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Once Like You Are Now

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It wasn't the first time Richard Franklin had visited his son while he was under military guard, nor the first that he'd seen him in a medical centre for other than professional purposes. Years of being a father to five children and twice as many divisions of marines should have steeled him, but it did not. As he entered the little room in the Hôpitaux universitaires de Genève's primary I.C.U., his heart still pounded, and his vision still narrowed to essentials.

"Dad!" Stephen shot to his feet, face a picture of surprise. He was not the one in the bed, but in the chair beside it.

"Stephen," Richard said, then paused, mind still catching up. "I heard you'd been admitted here." He'd gone half around the planet to get here, not knowing what to expect.

"No. Not me." Stephen glanced down, and for the first time Richard's eyes left him to follow his gaze. The man in the bed was pale, drawn and unconscious. He had wild dark hair and a beard that suggested a civilian, but he's obviously just come from battle. "This is Marcus. We... uh, we're engaged." The last few words tumbled over each other, and Stephen looked at Richard defiantly, challenging him to make something of his son about to marry a stranger, as though that were the most controversial thing he's done in the last few years.

"How is he?" Richard asked, simply. Maybe retirement had mellowed him, despite what Juanita said.

Stephen glanced at the monitors, though they haven't changed since Richard had come in. "He's stable. His brain waves check out, from what we can tell. The physical damage will regenerate, probably. He just..." Stephen's voice faltered, and the surgeon's facade fell away. "He just needs to wake up."

Richard had a set of stock phrases that his men had seemed to appreciate, but how could he say something like that to his own child? Stephen's expression had shifted, and how he was staring at Richard as he hadn't since he was a child. This damn war had stretched him and rung him out until he sat by his unconscious lover and looked at his father, a man he hadn't spoken to in years, and pleaded with his eyes for Richard to make it right. Richard sat heavily in the empty chair on the door side of the bed. "What happened, son?" he asked.

Stephen sat too, his hand going to Marcus' wrist, a motion so habitual that Richard can see the long-accustomed intimacy behind it. Stephen's hair had started to go grey, he noticed now, just a little at the temples, like Richard's had around his age. Stephen was forty—no forty one now, his birthday was in November. They'd had no idea where he was then, but a friend of Juanita's in intelligence had slipped her a recent picture of Stephen in one of those silver and grey Minbari uniforms that Sheridan wore. The Army of Light was what they'd called themselves, which was not a name that made Richard worry less.

"He was commanding a White Star," Stephen said, and Richard's attention snapped back to the moment, to the man in front of him dressed in rumpled, dirty civvies, who clearly hadn't slept in days. "It's funny, I don't even remember which one. They all have numbers, and it's impossible to keep..." he rubbed his eyes. "I was on Mars, but the Captain said that when Delenn brought in the reserve fleet, that Marcus, his White Star, I mean, flew guard on the Agamemnon, and it took a missile from the defence grid. A lot of the crew died, but Lennier carried Marcus to an escape pod. I was on Mars," he said again, as though he could have done anything in the middle of a firefight. Maybe he could, now. Richard's wandering pacifist had clearly decided to fight, and against his home. That Richard had not been surprised to learn any part of it made him saddest of all.

"When was the last time you ate, Stephen? Will you..." Richard hesitated. He sensed that it would be pointless to ask Stephen to leave the room. "Would you like me to bring you something?"

Stephen's attention had drifted back to the unconscious figure, but he smiled briefly and said, "Thanks, dad."

Richard got sandwiches and juice from the cafeteria, and spent a few minutes fussing with his link trying to pull up data on a Marcus associated with the Army of Light or the Minbari, but didn't come up with much via his residual security clearance. He would have to ask Juanita's friend, assuming he wasn't purged in the coming power struggle.

The guards wanted to check the food, and by the time Richard got back into the room, it had obviously occurred to Stephen that his father hadn't just materialised out of thin air. "How'd you get here?" he asked, between ravenous bites. "Where's Mom?"

