AFTERMATH

By Castor (formerly known as Anon)

 

 

 

This is a post Intersections in Real Time Hurt/Comfort gap filler. Well, that's how it started. Then Garibaldi strolled in, hands in pockets, and demanded I tell his side of the story and, well what can you do when these guys get into your head? So I settled down as stenographer again, and this is the result. Not exactly what I was expecting, but there you go.

  Many thanks to my two ever patient beta-readers. One caught the typos, the other the fact that I was rapidly turning Sheridan into a superman!!!

  All feed back...well, you know the drill.

  All the character's are Joe's...bless him!

  Hope you enjoy it (and no waiting this time. The whole lot goes together!)

 

 

 

 

*****

"In Valen's name_" Delenn stared open-mouthed as John was brought off the shuttle onto the White Star. Pulling himself away from Lyta and Franklin, and struggling to stand on his own, Sheridan took the steps towards Delenn alone and hugged her to him. As she returned the embrace she felt him tense, and a whisper of a groan escaped him. The pain was too great to be ignored, and she relaxed her arms until she was merely encircling him. For one, brief, insane moment he tried to pick her up, but it quickly became apparent that his strength was all but exhausted and he was running on the adrenaline the sight of her had given him. Pulling away gently, Delenn placed one hand on his chest as she ducked under his arm and took over the task of supporting him.

  "Delenn. I can manage. Really."

  "Then let me just walk beside you and keep you from falling." The concern was clear in her voice and John acquiesced, secretly grateful for the support. As he moved away, Garibaldi stepped out of the shuttle and came up quietly behind Lyta and Franklin, hands in his pockets.

  "Is he going to be OK?"

  Franklin looked at him, but didn't sense the double edge in the question. "Given time. He's been through a lot."

  "Yeah. No thanks to me." Garibaldi turned and disappeared down a corridor without a backward glance, the slump of his shoulders indicative of his remorse.

  Lyta and Franklin exchanged glances. "And is he going to forgive himself, do you think?"

  "I don't know." Lyta stared after Garibaldi and then turned to see John and Delenn turning the corner. "Imagine how you'd feel to know you'd sold your friend down the river because your worst enemy had programmed you."

  "Was he aware of what he was doing?"

  Lyta shook her head. "Only in the same way we're aware of our actions in a nightmare. Or maybe more like an observer. He couldn't do anything about it."

  "Does he know that?"

  "Intellectually, yes. In his heart..." she shrugged. "It's gonna take a long time."

  "Maybe you'd better go talk to him."

  "You think he'd want to talk to a telepath now?!"

  "Well... But if anyone knows about this sort of thing..."

  "No way. He has to come to me. If I go to him he'll just shut himself away even more. It's up to him now."

  "You think he'll come?"

  "When hell freezes over. The Captain may have the scars, but in many ways Garibaldi is just as traumatised." She shook her head and then gave Franklin a half hearted smile. "I dunno about you, but I'm beat. I'm going to bed. Goodnight, Stephen."

  "Uh huh. Goodnight," Franklin gave a vague wave and then went off in the direction of Garibaldi. After a few steps he hesitated, looked back, stood, torn, for a moment, and finally shook his head and went back after John and Delenn.

   ----------

  "Careful, John."

  Sheridan pulled the torn and tattered remnants of his top over his head, wincing as damaged and exhausted muscles were pulled further in the exercise. Delenn fought to cover her shock at the state of his body. He'd lost a considerable amount of weight and the bones of his face, ribs and shoulders stood out under bruised and battered skin. Dried blood, filth, burns and a general jaundice testified to his physical experience, but it was the haunted, hollow look in his eyes which hurt her most. His body would heal, but the loss of hope...

  "I'm sorry. I haven't managed to get cleaned up." He ran his fingers through his beard. "Haven't even managed to shave. Not quite the way I imagined returning." He tried to laugh but winced at the attempt.

  "Shh." She stroked his face, smiling even though it was the last thing she felt like doing. "I like it. It suits you. After I was given 'Excalibur' I looked up your Arthurian legend. I think you probably look a lot like Arthur now." She wanted to add that it offset the terrible thinness of his face, but held her tongue.

  He grinned. "Uh huh. Right. Hope you can cope with beard burn." He kissed her cheek. She turned her mouth to his, but he pulled away. Hurt, she stared at him. "Sores," he explained. "Let me get cleaned up a bit first. I doubt my breath is all that sweet either. Even tastes pretty sour to me and..."

  She silenced him with a finger on his lips. She could feel the roughness there generated by dehydration and the stress of the tortures he had endured. "Never mind. You're here and safe. That's all that matters right now." She stroked his hair back, feeling the blood and sweat in the strands. "I love you." He pulled her to him and she hugged him, carefully.

  They separated just as Franklin walked in. "I'm gonna scrub up, then I'll take a look at you." Sheridan grunted but didn't take his eyes off Delenn. Franklin smiled to himself. "And ambassador?"

  "Hmm? Oh. I'm sorry. Yes, Doctor?"

  "I could use some help. We're a bit short on nurses aboard the White Star. And those we have don't speak English."

  "Of course."

  Sheridan laid back on the bed and closed his eyes. He was too sore to get comfortable, and he wanted to stay awake to savour the feeling of warmth and safety that now surrounded him. But his body was desperate for rest and, by the time Franklin returned, he was snoring quietly.

  "Delenn. I'm not used to Minbari medical facilities. Do you know what's what in here?"

  "What do you need?"

  "A scanner. Something that can register internal injuries, broken bones, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, that sort of thing. And I need it calibrated to human physiology."

