Disclaimer: Babylon 5 is the legal property Warner Bros. TNT, and Babylon Productions, and this is a not for profit fan production, and as such, is not intended to infringe on the rights of any legal holders of copyright.

THE ORPHEUS JOURNEY
Rebecca Hall

PART III

O dark dark dark

They all go into the dark

The vacant interstellar spaces...

The vacant into the vacant

And Cold the sense and Lost the motive of action...

I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you

Which shall be the darkness of God...

~~T.S. Eliot~~

Ivanova was pacing a trail into the decking in front of Kosh's quarters. It had been two standard earth days since she returned to Babylon 5, since they had taken the unwilling Talia by force to this place, since the doors closed in front of Ivanova, locking her out.

Garibaldi had been very kind. He had helped Ivanova break away from her vigil to eat and once to sleep. After she caught some sleep, Garibaldi had filled her in on the Shadows' movements over the four days she was gone. This had actually distracted Ivanova from her focus point behind the closed doors to Kosh's quarters for almost two hours. It amazed her how much had happened here in the short time she was gone.

But before any of that, there was the debriefing. The Captain was anxious to hear her report on the Psi Corps, and anxious to meet the Ranger who had been crucial in getting his executive officer back in one piece.

After taking Talia to Kosh, Ivanova had grabbed a quick shower and then took Imani with her to the War Room. Now the two women sat at the conference table, waiting for the others. Imani rested her head in her hands, struggling to stay awake. Ivanova was drumming her fingers on the table, too nervous about Talia to feel the least bit sleepy.

"Can you stop that, please? you're giving me a headache."

"Stop what?" Ivanova asked innocently.

"That!" Imani said, placing her hand momentarily over Ivanova's.

"Oh. I didn't realize. I don't think I've ever done that before. It's not like me." Ivanova held up the offending hand and looked at it, inspecting it closely as if she were not sure it was hers. Then she got up abruptly, clasped her hands behind her back, and began to pace. Imani looked up at her, rolling her eyes.

"Do you think that's any better?" Imani asked.

"Much." Ivanova responded."Russians often feel the need to pace. It is sort of like our version of meditation. You should try it some time," Ivanova explained while she continued to pace.

"No, thanks..." Imani stopped talking abruptly and rose to her feet. She held her hand to the left side of her breast, bowing deeply.

Ivanova turned to see that Delenn was the object of Imani's sudden homage, and she was returning the gesture. Behind her stood Captain John Sheridan.

"Commander!" The Captain yelled, grasping Ivanova's hand in both of his. "I can't even begin to tell you how glad I am to see you. These past days have felt like years."

"Captain! It's good to see you, too. And good to know I'm missed when I'm gone."

"Yes, Commander. The Captain has been at a loss during your absence," Delenn said, smiling at Ivanova. "It has been most unpleasant. But your return has brought this unfortunate period to a close. And with it, you bring one of my prize students back with you." Delenn had turned back to face Imani, who seemed nonplused by Delenn's praise.

"Satai Delenn. It is an honor--"

"No longer Satai, I'm afraid," Delenn responded, frowning slightly.

"I heard. But you will always be Satai to me." Imani said. Ivanova looked at Imani closely, saw that her eyes were shining.

And then Ivanova told them all about how the mission went, and how well Omega Watch worked. She had been quite impressed with the whole set up, particularly with how well all the disparate groups that made up the organization worked so well together, and her enthusiasm showed. It was heartening, really, to see what people could accomplish together when the need arose.

Ivanova's feelings of elation at a job well done faded as soon as the briefing ended and she resumed her vigil at the door to Kosh's quarters. A job well done, indeed!, she thought to herself sarcastically. The truth was, she had no idea if the mission was successful, wouldn't know until Kosh finished whatever it was doing in there. Talia could die, could already be dead. Or Kosh might not be able to get rid of the artificial personality. Ivanova wasn't sure which outcome would be worse. But then she remembered that brief glimpse of the real Talia, her Talia, that had tried to come through the Control on the shuttle home. She remembered seeing the blood and tears on Talia's lips as she fought against the Psi Corps implant, and she knew what the real Talia would prefer. Being dead would be much better than being forever buried alive, inside that Psi Corps puppet.

Ivanova's body was suddenly racked with anguish at the thought of Talia dead. She had managed to hold it back for a while now, but it was too powerful. She felt it hit her hard, like something physical, felt the pain burn through her. Her legs couldn't hold the weight of it, they began shaking uncontrollably, and she felt herself slide down the wall and sink to the floor. She buried her head in her hands. Gut wrenching sobs shook her body, but she wouldn't let out a sound, couldn't, for she knew it would be a scream. An ear-curdling keening that could be heard throughout the station and on the planet below. She was bursting from the pressure of holding it inside.

"Commander. Ivanova." Imani's voice was soft, but the timber of it pierced through Ivanova's pain. Ivanova looked up and saw the tall Ranger standing over her, a look of concern on her face, hands clasped together, folded gently in front of her. She looked into Imani's eyes, saw the compassion there, and the strength, held onto it like an anchor during a storm at sea.

"I thought you could take me around this station of yours, show me the sights. From what little I've seen, it looks quite impressive."

Ivanova had listened only to the sound of Imani's voice, and now she paused, waiting belatedly for the words to make sense. When the meaning registered, she started to nod her assent, but then turned to look at the door next to her.

