Gentle Breath


This is a very slight AU, based upon the start of Season 4 of Babylon 5, _The Hour of the Wolf_, set between the start of that episode and the part in the next where Marcus follows G'Kar to the Drazi Homeworld. It's most definitely I/M; and if you don't like that pairing, you won't like this.

I realized that there are many fanfic cliches that had I had never found an example for for Marcus and Ivanova, and I thought it a shocking lack. {EG} One that I thought really needed to be done was a what-if: What if Susan had gotten drunk and seduced Marcus, quickly enough that she had no real clue whether his answer would have been "Yes" or "No" if she had asked, and had realized later what she had done?

There are absolutely no surprises in this story, and I'm sure that you've read something very like it in other fandoms before. This is just Susan and Marcus's turn at it. {wicked, lusty grin}

Many, many thanks to Jen and Sharon for their Beta-reading skills; they are the BetaMax, and this story would be *significantly* less good without them. :D (They are both on, under the names DsignG4 and Sharong; look them up, their fic is *wonderful*. :D ) Also, I obviously do not own these characters or settings, and we all know who do. I hope that the proper owners do not sue; but, since squeezing a stone for blood is unrewarding, I'm sure they hope the same. {g}

Note: This is *not* an NC-17 story; it is no worse than you will find in some "R" movies containing this subject, and the description is kept to an absolute minimum. However, this story is certainly a "Hard 'R'", and is Not for the kiddies; and if you are not old enough to go to an R-rated movie, please go away - I don't want you reading this. (I don't care if it's legal or not; I wouldn't want my 12-year-old reading this, so I don't want anyone else's to, either.)

Quick note for Russian words: A "durak" is an idiot or a twit; "Borjemoi" is an expression that roughly translates to "Oh my god!" but is more strongly meant than any English speaker would mean that phrase.

Marcus Cole strode quietly towards Green Sector, lost in his thoughts. If they were going to be able to get that shipment that they so desperately needed, one of the Rangers really needed to get that contact network set up, and that needed some groundwork. He wanted to get that information from Selene before she--

Chief Allen broke into Marcus's train of thoughts suddenly with a, "Hey, Marcus, how ya doin'? Sad days on the station, huh?"

The Ranger looked up in semi-startlement, and an invisible guard dropped when he consciously recognized the speaker. "Oh, yes, hello Mr. Allen. Yes, it does seem to be, from what I've seen," he said affably; but if Zack had been more of an emotionally observant person, he might have seen a hint of a greater, concealed sadness and empathy.

Marcus, even in the midst of the sudden jerk of the mental gear change, could see that Zack was telegraphing that he had a reason to stop and talk other than to commiserate about the emotional status of the station. The grey-clad man shifted his shoulders with a slight twitching motion, fiddled with his hands for a moment, and got to his point. "Yeah, hey, hate to bother you, it's just that with the Captain and the Chief both gone and all, the Commander seems to have taken what happened pretty hard, and I don't think she's doin' too good. I called her today with a Security Alert, and she just sorta brushed me off - And that ain't like her, y'know? You think that maybe you could take a look in on her, see how she's doin'? I'd really appreciate it."

If Zack didn't know better, he would have sworn that the Ranger had something going for the Commander - He looked a little shocked, and unhappiness started to creep through his face and manner as Zack stood there watching. Out of that emotion Marcus's voice issued: "Yes, of course, Zack, how thoughtless of me not to think of this beforehand. Yes, I'll go see her right away, can't have the station's commander feeling off, we all need a strong figurehead at a time like this, and..."

Zack gave a slight wince at the flow of babble coming from the Ranger's mouth. "Yeah, thanks, Marcus. I appreciate it -- Seeya."

Marcus felt as off-balance as he had felt in years. Susan was upset and hurting, and he of all people hadn't noticed! As if he shouldn't have figured it out... The Ranger sometimes thought that his darling was in love with the Captain... And now he was most probably dead.

* * *

Susan sat on her couch in her robe and nightgown, so that she could pretend to herself that she was going to bed, instead of being engaged in an auto-immune attack of the spirit. Her (Too damned expensive! No, what does it matter...) vodka bottle sat to her side, with two-thirds of it gone.

