Sheridan went still when he heard the scream, closing his eyes to better determine the direction of the sound. Three wars and twenty years in Earthforce had prepared him for many things, but this was not one of them.
There was another scream, this time from closer by. The sound echoed from the crystal walls, but when he concentrated, Sheridan was able to pinpoint that the screams were coming from his left, somewhere behind the potted tek'sha plants on the other side of the great hall.
He quickly jogged across the room to the doorway and leaned to the wall, closing his eyes again. The screaming had stopped, but he could still hear the footsteps, moving across the hall towards the eastern wing of the house. He knew that none of the Minbari staff would be there; he had given them all the night off. Ivanova had been staying on Minbar for the last week on a diplomatic errand, but even she was away for the evening, and wouldn't be back for at least a few more hours. With Delenn off-world on a diplomatic mission, it was then was just the two of them in the entire house.
He entered the eastern hall, careful not to make any sound, and then stopped in the middle of the room and waited. For a moment all he could hear was his own breathing, but then the footsteps returned, this time moving straight towards him. He couldn't help smiling. I got you now.
He took a few steps back and crouched down behind the doorframe. When the brightly coloured little creature finally ran through the door, Sheridan reached out from his hide-out and grabbed it.
"You are going straight to bed, young man."
Four-year-old David Sheridan, dressed in the pajamas Ivanova had brought him as a gift, stopped squirming and turned to look at his father.
"No I'm not. I wanna play hide-and-seek."
Sheridan smiled. "In the morning. Now it's time to go to bed."
David shook his head and resumed his attempts to slip away from his father's arms. "No. I want to play now!"
His feet had barely touched the ground when he was already half-way across the room. Sheridan leaned to the wall and sighed.
David's idea of good time seemed to be screaming his lungs out while running in circles and ever since he had learned to walk there hadn't been five minutes silence in the house. The Minbari staff seemed find this extremely amusing, and when Delenn had mentioned this to Sheridan's mother on their last visit to Earth, to Sheridan's annoyance her reply had only been, "Like father like son."
Pushing himself away from the wall again, Sheridan tried to listen where David had disappeared. The boy was nowhere to be seen, but his footsteps were still audible from some nearby room. Sheridan started towards the direction of the footsteps but had barely made it across the room when there was an almost inaudible cracking sound from the ceiling. Sheridan looked up but before he could see what had caused the sound he felt a sharp flash of pain in the back of his skull. Holding his head he took a few staggering steps before he his legs gave out and he fell heavily to the floor.
It was the strong, metallic smell of blood that woke him, and the feel of the cold, hard concrete floor against his face. Sheridan opened his eyes groggily and stared at the pair of booted feet in front of him.
"How nice of you to join us again."
The boots turned around and walked away. It took a few seconds for Sheridan to be able to focus his eyes well enough to see that the boots belonged to the man who had been interrogating him. He sat down on the metallic chair on the other side of the room.
"For a moment there we thought we'd lost you. We even had to bring in a doctor to make sure you hadn't hurt yourself. We wouldn't want any harm to come to you, would we?"
"David... where's David?" Sheridan asked hoarsely. His throat felt like sandpaper, and there was a coppery taste of blood in his mouth.
"Your father is safe. For now. As I have said before, he will be released as soon as you decide to co-operate."
Sheridan rolled to his side and regretted it immediately as a sharp pain pierced his temples. He moved his head until the pain subsided into a dull throbbing and then carefully touched his temple. His fingers met with fresh blood and bruising on the side of his head with a certain boot-like quality to it. When he concentrated, he could hazily remember the men who had been to see him before, and their vicious kicks that had continued long after he had been lying on the floor.
"You should learn to be more careful, Captain. Couple of more accidents like this and even our good doctor might not be able to save you."
Sheridan felt anger build up inside him, but didn't move, knowing that if he stood up, he would be within the radius of the paingivers. Instead, he just focused on his breathing, trying to clear his head. There was something nagging at him at the edge of his mind, like there was something he was supposed to remember. Something important.
"You will pay for this," he finally said, standing up. He was still feeling lightheaded, but with a little effort he was able to push himself to his feet. "Even if I die, the resistance will take over Earth and those who did Clark's bidding will be put to trial. We will win."
"No, Captain. You won't." The interrogator nodded, and two guards detached themselves from the shadows and approached Sheridan.
Instinctively he tried to cover his head with his arms, but his effort was in vain when the baton hit him on the side of the head with such strength that he was flung against the wall of the cell. As he collapsed onto the floor, the pain still ringing in his ears, Sheridan could feel the world slipping away from him like a waking dream.
"John, are you all right?"
When he opened his eyes, he found Ivanova's worried face looking down at him. It took him a few seconds to realise that he was lying on the floor and that Ivanova was kneeling beside him.
"How many fingers am I holding up?"
Sheridan focused on Ivanova's hand and counted the fingers twice before answering.
"Close enough. Do you know who I am?"
To her obvious annoyance, Sheridan didn't even bother to answer, and instead just tried to get back to his feet.
"Where's David?" he asked as Ivanova reluctantly helped him up.