"You aren't doing anyone any good sitting in front of the Vorlon's door, especially yourself. A short break, and then you can come back, I promise." And Imani stretched out her hand to help Ivanova up.

Ivanova took the Ranger's hand in a firm grip, and allowed herself to be pulled up off the floor. Taking a second to collect herself, she brushed non-existent dirt from her uniform pants.

"Let's start with the Cobra Bays. I can show you what a real ship looks like," Ivanova said, trying to smile. Then the two women walked down the corridor together, heading away from the alien sector.

 *****

~~It is time~~  

She was asleep when the summons came. She startled awake at the sound of Kosh's voice in her mind, and then looked around to get her bearings. She was still sitting in the corridor in front of Kosh's quarters.

Her legs cramped as she stood. She had no idea how long she had been sleeping, folded into that painful position. As the blood returned tingling down her legs and into her feet, she turned to enter Kosh's quarters.

Ivanova took the breather off its shelf in the wall of the airlock and noticed that her hands were shaking. She placed it over her head, fingers fumbling awkwardly with the straps, and took a deep breath to make sure the mechanism was working, and to try to calm her nerves. The time had come.

When the door cycled shut behind her, she was forced to shade her eyes from a brilliant light. She couldn't see very much through the smoky swirls of the methane atmosphere, but the bright light reflecting off of the face-plate of her mask made it even harder to see. As she took a few tentative steps towards the source of the light, she thought she could see a clear space within the haze. A final step and she was crossing a threshold-- as if an invisible line had been drawn in the air, holding back the dark haze and creating a pocket of light. She looked up, and there was the Vorlon.

~~Remove the mask~~

It was not an easy thing to do--her every instinct told her she would be dead in seconds if she followed the Vorlon's instructions. But she couldn't believe that Kosh brought her here to watch her choke to death. She did as she was told.

And took a shallow, tentative breath. The air felt normal and her lungs did not seize.

And she could see. Clearly. She had only seen the Vorlon outside its' encounter suit once before, when it saved the Captain from plunging to his death after the explosion in the Core Shuttle. But here Kosh was again in all its splendor. A being of light. An angel? It floated in mid air, wings arched and spread behind a lithe sexless body with an angels' face. In Kosh's hand was what appeared to be an oversized data storage crystal. A blueish-white beam of light flowed from Kosh's hand, through the crystal, and then arced downwards. Ivanova's eyes followed the arc of light to its source, and this is when she saw Talia. Her heart leapt into her throat.

Talia lay prone, yet suspended in air. Her body had been obscured by darkness, but now the light from the crystal surrounded her like an aura. Where the light actually touched her body, the colors changed, cycling from blue to white to orange, and back to blue.

~~Approach, Mindwalker. Come close~~

Ivanova stepped up towards Talia, reached out a hand towards her, and stopped, looking up at Kosh. And again had to shade her eyes as the light glowed even brighter and what was Kosh-as-angel transformed.

~~See me as I am. It is... necessary~~

What was Kosh became an amorphous orange-yellow ovoid-shaped brightness. It pulsated in rhythm with the thoughts it channeled to Ivanova's mind.

Ivanova felt herself transformed as well. It was like she was fully awake, truly conscious for the first time in her life. She was hearing, seeing, smelling, using all of her senses, but they weren't the same. They were augmented now or they had been deficient before, she didn't know which was the truth.

The arc of light that had flowed from what was Kosh's "hand" now assumed the same cycling colors as those of Talia's aura. Ivanova sensed that something was wrong-- the energy had changed direction. Now it flowed from Talia to Kosh and there was a turbulence-- a discord of some kind that was trying to invade Kosh, who was resisting the flow from entering its own shape.

~~It is not complete. She needs...to believe...~~  

Ivanova looked closely at Talia's face. Was it Talia, or control? She couldn't tell. Was she even alive? She watched her chest, looking for signs of breath. She couldn't tell if Talia was breathing, and Ivanova suddenly felt an overwhelming urge to touch her. She took both hands and slowly pushed through the aura of pulsating light. It made her skin tingle unpleasantly and the tiny hairs on her arms stand on end. Her initial sense was confirmed--there was something not right about the energy surrounding Talia. Not right at all. She lay her hands carefully on Talia's chest, and was relieved to feel a gentle, rhythmic rise and fall. But there was something else. Ivanova closed her eyes and felt as if her hands were sinking, felt herself falling into Talia---

 

Ivanova was in a dark corridor in Downbelow. The core shuttle whooshed down its track overhead. Light streamed down from an air shaft behind a large cooling fan. The light gathered in a pool on the floor and it flickered in time with the oscillation of the fan, causing a strobe-like effect. At the center of the pool sat Talia Winters.

"Is there anybody there?" she asked. Talia was emanating absolute desolation and despair. She was sitting back on her knees, staring down at her gloved hands, shiny black from the polished leather. Lines of fatigue streaked down her pale face, and she was bone-thin.

She looked up as Ivanova approached, stepped into the pool of light, squatted down in front of Talia.

"Is it really you?" Ivanova whispered, her eyes searching, gentle but wary.

"Susan?" Talia looked up, met Ivanova's eyes. "I'm dreaming..."

"No sweetheart, you're not. This is not a dream," Ivanova was saying emphatically. "Do you remember the shuttle--the flight back?"

