12 Adar 6019 (March 8, 2259)
"Say it again," Talia said.
"Hamantashan. It supposed to look like Haman's hat." With a smile, Susan scuffed her foot on the floor as she uttered Haman's name.
"So we eat Haman's hat?"
Susan stamped her foot, feeling a kind of childish delight that she hadn't felt since mama had left them. "Exactly." Involuntarily her eyes shot to Talia's top, and she smiled again at the absence of the Psi Corp pin.
Talia was coyly looking between the pastry that she was carefully folding, and Susan's face. "And the foot?"
Susan laughed. "Not strictly necessary – at least now. Since Haman," *stomp* "was trying to kill us, we don't feel a need to be polite. In some communities, when we listen to the Megillah, the scroll of Esther, it's the custom to make a racket when Haman's name is read – noisemakers, stomping feet."
"Noisemakers in a synagogue?" Talia asked with surprise.
"Just for Purim, the holiday with noise. Some people also write Haman's name on the soles of their shoes with chalk, and stomp on him until he's wiped out."
"So you wrote his name on the soles of your shoes?" Talia asked as she looked down at Susan's slipper clad feet.
"No, not until tomorrow night when Purim begins." She shrugged as she took a sip of her wine. "I was just practicing. Oh, let me refill your glass. We should practice that too."
"I'm not sure that we need any more practice drinking wine," Talia laughed, holding out her glass.
Susan poured. "I gave you the executive summary of the Jewish festivals, right?"
"They tried to kill us. We survived. Let's Eat."
"Exactly. Except for Purim it's, let's eat and drink until we're so drunk that we cannot tell the difference between Mordechai and Haman." With a sly smile, Susan scuffed her foot on the floor. "Mordechai and Queen Esther are the heroes of our story.
"And Haman-" Talia stamped her foot. "Is the villain."
Susan felt flush with more than the wine. Talia was bringing out the good humor in her just as much as the traditions that she though that she had forgotten. She spooned some of the filling into a circle of dough and carefully folded in the sides making three flaps that she pinched together.
"So are all of these for the mich- mish – Michigan Man." Talia dropped her spoon and turned pink as Susan laughed at her.
Slowly she said, "Michloach manot. Gifts to friends. I think we have plenty of them so that we can have a snack right now, if you like." Pinching a final corner on the last pastry, Susan picked up the tray and swapped it with a finished tray of pastries in the oven. "After all, not only do these look good, but they good for you. Nowadays people use all sorts of filling, but the traditional fillings were prunes or poppy seeds. My grandmother always insisted on using prunes because with the feasting, she thought that people should at least be eating something that kept them regular."
Talia pulled down her wine glass and put her hand over her mouth for a long moment, eyes wide. Then she coughed and laughed. "I am so jealous right now, you wouldn't believe."
"Jealous of having a grandmother that was overly concerned with colon health?" Susan raised an eyebrow.
"No!" Talia leaned back against the counter, putting down her glass. "Jealous because you knew your family. You were raised with traditions that bring you joy. I mean, I didn't have a horrible childhood. There were classmates to play with and people that encouraged my talent, but I didn't have any of this. I didn't have late night laughing over cookies or pastries or health conscious grandmothers. The Corp cancelled classes for holidays and maybe had a treat in the cafeterias – nothing like this."
Susan moved forward until her slippered foot was between Talia's. With slow deliberation, she ran her hand down Talia's arm. "I suppose that's the thing; it's never too late to create new traditions. For instance, I've heard it's a mitzvah to bring your partner pleasure."
"Mitzvahs are good things, right," Talia said as she ran her fingers walked over Susan's torso until she could slide her palm over Susan's narrow hip.
As Talia tugged, Susan pressed her against the counter. "Very good things."
"Well then, we should practice that."
*** 14 Adar II 6021 (March 17, 2261)***
Susan had been a soldier long enough to know that one ducked first and asked questions later; otherwise, one might not be alive to ask questions. Common wisdom was the right course of action in this case. A wall panel exploded a few feet away, driving Susan to jump through an open doorway just as debris blocked the entrance. She coughed, trying to assess if anything was broken before she moved too much. Her hand stung, but that wasn't the worst of it, because her link was cracked and not responding.
"My god, are you all right! What just –"
Susan's head snapped up at the sound of the voice. It was Talia, but with long, dark brown hair. The clothes she was wearing were casual, loose fitting, not at all like the crisp suits she used to wear as a commercial telepath. Nor was it like the last outfit that Susan had seen her "Control" in – the all black of a Psi Cop.
"What the hell are you doing here," Susan snapped as she climbed to her feet.
