on one of the bunks, her foot propped up before her. "Doing fairly well, actually. Susan?"

Ivanova leaned towards the screen and waved slightly. "You know," she said, as if the thought had come out of nowhere and tapped her on the shoulder, "I think I could really use a vacation."

Marcus laughed. "Couldn't we all. I believe," he added to Garibaldi, "that she's at least somewhat sorry she clobbered you."

"I didn't hit him that hard," Ivanova protested.

"Yes," Garibaldi said, "you did. But it's okay- don't worry about it. Marcus, I need a favor."

"Alright," the Ranger said. "What can I do for you?"

"Lennier told you why I'm on Mars again?" Marcus nodded. "I think I know where Lise is, but-"

"I knew there had to be a 'but' in there someplace," Marcus said. "But what?"

"Things got a little hot around here when old man Edgars bit it-" Garibaldi said; Marcus chuckled. "Anyway, Lise figured it'd be smart to disappear for a while. Only problem is, she went to the Mars mafia looking for help to get off world. She figured she had enough money to bribe them, only they're greedier than she figured on, and, well-"

Marcus nodded. "They sound like charming people. I can't for the life of me imagine why you wouldn't want your lady friend hanging around them any longer than necessary-"

"Marcus..."

"Alright, alright," Marcus said. "Do you know where she's being held?"

"I've got a pretty good idea, and I think I can probably even get in. But once I'm there, I'm gonna be pretty badly outnumbered. These guys are serious, and they don't exactly go lightly armed, either."

Marcus nodded again. "I see. Tell me, how would you feel about receiving a bit of backup from some friends of mine?"

Garibaldi smiled. "Marcus, you're a prince."

"Say, about, oh, ten to fifteen of them? Maybe more, depends. They're the sort to be really enthusiastic about this kind of thing; I may have to start turning them away..."

Garibaldi nodded. "I love ya, pal. Seriously-"

"Can't tell you how pleased I am to hear that, but I think I'm spoken for."

"He thinks?" Ivanova asked with a sigh. "He thinks. I can see," she added, "that I've got some work to do."

"Perhaps I'd better edit that," Marcus said.

"Quickly," Garibaldi agreed. "Seriously, I owe you. Big time."

"I'll remember that," Marcus said. "My friends will link in shortly, just as soon as I can scare them up."

Ivanova was already speaking into her link. "Lennier, the White Star in Mars orbit-?"

"White Star 13, Captain," the Minbari said.

Marcus nodded. "That'll do nicely. Lennier, do you happen to know if Lorell is still in command?"

"Of course I am, Marcus," a rough but hearty male Minbari said over the link. "Lennier seems to be about ten steps ahead of you."

"He usually is," Marcus said. "How're things on your end?"

Lorell sighed. "Almost depressingly quiet. President Clark's people don't appear to be quite as...dedicated as yours were on the Line. Since that last batch of them came through and decided to use you for target practice, we haven't seen a thing." His tone grew suspicious. "Why?"

"Looks like I called just in time. You sound bored, Lorell."

"What are you up to, you rascal?"

"Me?" Marcus asked innocently. "Not a thing."

"As usual, I don't believe you," Lorell said. "Now then. What have you got for me? I know you didn't call just to chat."

"An associate of mine, Mister Garibaldi, is on Mars at the moment, and he's run into a bit of trouble."

Lorell sighed again, the long-suffering sigh of an old friend. "I know the sort of company you keep, Marcus. What kind of trouble are we talking about?"

"The once and future flame in the hands of the Mars mafia sort of trouble," Marcus said.

The Minbari laughed. "Oh, for Valen's sake, is that all? I thought you were going to hand me something difficult." He paused. "I'd say ten, maybe fifteen of us ought to be more than enough, but over half my bridge crew has already volunteered."

"Try to restrain yourself, Lorell. Garibaldi doesn't need an army, just a few friendly Anla'shok to do unfriendly things to these people."

"I'll work something out," Lorell said. "Rotations, perhaps. Frankly though, I'm surprised you're not doing this yourself."

"Prior obligations, old friend," Marcus said. "Besides, I got a bit roughed up in that last little altercation. I really don't want your people to see me fall flat on my face; I'd never be able to live it down."

Lorell laughed. "No, you wouldn't." He grew serious for a moment. "I always told you that your stupid nobility was going to get you killed one of these days."

"It very nearly did," Marcus said quietly. "But, stupid or not, it wasn't as if I had time to think about it, really..."

"I thought stupid nobility was part of being a Ranger," Ivanova said. She held up her hands. "Sorry..."

Lorell chuckled. "Let me guess. The object of Marcus's adoration."

Ivanova laughed and nodded. "Susan Ivanova. It's a pleasure to meet you."

