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RESPECT
By: Lori Schadler

Disclaimer: This is a continuing series based on the characterizations created by J. Michael Strazynski. The intention is purely to further the interest in Babylon 5 and its characters, not to infringe on the rights of Mr. Strazynski or Babylonian Productions. The characters belong to them, the story is mine.

The Torch Carrying Series is rated: PG13

Susan Ivanova was lost in thought as her shuttle made its way into Minbari airspace. She had just completed a whirlwind excursion to Earth - taking Neroon's advice and tying up loose ends before making Tuzanor her permanent home. Not that there was much left to do there - the only loved one she really wanted to see was her beloved home in Leningrad. It was easily the thing she would miss most. Compared to the sterile environment of Minbar, her home was warm and comforting, and had been a part of her life for far longer than any individual. So, instead of good -bye, she said -- farewell, and closed up her ancestral home temporarily.

Unable to find the time to stop off on Mars, she did make sure to put a call into the Garibaldi's. Mary had done the unthinkable, at least as far as Garibaldi was concerned. She had joined the Rangers. The girl was elated as she twirled in front of the viewscreen, showing off her new trainee cloak for Susan, while Michael rebuked her. "She went and enlisted, and its all your fault you know."

She knew. And, for the first time, it didn't please her. The recent terrorist activity aimed at Ranger trainees was not public knowledge, and she didn't plan on worrying her friend unless it was absolutely necessary. Instead, Ivanova arranged to have Mary transfered to Tuzanor for her training. Thereby insuring she would be well looked after. Michael breathed a sign of relief at that news. "At least she'll be with you. I'm counting on you to take care of her for me."

Ivanova swore that she would, and she meant it. As Ranger One it was her duty, but her affection for Mary Garibaldi went far beyond her professional obligations. Her first order of business would be to nip this militant action in the bud. She wasn't about to let her régime as Ranger One begin with bloodshed.

But now, as her shuttle neared Tuzanor, she allowed herself some personal thoughts. Those that encompassed the other Rangers she held special affections for - namely the Cole brothers. It had been four days since she had agreed to take the position, and four days since she last saw Marcus. Would he be there when she arrived? Would he be joining her as her advisor, as she had asked? And if he did, what did that mean?

A flurry of feelings did cartwheels in her stomach. A sensation she had very little experience with - Butterflies! What are you so nervous about? You know you want him. Just give in to it. But does he want you? Time isn't exactly a friend of yours Ivanova. Besides, he deserves someone young and energetic who can help him make the most of of the rest of his life. But for now, that life would include her - at least in the capacity of her responsibility as Ranger One.

Her shuttle began docking procedures and she felt the butterflies begin to increase their activity in her abdomen. This was a big day, Marcus Cole or not - she would be installed as Ranger One this afternoon. It was the first day of her new life. And one thing was for certain -- she was too damn old for butterflies!

x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-

As Ivanova stepped into the customs area, he heart sank just a bit. Not one friendly face. No Marcus, no Delenn. No one had come to welcome her back to her new home. Buck up Ivanova - come tomorrow you won't be able to breath for lack of lackeys!

But no sooner had she become resigned to making the trek back to her house alone, than a young Minbari female came bounding up to greet her. "General! I'm so sorry. Your shuttle was early. May I take this for you?" The small (she was 4'9" if she was a foot!) Minbari aide reached for her duffel.

"Thank you, no. I'm fine --?" She trailed off, asking the female to identify herself.

"Oh! I'm Pennar. I'll be attending you throughout the day. Anything you need -- please just let me know!" Pennar oozed exuberance.

Susan suppressed a laugh. She had never encountered a Minbari with such enthusiasm. No, on second thought - she had never encountered a Minbari with even a fraction of this girl's energy. "There's no need really. I can carry my own bag, and I can certainly dress by myself."

Pennar was shocked at the very idea. "Oh no! This is the most important day of your life! You must be attended at all times. It is imperative. Come, we're going to be off to a late start!"

