Originally written for the a href"" Yuletide Ficathon/a.

Warning: Set after the series finale, and contains spoilers for the entire series.

A Party of One, or Two

By Lizardbeth

The celebration had been going on for an hour when Jeremiah realized that Markus had disappeared.

He caught Erin by the sleeve. "Where's the big cheese?"

She frowned, her gaze vaguer than usual, fogged by alcohol. "Uh, he's right there --" she gestured with her cup and then frowned deeper, "Huh, he was over there just a minute ago..."

She turned around, looking into the crowd, as if she was going to see him. Jeremiah already knew that he wasn't in the room, so he left her there to go look someplace else

Lee was at the door. "Chen, have you seen Markus?"

Lee shrugged, "He didn't look in a mood to be bothered, Jeremiah. I'd leave him alone."

Jeremiah shook his head once, incredulous. "Isn't that typical? We have a party for defeating Daniel with hardly a shot fired, and Markus is in a bad mood. He should be the happiest person in here."

Lee snorted. "If you think that, you don't know Markus at all."

That stung a bit, but aside from a grimace he let it go. It was a party, and as much as Lee pissed him off, just by breathing, he wasn't going to start a fight. "I'm gonna go see what his problem is."

"When he goes off, he doesn't want people to follow him," Lee advised.

Jeremiah sneered, "Nice to see Markus has such good friends." He pushed past Lee and went to hunt Markus down.

What could be Markus' problem? He was the one who was always trying not to kill people, after all-- trying to build something not covered in blood and death.

He checked Markus' office first, as the most obvious place to find him. The office was dark and empty. After a quick glance down in the cafeteria to make sure he wasn't down there, among more of the celebrating crowd, Jeremiah wandered away. He couldn't look through the whole mountain - Markus undoubtedly knew the best places to hide, and if he really wanted not to be found, there was probably no one alive who could find him.

But as he walked, he knew there was a place he should look. And he thought he was right, when he came to the door of the restricted section and found it was unlocked, as though someone had passed this way not long ago.

He didn't know the way, just the general direction, but he found it eventually. It wasn't far from the isolation room where Quantrell had been stashed.

The door was emblazoned with several danger signs and bio-hazard warnings, but it was open so he went in.

The front room was dim, lit only by the lights in the room behind the window. The door to the inner room was open, but Markus was sitting at the table in front of the window looking inside the small empty space. He had an open bottle and a small glass full of amber liquid in front of him.

He didn't lift his head to see who had come in. "Go away."

Jeremiah paused, knowing he was intruding. This was Meaghan's room, and Markus was clearly intent on brooding here with her ghost.

But instead of obeying the order, Jeremiah started forward and grabbed the glass. He sniffed at it and downed it in one shot.

The stuff went down strong and smooth. He let out a gusty breath and smacked his lips. "This is Old World stuff. No wonder you didn't want to party with the rest of us."

Markus gave a little sigh. "I'm having a party of my own. And I'd really like to be alone for it."

"Oh yeah? Well, I'm not much in a party mood myself." He plopped down in the other chair. "So I think I'll join you."

"Which part of "go away" don't you understand?" Markus finally turned his head away from the window to glare at Jeremiah. His eyes seemed dark and unsettling in the dim-ness - full of old shadows and pain that Jeremiah didn't think he could bear touching.

"Well, all of it, I'm just refusing to listen," Jeremiah answered with a shrug. "So tell me, why are you wasting good booze on getting drunk?"

"Why not?"

Markus grabbed the neck of the bottle and swallowed some. He set it back on the table with a thump and returned his gaze to the empty room beyond.

After a moment's silence, Jeremiah asked, "Have you been inside?"

It took several heartbeats for Markus to answer. He laughed once, humorlessly. "No."

"Door's open," Jeremiah gestured toward it. "Why not?"

"Because you'd probably slam it shut and walk away," Markus returned.

Jeremiah stiffened at the unjust accusation. "That's not fair."

"Isn't it? Most of the time I'm pretty sure you're one step from walking away from the Alliance altogether. If it's not your mission to find Valhalla Sector -- even when everybody told you it was a bad idea -- it's your quest to get Sims, or some other damn thing. Your loyalties are to whatever you feel like at any given moment. Which, fine; I just wish they'd turn toward Thunder Mountain and to me, instead."

Jeremiah sat there and listened to what was probably the unvarnished truth coming from Markus' alcohol-loosened tongue, and forced himself not to respond in kind. Even though he thought Markus was totally wrong - except where he was right. Jeremiah had to acknowledge, if only to himself in the dimness, that his priorities had been something else than Thunder Mountain. But with Sims dead, there was nothing more important anymore.

