JUST BREATHE

By A. J. Breton

 

 

 

Spoilers: Intersections in Real Time, Season 5

Summary: A little mind trip with our hero after being tortured.

WARNING: This story depicts graphic scenes of torture and violence, please do not read any further if you are under 18 or looking for fun fluff.

Another Favorite Quote: "Absofragginlutely, damnit."

Feedback Welcome!

"If I close my mind in fear, please pry it open. When my face becomes sincere, beware. When I start to come undone, stitch me together."

-- "The Outlaw Torn," MetallicA

 

 

 

 

*****

   John looked in the mirror not seeing his face. The face that looked back at him was older, tired, and bruised. The eyes that looked back him were hollow, cold and slightly glazed over. Somewhere between the conscious and the subconscious, where he did most of his thinking now, he wondered if this was actually happening. This had to be another drug-induced information gathering session by his captors on Mars. Any moment now he would wake up on that familiar hard, cold sea of gray hungry and hurting and bleeding from the ears. An unfortunate side effect of the drugs, he had been told. He had been told so many things

   .....where was he? Oh, yes. Babylon 5. He finished washing his face and toweled off. He looked in the mirror again. His face was now healed and the scraggly beard was now a neatly trimmed goatee.

   Pity about the surrender. But what were you going to do? He couldn't wait to get back to Earth, see his dad again. It was too bad it had taken him so long to come to reason about this war. He hoped his family could forgive him for what he'd done. Now they could concentrate on what was important: Earth. Most importantly removing those alien sympathizers from the Senate....He walked back into his quarters. It felt good to be in his Earth Force uniform again. Somewhere he swore he could hear a man screaming. There was a chime at his door.

   "Come in." Ivanova entered. She, too was wearing her Earth Force uniform.

   "It's time, Captain."

   "Let's go." They walked out in silence.

   The two officers stood on the deck and John wondered why that screaming noise was continuing and where it was coming from. The prisoners were being led in front of them. Aliens. A Drazi, a Brakiri, a Minbari. It sounded like a beginning of a bad joke. The woman- the freak- was the last one led in. They were forced to kneel by the Nightwatch security officers that escorted them. Garibaldi entered then, he put a hand on John's shoulder.

   "It's good to have you with us again, Captain." Somewhere the screaming man got louder.

   "It's good to be back." Garibaldi took out his PPG and took his place in front of the prisoners. He looked to John. John nodded.

   *BANG*

   The Drazi hit the floor with a thud.

   *BANG*

   The Brakiri followed suit.

   *BANG*

   The young Minbari also fell to the ground. There was a stream of red blood that trickled across the deck to John's boot. He didn't move. What was his name? Oh, yes. John. He kept forgetting. Garibaldi stepped over the Minbari corpse to where the woman-Minbari was kneeling.

   "Wait." John stepped forward, though it didn't seem like he was really in control of his body. "This one is mine." Garibaldi grinned approvingly and handed his Captain the weapon. John leveled the gun at the woman's forehead. She looked up at him and he noticed tears streaming down her face. She was whispering, mumbling, something but her face was bruised and she had trouble moving her jaw. The Captain tightened his grip around the gun.

   What is my name? Oh, yes.

   *BANG*

   John. It was the last thing she said before the wall behind her exploded in red.

   Little bits of hair and brain matter clung to his dark blue uniform and slid down the wall. He could see every detail of it. He could smell it. He could taste it. It made him feel.....

   The screaming finally stopped. The walls seemed to shimmer again. He closed his eyes for a moment and when he opened them he was floating again on that sea of gray.

    ----------

   All I know is that the world is shadows. At one time I knew who I was..... oh God, what is my name? Why are my ears bleeding? Oh God, where am I? I feel sick. Why am I falling? Oh, God, oh God, oh God, oh God..... mercy, please.

    ----------

   They were beating him again. It was a daily ritual. Part of the plan to completely break him physically and be sure he stayed broken and bloodied while the telepath came in and raped him mentally. It was all a ritual now. All part of being alive. Like getting up and brushing your teeth. Wake up and get beaten within an inch of you life. Wake up and face the pain. All part of life. If he was alive. Just breathe, let the sound of the fists against your skull pummel you to sleep. Just breathe, and let the drugs wrap their way around your senses pulling you into that weird realm of reality that seemed almost hyper-real, but that was all he had now. Just breathe. Don't try to remember anything, that's when the drugs really kick in and pull you down. Down. Falling again. Was that him screaming? He couldn't tell anymore. What is my name? Oh, yes.....