Ivanova watched as Talia's expression turned from blank to remembering. "Yes. Yes! I do remember. Where are we? But wait--" A minute passed and then Talia's shoulders drooped in resignation. "This is the same dream. Its always like this. The shuttle, us here--everything."

"No, Talia, you can come back now--", Ivanova reached out and took Talia's hands in hers. "We're back on Babylon 5, and Kosh was--is-- healing you. I reached out to touch you and fell...in here, with you--"

"No, this is one of the places I go. To hide from--" Talia's eyes darted around. "I'm trapped here."

"Talia. Listen to me! What can I say to convince you? Do you feel my hands? Feel me touching you? I can touch you. This is not a dream." Ivanova's eyes were pleading and she was pulling at Talia's hands for emphasis. "Believe me. Please! Believe one more time---"

 ~~Believe one more time~~

Ivanova's words repeated inside her own head, an echo of an echo. She saw the image of herself reflected in a mirror, an infinite regression of mirrors, and Talia, an infinite regression of Talias all staring into the mirrors, reaching out in desperation for Ivanova, her efforts futile. And all the while hearing the taunting echo of

~~believe one more time~~

Ivanova watched in horror as Talia's fist broke the mirror, only to see it instantly reform, the false images reappearing, her hopeless action reminiscent of the powerlessness of a nightmare. She watched as Talia realized it was just another false image, telling her once again to "believe one more time..."

Then, as Talia dropped her fist, the light coming in from the air shaft behind the fan started to fade, becoming increasingly more dim. "I am forsaken..."

"NO! God Talia, don't leave me again. Come back! don't--" Ivanova's voice trailed off in agony. Talia's form began to fade, and Ivanova reached out for her but touched only air. And then she felt her own soul fade.

Kneeling in the darkness, Ivanova dropped her head into her hands and sobbed inconsolably.  

Eyes closed, the back of her eyelids became a screen for the images that flooded in: A house in flames, a child at the window, on fire, burning, screaming. The child jumping from the window but before crashing to the ground to her death she transformed into a bird with wings of fire. She was flying now, higher, impossibly high. There was no atmosphere, just the vacuum of space, but she was breathing it and the fire that was her wings continued to burn even without atmosphere, fueling her flight. The planet from which she had come dwindled into a speck and disappeared. She was flying towards an orange-yellow ovoid being of light and it became huge as she approached-- as big as a star. It "spoke" to her--the voice of Kosh inside her head.

~~You have a power around you, human. Believe it. Know its name!~~

And then the last image the child-bird transformed once more, merging with the being of light.

Ivanova opened her eyes and found she was no longer kneeling in darkness, but was back in the circle of pulsating light. Talia sat across from her, her lifeless body like a puppet whose strings had been cut. The desperate grief that consumed her began to shift, to change into anger. Then into a potent fury that created a roar of energy inside her chest, building in intensity and momentum, threatening to explode. It peaked, then tore through her, shooting like lightning through her arms, down and into Talia. Ivanova felt it expand in Talia's chest as though it were her own, and then both women began to glow.

For a brief moment they were back in the room of mirrors. This time Talia's fist smashed the mirror and before it could reform she turned, saw the real Ivanova behind her. The mirror disintegrated into countless slivers of clear glass from the impact of Talia's blow, and then it was just the two of them: Susan, Talia, and no reflections.

Then Ivanova felt terribly dizzy and thought that she was losing consciousness. But after a few moments of disorientation, she suddenly found herself standing on the other side of the airlock in front of Kosh's quarters. Looking down, she saw Talia cradled in her arms. She seemed to be in a deep sleep, but she was very much alive and breathing deeply. Ivanova could still feel the aura of light emanating from Talia's body, could feel the energy of it against her own skin where their bodies touched. Now it was clear and clean. She hugged Talia to herself in a tight embrace as tears poured down her face. 

***** 

There was a companionable silence as the two women looked through the glass at Talia's prone form on the bed, sleeping peacefully at last. Ivanova stood with her hands clasped behind her back, and Imani had her arms folded across her chest. Talia had yet to wake since leaving Kosh's quarters, but Dr. Franklin assured Ivanova that all was well. That this deep healing sleep was just what she needed. Imani, who had joined Ivanova just as the doctor was leaving, had yet to speak a word.

After a while, Imani broke the silence.

"An easier vigil then your last."

"You are certainly a master of understatement," Ivanova responded, smiling at the Ranger.

Another minute passed.

"I came by to see for myself that everything was going to be alright. And to say good-bye."

"You're leaving already?" Ivanova asked, surprise in her voice. "surely you can stay for a while longer--"

"I'm needed back on Mars, Commander. I've been in communication with my operatives via subspace transmission, and things are really hot back there now, since we took Ms. Winters away. The Psi Corps is beside itself. They certainly knew that they had been subject to espionage before this, but I'm sure they never would have expected that anyone could kidnaped, stolen right from their center of operations." Imani was positively glowing with pleasure. She had a satisfied smile on her face just thinking about having beat the Corps.

"But are you going to be OK there? The Corps is probably turning Mars upside down looking for whoever did this."

"They won't find us. But in any case, Mars is my watch, as Babylon 5 is yours, Commander. Although I must say I have enjoyed the time we have spent, fighting together..." The Ranger's voice trailed off.

"We will still be fighting together, Imani. As long as this war lasts. And after watching you in action, I am quite relieved that we are on the same side."