She had hoped that the drink might help "Drive off the Wolf" that was gnawing at her spirit. She probably only had two or three friends in her life, people upon whom she could trust... And two of them had died or disappeared within the course of a day. *Borjemoi*, she had thought her curse only applied to those whom she dared to love, not her friends! No rest was coming; no relief was coming.

As her search for solace caused her to sink her forehead down on the hand that was not holding a glass of vodka, the "buhduhduhduh" of her chime signaled a visitor at her door.

Oh, God! - Just what she didn't need right now; more problems, more people demanding a piece of her emotional self that she simply did not have to give. Her shoulders slumped, and she placed her glass on the end table next to the couch so as to facilitate her having both hands free to rest upon - Then she sighed and straightened up, in a base approximation of her normal military good posture, and called out, "Enter."

Marcus was struck by the overwhelming signs of fatigue - both emotional and spiritual - upon his love's face. Her eyes seemed deadened, and it seemed as if the spirit had been drained out of her... The fire, the life that normally shone from her gentle warrior's spirit shown in her eyes was almost completely damped - Or missing. Her make-up gave an end-of-the-day imperfect coverage on the circles under her eyes, and her cheeks seemed slightly hollowed. Also, unless he missed his call, Ivanova had been drinking somewhat heavily.

Marcus put on his most annoyingly over-cheery manner and said, "Hello, just wanted to drop by. Zack Allen had asked me a question about something on his Station Security logs today, and he had seemed to be missing Mr. Garibaldi a lot. Have you any idea when he might be back, or what's happened to him?"

"Go away, Marcus. I'm tired."

He smiled all too cheerily. "Nope, afraid I can't do that." He entered the room and smiled broadly as the door hissed shut behind him. "Must help to keep up morale on the station - After all, it just wouldn't do for the acting Head of Security to be down on the trashheap mentally -- Not when we need him more than ever."

Ivanova turned dead eyes up towards his face. "No, I don't know when Michael is coming back. I feel very sorry for Mr. Allen's loss. I hope he will get through."

Marcus had been prepared to hide his reactions well; which was a good thing, as the deadened countenance of his love was like a dagger to his heart.

Without thinking, he spoke, "Susan? What's wrong?" He approached where she sat upon the couch, and then he held out his hand in a tentative manner, in a gesture that could have either have been a prelude to a hesitant touch (until the hand's owner had thought better of it), or an invitation to take his hand and his comfort.

Susan looked at the Ranger's out-reached hand and stared. What in the world did he want from her? Why could he have possibly have stopped by? She did not, even through the haze of her alcohol-induced numbness, believe his story about being so involved in Zack's well-being for even a moment. What interest could he possibly have--?

Hmm, yes. Interest.

Marcus had shown an interest in her sexually back on the Whitestar, hadn't he? That comment about windows and four-poster beds? A handsome man, lithe and strong, might be much better at driving away the wolf than any amount of Vodka would ever do - And Marcus definitely wasn't bad-looking. Even if a man with looks like that and enough charm to have kept her from strangling him had to have had three times her lifetime score of lovers, right now she didn't care. With a total lack of realization on how much her judgment might have been weakened by alcohol and emotions which had been crushed by the shifting whims of Fate, she reached out for the hand that Marcus had held out to her, and leaned over and kissed him.

* * *

Marcus watched Susan, alert to any nuance that might lend a clue towards her disposition at his cheerful presumption at landing himself upon her couch beside her. Her head was slightly bowed, making it very hard to read her: and Marcus did not know which would be worse - Her threatening to tear his guts out for use as fasteners in C & C, or the continued state of emotional anesthetization about her.

Her head suddenly raised, and Marcus could not quite make out her expression. His heart soared in hopes that she might possibly be willing to accept his comfort - Then he found his hand suddenly gently grasped, and her lips landed gently upon his.

Oh, my God! It was like opening up into a different world, filled with promise and hope for his very life. Feelings and sensations swirled about him, transmuting the physical pleasure of her warmth and closeness and lips into something that Marcus thought he could feel in his soul, touching and warming; all whilst his heart started a whisper of something that sounded suspiciously like, "Mine. My love. My life." The sensations were overlaid with an indescribable... rightness, and the combination of it all froze Marcus into merely reacting by resting his hands lightly on her back and having his eyes involuntarily shut.

