TITLE: All Love is Unrequited
AUTHOR: Sabine (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CATEGORY: B5, Lennier/Marcus
SPOILERS: Vaguely set during 3x19, "Shadow Dancing"
SUMMARY: "During the day, we all put on the face we think will do us the most good. But at certain point in your sleep, as you relax, your true face is revealed." -- Delenn, "Shadow Dancing"
DISCLAIMER: It's not news that JMS is god. Additionally, Bill Mumy and I have the same birthday.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Punk and Pene.
I don't often come to the Zocalo alone. Londo doesn't offer to buy me a drink. Commander Ivanova sits with Dr. Franklin and Mr. Garibaldi, they don't ask me to join them. Lyta Alexander has a particular affection for Martian gin, but even when she confesses to a three hundred credit bar tab, she doesn't suggest I try her favorite klepari mixer. I'm still at the bar when Marcus Cole comes in. He turns down Londo, laughs at Lyta, blows a kiss in Ivanova's direction but she doesn't see it. Marcus always drinks alone.
The White Star is back from Sector 83. It is the first night.
Delenn once told me I had an old man's soul. I fear she meant it as an affectionate jab -- I took it as a compliment. I'm centuries young, beside her. Eons ignorant. It's enough -- I've always said, and tonight, I insist, it's enough -- to be this close to her. It's enough, when she doubts herself, for me not to doubt. And so tonight, while she's out there watching Captain Sheridan sleep, I'll call on the faith I've always had in her, for I'm a simple man and she is infinitely wise. And in Valen's name, in the name of Dukhat, who loved her as much as I do, trusted her too, I will not doubt.
"She!" Marcus slides in beside me, slurring around too much bourbon. "She is the most magnificent woman I've ever had the privilege to be completely ignored by! Don't you agree?"
"I assume you mean Commander Ivanova?" I ask with a smile.
"Yes," he says, palms on the bar. "Commander Susan Ivanova. She who has driven a stake through my heart." He says that last part in Minbari.
"She is formidable," I reply, in Earth Standard. "I wish the two of you all the happiness."
Marcus scowls. "You don't know much about love, do you, Mr. Lennier."
These humans cheapen love. Even Marcus, fluent in Minbari, trained by Delenn herself, spits the word like it's something distasteful, like it's its own kind of violence. His kind of love doesn't translate, and though he can define it, he doesn't understand tik'bara. My feelings for Delenn are tik'bara, pure, higher. Marcus should be ashamed. I'm ashamed.
"Join me in one last drink," Marcus says. "Good for the lonely soul."
She's been up there six hours now. She'll be tired, her back will hurt from sitting too long in one place. She'll be distracted. She'll practice her speech for the council a thousand times in her head. She'll pray. Because there is only so long, I think, that you can look at someone's face before you entirely lose yourself in the fact that they're not looking back. Except -- years of adept training returns in Dukhat's own voice -- that is precisely her ambition.
I shake my head. "It's too late for me," I say. "Enjoy your drink, Marcus. I'm going to bed."
It's the second night of my life and Marcus Cole finds me again, outside the Minbari temple.
I tip my head to look at him. "Excuse me?"
"I said, come fight," he says. "I've reserved one of the martial arts courts. I need the practice, and you look like you could use a sound thrashing."
"If we were to spar in any of the five basic forms of Minbari inak'cha, I can assure you, we'd be quite evenly matched." I smile at him.
Marcus raises a bushy eyebrow, and again I'm intrigued by his face. All that hair, that thick mustache and the dark shocks hanging over his enormous ears. I still can't quite grasp how they hear with those ears against bone, even though I've studied human anatomy and I've seen maps of their complex auditory chambers. I wouldn't recognize sound if I didn't feel it vibrating in my sinuses, in the fleshy back of my throat. I wonder if the world sounds different, to Marcus. I wonder if I do.
Delenn's in meetings all day, and it's the second night. She'll go to Sheridan's quarters at twenty-two hundred. She'll be tired. She gets bone spurs when she sits too long, and her eyes aren't accustomed to darkness. It will make her sick, but she's chosen this path and she wants this man. It will make me sick, instead, for her. Marcus is right. I want to thrash something, soundly. I want to rail against his hairy human face, take out my aggression on this Anla'shok who knows nothing about love.
"Inak'cha it will be, then," he says.
I press my thumbs together and bow.
He's taking it easy on me and I don't want him to. I come at him from behind, the Ranvenn maneuver, go for his shoulders. He swipes at me, and he's not even breaking a sweat.
"Learned that my first year," he says, easily deflecting my parry and ducking under the return blow. "From an old Minbari named Jerome."
I swing the pike around, catch the end of his weapon just above his head. Drop into a crouch. "Jerome," I say, trying not to sound winded. "Doesn't sound very Minbari."
"No," Marcus agrees, wheeling around, catching me in the ribs before I can get back the defensive posture. "Come to think of it, that might not have been his real name. I frequently came to that class...less than sober."
