Humans have a phrase: "What is past is prologue."
Minbari also have a phrase: "What is past is also sometimes future."
– Narration by Delenn of Mir
"I'm still not sure I was the correct choice."
"You think you don't have the appropriate experience, Captain?"
"Using my title is definitely the best way to get me to agree with you, John," Susan said. "But no, it's not my experience I doubt."
"Then you don't think you've had enough time to deal with your grief?"
"No, time is not the issue either." She knew she would sound more convincing if only he had not known her for so long—or had not talked to Dr. Franklin directly after her break-down in Medlab last year.
John leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms behind his head. He studied her across the desk that separated them. "Care to enlighten me?" he finally asked.
"It's just that I think your arguments about the possible benefits of having someone who fought on the side of Earthgov run this place were valid." Susan followed John's lead and allowed herself to unwind, putting her feet up on her new desk. "Besides, people can plausibly argue that I'll still be acting as your subordinate."
"Susan, you know what I mean. I'm no longer part of the command structure of Babylon 5. Yes, I'll have some say over the political decisions, but I'd have that regardless of who was running this station. You are the best choice, if not necessarily the most politically savvy. At least the fact that we won't argue over every matter of procedure should make up for the time we have to spend convincing Earth we aren't planning some other form of rebellion."
"I'm not sure I'd hold my breath about ours being an argument free environment, Mr. President, sir." With some effort, she suppressed the smile that threatened to surface. "Though I suspect you'll argue less with me then you would have with your ex-wife."
"How did you…?"
Susan lost her personal battle and smiled. The new president of the Alliance looked like he had been caught with his hand in the Interstellar cookie jar.
"You really thought I wouldn't check out my competition?" she asked.
"It hadn't really occurred to me…"
"You have good taste in women, you know," she informed him. "Lochley's an excellent officer, not to mention a great conversationalist." She knew she probably shouldn't be enjoying the bemused look on his face so much, but she couldn't seem to help herself.
"We had dinner while I was Earthside," she said. "You know, wished each other luck." They might have even done more than that - they'd hit it off well enough - but Susan had given up on more months ago. Maybe even years ago, considering she hadn't taken anyone to bed who mattered since Talia.
Then again, it could have just been that Lochley was Sheridan's ex.
"I really shouldn't be surprised," John said, shaking his head. "If I couldn't hide something like the presence of the Rangers from you, my personal life didn't stand much of a chance. Though I assume I don't even have to ask-"
"You don't." She raised an eyebrow. "But c'mon, your ex-wife? How would Delenn have handled that?"
"How would I have handled what?"
"Delenn!" John turned to face his wife, who now stood in the doorway. "I thought you were moving some of your belongings into my quarters." He looked over at Ivanova. "We decided to share two sets of quarters for the sake of convenience and-"
"I know," Susan cut him off for his own good. "I authorized it."
Delenn looked between them doubtfully, as if not quite sure how to acquire the information she'd missed. "I'm finished moving," she said. "It didn't take nearly as long as I expected." Her smile wasn't quite as sweet as her words. "Perhaps because I keep missing things."
If Susan hadn't seen the glint of amusement in Delenn's eyes she would have been far more worried for her former superior. As it was, she still didn't envy him whatever conversation would come later. He had married a woman very good at eliciting the truth—but though Delenn appreciated truth, Susan wasn't sure that appreciation would extend to the knowledge of an ex-wife. Particularly an ex-wife who had been in line to serve on the same station as Delenn's new mate.
"Did you need something from me, Delenn?" John asked.
"No, I actually came to talk to the Captain," she said, turning to his companion. "Susan, as I'm sure John has explained to you, Garibaldi has accepted our offer of a position within the new Alliance. However, I would like to request-"
"That he and Zack be equals with regards to the security surrounding your inauguration ceremony?" Susan interrupted. "Already done. I believe the two of them are meeting even as we speak. "
"Thank you." Delenn tilted her head up and smiled at her husband. "I believe this is the time at which we leave the new Captain to her duties."
"What, now that you're done being overprotective?" When he met her determined gaze, his expression softened into a smile. "Alright, you might have a point. Can't hurt to be careful. Wouldn't want to give this place any more bad press than it's already had."
"Yeah, it would be nice to be out of the news for awhile," Susan agreed as she walked the two individuals who arguably had the most combined power in the universe to the door.
She waited until it shut before turning her gaze upwards. "I hope you won't be offended if I'm rather pessimistic about our prospects," she informed the ceiling.
Susan was having breakfast the next morning when she felt it.
The tiniest brush before everything went silent. Or at least everything but that little voice in the back of her mind. The one that told her that all this could not possibly end well.
She waited until he showed himself before she spoke. "Who are you, and why do you feel yourself entitled to manipulate my perceptions?"
He looked taken aback at her calm. "I'm sorry, I wanted to talk to you in private."
"Well, next time make an appointment—or even a request. I generally prefer my conversations to be consensual."
"I am not forcing you-"
"To speak with you? Technically, I suppose you are not." She gestured to all the people frozen around them. "But considering you've taken away my ability to interact with anyone else, I'd say you haven't left me with many other practical choices."
She watched as he allowed himself to look beyond her, taking in his work for what seemed like the first time in the conversation. She worked to hide her disquiet at the degree of control he had asserted over their environment. He had made every single person around them appear to freeze, silencing both their speech and their thoughts. Not that she'd let on that she knew about the loss of the latter.
"Who are you?" she asked again.
He met her gaze. "My name is Byron. And I wish to apologize for my presumption. You are, of course, correct in all you said. Might I make an appointment with you for later this afternoon?"
Susan studied him. "Yes," she finally said, "you may. But if you ever mess with my mind again, I-"
"No need to continue. I understand perfectly, Captain. I shall not endanger my head's relationship to my body again."
Suddenly the room turned in on itself, and all the noise came back in a single wave of sensory overload.
It wasn't until after Byron walked away that Susan realized that she had never once worried that he would scan her thoughts without permission.
"A colony for telepaths? On Babylon 5?"
"That's what he said he wanted." Susan said.
As John considered this unusual request, Susan unbuttoned the jacket of her uniform and relaxed back into the couch. When she had invited him back to her quarters to discuss this newest problem, he had accepted with alacrity, much as she had known he would. Not that he needed more issues than he already had on his plate, what with all the attempts on his life, but she knew he wouldn't deal well with being left out of the insanity that made up the daily life of Babylon 5.
Plus, the two of them could share a drink together, a pleasure frequently denied him as he refused to keep alcohol in his and Delenn's quarters.
"And what did you say?" he finally asked.
"That I can't approve it," she said with real regret. "With both of the major authority figures here on B5 associated with the rebellion against Earthgov, I can't push for him right now and buck the system."
"It's a reasonable decision," he said. "After all, you have no idea of the reliability of these rogue telepaths. They might hate the Corps as much as we do, but have no more scruples about leaving people's secrets alone than their parent organization." He hesitated, then continued, "Are you sure you aren't simply trying to avoid-"
"Drawing attention to myself for a telepath cause? I did worry about my reaction being one of simple self-preservation." Susan took a sip of her drink, then poured John and herself another round. "But I never felt the least bit threatened by him, John." She met his gaze, hoping he would see the truth of her statement. "Which is not how I normally feel around other telepaths. I don't really think that lack of scruples is something we have to worry about with a group that this Byron leads. I get the feeling they understand the need for personal space—the integrity of self."
"I admit that now you've made me curious. If he tries to make an appointment with me, I'll definitely accept."
"And will you give him what he wants?"
John shrugged. "I'm not sure. I had hoped you and I could present a more united front. It's frustrating."
"I agree," she said immediately. "You know me, John. You know that no one is more sympathetic towards telepaths who don't want to be a part of the Corps. I just cannot authorize their request right now without jeopardizing my promise to remain faithful to Earth laws. As the war memories fade, I'll be able to bend the rules, but right now they need to see me following them in both spirit and letter. Our rebellion might have been necessary, but I cannot blame Earthgov for requiring me to re-earn a certain amount of trust."
"I understand your position, Susan, but I'm going to have to make up my own mind on this. I don't know that I, in good conscience, can deny them the help of the Interstellar Alliance. Not to the mention the fact that a war between telepaths is definitely on the horizon, and I'd like to have a few on our side."
"You'd also prefer to have a few on your side that are there for more reasons than political expediency."
"Yes." John nodded. "I do generally prefer for my allies to respect and trust me."
"Well, I'll just tell you to be careful, sir. Your political decisions aren't all bound to reduce the number of your enemies, but I hadn't expected for you to put yourself in such a precarious position quite so soon."
Susan almost felt like laughing. Had she really ever thought that John's decision would put him in a precarious position? If so, she must have failed to internalize the full range of tasks that fell to the person running B5.
Her juggling act had begun this morning, and she didn't see it ending anytime soon. Right now, not only did she have Psi-Corps' personnel all throughout her station, but she had a pissed-off Garibaldi in the brig – where she herself had put him – and a man standing in front of her that she would rather see put out an airlock.
Hell, if she had to let the latter continue breathing, she could at least ruin his day. Dr. Franklin had just provided her enough ammunition to wound.
"Mr. Bester," she said, "I have new orders regarding the release of these telepaths." She read him the quarantine summary, trying her best not to reveal her satisfaction.
"Really, Captain!" he said. "You can't mean to…" he trailed off, apparently not having adequate words to express his outrage. Susan didn't think she'd ever seen him so visibly upset.
"There's nothing more I can do to help you," she informed him. "I'm as bound by the regulations as you are. I'm sorry that this trip was a waste of your time."
"You're not at all sorry!"
"You're right, I'm not," she said candidly. "However, if you notice, how I feel has not affected the manner in which I've followed Earth policies all day." The fact that she was pleased to have to follow this latest order was ultimately irrelevant.
"Aren't you being somewhat hypocritical," he asked, "in choosing now to play the unquestioningly obedient soldier? As I recall, a few months ago, you were part of a group that prided itself on questioning Earthgov's decisions."
"Mr. Bester, I've got a station to run, so I'm going to end this conversation before it degenerates further. Just be aware that my newfound policy of not questioning orders has been working in your favor all day. If I hadn't been ordered to facilitate your work here today, I might have let Mr. Garibaldi finish that conversation he wanted to have with you."
"I have little doubt he'll have another chance." Bester shook his head. "Fine, I'll leave, but I'll be back in sixty days. You'll have them ready for me?"
"I'll obey my orders." And hopefully by the time it became relevant, they would be different enough to allow her to defy his expectations once again. "Is there anything else I can do for you before you go?"
"I do have one question."
"It doesn't say anywhere in those new rules of yours that I cannot leave someone to make sure that none of the remaining telepaths try to run?"
Susan forced herself not to groan aloud. This would not make her life any easier. "No, it doesn't," she said. "Of course, if such a person were assigned here, they could not stop a fleeing telepath themselves. The most they could do would be to inform security."
