Christmas in Geneva

Standard disclaimer applies; not my characters or settings or backgrounds. But they are my words.

Sheridan was dead to begin with. There was no doubt whatever about that. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of this story.

Susan Ivanova knew he was dead. Of course she did. How could it be otherwise? Of course no one had seen him die, and no body was recovered from his ship. But the fact remained that one didn't just go outside for a walk in space and close the door behind you. Teleportation had never been made to work reliably, and spontaneous combustion left marks. No, he was dead. Somehow, somewhere, Sheridan was as dead as a door nail.

Susan shifted under the down-stuffed silken comforter, trying to find a warm space in the bed. Geneva was cold this time of year, especially at midnight. The lake had frozen over before Christmas. Her offices at EarthForce overlooked the lake and she could see the ice skaters through her window. They twirled and danced through the grey filtered sunlight like tiny mechanical toys she remembered from distant childhood.

This could well be her last winter in Geneva. If she did leave, she wouldn't miss the cold. Of course, she had heard that it was even colder on Minbar.

"That is so hard to believe," she muttered to herself as she reached out a hand to activate the heating elements in the pressure-sensitive mattress. She didn't like to use the thing, always ending up too hot by morning, but it was now officially too cold to sleep and it wasn't like she had anyone willing to help warm her up. "That day has passed," she said aloud as she fumbled around on the nightstand for the control. The clock struck one, and she sighed. Morning would come too early, as it usually did.

Someone handed her the remote device. Her blood froze and her adrenalin kicked in as she dropped the remote on the floor, and grasped the bony wrist of the intruder tightly. She threw off the bed covers with her other hand, and tried to yank whoever-it-was off balance. The room was dimly lit, but she could see a shadowy shape, male, humanoid, as it toppled into bed beside her.

"Now that's what I call a good old-fashioned holiday welcome!"

The voice was light and sardonic with a slight British accent. Her jaw dropped in shock as her mind fought to avoid the spark of recognition that her heart insisted on. "Who are you?" she barked. "What do you want? This is a secure area..."

"Now that's more like the Ivanova I remember. All rules and protocol." There was a chuckle lurking behind the deadpan tone.

Susan called out for lights, and there he was, Marcus Cole, dead Ranger, sitting in the middle of her bed. What was more, he was glowing slightly.

He smiled broadly at her and announced, "Happy Christmas!"

"It is no longer Christmas; you've missed it," she snapped. "It's January, 2282, in case they don't have calendars on the other side."

"Other side of what?" asked Marcus, puzzled. "Besides, it's Christmas in the Orthodox church, which as I recall is still based in the Russian Federation." He tilted his head and said patiently, "That's where you're from, you know."

"Marcus," said Susan slowly and to the point, "I'm Jewish. I don't celebrate Christmas, Orthodox or otherwise." The realization that she was talking to a dead person hit her, and she questioned him in a strained voice, "Am I dead? Is that what this is about?" Hope fought against fear and caused her to ask further, "Or is it you that's alive? Dammit, they were supposed to notify me if a cure was ever found!"

"No cure," said Marcus cheerfully. "I'm rather afraid there may never be one. But I didn't come here to discuss medical decisions or your strange obsession with my dead body. Though it's a pity that obsession didn't extend to my live body. No, I came to talk about Christmas!"

Susan felt like the world was whirling around her. "Christmas is over, I told you. You're too late for... whatever it is you're here for." She snapped at him, "And why are you glowing?"

"Dunno," replied Marcus, looking down curiously at his clothing. "It's not a good look for me, is it? Then, his tone suddenly deadly sober, he continued, "I came to remind you of something."

Susan had heard that switch before. Marcus' ability to change from silly to serious in an instant had always confused her. "Remind me of what?"

"Of why I died for you," replied Marcus. Then he broke out in a grin. "You did notice that, didn't you? A heroic act, I thought. Noble even."

"I noticed. It was stupid," replied Susan grimly. "And a hell of a thing to do to someone."

