St. Petersburg By Nightfall

By Leyenn

RATING: G

PAIRING: Susan/Talia

CATEGORY: For the Christmas 2003 GiftFic challenge.

SUMMARY: A visit home.

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

ARCHIVE: Want, Take, Tell.

******

The sky is starless in the void of the night. Light fills the cemetery softly from above, white bulbs that huddle and project into the darkness. The grass is cut as short as the lives they walk past, and all the stones are washed clean.

Getting used to a blank, starless sky was a strange prospect, after all this time. She'd almost forgotten growing up under this blackness, looking out from a dormitory window and finding nothing but velvet dark as far as the eye could see.

And getting into trouble for hanging half out of a window and freezing to death at past midnight, but that part was a little easier to brush aside.

Always the troublemaker, were you?

She smiled sideways; the thick folds of a Minbari cloak framed her vision, but she still knew exactly where to hold out her hand to feel it answered by the brush of bare fingers. You expected any less of me?

Talia laughed into the darkness. Heaven forbid Susan Ivanova should ever disappoint.

She dropped the hood back as they wound further into the twist of pathways and squeezed the hand in hers. "Your hands are freezing."

Talia pulled out of the touch and reached across to tidy her hair out of her cloak. A sigh of long-held affection breathed across her neck. "Susan, don't start."

"It's not just your business if you end up with frostbite," she muttered back. Fully aware of being heard, of course: that was most of the fun.

With a deeply dramatic sigh, Talia took two quick steps forward to overtake her, reached out to the nearest object she could find - a stone cherub, as it happened - and flicked a frown at it.

At which the granite promptly gave off light enough to drown out more than just the starscape hidden above, and a slow wave of heat that would probably have boiled the lake opposite had they been a little closer to it.

Ivanova stopped walking and gave her a deeply amused stare, struggling not to laugh. And hoping they hadn't just set off any particularly ambitious alarms anywhere.

"I think you overdid it, just a little."

"Oh, shut up."

The laugh escaped beyond even her ability to control it, but she managed to slip behind Talia's slim build and get out of range before she could find herself the object of that frighteningly powerful frown. The glow was fading, but it still gave out enough warmth to be more than pleasant when she laid her hands over Talia's. Mmm. Toasty.

I'll get it down eventually.

Damn tacky ornament anyway.

Talia laughed. "I'm sure whoever it belongs to likes it."

"I don't think whoever it belongs to really cares," she pointed out practically. "And no, it most certainly is not. The Ivanovs have better taste than this."

Talia pulled her hand up for a kiss to placate her, and she felt the smile against her skin. Just a thought. "It's getting late. Are you sure you don't want to wait...?"

"There'll be a service in the morning." The only thing worse than facing up to being here would be braving the chance of someone knowing her, even after this long. That way did not lie the prospect of an easy day. Bad enough that I never came...

All right. Which way?

St. Petersburg buried under a snowy night wasn't an image she'd ever expected to step into, since the end of the War. Minbar had been into its early summer when they'd visited, and it surprised her that anywhere on Earth could manage to be colder. An odd thing to notice, in a life lived in space.

The place was tidier than Susan had expected. It didn't occur, until Talia mentioned it, that someone else might still visit here, even now.

Yossel?

He loves you like a daughter. And this is his home as well, isn't it?

Susan looked at her, halfway between a smile and a sigh. Another thing I owe him.

She knew tradition, of course; she'd married into it in all but name, and that only to spare Susan what she insisted were the terrible agonies of planning a Jewish wedding. A daughter should care for her father's grave. Nothing seemed to mention if a daughter were all but exiled, light years away, given hardly a day in six years to belong to herself.

When they reached it, she stopped, without words. That they'd even talked about this seemed unnecessary as she watched Susan go on.

Alone. That thought wasn't hers.

No. I wouldn't leave you alone.

She'd felt this echo of tears enough times not to reach to wipe them away, but there was a smile and a grateful love underneath the pain. I know.

The night wind found her chafing her hands together to keep warm as she waited, half without realising. Her gloves were still safely buried away in a corner of the closet back home, like a bad grade; she kept them just to remind herself how much better she could be. It was comforting, the effort it took just to remember the feel of them.

She wasn't going to admit to Susan that she regretted that decision right now, at least on a practical level. The other option still wasn't very reliable however much she practiced. Although to be fair, granite wasn't something she got to practice on very often.

You just try shipping chunks of rock onto my station...

She smiled, casting a glance across the snowy grass. But where would I keep them?

The grave markers, in her mind's eyes, were smooth stone incised with a clear, bold Russian alphabet and already wiped clean of the falling snow.

I don't even do that for them. There was almost more guilt there than she could bear to hear, if it hadn't been Susan. Especially from Susan. Damn it, Talia, they're my family and I've not even swept their graves in six years...

They'd understand, Susan.

How?! Papa and Ganya - they never even knew -

Never knew what it was that would keep their daughter and sister away for so long. Never knew what it was that made even Susan Ivanova afraid to set foot on her own world in the daylight, for fear of being caught at a secret she no longer wanted to keep hidden.

Your mother knew.

Yes, and taught me everything I can't stand to do any more. Bitterness spiked the tears this time, and it took all of her will not to give in and go over there, fold Susan in her arms and kiss her on that grave and hold her mind and soul while she cried, and let her believe just for an instant that everything would be okay.

A good hundred yards back along empty paths, the granite cherub cracked into agonising pieces.

She wanted you to be safe. And happy. It was a struggle to find something she could say. You are happy, aren't you?

Despite it all, a watery laugh drifted back to her on the rustling air. That's a stupid question, of course I'm happy. I have the station, I have the Alliance - I have you, and I love you. Home soil, grief or gratitude made her impulsive, suddenly. More than anything, and you know it.

It was impossible not to smile, this time brushing away her own tears quickly before they froze.

Then, why not tell them that?

In the darkness in front of her, it had to be past midnight by now, and she could see nothing. But she didn't need to see with her eyes to watch Susan trace snowflakes from familiar names with careful hands and press a kiss from her fingers to the stone, each one, before rising.

I think they know. When she stepped out of the dark, Talia got a kiss as well, but the fingers found better places to be.

You don't want to stay any longer?

Honestly? I think I want to get royally drunk. The tears were still there, but a smile was trying its best not to hide beneath them. And come back in the morning.

If that's what you want. She flexed her fingers enough to draw the hood back up around Susan's face, easing her hair back under the thick fabric. "But if you make me drink real Russian vodka, Susan Ivanova, I will not respect you in the morning."

That grin she knew far too well surfaced out affectionate green eyes. "You won't even respect me in ten minutes, in that case."

She matched it look for look; six years of Susan meant she couldn't really help it, anymore. Didn't, particularly, even want to. I don't think that will stop me.

That was going to be the point.

******

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