VIRTUE AND VIOLATIONS

By Castor (formerly known as Anon)

 

 

 

 

*****

Chapter One

 

It was the end of a long day, and all Sheridan wanted to do was to take off his shoes, stretch out on the sofa, and lose his mind in some music and a drink for a few minutes before surrendering gratefully to sleep. In fact, the bedroom beckoned to him the minute he got through the door, but the arguments of ambassadors, refugees, staff and even a waiter in the Zocalo echoed around his head. On top of all that, there had been a ship that had come into Babylon 5 space, and then had practically sat in the jump gate (Sheridan closed his eyes and shook his head at the memory. Talk about lucky!) for a good half an hour before he and Ivanova had finally managed to coax the ship out of there, and then only with Starfury help. By the end they were both suffering from high blood pressure and practically screaming at the pilots to move.

   "What the hell's the matter with that pilot? How could anyone be fool enough to sit near enough IN the jump gate? Is there anyone else coming through?" this last question Ivanova directed at the Lieutenant staffing the console behind her.

   "Not at the moment, but I can't say how long his luck is going to hold."

   "Babylon 5 to freighter pilot. You are sitting in the path of the jump gate. If another ship comes through you'll be destroyed. Go to the station holding co-ordinates assigned to you." Silence. "Babylon 5 to freighter pilot. Do you read me?!" Still silence. "Ivanova to Sheridan." The comm blinked

   "Sheridan. Go."

   "Captain, we've got a ship sitting in the jump gate and it refuses to move or answer our hails."

   "It what?!" Sheridan thought for a minute. "Is there any sign of damage? Could they be injured?"

   "None that we can see, Sir. They're just not responding."

   "Are their engines on line?"

   "Yes Sir. Everything seemed fine until they actually came through the jump gate. Now they've just stopped."

   "Can we lock grapples and tow them away?"

   "I think so. Oh. Hold on." The comm line blinked.

   "Freighter Tungsten to Babylon 5 control. Do you read me?"

   "Tungsten. Where the hell have you been? Move your ship!"

   "No can do, Babylon 5. We have no pilot."

   "You what??" This from Sheridan and Ivanova together, then Sheridan added

   "I'm on my way," and made his way to C & C. Ivanova was left to deal with the speaker.

   "Who am I talking to?"

   "Er, my name is Peter Dworkins?" //what's up with him? Doesn't he know his own name?// she thought. "I'm a passenger on the Tungsten. I just woke up and noticed we weren't moving so I came up to the bridge. The pilot's not here."

   "What about the second in command? The navigator? Hell, anyone?"

   "Sorry. This is a one man show as far as I can tell. The same man booked me in, charged me for it, and piloted the ship. His name's Brin Taylor." Ivanova nodded to one of the other crew-members in C & C who promptly started to try to find the captain's name in their records. A few seconds later she had the answer to the problem.

   " 'Brin Taylor' " the woman read " 'Pilot's licence revoked 2250.' Apparently he was drunk while piloting a ship and there was a collision. Twenty three killed, eight wounded. He shouldn't be in charge of a waste dump, much less a freighter." Ivanova stared at the console for a moment and then straightened her shoulders as Sheridan walked in.

   "You heard?"

   "Yeah. Who's on the bridge?"

   "Some passenger named Peter Dworkins, though he doesn't sound too sure."

   "Scramble six Starfuries now and patch me through. I'm going to see if he can pilot the thing, but failing that we'll have to tow him and fast!" Sheridan put his hands behind his back and listened to the voice of the man answering him as Ivanova sent the message to the fighters to scramble. In less than a minute six Starfuries appeared beneath the space station and headed out to the stranded freighter.

   "Y-yes?" //He's scared// Sheridan thought. //I'll have to be careful with this one.//

   "Mr Dworkins. This is Captain Sheridan, commander of Babylon 5. May I ask you, have you ever flown a space ship?"

   "MY GOD! Flown one? I've never SEEN one before. This is my first time in space."

   Sheridan rolled his eyes. "Great!" he muttered. He turned back to the console. "Mr Dworkins. You're not in any trouble or immediate danger" //sound convincing, Sheridan, this man's life depends on you keeping him calm.// "But we really do need to move you away from there. I want you to look at the consoles in front of you. You should see a section labelled 'engines'. Can you see it?"

   "Yes. I see it."

   "Good. Now I want you to..." he felt the tension rise behind his back and looked around to see the lieutenant rising from his seat. Sheridan motioned for him not to speak, but his mouthed 'there's a ship about to come through' sent chills down his spine and he hastened to his task. "ahem. I need you to find the emergency override that will shut down the engines. It's alright. There's no emergency. It's just that it'd take too long to take you through the formal procedures and this is the simplest solution. Do you understand?"

   "Uh huh. I found it. Do I just press it?"

   "That's right," he motioned to Ivanova who contacted the fighters.

   "Babylon control to Alpha squadron. Lock grapples onto the Freighter Tungsten and tow it away from the jump gate. And make it fast!"

   "We hear you Babylon control. Commencing grapple." The six fighters took up their positions around the freighter just as the tell-tale energy signal dropped to next to nothing. They locked the grapples onto convenient protrusions from the ship and the tow began. Sheridan turned to the lieutenant.

   "How long?"

   "Any minute now!"

   "C'mon. C'mon! Move, you great hulking brute!" The whole of C & C stood to watch the drama unfolding around the gate. If thoughts could move the freighter any faster it would have gone into light-speed by now, Sheridan thought. Just a little further. A little further...

   "Ship coming through!"

   "Shit!" The gate flashed and a Narn cruiser suddenly appeared. The Tungsten was not quite far enough away and as the cruiser dropped into normal space it clipped the edge of it. The freighter jerked and the Starfury pilots on the far side suddenly found themselves in its path. The Narn ship managed to right itself and move away from the disaster looming. As C & C watched in horror, one of the Starfuries was caught by the edge of the Tungsten and span away into space, the grapple automatically disengaging. For a second it looked as though the pilot might have gotten away with it, but then they saw him eject just before a flash engulfed his ship. The Tungsten continued to swing around as the other Starfuries fought valiantly to get their errant load under control. One disengaged and dropped underneath the freighter to come up on the other side. It then re-attached it's grapple and added its engines to those of the other fighters. Ivanova deployed a shuttle to collect the ejected pilot as Sheridan tried to calm to passenger of the Tungsten.

   "We have you, Tungsten. Just keep away from the controls and we'll pull you in."

   "But we hit something," his frightened subject responded.

   "A Narn cruiser came through the jump gate and clipped the back of you. Your ship is OK and no one seems to have been hurt ('please, God, let that pilot be OK!'). Just relax and let us do our jobs." He saw Ivanova speak to the pilot of the rescue shuttle. He raised an eyebrow in question and she smiled and nodded. Sheridan took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Repeat. No one is hurt. We'll send a shuttle to bring you and any other passengers over to the station, as well as a security detachment to find your captain. Just return to the main cabin and prepare to disembark. Babylon control out!" He turned to Ivanova. "Well?"

"The shuttle pilot says he's injured but conscious. He's bringing him in now and I've alerted Medlab to expect a patient."

   "Right. Well, if I get a hold of that freighter pilot Medlab will have two of them."

   "Not if I get there first," murmured Ivanova dangerously. "Then he'll need a coroner." Sheridan grunted in agreement and headed to the docking bay to meet the crews as they returned. Ivanova turned to the Lieutenant.

   "You're in command 'til I get back."

   "Give him one from me, commander." The sentiment echoed around C & C. Space was dangerous enough. No one tolerated fools, and the penalties were substantial. The universe was pretty unforgiving of those who did not pay it the respect it was due. When someone else ended up paying that price... The atmosphere in C & C was grim. Had the Starfury pilot been killed it would have been close to homicidal. Ivanova momentarily considered the advantages of bringing the drunken pilot in and then quietly closing the door on C & C. She could send medical in to scrape the walls afterwards. No. As tempting as it was, she knew the fool would have to be locked up and then dealt with appropriately, though she knew she'd have to fight to resist the urge to push him out of an air lock should they pass one en route to the brig.

   As it turned out, nature had done what C & C so urgently desired. The pilot had not been at his post because he had died some hours before. His body was brought into Medlab by security who commented that his room had smelled like a brewery. Autopsy revealed his latest alcohol binge had not been a healthy one as the home brew paint stripper he'd drunk was tainted with chemicals that had no right to be in any human system. His death had not, apparently, been swift or painless, despite his inebriated state, and Sheridan and Ivanova took some grim pleasure in knowing Brin Taylor had a miserable end.

   Unfortunately, that was not the end of the matter, as Sheridan had then spent the next several hours dealing with the captain of the Narn cruiser who accused him, Earth and just about everyone who wasn't a Narn of incompetence. While Sheridan was inclined to agree when it came to the Narn's opinion of Earth-dome, he much resented the implication that his pilots or anyone on Babylon 5 were to blame, and had eventually made it clear that if the Narn did not like the way things were run on Babylon 5 he could go somewhere else for his supplies and business (preferably somewhere very hot where freezing was unknown). Things had been about to explode when Delenn had entered the conversation, taken the Narn to one side and calmed him down. Somehow she managed to get across to him the situation, though Sheridan failed to understand why his own explanation had been unacceptable. 'Must be either because she's Minbari or female, and probably a bit of both' he mused as the Narn drew himself to attention, saluted Sheridan, and left. OK, he didn't apologise, but at least he wasn't yelling anymore. The rest of the day was spent placating others who had seen or heard of the incident and were convinced that this was to be a trend in the coming weeks.

   Now Sheridan leaned back and rubbed his aching neck. The tension was such that when he moved to respond to the door he felt a sudden, sharp pain and realised he'd managed to crick his neck quite badly.

   "Ouch! Who is it?!" he practically shouted, rubbing his neck with his right hand. Looking up he saw Delenn silhouetted in the doorway. He stood up.

   "John. I'm sorry. I seem to be disturbing you. I will come back tomorrow."

   "No, no. Delenn." He sighed. This was all he needed. To offend the one person he really cared about just when her company would be most welcome. "Uh, I'm sorry. I just, ouch!" He'd tried to shake his head and the twinge had shot pain up into his skull and down his spine like a knife. Delenn moved forward, concerned, and the door closed.

   "You're hurt. What has happened?"

   "Ah, nothing! It's all this trouble today. I've cricked my neck, that's all." He collapsed into the sofa and another pain shot up his spine. More gingerly he arranged himself and tried to knead the tension out of his neck.

   "'Cricked'? I do not understand." She stepped behind the sofa and moved his hand to look at the damage, but she could see nothing.

   "It means I've wrenched a tendon or something." He began kneading again. "Hurts like hell!"

   "Here. Let me." She pushed his hand away and began to work on his neck muscles. At first he groaned with the pain, but after a while he realised her technique was working.

   "Hey. That's pretty good. Where did you, ouch!" he moved incautiously and was reminded that things do not mend that easily.

   "Stay still," she admonished him, "I haven't finished yet." He acquiesced, revelling in her skill and silently wishing he'd known about this ability of hers long before. He could have used this kind of relief on many occasions.

   "When we were studying in the temple we were taught that the mind and the body must work as one. That cannot happen if your body is fighting you all the time. It is necessary to know how the muscles and tendons and ligaments work. How they can get out of balance with each other, and how to put them straight. Once you have mastered the art on others it becomes easier to control your own body and relax it on command. You can picture your own tensions and instruct them to, to..." she struggled for the right word, "how do you say? 'Disentangle' themselves?"

   "Good enough." He murmured, relaxing into her touch. She smiled and continued her work. After a while she frowned.

   "You know, you are very tense here. The muscles are damaged from so much pressure." Her hands spread to his shoulders and she began to work on them too. "John Sheridan. You're a mess! How could you let yourself get into such a state and not seek some relief?"

   "Because I don't know how and I haven't the time or the inclination to go to Medlab." was his simple response.

   "Do you not teach your pilots how to keep calm under pressure?"

   "Yeah, but that's only enough to stop you from blowing a gasket when it's inconvenient. You're told to learn to live with the rest of it. So long as you look calm to the rest of the crew and you don't make any dangerous mistakes, that's considered good enough."

   "I do not see how your pilots managed to hold out so long against the

   Minbari warriors," she said, shaking her head, "It is amazing how you manage to continue to move under these conditions."

   "Yeah, well, after a while it sort of starts to feel natural. Keeps that edge in you. If I was too relaxed I couldn't do anything." He flexed his shoulders. "Hmmm. That's good. Just as well I don't have anything else to do tonight."

   "John. This would be much easier without your shirt in the way. I cannot get a grip on this material. Take it off."

   "Hmm, what? Oh." He began to undo the shirt when he suddenly realised what he was doing.

   "Uh, Delenn. Are you sure you, er?"

   She stared at him, uncomprehendingly, then flushed slightly. "It was not a proposition!"

   "No, no. I wasn't suggesting... It's just.... Aw, hell." And he pulled his shirt over his head, marvelling that there was no longer any pain as he moved his neck. He leaned forward on the sofa as she continued to work on his shoulders and then moved on to his back.

   "John. Lay down on the floor. You are too tense trying to hold this awkward position, and I am leaning too far over to have any leverage. I can do a better job, and far quicker if I can get you to relax in the first place." This time, though it still felt remarkably awkward, he did as he was told without comment. There was a carpet by the sofa and he was grateful for its protection, keeping him from freezing on the metal and tile of the space-station quarters. Delenn passed down a pillow to put under his head so he wasn't too uncomfortable lying on his stomach and then knelt beside him and began to work her hands down his back.

   Like all Minbari, Delenn was stronger that she looked, but there was a gentleness that tempered the strength and Sheridan felt her encourage the tensions from his body one by one. As she worked she spoke quietly,

   "What was wrong with the pilot?" he groaned and she felt him tense under her. "Never mind, it is of no matter. It has obviously upset you greatly. Why? You solved the problem and no one was hurt."

   "Yeah, but the problem shouldn't have been there in the first place. He'd lost his licence ages ago. He shouldn't have been able to get near a ship in that capacity. Amazing anyone'd let him near one as a passenger!" his voice rose as the anger returned and she calmed him.

   "Shh. It is not worth so much anger and tension. It is over now, and nothing you can do will make it not to have been. You must just make sure that nothing like that ever happens anywhere under your control. You do not control Earth-dome. I do not even think Earth-dome controls itself any more," for a minute she sounded far away and Sheridan tried to rise and look at her. She stopped him and pushed him back down, "No. Stay there. It is not important. Whatever is happening there seems to come here soon enough. We do not have to wish it on ourselves. You cannot take responsibility for the universe, John, only for your own life and those people immediately connected with it; and even then you must recognise they are separate from you and responsible for themselves. You demand too much of yourself. Is it any wonder you cannot deliver and so become tense and frustrated?"

   He smiled, "Thanks. Just what I need. A Minbari counsellor!"

   She frowned and stopped her work. "Have I said something wrong?"

   He pulled himself up on his elbows and looked at her. "No, Delenn. You've done nothing wrong. Everything right, in fact. I just feel like the world and his wife is on my case right now and I just want everyone to back off."

   "You want me to leave?"

   He rolled onto his back and took her hand in his. "No. Not you. You're the one person who helps me face them every day." He suddenly became aware of the intimacy of their position. He, lying on the floor, naked from the waist up, and her kneeling beside him, her hand held in his. Instinctively he pulled her hand to his chest and pressed it to him.

   She, too, realised there was something new being added. As her hands touched his chest she spread her palm and could feel his heart beating beneath it. She looked at his body: fit, healthy and no trace of scars or injuries. Yet she knew he had been hurt -- had died, in fact -- and that he was living on borrowed time. For all he looked like he would live forever, she was forcibly reminded by the strength of his heart-beat just how short a time forever would be. She felt a stinging behind her eyes and forced herself to smile at him.

   He gazed at her. She couldn't hide from him. That damned Minbari reserve was all very well, but he knew her too well to be fooled. He knew exactly what she was thinking and the thought gave an urgency to him that under other circumstances he would not have even considered. They were wasting time. Time he did not have. They had only managed one night of the Minbari sleeping ritual, and that had been interrupted (he winced at the memory and clutched her hand more tightly to his chest). When would that ring on her finger change to the plain band of gold he so much wanted it to become? When would the universe give them a break? The comm link sounded. 'Oh God, not NOW!' he thought and released Delenn's hand to tap the link.

   "Sheridan. Go." Amazing how he managed to sound so completely calm and relaxed when he so desperately wished to throttle the person on the other end. The person on the other end was Ivanova. 'Not again!'

   "Captain. I'm sorry to call you so late, but we've just received a message from Mars I think you may want to hear."

   "Who's it from?"

   "A Ranger. I'm afraid I didn't manage to catch his name, and I don't think I could pronounce it anyway." Sheridan felt Delenn stifle a giggle. Apparently she knew the Ranger in question because when he looked at her she smiled innocently and nodded. Ivanova continued. "He says we're going to have some unwanted company." At that Sheridan sat up.

   "What kind of company?"

   "The telepathic kind. Apparently Mr Bester is on his way. He should be here the day after tomorrow. Our scouts have detected his ship, but he's not headed straight for us. He seems to be taking a detour via Centauri Prime."

   "So why do you think he'll be with us so soon?"

   "Apparently, the Ranger over-heard the thoughts of someone he was dealing with. It's supposed to be a surprise visit. I thought you might want to prepare some surprises of your own. The Ranger had no idea why he's taking the scenic route, but he got the distinct impression the visit would not be for the benefit of our health."

   "With Bester involved? Only if he fell out of an air lock on the way. I don't think there's much we can do tonight ('except lie awake wondering what the hell that sneaky bastard is up to!' he thought irritably), but if Franklin is awake you might see if he can find a way to knock out Bester's telepathic abilities without our having to hold him down first. Lyta isn't due back for a week from her trip to Minbar." He turned to Delenn. "Could we bring her back prematurely do you think?"

   "I will ask."

   Ivanova, listening in on the comm, added her own opinion: "We could always try a good old fashioned cosh," she said.

   He smiled at the pun, although it was clear Delenn was confused by it. "Amen to that! See if there are any Rangers who could check his activities on Centauri Prime. If Londo's involved it's bound to be expensive trouble." He looked down and saw Delenn's hand was still on his chest, but now she was gently stroking it back and forth. He looked up into her eyes and suddenly realised the ring was changing under his gaze. "And commander?"

   "Sir?"

   "I do not wish to be disturbed for the rest of the night for ANY reason. Is that understood?"

   "Sir?"

   "Ivanova. Unless Bester suddenly appears in the middle of the Zocalo with the entire Omega Squadron around him I don't want anyone calling me before 07.00 hours. In fact, I don't want anyone calling me before I call you. Is that clear?" There was a pause, and Sheridan wondered what was going on at the other end. He could hear muttered words and what sounded like Marcus's voice. Ivanova came back on.

   "Yes Sir. You will not be disturbed. Ivanova out." And the link went dead.

 

Chapter Two

 

Sheridan carefully removed Delenn's hand and stood up. Crossing to the door he stood there and looked at her. Her choice. Stay or go, but do it now! For a second he feared she would leave, as she gazed at the floor in front of her and fingered the edge of the rug, but when she looked up at him it was with a smile -- albeit a somewhat uncertain one -- and a nod. He turned to the door and instructed a change in personal password. Too many people knew his password and that knowledge was an inconvenience he was not prepared to suffer a second time. He took off the link and laid it on the kitchen table and then stood, somewhat uncertainly, looking at the cabinets. What to do now? There was what he desperately wanted to do, and what he would be allowed to do, and he wasn't sure his system could stand the tension of preparing for one and ending up with the other if they were not the same.

   He heard Delenn stand up, pause for a second, and then walk over to his books. He turned and went over to her as she took down a volume and opened it. It was the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. He stepped up behind her and put his arms around her waist, holding her tightly to him. She continued to look through the pages and he whispered in her ear 'number 51'. She looked but was confused. The poems were not numbered but had letters above them. What was number 51? He smiled. 'LI' he murmured and brushed her hair aside to kiss her neck. She shivered but concentrated on the book. She had to. His touch was both exciting and terrifying. It was against everything she had ever been taught, but her body, the one that had not been trained in Minbari restraint, seemed to have already decided for her. As she found the poem she read aloud.

   "The moving finger writes, and having writ
   Moves on. Nor all thy piety nor wit
   Shall lure it back to cancel half a line.
   Nor all thy tears wash out one word of it."

The import of the words struck her forcibly. Despite time rifts and the other odd effects they had been exposed to, the fact remained that as time passed it was lost forever. You could not go back and change anything, nor recapture lost moments. This was all the time they had and, unlike the majority, they knew to the year how long, at most, their time together would last. Sheridan spoke quietly to her.

   "I don't want to get there and find myself looking back and wishing I'd not wasted so much time, Delenn. I want to live every minute as though it was my last. When we were on Babylon Four and I was unstuck in time... do you remember?" She nodded. She couldn't speak because his words were causing an aching pit to open in her stomach and she was afraid he would hear the fear in her voice.

   "When I saw you in the future at Centauri Prime you told me to treasure the moments because they would not come again. I ignored your advice once. I don't plan to make the same mistake again. Delenn," and he turned her around in his arms, but she refused to look at him.

   "Delenn. I love you and I need you. I respect you and, if you want me to, I'll wait until every Minbari custom has been fulfilled, but I want you to know that I need you now." He put his hand under her chin and tilted her face up to look at him. He'd sensed she was crying. He could feel her shaking in his arms. He didn't want to hurt her, and he didn't want to show disrespect for her customs and beliefs. Under normal circumstances he would have revelled in them. But the circumstances were far from normal and he needed her to recognise and accept that. He looked straight into her eyes.

   "Only if you accept that I'm going to die can we get on with living. The future is with us now, Delenn. We can't ignore it and hope it goes away. We can only act with that knowledge and do the best that we can."

   Delenn fought to control herself. She knew he was right, and she had been wondering ever since the day Lorien had told her whether she could ignore or circumvent her customs and up-bringing without feeling diminished. Now, as she looked at his face, so serious, so questioning of her, and so in love with her, she realised that if she did not surrender she would never forgive herself. With that thought came a slight release of tension. They would be together, tonight, and she would not care what others thought. But that release did not eradicate the reason why she would, and that reason was still tearing at her soul. She pushed away from his arms and stood a few feet from him, struggling for the control she needed.

   "Delenn..."

   "No, John. I will be all right. I find it hard, that's all. Just give me a few minutes. I do not want you to see me like this." He smiled. That damn Minbari reserve again. He walked over to her and caught her before she could move away.

   "Delenn, listen to me. You're allowed to show your feelings in front of me. It's what loving someone is all about. If you can't cry in front of me, then who? If I'd been told you were going to," he paused, remembering Lorien's word, "to 'stop' in twenty years, I'd be the one struggling for control. Let it out. I'm here." She let him close his arms around her as all the emotions poured out. The flood was such that he had to hold her tight to stop her from falling, but as it diminished he reached up and stroked her hair and the crest that marked the only visible sign that she was not fully human. Eventually he felt her body begin to respond to his touch and she smiled at him.

   "Thank you." She reached up and stroked his face, and then ran her fingers through the short hair on the back of his head. He bent down to kiss her and this time he felt her give herself to him in a way he had not sensed since the first time he had kissed her on Centauri Prime. An event that lay in her future, after the birth of their son, and three years before his death.

   Her tongue was responsive and her mouth tasted sweet. As he pushed deeper into her he heard just the barest hint of a moan escape her. He let one hand roam across her back as the other held her against him. The sensation of his tongue forcing its way deep into her mouth sent an electric shock through her body and she felt herself respond in ways that had only been hinted at before. He always affected her, but the knowledge that tonight he would make love to her heightened all her senses. The sensations were odd. The only one she could clearly label was the ache that was developing between her legs. She dimly wondered if that was normal for a human and hoped John would be able to lead her through and know if anything was wrong. As he gently released her she looked up at him.

   "John. I've never..." she struggled to express herself for both their sakes. "I mean, this will be the first time..."

   He put his finger on her lips. "Shh. I guessed that. Do you trust me?"

   "With my life."

   "Then come with me." And he led her to the bedroom. "Dim lights." In the half light that now engulfed them he sat her down on the bed, undoing his laces and kicking off his shoes and socks. He turned to her and held her face in his hands. "If I do anything you don't like, you must tell me. Do you promise?" She nodded. What could he do that she wouldn't like? "And if I hurt you, tell me." Hurt her? Why would he do that? She frowned at him, searching for an explanation. "Sometimes the first time hurts a little, but it's OK." That explained the ache: it was normal. She smiled and nodded, stroking his hair away from his face.

   She was dressed in her formal ambassadorial clothes, and it occurred to him that she must have come to his rooms straight from a meeting. He wondered which planet warranted the undivided attention of the Minbari ambassador so late into the evening but reasoned that if it concerned him he would be told soon enough. Right now it wasn't that important. He reached for her dress fastening and then paused, contemplating the design and wondering what he had to do to open it. She followed his gaze.

   "Show me," he whispered, and she guided his hands to the catch, teaching him the release method. He put his hands inside the belt and moved them around her waist and then up her back. As he did so he kissed her cheek and then moved down to her throat, savouring the taste of her while pushing that first layer of clothing from her shoulders. His hands explored her inner garment but he could find no trace of a fastening. He paused and pulled back to look at her, and she guided his hand to a hidden cord which he untied. The dress was quite restrictive and could not be easily shrugged off, so he released her and watched as she stepped out of it and stood before him. He noticed that a human body had forced her into the use of human underwear and he smiled. This he understood. He pulled her back down beside him and felt her hands echo his own movements as he stroked across her back and around her waist.

   His hands on her bare skin sent new sensations through her. His skin was soft and warm under her touch and she started to map out his back with her fingers. She felt him arch slightly as she ran down his spine and brought her hands round his waist to explore his chest and stomach. He watched her as she stroked across his chest, a child-like expression of fascination spreading across her face as she felt his nipples harden under her touch. He reached around her back and unfastened the last barrier to her breasts, gently pulling it from her. She watched him cup her breasts in his hands, squeeze them, and then gasped as he bent down and closed his mouth around the nipple, sucking on it. His other hand kept up a steady stroking of the other breast as his tongue stroked across her, feeling the flesh harden in his mouth.

   She arched her back at the new feeling. Felt it spread out from her breasts and course through her, increasing the aching between her legs. His left hand released her breast as he moved his mouth over to it and he held her as his right hand roamed across her stomach and down to her thighs. He stroked the outside and moved up her side and across her breast, still wet from his kisses, before stroking down again and moving across the top of her legs. Her legs were together and he gently pushed his hand between them and eased them apart. His touch on the inside of her thighs was like fire and she reached out to stroke his legs, encountering his uniform trousers. He stopped to guide her hand to the belt buckle and help her release it. He then gently guided her hand over the front of his trousers so she could feel his arousal. He wanted her to know what she was doing to him and to be prepared when she saw him naked.

