Disclaimer: Babylon 5 and its characters don't belong to me. Again, JMS owns the usual suspects, Lorell and his crazy pals are mine.

"Never to Be Alone in the Dark" (6/?)
by Christine Anderson
aka Anla'shok Ivanova

Rumors of the private ceremony which had bound Sheridan and Delenn in marriage leaked out, despite everyone's best efforts to keep things quiet. The newlyweds, and Ivanova, who had known it would happen, had taken it in stride.

Ivanova and Marcus decided to take advantage of the fact that the news was spreading, and arranged to head back to Babylon 5 before any of the others. Ivanova had been debating pulling her new rank to aid them in this, but a carefully worded message had arrived from the captain of the Agamemnon, whom Ivanova had struck up a conversation with after Sheridan's wedding, offering the use of what turned out to be a small two-person patrol craft.

"I'm just sorry we can't join you for the party," the captain said as Ivanova chucked her bag through the patrol craft's hatch. "I'd love to see the expression on the Captain's face when-" He shook his head. "I always seem to think of him as the Captain."

Marcus and Ivanova both grinned at him. "So do we," said the Ranger. "We'll see if we can't send you a reaction vid, how's that?"

The Captain laughed. "Just don't get caught- he might have a few choice words to say."

"Long as we don't sell it to ISN, we'll probably survive the experience," Ivanova said. She turned to Marcus. "If we're going, and we want to have time to get set up before they get there, we should go now."

"Yes, Captain." Marcus gave her a jaunty salute, and stepped through the hatch.

Ivanova shook her head, then held out her hand to the Agamemnon's captain. "Thanks again. I'm pretty sure this is going to get you into some kind of trouble, and if there's any way I can ever repay the favor-"

"You're welcome, Captain." He saluted her, then smiled. "I'll remember you said that- who knows when having the commander of B5 owe you a favor might come in handy?"

"Can't keep a secret around here, can you?" Ivanova muttered. She returned the captain's salute before following Marcus into the craft.

"I assumed," the Ranger said from the copilot's chair, "that you intend to fly yourself."

"You're damned right," Ivanova said with a grin. "Always wanted to try my hand at one of these."

"Bloody..."

Ivanova laughed as she ran her hands over the small ship's controls. "How about giving Lorell's ship a call? We can manage this without Garibaldi-"

" 'Course we can," Marcus said. "We're not so bad at plotting things ourselves, you and I."

She smiled. "-But it wouldn't hurt to have him on hand, either."

"Right," Marcus said, getting to work on the panel before him. He sent a message to White Star 13, and had received a reply from Lorell by the time Ivanova had got clearance to depart from the Agamemnon and began the patrol ship's flight out of the docking bay.

"He says," Marcus reported, "that they'll race us back."

"That didn't take long," Ivanova said, giving the craft's jump engines a little tap. The lightest touch on the controls sent the ship into hyperspace, and she smiled. "I think the station needs one of these..."

Marcus rolled his eyes, but otherwise ignored that. "Lorell says that it was, and I quote, the most fun they'd had since the Shadow War."

"Your friends have a strange definition of 'fun'," Ivanova replied.

"As if you don't?"

"True..." She paused. "Marcus? I've been meaning to ask you about this, and I guess now's as good a time as any."

"Yes?" he asked, entirely serious now.

"Back on the White Star, I had this dream. I saw a crystal city, and there were... images..."

"I know," Marcus said. "I was there. The city was Tuzanor, where I did most of my Ranger training. And the things we saw, that Jeff showed to us..."

"I get the feeling he's not supposed to be doing this stuff," Ivanova said. "Of course, he always did do whatever he felt was right, and to hell with anybody who thought they knew better."

Marcus smiled, but the smile faded quickly away. "He showed us what could have been."

"What almost was," Ivanova said. "I remember..."