   "John." Her voice was soft and beautiful. The air in the garden was cool.

   "They're hurting me again, Delenn."

   "I know, my love. I will...." She floated away, dissolved into the shadows.

    ----------

   Catch me. Please. Someone, please. I can't tell where I begin and where the hallucinations end. Oh, God, Jesus, Valen, Great Maker, anyone, please..... They're hurting me again. Asking. Asking. No. Falling....just let me hit. Just let me slip into the darkness. Please.

    ----------

   John woke up next to his wife. She was beautiful when she slept. The dim light in the room highlighted her in all the right spots. He leaned over and kissed her lightly, not wanting to disturb her. He gazed at her for a long time before she stirred. She opened one lazy green eye and smiled at him. She rolled over to lay next to him and put her arm around him, pulling him into her for a kiss. He whispered her name. He wished that he could stay here forever, locked in her arms, feeling her heartbeat against his chest, feeling her heat against his body..... *But all good things must come to an end, mustn't they, Johnny-boy?* The walls shimmered just a little, and the room changed around him.

   "Will you sign the confession?" It was a simple enough question. It required only a simple answer. "NNmmmm." John's jaw ached unbelievably. The pain would have knocked him out if they hadn't of pumped so many stimulants in him. They had wired his jaw shut some time ago, after he bit one of the guards. Of course, that same guard had seen to breaking it quite thoroughly before wiring it himself. White flashes appeared before his eyes and his entire upper body screamed as he tried to move in the chair. He felt nausea begin to creep up on him as what little he could see thorough his swollen eyes began to blur and spin.

   "You know it will only get worse. Only you can stop this from continuing. You have the power to end this now. Just sign this paper and it ends. You walk out that door."

   Of course it wasn't that simple. Both his hands were broken, all eight fingers. Along with his right wrist, and probably one or two of his ribs, though he could be wrong about them. His legs were useless. Not that he got to stand much anymore. In fact, he wasn't sure the last time he had stood on his own power. They had done quite a number on his left knee.

   John choked back the vomit that had crawled up to the top of his throat. He wondered briefly what would happen if he choked to death. That would show them. But no, they'd probably just revive him. He focused his vision on the dark suited man in front of him. Very slowly and very carefully he forced two words through his mouth. It was barely intelligible, but it was understood clearly enough.

   "Fuck you."

   He sighed and took off his glasses. He pinched the bridge of his nose as if to quell a headache.

   "You know, I really wish you hadn't said that."

   Darkness loomed on the edges of John's vision and threatened to creep over him as he heard the door open. The guards shoved him to the ground and started in on him again. He felt the wires in his mouth cut into his cheeks. The taste of blood swelled in his mouth. He choked on it and tried to swallow it. That's when one of guards caught him in the crotch with a nice swift kick with his steel toed boot. The gray floor was the last thing John saw as blackness flashed over him.

    ----------

   They walked down the corridor in Down Below, stepping over bodies as they went. Each body they passed was more brutalized than the last. Each one wore an Earth Force uniform. The only signs of life was their conversation and the quiet thrum of the station's rotation.

   "It's good to have you back, Captain."

   "Thanks, Steven. I just wish I could have gotten here sooner."

   "Ha. I bet. Tell me, how did you get out of there? We were all over the place trying to find you."

   "I just.....I...well, I'm not sure exactly, I just spotted an opportunity and grabbed it."

   "And then the resistance helped you get here?"

   "Yeah. I managed to get hold of Number One somehow. They arranged to get me off planet-side."

   "Sounds like a pretty good string of luck."

   "Yeah."

   "How bad was it?"

   "Not too bad really. They aren't as cruel as some make them out to be."

   "That's good to know, but then it's not like they could really condemn you for much."

   "How's that?"

   "Well, it's not like anything was really your fault. Anyone could tell by looking at you that you weren't thinking for yourself. Let's face it, I mean no disrespect, but Delenn had you wrapped around her finger pretty good."

   "That's not right at all!"

   "Really, John? Are you sure about that?"

   The bodies were mangled beyond recognition now. No faces, just red everywhere.

   "Yes I'm sure. I love Delenn, she would never...."

   "You love her, maybe, but do you really think it's mutual?"

   "What?"

   "I mean, come on. She's a bonehead, John. Do you really think a Minbari ambassador, former Satai, would ever involve herself seriously with a human male unless she had something to gain from it?"

   "No...she would never....she...she..." Where the hell was that screaming coming from?