   She gasped as he closed her hand over his hardness and stroked her up and down. Then she reached up, unfastened the button and then released the zip. He moved his lips across her chest and back to her mouth as he raised himself enough for her to push his trousers down around his thighs. He then pushed them off and kicked them away. He continued to stroke between her thighs as his mouth roamed across her face, pausing on her eyes, her ears and then rising to her forehead. He wrapped his arms around her, and just held her for a while, revelling in the feel of her body pressed against his. He felt her kissing his throat and then move down to kiss his chest, and he released her to lie back on the bed. Her strong hands worked across his muscles, at the same time both relaxing him and heightening his arousal. Fascinated, he watched her teach him about himself. Her expression was so serious, so lost in concentration he wondered how much of this was simply learned and how much was becoming instinctive.

   He closed his eyes and took a deep breath which shuddered out of him as her hands moved down and she eased the last barrier between her and his whole body from him. He raised his hips enough to let her finish and then raised himself up on his elbows as he studied her face taking in his nakedness. He knew that as far as human physiology was concerned he looked pretty good. He'd lost some weight since Z'Ha'Dum ('dying does that to you,' he thought a little ruefully) and even Franklin had given up on suggesting any more of his diet plans. The energy Lorien had given him to keep him alive was also helping to keep him fit. But how did he look to a Minbari eye? He had sometimes wondered how human females could find the male body attractive in all its aspects, but now he found himself more uncertain than he had ever felt before, and he self-consciously began to sit up. She placed a restraining hand on his chest and he waited, studying her expression and wondering what was going through her mind.

   Delenn took in every detail of him. She had had the sense to look up human anatomy on the computer database when she first went through her transformation. She couldn't always ask Ivanova to help her, and besides, after the embarrassment of finding out from her the source of the 'odd cramps' she had taken it upon herself to find out everything she could before she asked some other poor innocent an even worse question. She knew the body before her was an excellent example of human physiology, and she thanked the powers of the universe for making this man her soul mate. She touched the soft skin inside his thighs and he closed his eyes as she took in the different textures. She seemed slightly nervous of touching his manhood and he caught her hand and gently closed her fingers around it, guiding and teaching her how to touch him. He released her and closed his eyes again, concentrating on her touch and his body's responses. He took a sharp intake of breath as her inexperience caused her to apply too much pressure to his testicles and he caught her hand.

   "Gently. They can't take rough handling." She pulled away. The last thing she wanted to do was hurt him, but he guided her hand back and smiled reassuringly. "Gently." She continued her exploration, now aware of his gaze upon her and both excited and disconcerted by the seriousness of his expression.

   After a while she stroked her hands back up his body and bent to kiss him. He caught her and pulled her to him, rolling her over so that his body was over hers. He pressed her down into the bed with his weight and a warm glow spread over her. She felt safe, protected, surrounded and guarded from the universe. She felt a growing urgency within her. She wanted to join with him, stop being a separate person and blend with him. She closed her arms tightly around him and her body began to move against him of its own volition. He felt her hips pressing against him and he stiffened even more.

   He rolled off her and reached down, pushing his hands across her belly and under the band of the final item of clothing which separated them. He paused, watching her expression, and then slipped both hands over her hips and slid down, taking the clothing with him. She lifted her hips, and a slight fear ran through her as her last protection was stripped away. Then she closed her eyes as his hands stroked back up her thighs. He slid his arms beneath her and lifted her onto the bed proper, settling down beside her. He then gazed at her in much the same way she had him. He devoured her with his eyes, taking in every detail, and marvelling at the perfection that was his.

   "Delenn, you're beautiful." He whispered and she opened her eyes. He stroked his hand over her body and down to her pelvis, pressing with the heel of his hand into the hair there but not seeking entry, yet. "I can hardly believe the fates have been so good to me. To let me love someone as wonderful as you and have you love me in return. After all the things I've done in my life, I don't feel I deserve it." He shook his head in wonder and stroked across her pelvis and the top of her thighs as he looked down into her face. She smiled at him.

   "I told you once before. The universe puts us in places where we need to be and can do the most good." He looked sceptical but didn't respond. "John. Never doubt that I love you. Never doubt your right to be here." She reached up and stroked the side of his face and he kissed the palm of her hand. "We have earned this. We were never meant to be apart. We're old souls, John, and we have known each other since the dawn of time." He smiled, nodding slightly, and leaned down, ending the conversation as his tongue once again explored the inside of her mouth.

   She slipped her arms around him and parted her legs more at the pressure of his hand. Her hands rubbed across his back and then she gasped as he pressed his fingers between her legs and stroked her clitoris. He smiled and kissed her throat, whispering to her.

   "You're wet." It was a simple statement of fact, yet it sent a shiver through her as she felt his fingers slip up and down, arousing her even more. He let his fingers explore her, feeling the heat, the wetness and the way her body stiffened under his touch. He slipped first one then two fingers into her, feeling the tightness and gently stretching her, ready to take him when the time came. She moaned and instinctively pressed down onto him. It was frightening and wonderful. She had never felt like this before but she wondered how much she could stand. Already she felt as though she would pass out from the pleasure and he felt her tense beneath him.

   "Shh. Relax and accept it. You're safe. I won't let you fall."

   "I don't think I can take much more," she gasped, and he smiled and increased the pressure slightly, feeling her shudder and her breath start to become ragged.

   "Yes you can. Let it go." Seeing her like this, losing control under his touch was too much and he rolled on top of her. She felt his body weight again, but this time his penis pressed against her and she felt him guide it between the lips of her vagina. Gently he began to press into her, caught between the desperate need to join with her and his fear that he would hurt her. He watched her face carefully, holding himself in by sheer force of will, working his way slowly into her. When he encountered resistance he paused and withdrew a little.

   "Delenn. This is going to hurt a little." She opened her eyes and saw the worry on his face. "I have to break through. You must relax and let me in. The more you relax, the easier it'll be." He felt the tensions leave her body as she concentrated on doing as he asked. He smiled, pressed forward again, withdrew, and then thrust into her. She gasped and her face registered the pain. He stroked her hair away, feeling the sweat forming on her forehead. She looked up at him and then closed her eyes again as he withdrew slightly before pushing deeper into her. She tensed. The pain had been enough to cause her eyes to sting and he wiped the tear from her cheek.

   "It's all right. It'll pass. Just relax and let it go." Trusting him to know her body better than she did herself she concentrated and felt the pain begin to ebb, to be replaced by a pleasure she had never known before.

   His first steady movements were enough to ease the passage. He held himself to gentle movements at first, but as he felt her body respond more and more urgently, so he felt himself begin to lose control.

   "Oh God, Delenn. It's been so long." He buried himself in her neck, kissing, licking and sucking her, but soon he was forced to pull himself up, both to make it easier to thrust into her, and to catch his breath. He felt her respond, but a little clumsily. She mimicked him to the point where she was making it hard for him to get as deep as he wanted. He reached down with one hand and held her hips still, and then guided her so that she was acting against his pressure and not with him. She found her voice.

   "Deeper," she gasped. He didn't want to hurt her, but that encouragement could not be ignored. He repositioned himself and thrust into her, angling himself to stroke over her clitoris at the same time. The gasp and groan that escaped her made him open his eyes and look at her face. He'd hurt her. She was swallowing the pain, refusing to let it out, and he eased up again, relaxing as he saw the pleasure return to her.

   "Hmmm. Better?"

   "Yes. Please...don't stop."

   Delenn had spoken without thought. It was the urgent desire that her body had forced her to express, but she had not been ready. Yet in the aftermath of the pain there had come more pleasure, and she knew that each time it became easier. Looking up she saw the sweat beading on his forehead and the tension in the muscles of his neck and chest. His eyes were closed and as he pushed into her more and more urgently she heard grunts of effort escape him. When he repositioned himself again and rubbed over her clitoris on each thrust she arched her back and closed her eyes, revelling in the excruciating pleasure that coursed through her. Inarticulate sounds filled the room as they lost themselves in each other. Just as she began to feel a pressure build up in her she felt him reach a peak. Suddenly his hands gripped her tightly, his whole body stiffened and he let out a moan, holding himself deep inside her. She gripped him as tightly as she could, stroking and holding him as he shuddered into her. As the tension left him he collapsed onto her, and she could feel his heart pounding in his chest. His breathing was ragged in her ear as he kissed her, and she closed her arms around him and held him tightly. Almost like a mother holding her child she felt the love she had for him surge in her breast as though she would burst. It was almost painful to love a man, or anyone, this much. Her own body was forgotten. Right then, John needed her just to hold him as he recovered himself, and that she was more than glad to do. She felt him slip out of her despite her efforts to hold him there, and she felt the loss intensely. She was unwilling to let him go, but he gently pushed himself away and lifted himself to lie beside her. He stroked her face, smiled and kissed her, and then whispered

   "Now it's your turn." What more could there be? She had already felt emotions unlike anything she had ever experienced. What other pleasures waited for her? He brushed his hand over her breasts, stiffening the nipples once more, and then he reached down and rubbed the inside of her thighs. He slipped his arm under her neck.

   "Come closer, I want to have you close when you come." He was still breathing heavily, but he was getting it under control, and he wanted to bring her to her own orgasm as soon as possible. He wanted to watch her lose control in his arms the way he had just done so in hers. She pressed herself to him, feeling the muscle of his arm flex under her shoulders as he made them both comfortable. Then she looked up at him, confused.

   "'Come'?"

   He smiled, brushing her hair away from her eyes. "It's when you can no longer control yourself. Orgasm. I'm afraid I couldn't wait for you," he looked a little sheepish. "I'll do better next time. But now I can give you the same pleasure you've given me."

   "John, I don't...oh!" She caught her breath as his fingers slipped between her legs again and he began to stroke her, concentrating on the small point on which her whole body quickly became centred.

   "Shh. Close your eyes." And he pulled her tightly against him, watching the emotions play across her face. Uncertainty, amazement, and a kind of excruciating pleasure which caused her to arch in his arms. He held her tightly and concentrated on his task. There was a lot to be said for this. It meant he could actually watch her and enjoy seeing the pleasure he was giving her echoed on her face and through her body. It was great when he could hold on long enough for his partner (he was trying desperately to keep the thought of Anna from his mind) to come at the same time as he was in her, but somehow it seemed right that each of them should see the other lose themselves while they were still more or less in control. The 'true face' idea had taken on a whole new meaning! He used the juices her body was creating to make it easier for him to keep up the steady stimulation, delighting in the little moans and whimpers that escaped her. He felt her grow stiff under his touch and he increased the speed slightly.

   She couldn't believe the sensations she was feeling. White hot fire was burning in her. His touch made her legs move involuntarily, twitching in response to his fingers. She was dimly aware of the heat of his body pressed up against hers, his voice, low, insistent, and whispered just for her, encouraging her, describing the feelings he saw passing through her, and reminding her how much he loved and wanted her. His rubbing was insistent, and just when she thought she couldn't stand any more he pressed slightly harder and increased the speed at which he rubbed her. Her heart was pounding, she couldn't seem to breathe, and she felt the tension and pressure build up in her. Something had to give. Either he would stop or she would pass out. There could be nothing else. And then, the something else happened. A wash of release that started small, like a fuse ignited by his touch, and then exploded through her entire system.

   "John!" he kept rubbing her and she heard his urgent whisper

   "That's it. Come. Come." His breathing was growing faster, and she became dimly aware of the fact that her orgasm had excited him. He stopped rubbing her and she felt him roll on top of her and enter her again. His body within her felt more right than anything she could have imagined. The first experience of him took on a whole new dimension as her orgasm brought him to another climax, and his response completed her own release. All the emotions she had seen on his face, the way his body had reacted, everything now made sense. The feeling of him grinding himself deeply into her as he came made her feel complete. An entire side of her existence had been returned and now everything felt right.

   The tension released they both slowed their movements. She looked into his face to see him smiling down at her, more passion and love in his eyes than she had ever seen before. He slowly eased himself back and to a few times, his passage now smooth, then he lowered himself onto her and she felt the full weight of his body, the sound of his breathing, and the slowing thud of his heart in his chest. He too felt her body slowly come back under her control. He buried himself in her hair, breathing deeply of the scent of her, now stronger because of their exertions. He stroked his tongue down her neck under her ear and tasted the salt, then worked his way over to her lips, and their mouths completed the joining of their bodies.

   This was a slow, passionate but less urgent kiss. Deep and full. When he released her he collapsed and just lay there, feeling himself withdraw from her as her inner muscles gripped him rhythmically. After a while he pulled himself up onto his elbows and looked at her. The sparkle in her eyes was all he needed to see, but he couldn't resist a joke

   "Didn't like it, huh?" His smile was so broad and the laughter in his eyes so infectious that she chuckled before becoming deadly serious.

   "John. I have never felt anything like this. I had no idea I could feel this way. Thank you." and suddenly the love became too much and she began to cry. He wasn't startled. He knew why and he did the only thing he had ever found worked in this situation. He held her as tightly as he could and waited for the sobs to subside, as he knew they soon would. Sure enough, she was soon smiling again, although she looked rather confused. He rolled off her to lie beside her. She turned to face him, but he shook his head.

   "Other side. Roll over." She did as she was told, and was delighted when he wrapped his arms around her from behind, pressing his body up against hers and putting one leg over her, covering and warming her. Suddenly the room did feel a little cold, and she shivered. He released her for a second to catch hold of the sheet which had been pushed to the foot of the bed by their activity, and pulled it over them, snuggling up against her again. She covered his arms with her own, kissing the hand that he stroked briefly across her face, and sighed into his touch.

   "Hmmm. That feels wonderful. You know just what I want, even when I don't know myself." She thought for a moment. "How is that?" He snorted and she stopped him. "No. It's not just that you have done this before and I have not, I am sure not every human female reacts in exactly the same way, any more than every Minbari does. We are all different."

   "You know why. We're twin souls. We're in tune with each other and we respond to each other's messages. You were responding to mine, yet you've never done this before."

   "But I didn't think about that. It just happened."

   "Exactly." He kissed her throat and pressed her closer to him.

   "Why did I cry?" It was such a plaintive question he felt his heart give a startling thump. "I wasn't feeling sad. I don't know how I was feeling. But suddenly I was crying. I have never done that before."

   "You've never felt any of these things before. It's a lot to cope with. You'll have to ask Franklin about the hormonal aspect, but I think it's just any excess of emotion, whether it be sadness or happiness or whatever, makes us cry. I've done it before now when I've been happy."

   "Really?"

   "Uh huh." He squeezed her again. She was about to ask more when he stopped her.

   "Shh. Rest now. We can do a psychoanalyses later when my brain cells are functioning properly." She was going to ask how his brain might be affected but thought better of it. She felt warm and safe and comfortable, and suddenly she felt remarkably tired. Soon their breathing slowed and they slept, oblivious to anything outside their own small world.

 

Chapter Three

 

Ivanova was just about to go off shift and was closing some files on the computer in the captain's office when Marcus came in.

    "Any more problems?" he asked, flipping through some reports lying on a desk.

   "If you mean has anyone else decided to park in the fast lane, the answer is no." She shut down the last report and looked at him. "How did you know about the captain?" He raised an eyebrow at her. Surely she wasn't that obtuse. He didn't consider himself that knowledgeable when it came to emotional involvement, but even he could see that Entil'Zha and Captain Sheridan belonged together. When he saw her outside his door earlier as he walked to the Zocalo, and heard the note in Sheridan's voice over the comm link it didn't take a genius to put two and two together. She regarded him levelly for a minute. "OK, OK. But why tonight?"

   "Why not?"

   "I hate that answer. I can think of a dozen reasons why neither of them would be able to turn off today's problems enough to enjoy each other's company."

   "Which is precisely why it was a good time. Besides, with the first war over I think it only fair for the universe to give both of them a chance. The captain's been getting irritable of late, and even Entil'Zha has been looking tired.

   "I bet they look tired tomorrow!" was Ivanova's irreverent retort.

   "I don't plan to notice." She looked at him and saw a warning there. They'd also earned some privacy and, as the two second in commands (Lennier was Delenn's bureaucratic support, Marcus her political one as the Ranger reporting to her directly as Entil'Zha) it would be their job to ensure that neither Sheridan nor Delenn found themselves the subject of popular speculation and discussion. There was no reason why the Captain of the station and the Minbari ambassador could not have as much peace and quiet as the ambassadors of other worlds, or other members of the staff. Nevertheless, Ivanova found herself resenting Marcus's implied judgement of her. Before she could give him one of her more acerbic responses there was an interruption from C & C.

   "Commander. There's an important message for Ambassador Delenn."

   Ivanova raised her eye's heavenwards. "Send it to me. I'll forward it."

   "Sir. It specifically says it is for the Ambassador."

   "I don't care if it says it's a private message for God inscribed on stone tablets. The Ambassador is not available at the moment. Now either it can wait, or I take it."

   "Yes, sir" and the message was forwarded. Ivanova instructed the computer to access it and was greeted by a worried and then angered Minbari.

   "Where is the ambassador?" the face demanded.

   "I'm afraid ambassador Delenn is not available at this time. I am the first officer of Babylon 5. May I help you?"

   "If I wanted you I would have asked for you, whoever you are. I demand to speak to the ambassador." Before Ivanova could tell the Minbari what he could do with his request Marcus stepped up to the screen.

   "Greetings Kadenn. May I be of assistance? The ambassador is at present engaged in extremely important and urgent diplomatic relations. I do not think either she or the Council would welcome a breakdown in those negotiations," 'well, he was telling a partial truth' he mused, 'and Sheridan always said it was a good idea to wrap a lie up in the truth if you want the object of your deceit to swallow it.' Aloud he added, "but I suppose I could barge in there if the security of Minbar was at stake." He made as if preparing to go, but Kadenn raised his hand

   "All right, I will talk to you but," and he looked warningly at Ivanova, "In private."

   Ivanova shrugged and made for the door. "Fine by me. Have fun," and the door closed behind her.

   Marcus turned back to Kadenn. "I have received a message from the Sisters of Valeria. Apparently, ambassador Delenn's mother is extremely ill. Because of the 'unusual'" at this Kadenn wrinkled his nose as if he smelled something unpleasant. Marcus schooled his features, refusing to rise to Kadenn's insult. "circumstances of the ambassador's change it has been decided that she may attend her mother as it is deemed probable that she will not live more than a few days. At the request of the sisters we have sent a faster ship to bring the ambassador home. It will arrive in approximately eight hours. I suggest you ensure the ambassador is ready to depart. Kadenn out." And the link went abruptly dead, leaving Marcus wondering quite how he was going to break the news to Delenn. He tapped the comm unit and Lennier's face appeared on the screen.

   "Marcus. How may I be of assistance? I'm afraid Entil'Zha is not available at present."

   "I know. We need to talk. I'll be there shortly. Marcus out." Perhaps they could leave Delenn for a few hours. Lennier would know what sort of things she would want and could ensure everything was ready so that she could leave the minute the transport arrived. Meantime, why tell her about something she could do nothing about? She would have plenty of time to worry on the transport. Marcus swept out of Sheridan's office, catching Ivanova's eye as she turned from her station. She raised an eyebrow in query and he shook his head, his face mirroring the unpleasantness of his task. She stepped out of C & C with him.

   "What is it?"

   "Her mother is dying. Apparently, the Sisters of Valeria have decided that Entil'Zha's transformation is of such significance that they're prepared to break their seclusion to permit a last visit. Her mother has never seen her as she is now. They're sending a fast ship to collect her. It'll be here in about eight hours."

   "Jeez! When is the universe going to give us a break? What are we? A cosmic cat-toy? You're not going to tell her now, are you?"

   "No. There's no point. I've told Lennier to expect us. He can make all the preparations. We can leave them for a few hours more."

   "And then who's going to tell her?"

   Marcus stared at his feet. "I will."

*****

Delenn stretched and, for a minute, was at a loss as to where she was. She was lying flat. How could that be? She started and then felt strong arms restraining her. She glanced down and then remembered what had happened. She smiled and turned in his embrace to look at him. John was still asleep and she studied his features. There were some slight changes. A few more lines across his face, some more grey in his hair, but in sleep he still had that innocence she had seen in him so long ago. Long before the sleeping ritual she had seen that boyish quality in him. For all he was Starkiller, to look at him now you'd think he would find it hard to kill a fly, much less a ship full of people. She frowned. A war that would not have happened had the two peoples had as much understanding as she now had with John. She chuckled. Of course, she wasn't suggesting the two races literally climb into bed with each other, but now that she knew humans she was horrified at her own part in that war. He was a soldier, and a soldier's job was to fight and kill the enemy. He probably hadn't even seen a Minbari when he destroyed the Black Star. She, on the other hand, had been there when the fatal error happened. Her voice had been one of the loudest screaming for blood and revenge. If only she had known. In her ignorance she could have helped to kill him and she would never have known. All this happiness would have been denied her and she'd probably have ended her days a diplomat to another planet, or living in cloisters. No. She remembered the words of Sebastian: "You are the right people, in the right place, at the right time." For all the pain that truth had cost them both, she was glad of the knowledge. She stroked his tousled hair away from his face and kissed him. He stirred but didn't wake up. In his sleep he hugged her tightly for a second and then released her and rolled over onto his other side. She slipped out from under the covers to visit the bathroom.

   Upon turning on the light she was mildly disconcerted to see the evidence of her first sexual encounter, but the memory brought a warm smile to her face and she slipped into the shower. The hot water washed over her and she gloried in the sensation. Ever since Ivanova had introduced her to human methods of cleaning she had found it harder and harder to stick to her Minbari training. Her new body did not respond well to her old cosmetics with their ritualistic skin-stripping abilities. Indeed, after a while it had become necessary to seek out Franklin as her skin had become very sore. He pointed out that while Minbari skin might be quite happy to lose several layers a day, human skin was used to being encouraged to remain in place. He'd given her some salve and the excellent advice that she reconsider her approach in view of her transformation. She now restricted her ritual ablutions to once a month, while enjoying the comfort of a human shower every morning. Of course, this was John's shower, and as she wiped the water from her eyes she became aware not only of the smells around her, but the soaps and shampoo that caused them. She opened the bottle and sniffed. She had smelled that on John's hair as they made love, and on several occasions before. She associated it with him and she carefully measured out some for herself.

   As she stood with her eyes closed and shampoo washing down her face she was suddenly aware of a slight draft. She ignored it, but then jumped as hands surrounded her from behind. He hugged her to him and kissed her neck. Rinsing the last of the shampoo from her face she turned and looked at him. In the cramped space of the shower there was no where they could stand without blinking the water from their eyes, but neither of them cared. He grabbed the soap and began to rub it over her, then offered it to her. Working up a lather they began to wash each other. She reached for the shampoo and rubbed some into his hair. He stood there, eyes closed, letting her do whatever she wanted. Finishing with the shampoo she let her hands wander over his body, leaving no spot untouched by the lather. As the water cascaded over them she found she needed more soap, but it slipped from her hands and he caught her before she could retrieve it.

   "Never mind," he said, "leave it. I have a better idea." As his mouth closed over hers she forgot all about the soap.

*****

"So. When do we tell her?"

   "I have packed everything I believe the ambassador will require," said Lennier in his quietly efficient voice. "I believe we can wait until two hours before the ship arrives, but then she will need to be informed. There are some things I cannot do. I also feel she would want the time to bid goodbye to the Captain rather than just having to simply leave in hurry."

   Lennier, understanding and protective as always, showed not the least resentment that the person he cared about above any other was, at that moment, in the arms of another. His love was, as he had explained to Delenn on one occasion, not of a sexual nature. It transcended that. His heart ached for the pain she was about to go through, and he did not envy Marcus his task. He had dutifully offered to pass on the message, but was relieved when Marcus said he thought he should do it as it was he who had first received it. Ivanova had returned to C & C, all thoughts of bed abandoned until such time as the Minbari ship had docked and collected its cargo. She could always catch a couple of hours later and things were fairly quiet at the moment (barring occasional visits from Psi Corps of course!). Anyway, she had the awful feeling she would be needed, and her worry was enough to make the notion of sleep an impossibility anyway.

   'God. I hope they're enjoying themselves.' She thought. 'I'd hate to think we were going through all this for nothing.'

*****

At that moment Delenn and John were in the process of raiding the 'fridge in his quarters. He had a towel around his waist and was barefooted. He had given her his dressing gown, which was too big for her, but she sat by the counter wrapped in it, watching him sort through the contents of the kitchen trying to find anything that shouldn't have been condemned long before. Orange juice was there a-plenty, and they both found they had a remarkable thirst. Bread, some cheese and some ham had proved acceptable and they had settled down opposite to each other, munching their way through the lot.

   The conversation ranged widely. He told her some terrible joke he'd heard in the Zocalo, and she'd responded by relating some comment she'd overheard which she had found impossible to comprehend. It was not that the words made no sense, but that, out of context, they sounded so bizarre. He'd almost choked on his sandwich and had gulped more juice before laughing again.

   As they finished their snack she caught his eyes and they both just gazed at each other for a while. Their eyes were sparkling: partly with the laughter, but mostly with the easy company and love they had found. He took her hand in his and kissed it: first on the back as he had so long ago in gratitude for her timely arrival to drive away President Clark's latest attempt to steal Babylon Five out from under him; then he turned it over and kissed the palm, lingering there and stroking across it with his tongue. He looked up at her to gauge her reaction. He saw her close her eyes and smile. The washing-up could wait, he thought, and he came around the counter, scooping her up in his arms to carry her back to the bedroom.

   "John. You're insatiable!" she admonished.

   "'S'all your fault." He muttered indistinctly as he kissed her throat. "You shouldn't be so damned attractive."

   "There won't be anything left of me at this rate!" She was laughing. "Security will come in to find out what has happened to us and will find we have disappeared completely."

   He laid her down on the bed and pushed the dressing gown off her shoulder as he kissed her again. "Good. I won't have to read any more reports or deal with any more idiots!"

   "But we will no longer exist!"

    "What a way to go!" He muttered, kissing her again as he undid the belt of her dressing gown and tossed his own towel to one side. The Minbari ship was just over three hours away.

 

Chapter Four

 

"OK. We can't leave them any longer." It was Marcus who spoke. "Ivanova, may I use the captain's office?" She nodded, and he stepped into the room, waiting until the door lowered itself into place before trying to page the captain's quarters. As he waited for the reply he steeled himself for the reaction. He was not going to be popular, but it couldn't be helped. He knew they'd understand once they heard his reasons.

   When the communicator went off in his quarters, Sheridan and Delenn were sleeping quietly. Cursing Ivanova, Sheridan rolled over and got out of bed. Grabbing his dressing gown off the floor where he had tossed it earlier, he was finishing belting it as he reached the communications console. He didn't want to take the message in his bedroom for fear of disturbing Delenn, and now he was out here he might as well look into the eyes of the person he was going to space for disturbing him.

   "There'd better be a damned good reason for this, commander," he said, pulling the belt tight with an irritated yank before looking up at the screen. He paused. "Marcus? What's the problem?" There was something about the set of Marcus' jaw which warned Sheridan before the words were spoken that there was bad news coming.

   "I'm sorry to disturb you captain, but I'm afraid this couldn't wait. I received a message for Entil'Zha six hours ago. I'm afraid it's not good news, Captain. There's a ship making its way here from Minbar to collect her. Her mother is dying and they want her to come at once." Sheridan heard a gasp behind him and turned to see Delenn, wrapped in a sheet, stagger at the door to the bedroom. Torn between going to help her and letting Marcus know who was with him he turned back to the screen, but saw Marcus already knew. "Lennier has packed as much as he could, but he felt that Entil'Zha would need a couple of hours to prepare herself for the ship's arrival."