Again, Susan found herself concealing a smile. This girl had no fear! She was practically telling her superior to get off her butt and get moving. She was priceless, and very refreshing. She liked Pennar and decided, then and there, that she would ask that she be placed as her permanent aide.

x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x

As they arrived at Susan's new permanent home on Tuzanor, Pennar took a step back and admired the facade. "Its so wonderful isn't it? My mother often brought me here when I was a child."

Susan looked at her, puzzled. "What's so wonderful? Its exactly like all the others."

"You must be joking!" The aide was in a state of shock. "This is the home of the great Valen." And she bowed as she uttered his name. And the few who have resided here since, have done so with much honor."

"Jeff's house," Susan said quietly.

The Minbari shook her head, bewildered. "No, Valen. Certainly, General Ivanova is familiar with Valen."

"Yes. I'm sorry. I meant that -- this had been Entil'Zha Sinclair's home." Susan reflected on Jeff for a moment. "He was a friend of mine."

Pennar was amazed. "A friend! How fascinating. And now you will live in his house, the home of the great Valen. What a blessing."

"Yes." Funny, in retrospect Ivanova realized they had put her there, knowing somehow -- all along that she would be the next Entil'Zha. She'd chew on that a little more later, as well as a number of other mysteries that were building; like how Marcus referred to her as Geroinya when he first woke. For now, she needed just a little time to gather her thoughts before the onslaught. "Pennar. I know you wish to be useful to me today. Can I ask-- will you please give me just an hour before we start preparing? I need some time."

She shook her head knowingly. "Meditation. It is a very wise idea, you have much to reflect on before your installment. I'll return in one hour."

Susan had to laugh. Meditation, wasn't exactly in her repertoire. "Thank you."

x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x

This time, as Ivanova entered her new home, she did so with the visions of Jeff Sinclair and Valen in her mind. One, her good friend. The other, one in the same, yet significantly more important to millions. It was a great deal to digest. But the house, of course, was exactly the same as it had been before she knew its history. Almost.

Instantly, as she crossed the threshold, Susan knew something was different. The scent of hundreds of synthetic roses flooded her senses. Every room seemed to be filled with the blossoms. Every color, shape and size imaginable.

"Marcus," she breathed his name in a whisper. Knowing it could be no other. The fluttering in her stomach commenced again, as she uttered a bit louder. "Marcus?" Wondering, if he could possibly still be lingering about. Disappointed. There was no response.

Susan absently picked up a red rose and inhaled its perfume. The action made her remember a time, very long ago, when she had received a bunch of roses from a certain Ranger on Babylon 5. How cruel she had been! Throwing the bouquet at him, refusing his sweet gesture. Why had she been such a hardass? If you had only accepted them for what they were, and him in the process. Things could have been very different.

She was so lost in that thought that she didn't hear Marcus Cole enter from the adjacent room. "I hope you approve."

"Marcus!" His voice had startled her. "I called out. No one answered. I didn't know you were here." Then, remembering his incredible gesture. "They are beautiful. Thank you."

"I thought I'd remembered something about you - and roses." He scratched his head in jest. "You do like them, don't you?"

She smiled, a little embarrassed. "I'm surprised you risked it. Considering the reception you got the last time you tried it."

Confused, he asked, "Sorry? While it was something I'd considered just about every other day, I never did get up the never to send you a bouquet."

"You mean you never sent me roses on Babylon 5?" He shook his head no, and she burst into a fit of laughter. "And I threw them in your face! You must have thought I was insane."

"Well, I'll admit, I thought your presentation needed a little work." He touched her lightly on the arm. "But back then, any gesture - however intended, was well received by me."

Suddenly, the picture was clear. "Corwin! It must have been. There was a week there, where I'd find him looking at me in the most peculiar way."

"I'm surprised it didn't happen more often actually," His hand still on her arm. "Beautiful women tend to receive gifts from admirers quite frequently."

