Gapfiller, set between Hour of the Wolf and Whatever Happened to Mr. Garibaldi?
Standard disclaimer applies; not my characters or settings or backgrounds. But they are my words.
Marcus Cole couldn't believe the difference a week could make. He had just arrived back on the station after his trip to Minbar. Immediately after their return from the battle in Sector 83, Delenn had sent him off on this mission. He was to take dispatches to what remained of the Grey Council, and give private reports to the Ranger leaders at the Academy in Tuzanoor. Though the battle had been hard fought, with many losses, they had won. They had actually made the ancient Enemy turn and run.
He'd left before nightfall. He had been watching with quiet amusement the discreet courtship between his two commanders, but he had still been surprised when Lennier let it slip that Delenn intended to perform the sleep-watching ritual that very evening. Still, short courtships were traditional in times of war, and given the normal length of Minbari courtships, and the extreme nature of the war in which they were engaged, a little haste was understandable. He wondered if Susan knew about it, or if she did, if she appreciated what it meant. Between the battle and the romance, he'd been in a pretty chipper mood when he'd left.
The news had reached Minbar fairly quickly given the expense of real time hyperspace communications. The message had been short, and to the point. Captain Sheridan had taken a White Star to Z'ha'dum. The Shadows had surrounded the station, and then left without firing a shot. There had been reports of an explosion on the Shadow homeworld, and no word since. That was all. Now it had been ten days since the battle, ten days since he had seen his comrades. He was anxious to get back, and find out the whole story.
It was very early morning, station-time. Still, there was usually more traffic than this…there were definitely fewer people here. It was quiet, subdued, and there was a palpable aura of nervous anticipation, and of fear. He hurried to a com station and left a message for Susan, letting her know he was back, and wanted to talk to her. Even though it was early, he headed towards the ambassadorial wing. If either Delenn or Lennier was awake, he wanted to find out what had happened, and what they were going to do.
As he approached Delenn's quarters, he saw the door open, and Lennier emerge into the corridor. Lennier gestured him over, and welcomed him back.
After the requisite formal greetings, Marcus demanded, "What happened? I only got a sketchy report on Minbar, and headed back immediately. Why did he go? Is he de… is he coming back?"
"He went with his wife," Lennier began. Marcus eyes widened in surprise, and Lennier went on, "I know, she was supposed to be dead, but apparently she was not."
The Minbari's voice was tense, underlain with some emotion Marcus couldn't quite pin down. "My God, Lennier. How did Delenn react? Did Sheridan talk to her before he left?" Then as the enormity of it hit him, "When did this happen? Did they finish the ritual?" and aside, under his breath, "This must be some sort of Shadow trick. It must be!"
Lennier looked pained, and replied, "I believe the ritual was complete when Mrs. Sheridan arrived, but I cannot be sure. Delenn has not spoken about it. She has not spoken much at all since we returned from Z'ha'dum." His eyes were haunted and red from lack of sleep.
Marcus strangled his initial response of "What the hell…!" and controlling himself with difficulty, asked in clipped tones. "Who went to Z'ha'dum exactly? You and Entil'zha Delenn? Was this some sort of rescue mission, or what?"
Lennier leaned against the wall, sagging in exhaustion. "No one would go, Marcus. They were all afraid. Ivanova, Delenn…they tried so hard to get them to go, and at least try to find the Captain." The words, or his body, hung in the air between them. "Finally, Lyta came to Ivanova with the idea that she could sense Sheridan's presence, even if he couldn't communicate. Something about them both having been 'touched' by Kosh…I do not know exactly. She could block them seeing us as well, if only briefly. So we went. We encountered the Shadows, but we escaped."
Marcus asked urgently, "Everyone got out all right, then? Did you find anything?"
"There was evidence of a massive explosion on the planet. But there was no sign of the Captain. He did not respond to any signals, and Lyta sensed nothing. He is dead, Marcus, he must be." He couldn't possibly tell Marcus about the terrible pathos of Delenn's pleading for a signal, trying to send a mental message through Lyta, and the utter despair he saw in her when there was no response. He couldn't admit, even to himself, the small hope that had kindled within him, now that Sheridan was gone.