  Turning to one of the Minbari nurses who had materialised shortly after the Captain's arrival, but who had kept a discreet distance, Delenn relayed the doctor's message. The nurse pointed out a hand-held instrument which Delenn picked up and handed to Franklin, indicating the activation switch and a small table and monitor for read outs. "The machine will automatically detect species based on DNA readings, and adjust accordingly. You will be given a visual representation here."

  Franklin nodded and activated the device, passing it over Sheridan's body. The 3 dimensional hologram subsequently created above the monitor table showed a litany of damage and Franklin shook his head as he took in the extent of the injuries.

  Delenn instructed the computer to give all read outs in Earth Standard, and then asked the nurse to fetch water and cloths. It was going to be a long night.

   ----------

  Sheridan woke to strange sensations. His body was clean for the first time in he couldn't remember how long. The sour taste in his mouth was still there, but it seemed lessened somehow, and the screaming, sharp pains that had made his body a personal torture chamber had been dulled to a tolerable ache. There was also a gentle pressure in his left hand. He tested his throat. His voice was still very scratchy and his throat sore, but it was nothing to what it had been. He coughed.

  "Delenn?" He tried to lift his head.

  She squeezed his hand and stood up. "I'm here."

  He nodded and laid back. "Hmm. Feels better."

  "You're damned lucky." Franklin's voice broke in and the doctor's lined, brown face came into view. "They did you over pretty thoroughly. An assortment of fractures including five broken ribs, one broken shoulder blade and a broken wrist. Most must have been done when they first captured you, 'cos they've started to heal. Badly in some cases, but I can remedy that; you're also suffering from concussion, dehydration, malnutrition and exhaustion; a fine collection of lesions, bruises, burns, torn ligaments and tendons; jaundice, evidence of poisons..."

  Sheridan interrupted, "I know. So, how long?"

  "Are you *listening* to me? You're lucky to be alive. You won't be leaving here for at least a week, and it'll take another three weeks before you're even close to where you were when all this started. I've put in as many regen. packs as I dare, and pumped you full of vitamin and mineral supplements, but nature has to take it's course." As he spoke he loaded a syringe and injected it into the drip attached to Sheridan's arm.

  "Too long," he said, struggling to rise. "I've got too much to do. We've got to get Clark before everything blows up in our face."

  Delenn put her hand on his shoulder to stop him. "You are staying here until Doctor Franklin says otherwise. We can manage without you for a week. You trained Ivanova well." She kissed him on the forehead as the drug seeped into his system. Before she stepped back he was asleep.

  Franklin eyed her critically. "And you need to get some sleep too." As she started to protest he drowned her out. "Don't argue with me. I can knock you out too if I have to, and you know I'll do it."

  She smiled. "Thank you, Stephen. I'll rest here."

  "Uh, Delenn..."

  "I *will* sleep. I give you my word, and Minbari do not break their word. I do not think I could stay awake much longer anyway. Goodnight. And thank you." With that, she went over to the nearest Minbari bed and lay back. As she had predicted, within a minute her body relaxed and it was clear she was in a deep sleep.

  Franklin nodded, satisfied, and checked the monitors. That done, he pulled off his gloves, dropped them into the recycler, undid the top of his surgical jacket and left the room, the lights dimming automatically as the computer responded to the unconscious state of the room's occupants . The monitors had a direct connection to the ship's sleeping quarters, so if there was any problem he would be woken immediately, but in addition one of the nurses had promised to keep watch. His patients would be safe tonight.

  Entering the sleeping quarters he sighed as he observed the Minbari beds. Then he went into the bathroom, grabbed a towel, went back to the sleeping area, lifted a bed, and stuffed the towel into the gears. Satisfied with the make-shift solution, he stretched out, one arm over his eyes. //I've GOT to ask Delenn the Minbari for lights out// he thought as he dropped off to sleep.

   ----------

  Sheridan woke to the sound of his own screams and the feeling of clamps holding him down. Desperate, he struggled to free himself until a familiar face came into view and a gentle voice reassured him he was safe. The clamps were revealed to be hands which sought to prevent him from hurting himself, and he began to relax, until another detail raised his alertness.

  "Why can't I see?" He struggled again, sure he was being fooled as Delenn uttered some Minbari, and the room was flooded with light. Just then, Franklin came running in, his monitors having alerted him to his patient's agitation.

  "What happened?" he said, reaching for the scanner and passing it over Sheridan's body.

  "He awoke confused. The darkness of the room..."

  Franklin nodded. "Captain. It's OK. You're aboard the White Star. Do you remember?"

  Still agitated, Sheridan's eyes flicked distrustfully around the room. "The White Star was destroyed. I destroyed it at Z'Ha'Dum."

  "White Star Three, John. You're aboard White Star Three."

  "Three? What's wrong with Two?"

  "We didn't want to draw attention to which ship you were in, and the insignia on White Star Two makes it something of an easy target." Though worried, Delenn raised a smile as she saw understanding register on John's face and he relaxed. Lying back on the bed Sheridan managed a rueful grin a few seconds later.

  "I did make it rather obvious, didn't I?"

  She nodded. "Yes, but you were right to."

  "You understand?"

  Franklin looked from one to the other. "I don't. It never made sense to me that you'd want to paint a huge target on your ship. You wanna explain it?"

  Sheridan smiled. "I didn't want them to think I was a coward, or ashamed of what I was doing. If I can't show that I'm prepared to stand up and be counted then I can hardly ask others to."

  Franklin nodded. "And if you'd been killed in this little public relations exercise?"