She laughed a little bitterly. "Yes, but most women don't strike fear in the hearts of those admirers by simply saying "hello."

He reached up and touched her chin, his voice seductive. "I kind of enjoyed that part."

"Yes, well -- I hope that I've learned to soften my demeanor a little." She turned away, leaving his hand in mid-air. "Wouldn't want to frighten all those new recruits with my icy disposition."

He snatched his hand in quickly. "I wouldn't worry about that. Speaking of which. You ready for the big event?"

"As I'll ever be," she joked. Then, suddenly remembered the man in front of her should logically be on a sickbed right about now. "Marcus! Shouldn't you be lying down or something?"

"Is that an invitation?" He asked.

"Seriously!" She was adamant, and lead him to the sofa in the next room. "Did Steven discharge you? Or are you out on the lamb again?"

As Susan sat, Marcus stood before her. "No, I'm officially 'well'." Laughing at the thought, he continued. "Or as well as one can be for a human TV dinner. Actually, it was Steven's last order of business before departing. He was very sorry to miss your induction."

"Steven's gone?" She was truly disappointed, but not surprised. He had accomplished what he had come for, and then some. There was plenty of work piling up for him back on Earth, she was sure of it. "Of course."

Susan was shocked when Marcus lowered himself to the floor, directly in front of her, on one knee. "He asked me to give you something." Slowly, he eased toward her and placed a small kiss on her left cheek. When he pulled away, he noticed her bewildered expression. "He made me promise."

Barely audible, she replied. "I'll have to remember to thank him... for everything."

Marcus was unmoving from his close proximity. "I was sure to thank him for all of us. Valen knows where we would have been without Steven."

Hoping to change the tone of the conversation, Susan remembered to ask, "Will. How is Will?"

Easing back, but not moving from the floor in front of her, Marcus stated. "Actually, Steven discharged him as well. But swore him to bedrest for a least a week."

"Can we trust him? I mean after all, he is a Cole." They laughed together and she added uneasily. "You know there's plenty of room on the couch here." Patting the seat beside her.

Ignoring the last, and getting back to Will, he added. "I took the liberty of hiring a nurse for him. Much to Will's complete satisfaction, I might add."

"Pretty?" Ivanova laughed, asking about the attendant.

"Exquisite." He responded, but not in reference to the nurse.

Susan shifted uncomfortably on the sofa and insisted. "Marcus, please... don't you think -- I mean their might be a draft or something on the floor.

Sighing heavily at his defeat, Marcus stood slowly. Its apparent, he isn't quite is agile self just yet. "Actually, I'd better get going."

"Wait. Can you sit for a minute. There's something else, something serious we need to discuss."

As he took a place next to her on the sofa, he raised is eyebrows in curiosity. "Serious. Hmmm... this doesn't sound like something entertaining."

"This situation-- the losses in our training camps, its obviously the first thing on my adgenda. I'm determined not to allow any further attempts on the lives of the Rangers."

"Of course not. Whomever is responsible doesn't have a prayer in hell against you." He said, hoping to reassure.

"I was hoping to make that a prayer in hell against us.'" Marcus appeared confused, so she began to clairfy. "Before I left for Earth-- at the Council meeting. I asked you to take a place in my administration as my advisor. I was wondering if you had made a decision?"

"I had no idea there was ever any doubt," He said. "Susan," He reached out to touch her arm in a supportive gesture. "I thought you'd realize by now. I remain at your side, always -- General or Entil'Zha, servant or grand duchess."

She touched the hand, resting on her forearm in thanks.

"And I'd like to begin my tenure," He continued, as he stood. "By preforming the duty as your second in the ceremony this afternoon. If you wouldn't object."

As they walked to the door, she gave him a concerned expression. "I would be very honored. As long as your up for it?" When they reached their destination she added, "And I need all the moral support I can get."

