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One Night at the Red Planet Hotel

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Stephen didn't want to be married. At least he didn't want to be married to Marcus Cole in order to maintain a cover while covertly attempting to contact an obsessively-paranoid resistance group. Quite a few of those details would have been enjoyable under other circumstances, which was, of course the problem.

After Number One dropped him off at the Red Planet Hotel, he took a minute to shift himself between being Dr. Stephen Franklin, resistance fighter and war hero to being, Mr. Daniel Lane, newlywed out from Earth on his big honeymoon. Fortunately the desk was automated, and for all Captain Jack had done, his fake ids were good. Stephen didn't have to pass muster until he actual walked in the room, where, presumably fucking Marcus had been setting for hours cooking up new innuendo.

It started the second he opened the door. Marcus was sitting on a bed half the size of Stephen's quarters, with his legs crossed and his hands resting on his knees, a centre of slim, black-clad serenity in a sea of red ruffles and lace. As soon as Stephen came in, his eyes snapped open, and he called out, "If it isn't Mr. Fennerman-Lane, home at last. Been waiting up for you, I have."

Stephen hadn't been joking about considering shooting him. It certainly would have made for a quieter trip. "Not tonight, Marcus," he said, dumping his jacket on the chair. Marcus had unpacked for them, and Stephen tried not to think about how the underwear drawer might be arranged. Marcus opened his mouth to have a go at the beautiful opening that Stephen had just given him, but Stephen was already almost to the bathroom, and had the door closed before he caught more than the start of whatever it was. There were fabric rose petals scattered artfully on the bathroom counter, but the place had a real shower, and, tinny as the recycled water was, it was better than anything Stephen had felt in the month since they'd left Babylon 5. He stayed in until the hotel cut the room off, vaguely hoping that Marcus hadn't taken a turn yet, and would therefore be deprived of this one luxury, even if that was a paltry trade for Stephen's sanity.

When he got out, cleaner than he'd been in an age, he couldn't stand the thought of putting on the same pants he'd been wearing for a week, and decided to risk the lion's den by making a be-towelled sprint for the dresser.

Marcus had given up pretending to meditate, and was lying on the bed with his legs hanging off the edge, his arms folded behind his head. "So, how was your date?"

Stephen shook his head. As a change of subject, that one sucked. "I shared a meal with a co-worker," he replied, rummaging through his things until he found his last set of clean clothes. Hopefully the hotel had a laundry. "It wasn't a date."

"So you say," Marcus pushed, and Stephen retreated back to the bathroom. He considered sleeping in the tub, but Marcus had already made a joke about him hiding in here on his wedding night, and he would be damned if he'd give up that very excellent bed after sleeping in cargo bays for four weeks.

When he came out again, Marcus was gone. Stephen sighed, a little relieved, but almost disappointed to. For all his griping, he'd gotten used Marcus' unending prattle, and he would never admit it before the heat death of the universe, but he liked the sound of Marcus' voice, maybe even gotten to expect it.

"So!" Marcus said, voice echoing up from the floor on the far side of the bed, "it's come to this already, our first night together, and you've thrown me out of bed? What will your poor mother say, when she hears?"

Stephen's mother was never, ever going to hear one word about this. Stephen yanked the covers back viscously and snapped, "This bed's big enough for three couples, with room to spare. You don't have to sleep on the floor."

"But my virtue" Marcus said, actually laughing, damn him. "Or, my heart. I'm too tired to remember which is in character."

"Definitely not my sanity," Stephen said. He yanked his shirt off, and went to bed in his pants and socks. "Sleep where you like. I don't care."

"Rangers are trained to sleep anywhere, you know, in Tuzenor we had to..."

"I don't care!" Stephen jammed one of the fourteen lace-trimmed pillows over his head. "Just shut up and let me sleep. I can't do this when I'm this tired."

That either worked, or the pillow had some kind of sound proofing, because he didn't hear a peep out of Marcus after that. Now of course Stephen's heart was racing, and oh, God, he'd yelled at Marcus, who would, well he probably wouldn't notice, and certainly wouldn't take it to heart, but Stephen still felt like an asshole. He kept the pillow over his head, just in case. Not knowing when to stop was after all Marcus' defining character trait, along with being lethal and gorgeous and funny, and unexpectedly kind.