But suddenly she didn't. She didn't remember standing at the door between life and death, or the words she and Jeffrey Sinclair had spoken. She remembered only the choices, the decisions she had made which seemed at last to be the right ones, recalled Sinclair's words to them in the White Star's chapel, and later in the dream, but that was all. Never in all the days of her life would she remember the moments of her own death, for it had not happened, and never would she remember the ways in which Jeffrey Sinclair had helped her in those last moments.

Ivanova shook her head. "I remember... some very good advice an old friend gave me."

"And getting one or two swift kicks somewhere uncomfortable when you weren't quite wise enough to heed said advice?" Marcus asked.

"That, too." Ivanova sighed. "I'm really going to miss him."

"We'll see him again," the Ranger replied. "He said so, after all. And while Entil'Zha has never been known for giving anyone a straight answer, he was a Ranger, and we-"

"Never bluff, I know." Ivanova rolled her eyes. "You have strange definitions of 'truth' sometimes, though."

"We keep the secrets we have to, Susan. Just as we all did. We will see him again, but not for a long time. In the meantime... We still have things we need to do."

"I think," Ivanova said quietly, "that I know what one of those things is. Will you go to Tuzanor with me?"

"Now?" Marcus asked, eyebrows arched in surprise.

"Not now, but soon. I have the beginnings of an idea-"

"God help us all..."

Ivanova raised one hand from the ship's controls to swat at him, turning away so he wouldn't see her smile. "Anyway, I just need to take care of a few things at the station, and then we can go. Assuming, of course, that you're planning on coming with me."

"Of course I'm coming with you, Susan, don't be silly."

She nodded. "Good. There's just one more thing."

"And what's that?"

"I need to know if you plan on staying aboard B5 as station Ranger, or if I need to find someone else."

"You," Marcus said, "will never need to find anyone else. Wherever you are, Susan, that's where I'll be. Babylon 5, Earth, Minbar- Mars or Z'ha'dum or light-years beyond the Rim, it doesn't matter. I'll be there."

Ivanova smiled, and gave her readouts a quick check before turning in her chair and leaning over to kiss him.

"Good," she said as she drew away. "That's settled, then."

Marcus blushed faintly. "I guess so. But- Are you certain the station can fend for itself while we're away? I'd really hate to come back and find the place in pieces. I've gotten rather used to it as is, you know."

"I think they'll manage without us," Ivanova said. "But I guess we'll find out, won't we?"

Marcus buried his head in his hands. "In Valen's name..." He raised his head and glanced over at her. "You're not planning on leaving Corwin in charge, are you?" She didn't answer. "Susan? Are you?"

Ivanova shook her head. "Of course not. Trust me, Marcus. I know what I'm doing."

"I hope so-" he said, or started to, anyway, but just then one of her boots inched its way towards his foot, and Marcus paused quickly to reconsider. "I mean, of course you do, darling. I have absolute faith in you."

Ivanova smiled. "Much better."

The ship's proximity alarm began to sound softly, and she turned back to the controls. "Well, be it ever so humble, there's no place like home."

"Almost there?" Marcus asked.

"Nearly to the jump gate now."

Ivanova moved the ship through the jump gate and back to normal space. They had been there less than thirty seconds when the comm began to chime, and Ivanova nodded to herself.

"Corwin may know what he's doing after all," she said.

"Maybe," Marcus replied. "Are you going to get that?"

Ivanova flipped a switch on her board, and the voice of Babylon 5's Lieutenant David Corwin came through the speakers. "Unidentified EarthForce craft, this is Babylon control."

"This is EarthForce patrol craft-" She paused to glance at the ship's ID numbers "-984-X requesting docking clearance." It was only after she'd spoken that Ivanova found the controls for the video feed, and, shrugging, she turned them on.

"Of course-" Corwin's voice cut off suddenly as her image appeared on his screen. "Commander- no, make that Captain Ivanova. Congratulations, ma'am."