Quietly, he replied, "You know I believe we're doing the right thing."

"No, I don't." Markus glanced at him, looking stone-cold sober. Had he had anything to drink at all? "I don't know anything of the kind. Hell, I don't even know why you're here. Why are you here, Jeremiah? Why did you come looking for me, when everyone else knows better?"

"What? I'm not allowed to make sure you're all right?"

"Does it fucking look like I'm all right?" Markus demanded, temper slipping a little. "Because no, I'm not. Everyone was laughing and drinking and having a grand time, imagining we've won. We haven't won anything. There's absolutely nothing to keep someone from stepping into Daniel's non-existent shoes and starting the whole game over."

Jeremiah hesitated a moment, turning Markus' words over in his mind. Then had to quirk a bit of a smile. "Man, when you have a bad day, you don't fuck around, do you?"

"I told you to go away," Markus said, turning his gaze to the bottle he was turning with one hand, around and around on the table top.

"Why did you come here?" Jeremiah asked softly. "Is this really about Meaghan?"

For a moment there was no sound but the soft sound of the bottle turning, until Markus stopped it to mechanically lift up the bottle and take a drink.

Then he spoke in little more than a murmur, hardly audible, "She could get me out of my dark moods with just a smile. Since she..." his free hand clenched into a fist, "... she died, there's this big dark shadow behind me all the time. There's no place I can go where I don't feel it. No one can make it go away. And sometimes ... I don't want it to go away..."

He stopped abruptly and took another drink, as if he'd said too much.

Jeremiah grabbed the bottle from him and poured another shot for himself. "I didn't know," he murmured. "I guess I thought you'd ... gotten over it." He couldn't remember Markus even mentioning her name in six months. But then again, it wasn't as if he'd been around all that much. Markus had seemed a little different - more active, more reckless, and a little more snappish when people didn't do what he wanted, but Jeremiah had attributed that to stress.

"How am I supposed to 'get over it' like that?" he snapped his fingers. "I know it was fucked up, but that didn't matter. For fifteen years she was there, and now she's not. It's like part of me is missing."

He ran his hands through his hair and groaned, "Why the hell am I telling you this? I must be drunker than I thought."

"Because who else has a hope of knowing what it's like?" Jeremiah asked. "I know it's not the same. But still, all those weeks, I wandered around in a daze, wanting to kill Sims and try to make myself feel better. When she was gone and nothing was gonna help that. And then to find out she was lying all along..."

He trailed off and drained another shot as the acid ate at his insides again: hate and confusion and fury. How much had been real? Any of it, or had it all been pretense to get close to him, and through him, the Alliance?

A gloomy silence fell and Markus finally heaved what might have been a sigh or a chuckle. "We're a sad pair, aren't we?"

"Speak for yourself, man. I'm way down at 'pathetic'."

A moment later, Markus murmured, as if admitting to a great failure, "I can't go in there."

Jeremiah shrugged. "So don't. Nothing says you have to, not yet. But eventually, you know, it's like what you said at the Big Meeting - we have to look to the future. And you are the most future-looking person I've ever met, Markus. The Alliance needs you looking forward, not back."

"And where does it say that it's my job to sell my soul for everybody else?" Markus demanded, sweeping his arm with an abrupt angry movement, knocking the little glass off the table.

It fell onto the concrete and smashed. Markus jerked at the sound and then peered down at the floor with a weary sigh. "Well, fuck. At least it wasn't the bottle."

That struck Jeremiah as funny, and he snickered. Markus' glare made the snicker grow to a laugh.

Markus tried to hold the glare but a smile eventually appeared, as he gave in to Jeremiah's laughter.

When the levity died away, Jeremiah reached across the table and put a hand on Markus' arm. He told him seriously, "Markus, no one wants you to sell your soul, or pretend you're happy when you're not. But we do want you to be you, in all your idealism and plan-making, and even your really annoying habits of brooding and keeping secrets. Because there's no one else who can hold it all together."

Markus appeared to be thinking about that for quite awhile, tracing idle patterns on the table top with his finger. Then he looked up. "Do you really mean that?"

"You and I have our differences, but man, we wouldn't be here without you. I know that much."

"Thanks." The word was casual, but the feeling wasn't. Markus drew in a deep breath and slumped shoulders straightened as a heavy burden lifted, at least for the moment

He picked up the bottle and took a swig, then offered it to Jeremiah. "You want to stay and party with me?"

Jeremiah took the bottle and saluted him with it. "Sure."

When they finished that bottle, Markus also had a bottle of homebrew that they cracked open. It must have been rough, but they didn't notice sharing it between them.

Jeremiah saw that when Markus finally passed out, his hand was pressed against the glass of the empty room.