A moment later, the bed shifted minutely, then more as Marcus crossed the expanse to Stephen's side. When he touched Stephen's shoulder, Stephen let the pillow drop and half turned towards him. Marcus was kneeling on the bed, still wearing his Ranger uniform, but less the belts and insignia. He'd dimmed the lights too, but Stephen could still see well enough to read his serious expression. "I'm sorry, Stephen," he said, and he did sound like he meant it. "I only want to make you laugh. You don't, you know."

Stephen sighed and rolled onto his back. Normally lying half naked in bed with Marcus kneeling over him would be the start of a very nice dream, but he hadn't been kidding about being too tired for this It had been an awful day. "Haven't had a lot to laugh about," he said, but he had laughed earlier, in the train car with Jack and Marcus teasing him, mostly at how stupid his life was, but it had felt good. "It's just a little close to home sometimes."

"Oh?" Marcus' attempt at sympathy apparently couldn't suppress his curiosity. "How do you mean?"

Stephen hadn't meant to say as much as he had, and pulled the pillow back over his head, half smothering himself. He expected Marcus to press, but the bed shifted again, and then nothing. When he looked out from under the pillow, the lights were out, and Stephen could just make out a Ranger-sized lump at the very far edge of the bed. "Good night, Marcus," he said.

"'Good night, good night! parting is such sweet sorrow that I shall say good night till it be morrow.'"

"Please don't." And stop quoting ancient romances at him, too, but saying that would only lead into a list of the damn things, and Stephen didn't think he could handle endless bits of Much Ado About Nothing and Sleepless in Seattle, from Marcus or anyone else. He fell asleep trying to remember the plot of a convoluted old novel his grandfathers had loved, something about secret princes and sex slaves.

Stephen woke up when Marcus rolled over, or rather when he rolled over the final time, covering the last few inches in must have been a great somnolent voyage across the width of their honeymoon bed.

"So much for Ranger training," Stephen muttered as Marcus buried his nose against Stephen's neck, a moment later, his arm sprawled across Stephen's chest, his hand spread across Stephen's ribs just below his pec. He thankfully did not throw a leg over, as they apparently said.

"Mmm?" Marcus purred, clearly not in the least awake.

If he were hanging to the least shreds of his right mind, Stephen would have either shoved Marcus off or woken him up and told him to shove off. If Marcus hadn't spent four weeks hell bent on driving Stephen right around the bend, and simultaneously completely solidifying this stupid crush, he likely would have. As it was, he lay still, staring up at the ceiling, his right arm trapped under Marcus, and enjoyed the tickle of Marcus' beard on his shoulder and the solidity of his lean, muscled body pressed against Stephen's side. It was so easy to imagine that this was real, that they were actually married, or at least dating, and that Marcus was lying there because he wanted to be with Stephen, not because he was some kind of insensible heat-seeking torpedo. Stephen lay quietly, considering all the different roads to a hell he didn't believe in, and how many of them it was possible to be on at the same time, before fatigue again overtook him.

The next time he woke, it was morning, and Marcus was in the middle of very carefully trying to extract himself from what had turned into a mutual embrace. He froze in place for a second when their eyes met, then pulled away entirely, rolling back to his side of the bed. "Sorry, darling, couldn't resist you," he said. The man really didn't have any speed settings. He was either unconscious or full throttle.

"Should have made a pillow fort," Stephen muttered, far too late of course, and it wasn't like he could criticise. Of the two of them, he was the one who'd been awake when they'd gone from sleeping in the same bed to snuggling, even if snuggling was all that has occurred. "And don't say anything; I genuinely no longer find a single thing about this funny. Not the pretend marriage, not your jokes, not the stupid goofy looks you keep giving me. Not any of it."

"I must say," Marcus said, now sitting cross-legged while he finger combed his hair, and of course ignoring Stephen's dictate, "that you're taking this all very seriously. If I didn't know better, I'd think you were..." he stopped, and his eyes went wide. Stephen, who'd been half pushing himself up, fell back on the bed and closed his eyes. As bad as their whole trip had been, this was going to be awful. "Bloody hell, are you in love with me?"