"Wild horses, or baggers, for that matter couldn't keep me away," He teased, as he made his exit. "And you never needed moral support."

x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x

Later, Pennar returned and began helping Ivanova prepare for the innauguration. The two women stood before a mirror. Pennar adjusted Susan's mantle. The cloak was slightly different from the others. This particular garment has shades of burgandy highlighting the typical black. Susan admiried her reflection.

"You like it, I can tell." Pennar beamed. "Delenn will be so pleased."

"Delenn?" Susan questioned.

Pennar bubbled over with delight. "Yes, Delenn had several of the worker caste design this cloak especially for you. She mentioned how she had never been very happy with the very masculine traditional one."

"Its very nice." She admired the cut of the fabric. "Although she didn't have to make any alterations on my account."

Pennar looked serious for a moment. "There is this -- for formal occasions, and another similar, for everyday wear. And I wouldn't worry about the effort, I think it pleases her,to be involved. It keeps her mind occupied."

"Yes." Susan shook her head somberly, then returned to smoothing her hair. As she did, a lone strand of gray came loose from the knot secured in the back. "Damn," cursing the evil piece of old age that stared at her in the mirror.

"General, may I-- ? I mean, I wonder if you would mind if I made a suggestion."

"Pennar, never be afraid to speak your mind. What is it?"

"Well, its just -- You have very beautiful hair. Its a trait among the humans that I have long admired." She stared at her own reflection along side Susan's in the mirror, her hand brushing over her bone plate. "Well - if I had tresses as wonderful as yours, I would not conceal their beauty as you seem to be intent on."

"Professional human women have a habit of cinching their hair in -- it enables them to give the illusion of a male persona I guess, and in turn, helps them establish a more credible leadership position," she said.

"But General. You are about to be sworn in as the leader of everything my people hold sacred." She appeared puzzled. "How could your hair possibly make you a stronger leader than you will become by accepting this office?"

The truth of her aide's statement hit her square on the head. Suddenly, she began to realize the scope of what was about to happen. She was going to become on of the most respected dignitaries in the universe. And by god, she'd be comfortable doing it! At that, she pulled at the knot of hair behind her and let it fall loose around her shoulders, gray streaks and all.

Pennar smiled with satisfaction, as did Susan Ivanova.

When they had almost finished their grooming, the door chime sounded. Pennar jumped from a place at Susan's feet, where she had been adjusting her hem line, and ran toward the door. "That must be Ranger Cole! The hour must be at hand."

Marcus greeted Pennar with a smile. They had met once before, a few days earlier, when Delenn brought her by the med faciltiy for introductions and Marcus' approval. He had found her as charming and refreshing as he knew Ivanova would. "Pennar! I hope your taking good care of our future Ranger One. I'm counting on you!"

Taking his words to heart, Pennar reassured him. "Without a doubt Ranger Cole. We are just about prepared to leave. General Ivanova is --"

"All set to go." Ivanova appeared in the doorway, dressed in her new formal Ranger cloak, adorned with special decoration in honor of her innauguration. And of course, her chestnut mane fell loosely around the new burgandy mantle.

Marcus was stunned by her beauty and unable to remove her from his field of vision. "Susan. You look--"

"Like an old war horse dressed for show, I know." Ivanova noticeed his fixed gaze, and returned it moment for moment, as she neared him - circling.

He ignored her self-depriciation. "Your hair-- you've done something different. It looks remarkable."

Thrilled that her suggestion has brought about such a comment, Pennar jumped in. "Yes, the General felt that this style would allow her to be approachable, yet still exude a strong enough appearance to be an effective leader. Don't you agree?"

"Indeed." Marcus breathed, as their eyes remained locked in this stalemate of glances. "I'd follow her anywhere."

Ignorant of the unspoken conversation that was taking place, Pennar interrupted. "I believe its time General. We must be going"

Susan broke the spell, looking to Pennar. "What? Oh, yes. Why not." Then looking back to Marcus carefully she asked, "You're ready?"