  Sheridan sighed and closed his eyes. "The person isn't important. If the cause is right it'll survive the death of any number of leaders."

  Delenn squeezed his hand, and turned to Franklin. "I think he'll be alright now, doctor. I'll be here if he needs me." Franklin hesitated and then nodded, making his way gratefully to the sleeping quarters. Sheridan returned the squeeze, opening his eyes when Franklin had gone.

  "Thank you. Stephen can be a little tiring," he paused and then added, "though I couldn't ask for a better chief MO."

  "You've surrounded yourself with good people, but then good people are attracted to good people. It says a lot for you."

  Sheridan grunted. "Hmph! The Captain of the Agamemnon said the crew there thought me a pain in the ass."

  Delenn grinned. "Well, that too."

  He stared at her. "Thanks!"

  "But I still love you, 'pain in the ass' or not. Now go back to sleep."

  He nodded and gripped her hand as he relaxed. After a few minutes his grip eased and she slipped her hand out of his and returned to her bed, watching over him until exhaustion claimed her as well.

   ----------

  The nightmares continued as the White Star ferried its cargo back to Babylon 5, and no one was more aware of those nightmares than Garibaldi. Passing the sickbay, he glanced inside to see Delenn and Franklin trying to calm a clearly disturbed Sheridan. As he watched, Delenn looked up, and her eyes pierced through him. There was no condemnation. She knew he'd had no control over his actions, but the steady way in which she held his eyes shook him to the core and he turned away, striding down the corridor in no particular direction. Delenn watched him go, sighed, and turned back to John, trying to ease his panic for the umpteenth time since they'd left Mars.

  Garibaldi kept wandering the corridors, avoiding the eyes of the crew. He knew that his complicity in Sheridan's capture had been explained to all aboard, but his own abhorrence of his actions made him see that horror reflected in every pair of eyes. To him, everyone was whispering 'traitor' behind his back. How could he prove that he could be trusted again to the one person who really mattered ... himself?

  He found himself wandering into an observation room and stood at the window, staring at the swirling black and red of hyperspace. As he stood there he became aware of someone standing behind him, and looked around to see Lyta. He stood, indecisive for a moment, and then stuck his hands in his pockets and made to go.

  "Michael..." He paused, but didn't turn around. "It's not your fault." He simply stood there and waited for her to finish whatever she wanted to say. "I interned with the Psi Cops. I KNOW the methods they use. No one could withstand it, not even another Psi Cop." Still he kept silent, but as she watched she saw his shoulders were shaking, and when he turned around the emotions raging inside him were plain on his face.

  "Why ME? Why did it have to be me?" Lyta held her peace. He knew the answer. He didn't want a response, he wanted to vent his frustration and anger that his position of trust and power had made him a target. "I worked hard to prove myself on Babylon Five. Sinclair trusted me when no one else would. When he left and Sheridan took over, I thought I'd never be able to win that trust again. I didn't feel like I deserved it." He took his hands out of his pockets and ran one hand over his head, stalking back towards the windows. "I always manage to screw up when it really matters, but this time I thought I'd got it all together. I thought...I thought," he punched the air in frustration and shook his head. "Hell, I wasn't drunk. I was stone cold sober out doing my job and the next thing I know I'm in a Shadow ship. They could've picked anyone, but no...they had to pick me. I wouldn't have minded dying, but then Bester gets his hand in and sends me back as his servant." He spat the term in disgust. "I didn't even KNOW what I was doing until he let me out again. I feel like someone else has been living in my body for the past few months."

  "In a very real sense that's exactly what's happened." Lyta's voice was quiet, but it didn't need to be loud to be heard. "Sheridan knows that. So does everyone else."

  "Are you kidding me? Ivanova wants me shot on sight. She won't listen to anyone, and I don't blame her. I wouldn't trust me. Hell, I'm not even sure if I DO trust me. Bester could've planted something else in my head to activate whenever he wants, and I'd never know about it."

  "I would."

  Garibaldi spun back to look at her. "What?!"

  "I said I'd know. If he's planted anything else, I could find it. I know where they put these things and I know how they do it."

  "You didn't know about Talia."

  "It's not the personality. It's the pattern in the brain that's created when the personality is implanted. There's a certain system of damage that lays a trail. I could take a look...if you want me to."

  "Why didn't you do that with Talia?"

  "You should know the answer to that. You and Ivanova were the loudest antagonistic voices when I turned up and offered to just send the password. I couldn't scan everyone, even if I'd wanted to. It would've taken too long and probably killed me, even if you two hadn't done it first. We didn't know WHO was the traitor, just that there was one. This is different." "You mean if there's a personality you could release it?"

  "No. I can't do that without having the password. What I'm saying is I could sense if there was one there. If there is, there's nothing I can do about it. You'd have to get Bester for that. If there isn't, you're all clear and you'll know you can be trusted again." He looked at her sharply and then shook his head. She sighed. "Well, you'd know Bester couldn't twist you with a thought."

  He sat down heavily and stared at the floor. As the silence stretched out Lyta stood quietly waiting to hear his decision. There was nothing else she could say. Now it was up to him. Finally he stirred.

  "I need to think."

  "You know where I am if you need me."

  "Yeah. Thanks."

  She turned and left Garibaldi to his thoughts.

   ----------

  Two hours later he was still sitting there, and his thoughts were far from pleasant. If he let her scan him there were two possible outcomes: either she'd find something or she wouldn't. If she did, what could he do? If she didn't, could he be certain she was being straight with him? He shook himself. No. She wouldn't lie. Whatever else Lyta was, she'd always been straight with him. If she found something, she'd say. But he couldn't live with himself if there was another personality inside him. His body had been used once already. He wasn't ready to surrender it again. No. If he was going to go through with this, he needed a promise first, and there was only one person who could give that promise. A certain ease settled over him. He knew what he had to do. Now it was just a question of doing it.