"Oh, God," Marcus said. "Lorell-"

"Thank you for asking me, Marcus," Lorell said. "If you'll excuse me, my friends and I are off to help out your Mister Garibaldi. Don't worry, we can catch up later- I hear the Entil'Zha is getting married, and if you two don't invite me to whatever dreadful surprise party you're planning-"

"Absolutely," Marcus said. "Let me give you Garibaldi's link code-"

"Before I tell any stories you'd rather I forgot?" Lorell asked with a chuckle. "Yes, of course you're right."

"Luck, old friend," Marcus said.

"Hah!" said Lorell. "Fine words from the man who doesn't believe in them."

"Maybe," Marcus said, "my luck's changing. Haven't decided yet." He gave the other Ranger Garibaldi's link code and signed off.

Delenn stepped into the bunk room, looking quite amused. "Was that Lorell I heard just now?"

"The one and only," Marcus said. "Mister Garibaldi linked in- it seems he's found Lise Hampton Edgars, but needed a bit of help getting to her."

"And Lorell, of course, very enthusiastically volunteered," Delenn said with a nod. "I could almost pity whomever stands against him..." She glanced at Ivanova, and her eyes seemed to hold a deeper amusement. "Susan, if you have a moment, John would like to speak to you."

"Of course," Ivanova said. "But- now?"

"There are preparations that must be made for the ceremony," Delenn said, "and things may move very quickly once we return to Babylon 5. There may not be as much time then as we might like, and it is better to say what needs to be said now, rather than wait."

Ivanova nodded. "I can see that. Marcus-?"

"I'm not going anywhere in much of a hurry, Susan," he pointed out with a smile. "I'll still be here when you get back."

"Try and stay out of trouble, alright?" she asked.

"Please," Delenn said. "It would be considered very poor form for a wedding guest to pass out due to blood loss during the ceremony. Stay still and mind your stitches."

Marcus sighed. "Damn Stephen. I'm going to have him in stitches-"

"Marcus," Ivanova and Delenn said at the same time. They looked at each other, laughed, and walked out of the room together.

"I do not know that I have ever seen him in such good spirits," Delenn said.

"I don't think I have, either," Ivanova agreed. "It's been a good day. A strange day, but a good one."

Delenn smiled. "You may find it is about to get a great deal stranger, Susan."

"What do you mean?"

But Delenn only shook her head and smiled. They reached the White Star's conference room before Ivanova could think of any way to pry anything more out of her. Not that she really thought she'd have had much luck; Delenn would never say more than she meant to until she was good and ready in any case, and there was no getting around that.

John Sheridan looked up and smiled when he saw them enter the room. "Delenn-" he began, but she shook her head and ducked out again, muttering something about needing to get ready. Sheridan looked at Ivanova and shrugged.

"Marriage," he said. "I've been here before, and it still amazes me how strangely it can make people behave." He gestured to the chair across from him. "Sit down, Susan." She sat. "As crazy as things have been, we haven't really had much of a chance to talk since I got back, and there are a few things I'd like to go over with you. Namely, what happens now that we've done so much of what we set out to do- and what your role in our next steps is going to be."

"My role?" Ivanova asked, surprised. "I'm going back to Babylon 5."

"Yes," Sheridan agreed, "you are. But you're not going back the same." He leaned forward over the table. "You came out here Commander Ivanova, second-in-command of a force organized to overthrow your own government because there was no other way to see that justice was done. And you're going back Captain Ivanova, the highest-ranked EarthForce officer aboard B5."

Realization of what he meant, of what he had to mean, hit her like a brick. "You can't be serious!"

Sheridan laughed. "Why the hell not?" he asked with a grin. "In one day I've ended my military career, began a political one, freed Mars for good this time, gotten you a well-deserved promotion, and I'm getting married in less than two hours. Tell me why I can't be serious."

"Because- Damnit, John, I don't want your job!"

"Newsflash, Susan. It's not my job anymore. It's yours. Want to sit and talk about it awhile?"

"Yeah," she said, still reeling from the blow that brick had dealt her. "I think I'd better."

"Would you like some tea, Captain Ivanova?" he asked, holding out a cup.

Ivanova laughed. "I could use a good stiff drink, but-"

Sheridan chuckled. "Best I can do on a White Star; sorry. Susan..."

"I know, I know. I'm taking this seriously- you wouldn't believe how seriously."

He nodded. "You're not only the best person for this job, you're the only person for this job."

"But-"

Sheridan shook a finger at her. "Uh-uh. You are, and don't think that didn't occur to President Luchenko when she agreed to your promotion. Of course, there's some paperwork to be filled out-"

"There's always paperwork," Ivanova said, taking a sip of her tea.

"Exactly. And we'll do the formal transfer of command once we're back on the station."

"John," Ivanova said. "Don't take this the wrong way, but if you stick me in the middle of one more ceremony today, I may have to kill you."

