HORROR FROM WITHIN (II)

By Castor

 

 

 

 

   *****



 

Part 5

 

 

 

   Once C&C had established Sheridan's link was no longer sending a signal, a station-wide security alert was put in force. Teams sent to the Zocalo began questioning people, showing an image of the man they were searching for. They almost by-passed Delenn, assuming she would know nothing, but she insisted on at least seeing the face of the man suspected of so much horror, and gasped when she recognised him as the fellow diner who had left shortly after Sheridan. A cordon was thrown around the levels that encompassed the Security station and Medlab, the former being the last place anyone had seen Sheridan, and the latter his stated destination. Once it was established he had never reached Medlab, nor did Franklin have the slightest idea why the Captain wanted to see him, the cordon began to tighten.

   Zack had two men escort Garibaldi to the brig and then he and Lyta (who'd been summoned as soon as they knew where their quarry lay) walked side by side along the corridors, Lyta reaching out to try and catch a trace of Sheridan. With all the tumultuous thoughts of security and civilians alike it was hard to find one mind, but Lyta knew what she was looking for. If he could be found she knew she would be the one to do it.

   

   *****

   

   His jacket now discarded, Sheridan bent down to pick up the shard of glass. As he rose he felt the itch inside his head, but this time he knew it wasn't Sorenson. There was something familiar about the touch. A memory of a Vorlon mentor he would always recall with a mixture of happiness and regret. Happiness at the lessons he had learned; regret that they had been so abruptly and violently cut short.

   "And who is Kosh?" Sorenson asked, intrigued. He had picked up Sheridan's slight change of mood but couldn't quite make out the reason for it. "Still, no matter. At least it has put you in a better frame of mind."

   "You have no idea," Sheridan smiled grimly. He knew what he had to do. What he could do. He had the tools, now all he had to do was use them.

   

   *****

   

   "He's down this way!" Lyta cried, changing direction.

   Zack stared. "Do I want to know...?" She turned and gave him a look. "Never mind." He gestured for those in the immediate vicinity to close ranks and then tapped into his link calling in the main squad to seal off the corridor.

   

   *****

   

   "Wha...?" Sorenson stared as Sheridan steadfastly refused to raise the shard of glass to his wrist. "I know you're not a telepath, Captain. I don't know how you're doing this but you can't keep me out forever, you know. Sooner or later I will break through those walls of yours."

   "Knock yourself out," Sheridan muttered through gritted teeth. He didn't have to keep it up for hours, just long enough for security to find him. He stared at Sorenson, his eyes narrowing in concentration, his hand shaking as the war between his will and that of the telepath raged within his head. He had been given a link back to himself. Tenuous at best, but strong enough for his purposes. Beads of sweat formed on his forehead and, as the battle of minds continued, several droplets ran together, trickling down his temple. He blinked to try and clear his eye and the shard nicked his skin.

   Sorenson smiled. "I'm getting through, Sheridan."

   Sheridan grunted and redoubled his efforts. The shard moved away once more.

   

   *****

   

   "We have to hurry!" Lyta cried, breaking into a run. She'd shown Sheridan the way. There were a lot of advantages to be had from being touched by the Vorlons, but as yet Sheridan didn't understand how to use it, and this certainly wasn't the best way of finding out. And Sorenson was too damn strong. Far stronger than any telepath had any right to be. For the first time Lyta began to wonder if the others had a chance of defeating him. He was a worthy adversary even for her, but the others? She shook her head. She had to keep her distance, had to obey the rules. They were there for a reason, right? It was for the good of everyone that she obey them. If she let herself become involved, allowed herself to release the power inside her, where would it stop? Would she even be able to stop once she found she could do it? Worse, in this situation she strongly suspected everyone was hoping she'd bend a little, so if she did it was unlikely she'd be alienated. She'd probably be cheered...until they realised what it had taken and what it meant for them all. Then they'd ostracise her even more. Everyone wants the being with the extra powers around when the going gets tough, but who wants to invite them to dinner or ask them to share their lives afterwards?

   All she'd ever wanted to do was to use her powers to help people. That's why she'd abandoned Psi Corps when she realised they merely wanted to use her as another (albeit then minor) weapon in their arsenal. Now she was the big gun, did anyone but know it, and everyone would want her around to use whenever they needed her. But only to use.

   As they continued she looked at Zack who was at her side. He, alone, had treated her fairly: had helped her when she needed a strong arm or just someone to talk to. Always ready with a joke and a pizza, never using her (except on orders from above, and she knew he hated that) or condemning her, merely accepting. And she was damned if she was going to scare him off as well. Granted he wasn't really her type, but at least he tried, and in a desert of such emotion that was as welcome as a rich atmosphere on Mars.

   She was drawn from her musings by two things: the increased concentration required to maintain her attention on Sheridan, and Zack motioning with his PPG, urging the other security men to keep up as they tore around the corner. They had work to do.

   Alerted by the security teams Delenn appeared at the far end of the corridor.

   "Ambassador, stay back!" Zack warned. She slowed, clearly frustrated but understanding the need to let the officers do their jobs.

   Lyta nodded to a maintenance room. "In there," she said.

   "Can you distract him?"

   "I can try. Hold on." This was going to be tricky. She was monitoring Sheridan, giving him a push to help keep Sorenson out. He had the will, he just didn't know he had it. She would have to switch her attention from Sheridan to Sorenson and, in that split second, the killer would have control. He'd been steadily increasing the pressure in the face of Sheridan's unexpected resistance. The Captain could no longer withstand him alone, but Lyta had no choice. She took a deep breath. "Ready?" she asked.

   Zack nodded, standing by the door with his key-card. "Ready."

   "Now!" she yelled and flipped over to Sorenson, leaning forward slightly, her face tensing with the effort of stopping the telepath. Her eyes widened as she entered the mind of their nemesis and saw his plan. It was simple, horrific and, worst of all, it would work. In shock she released her hold over him.

   

   *****

   

   Sheridan winced as the shard suddenly jabbed into his arm and ripped upwards. Pain flooded his mind. Sorenson reared backwards, stunned, and turned to the door. The shard fell from Sheridan's hand and the door flew open to reveal Zack, his PPG levelled at Sorenson's head.

   "NO!" Sorenson yelled. He concentrated on Sheridan, trying to force him to step between himself and Zack. Using what little Lyta had shown him Sheridan erected a wall to defend himself. He used the pain in his arm as a mental shield, shaping it and guiding it outwards, a spiked ball of agony curled around his consciousness. The more Sorenson battered at it, the more Sheridan used it against him. At last, when he realised the itch inside his skull was not manifesting itself he shook his head. Blood dripping from his arm, pain and anger burning inside him, he closed his fingers around the wound, stemming the flow.

   "Give it up, Sorenson. There's no way out."

   Sorenson looked from Sheridan to Zack and then laughed. "You can't win. You may be able to stop me, Captain -- 'though I'm not sure how you're doing it -- but he can't." He nodded towards Zack. "I could turn that gun on him or you in an instant and you know it. Now order him to lower his weapon."

   Sheridan kept his eyes on Sorenson. The idea of being shot by his own head of security did not appeal in the slightest. "Zack. Do as he says."

   "But Captain..."

   "Do it!" Sheridan commanded sharply.

   Zack shook his head and holstered his weapon. Sheridan calmly reached over and popped the cap and its spare from the gun and holster. He pocketed them, smearing his trousers with his own blood as he did so, then gripped his arm once more before turning back to Sorenson.