   John felt Delenn's hand touch his arm and he turned to look at her. She had recovered herself enough to speak to Marcus directly. "Thank you, Marcus. Your consideration is much appreciated." The official face was back in place, although out of sight of the comm screen Sheridan felt Delenn's fingers seeking his. He reached out to her and felt her hand close on his and grip him tightly. She was drawing all her composure from that grip and he returned it, willing her the strength to cope with this new blow. "Who gave you the message?"

   "Kadenn. I'm afraid he wasn't very forthcoming. He just said that the Sisters of Valeria felt you should be brought at once. They are prepared to relax their normal injunction against visits from outside in view of your transformation. They're sending the fastest ship they have. I'm sorry, Entil'Zha. Is there anything I can do?" Though Marcus had learned well the training of the Minbari, his carefully schooled features still betrayed the distress he felt at being the bearer of such news.

   Delenn felt sorry for him and that feeling, for a moment, overcame her own misery. "I'm sure Lennier has prepared everything very well. Could you ask him to bring my travelling robes to the captain's quarters?" Sheridan looked at her for a minute and she smiled a little wanly and shrugged – a look that meant 'Why not?' He put his arm around her shoulders, gripping her tightly. Her admission to Marcus of the change in her situation implied in that request, combined with her personal reaffirmation emboldened him to confirm that change, and he was gratified to see the young Ranger showed no surprise, but merely nodded in his calm and measured way.

   "Marcus." Sheridan stopped the young man before he could turn off the link.

   "Captain?"

   "Thank you." Sheridan's tone carried his meaning, and the Ranger affected a slight smile, though it didn't touch his eyes.

   "I only wish I had not had to disturb you at all. I'll give Lennier your message, Entil'Zha." and he gave a slight bow before turning off the link.

   The second the screen went blank Delenn sagged in Sheridan's arms and he helped her back to the sofa. She sat there, shaking, while he tried to find any words that could help her. Of course there were none, so he simply put his arm around her and felt her lean into him. She didn't cry. Numbed with the shock she simply leant against him and stared at the opposite wall. His chest ached, and his face reflected the pain he was feeling to see her like this. Silently he tried to console her with his presence. The door chime went off and he looked up.

   "Come." It was Lennier. He had Delenn's robes in a box that normally would have held official papers. Sheridan smiled inwardly. Trust the aide to be discreet as well as efficient. Lennier placed the clothes on the table and then went to the kitchen and prepared some tea. Still, Delenn did nothing but just sit and stare, and Sheridan stayed with her as Lennier brought two cups over to them. He gave one to Sheridan and then sat on the low table in front of Delenn so she had to look at him. After a few seconds she shifted her focus and looked at the tea he proffered. It seemed to take time for her to register the purpose of the substance and Sheridan watched anxiously, waiting for her to respond. He squeezed her to him.

   "C'mon Delenn. Take a sip. It'll do you good," he urged. She turned and looked at him with eyes that had nothing behind them, and then took the tea and stared into the cup for a while before drinking, automaton-like, and then lowering her hands to her lap again. He sipped his own and wordlessly thanked Lennier with a nod. They both watched as Delenn sipped the tea again and visibly began to pull herself together. After a few minutes she looked up again, her eyes no longer vacant but instead mirroring the pain she was holding within her.

   "Thank you, Lennier." She pulled herself up a bit and Sheridan gently eased his arm from around her as he sensed her moving into her official mode. She paused while she reoriented herself and then looked Lennier straight in the eye. "Have you cancelled my meetings for the next week?"

   "I have."

   "Were there any problems?"

   "None I could not handle, Delenn." Sheridan smiled grimly. He would have happily bet that some had complained quite bitterly at being put off, and Lennier would not have told them why since it was a personal matter. He wondered how the young man had managed. He could use some of that skill himself. Delenn's expression matched Sheridan's, and he realised she was thinking the same thing.

   "I'm sure. Have you collected the papers I will need to do en route?"

   "Delenn. I'm sure officialdom can wait for a while," Sheridan began, but she silenced him.

   "It will keep my mind occupied, which is never a bad thing in situations like this. I will be able to get most of them out of the way before I arrive at Minbar. At least I will not have the thought of all that paperwork awaiting my return." Turning back to Lennier she added, "You will have to remain here to keep an eye on things while I am gone." Sheridan started. He hadn't thought she would make this journey alone.

   "Do you want me to come with you?" he asked solicitously. She shook her head.

   "You have enough to do here. And besides, you would never be allowed within the grounds. I'm afraid you are still not very popular on Minbar, John. There would be no point in your coming all that way merely to kick your heels in the spaceship while I take care of things below." He noticed she was carefully avoiding any direct reference to the reason for her activity, and he understood it, acquiescing without argument. She looked straight into his eyes. "And don't forget you will have a visitor shortly." He stared at her for a moment and then smacked his forehead in remembrance.

   "Hell! Bester. I'd forgotten. Lennier, can you get in contact with Lyta Alexander while we are preparing and see if she can come back ASAP? I'd like to know what that bastard's up to while he's here. I won't be caught out again by his half answers." Delenn interrupted.

   "And I don't think it would hurt having Lyta here from a psychological perspective. I think the fact that he cannot read her makes Mr. Bester uncomfortable. With someone who so likes to be in control of the situation that kind of destabilisation can have its advantages."

   "So long as we don't send him over the edge."

   "He's too disciplined for that," she reassured him. "His reaction to losing control of a situation is to pull the reins in tighter, even when chaos is on the other end." He considered that statement for a second, weighing it against his experiences with Bester. She was right and he grunted his agreement before turning back to Lennier who picked up the conversation.

   "I will do as you ask. Is there anything else?" Delenn shook her head and Lennier turned to Sheridan, but the latter was looking at Delenn and didn't notice him. Lennier bowed and left.

   As soon as Lennier was out of the room Delenn stood up and picked up the clothes he had left behind.

   "John. May I use your bathroom again?" It was a silly question and she knew it, but suddenly it felt as if everything that had happened in the past few hours had never been. He stood up and gripped her shoulders, forcing her to look into his face.

   "I'm here if you need me. You know that. I'll see to it that you have a communications relay so you can call me from Minbar at any time. Privately." He paused and looked down for a minute before gathering himself again. "I'm sorry tonight had to end like this." He gave a half-smile. "The universe never seems to give us a break, does it?"

   "No. But I'm glad we had those few hours together first, John. I will have happy memories to take with me at least." Her eyes became defocused for a few seconds, and then she looked back at him. "We have good friends."

   "Uh huh," he nodded. He pulled her into his arms and held her tight. "I love you, Delenn. Never forget that." He felt her return his embrace, and there was a hint of desperation in it before she pushed away and looked into his eyes.

   "And I you. More than you will ever know." They stood for a moment, silently communicating their feelings, before she turned away. "I must get dressed. I haven't much time." She went to bathroom as Sheridan called up Ivanova.

   "Captain?"

   "Commander. Get a communications relay ready for ambassador Delenn. I want her to be able to get in touch with Babylon Five without having to resort to official channels should she require it."

   "No trouble. Anything else?"

   "Yes." He held her gaze for a moment. "Thank-you for waiting as long as you did, Susan. I won't forget that. Sheridan out." And he closed the channel.

   Ivanova stood, staring at the Babcom logo. "If I'd had my way we would never have had to disturb you at all," she muttered.

   "Commander?" It was the Lieutenant at the communications desk.

   "Hmm?"

   "Communication from the Minbari ship, the Deraal. They estimate their ETA at fifty two minutes and want to know if the ambassador will be ready for them."

   "Tell them she'll be ready and waiting. We'll shuttle her over the minute they arrive."

   "Understood commander."

   "Hendrix. When you've finished that, order up a communications relay to be sent with the ambassador. Oh, and you might add a hand link as well. That way she won't have to take the whole lot down to the planet with her." She thought for a minute. "Actually, make that two."

   If he wondered at the request, Hendrix didn't show it. "Aye, Sir." He turned back to the communications console. "Babylon Five to Minbari cruiser Deraal..."

   Ivanova turned back to her station, but her mind was not on her work and after a few minutes she gave up. "Hendrix. Take over. I'm going down to the shuttle bay."

   "Aye Commander." Hands behind her back Ivanova strode from C & C, trying to look more in control than she felt.

   When Delenn finally emerged from the bedroom she looked composed and ready for her journey. Sheridan, having showered once she finished with the bathroom, and now dressed in his uniform, admired her as she met his gaze. 'Every inch the ambassador again, even in her travelling clothes' he thought. She stepped up to him and put her arms around him. He held her tightly, trying to imprint the memory on his mind.

   "You'll call me once you arrive?"

   "Of course."

   "I'll miss you." She nodded, but said nothing, just squeezed him a little more. The door chime sounded again and Sheridan wondered for a second if he should release her before responding. When he began to relax his grip she continued to hold him and he realised that, whoever it was, Delenn didn't care anymore. Wrapping his arms around her even more tightly he rested his cheek against her head and acknowledged the chime. As the door slid open he looked over to see Marcus waiting.

   "The Deraal has arrived, Entil'Zha. There's a shuttle waiting if you're ready to go." With a parting squeeze she stepped back, straightening her clothes a little before giving Sheridan a half-hearted smile and turning to Marcus. Sheridan picked up his link from the kitchen counter and pressed it to the back of his hand as he followed her out.

   Down in the shuttle bay, Lennier was just finishing putting her things aboard the shuttle. As Delenn moved toward the airlock Marcus stepped forward.

   "Entil'Zha? Would you like me to come with you?" She stopped and thought for a while. His company might be very welcome, particularly on the return journey, but while she was with the Sisters of Valeria he would be left doing nothing. There was no point in making him waste time, although she knew he would never regard it as such. He seemed to sense what was going through her mind.

   "I have to get some things done on Minbar anyway, so it wouldn't be any trouble."

   "I think that's a good idea, Delenn." Sheridan added while Ivanova nodded her assent. "I'd feel safer knowing you had Marcus with you, and he can relay any messages and keep us up to date on the situation. You won't have to worry yourself." He willed her to accept the offer and visibly relaxed when she relented.

   "All right. It will be good to have the company." She smiled at Sheridan, and then disappeared into the shuttle, followed by Marcus. As they left the shuttle bay, Ivanova tried to reassure the captain.

   "They'll be OK, Captain. Marcus'll keep an eye on them."

   Sheridan nodded. "Did you give them the communications relay I requested?"

   "Uh huh. And I gave them both hand links." He raised an eyebrow and she grinned. "Marcus and I had already decided she wasn't going alone."

   "Does he have business on Minbar?"

   "Well, as a Ranger I would've thought he could always find some reason to visit Minbar, but nothing specific that I know of. No."

   "Commander. You're sneaky. I like that!"

   "Thank you, Sir. We aim to please." Feeling far more comfortable than he had since the news of Delenn's mother had reached him two hours before, Sheridan marched out of the hanger and barely noticed as the heavy airlock doors swung closed behind him.

   The shuttle trip to the Deraal was quick and it was not long before the jump-gate was being activated for the cruiser's departure. Delenn went to her quarters and settled down to dealing with the papers Lennier had given her. Once everything was stowed and he had been shown his own quarters, Marcus decided to take a look around the ship. He felt the familiar pull of the cruiser entering the gate as he walked down a corridor. It would be a long journey, if not in fact then in feeling, but he always enjoyed reacquainting himself with the Minbari ships. The White Stars were beautiful, and their elegant lines spoke of their combined heritage. Whatever else he thought of the Vorlons, he would forever be grateful for those graceful parting gifts, even if the Vorlons had never intended them to be so. But the pure Minbari cruisers still had a certain something about them. An austere majesty that the White Stars, by their very nature as fighters, could never emulate, 'though they got very close in places. As he turned a corner he suddenly felt a chill go through him.

   "What the hell?"

   "Hello, Mr. Cole. I'm afraid we really can't have you getting in the way of things." Marcus had the oddest sensation. As if a hand were closing about his mind, shutting down his thoughts one by one. His last thought before unconsciousness was 'I thought Bester was supposed to be on his way to Centauri Prime?'

   Delenn was on her fifth report when the cabin chime rang. Assuming it was Marcus she didn't even look up as she said 'Come in'. The cold hand that closed itself firmly on her shoulder, the fingers touching the bare skin of her neck came as something of a shock, therefore. But that was nothing to the feeling of someone stepping into her thoughts. Horrified, she tried to shake free, but the first thing Bester had done was shut down her motor control and she was powerless to respond to him. He smiled, his un-gloved hand keeping contact with her skin, stroking across her neck as he moved around her chair to look into her eyes.

   He sensed her futile efforts to resist him, as well as the horror her failure was generating. He always found it intoxicating to know he could affect someone this way, but to affect such a powerful someone held an added pleasure. The satisfied curl to his lips made Delenn shudder, if not physically, then mentally, and the curl increased. "No. You cannot fight me. You cannot hide from me. In fact, there's nothing you can do except surrender." She felt ice run down her spine. "Relax. You might enjoy it." His eyes widened a little and he raised one quizzical eyebrow before rewarding her thoughts with another smile. "Hmm. Yes, I suppose it *is* something like rape. An interesting thought. I wonder what other interesting thoughts you're hiding in there, ambassador?" She felt him bear down into her and she silently screamed.

*****

"Is the Deraal safely on its way?" asked Sheridan as he entered C & C.

   "Yes, sir. Entered the jump gate just a few minutes ago."

   "Good. Commander. Would you care to join me in Earheart's? I could use a drink."

   Ivanova nodded, "Sure. I went off duty seven hours ago anyway." He looked at her for a second, and then motioned for her to precede him out the door of C & C.

   As they walked through the station they chatted about the various problems that a station in Babylon Five's situation generated – chronically short of funds since the blockade, desperate for news of home, and filled with enough differences of opinion to make small scale flare-ups inevitable, and larger scale incidents conspicuous by their absence. As usual, the population of the station stepped aside to let them through. Ivanova noticed Sheridan's somewhat rueful expression as one more person apologised for nothing more than crossing his shadow. Of course, it was Sheridan's presence that kept many from reacting more violently than they might, but it was also the story of his death and apparent resurrection that had attracted a number of species to the station to add to its already overcrowded status. Add to that the influx of those who had come to fight in the Shadow War and were awaiting news of loved ones, ships and, in some desperate cases, the populations of entire planets, and it was hardly surprising that tensions often ran high. That they rarely overflowed was a tribute to the respect and awe in which Sheridan seemed to be held. Nevertheless, it was a position he resented, and the more he encountered it, the more his nerves seemed to be put on edge. He remembered Lorien saying they needed something, and his own response 'Not me.' Yet whether he acknowledged it or not there seemed no way to avoid it. The best he could do was keep so stern an expression in place that no one actually tried to converse with him outside those who had always known him and were, apparently, impervious to the deification he was experiencing from other quarters. Ivanova noted that the stern expression was turning positively angry. Doubtless a combination of his usual bad-temper in the face of this typical response, and his unease and concern for Delenn. She decided to break the tension before he broke something (or someone!).

   "Hey, c'mon Captain. It has its advantages. For one thing I get served quicker when I'm with you."

   He snorted. "Commander, if you're starting to see the positive side of ANY situation, I'll resign my post on Babylon Five. I might as well have some fun before the universe grinds to the inevitable halt that would follow such a monumental change." He continued to stare straight ahead, but she could see a slight difference in the set of his jaw. That awareness was swiftly followed by a sudden realisation that she had just been the victim of yet another attack on her Russian based approach to life.

   "Hey!" As they entered Earheart's and official business and relations were left outside she raised her fist. "You're a dead man!"

   For the first time since he had been awakened by Marcus he grinned. Someone, at last, was treating him like a normal human being again. Nevertheless, he couldn't resist taking advantage of his peculiar situation. "Already. So what can *you* do to me?" and he ducked away and made a dash for the bar, Ivanova in hot pursuit.

   "Truce." He raised his hands in surrender. "Truce or you have to buy the first round." Her demeanour instantly changed to one of hurt innocence.

   "Well, if you put it that way." He raised his hand to call the attention of the bar staff and ordered, then gazed across the bar as they waited for their drinks. He gave a half-hearted smile when he caught her observing him steadily. Despite his joking his demeanour bothered her. She decided to tackle the most recent cause of his annoyance first.

   "Y'know, this thing is really getting to you." Sheridan gazed out at nothing for a while before turning back to her.

   "Ah, I know. I guess I'm just tired of being looked on as though I was the second coming or something."

   "Be fair. How would you react to someone who told you they'd been raised from the dead by one of the First Ones?" At that moment their drinks were put before them and Sheridan's credit chip charged and returned. They walked to the nearest empty table.

   "Apart from wondering when the doctors would be turning up to take him away?" They sat down. Ivanova remained silent, waiting for him to finish. He sighed. "I dunno. I guess I wouldn't mind so much if I got some of the other territory to go with it. If I could actually DO something!"

   "Like what? You've already done a hell of a lot. Give yourself a break," she turned to her glass and stared into it for a second. "You're only human after all," and she took a drink. He looked up at her and smiled.

   "Cheers, Susan. I needed that." He drank and then stretched out his legs, looking around the bar again. His mind clearly wasn't on his surroundings, and Ivanova took it upon herself to try and distract him.

   "I see Harrison and Bakker are trying yet again." She nodded to a couple sitting at a far table and Sheridan followed her eyes.

   "Those two? I'm surprised they're even in the same room together after last time. I seem to recall her coming to me and demanding I place a restraining order on him."

   "He asked the same of me. I think he probably had a more legitimate claim though."

   "She had a black eye!"

   "He had a broken arm, AND she'd cut four inches off the arms and legs of all his casual clothes."

   Sheridan raised his eyebrows and then looked back at the couple. "Apparently they've overcome their differences," he took another sip of his drink, "for now, at least. I wonder if it would be worth while putting a security detail on alert? Next time they may try and space each other."

   "Might save us some trouble." She muttered. Sheridan feigned shock.

   "Susan, I'm surprised at you. You know how desperately short of staff we are. Even if it's only sanitation duty every hand is useful. Besides, bodies floating around outside are a hazard to shipping." Again, the deadpan expression, but with the glint in the eye that told her that, at worse, he was at least in a slightly better humour now. They both drank in silence for a while before falling to the minutiae of on-board gossip. Nothing official -- the ruling which excluded such conversation on pain of buying a round for the entire bar was a good one, and the main reason Sheridan had wanted to go there. He could sit in his office or in his quarters and worry, and it would not help Delenn or him. He'd simply end up with a bad headache. Here, though his mind often wandered back to that sore spot, the atmosphere and the company soon pulled him back out. There was nothing anyone could do until Delenn reached Minbar, and even then they could only wait. For now, they might as well use up the time in the pleasantest manner possible under the circumstances.

*****

Delenn couldn't move. While Bester held her in his thrall another man tied her down in her chair. When all the bonds were tight and the man had nodded to Bester's unspoken question, she felt Bester release the paralysis and step out of her mind for a second.

   "That's better. It's so much easier when I don't have to concentrate on more than one thing at a time. Now I can devote myself fully to learning about all those little things you don't want anyone else to know about." He put his gloves back on and sat back in a chair opposite her, fastidiously straightening his jacket.

   "What do you want from me?" she asked, as she began to build a mental defence against his next intrusion.

   "Not much. Something's upset President Clark, and when he's upset, he makes sure we all know it. Beyond the mere fact of Babylon Five's continued and apparently healthy existence I can't determine what's wrong. Clark keeps people around him who can block my scans. Apparently, he doesn't trust me. Can't think why not." He shook his head in mock seriousness. "Clark is strong, but Babylon Five is the key to his Achilles' heel, and Sheridan is the key to Babylon Five. With Lyta Alexander around him I can't scan Sheridan, or any of you, even if I were bad mannered enough to violate my own promises not to." His smile never reached his eyes. Delenn felt sick and concentrated on reinforcing the mental wall. "So. I'm left with very little choice. I knew I had to get someone away from the station and unprotected. Someone who knew what was going on. There's no point in trying to get Sheridan to make a trip back to Earth, or anywhere else except, perhaps, Minbar, and even there I gather he's pretty unpopular." He shifted position slightly, leaning back and crossing his legs while continuing to regard her with a strange expression -- cool disinterest on the surface, but lurking underneath an almost feral hunger. As if he could taste something he wanted very much, but he didn't want anyone else to know that he could actually need anything or anyone that much. He continued. "No, he'd know it was a trap, or at least would be prepared for one which would be just as awkward. On the other hand, I knew that if I arranged for a message to be sent informing you of your mother's imminent demise you would have to go. And once you were away from Babylon Five it would be easy to capture you." Her heart leapt. So the call was a ploy to get her away from Babylon Five? Her mother was almost certainly all right. She felt her courage returning. Bester continued apparently unaware of the consequences of his little slip. "Of course, stealing a Minbari cruiser was not easy," he looked around him, and his expression was now caught between disgust and admiration. Delenn couldn't work out which emotion was associated with which thing. Was he admiring the ship? His own cunning at stealing it? Was he disgusted with the need? The ship as evidence of his own inadequacy? His words interrupted her musings. "But once we had Kadenn the rest was relatively simple."

   "What have you done with him?" Her concern for others, as ever, surfaced and overcame her concern for herself. Nevertheless, there was an ulterior purpose to her questions. She redoubled her efforts to build the mental wall. Brick, after brick. Steel backing. The toughest crystal behind that. The longer she could stall him with questions, the better her chance of preventing his entry into her mind. This skill was not one typically taught at the temple, but she had engaged in enough conversations with Lyta together with Minbari telepaths that she had gathered something of how to deal with them -- albeit only temporarily. Most couldn't succeed because of the mental discipline required to maintain the wall when one was terrified. That small loss of concentration as you became aware of someone trying to break into your mind was usually enough to shatter any defences you had built. Here, her religious training gave her an advantage, if only she could seize it.

   "Let's just say, he won't be questioning my skills again. The hardest thing I had to do was make him give the message about your mother, and he had a surprisingly weak mind even then. Now, of course, he has no mind at all." Again, the false smile. More crystal. The hardest metals. Layer upon layer.

   "And what of the Ranger?" More stalling: she had to seal herself in.

   "Oh, he'll be telling more tales out of school I have no doubt. As far as he's concerned he gave an honest report. I knew he was hanging around. His thoughts were leaking all over the place." He gave an exaggerated shudder, and Delenn made a mental note to get that Ranger some more training when the opportunity presented itself. *If* the opportunity ever presented itself. Bester ignored her. "I hate amateurs, but at least this one served a purpose. Once I'd convinced someone of my intentions, I just had to send him off in the direction of your Ranger. He scanned him as I predicted, and then I simply sent my ship to Centauri Prime. Perhaps in future he'll not rely on second hand information. Of course, he could never have scanned me, but that's his problem." Bester's mood changed to one of intense interest as he uncrossed his legs and leaned closer to Delenn. "Now. I hope you'll try to make things difficult for me. I enjoy a challenge." For a while she found herself looking into his eyes, and then she felt him appear in her mind, the other side of the wall. "Hmm. Interesting. How well have you been practising I wonder? Suddenly, in her mind, she felt herself turn around at his touch. He shook his head at her, a look of feigned concern on his face. "Tch, tch. No point in building up the front and leaving the back door unlocked." His mental fingers stroked across her, lingering, pressing, and probing her: examining her external thought in detail before seeking entry to her deeper cares. As she felt him begin to violate her mind she fought desperately to throw him out, but he was impervious to her struggles. "And now. You will tell me everything I need to know to regain my position."

   She mentally stepped in front of him, trying to reassemble her walls, if only to stall him a while longer while she sought some other means of protection, but the walls were carelessly constructed because of her haste and he swept through them as though they were paper. She threw herself at him, but he batted her away as he might a mosquito annoying him while he explored his surroundings. She was an irritant to him, nothing more. As she backed away from him he began turning over her thoughts, one by one: examining them for interest's sake.

   He found her mother and discarded the reference immediately. It was at the surface merely because that had been a recent concern, but it was of no interest to him. What purpose could be served by his investigating the member of some ridiculous religious order on Minbar? By definition, in his opinion, the woman was obviously either weak willed, stupid, or brainwashed. No one with any intelligence could devote themselves to anything but their own well being. No, he needed something much more powerful than that. He found Sheridan and, for a minute, thought he had found something of value, but to his mildly irritated amusement the only thoughts that seemed to be paramount in her mind were those of a recent sexual encounter with the good Captain. He lingered over her memories of their love-making for a while, deriving a voyeuristic pleasure from it. She tried to drive him away, but he held her at bay with barely any effort at all. Almost crying at this dirtying of her first experience of physical love-making she tried again, but he seemed to enjoy her frustration and pain and stayed there even longer than he might otherwise, commenting on what was, in his opinion, yet another example of amateur night.

   "Get out of my mind. Get away from me. You cannot do this." Her voice rose and she struggled against her bonds.

   "But I can. Hmm, not bad I suppose, for a non-telepath. Of course, if he were Psi-Corps it would've been so much more fun. We have ways of increasing the pleasure for those we choose." He touched something in her mind and strangely familiar sensations washed through her. Had John instigated such feelings she would have responded wholeheartedly. As it was, from Bester the rape had become complete, and she cried out her misery at this final humiliation as her own body betrayed her. "You see? I haven't the time to show you the full range of experiences I can generate without even laying a hand on you. I must remember to show you sometime." The sick smile on his face shifted until it was replaced by a smouldering anger. "However, this is not important right now. I don't have time for such parlour tricks. I'll leave them to the more basic activities of my guards, should they deem you worthy of their attention in such a manner. Ah, now *this* is more like it." She saw him replay the moment of John's departure for Z'Ha'Dum, his subsequent return and Lorien's assertion of his limited time span. He chuckled. "Obviously you're not as clever as I thought you, ambassador." He spoke the title like an insult. "Imagine falling for a story like this. I can't think of anyone I would deem *less* likely to be the new Messiah." He laughed, without humour, and continued his exploration. He saw the last battle between the Shadows and the Vorlons, and the dismissal of the two races by Sheridan and Delenn. "So. That's what was happening out here all this time? But if they're gone, who is now wielding the power back home?" Another probe, another door ripped open. Delenn sobbed as she watched him see her thoughts about the dark servants, Anna's arrival in John's quarters that first night of the Minbari sleep-watching ceremony, and the knowledge that Anna was merely a Shadow puppet. "Ah. No wonder he's keeping his protectors close. I don't suppose you have any idea how to deal with them?" He searched around her mind, as though he were rummaging in an attic, and she slumped against her bonds, powerless to stop him and too exhausted by this time to care. He would find nothing on that subject anyway. She almost wished he would. At last he gave up. "No, I didn't think so. Worth a look though. Now, what are YOU doing in all this? What happened to you, I wonder?"