Marcus shook his head, "I should have known you wouldn't take it well. You couldn't be comfortable in the role of damsel in distress."

"I wasn't in distress, just dying," said Susan pointedly. "And it left me in your debt, with no way to repay you."

"Oh, there's a way," said Marcus. "There's always a way. You can finish my work." He cocked his head at her. "If you've got nothing better to do, of course."

Susan stared at him. "What work? The Shadows were defeated. Earth was liberated. The Alliance is up and running. The good guys won."

Marcus laughed, "You know better than that! 'The war is never over.' That's one of Valen's sayings. A rather famous one actually."

"Are you telling me there's another war coming?" Susan looked speculative as she considered the possibilities. There were far too many in her opinion.

"Not as such. But the Anla'Shok need to be ready. They need a leader." Marcus nodded at her. "They need you."

"I don't know, Marcus," replied Susan doubtfully. "I haven't studied the Anla'Shok; I don't know their traditions. And they have a lot of them...a thousand years' worth! How can I lead them?"

Marcus smiled enigmatically. "You'll find a way."

Susan reached out to touch Marcus. Her hand felt rough cloth, a hard arm, well-muscled and warm. "Are you really here?" she asked, her throat closing painfully. "I've imagined you returning before. Then I wake up, and you're never there."

"I'm always here." Marcus patted her hand, then put an arm around her shoulders, and gently lowered her head back to the pillow. "Go back to sleep, Susan. Things will be clearer in the morning."

Although Susan struggled to keep her eyes open and fixed on his face, they gradually closed and she slept.

Chimes sounded loudly in the room, the result of an alarm clock set too loud in an effort to rouse her every morning. Susan's eyes opened blearily, but the clock only sounded twice. Only two a.m; the thing must be broken! She punched the pillow into a slightly softer lump and buried her face in it. It smelled funny. No, the room smelt funny. Raising her head and sniffing the air, she recognized the burning odor of cigar smoke.

"Hey kiddo," came a familiar voice.

Susan sat up abruptly. "Garibaldi? What in the world...I didn't know you were on Earth!" Then as she woke up a little more and asked in alarm, "What are you doing in my bedroom?"

"I'm here to talk a little sense into you." Garibaldi sat in a wing chair by the fireplace, puffing on a pungent, but non-addictive and non-toxic stogie.

The fire was blazing and she could see him clearly by its light. She blinked. That was odd; she was certain she had let that fire go out earlier.

"And when I say here, I don't mean physically here, if you know what I mean." Garibaldi learned towards her, stabbing at the air with the cigar. The end of it made circles of orange-red light in the air.

Susan was getting used to being lectured in her bedclothes, but she still didn't like it. Reaching down to the foot of the bed, she hooked the robe lying there with one hand, pulled it up and draped it over her shoulders. "I have no idea what you mean, but it can join a whole legion of things that make no sense tonight. All right, go ahead. Talk sense to me."

Garibaldi smiled crookedly at her. "Ooh baby. I love it when you ask for it." He chewed on his cigar and looked at her. "Sense says when an opportunity presents itself, you take it."

"You mean the Ranger One position?" asked Susan, wondering why everyone seemed to know her business. Delenn had promised her that it wouldn't go beyond the two of them. Well, John had known, she acknowledged with a pang, but he wasn't talking to anyone, not any more.

"That's the one," replied Garibaldi, stretching his leg out in front of the fire. "How'd you rank these digs anyway? Beautiful old building." He looked around the room at the high ceilings, then over at Susan, sitting upright in a large four poster bed. "The position's tailor-made for you; and you're about done here anyway. Gone as far as you can go and bored out of your mind, am I right? Look on this as a late Christmas present from the Universe."

Susan folded her arms. "What do you know about my position here?"

"What do I need to know? It's EarthForce. You rise not quite as far as your abilities can take you, then they stick you behind a desk to keep you from going further than they want. You'll never make Chairman if that's what you're thinking." Garibaldi shook his head. "They remember whose side you were on during the war, Ivanova."