Those eyes rolled back slightly in their sockets when Susan began lightly kissing his neck, and forced a low moan from him. He became aware that his penis had become rock-hard, and was throbbing in time to her touch; then in the haze of sensations realized that they were gently leaning back on the couch to recline on his back, Susan following him.

Marcus was lost enough in the warmth and the feelings that he was barely aware that the fastenings on his Ranger uniform pants were being opened, and that he was being freed from them. He thought that Susan had shifted her weight upon the couch, and had moved somewhat. The touch of her hands echoed inside himself, intensifying the whispers of almost-forgotten meaning from his heart.

The shocked awareness that his member had started to slide within his love caused Marcus to look up and meet her eyes... and be lost within them. As he slid fully inside of her, his vocal chords seemed to move of their own accord to form a long, low, "Suuuuuuuuuusssssssan."

Their eyes danced about each other, and Marcus swore that he could feel her in his mind, touching, whispering words of pleasure... and caring. His soul seemed to answer, "My love. Oh, my Susan."

He could feel inner clenchings gathering around him, in addition to her hands touching his torso, his arms, his face. Physical feelings of warmth and pleasure were starting to join the spiritual ones, and it was as her pleasure was also his own; and a gentle, almost loving look appeared upon her face. The clenchings grew almost painfully strong and rhythmic at the same time that her hand gently touched his face, and Marcus's sensations peaked in a swirl of warmth and light.

* * *

Ivanova could feel the teeth of the wolf releasing from her as her lips touched Marcus's. Warmth touched her soul at the same time as a feeling started that was oddly like a recognition of something that she had never seen before. It was simply like coming home.

Parts of herself that she had not spoken to for a long, long time gained a sudden lightness and a gentle ease, and felt whole within her at last with a quiet shiver of caring. Some deep quiet place from within herself cried out, "No!!" at the motion that separated herself from him as her lips dropped from his; only to regain the warmth when they were applied to his neck. All feelings of despondence had relinquished their place as if they had never been, and forgotten stirrings were speaking from her heart.

She reached out her lips to gently touch his neck, again and again. Moving up to cup his face, her hand brushed against his lap; and to her shock his penis had felt instantly ready, with no more than her kisses as catalyst. She gently leaned against Marcus, and they slowly fell to a reclining position, her body closely draped over Marcus's own.

Her hands were running up and down of Marcus's body, with almost as much sensation coming from her touching of him as he must have been feeling by virtue of it. They drifted upwards to the hook-and-eye of his pants, and started opening the closures, then gently freeing him from the restraints of uniform and boxers.

Her nightgown and robe had seemed almost to rise of its own will by her shiftings, and one more slight shift placed her over him. She gently touched the tip of his penis with herself, and slowly sank down onto him. Their eyes met, and Susan felt a surprising rush of love as their existence shrank down into two people; and something answered from deep within herself to the barely-audible, drugged, "Suuuuuuuuuusssssssan."

She captured his hands within her own, and squeezed them in an almost-unconscious caress, before resuming their stroking of his arms and body. It was not until after the experience that she realized that her mind had gently touched and merged with Marcus's, because the whole process had felt so... right. Almost as if it would have been unnatural without it. The warmth and caring must have been an illusion, right? As well as the words that she had thought that she had heard gently whispered, "My love. Oh, my Susan."

The feelings of pleasure blended with his and caused ever-increasing, quickly increasing, levels of sensation and physical release. Almost of its own accord, the crescendo caused her hand to reach down and cup Marcus's face gently as a means of increasing the contact between them - Or was it out of her feelings? - And the blaze of the resultant warmth and pleasure caused her consciousness to waver and flicker as she felt Marcus stiffen slightly beneath her. Her body relaxed over Marcus's torso, while her hands kept up their gentle stroking of his face and body.

* * *

Still joined with him, suddenly it all - The station, the War, the responsibilities, the loss of her few friends - became too much for her, and her control-dam broke in a flood of emotions and tears. To what would have been her horror if she was one whit more aware of her surroundings, she burst into tears and sobbed helplessly upon Marcus's shoulder.