"What are we going to do next, Lennier? The Shadows will be back. How is Ivanova taking this?"
Lennier shook his head, and said, "I truly do not know what will happen. Ivanova is in charge of the station, and presumably will take the Captain's place in the War Council. Mr. Garibaldi disappeared, along with his Starfury, when the Shadows attacked the station." He hesitated, then went on, "I am worried about Delenn. She is fasting, as is proper while grieving such a loss, but she is weakening quickly. I am not sure she realizes what she is doing."
Marcus realized this was a difficult admission for his friend. "I'll speak with her, all right? I need to report in anyway. If it's as bad as you say, we may need to intervene." He added, thoughtfully, "If she'll allow it."
"I was considering approaching Dr. Franklin today. I would appreciate your input before I make my decision. She would not desire me to do this."
"Sometimes you have to decide for people. Go, get some sleep. I'll check in after I talk to her."
"Thank you, Marcus." He bowed towards his friend. "I am glad you are back. It has been a difficult time."
Marcus nodded, returning the bow, and headed for Delenn's door. Lennier looked back as he reached the door to his own quarters, and saw him disappear inside.
Marcus entered the darkened room, lit only by a glowing prism on the table near the kitchen, and one solitary taper in the living area. He had to let his eyes adjust before he could make his way into the dim space. "Entil'zha? Delenn? It's me, where are you? What are you doing?
"I am here. Welcome back. I hope you had a good trip."
The voice was flat, practically monotone, and devoid of all the warmth and sympathy that came so naturally to her. That scared him more than anything he'd heard so far. He sat cross-legged on the floor opposite her. Between them lay a low table on which the single candle glowed. "I am sorry to interrupt your meditation. I heard the news on Minbar, and came back as quickly as I could." Searching for words that would reach behind the mask she was presenting, he could come up with nothing but cliches. "I was terribly sorry to hear of your loss."
"Not my loss," she answered quickly. "Never mine." Her voice lingered on that last word. "But I thank you for your swift return. Have you prepared a report?"
He removed a data crystal from an inner pocket of his robe, and laid it on the table. "It's all there. The Council remains unmoved. They are solely concerned with defending Minbar and its colony worlds. The Rangers await your commands."
"I am not sure I am the one to lead them anymore. Perhaps Ivanova, or yourself…"
"They will follow no one else, Entil'zha. They followed Sheridan only because of your and Ranger One's directives."
"Then they are fools." Her voice was harsh with self-loathing. "I am no tactician, no War Leader. I will remain here, waiting…" Her voice drifted off, as her attention reverted to the single flame.
"Waiting for what?" he asked gently, afraid of what answer he might receive.
"The judgement of the Universe. The final judgement. There seems to be little else to do. Perhaps I can rest soon." She sounded as if the answer was self-evident.
"No!" he exploded, putting one hand flat on the table for emphasis. "There is always hope if you do not give up."
She looked at him questioningly. "But you have always given up, Marcus. Given up on yourself, on others, on life…on love. You do not move forward, why should I? You have been living your brother's life, fulfilling his ambitions. What of your own life, your own desires?"
"That's not fair! I've worked hard, sought out the Rangers, went through training and made my vows. I've fought by your side, and I've fought for Sheridan. Maybe I was filling in for my brother! What have you ever done but live your live for others? Maybe you should give some thought to what Sheridan would want you to do!" He paused in his tirade as he saw tears began to spill down her cheeks. "I'm sorry. So sorry…I didn't mean…"
She shook her head, and turned away, trying to regain control. He let her take her own time. Learning to wait patiently was a large part of Ranger training. It had proven an extremely useful skill. In this case, he needed the time to think. Perhaps he was pressing her too hard. Yet Lennier had been worried enough to consider breaking a confidence by speaking first to him, and perhaps later, to Dr. Franklin. He was a little shocked at the state she was in, physically. He had seen something like it once before, during his training on Minbar. One of his teachers, who had been mated for 50 odd years to a tiny cheerful religious caste female, had not shown up for class one day. It turned out his mate had suffered a short, and ultimately fatal, illness. After she died, he laid down on his bed, and turned his face to the wall. He never got up again. He would only say that he was seeking her out; that she had gone ahead, but promised to wait for him. They heard a little later that he had died.