"Now, be careful. You don't want to go around threatening the life of a President, do you?" Sheridan shook his head and laughed. "Now, with you moving up to take my place, someone else has got to move up to take yours."

"Um..." Ivanova said. "Not Corwin."

"No," Sheridan agreed. "In a couple years, maybe, but right now he hasn't got the experience or the right attitude-"

"Neither do I."

"Experience you've got. Attitude, well, you've got that, too, it's just a little different." He reached for the pot of tea and poured himself another cup. "What I was thinking was this. We need someone good, and someone who won't make too many waves back here."

"Which I certainly will."

"Hush. You're the media's darling right now, Luchenko's beloved countrywoman and all that, and we'd be foolish not to use that."

"Alright," Ivanova said. "Do you have somebody in particular in mind?"

"Actually...yes." He flipped a file folder onto the table. It skidded across towards Ivanova, and she caught it at the edge of her side of the table. "Commander Elizabeth Lochley. She's a good, solid officer with an exemplary record. That's important because no matter what Clark tried to make everyone believe, it's still something of an honor to be assigned to Babylon 5."

"A dubious honor." Ivanova opened the folder. "And?"

He sighed. "Never could get much past you, could I, Susan? There's just one last thing. She wasn't on our side during the war. She wouldn't have felt right about that."

"You know her?"

"You could say that. Now, she didn't do anything wrong, didn't fire on civilian targets- mostly she kept her head down and her nose clean. She was too junior to do much else, and lucky enough to be serving as the first officer of an explorer ship when Clark took over. Which is probably just as well..."

"Oh?" Ivanova asked. She knew there was something else here, maybe something big, and she was right.

"Yeah. See, when I said there was just one more thing-"

"You lied."

"I lied. There are two more."

Ivanova sighed. "In for a penny... Okay. Shoot."

"I met Lochley straight out of the Academy, and, well... it didn't last real long- about three months, all told, but we were married."

"Oh boy," Ivanova said. "And?"

"And you're either going to love her...or you're going to hate each other on sight."

"Oh, boy..."

* * *

Ivanova stepped into the corridor outside the conference room. She leaned against the nearest wall, shaking her head and muttering under her breath.

"I know that look," she heard Marcus say from somewhere over her shoulder. "What is it?"

She shook her head. "Nothing, nothing... It's not happening, I'll talk him out of it somehow, I swear I will!"

"Susan, why don't you just humor me, and tell me what in Valen's name-?"

"Sheridan," she cut him off, looking annoyed, "has decided he wants me to take over as commander of Babylon 5. He either already has Luchenko's nod of approval on this one, or has decided it's another one of those little things he's going to spring on her-"

"Fait accompli," Marcus said. "Sometimes it's easier. Don't you think, though, that there's a reason he chose you? Sheridan wouldn't have wanted you for the job if he didn't think you were ready for it."

"That's not the issue," Ivanova protested.

"What is, then?"

She laughed. "Do you have any idea how much paperwork I'm going to be stuck filling out now? I'm going to kill him..."

"I wouldn't," Marcus cautioned. "Delenn would take a dim view of that. So," he added, "would Lennier. Between the two of them, you really don't want to make Delenn unhappy, Susan."

Ivanova nodded. "I hate it when you're right... Oh, damnit!"

"Now what?" Marcus asked, sounding quite amused.

"Sheridan's going to Minbar, Delenn won't be far behind him, Londo's off to become the Centauri Emperor... And if your friend Lorell is half as good as he thinks he is, we won't have Garibaldi with us much longer, either, because he'll have something too good to walk away from back on Mars. Do you know who this is going to leave me to deal with?"

Marcus stroked his chin. "Hmm..."

Ivanova raised a finger. "G'Kar." She raised a second finger. "Vir." Another. "Lennier." And another. "Zack."

"They have all changed over the years they've been with you, Susan," Marcus said. "They'll manage, too."

"I know that," she said, "but I have this problem with change. I was just getting used to things the way they were."

"The way they were?" Marcus asked, trying hard not to laugh. "Let me see now- the Shadow War, friends dying all around us, not being able to trust half of the ones who were still alive, putting ourselves between the Shadows and the Vorlons at Corianas, and then, when that was over, we got right into the civil one... All of that nonsense, you're going to miss?"

Ivanova laughed. "That wasn't quite what I meant."

* * *

"Have you now seen enough?" Lorien asked.

"I have seen," Sinclair said softly, "a beginning. The first of many, for them, for the others... It is enough."

"This galaxy is theirs now," the First One said. "Theirs to rebuild, theirs to destroy... In either event, they are on their own." He paused. "You worry for them, of course."

"As do you," Sinclair pointed out. "Not as much as I used to, though. They will stumble, they will falter, but then they will rise up again and go on. I know that. It is enough."

And, so saying, he followed Lorien, the last of the First Ones, beyond the Rim at last.

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