"I don't know if you've been outside, son," Richard said, "but just about the whole planet is on lockdown. I had to pull half a dozen favours to get just me over here. Juanita's holding down the fort with the girls." All his children had come home to weather the storm together, bringing their partners, their children, their trust in their parents to know how best to survive, all except Stephen, who'd been fighting on Mars.

"Good," Stephen said. He was still holding Marcus' hand, but he was watching Richard intently. "That's... that's good. They, Clark's people, grabbed the Captain's father; Ivanova doesn't have any family, and Garibaldi," he stopped, then abandoned that line. "I was worried they would go after you, because of me."

"They nosed around. Nothing we couldn't handle, Juanita and me." They'd wanted him to come out of retirement, again, to fight his own son. He'd made it pretty clear that if he went back into active service, they wouldn't like the results. Juanita had stayed in, holding her position in supply until the final months, when they'd entrenched in the West Side. The army owed her leave anyway, she'd said.

Stephen had finished wolfing down his sandwich, and was now pointedly not looking at the remaining half of Richard's. Richard passed it to him and sipped his juice. He wondered if Stephen had still been able to get that odd alien juice, with B5 under embargo. Probably, they'd had enough alien friends.

"Did you understand?" Stephen asked, suddenly.

Richard was jolted back fifteen years, suddenly seeing a younger, surer Stephen in the stockade, demanding that his parents acknowledge that what he'd done was right. They'd been losing a war then too, and Stephen could have turned the tide, but he'd needed to be right. It was the same arrogance that had let him call his own father a murderer for protecting his homeworld, albeit in the heat of the moment. Now, Stephen wasn't making proclamations from on high, but had again that pleading look. It would have taken more than treason to put it in his eyes and make him ask for his father's reassurance.

Richard decided that didn't want to know. Whatever Stephen had done, he didn't want to hear anything about it. It was the most cowardly thought he'd ever had. "We understood," he answered. "We didn't agree, your mother especially, but we understood."

"I always liked that you two still argued," Stephen said, reading between the lines. He glanced down again, studying Marcus' face. "You have no idea how we can argue. I can tell you, he's going to get it when he wakes up. You know, if you keep this up, you're not going to be here to fight with me in fifty years, you foolhardy bastard." He glanced back up to Richard. "This is how we met. He'd killed the life support on his ship to make sure he had enough power to make it to Babylon 5, and ended up in Medlab. Stayed there for about ten minutes before he sneaked out. Well not this time."

The guards on the door would get him if he tried that again, or he would get them, but Stephen couldn't watch over him forever. He was already so tired he was beginning to ramble, and Richard was afraid of what he would say next. "Son," he said. "If you want to sleep I can keep an eye on him."

"No, I..." Stephen started to say, like he wanted to take on responsibility for everything out of pure habit. "Would you? If he wakes up, you have to tell him that we won. I don't want him to think..."

"I'll tell him," Richard said, and Stephen nodded and thanked him, before sliding to the floor and curling up in a corner. He was asleep in seconds.

Richard took Stephen's chair, so that he could watch Marcus and face the door, and settled in to wait.

A nurse came in a few minutes later, and pursed his lips when he saw Stephen on the floor, but left him there. Marcus' condition was apparently slightly improved since his last round. The nurse touched Marcus gingerly, like he would leap up and strangle him at any moment, and Richard wondered if he'd seen Stephen on ISN, allegedly running experiments to turn the lurkers into human-alien hybrids.

The nurse came another time, and still Stephen didn't stir. Richard had messaged Juanita with an obliquely worded update, and turned ISN on mute with subtitles. He could have read the feed, but he liked seeing Jane Crashaw on again.

His eyes had drooped a little, giving into exhausted after his frenzied trans-Atlantic hop, when a soft, accent voice started him awake.

"So we won."

Richard hadn't heard the monitors change. In fact he'd distinctly heard them not change, which meant that Marcus had woken up with enough self possession to hold his heart rate and breathing down until he could assess the room, recognise the news anchor, and decide that Richard wasn't a threat. His voice was soft but words controlled.

