Second Winter

By Leyenn

RATING: R

PAIRING: Susan/Talia

CATEGORY: For the Christmas 2003 GiftFic challenge.

SUMMARY: Sometimes it's hardest to win a battle by doing nothing.

DISCLAIMER: Not mine. Fifteen fandoms and you'd think I'd get lucky at least once...

ARCHIVE: Want, Take, Tell.

******

It was twenty-two sixty-eight, back on Earth. Three weeks into the New Year - Stephen had sent a message, as always. They'd gathered in the Presidential Suite to hear it, the four of them, hoping one year in the future they might get it in person.

She tucked her thick Ranger-issue cloak under her knees, settling back against the massive hulk of a tree sheltering her hiding place at the lakeside, leaving it clear of the light dusting of snow that widely proclaimed the closing end of winter. The old war scars were pleasantly making themselves known again, the cold making them ache; half the reason she came out here sometimes, to feel the memory of it all.

Two years. She still had the note, tucked away in a corner drawer of her vast office, sharply folded. It had to have been six months since she'd touched it, but the simple hand-delivered words never really left her alone.

It's started. Pack your bags and come to Minbar. Both of you.

After her mother, after sitting Shiva for her father, she'd promised herself she would never, never run away from anything again. And she had proven that to herself, any number of times during the Shadow War, and the battle for Earth - enough that when the time came, she wasn't even sure she could do it again.

Then she'd had the dream. And this time she'd reached them, tripping through the fog to rip their masks away, and it hadn't been Mama any more. Every face had been Talia's... and when she'd woken up and spent the rest of the night watching that face softened in sleep beside her, she'd known.

She'd applied for medical leave, ignoring the blindly smiling advice to pick Earth instead of Minbar, it never stopped snowing there and a good two weeks of her lover's sole company on the Mexican Riviera would do her worlds of good. It had been a month before anyone but Corwin knew neither of them were coming back; four before she'd gotten up the courage to compose the message for him explaining why.

They watched the news reports in quiet horror, the next year, hearing clearer than ever what wasn't said. The lists of missing on all sides filtered in, through channels sometimes she hadn't even suspected Delenn would deign to use. She never had to ask why; she was grateful enough to be here, with Talia at her side at night and safe, never to be a name on those lists.

That didn't mean neither of them ever recognised others.

But as with everything, the lists had turned into scattered obituaries in the last couple of months, all expressed with polite regret and a little too much politically correct sorrow as Earth stumbled around to find its own translation of what they'd been lucky enough to have waiting here. She'd waited for Lyta's: it never came up. When she mentioned it to Talia, she found neither of them were really surprised.

She wasn't ashamed, after they'd made love that night, to have whispered in her thoughts how glad she was it hadn't been them.

Today's edition of Universe Today lay soaking up a corner full of snow melt by her feet: the first time since she'd set foot on Minbari soil that the obituary column lay clear of names, recognised or not. It felt too damn strange to think it might all be over... she wasn't sure she was ready.

What she was sure of, was that she'd been sitting out here in the cold for hours and probably missed dinner.

Still, if there was ever a reason to consciously miss Sevell's cooking, then a deathless paper on a moonlit night had a good chance of being it. Brineal was rising over the water as she looked out; Chenorr already hung high above her as always, half-hidden by the surrounding trees and speckling the snow with wane light.

All except for that familiar shadow just to her left.

Mysterious figures in black roaming about the grounds? You'll have the house guards up in arms.

Talia laughed warmly and flicked back her hood with a well-practiced hand. You haven't eaten. And you've been out here how long?

There was an implicit understanding that Talia, of course, knew down to the minute how long she'd been out here, and found it a pleasant change that she wasn't pessimistically threatening to throw herself in the lake at today's latest revelation.

"They're letting teeps join Earthforce now." She offered the paper up - part of her was almost amused at the irony. "His name's John, of all things."

"Popular," Talia observed with a fleeting smile. She dropped gracefully into the rough circle of clear ground, brushing snow from the shoulders of her cloak before shaking out her hair and laying her head in Susan's lap. "I heard about that."

"The things you learn at the President's ear," she muttered.

Talia wrapped her fingers in the fabric, curling up close. "It's fairly big news."

"It shouldn't be." Ivanova laid a hand on the back of her neck, idly fingering the blonde fall of hair that spilled into her lap. Talia smiled, making a soft noise in the back of her throat.

"But it always will be for them, Susan." She gazed out at the lake for a long moment and then rocked onto her back, trapping Susan's hand under the warmth of her hair. "Unless, of course, you'd like to give them a statement as to how terribly wrong they have it...?"