He stood up in one fluid movement. Seeking to change the subject, and also because he was anxious to know the answer, he asked, "How is Susan taking this? Is she all right?"
Delenn looked up, "I am not sure. She seemed all right on the ship, but Lennier has heard rumours that she is not dealing well. It is a hard blow for her. She has known him a long time, and of course, all the responsibility of running the station has fallen on her. She misses Mr. Garibaldi as well, as do we all."
This last was said somewhat perfunctorily. Marcus suspected she had little room left in her thoughts for anything but the crushing amount of guilt and loss she felt for Sheridan. He understood the feeling all too well, and his heart ached for her. "I left her a message. I'll check in with her, later this morning. Have you been sleeping?"
Delenn looked at him as if he was speaking a foreign language. "I cannot sleep. I dream of falling. Vir told Susan he fell, into an abyss. It was two miles deep, he said." Her voice was shaking, and her eyes looked right through him, to a terror only she could see. "I am longer sure if I fast to remember, or if I fast to forget." Her eyes sought his, despair had dimmed the light that usually danced within them. "I will never forget him."
An uneasy silence fell between them, and Marcus cleared his throat, which had grown tight with what felt suspiciously like tears. "Of course you won't. One doesn't. But you can't give up now. He wouldn't want that." He walked over to the kitchen. "Can I get you anything? I'm sure Lennier has kept the cooler filled."
She smiled, and said, "I would like a glass of water. Thank you."
He filled a glass and brought it over to her. "I suppose I couldn't convince you to eat something, if only a little?"
"No." She answered with a hint of her old amused tone. "You should go to Susan now. You are worried about her."
"You always could read people a little too well." He tried to keep his tone light to encourage this slight show of life.
"Not always," she whispered, "sometimes I do not think I understand anyone, including myself."
He leaned over impulsively, and kissed her on the forehead.
She looked up, bemused, but touched by the gesture. "Good-bye then. Give my best to Susan."
"I'll be by later."
"If you wish."
So he left her--left her to her dreams of endless falls and screaming ships. He hoped he, or another of her friends could find a way to stop her fall, or at least to catch her before she hit bottom.
It was still quite early when he reached Susan's quarters. He knew she would be taking the early shift; hell, if he knew her, she would be taking all the shifts. He rang the chime, not sure he should be invading her space like this, but he was frankly worried. From those he'd talked to so far, it seemed like the burden of running the station, and running the war, had fallen almost completely to her.
"Who is it?" came a voice from the com.
"It's Marcus. May I come in?"
"Why not?" came the answer in weary tones. The door slid open and he stepped inside.
"Hallo, Susan." He walked over to the bar separating the kitchen from the living area. She was in the kitchen, pouring coffee.
"Would you like some?" She gestured, the coffee pot still in her hand.
"No thanks. I've been awake for 24 hours now. I'll need to get some sleep soon."
She snorted. "Well, I've given that up. Nasty habit, takes up way too much of the day."
He laughed gingerly, and asked, "I got the news on Minbar, and got back as quick as I could. I'm sorry, Susan."
Her eyes glinted with tears for an instant, then her face hardened. "Well, it is what it is. We have to get on with the work now. The Shadows won't stay away forever. I imagine they'll be anxious to take a crack at us."
"What are you going to do?" he asked with genuine curiosity and some apprehension.
"I'm…I'm not sure yet. I have some ideas. I need to get Delenn on board…"
Marcus interrupted, "Easier said than done, I'm afraid. I just came from her quarters. She's in pretty bad shape."
"Well, she'll have to get over it!" snapped Susan. "We have a war to fight, a war she got us into, I might add. The Rangers are under her sole command now, and we're going to need every ship and every man if we're going to survive this!"
Marcus looked at her critically. She was making sense, but was obviously holding on by a thread. "I'll work on it. Lennier is thinking of having Stephen talk to her. And the Rangers will listen to me, I think. Let me know what you want them to do."