Imani laughed at that, a full belly laugh that forced Ivanova to smile in response. "Yes, Commander, I am glad that my enemy is your enemy, as the saying goes. You make a very... determined adversary. Until next time. Take care of yourself." Imani bowed formally like the Ranger she was, but then Ivanova pulled her into an embrace.

"Take care of yourself, too. I'll miss you, Imani." Then Ivanova pulled away, slightly embarrassed by her uncharacteristic display. Imani just winked at her and then turned on her heel, cape swirling behind her as she walked out of the MedLab door.

 ***** 

Ivanova had fallen asleep in the chair next to Talia's bed. She hadn't slept much while running back and forth between the War Room, C&C, and her watch here in MedLab. She woke up slowly, stretching, looked over at Talia to find that she was awake and looking at her, a soft smile on her wan features.

"You're awake!" Ivanova said as she bolted from the chair to Talia's bedside. "How long--"

"Just for a few minutes. I wanted the chance to look at you--" Talia's voice trailed off. She sounded unsure of what to say.

Ivanova leaned over and gently touched Talia's cheek. Talia folded her hand over Ivanova's, tears brimmed her eyes.

"Susan, I didn't tell them about you. I wouldn't let her say anything about you being--one of us. For some reason I was able to prevent that. I don't remember much about being trapped in there, but I know she didn't tell them."

"That is truly incredible, Talia."

"Perhaps it is not so incredible. At least not any more incredible than you coming to get me. I would fight so hard to have the real me come through, and it happened a few times. But I wasn't powerful enough to to take my own life, so I prayed someone would kill me." Talia's eyes closed, causing the tears to overflow. Ivanova wiped them away with her fingers. " And I remember dreaming about you coming, calling to me-- but I just couldn't let myself believe it. That you would risk everything to save me. It just doesn't make sense. That I could be that important to someone...to you--"

"Talia--"

"No. Let me finish. I... I can't remember my parents. I was very young when the Corps took me. Unusually so. And the Corps became everything to me. My family. But it didn't take long for me to realize that they didn't really care for me. I was just one more cog in their machine, and my well-being was always less important then the "greater good" of the Psi Corps."

Talia stopped for a minute to catch her breath. she felt very weak, and her mouth was dry. She started to reach for the glass of water at the side of the bed, but Ivanova got there first.

She held the glass carefully to Talia's lips, one hand behind her head, supporting her. After Talia drank her fill, she looked up, meeting Ivanova's eyes, which were soft with concern. Talia was determined to finish what she had to say, despite her exhaustion. She gave Ivanova a weak smile, before continuing, a smile that made Ivanova's heart hurt.

"I guess I never thought there was anything wrong with that, you know? I mean my feelings, my needs just weren't that important, in the grand scheme of things. After all we had a mission, work to do. We had to build our place out in the world of 'normals'. And we had people to save from danger, from the horror of being alone with their talents raging out of control, alienated from everyone who used to be their friends and family.

"I felt so alone, so desperate when I finally let myself hear the truth about the Corps. Some mission!" Talia's lip curled in derision. "And then you...happened." The curled lip was quickly replaced by a smile of remembrance. "I didn't feel alone anymore. But I had no idea what you would be willing to risk for me. For just Talia."

Talia had paused again to collect her thoughts. Ivanova knew she was not finished yet. She stilled the urge to say whatever she could and as much as she could to reassure Talia, to comfort her, to make the pain in her voice go away.

"But you... you care for me. I--"

It was over. Talia's voice cracked and then broke.

Ivanova leaned her body into the rail of the MedLab bed that held Talia. Suddenly, the distance was too much. And it had been too long. Releasing the rail, she climbed into the bed beside Talia and took her in her arms.

"It's O.K. now. I'm here. We're together again--" Talia's quiet tears had turned to sobs as she hid her face in Susan's chest. Susan had her arms tightly around Talia, her chin was resting on Talia's head, her free arm was stroking Talia's back. "I love you so much. I won't let them hurt you again." Susan whispered into Talia's hair. Again Susan was struck with how thin and fragile Talia seemed. She seemed so delicate that Susan was amazed that she made it through everything that had happened. Looks certainly could be deceiving. As Talia's sobs quieted, Susan let go of a small sigh and holding the other woman close, she settled in for the night.

*****

~~You have a power around you, human. Believe it. Know its name!~~

~~Susan, I've never seen anything like this. Your readings for "psi abilities: unspecified" are off the scale..~~

~~Nothing seems to happen on this station without you're knowing it, Commander.~~

~~She has a special knack for this kind of thing. Isn't that true, Mindwalker?~~

The voices in her head would not let Ivanova sleep.

When Dr. Franklin had come into the room to check on his patient, he found two women in the bed instead of one, his patient sleeping in the Commander's arms. Dr. Franklin ordered Ivanova out of MedLab and insisted she sleep a full six hours in her own bed. He assured her that Talia was going no where, that she needed rest as well, and MedLab beds were not designed to sleep two comfortably. He reminded her that she was a military Commander with a duty to stay alert to protect this station. He pointed out that just as it was her job to protect this station, it was his job to care for the patients, and he could do it with out her help. Ivanova finally left, slinking off like an errant child sent to her room without supper.