"Thanks," Ivanova said. "I assume we can move to the head of the line?"

"We-?" Corwin asked. Marcus leaned into the video pickup's range and waved. "Yes, of course, Comm- Captain, sorry."

"Thanks, Lieutenant," Ivanova said. She was already in the process of maneuvering the patrol craft to dock with the station. "Meet me when we dock, and tell the others to get set."

"Yes, ma'am," Corwin said. "How long-?"

"Don't know," she told him. "But the first White Star you see in the next few hours will probably have Garibaldi and some friends aboard, so don't panic."

"Right, thanks," Corwin said. "I'm on my way now."

"Alright," Ivanova said. "And, Corwin? Better bring the rice with you."

"I'm sorry, Captain?"

She sighed, and Marcus stifled a laugh. "Rice, Corwin. Rice."

"I think," Marcus said after she had cut the connection, "that this could be almost as much fun as that little bash we threw after we won the Shadow War."

Ivanova shuddered. "I sure as hell hope not. Did you see the mess we ended up having to clean up?"

Marcus grinned. "That's the beauty of your new job title, Captain Ivanova. You don't have to so much as organize the clean-up team anymore. All you have to do is tell your second to deal with it." He paused. "Speaking of which...?"

"Later," she said, grabbing her bag. "Come on."

They made their way slowly out of the craft, and as Ivanova swung herself down to the deck, she spotted Corwin. The lieutenant was eyeing the patrol craft admiringly, and as she watched, he reached out to run a hand over the ship's hull.

"Nice," he said to himself. "Very nice." Corwin saluted Ivanova. "Captain."

She nodded. "Lieutenant. Like the station's new toy?"

Corwin gaped at her. "You mean-?" He cut himself off as he noticed at last the 'EAS Agamemnon' lettered below the serial number.

"Sorry to disappoint you," Ivanova said. "I kind of like it, myself," she added, reaching back to give Marcus a hand. "Coming, Marcus?"

"Eventually," he said.

Corwin did his best to hide his surprise at the sight of the two of them, but his best wasn't very good, and it was clear that he hadn't expected to see them in such sorry shape. "Ah, Captain...?"

She waved him off. "Don't ask. It's been a really long day."

"I guess so," Corwin said. "We've been hearing some strange rumors off of ISN."

"The really odd ones are true," Marcus said. "So... no rice?"

"It's not the kind of thing the Zocalo merchants usually stock," Corwin said as the three of them began to walk, slowly, away from the ship and into the station proper. "But, Chief Allen is getting in touch with some of Mister Garibaldi's contacts..."

Ivanova nodded. "Garibaldi's friends can find just about anything," she said.

"Particularly if it's edible," Marcus agreed. "Alright, so that's taken care of, what next?"

"Depends," Ivanova said. "Lieutenant, are the vultures circling yet?"

He laughed. "Just about, ma'am. ISN and most of the other major networks have sent at least one crew. They're congregating in the Zocalo, getting in everybody's way."

"What, you don't want to go out and say hello?" Marcus asked.

She swung one of her crutches at him, and he sidestepped it with practiced ease. "That'd be a 'no', just to clarify," she said. Ivanova turned to Corwin. "So," she said, "what've I missed around here?"

Corwin laughed a bit. "Well, not much, really. Things have been pretty quiet, except for the usual. We almost had a riot when half the station tried to get at the public viewers to find out the latest, but Security took care of that. They had some help, too. Oh, right," he said suddenly, as if he'd just thought of something. "That was the other thing. There are quite a few Rangers on station."

Marcus was nodding as Corwin spoke. "Of course. I'd wondered where the rest of them had gotten off to. Don't suppose Delenn and the others wanted to scare the living daylights out of your government by having the whole Ranger fleet show up on their doorstep... Probably drew straws to see who was going to Earth and who was coming here."