   "Not that it really should come as a surprise. She had her eye on Sinclair while he was here. When he left, you came in. She doesn't need you, she needed your position as Captain to be sure things went the way she wanted. Once she has her Minbari warriors take care of Earth, well, bye-bye Johnny- boy."

   "....no..."

   "Her 'change', all to make her more appealing to you, or Sinclair, or whoever came to fill the position. Have to admit, it worked pretty well. She hooked you in no time flat. Not that she could have had better target, what with your wife having of died two years before, and not to mention that Minbari War Syndrome setting in."

   "That's not how it happened at all....no...it's not....Delenn would.."

   "Delenn would do anything to further her own agenda. Including you."

   "No, no. I don't believe it.....no.....Steven?"

   "Yes?"

   "What's my name?"

    ----------

   Oh, yes. Starkiller.

   It was a terrible sight. It was a beautiful sight. In all the years after the war, Sheridan would never admit to the rush of pride and the dangerous beauty he saw when the Black Star exploded before him on the viewer, swallowing hundreds of Minbari warriors and sending them all straight to hell. It had been beautiful. Maybe we're gonna lose this war, he thought. Maybe. But if we're going to hell, we're gonna take as many of you bastards with us as we can.

   Starkiller.

   Captain Starkiller to you, fucking bonehead. That night he slept with dreams of fire and laughed out loud.

    ----------

   now I lay me down to sleep
   I pray the lord my soul to keep
   if I should die before I wake
   I pray the lord my soul to take

   now I lay me down to sleep
   I pray the lord my soul to keep
   if I should die before I wake
   I pray the lord my soul to take

   now I lay me down to sleep
   I pray the lord my soul to keep
   if I should die before I wake
   please oh please keep the shadows away

    ----------

   "Captain?"

   Commotion. Shuffling. Harsh, rushed, whispered voices.

   Steven? Michael? Michael.

   "I was.....gonnaaaaa....kick...your butt....about somethin...."

   Flashing lights, spinning room, the familiar sound of fist meeting flesh....

   "....but I don't.....remember."

   Where was he going.? Gunfire. He killed one of the guards. It felt good, but he didn't feel a thing. Home. Home?

    ----------

   He had been standing for what seemed like days, maybe weeks. Arms stretched over him. He was hanging from the ceiling, the metals bands around his wrists cutting into the flesh around him. If he could only breathe, but the air seemed so thick. The telepaths came in regularly. Tore into him left and right, leaving him sobbing, head spinning....*they know everything, Johnny. Everything.*

   *They know about the blonde on Mars you fucked after that huge fight with Anna. They know about the Ensign you knew was running dust, but he was an old friend and at heart a good guy, he'd learn his lesson sooner or later, right? Too bad it wasn't sooner. Too bad you didn't turn him in before he overdosed and dropped dead in the hallway. They know about all the kinky S&M comic books you stashed in your closet as a kid. They knew all about the dog that bit you when you were thirteen, and how you came back to that yard in the late night and bashed the bitch's head in for it. They knew about the pills you started taking after Anna died just so you could get through the day without crying. They know everything about you. All your fantasies about Delenn. That particularly graphic recurring dream featuring you, Delenn, Anna, and a roll of duct tape. They know it. They're laughing at you.* They tore his dreams to bits and threw them in his face.

   They knew about the fall. They knew about the twenty years. They knew about Lorien and the Shadows and the Vorlons. They knew he had been dead already.

   In the end that was his best weapon. He'd been dead already. He knew. He knew what it felt like to feel your body hit the cold, black ground and shatter like a broken toy. Feeling his bones break, feeling his organs burst, feelings his brains splat on the ground. Feeling the coldness take over completely. Seeing his broken, crushed body hit and shatter. It didn't matter what they did to him. He had felt it all before. He wasn't afraid of it.

   The telepaths tried to fill his mind with images of death, pain and darkness. It was his turn to laugh.

   Been there. Done that.

   *Very well then, Johnny. You wanna play rough? You got it.*

   He heard his cracked voice screaming again. The gray overwhelmed him.

   Just breathe.

    ----------

   She was screaming. She was fighting against him, but it was useless. He was stronger, and he had caught her off guard. His fingers tangled in her hair and he pulled down on it with all his strength. His fist contacted with her face and crushed her nose. Blood spurted down her face and chest. He drug her by the hair to the wall and rammed her head into it. As she slid down the smooth surface he caught her in the stomach with a strong kick.

   No no no no no no no no stop it don't do this don't make me do this.

   She was trying to crawl away from him on her hands and knees. Another kick to her midsection stopped her.

   No no, please, I can't.....