   ----------

  "Delenn? How is he?"

  Delenn looked around at Garibaldi's voice and walked over. "Much better. He'll be out of here tomorrow. His body has recovered faster than we could have hoped. It's the rest of him that will take time."

  "Look, Delenn, I know you know it wasn't my fault, but I want to say it myself. If I could have stopped it, I would have. If I'd had any control I would've killed myself before selling out the Captain. I can't take any of it back, and I don't expect you to forgive me, but I wanted you to know....ah hell." He shook his head, and his silence said more than a speech ever could. Delenn reached out and gripped his arm.

  "Michael. John has forgiven you, and so have I. We know it wasn't your fault. In a way, it was ours. We should have seen the change and questioned it. We didn't. We let you down."

  Garibaldi looked at her in astonishment. After all he'd done she was blaming herself? "No. We were busy, and everyone was too caught up to notice. Anyway, Bester did a good job. If the change had been obvious I'd've been no use to him. It wasn't your fault."

  "And it wasn't yours either." Her quiet voice and genuine concern went straight to his heart and he felt a lump rise in his throat which he swallowed hard.

  "Look, I need to talk to the Captain. Is he strong enough to speak to me?" She gave him a querying look. "I...I need a promise. It's kinda hard, Delenn. I know I have no right to ask this right now, but I need you to trust me. I have to talk to him. Alone." He looked at her, his hopes up, and waited for a nod. Seeing instead her hesitation he realised that even though she trusted him intellectually, in her heart the struggle continued. His hopes died and his whole body reflected his dejection. "You're right. I've got no right to ask you. I'm sorry." He turned away.

  "Mister Garibaldi," she shook her head, "I'm sorry. Please, go on. I'll wait out here."

  Garibaldi could barely restrain his relief. "You're sure? I'll understand if..."

  "I'm sure. Go."

  "Thank you. I'll be quick," and he disappeared into the sick bay.

  At that moment Franklin came around the corner. He saw Garibaldi through the sick bay door, and started, only to be restrained by Delenn.

  "It is alright, Doctor. I gave him permission."

  "After all he's done?"

  "It wasn't him."

  "I know, but still...You're leaving him there alone? Until we know for sure there's nothing else in him..."

  "He may have told them how to catch John. He didn't attack him himself. He couldn't. Whatever else they did, they could not make him kill someone."

  "What about Edgars?"

  "Again, he did not do that himself. He gave them the information. He did not fire the guns."

  "He didn't have to. Now, maybe the only way they can get rid of Sheridan is to hope we'll let Garibaldi get near him."

  "Stephen. You know it was never John who was the target. Bester had his agenda. Michael was the tool, and handing John over to Clark's forces was a means to that end. I trust him."

  "Alright. It's your call. Have you any idea what he wants to talk to the Captain about?"

  "I'm not sure. It depends." As she spoke, Lyta came around the corner and looked at her. That was all Delenn needed. "Yes. I think I know what he wants. The question is, will John be able to give it to him."

   ----------

  "You want me to what?!" Sheridan's strength was still low, but his astonishment at the request fired him.

  "Look, you know what happened when Talia was changed. I don't want that. If Lyta finds there's another personality in me...I can't, John. I just can't. I can't let Bester win."

  "Isn't this letting him win?"

  "It's denying him his prize. Whatever reason he has, he can't use me if I'm dead."

  "Why me?"

  "You have to ask? I'd've thought you'd be happy to pull the trigger after all I've done to you."

  Sheridan flinched at the words, shaking his head. "You know that's not true. I don't want to have to kill you, Michael. I'm not sure I could."

  "It wouldn't be me: you know that. And you know that once a personality has been released, the old personality is destroyed. You wouldn't be killing me. Bester would do that, and knowing that bastard, he'll pick his moment really carefully. Some time when it would cause the most trouble. I don't want to give him that edge. I've done his filthy work once, I'm damned if I'm gonna do it again. I need the promise, John. If Lyta finds any sign that Bester has left a time bomb in my head, I want you to promise me you won't hesitate, you won't feel guilty, and you won't miss. Make it clean and quick and get it over with."

  "Michael...I..."

  "Please. I want to die as me. I may not have much to be proud of in my life ... hell, I've screwed up more times than I want to remember ... but the biggest screw up of my life wasn't me, and I want to make sure that never happens again. If I can deny Bester his prize I'll be laughing in hell until the day he joins me, and then I'll laugh in his face."

  Sheridan reached out and gripped Garibaldi's arm. "Not hell, Michael. Not hell. The Minbari call it 'the place where no shadows fall.' If Lyta finds anything..." he paused, swallowing the enormity of the promise he was about to give. He looked away and squeezed his friend's arm before looking him straight in the eye and saying what Garibaldi wanted to hear. "If she finds anything, I'll see you in the place where no shadows fall."

  Garibaldi nodded. "Thanks."

  "When?"

  "I've got a few things I need to put in order, just in case. Give me about six hours to sort it all out."

  "By that time we'll be back at Babylon Five."

  "I know. There's one other thing I want to do, if you'll let me...It's about the uniform..."

  Sheridan listened to the request, smiled, and nodded. Satisfied, Garibaldi turned and left the sick bay, nodding his thanks to Delenn and returning Franklin's querying appraisal with more certainty than he'd felt in months. As he saw Lyta he nodded.