"Oh, Shh, love, shhhhhhh. Let it out, love - Let it out."

Marcus could have no more have drawn back from his sobbing lady than he could have sprouted wings and flown back to the Minbari Homeworld. His poor dear, his love, his light... His reason.

"Now, now, love - Sa, sa, sa. It'll be all right. Oh, Susan - I'm here, just let it out, love."

His arms reached out to enfold her within them, and he stroked her back gently as she cried, keeping up his murmurings of reassurance and support. As she calmed, he reached out with his arm and unhooked his Ranger cloak, and spread it over the two of them. Still stroking her gently, they drifted off to sleep.

* * *

A computer voice drifted out over the two who still lay tightly entwined on the couch, "Good morning. The time is oh-five-thirty Earth Standard Time. You have four messages..."

The Ranger, who, when he was in trusted situations, was a much sounder sleeper than the Commander ever would be, merely snuggled up closer to the warm body that lay next to him in response to the sound. Ivanova's eyes, however, snapped snapped open in awakeness, and her brain went into a shocked overdrive in response to her surroundings. In an amazingly gentle maneuver for one who was so panicked, she wriggled her way out of the Ranger's grasp and sat up at the edge of the couch. Memories of the previous night flooded into her brain, unwanted, upping her sudden emotional bedlam. Oh, my god.

Oh, my God. She had forced sex upon the Ranger - She had no idea whether he had wanted it or not when she had practically ripped his pants off and taken him.

A cynical voice inside her head said, "Come now - Men never object to having sex forced on them," but she knew in her heart that that was not the complete truth. And she had a sneaking feeling that the Ranger was going to be one of those exceptions to the rule. A dull sense of emotional horror was beginning to sharpen within her.

"And I *CANNOT* have these feelings for him!!" an inner voice wailed. "And - Borjemoi! - I was inside his head, and he in mine. He knows, he KNOWS!!! Oh, why did I have to fall in love with a man like that!!?"

The last realization was the final pennyweight on the scales. She looked wildly about her, and with a growing emotional pandemonium fled into the bathroom and locked the door behind her.

* * *

Marcus stretched luxuriously and slowly gathered his awareness around him. Was it the sudden drop in the warmth in his soul that had wakened him? Last night had been a thing that had shattered the concept of the things that made up who he was - his priorities, his values, and the openness of his heart - And reformed them anew, into something stronger and healthier than before. Parts of himself that had died along with Will had had arisen, and had given him a purpose to live for other than to find a noble cause to die for.

His eyes started questing around Susan's quarters, hoping to alight upon his love, hoping to achieve another joining with her, even if it was only to trade smiles and give the burbling happiness in his soul an outlet at which to pour. He had been bereft of her the two minutes that he had been awake, and he already missed her and her warmth.

He looked about. Where *was* Susan?

* * *

Susan sank slowly onto the toilet seat and her head fell into her hands in an helpless expression of despair.

Her mind hissed, "Idiot! He didn't want you!" Amazingly - And it would have been more amazing if she had allowed herself to really think about it - her concerns about both being outed to the Corps and her fear of losing anyone she dared allow to get close were outweighed by a dawning sense of horror to match her realization that she may indeed have forced Marcus into something that he really did not want when she was drunk. She had been foolish indeed to imagine love and caring... And to, even if she had been correct, assume that he had wanted what had happened. He certainly had not had much time in which to object, now had he?

And as much as the Ranger might have a devilish twinkle in his eye, she was surprised to find that she had no doubts whatsoever that he would have stayed to calm any crying woman, no matter what she might have just done to him.

OH, my God!

* * *

Her mind swirled about, and whether it was due to the emotional chaos to which she was currently subjected, or the aftereffects of the alcohol from last night, only one solution popped to mind - Do something to buy herself some time to think.

She tapped on her link, "Ivanova to C & C."

A few seconds passed, then a somewhat harried-sounding Lt. (JG) Alexandre sounded over the link, "C & C here, go ahead, Commander."

"Lieutenant, I do not feel well, and am going to be taking a personal day, perhaps two. You are in official charge of C & C until Lt. Corwin arrives to relieve you; please inform him that he will be in effective charge of station matters for the next two days, or until I show up to relieve him; and that I do not want to be disturbed unless the emergency is of Biblical proportions."