   Deeper he went, and she felt herself railing futilely at his back or simply standing, helpless, watching him walk over her soul. He saw her decision to enter the Chrysalis, and her initial fears. He saw her rejection at the hands of the Grey Council. He saw Sebastian's trial and how she had refused to surrender despite fearing for her life. How she offered herself instead of Sheridan when Sebastian's methods were turned on him, and Sebastian's release of them and the vindication of their position. "Hmm. Very interesting. What extraordinary experiences you've had in your short life. Perhaps I can see why Sheridan is attracted to you. I suppose you *are* quite attractive, by alien standards." He paused in his thought probe and looked at her critically. "Well, I suppose you look better normally, but even so I think I can honestly say that you do count as attractive even by human standards. Those Minbari features aren't totally distracting." He hunched up again, "But why did you choose to become human? What happened?" and he delved back into her mind.

   "No! Get away from me. Get out of my mind!" Once again she writhed against her bonds but still he continued. She attacked him, throwing herself at him to distract him, desperately thinking of anything else that would block him. He turned a corner and saw Jeffrey Sinclair.

   "And what is our long lost commander and ambassador doing here?" That was it. Suddenly she felt her frustration, fear, and sense of duty focus and turn to anger. She summoned all the strength she had left and concentrated. Suddenly Bester found himself facing her, protecting the door to a memory she would die before letting him see. As he tried to sweep her aside she stood her ground. A cold light appeared in her eyes and she stared back at him with an intensity that actually began to disconcert him.

   "No more. I will not permit this. There are some things it is not for you or anyone else to know." She drew herself up, and suddenly he found himself facing the Delenn of old. Grey Council Satai, the person whose blood lust had been instrumental in the start of the Earth-Minbari War. In her mind she towered over him and began to force him back. "I am Grey. I stand between the candle and the Star. We are grey. We stand between the darkness and the light. You are not wanted here. You do not belong here. Leave. NOW!" He saw her dressed in her robes as she was when she turned back the Earth-Force fleet that came to take Babylon Five, and heard the same words she had used then. "You are in front of me. If you value your lives, BE somewhere else!"

   He staggered under her assault and, in fear, pulled out of her. Shaking himself he looked at Delenn and saw the fierce fire in her eyes. The fire of anger at her violation, and triumph at his defeat. For a second he felt genuine fear, and it showed in his face. Delenn smiled grimly. Bester's ego could not stand such an assault and he pulled himself together, presenting his best and most unruffled smile. She knew she had surprised and shaken him, and the triumph shone in her eyes.

   Then he looked at her and said "You're stronger than I would've imagined. But no matter. I *will* find out what I want to know, if I have to rip out your every thought. I've already found out a great deal that'll help me to undermine President Clark's 'allies'. Now I think this will become personal. Just you and me and all the time in the world. No one can find you here. No one knows where you are, now. By the time your precious lover discovers I'm not coming to Babylon Five, that you have not arrived at Minbar, and realises he's been set up, it'll be too late. Even if I leave your body intact, there'll be nothing left of your mind for him to recognise."

   "You cannot destroy me. You may judge yourself as superior by human standards, but you have never dealt with someone like me before. I do not need walls to protect me. I will destroy you if you dare to step inside my mind again." She seemed to draw herself up, even though her bonds made it impossible. Bester tried to step back into her mind out of curiosity, and she slapped him back so hard he staggered. He was surprised, and then angry. She had no control over him outside her own mind, but her strength of will was daunting. He straightened his jacket and then leaned close to her so she could smell his breath in her face.

   "At the moment, you may be strong, but that is because I have left your body alone. By the time I have finished with you, you will beg me to examine that scrap-book you call a memory rather than face any more."

   "You can kill me. I'm not afraid. There is nothing you can do to me. This body is just a shell. What you do to it is not important." He seemed to consider this for a while and, for that short time, she thought she might have finally found a way to stop him, but when the smile returned to his face and he spoke his next words her will began to dissolve, though she held enough anger to keep him at bay for now.

   "But Sheridan may feel a little upset when he sees what I'm going to do with you, and then he'll feel compelled to come and rescue you. Your mind may be strong, his, I think, is not. He's only a reasonably efficient soldier, after all. We'll wait for a while. Worry him. Then we'll begin." Bester stroked his hand across her face but, despite her silent fears, Delenn stared unflinchingly into his eyes. "You will tell me. Eventually. There's nothing you can hide from me. And if you don't, he will. He was, after all, inside Z'Ha'Dum for some time. The little story he told you is obviously a lie, so he must be trying to cover something up. Something so important he doesn't even want to tell you." A look of hunger crossed his face and Delenn suddenly felt very afraid. Not for herself, this time, but for Sheridan. "I look forward to picking through his mind and finding out what that something is."

   Bester stood up and left the room, turning to give her one last false smile before he stepped out of the door. Delenn was reminded of a face caught in the rictus of death and realised that, for all his apparent animation, a large proportion of Bester had died many years before. Whether it was the effect of Psi-corps, the knowledge that his lover had become a Shadow tool who no longer recognised him, or simply the effect of looking into too many minds that hated him, she wasn't sure. In many ways, he was more dead than John. There was more life and love contained in one minute of John's existence than this man had seen in all of his. The irony was not lost on her. A man who would probably live to be a hundred at least, but would never value for one second the glory of that existence, and another who knew he only had twenty years left, and who would savour every minute, not because he knew he had so short a time, but in spite of it. The universe could be decidedly unfair.

   Once he had left and the door closed silently behind him Delenn sagged in the chair. 'John,' she thought, 'whatever you do, do not get near this man alone.' And then a silent cry -- more a desperate whimper -- rose from her. So quiet because she feared if it were any louder it would be overheard, but she could not help it. 'John. Help me. Please.' Then she closed her mind and began to rebuild her defences, both physical and mental. Bester would use every method he could to break her, she knew, and as a member of the Grey Council she had intimate knowledge of the methods that could be used. She had to get into the right frame of mind so her body and her mind were disconnected. Whatever he did to her would not matter if she could not feel it. She concentrated and began to separate herself off. One last thought of her surroundings nagged before she finally managed to corral it and put it away. 'I wonder where Marcus is?'

 

Chapter Five

 

As he returned to consciousness, Marcus' first awareness was of the cold under his face. He wasn't sure if he was alone, and he tried to sense his surroundings before moving. It was dark and, for all he knew, he might have been surrounded by hundreds of silent observers, all just waiting for him to show some indication of a return to consciousness before rendering him incapable once more. But his heightened senses could not detect anyone. No breath, no rustle of clothing, not even the sense of a presence other than his own. If there was someone there, he decided, they'd long since mastered the art of becoming one with the darkness, and there was little point in trying to detect them from his present position. Before he would allow himself to make any ostensive movement he first began to pull into himself, mentally checking his own body for damage or restraint. If he had to react suddenly he needed to know his body was up to the task. Eventually he deemed it safe to try to move and checked his face to see if the darkness around him were real, or a consequence of some kind of blindfold or physical damage. Detecting neither he flexed his muscles and pulled himself up. Rising he felt slightly dizzy for a moment and reached out for support. His hand immediately encountered a cold surface to his right. He felt around with both hands for a few seconds to determine the nature of the object and, satisfied it was either a wall of a very large door or crate, he felt his way along it until he reached a corner. Following the wall around he felt it curve at one end before sensing he had returned to the beginning. He soon realised he was in a small room. Probably a storage space. He fell to thinking. There would be no point in having a storage room so dark you couldn't find anything except with a torch. If this were a human ship he would have looked for a light switch; Centauri, and he would have looked for a sensor; but this was Minbari, and Minbari technology was always elegant and simple. In Minbari he uttered the word 'lights' and the resulting flood caused him to squint for a few seconds as his eyes adjusted. He had been correct. A small storage space. The door was closed tight and there did not seem to be any obvious way out. He tried 'open', but the controls to open the door were clearly on the other side. Made sense. There would be no sense in putting a voice activation unit for the door inside a space so small no one would (under normal circumstances) be kept inside. Light, yes. Operators would need to be able to find what they sought, and a request for lights in the corridor might be misinterpreted as to the extent of its parameters. Merely the storage area, or the entire corridor? Open door/lock door, however, could be addressed to the room safely from outside, and be confined to that one door (assuming there wasn't another immediately opposite, but Minbari ships didn't tend to be built that way.) All this quiet musing on the problems of voice interaction units did not, however, help him to get out of there. So, how was he going to get out?

   He looked up and saw the ceiling was surprisingly high: totally out of proportion with the width of the space. He could not imagine what the room was used for, though the shape indicated at least one wall was very close to the hull. What delighted his eye, however, was the sight of an air vent about 10 feet above him. Of course, the problem now would be to reach it. He couldn't jump, and the walls were sufficiently far apart that he could not climb up between them. Looking around he discovered the only thing that was being stored in the room with him was a pile of cabling, whose use was unknown to him.. He considered his position, and then reached into his pocket for his pike. It wouldn't be long enough to reach from wall to wall, but it would stretch across that slightly curved corner. The vent was on the wall opposite the curve, heading into the ship. His pike was longer that he was tall and he positioned it just far enough away that he could swing under and around it before activating it. The two ends shot out and locked on the walls. He tested his weight on it, but it held fast. He grinned. Amazing what this single tool could do! All the more reason, therefore, to make sure he didn't leave it behind. He grabbed a piece of cabling and tested its malleability before tying it around his pike at one end. He measured out a fairly long section and then put the rest over his shoulder. He took hold of the pike and swung himself up and over so he was now holding himself up with the pike at hip level. Drawing a breath he executed a clean lift that any gymnast would have been proud of, and stood on the pike. He could reach the vent. It was at that moment, as he contemplated how he was going to remove the grating with its standard Minbari smooth headed bolts, that he heard the door mechanism being engaged.

   After a second of panic he calmed enough to recognise he had limited choices: he could try and rip the cover off the vent and get out of there in the few seconds before the visitor entered; alternatively, he could hold still and pray he or she didn't look up; and finally, he could abandon any pretence to a belief in luck and prepare for the inevitable. Apart from that occasion when his cockiness with the pike had revealed a conduit panel aboard Babylon 4, he had found luck simply didn't exist in his universe. Given he had already encountered Bester he felt it was a safe bet that there were other telepaths aboard. That meant he wouldn't have much time, and he should prepare for his inevitable discovery. He quickly lifted the cable over his head, pulled up the excess so it would not be seen, and made a noose which he lowered over the door. The other end he wrapped around his hands as tightly as he could. Then he waited.

   The guard, a human in the black favoured by those members of psi-corps who hoped to be mistaken for psi-cops, stepped inside and, for a moment, was confused. He had sensed the prisoner was still inside and, moreover, was awake. For this reason he had come to deal with him. Now he found himself faced with an empty room. A sense of tension above him caused him to look up

   "Sorry about this," said Marcus as he dropped the noose over the telepath's head, flicked it, and dropped down, pulling the cable over the pike and lifting the guard up cleanly, snapping his neck in the process. The would-be psi-cop didn't even have the chance to send a mental warning before his life was snuffed out.

*****

On the bridge of the Minbari ship, Bester was monitoring communications from Babylon 5 in the hope of pre-empting any rescue attempts. His general telepathic awareness of the ship was tuned out as he concentrated on the flood of messages that the space station tended to accrue during a typical working day. Narns, Centauri, Drazi, Minbari, Pak'Ma'Ra and other species were all sending messages, confirming docking and jump gate procedures, communicating with each other for mercantile purposes, or, in the case of the Narns and Centauri, simply hurling perjoratives. While Babylon 5 itself was not privy to many of these conversations, Bester felt it necessary to check everything for fear it would be the message he wasn't listening to that would prove his undoing. As a result the only awareness he had of his aide's death was a slight niggle in the back of his mind which he dismissed as a distraction. The luck which Marcus swore he did not believe in, seemed to be watching over him regardless.

*****

As Marcus held the cable for a few extra seconds, just to make sure his victim was not going to do anything else, he gritted his teeth against not just the pain in his hands, but also the unpleasantness of having to hang a man who, like himself, was merely another soldier. He consoled himself with the thought that, as a member of Psi-corps, the man had probably done far worse to others without the courtesy of giving his victims such a quick and relatively painless end. Grimly he lowered his victim to the floor.

   Once he was certain the man was dead, Marcus unwrapped the cable from his hands, rubbing the red welts that the man's weight had raised there. He picked up the guard and dragged him backwards, positioning him against the wall out of sight of the door. It would give him those few extra seconds should anyone decide to take a look, and experience had taught him that all too often a few seconds was the difference between success and failure, and in this situation could well distinguish between life and death. Satisfied the guard was going to remain sitting up (unless the ship engaged in some wild manoeuvres, which didn't seem likely, as least for a while), Marcus reached up and pressed the close button on the pike, catching it as it dropped. He then closed his fist around it, and carefully nudged the door open, ready with his finger on the pike's activation button should anyone be fool enough to try and stop him. As he stepped outside and looked around he realised the guard was alone. For now there was just him, his pike, and the ever-growing fear that Delenn might not have escaped Bester's telepathic manipulations so lightly.

   The image of the Psi-cop played in his mind. Whatever the man was up to, Delenn was clearly the object of his immediate interest, even if his long term concerns lay elsewhere. Bester, the Ranger had learned, tended to treat life like a game of chess, or, perhaps more appropriately, one of poker, but a game in which all the cards were marked and only Bester knew the key. To outwit him one had merely to swap decks, but that was easier said than done. While a level playing field was always guaranteed to ruin the Psi-cop's day, one slanted towards Marcus was practically guaranteed to give the man a headache of monumental proportions, and Marcus owed him one. Soon it would be time to collect. But Marcus knew that alone he could do nothing. He needed help: telepathic help ideally, but some means of rendering Bester and his telepathic aide-de-camps unconscious would be equally welcome. Above all, he needed to find and, if necessary, protect Entil'Zha. As a Ranger he would never be forgiven if Ranger One came to any harm while under his protection, and while Marcus secretly suspected Delenn was more than capable of defending herself against a variety of foes, what little experience he had with Bester's particular abilities led him to the belief that even Entil'Zha's formidable talents would be tested beyond endurance.

   Looking around he carefully shut the door and ordered a security lock. Another few seconds would be added to his freedom if anyone came to see what had happened. He then stepped away and glided down the corridor. His first stop would be his own room. The communications equipment had been stowed there, and if he could figure out a way to contact Babylon 5 without risking capture he would have a chance. At worst, they might be able to home in on a signal, even if he could not send any details. As if he needed any further encouragement, the image of Sheridan's wrath if anything happened to the object of his affection also began to haunt him, but he quickly dismissed all the images so he could concentrate on his task. He turned a corner and disappeared into the darkness of the ship.

*****

Bester gave up his perusal of the messages and straightened his back. Taking one final look around the bridge he stepped out and headed for Delenn's room. He didn't need to do anything. His mere presence would unnerve her enough and, right now, that's all he needed to do. With luck he wouldn't have to engage in the messy business of breaking her physically before her lover came looking for her. He despised having to use physical methods to break his victims, much preferring the power of violating the privacy of their minds; and deep mental scans designed to hurt were draining on the inquisitor as well as the prisoner. No. He would just have to stand there. It would remind her that she was under his control. That he could step in and out of her rooms with or without her consent. That she had no power over her physical surroundings. It was an early stage in the breaking process, but a necessary one, and one that would not require any effort on his part. While he wouldn't admit it, even to himself, she had shaken him. He needed to reaffirm his position in the game for his own sake as well as to intimidate her. Doubt, uncertainty and surprise were not emotions he liked to admit were in his vocabulary, much less experience, and he still couldn't fathom how she had managed to throw him out. Add ignorance to the list. No, that was unacceptable. The sooner he could regain the upper hand, the better, and this simple reminder would disturb her he felt sure. Already feeling a return of his old self he headed back to her quarters.

*****

Sheridan was in his office sorting through some paperwork. He was tired and the reports were beginning to blur before his eyes. It had been a long night. At that thought he smiled and sat back, allowing himself a few minutes to revel in the memories. Under normal circumstances they would have been able to grab enough sleep after their exertions that he would not have been so distracted, but the call from Minbar had put paid to that. He frowned, wondering once again how long before he would receive confirmation of their arrival in Minbari space.

   "Computer, what is the time?"

   "09.36 hours, Earth Standard Time." the stilted female voice reported. The Deraal had left at 3.15 am or thereabouts. That meant they should be coming out of hyperspace in the next two hours. He stood up and stretched, and then walked over to the coffee pot and poured out a cup. The door chime went off.

   "Come." Ivanova stepped in. Turning with the cup in his hand he took a mouthful before addressing her.

   "Commander, what can I do for you?"

   "More reports I'm afraid," she grinned ruefully as he visibly deflated at the news. "It never ends. Also, Ambassador G'kar was wondering if you could see him some time today?" Sheridan raised an eyebrow, "Apparently he's worried about some Narn he thinks may be using the station as a base to plan attacks on Centauri Prime." Ivanova thought for a minute and then shook her head. "You have to admire him. After everything they did to him, I think G'kar is the only Narn who doesn't want revenge." He returned to his desk, thoughtfully swilling some coffee around in his mouth.

   "Hmm. Well, I think he's seen that vengeance only leads to more vengeance. Let's just hope he can convince his people of that. I'd rather they didn't schedule a rematch in the Zocalo. Tell him I'll see him in 3 hours. That'll give me time to check Delenn has arrived safely and shift this paperwork." He gazed down at the pile of flims on his desk. "Commander. Do you think we could hire some pen pusher who'd actually enjoy doing this stuff?"

   "Not on the wages we could pay him," and Ivanova smiled at Sheridan's resigned nod. "Sir. If you don't mind me saying so, you look tired out. Why not put your head down for an hour? I can see that you're not disturbed."

   "Oh, I can't," he sighed and picked up another report, "I have to get this done." Examining the report he realised it had appendices and started to shuffle through the flims searching for the missing sections. Frustrated, he rubbed his eyes as they defocused again.

   "Sir, you know you can't do a proper job if you're half asleep. There's no emergency, and there's nothing you can do until we hear Ambassador Delenn's ship has arrived at Minbar. I'm sure Marcus will contact us the minute they arrive. One hour won't be noticed. I'll call you if you're needed." He smiled at her concern but continued to rifle through the papers. "Captain!" he looked up. "I'll have Franklin certify you unfit for duty."

   He shook his head and tossed the flims back onto the pile. "Very well, Commander," he said, winking at her as he stood up, "I'll take your advice. Don't hesitate to wake me should something come up."

   "Yes sir. Sleep well." And Ivanova stepped out, the door sliding shut behind her. Sheridan strolled over to the couch and stretched out. Within 2 minutes he was asleep and snoring quietly.

   As he slept his mind replayed the events of the night before and he smiled to himself. The warmth, her nervousness and naïveté, his own nervousness, even though he'd covered it up so well, the passion, the love. Then something changed. He saw Delenn standing before him as she had after they had stepped out of the shower. She had her back to him, and he turned her around in his arms preparing to kiss her, only to step back in horror. Her face was bloody, her body bruised, and there were the marks of restraints on her wrists and neck. She reached out to him. 'John. Help me.' Behind her he saw Bester, laughing. He snapped awake.

   "Delenn!" He paused. It was a dream, wasn't it? Again, he heard her voice in his mind, faint but insistent. 'John. Help me. Please.' He swung himself off the couch and stood up, tapping his hand-link.

   "Ivanova. Have we received any message from the Deraal yet?"

   "No sir. It's not due out of hyperspace for another hour. Is something wrong?"

   "I'm not sure. Can you contact it?"

   "I can try."

   "Then do so." He paced his room for a few minutes and then the link went off.

   "Well?"

   "Nothing Captain. The Deraal isn't answering our hails." He thought for a second.

   "Contact Minbar and confirm that Ambassador Delenn's mother is ill."

   "Sir?"

   "DO IT!"

   "Yes Sir!" He strode from his office and saw Ivanova frown at her console. "What?!"

   Sheridan stepped over to talk to the Minbari himself. "This is Captain Sheridan of Babylon 5. To whom am I speaking?"

   "I know who you are captain," said the Minbari at the other end quietly. "My name is Lenntar. What seems to be the problem?" The Minbari was polite but, apparently, another of those who thought little of 'Starkiller'. Sheridan refused to rise to the bait and kept his own language civil and his tone low.

   "Where is Kadenn?"

   "Kadenn? I have no idea. No one has seen him for days. He took the Deraal to explore some unusual readings on the edge of our space. We did not receive any report and sent a ship to investigate, but there is no sign of the Deraal and it does not answer our hails."

   "The Deraal was here just over 7 hours ago." At that Lenntar leaned forward, clearly of the opinion that Starkiller was up to no good.

   "Impossible. Why would Kadenn take the cruiser to Babylon 5? He has no interest in the space-station, or the people on it," any more than I have, Lenntar added privately.

   "We did not see Kadenn in person. We received a message from him saying that Ambassador Delenn's mother was dying and she was to return to Minbar at once." At that Lenntar reached for some controls on a console, still nodding at Sheridan's words. "The Deraal was supposed to have been despatched to collect her." He paused, but Lenntar was still operating the console. He looked up at the pause, making it clear he was listening, and he was acting on what he heard. There was a fear developing in Sheridan's stomach, and he gripped the edge of the console until his knuckles were white. "Ambassador Delenn left this space-station on the Deraal 7 hours ago. We were expecting her to call once she arrived at Minbar. Now you're telling me the whole thing was a set-up?"

   "One moment, Captain." The Minbari looked to something just out of sight and nodded, then he turned back at Sheridan. "Ambassador Delenn's mother is in excellent health according to the Sisters of Valeria," Lenntar looked extremely uncomfortable, and Sheridan couldn't work out whether it was because yet another Minbari ship was apparently out of control, or because he had to admit as much to Starkiller. Lenntar's expression changed to one of formal apology. "I'm afraid we appear to have a renegade on our hands."

   "Or a stolen ship." Before Lenntar could respond Sheridan turned to Ivanova. "Have you heard anything more about Bester?"

   "No sir. The Rangers watching his ship say it arrived at Centauri Prime and simply held orbit. No one has shuttled to or from the surface, and no communications have been detected." Sheridan thought for a minute and then turned back to Lenntar.

   "Thank you for your help, Lenntar. I'll contact you when we learn more, but at the moment I'd say you've probably lost one of your cruisers to a member of Psi-Corps."

   The Minbari's face registered shock. "What? How?"

   "I'll let you know as soon as we do. Babylon 5 out." Sheridan turned to Ivanova and took a deep breath. "Bester's ship. Is it one of the Omega squadron?"

   "Yes Sir."

   "Are the Rangers tracking him in White Star ships?"

   "Yes." He thought for a minute, then made his decision.

   "This is a set-up. It has to be. Otherwise none of this makes sense. Order the Rangers to contact Bester's ship and demand to speak with Bester himself. If the crew refuses, tell them to threaten force if necessary."

   "But sir. We don't need trouble with Psi-Corps."

   "Commander. If this is what I think it is, Psi-Corps have nothing to do with it. Bester is out on his own. They'll probably refuse to speak to the Rangers or...or," he thought for a minute and then smiled, "or they're prepared. Tell the Rangers to ask Bester who I threatened to feed him to. I doubt he would have broadly advertised *that*." Ivanova regarded him quizzically for a moment and then relayed his orders. A few tense minutes later they had their answer.

   "They report that Bester was unresponsive. He refused to answer the question and snapped off the channel. When they threatened the ship it headed for the jump gate. You don't think it was him, do you?"

   "No. I think he's on board the Deraal, and I think he's using Delenn to get to me."

   Ivanova was unconvinced. "With all due respect, that's a pretty big leap Captain. For all you know Kadenn could be up to no good. When I was speaking to Marcus earlier I got the impression there was very little love lost between Kadenn and Delenn."

   "I know. I know. I can't explain it. It's just a feeling I have. Trust me on this one. Bester is behind it. Can we contact Lyta?"

   "She's already on her way. Lennier called her last night as you requested. She should be here in another 2 hours."

   "Ready a White Star. I'm going to go look for the Deraal."

   "Where? If it doesn't turn up in Minbari space we won't have a clue where to look."

   "Then we just have to hope that the communications equipment works and Marcus or Delenn are able to get to it. Otherwise..." Sheridan shook his head. "No, I won't accept that. We'll find them. Bester would have no use for her dead. If he's trying to get to me he'll have to keep her alive, and that means we'll be hearing from them soon. If I'm in hyperspace you can relay their co-ordinates to me and I can be there quicker."

   "And if it's a trap? Sir, you're the last one who should go looking. If you're right you're playing straight into Bester's hands. Let me go, or, or Franklin." That sounded weak and she knew it. Ever since Garibaldi's resignation they'd been a little low on command staff. Zack was the only other alternative, but the new security chief had not yet managed to settle a clear hierarchy, and in the absence of a second he was needed to maintain the station's own safety. Yet Ivanova could see a desperation creeping into Sheridan's demeanour, and in such a state he could make a fatal mistake.

   "No, Commander, I need you here." She began to object, but he interrupted her. "Ivanova, Susan, look. You know what I'm like. If you go off and I stay here I'll be on your case 24 hours a day demanding reports. I won't be doing an effective job here, you won't be able to do your job either," he smiled at her, "It's OK. I'm taking Lyta along, and Lennier too. He's the only one on this station I trust who can translate my orders." Ivanova refrained from passing comment. Her own attempts at Adronato had fallen embarrassingly short. After Lorien had warned her of the Minbari understanding of 'Ah Hell' she'd felt compelled to check some other phrases she had used. Apparently her accent was causing some translation problems. She was both embarrassed and relieved when she learned the meaning of 'Hatrashur' and 'Indolo Ishiden'. Embarrassed she'd managed to come out with such nonsense while still managing to maintain the air of one who is utterly convinced she is right; relieved neither Marcus nor Delenn had seen fit to make her look a fool (though that explained Marcus' hastily smothered snort), and that Delenn had ordered Marcus to accompany her. Not to mention a certain relief that she had not managed something even worse (certain inflections were considerably more embarrassing!). Sheridan's continued stream of orders snapped her back to the present. "Call him and ask him to meet me at the White Star in 15 minutes."

   "Lennier? Yes sir. Anything else?"

   He nodded as he walked towards the door. "Contact Lyta and ask her to drop out of hyperspace so we can meet up. There's no point in her coming all the way here merely to go back again. Have her send her co-ordinates to the White Star the minute she enters normal space. I'm leaving you in command here. Keep me informed of any changes." There was no point in arguing with him, and Ivanova felt safer knowing he was taking Lennier and Lyta with him. Bester couldn't cope with Lyta, although quite why had still not been determined. She found she almost envied Lyta her powers, but not the life she had been forced to lead because of them.

   "Yes Sir. Captain?"

   He paused in the doorway, "Yes, Commander?"

   "Watch your back."

   He smiled. "Always do, Commander, always do." And he walked out of C & C.

   Ivanova looked back at the communications console. "Now let's just hope we hear from Delenn or Marcus before we hear from Bester," she muttered.

*****

Marcus was still trying to make his way along the corridor without being detected and, so far, he had been fortunate. By that he meant he hadn't run into Bester. He felt confident he could cope with anyone else, but Bester could shut him down as soon as look at him, and apparently with less effort. So long as he avoided the Psi-cop, Marcus felt sure he could do what he needed to. He concentrated on thinking thoughts appropriate to someone working on the ship, rather than those of a fugitive trying to move around it without being detected. He thought in Minbari, using his knowledge of flying their space-craft and the Vorlon-Minbari White Stars to fill out his internal conversation. A door began to open in front of him and he shrank back, burying his thoughts in those of a technician, bored with his work.