"Some of them have been asking about you, sir," Corwin said. Marcus's expression was first confused, then startled; Ivanova realized that it must have taken Marcus several moments to grasp the fact that the lieutenant's 'sir' was directed at him.

"Where are they now?" Marcus asked, once he'd gotten over the shock.

"War room," said Corwin. "They've sort of taken over. I tried to stop them, but-"

"Bad idea," Ivanova cut him off. "Never get in a Ranger's way, Corwin." She slung her bag over her shoulder and glanced at Marcus. "Coming?"

"Where?" he asked.

"I thought we'd go say hello to your friends, and see what sort of surprises they've cooked up for John and Delenn." She smiled, nodded at Corwin, and the two of them walked away.

* * *

David Corwin looked after them for a long moment, shaking his head. Something was different about the Commander- no, he corrected himself again, the Captain- something he couldn't put a name to. Whatever it was, though, it was no minor thing.

He shook his head as he watched Ivanova and Marcus; the dark-haired man said something to the Captain, and chestnut locks danced as she threw back her head with laughter.

Corwin remembered, quite suddenly, the roses he had once given her, and understood at once, in that moment, that it was hopeless. That it probably always had been.

Strangely, the thought didn't upset him, didn't make him angry or even the least bit jealous. He felt relieved, almost. Corwin had been younger, and had seen less, when he had brought her those flowers, and he hadn't understood...

The lieutenant laughed quietly. Well, for one thing, he hadn't understood what he was up against. Even when compared to all the other Rangers Corwin had seen coming through Babylon 5, Marcus Cole was different, unique. He stood above the rest of them, almost as if he were of some other place, of some other time. Hadn't he known, so easily, how to manage the man who'd come aboard several years ago, the one who'd claimed he was King Arthur?

Corwin shook his head. No, he certainly couldn't have stood a chance against someone like that.

And for the sake of his sanity, it was probably just as well.

* * *

In the hours that followed, most of the old crowd made their way back to Babylon 5. Marcus's friend Lorell had arrived as well, with Lyta Alexander and Dr. Franklin in tow, but without Garibaldi. When questioned about this, Lorell explained that Garibaldi and Lise Hampton Edgars had wanted a little time alone after she had been rescued. The others had nodded sagely at this.

Ivanova and Lorell took to one another immediately, and kept each other company when Franklin at last caught up with Marcus, who found himself, despite his protests, being dragged off for a thorough examination, and probably a bit of a lecture along with it. While he was gone, Lorell told Ivanova stories about their time together as Ranger trainees, stories that were probably more fiction than fact; far-fetched at their best, but amusing. The good-natured Minbari seemed to have an endless supply of them, which he was more than willing to share as they worked at setting things up for Sheridan and Delenn's return.

Large groups of Lorell's Rangers went out into the Zocalo, making a great deal of noise and having, by the expressions they wore upon their return, quite a lot of fun distracting the ISN people. The leader of most of these expeditions was a woman named Cordelia Brighton, Lorell's first officer. In between decoy missions, she added her own bits and pieces to Lorell's running commentary. Cordelia, it turned out, had come up through the Ranger ranks at about the same time as Marcus and the others. Ivanova found she wasn't very pleased by this revelation, and was not particularly amused by the raven-haired woman's anecdotes. Until, that is, Cordelia had let slip, with a sad smile and a shake of her head, which of the Cole brothers she had developed an interest in.

The two of them kneeled on the floor, laying out decorations which the others would occasionally carry away and hang or drape about the room, and Cordelia, seeming to wilt under Ivanova's harsh gaze, kept her eyes on her work for several long moments before she gathered herself enough to speak.

"I loved William. Never Marcus," Cordelia said quietly. She unwound a roll of streamers as she spoke, her hands shaking. "And William was fond of me, though we never had a chance to see where that might have gone. I didn't even meet Marcus until after Will's death, and, well- Oh, go away, Lorell, this is girl talk-" Lorell laughed and wandered off with another roll of streamers, and Cordelia let him get out of earshot before she said anything else. "The other female Rangers took notice of him right away, of course. It was hard not to notice someone like Marcus. He was so angry at first, and then he wasn't much of anything at all, just closed down, closed off, cold.