"But, Ma'am--!!"

Even over the link and three-quarters of a mile of station, the unhappy lieutenant could see her eyes flashing fire. "Carry out your orders, Lieutenant. Ivanova out."

She sank back on the closed toilet seat, her head in her hands.

* * *

Marcus raised himself off of the couch, and assembled himself physically to (something approaching) an acceptable state of presentation. His love was not immediately visible anywhere in the medium-sized quarters: perhaps she had gone off to her bed to sleep, or had possibly left him a note somewhere about; it was sadly more than possible that she had had to pull an early shift or that yet *another* emergency had landed upon her...

A quick, quiet look-'round her rooms gave only one option: the door to what must have been her lavatory was closed, and had been so since his awakening. He heard something coming from within that sounded much like Susan in "Command mode" talking on her link, then an ominous silence.

He hesitated in indecision after the silence stretched on for close to a minute, even with all of his senses extended to try to catch the merest whisper. A sudden sense of pain - he was not quite sure from where - that was below his level of consciousness broke his inactivity.

"Susan?" He rapped very gently on the door. "Susan? Are you in there, love?"

Ironically - or perhaps fittingly - it was on that one word that their futures ended up balancing. Later on, when she had had time to think about it, Ivanova would realize that that softly-spoken 'love' was the thing that had given her courage to rise up from her seat, and open the door.

Marcus was shocked to see a flash of fear upon the face of his darling as the door opened in front of him, and then all expression was lost as she dropped her eyes... But not as shocked as her softly-whispered, "I'm sorry, Marcus," and the bowing of her head in obvious misery caused him caused him to be.

"Susan?" (Love, Sweetheart, my Life?) "Are you all right?" (Dearest, Darling, my Reason?)

She raised her eyes to meet his. "I'm so sorry, Marcus."

Slowly, tentatively, he reached out a hand and gently curled his fingers about her own. "Come, let's go talk. I think we need it." Warmth spilled over from his smile into her psyche.

* * *

Susan could feel her courage failing her, in the wake of their having sat down in her living room. Almost as if Marcus had sensed it, he, with exquisite gentleness, reached out to again wrap his hand around her nearer one, and said quietly: "So, you had something that you wanted to say?"

Her courage once again gathered to her, and she said, "Marcus, I practically raped you on that couch!

Marcus gently gathered Ivanova's hands in his own and looked her in the eye. "Susan, what we did, we did together. What we touched, we touched together. When we loved, we loved together."

He paused. "Susan - do you really believe that you would have not respected my wishes if I had said, 'No'?"

"It's not just that! I didn't give you *time* to say No! I was all over you!"

"Susan, I didn't take the time to say No because of two reasons: Firstly, because I was utterly, totally involved in the best experience of my life. And secondly... I didn't *want* to say No." Marcus paused, and seemed to gather something to himself, and then went on. "I have been in love with you for a long, long time, Susan. I could have no more have stopped you than I could have stopped my own heartbeat... And it would have been about as pleasant. I admit, I would have liked our first time to be when you weren't drunk - But that's mostly for my own stiff-necked sense of pride, my love. In those moments, I *Saw* you - Your strength and your beauty and your Warrior's soul; and your heart answered as mine called out to you. We merged in other ways than the just physical, my love: And I would rather tear out my own heart rather than have done without it."

She stared, the words refusing to process. Marcus stared into her eyes and softly said, "It was not rape, Susan Ivanova. And I love you."

His eyes began to twinkle, and a cheerfully evil grin began to spread as he said, "Watch it, my love, or I shall write extremely bad poetry to you. Or perhaps I shall even... Sing!"

He jumped up, flourished his cloak about him, and the strains of "You are my Sunshine... My only Sunshine... You make me haaaaaa-ppy... When skies are grey..." in a corny falsetto -- At least, Susan *hoped* it wasn't his real voice -- began issuing from his mouth.

"Arrrgggh! Stop, stop -- All right, you win!" She shuddered. "Where did you learn that awful song?"

"Ranger training. Psychological torture," Marcus deadpanned. "Ah, but to give you safe passage, I demand a forfeit, My Lady. A kiss from your sweet lips, or," his eyes gained a devilish look, "I could go on to the next verse."