   Bester stepped out of Delenn's quarters, pulling his gloves on more tightly. Things had not gone according to plan. He had walked in, unannounced, but had found himself facing a woman totally unaware of his presence. He had stood before her quietly for some time, simply looking at her, and had then decided to knock on the door of her mind. Stepping in he found the wall again, but this time there were no holes. He had walked around, apparently amused, secretly annoyed. This would be harder to break down. He could see no way of avoiding the physical torture should Sheridan fail to respond to the bait when it was laid. In any case, her defiance annoyed him. What was it about Babylon 5 that bred people who could defy him? Sheridan, Lyta, Sinclair, Ironheart, and now Delenn. All crossed him in different ways, but all crossed him nonetheless. It was time they learned how more advanced telepaths were. Time they accepted their lower rung on the ladder of evolution. He began to think that even if he did get Sheridan, he'd ensure he hurt her at the same time. Perhaps if he made her watch as he broke her lover in front of her. He smiled at the thought. Two birds with one stone, and only half the effort of breaking Delenn personally. Yes. That was the trick. He smiled as everything fell into place.

   Feeling a return of his old self he stood in the corridor for a moment and sensed the atmosphere around him. Telepaths of his rating didn't always need a line of sight to achieve their aims, and he sometimes liked to stretch his mind a little to enjoy that extra talent. Besides, it appealed to his voyeuristic tastes. There appeared to be something missing, but he couldn't pin it down. One of his men was probably asleep again. The thoughts of some Minbari technician nearby drowned out just about everything. Bester stretched out his mind to detect the technician and try and quieten his thoughts. He knew there were about 6 Minbari aboard, not including Delenn. So long as he made them think Kadenn was alright, they would do whatever he made Kadenn say. Of course, it was getting harder and harder to make the man appear sufficiently animated even by Minbari standards. Each time he trotted the fool out he had to shut down more of his mind to keep control. There would soon not be enough left to even keep him alive. Two more orders at best, and Bester wanted to keep one in reserve, just in case. He switched off the technician's thoughts. They were in Minbari anyway, and Bester had never really bothered with learning alien languages. There wasn't much point considering that most people added images to their internal conversations, thereby revealing their thoughts to him regardless of the language of their inner voice. He turned away and walked down the corridor towards to bridge. While he hated to admit it, the thought of Delenn's defiance still annoyed him, even though he had worked out a solution. It lurked in his mind, and refused to be quiet. As though some part of him were laughing at his failure. It made him angry, and strong emotion was something else he despised. As he turned the corner he shot back an annoyed mental slap to the technician. That would teach him to interrupt Bester's thoughts!

   Marcus reeled at the blow but managed to keep his thoughts Minbari. He shot back a combination of surprise and annoyance, appropriate to someone who's received a mental slap but is unaware of the source, even though Marcus knew full well where it had come from, and then he went back to his technical musings. Once Bester had moved out of sight and had been gone for over a minute Marcus moved forward, but maintained the Minbari dialogue in his mind. A part of him marvelled that he had got away with it, but he quickly stilled that thought for fear his own satisfaction would give him away. He stood outside Delenn's quarters, but didn't step inside. He was afraid that Delenn's reaction might tip off Bester that he was free. If she was injured he didn't need or want to know at that moment. It would not help either of them. If she was alright, the best thing he could do was call for help and try and keep an eye on Bester until an opportunity presented itself. Thus he stepped past Delenn's quarters and moved on towards his own.

*****

Delenn had buried herself in her mind. The meditation was the deepest she had attempted since her change and she found a certain academic interest in seeing how differently her new body responded to the orders of her mind. On the whole, it was pretty responsive, but a little slower than she was used to. She decided this was simply because it lacked training. She would have to work on that when she got out of there. She was incidentally gratified to find that her meditation, not to mention her mental dismissal of Bester, had restored her positive attitude. She would need that when the Psi-cop returned. Wrapped inside her own mind she allowed herself the brief luxury of thinking about John. Bester wouldn't hear her now. The only person who could hear her would be the man she was thinking about, and then only if he was telepathic and thinking about her, and preferably in the same room. Sadly, the latter was not the case, and once again she heard herself silently call him. 'John, I'm alright, but please find me soon. I don't know how long I can keep him out.' She was completely unaware of Bester's presence as she thought those words. His entry into her mind also failed to register on her awareness. The walls were thick indeed. She concentrated on John, willing him to hear her, even though she knew he couldn't. It made her feel better and that, in itself, was worth the effort. Had Bester stayed a little longer, he would have been made even more annoyed by the barest hint of a smile appearing on her face. An echo of her thoughts, and the only physical manifestation she would make for some time of her own mental existence.

*****

Sheridan had settled into his chair on the White Star, and looked over his shoulder when he heard Lyta step onto the Bridge.

   "I'm sorry to have to drag you away from Minbar. Did Ivanova bring you up to speed?"

   "Yes. Have you any idea where they are?" She stepped up to his side as he shook his head.

   "Not yet. We're assuming that either Bester will contact us, or they will. Frankly, I'm hoping for the latter."

   "But you fear it may be the former." He looked at her sharply, but she shook her head. "No. I don't need to be a teep to know that, Captain. Where Bester is concerned any news from those he's dealing with is good news. At least they're still alive." Sheridan grunted and stared ahead. Lyta withdrew to one of the stations. She had learned something about the White Star ships, and she found a certain satisfaction in being able to understand some of the controls. She also found the place strangely soothing: a feeling she rarely experienced these days. The Minbari were highly disciplined and there were very few stray thoughts. The ship itself had character, and it filled her with peace as it flew through hyperspace. The only jarring note was Sheridan, and that, at least, made sense. His emotion was strong enough that it was being broadcast around the bridge, although he was trying hard to keep his physical bearing as relaxed as possible. Lyta smiled. He was the consummate soldier. She rarely wondered at his right to be leader of the Army of Light, although the higher vocation to which he seemed to have been called occasionally confused her, but the Vorlons - and particularly old Kosh - had taught her that destiny was something to be accepted, even when it didn't seem to make sense. For whatever reason, Sheridan was the right person in the right place at the right time, and so, apparently, was Delenn. Of course, destiny could be thwarted by those determined enough, and Bester was just such a man. She found herself silently wishing she could spell out *his* destiny, in intimate - if somewhat gruesome - detail.

   Sheridan stared ahead, willing himself to know where to go and what to do. He muttered under his breath.

   "Where are you? Give me a sign, Delenn. Tell me where you are. Let me know you're alright. Anything." As he stared ahead he thought he heard a voice inside him. The accent was unmistakable, and he leaned forward as though to hear it more clearly. 'John, I'm alright, but please find me soon. I don't know how long I can keep him out.' "Where are you? Tell me where you are." There was no more, though he listened as hard as he could. He sat back. "I'm coming, Delenn. Hold on. I'll find you, wherever you are."

   In the Deraal Delenn thought she heard a voice she recognised, reassuring her that help was on the way. She smiled inwardly and felt some peace. He would find her, she would be safe. She only had to hold on long enough, and knowing that he was looking for her gave her all the strength she needed. Bester would not win.

   Lyta looked up, feeling a change in the atmosphere and seeing a certain release of tension from Sheridan's shoulders. Something had given him hope and reassurance. Whatever it was Lyta could not tell, but the change was palpable and welcome. She only hoped it was well founded. She turned back to the console, unaware of the link between the lovers. In this, alone, Sheridan and Delenn could reach further than she, did she but know it.

*****

Bester returned to the monitoring station on the bridge and cursed silently. He had forgotten to engage the recording device when he left, and several minute's worth of communications from Babylon 5 had been missed. He hadn't asked the Minbari crew to monitor the broadcasts for obvious reasons. For one thing, if they heard a report saying that Ambassador Delenn had been kidnapped they would become aware of their own situation. He couldn't afford that. A ship did not fly itself, and he could not master the alien controls fast enough to serve his purpose, even if he was willing to waste the time doing so. In any case, the ship needed more than one crew member, and he only had two men with him. One was supposed to be watching the Ranger, the other Kadenn. Bester himself monitored Delenn, and he felt certain she wasn't going anywhere. Besides, he'd locked the door himself. So, he needed the Minbari crew doing their jobs and out of his way. This still left the missing messages, but he felt certain Sheridan would not realise there was a problem for another - he looked at his chrono - 30 minutes at least. Still. Just in case... He switched on the recorder. He wouldn't miss another message. Satisfied he looked out at the stars, wondering exactly how he was going to phrase his message to Sheridan when the time came. Wouldn't he be surprised when he found out Bester wasn't orbiting Centauri Prime after all? He smiled to himself and continued to monitor, unaware that Ivanova's message to Lyta had been missed.

 

Chapter Six

 

Sitting in hyperspace, like a trapdoor spider awaiting its prey, the White Star 2 waited for news of the Deraal. Of course, mused Sheridan, spider was a totally inappropriate description of the White Star – rather more apposite for its usual victims -- but the lurking image fitted all too well, and Sheridan was getting restless.

   "Mr Lennier." He turned to the Minbari aide, who looked up from his controls. "Should it come to a shooting match, how does the White Star compare to the Deraal?"

   "The White Star is a mixture of Minbari and Vorlon technology. The Deraal's weapons are no match for the White Star's Vorlon defence system," Sheridan smiled and turned back to the view of hyperspace ahead of him, but Lennier hadn't finished, "However, the Deraal has other systems that will generate problems for us should they be used."

   Sheridan paused and regarded the Minbari levelly. "Such as?"

   "During our war with Earth we used a form of energy pulse. Its intent was never to damage the ship, but merely to scramble all electrical communications. Commander Sinclair was captured using it at the Battle of the Line, as were many other Earth pilots."

   "So it would shut down the ship?"

   "And us."

   "Us?"

   "Human and Minbari brain functions are the same in this respect. High doses of electricity scramble the neural pathways, resulting in unconsciousness and a sense of disorientation upon waking."

   "And the White Star has no defence against this?"

   "No. It was not imagined that there would ever come a time when Minbari ships would be set against each other. Minbari do not..."

   Sheridan interrupted. "...do not kill Minbari. Yes, I know. So what's our best defence?"

   "To stay outside the range of the pulse."

   "And just how far does that range extend?" What could he get away with and still be safe? He'd hoped to use the White Star's remarkable manoeuvrability and fire power to disable the Deraal enough to force a surrender. With Lyta to hold off Bester's telepathic attacks it would then be relatively easy to force the release of Delenn and Marcus. Sheridan guessed the crew of the Deraal probably had no idea what was going on, though quite how Bester was managing to keep them in the dark was beyond him. Once the true situation was revealed he suspected they would help rather than hinder the rescue. But all this would be for nothing if they could not stay conscious long enough to force the situation to a head.

   "Not far. You have to be within 2,000 metres of the cruiser. The closer you are, the more effective the pulse. Over 2,000 metres the pulse would only cause a minor and reversible interruption to the White Star's control systems, and probably just give us a mild headache. It is important not to fly directly at the Deraal however. Depending on our speed, the interruption could be sufficient to bring us into closer range and so make us vulnerable to a more significant attack."

   "2,000 metres? OK. Can you program the White Star to stay outside that range should we be forced to attack?"

   "I believe so."

   "Then do so, Mr. Lennier," Lennier promptly bent to his task, and Sheridan smiled grimly as he turned back to the view ahead "we need every advantage we can get."

   Lyta watched the exchange silently. She knew nothing of the respective weaponry of the two ships, and was merely happy that a potential weakness had been identified before it had the chance to cause trouble for them. While Sheridan was still clearly worried he was radiating more confidence as a result of the exchange. A tense air of expectation hung over the bridge. Not knowing where the Deraal was they could only wait until someone revealed it. Their advantage would depend on who sent that information. If it was Bester, all they would have would be the speed with which they would arrive. If it was Delenn or Marcus, and Bester was unaware that his position had been compromised, the advantage would be far greater. All they could do was hope for the latter and be prepared for the former. Lyta stretched her senses beyond the confines of the ship. It was hopeless, but perhaps, just perhaps, she could pick up something. She still did not fully understand the extent of the modifications made in her by the Vorlons. Perhaps? She tried, and then noticed Sheridan watching her carefully. She smiled ruefully and shook her head. He nodded.

   "Well, it was worth a try. Thank you for that."

   "I'll keep trying, Captain. You never know....."

   He smiled and continued to contemplate the swirling red of hyperspace before him. "No," he said at last, "You never know." Lyta suspected there was some deeper meaning there, but she decided not to pursue it. The Captain would tell her if and when he wished to. For now they were playing another waiting game.

*****

Marcus finally reached his room. There was no guard since everyone thought he was safely incarcerated in the store room. Slipping inside quietly he went over to the communications equipment and toyed briefly with simply sending a message then and there. But he was a sitting duck. As soon as he sent it internal monitors reporting to the bridge would detect the signal and Bester would be alerted to his escape. He'd be hard pushed to avoid capture if they knew exactly where he was, and he'd already learned his pike skills were useless against Bester's telepathic ones. No, better he were somewhere else when the message was sent. Somewhere unexpected. He grabbed a hand link and then, thinking it would be stupid not to have a back-up, grabbed the other one. Now he just had to program the equipment to respond to a remote access. He bent to his task, all the while thinking in Adronato. All verbal commands would have to be in English since this was Earth Force equipment, but all of the systems had a manual input option, just in case the operator was, for whatever reason, incapable of using the verbal interface. Automated distress signals and the like could be activated merely by pressing a button, but programming it to initiate a broadcast based on remote input from a hand link would take longer. Unfortunately the manual interface was also considerably more complicated, and it soon dawned on Marcus that time constraints, not to mention his own inadequacies as an EA programmer, might force his hand. He'd just have to do the best he could.

*****

Bester looked at his wrist-chrono and moved to the communications console, initiating a link with Babylon 5. To his disappointment he was greeted by Commander Ivanova. Her distaste upon seeing him was obvious. Nice to know he wasn't losing his touch.

   "Mr. Bester. What can I do for you? Your usual quarters in the brig are available should you be thinking of dropping by. Or we have some nice air-locks if you would prefer?"

   "Charming as ever, Commander. I wish to speak to Captain Sheridan, *if* you don't mind."

   "The Captain is occupied right now."

   "Oh, he'll want to talk to me, I assure you." Ivanova looked at Bester, while she activated a scrambled and secure link with the White Star out of sight of the view screen. She also signalled Lt. Corwin, who was now on duty, to trace the communication back to its origin.

   "Why? Has Psi-Corps been disbanded?" She smiled sweetly at him, her look much too innocent. She enjoyed baiting Bester, and she needed to stall him long enough to close in on his co-ordinates, as well as giving Sheridan the chance to get to a room on the White Star that could be mistaken for somewhere on Babylon 5. If Bester saw him on the bridge he might get suspicious and the advantage of surprise would be lost.

   "You've missed your calling, Commander. You should have joined a comedy troop."

   "It turns out I did. But in those days it took itself seriously and was called Earth Force. Then Psi-corps got involved and everything went straight to hell."

   Bester was becoming irritated with this verbal sparring. "Commander, under normal circumstances I would be delighted to help your re-education, but right now I have more important concerns."

   Sheridan's voice cut in over the link. "Alright, commander. I'll handle this." The screen changed and Bester saw Sheridan in a dark room. His own quarters, perhaps? Remembering what he had found in Delenn's mind it occurred to him that he might have disturbed the Captain trying to catch up on his sleep. Sheridan interrupted his thoughts "What do you want, Mr. Bester?"

   "Ah, everyone is so keen to ask me what I want. It sounds familiar, don't you think?"

   "I haven't got time for this. Say what you're going to say or stop wasting bandwidth." It was easy to come across irritated with Bester, Sheridan thought. Most of the time he was anyway. Now he just had to keep him talking as long as possible while Babylon 5 traced and forwarded the co-ordinates of the signal's origin. If he was too nice, Bester would get suspicious. It was clear the Psi-cop was relishing his position as the harbinger of bad news and wanted to eke it out a bit before dropping the bombshell. He wasn't going to break contact until he'd told Sheridan he'd kidnapped Delenn. Sheridan had some room for manoeuvre until then.

   "Very well, Captain. I believe I have something you want." Sheridan knew he had to play along. Ivanova, on a second monitor, was making a 'keep going' motion with her hand, all the while looking across to Corwin. Her face seemed to be mirroring whatever was crossing Corwin's, and at the present the expression was one of concentrated frustration.

   "I doubt that, unless you've managed to get President Clark's head. Even then I'd want yours to share that particular platter."

   Bester ignored the comment. "Have you received any communication from Ambassador Delenn recently, Captain? I believe she went to visit her ailing mother."

   This was it. Now Sheridan had to prove he could act as well as command. "What are you talking about?" (keep going, keep going... motioned Ivanova).

   "Contact Minbar, Captain. I believe they may have some interesting news for you." And Bester cut the link.

   "Wha..? DAMN! Ivanova, did you manage to get him?"

   "No Captain. A general area, but it's pretty wide. If he were broadcasting direct to both of us it would have taken a matter of seconds to triangulate his co-ordinates. As it is...."

   "He must have been keeping a stopwatch on the conversation," Sheridan mused. "OK, send us the general area. We can close in a bit at least."

   "Being sent now."

   Lennier looked up from his console. "Received Captain, changing course."

   "Ivanova, he's probably monitoring Babylon 5 communications. It'll look odd if we don't contact Minbar, and given we're not supposed to know what's going on it'd be even stranger to use a secure channel. I'll warn Lenntar else he'll give the game away. Give me five minutes and then contact Minbar using standard communication protocols as if requesting information."

   "Is Bester likely to be aware of this channel?

   "I hope not Commander. But the longer we sit chatting, the more chance he'll realise something is going on and scan for activity. I've no idea what kind of technology Psi-corps has these days."

   "Understood. Babylon control out."

   Sheridan contacted Lenntar, explaining the situation and asking him to play along.

   "I will do as you ask, Captain. Do you require any help? I could dispatch another cruiser. We *would* like the Deraal returned to us. It's continued absence is proving most... embarrassing." Lenntar was finding it hard to look Sheridan in the eye, and when he did it was with evident confusion and awkwardness. Bad enough to lose another ship, but to have it reported to them in the first place by Starkiller, who was also offering to be the instrument of its return... How would he explain all of this to his superiors?

   'I'll bet' thought Sheridan, musing on Lenntar's position. Aloud he said "We can't risk anything happening to the Deraal while Ambassador Delenn and Marcus Cole are aboard, Lenntar, but the mere presence of another Minbari vessel may encourage Bester to play along. I can't give you co-ordinates at present, but if you could have something prepared?"

   "It shall be done. Good luck, Captain."

   "Thanks. White Star 2 out."

*****

Bester smiled as he sensed the Deraal form a jump gate and enter it. As commanded, the crew were relocating the ship after communications. While he was certain he had not remained on line long enough for anyone to trace him, even if he had reason to believe they would do such a thing at this stage, he couldn't be too careful, and he knew the risk would be very real the next time. He couldn't keep dragging Kadenn out, so he'd made him give that order right at the start. The cat and mouse would end once visual contact had been made, until then... He'd planned this for a long time. He wasn't going to be caught out by stupidity.

*****

Sheridan turned back to Lyta. "If we get closer to the general area, do you think there's a chance you might be able to make contact with Delenn?"

   "I can try, but I won't promise anything. You're asking a lot, Captain."

   He nodded at the expression of frank scepticism on her face. "That's all I ask. Bester will have to contact us again once he knows we've learned the truth. That may give us the chance to home in closer, if not get him completely." Lyta nodded and stepped forward to stare out of the view ports. She seriously doubted her own abilities in this matter, but she had been surprised before. Sheridan watched her back as she tensed in concentration. Unconsciously he too tensed. If only he could get something, anything! This hanging around not knowing was tearing at his soul. He recalled the image of Delenn he had seen when he first realised something was wrong, and her cry for help. It was still so vivid in his mind. Lyta jerked upright from a slightly stooped position and turned on him.

   "Captain?" For a second he was confused, then... She'd picked up that image. What was she doing in his mind? She was supposed to be trying to detect Delenn and Bester, not eavesdropping on his thoughts. How dare she?! "Captain," she said, reading the growing anger in his face, "I'm reaching as wide as I can to detect *anything*. I can't screen out strong thoughts and emotions just because they're inconveniently close. If you didn't want me to pick that up you shouldn't have thought it so loudly." He relaxed.

   "You're right. I'm sorry." He sat back, but Lyta wasn't finished.

   "Where did you get that from?" He stood up and went over to her. He'd rather Lennier didn't hear the details and the aide was making himself rather obviously busy with the controls. For all his training, Lennier was still too young and too concerned with Delenn not to listen in on conversations that concerned her, even when he was not supposed to.

   "I...dreamed it." Sheridan shook his head. "Damnedest thing. I just *knew* somehow that something was wrong. Coincidence I guess."

   Lyta looked at him intently for a minute, then made a decision. "Captain. You may have experienced something more than coincidence."

   Sheridan raised his eyebrows. "Ms. Alexander. You're NOT going to try and tell me I have some kind of latent telepathic gift!" She shook her head.

   "No. Nothing like that. It's just..." She was struggling to find the right words. She looked away for a second, marshalling her thoughts. How was she going to say this without making him laugh at her? His scepticism was already apparent. She took a deep breath. "Sometimes, when people are close, they seem to make a special connection. It was documented for years before fully fledged telepaths began to appear."

   Sheridan thought for a second. "You mean like twins -- one is hurt, the other gets an unexplained nose bleed at the same time -- that sort of thing?"

   "Yes, but you needn't be related to someone by blood. No one knows quite why it happens. Just as no one knows why sober businessmen with no imagination can suddenly decide they're not going to take their normal shuttle into work one day merely because something feels uncomfortable, only to learn later the shuttle crashed. Yet the number of times that feeling has been followed by a crash is high enough that even two hundred years ago travel operators would double check their vehicles just in case." She drew breath again and decided to lay all the cards on the table. "Captain. You and Ambassador Delenn are obviously very close. I knew that before your image confirmed it." Sheridan had the grace to look embarrassed, but Lyta merely shook her head and carried on. "The point is, you may be able to connect with her in a way I can't."

   "I've been trying. You think I haven't? Ever since I first learned her mother was alright I've been trying to get some clue, but I've had nothing."

   Lyta looked at him, hard. "That's not true. You got something earlier. I felt a... a change somehow. I didn't know what it was then. Now... " she took tight hold of his arm. "What was it?"

   "Words. I didn't *see* anything, and I'm not sure the words were her or just my imagination."

   "Let me hear them." Sheridan pulled away. Ivanova wasn't the only one who didn't appreciate people in her head, but Lyta held on tightly. "Captain. I may be able to help. Between us perhaps we can make a stronger link." He still looked uncomfortable, and suddenly Lyta knew why. She relaxed her grip. "You think I haven't seen that a thousand times, Captain?"

   "Not in *my* head you haven't!"

   "No, but I'm not interested in that. Look. There's no point in telling you not to think about it. It's guaranteed to bring it straight to the front of your mind. Just concentrate on what you heard earlier. That'll drown out most of the other images. I can handle the rest, and I'm not about to share it with anyone else." She tightened her grip again. "Captain. It may be just what we need to beat Bester and get Delenn back. Isn't that worth a little embarrassment?"

   Lennier watched the two from his console. Something was going on, but he couldn't work out what. The Captain looked angry, then embarrassed. Lyta looked frustrated, determined and finally cajoling. Sheridan seemed to be considering his options and then finally acquiesced. Whatever it was, it made him uncomfortable, but he seemed to think it was worth it. The tense stance he'd adopted relaxed and Lennier saw Sheridan stand up straight and calm and close his eyes. Lyta took both his hands in hers and stared at the Captain. As he continued to watch Sheridan winced slightly and Lyta gripped him more tightly. What on earth was going on?

   Sheridan could feel Lyta's cool hands in his own. He concentrated on remembering the sound of Delenn's voice in his mind. Suddenly he could feel Lyta step into his mind and he balked. Images flashed before him and he struggled to put the lid on them. These were for no one but himself and Delenn. He felt Lyta's grip increase and a wave of reassurance washed through him, then her voice was in his mind.

   'Just concentrate on what she said, Captain. Remember what it felt like to hear her in your mind at that moment.' Sheridan's mind was simply not as disciplined as a telepath's and Lyta found that her choice of words had set off another avalanche of images and sensations. She stood back and waited for him to calm himself enough to give her the only information she wanted. His love for Delenn was a potent emotion and she found herself envying him those feelings. She'd never felt such love for someone except, possibly, with old Kosh, and that was *very* different.

   The thought of Kosh caused a shock to pass through both of them, and suddenly there he was, before her, still in Sheridan's mind. She reeled, and felt Sheridan's hands grip hers more tightly. Apparently, not all of Kosh had gone in the struggle with the Vorlon that replaced him, and for a minute Lyta felt him wash over and through her, cleansing her soul of all the hate, fear and frustration she had suffered since his death. Then a third voice entered the fray, and after a second she recognised the calm and impossibly ancient regard of Lorien. How could Sheridan have two such souls inside him, albeit only echoes of them? Their power was such that even their echoes were as potent as any human. She felt Sheridan tense and realised that she had stirred something of which he too had been unaware. As she stood in his mind she saw the three of them before her. Lorien and Kosh, so ancient, wise and calm: a faint amusement lying in that first of the First One's regard of the situation. Then Sheridan himself, small and insignificant beside them. To walk around with those two in his head...? How...? She had to be modified to carry Kosh. How had Sheridan managed? Then she saw something more. In the reflected light of those faint echoes of the First Ones Sheridan's true self rose. All his courage and honour, his trust in others, and the sense of duty and self sacrifice that had sent him to Z'Ha'Dum. Here was a simple honest spirit, confused much of the time, but strong in his belief that he had to do what he thought was right. Though he looked impossibly young and naïve in comparison to the old ones, despite all he had gone through -- or perhaps because of it -- he did not look out of place beside them. For the first time since all her illusions had been shattered by the war, Lyta began to believe the younger races had a chance. If a simple captain could manage to stay true through all they had suffered, there was a future to look forward to.

   As the First Ones nodded to her she saw them turn her thoughts to the voice of Delenn, still crying out in the darkness. Turning to Sheridan's spirit she saw the pain Delenn's cries brought him. She felt herself suddenly falling into him, dropping into the darkness. She left behind the echoes of the First One's, and saw ahead deeper and deeper into him. She seemed to be falling down a vast pit, black and terrible. Z'Ha'Dum! So this is what he had gone through. As she fell she heard a voice -- Lorien's -- 'Do you have anything worth living for?' and saw an image of Delenn aboard the White Star, holding Sheridan's hand and saying 'Sleep now. I will watch and catch you if you should fall'. And then Sheridan's voice, desperate and heart-breaking, tore through her as he cried out 'Delenn!' Abruptly the sensation of falling ceased and there, at the heart, she saw him side by side with Delenn. Twin souls, bright in the darkness. Delenn cried out again, but this time it was not a cry of pain or fear, but of welcome and relief. As she reached out to her, Lyta felt herself being carried far away, the combined forces of the First One's driving her passage, while Sheridan was the conduit through which they were all connected.