"Always Entil 'Zha, always." And he presented her his arm. "Shall we?"

As they made their way to the ceremony, Susan grasped Marcus' arm with a little trepidation. Just the slightest amount of worry had started to set in regarding the ritual. She had never been one to go in for displays of this kind, and now she was the center of attention. Nerves weren't a problem for Susan Ivanova -- but she did long for this part to be over.

"Its all very simple, very easy," Marcus assured her, reading her subconscious. "And try not to think so much about the Sha'neyat."

Up until now, Susan had chosen not to think about the Sha'neyat. The liquid which, in order to be properly installed as Entil 'Zha, she must drink. It had nearly killed Sinclair. She knew, because the Minbari considered him even more of a deity because he had not died upon partaking of this fluid. It was lethal to humans. Now she must also drink it. Luckily, after his almost deadly dosage, Jeff declared that any other human Entil 'Zha should only be given a drop of the Sha'neyat -- enough so that they did indeed taste of it, but not ingest so much to be fatal. Still - drinking even the smallest drop of something which translated as death destroyer, was a little daunting.

Having been rushed through the process of becoming Ranger One, as well as Entil 'Zha, Susan was not aware of all the protocol involved in the ceremony. Pennar had gone over the details with her just that afternoon. She had assumed that her new aide would be acting as her second in the ceremony. The second attended to the inductee, and was typically someone of significance to the Anla'shok Na. When Marcus Cole stepped in line behind her to take that responsibility she was overwhelmed. Propriety dictated that from this point on, she would conduct herself with solemn dignity, so she was unable to turn and thank him. However, she hoped that in some unspoken manner, she might be able to express her glad heart at having such an important figure in her life by her side for this moment.

As they walked up the ramp to the top of the raised platform designed for the ceremony, Susan received a second shock -- the entire Grey Council was present. This was shocking, simply because since Sinclair's initial induction as Entil 'Zha, the Council had been reluctant (to use a kind word) to participate in the installation ceremony of a human Entil'Zha. It was common knowledge that at Delenn and John's individual induction’s only select members of the Council had been present. It was an honor for her to receive an audience which included the entire group. And it worried her. The prophecies of Valen dictated the Council's every move -- why now would they choose to support a human Ranger with such enthusiasm? Did they know something she didn't?

She'd have to think about it later -- for now, she needed all her concentration on the objective at hand. Marcus took his place at her right, and Delenn had the place to her left. The ceremony began with Delenn reading the words. Words she recognized, but hardly comprehended as her mind swimmed with the realization of all those that had gone before her -- Valen, Sinclair, (perhaps one in the same) Delenn and John. She had hoped this wasn't some sort of critical error -- she felt rather like an ugly duckling in a group of gracious swans. Who was she to follow in such noble footsteps?

Susan was taken aback when Marcus suddenly appeared in front of her. His eyes spoke to her, as if to say, "Everything in your life has led you to this moment." And she was calmed. It was only a split second later that she realized while his eyes may have been trying to comfort her, his presence in front of her was ceremonial in nature. It was time for the Sha'neyat. In his hands, Marcus held a clear glass chalice, in which he had just carefully dolled out a droplet of the dreaded liquid. The corner of his mouth rose slightly into a hesitant smile, and he ever so subtlety nodded his head to tell her all would be fine.

When Delenn told her to 'taste of it' - Susan did not hesitate. She carefully raised the glass to her lips and quickly drank the fluid. The sensation of fire in the pit of her stomach was overpowering. Subconsciously she was aware that she had clenched every part of her body and needed to relax so that the ceremony could conclude. You've endured far worse Ivanova, open your damn eyes. Another voice outside of her own said, "It has been fulfilled. The arrow has found its target." Susan squinted hard and forced her eyes to open, looking for the individual who had spoken those cryptic words. The only thing she found was Marcus and Delenn looking at her with overwhelming concern. She nodded slightly to let them know she was all right.