"No," Stephen said, reflexively.

"No, no, you are, aren't you? 'A little close to home,' you said. I don't know why I didn't see it before."

Well, it was good, Stephen reflected, that he'd found out how bad bad could get. It wasn't like spending two days pretending to be married to a man he not only had the hots for, but who was publicly and flamboyantly in love with one of Stephen's best friends would have been enough. "Fine," he said, eyes still closed, like that would make this go away. "I find you attractive, and, God knows why, I like you, too, and maybe a couple weeks in your company has led to a... a crush. Which I realise you don't return, and would very much prefer if you never mentioned again."

"But..." Marcus started.

"Marcus, I am begging you."

"All right then," Marcus said. The bed shifted, and a moment later the bathroom door clicked closed. Stephen rolled over to bury his face in the pillows until he could pull himself together. They had a mission to complete, and even Marcus wouldn't endanger that just to poke fun.

He didn't. Marcus, remarkably, didn't mention the subject at all for the rest of their time on Mars, not even when their honeymoon suite went up in flames, thanks to some over-zealous resistance fighters bombing the hotel. In retrospect, Stephen supposed that if Marcus' pursuit of Susan Ivanova had achieved little else, it must have given the man a respect for the practitioners of doomed love. "A romantic," he called it, and Stephen supposed he'd been called worse.

The best part about leaving Mars, aside from the fact that they were no longer on Mars, was that as soon as they got out of the Solar System, a White Star picked them up and whisked them back towards Babylon 5. A trip that had taken four weeks going out, would take about a quarter of that on the return.

Stephen was in the middle of jamming his jacket into the gears of a currently-level Minbari bed, when Marcus came in to the barracks with an expression that made Stephen want to stick his head into a power conduit. Or possibly Marcus' head.

"I've been thinking," Marcus said.

"I'm sure you have." Stephen tugged the jacket tight and leaned on one end of the bed; it clicked once then steadied. When this was over, he should write a book of tips and tricks picked up over his years of space travel.

"Yes." If Marcus had a superpower, it was the ability to employ sarcasm like a scalpel while remaining utterly oblivious to its use by others. "I had the strangest feeling when we were on Mars: You told me when we got up that you were going to meet with Number One; I saw you leave, and yet, when I heard the explosion at the hotel, I couldn't remember if you were there or not, and I panicked."

He had, in point of fact, run into the room, duster swirling around him, screaming Stephen's name, which Stephen had attributed to the bombing itself, not a near-miss on his part. "I suppose that's only natural," Stephen said.

"And then I thought of what you were saying that first morning in the hotel..."

"Oh, no."

"…and how attractive you were yelling at that resistance fighter who didn't believe us."

"Wait..."

"And it occurred to me, that in my quest to hold Commander Ivanova's attention, I may have missed something right under my nose," he concluded. He'd been advancing on Stephen as he spoke, and now they were less than metre apart. "And I thought that maybe when you have a chance at love, especially at a time like this, that you shouldn't let it slip through your fingers."

If Stephen had any sense at all, he'd ask what would happen the next time something turned Marcus' head. He'd apparently spun on a dime from Susan to Stephen, and there was no telling in which direction he'd hare off next, leaving Stephen with another broken heart for his collection. Alternately, he'd turn Marcus down on the principle that being his friend was enough stress, and dating him might kill them both. However, any number of events had already showed that he had absolutely no sense whatsoever when it came to Marcus Cole. Stephen stepped around the bed, and reached out to touch Marcu's shoulder. "Do you mean that? You're not messing with me again?"

"Stephen," Marcus said seriously, "I would never joke about love." Then he took Stephen's wrist and turned it so that he could kiss the knuckles, his wide grey eyes looking over their joined hands with such sincere adoration, that Stephen mentally threw up a white flag, and settled in for the ride.

"Of course not, just everything else."

Later, he found out that that what followed had been Marcus' first kiss, but he certainly didn't notice it at the time.