   "You can't use it against us, but you're still not walking out of here," Sheridan assured him.

   "Oh? And how will you stop me, Captain? Brute force? A brawl between the three of us, perhaps?"

   "If we have to," Sheridan returned as smoothly as he could. Blood throbbed and trickled between his fingers. He tightened his grip.

   "You're wounded. I don't think you're up to a fight. As for your security grunt here, I think I'm a match for him even on my worst days."

   "Try me," Zack snarled.

   Sorenson shook his head. "I am leaving, and you are going to let me pass. Have you not wondered how I can do this, Captain? Where I got my power from?" Sheridan raised an eyebrow. He couldn't deny a certain curiosity. "Do you remember Jason Ironheart?"

   "Before my time," Sheridan returned with a shake of his head. "But I read the reports, and you're no Ironheart."

   "True. They stopped the experiments on me long before they finished with him. I had become too unstable for their tastes. But I had already grown so much. Have you any idea how much effort is required to control a person's body the way I did yours and the others? How much easier it is simply to pinch shut an artery or even a small but vital vein?"

   Zack gasped and reached for his head.

   "If you do not let me go, your security chief will die. It is your choice, Captain. His life is in your hands. Which is it to be?"

   Another security guard appeared in the doorway, his intentions clear. Sorenson saw him coming. Switching his attention he reached inside the guard's brain and, in marked contrast to the slow and careful pinching of capillaries he had used on Zack, ruptured several major veins. The guard collapsed, dead before he hit the floor. Sorenson's method was as certain as a bullet.

   Before Sheridan realised what was happening Sorenson returned his attention to the gasping man at his feet, seizing his mind once more. "One more move like that and he goes the same way. Warn your grunts off, Sheridan. This is between you and me."

   Sheridan nodded sharply to another guard who had appeared and the latter reluctantly withdrew. Zack crumpled to his knees, holding his head between his hands.

   Sheridan gritted his teeth. "You can't kill all of us. There are a dozen guards outside. While you concentrate on one, another will take you down." He fought the urge to give in. Zack was in agony and Sheridan knew it, but he also knew his head of security would rather die than let this murderer escape. So long as he thought he could save him by talking some reason into Sorenson he would try, but he doubted the killer had a sane thought left. He turned to Zack. "I'm sorry, Zack. I can't let him get away."

   Zack nodded, his teeth gritted against the pain in his skull. The right side of his body was going numb and he toppled over, his left hand still pressing against his head as the right fell useless to the floor.

   

   ******

   

   Outside, Lyta was paralysed. She couldn't. *He* couldn't. But he would if she didn't act. All her training, all her beliefs were shattered before her eyes as she took in Sorenson's means of escape and the horror he would inflict on others if allowed to continue. Someone had to stop him and, as she took in the drawn faces of the security guards who looked nervously at her, she realised that right now she was the only hope they had. A hope Sorenson very much wanted to destroy. If she stood aside they would tranquillise him, not realising his intentions, and once he was arrested they could not act and he would, effectively, be free. If she let him escape he would kill someone else now, perhaps had already killed Zack, though his life still throbbed dully on the other side of the partition that separated them. Perhaps he would even get through Sheridan's defences and snuff out his life as he had the guard's. It was, after all, his intention all along. And still they might merely try to wound and not destroy, trained as they were in notions of justice and not revenge. Anger might get the better of them, but she couldn't be certain. The guards were well trained and disciplined and had been ordered not to shoot unless they had no choice. She could not -- would not -- kill, but there was a way. It would be hard, but there was one thing that would obliterate all *his* hopes and dreams. She did not want to do it --wasn't certain she could -- but she had no choice. Swiftly she constructed the illusion of an empty space where she stood. She could not allow him to know of her intentions. She had to make sure he failed to recognise the threat until it hit him.

   

   *****

   

   Sorenson frowned, frustrated at the show of defiance. He cast out beyond the room, checking the minds outside for a likely candidate. Almost immediately he found something very familiar. Not that he'd been inside the mind before, but he recognised the personality from what he had observed while sitting in the Zocalo earlier. He smiled and then turned back to Sheridan, releasing Zack who collapsed, unconscious. "If not your head of security, then maybe...your lover?"

   Out in the corridor Delenn staggered. There was a strange sensation of pressure in her head. She reached out to the wall for support.

   "You're lying. Delenn isn't out there," Sheridan replied calmly, but his eyes flickered over his shoulder revealing the nervousness he was trying to hide. Worse, the glance was insufficient to put his mind at rest. From this angle he couldn't see the rest of the corridor.

   "Oh, but she is, Captain. Do you need proof?" He pushed a little harder, jabbing his mind into her. Delenn cried out.

   At the sound Sheridan stiffened, a cold fury washing over his face. He stepped forward, raising his fist to take a swing at Sorenson.

   Saul's eye's widened, but he was not looking at Sheridan. He was looking over his shoulder at someone who had just stepped into the room. Slowly, Sheridan lowered his fist and turned around.

   Out in the corridor Delenn breathed deeply and nodded reassuringly at the security guard who had gone to her aid when she staggered. "I'm all right," she assured the guard. The woman nodded but remained at her side.

   Sheridan stepped aside to allow Lyta to enter the room and stand face to face with Sorenson. They were locked in a battle of wills; one whose outcome Sheridan considered a foregone conclusion.

   "I told you, Sorenson. You can't win," he said and moved to the doorway, motioning for two guards to come in and retrieve Zack's body. "Get him to Medlab," he ordered before turning his attention once more to the strange and silent stand-off.

   Occasionally Sorenson would smile as though he had the upper hand, and then frown once more as Lyta upped the stakes. As Zack was taken out two more guards appeared, levelling their PPG's at Sorenson. Sensing their arrival Lyta shook her head.

   "He's mine," she muttered in a tone that brooked no argument.

   Sheridan hesitated and then jerked his head, motioning for the guards to stay back. His fingers clenched more tightly on his arm. By rights he should be following Zack to Medlab, but he had to see how this would end. After all Lyta's protestations it now seemed she would be the station's avenging angel. Or had she something else in mind? Sheridan couldn't tell. What had finally changed her mind? He frowned, watching as the two swayed slightly. It was the most bizarre fight he'd ever seen. He considered calling one of the guards with a sleeper dart and using it while Sorenson was distracted.

   "No!" Lyta muttered. "No sleepers. Not this time. Leave him to me."

   There was something in her tone that made Sheridan think he would be well advised to do as she said. She knew something, something that had changed her mind completely. If she felt this was bad enough to warrant her breaking her promises then it had to be serious. Strictly speaking he knew he should interfere, rein her in before she did something they'd all regret, but he had the feeling killing Sorenson was not what she had in mind. His fury at his own injuries, merged with the knowledge that Sorenson had been prepared to harm Delenn as well made him hesitant. He'd said he wanted the killer taken down. With his wish apparently in sight this was no time to get an attack of conscience. He watched.

   Beads of sweat began to build on Sorenson's forehead but Lyta remained cool and calm. Sorenson clenched his fists and Lyta leaned forward almost imperceptibly, building her concentration. Sorenson's eyes widened.

   "You can't!" he breathed, staggered.

   "I will," she returned, her tone thick with menace.

   "I won't let you."

   "You can't stop me."

   "NO!"