By the time she got to her quarters, she was glad for Franklin's intervention. It was, after all, the first time she had even seen her own bed since returning to B5. She put on her favorite night shift, pulled back the covers, and nestled into the pillows. Luxuriating in the softness of it, the warmth. Looked forward to a long, peaceful sleep.

But of course it was not turning out that way. It was the first time she had been alone since returning and now it was all catching up to her. And she was shocked at her own inability to push her feelings and thoughts aside. After all it was one of the things she did best, at least ever since her mother died. Something inside her had shifted with everything she had gone through lately and now it wasn't so easy.

There was one chain of thought that she had tried hardest to repress the realization that certain things had happened, could only have happened, because she had some special ability. The time had come to take a good hard look at the situation.

"Lights."

She got up, put on a robe, sat at her desk. It scared her to look at this, but it made it easier if she tried to see the whole thing as some kind of abstract puzzle, a focus for her formidable analytic ability. This was the same Ivanova who could calculate the trajectories of all of the ships in her head, both enemy and ally while in the midst of the most heated battle. The same Ivanova who could juggle the space traffic of an entire sector after one cursory view of the day's flight schedules. Who could discern the most tenuous, abstract patterns that lay in massive amounts of raw data.

Concentrate, she told herself.

When Talia first tested her psi abilities, she had scanned null for telekinetic ability. The test picked up her telepathic ability, but was unable to establish a rating level. And finally, they had found her "psi ability: type unspecified" to be so high it was off the scale. On the whole not very informative.

"Computer, list all psi abilities, actual and theoretical and provide a compete description of each. Output to comm visual mode."

---Accessing...

She looked first at the oldest studies, and found a few articles written by early twentieth century Earth "para- psychologists." It was clear from her reading that the work of these early researchers were subject to derision from the mainstream scientific community. But only a few hundred years later, over ten percent of the earth's population would become telepathic, and determining and measuring psi abilities became an exact science. And it turned out that psi abilities were just another form of energy in the universe, another physical force, but unlike gravity or electro-magnetism, the earlier scientists hadn't the means to detect it. And of course there were fewer telepaths then and those that did exist had rather diffuse abilities, neither of which made the job of those early researchers any easier.

But scientists don't know everything, Ivanova knew, and this was just as true today. Some psi abilities were still hard to quantify. All these have been thrown in the "unspecified" category.

But did one of these unspecified abilities involve communicating with walls? Because that was the only explanation that made any sense for what had happened that night at the Psi Corps headquarters.

They were in the dark corridor facing a fork in their path that was not on Yoshi's map. But Ivanova hadn't really needed the map. She could feel the essence of Talia where she touched the wall with her hand. It was as though the wall had its own memory, retaining the essence of Talia's passing. And when Ivanova "felt" it she picked up this memory, like a tracker finding a trail. Talia had passed this way just yesterday and Ivanova knew it. Just as she knew that Talia had been heading towards her quarters, taking the left fork in the corridor although she hadn't a clue as to what sense she was using to determine this.

"Computer, run the search again, this time limiting it to psi abilities cross-referenced with inanimate objects, excluding all references to telekinesis. Same time date parameters."

---Accessing...

Ivanova skimmed the data that had been transferred to her comm, and an excerpt from an early twentieth century study caught her eye:

These cases make it appear that something is transferred from a human being to an inanimate object and that thing is carried for long periods of time by that object...when said object is touched by, or placed in the vicinity of the psi-sensitive person, he is able to use that object to glean verifiable intelligence...This raises the enormous question as to whether what we call memory can exist outside of biological organisms...

 "Computer, access full text..."

 It took Ivanova over an hour to read the entire essay, and to search unsuccessfully for information more current on the subject. The early parapsychologists had conducted a few case studies of people who had this unusual ability, which they called "psychometry", but apparently nothing had been done since.

At least nothing public. The Psi Corps researchers must know something about this, but they tended not to share their information with the data webs outside their facilities. Ivanova let out an exasperated sigh before transferring her research to the crystal port and deactivating the comm. She would need to find some other way to get at that information.

And then Ivanova had a horrible thought. She realized just the person who could help.

"Computer, establish a subspace connection to Mars colony, location code name "Tubman." Security level ultra ultra violet. Establish a scatter link and disconnect immediately upon detection of a focused trace."

Imani had set up a way for Ivanova to communicate with Omega Watch if needed by including her in their database of those authorized to make contact. The chance of an effective trace being placed on a scatter link was next to impossible as the signal relay was constantly recalabrated during the connection by some complex algorithm. And it was not possible to establish a connection without your particular password and voice print being recognized on the other end. All these precautions might be just a bit paranoid since the Babylon 5 communications system had locked out any enemy infiltration, but when people's lives were at stake, Ivanova was all in favor of paranoia.

---input password for location code name "Tubman"

"Faith"

---Password accepted, voice print correlation confirmed. Do you request audio notification when contact is established?

"Yes."

---input name of contact for location code name "Tubman."

"Eric."

 *****

Ivanova had nodded off only to be woken up by an annoying buzzing sound. She was so tired it took her a minute to realize that the computer was letting her know the link she requested had been established. She quickly ran her fingers through her hair and rubbed her scalp to get the blood to flow to her brain, and pulled her robe tightly around herself . Then she walked over and activated the wall comm.

"Commander, this is a surprise." Scatter links tended to be fuzzy and this one was no exception, but still Ivanova could see that Eric looked even worse than usual. It looked as if he hadn't slept in a week, his skin was so pale as to be almost transparent, and the lines caused by his permanent snarl around his mouth were etched in even deeper than Ivanova thought possible.