"I know," he said. "It's hardly ideal, but you've left me with little choice." He touched the communications device he had brought with him. "Please join us now," he said. At Susan's surprised look, he shrugged. "I prepared for this eventuality. I had hoped leaving someone wouldn't be necessary, but these blips are an investment worth protecting."
Susan hoped that whoever was joining them would do so quickly. She wasn't sure how long she could wait in the same room as Bester and not do something to jeopardize the tenuous peace she had managed to maintain between the B5 personnel and the bloodhounds who had spent the morning tearing apart the station. So far she had tried to lead by example, and her efforts had netted her a certain amount of success—though Zack had not been happy to be the one who had to put Garibaldi in the brig. But she knew herself, knew her patience to be incredibly finite, and thus wasn't completely sure that she would put her utmost into maintaining the peace if she had to spend much longer alone with Bester.
It was with relief that she finally heard the sound of footsteps approaching. Relief which lasted only until the moment when her vigil with Bester was over and she caught her first glimpse of her rescuer.
"Commander," Talia said, then paused and lifted her gloved hands in a shrug. "I mean Captain. It's been awhile." She smiled. "I hope in our time apart you haven't forgotten about our friendship." Her gaze slipped from Susan's eyes down to her mouth and back again. "I certainly never have," she said, her smile deepening.
"You're kidding," Garibaldi said.
"I wish I was." Susan lowered herself down on the metal bench across from him. She had spent the morning worrying about how to deal with his rage at being denied access to Bester, but the events of the afternoon had solved that problem for her. Too bad the solution came in the form of her ex-lover. She'd be more careful what she wished for in the future.
"Our Talia? No." Susan shook her head and then banged it back against the wall for good measure, as well as for the extra boom. After all, there was always a boom. "She's whatever the Corps made her."
"Who would have ever guessed that it could get worse then their usual brainwashing techniques?"
"Not me," Susan said. "Though I really shouldn't be surprised." Hadn't she seen how the Corps had shaped so many telepaths over the years? Replacing someone with a full-formed personality that had been programmed with an unshakable loyalty to the Corps was simply the next logical step.
In the world of the insane.
"You know," Garibaldi said, "if you had let me out of here-"
"It would have had no effect on this situation."
"Bester would be dead."
"He might be dead," Susan corrected, "but Talia would still be alive and not herself. She would just be elsewhere."
"But wouldn't you feel better?"
Susan opened her mouth and then closed it again. Usually thinking of Bester dead made her feel somewhat gleeful, but she wasn't sure if even that drastic measure would help her mood right now. Which might be the most depressing prospect she had entertained all day.
"Ah, c'mon Ivanova, there would have been hell to pay, but at least we wouldn't have to worry about him getting in the way of our 'rescue Talia' plan."
"What do you mean, what plan?" At her look he threw up his hands and, standing, started to pace. "Yeah, I know it doesn't exist right now, but it will, right?" His pacing brought him right up to her, and she tried to ignore his hopeful look. "We'll come up with it together," he said.
"Count me out," she said. "I have enough to do, trying to run this station, without taking on impossible extra tasks."
Garibaldi stared at her. "I know the two of you weren't always the best of friends," he finally said, "but you'd really leave her like that? I mean, it shouldn't matter, but at the end there I really thought you were getting along."
Susan supposed it depended on his definition of harmony. The night she managed to elicit a few whispered yeses followed by a sigh of approval might be the only time she and Talia could have ever been described as being in complete agreement. And she didn't think that's what he was referring to.
"I respected her, if that's what you mean," Susan said. "But that person is gone, Garibaldi. Erased. The sooner we accept that and treat her as the enemy she has become, the better for all of us."
"So you're just going to give up on her?"
"There is no her to give up on." Susan moved towards the door, indicating that he was free to go. "Enjoy whatever memories she left you and move on."
"Jeez, Ivanova," Garibaldi said as he passed by her to exit the cell. "All these years I've told people that you warm up eventually. Guess I had you figured wrong."
Susan refused to be baited and let him leave without responding. Getting into an argument would have meant having to explain exactly how much she knew about Talia's new personality, and how she had come across that knowledge. Though Garibaldi might have felt a certain level of triumph at his assessment of her character—she had indeed warmed up to Ms. Winters—she didn't feel her personal history would affect their present situation.
Whatever she or Garibaldi had once felt for Talia no longer mattered.
Here with them, she was still gone.
With all the turmoil, Lyta had felt unsure of whether or not he would be at their usual breakfast spot. Upon awakening this morning she had opted for cautious optimism, even though most of the ship's rogue telepaths seemed to be staying out of sight today. After the events of yesterday, she didn't blame them. Especially since the culmination of their ordeal had involved the introduction of yet one more watch-dog they had to try and avoid.
And she was a powerful watch-dog at that. Lyta didn't think she could manipulate Talia as easily as she could the other telepaths of the Corps. However, she also didn't think that Bester had truly accounted for the fact that both sides in their little war had a telepath whose level far superseded anything they had a formal label to describe. Once the game began for real, she wouldn't want to have to place a bet on the victor. Though, again, cautious optimism was taking the day. Being modified by the Corps made Talia daunting—but being modified by the Vorlons…
Somehow, Lyta didn't think anyone would begrudge her a little optimism.
Her confidence had another boost when she turned the final corner into their usual breakfast spot and spotted Byron sitting there waiting for her.
"I took the liberty of ordering your juice," he said as she sat down. "We've much to discuss and very little time this morning."
"Thank you," she said, feeling ridiculously pleased that he always seemed to remember her exact likes and dislikes. Though she had never regretted leaving the Corps, she had never gotten used to being generally ignored on Babylon 5. Oh, they were aware enough of what they thought she was capable of doing for them, but she didn't think that any one of them knew of a single personal opinion she held. The number of questions she wasn't asked when in a group of them was deafening. But Byron…
He never stopped asking her questions. Both audibly and inaudibly, he was always concerned with how she felt. Not that he pried, he just cared. Which made him different from everyone she had interacted with up to this point in her life. The two of them knew each others thoughts because they thought to share them. She had never before realized that you could say so much with words.
"Our position has become even more precarious," he said, "and I would like your opinion about moving up our schedule."
Lyta waited until the waitress had placed her juice on the table and left before she answered. Should we really be speaking about this? she thought to him.
Use generalities, he thought back. We cannot sit here and be silent, that would draw attention. But look around you, right now everyone is avoiding looking in our direction. They didn't like having so many of our kind on board the station yesterday, and so we are unusually invisible today. Behave normally and they will continue to pretend we do not exist. He smiled. At least until we want to remind them.
Lyta took a peek at the tables around them and realized the truth of what he said. No one was looking in their direction. Even when people happened to glance across to where they sat, their gazes quickly turned away. A few weeks ago, she might have felt a certain degree of hurt. Now, she found she simply didn't care. It was rather liberating, and she found she was enjoying her first taste of liberty.
Yet she also felt his plan might be more aggressive than was necessary, so she held her enthusiasm in check.
"I'm still not sure that we can't find another way," she said. "You realize that the minute they feel threatened, we lose our best allies."
"I'm not planning on alienating anyone unnecessarily. I will make the request first."
She shook her head. "But the chances of them allowing us such a…space…even if it is unused is very low. It's like giving them no choice at all."
"I'm not even sure what our other choices are," he said, brushing some hair back from his face. Though his movements were measured, Lyta could feel his irritation in the low, background buzz of his thoughts. "With Ms. Winters here now…" he trailed off.
Without even asking him what was wrong, Lyta turned to her right where silence crept towards them in an overwhelming fashion.
If she appears when I speak about her, Byron thought towards Lyta, what will happen now that I am thinking about her?
Absolutely nothing, Lyta responded confidently, and I don't even think she realizes it is me that is blocking her.
Byron offered her a fond look before he turned to greet their visitor.
"Ms. Winters," he said. "Is there some way we can be of service?"
Talia smiled. "I don't suppose you'd offer to give yourself over to the Corps?"
"It does seem rather unlikely," Byron said. "But perhaps you'd consider giving yourself a vacation and just letting us go?"
"Unfortunately for you, I find my work very rewarding." Talia pulled a chair from the table next to them and sat down between them. "I believe Ms. Alexander used to share my view." She turned to Lyta. "Whatever happened to that last agreement you signed?"
"The one that says the Corps gets my body after I die?" Lyta asked, fearlessly meeting Talia's gaze. "I don't believe anything happened to it. I haven't yet died for the Corps' convenience, but one can hardly use that to accuse me of not keeping my part of the bargain." She suddenly felt very glad she had possessed the foresight to warn Byron of that unfortunate deal. He hadn't judged her—much—but she wouldn't have wanted to have to share in the glare he was directing at Talia.
Talia laughed and leaned forward to place one gloved hand on Lyta's arm. "I always did enjoy your sense of humor. It's sad that Mathew really limited the time I could spend around you." She leaned forward. "I think he was jealous," she whispered conspiratorially. "I thought you were so pretty back then."
"Age has done her an even greater service then I realized," Byron said, "if it has made her less attractive to you."
"Oh, no," Talia said to him, not looking away from her study of Lyta. "She's even more attractive now. The old Lyta would have never considered taking part in open rebellion against the Corps. Though I will have to prevent it, of course, I can still appreciate the effort—and its effect."
"I-" Lyta stopped and fought off her first impulse, the one that had her pulling out of Talia's grasp and challenging her right where they sat. She had been taught to use emotions and desires to her advantage, not succumb to her own. Just how strong was she? Could she consider using this to her benefit? To Byron's benefit?
She thought that maybe she could.
Though the person walking towards them right now was about to complicate her options.
"Captain," Talia said as Susan walked up to the table wearing a very formidable scowl. "Still not a morning person, I see."
Susan looked over to where Talia's hand still rested on Lyta's arm. "Is she bothering you?" she asked Lyta. "She might be authorized to be here to make sure you are apprehended if you try to flee, but you are not required to socialize with her."
Lyta made a quick decision and covered Talia's gloved hand with one of her bare ones. "No, she's not bothering me at all," she informed Susan. "We're actually old friends."
Keeping track of the reactions to her statement proved to be both difficult and informative. She wasn't sure which expression she found more devastating: the guarded look Susan adopted, or the disbelief writ large on Byron's face. Only Talia managed to find words for a response.
"Old friends who must find some time to catch up," Talia said, turning her back to Susan. "Perhaps at dinner later this week?" she asked Lyta.
Lyta smiled warmly. "I think I could manage that." She forced herself to avoid both Susan and Byron's gaze.
"Well, I, for one, was glad of the Captain's inquiry," Byron said, turning his head to address Susan. "I would prefer not to be hounded by one of Bester's lackeys."
"I'm the lackey?" Talia asked. "You seem to have forgotten-"
"I'll make sure your privacy is respected," Susan said to Byron, ignoring Talia completely. "Please don't hesitate to inform me if you feel at all intruded upon."
"Would you allow me to make another request?" he asked.
"You can make it," she said. "I promise nothing else."
"Might I ask you to accept my apology for the way those on your station were treated yesterday?"