Talia's face shifted from concern to anger. "Well as you recall, refugee telepaths escaped Mars with my alter-ego in tow."
"Ms. Winters –" Susan let out a frustrated breath and turned toward the doorway now blocked by debris.
"Once my body was here, there was a lively debate about what to do about it-"
"And you sentenced her to the death of personality."
"HEY!" Susan slapped her hand against the wall and then walked straight back until she was well into Talia's personal space. "I did not sentence you to the death of personality – the Psi Corp did that when they loaded the Control into your head. Furthermore, I had no idea what to do until Kosh-"
"That's not Kosh."
Susan wanted to agree with her, but she wasn't supposed to admit that there was a difference. "The Vorlon Ambassador stepped forward and declared it was scampering time."
"The Hour of Scampering, and I still don't know why Kosh used the phrase let alone why his replacement would call it that."
Susan slapped her hands on the thighs of her uniform pants, raising a bit of dust and then looked to the ceiling. "Whatever you want to call it! Kosh – Oh hell, the current Vorlon Ambassador told us that Kosh saved a copy of your mind in a data crystal and that he could bring you back. Forgive me, but I thought you'd be happy about that!"
"I was, even when I had to endure scan after scan so that Lyta could be sure that everything was back right and that Control was gone. I was happy about that until I realized that I was still going to be treated like some kind of traitor when I had never done anything!"
"What are you talking about? Dr. Franklin took care of you, set you up with a place to say. I know that you had a stream of visitors from the command staff, and certain quarters of the Ambassadorial wing, that filled you in on everything missed."
"I'm a telepath, remember. I could feel their doubts, and yes, most of them faded with time. What I remember were the ones that didn't come, like you. Maybe everyone else wasn't what I care about."
Now Susan turned away, desperately wanting a way out of this hole that they had fallen into. "Do you know anything about the explosion?"
"I didn't cause it if that's what you're asking."
"That's not what I am asking. I am asking if you knew what happened."
Talia shrugged. "I don't know. I was just heading back to my quarters when security came out of nowhere and was telling everyone to get out of the corridors. They told me to wait in here."
"Wait for what?" Susan mused out loud. Then she found herself blinking and turning back to Talia. "You're living in Brown Sector? It's not the nicest place in on the station. It's not the safest place either."
"It's where rogue telepath's hide. Look, Dr. Franklin was treating me well, but he was also hovering. I wanted some space, and it was suggested that I keep a low profile."
"I hate the hair color," Susan said and then she pinched her eyes closed, wonder how that stupid thought made its way to her mouth, but before she could stop herself, she added. "It's just not you." She shook herself and move toward a wall. "Look, we should be looking for a way to get out of here."
Talia turned toward another wall and said, "Well, then I suppose the hair is doing its job, keeping me hidden. What are you doing down here? Following up with security?"
"No," Susan laughed. "This was just supposed to be a quick errand. I wanted to make a donation to Brother Theo's order and then it was off to deliver the last of the michloach manot."
"Today is Purim," Talia said, like a mystery had been solved. "I was becoming confused with the two months of Adar and the 13th falling on the Sabbot."
"That stuff confused everyone. Both women nodded and Susan suddenly couldn't handle the uncomfortable silence. "How are you feeling?"
"Physically well, and my mind is getting stronger. I'll be joining the telepaths out in the fleet as soon as Dr. Franklin clears me. Did you get hurt?" Talia visibly swallowed and then pointed at the door. "Now, I mean did you get hurt just now?"
There was noise coming from beyond the debris. Both women charged the door and began pounding on the walls and rubble. "In here! In here!"
A muffled voice demanded, "How many? How many injured?"
"Two – no injuries!" Susan shouted. "It's Commander Ivanova!"
"Commander, we're working on getting you out but we've got mess over here. It might take a while."
Susan turned and leaned heavily against the wall, shouting, "Fine!"
"I guess we're going to be stuck here a while," Talia said.
Susan slid down the wall and got comfortably seated. "I guess so." Spotting her bag, she leaned over her legs and picked it up. Talia sat on a crate a few feet away with one ankle resting on the opposite knee. It was a very casual position for someone that used to strive for formality. For a minute or so, they sat in silence, shifting to get more comfortable in a situation that was not remotely physically or emotionally comfortable.
"I did visit you in the beginning. You were unconscious for over a week, and we didn't know if you would make it or not."
"I couldn't respond, but I felt you there, and then I missed the fact that you weren't there."
Susan caught a glimpse of the sole of Talia's shoe. They were both covered in concrete dust but there was something there, bright blue – something Susan recognized.
Pushing herself to her feet, Susan crossed the short distance and looked at Talia's shoe. With an embarrassed flush, Talia tried to pull it a way, but Susan had put a hand on her foot to get a better look at the Psi Corp emblem drawn with blue chalk.