"I need to talk to you. To ask you some questions about-- well, about me."

Eric smiled at that, causing his face to take on an unpleasant asymmetrical cast.

Ivanova refused to be put off. She needed this information.

"When we were at the Psi Corps headquarters--"

"Yes. You knew the way we had to go. You want to know how you did that."

"Can't you let me ask my questions without you picking them out of my mind?" Ivanova snapped.

"What a waste of time. But no need to get bent out of shape, Commander. Even I cannot read you over a subspace link. No, I simply am anticipating your concerns."

Ivanova took a calming breath. It was good to know that Eric wasn't rummaging through her head, and she tried to use that information to soothe her short temper. She tried to start over.

"Imani told me a little about you. That you worked with Jason Ironheart, in the research department--"

"They would have loved to dissect you Commander. You have some interesting abilities."

"Abilities? Plural?"

"Look. I was a just a P10, a teacher, before subjecting myself to the research department's ministrations. I thought I wanted to know everything. When they say you can never know too much, think of me Commander." A sob tore from his throat, a reflexive action, like vomiting. He stepped away from the view screen long enough to make Ivanova think he was not coming back. But he did, looking a little more composed as he continued.

"In theory a person or even certain events leave a resonance, a residue on things nearby. In theory if the event is particularly traumatic, a sensitive person could re-experience what happened in the past by being in proximity to those things. Or if there is a strong tie between the person and the sensitive, she will sense that person. And like other talents, the more it is used, the stronger it gets. You have this ability, and Ms. Winters can help you develop it. Learn to use it, Commander. It can be a formidable weapon against our enemies."

That was a long speech for Eric. And Ivanova was surprised that he gave her a direct answer, free of his usual taunts.

"Eric, you said "abilities". Plural. Is there something else--"

"I sense in you other abilities, as yet untapped, and I am never wrong about these things. They will come to you in due course, as long as you don't fight it. Don't fight yourself Commander."

Ivanova was trying to digest what Eric was telling her. Then she gave up, realizing it would take much, much longer for her to understand, and to accept. And although she wasn't sure she liked the implications of what she had learned, she appreciated Eric's unexpected willingness to help. But she had no idea what Eric would accept as graditude since he twisted everything around so horribly. But still, Ivanova wanted to try. T try at least to reach out to him.

"Eric. I hope you don't mind my saying this but, well you look terrible. Is everything OK there? Are you OK?"

Eric raised an eyebrow in surprise at Ivanova's question. "It has been busy here, since you left. I am tired, that is all."

"And Imani? Is she well?"

This time Eric's smile actually reached his eyes, and the smile didn't clash so harshly with the rest of his face. "She has also been busy since her return. But she is enjoying watching the Psi Corps turning itself inside out trying to figure out what happened. She is--content."

Eric terminated the transmission, and as Ivanova looked at the blank screen she realized that where Eric was concerned there was an advantage to communication over distance. The conversation was almost tolerable. And although she could not be certain, it did seem that he didn't mind the contact. And as Ivanova finally returned to her bed to get some of that sleep the doctor ordered, she decided she would call Eric again, maybe after things settled down a little around here. He may be able to help her deal with these unknown "abilities" of hers. And besides, it wouldn't hurt to just check in on him now and then.

 ***** 

Ivanova was pacing her office, wearing out a path on the floor. Normally she would be in the War Room with the others, but it was too loud and crowded to think properly. And now that Sheridan had put her in charge of orchestrating the attack from the flank in the next engagement with the Shadows, she needed all of her powers of concentration.

Turning to the center monitor she punched in the password and the screen lit up with a graphical display of ship deployment. She needed to work on the timing-- to determine precisely when her ships would come into play. Pulling up yet another screen she copied the information from the other Wings about timing and placement and entered it into her graphical display. Her brow was deeply furrowed in concentration.

"Come" She said distractedly as the door to her office chimed. "I'll be with you in a moment. At ease," she ordered to whoever had the audacity to interrupt her while she was trying to think. She didn't turn to see who it was, as her eyes remained glued to the display.

She was blocked. No strategy would come to her mind. Maybe she needed a break from it. Sighing in frustration, she finally turned to deal with whatever new problem had just entered her office.

"Talia!" Ivanova rushed around her desk to reach the other woman's side. She was bracing up Talia's arm as though she would topple at any second. "What are you doing out of Med Lab?"

"Dr. Franklin said I could go" Talia answered, smiling, warmed by Susan's concern.

"Here, sit. Sit!" Susan told Talia, directing her into the chair in front of her desk. "Why wasn't I told? I would have come to get you..."

"I wanted to surprise you" Talia responded, settling in to the offered chair.

"It worked." The Commander took the other chair and turned it so she was directly facing Talia. She gave Talia a thorough, appraising look, trying to see for herself if she was ready to be out of bed. Talia was certainly less pale. She had lost that transparent look to her skin. It even looked like she had put on a little weight and her cheeks were less sallow. She could stand to pick up some more weight, however, and Ivanova was going to make sure it happened.

"I'm fine. Really. You can stop acting like a mother hen", Talia told Ivanova, and her smile actually reached her eyes, which had a little sparkle to them.

