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One for the Road

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Drinking was a vice best indulged in alone. At least that had been her father's motto, and although Susan was grateful she hadn't picked up too many of his other attitudes towards alcohol, she did have some sympathy for this one. All right, make that plenty of sympathy. Still, there was a time and a place for being sensible, and this was definitely it. Carrying a bottle of vodka onto a White Star had been toeing the line already. Call it superstition, but if they were going to beat Clark's forces, she wanted something on hand to drink to their victory afterwards. If they didn't… let's just say she doubted if all the vodka on the planet would be enough to help them drown their misery, but she sure as hell could try.

They hadn't reached that point yet, though. So for now, she was going to allow herself one drink – call it a symbolic one, for luck, God knew they'd need it – and because she was being sensible, she was going to find company. Of course, on a Minbari vessel, finding a drinking companion was easier said than done. But she did have one option, and it was a safe bet he wouldn't refuse her. If there was one thing that kept the cynic in her on her toes around him, it was that Marcus never refused her anything.

Just his expression when she showed him the bottle was worth it.

"Wait. Let me see if I understand. You brought this bottle…" Marcus pointed, his eyebrows climbing up in exaggerated disbelief, "… onto a ship full of Minbari? Susan, do you want to have a mutiny on your hands?" His tone was hitting that familiar note between annoying and endearing – not chiding her, she knew, that wasn't his style, but as if he seriously considered questioning her sanity.

"I know Minbari can't metabolize alcohol," Susan said. She sat down on the meditation bench where she'd found him, and put down the bottle strategically between them. "This is a request, by the way, not an order. But the last time I checked, you weren't a Minbari yet."

"Yes, but I am out of practice." Marcus gave her an appraising look. "Joining the Rangers isn't like joining a fraternity, you know. There aren't any jolly drinking rituals, like the one where you're told to take a shot of vodka and then squeeze a melon… or was it suck on a lemon? See? I forgot." The twinkle in his eye was frustratingly infectious. As Susan pulled a set of glasses out of her side pocket, she raised an eyebrow at Marcus and was rewarded with a nod.

Susan poured herself a small glass – she just needed to unwind, not lose her edge – and let Marcus pour one for himself. She might be Russian, but this was a basic courtesy: you let people pour their own drinks. That had never been one of her father's mottos, but it was hers. A flash of bitterness threatened to spoil the moment. To her relief, Marcus didn't comment when she swallowed hard and lifted her glass. "To a clean victory," she said, then added, with a grimace, "And to not making a complete fool of ourselves in battle." Lack of professional confidence had never been one of her problems, but the thought of leading a White Star fleet into combat still felt more than a little surreal.

Marcus frowned. "Well, now, surely you have higher ambitions than that. Personally, I believe if one intends to make any kind of a fool of oneself, one ought to make it spectacular."

Susan hid a smile into her glass, then watched Marcus pick up his own. You could learn a lot about a person from the way they handled their drinks; not just by how well they held their liquor, but their whole attitude towards it. Talia hadn't been a heavy drinker, but she and Susan had shared a few cocktails now and then. Talia had struck her as an observer from the start: examining the contents of her glass, smelling it, admiring the colors, as if wanting to fathom it before tasting. Susan had always been the more impulsive type. She just decided upfront if she wanted to try something or not, and if she did, she didn't mince words about it. Then again, she'd learned the hard way that first impressions could be wrong.

Marcus, unsurprisingly, was scowling at his glass as if daring it to challenge him. Susan thrust out a hand when he raised it to his mouth and took a gulp that struck even her as ambitious, but the warning came too late.

"Congratulations," she told him, after he'd finished wiping the tears from his eyes. "I wish I could say that looked impressive, but you spoiled it by turning such a nice shade of red. It's the intention that counts, though. I'd assumed you knew this is pretty potent, so I wasn't expecting you to try a bottoms up."

"Like I said: if you're going to make a fool of yourself, you ought to make it worth it." Marcus gave her a mildly glazed grin. "Besides, you drink it like that, too. I watched you. And since you have experience at this and I haven't, I was assuming you knew what you were doing."

"Having experience and knowing what you're doing are two different things," Susan shot back. Dammit. That came out sounding more profound than she'd intended. She tried to avoid Marcus' gaze as she nursed her drink.

"You look tired, Susan. Are you all right?" That was Marcus too, of course, going from banter to concern in one second flat. Susan's first impulse when he took her off guard like this was always irritation, and this time wasn't any different. His directness reminded her of Talia somehow, including the way he kept using her name. And he was perceptive too. She'd used to tease Talia about being a mind reader, though only near the end, when she could make those kinds of jokes without wanting to scream. But Talia's brand of perceptiveness had had nothing to do with telepathy, and the same was true for Marcus. He had his own strengths. And he cared about her. Maybe it was time she started respecting that.

"No," she answered, truthfully. "I'm not all right. But once we take down that bastard Clark, I might be."