Dalo'zha from a squatting position, he leaps into a spin-thrust but I intercept his pike midair and knock him toward the wall. "Y-you should have p-paid a little more attention, it would appear," I wheeze.
He steels himself, and I can tell he sees me as an adversary now. I'm glad. Knock. Knock. Parry. I'm breathless keeping up with him, but there's sweat on his brow now, sweat in his mustache too. Another spin-thrust. Pike claps against pike. Try to get a good stance, but he moves like a dancer and I don't have time to set a new focus.
He comes at me with a standard Tantos jab, switches mid-attack and knocks my knees out from under me. "I was much better later --" he says, hooking the end of my pike and flipping it out of my hands. I slide over and prop myself against the wall, breathing hard. "I paid attention second year," he says, and he catches my pike as it falls.
"I s-see why she ch-chose you," I say. "You are an excellent fighter."
Marcus crouches beside me on the padded floor. "Delenn is an excellent teacher," he says. "And now, it is customary for me to buy you a drink."
In the Zocalo. Again. Marcus brings two cocktails, wedge of citrus and two straws.
"I don't drink," I tell him.
I shake my head. "It's not considered appropriate for someone in my position."
"That's not why," he says. "I mean, that may be true, but it is certainly not why you don't drink, Mr. Lennier."
"Minbari cannot tolerate alcohol the way humans can," I say. He waves me quiet.
"I've heard you say that the world Delenn walks in is not the same as yours and mine. That in her world, we are better than we are." I nod, but he's still talking. "You claim that you're protecting her, trying to reinforce her belief in humanity. I don't think that's true."
"You may think what you please," I say. "Delenn is the chosen one. You and I are simply here to serve her."
"I think," Marcus says, chewing the end of a straw. "I think she's protecting you. You're so innocent, Lennier. You're the one who believes we're better than we are."
"I'd like to," I say.
"You have no idea!" Marcus says. "Delenn is so careful with you, everyone is so careful with you, so afraid you'll break when you find out what the universe is really about."
I feel sick. I want to leave, but he is a Ranger and I'm alone. So instead I say, "Perhaps."
"Drink your klepari sour. Live a little."
Now I stand up. "I think I should be getting to bed," I say. "Thank you for the inak'cha."
"You don't want to go," Marcus says. "You want to stay here, let me distract you. You want to scream, because you know she's up there watching Sheridan sleep, and you can't admit that it's killing you."
I inhale, refuse to speak until my breathing's steady. Words come anyway. "Of course it is!" I say, and I don't even care if people are watching. "But it's her destiny, and this is mine, and there's nothing to be gained by allowing myself to stray from that path!"
"You forget, Lennier," Marcus says, softly. "I've studied with Minbari. I know a thing or two about destiny. And I know a thing or two about Delenn. And about you."
I sit down again. "That may be true," I say, and my blood is still thrumming in my veins. "Do you care to enlighten me?"
Marcus pushes the drink closer to me. "I know how you feel about her. You told me, but I'd have known regardless. It's in everything you do. It's written across your face."
"Only for those with eyes to see it," I say, and I think of Delenn and want to press my face into her aching back.
"Have you ever been close to anyone?"
"Delenn," I say, without hesitation.
"And, here on the station? You know, friends?"
"I'm fine," I say. I pick up the drink and taste it, can feel the alcohol immediately. "I am close to the crew of the White Star. I spend time with the ambassadorial aides. I'm fond of Vir."
"You are utterly alone," Marcus says. A chill traces across my flesh.
"Why are you doing this, Marcus?"
Marcus drains his drink, swipes a hand across his mustache to wipe his mouth. "Delenn and Captain Sheridan will get married soon. He will be her confidant, her soulmate. And you, my friend, will be even more alone, if you don't take steps to change that."
"I am here. To serve Delenn," I say, but the words sound hollow for the first time, even to me. I feel like I'm lying and I'm not sure why. Marcus reaches over and takes a sip of my drink.
"You're so in love with her you can't see straight!" he says. "Just admit it."
"I've admitted it!" I say, and my fists make the table shake. "You of all people --"
"Yes, I know. But do you?"
I take another swallow of the drink. It's strong enough to make dark spots flash before my eyes. "I'd rather not discuss this anymore," I say, feeling my words slur. "You are not fit to talk about her. And you are not fit to talk about me."
He leans in, furry eyebrows arched. "I'm the only friend you've got, I'm afraid," he says.
He could be right. She's up there, Green sector, Sheridan's quarters. I know he has a suite because I've seen the internal map, but it occurs to me I've never been in there. And now it's a place Delenn goes, a place she'll continue to be, without me. And I'm out here, with this strange human Ranger who wants me to drink and talk.
"I've always known her destiny lay with another," I say. "I thought I was prepared for it."
"It's not the kind of thing you can prepare for," Marcus says. "I'll tell you, every time I see Susan lock eyes with a freighter captain or a diplomat from Earthdome I'm in knots. And there's no amount of Ranger training that can cure that."
"Would you want to?" I ask, and I genuinely want to know.