"There is something about you that brings out the Jewish mother in me, its true."Ivanova felt a flood of relief seeing Talia healthy and animated. It was finally sinking in that the real Talia was actually home.

"Well, I can see that you were working. I should let you get back to it. And I need to start settling in. Since I'm not Dr. Franklin's guest anymore I need to find someplace to move..."

Nonsense!" Susan cut Talia off. "I mean, why don't you just stay with me until...you feel more settled. You can stay as long as you want...if you want..." Susan's voice trailed off as her eyes met Talia's, trying to gauge the other woman's reaction to her proposal.

"I would like that, Susan. I would like that very much. Are you sure it would be O.K. with you? I know how important your space is to you..." Talia's voice was a question.

"I want you to stay with me, Talia. Please." Susan was looking at Talia intently now, her voice barely above a whisper. She took Talia's hands in her own and, raising them to her lips, she gently kissed them both. Talia could feel her heart drop into her stomach as Susan's soft lips touched her. Her voice fell, matching Susan's as she said " I'll see you tonight, then. When you're done here." Talia rose from the chair and left Susan's office. Leaving her own chair with a contented sigh, Susan turned her attention back to the graphical display behind her.

***** 

Ivanova was laying on the couch, her head resting in Talia's lap. Talia was softly stroking her hair. She wanted nothing more than to take Talia, throw her on the bed, and get intimately re-acquainted with every square inch of her. It had been too long. But this was Talia's first night out of Med Lab, her first night here in Ivanova's quarters and she was worried about Talia's health, after all she had been through.

She could wait. She would let Talia get settled in, build her strength back up. "I'm going to get us some tea," Ivanova said as she started to get up from the couch.

"No." Talia's restraining hand on Susan's shoulder was surprisingly strong. "Please, stay here for a while. I I'm not done looking at you yet." She traced the lines of Susan's face with her finger tips, as if she was trying to memorize each surface and plane. When she reached Susan's lips, her finger brushed smooth wetness. Closing her eyes an image came to her, Susan's mouth on her body. The hair at the nape of Talia's neck rose in memory, and a low moan escaped her lips as Susan, without thought, took Talia's hand and held it to her mouth, her tongue traveling across the tips of Talia's fingers. Talia saw Susan's eyes widen in surprise as she reached under Susan's shirt and tenderly stroked her breasts. Talia smiled as she felt Susan's nipples instantly stiffen under her touch, enjoying the response she could evoke in the other woman. She wet one finger with her tongue and gently circled the very tip of each nipple, watching as Susan's eyes closed and her lips parted.

Susan found herself clasping Talia's hand more firmly to her breast, but Talia pulled away to slide Susan's head from her lap. She shifted so she was sitting on the edge of the couch next to Susan's prone body. Susan's breasts were tightly straining against her white shirt, every outline visible, leaving little to the imagination, and her face was flushed. Her eyes seemed somehow deeper and darker as they searched Talia's face, looking for some sign, some indication from Talia of what she wanted.

"You don't have to do this yet, Talia. You must be exhausted. It can wait." Susan was struggling hard to keep her breath even.

"No," Talia's voice was insistent, passion plain on her face. "It can't wait. I cant wait." Opening Susan's shirt, Talia leaned down to attach her mouth to Susan's neck. Susan pulled Talia over and down onto her very gently. She was trying to be careful with Talia, but Talia did not seem to share Susan's concern. She was pulling their clothes off, almost frantically and suddenly Susan's pants were down past her ankles, bunched at the end of the couch, and Talia's skirt was on the floor. Opening her legs, Talia let herself slide down Susan's thigh and into her arms. She kissed Susan deep and hard, moaning into Susan's mouth as she began to ride Susan's thigh. Susan's leg became wet as Talia was soaked through, and she felt her own body respond in kind. Susan realized that, despite her good intentions, there was no arguing with this. She could feel Talia's body, almost hear it cry out for Susan to take her and the intensity of it ignited the powerful desire Susan had been trying so hard to keep under control. She needed to feel Talia's body trembling against her own. She wanted to hear Talia cry out in uncontrolled passion.

Talia kept moving herself against Susan's leg while pleading, whispering in Susan's ear, please, over and over. Susan didn't have to ask what she wanted. She felt Talia's need as if it were her own. Lifting Talia off her thigh she thrust inside her, deep inside. As her hand reached in, both women cried out loud. Then Talia was inside her, too, pushing deep and hard. Susan felt herself melting around Talia's fingers. Their rhythms joined and they moved together in an insistent unison. Opening her eyes, Susan met Talia's consuming gaze. Their eyes held as they shared each other's pleasure.

Then all movement stopped.

~~ I want to feel just like this always~~ Talia's thoughts were inside Susan's head. Susan smiled and Talia laughed as they stayed still, locked inside each other.

Susan broke first. She grabbed Talia's hips and pulled her down firmly onto her hand. Talia cried out, feeling Susan's long fingers burning inside her. ~~God Susan! ...Yes!~~

Talia's stroking continued to match Susan's, move for move, Talia's cries and Talia's hand setting off a deep convulsive shuttering inside Susan, their muscles parting and then clenching shut in a matching furious cadence. Strong sensation swept through every nerve ending like a wildfire as they came together, the border between where Talia ended and Susan began momentarily disintegrated. Talia collapsed onto Susan, breathing hard, waiting for her skin to come back.

But then tears were flowing down Talia's face, forming a small pool in the dip of Susan's shoulder. Susan's heart ached to see it.