  "On Babylon Five, in the observation dome, in six hours."

  "You're sure?"

  He glanced down for a moment, and then looked her straight in the eye, his whole body reflecting the certainty he'd just rediscovered. "Yeah."

   ----------

  Docking at Babylon 5 went without incident, and Sheridan was quick to re-acquaint himself with the places he was used to walking. Dressed in his full black uniform, the tunic largely obscuring the now poor fit, the crowds parted as they always did as he made his way through the Zocalo towards C & C. If they noticed his emaciated condition or the signs of the suffering he'd endured, they didn't comment, and although Delenn walked beside him, ready should she be needed, she knew he would not show any weakness as he walked amongst those people who had supported him in everything he'd done.

  Besides that, Sheridan was pumped full of pain killers. Franklin, against his better judgement, but understanding Sheridan's reasons for making the demands, had finally acceeded to his patient's wishes after a fairly lengthy fight. While exhaustion hovered around the peripheries, the pain had been dulled to something manageable. Sheridan felt as though there were thick cotton wool between himself and the outside world, and he fought to walk as steadily as his uncertain awareness of his surroundings permitted. Still, it was an improvement on the pain he would have been experiencing by now without them.

  As he reached C&C he paused, pulling his tunic straight like armour. He knew what awaited him, and he knew he had to do this alone. He smiled at Delenn, turned, and walked through the door. Franklin, who had been shadowing them just in case he was needed, now walked up and looked at Delenn.

  "Now what?"

  "Ivanova."

  As Sheridan walked into C&C he heard Ivanova's crisp tones. "Captain on deck." The staff all snapped to attention as he took hold of the hand rail and accepted their salute. He managed to hide the slight dizziness he felt in a stance that all of them had seen him take in the past. It was probably only Ivanova herself who noticed how his knuckles whitened with the effort of keeping upright. Before anyone else could notice, she took control.

  "Captain, everything is as you left it. The paperwork is in your office, but I've kept it to a minimum, and there's nothing that can't wait. Perhaps you'd like to check it over now?"

  "Thank you commander, yes. Would you care to accompany me?"

  "Sir." Ivanova knew she couldn't show her relief at seeing him in front of the other staff, and he was giving her a way out. But she wondered if he knew how bad he looked. If this was what he looked like when he was feeling about two hundred percent better.....She swallowed at the thought of what he'd gone through, and her resolution to kill Garibaldi the minute she saw him hardened. She followed Sheridan out of C&C, registered the presence of Delenn and Franklin outside, and the four of them walked to the Captain's office in silence.

  When they were out of sight of the station community, Sheridan turned to Ivanova and accepted the hug she offered him, silently blessing Franklin's injected numbness.

  "Welcome back, John. I missed you."

  He smiled and squeezed her as tightly as he could manage. "Missed you too. I could've used some of that Russian wit in there. They've got no sense of humour, you know."

  She winced and pulled away. "You look like hell."

  "I've felt better. To be honest with you, dying was a lot less painful." He grinned and made his way over to the couch where he sat down heavily. Franklin bent over him.

  "Captain, if you need to rest..."

  "No. I have something that has to be done first." He looked at Ivanova pointedly, "and it concerns Mister Garibaldi."

  Ivanova exploded. "That son of a bitch. I swear, if he comes anywhere near this station I'll personally blow him away."

  "No, you won't. And he's already here."

  Ivanova stared. "What!? John, how could you? You KNOW what he did!"

  "I know what Bester did through him. He's not responsible, Susan." "He's lying. He'd say anything to save his sorry butt. You can't believe him? No one could."

  "I do."

  "So do I." Delenn's endorsement left Ivanova stunned.

  "I don't believe you guys!" She turned on Sheridan. "He lures you away, he helps them trap your father, he helps them to capture you and doesn't raise a finger to stop them. He lets you rot in there...you could have been dead by the time he decided to do anything."

  "But he did do something. If it wasn't for him I'd still be in there." Sheridan stood up and wandered over to the doorway. He had an inkling of what was going to happen next. Franklin made a move towards him, but Sheridan stilled that thought with a slight movement of his hand as Ivanova looked away for a second, taking in the expressions on those around her. Astonished at the show of support for Garibaldi shown in those faces she turned back to Sheridan.

  "And you think he did that for you? Like hell. I'll bet he's got some reason, and it won't be one in our interests. I don't trust him, John, and if you do...."

  A familiar and dreaded voice came from the doorway. "Neither do I." She watched as Garibaldi turned the corner, dressed in his command uniform but minus his PPG. Ivanova reacted immediately, pulling her own weapon out of its holster before anyone had the chance to stop her. Garibaldi stood there, not trying to protect himself, but before she could pull the trigger Sheridan calmly placed himself in the line of fire.

  "John, step away."

  "No. Put it down Susan."

  "I mean it, John. If I have to wound you to get to him..."

  "Don't you think I've been through enough this month?"

  She stared, her anger turning to dust in her mouth as she realised what she had said. "You can't...you wouldn't stand up for him. It doesn't make any sense."

  "It does, and I would; just as I'd stand in front of you if the situation were reversed."

  The anger returned. "Reversed?! You think I'd ever sell you out the way that bastard did?"

  Sheridan walked towards her, keeping himself firmly in front of Garibaldi. She looked over his shoulder.

  "What's the matter, Michael? Too cowardly to stand up for yourself? You have to hide behind the man you betrayed?"

  Garibaldi held his tongue. If things went as he feared they would, Ivanova would get her wish shortly anyway. But he couldn't keep the pain from his eyes. Sheridan's voice became a dangerous growl.