   'Captain,' she said in his mind, 'speak to her.'

*****

Delenn started in her trance. Something, someone...what was it? She felt someone in her mind and turned away. No more. No more! If Bester had managed to breach her defences even here, what more could she do to withstand him? But even as she struggled to keep him out the pressure built and she began to realise this was not Bester. She could hear a voice, warm and familiar calling her name.

   'Delenn. I'm here. Listen to me, Delenn. We're trying to find you, but we need to know where you are. Speak to me. Tell me where you are.' As she looked up, the walls of her mental cocoon swam in front of her, and a hand reached through them. Grasping it she felt a flood of relief and suddenly John was standing before her. Faint and slightly hazy, but definitely there. She stirred as though to break the trance but he stopped her. 'Wait. We haven't found you yet. I'm on the White Star with Lyta. Don't ask me how this is possible, I don't understand it myself. I'm not sure if we can maintain this connection for long, so we need you to concentrate too.' As Delenn obeyed his request he seemed to grow more substantial in her mind and she held him tightly. 'John... It's Bester. He fooled us. He's got Kadenn under his control. I don't know where Marcus is. I don't know where we are. He's given me no clue and I'm locked in my quarters.' Her fear was evident and he sought to reassure her.

   'Alright. It's alright. At least we know you're alive and unharmed.' As he said that, images of Bester's last interview washed through her mind and into John's. He tensed and his anger weakened the connection. Lyta spoke up.

   'Captain. Don't lose it. We need to hold the connection until we can get some clue as to where they are. Don't get angry. We'll deal with Bester when we find him, but first we have to find him. Delenn must try to find out where she is. She has to tell us.'

   He struggled until he had brought himself under control again, strengthening the link once more. 'Delenn. You have to find a way to tell us your position. Do you have the communications equipment with you?'

   'No. It is in Marcus's quarters. I do not know where he is. I'm worried about him, John. I know he would have found me before now if he could.'

   'He's resourceful. Don't worry about Marcus, he'll be OK. You must tell us where you are. Can you get to your cabin console?'

   'He tied me to my chair. I cannot move. I had to meditate in order to keep him out of my mind.' There was an edge of panic creeping into her voice. That Bester had managed to reduce her to this was indicative of how far he had already tormented her. Sheridan made a mental note not to restrain himself the next time Bester was within his reach. Meantime he had to reassure her that she *would* be found.

   'Delenn. We're doing everything we can to find you, but if you can find a way to send us a signal it would help. We're in the area, but we don't know how close. Lyta is trying to home in on you, but we need co-ordinates to program the ship.'

   Delenn started. 'John. You're not coming after me alone? You can't. Bester will kill you. He wants something John. He wants it so badly...'

   'Carolyn.'

   'No, it's more than that. He holds you, Lyta, everyone aboard Babylon 5 responsible for her, but he wants something more. He's lost his power within Earth's government. He thinks you are the key to getting it back. One way or another he intends to use you.' She gripped him tightly, staring deep into his eyes. 'Do not trust him John, do not come near him.'

   'I have Lyta with me. I'll be alright.'

   'John. Listen to me. He's ready for you. I know it. He won't be caught out. Be careful. His single-mindedness is terrifying.'

   'I've got help on the way the minute we can home in on you. Just try and get a message to us. Somehow. And don't worry, we'll get you back. I...'

   "Captain!" Lennier's voice cut through and everything disappeared. Sheridan staggered and felt strong hands supporting him. Opening his eyes he blinked a few times and shook his head as though to clear it before focusing on Lyta. She was staring at their hands, still tightly linked. As he released her she looked up into his face. They held each other's eyes for a moment, both confused and astounded by what they had experienced. Lennier still had hold of his elbow. "Captain. Are you alright?"

   Sheridan was still shaking inside, but he broke his gaze and smiled at the young aide. "Yes, Mr Lennier. We're both fine, and so is Ambassador Delenn." Before Lennier could question that last statement Sheridan interrupted him. "Never mind. What's happening?"

   "We have a message from Ivanova. Bester wishes to speak to you."

   "Then I'd better not keep him waiting any longer. He'll be wondering what's going on." With that, Sheridan strode off the bridge and into the cabin he had used before. Lyta, visibly shaken, watched him go.

   "Lyta? Is everything alright? What did the Captain mean about Ambassador Delenn?" Lennier's face was filled with questions to which Lyta had no answers, except one.

   "Exactly what he said, Lennier. Exactly what he said." Lennier offered her help but she smiled weakly, shaking her head, and made her way back to one of the bridge chairs, sitting down heavily. He fetched her some water and stood over her, alternately looking at Lyta and towards the cabin wherein the Captain talked to Bester. What *was* going on?

   Ensuring the lights remained low Sheridan activated the link and heard Ivanova stalling.

   "What have you done with her? It's an offence to kidnap dignitaries. I'm sure the Minbari government will be delighted to hear that Psi-corps are now abducting their representatives..."

   "I'll handle this, Commander," Sheridan interrupted her, leaving her to continue trying to trace the source. "Though I echo the sentiments. Just what the hell *do* you think you're playing at, Bester?"

*****

"Bugger!" Adronato lacked the words to express Marcus' frustration and he gave up.

   "Computer. Activate remote connection to this hand link." He activated the link and saw an answering flash as the main communications console recognised the connection. "Send out automated homing signal upon receipt of the following password."

   "Awaiting password."

   "Password: phrase, 5 words: 'Isil'Zha veni, in Valen's name.'"

   "Password confirmed."

   "Go to stand-by mode."

   "Stand-by mode activated." And almost all external signs that the communications equipment was operational were instantly silenced. To anyone wandering in it would look as though it were switched off. One small green light was the only sign that the equipment was now functioning, and Marcus grabbed his towel and draped it over the offending light. Stepping back he went to the door, ordered lights out, opened the door and slipped outside.

*****

"If you've laid one finger on her, Bester, I swear I'll tear you apart." Having already seen what Bester had done Sheridan had no trouble projecting his anger, but the Psi-cop was unaffected.

   "I've not touched her, Captain. But I will make a deal with you. If you are prepared to meet me, alone, I will release Ambassador Delenn."

   "You must think I was born yesterday. If I turn up alone you'll just take me too, and probably deliver both of us to President Clark. If you return Delenn to Babylon 5, unharmed, I'll do as you ask. Not before."

   "I too am hardly a child, Captain. There would be no point in your fulfilling that promise once the Ambassador had been returned. I would go from win-win to lose-lose in seconds."

   "I give you my word."

   "The word of a traitor to Earth? Hardly something to inspire confidence. And were you planning on keeping it in the same way you kept your vow to Earth? The one you conveniently forgot as you stepped into those sad excuses for uniforms?"

   Sheridan bristled, struggling to keep his fury under control. "Clark is the traitor and you know it. Now return Ambassador Delenn, or I swear I'll rip so many holes in your hide they'll be using you to strain the salads."

   "In good time, Captain. You have to find me first, and I can assure you I will not be easy to find. I will leave you to think about your options." He cut the link again.

   Sheridan turned to Ivanova. "Well?"

   "Did it to us again, I'm afraid.

   "That's not possible. You had his earlier co-ordinates. It would've been a simple matter to..."

   "He's moving. He's nowhere near where he was before. Again, I can give you the general area..."

   "Damn him!" Sheridan's fist hit the desk, the crash interrupting Ivanova and causing necks to stiffen at the sound at both ends of the comm link. "Keep trying Commander. See if you can speed things up a bit."

   "It won't make any difference if we do. We'll only find out where he was, not where he is. He's playing a cosmic Heisenberg. By the time we find out where he was, he isn't there any more."

    "We've got to find him, Ivanova. Keep track of his general location. He might be swapping between a small number of places."

   "Aye Captain." And the comm channel closed. Sheridan stood in front of the console, shaking and trying to calm himself before he ventured back onto the bridge. They needed a break, however small. If only someone could operate the communications equipment.

*****

Marcus reached Delenn's cabin and stopped. Was she OK? Dare he risk alerting her to his whereabouts? What if Bester...

   "Oh...' he bit down on his thoughts. Adronato needed to be overhauled. No language was worth much without some powerful swear words, and the Minbari ones were too obscure and involved for his purposes. He activated the door. Stepping inside he assessed the situation. Delenn was tied to a chair in the middle of the room, apparently unconscious. He ran over and knelt in front of her.

   "Entil'Zha! Entil'Zha!" he shook her. Was she unconscious or meditating? What had Bester done to her? He kept his language to that of the Religious Caste. "<Entil'Zha, please. If you can hear me, wake up!>" That sounded stupid even in his own ears, but as he shook her he saw a change come over her and she opened her eyes to look at him.

   "Marcus?" She focused, hearing his words and seeing a plea in his eyes. She understood and switched tongues. "<Marcus. Thank Valen you're unharmed. Where have you been?>"

   "<Trying to get us some help. I haven't much time. Bester is sure to realise I've escaped before too long. I've rigged the communications equipment to send out a homing signal on a remote command. Here>" He pressed one of the links into her hand, "<The password is 'Isil'Zha veni... >"

   "<'In Valen's name.'>" Delenn interrupted, and smiled. It was apt somehow. "<What are you going to do?>"

   "<Hide. Give me five minutes to disappear, then you activate the signal. Bester will trace the signal to here, and know I've escaped, but he'll know that soon enough anyway. I won't tell you where I'm going. That way he won't be able to get it from you.>" She nodded and shifted uncomfortably. He looked at her bonds. "<If I release you, he'll only tie you up again, and he might use something harder to break next time. If he doesn't find you here, he'll guess the Captain has been alerted to where we are and he'll be ready for him.>"

   "<That's alright. I can manage the discomfort. Go, before he finds you here.>" Marcus looked uncomfortable. "<Go! We cannot risk both of us being captured. I will be fine.>"

   "<I'll not be far away. If need be I WILL come. I have the other hand link. Signal me should you need help.>"

   "<And what can you do against him?>" Delenn looked tired but amused by Marcus' certainty that he would be able to help her.

   "<I don't know. But I'll think of something,>" Marcus bowed. "Entil'Zha." And with that he rose and made for the door pausing, as usual, before disappearing into the corridor outside. Delenn began to count. She'd give him his five minutes, but John needed to know where they were as soon as possible. She only hoped he wouldn't be fool enough to try and take on Bester alone. He was angry. She'd seen that...but *how* had she seen that? Lyta must have had something to do with it, but even so. She rebuilt her mental cocoon. The second she sent the signal she'd have to step back inside. Bester would not be pleased when he found his position compromised. She wondered how long John would have before Bester found out. Long enough. That's all she asked. Long enough. Meanwhile, she'd contemplate the miracle of their communication from safe within the walls of her mind.

*****

Bester smiled as he snapped off the comm link to Sheridan. There was no question they'd be trying to track him now. Another leap into hyperspace rocked the ship and Bester admired the swirling red while contemplating his next move. They'd come up against him, there was no question of that, but what in? A Starfury? Another Minbari cruiser? He thought for a while and then smiled. Of course. Those incredible White Stars. *That's* what Sheridan would use. So he'd have to be prepared, and that meant making sure the crew knew whose side they were on. It was time to drag Kadenn out again. Bester turned, idly rubbing his useless hand, and engaged the recording device to the communications console. Satisfied it was operating he left the bridge, heading for Kadenn's cabin.

*****

In the darkness of the room that was Marcus' cabin nothing could be seen. As the ship jerked into hyper-space there was a sound in the darkness. If you listened very carefully, you would have heard it, like the sound of material sliding on metal and slowly gathering speed. The towel continued to slide off the console, pooling on the floor and revealing the traitorous glow of the stand-by light.

*****

Bester turned the corner and disappeared down a corridor. For a little while the communications console on the bridge was silent, blinking quietly as it recorded the relentless din of communications traffic around Babylon 5. Then a tell-tale light blinked on. It maintained the warning for a few seconds, then, in the absence of an operator, an entry was made in the recording log: 'Local unauthorised comm channel being operated from within the Deraal'. Then the insistent warning sound automatically silenced itself, though the light continued to blink balefully, even though there was no one there to register it. Eventually it settled to a steady glow.

*****

Delenn smiled to herself. She knew that now she had sent out the signal there would be trouble, but the longer she was left alone, the more chance John had. She carefully hid the link in the folds of her dress where they hung down the back of the chair and finished rebuilding the cocoon. Relaxing her body once again she stepped inside. It was a welcome relief from the gnawing pain in her wrists. It would have been nice if Marcus could have at least loosened her bonds, but she could see his point. It would only alert Bester all the quicker and they needed every advantage. Now all she could do was wait and hope.

*****

Aboard the White Star Lennier let out a whoop, causing all heads on the bridge to turn.

   "Mr. Lennier? Are you OK?"

   Lennier composed himself, but he couldn't keep the excitement from his voice completely. "It's the automated distress signal from the communications equipment aboard the Deraal, Captain. Someone's managed to engage it."

   "At last. That's what we needed. Can you home in on it Mr. Lennier?"

   "Shortly Captain. We're closer than we thought."

   Sheridan activated a channel to Babylon 5. "Commander?"

   "We're picking it up now, Captain. Stand-by." The seconds seemed to pass like hours and then he heard a muttered 'yes' from behind him, echoed by a more enthusiastic 'got him!' from Ivanova. They spoke together:

   "Sector 17, by 8 by 47."

   Sheridan smiled. Closer than he could have hoped. "Lay in the course, Mr. Lennier and pour it on. It's time we paid Bester an unexpected visit."

 

Chapter Seven

 

"<Here. Food.>" The Psi-corps guard (whose name, Kadenn had determined, was Garzak) was not the most eloquent of individuals, and the food he brought was execrable, but Kadenn accepted it with a nod and sat down again. He'd tried escaping before now, and had been forced to admit that telepaths had a definite advantage. Taking them by surprise was out of the question. While there might be some human rule about telepaths only scanning when they have been given permission, but it was clear to Kadenn that Garzak was reading his mind all the time they were together, so he concentrated on his food, his environment, and the telepath who was his only link to the outside world. Once the man was gone he could relax again. That last thought was a mistake.

   "<Still planning, Kadenn? You Minbari just never learn, do you?>"

   "<The first rule of a human prisoner, I am told, is to escape. I believe you may have learned that from the warrior caste. Even if I cannot escape, you cannot blame me for thinking about it.>"

   "<Thinking about it doesn't make it so, Kadenn. Good luck to you.>"

   Garzak turned away and stepped out of the cell, leaving Kadenn to his own thoughts. Kadenn smiled, grimly. "<Declare victory in your heart, and the universe will follow.>" he muttered, and got on with his food. He *was* planning, but it was proving difficult. He found it hard to concentrate for any length of time, a side effect of Bester's telepathic torture, and he couldn't think in any depth. This was proving both an advantage and a disadvantage. His only plan was limited, and would involve his own death, but anything was better than letting Bester get the warship and whatever else he sought. It was hard to work on because of the level of concentration required. At the same time, whenever he heard the guard unlock the door, it was easy to let his mind relax again, dismissing those involved thoughts and allowing himself to freely associate. This meant Garzak had not (so far as he was aware) picked up his plan. That, or the man didn't think it had a hope and so was ignoring it. Either way it was a hope, and hope was all Kadenn had left. Now he just awaited opportunity.

*****

As Bester walked along the corridor towards Kadenn's quarters he paused. Something was missing. Stretching his senses across the ship he detected a variety of things. Ambassador Delenn was still, to all intents and purposes, dead to him, but he could deal with that later. There was a dull sense of frustration emanating from Kadenn's quarters, but that had been lurking there since the first day Bester had forced him to send the message to Babylon 5. It seemed a bit more intense than usual, but since their next encounter would probably silence the Minbari for good, Bester wasn't overly concerned. Garzak was alert, if somewhat bored, but that was hardly surprising. He'd been guarding Kadenn for several days, and the man had done nothing more exciting than yell a bit when he was first caught. Yes, they'd had a moderate amount of trouble capturing him, but Bester was well practised in that art by now, and a Minbari warrior caste member was no match for a determined P12 (officially).

   Bester cast out towards the other prisoner and stopped. No sign of the prisoner's mind and no sign of the guard's. Marcus should have been conscious by now, and the guard, even if he had been sleeping last time Bester thought about him, should have been up and around. Something was definitely wrong. He hastened towards the bulkhead storeroom and found an empty corridor. Casting his mind through the door he could detect nothing within. He activated the door panel, but it steadfastly refused to open for him. Given this door had no lock on the inside (one of the reasons they chose it for the resourceful Ranger), locking it was superfluous to requirements. Hence either his guard had stepped away for a call of nature, locking the door as a precaution, or... Bester couldn't detect any mental echo of the guard anywhere aboard the ship. Cursing he sent a message to Garzak. He'd have to learn Minbari at some time, he supposed, but right now, guards who were fluent would do.

*****

"<Finished?>" Kadenn nodded to the telepath and thought some suitable image to project his opinion of the junk they were serving him. The telepath merely continued to collect the utensils, though a slightly rueful glance at Kadenn informed the latter that they probably shared a culinary opinion. At that moment Garzak jerked upright and turned, silently communicating with someone else. Kadenn watched curiously for a moment, and then stretched out on the angled bed. Whatever was going on was nothing to do with him, so he might as well relax. He wouldn't be let in on whatever was going on anyway, and he found he needed more rest these days. Whatever Bester had done to him, his body was slow to repair. He sighed and closed his eyes. At least they'd allowed him to remain in his own quarters and not forced him to sleep horizontally. Of course, they'd shut down all his computers (PPG's worked very well there), so there was nothing he could do to affect the ship, or even warn the crew that they were the victims of piracy. All he could do was read his copy of the sacred scrolls (when he could concentrate to that extent), and sleep comfortably.

   Garzak left abruptly, closing the door behind him, and Kadenn found himself counting the seconds before the lock engaged. One, two, three...nothing. Kadenn lay still, refusing to accept what his ears and mind were telling him. The telepath would correct his error any second, and there was no point in getting all excited over nothing. The seconds passed, a minute. Still nothing. Could it be? Was it possible the opportunity he had been waiting for had finally arrived? 'Declare victory in your heart...'. Had the universe heard him at last? Hardly daring to breathe he rolled off the bed and edged towards the door, straining to hear any sound from outside. After another minute he decided he might as well try. It could be the only chance he would get, and if he missed it the universe might not grant him another. Holding his breath he activated the door. It slid open and he stepped outside, looking to left and right to find Garzak. Nothing. The corridor was empty. He needed no more encouragement. He knew where he had to go and what he had to do. One working computer console was all he needed. As fast as he could, he disappeared into the ship.

*****

"Open it." Bester was impatient and Garzak wasted no time in following orders.

   "<Over-ride locking mechanism and open.>" The door slid open and Bester paused a moment before stepping inside. There, against the wall, lay his guard, a red welt around his neck testifying to the mode of death.

   "Damn him!" As one the two telepaths turned and scanned across the ship. A few moments later Garzak shook his head and waited for Bester to finish. Cursing his own need for secrecy which led him to bring a relatively low grade Psi-corps P7 and not a P12 Psi-cop, Bester finished the scan and shook his head. "He's around, he's got to be. He certainly hasn't left the ship. We'd've been notified. In any case, he would never leave Delenn. Somehow he's hiding his thoughts from me. No telepath could block me, unless they've been enhanced by the Vorlons, and I'm not aware the Ranger has ever been to Vorlon space."

   The guard interrupted. "With all due respect, sir. I suspect he's thinking in Minbari. Since you do not speak the language..." The guard's mouth hung open as he struggled against Bester's telepathic attack.

   Bester's tone was deceptively mild. "Mr Garzak, you would not presume to criticise a Psi-cop, would you?" The pressure was released to enable a reply, although the threat lurked in the air.

   Garzak shook his head. "No sir. Of course not." Bester raised an eyebrow and Garzak fought to bring his thoughts under control. Bester turned away, apparently satisfied he had made his point, and now returned his attention to more pressing matters. Garzak tried not to show his relief.

   "We'll have to find him." Garzak nodded but kept his peace, and Bester smiled at the lesson learned. "I think we need to pay another visit to Ambassador Delenn." They left the storeroom and headed towards Delenn's room.

*****

Marcus watched curiously as Kadenn walked below him. 'Now where could the captain be going?' Not wanting to disturb him Marcus kept silent, and was surprised to see Kadenn pause, check left and right, and then enter a room. From his vantage point in the air vent Marcus sat cross legged and pondered Kadenn's actions. He was clearly up to something, and it was doubtful whatever he was doing would be beneficial to Bester, so it would probably be a good idea if he was left alone. On the other hand, it wouldn't hurt to KNOW what he was up to.

   Marcus turned and made his way down the air vent, trusting his natural sense of direction to find a path to the room Kadenn had entered. The route was circuitous, but Marcus could map it out in his mind as he went along. After a while he found himself nearing the grill to the room. Sliding onto his stomach he crawled towards it as silently as he could. He peered through the grill and saw Kadenn sitting at a terminal, typing slowly but steadily. He was programming something, but Marcus couldn't make out what was on the screen. He watched as Kadenn paused and shook his head as though to clear it. The Minbari was clearly struggling to concentrate, and the fist thumping the console as he shook his head was enough to tell Marcus he was making mistakes that were proving frustrating. Whatever he was doing it would make sense to leave him to it, but given his state it would also make sense if Marcus found out what it was so he could help him. If he dropped out of the air vent without warning Kadenn would probably die from the shock. Marcus leaned against the grill.

   'Psst.' Kadenn paid him no heed. 'Psst, Kadenn!' The Captain paused, but then shook his head and continued. '<Kadenn, in Valen's name, listen to me!'

   Kadenn looked up sharply and saw the Ranger tapping on the wiring. He shook his head. '<Leave me. I have to get this done. Find somewhere safe.>'

   '<What do you mean 'safe'?>'

   '<Away from an air vent.>' And the Captain bent to his task once more.

   '<Kadenn, at least undo these screws. I might be able to help!'>

   '<No time. Leave me!>' At Kadenn's steadfast refusal to be distracted from his task Marcus decided on the more direct approach. He kicked at the grating, but it held fast. He wasn't surprised. He'd only managed to get into the system in the first place by deliberately unscrewing a plate from the other side. For some bizarre reason the Minbari seemed to have their air duct grills very well attached. Quite why was beyond Marcus, unless it was to stop the very thing he was doing, but that seemed highly unlikely. More probably it was just the Minbari way of doing things to a very high standard -- well above what most would consider excessive perfectionism. If he completely kicked it in he wouldn't be able to put it back cleanly, and then he would give away his hiding place. Surrendering to the inevitable he began to retrace his steps. If he couldn't get in the back way, he'd walk in the front door.

*****

Bester and Garzak reached Delenn's quarters and Garzak scanned within. He shook his head.

   "Nothing, sir."

   Bester stared at the door. "So either he's not in there, or he's shut himself in the same sort of cocoon as the ambassador." He waved Garzak back and activated the door lock. Garzak drew his PPG as Bester entered warily, but there was nothing. The ambassador was still tied securely to the chair, and her quarters were otherwise empty. Bester turned back, pushing Garzak aside, and charged into Marcus' assigned quarters. The communications console glowed with a pale green activation light. Bester strode over to the console and went to shut it down, then paused, pulling his hand away and silently regarding the light.

   "Sir?"

   "Sheridan knows where we are. He's probably on his way here right now. If I turn this off he'll know we know he's coming. Better if he doesn't realise we're ready for him." He stood up and walked back to the door. "Leave it alone. The damage is done, so we might as well make a virtue out of necessity. Kadenn will help us once again." With a parting and thoughtful glance at the console, Bester stepped into the corridor and headed for Kadenn's room.

*****

"How much longer Mr Lennier?" Sheridan was growing restless. Now he knew where Bester was he didn't want anything to get in the way, least of all empty space. He had a few debts he very much wanted to repay. He clenched his fists around the arm rests of the command chair as he thought of what Bester had done to Delenn. Yes, Bester would know the depth of his mistake in intimate detail, if Sheridan had his way.

   "Another 15 minutes, Captain."

   Sheridan stood up and marched towards the view-port, as if he could speed the ship by shifting his weight. "Can we go any faster?"

   "If there was anything more available I would use it. The only thing left would be to re-direct energy from life support, and I would not advise that."

   Sheridan turned sharply to regard the aide. "Your reason?"

   "There seems to be a high probability that we will have to fight upon our arrival, Captain. It would be logical, therefore, to maximise our chances of winning that fight." There was gentle reproof in Lennier's tone, and Sheridan drew himself up to his full height as though to respond. Lennier held his gaze and Sheridan dropped his shoulders and grinned, sheepishly.

   "You're right, of course. Sorry Mr. Lennier. I just want to..." he shook his head, unclenching his fists. "Oh hell! We *all* want to get them back safe." He returned to the command chair and settled himself in it. "Maintain best speed and warn me just before we leave hyperspace."

   Lennier nodded and returned to his tasks. Sheridan looked up to see Lyta smiling at him. "We'll get her back, Captain. She'll be fine." He nodded and returned his gaze to the red swirl beyond the view-port.

   "So long as we get there before Bester realises he's been caught. Give me that and I can manage the rest. Is the signal still being sent?"

   "Yes."

   "Then we have our chance."

*****

"What do you mean you forgot to lock the door! What were you DOING?!" Bester was furious, and Garzak began to fear for his life, or at least his sanity.

   "Sir, I could've sworn I locked it. I had just collected his meal tray. You called and I responded. I was certain I'd locked the door before I left. I've never forgotten before."

   Bester ground his teeth so loudly Garzak could hear them. Then he turned and cast his mind out, trying to detect Kadenn's mind. Even if the captain were thinking in Minbari, Bester was used to the feel of his mind now. He'd been in there enough. After a few seconds he smiled. "Come!" He marched off down the corridor, ignoring room after room until finally he stopped and drew his PPG. He pressed the door lock and walked in. "Kadenn. And what, exactly, were you intending?"

   Marcus heard the Minbari's screams from the air vent as he past the corridor. Pulling back he crawled away until he was out of sight, hesitated, and then withdrew altogether. Kadenn was beyond his reach. Whatever he had planned would not help them now. He briefly considered trying to listen in, but realised that the presence of Minbari thoughts in an air vent would be something of a dead give-away. Would Kadenn's plan simply be aborted? Or would Bester find a use for it? Knowing his luck, thought Marcus, the latter. Ergo, it was time to find some kind of protection. Kadenn's advice warned him of the nature of the beast...gas. A breathing mask or sealed room would be in order then...

*****

"Look at the computer. What was he doing?"

   Garzak regarded the viewscreen for a minute scrolling through the commands, and then he turned to Bester. "He was going to release a poison into the air; a tranquilliser. I think he planned to set the computer on automatic, warning Sheridan while simultaneously disabling everyone aboard. Sheridan would be able to just dock and take over."

   "How far was he with the programming?"

   "Just completed. He was about to speak the password to set it when we walked in and stopped him."

   "So, the ship is set to release a gas into the air. We know about it. Sheridan doesn't." He turned to Kadenn. "What was the password, Captain?"