   Sheridan could almost feel the explosion of energy as Sorenson made one last ditch attempt to break free and Lyta lashed out. Then, there was silence. Sorenson was still standing, a stunned expression on his face. Lyta's expression was almost unreadable. A strange combination of triumph and sadness rolled into one. And there was something else Sheridan couldn't put a name to. As though she'd realised something too late and was coping with a hideous enlightenment. To be honest, barring Lyta's expression, which was quickly schooled under his curious gaze, the end was anticlimactic. At last Sheridan broke the silence.

   "Would anyone care to explain to me what the hell just happened?"

   "You can arrest him now, Captain. He won't be any trouble."

   "How...?" Sorenson started, but he was at a loss as to how to articulate what he was feeling.

   Lyta turned to Sheridan. "I took away his talent," she said simply.

   "I thought you said that couldn't be done?"

   "To be honest, until now I didn't know it could be."

   Sheridan motioned for the guards to take Sorenson away. "Lock him up until I can work out what to do with him." The guards nodded and waved their rifles, directing the man out of the door and down the corridor towards the brig. Too stunned to remonstrate with them, Sorenson walked out like a puppet whose strings had been cut. Sheridan watched him go and then turned back to Lyta. "We need to talk about this," he began.

   She nodded. "I agree, but not now. I'm tired and I think you need some attention there." She nodded towards his arm. He looked down, slightly astonished to see blood still seeping between his fingers. He'd been so engrossed in the silent stand-off he'd forgotten about his own injury. His right hand felt cold. Lines of red had marked the back of it and dripped from his fingers to the floor. His sleeve was soaked and he suddenly began to feel a little light-headed. He shook himself.

   "You're right. We'll speak again tomorrow."

   Lyta nodded and turned to go.

   "And Lyta?"

   "Hmm?"

   "Thanks."

   She nodded quietly. Sheridan could see she was still disturbed by what had occurred. He was going to say something else when his head swam and he staggered against the wall. Lyta reached out automatically to catch him as Delenn came around the doorway.

   "John?"

   Sheridan righted himself and turned. "I'm all right." He turned back to Lyta who released him, stepping past Delenn and out into the corridor. Delenn watched her go and then turned back, putting her arm around his waist.

   "Come. I think you should see Dr. Franklin."

   Sheridan nodded, allowing her to lead him out into the corridor. Security guards stepped forward but he shook his head. "OK, the show's over. You can stand down. Kaminsky?"

   "Sir?" A young man stepped forward.

   "I believe you're next in the chain of command. You'll have to take charge until Zack's feeling better. Any problems, come and find me or Commander Ivanova."

   "Yes, sir." Kaminsky waved the other officers away.

   Sheridan began to walk shakily down the corridor with Delenn's help and was met by a couple of nurses from Medlab who took over, quickly binding the wound with a field dressing before leading him away.

   "I'll be fine," he assured Delenn when she went to follow him. "I'll call you when they've finished." He looked at her pale face and suddenly remembered Sorenson's earlier actions. "Are you OK?"

   "A slight headache, nothing more."

   "Perhaps you should get them to check you over, just in case."

   "Captain," said one of the nurses, frustrated by the delay. "That field dressing isn't going to hold all day. It's a pretty serious cut. You really do need to get to Medlab."

   "Then I will come along too, and while Dr. Franklin is seeing to you someone else can check me." She smiled, satisfied that her logic would override his usual protestations.

   He snorted and shook his head, grinning. "Come on, then. The two of us turning up for a check up at the same time should really make his day!"

   

    

    

    

Part 6

   

    

    

    

   The cut did prove rather deeper than Sheridan had realised and it took a while before Franklin was satisfied he'd managed to seal up everything. Much to his annoyance, Franklin insisted Sheridan wear a sling to keep the arm slightly elevated for a few days, and ordered him to take a day off to recuperate.

   Delenn was waiting for him when he left having been checked over by Dr. Hobbes. There was no lasting damage from Sorenson's intrusion but she, too, was ordered to take a day off 'just in case'. In case of what Delenn wasn't quite sure, but given John was in the same position she decided not to argue. For once her appointments schedule was not full to bursting-point, and what there was could be handled perfectly adequately by Lennier. While, as a rule, she didn't like to delegate, on this occasion she decided to allow herself the luxury.

   Sheridan, of course, wasn't about to take a break, which was a good enough reason for Delenn to take over and apply some gentle diplomatic persuasion. In the face of stubborn resistance from her, Franklin and even Susan when she heard what had happened, he acquiesced. That did not mean he was going to sit around in his quarters all day doing nothing. Delenn entered his quarters later that evening to find him quickly downloading as much of his pending paperwork as he could before...

   "Damn!" he exclaimed, rocking back in his chair.

   Delenn smiled. "Did Susan catch you?"

   He looked up. "Yeah. And I barely got half of it. Have you *any* idea how much is going to be waiting for me when I get back? It'll take me a month to catch up!" He sighed and then muttered under his breath "A day off from this place isn't a blessing, it's a curse!"

   "I suspect she will make sure there is very little left for you to worry about."

   "Which makes it worse. I'll owe her, and she has quite a knack for picking her pay-back time." He took a deep breath and rubbed his face, pressing his eyelids until flashes appeared in front of his eyes. With a snort he relaxed, sniffed, and then looked up at Delenn, a weak smile on his face.

   "John, you're supposed to use the sling," she admonished.

   He looked down at the black material presently hanging bereft, like a post New Year's Eve decoration, around his neck. "Stephen is far too careful. I'm fine, really." He stood up quickly to prove his point and instantly regretted the motion, leaning against the arm of the chair heavily while he waited for his head to stop swimming. "Uh, OK, maybe a little dizzy when I do stupid things like that, but otherwise..."

   She shook her head. "You do not have to prove anything to me. Anyway, I came by to keep you company, but if you feel so well perhaps I should leave."

   She was remarkably good at suppressing the smile he felt sure was crying out for release. He considered his options, decided on a plan of attack, and drew himself up.

   "I'm sure you've got a ton of work yourself you want to get back to," he said, walking towards her. "Really, I'll be just...woah!" he staggered and reached up to his head. Instantly, Delenn was at his side to catch him. As she did so he righted himself, pulled her into his arms and then grinned. "Gotcha!"

   "You fraud!" she cried, laughing. He leaned down and kissed her, deepening the touch when she responded warmly. When he pulled back there was a glint in his eye.

   "You don't get to be Captain without learning a few tricks," he grinned, then swayed. The grin lessened. "Having said that, I think perhaps I *had* better sit down."

   Delenn saw him comfortably ensconced and then went to the kitchen to make some tea. When it was ready she brought it to him, settling herself beside him on the couch, her mug clasped between her hands.

   "Better?"

   "Hmm hmm," he nodded.

   "So, what do you plan to do with your day off?"

   "Tomorrow? I'm going to talk to Lyta. I wanna know what made her change her mind. Not that I object, but she was pretty forceful about not getting too involved before. Taking away his powers was about as involved as it's possible to get. Kind of a massive turn around..."

   "And you're curious," Delenn finished for him. He grunted, staring into the middle distance. "And tonight?"

   He indicated the still open download screen. "I have to get through that lot." The screen changed to a Babcom logo and flashed an incoming message. Sheridan shook his head. "Now what? Computer, accept message." Ivanova's face, stern and cold, appeared on the screen. "Commander? What can I do for you?" At least she'd learned not to just interrupt him. Not that he and Delenn had been doing anything -- this time -- but he uttered a silent prayer of thanks for small mercies.