"I don't know what to do…" she sat down heavily in on of the tall chairs at the table and put her chin into her hand. "I wish Michael was here. I'm not sure Zach can keep things under control if it gets rough."
"I'll stop by and see Zach when I leave here. Anything else?"
Susan looked at him in exasperation, "You can't solve all my problems, you know."
"I can try. It's what I do." He looked at her, and let some of his fondness show. "I'd do most anything for you."
She said flatly, "You can't bring him back, can you? Cause that's what I need, what we all need. I'll do my best to complete the job he started, but honestly? This isn't going to end well, Marcus. I can't see it ending well at all."
Marcus stiffened at her tone of defeat. He watched as she finished her coffee and put down her cup.
"I've got to get to C&C. We have a lot of ships leaving today. The League's broken up, and a lot of people are bailing. Can you get some of the other Rangers together at, say, 1400 hours? We'll meet in the large conference room on the command deck. Maybe we can do some brainstorming. I'll see if any of the League ambassadors want to send any military representatives."
Marcus nodded curtly, then rose to follow her out of the room. He said good-bye as she headed off to her job, and he went down to Security in search of Zach. He was starting to seethe as he walked and thought about all the conversations he'd had since he returned. What the hell had Sheridan been thinking? He must have known his wife's return at this time was a little too convenient. Nuking the Shadows' homeworld was a fine idea, but he never should have gone himself. The damn man had taken the heart and the soul out of the two finest women he knew. Delenn was a pale shadow of herself, all the fire and spirit drained out of her. Susan was busy hardening the shell she'd built to protect herself, adding layer after layer, trying to wall out the pain and grief. He stopped and slammed his fist into the wall. It didn't help. He had to find some way to help.
When he reached Security, Zach Allen, acting Chief, was sitting in front of a bank of monitors. He wasn't watching them though. His feet were up on the desk, the chair was tilted back, and he was serenading the empty room with his stentorian snoring. Marcus watched him for a moment, trying to think of the most embarrassing way to wake him, when one eye flipped open.
"I got to give it to the Chief. He said I'd grow an extra eye in this job. Just didn't know it'd happen so fast." He put the chair down flat on the floor, and smiled, "When'd you get back?" Then, his smile fading, "Have you heard…about the Captain? And the Chief?"
"Yes, I've heard. The news came into Minbar, just the bare bones of it, but enough for me to high tail it back here. This place is a mess."
"You got that right. The air's been sucked out of everyone, seems like. Just waiting now. To see what's gonna happen."
An idea was beginning to form in the back of Marcus' brain. "So what's being done about it? I know Ivanova led a rescue mission after the Captain. No luck there. What about Garibaldi?"
Zach stared at him for a moment, "You know, I can't go myself. Ivanova needs me to run this place as best I can. But there's one person looking for him."
"Who might that be?" Marcus tried to think of other Security personnel who might have taken on the task.
"You're kidding! Why?" asked Marcus disbelievingly. "My God, he shouldn't leave the station! The Centauri have put a huge price on his head! This is about the only place he's safe!"
Zach laughed sourly. "Yeah, well. By all accounts, the station won't be the safest place for anyone pretty soon." He went on, his tone shaded with respect. "He said Garibaldi was a friend. And that was enough for him."
"He's amazing, isn't he?"
"G'Kar? He's certainly changed. He seems…older somehow, wiser. Like a different person."
Marcus nodded, "You have to admire that. Most people would be bitter or full of rage after what happened to his people."
"Yeah." Zach shook his head. "Still, it's a hell of a risk. So, what are you up to next?"
"I'm not sure. I have to do some things today, for Ivanova, and for Lennier. Then, maybe, I think I'll go hunting."
"Hunting! Hunting what?"
"Hunting Narn." With that, Marcus left the room. On his way back up to see Lennier, and encourage him to go to Stephen with his worries, he thought to himself: there's one thing I can do for her. I can't bring back Sheridan, but I can bring back Garibaldi. Help G'Kar, and bring back Garibaldi; it was a mission, although a hard one and probably hopeless. Those were the best kind.