This is for Voleuse at livejournal dot com, for the 'babficathon' thingy.
"I was eighteen, and she was a bartender."
Michael Garibaldi sat at a table with his friends, Stephen, Susan, and Marcus. His pale face, sometimes so cold and dangerous, was jovial and flushed red from laughter.
Stephen, to his right, could feel tears in his eyes. "I'm surprised you went that long, Michael."
"Hey." Michael pointed a finger at him and sobered his mouth into a straight line. "I was a good boy growing up, you know the kind that makes the preachers proud, and then... heh... college."
Susan grinned madly. "College," she echoed.
Stephen shrugged, resignedly. "Alright, I admit, college. But I was quite a bit older than eighteen."
"How long were you even in college, Doc?" Michael teased, leaning on his elbows. He watched the doctor's face split into a wide grin.
The entire group dissolved into laughter again, slapping the table and leaning back in their chairs. It was the kind of event they might have frowned upon, had they been any less tired; had they not been up at four and to bed at midnight for months on end; had they not been just very slightly drunk (pardoning Michael, who had a large glass of water).
Other patrons of the bar stared, some in surprise. Many could recall countless times the Security Chief had kicked them out for similarly unruly behaviour. However, in the morning- when S.C. Garibaldi would saunter in with those superior eyes- the incident would be universally forgotten by all witnesses in the form of a mass, enveloping amnesia.
As the laughter died down, Stephen turned an accusative grin towards Marcus. "You don't think you're going to slip past us, do you? We've all shared ours, and you're not leaving this table until you do, too."
Marcus opened his mouth to speak, but Susan beat him to it.
Stephen and Michael looked at her curiously. "Have something to share with the class, Susan?" Michael said, wryly.
She smiled, across the table, at Marcus. It was not a friendly smile. It was the smile of a cat that has trapped a baby bird in the corner, licking its lips as its prey cries 'Mommy, Mommy.'
"You have to share."
"Hell no, I don't."
"Then I will."
"Don't you dare."
She smiled again, wider. And turned away from him, towards Michael and Stephen. She leaned towards them confidentially.
Stephen smiled triumphantly. "I knew it!" He pointed at Marcus, practically crowing. "I knew you were a virgin. You act just like one."
"I do not!" The Ranger protested, his voice rising. "How do I? Name one way I do."
Michael looked at Stephen and nodded. "Women. I never see him around any."
"NOT TRUE." Marcus gesticulated madly. "...'M around them all the time! Susan here, for example. I see Susan every day."
"Not by choice," she grumbled.
"You never dress up, either. No lady would ever tolerate a man who wore the same thing, day in, day out."
Marcus glared at Michael. "Part of my job."
Michael laughed. "Is it part of your job to wear your Ranger uniform to parties? How about bars, for Heaven's sake?" He looked pointedly at his colleague's current attire.
Marcus sniffed. "A Ranger's job is never done."
Stephen opened his mouth to say something, but Ivanova stopped him. "Don't be mean."
"I have no idea what you're talking about."
"I'm sure you don't." She smiled and stretched. "Well boys, I think it's time to go home and feign sleeping."
"Home?" Michael echoed. He had never heard the Commander call any part of the Station that.
"Might as well be."
Marcus navigated the corridors of busy people with his mind elsewhere. Nice woman, that Susan Ivanova. Completely confidential and caring.
Not that, he realised, he had told her he was a virgin simply because he needed someone to tell. He had told her because she had asked.
Even at one thirty in the morning, the Station was busy and full. He ducked around two quibbling Pak'Mar'a on his way towards Green Sector. He had some business to cover with Delenn; she would be awake even now, he knew. The Minbari slept less than humans.
He would have talked to her earlier, if Stephen hadn't insisted he be social and practically dragged him to a drink.
As soon as he entered Green Sector, the amount of noise dropped considerably; he sighed in relief he hadn't even known he would feel. He was so used to the constant drone of noise that pervaded everywhere he went, and filled his apartment as he tried to sleep in Brown Sector.
The Ranger turned quickly and saw Susan behind him. He smiled at her, brightly, if tiredly. "'Allo Susan."
"What are you doing here? I mean, it's late, and you don't live around here, shouldn't you be going back towards your quarters?"
"A Ranger's job is never done, remember? I have ...business."
She looked him over and frowned. Susan couldn't see how she had missed it earlier in the evening, but something was amiss.