  "Let it go, Susan. He didn't sell me out. Bester did. Michael was just the tool he used to do it."

  "So? Looks like a good reason to kill him from where I stand."

  "Bester took away the programming. The man who did it wasn't Michael Garibaldi. The person standing there now, is." He was standing right in front of her now, reaching for the PPG. She stepped back.

  "What, have they programmed you too? Am I the only one in here who isn't crazy?"

  "He's telling the truth, Commander." Lyta felt Ivanova's ire before it descended.

  "Oh, yeah. Like I'm gonna trust another telepath?! You're in Bester's pocket the same as he is. I don't know who I should shoot first: you or him."

  "Ivanova!" This time is was Franklin. "She's telling the truth." "And what do YOU know? You suddenly become a teep too? What the hell happened on Mars? Did Psi Corps capture the lot of you and just keep it real quiet?"

  She was getting desperate and Sheridan motioned for everyone to leave the room. One by one they all stepped out, Delenn taking Michael's arm to reassure him. Ivanova stared after them and then turned back to Sheridan who stood, silent and still before her.

  "Susan. Do you believe it's me standing here? Or are you going to doubt me as well?"

  "I don't know what to think. None of this makes any sense." She waved the PPG in the air and turned away, her frustration and confusion evident. "It's...it's just crazy. You CAN'T believe him."

  "But I do: and so does Lyta, and Franklin and Delenn. There's only one person who doubts him." Ivanova's eyes lit up. She had an ally! There was someone else out there who knew this whole situation was insane. "Garibaldi himself."

  "What?"

  "Michael is as suspicious of himself as you are. That's why he's asked me to do something."

  "Shoot him?" she said hopefully.

  "Yes." He stepped up to her and took the PPG from her fingers as she stared at him.

  "OK. Now I KNOW you're nuts. You let him aboard, you dress him up in uniform, and THEN you shoot him? Hell, John, I could've saved you all the trouble. I don't need him dressed up or even here to kill him. Just let me get his ship in my sights and I'll do it without any ceremony. And what's the deal with the uniform anyway? He doesn't deserve to wear it."

  "He asked and I agreed. He resigned under Bester's programming. It wasn't his own choice." Ivanova tried to argue, but Sheridan kept talking "Susan," she turned away and he took her by the shoulders and turned her around to face him. "Susan, listen to me. He's afraid."

  "Yeah, good. So he should be. Afraid of me!"

  "No, he's afraid of himself. He's afraid that Bester left an alternate personality inside him to activate later. He wants Lyta to find out. If she finds evidence of Psi Corps programming, he's asked me to kill him. I promised him I'd do it."

  "No. Wait. Hang on. You won't let *me* kill him, but *you* will on the word of another telepath? I don't see the difference, John. I can't understand why everyone believes him, when we all know what he did." She sagged in his grip and shook her head, flinging her arms wide in frustration. "None of this makes any sense. I...I can't..."

  He hugged her to him and felt her arms come up around his waist and hold on, tightly. "I know. I know." They stood like that for a moment, without a word, although Sheridan could feel her struggling to cope with the confusion that threatened to overwhelm her. Finally he felt her pull away.

  "I'm sorry, John. I didn't mean to...I'm sorry."

  "Don't be. Believe me, there's been quite a few times these last few weeks when I could have used a hug too." He grinned, but she didn't respond. His words merely rekindled the fire inside her, and he fought to dampen the flames before they threatened to engulf her once more in hatred.

  "Look, it didn't make a lot of sense to me when he asked. But thinking about it...I know why he wants it, and I'm not going to let him down. He wants to die as himself. I'm hoping it won't come to that. I'm hoping Bester got what he wanted and has left him alone for good. But I know what it's like to want to die rather than sell out everything you believe in."

  "But that's exactly what he did."

  "No. Not him. Bester's tool, but not Michael Garibaldi. He'd never sell us out."

  "I can't see a difference."

  "Because you refuse to. Susan, I've never asked you this before ... I've never had to ... but I ask you now to trust me. Not just as my friend, or as my second officer, but as someone who knew Michael and believed in him before all this started; and as someone who knows probably better than anyone else on this station, with the exception of Lyta, just what Psi Corps can do to a person."

  "That's just it. You're trusting another telepath. How do you know she's gonna tell you the truth. Suppose she does find signs of another character. You honestly believe she'll tell you? She's not rogue any more John. She's in Psi Corps up to her neck."

  "She's never let us down before, and if anyone would want to stop one of Bester's mind games, she's it. I don't know what he did to her, but she wants revenge. She even blew up Z'Ha'Dum rather than let him get his hands on one piece of it. I trust her on this." She continued to stare at him. "Please, Susan. Trust me?" She stood uncertainly for a moment and Sheridan held his breath, then shuddered as she shook her head.

  "No. I can't. It's not you, John. It's him. No. It's Psi Corps. You're right, I DO know what they can do, and I know I don't trust them. I can't let this go. If I do, and something happens to either you, or anyone else on this station, I could never forgive myself. I know too much to let this go."

  "Susan..."

  She shook her head. "I mean it, John. I can't. Do what you want. Have your little test and satisfy yourself. If that makes you happy, fine, but if Garibaldi stays here, then I'll have to leave. His choice, or yours. I don't care. I just can't live with this." And she walked out of the office.

  A few minutes later, Delenn, Franklin, Lyta and Garibaldi walked back in.

  "I take it things did not go well?" Delenn read the depression in Sheridan's stance before anyone else had chance to look.