   Kadenn gazed silently at the floor, thinking of Valen, his days in training, anything except the password. He was going to die, of that he was certain, it was now simply a matter of not giving away anything of value to the enemy. Bester regarded him levelly and then reached out with one gloved hand, staring at the Minbari. Kadenn's face contorted with the effort of withstanding Bester's probe, but his body and mind had been weakened by days of abuse. It was simply a matter of time.

   "The password Kadenn. You will give it to me, whether you want to or not. Do you truly wish all this pain?"

   Kadenn grunted with the effort but held his peace.

   "As you wish," and Bester closed his eyes and reached out as though plucking something from a branch. Kadenn arched in his seat, his fists clenching and face contorting with agony. Bester concentrated harder and Kadenn let out a howl before collapsing. Garzak felt for a pulse and shook his head. Bester smiled and looked at Garzak. The password was in Minbari, but Garzak picked it up from Bester's mind without trouble, and then waited to hear what they were going to do with it. As the minutes passed blood trickled from Kadenn's nose and one sightless eye that had burst a vessel in the final, deadly assault. Garzak silently shut the warrior's eyes but kept his peace.

   The silence stretched out until eventually Bester smiled. "And now we have a way of getting Sheridan, Lyta AND a White Star. Not a bad bargain. No, not bad at all."

   "Sir?"

   "Where do Minbari's keep their emergency repair tools?" Garzak blinked at the apparent non sequiter and then consulted Kadenn's still active computer, all the while keeping Kadenn's own program open. Finally he nodded to Bester and led the way from the room.

*****

"Is there any way we can hail them the minute we exit hyperspace?"

   "Yes, there is." Lennier's attention easily divided between answering the Captain's questions and making the final adjustments before entering the jump gate sequence. "Provided Bester has not switched off communications we should be able to get through. What did you want to say?"

   "The truth, Mr. Lennier. I doubt the crew would support Bester's actions once they knew the full situation. I intend to tell them."

   "Then I suggest you record the message in advance so it can be sent without hesitation. We don't know how long a window we will have before Bester interrupts." Sheridan nodded and indicated he was ready. Lennier swept his hands over the console in a complicated movement that reminded Sheridan of some ancient far-eastern mind/body discipline. "Ready to record, Captain."

   "Attention Minbari cruiser Deraal. This is Captain John Sheridan of Babylon 5. You are the victims of a piracy engineered by a Psi-cop called Bester who you have aboard your vessel. He has taken control of your captain and is holding Ambassador Delenn and Ranger Marcus Cole hostage. We are here to arrest Bester and return the Deraal to Minbari hands. Do not attack our ship as we will be forced to respond. Stand down and allow us to shuttle over. Sheridan out." Not the most elegant of messages, to be sure, but the essence was there and clear. Lennier promptly had it translated into Warrior caste Minbari and set the communication's console to broadcast as soon as they exited hyperspace. Just 3 minutes to go.

*****

Marcus had barely managed to find the store room and grab a breather before he realised Bester and Garzak were headed in the same direction. Moving as swiftly and as calmly as he could, he dodged back into the ship just as they came around the corner. So intent were they on their goal that neither registered the Ranger's brief presence. The entered the store room and shortly thereafter Garzak appeared with two breathers while Bester stood toying with a small tube. Weighing it experimentally he considered his attire for a moment before kneeling down and fitting the tube into his sock. Standing he shook out his leg so the trouser hung straight.

   "There. Do you have the spare, just in case?" Garzak produced a similar tube from his pocket, and then returned it. "Good." Now we just have to rely on the good Captain to show no imagination. Go. Get everything ready, and keep out of sight. If they catch you before we're finished..." Bester didn't have to finish the sentence, and Garzak disappeared into the ship.

   Bester, meanwhile, sauntered toward the bridge, checking his chrono as he walked. After a while he paused and stood silently, as though hearing something that, from the way his expression stretched into a grin, gave the impression he was very satisfied with the turn of events. As he passed Delenn's quarters he regarded the door with a cold smile.

   "And you, Ambassador, will also be mine." And with that he continued his slow stroll to the bridge.

*****

"Exiting hyperspace."

   Sheridan sat back in the command chair, his hands lightly gripping the arms of the chair while his body tilted slightly forward as though to get nearer to his prey. "Is the hail ready?"

   "Yes Captain. Sending now." Lyta stood up, straining to sense the response of the Deraal over the intervening space. Was that...could she distinguish between the gamut of emotions swirling around her and those from the other ship? Wait, confusion, anger...YES!

   "Captain."

   "Hmm?"

   "They're pissed." Sheridan smiled. He'd not easily forget the circumstances the last time she had said that to him.

   "And?"

   "I think Bester is about to find himself facing a roomful of angry warrior caste Minbari."

   Sheridan's response was a dangerous growl. "Good. I hope they tear him apart."

   "That would not be likely." Lennier interjected, not fully appreciating Sheridan's feelings on the matter. "Since he is, strictly speaking, the responsibility of Earth, while he has stolen and misled a Minbari cruiser, nevertheless I believe they will merely hold him until you can take delivery. They would not wish to injure him since that could generate serious repercussions, detrimental to our present peaceful..."

   "Thank you Mr. Lennier. It was merely wishful thinking on my part, not a statement of intent. Have they answered our hail yet?"

   "Not yet."

   "What are they waiting for?"

   "My guess would be they seek to confirm your claims. Wait...I'm picking up a signal. They're signalling Minbar..."

   Sheridan nodded and leaned back in his chair. Soon, soon.

   Lennier bent to the console. "Coming through now, Captain."

   Sheridan stood and walked towards the low image generator on which shimmered the hologram of a warrior caste Minbari. While disconcerted to find himself facing Starkiller Sheridan, the Minbari held himself with dignity and bowed, slightly.

   "Captain. We apologise for our delay in responding. We had been ordered to maintain communications silence. When we realised we could not find Alyt Kadenn we decided to contact the home-world. They confirm your claim. Mr Bester and his associates are being sought even as we speak."

   "Good. Is Ambassador Delenn alright?"

   "I have sent someone to check on the Ambassador. Captain. We should hear shortly." The image of the Minbari paused and turned away, as though speaking to someone, and then looked back to Sheridan. "Bester is under arrest Captain. One of his guards has been found dead. Another is missing. Alyt Kadenn is dead." The warrior paused and Sheridan noticed Lennier, too, bowed his head. Sheridan held his peace, acknowledging the show of respect for a fellow soldier and bowing his own head in turn. The Minbari carried on. "We should have the other guard in custody shortly, Captain. Ambassador Delenn is alive and physically unharmed, but she is in a state of deep meditation. It may take some time to bring her out of it. I suspect she chose that method to resist your telepath's invasions of privacy."

   Sheridan bristled slightly. "Not my telepath, I can assure you. Alright..." Sheridan turned to Lennier "Have we a shuttle ready Mr Lennier?"

   "Ready and waiting Captain."

   Sheridan turned back to the hologram. "Do I have your permission to come aboard?"

   "Indeed, Captain. By the time you arrive, we should have both ready and waiting for you."

   "Thank you. Sheridan out." The hologram shimmered away and Sheridan turned back to the centre of the bridge. "Lyta. I'll need you with me. I trust Bester about as far as I can throw him," Sheridan paused and thought about that for a second. "Nope. I don't even trust him that far. Mr Lennier, I leave the White Star in your capable hands. I'll contact you when we're ready to return." Lennier nodded and Sheridan indicated that Lyta was to precede him to the shuttle bay.

*****

Bester sat in his makeshift cell and smiled to himself. The store room was small and low and completely unfurnished, so Bester had to sit on the floor. It also had no air vent because the Minbari feared he would find some way to use one if he had access. Couldn't be better. He bowed his head and sent a message to Garzak. A few moments later he sat up and regarded the door for a moment, before taking the small tube from his sock, removing the cap, and spraying the contents around the door frame. The sealant expanded and filled every gap. Before long the room was completely sealed barring the bottom of the door, by which Bester positioned himself. He then sat down and relaxed as much as he could. There wasn't much air, and once the plan was complete there wouldn't be any coming in from the rest of the ship, so Garzak had better get it right...

*****

Sheridan piloted the shuttle neatly into the Deraal's docking bay and waited for the outer doors to seal. A passenger tube attached itself to the shuttle's door and formed a seal, allowing Sheridan and Lyta to enter the Deraal proper. Reaching the second door they were greeted by the same warrior who had communicated with them earlier. His bow was perfunctory but polite, with the barest hint of angry embarrassment which caused Sheridan to overlook any minor violations of military etiquette.

   'I bet he feels pretty sick already' he thought. 'No need to add to his misery.' Aloud he said "Where's Bester?"

   "Under arrest and locked in a storeroom under guard. He cannot escape."

   Lyta looked at the Warrior "And how, if you don't mind me saying so, did you take him?" Sheridan raised his eyebrows at the question. Good point!

   "We have one minor telepath aboard. While he could not stop a telepath of the obvious strength of this human you call Bester, nevertheless he could stall him long enough to allow at least one of the guards who found him to get off a fatal shot. We gave Bester a choice: Surrender, or die. The coward chose surrender. You may deal with him as you please. Do you wish to see him?"

   "No. First I want to see Delenn. Once I know she's alright, THEN I'll deal with Bester. Have you found Marcus yet?"

   "No. Your Ranger seems to have disappeared. He is probably as yet unaware that Bester has been arrested, and will come out in good time. This way, Captain." And with that, the Minbari turned, his tunic billowing slightly behind him as he led the way to Delenn's quarters.

*****

Marcus Cole was frustrated. He knew where Bester was, and was quite happy to leave him there. The guard on the door was alert and taking no chances. Bester wasn't going anywhere. Clearly the White Star had got the message and come to the rescue, which meant the whole sorry business would be over soon. But where was that other guard, Garzak? He had to be around somewhere. Since the telepath might become aware of Marcus' search if he encountered Minbari crew who had seen the Ranger hunting around the ship, Marcus avoided all contact with them. Once he knew where Garzak was...THEN he'd relax and contact the Captain. Now where the hell was that teep? Marcus strode down the corridor, trying to calculate where a member of Psi-corps might hide on a Minbari war cruiser. It was not easy. It would almost certainly be luck that would shape the teep's choice of location rather than knowledge of the ship. If he needed to hide and have access to a good computer set-up it would make sense to go to the crew quarters of the senior officers, which spread, fan like, and in all directions, from those of the ship's captain. A sort of protective wall of senior crew members, covering every corridor just in case. A means of warning about and stalling soul hunters when they came calling. You could tell the officer's quarters by the distinctive symbol of higher ranks. As Marcus passed a door he regarded the back and white logo...like that one. Any of those rooms would suit the telepath. Good thing he didn't know that, Marcus thought. He turned down yet another corridor.

*****

Garzak smiled and waited a few seconds to be sure Marcus had passed by before returning to his task. The computer was on-line, he was ready with the command. He just had to wait for Sheridan to get to Ambassador Delenn. Otherwise they'd still have to deal with that damn Minbari mental wall and discipline. Just a few more minutes. The Ranger could hunt all he wanted. Garzak KNEW Minbari war cruisers. He could stay one step ahead of the Ranger for long enough, he was sure.

*****

"Delenn?" Sheridan knelt before her while her hands were untied. The comm link fell from the folds of her dress and Sheridan picked it up, stuffing it absently in his pocket. "Delenn, c'mon. It's OK now. You can come out." He looked up at Lyta who smiled reassuringly at him.

   "It's OK, Captain. It's a deep trance, but there's nothing wrong with her. She'll come out soon. Give her time."

   As the last of the bindings were released Sheridan took one hand in his and gently rubbed at the red welts on her wrist. "Delenn. It's me, John. You're safe." He reached up to her face and gently stroked along her cheek, cupping it in his hand as he leaned forward and kissed her on the forehead. "Delenn?" He turned to Lyta. "I swear, if Bester has harmed her in any way you'd better make sure I don't see him, because I will shoot that sonofabitch on sight."

   Lyta nodded and then smiled and looked pointedly at Delenn. At the same moment, Sheridan felt a pressure on his hand and he looked back to see Delenn open her eyes and smile at him. "John." She put her arms around his neck.

   'To hell with appearances,' he thought, and responded, hugging her tightly before kissing her deeply. Lyta looked up and frowned at the Minbari. Whatever his feelings on the matter, he didn't have to broadcast them quite so blatantly. Turning, the warrior stepped towards the door, which opened at that second to admit Marcus.

   "Captain. Entil'Zha! Thank God."

   Sheridan looked up at the Ranger, but held onto Delenn, revelling in the feel of her in his arms once more. "Marcus. Good to see you in one piece." He registered Marcus's state and released Delenn. "What's with the breather?"

   "Bester's up to something."

   "Impossible, Captain," the Minbari assured him. "We have Bester under strict guard and he CANNOT escape."

   Marcus looked pointedly at the warrior. "That's what Bester thought about me, and I escaped."

    "He underestimated a human trained by Minbari. We do not make such mistakes. He is locked in a room with only one exit, and that is guarded. We searched him thoroughly before leaving him there. He has no weapons or means of escape."

   "Do you have his other guard?"

   "Not yet, but we will."

   Sheridan was growing impatient. "Marcus. What do you need the breather for?"

   "Kadenn managed to escape just before they killed him. He was programming the ship's air system when Bester turned up. Kadenn wouldn't tell me what he was doing, only that I was to stay away from the air vents."

   Delenn stood up. "He wouldn't!" Both Sheridan and Lyta picked up the edge of panic in her voice.

   "What? What's going on?" Sheridan looked from Delenn to Marcus and back again.

   Marcus turned to the warrior. "Did you say there was NO exit from the room you locked Bester in?"

   "That's right. We made sure there was no way out."

   "What about an air vent?"

   "Do you think I am as stupid as they? Of course not!"

   Marcus turned pointedly to Sheridan and Delenn. As the synapses made their connections Delenn's eye's widened. "No!"

   "We're on it!" and Marcus and the warrior turned to leave. At that moment the door opened and Garzak stepped in, snatching the breather from Marcus before he had chance to react and levelling a PPG at the group.

   "Too late." He said simply.

   The Minbari hurled himself at the telepath. Garzak calmly levelled his PPG and fired, stepping aside as the corpse collapsed before him.

   Sheridan looked to Delenn for an explanation, and saw her face start to contort. What was wrong with her? He reached out only to find the problem was with him. He blinked, trying to clear his eyes, but his vision became more distorted. He heard Lyta cry out and saw Garzak stagger, but only briefly. Turning, Sheridan saw Lyta sink to the floor, struggling to maintain her telepathic attack, but growing weaker by the second. Marcus was staggering, trying to reach Garzak while the telepath was distracted, but he sank to his knees and then collapsed. As Delenn began to crumple, Sheridan struggled to keep his wits and make his way to Garzak.

   "What...have you DONE!?" the floor came up to meet him. As a black boot came down close to his heard he heard a sound from above him.

   "Won."

 

Chapter Eight

 

"If you come within 2,000 feet of this ship, it will automatically self-destruct," Bester informed a frustrated Lennier, who'd contacted the Deraal 20 minutes after Sheridan and Lyta had arrived. "Of course," he continued, "I have no real wish to die. But then, I suspect you do not wish to see so many of your friends die either. What would happen to your great cause if its head were cut off, I wonder?"

   Lennier composed himself. "There is another Minbari War cruiser on its way. You will not be allowed to leave with your hostages."

   "Oh? And how, precisely, do you plan to stop me? No, Mr Lennier. It's game, set and match to me, I think. You can sit there as long as you want, and call as many as you want to help, but they will have to move out of the way if they are not to kill the Captain and Ambassador Delenn, not to mention your telepath and Ranger. Once I have what I want I will let them go. Of course, I probably won't be able to answer for their min...ah, physical state by that time." Lennier felt an overwhelming urge to ring the telepath's neck. If only he could reach that far! "Rest assured, they shall be returned to you...eventually." and with that, Bester cut the communication link.

   Lennier stood gazing at the holographic projector where Bester's image had stood. When he'd instigated the communication, Lennier had assumed he would see Sheridan and Delenn on that small platform. A free Bester had been something of a shock. One which was subsequently compounded by the revelation that Sheridan and Lyta had been captured and added to Bester's list of hostages. Now Lennier wondered how exactly he was going to explain this to Ivanova when the commander linked in again to get a status report. Despite the fact that he knew Minbari strength was quite adequate to defeating most humans, somehow he did not wish to be on the wrong side of an irate Ivanova. He had the feeling no one had bothered to tell her about Minbari physical superiority. All he could do was pray he came up with a solution before she linked in.

*****

Bester was quite impressed by the holographic communications system. It'd taken him a few seconds to work out how to operate it, but the Minbari ship had been built for efficiency and nothing was too complicated, even for a normal human mind, and Bester prided himself on the fact that his mind was far beyond 'normal'. It might be worth simply holding onto his hostages while Psi-corps technicians came aboard and determined how the systems worked. Well, maybe later. For now, he had other things on his mind. His hostages would be just waking up, so it was time to get the rest of the answers he sought.

*****

His wrists were sore, his back stiff, and his legs were going numb. He shifted, or tried to, and found he couldn't. Opening his eyes his found himself looking at a black jacket. Raising his eyes he saw Bester smiling down at him. Memory flooded back and he groaned. How could he have been so stupid?

   "Awake now, Captain? And how are we feeling?"

   Sheridan kept his mouth shut. Experience had taught him there was no point in responding to Bester's taunts. His private thoughts, unfortunately, were very loud.

   "Captain. I'm shocked! After all, I've merely take advantage of your stupidity, as you yourself are fully aware. Why you should wish such suffering on me for doing what you have been doing for months to President Clark I cannot imagine. However," he shrugged and moved away, revealing Delenn tied in the chair opposite him, her face a mask of concern. "In time perhaps I will earn those images. Now," and he turned and faced Sheridan, "I would like some answers, Captain. As I told your..." he hesitated, as if struggling for the right word. While he said the word "ambassador" aloud, John heard Bester's voice in his mind saying <alien whore>. Sheridan reacted to the telepathic epithet immediately, only to hear Delenn's cry of 'NO!' just too late. Riding his anger into his mind, Bester dived in. Sheridan shook himself and fought for control, but Bester was already comfortably ensconced. Sheridan saw Delenn's look of anguish as he struggled with the telepath. In his mind Bester seemed to smile. He moved out of Sheridan's physical line of sight, speaking aloud so Delenn could hear. "And now, Captain. As I was saying, President Clark is getting paranoid to say the least. Not that he hasn't some justification with my people around him. The problem is, it's not MY people he seems to be frightened of. So... Who is it?"

   Sheridan fought with the images that shot through his head. A future in which Londo suffered under the control of an alien parasite; descriptions of the self-same parasite turning up on Mars; and Delenn's descriptions of the Drakh.

   "Hmm. Again the 'Dark Servants' of the Shadows? You two really believe these beings are behind all our troubles, don't you?"

   "Not all of them." Sheridan muttered pointedly.

   Bester ignored him. "Well, I'll keep my eye open for those. Now then." And Bester cracked his knuckles as he strolled behind Delenn and put his gloved hand on her shoulder. Sheridan struggled once more but to no avail, and the Bester in his head smiled. "Oh, I'll get back to your ambassador shortly, if you don't tell me all I want to know, Captain. She's already provided some intriguing information, but perhaps you can fill in the details. Specifically, I would like to know what happened to Ambassador Sinclair, and why she was so desperate to prevent me from learning his fate." Again, Delenn's eyes pleaded with Sheridan not to reveal what he knew, as little as it was in comparison to her own knowledge of Sinclair's part in the history — political, religious and genetic — of Minbar. But while he was strong physically, Sheridan lacked the mental discipline that Delenn had acquired over years of service to the religious caste. After all, Earth-force captains were not normally taught meditation techniques or how to build telepath-resistant mental walls. They weren't supposed to find themselves in a position to need such skills. Though it was not the easiest scan Bester had ever carried out, Sheridan was an effortless target in comparison to Delenn. Delenn watched Sheridan's eyes and saw the battle being lost even as Bester verbalised his discoveries aloud for her benefit. "Ah, Babylon 4. How interesting."

   Delenn sagged in her chair. Was there anything left this man couldn't find out and use to his advantage?

*****

Lyta Alexander woke up alone in a cold room. Too dark to see she pulled herself up onto her knees and instantly wished she hadn't. A wave of nausea swept through her and she struggled to hold her stomach down. When it passed she put her hands out to feel the walls of her cell. Nothing. Gingerly, so as not to set off another nauseous wave, she picked herself up and took a step. Then another. One more and she felt something. At first she wasn't quite sure what it was. Cloth? There was movement and a blinding light, and she found herself with her hand on the front of Garzak's tunic.

   "Good to see you awake, Ms. Alexander. The corps is VERY interested in you, you know?" Unable to think straight because of the hangover caused by the gas, Lyta had not detected anyone else in the room. Which was just as well, because if she had been able to she would probably have warned Garzak unintentionally. As it was, the pike that struck the telepath across the side of the head was as much of a surprise to her as it was to Garzak. His face registered that surprise for a brief second before he collapsed altogether. Lyta was left looking up into the face of a somewhat distraught Marcus. She sagged, and he reached out and caught her, helping her over to the nearest chair. Seeing her turn pale he ran to the bathroom and grabbed a towel which he drenched in water. Ringing it out to damp he returned and put it over the back of her neck, then knelt beside her.

   "It's OK. If you just sit still it'll pass."

   She raised her eyes and peered at him from under the towel. "You're sure about that, are you?"

   "Well, sure as I can be. Didn't do me any harm, and Minbari don't usually use anything that has unpleasant long term effects. No point."

   "Glad to hear it." There was a pause and then the synapses started to click together. "Marcus. How the hell did you do that? "

   He raised his hand to reveal his fighting pike in its closed form. "Can you believe it? They forgot to take this away from me!"

   "And?"

   "And what?"

   "And how come you were in a fit state to use it?"

   "Ah, that. Well, what can I say? Ranger training has its advantages."

   "You're not going to tell me, are you? "

   "What would be the point? It took me two years to learn how to modulate my oxygen intake on command. I've also experienced this stuff before. Maybe you build up some resistance."

   "But I saw you go down before I did!"

   "Ah. *Appear* to go down. Once I realised I couldn't fight them I concentrated on slowing my body down as much as possible. That way I wouldn' t inhale as much. I couldn't do that AND pick a fight. "

   "I call it luck!"

   "Don't believe in luck. Anyway, who cares? It worked, didn't it?" His general demeanour was a little too jaunty for her sore nerves and she groaned. After a few moments she took a deep breath and drew herself up, pulling the towel from around her neck and wiping her face over.

   "And do you want to explain to me how our telepathic friend down there didn't know you were behind him?"

   "A combination of things I think. For one, he was pretty occupied with you. Two, I'm very light on my feet." He grinned, but she was still frowning.

   "And?!"

   "Oh, you mean, why didn't he sense me telepathically?" Lyta rolled her eyes. His 'cute' could get really annoying.

   "Another little trick I learned while training. Damned hard to keep up for any length of time, though." She cocked an eyebrow at him. "I can blank my conscious mind and work on automatic. I can't give myself too many instructions in advance, though. Of course, it helped that Garzak isn't a Psi-cop like Bester, so as long as I kept out of his line of sight there was no reason why he should register anything. A rather useful development from meditation. Funny that. I always hated meditation when I was studying to be a Ranger. Couldn't see the point in it. I'd far rather go out and practice with the pike, or fly or something. Yet since I left I've found it the single most useful tool they gave me." Lyta gazed pointedly at the telepath on the floor. Garzak's head was already sporting quite a lump, and the bruise was spreading across his face. "Yes, well...that's not to say the pike isn't the second most useful. Let's just say, meditation taught me how to hone the other skills. Are you alright?"

   Lyta nodded carefully and took a few more deep breaths, then she swallowed. "Where's the bathroom?"

   "In there." She staggered off and Marcus heard the tap go on.

   Lyta looked herself over, eyeing her neck ruefully. Gills. Great in methane (though she could never quite work out why), useless against Minbari knockout gas. //Typical!// she thought. //Just when you really need them…utterly useless!// She snorted her annoyance.

   "Did you say something?" Marcus called through.

   "No, nothing. Just pissed at myself. I should've seen something like that coming from a weasel like Bester. Be out in a minute."

   A few seconds later she re-emerged, wiping water from her mouth. She paused when she saw the body of a Minbari prone on the floor.

   "Is he...?"

   "Dead? Surprisingly enough, no. Our friend Garzak must be a better shot than he looks. Or a worse one. He'll be out for a while yet, and it'll take a while to heal, but he should be OK."

   "Not if we don't get out of here soon."

   "Well, there is that, of course. Better now?"

   She nodded. "Uh huh. But whatever they use it leaves your mouth really dry. Where's the Captain?"

   "I'm pretty sure Bester has him in Delenn's quarters. It'd make sense."

   "Could we rush him, do you think?"

   "Well, that all depends on how long it takes to pull a PPG and shoot someone. I don't think I'd like to play those odds myself. No, we need him distracted first."

   "Damn!" Lyta thought for a minute, and then shook herself. She gave Marcus a half smile. "OK. Here goes nothing." Turning around she reached out in every direction until she sensed a concentration of thought off to her right. "If I do this outside their door he might pick me up before I have the chance to catch him. I'll start from here." Facing the source of the thoughts she stepped away from Marcus and concentrated. Nothing for a few seconds and then, suddenly, she rocked as though buffeted by something. She smiled.

   "Got you, you bastard!" Still concentrating on Bester she addressed her next remark to the Ranger. "Go. Quickly. You'll be able to get in now. I'll follow on behind. I have some unfinished business with Mr. Bester." Marcus turned and headed for Delenn's quarters. There was something in the expression on Lyta's face that made him very glad he wasn't the subject of that 'unfinished business'.

*****

Bester was warming to his task. While he still maintained that the stuff about Minbari souls and Sinclair's transformation into Valen was clearly nonsense, it seemed Sheridan believed it, and that, in itself, was enough to make him go over every point in detail. He couldn't see why Delenn was so desperate to keep this quiet though, and he began to suspect he would have to probe her thoughts again: she would be an easier target now her lover was present and she could witness the immediate consequences of her defiance, but he found it interesting that Sheridan had apparently been kept in the dark. Perhaps Bester could use this as one more weapon in his arsenal.

   The story of Babylon 4's disappearance, on the other hand, was much more interesting and Bester found himself fascinated. Further probing revealed that President Clark and his supporters were held in complete contempt by Sheridan (//big surprise there!// he thought), but other than those things that Bester knew already (such as Clark's involvement in the assassination of President Santiago) there was nothing of interest. Sensing his subject was about to pass out, Bester released his grip and stepped away. He had to think about what he had seen before he went back, and he needed Sheridan alive. A few minutes would harm no one, and Bester had plenty of time.

   As he felt Bester pull out of his mind, Sheridan took a deep breath and fought to remain conscious. True, Bester could do nothing with him if he was unconscious, but that went both ways, and he had to be prepared should an opportunity present itself. He was in agony. He'd fought as hard as he could to keep the telepath out, or at least contained, but he simply didn't have the reserves to do it. Looking up he saw Delenn, her expression one of concerned attention and concentration, as though she were willing him the strength he needed. He tried to give her a reassuring smile, but he couldn't pull the muscles into the right position, and it came out as a grimace. He saw a tear form and flow down her cheek. He wanted to reassure her, but he could barely breathe, let alone speak. Bester saw the exchange and smiled.