She had never been particularly maternal, but it didn't take a mother to see this was a man who was living outside of his means, both fiscally and in terms of time allotment. He was, frankly, haggard-looking. His unwashed hair was pushed back from a pale face- his clothes needed mending, or (if they had been hers) thrown away- there was something about his eyes that did not match the quiet, level-headed mannerisms of the Marcus she knew.
If she could even claim to know him at all.
She cleared her throat, unconsciously tapping one booted foot. "Is there... can I take care of it for you? In all honesty, Marcus- and don't take this the wrong way... you look like hell."
He smiled good-naturedly. "I know, I'm sorry you have to see the 'real' Marcus Cole. My fastidious twin took a vacation, sorry, don't know when he'll be back."
The foot-tappage continued.
He sighed and nervously brushed his hair back again. "Look, Susan. Thank you for offering, but I have to do this myself."
"I'd be more than willing to cover for you, if it meant you'd have a decent night's sleep. Hell Cole, it looks like you haven't been sleeping for a week straight. Have you looked at yourself in the mirror? You're a menace."
He smiled again. The expression was strained. "Maybe next time. Delenn is expecting me personally."
The Commander opened her mouth. A dozen arguments flew out silently, but she didn't verbalize any of them. She knew how stubborn Marcus was, like one of those damn ugly little bulldogs that got its grip on someone and wouldn't let go. It wouldn't help that she suspected what his business with Delenn was- not if he was so stuck on the ambassador 'expecting him personally.'
She suspected she could force him to return to his quarters by 'pulling rank.' He wasn't her subordinate, but he looked tired enough he might not even catch on.
But he would hate her for it.
If there was one thing she did know about Marcus, it was that he was fiercely loyal to his job, almost to the point of the ridiculous. Not many people, she knew, would- or could- get him to back down from fulfilling that obligation. A strange sense told her that perhaps she was one of them. But this wasn't the time- to use that respect he seemed to have for her- against him.
Instead, she pursed her lips and pointed a finger towards him. "Next time, then, Cole. And I don't want to see you again without... you. Sleeping. Eight hours. Got it?"
He smiled. The dangerous glint was gone, replaced once more with tiredness. "Yes ma'am."
The tired Ranger called at Delenn's door; it opened. He found, not really to his surprise, that she had been waiting for him.
"Good evening, Anlashok."
"Entilzah," he replied, bowing and forming a triangle with his hands. He straightened and waited for her to beckon him to be seated.
"I hear you have some information for me, Marcus." The small woman sat at her table and he sat beside, somewhat uphill from the gently drifting candle smoke. He disliked candles. He had seen way too much of them in Anlashok training, and now, even in case of an emergency, he would carry a lighter or alternate source of power. Something that did not smell floral.
He wondered if it was the goal of the Rangers to entirely mask all traces of masculinity. All that praying and long robes and candles and emotional storytime. Somehow, it made him uncomfortable, and he wondered if that was what women felt all the time.
He sighed and rubbed his temples. The weight of his information pulled his exhausted mind back from wandering.
"I do. My sources tell me of Shadow sightings in some of these outer sectors, pulling quietly together..."
An hour later, Marcus made his way towards his quarters. There were other things he needed to do, but Susan was right.
The closer he shuffled towards his room, the more grime and decay he could see around him. It wasn't an immediate change, but a built-up one, a gradual adding of more dirt and garbage and scum to the metal walls the closer one went to Brown Sector. He didn't mind that much.
Marcus looked around him, habitually checking for thieves or muggers. No one was around. He slid his keycard into the door lock and slipped inside.
Immediately, something about his quarters made the hairs stand up on his neck and shoulders. A light was on in the kitchen, the air smelled different, his... bed was made?
He cautiously crossed into the front room. There was nobody around and nothing missing. In the kitchen, the haphazardly-piled dishes on the counter and sink had mysteriously disappeared, and on the stove was a pot of-
"Hot cocoa?" he spluttered, eyebrows raised incredulously. He didn't even have hot cocoa. He leaned back, against the counter, and his hand stuck to a piece of paper.
Next time, if I ask if I can help, you should let me do the easy stuff. Reporting on the whereabouts of enemy sources is a cinch. Cleaning your quarters is not.
I hope you like cocoa. And by the way- I am not your maid, and if you ever allow your personal hygiene to sink this low again, I will personally... hell, it's late, and I can't think of anything. But you will not like it.