"Later, Marcus." His eyes gained a look of teasing righteous indignation to go along with the devilish gleam, until her sober look caused it to fade. "There's a couple of things that we should discuss first; that I need to tell you."

She took a deep breath. "In a way, it was probably fortunate that I had to worry about what I'd done to you, as it over-shadowed my other worries." Marcus couldn't quite help it - He lightened visibly and it would have taken no telepath to hear his emotional message of, "She cares!!!" - Although it *was* heard, like a whisper of a caress along the soul.

She rolled her eyes and said with a trace of exasperation, "Yes, you silly _durak_, I love you - And it scares the living *shit* out of me, Marcus!"

"Durak? What does 'Durak' mean?"

"It's a Russian term of endearment - Now listen to me! Everyone that I have ever loved has left me, Marcus. Everyone."

The cockiness had drained out of the Ranger in front of her as if each word she had spoken had left an exit wound for it to bleed away. She felt herself being gathered into Marcus's embrace, with his lips coming to gently rest in the hair that had fallen to the side of her neck. She felt, more than heard, his softly whispered, "Oh, my light, my love; my poor darling," and felt a shock race along her spine at his softly pressed kiss.

He pulled away just enough to look softly, tenderly, into her eyes. "Susan, I obviously cannot guarantee that either of us will live until tomorrow... Most especially if I keep on making bad jokes," he grinned. Amazingly, his words reached through to her pain, and wrung a small smile out of her. It must be love, she mused idly; no one else had ever been able to reach her in quite the same way. "But you would be amazed at how very motivated I will be to make sure that we have long, happy lives together. As much as it may sound as if I am fabricating this, I have known since the day that I met you that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with you. Gods, Susan, I may even have to cut back on how annoying I am just to make sure that you don't have cause to end my existence for me," he said, eyes again twinkling.

Ivanova fought sudden pricklings that were starting from behind her eyes, a warning of tears that threatened.

"And you needn't worry about my feelings about your pain, Susan," his voice caressed the word "Susan" - Ivanova thought crazily that it was like that old Earth tale where 'As you wish,' really meant "I love you," -- How in the world could she have missed it before? "My main thought when you said that was that your heart had been hurt terribly before, so badly that it refused out of a want for its own protection to love again - Yet you worried more about the harm that you might have done to me rather than of your own protection. Why would I be insulted..." he took a deep breath, "...Sweetheart?"

This time, the tears did start to spill over; by the time that she came back to herself after the comfort of his arms, she saw that his eyes were wet, as well. More silent whisperings started as each found themselves wiping away the tears of the other. Neither was quite sure who started the first kiss, but Ivanova slowed them after an undeterminable time, with an understood look of unfinished discussion.

"Oh, Marcus. There is one other thing that we *must* talk about... Before I forget to talk at all."

An unmistakable look of, "And this would be bad why?" appeared on his face, with the barest hint of desire showing; but it was cheerfully wiped off in response to her "Be Serious" look.

"I have a history with telepaths. My mother was one, and she took her own life after the Corps caught her and forced her on Sleepers." She could feel, as much as see, Marcus reaching out for her, to again surround her with comfort and love. "No, Marcus, it is okay; I need to say this. I'm afraid if you interrupt me, I'll never get it out at all."

His only answer was a hand reached out, that performed a loving caress of her face before retreating.

"I also had a telepathic lover, Talia... She was one of the ones who left, by a horrible means of death. But there is one more aspect," she said, again forestalling a need to comfort her that she felt more clearly than she felt her own heartbeat.

She shuddered slightly with the regaining of control over a long-held fear. "I assume that you may have noticed that during our," she gathered in a large breath, "lovemaking..." Marcus's eyes gleamed at the word, and a look passed between them, full of fire and smoke and heat and love, that nearly threw Susan off of her mental track once more. Visibly she gathered herself together again, and seemed to release it all in a babble. "We touched our minds. I'm a telepath, Marcus - A latent one. I'm not very strong, and I haven't felt anyone inside of my mind since my mother. But I felt your mind, and I'm pretty sure that you felt mine."