Now she laughed, stretching carefully under the soft weight on her thighs. "And cheat this kid out of his adventure? I'm not that interested."

Talia lifted a hand and cupped her palm lightly to Susan's cheek, her eyes sparkling. "My, what a sacrifice."

Ivanova snorted. "I still keep expecting it to show up," she flicked her free hand at the paper, "one of these days."

"'First Earthforce Telepath Revealed, Working For President'?"

"Don't make it a joke."

Warm fingers slipped over the tense muscle of her shoulder and held there for Talia to lever herself up, resting the small of her back against Susan's cloak-wrapped knees. She let her hand shift again, stroking gently over the lines of the face she'd fallen into loving somewhere way back when. "It isn't. I know."

Ivanova sighed and tipped her head back against smooth, pale bark to let those fingertips brush down her neck. "Talia..."

Shh. A kiss pressed softly to her lips. Please, would you stop thinking about this, for once today?

She smiled an apology into the kiss and lifted her hand to twine into long, light hair. I'm sorry?

Gentle affection sparkled in her mind, like the tickle of warm raindrops. You didn't run away, Susan. This was never about running away. Talia held her face gently in both hands, half turned towards her, snow beginning to speckle her cloak as it came down harder. "It's not our fight, not now."

"It should have been." The anger burned in her, suddenly, so sharp it hurt. "Damn it, everything they've done to me, to you - we had all this time to do something, it should have been us out there-"

"And then we could be lying dead in a suicide bomb, ripped apart from the soul outwards, drugged out of everything we are and chained up like animals while they decided what to do with us - make your choice, it would be our names in the papers and none of it would matter as much as our being here." Ivanova looked away, closing her eyes to every image, but she felt the caress of trembling fingertips over her eyelids. Talia's voice was gently whispered for only her to ever hear. "You have to leave some battles for the rest of the world, Susan."

Her throat tightened around the words as she made herself look up, her eyes stinging in the cold. "Then tell me why it feels like I've been fighting this one the last two years?"

Talia offered her a watery smile of understanding. "Because we have, and you know that. Sometimes the fight is just in recognising that... you do belong to something, even if you don't want to believe it. That there are other people to win this war for you. People who needed to, and were ready when you weren't." A snowflake, the first of a few, floated down to nestle in her hair. "Like Lyta."

Ivanova pulled in a shuddering breath, the air biting cold now. "We should... I don't know." She reached out, hardly noticing herself tugging her lover closer. "We should make a statement, something. Tell them."

Talia nodded carefully. "If that's what you want."

She didn't even try to sound detached. "What's the point of a war if nothing changes?"

Talia brushed a chilled fingertip across her lips, smiling as she leaned into the warmth of them pressed close in the softly snowing wind. "We can talk to the President in the morning."

The kiss felt like a reward, and one well-deserved: it seemed only fair to return it, to slip her fingers into Talia's hair and gently down, burrowing under heavy cloak and light Minbari robes with equal interest to find soft skin beneath. Mmm... come out here to keep me warm, did you?

Talia's mouth captured hers again, hands pushing her gently sideways into the snow. Laughter tickled her thoughts at her vocal yelp, and then Talia's hands were quick and knowing on her skin, a flash of erotic amusement emerging as that passionate mouth licked a teasing path down the hollow of her throat. Of course, what would I do if you froze to death?

She growled loudly under her breath and curled a hand under Talia's hair at the nape of her neck, holding her close. Do that enough and I'd come back from the grave for you.

Talia smirked wolfishly up at her and ducked another kiss into the curve of her shoulder. "Make that a promise and I'll think about it."

Her palm stroked over deliciously warm skin, fingers settling at the hollow of hips slimmer than her own and lightly playing. Talia hummed lazy pleasure inside her mind and nestled into her, conveniently forgetting the spread of snow all around them. Summoning annoyance enough for a credible performance was difficult, but she tried. "You realise that yet again, I'm the one who gets wet?"

Fingers threaded into hers and led them down further; Talia looked up at her and smiled mischievously. "Don't make me dignify that with an answer."

She made a face that totally belied her hand cupped to that soft heat, or the way two fingers eased deeply into Talia's center to draw a throaty sigh. "You know, I don't know why I bother sometimes..."

Talia growled a kiss into her shoulder and shifted a little to the slow thrust of her fingers, pushing her back into the damp ground. Are you going to keep talking all night, or are we just going to admit to freezing and make love until the moons go down?

The notion had a certain recklessly dumb charm to it as she tipped her head down for another kiss. "Hmm... you have all the great ideas."

A grin flashed down at her as Talia sat up into the falling snow and reached for the clasp of her shirt. I'm glad you finally noticed that.

******

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