   "You can obey doctor's orders, sir. I just intercepted your download. If you so much as lay a finger on those files...."

   "Ivanova..."

   "I mean it, John. Franklin ordered you to take the rest of today and tomorrow off. He also ordered me to see to it that you did as you were told. Since you're injured, he has superiority. You're outgunned. I suggest you surrender or I'll be forced to tell Stephen what you're up to."

   Sheridan raised his hands. He knew she wasn't bluffing. "I was just trying to get the mundane stuff out of the way. I know you hate it as much as I do and it's not like it takes all that long..."

   "So you're saying it's simple and I can't handle it?" She raised one eyebrow. Only Ivanova could get away with talking to the Captain like this. From anyone else it would be insubordination, but she was like a sister to him and he knew she had his best interests at heart. Besides, she could reprogram a shower faster than anyone he knew, and an ice-water wake-up call didn't appeal in the slightest.

   "No, I'm not saying that..."

   "Well then, you can leave me to do it, can't you?" He opened his mouth to retort but her glare, even through the monitor, could wilt nettles at forty feet. He sighed.

   "All right, all right. You win."

   "Good. I'll keep an eye on your computer access. If I see one download for anything other than relaxation purposes, I'll wake up Stephen. Goodnight, Captain. Delenn." She nodded to both and signed off, leaving the threat hanging in the air.

   Sheridan shook his head. "Locked out of my own station records by my XO and MO. I haven't got a chance!"

   Delenn giggled, drawing his attention from the screen. "What were you saying about tonight?"

   "Apparently, I have nothing to do whatsoever."

   "Nothing?" The glint in her eyes was unmistakable.

   Well...it wasn't like he had anything to distract him, for once. Maybe they were right. He needed a break. Franklin had done a good job on his arm, and so long as he didn't make any sudden moves he felt fine. In fact, as he looked at Delenn he realised he was feeling better every minute.

   A smile spread over his face. He'd been handed the opportunity on a platter. Who was he to argue? "Well, now. Tonight we're both supposed to be taking it easy. 'No strenuous exercise' were Stephen's exact words to me as I recall."

   "I see. So what do you recommend?" She was playing with him. They both knew where this was going, but the word play was fun. The only reason it worked was because both sides knew exactly what the other was thinking anyway and wouldn't be fooled for a moment. The game reinforced the connection between the two by the very fact that it pretended to ignore what it depended upon to work.

   "Did Dr. Hobbes give you the same injunction?" This was a genuine question, although he had the feeling if Dr. Hobbes had any reason to worry she would have informed him of that fact already.

   "Not in so many words. I believe her phrase was 'take it easy'."

   "Ah," he nodded.

   She placed her mug on the low table and leaned towards him, her fingers closing on his shirt front. He'd changed out of the bloodied and ruined uniform undershirt he'd been wearing before and donned a brown patterned shirt he often favoured when off duty. While the top button was undone the remainder were fastened, the whole neatly tucked into a pair of belted, brown slacks. With a deft movement she undid two buttons and slipped her hand inside, caressing the smooth skin of his chest. "So if you avoid the strenuous parts and I take it easy we should both be fine," she murmured, stroking her fingers over a nipple and feeling his instant reaction.

   He smiled and leaned forward, placing his mug next to hers. Turning, he removed the sling, tossing it to one side before raising his right arm to place it on the back of the couch, encouraging her closer. She shifted slightly nearer and then withdrew her hand to work on the rest of his shirt buttons. He watched her wordlessly, his eyes straying up to hers as she reached his trousers and had to tug at the material of his shirt to pull it from his pants.

   Obligingly, he raised himself up enough to release it. She reached for his cuffs and undid them, pausing to kiss his chest before pushing the shirt from his shoulders. He shrugged out of the rest of it, taking a few moments to pull it over the bandaged arm before tossing it over the end of the couch.

   "Do I get a go now?" he asked playfully.

   "No," she said simply, running her fingers lightly over his stomach. She watched the muscles contract and relax under her touch, reminding herself where he was most sensitive, then she leaned forward and dragged her lips and tongue over those points. It wasn't easy to reach all of them while seated on the couch, and she pretended to consider her options for a moment while Sheridan raised an eyebrow at her earlier rejection.

   "No?"

   "Nothing strenuous Dr. Franklin said. You know the trouble you have with the fastenings on my dress. I think, perhaps, I had better do it." She was suppressing a laugh, although without a great deal of success.

   "So what am I supposed to do here, huh?"

   She placed a hand on his thigh, pulling slightly and forcing him to move his legs apart. "Exactly what I tell you to do and nothing more," she teased, gracefully lowering herself to the floor on her knees and moving between his legs.

   From there she could reach those places that had proved so elusive before. Sheridan sighed and let his head fall back on the couch while she did something incredible with her mouth on his stomach. Dimly, he registered her hand undoing his shoelace at the same time. With her mouth still moving over his lower chest and stomach she removed his shoes and socks.

   "Uh, Delenn, this isn't fair," he said, reluctantly dragging his head off the back of the couch to look at her. "At this rate I'll be naked and you'll still be fully clothed.

   "Exactly," she chuckled, reaching for his belt buckle. He caught her hands and held her still.

   "Uh uh. I may not be one hundred percent, but there are some traditions that simply have to be observed and this..." he leaned forward and with an expert touch released the belt buckle of her tunic, "...is one of them."

   She sat back on her haunches, her head on one side as he brandished her belt like a trophy, swinging it from one hand. "You've been practising," she admonished.

   "Yep. Got fed up with having to ask you to help out, so I did a little homework while you were asleep the other night. Like you say, it's easy once you know the trick."

   He pushed the elegant blue and red tunic from her shoulders, holding the back of it while she raised herself enough to release it completely. Carefully he folded it and laid it across his shirt. Then he turned and considered her for a moment. "Better," he said at last, "but you're still overdressed in my opinion." He reached for the brooch on the front of her gown and removed it, pausing for a moment before holding it up to the light. "What kind of crystals are these?" She watched him for a moment, wondering if he was genuinely interested. When she failed to respond he looked at her curiously and she realised he was serious.

   "They are from high up in the mountain ranges to the North of Yedor. It is called 'sakarr'hel'. It means 'soul fire'. It is a rare mineral and highly prized. That was my mother's before she joined the Sisters of Valeria, and her mother's before that. It goes back ten generations in my family. If you turn it just so," she turned his hand so the light glanced through the crystal, "...and look deep inside...Do you see?"

   He looked and was mesmerised for a moment by the play of colours within the crystal. They seemed to interact with each other, flashing and sparkling with a life of their own. And not just the usual colours of the rainbow; there was silver, gold, bronze and a deep, vibrant blue that reminded John of neon fish and others he'd seen at aquaria on Earth.

   Delenn smiled at his expression of child-like delight as he became lost in the flow of colour. She understood the fascination. Many was the time she had sat in the gardens or as a child at home and gazed into that crystal, imagining she was looking into another world. A world in which there was still magic and mystery and heroes. She squeezed his hand gently.

   He paused in his examination, brought back to the present by her touch, and raised his eyes to gaze into hers. Carefully, he placed the crystal brooch on the table and then turned back. Taking her hand in his he said "You know, I don't need the crystal to see those lights in here."

   "Oh?"