"I don't know that I want to be Chairman. That's even more bureaucratic bullshit to deal with than I've got now." Susan sighed at the truth in his words, and shrugged her shoulders. "Who's to say this new position wouldn't be even worse?"

"Like I said, it's made for you. It's not like you haven't dealt with the League aliens before. Plus Delenn would have your back. That would mean more than any number of brass here on Earth pretending to be on your side." Garibaldi tapped the ash off the end of his smoke into the fireplace. "It's time you moved on, kid. Take the chance. Take the job."

"Let me sleep on it," replied Susan as she threw herself back down against the pillow.

"Sure, Ivanova. Just don't wait too long." Garibaldi's voice faded as she drifted off again. "I was lucky. I had a lot of chances in life; screwed up most of them. But then I found where I was meant to be. Don't miss finding your place. The only time you've got is the present."

This time the bell sounded like all the belfries in Geneva were ringing inside her bedroom. Bong, bong, bong...three times the sonorous peal sounded. Susan opened her eyes to darkness; no glowing figures from the past, no fire-lit friends from the present. She laid still, letting her eyes adjust, feeling a presence in the room and wanting to see more clearly before she said or did anything. It wasn't a frightening presence, the room was subtly calm and peaceful. Though at three in the morning, peace and quiet wasn't much of a stretch. Susan saw a shape by the window, a tall hooded figure, and she slowly got out of bed, tied her robe closed, slid her feet into her slippers and approached it.

"Beautiful night," said her visitor. "Look! It's starting to snow!"

Susan looked out the multi-paned window into the glittering night scape of Geneva. Twirling flakes of snow danced through the subdued city lights. Sneaking a glance at her companion, Susan realized she recognized the clothing. Intermingled shades of brown and orange which she had last seen on Minbar in John and Delenn's quarters: they were Valen's robes. "Jeff?" she whispered. "Is it you?"

A familiar deep laugh sounded in her ears, and the figure turned towards her, at the same time reaching up to lower the hood from over its head. "Of course! You think I'd pass up the chance to see you again?"

"But how?" Susan spluttered as a wide grin split her face. This was the most welcome visitation of all. "Wait, I don't care. It's enough that you're here."

Jeff put an arm around her shoulder, and pulled her tight against him. "I missed you." He looked around the room. "It looks as if you've done well. Still in EarthForce?"

She nodded happily, secure in his friendly embrace. "It's General Ivanova, and I'm stationed here in Geneva now."

"Did you get your own ship?" asked Jeff. "I always thought you were meant for command."

"I did," replied Susan. "The Phoenix." A deep sense of satisfaction edged her voice. "She was a beauty, deep space exploration and warship combined." Susan pointed towards a painting on the wall. "That's her."

Jeff whistled in approval. "Wish I'd been there to see her," he said. "And speaking of not being here, I don't have much time, and there's something I need to tell you."

"Let me guess," Susan said wearily. "I'm to resign my commission and head to Minbar to lead the Anla'Shok. I told Delenn I'd think about it, but I had no idea my subconscious would go to such lengths to convince me to take the job."

Jeff looked at her speculatively. "Do you want to go?"

Susan exploded. "At this point, I have no idea what I want, or what's going on!" She added, "You're a manifestation of the anxiety lurking at the back of my mind over Delenn's offer." Poking her finger into his chest, as if to confirm the solidity of his presence, she declared fiercely, "You're not my first hallucination tonight, you people are coming along every hour, and I'm getting tired of it!"

Jeff threw back his head and laughed. "I'm no hallucination, Susan. I'm not a figment of your imagination, or a result of indigestion either!" He removed his arm from her shoulder and looked seriously into her eyes. "This is important. Both for the Rangers, and for you."

Susan turned away from him. "This is no way to go about persuading me."

"Is there a good way to persuade you?" asked Jeff. "It's your decision. A river forced into a new path never flows as freely. "

Susan closed her eyes. "Spare me the cryptic words, Jeff. Tell me what to do."