"Byron," Lyta said, scandalized, "you had nothing to do with that!"
"We are family, Lyta," he said firmly. "Or at least we were, which means we once shared their beliefs. Did you never treat mundanes as those on this station were treated yesterday while you were with the Corps?"
Talia leaned back in her chair and smirked at Susan. "It's so sweet, how much he cares," she said. "I wonder why he's making the effort?"
Susan went with her new tried and true method and simply ignored her again. Soon it would stop working—the baiting would continue—but for now she'd take the easy victories.
"I appreciate the sentiment behind your gesture," she said to Byron, "though I don't hold you responsible for yesterday's upset."
"Then may I make one final request?" he asked.
"Give us an inch…" Talia said, running a finger down Lyta's arm. When Susan met her gaze, she smiled suggestively, and Susan found herself suddenly fighting more reactions from her body than she could accurately catalogue.
She hoped that the overwhelming rush of adrenaline mainly came from the urge to toss Talia out an airlock—but her natural pessimism did not lend itself to allowing her the luxury of self-deception. If nothing else, at least this encounter was strengthening her resolve to never meet with Talia alone.
"I would be surprised if the Captain has ever given an inch to anyone associated with the Corps," Byron said mildly.
"Well, she-" Talia began.
"What do you want?" Susan asked Byron. As she cut Talia off, she felt Lyta's focus shift to her, and she wished she could turn her head to figure out whether the redhead's expression was as knowing as it seemed from her peripheral view.
"Would you care to have dinner with me later this week?" he asked. "I promise not to make any requests throughout the duration of the meal."
"What about afterwards?" Susan asked, unable to help herself. It wasn't just that she would swear that Byron had managed to laugh with her without even smiling, there was also the joy of getting to see the pair of displeased expressions that Lyta and Talia now wore.
Somehow, she didn't think the idea of a double-date would go over well.
"I'll wait for you to give me permission," he said, keeping his tone grave.
"I find your terms acceptable," Susan said. She probably shouldn't be agreeing to this, but what the hell. After all, what did she have to lose?
O.K., so she actually had a lot to lose: being seen on a date with B5's most notorious rogue telepath probably wasn't the best way of exercising the fine art of diplomacy. But really, it was a night out with an interesting dinner companion, and it had the added benefit of being the only thing she had done so far that seemed to irritate Talia. In fact…
"I should go," Talia said, rising. "I have reports to make." She turned to Lyta. "Until later?"
Lyta cast a glance at the others at table and offered Talia an embarrassed smile. "Just let me know when."
"Oh, I will."
They all watched Talia walk away, and it wasn't until she was out of sight that Susan spoke.
"I should go as well. Once again, please let me know if she bothers you."
Lyta didn't watch Susan as she left; she watched Byron watching her. Doing so only confirmed what she had already suspected: his offer of a date had not merely been made as a reaction to her own acceptance of Talia. She wished she could tell him everything, see if it made a difference, but she knew his priorities. He would be disappointed in her lack of resolve, in the reason why she was willing to jeopardize her advantage.
And it probably wouldn't even make a difference, anyways.
"What do you think you are doing, Lyta?" he asked her when it became clear it was just the two of them again.
She took a sip of her juice before answering. "Catching up with an old friend."
"You cannot be so naive as to think that her feelings for you will outweigh her task to be our captor."
"It can't hurt to be on her good side."
"Good side!" Byron smacked his hand down on the table, startling several of the patrons sitting nearby. When he realized he was making a scene, he lowered his voice. "She has no good side," he whispered. "She is a danger to us, and we will all share in your folly."
Lyta leaned forward such that their foreheads were almost touching. "I'm being foolish?" she said, truly angry with him for the first time since they had met, "I'm not having dinner with someone whose career might hang on the petition you are going to attempt to get passed here. Don't even try to influence my choice of dinner companions when you are actively cultivating a conflict of interest."
She stood and left the table without saying another word. She thought she might eat somewhere else tomorrow morning—and every morning until she had finished this. She didn't know how long her anger would last, and right now it was all that was keeping her from sharing her mind with him. And, though he didn't know it, all his plans depended on her ability to isolate herself.
She wished she could say as much about all the plans she had once had.
The next few days Susan felt like she was on the run on her own station. She hadn't felt like this for years, not since Talia had come aboard Babylon 5 for the first time. She wasn't even running away from a simple pursuit this time. No, this time Talia's intent seemed to be to keep her constantly unbalanced. The worst should have been all the snide comments and asides when they had to interact professionally; the way Talia always managed to work in references to past events - their past relationship - when they were dealing with the legal issues surrounding the rogue telepaths. But that wasn't the worst.
If it had just been that she felt hunted every time she knew she would have to deal with telepaths, she would have dismissed it as her life. Given time, she would adapt, stand her ground. That's usually how it went, despite occasional moments of insanity.
But this issue involved an intersection of telepathy and past relationships. And this was not an area where she had a history of shaking off betrayal. Of distancing herself from tragedy.
Everywhere she went, she was reminded of her own misplaced trust; the risks she had taken. The way she had risked her mind, allowing herself to be intimate with another telepath. The way that she had risked her heart, allowing someone else in her personal life.
She wished she didn't feel this final betrayal so strongly, but she had given up discounting her reaction to seeing Talia and Lyta breakfasting together. The way she had to turn away when she saw them chatting as they shopped in the Zocalo. It hurt to see Talia with someone else—and that went beyond the reasonable level of pain she should feel at having to face a past betrayal.
If Talia still existed, Susan might have to admit to still loving her.
As it was, she didn't think she had ever hated a reality so very much.
"I wish we could have gone to a better restaurant," Talia said as she entered her quarters, Lyta following closely behind.
"Options are somewhat limited aboard a space station." Lyta didn't do more than glance at the living area before moving to where she knew the bedroom to be. "You should have been here during the war. I went weeks without changing my diet."
Talia smiled as Lyta perched herself on the edge of the bed. The way Lyta's hands splayed across the dark blue comforter spoke to the activities Talia felt sure they would engage in soon; however, she was amused to note that Lyta's expression did not speak of seduction, nor did the way she kept her legs loosely crossed at the ankles. Perhaps she had sensed that Talia enjoyed a challenge—though one hardly had to be a telepath to determine that.
"I'll admit that I probably enjoyed a life of more comfort during the final days of President Clark's term than you did," Talia said, joining Lyta on the bed. "However, playing the waiting game is not the most interesting activity one can be engaged in. Coming as I did, fresh off a station full of intrigue, I found ordinary day-to-day politics took a period of adjustment."
Lyta nodded. "I've been many things on Bablyon 5, but bored has never been one of them." She tilted her head to one side. "But I've never known you to care very much about politics before."
Much to Talia's annoyance, Lyta seemed amused by this comment. "So did I," she said.
"I'm not going to argue with that assessment, seeing as you accepted a date with me."
"Yes. A date. And speaking of hating to wait…" Lyta trailed off and leaned back even farther onto the bed. "I didn't think you'd make me have to ask."
"I won't," Talia said, and kissed her. When she felt Lyta yield to the pressure of her mouth and part her lips, she deepened the kiss and pressed the other woman's body down onto the bed. A few more kisses, and Lyta squirmed beneath her. Wanting to keep the momentum, she shifted to press her thigh between Lyta's legs, but as she moved the world suddenly turned around on itself and she found herself on her back staring up at Lyta.
Talia might have protested, but she liked the edges of Lyta's smile. She also didn't mind the feel of Lyta's thighs against her hips, or the initiative being taken by the woman straddling her. She liked women with initiative.
Her feelings of approval only increased when Lyta pinned her arms above her head.
"Enjoying yourself?" Lyta asked.
"Unsurprisingly, yes." Talia held still, waiting for her partner's lead. "I always suspected this about you."
"Did you?" Lyta stared down into the face of the woman trapped below her. "What about this?" she asked, her eye color starting to flicker.
At the first glint of green, Talia knew she had made an error. She tried to roll away, her body arching as she sought escape, but the woman who trapped her was anything but normal. Anything but a P5.
Anything but human.
Talia shuddered as Lyta leaned down even closer so that their foreheads touched. Close, close, they were so close that she couldn't bear to look into the undifferentiated green glow that Lyta's eyes had become, except that she had to, she must, she was being held…
…and then Lyta was inside.
When Lyta stood, she was in the dark but she was not alone. In every direction she looked, she could see shadowy, rectangular objects. When she approached the one nearest her, it lit up, metal frame and glass and all. Her reflection stared back at her, distorted, widened.
A few more steps would take her to the next object in the line, so she decided to confirm her suspicion. This time when she moved, glass crunched underfoot, and she wondered if she had managed to break something with her arrival. She hoped 'yes', but thought 'no'; that would be too easy.
When she stopped again and turned, the reflection facing her this time had been warped thin and tall. Staring at it, she felt like a reaper, a shadow of herself. She made herself look away, look around, and sighed.
Mirrors in every direction, and no way that she could immediately see to exit this maze—this barrier. Leave it to telepaths to depend on the distractions of reflections.
"Isn't the symbolism a bit obvious?" she muttered. She had expected many things upon entering Talia's mind, but not this overwhelming feeling of annoyance. What a chore this would be.
She walked to the next mirror in her path. She turned to look, expecting another child's trick, and froze. This mirror reflected her back accurately, her figure neat and trim, her hair still tousled from Talia's hands. However, her outfit had changed; she had once again been claimed by the Corps. The person staring back at her was uniformed and badged and she had to fight the first tendrils of panic, which grew the longer she stared. When she glanced away from the reflection and down at her own hands, her breath caught, though not in true surprise.
Her hands now sported a pair of the signature black gloves, and when she tried to pull them off, they would not budge. It was a trap, a snare, and she had walked right into it.
She moved to the next mirror and forced herself to look into it; she felt pleased when the expression of the person looking back at her showed nothing but defiance. At least until it morphed and she found herself staring at faux-Talia.
"If you're going to intrude in my home, at least be a respectful guest," Talia said, and Lyta tried not shudder as she felt her own mouth move in time with the words. "This is a house built by our parents after all."
"As I told Bester, I'm an orphan," Lyta said coldly, pleased to see that Talia-in-a-mirror had to mouth her words as well. She continued on to the next mirror.
This time Talia spoke the minute that Lyta triggered her reflection. "You know," she said, "you can't keep as many of your thoughts from me here."
"I can keep enough," Lyta said as she moved onwards.
Different mirror, same conversation. "That could be true," Talia said, "But I'm much more aware of you now. I should have realized earlier how much you were blocking from me."
"Yes," Lyta said simply. "You should have."
Talia touched the badge on her uniform, and Lyta felt her own hand mirror the action. "Too bad for you that the moment you came here you transferred your advantage."
"As long as you remain overconfident, I believe I still have the advantage."
Another short walk, another mirror, and Lyta couldn't see or feel an end in sight. She tried to avoid looking at her reflection, but that didn't stop her companion from initiating an interaction.
"He doesn't love you," Talia informed her.