   "I can still see them, wherever I go, here," he leaned forward and kissed one eyelid "and here," he kissed the other and drew back "provided you're with me." It was rather more purple prose than he was wont to use but somehow, with Delenn, it seemed more appropriate. With her headbone rising like a crown through her hair she reminded him of the pictures of princesses he'd seen in books as a child. Her Minbari formality had been tempered over the years by her interaction with humans, but he knew by her reaction that she still enjoyed occasional dips into a rather more old fashioned approach.

   "Then you will always see them, because I do not plan to leave you."

   The perfect answer. Holding her face in his hands he leaned down again and brushed his lips over hers before pressing more firmly. He teased with his tongue until she parted her lips. The kiss, which had started so gently, grew more passionate with every passing second. He wrapped his arms tightly around her, drawing her closer. Her hands moved across his chest, down over his stomach, and then lower still, encouraging his growing response with her touch despite the impediment of his trousers. He groaned deep in his throat, pressing harder and exploring her mouth until she, too, let out a moan. At that he pulled back and stood up, helping her to her feet.

   Without a word he led her through the sliding doors, dimming the lights in the lounge and calling for a low illumination in the bedroom. He took her to the bed and then turned back, drawing the doors closed. When he faced her again she had already slipped off her shoes and was sitting on the edge of the bed, watching him.

   He could feel his heart racing and his body shaking. She always did this to him. He leaned back on the door, partly to pull himself together, partly to let the slight wave of dizziness wash over him. He didn't want her to see he was still having trouble. Not now. Satisfied he would make it to the bed without making a fool of himself he straightened and walked slowly towards her. He reached out and cupped her face in his hand, letting his thumb slowly rub over her lips. She responded with a soft kiss. He sat down beside her, his gaze never leaving her for a second. Drawing her into his embrace he lowered them both to the bed, rolling slightly on top of her. Leaning on his left arm and supporting her weight in the crook of it, he let his right hand slide down across her breast, squeezing it gently. A low hum of pleasure escaped her throat. Suddenly overcome by a desperate need he began to kiss her fervently, felt her hands come up to stroke over his back and then pull him closer as her own arousal began to overtake her. He slid his hand over to the fastenings of her dress and freed them, pushing the material apart and slipping his hand inside to caress her skin.

   He kissed his way down her throat, nuzzling the base of it, and felt her body arch in pleasure beneath him. He slowly moved his lips over her chest until he reached her shift, the garment preventing further exploration. Raising himself up on his arm he pushed his hand inside, cupping her left breast and moving his thumb over the nipple until he could feel it harden under his touch. She opened her eyes to see him watching her. With an almost imperceptible movement of her head she encouraged him to finish what he had started. He pulled back, allowing her room to rise and shrug out of her dress, raising her hips so he could pull it free. He looked around for a second, trying to find somewhere to put it that didn't require him to leave the bed.

   "It will be fine on the floor," she whispered. "There are more important things to worry about right now."

   He nodded and tossed the dress away. She went to pull her shift over her head but he stopped her, gently pushing her back on the bed. Placing both hands on the outside of her thighs he slowly moved upwards, taking the material with him. She shivered, raising her hips as his fingers moved over her buttocks and up to her waist, pausing to stroke the sensitive skin of her back near the base of her spine. He knew that area always became over-sensitised early on in their lovemaking and didn't pause for too long, instead raising his hands further to expose her belly. Still holding her shift, his hands against her sides, he bent down and kissed the flesh, nipping, licking and nuzzling her. Then he moved on, pushing the silken shift higher until her breasts were revealed. He paused, smiling, as she raised her arms above her head to enable the final movement that would leave her naked to his sight. Careful of her bone crest he eased the material over her head, pitching it to the floor to join her dress. He linked his hands with hers and bent to explore her mouth once more before sliding his fingers down the sensitive skin of her inner arms as his lips kissed their way back to her breasts, now fully exposed to his admiring view.

   She luxuriated in his attentions, releasing a soft sigh as his lips closed around a nipple, suckling her. She lowered her hands, entwining her fingers in the short hair on the back of his head, encouraging him with gentle pressure. She looked down to watch him and was sharply reminded of his injury by the bandage on his right arm. An arm on which he was presently leaning.

   "John," she said softly.

   "Hmm?" He didn't look up, being far too engrossed in his ministrations to stop now.

   "You are supposed to be taking it easy, remember?"

   "You think this is hard?" he chuckled, releasing her to look up.

   "No, but I don't think you should be leaning on your arm like that."

   He considered her words. "Ah. So what do you propose?"

   She sat up and he moved away slightly to give her room to manoeuvre.

   "Well, first of all I think we should get you out of those clothes," she said, nodding towards his trousers.

   He looked down and grinned. "Probably a good idea. And then?"

   "And then I think you should lie back and relax."

   He raised an eyebrow. Surely she wasn't going to stop this now? He took in the sparkle that glinted in her dark eyes and the hint of a smile that hovered around her mouth. No, she had no intention of stopping it, just reorganising the positions of the principle players. This he could live with.

   

    

    

    

Part 7

   

    

    

    

    

   He quickly unbuckled his belt and undid his trousers, his eyes never straying from her body as she sat on the edge of the bed, watching him in return. When he had removed his underpants she slid across the bed, sitting up and patting the mattress beside her. He obeyed her implicit command, stretching out beside her, his right leg slightly raised and his right arm draped across his stomach. He tenderly stroked her belly with the back of his left hand, looking up into her face.

   "Your wish is my command it seems," he whispered softly. "For now, anyway."

   She cocked her head at him. "For tonight, certainly," she assured him.

   "Hmm. Not sure if I entirely approve," he responded playfully, his hand reaching down to her thighs, his intention clear. She gracefully slid down in the bed, leaning on her elbows and denying him his prize.

   "I think," she said, bending down to kiss his chest "that you will approve of everything I do."

   He closed his eyes as she dragged her lips across his body, swirling her tongue over his nipples. Resting on one hand she slowly stroked the other up his right side, moving his arm out of the way so she could continue her journey to his throat. Her lips soon joined her fingers, working their way to his mouth. When she reached it, her fingers stroking his cheek, he wrapped his arms around her, automatically trying to roll her beneath him. With a determination that surprised him she resisted, forcing him to merely close his arms more tightly about her and return her kisses with equal passion.

   During the kiss he felt her hand slip once more across his torso towards his legs. He parted them obligingly, allowing her to stroke the skin of his inner thighs. Slowly she drew her fingers upwards, drawing small circles on that sensitive area. She remained there for some time, her tongue teasing his mouth, until he broke the kiss with a shudder.

   "Delenn, please! Take it. You're driving me insane!" he gasped.

   "I think that's the general idea," she chuckled, earning a glare of reproval that quickly morphed into a gasp of pleasure as she took his testicles in her hand, weighing them briefly before allowing one finger to stroke the line between them upwards. Instead of gripping him she lazily stroked her finger over his shaft which jumped under her touch. He could feel the rush of blood, the hot urgency filling his groin.

   "Take it, please!" His eyes were closed as he spoke but, as he opened them once more, she could see the desperate need that had forced the plea.

   Without any further prevarication she closed her hand around his penis, rubbing him slowly. She smiled as she felt him swell and stiffen in response.

   "Always so hard," she whispered, savouring his response. He groaned, jerking his hips upward to thrust into her hand. In response, she quickened her movements and felt her hand grow wet as drops of semen spilled from the tip. She circled the head with her fingers, slipping easily across the opening now the semen acted as a lubricant. Still rubbing him she kissed her way across his chest and down his stomach. She could see his muscles ripple and clench as she moved towards her goal. He knew what she was going to do. He writhed under her touch, urging her on. She paused over his groin, releasing him.