"Yes," Richard said. "You won. You're in a hospital in Geneva."

"Never been to Earth," Marcus said, craning his neck. "Hospitals look pretty much the same, maybe nicer." When he propped himself up enough to look around, he spotted Stephen on the floor and would have tried to get up if Richard hadn't planted a hand on his shoulder. Marcus' finger's tightened around his wrist, grip steely for all that he could barely sit up.

"He's just sleeping," Richard told him. "I didn't try to talk him into leaving."

Marcus nodded, apparently accepting that as his due, which made Richard frown. "How are the others?" Marcus asked. "Have you heard anything about Commander Ivanova?"

Richard filled him in on what news he had, mostly just what had been on ISN: that Ivanova was on Babylon 5, still seriously injured; Sheridan was in custody, and the allied fleet had retreated out of striking distance, for the sake of everyone's nerves. The fleet around Mars was beginning to come back online and was running picket in lieu of the defence grid, but no one was saying much about what the sabotage that had disabled it had entailed. Marcus listened to all this with apparent attention, though his gaze kept flicking to where Stephen lay curled on the floor, head pillowed on his arms, then back to Richard's face.

"Did he tell you we're engaged?" Marcus asked, interrupting Richard's rundown of divisions in the Senate. "Do you think I should call you Dad?"

"You know who I am."

"Stephen keeps your picture in his quarters, and that whole band of beautiful women I'm apparently not allowed to flirt with. It's touching, really." He raked his hair back and tightened his mouth into almost a smile, though this time he couldn't hide the pain, and his heart rate spiked.

Richard had commanded too many pups not to know when someone was testing his limits, but he was too taken aback by that revelation to push back. Stephen hadn't had family pictures up when he'd visited two years ago. Then it had been alien art on every wall. "Am I invited to the wedding, then?" he asked mildly.

"Well yes," Marcus said, tone light but eyes fixed on Richard, with a frightening keenness for someone who'd been unconscious two minutes before. "Although, I should tell you that I'm a senior member of an covert Minbari-Human paramilitary organisation known as the Rangers, and I have no living family, and was born on a mining colony that no one had ever heard of even when it still existed."

"Those your good points, are they?" Richard asked mildly.

"'It's just as well for two fellows to know the worst of one another before they begin to live together,'" Marcus quoted, though Richard didn't remember what it was from. "Or two in-laws," he frowned. "No, that doesn't suit. Still, 'I have a pretty gift for quotation, which is a serviceable substitute for wit,' and I have also but recently been struck upon the head. Wounded nobly in battle, actually. Again."

"Juanita will laugh," Richard said, smiling into the provocation. Marcus, winded by his litany, didn't have the breath to respond before Richard explained. "She always said Stephen and I were too much alike, and now he's gone and chosen a soldier too." Richard had been eighteen to Juanita's twenty one when he'd met her, both fresh out of their academies, and he'd set to prove that the a marine could run rings around anyone in the army, man or woman, and she had been unable to turn down a challenge. "Well, this time she's going to hate being right."

"Do you think so?" Stephen asked. Richard supposed he must have been listening for a while.

Richard sighed, and watched Stephen push himself up until he was sitting with his back to the wall. He wanted to go over and give him a hand, but still didn't feel sure enough of them to do it.

"Son," he said, "if you come home in one piece, I don't think you'll hear many complaints from your mother. Neither will you," he added to Marcus. The complaints would doubtless come, and someday Richard would be brave enough to find out what Stephen had done in the war that made him so ashamed, but for now, for the first time in years, his family was alive and on the same planet.

"We'd uh..." Marcus glanced at Stephen, who didn't move, but somehow made Marcus smile all the same. "We'd like that, actually."

"Yes," Stephen said. "It would be good to see home again."

"Then you're welcome," Richard said, and let the one quote he did remember slide. Maybe one never could truly return home, but family stayed true.