"No," replied Jeff with a warm smile. "You'll do what's right. You always have."

"You said you had something to tell me," persisted Susan. She turned back to him and added plaintively, "Do you have to go back?"

"Back to the past from whence I came," Jeff said with a twinkle in his eye. "Or perhaps back to the future? That's the thing I had to tell you. Remember this: you have to create the future. If you don't, others will create it for you."

Susan closed her eyes and sighed heavily. "We tried that before, all of us. We created something. I'm just not sure it was worth the price."

"Oh, it was," replied Jeff. "Deep in your heart, you think so. Sheridan thought so. Delenn still thinks so, even after everything that's happened." He rubbed the back of his neck. "She needs your help now."

"I know," said Susan. She smiled crookedly at Jeff. "I was going to take the job. I just wanted to think about it a little before saying yes."

"Holding out for more money?" asked Jeff, grinning. "I warn you, the benefits are worse than EarthForce."

"I want a corner office," said Susan firmly. "With a view."

"You'll have to work that out with Delenn," said Jeff. "But I imagine it can be arranged." He gestured towards the bed. "Go back to sleep. You need your rest." He turned back towards the window. "I'll wait here a while. I want to watch the snow."

Susan leaned against him a moment, drinking in his scent and warmth. "All right," she said, barely concealing a yawn. "You'll be gone when I wake up, won't you?"

"Yes," he replied, watching her climb back into the bed and pull up the bedclothes. "But part of me will always be with you."

The morning light was bright and suffused with white reflections from snowdrifts down below. Newfallen snow coated the streets and buildings outside her window. Susan went to the window, and leaned her forehead against the chill glass. It had been quite a night, and it felt like she was nursing the worst hangover ever. The chimes of her com unit sounded, and she pulled her robe closed and went to the screen. The carefully neutral female voice announced an incoming communication from Minbar. Susan accepted the call, knowing who it was.

"Susan?" came the calm query. "I am sorry to call so early. It is difficult to find a time that is appropriate on both our worlds."

Susan almost groaned. As she'd suspected, the call was from Delenn, and she could already guess what it was about. "Hey," she said. "How are you holding up?" To her eyes, the Minbari woman looked pale and exhausted.

"I am fine," replied Delenn. "I know I promised not to hound you about the position...though why you used a reference to a canine companion animal I do not understand...but a situation has arisen here." She went on, an unusual hesitancy in her voice. "The Grey Council has put forth a candidate, a member of the Warrior caste. And the other members of the Alliance feel there should be some sort of open competition or election by majority vote. I have told them that John and I had already decided on his replacement..." Here Delenn's voice faltered to a stop.

"I know," said Susan gently. "No one can replace him." She smiled at her friend's drawn and anxious face. "But I'll do my best."

Relief shone in Delenn's eyes. "I will let them know the position has been filled."

Susan smiled. "It'll take me a while to close things out here, but I'll be there as soon as I can."

Delenn bowed her head slightly, "This makes me very happy, Susan. It is a great gift you offer, your time and your talent." A smile broke over her face as bright as the sunrise now flaring through Susan's window. "But I think your friendship is the greatest gift of all."

"Well," Susan started to reply, pausing as the church bells began to ring in the Old Town. The pulsing reverberations conveniently concealed the tremble in her voice. As the peals slowed and stopped, she cleared her throat and finished, "It is, after all, the season of giving." Shaking her head at Delenn, she said, "This won't be easy, you know. The Alliance may not accept my nomination and the Grey Council will certainly kick up a fuss. I'll have to work with your mostly Minbari staff and my Adronato is rusty at best. EarthForce will make me sign hundreds of non-disclosure agreements..." She broke off as she observed Delenn's struggle to keep from laughing, and then began to smile herself. In between bursts of shared laughter, Susan managed to blurt out, "God help us!"

Delenn interjected, "The Universe favors this project, Susan. I believe we have...What is the expression? We have its blessing."

Thinking back to her night-time visitors, Susan added, her heart full of gratitude, "That goes for every one of us."