  "No. They didn't." He shook himself and looked up. "Michael? Are you ready?"

  "Yes, Captain. I'm ready."

  "Then let's get this over with. I'm not sure how much more Psi Corps I can stomach today."

  Striding with an energy born of frustration and anger, Sheridan led the way from his office towards the observation dome: Delenn, Franklin and Garibaldi following him. As they walked, Franklin turned to Delenn.

  "Why the observation dome?"

  "I think he wants it out in the open," she replied. "I have often found Mister Garibaldi here when he needed to sort things out in his own mind."

  Franklin nodded. The association made sense. "And Susan?"

  Delenn frowned. "She may come round, if we can prove to her that Lyta can be trusted and Mister Garibaldi does not have another personality within him. If we can't....." she let the sentence hang. At this stage, the problem of getting Ivanova to accept Garibaldi was a moot point at best. In a few more minutes the issue might be resolved with PPG fire. It was not a possibility anyone wished to contemplate one moment longer than was necessary.

  When they reached the observation dome Garibaldi positioned himself in the middle of the room, away from anyone else and in front of the starfield of the windows. He gave a half hearted smile.

  "Don't miss, John. If you do the ricochet'll be a killer."

  Sheridan unholstered his PPG and the room filled with the sound of charging as he pushed the cap home. "Don't worry, Michael. If I have to, I'll hit you right between the eyes."

  Garibaldi nodded. "Thanks." He turned to Lyta. "Can you scan from there? I don't want to risk you getting hit."

  Lyta nodded. "I can do it."

  Franklin stared as the reality of the situation finally dawned on him. "You mean this, don't you? You're really going to kill him."

  "Stephen..."

  "Ivanova's right. You ARE all crazy."

  "Stephen. I asked for this. It's me, OK? It's my choice. You went on Walkabout to find yourself. This is how I've chosen to do it." "Yeah, but I wasn't intending to shoot myself if I didn't find myself."

  "No. You just kept on walking until someone else did. I have to do this, Stephen. I can't face not knowing. I can't face the thought that Psi Corps might be able to use me at any moment."

  "But if we find evidence of programming, couldn't we just de-program him?"

  Lyta shook her head. "Not without the help of the person who did it. Can you see Bester offering to de-program him if we ask nicely? He'd send the activation password first. Trust me. I know him." And the certainty in her voice made Franklin shiver. He looked at Delenn.

  "She's right, Stephen. Put yourself in Michael's position. Would you want to risk that?" He hesitated and she reached out to him. "Would you?"

  His body sagged in acquiescence and he shook his head. "No," he said at last. "No, I wouldn't." He looked up at Garibaldi and the two friends held each other's gaze for a moment. Finally Franklin spoke. "Michael...uh...look, just in case, and for what it's worth...I...well, I wanted you to know..."

  Garibaldi decided to save his friend any further embarrassment. "Yeah, I know. Love you too Stephen." He grinned, but it never reached his eyes. He turned to Delenn. "Delenn. Look, I'm sorry. It wasn't me, but I'm sorry about what was said anyway." She nodded and he turned to Sheridan. "John..."

  "I know. It wasn't your fault."

  An irreverent thought struck him and he grinned. "Hey. You remember the last time I had this done to me? You said if I ever did that again you'd shoot me. Guess you're gonna get your chance." Sheridan looked down and Garibaldi's grin died on his lips. He turned to Lyta. Again he tried humour. "You know, after all this, I'd better have that other personality, or it's gonna be real embarrassing afterwards." No one smiled, and Garibaldi shrugged. "Guess I'm just not funny anymore. OK. Let's get this over with." He took a deep breath. "Hit me."

  "This is going to hurt. I'm not gonna activate anything. I couldn't anyway, but it has to be a deep scan, and those are pretty painful. Just try to relax." He nodded and Lyta bowed her head and began to explore the neural pathways of his mind. As she made her way along the paths Garibaldi began to stiffen at the pain that coursed through him. Once or twice she glanced away and Sheridan watched her intently, all the while waiting with the PPG at his side, half raising it as she shuddered. She shook her head and concentrated again, and Sheridan relaxed and continued to observe. She spoke aloud her findings. "There's a lot of damage. Classic Psi Corps re-programming. They did you over well. You can't hold yourself responsible for anything you did, Michael. It wasn't you." He grunted, but the pain kept him from any more wise cracks. She continued "It's a good job. If it's any consolation, this was done by the best."

  This time he managed to get the crack out through gritted teeth. "Nice to know I got the star treatment. Hate to think it was the janitor." She went back in, probing deeper. He brought his hands up around his head, as though trying to squeeze his skull to drive the pain out. "Jesus. I hope you find something soon. I'm not sure how much more of this I can take."

  "A bit more. Like I said, it's a thorough job. I have to get past the scarring caused by the programming that's been taken out, and see if there's any more."

  Franklin turned away. Delenn stepped over to Sheridan who was shaking. She placed her hand on his shoulder and he covered it with his right hand, pressing it to him, the PPG still held firmly in his left.

  "All clear so far. Just a little further." Garibaldi fell to his knees, the blood vessels on his face and head standing out, the muscles and ligaments of his neck tensed like steel cords under his uniform collar. As they watched Lyta leaned forward a little further and Garibaldi threw his head back, screaming in agony before collapsing.

  Sheridan stared. "Well? Is he clear?" He raised the PPG as Lyta stood silently for a moment, coping with the back wash of Garibaldi's collapse. Finally she looked up.

  "He's clear."