Marcus read the paper twice. It was by far the strangest thing that had happened in the entire week. It beat out the stampeding Drazi, the random murders in the Zocalo, and the Pak'Mar'a toilet incident.
He wondered, briefly, how she had known about the content of his business with the ambassador. He shook his head- it would be better if he didn't even try to understand. She usually managed to get what she wanted.
A quiet smile touched his lips. It was strange, yes. And he supposed it was a backhanded compliment. But there was a compliment in there somewhere, and that was the way he decided he would take it.
His good sleep that night was barely enough to give him the humour to deal with Stephen and Garibaldi. He saw them both at lunch, but hastily made his exit. There was only so long a person could appreciate virginity jokes.
Marcus spent the afternoon wandering around, allowing himself to enjoy the chaos of visitors and vendors and aliens- without caring overly much about galactic battles and Good versus Evil. He was really just a plebeian, anyway, he mused to himself. He highly doubted his life or death would shape the form of the Universe.
And there were other things on his mind. Susan's invasive cleaning of his apartment was one of them. If any other life-form but her had decided to use a highest-class security clearance card in order to break in and make cocoa, he might have cracked a few skulls as a form of retribution- or stress relief.
In her case, though... well, it was kind of hot.
It was the kind of thing he would do if, for example, a magical clearance card happened to drop from the air.
He sighed and sat on a bench near the transport tube to Green Sector. In all reality, any man could call him crazy for loving the Commander and they would be absolutely on the dot.
Growing up, Marcus learned one important thing concerning women from his father. Women with boyfriends were already taken, regardless of rings or marital status; it was a form of courtesy. So Marcus remembered this, because hearts were not toys or forms of revenge or personal gain.
After coming on the Station, it didn't take him too long to see that Susan Ivanova was not single.
If she had been single, men would been waiting for her around every corner. If she had been single, Marcus wouldn't be seen as crazy for loving her.
Ivanova was married to her job.
That much was obvious to any man. Her work would come before love and dinners, sex, long-term relationships.
As he sat waiting for the tube, Marcus knew it was more than that. She was also married to her grief. He supposed it came out in the form of a hard-nosed Ice Queen, and that only made sense; what was there to do in the face of continuous pain and disappointment? He only knew a handful of the events in her past, but he expected there were twice as many more. She was a magnet for grief.
It took one to know one- he was a magnet for suffering as well.
He got on the transport and almost smiled to himself; here he was, ignoring his father's advice again, here he was, in love with a married woman.
And there was no easy way to divorce her from her pain.
"Marcus! I thought I told you to-" Susan Ivanova answered the sound of his voice outside her door.
"I did! See? Eight hours, as ordered. And shaved. Or trimmed, really."
"Very ambitious of you."
He smiled and realised it was the smile of a smitten schoolboy, but he did not care. He wasn't a schoolboy, after all. He was a man- playing a game- hoping to win.
There was a pause. "I just came by to thank you for what you did. Little creepy coming home to it, but hey, it was nice of you."
Her lips twitched.
"What?" He asked, smiling bemusedly.
"I didn't think... you'd actually have the balls to confront me about that." She burst out laughing.
"Well," he spluttered, "I couldn't exactly let it go now, could I? Can't just forget you made my bed and folded my boxers!"
She was still laughing behind her hand. He had never seen her looking so red, or completely amused with herself. "It started out as a joke," she said at last, still chuckling.
"Started out as?" Marcus continued to stare at her incredulously, secretly warmed by the laugh lines around her ample smile. "What were you going to do, originally?"
She shrugged and leaned back against the doorframe. "I didn't know, something. But it didn't go that way."
Quite suddenly he could see she had withdrawn, and he had a massive superstition that it was because she was shy about her motives. He had considered it the night before, but the thought came to him again that perhaps she had truly cared.
He cleared his throat. "I don't even have cocoa."
Susan laughed through her nose. "Yes you do. Way in the back of one of those cupboards. It wasn't opened."
And Marcus was listening, it seemed, from far away; yes, this was exactly what he wanted. To just be able to talk to her and be around her. To, perhaps, take care of her. By God he would if he could.
"Susan, I have to take this data crystal to Lennier in the Gardens. Would you like to..."
She looked at him for a moment. She knew the struggle between earnestness and casualty in his eyes. She sighed and let a piece of her painful fears slip away to hide. For a moment she stood suspended and the moment was gone.
"Ah, hell. Why not?"
And Susan followed Marcus down the corridor.