With a shrug, Talia looked Susan in the eye. "Call it a poor woman's Purim. I wanted to blot their name out of my life. After all, they tried to kill me --they actually killed me -- but I survived. I survived because everyone here – Kosh, Lyta, the Commander and you, believed in me," Talia said. "I never wanted to betray you. I-" She bit her lip. "I didn't betray you. It wasn't me."
"I know," Susan closed her eyes tight, and took a seat more for an excuse to break eye contact than anything else. "Hey and you're getting it wrong, not keeping it simple. They tried to kill me; I survived. Let's eat." She reached into the bag and handed Talia a paper wrapped bundle.
Talia opened a corner and smiled sadly. "You're being pulled in twenty directions and you made hamantashan?"
"No. I hired the bakeshop on the Zocalo, the one run by the little old Drazi man. He wasn't convinced you could fold a circle into a triangle, and he couldn't stand the smell of the prunes."
"That doesn't sound promising."
"No it doesn't, but it worked out. Who would have thought that the Drazi would have the instincts of a Jewish grandmother?"
Talia took a bite and nodded. "Apricot. They're good, but not as good as the ones we made."
"It wasn't any fun to make them on my own." Susan found herself looking at anything but Talia, because she hadn't realized that's was the real reason she couldn't bring herself to make them. Clearing her throat, she reached back into the bag and pulled out two bottles and handed one to Talia.
"Ah, the second food item – hard ji'kon cider?"
"Yeah, it was hard to get miniature bottle of wine, and the beer selection around here has gone downhill since we became cut off from Earth. Every alien race, except the Minbari, ferments some kind of fruit. Ji'kon is kind of like apples."
"Thank you, not just for the food and drink, but for giving me back my life. You made the right decision to trust Kosh – well, whoever the Vorlon ambassador is."
"I'd find it hard to-" Susan cut herself off before she admitted that she'd have a hard time denying Talia anything in her power. "Let me just say that you're welcome. Anytime"
"Happy Purim!" Talia raised her bottle.
Feeling a smile come for the first time in a long time, Susan clinked her bottle against Talia's. "Chag sameach to you too." They both took a drink. For a few minutes they sat in silence, eating and drinking.
"Was any of it real?" Susan asked.
Talia started nodding and shaking her head until she finally shrugged. "I'm the wrong person to ask. I don't know what was true and what wasn't. I don’t know if Control whispered in my head and told me to get close to you. I don't know how much any of my life was a lie."
Susan couldn't bear the pain in Talia's voice. "Hey, Control was not the one that helped Jason Ironheart. She wasn't the one that helped the underground railroad. She's not the one who put the Psi Corp on your shoe this morning."
"No, you're the one that inspired me to do that. Susan, she may have prodded me into getting to know you better, but I'm the one that fell in love with you and the one that loves you, right now." Talia stood up and walked toward a few paces away. "I know how impossible that is for you."
Susan sat there stiffly holding her breath, unable to say anything.
"I wasn't planning on saying that to you. Don't worry, I'll be gone soon," Talia said, looking down into her hands.
"I don't want you to go." It was almost physically painful to say them, but as soon as the words were out, Susan felt the same lightness of spirit that she had when she shared her secret with Delenn. "I know that I loved you then, and I want to love you again now."
Susan had never tried to send a telepathic message to anyone other than her mother. She didn't understand the mechanics, not really, but she reached out with her mind, letting all the emotions flow from her toward the other woman.
Talia's faced shifted happy and sad and frightened all mixed together. Then Susan felt it, the tentative touch in her mind. It made her jump for a second and then all the memories came flooding back. Their bodies were sliding against one another in Susan's bed, minds so occupied with each other that they could block out the world around them.
Susan crossed the small space between the, and took Talia's hand so that she could pull off the black leather glove insulating her from the world. Taking it as permission, Talia moved her fingers along Susan's face and Susan felt that contentment that she had only known as a child. This was a different kind of love she was feeling now.
There was a rumble at the doorway and her warrior's instinct made Susan turn toward it, but not before she grabbed Talia's hand in her own.
A chunk of concrete fell and Zack Allen's face popped into view. "Ladies, are you all right? We'll have you out of there in a few minutes."
"Zack what happened? Was it a bomb?"
"Nah, the electricians were tossing around a lot of jargon, blaming the wiring. You ask me, they were doing maintenance on the power grid three decks up and did something. At least you two know each other. There are all sorts of odd groups of people trapped up and down this corridor."
"Like a hidden hand pushing all the right pieces together," Susan said.
Talia squeezed her hand.