Breathing a sigh of relief, Delenn concluded the ceremony, while Marcus kept a cautious eye on Susan. All of the blood seemed to have drained from her face and hands - creating the pallor of a corpse. In turn, this had also recreated a memory Marcus never wanted to relive again. His glance never wavered, as he prayed silently that Delenn would hurry with the concluding remarks.

"As it was done long ago, so now we name she who will lead us. Among the Rangers let Susan Ivanova be known as Entil'Zha."

Instantaneously the Rangers in the audience responded, "Entil'Zha! We live for the One! We die for the One!" But the only voice Susan heard was that of Marcus Cole. He spoke the words with the greatest conviction, having already proved his loyalty, even if it was unintentional.

Delenn concluded, "Entil'Zha. She is the light in darkness. She is the bridge between worlds."

The next hour was a blur for Susan. She could not recall getting off the platform or making her way to the medlab, but everyone assured her, she had done it -- and done it with her head held high and in proper stance. When she was fully alert, she noticed that both Marcus and Delenn remained at her side. "Is it over?" She asked.

"It is over," Delenn reassured. "This should only take a few minutes. We have made miraculous advances in treating the affects of the Sha'neyat. You should be back on your feet in time for the receiving."

Marcus, who had still not said a word, sat at the other side of the medical table. Susan now looked at him with concern. His expression was grave. "Are you feeling all right?" She asked, worried about his health.

"Am I--?" He shook his head in disbelief. "I'm fine. It's you who--" He looked up at Delenn helplessly.

Delenn touched Ivanova on the sleeve. "I think you-- being attended by Minbari medical technicians, your color, your condition-- it creates an all to familiar recollection."

"I'm fine!" Susan insisted. Realizing what Marcus must be thinking, she sat up, hoping to prove her soundness of body. It was a feeble attempt, but she succeeded. Marcus rushed to aide her. "Really," She said. "Just thank Valen Jeff had them change it to a drop of the stuff."

Remembering that particular moment in the ceremony she asked, "By the way, what was with the part about the 'arrow' in English? I don't remember Pennar mentioning anything like that."

Marcus and Delenn looked to each other - confused. Delenn responded, "There is no mention of an arrow in the ceremony. And there is certainly no English."

"Then who--" Seeing the mixture of concern and confusion on their faces, Susan decides to let the matter drop. "I think its time I got back on my feet." Her attempt to stand failed and Marcus caught her. She looked at him, somewhat embarrassed. "OK - so maybe a few more minutes."

He helped her reposition herself on the bed. "I think I'll go and let them know you'll be along shortly. Entil'Zha." He bowed out of respect, excusing himself.

Delenn smiled at Susan. "Don't worry about him. He's fine. But it must be difficult for him to see you like this."

"Yes." She sat up again. "That's why I need to get out there."

Delenn placed a hand on her shoulder to subdue her. "Please wait. There is something-- John gave to me. He asked that I give it to you following your induction.

"But how could he have know?" Susan was confused.

"After all that we have been through together-- It still amazes me the things he could see without even opening his eyes."

Delenn handed Susan a piece of paper and exited the room.

Dear Susan,
No surprises here. You're exactly where you belong at this moment of your life. Subconsciously we all knew it. Sinclair knew it. Delenn knew it. I knew it. Your going to have to do some things now that won't be easy. You will face moments when your gut will tell you to go against every rational thought in your head. You'll know when its right. Trust your instinct, you always had great instincts. Life is like a jigsaw puzzle with one piece missing. When we find that piece, we complete our destiny. A piece of my puzzle is still unrecovered. I'm counting on you to retrieve it, and in turn you'll complete your own. And maybe even a few others in the process. Put your trust in those you hold most dear. Trust was always difficult for you, I'm hoping you've learned some lessons to teach you otherwise. Miracles happen everyday. They really do..
John

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