   He could feel her breath on his penis, so near and yet hesitating. He looked down, their eyes meeting across his body. Still watching him she ran her tongue over the length of him from base to tip. He gritted his teeth, struggling to stifle the moans that were rising in his chest. Another long, slow lick and he exhaled roughly, throwing his head back; a gasp of pleasure he could no longer contain.

   "Oh yes!" he breathed, rising once more. She smiled and circled the head with her tongue, teasing the opening. "Take it. Delenn, please take it!" he begged, his body tensing in an effort to control the primal urge that sought to overcome his weakening reserves of self-discipline. She closed her mouth around the head and drew him into her, swirling her tongue around him as she moved down the shaft. A cry escaped his lips and he fought to control himself. Not that anyone would hear them, but years of sharing or living in less than soundproofed rooms during his time in Earthforce had ingrained in him the need to tone down his vocalisations. In any case, given what she was doing to him he sincerely wondered if he wouldn't be heard in C&C were he to allow it. He rested his hand on the back of her head, handfuls of hair slipping through his fingers. He stroked across her crest, knowing how much it affected her, and felt her suck him hard in response.

   Her tongue was incredible. She sucked, licked, stroked and teased him until he could stand it no longer. Suddenly he reached down, grabbed her upper arms and pulled her across his body, rolling her beneath him, his knee pushing between her legs and opening her. With one hand he reached down, exploring her, checking to see she was as ready as he was. He rubbed his finger over her clitoris, circling, caressing and stroking that centre of pleasure. Her hips rose up to meet his hand and his fingers slipped into her vagina, finding her wet and warm, quivering under his touch. He positioned himself and then pressed forward, sheathing his length in one smooth movement. For a moment he held still, watching the play of emotions on her face.

   With infinite care he withdrew and then pushed forward once more. She raised her knees, wrapping her ankles over his back, and pulled him in deeper. As he began the steady rhythm he wrapped his arms around her, lightly pressing his lips to her forehead, eyes and cheeks before closing on her mouth and completing their joining. His hands moved to her buttocks, pressing her tightly against him.

   Somewhere in the back of her mind she registered the feel of the bandage and was once again reminded of his injury. Quickly estimating the distance to the edge of the bed she made her decision and released her ankles, placing one foot on the mattress to gain the leverage to roll over on top of him. When she had completed the manoeuvre she pulled back from his mouth and sat back on her haunches, sweeping her hair back. He slipped his hands up her thighs, slowly ascending her sides and then moving across to stroke her breasts.

   He felt her inner muscles clench around his penis and his hips thrust upwards automatically.

   "How do you *do* that?" he groaned.

   "You'd be amazed what they teach in temple," she chuckled, gripping him once more. His eyes widened and she shook her head, laughing out loud.

   "Phew, you had me going there for a minute!" He shuddered as she rose up only to impale herself once more. "Hmm," he rumbled approvingly.

   She bent down and kissed his throat. "I would hope this 'gets you going'," she whispered tantalisingly close to his ear before running her tongue over the convolutions.

   He took her face in his hands and turned her towards his lips. "Most definitely," he murmured, his tongue probing her mouth once more. As their tongues connected, each stroking the other, she began a steady rhythm, raising and lowering herself onto him. He matched her, rising up on the down-stroke to drive in as deeply as he could.

   The kisses, that had been gentle but passionate, now became more frenzied. At last she broke away, panting for breath. He gripped her hips, adding his strength to her efforts. He could feel himself nearing the edge, but he also knew Delenn needed a little more help. Releasing her he reached between her thighs and began to circle her clitoris once more, alternating between gentle caresses, delicate teasing strokes and then, when she reached down and pressed his hand harder against herself, a firm, rapid rubbing. He felt her swell under his touch, felt her liquid run down his penis and onto his testicles.

   She leaned back briefly and then fell forward, landing on her hands and continuing the ever faster movements. Her breathing was becoming shallow, rapid, and she ground herself onto his penis and his questing fingers on every stroke.

   "Oh yes. That's it, love. We're almost there," he groaned, fighting to hold on until she was ready.

   His touch was an incandescent blaze of white heat against her. The tension mounted until she could withstand it no longer and the flame burst inside her, rushing from where she held him between her legs to surge over her mind in a shattering explosion.

   He felt her shudder and gasp. Saw rather than heard her cry, her mouth opening to free the shout of delight as the rush of blood in his ears deafened him to the sound. Her body spasmed, sending him over the edge and, with a yell to match her own, he gave himself to the release of orgasm. He had to be closer to her, needed to feel her whole body pressed against his own. He reached up and pulled her to him, her arms clutching him desperately. He held her tightly, their bodies shuddering together as they smothered each other in a shower of kisses. He swiftly rolled her over, determined to fill her with everything he had. He held her, his weight pressing her down into the bed as he plunged into her once, twice, three times. He held it, savouring the last moments to the full before collapsing, exhausted, onto her chest.

   For a few minutes they lay there, warm and safe in each other's arms. At last he released a groan and slipped from her, carefully pulling himself up on his left arm. She smiled and reached up to stroke his cheek.

   "Thank you. That was wonderful." She paused, noting his expression. "Are you all right?"

   "I think...I'd better get up," he winced. As he rose she noticed he was favouring his injured arm. Rising quickly she scooted across the bed to see him cradling it gently, his teeth clenched.

   "What is it? John, what's wrong?"

   He carefully relaxed his hand, revealing a dark red smear on the bandages that was spreading beneath the material. "That last move was a mistake. Stephen's gonna kill me," he sighed. "I rolled on my arm," he added by way of explanation. "I knew I'd done something, but I was a little too far gone at the time to do anything about it."

   She reached out but he shook his head. "Uhnnn. Hurts like hell. Sorry, I think I'd better get myself to Medlab." He turned and smiled at her sadly. "Not quite how I envisioned ending this evening."

   "We will go together," she assured him, concerned. If he was volunteering for Medlab it was bad. "That way I can take my share of the blame for this. And then," she added, forestalling his protestations with a finger on his lips, "we can enjoy the rest of the night as we intended to." She held her finger in place until he nodded acquiescence.

   After a quick wash they dressed, Delenn dismissing the somewhat crumpled appearance of her dress. "It is of no matter," she assured him. "What matters now is you. Do you need any help?" This last was added when she saw him struggling with his shirt.

   "Would you?" he asked, offering the right side up for her to hold while he carefully inserted his arm.

   "Wouldn't a T-shirt be better?" she asked as he winced.

   He shook his head. "I don't want too many people knowing I've been injured. You know what it's like around here. They see me in Blue Sector with a bit of blood, by the time it gets to Green Sector my arm's been cut off at the elbow, and in Downbelow I'm a quadruple amputee." She chuckled, nodding. "Better to keep a low profile for now. Mind you, I think the sling is probably a good idea." He slipped said item over his head and inserted his arm, sighing as the throb of blood was lessened by the relaxed elevation.

   They made their way to Medlab quietly, barely encountering a soul as they passed through the corridors. It was two a.m. and the station was as quiet as it ever was, particularly in the corridors between Blue Sector and Medlab. Ambassadors and crew were either sleeping or on duty. Sheridan sighed.

   "It's good to have the place back to normal. Well," he added with a snort, "as close to normal as it ever gets around here."