Lyta calmly looked up and faced her adversary. "I know," she said, "But tell me, how do you think mentioning that will change my objective here?"
"I mentioned it because I thought you'd want to know that if Susan was gone, he would be yours." Talia held and reflected Lyta's gaze. "I know you want him."
Lyta felt an image pushed into her mind and could do nothing but hasten its passing. She could see herself, half-dressed and uninhibited, letting her head fall back as Byron's hands mapped the contours of her body. The image left bright spots on the back of her eyelids, and she moved to the next mirror based more on instinct than sensory input.
"You don't know anything," Lyta told the next reflection. "You're just a shadow of a complete person, a construct who mimics being a real telepath."
Talia laughed. "I'm the shadow? I pulled the knowledge I just shared with you out of your own mind. You know what I showed you is true."
Lyta tried to pull herself away from the mirror, but Talia held fast, forcing both of them to stand their ground.
"You really need to see yourself as you could be, if you accepted all that power you hold within your mind," Talia said. "Let me show you who you really are."
"I-" Lyta began, but stopped when the mirror in front of her went blank. After a few moments of nothing she moved towards the next mirror, hoping that the reflections had stopped, but fearing the worst.
Slowly, she turned to face herself. As she stared at her reflection, she felt her features twist and tried to keep the emotions within her from mirroring her appearance. In front of her stood a familiar stranger, a person who held herself with pride, radiated authority. If she had any weaknesses, she hid them well, and her perfectly applied makeup covered every flaw while enhancing a cold, cruel smile.
"No," Lyta said, hating the way her reflection mouthed the word, the way she felt her own smile widen. This was a perversion of self, a violation that carried on to the inside of her mind. "No," she said again, her gloved hand striking the glass. The rattle of the impact was muted by the leather that covered her hand, but she still felt a jarring sensation all along the length of her arm and could tell the reflection felt it too, for it wavered, shimmered, and then was gone.
Lyta took a deep breath and closed her eyes. As she did, she became more aware of an insistent pull at the back of her mind. She felt herself relax into the summons and smiled as the last of Kosh flooded her thoughts. Image after image presented itself for her appraisal—and she realized what he had done.
"Thank you," she breathed as she opened her eyes. Moving forward again, she savored the feeling of security – the feeling of trust – that Kosh had always inspired within her. She would always miss him most of all.
She approached the next mirror and smiled serenely, forcing Talia's expression to reflect her own. When Lyta's eyes began to shimmer green in the mirror, she could feel Talia start to pull away, but she didn't let her go. She held her there as she lifted her hands and laid them alongside the glass. A single glance, and the gloves began to melt off her hands, gone before they could even drop to the ground.
"I'm free," she said to her reflection. Lifting her hands again, she brought them down with all her strength against the glass. It shattered, and as the pieces rained down around her she thought she could hear Talia's scream, fractured and broken, everywhere and nowhere. Then there was nothing but the crackling of the shards beneath her feet as she stepped through the empty frame and into the next row of mirrors. She brought her hands up and smashed the glass once more, enjoying the way Talia's face broke and scattered, lost amidst the glittering explosion. Her hands now slick and dripping at her sides, Lyta walked through the just-emptied frame.
Again and again, she destroyed and moved forward, paying the price in her blood, which ran in rivulets down her fingers, the flow increasing with every hole she punched in the reflections around her—with every hole she punched in the barrier.
She would never be able to tell how many mirrors later, but finally she hit glass which did not break. It took her a moment to recognize the sensation of resistance, and even longer to process what it might mean, but when she did she blinked to clear her gaze and studied the reflection in front of her.
It was Talia—but not Talia as she had been before. This Talia stared outside her prison of glass with empty eyes, lost even to herself. Lyta didn't think she had ever felt so angry at the Corps as she did this very minute. If Bester had been in front of her, she would have killed him where he stood.
"I know who you were," Lyta said softly, trying not frighten the reflection before her. "Let me show you." She put her bare hand up to the glass; Talia mirrored her action. They both remained standing there, silent and still, until Lyta moved forward to rest her head against the cool surface of the mirror, choosing a spot that was not sticky with her blood.
Let me in, she thought. Let me share a memory with you.
Lyta almost gasped when she started to tip forwards, her entrance into the mirror unexpected and irreversible. Now the two of them were trapped together, their reflections intertwined. In the darkness, Lyta tried to direct her thoughts; she knew her focus had paid off when hands reached up to grip her shoulders. Without waiting for permission, she threw herself into Talia's memories. It was an act of re-creation.
((It was Talia's first day on Babylon 5, and she supposed she couldn't complain about her welcome. People had been reserved, but not hostile—at least so far. But even as she entered C&C, she knew the day was not over yet. For her first impression of Susan Ivanova did not lead her to believe that she would be a person to be easily won over. Which only made her want to try all the harder. Pessimism could be such a challenge…)).
Lyta didn't pause as the memory ended, she simply released the next into the mind which held her and hoped that Talia could withstand the flood being channeled within her.
((As Talia stalked out of the transport tube, she would have sworn that she saw Susan's mouth twitch. Normally she would be as amused as Susan apparently was, but right now frustration trumped all.
"How does Garibaldi do that?" she demanded of Susan. "How can he possibly know?"
"It's a talent," Susan replied. "I've learned it's safer not to ask." She frowned. "Does he really bother you?"
Talia felt surprised, how much it mattered to her that Susan cared. She knew that this had become more than a game of cat-and-mouse for her awhile back, but she hadn't fully confronted the fact that she desired far more than a civil relationship with the woman in front of her.
"Ms. Winters?" Susan prodded.
"No, he doesn't bother me," Talia said. "What bothers me is that I'm the telepath, but he's the one who always knows when to take the transport tube. I want to know how he does it!"
For the second time that day, Susan's mouth twitched. "Worried about being put out of business by our security feed?" she asked. "I'd remain calm if I were you. Cameras have been around for far longer than telepaths, and you still seem to be in fairly high demand."
"If I didn't know you better," Talia said, "I might be tempted to think you just made a joke."
"Well, then I guess it's good for my reputation that you're not deceived."
Talia wasn't sure which one of them felt the greater portion of disbelief when they started laughing together, but she wasn't about to question the nature of their progress.))
Although she had worried that Talia would struggle under the onslaught of returned memories, Lyta refused to hold the other telepath captive with her mind. Talia had been prisoner long enough. So it was with a great deal of relief that she found that Talia only displayed her disquiet through a faint trembling of mind and body, otherwise holding perfectly still. Lyta could tell that she was even doing her best to keep her mind as open as possible, in an effort to make Lyta's work easier and facilitate her return to her former self. So Lyta continued to feed her the memories in a steady stream, bracing herself when she reached the last.
((Talia felt stung by the betrayal. She had felt so honored to be asked to serve a Vorlon. No telepath other than Lyta Alexander had ever been this close to one and she had been recalled by the Corps and not seen since. But now…
He had used her. He had tricked her. However vaunted his species was supposed to be, this was simply unacceptable. She didn't care how powerful he was, she was going to confront Kosh about hiring her to scan Abbut)).
Lyta felt the jolt as both women acknowledged the action that had saved Talia – the action that might save them both – in unison.
Though Lyta could feel Talia's mind and memories coalescing around her, she knew the difficult part was only beginning. She might be able to restore a certain part of Talia to herself using the mappings Kosh had provided, but the Vorlon's recording had been made far before Talia's memories ended, and his death meant that his original restoration method for the rest was no longer possible. It would be up to Lyta to finish his work and release them both.
She allowed herself one calming moment, and then, before they lost momentum, she initiated the same type of mental joining usually only achieved when telepaths made love together. The one where each person's thoughts and memories bled into the other's, with no beginning—utterly endless. Seamlessly, she wove the loop. And as the weave tightened, she could feel Talia's mind start to feed off the strength of her own memories. The restoration process had begun, and Lyta could no longer resist the draw.
She succumbed to her mirror.
(("It's her," Lyta said, her shock obvious. Moments later she froze as a gun was pointed at her and didn't move again until they hauled Talia away, still screaming death threats.))
((Talia felt the snap as the other personality took over, giving her one moment in which to glance over at Susan and see her whiten. Somehow, the Commander was sensing the change. Talia thought about sending one last thought – one last good-bye – to the woman who had become her lover the night before, but decided against it…
…and then she didn't decide anything at all.))
Faintly, very faintly, Lyta thought she heard a snap and crack in the darkness surrounding them, but she couldn't pay attention, any attention, to anything but her thoughts and the thoughts of the woman whose mind twined around hers.
((Lyta couldn't move. Helpless, she stood bound by energy to Ulkesh as he forcefully removed her memories. Modified, she had been modified in order to be violated in this fashion. She felt used and sick at heart and yearned to be Sheridan, who still possessed a portion of Kosh and his own innocence.))
(("My good and dear friend, Susan," Talia's captor finished, and Talia wished she didn't have to live with the memory of the look on Susan's face. She thought she might soon regret that wish – her memories were already fading – but she hadn't yet lost herself to the personality now fully inhabiting her body, and she couldn't stand this feeling of helplessness. Couldn't stand to see her own memories violated—or even worse, to see her friend's memory erased. For the look on Susan's face…Talia knew that doubt had been instilled. And she had no way of reassuring Susan that she had meant every word she had said the night before.))
Lyta felt Talia's arms tighten around her as glass started to rain down over them, the bell-like tinkling of its fall at odds with the lacerations it left on their skin as it scattered across their bodies and the ground around them. As they tucked their heads down and pressed their faces against the warmth of each other's skin, the link between their minds shortened, strengthened, and the loop picked up speed.
(("You don't offend me," Susan said. "But that does." She nodded at Talia's badge.))
(("I didn't ask you," Bryon said to Lyta. "I ordered you. And you obeyed, like a good little telepath."))
((Talia's hand brushed Susan's as she handed her the glass of alcohol. Their hands, they were all finally bare, and they were alone, and it had been so long, and Susan should be so scared, and Talia had never been so relieved when someone didn't flinch away at her touch…))
((Byron's hand brushed Lyta's shoulder as she sat on the chair at his request—and her whim. She didn't know when her heart had sped up, but she felt glad, so glad, for the first time in a long time that the Vorlons had given her this extra power. He would never know, never suspect, that was her power, this was her secret, the ability to keep every other being still in existence from hearing her thoughts…))
The glass rained down even harder upon them now, but curled together they hardly noticed the staccato pattern of its fall. Wounds opened, too many of them, they couldn't adequately cover each other anymore. Blood welled, spilled, from a thousand small cuts, and their memories flowed together, faster, closer, warmer.
((Talia tried not to react as Susan confided in her, her face open and vulnerable-))
((Lyta watched Byron over breakfast, pleased when he remembered her favorite drink-))
((She reached out a hand to stroke Susan's face, still amazed at the contrast of their bare skin-))
((Byron put out a hand to steady her, and she caught her breath at the warmth of him through her clothing-))
((She smiled at the feel of the body in bed beside her-))
((She couldn't believe he'd asked her to come over and sit beside him-))
((Rolling over, she reached out-))
((Standing, she reached out-))
"Susan," Talia cried out, and it all broke apart.
