We are Rangers.
We walk in the dark places no others will enter.
We stand on the bridge, and no one may pass.
We live for the One, we die for the One.

He was sure Franklin would never have advised this, but Franklin is gone, missing somewhere in the depths of Downbelow if he is still alive. The new doctors had told Sheridan that Marcus needed some relaxation time, and Sheridan had told Delenn. After that, it was practically orders. So here he is, sitting awkwardly in the tiny wedge of garden that is the Babylon 5 commanding officer's private space. Marcus shifts painfully on the bench and stares at the plants, wondering how long he is meant to relax for. Somehow, the meditation techniques that he has learned don't seem quite right here. Every muscle aches, his head hurts and his ribs are a band of agony. He rolls his pike gently from hand to hand. It will be a while before he can use it properly again, but he feels naked without it.

Marcus flinches as the he hears the door to the garden open. Another sign that he is not himself, he supposes. Normally, he would have heard the approach, been ready and on his feet. Silly really, almost no one has the code to the door but Rangers live on "what if". Probably it is Sheridan coming to reclaim the space, in which case Marcus can give up this attempt at relaxation with a glad heart.

It isn't Sheridan. He knows even before he hears the voice coming past the trees. "Sure, I'll just magically pull another couple hundred square feet of space out of my butt for you, Ambassador! No problem. In fact, let's see if I've got some flying unicorns for you as well... there you go. God, do these people have no idea..."

Susan Ivanova breaks off abruptly as she rounds a tree and finds she isn't alone. "Ah. Marcus. Sorry about that, I was just..."

"...investigating internal cavities for unicorns?"

"Something like that. I wasn't expecting anyone to be here. Evidently."

The unasked question hangs between them so Marcus answers it. "I've been sent here to relax," he says, somewhat sourly.

Ivanova smiles. "And you sound just about as happy about it as I would be," she says. "Forced relaxation is such a barrel of laughs. Anyhow, I'll let you get some peace..."

"No! I mean, that's fine. Feel free to use the space. I'll go if you like."

They stare at each other for a few moments and Ivanova starts to laugh. "We're as bad as each other," she says wryly. "You look a mess, you do need to take it easy. And I need to hide before I'm responsible for a diplomatic incident."

Ivanova sits down, drags her boots and socks off, then digs her bare toes into the grass. "I know it's weird, but I've found it's impossible to stay mad when I'm barefoot out here," she explains. Marcus notices that her toenails are painted, an unexpected note of hidden frivolity from the strict Commander. "Of course," Ivanova continues, "that's possibly because I can't kick anyone's head in when I'm not wearing my boots."

Marcus smiles, then winces as the healing cuts on his face protest. "Do I really look that bad?" he asks.

Ivanova nods. "But it could be worse," she says. "From what Delenn told me, you're lucky you're not a smear of jam on the deck back there. What the hell happened?"

"Neroon had a revelation," Marcus tells her, which is no explanation at all and is answered deservedly by a raised eyebrow. Almost nervously, he rolls the pike in his hand again and is mortified when he fumbles it, dropping the weapon into the grass. Reaching forward to retrieve it causes such a sharp reminder of his broken ribs that he is momentarily paralysed by the pain.

"For god's sake, Marcus," Ivanova says, stooping easily to pick up the pike. "You've just gone ten rounds with the Minbari's toughest warrior. You're not in any position to fight now. I know you think this is nonsense and you're only out here because Delenn told you, but maybe you should do as they've all told you and actually relax."

Marcus wants to reach forward and grab the pike out of her hand but is hindered as much by manners as by the pain in his side. "I don't feel right without it," he says.

"Do you trust me?" Ivanova asks him.

"Of course."

"Then I will look after this for a little while and you are going to relax. Take your boots off."


"Trust me."

So Marcus manages, with only a little pain, to remove his boots and rest his bare feet in the grass. And even though this garden is not, strictly speaking, natural, he can still feel some of the tension drain out of him. He releases a breath he was not even aware that he was holding. When he looks at Ivanova, she is smiling.

"See, you can do it," she says, then gestures to the pike. "May I?"

Marcus surprises himself by nodding and watches Ivanova release the catch. She takes a few practise swings with the pike, pacing across the small space, a barefoot warrior. He can see her analysing the weapon, assessing its balance and reach. It would take years of training for her to be proficient with it, of course, but she is still a formidable figure.

"It suits you," he says, and tips his head back to enjoy the artificial sunlight.

It won't last long, this moment of healing. Soon enough, the link on Ivanova's hand will summon her back into the world of conflict. But right now, with his boots neglected next to Ivanova's in the corner of the garden, Marcus Cole allows himself to relax, truly relax. Susan Ivanova is protecting him.

Author's Note: This story is set just after the episode Grey 17 Is Missing. It was a gift fic for shadowycat on LJ, who requested a Marcus fic with prompt objects boots and fighting pike.