   Outside Medlab he took a deep breath, preparing for the worst. With a smile she propelled him forward. Dr. Chambers looked up and Sheridan released the breath. At least he wouldn't have to deal with Stephen until the morning.

   "Captain, Ambassador, what can I do for you?" Chambers asked, pausing over her notepad.

   "Uh, I seem to have down some damage to my arm."

   "The one Dr. Franklin fixed earlier?" She beckoned him into a room and made him sit on the edge of the bed. "What did you do to it?"

   "I...ouch! I rolled on it," he said, biting down on any further exclamations as Chambers unwrapped the bandage.

   Of the ten stitches Stephen had applied, three had ripped apart, tearing the already traumatised skin and oozing a steady stream of fresh blood.

   "Rolled on it? It would take more than your weight to do this. More like two pe...." Chambers trailed off as she saw Delenn rub the back of her neck self-consciously. She looked at Sheridan who had raised an eyebrow and was eyeing her steadily. "Of course, when you're asleep your arm can get into all sorts of weird positions, can't it Captain?" she added with a wink.

   "It can at that," he agreed.

   "Well, I think we can fix this up. May I suggest you keep the sling on this time and get someone to watch you while you sleep?" She gave Delenn a meaningful look as she exited to grab the supplies she would need.

   "Can't keep anything quiet around here, can you?" Sheridan muttered.

   "At least it was not Stephen," Delenn reminded him.

   "Hmph! Don't worry, as soon as he sees the logs in the morning he'll be on my case."

   "I'm sure Dr. Chambers can be discreet. As she said, these things can happen." She winked at him as Chambers returned.

   While she worked Sheridan looked around and noticed Zack in the isolation area. "How is he, doc?" He nodded at Zack.

   "Resting. There was quite a bit of damage to the blood supply but we managed to fix most of it. We can't fix the dead cells, of course, but his body can bypass the worst, for now at least. He will be fine in a week or so."

   "Will he have any problems with what you couldn't fix?"

   "Not now. He's young and fit. When he gets older he might notice his right side isn't as responsive as his left. Human brain cells can't be replaced, only bypassed. As they die some of the connections may become weaker or lost altogether. But that's a long time in the future. At worst he may end up with a limp or a rather stiff arm. Depends on what happens between now and then. You need the connections in the brain to make prosthetics work so he'll be stuck with it. Unless, of course, we find a way to re-grow brain cells." She looked up at him, her eyes conveying her opinion of the chances of that happening.

   Sheridan grunted and smiled at Delenn. If all Zack had to worry about was a limp when he was in his sixties he'd be fine.

   Two hours later they were back in his quarters, his arm fixed and some painkillers in his pocket for when the throbbing got too much. Chambers had warned him they'd probably make him sleepy so he took them before getting undressed and slipping under the covers of his bed. Delenn returned from the bathroom and joined him, carefully placing herself on his left side so that there would be no risk of further injury during the night. With a yawn he carefully wrapped his arms around her, pressing himself against her back. He was asleep with minutes.

   

   *****

   

   The next day he awoke quite late. Delenn had already risen and he could hear noises from the kitchen area. Rising carefully he examined his arm and was relieved to see no evidence that he'd done any further damage. He slipped on a dressing gown and padded through to the kitchen, rubbing his head.

   "Good morning. How are you feeling?" she asked, handing him a cup of coffee. He bent and kissed her.

   "Like squatters have filled my brain with cotton wool. What time is it?"

   "Just after ten. It's as well we were both required to take the day off."

   "Hmm," he grunted, taking a sip of the hot coffee. "That's good, thanks. I'd better call Lyta, see how she's doing. I want to talk to her today."

   She sat down at the table, nursing her own drink. "I already did. She will meet us at midday in your office. I hope you don't mind. I thought you needed to sleep."

   "Those pills work better than a sledgehammer." He rubbed his eyes with one hand.

   "How's your arm?"

   "Fine. I'd better use the vibe shower, though. I don't think it'd be a good idea to get this thing wet." She nodded and continued sipping at her drink. "How are *you* feeling today?"

   "Fine. I'm only sorry you got hurt."

   He snorted. "I hope Chambers is discreet. I can just imagine the gossip around C&C when they find out the Captain managed to do himself an injury during a night with his girlfriend!"

   She giggled. "It does generate some interesting images." She leaned closer to him. "Though none as delightful as what actually happened."

   "I did good, huh?" he whispered, leaning forward to touch his forehead to hers.

   "I think so. I trust my performance was up to your exacting standards?" She was smothering a smile but the sparkle in her eyes was unmistakable.

   "So much so that if I didn't have an appointment I'd ask for an encore," he murmured. Their lips met for a slow, lingering kiss before he pulled away. "And if you keep that up you'll make me late. I'd better get my shower. Do you...?"

   She shook her head. "I showered while you were sleeping."

   "Sorry I missed it."

   She laughed and he downed the rest of his coffee and disappeared into the bedroom.

   

   *****

   

   Lyta arrived promptly. Delenn offered to leave but Lyta insisted she had no objection to her presence. Indeed, given the way Sheridan had pulled her over the coals the last time she'd acted on her own, she rather preferred the idea of having Delenn there to keep him in check.

   Sheridan sat with one hand resting on the desk, the fingers of the other twitching inside the sling he was sporting. "Well, I'm grateful for what you did, but you know why I wanted to talk to you..." he began.

   Lyta nodded. "Why did I suddenly change my mind?" Sheridan nodded. "It's a little complicated to explain. I think it was when I felt what he was doing. He was abusing the power we have and he was enjoying it. He'd broken every rule in the book and a few more besides, and he knew he was going to get away with it." Sheridan raised an eyebrow. "He has friends in Psi Corps...very powerful friends. He had everything planned in advance. I wanted to let you deal with him. Let justice be carried out according to the rules but...." She shook her head. "When he did that to Zack and I realised what he had in mind I couldn't just sit back and do nothing. I knew you wouldn't be able to handle him by then. And even if you stopped him this time, he'd be back. I thought you could stop him, really. A sleeper dart or something to knock out his abilities and everything would be over, but you weren't given that chance. He didn't leave any room for manoeuvre, and he was so certain he would win no matter what happened. If you merely arrested him Psi Corps would release him within months."

   "And if we killed him?"

   "He knew you'd do everything in your power not to let that happen. He was counting on you playing by the rules." She sighed. "I know I said I wouldn't interfere, and don't think this is the start of a trend because it isn't." She looked him straight in the eye, jaw set, eyes firm. "I meant what I said."

   He nodded. "You know that if you'd decided to break the rules a little earlier Zack wouldn't be lying in Medlab right now?" Delenn's hand came to rest on his shoulder and he looked up. With a barely perceptible shake of her head she made it clear he was going too far. He frowned. The truth was the truth, whether Lyta liked it or not. She held his eyes. He saw something, recognised what she was trying to tell him and looked over at Lyta. She was still holding herself stiff in the chair, but he could see his comment had hit home, hard. Clearly her discovery of Sorenson's 'get-out-of-jail-free card' was not the only reason she had changed her mind. The injury to Zack had played its part as well. Clearly she cared about him. He sighed.

   "All right. I know you did what you felt you had to do. One more thing, though. What were you doing inside my head? Not that I minded at the time. If it hadn't been for you I probably wouldn't have a hand right now, but..."