  Sheridan sighed and holstered his PPG as Franklin activated his link. "Medlab, I need a gurney in the Observation Dome stat., and prepare ICU for a patient."

  "On our way," came the voice from the link. Franklin ran over and rolled Garibaldi over, reaching for the pulse in his neck.

  "I had to go a long way in to get to the end of the damage caused by that initial programming. I've never seen such a mess."

  "Are you absolutely certain none of that could be a hidden personality? Remember, you said they were buried so deep no one could find them." Sheridan looked from Lyta to Garibaldi and back to Lyta as Franklin rolled Garibaldi into the recovery position while he awaited his staff.

  "Trust me. I have a few abilities Psi Corps doesn't know about, and if there were ANY programming in there, I'd've found it. He's clean. I'd stake my life on it."

  "And ours?"

  "Yes. You can trust him. Bester's finished with him now."

  Franklin activated his link. "C'mon you guys, I'm losing him."

  "We're here," and two technicians ran in with a gurney onto which they hauled Garibaldi. Without a backward glance they ran out with their load. Sheridan turned to Franklin.

  "Stephen. Keep me informed!"

  "Yeah. Soon as I know." He ran out after the gurney. Sheridan watched and then turned back to Lyta.

  "After all this, we'd better not lose him now."

  "He knew the risks. There was nothing I could do about that."

  Sheridan nodded. "Yeah. There's never anything anyone can do, is there?" The bitterness in his voice was not lost on Lyta, but she stood her ground. He nodded. "Thanks."

  Lyta turned and left the room, leaving Delenn and Sheridan standing alone under the stars. Sheridan was shaking again. "I'd've done it, Delenn. If Lyta had said.....I'd've done it." He shook his head. "After all he did to help me..."

  "And that's WHY you would have done it. But you didn't have to, so don't worry about it."

  "And if he dies, now, after we learned he was all clear?"

  "As Lyta said, it was his choice, and he knew the risks. You knew the risks. If you had been in his position, would you have done any differently?"

  "No." He sighed. "No, I wouldn't have. Hell, I didn't, and look where it got me." He staggered and Delenn caught him. The adrenaline rush was wearing off.

  "Come. You need to rest." She put her arm around him and together they walked back to his quarters. He no longer cared what anyone thought ... he was too tired for it to matter ... but there was no one around anyway, and the trip to his room was uneventful. Keying in his card he began to sag as the door opened, and Delenn took more of his weight on her shoulders. She grabbed the card and helped him through the door, taking him through to the bedroom before releasing her grip and allowing him to sink to the bed. She eased him up enough to remove his tunic, then took off his shoes and removed his PPG and holster from his belt, undoing the latter and slipping it out of his trousers. She lifted his legs up onto the bed, making him as comfortable as she could before draping a blanket over him. Seeing the link on his hand she removed it and put it down on the bedside table before switching off the lights and stepping out into the lounge. Once there she contacted Medlab. Franklin answered.

  "How is he?"

  "Stable. He's in a pretty bad shape and I thought we'd lost him for a minute, but I think he's gonna be OK. The next twenty four hours'll tell. I'll contact you once I know more. How's the Captain?"

  "Tired. I've put him to bed. You might come to his quarters once you've finished there. I think he's fine, but perhaps you ought to check?"

  "On my way." His face was replaced with the Babcom logo and Delenn went to the kitchen to make some tea. She and John had spent enough time in his quarters before he was captured that he had a store of Minbari tea in his cabinet. By the time Franklin turned up she was sipping at her mug quietly.

  "Where?"

  "Bedroom."

  Franklin nodded and disappeared into the bedroom, ordering the lights up as he entered. He was gone for a good 20 minutes before he re-emerged, ordering the lights off before he did so.

  "I've taken off the rest of his clothes and made him comfortable. I also gave him an injection. It's just something to bolster his system a bit. He's still pretty weak and today's been something of a strain. He'll be OK after a good night's sleep. Do you want me to send for a nurse to keep an eye on him?"

  Delenn smiled and shook his head. "No, thank you doctor. I will watch over him."

  "You're sure?"

  She nodded. "I've done it before."

  "OK then. If you're sure, I'll leave you to it. Now don't hesitate to call me if there's a problem."

  "I won't. Thank you."

  As the door closed behind Franklin, Delenn went into John's bedroom and sat down. Reaching over she brushed some stray hairs off his face and stroked his cheek. The grey hairs in his beard and hair were more common than they had been, and the lines on his face had been made more pronounced by his loss of weight. She shook her head as a tear washed down her face, and then smiled as her touch brought a response from him. Opening his eyes, Sheridan reached up and captured her hand.

  "How'd I get in here?"

  "I helped you in."

  "You undress me too?"

  "No, Stephen did that. He came in to see how you were."

  "And how am I?"

  "You'll be fine. Now go to sleep."

  "Michael?"

  "Stable. Doctor Franklin assures me he will call as soon as there is any change. Shh."

  Sheridan nodded and pulled her hand across his mouth to kiss the palm. "Are you staying?"

  "Yes."

  He nodded again. "Good."

  Sheridan closed his eyes and Delenn waited until his breathing evened out before easing her hand away from his face and settling back to wait out the night. She sighed, looking over the day's events. Garibaldi would be alright, she was sure of that. John was back with her and just needed time to recuperate. Ivanova? Well, Ivanova could wait at least until the morning. Garibaldi might not want to stay on, or Ivanova could leave. It wasn't something Delenn wanted to think about for now. Tomorrow would come soon enough. Now she was just glad to be there, watching over the other half of her soul. She smiled as John began to snore.

[END]


 

*****

 

 

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