Some of the incredible intimacy of their joining suddenly snapped into focus in Marcus's mind with that statement. A need to re-create some of the intimacy drove Marcus to take his love's hand, and reach out his mind. {Susan?}

An extremely hesitant mental caress. {I'm here, Marcus.}

His returning smile and a sudden feeling of oneness warmed them both. "Well, you said that you were a latent, Susan. Perhaps it was just a component of a telepath making love."

"It's not just that -- Not even *Talia* touched my mind, Marcus. Nobody since my mother - But you waltzed in like the connection was already there."

Marcus took her hands and said softly, "Perhaps it already was."

She looked up, and fell into his eyes. They simply looked at each other for long moments, luxuriating in the simple acceptance of each other. An undercurrent of emotion grew stronger between them, and it culminated in an almost unconscious drawing together for a long, sweet kiss. One word seemed to ring between them, although neither could tell quite where or from whom it had originated: Beloved.

Marcus again felt something inside of him reaching out to his adored, swirling and merging with a something that had answered his call from inside Susan. It brought joy like nothing of which he would have ever dared to dream.

Susan was swept up in the intimacy, and felt it as a balm to the soul - With enough time, and enough kisses, it might one day soon heal entirely.

They laid their foreheads against the other's, drawing releasing, healing strength from the other's presence, in a level of intimacy that was yet another surprising paradox of the day - They were wrapped up in each other, luxuriating in unbreakable bonds to the other -- That led to the greatest freedom that either had ever had.

The Ranger reached out and gently kissed the tip of his love's nose; giggling, she gave a loving caress and returned the kiss.

"My, Susan, you do that well - Do I even want to know what other nose-kissing experiences you have had?"

She continued with her uncharacteristic giggle. "Unless you count my childhood cat, Sasha, I'm afraid that I am going to have to disappoint you on that score, Marcus - Very sorry." She again giggled. "Oh, so we're satisfying random curiosities, are we? All right, you said that this was the best experience of your life - How about your other lovers? Who were these people that they didn't treat you to as nice an experience, Hmmm?"

The Ranger cocked his head, and gave a look that had just a hint of the Devil within it, with a dancing, gleaming twinkle. "All right. Firstly, no one else has ever caused the feelings that you cause in me before - And I might even flatter myself that the same is true for you." Susan gave a mock glare, but then her eyes softened, and she nodded.

"Secondly... What other lovers?"

Susan stared, her jaw hanging and fresh blossoms of guilt forming. "Oh boy."


Author's notes: Okay, the couch was probably a little bigger in this story than the one that's in actually shown in Ivanova's quarters in THotW. But I have slept with another slender person on a surface about as wide as that couch before - You just have to really *want* to sleep together. {E,EG}

Sex can sometimes release strong repressed emotions, so it seemed natural to me for Ivanova to burst out crying at that point. If she had not been extremely stressed and hurt and fairly well drunk, I think that Satan would have been putting down the down payment on a snowmobile to be able to get to work before she would have cried, though. {g}

This takes place just before Marcus and Ivanova had the "Conversation in the Whitestar" about his Unicorn-attractant status, so Susan had no idea about that. I will leave it up to your imagination as to whether that would have caused her to be more, or less, likely to seduce him. ;)

Sorry for the end being pretty "talky" - I just finished re-watching the episode where Marcus died, so be {ahemed} if I was going to give them less than a happy ending; and in my estimation they needed a talk, a long one, to do that.

Yes, I'm a romantic softy. Deal with it. {G}

The title of the story comes from a quote from the Epilogue of the Shakespeare play _The Tempest_:

Prospero: ... But release me from my bands

With the help of your good hands:

Gentle breath of yours my sails

Must fill, or else my project fails,

Which was to please. Now I want

Spirits to enforce, art to enchant,

And my ending is despair,

Unless I be relieved by prayer,

Which pierces so that it assaults

Mercy itself and frees all faults.

As you from crimes would pardon'd be,

Let your indulgence set me free.

Russian words: "Durak" is an idiot or a twit; "Borjemoi" is an expression that roughly translates to "Oh my god!" but is more strongly meant than any English speaker would mean that phrase. These phrases came from an acquaintance of mine who has studied Russian, and from and then transliterated into the English alphabet from the Cyrillic. Any errors are, of course, mine.