   "But you still don't feel too happy about what I did? I understand, but I did warn you. Now, perhaps, you see why I didn't want to break the rules." She took a deep breath. Sheridan was watching her quietly, neither condemning nor encouraging her, merely waiting for an explanation. She could see Delenn's hand on his shoulder and realised that, at least in part, Delenn was protecting her from his more insensitive comments. The mention of Zack had hurt, but she couldn't deny it, any more than she could deny her reasons for acting. Life as a telepath was far too complicated. Sheridan shifted slightly and she saw Delenn's hand tighten. She pressed on. "I could sense what was going on before we found you. You were touched by the Vorlons, and so was I. There's a connection there whether we like it or not, and with it come some benefits. You had powers within you to resist telepathic assault, you just didn't know about it. I released them and reinforced them a little. The powers are there still, and with time they'll grow."

   Sheridan raised an eyebrow.

   She shook her head. "No, you're not a telepath, but you can already block some telepathic interference and it will get easier. I gave you what you already had, that's all."

   "Useful," he muttered quietly to himself. Delenn's quiet nod told him she could appreciate the advantage as well as he could. It also conveyed something more. He took a deep breath. Lyta steeled herself. "You took away his telepathic powers?" She nodded. "Do I want to know how you did that?"

   "As I said, we've both been touched by the Vorlons. It's only a matter of degree."

   It was clear that was as much as she was prepared to divulge on the matter. "Hmm. Well, we can leave the JAG officer to work out what we do with him, since he's no longer a matter for Psi Corps. I don't think there's any doubt that he's facing death of personality, but given what you've taken from him and what he's done, that's a lot more merciful than he deserves."

   Lyta nodded. "The worst punishment he could have had was to lose his powers...and the best, for him and everyone else."

   "I can't say I'm entirely happy with you being judge and jury on this one, but..." he added quickly, raising his hand as he saw Lyta open her mouth and heard Delenn's indrawn breath. "On this occasion I'm not going to complain. Thank you." He stood up and extended his left hand. "My apologies, but as you can see..." he indicated his sling. Lyta shook her head, drawing his attention to her gloveless state. "Ah, of course. Sorry." He withdrew somewhat awkwardly. He'd forgotten that, as a rogue, Lyta didn't wear that symbol of Psi Corps control, and a telepath could not touch another person skin to skin without making immediate mental contact. He looked down briefly, searching for something to say. She waited patiently. There was one other thing she wanted to know. He suddenly looked up. "Oh, and I think we agreed your rent would be covered? Consider it done. Three months, wasn't it?" She nodded. "Well then, I'll see to it tomorrow."

   "Thank you, Captain. Ambassador." Lyta nodded to both and left the room.

   "She cares for him, you know," Delenn said softly as Sheridan resumed his seat.

   "Hmm? Oh, Zack. Yes, I got that impression. Do you think anything'll come of it?"

   "I do not know. I cannot see Lyta's path. She is not like us, not like anyone here or anyone I've ever met before."

   "Zack'll have his hands full, then." He looked about his empty desk. "Well, there's not much point in staying here. What do you want to do with our enforced day off?"

   At that moment Commander Ivanova swept into the room. "Captain! I'm glad I found you. We've got a problem."

   'Damn,' Sheridan thought. 'Just when I'm about to make the most of it...' "Yes, Commander. What is it?"

   "Mr. Garibaldi."

   "What about him?"

   "He's in the brig."

   'Best place for him,' he thought and then changed his expression when he saw Delenn's reproving glare. She could read him like a book. "All right, I'll bite. On what charge?"

   "Zack arrested him yesterday for breaking and entering. He found him in Sorenson's quarters when they arrived."

   "Oh he did, did he? And what was he doing there?"

   "Apparently, trying to track the man down before we did. From what I can tell -- this is the filtered version by the way. His vocabulary hasn't lessened in the invective department -- anyway, he wanted to prove he was innocent."

   "And how did a civilian gain access to Sorenson's quarters?"

   "He's got a lock decoder. It was confiscated as soon as they put him in the brig, but they're easy to make if you know what you're doing."

   Sheridan shook his head. "There's hardly any point in my talking to him, and we could charge him but it's not gonna touch him."

   "Should I let him out?" Ivanova's expression was mixed. On the one hand, Garibaldi was out of line. If it was anyone else they'd be charged and forced to pay the fine, maybe even spend a few days in jail in addition to the time already spent there. But Garibaldi could afford any fine, and as the ex-Head of Security it was understandable he'd try to use his old methods to clear his name. If he'd done it while still in uniform they'd be praising his courage, if not his intelligence for going into such a situation alone.

   "He's determined to make my life difficult," Sheridan muttered.

   "Sir?"

   "John," Delenn interjected. "You know why he did that. I agree his methods were not appropriate to his current status, but if you had been accused of those murders, wouldn't you want to clear your name?"

   "I can't let him get away with this all the time, Delenn. He's a civilian. He's playing at being a private investigator. OK, OK, I admit it, he's good at what he does. He should be...he was a damned good security chief. But I've got to draw the line somewhere. He's riding roughshod over every rule of this station." With a sigh he turned back to Ivanova who was awaiting his command. "Make sure he knows the charge he's being held on. Keep him there another couple of hours, then release him."

   "Yes sir." Ivanova smartly turned and left.

   "John..."

   "Delenn, I can't hold him, but if I release him immediately he'll know he can get away with it. What's to stop him from doing it again whenever he wants?"

   "These were rather unique circumstances."

   "I know, but every time I turn around he's pushing at another rule, and he keeps pushing harder. I don't like it. I don't like what he's doing, I don't like the fact that he's doing it on my station, and I don't like what he's become."

   "So are you holding him because he broke the law, or because he has upset you?"

   "Both!" he snapped.

   Delenn sighed. There was no doubt that something had changed in Michael Garibaldi, but a lot had changed in John Sheridan as well since he returned from Z'ha'dum. She could only pray the two would find a way to resolve their differences before it destroyed one of them. She decided to change the subject. "Come, you were asking me where I wanted to go, and I think I should like a walk in the gardens."

   "Just that?"

   "It is a good place to start. I am sure we can think of something else to do afterwards."

   

   *****

   

   "It's about time!" Garibaldi snarled as the guard released him.

   "I was just following orders. Your stuff is over here." The guard beckoned Garibaldi to a table.

   "Yeah, well those orders stink." He collected his belongings, noting the absence of the lock decoder. "Where's the rest of it?"

   "If you mean the illegal device you used to get into Sorenson's quarters, it's been confiscated."

   "Just like Sheridan to do something that petty when he knows they're two a credit in Downbelow."

   "It's still illegal," the guard returned, refusing to back down.

   "So you said." He headed for the door.

   "Mr. Garibaldi," the guard called out. Garibaldi hesitated. "Zack's in Medlab. Thought you might want to know."

   "Yeah?" he said over his shoulder, refusing to turn around. "Well you were wrong." He disappeared through the doorway.

   The guard shook his head. Time was when those two were inseparable. The Captain was right when he said Garibaldi had changed. The guard went about his business.

   

   *****

   

   Down in Medlab Zack opened his eyes. He was stiff and sore, half his body didn't seem to want to talk to him, and he had a raging headache. He blinked and looked up, just in time to see the departing back of someone who'd been watching him through the glass. He couldn't be certain, he was still a little foggy from whatever had happened to him, but if he were pushed he'd have said it was Garibaldi.

   

    

    

    

    

End

 

*****

 

 

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