"Susan," Talia said weakly, opening her eyes to find Lyta pinning her to a bed. Both of them were bleeding.
"Didn't anyone ever tell you that it's not polite to cry out another person's name in bed?" Lyta asked tiredly as she rolled off Talia and flopped down onto the bed. She willed the world to stop spinning.
"Not in the way you mean," Lyta said. "But yes, we got pretty close. Any more questions?"
"I'm not sure." Talia forced herself not to fist her hands in the bed sheets. "It's taking me a minute to catch up with myself."
"Understandable. Take your time."
Talia turned to face her companion. "I might still be behind, but I know I owe you more than a simple thank-you."
"If you really want to thank me," Lyta said, "you can do so by helping some telepaths." As Talia struggled to sit up, Lyta waved her back down. "Not right now. We'll discuss it after we've both had a good night's sleep and a meal or two." And discuss it they most definitely would. She liked Talia, and freeing her had been the right thing to do, but when it came down to it, she had risked herself for Byron and the others.
"Of course," Talia said. "I might not be as strong as you, but I know I'm strong enough to fool Bester. I can certainly help you in your efforts to evade the Corps."
At Talia's words, Lyta had to fight to keep herself calm. She knew she'd opened herself during their joining – it wouldn't have worked otherwise – but she thought she'd managed to retain a portion of herself. How much did Talia now know?
She must not have covered her reaction well enough, because she heard Talia sigh.
"I don't know as much as you apparently fear," Talia said. "And what I did learn about you is now mostly lost, as it was all too much to assimilate at once. However, catching that you and others are having trouble with the Corps wasn't much of a feat."
"You must also know-"
"About Byron?" Talia nodded. "Yes, I do. As you know about my relationship with Susan. I'm hardly ahead there."
"No," Lyta said, wincing. "You're certainly not."
"How bad was I, the past few days? The recent past isn't very clear."
Talia hesitated, studying the ceiling. "Bad enough to be unforgivable?" she asked, not looking at Lyta.
"I don't know," Lyta said honestly. "I don't really know Susan all that well."
Lyta knew she should probably keep quiet, but she couldn't help her feelings of sympathy. After all, Talia had been broken out of her prison only to find her life gone. "If she isn't open to a reconciliation, it might not entirely be your fault."
"How can it not be my fault?"
"While you were gone, she lost someone else. Someone she cared for."
"Someone she loved?" Talia asked quietly.
"I don't know. But I'm not sure it's made her very open to relationships."
"I see." Talia glanced over at Lyta. "How long are you planning on staying in my bed?"
"Until my legs work again." Lyta tried to sit up and failed. "It could be awhile."
"Would you mind…?"
"Telling you what you missed? It's not like I've anything else to do at the moment."
"Then please, tell me."
And so Lyta did, not stopping until the two of them slept, exhausted, side-by-side.
Susan rubbed her eyes and glared at John. "I'm telling you," she said, "you might not want to see it, but there's something wrong with Garibaldi."
"Could you be any more specific?"
"Apparently not enough to convince you," she said. "You know as well as I that he's been late to meetings lately, and he's been particularly cranky-" she paused at the look on John's face. "Stop that. You know I mean he's been more cranky than usual."
"What do you want me to do about it?" John asked. To his credit, Susan could see that he was more troubled about the subject than she had initially thought. "He hasn't made any errors in judgment that I've seen, and his work for the Alliance has yet to be anything but stellar-"
Both looked up in surprise at the sound of the door chime.
"When you were Captain," Susan asked Sheridan, staring at the door. "Did you always have people seeking an audience with you in your quarters in the middle of the night? Because I swear, this is the fifth time this week."
"In that case, you're more popular than I ever was."
"Lucky me." Susan moved towards the door. "Enter!" she said.
The minute she saw who stood in front of her, she wished she had requested identification before answering the summons.
"Captain," Talia said. "If I might have word-"
"Ms. Winters, it's late," Susan said curtly. "If you need to discuss something, please make an appointment during-"
"This isn't official." Talia stepped closer to Susan, stopping just within the bounds of her quarters. "Of course, I can speak to you tomorrow if you'd prefer-"
"She would," Sheridan called out from where he sat on the couch. "We're in the middle of a meeting here."
"I understand," Talia said to him. She turned back to Susan. "I'll contact you in the morning…"
Something in the tone of Talia's voice made Susan look up and actually study her for the first time since she had arrived. What she saw made her catch her breath.
"Talia!" she said. "What happened to you?"
"You can tell-" Talia began, her voice unsure. She paused. "Right, you mean the cuts."
Susan frowned. "What else could I mean?" Small gashes covered the right side of Talia's neck, and a few even marred the soft skin of her right cheek. Livid red and angry looking, Susan supposed they might heal easily enough, but right now they were certainly Talia's most prominent feature. Especially seeing as they hadn't been there yesterday morning during their oh-so-pleasant conversation.
"They're nothing," Talia said, dismissively. "Merely a side effect of Lyta helping me to find myself again."
Susan knew she should respond, that there should be words to handle such an assertion, but she couldn't seem to form any of them. She managed to stare calmly – numbly – at the woman in front of her, but even that stretched the limits of her control. She had never so badly wished herself to be alone. Then she would have a minute to think, to assimilate, without being subjected to concerned looks—or impossible truths.
Of the two of them, Sheridan recovered first. "Lyta did what?" he asked, moving to join Talia and Susan by the door.
"I'm only up to sharing the short version right now," Talia said, "but I think it will suffice. Lyta managed to restore my personality, one memory at a time-"
"But how did-"
"Kosh," Talia said simply, and Sheridan nodded his understanding.
"He always did…" Sheridan trailed off. When he spoke again, his face had become guarded. Suspicious. "Is this some sort of trick?" he asked. "Because if it is-"
"No, John," Susan said, finally rejoining the conversation. "She's telling the truth." Her statement didn't seem to lessen Sheridan's skepticism, but the measured look she sent in his direction had an effect. Though Susan had an awareness that Talia was watching what passed between her and Sheridan, she didn't let it stop her from this wordless reference to Sheridan of past conversations about her abilities.
"I understand," Sheridan said softly. "We can confirm with Lyta in the morning, but I trust your judgment."
"Thank you," Susan said. She turned back to Talia. "Why did you come here in the middle of the night? Is there something that needs to be done right now?" Although Susan wasn't sure, she thought her question might have embarrassed Talia, which certainly hadn't been her intention. She wondered when it would once again seem natural to see genuine expressions on Talia's face.
"I came here…" Talia took a deep breath. "I came here to let you know as early as possible that I want to help you—all of you. Anything I can do to help the telepaths on this station, anything I can do to help you thwart Bester's designs—all you have to do is ask."
"Well, that could be just the good news we needed," Sheridan said, glancing over at Susan for confirmation.
"Yes, it could." Susan wished she didn't feel so very tired. Maybe then she could process all this and have something more productive to add. She decided it was long past time to make some excuses. "Ms. Winters," she said, "I'm very happy that you've been returned to yourself, and while I'm grateful for your offer of help, would you mind if I request that we postpone this discussion? I have an early meeting with the Docker's Guild, so I really should be calling it a night."
Both Talia and Sheridan did not hesitate in agreeing to her request, and sooner than she had thought possible Susan was standing alone in the middle of her quarters, wondering why she always found it necessary to lie to her friends.
Although, perhaps she was being too hard on herself. She had told them she wanted to call it a night—she had never claimed that she would be able to sleep.
Clasping her hands behind her back, she paced the length of the room until the sound of her morning alarm broke the silence.
Susan moved quickly down the corridor; she knew at this point there was no way she could avoid being late for dinner. She hadn't remembered her engagement with Byron until late in the afternoon, and by then canceling seemed an unpalatable option. Who knew when she'd have time to reschedule the way her week was going, and frankly she found herself looking forward to the distraction his company would provide tonight.
Her mind had not been on her work all day. After the guild meeting this morning, she had tracked down Lyta, eventually finding her in Medlab. Dr. Franklin was in the middle of wrapping gauze around Lyta's injured hands when Susan entered the room, and Susan had pitied Lyta as she endured an earful about the dangers of seeking delayed treatment.
Once Franklin left, their conversation had been brief: Lyta merely confirmed what Susan already knew. No other details were asked for or offered, and Susan didn't feel that Lyta's expression invited inquiries as to her state of health, physical or otherwise.
So after making sure that Lyta knew about Talia's offer of aid in their ongoing effort to oppose Bester's wishes, Susan left and returned back to her regular duties. Or, at least she returned in all but mind.
Hopefully she could use tonight to clear her head.
"How long are we going to not talk about it?" Byron asked.
Susan sighed and put down her fork. She had guessed they wouldn't make it through dessert. "I think this might mark the end of my avoidance. I'm sorry, I needed the break. It was a rather long night last night."
"I'm not sure my morning was much better."
"Why? Did you find it difficult to speak to Talia?"
"Hardly," he said, shaking his head. "In fact, she is quite a nice person when she's not programmed to be evil. A bit pushy, perhaps, but I can't say that won't be a useful quality later on." He smiled. "She and I haven't quite lost our habit of trading insults yet though, so consider yourself warned."
"Thanks," she said, "it's nice to be warned about something."
"I should have been."
Susan could guess then what his problem was—she'd had the same one herself. "You didn't know what Lyta was planning either?"
"No," he said. "Otherwise I would have helped her. Her hands…"
As he looked away, Susan had the answer to a question she'd wondered about for weeks, ever since she'd first noticed Lyta walking around the station bare-handed again. Given Byron's reaction now, she didn't think it a stretch to assume he had been in some way involved with Lyta's transformation over the last several months. The beginning of the changes Susan had observed in Lyta neatly coincided with his appearance on the station, something she should have realized before.
Susan couldn't make Byron's decisions for him, but she also couldn't help feeling he had taken the wrong woman out for dinner tonight. Though maybe he already felt guilt for that too.
She had one piece of information she thought might make him feel better.
"Dr. Franklin has said that he thinks Lyta will make a full recovery. Apparently the damage to her hands looks worse than it actually is."
Byron nodded absently, and Susan gave him some space, returning her attention to the neglected dessert in front of her. She hadn't yet managed to do more than eye the cup of coffee that had been provided for her—she knew it would not improve her mood. As the person in charge of Babylon 5, she hadn't had time to tend her plot in the hydroponics garden, so her favorite morning pleasure was no more. Occasionally she'd try ordering a cup in the vain hope that if she was distracted enough it might fool her taste buds, but it seemed she would never get used to substitutes.
By the time she'd finished her dessert, the coffee still sat, untouched, and Byron had yet to speak.
"Tell me," she finally said. At his look of surprise, she clarified, "I can sense your mind going in circles and it's making me dizzy. If you share, it will save us both some trouble."
"Will it?" he asked, amused. "Then I suppose I'd better speak."
"It is the reasonable thing to do," she agreed.