~~Talia...Talia its O.K. now~~

"Its more than O.K." Talia whispered into Susan's shoulder. "Much more..." Susan's eyes teared. Quiet sobs racking both of their bodies, a flood of release different from the one before, but no less intense.

"I'll never let you go again..." Susan vowed. Their tears began to subside as they held each other tight. Exhausted, they drifted off together into the oblivion of sleep.

 ***** 

Lying in Susan's bed, they were skin to skin. Susan was on her back and Talia was laying on top of her, head resting on Susan's breast. Her hair was spread out, softly covering Susan's chest like a fan. Susan was gently stroking Talia's brow.

"Peaceful." Talia's whisper was barely audible.

"Yes." Susan responded quietly. "But you know it won't last."

Talia laughed "It never does, around here."

"Talia...?"

Raising her head, she met Susan's gaze, relishing in the glow of large eyes and thick eyelashes. "yes?"

"I want you." Susan gave Talia a crooked smile.

"Oh honey, you have me," Talia said emphatically, devotion plain on her face.

"I mean...I want you" Susan repeated.

"You do?" Talia's eyebrow raised slightly. "Again?"

"Its been so long..."

"Its been five minutes!" Talia pointed out, laughing again.

"I mean since...before that..." Susan didn't have to explain further.

"Then take me," Talia whispered emphatically, and then her voice caught in her throat as Susan's hand traveled the length of Talia's inner thigh, slowly tracing pathways of powerful sensation. Talia struggled to stay motionless and let the feelings play over her, but then Susan touched her, and the stroking became more powerful and more intense. Her lips, which had been resting between Susan's breasts began to quiver and a low moan escaped. Susan's other arm was arched around Talia's back, holding her tight.

"Mmm...ohh...Ohh" Talia began a rhythmic chant ,and her hip slid slightly down and between Susan's legs. Susan wrapped her legs around Talia, drawing her closer.

Talia bit her lip, and her eyes closed. She was on fire. Susan's hand slipped in deeper. It was as if she had wrapped herself around Talia's deepest core and Talia moaned in response, dizzy. Susan's fingers slid on silk. No friction. No resistance. Rhythmic movements evoking answering movements and hearts racing, breath ragged. The sensations began to travel every nerve passage in Talia's body, like some kind of pleasurable agony. She shifted to face Susan and as she turned, powerful contracting muscles held Susan's hand tightly in place. Their eyes, open, met and locked. And then the urgency peaked and Talia came hard, a deep groan racked her chest. As she opened her mind and let the feeling rush into her lover, it hit Susan like a forceful wave. They shuttered against each other. As Talia came to rest Susan caught her, soft and gentle.

After a moment, Susan shifted and lay on top of Talia. The backs of her fingers were brushing Talia's cheeks.

"You're killing me," Talia told her, smiling.

"I am?" Susan lifted her weight off Talia with her arms. "Oh honey, are you okay?"

"Susan, it was just a figure of speech. I'm fine. Really."

"I feel so bad; you just got out of MedLab, and here I am-- I'm so sorry. Rest now." Susan started to pull away, but Talia grabbed her shoulders, holding her in place.

"Don't you dare," Talia responded playfully. But then she turned serious. "I don't need rest. I need you. I need this. Come here." Talia pulled Susan's wet lips down onto her own and began to kiss her First soft and exploring, then harder, increasing in intensity. Talia turned over and pulled Susan under her.

Talia's mouth disengaged from Susan's and her lips covered Susan's breast. As Talia kissed and stroked and caressed with her mouth, Susan's long fingers traced the profile of Talia's face. Talia took Susan's fingers into her mouth. She could still taste herself. Susan closed her eyes but before she could relax into that sensation Talia's mouth had traveled down, dancing, drawing a pattern that Susan could feel down her back and legs. Goose bumps rose on Susan's skin as Talia's tongue slipped in between the folds. Her shoulders slid under Susan's hips, her hand joined in coaxing sensation from Susan's body. A deep groan passed Susan's lips and she was convinced she was undergoing some powerful transformation -- matter to energy, solid to liquid. It seemed as if the boundaries that kept them separate started to fade. It almost hurt.

"Oh God Talia I love you..." Susan tried to say out loud. Only the first syllable made it out. But Talia caught the rest, ~~I love you Susan. How can I show you? Help me to show you~~

~~I'm...convinced~~ Susan laughed, her body lurching as Talia explored even deeper: ~~but please... Don't ...stop...please...yes...~~ Talia's tongue pushed hard into Susan's innermost core. "Yess!!" Susan cried out as feeling exploded inside her. She collapsed into the mattress, bringing Talia with her. As Talia lay on Susan she felt the waves pass through her, causing her body to shutter convulsively. Smiling, Talia held her tight. Slowly she felt Susan's breathing return to normal.

"Talia...?"

"yes?"

"Are you really here? This isn't just a dream?" Susan's voice seemed suddenly small.

"No, baby, I'm right here" Talia whispered in Susan's ear.

"Are you going to stay?"

"I'm not going anywhere," Talia promised. She felt deeply moved by Susan's vulnerability, which showed itself so rarely. Talia's heart was hurting.

"Talia...?"

"Yes, Susan?"

"I want you..."

"Oh God!" Talia laughed, pulling the covers over her head. Susan dove in after her.

 

THE END

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