   "Ah, Captain. Always so considerate of others. Ambassador, I assure you, he's no use to me dead, and I'll try not to damage his mind *too* much. I only have two more things I need to know. The truth behind this nonsense about Z'Ha'Dum and your experiences there, and what you're planning to do with my lover. After all, I left her with you a long time ago, and there's no indication that you've even tried to help her. There're limits to my patience, Captain. I made a promise and I kept my side of the bargain, but you do not seem to have kept yours. So..." And Bester raised his hand in front of Sheridan's face and plunged back in.

   "NO! Get...out...of...my…head." The words were punctuated by gasps and Delenn saw Bester's face contort slightly as he concentrated on his task. He saw Justin and heard the explanation of the Shadow position. Saw Anna, or what was left of her, reaching out to Sheridan, flanked by Shadows. He saw Sheridan's resolution to destroy the Shadow city using the White Star's bomb load. And finally he saw the fall at Z'Ha'Dum. As he plunged towards the bottom of the 2 mile deep pit he felt Sheridan's fear and realised it was not a fantasy. He pulled back slightly, not sure what awaited him, and suddenly realised he was no longer alone.

   Turning in the darkness of the pit he saw Lyta, triumphant and furious, falling with him. This trip held no fear for her. She'd been there before. With a look of exultation she seized Bester's mind and dragged him back in.

   "You bastard. You REALLY want to know what you're up against?"

   Delenn saw Bester stagger and wondered what was happening. At that moment, the door opened and Marcus ran in, pike at the ready. He paused to take in the scene before him.

   Bester was caught as though frozen, a look of fear and astonishment on his face. Sheridan's head was on his chest as though he had finally passed out, and Delenn was struggling with her bonds. Running to the latter, Marcus freed her. As she fought to escape the last tie and run to Sheridan's side Marcus stopped her, one hand gripping her arm "Look."

   Sheridan raised his head and stared, not so much at her as through her. Marcus felt her shudder. She hesitated and Marcus put one hand on her shoulder.

   "Entil'Zha. Wait. It'll be alright."

   "What's happening?"

   "Lyta...had a score to settle."

   "You mean she's..."

   "I'm here." The telepath walked in the door, her face taut with the effort being expended. Bester was trapped and couldn't take his eyes of Sheridan, though his face registered shock at the sound of her voice in the room. Lyta stepped nearer. "Marcus, release the Captain." Marcus hastened to the task. As soon as his bonds were free, Sheridan stood and, at a silent request, turned to face Bester, reaching out with one hand to Delenn, and with the other to Lyta. Marcus backed away, standing behind them, all the time keeping his pike at the ready in case something went wrong.

   As they joined hands to complete the circle around Bester, Delenn felt a shock pass through her. The room fell away and she was surrounded by darkness. As she grew accustomed to it, she saw she was not alone. Bester, Lyta, and Sheridan stood facing each other. As she stepped towards them she saw a movement in the darkness. Lorien and Kosh were also there. Sheridan motioned for her to join him and then turned to Bester.

   "You wanted to know what I encountered at Z'Ha'Dum? My responsibility. A choice. Hope. This is what I had to accept."

   Bester heard a sound, growing louder and louder around him. The sound of a clock ticking away the moments. Tic, toc, tic, toc. As it grew louder Delenn went to cover her ears. Lorien stepped up behind her and, with a touch of his hand, the sound diminished.

   "I thought you had gone."

   Lorien smiled. "I have. These," and he indicated himself and Kosh, "are merely remnants. Echoes. So long as he is here, so shall we be also. Something must be left to maintain him. When he dies, all the First Ones will be gone forever. But for him, we will always be here."

   "And you approve of what is happening here?"

   "It is not a question of approval or disapproval. It is what has to be done. You know that while you have driven off one darkness, one yet remains, hidden behind another name. If you are to defeat that darkness, this man cannot be allowed to reveal what he has learned. So he must be made to forget."

   "And how can we do that?"

   The musical sound that always preceded Kosh's words filled the air. "His mind forgets what was, and only when it remembers nothing does it see the truth."

   "And that is?" Delenn had little hope that her question would be answered, but there was no harm in trying.

   Again, the music. "Fear, pain, sorrow. For that which was not, and that which never will be." Kosh's iris closed and Delenn gave up. Whatever was going on, she wasn't going to get an intelligible answer from Kosh.

   Lorien smiled. "You will understand, one day."

   Delenn watched Lyta turn to Sheridan. "He had one more question I believe, Captain. Do you want to give him his answer?"

   If Delenn could have described her lover's face in one word it would have been pity. After all he had been through, he was genuinely sorry for what he was about to reveal to Bester and, for a moment, he hesitated. He looked at Delenn and she saw in his face the memory of what Bester had done to her and what he intended to do if Sheridan did not comply. With that his resolve hardened and in his mind Sheridan grasped Bester's face in both hands and stared into his eyes, telling him his worst nightmare.

   As Marcus watched, he saw Bester's eyes widen in horror as he cried out "NO! You can't do that!"

   The three broke the ring, but as Sheridan and Delenn turned to each other, Marcus saw Lyta grab Bester and spin him around to look at her. He heard her utter one word, "Remember!" and then Bester collapsed.

   "What the hell...?"

   Lyta turned to Marcus quickly. "Don't ask."

   "Will it work?" Delenn looked from Sheridan to Lyta to Bester's prone form and then back to Sheridan.

   "It'll work." He sounded at once satisfied, tired and sorry.

   "But it wouldn't have without Lorien and Kosh." Lyta shook her head. "I can do a lot, but that sort of work with someone of Bester's ability usually requires two or three P12's at least."

   Marcus was confused. "What will work? And what do you mean Kosh and Lorien? They're not still around are they? I thought all the First Ones had gone?"

   "They will always be here," muttered Sheridan gazing at Bester's prone form, his arm around Delenn. He motioned for her to precede him out of the door as Marcus turned back to Lyta.

   "He's starting to sound more like a Vorlon every day. Should I be worried by that?"

   "Only if you're him," she replied, nudging Bester with her foot. "You'd better tie him up, and check on his friend Garzak. We'll have to deliver them both back to Psi-corps somehow. I think Garzak'll be more trouble than Bester, always assuming he recovers from that wallop you gave him before we drop him off."

   "Do I need to know...?"

   "No," she remarked sharply, and followed Sheridan and Delenn out of the door.

   "No one ever tells me anything," he muttered as he manoeuvred Bester into a semi-prone position. Kneeling, he tied the man's hands and feet together behind his back with some more of the cable he had used before and brought specifically for that purpose. "'Marcus doesn't need to know anything, so don't bother to tell him. He's just a Ranger, after all. What do Ranger's need to know?'" Looking over his shoulder he shouted after them "I just helped to save all your lives, you know." Leaving Bester tied up he went back to Garzak, muttering all the while. "I mean, it's not like a Ranger HAS to be told anything. They just have to be there to wield the pike a bit, beat up a few trouble-makers, climb through air shafts, nearly get myself KILLED," the last was another shout, "trying to get you out of trouble. Signal the White Star, help release Lyta..." A voice echoed in his head.

   "Marcus." The threat implicit in the way Lyta's voice uttered his name should have been all he needed.

   "Huh! I see. I see. I get the picture."

   A musical refrain: "You do not understand. Enough." Marcus didn't need any other encouragement. When the voice of a dead Vorlon warns you you're going too far, it's time to shut up. He did.

*****

"Delenn! Are you alright?"

   "Yes, Lennier, I am fine." She rubbed at her wrists absently, but stopped when she saw Lennier's concerned expression.

   "Captain. Are you OK?"

   "Yes, Commander, I'm fine too. And Bester is under lock, key, and guards, as well as being presently unconscious. We need a ship to ferry him back to Mars. I'd say a slow one, but the sooner he's away from Babylon 5 the better, so find the fastest you can."

   "Done and done. Do you need anything else?"

   "No thank you. We're on our way back. Sheridan out. Lennier, we're shuttling over. Have some guards ready to take our two 'guests' into custody."

   "All will be ready upon your arrival. The cruiser Emfili is here. She offers escort until we reach Babylon 5."

   "Thank you Mr. Lennier. And thank the Captain of the Emfili. Given what we've been through it mightn't be a bad idea to have an escort."

   "Of course. Captain. Entil'Zha." Lennier bowed to each and the little holographic image winked out.

   "Marcus?" Sheridan turned to see the Ranger hurrying in, a grey tinge to his pale face. "Marcus, are you OK?"

   "Fine, thanks. Just started hearing things, that's all. Nothing to worry about."

   Sheridan raised an eyebrow but the Ranger wasn't forthcoming and he decided to drop the matter. Tiredness, probably. "Have you got Bester and Garzak ready?"

   "In the transport and waiting for you, Captain."

   Delenn turned to Sheridan. "John. The Minbari will want to punish him for his actions. Piracy is as heinous a crime to my people as it is to yours."

   "I don't think so. There's nothing they could do to him that'd be half as bad as the 'gift' we've given him."

   "He killed Kadenn."

   "True, but you can't bring him back, no matter what you do to Bester. He' s sufficiently important to Psi-corps that holding him on Minbar could cause trouble. None of us needs that right now. Anyway, it's a question of what you're after. Revenge? Punishment? Or do we want to keep him from causing any more trouble? Whichever it is, I'd say we're getting all three."

   She thought for a moment, and then nodded. "You are right. I will explain the situation to Lenntar. I think I can persuade him to drop the matter. I doubt he will want the notoriety that would accompany the revelation that human telepaths can seize our cruisers so easily. He will probably be quite satisfied to have the Deraal back without any damage. As for the punishment, I believe all involved will agree it is sufficient. More than, in fact. Is it not, perhaps, too cruel John?"

   "Do you think he would've stopped short of murder or worse if we hadn't found a way to stop him?" When she hesitated, Sheridan held her arms and looked into her eyes. "Do you?"

   She dropped her eyes and shook her head. "No."

   He pulled her into his arms and held her tightly. "Then it was necessary."

*****

A week had passed since the events on the Deraal, and Sheridan had finally been able to get back on top of things on Babylon 5. Not that Commander Ivanova didn't do an excellent job, but there were some things she simply couldn't attend to. Ambassadors who insisted they would only speak to him; plans of which, for reasons of security and to protect Susan and the others from trouble, Sheridan alone knew all the details; and then there was Delenn. Sheridan had hardly seen her since they had got back. This wasn't for lack of trying, but events had simply conspired to keep them apart. When he was free, she wasn't. When she was free, he wasn't. It was turning into a standing joke, and a poor one at that.

   Today was a half day. He'd spent all morning catching up with the last few details to get everything back on track, and now he was allowing himself some time off. He sat in the Zen garden, quietly contemplating the patterns in the sand; observing how the smooth lines were interrupted in their course by a single stone. Interesting, how one thing could disrupt that micro-universe so thoroughly.

   As he stared, lost in thought, he felt a gentle touch on his shoulder. "Commander Ivanova told me you were here. Am I interrupting?"

   "No, no, Delenn. Never. Please." And he made room for her to sit beside him.

   "How are you feeling?"

   "A lot happier now everything is back to normal. You?"

   "Lennier is fussing over me like a, like a...oh, how do you say it?"

   "Mother hen?"

   "That's it. Mother hen." She smiled, and covered his hand with hers. "I do not think he believes me when I tell him I will be alright."

   "Will be?" Sheridan played ignorant, but the light dancing in her eyes told him more than any words ever could.

   "We were interrupted."

   "True. I have some food in my quarters if you'd care to join me?"

   Delenn's face fell. "John. Ah...There is something I've been meaning to tell you about your cooking."

   "The fact that I can't?" he smiled and placed his other hand over hers. "I know. I did warn you. It's OK. It's a take-out."

   "How did you know I'd be free tonight?"

   "I didn't. I asked Lennier. He seemed pretty sure I'd be in with a good chance. Shall we go?" He stood up and extended his hands to her. She took both and he pulled her to her feet. Taking her arm in his he led the way to his quarters.

   Upon entering, Sheridan locked the door and changed the lock code. Delenn looked at him askance. "Aren't you presuming a little too much, Captain?"

   Sheridan disappeared into the bedroom and came back sans his link and PPG. Walking over he took her in his arms. "Well now. That's rather up to you, Ambassador. Am I?" He leaned down to kiss her but she backed out of his arms.

   "Weren't we supposed to be eating first?" She slipped away and went over to the table on which she noted the copy of the Rubaiyat. Sheridan watched as she scanned the words and then looked at him. "Was this what you were thinking when you and Lyta gave Bester his 'gift'?"

   "More or less. Seemed appropriate somehow."

   Delenn shook her head and put the book down. "And I thought the other one was depressing. You humans are too good at finding things that hurt. Can you not find anything to say that is nice?"

   "Well now, let me see. I could try and quote Shakespeare at you, but I'd foul it up. I never could get my mouth around all those thees and thys and the rest. You know, 'How do I love thee. Let me count the ways' and all the rest of it."

   "I think I should like 'all the rest of it'."

   "I'll find you a copy. You can read it for yourself."

   "Hardly the same thing."

   "I'd prefer to show you."

   "Ah." This time she didn't back away when he put his arms around her, although she hesitated when he went to kiss her.

   "What's the matter?"

   "You know Bester saw all of this?"

   Sheridan nodded, "I know." He lifted her chin and looked into her eyes. "If we let it stop us he'll have won. He's not worth it."

   She looked away. "I know. But it still feels...oh, John. I don't know how I feel."

   "He doesn't remember any of it, you know."

   At that, Delenn looked up sharply. "He doesn't?"

   "Lyta couldn't be particularly picky about what she took and what she left behind. I doubt he even remembers why he stole the Deraal in the first place, let alone anything he learned while he had it. It's OK." He stroked the side of her face, brushing her hair back and gently caressing the bone at the back before pulling her more tightly against him and tucking her head under his jaw. "It's just you and me."

   She pressed her head against his chest, hearing the thudding of his heart and feeling the material of his uniform against her cheek. She pulled back. "I thought you were off duty now?"

   "I am."

   "Then why are you still in uniform?"

   Sheridan smiled as Delenn undid the catches to the collar and helped him out of the jacket. Turning away she picked up his tunic and disappeared into the bedroom. He stood, waiting for a few moments and then followed when she didn't reappear.

   His uniform was hung up neatly on the door of the wardrobe, while sounds of the shower unit emanated from the bathroom. He pulled off his undershirt and then sat down on the bed to take off his shoes and socks before loosening his belt.

   "John." He stood up and went into the bathroom. He could see the outline of Delenn's body through the shower unit glass. He stood and simply admired the view as steam filled the room, blurring the edges. "Could you scrub my back?" He smiled. She learned fast. Discarding the rest of his clothes he opened the shower door and stepped inside, feeling the hot water cascade down his back, he slipped his arms around her waist and kissed her. Her body was slick with soap, and he could feel her hands roving over his back as her tongue responded to his. He kissed her cheek and then moved down her throat, the water catching the back of his head and running over his shoulders and down her chest. He paused to admire a rivulet that flowed down her breast and then detoured around the nipple. Bending down he licked at the water, catching the nipple as he did so, before closing his mouth around it and sucking gently. He heard her abrupt intake of breath and felt his body jerk in response. Her hands slipped up to the back of his head and she pressed his face against her breast before settling her hands to rest lightly on his shoulders.

   He moved over to the other breast, pulling lightly with his teeth before kissing between them and then ascending to her mouth. She responded eagerly, gasping as he pressed his tongue deep into her. Pulling back he motioned for her to turn around. Taking the soap he scrubbed over her back, pressing his fingers into the muscles at her shoulders and then slipping up and down her spine, continuing to her thighs before running his hands around her sides and sliding up to cup her breasts. She leaned back against his chest as his hands stroked over her breasts and stomach, coming to rest around her waist.

   For a while they simply stood there, water cascading over his neck and shoulders and then pooling between their bodies where his chest was pressed against her shoulders, streams overflowing onto her breasts as he took a deep breath. He let it out with a contented sigh and nuzzled her neck.

   "Feel better?"

   "Hmm. Much. Funny how something as simple as immersing the body in water can make you feel so different."

   He grinned. "Know what you mean." He kissed her before continuing, "Of course, it holds an added benefit when shared with someone else."

   She turned in his arms and smiled up at him. "Of course."

   He bent down to retrieve a shampoo bottle and heard her spluttering above him. Standing up hurriedly he watched her wipe the water out of her face and stifled a laugh as passion was replaced with slapstick. "You might have warned me!" she coughed, trying to clear the water from her throat. Throwing him a mock angry glare she opened the shower door and stepped out. Through the distorted glass he saw her grab a towel and wipe her face before squeezing her hair and then towelling herself down.

   Sheridan had finished showering and turned off the water almost before Delenn had finished with the towel. As she tried to get her hair into some kind of order he pressed his body against her, grasping her shoulders. She found herself gazing at their reflection in the bathroom mirror.

   "You're beautiful, you know that?" His large hands trailed across her skin and they both watched her body respond to his caresses.

   "Thank you."

   He turned her around and took the comb from her hands, tossing it in the sink. "And I love you very much."

   She reached up to stroke his face, running her fingers through his damp, short hair. "And I love you. More than you will ever know."

   Kissing her he reached for the bathroom door and opened it. Then, never breaking the kiss, he scooped her into his arms and carried her into the bedroom, lowering her onto the bed and covering her with his own body. He was still wet from the shower, but neither of them minded now. Rolling over onto his back and pulling her on top of him he gazed up into green eyes full of passion. Sitting astride him she traced the contours of his muscles with her fingers, feeling the movement of his ribs as he breathed in and out.

   "Close your eyes." He did as he was told and she moved lightly over his skin, jumping from place to place so that he never knew exactly where she was going to touch him next. She felt his body stiffen beneath her, enhancing her own arousal. Sliding down she kissed his stomach, chest, and throat, and then brushed lightly over his lips before kissing his closed eyes, her tongue lightly pressing against the lids.

   He groaned and then lifted his hands, stroking over her calves and thighs where the muscles tensed over his body. Finally, he grasped her hips and pulled her closer before rolling on top of her. He kissed her lightly on the forehead and then eased himself beside her. She snuggled into the crook of his right arm and he stroked his left hand over her skin, noting the way she gasped as he touched sensitive spots on her sides and belly. His hand stroked lower and she shuddered as he slipped it between her legs, pulling them apart. The inside of her thighs was particularly sensitive and she arched her back as he moved up and down, teasing her.

   "John, please."

   He knew she wanted him to hurry up, and he was eager too, but he wanted to be sure that this time he didn't jump the gun as he had the very first time. Her memories had been defiled by Bester's interference, and even though the telepath would never remember what he saw, still Sheridan wanted to give her a new set of unsullied memories for the future. Still holding her he eased himself up, the fingers of his right hand stroking her neck, ear and shoulder as he placed his leg over hers and encouraged her to open up to him.

   "Shh. There's no hurry. Relax and enjoy it. You're safe in my arms. No one is going to bother us and I'm not going to leave you." He pressed his fingers between her swollen labia and pressed into her vagina, now hot and wet with her arousal. She gasped and then let out a quiet whimper as he began to circle her clitoris. He saw his own body twitch in response, and watched as she closed her hand around him, stiffening him further with her caresses. He hoped she was as aroused as he was because it wasn't going to be easy to hold back.

   Holding her tightly he continued his ministrations, lightly kissing her face as he encouraged her body with both his hands and voice to relax and accept the pleasures he was arousing in her. It was so good just to watch and listen to her. She was his guide, his pupil and his teacher. The gentle strokes she offered him, and the sighs and whimpers that escaped her; the way her body tensed and relaxed as he touched exactly the right spot in exactly the right way; and the way she shifted to guide him back when, too obsessed with his observations of her, he allowed his fingers to slip too far from the centre of pleasure. To all these his body responded. After a while he noticed a difference. The whimpers were louder, he could see the muscles of her belly tighten, and her breath started to come in shorter and shorter gasps as she neared breaking point. He responded by increasing the pressure and speed of his fingers as they moved between her legs. Just as he sensed she was nearing her peak he slipped his arm out from under her shoulders and stopped stroking her as he moved his body over her. She gasped at the sudden cessation of sensation and opened her eyes.

   "No. Please, don't stop."

   "I'm not." Taking his penis in his left hand and supporting himself with his right, he pressed the head of it against her clitoris, rubbing her fast and hard, the sensation stiffening him even further. She gasped and he saw a flush start to spread across her chest.

   "John!"

   He didn't need any more encouragement. Thrusting himself into her he had barely begun to move before he felt the tension build almost to breaking point in his own system. He grabbed her wrists and pressed them back into the pillow.

   "Look at me." There was a savagery in his voice and she opened her eyes just as his release came and she felt him pump deep into her. His face and chest flushed and she saw him struggle to maintain eye contact with her as he was overcome with the rush of his own orgasm. That sight, in turn, completed her own release, and she too struggled as her body ignited with the pleasure that washed over her from where they were joined. A pleasure that was more intense because he was watching her and would not let her close her eyes. It was the most intimate of moments, and he was sharing his feelings with her and demanding she do the same. She saw the tension in his neck and chest as he thrust into her once more, adding to the sensations, and in his eyes a passion, devotion and love that she knew he saw in her.

   Their climax over, they held the moment. His face was deadly serious and he continued gazing at her, until she felt sure he could see every detail of her soul. He held himself inside her as his body relaxed, savouring the rhythmic clenching of her inner muscles around him, and gently easing himself in and out to maintain the sensations those few seconds longer. When he spoke, the soft velvet of his voice washed over and through her, his words overcoming once and for all the memory of Bester's violation.

   "I love you, Delenn. I love you more than life itself. No one and nothing will ever stand between us. We will be together during life, and afterwards, when my time is done, I will wait for you, until you join me forever in the place where no shadows fall." He released her wrists and stroked the hair from her forehead, cupping her face in his hands. "Never doubt this, Delenn. Whatever anyone may say or do, never doubt this."

   She traced her fingers over his lips and smiled before sliding her hand round to the back of his neck and pulling him to her. As they were joined in body, so now she could feel them joined in spirit. No longer individual, separate persons, she felt as though the other half of her soul had been found. As she released him from the kiss and he pulled away slightly, she put her left hand over her heart and pressed her other hand to his chest. The power of the Minbari symbol was not lost on him, and he felt a prickling behind his eyes as she spoke her reply.

   "Never," she assured him.

*****

Bester woke abruptly, the scream still echoing in his ears. This was the 11th night in a row he had been woken by his own nightmares, and, once again, he could not remember what the nightmare was about, only that it frightened him to the core of his being. His night clothes were drenched in sweat (again!), his throat was hoarse, and his heart was beating as though death himself had chased him there. His wife had initially tried to find out the cause of his nightmares, but even while he slept (the only time he was sufficiently off guard to allow her access to his thoughts) she came up against an impenetrable mental wall. Deeper scans only led to his waking with a splitting headache in addition to the general exhaustion generated by the constantly interrupted sleep patterns. People started to pass comment on how tired he looked, but then Bester had never been exactly hale and hearty. There was always a certain pallor to his skin, it was just that now it was tinged with a harsher grey, and a haunted look about the eyes that had never been there before.

   As for Bester himself, he fought to maintain his usual outward appearance. He couldn't afford to let anyone suspect a weakness in him: particularly one he himself didn't understand. Night after night he awoke gasping and sat bolt upright in bed struggling to capture something of what had terrified him. And night after night the memories faded into the mists of his dreams as though they had never been, adding frustration to terror. Concentration during the day was proving ever more difficult as his mind was constantly distracted by any little thing that reminded him of his nightmares. He'd see something, pause as a wisp of memory filtered into his conscious mind, struggle to catch the thought, and end cursing as, once again, it vanished before he could grasp it. In addition, his entire waking life was dominated by a sound, soft but insistent, the origin of which he could not determine. He had demanded that all time pieces be removed from his house and place of work within three days of his return, even though none had an old-fashioned clockwork mechanism, yet still all he could hear for every minute of every hour of every day was a steady tic, toc, tic, toc.

   There was one thing Bester could remember, and this he'd had from the night the terrors began. It was something to do with Carolyn. He didn't know what, and could remember nothing of all the other details he felt sure he must have learned while on the Deraal. Nevertheless, he felt his fears were inextricably linked to his lover. And that made the whole situation even worse, for he had noticed one other thing (though he kept this to himself), and that was that whenever anyone mentioned Babylon 5 or its renegade crew in his presence, the nightmares were more intense. Oh, he could do his job, and he could get by on the sleep he managed to snatch between interruptions, but he quickly realised that things were a lot more comfortable when he simply ignored the whole problem of Babylon 5. But the less he thought about that, the less chance he had of determining how the fear affected his Shadow-damaged lover, presently under the care of that space station's chief medical officer. So he was caught. On the one hand he could avoid all mention of Babylon 5 and get a relatively peaceful night's sleep, except when he lay awake wondering what was happening to Carolyn. On the other hand, he could try and find out what was happening to those associated with Babylon 5 and keep going until he could not sleep for fear of the unknown terrors he would suffer. He began to wonder how long his body and mind could withstand the stress.

   His wife had relegated him to another room, and even suggested another house since his shouts in the night, though inarticulate, were quite sufficiently loud and terrifying to wake the dead. Their relationship had never been one based in love anyway, since theirs was a marriage arranged by the corps in the hope that they might sire better telepaths. His daughter was being raised by the corps as well (except at the weekends when Bester insisted they all went out on a picnic in an attempt to preserve the illusion of a normal family), so she was unaware of her father's nightmares. He'd never had much of a family life to begin with, but now even that was taken away from him as he was plagued night after night with terrors he could neither articulate nor recall. All his life Bester's ace in the hole had been his ability to control the situation because he knew what the other players were thinking. Now his own thoughts were dominated by indescribable terrors, and the steady tic toc of an unseen clock, slicing away the seconds of his life and the threads of his sanity.

*****

If anyone had walked into Sheridan's quarters that night, they would have found a meal still waiting to be eaten, two lovers wrapped in each other's arms, blissfully unconcerned with the operations of the station around them, and a book open on the table at one verse:

   I sent my Soul through the Invisible,
   Some letter of that After-life to spell:
   And by and by my Soul return'd to me,
   And answer'd "I Myself am Heav'n and Hell."

 

 

THE END

 

 

For those who are interested, the original poem from Elizabeth Barrett Browning to which John, albeit inaccurately, refers is from 'Sonnets from the Portuguese', number XLIII.

   How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
   I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
   My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
   For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
   I love thee to the level of every day's
   Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
   I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
   I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
   I love thee with the passion put to use
   In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
   I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
   With my lost saints, — I love thee with the breath,
   Smiles, tears, of all my life! — and, if God choose,
   I shall but love thee better after death.

John may have been thinking of Shakespeare's 'Shall I compare thee to a summer's day, Thou art more lovely and more temperate. Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May…etc. It's from the Sonnets, number XVIII.



 

*****

 

 

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