"You know," he said, "the more time I spend around you, the more I appreciate your logic." He paused, then began again, his voice hesitant, "Did you suspect Lyta's real intentions during her performance with Talia? At all?"
"No," Susan said, "I didn't and, like you, I know I should have."
"But how could we think…?"
"I don't know why it happened to you," she said, "but I'm not particularly confused as to how it happened to me. At this point in my life I expect betrayal and I don't trust easily. Double that if anyone associated with the Corps is involved." She shrugged. "It's not pretty, but it's true."
"Well, given your history, what Lyta told me about your mother, it's understandable that-"
"You don't have to make excuses for me," Susan cut him off. "I've made enough of them to myself the last few days. The truth is, in the three years I've known Lyta she has done nothing but help this station. She has never once denied her aid when asked for it and she was instrumental in helping us to win the Shadow War. I should not have thought her capable of risking the safety of those around her merely to resume a fling she might have had years before."
"You think they were a couple?"
"I don't know," Susan said. "Talia told me once that they had known each other a long time ago, and something in her tone-" She stopped herself. Better not to admit having studied Talia's tone too closely in the past.
Byron didn't seem to notice anything amiss. "I didn't know anything about it until they were there, together, right in front of me, and all I could see was the danger."
"What were you afraid of?" Susan asked. "You probably know Lyta better than I do, despite your short acquaintance. I've barely seen the two of you apart since the first day I met you. And yet-"
"And yet I was as quick to doubt her as you?" He nodded. "It's true. I-" He stopped and turned to study the people sitting around them. When he turned back to Susan, his expression was apologetic. "Pardon me," he said, and then everything around them went silent.
"You know I hate it when you do that," Susan said mildly.
"Yes, but I'm hoping that since we are engaged in a conversation you entered into voluntarily, you might let it go." He waited until she nodded. "It helps me block them out," he explained. "So, I thank you for your patience."
"I only have a limited amount of it," she warned him.
"It's Alfred Bester," he said immediately. "Talia was close to him, and the idea of Lyta getting involved there…"
"Not very comforting."
"No, not at all," he said. "I'd rather not go into my history with Bester, but he's not someone I trust. I don't like what he does to people."
"Join the club." Susan forced herself not to inquire further about the exact reasons for his dislike. He'd tell her if he wanted to, and even if she never knew, she considered it a victory to have another person on their side who had a healthy dislike for Bester.
"After I saw Lyta respond to Talia's interest in her, I couldn't see past the harm such a relationship could have on her and on our community here. I thought I knew her motives. I didn't doubt that she would try to leverage the relationship to our advantage when the time came, but I thought she was using us as an excuse to enter into a relationship she knew to be wrong. It made me feel-"
"Betrayed?" Susan finished for him.
"I can understand that," she said. "In fact, I believe we were probably the last two people on this station who should have witnessed that exchange."
"Which is probably why they acted it so convincingly. Talia in particular was very aggressive-" he stopped, the world snapping back into action around them as he lost his concentration. "Why didn't I see it before?" he asked. "She was aggressive, not about antagonizing me, but about antagonizing you."
Susan considered prevaricating but simply didn't have the energy. "Yes."
"Do you want to talk about it?"
Surprisingly, she found that she did. "Let me order another cup of whatever it is they're serving as coffee here," she said, "and I'll tell you all about it."
Talia had forgotten how lonely it could be on Bablyon 5. When she had been here years before, it had been pretty bad, but the last several months had been full enough of people who she considered to be friends to help those early weeks of isolation fade.
Now she was back to having no one she could talk to.
Oh, she and Mr. Garibaldi had spoken, and he seemed truly glad she was back to herself. He even expressed regret that his help hadn't been needed, which made Talia laugh knowing how he hated being left out of anything of interest here on Babylon 5.
The problem with resuming her friendship with him was that he now considered her a telepath. And after his experiences in the past year, his distrust of telepaths had grown. Despite the fact that he liked her, Talia knew that Mr. Garibaldi no longer trusted her. Once their initial reunion was over, he couldn't quite get past himself, and she could feel his reservation, which made her reluctant to speak of more than generalities.
Under different circumstances, she and Lyta might have resumed their earlier friendship. However, after the night they spent together they hadn't really spoken and they were still mostly avoiding each other. Hopefully their aversion would fade with time, but right now they both still felt raw from sharing so much.
And then there was Susan.
Susan, who was unfailingly polite. Sometimes she even smiled. More often than not, she offered nothing more than her serious face. When in group situations, she would interact with Talia, discuss her suggestions and ask for her opinion. When they passed in corridors, she would nod a greeting before continuing on her way. But, wordlessly, she made it clear that such a relationship was the most she wanted at present, and Talia felt bound to respect that.
She just wished the lines hadn't been so clearly drawn.
At least this time she was allowed into their brainstorming sessions, though their concession to her presence might have been made out of mere necessity. So far the plan they had put together for dealing with Bester prominently featured her talents as well as Lyta's.
She knew she was hardly the only person in the group who looked forward to exacting a little payback from the man who had ruined so many lives.
"He needs to truly believe that Talia is on his side," Sheridan said to those gathered around him. "Otherwise, all of our effort is a complete waste."
"I agree," Byron said. "Which is why I believe it is imperative that he still have a specific use for her after the escape. It's dangerous, but I think-"
"You're not going to send her back with him?" Susan asked. "I really do think they would dissect her this time if they found out." She saw Talia's look of surprise. "It's what we all thought had happened to you before," she explained quietly.
"We're all happy it didn't turn out to be true," Garibaldi said, eyeing Bryon, "and I don't think any of us are excited at the prospect of giving Bester a chance to make good on his statement."
"I wasn't proposing that Ms. Winters accompany him," Byron said, "Quite the opposite in fact. If we made sure that I…"
Despite her efforts, Susan found her attention wandering. This was the fourth meeting they'd had this week on the subject, all of which had gone so late in the night as to almost eliminate the possibility of sleep altogether. Susan was getting tired of the view of her office walls and had seriously considered redecorating after this was all over.
"I don't want them here when he finds out that I'm not with the Corps anymore, either," Talia said. "I'm tired of being the one putting people in jeopardy."
"Then we're agreed," Sheridan said, looking over at Susan.
She nodded, figuring she could have him catch her up after the meeting. Frankly, if both Lyta and Talia were comfortable with their roles, there wasn't much more she had to say on the subject. She knew she probably should feel more involved – if this went badly, her career in Earthforce would most likely be the cost – but compared to what others risked, she didn't think she had a right to complain.
"Let's meet here again in two days to finalize the details," Susan said. "Other than that, get some sleep everyone. By next week, the worst of this should be over." She let herself look over and see Talia's reaction to this bit of optimism and then wished she hadn't. Talia was staring bitterly down into her lap at her gloved hands, and Susan ached to realize that, for Talia, the worst might not have even begun. Did she even know where she was going to go, after this was all over?
As everyone started to file out, Sheridan moved to sit next to Susan. "I'm going to stay here until Delenn arrives," he said. "I'll get you both caught up at the same time."
Susan grimaced. "Was it that obvious?"
"I'm just surprised that no one's fallen asleep yet. I think I felt more rested during the Shadow War."
"Just goes to show you who's more of a threat."
She turned away from Sheridan for a moment to watch Talia leave—only to look up and see Delenn watching her as she entered the room.
"I'm here," Delenn said, her look thoughtful as she studied Susan's face. "What did I miss?"
"Not as much as I probably did," Sheridan said, "having to miss out on another Ranger meeting. But the long and short of tonight's discussion is that…"
This time Susan listened diligently as Sheridan recapped an entire evening full of plotting and bickering, but she couldn't help noticing that Delenn's gaze kept returning to her, over and over, throughout the entire summary.
This time Susan checked the identity of her guest when she heard the door chime.
"Who is it?" she called.
"It's Delenn, Susan. May I come in?"
"Enter!" Susan said. She walked over to the couch and put on the robe that matched the purple nightgown she was wearing. She swore to herself that the first chance she had, she was going to type up some visiting hours and post them by her door. Otherwise, pretty soon there would be no one on the station who had not seen her in her pajamas.
"I know it's late," Delenn said as she came in, "but I didn't know when else I would be able to talk to you alone."
"Please, sit down," Susan said, indicating the couch. "Can I offer you something to drink?" she asked as she discretely put away the vodka she'd been enjoying before she had company.
"No, I'm fine, thank you." Delenn smiled. "And do not feel you have to hide your alcohol because I'm here. I have been to parties hosted by the Centauri on this station before."
Susan gratefully pulled back out her glass. "I suppose I can't show you anything worse than Londo already has," she said.
"True," Delenn agreed. "Though the last time he was greatly intoxicated I believe he paid me a compliment, so perhaps I wouldn't say that partying entirely disagrees with him."
Susan took a sip of her drink in the silence that followed and tried to calm her nerves. She felt reasonably certain she knew why Delenn was here. "What can I do for you, Delenn?" she asked.
Delenn's expression sobered. "You once shared something with me during Nafak'cha, our ceremony of rebirth. As dictated by the rules of that ritual, and my own honor, I have never repeated it to anyone, not even John. But nowhere does it say that I might not discuss it further with you."
"I told you that I thought I loved Talia," Susan said. "I knew that's what you came here to talk about. But Delenn, that was a long time ago and-"
"I also came here to discuss another confession you made," Delenn interrupted, "one for which I was not present."
"When?" Susan asked curiously.
"Right after Marcus was taken from us."
"Yes, John probably should not have told me about it," Delenn said, acknowledging Susan's anger at the admission. "But he was upset and worried about you."
Susan remembered crying, sobbing, into Sheridan's arms. She'd had so little coordination that morning, but by the time Sheridan saw her she would have had enough of her vitality returned to be able to yell, to curse—to suffer. Enough pain back to mourn. By then she would have had the ability to grab Marcus, shake him, tell him that it was not worth it, that she was not worth it, that she didn't want his sacrifice…except that he'd already made it. She'd never even gotten the chance-
"John said you told him that you never even got the chance to tell Marcus how you felt."
"So now you're here to give me advice."
"No," Delenn corrected, "I'm here to ask you a question."
"Can you live with that kind of regret again?"
Susan started to answer, then let the words die. She sat staring mutely at Delenn until the latter moved closer to her and took her hand.
"I find the universe a curious place," Delenn said, "the way it brings people together over and over again. Did you know the first time I met John, he was about to be killed by my people?"
"He's never told me about that."
"He didn't know I was there."
Susan supposed that made sense. The Minbari hadn't really advertised their Grey Council members during the Earth-Minbari war. "How did he survive?" she asked.
"I ordered that his life be spared. It was the only honorable course of action, given that his failed peace mission had been initiated by myself and the Minbari who died during the negotiations. I thought when I gave the order that day, that would be the end of it." Delenn looked away. "One human life I managed to save among so many dead. But then he was stationed here, and the moment I saw him…"
"You knew he was the one for you?" Susan asked, her skepticism obvious.