"Of course the others all thought they could bring him out of it if he'd just let them close enough, but he never did. Eventually they realized that he was looking for something, and that it wasn't one of us. I often thought that if Marcus ever fell for anyone- really, seriously fell for anyone- she'd have to be just as different, shining just as bright, burning just as dark, and as alone in a crowd of her peers as Marcus ever was with us. I wondered sometimes, what that woman would be like. And then I walked off that White Star today with Lorell, and I saw the way Marcus looked at you when he introduced you to us, and I knew. He loves you, Captain Ivanova, and I'm really, really glad that he does."

"I know," Ivanova said. Then, "Me, too."

Cordelia grinned. "Anyway," she said, "I thought you might like to know that you don't have any reason to be jealous of any of us. And you won't, ever. Rangers are strange, but those of us who survived the Shadows are family..."

She trailed off, her expression a bit questioning, but Ivanova was nodding. "I know just what you mean," she said. "I'd go to hell and back again for anyone I fought the Shadows with. John, Delenn, Stephen, Michael, Sinclair...Marcus. Others too, but mostly them. The things we went through together..." Ivanova shook her head, unable to explain it.

"Yeah," said Cordelia. "And you- You all understand where each of you fits in, don't you?"

"Yes," Ivanova said. "We do."

"You know who's fallen in love with who, who's never going to look at any of you that way, and who's free to be set up on blind dates with old school friends, or, you know, whatever," Cordelia went on. "I'm guessing that last is usually Dr. Franklin."

"It used to be," Ivanova told her, "but these days I'm not so sure."

"Well," Cordelia said, "I'd say your days of trying to set up your Mister Garibaldi are pretty much over."

"I think the last of us to try that was Sinclair," Ivanova said. "Catherine Sakai had a cousin..." She trailed off.

"You knew them pretty well, then?"

Ivanova thought about that for a moment. Remembering Jeff, remembering Catherine, and just how much she really owed them. Thank you, she thought, even though she knew there was probably no way they could have heard her. "Maybe not any better than you did, just...differently. But yeah, Jeff and I, at least, were pretty close. Getting this place-" She gestured with her braced arm "-up and running, trying to work all the bugs out- not to mention wondering if we'd all be blown up tomorrow, or if the place was going to vanish... Well, either you get it together or you don't, you know? Some of the others were less than enthusiastic about being here, but we had a job to do, and both of us believed in this place."

"It was different," Cordelia said. "He was your friend. To us, he was the Entil'Zha. We respected him, loved him even, but I don't know how many of us really knew him. He... He always seemed to know things we didn't, things he couldn't share. I think a lot of us wanted to help, would have if he asked-"

"I know," said Ivanova. "So did he. That's why he didn't ask."

"Figures," Cordelia said with a smile. "I wonder sometimes, what ever happened to him. I don't know if you ever heard- Entil'Zha, Marcus, and Catherine were on a mission, and somehow they lost Catherine. He'd never talk about it, but he wasn't the same after. Not that you'd expect him to be, of course, but..." She shrugged. "I've wondered ever since. It's so mysterious- He was never reported dead, hasn't been seen alive again, just vanished one day. He packed, you know- like he knew he was leaving."

Ivanova shrugged, as if she hadn't a clue either, and found the whole thing just as mysterious. "I wish I knew," she said. "I miss him."

The conversation struck her as being on pretty dangerous ground, and she sought about quickly for a way to change the subject. Ivanova knew from her experience with Marcus that Rangers were quite sharp, able to put a small number of facts together into an amazingly detailed picture of events, and the last thing she wanted was to give Cordelia the one clue she needed to piece together the truth.