He shakes his head. "She gives me something to live for," he says. "She makes me want to be better than I am."
"I know what you mean," I say, and I do. "Without Delenn, I would be just another novice, serving the Religious Caste without notice. Still --"
"Tonight," he says, and he touches my hand.
"Yes. Tonight, I would give anything to have this taken from me. To not...ache in this way."
"Do you know why I came and found you tonight?" he asks.
I shrug. "I didn't believe you needed a reason."
Marcus smiles. "I've often watched you, Lennier. With her. The way you serve her, the way your eyes light up when she's speaking to the council. The pride you take in everything she does. She's so lucky to have you."
"I am the one fortunate to --" I say, but I break off with a laugh, because it's all been said. "Thank you," I say.
"If anyone ever looked at me the way you look at her -- " Marcus finishes my drink, rolls an ice cube on his tongue. "Let's just say, I wouldn't be watching Captain Sheridan sleep tonight."
"She's following --"
"-- her destiny," he says. "Her own path, yes. I got it the first time. And the second time. I just can't believe --"
I smile. "Let's not talk about Delenn anymore," I say.
"Agreed," Marcus says. "Let's talk about you."
I look at the table. Half a glass of alcohol is swimming in my cerebral cortex, making my stomach knot and my fingers tremble. It is hot in the Zocalo. "I'm not sure --" I begin, and then look up, meet his dark eyes. "I don't know who I am, without her. I am...not. Without her."
Marcus licks his lower lip. "You could be," he says. "Try."
Marcus has a small room in Brown 17. Little furniture, few decorations. His quarters are monastic, much like mine. He pours me a shot of something black; the bottle has a Centauri label. I drink it in one swallow.
"I am already intoxicated," I say. "I shouldn't be --"
He nods. "You should."
"Perhaps I should," I chuckle.
It's the second night of my life, and Marcus Cole is standing before me, unbuttoning his shirt. I am drunk and terrified.
"Everything in my whole life," he says, sitting down on the edge of the bed, beside me. "Has been painful. Everyone I've ever loved has left me. And you, Lennier --"
"Everything in my life has been about Delenn," I say. "There is nothing before her."
"Innocent," he says, reaching up, tracing a hand across my browbone.
"Responsible," I say. "Dutiful."
"Lonely," he says. I nod.
"Painful," he says. "So much loss."
"I don't know pain," I say, shrinking away a little, as he leans closer. Intoxicated.
"Good," he says. "The problem is, you don't know joy either."
I'm as close as I can get to the wall, and he's hovering over me. He smells like alcohol and human, the waxy smell of hair. "Teach me," I say. He slides his hand down my neck, across my shoulder, my chest, and I'm sick and trembling and I close my eyes.
"You have all this love to give," he says. "I've always --"
"I'll try," I say. "Marcus."
I've never done this before. I'm scared. It's small here, the bed abuts the corner of the room and the lights are out and I'm trapped in his wiry musculature. He's strangely smooth. I trace a hand across his midsection. I feel his muscles tense and let go. He breathes with a pop and smells like alcohol and human. I tense too.
"What's this?" I whisper, trailing a thumb along the rim of an indentation in his abdomen.
"Belly button," he says. I try the words too.
I know very little about human sex organs. It was left out of my training; it wasn't deemed necessary. Now I resent Delenn for denying me. Marcus is wearing short pants under his trousers, and I slide my hand up his hard thigh, feeling for something, anything. I don't know what I'm doing. I'm frightened. I'm sick and aroused and when I think of Delenn it's with a kind of serene distance, because this is Marcus and he is here and I am here, now.
"Do you want me to show you?" he asks. I nod a couple of times, unable to make words come.
"Yes," I manage. "If you wouldn't mind."
He slips in beside me, and my robes fall to the floor beside his uniform. He's looming above me, huge and kind and powerful and empowering.
There is such beauty in these human things.
On the third night, the second night, the first night after Marcus, Delenn takes me aside after the war council meeting.
She touches my hand in the corridor. She puts a palm on my chest and leans her forehead to mine, which is too tender a greeting for a night like this, but I can see the dark circles under her eyes. I tell her she's already tired. She tells me it's the last night, and she's seen his face.
"I am happy, Lennier," she says. I look at the floor.
"I am glad." I think of Marcus, of things I've done that Delenn will never know, must never know.
"These humans, they are fascinating creatures. So young. So good-hearted."
"I know," I say, and I do. And if I didn't understand her destiny before, with him, I understand it now. John Sheridan is a good man. He loves her as much as I do. These humans are good-hearted. He is good.
"Get some sleep, Lennier," she tells me.
"I'd give you the same advice," I say. "But."
She smiles. "Yes. But."
And I return to the Zocalo, where Marcus won't be because he's with Ivanova on the White Star. Which is fine, which is good.
I will drink water at the bar, and watch as Ivanova and Garibaldi exchange curses about Nightwatch. Perhaps Vir will come down. I'll buy him a drink. And then I'll go to sleep, because tomorrow is the first day after, and there's work to do, and I am here to serve Delenn.
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