"No, I wondered why the universe was punishing me!" Delenn smiled at the look on Susan's face. "It wasn't that we didn't get along," she said, "but at the time I couldn't look at him and not see Lenonn, the one who had perished during that failed peace negotiation. He had been my friend during…a very dark time."
"I'm sorry," Susan said. She knew that type of pain, the pain of association, and did not wish it on anyone, ever. Hadn't she almost not returned to Babylon 5 this year because of it? She still found herself marveling at how many things could remind her of Marcus.
"It is alright," Delenn said. "Though I still miss Lenonn, within a few months of John's arrival I realized how fortunate I had been that our paths had met once again." She tilted her head to the side and thought for a moment. "I might have saved him to reaffirm the sanctity of all life in a time of bloodshed and loss, but by the end of his first year here, his life had become sacred to me in a way I had never experienced."
"You had never been in love?"
"Not as humans describe it, no," Delenn said quietly. "At the time I almost didn't know how to admit it, beyond saying that he was precious to me. When Anna returned and I finally managed to tell him…" Delenn looked up, and Susan had to force herself not to flinch at what was revealed in the nakedness of that gaze. "I wasn't sure if he believed me. When he didn't return from Za'ha'dum, I thought he had died without me ever getting to really show him the truth of what he had come to mean to me-"
"Delenn," Susan said, "you don't have to-"
"Talk to you about regret? No, you are right, I do not." Delenn stood and walked to the door, where she paused. "I could let you learn, the way I did, about the pain which comes from waiting until it is too late."
"You know that I already know all about it," Susan whispered. "And unlike John, Marcus is never coming back."
"Then you already know the value of second chances." Delenn activated the door and stepped into the corridor. "Good night, Susan," she said, glancing back over her shoulder as she walked away.
Susan didn't know if they were ready, but it had already begun.
"I've come to check on the blips," Bester said. "Unless they've all come down with some mysterious strain of the flu, I believe your orders," he smiled at Susan, "are to turn them over to my custody."
"Those are my orders." Susan didn't have to try to sound unhappy as she walked with him towards Brown Sector. Today's plan carried more risk than she cared for others to take.
"Have you seen-" Bester began.
"Sorry I'm late," Talia said as she approached them. She had Lyta in tow, and Susan saw the speculative look Bester sent in their direction. "There was a problem with the transport tube."
Susan really hoped that wasn't code for something, because she had no idea what it could mean beyond the obvious. Everything else looked set to go, though she felt less comfortable than she would have suspected amidst the three telepaths that surrounded her. It probably had something to do with all the badges and gloves—she hadn't seen Lyta wear hers in weeks and the effect was especially off-putting on her. As was the civilized expression she turned on Bester.
"It's good to see you again, Lyta," Bester said. "You're keeping much better company than the last time we spoke."
"Talia asked me to accompany her," she replied. "I obliged as a courtesy to her, not to you."
"I see." Bester turned to Talia, his expression inquiring.
"I thought you would prefer that she be accounted for. After the last time…" Talia shrugged. "I didn't want there to be any surprises."
"Lyta," Susan said. "You don't have to do this. Your presence on this station is completely legal-"
"Are you interfering with our ability to perform our duty, Captain?" Bester asked. "That would be very unwise."
"I don't care for threats, Mr. Bester-"
"Or telepaths," Talia interrupted her. "So why are you risking your career to protect one? Especially one who is in no danger. She'll accompany us until we've finished our task, and then she is free to go on her way." She turned to Bester for confirmation.
"Ms. Winters is correct," Bester said. "Now if we could all try to get along until I've captured Byron and the others, this will all be over a lot faster."
Susan didn't respond, just continued leading the group into the appropriate section of Down Below. She hoped either Lyta or Talia had put an effective barrier around her mind, because her thoughts did not reflect the stoicism of her expression. If Bester could sense her unease, this might all be over even faster than he had predicted.
The relief she felt when they reached the entrance to the rooms that had been allocated to the telepath colony without incident almost overwhelmed her. Sheridan and Zack stood there waiting for them as planned.
"I had expected to see you here," Bester said to Sheridan, "but Mr. Allan's presence surprises me. Where is Mr. Garibaldi?"
"He's otherwise occupied," Sheridan informed him.
"How unfortunate," Bester said. "I had looked forward to resuming our earlier conversation. We've grown so close over the last year—he'll be sad to have missed me."
"He'll live," Zack said, "and you'll just have to make due with station security. Now can we get on with it? The silence in there," he gestured towards the telepaths' quarters, "is giving me the creeps."
Bester stopped to listen and frowned. "It is too quiet in there." He glanced over at Talia. "How many voices do you hear?" he asked her.
"Just the one," she said, "and he's not very happy."
"You're just hearing the same thing as us, right?" Zack asked, staring at her. "You don't have line of sight."
Talia's smile was cold. "I don't need it anymore."
Bester put up his hand for silence. "We'll go in slowly, Talia and myself in front, followed by station security, and then everyone else." He turned to Susan. "Unless you have a problem with that arrangement?"
"You have the authority here," she said. "Enjoy it while it lasts."
He sighed. "So much unnecessary hostility—but that is an issue for another day." He moved towards the door, Talia keeping pace beside him. "Are you ready?" he asked her. At her nod, the group moved into the telepaths' living space.
What they encountered brought Bester to a dead halt.
In the middle of the room sat Byron, knees drawn up to his chest, crying. No one else could be seen or heard anywhere near him, the emptiness the room's most salient feature until Byron looked up to spot Bester and the whole place flickered and darkened.
"I know about that trick, Byron," Bester said patiently. "Usually I can even see right through it." He looked over his shoulder, his eyes narrowing as he concentrated. After a moment he pointed to Susan. "I can see her again. Now let me see the rest of them."
Everyone waited in silence for a few minutes. Nothing changed.
"He doesn't have the power for this type of illusion," Bester said.
"I'm strong enough to scan him," Talia said. "Allow me." She walked up to Byron and placed her hands on either side of his head. He made no move to stop her, but as soon as she concentrated on him, her face twisted in frustration. "He's blocking me," she said, her voice low and angry. "That's…impossible." She drew back one of her hands to strike him.
"Stop," Bester said. "Byron's not the one doing this." He calmly turned to face Lyta. "Let me see them," he demanded.
Lyta offered him a bitter smile. "I think not."
"Do you want to be scanned?" Talia asked, straightening and taking a step closer to her.
"Do you want to try?" Lyta countered.
"Ms. Alexander!" Susan said. "I made a promise to Earthgov, and you will allow me to keep it. I recommend you do as Mr. Bester asks, or I will be forced to order Mr. Allan and his team to restrain you."
"If you think-"
"Do it, Lyta," Byron interrupted, his voice muffled and worn. "Let him see what he's done."
"Fine," Lyta said. The room started to shimmer around them. "I was keeping them hidden out of respect. He should not be allowed to see them like this." As she finished her sentence, bodies appeared around them, every one of them bloodied and dead. Susan heard several stifled gasps from those standing beside her.
Even Bester looked horrified during the initial reveal. As in he took in the carnage, however, his expression turned thoughtful. "Too many telepaths die tragically here," he said. "What are you up to, Lyta?" He turned towards the subject of his question as he asked it, but Susan noticed that his gaze took in Talia as well, just as the latter had predicted it would.
"I had nothing to do with their deaths," Lyta said. "I-"
A pulse burst from Bester's PPG stopped her. It took everyone a minute to realize that his target had been one of the corpses, but once the shock wore off, everyone jumped into action at once.
"Give me that," Zack said. "I don't care if you are authorized to carry, on this station-"
"Have you no shame?" Lyta asked, lunging towards Bester. Talia interceded between them and the two women began struggling against each other.
"Break them up," Susan said to the security personnel standing beside her before turning back to Bester. "I'm not sure what you were trying to accomplish, but that was hardly a productive course of action."
"It was an unfortunate but necessary action, Captain," Bester said. "I needed to determine whether or not the apparent deaths around us had been faked."
"By defiling the corpses of your own people?" Sheridan asked. "Whatever happened to being family?"
"I regret that outside influences have made our family members more susceptible to committing acts of deceit, but I can no longer rule out such a possibility when dealing with this type of tragedy." He walked forward and rested his good hand on the body lying nearest to him. "In this case, I stand corrected." He looked up at Sheridan. "But these telepaths are dead, and I want to know why."
"It's your fault," Byron said. He moved his hand out from where it had rested beneath his legs, and no one could miss the PPG he held.
"Put it down," Zack said. "C'mon now, don't make me-"
"Do this?" Byron said, pointing the gun at Bester. It dropped from his hand as Zack took two shots at his chest.
"No!" Lyta yelled. She was at Byron's side in an instant, checking the damage, but she barely got there ahead of Bester, who knelt down by his other side.
"It will be alright, Byron," he said. "We're not going anywhere."
Susan activated her link. "Tell Franklin we need a doctor down here in the telepath quarters of Down Below immediately," she said.
Bester kept his gaze trained on Byron. "Find out what happened here," he said to Talia, "but don't hurt him."
Talia's face tightened as she concentrated. "He came in this morning," she said slowly, "and it was already done." Her speaking pace increased as Byron's breathing picked up speed and became more labored. "They didn't trust his promise to keep them away from the Corps. They-"
Franklin and his team arrived then, and everyone else was forced back away from Byron to make space for them.
"Why would they do that?" Bester asked as they moved towards Medlab, and even Susan found herself sympathizing with the hurt in his voice. "I don't understand."
"And knowing you, Mr. Bester," Sheridan said, "you never will."
Bester's last words before leaving Babylon 5 had been to Talia. "Do not let him get away," he had said as they walked outside of Medlab. "He's my biggest prize."
They had all known then that Byron had been right.
"He had to leave Talia to look after me," Byron said as they all sat in Susan's office later, celebrating their victory. "She's the only person he trusts who is strong enough to exert any control over me. When he couldn't take me because of my 'injury'…" He leaned back in his chair, the picture of health. "We gave him no other choice."
"I still don't understand why we didn't just have you die with the others," Zack said. "Then we wouldn't have to worry about him coming back at all."
Garibaldi shook his head. "No, it wouldn't have worked. I'll say one thing in Bester's favor, he's a suspicious bastard-"
"Which as we all know is something Garibaldi respects," Susan interrupted.
"-and having Byron there, alive and misbehaving, provided all the distraction we could ask for," Garibaldi finished. He glared at Susan. "You try being in security as long as I have without becoming suspicious. I guarantee you'll die young."
"With her pessimistic streak," Sheridan said, "I doubt she expects otherwise."
Susan ignored them. "Are all the arrangements in place for the rest of telepaths?" she asked Delenn.
"Yes," Delenn said. "The Rangers took the half that wanted to continue their work with the Alliance to Minbar this morning. They might not get a planet of their own, but they will be seen as equals among the ranks of the Rangers."
"Perhaps they will even have more respect," Sheridan said. "Given how your people honor telepaths."