   *You will, you have.*

   He was on top of her again, punching, slapping, bashing her head into the floor. He started ripping at her robes. She tried again to stop him, she scratched him and hit him and tried to squirm out from beneath him, but he caught her left hand and bent two of her fingers back until he heard them crack. She kept screaming. All he could feel was rage. All he could see was her blood on his hands. All he could hear was his own breathing, hot and rugged in his ears. He ripped the last of her clothing off of her. She bit him, grinding her teeth together through the skin of his shoulder. He took hold of her face and rammed the back of her head against the floor. Again. Again. She stopped moving. The screaming continued.

   He raped her.

    ----------

   What's my name again?

   Oh, yes. Now I remember.

   Broken.

    ----------

   He looked in the mirror, but the face he saw there wasn't familiar. The screaming continued from the other room, where he knew he was killing her. He washed his hands for what must have been the hundredth time, but the blood wouldn't come off no matter how hard he scrubbed.

    ----------

   no no no Delenn, please.........no

   *you did it*

   ......no.....

   *you killed her*

   He scrubbed harder.

   *you raped her*

   "No."

   He looked in the mirror. It was his face, bruised and scratched and red. Blood was spattered across it. He knew it wasn't his.

   *you did*

   "NOOOO!!"

   He sent a blood smeared fist into the mirror. It shattered and splintered itself into his hand. Pieces fell into the sink and floor. He went into the front room. She lay in the middle of the floor, naked, broken, bloodied. She wasn't moving. She wasn't breathing. Her arm was bent back in a very unnatural way and her head was crushed against the carpet, bone crest smashed up into her skull. He saw himself sitting at the desk. He wore a nice, dark suit. He was well groomed and clean. He would have been the perfect picture of a President if not for the blood all over the room, and the gun in his left hand.

   "Who are you?" He asked himself.

   *I'm President Sheridan.*

   "Who am I?"

   *You're John.*

   "Who's that?" He motioned to the broken body between them.

   *Our reason for living.* With that he pressed the barrel against his temple and charged the PPG. *It's time to wake up, John. I'll see you tomorrow night.*

   *BANG*

   John watched as he slumped to the floor, minus half his face.

   "Just breathe, John. Calm yourself. Wake up, John."

   He looked at the naked woman on the floor, she had sat up, though she was still in pieces. Her jaw hung unnaturally and moved erratically but her voice was soft and sweet and smooth.

   "Wake up, John."

    ----------

   Delenn held John as he shook violently in his sleep. He was yelling. His hands worked furiously as though there was something on them he desperately wanted off.

   "John, wake up. Please, darling, wake up." She tried to keep the panic out of her voice, but he was scaring her. This was the fourth dream in two weeks he had had like this. Yelling, sweating, shaking. His breath caught in his throat and for a moment she was terrified by the thought that he might not start breathing again.

   "John!"

   He screamed. The most blood-chilling awful sound she had ever heard. It was the sound of pure terror and pain and loss. In that moment he woke with a bolt and sat upright suddenly, still shaking fiercely. He clutched at her desperately. She held him as sobs shook him.

   Slowly, painfully slow, he regained control and started breathing normally.

   "John...."

   "I'm fine." His voice wavered.

   "You are most certainly not fine." She turned his head to face her. His eyes were wild, terrified. Sweat ran in rivulets down his face. "Tell me." Her voice was calm and loving, but left no room for argument. He seemed to struggle within himself. His eyes got darker for a moment and he opened his mouth to speak, but said nothing. Finally, he turned away from her.

   "I can't."

   "It has to do with your captivity doesn't it?"

   "Yes."

   "The things they did to you, the things they made you see..."

   "The things they made me do..." His voice was barely a whisper. He clung lightly to her arms which she still held around him. He seemed to want to draw her closer, but at the same time seemed afraid to touch her. She pulled him to her and made him lay next to her on the bed. The sheets were twisted and still warm. She kissed him lightly on the lips. He trembled at her touch and tried to slip away from her but she wouldn't let him go and pulled him closer.

   "You are safe here."

   "I know, but I....can't..."

   "It's okay. We will take as much time as you need." He slid his arms around her and mumbled in her ear.

   "Thank you. I love you, Delenn." His breath was hot and uneven against her face.

   "And I love you."

   They were quiet for a long while and she felt his breathing even out. She felt sleep start to creep over her when he whispered again.

   "If I ever let anything happen to you, I'd have to kill myself."

   She let herself drift off with John still trembling a little in his sleep. She knew she would need her strength tomorrow night when he woke up screaming again.

 

*****

 

 

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