"He's all right, he's a smart little boy. When he saw what happened to you, he ran to my quarters to find me. He's waiting there with Tarenn."
Sheridan was relieved at the knowledge that the boy was in safe hands. Holding his head to stifle the pain, he looked around. There was no-one else in the hall except him and Ivanova, but there was a shattered ceiling tile on the floor next to him.
"What happened to me?" he asked, "One minute I'm playing with David, the next-"
He stopped before saying too much. It was all just a dream. Nothing that Susan should know about.
"You don't remember?"
Sheridan shook his head, regretting it immediately as the pain returned in one big wave. Ivanova glanced briefly at the broken tile and sighed.
"Do you remember when Tannier came to talk to us after dinner yesterday?"
"Of course I do," Sheridan snapped. He was getting annoyed at her asking him about his memory. The problem wasn't that he didn't remember. It was the fact that he remembered too much.
Ivanova took no notice of his irritation. "Do you remember him saying something about not going to the east wing?"
Sheridan made the mistake of rolling his eyes. He was still feeling light-headed and didn't notice where the discussion was going.
"No," he replied rather more sharply than was necessary. "Tannier said that the west wing was being renovated today and that no-one should go there."
Ivanova turned her back to him and Sheridan knew immediately that she did this to hide her oft-used "I can't believe I'm same species as that idiot" look. It was very similar to Delenn's "Guess who's sleeping on the couch tonight" look, and Sheridan was thankful that he wasn't married to Ivanova because then he would probably live in his office. After a few seconds she turned back towards him, still quite obviously trying not to show her annoyance.
"Well, it would seem that this was all just one more slight misunderstanding on the part of Mister 'I don't need to take any more lessons in Adronato'. Pi'ard is west. Pi'vad is east."
Sheridan closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to use his non-existent telepathic powers to make Ivanova vanish or at least get the point that he wanted to be alone. He knew that she was only being snappish to hide her worry over him, but he was tired and the last thing he needed was a lecture from a woman who had been known to reduce warrior caste Minbari to tears. What he needed was a good night sleep. Real sleep without any dreams. As if that was possible. When he opened his eyes Ivanova was unfortunately still standing in front of him. He sighed.
"Could we for a moment pretend that I'm the President of the interstellar Alliance and when I tell you to go away, you actually do as I say?"
"When Pak'maras fly," came Ivanova's reply without a moment's hesitation. "I'm calling the doctor to take a look at your head."
The doctor came and went, and against Sheridan's wishes Ivanova remained by his side, offering sarcastic remarks whenever he needed them least. Somehow, Sheridan managed to remain calm. He smiled and joked, allowed Ivanova to reprimand him and just acted as if nothing serious had happened. Ivanova was suspicious, but when she realised that she wasn't going to get anything out of him, she relented and told one of the rangers to bring David back in.
After making sure that David was all right and hadn't been too frightened by what had happened, Sheridan kissed him goodnight and - telling him he was staying up to wait for his mother - asked Ivanova to take the tired little boy to bed.
Once Ivanova and David were out of the room, Sheridan could stop pretending that everything was fine.
He sat heavily down on the couch and covered his eyes with his hands, his whole body shaking and drenched in cold sweat. He felt like he could not breathe, like there was no air in the room, and for a while all he could do was sit there, elbows on knees, concentrating on keeping on breathing. When he could finally walk again, he stood up, and without bothering to put on his robe and slippers went to get some fresh air.
He was still shivering when he got to the balcony. He looked at the dark evening sky, the first few stars defying the last rays of the sun, and although it was quite a warm night, he felt cold. He disliked secrets - he had learned the hard way what damage they could cause - but this was something he couldn't tell anyone, not even Delenn. She knew what had been done to him while he had been... there... in Clark's prison. He had told her. She knew what had happened on Z'ha'dum, what it had felt like to die and to come back. He had told her that too. But this, this he could never tell her; he would never dare to say his thoughts out loud in the fear that it would break the spell.
A bright star fell from the sky, disappearing into the darkness beyond the city lights, and Sheridan knew it was Delenn's ship. He had talked to her on the stellarcom earlier that day and she had told him she would be back before morning. The thought of Delenn washed away the anxiety and made Sheridan feel calmer.
He looked at the dark red sky and, like on many nights before, marvelled at how Minbar had turned out exactly the way he had imagined it to be. Perfect. And his marriage, his family; Delenn and David whom he loved more than life itself. On nights like this, when he looked at the cityscape below the balcony, all the worries of the world seemed so far away.
He lifted his eyes back to the sky and thought about the John Sheridan of his dreams - no, his past - the John Sheridan who was still in that prison cell on Mars. Lying on the concrete floor, barely alive, dreaming of a life with Delenn, a life he had seen on Babylon 4. And like on so many nights before his thoughts strayed to the cold bare floor of the cell and how real it had felt.
When the sun finally disappeared below the horizon, Sheridan returned inside the house. He smiled, knowing that Delenn would be home soon. As he walked across the crystalline floor of the hall, it felt like the cold concrete of the prison cell beneath his bare feet, but he ignored it. He would not wake up, not yet. Tonight he would dream.