Delenn nodded. "The others were given a ship of their own by the Narn in exchange for access to telepath DNA. They have changed their identities-"
"And given their most solemn promise, to me, that they will not have any more contact with Earth," Byron said. "I will join them as soon as I find a legal way off this station, and we will search for a place to start a more permanent colony together."
"I'm surprised that as a fledgling organization, you're willing to take such a chance," Talia said to Sheridan and Delenn. "If Bester finds out that the Alliance is harboring blips and helping rogue telepaths start colonies, the political pressure-"
"Is something we'll have to handle," Sheridan said. "Considering it was the Alliance that made the decision to let them stay here on B5, it's our responsibility to deal with the fallout."
Susan laughed. "This might be the first thing that's happened on this station that I've managed to hand off to someone else."
"You'll get better at it with practice," Sheridan told her. "For now, I think we're done here." He turned to his wife. "Would you care to eat dinner together for the first time in a month?"
"I wasn't aware that such an act was even permitted anymore," Delenn said, smiling at him. "Before we were married, I was occasionally asked if we were," she considered her words carefully, "if we were 'seeing each other'. I find it curious that no one asks me this question anymore. It would be a far more relevant inquiry now."
"It probably would," Sheridan said, as everyone around them smiled. He stood up and held his hand out to Delenn, who joined him.
"Good night, everyone," she said. "We'll contact you if the Rangers inform us of any further developments regarding the telepaths."
"Thank you," Byron said. "I appreciate all you've done for us." He stood as well. "I should be getting back to Medlab. Might as well keep the cover story as believable as possible."
"Won't people suspect a hole in our story if they see you walking around?" Garibaldi asked.
Byron looked over at Lyta and Talia, who were already getting to their feet.
"They won't see him," Lyta said. "So it's unlikely to be a problem."
Susan spoke into the silence that followed Lyta's statement. "We all did a hell of a job today, especially you two," she said, turning to where Lyta and Talia stood by the door. "Drinks at my place later tonight for anyone who wants to continue the celebration." She let her gaze take in all her collaborators. "I know it's not as good as hitting one of the bars, but a public celebration might seem out of place right now."
"We'll be there," Garibaldi said, and the gathering broke apart.
After dropping Byron off, Talia and Lyta walked back to Susan's quarters together.
"I did what you asked," Talia said as they waited for the transport tube. "I let them think that I played as great a role as you did today in our deception of Bester."
"And for that I thank you," Lyta said. "But I don't think you want to leave it at that, do you?"
"I just don't understand. After what you did during the Shadow War, don't they already understand how powerful you are?"
The bitter smile Talia received in response to her question was an exact replica of the one Lyta had offered Bester earlier that day.
"They don't want to understand," Lyta said. "They think I'm harmless, that they have me under control. Unless they want something from me, they usually don't even notice I'm here." She turned and made sure she had Talia's attention. "Right now, I'd prefer to keep it that way," she said, not looking away until Talia nodded.
"I'm glad you're on our side," Talia said as they entered the elevator. "I couldn't have even convinced Bester that one person was dead for that many hours, let alone projecting the illusion for everyone in that room."
Lyta shrugged. "I had prepared myself for a much more challenging afternoon, but I suppose you have to start somewhere."
Talia decided that she could live without knowing exactly what that meant.
"Aren't you surprised at how much quieter this station is now that Londo is gone?" Garibaldi asked. "I mean, I miss the guy and everything, but-"
"The number of complaints to Security have been halved since he left," Zack said. "And Maintenance has reported the same thing. They used to have to go to his quarters at least once a day, between the bugs and the air recycling unit-"
"Can you imagine if he had been here the last few days?" Garibaldi deepened his voice. "Mr. Garibaldi! What is with all this scurrying about? Why can I never get ahold of anyone these days?"
Susan laughed with the others and finished her drink. It had been a really wonderful evening. She hadn't realized until they got together in her quarters that she had rarely seen either Talia or Lyta laugh, and she wasn't sure if she had ever seen them drink. But here they were, Talia listening to Garibaldi's stories with obvious fascination, Lyta pouring herself and Zack another drink, all of them laughing together. She hadn't seen any of them this happy in a long time—though the way that Zack looked at Lyta made Susan hurt for him. She was more than pretty sure that Lyta had committed her heart elsewhere.
It also hadn't escaped Susan that Talia had glanced in her direction more than one time during the course of the evening, the looks lingering slightly longer with each drink she poured herself.
Susan looked at her own empty glass and picked up one of the bottles on the table. "Can I get anyone something else?" she asked as she filled her glass. "I might even have food in my cupboards if someone wants me to take a look."
"That would be a first," Talia said, laughing. "You never have-" she paused and seemed to recollect herself, "the time to shop," she finished smoothly.
"I don't know, I've seen Ivanova in the Zocalo a few times," Garibaldi said. "Terrified shop owners stand in her wake."
"Hey, that's not fair," Susan said. "It's hardly my fault-"
"That your glare ends all bartering before it's even begun?" Garibaldi raised his glass of water to her, then polished it off. "You might be right," he said. "I don't think you even realize you're doing it."
She glared at him. "I disagree! I have complete control…" she trailed off as everyone around her started to laugh. "And I just proved your point," she said, rolling her eyes.
"You did," he said. "And on that high note, I'm going to make my exit. Otherwise, I will never get up in the morning."
As Garibaldi made his way to the door, Lyta rose as well. "I should go too," she said.
"I'll walk with you," Zack said. "It's late, and even I don't like to wander the station alone this time of night."
Lyta looked like she might argue, but then closed her mouth and nodded. Susan thought she was agreeing more to keep from ruining Zack's evening than because she believed she needed an escort, but either way Susan found herself hoping that they would enjoy each other's company on their walk.
Zack looked over at Talia. "Are you-"
"I'm fine, Mr. Allan," she interrupted him. "My quarters aren't far from here."
Susan knew that if she let Talia stand up, she wouldn't have the courage to stop her exit. It would be easier to watch her leave than call her back.
"Talia," Susan said. She felt her body tighten as the other woman didn't hesitate in transferring her attention from Zack to herself. "Would you mind staying an extra minute? I have a few questions about your reappearance that we haven't had time to address."
Talia studied her, and Susan could sense her confusion. "I have the time," she said finally, "if you have the inclination to talk."
"Thank you." Susan waited for Zack and Lyta to say their good-byes and leave before she spoke again. "How much have you had to drink?" she asked, once the two of them were alone. She wanted to make sure Talia had complete control over what she was willing to reveal before they began this conversation.
"I switched to water after the first two," Talia said. "It's harder not to catch surface thoughts if I allow myself to become intoxicated."
Susan had forgotten how disciplined Talia could be about respecting the privacy of others. It had surprised her when they had been together before; she would never have thought it would be able to do so again.
"What did you want to know?" As Talia voiced the question she began removing her badge and gloves.
"Why didn't you take those off earlier?" Susan asked. It was not one of the questions that had kept her awake during the last few weeks, but it was something she had been wondering all day. It was also an easy place to start.
"They provide a certain amount of protection," Talia answered, and Susan thought she seemed ashamed. "After my performance earlier, I wasn't quite ready to remove them in front of everybody."
"Talia, I'm sorry, I didn't mean-"
"To ask a personal question? I can hardly complain, I've been waiting for you to ask them for weeks."
"What did you want me to ask?"
Talia laughed. "You expect me to remember them all?"
"I'll sit here and wait, if you wanted to try." Susan shifted on the couch to make room and then motioned for Talia to sit with her. "I might even add a few of my own." She felt relief when Talia accepted her invitation, though she still appreciated the distance Talia kept between them by sitting far enough away that accidental physical contact wouldn't be an issue.
"Alright," Talia said, settling back into the cushions. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "I wanted you to ask me if I wanted to talk. If I understood how painful the last few weeks have been for you. If it hurt, being trapped in my own mind." She opened her eyes and looked over at Susan, and her litany picked up speed. "If I had heard about Marcus, about how his death affected you. If I wanted to listen to you talk about it. If I planned on staying on Babylon 5 after we dealt with Bester." Her expression had passed from serious into pained, and Susan knew she was struggling with the urge to simply send her thoughts rather than having to voice them. "If I had meant what I said to you before the artificial personality took over. If I…" Talia's hands shifted restlessly, and she clasped them together in her lap. "If I wanted to try and resume our relationship."
So many questions, most of them her own—most of which she never would have asked aloud. Now that they had all been voiced, Susan didn't know where to start. "And what would you have said, if I had asked you?
Susan went through the list in her mind. "You would have said 'yes' to every one of those questions?"
Talia held Susan's gaze. "Yes."
"You know," Susan said after a pause, "you were never this agreeable when you were here before."
"How could I be?" Talia asked. "You always disagreed with me before we even had a chance to argue."
Susan felt her mouth curve into a smile which only grew when she saw that Talia's expression mirrored her own. "We were fine once you admitted-"
"-that you were right and I was wrong?" Talia finished dryly. "Yes."
"There's that word again." Susan shook her head. "Are you sure you're completely back to yourself?"
"Yes," Talia said, her tone serious now. She leaned towards Susan and reached out one of her hands, stopping just short of allowing her fingers to brush the other woman's face.
Slowly, Susan reached up and covered Talia's hand with her own. As Susan interlaced their fingers and pressed them against her cheek, she realized that she could still read Talia's hesitance through the reluctance of her hands. Talia had always loved to explore her skin, but right now she seemed unsure or unwilling to start the journey.
So Susan started it for her, guiding their intertwined hands down her cheek and along the curve of her chin. She sighed, the soft sound magnified by the vibrations of the skin beneath their fingers, and Talia took over then, her hand continuing to map a path down Susan's neck. Her eyes followed the path her fingers took as she relearned the contours of her lover's body, and Susan relaxed into the touch, knowing that Talia didn't have to monitor her face in order to know when to stop, where to check in with her. Even when Susan didn't visibly react to the brush of fingers at the collar of her uniform, Talia ceased her downward progress and purposefully removed her hand from Susan's body.
Though she had needed the break, Susan found she didn't care for the loss. "I-"
"Wait," Talia said. She placed her hand against Susan's face again, and then reached up and began undoing her hair. Susan watched her in silence until she felt the cascade down her back, at which point she concentrated her thoughts on a single image in her mind and listened to Talia's quick intake of breath. Fingers threaded through the fall of her hair, tangling, pulling their faces even closer, and Susan felt her lips part, anticipating—but when Talia made contact with her mouth, she merely brushed her lips against one corner and started to pull back. Without thinking, Susan became the pursuer, turning her head and initiating a kiss.
For a while, nothing seemed to end: Talia's hands tightened their grip in her hair as Susan reached up to cup her partner's face, the contact between them gentling and becoming more insistent in time with the kiss, both of them giving, neither of them yielding to the other.
Finally Talia came up for air.
"Shouldn't we talk more?" she asked, and Susan could feel the shape of the words on her mouth, in the soft movement of Talia's lips and the exhalation of her pauses. Her thoughts seemed to play across Susan's skin.
"Yes," Susan said, and kissed her again.