"Listen, Cordelia," Ivanova said quietly, a little embarrassed. "Thanks. For what you said before, about Marcus. I didn't really mean-"

"I think you did," Cordelia replied, "but I understand. Marcus is special, and..." The other woman shook her head. "Well, let's just say I've been there. I challenged another woman once, a Ranger trainee who'd been making eyes at Will. Only did it after she asked him for a bit of private tutoring, though. She could've used it, I guess- wasn't really that good- but Will wouldn't have been the best person to try and help her."

"Oh?" Ivanova asked.

"Yes. Oh. Turval, our teacher, was not exactly pleased with me," Cordelia said.

"I'll say," Marcus's voice called from the doorway. He walked slowly over to join them, but Ivanova noticed he seemed to be moving better than he had been before. "As I recall, he got between the two of you, took you both on single-handedly- bested you in about five minutes, I think-"

"Six," Cordelia corrected. "I lasted six."

"Right," Marcus said, as if he'd heard this protest before and didn't quite believe it. "Anyway, she and that other one were on the ground, bruised, bloody, dirty, and there's Sech Turval, not a scratch, hadn't even broken a sweat..."

"I have never," said Cordelia, "been so humiliated."

"That was the idea," Marcus said. "Of course, he didn't stop there. He picked them up, one with each hand, and dragged them both to Durhan, the old pike master. I don't know what went on afterward, but they had the worst of the chores for months, had to do them together, and I never saw either raise her pike against another Ranger in anger again."

"Durhan made his point," Cordelia said, "but I'd made mine, too, and she didn't spend much time staring at William after that, did she?"

"No," Marcus said with a laugh. "She certainly didn't." He smiled down at Susan. "Hello there."

"Hello yourself," she said. "You're in a good mood."

"Of course I am. Not only have I been blessed with a dose of Stephen's best painkillers, but I have just seen a vision more beautiful than any other-"

Laughing, Ivanova chucked a roll of streamers at him. "Marcus, please- not in front of the Rangers!"

He grinned again. Lorell chased down the streamers, which were merrily unrolling themselves along the deck. "Anyway, didn't mean to take so long, but you know Stephen. Had to make sure I wasn't going to keel over, and lecture me about straining myself while he was at it. Of course, once he finally gave that a rest, he did agree with you about one thing."

"And what's that?" she asked.

"That whatever is wrong with my mind, it happened long before today."

Ivanova wasn't the only one who laughed this time; Cordelia and Lorell joined her.

"You needed a doctor to tell you that?" Lorell asked.

"You needed Stephen to tell you I'm right?" Ivanova asked. "I'm always right."

"Except when you're left, of course." Marcus sidestepped the swing of Ivanova's crutches with practiced ease. "By the way, Stephen says you're next. I'll walk you, if you'd like."

"I would," Ivanova said. She reached for her crutches, but Marcus held out his hand. She looked at it for a moment. "Are Stephen's painkillers really that good?"

"They are." Marcus smiled again. "Besides, I'm not the one with the broken ankle, am I?"

"Point," she said, and took his hand. "Shouldn't have been sitting like that, anyway. Thanks, Marcus."

As Marcus helped Ivanova to her feet, Cordelia lifted the crutches from where they had been set aside on the floor, and held them where the other woman could get at them. Ivanova turned to her as she settled herself on the crutches once again. "You, too- Thanks. It was really nice meeting you."

"Likewise, Captain. I'm glad we could talk-"

"And that you straightened me out before one of us got hurt?" Ivanova asked with a wry smile.

Cordelia smiled. "Yeah. That, too. See you guys at the party?"

"Wouldn't miss it," Ivanova said. "If there's anything else you need, and Corwin gives you any trouble about it, I'll take care of it."

"Yes, and as he's a bit thick, you may have to use force," Marcus said. "Careful you don't sprain your other wrist."

Ivanova rolled her eyes. "We'll be back," she said, waving her braced arm at Lorell, Cordelia, and the others.

She and Marcus stepped out into the corridor. He had not let go of her hand, and gave it a quick squeeze when she looked at him.

"Susan?" He drew her aside, out of the traffic pattern. "You aren't- I hadn't thought... You'll be in command of this place in a few days, and if you'd rather they didn't see-"

Marcus made as if to let go of her hand, but Ivanova wound her fingers tightly about his. "What?" she asked softly. "That I'm human? Hell with it, Marcus. I've lived behind too many walls for too long."

He smiled, and she knew then that she had said the right thing, that anything else would probably have hurt him deeply. "If you're sure you don't mind being seen with me..."

"Why would I?" Ivanova asked matter-of-factly.

"You used to wonder where I fit in here."

"Yeah, I did. But I know where you fit in now- where you belong."

"And where's that?"

"Here. Right here." She smiled. "And I dare them- I really, honestly dare them- to say anything about it."

Marcus laughed. "I can see that staying by your side is never going to be boring, Susan. But of course, I already knew that." He bowed over her hand and kissed it, and Ivanova realized she was blushing only as she felt the heat creeping up her face.

"Right," she said. "Come on. If I put this off much longer, Stephen's going to decide he has to come looking for me, and I really don't want to hear about it."

"Can't say as I blame you,' Marcus said. "He does good work, but he is a bit of a pest sometimes."

"No kidding," Ivanova said. "Let's go, huh?"

"As my lady wishes."

She rolled her eyes again, but he had probably figured out by now that she wasn't always nearly as annoyed as she pretended to be. If it had really bothered her, she'd have made that clear in no uncertain terms.

"So," Marcus said as they stepped into the lift. "Enjoy your chat with Cordelia?"

"After I figured out the interpersonal relationships, yes."

"I can't believe it- You were jealous, Susan! Jealous. Of Cordelia?"

"I don't share well," she said. Marcus laughed. "Besides, you were jealous of John, weren't you?"

"Point," he conceded. "It just seems a bit odd, that's all. But you seemed to get on alright, after all."

"She told me a few very interesting stories," Ivanova said. "Some of which sounded almost plausible. Lorell's, on the other hand-"

"Oh, God," said Marcus. "Lorell. I left you alone with Lorell. A better friend you couldn't find, nor a better one to have standing at your back. But he's a bit attached to the sound of his own voice, and he does like to spin a tale."

"He was- entertaining," Ivanova said, "even if I know at least two thirds of what he told me has to be absolute crap. I got the impression he was trying to decide if he approved of me or not."

"He does," Marcus said. "I figured, with your sense of humor, the two of you would get along. But if he's been telling you that charming drivel of his, he must like you. We are the few singularly blessed."

Ivanova laughed. "It's strange, though," she said, quietly, seriously. "I never thought you had many close friends even among the Rangers."

"I don't, really," he said. "Lorell, and in a way Cordelia. We aren't close, but William's memory connects us. Used to be more, once upon a time, but-" Marcus shrugged. "Fortunes of war. You know how it is." Marcus smiled suddenly. "There's one other I'd love to introduce you to, when we go to Tuzanor; Turval. He was Sinclair's right hand, taught us approximately half of what we know. Old warhorse, really twisted sense of humor- I think you'd like him. Though if you get on as well with him as you did with Lorell..." Marcus shook his head. "Wouldn't surprise me if you did. You alone frighten people, you know-"

"I do?" she asked with feigned innocence.

"But you and Turval, in the same city? Tuzanor may never be the same."

"I think the damage may have already been done," Ivanova shot back. "How long were you there, again?"

"Touché!" He laughed. "I should know better than to think you'll let me have the last word."

"Oh, you can have it, if you ask nicely." Balancing carefully on her crutches, she leaned forward and kissed him once, gentle and quick.

"Mmm," Marcus said thoughtfully. "I'll keep that in mind."