WHAT GOES AROUND (I)

By Castor (formerly known as Anon)

 

 

 

Chapter 1

 

 

   "And that's all the meetings for this week, sir," Lochley finished, looking up from the folder on the glass-topped table in front of her. 'About time too,' she thought. 'This lot look like they're about ready to pass out from boredom!'

   It was another of those necessary but tedious administrative conferences that allowed the two distinct but connected groups working on the station -- the station administrators themselves and the Interstellar Alliance representatives -- to make sure everyone knew what was happening. Delenn was not present since she had a Ranger meeting elsewhere and Sheridan could hold up her end with ease. He envied her. Of all the features of his position as President, the weekly meetings was the one he found most enervating, especially when they were merely marking time and there was nothing of any significance to report. Still, doubtless there would come a day he would look back on these halcyon days without major crises and long for boredom.

   Lochley noticed his distraction. "Sir?"

   He snapped out of his reverie, nodded to her and looked around. "Thank you, Captain. Is there anything else?" When no one responded, he released a small sigh of relief. "In that case, dis... uh, meeting adjourned." He shook his head. He would *never* get used to being a civilian. Garibaldi grinned knowingly and stood up, hailing Stephen and asking to have a few words as they left the conference room. Sheridan made a great show of organising his papers as the others filed out. Only when the room was empty did he allow himself the luxury of leaning back in his chair, closing his eyes and rubbing the bridge of his nose. This was getting out of hand. True, it was early days and he'd always known the start of something as massive as the Interstellar Alliance was going to be back-breaking work, but he hadn't realised just how much it was going to take out of him. He used to be more resilient.

   "I must be getting old," he muttered to no one in particular, his eyes still closed.

   A scent filled his nostrils and he stifled a smile. He hadn't heard her enter, but so long as she favoured that perfume she could never sneak up on him. The hand that gently touched his shoulder came as no surprise.

   "Are you all right?" Delenn asked softly.

   "Yeah, just tired," he said, opening his eyes to look up at her. "I didn't get much sleep last night. Worrying about all this stuff," he added, tapping the top page of the folder in front of him.

   "Are you sure that's all you were thinking about?" she queried, sitting down beside him.

   He frowned. "Isn't it enough?"

   "Yes, but you had a nightmare."

   He blanched, went to say something, to deny it, then changed his mind. "Did I?" he said instead, feigning an innocent air. He made a great show of concentrating on the list of meetings.

   Delenn observed him quietly for a few moments, shaking her head. Gently she covered his hand, forcing him to lower the page. He didn't look at her. Instead, he stared at the paper with a determination that made her wonder if he was trying to burn through the flimsy with his eyes.

   "John, you cannot go on like this. No one can. You need to talk to someone. Stephen, or perhaps..."

   "I'm fine, Delenn. Really, I'm fine." He looked up and smiled at her, although her practised eye detected the tension behind that look. "They're just nightmares. If I *didn't* have them I'd be worried. It just takes time, that's all."

   "They might pass sooner if you talked to someone. There is no shame in seeking professional help." He shook his head, turning his attention back to the folder. Delenn leaned forward, placing her hand across the page so that he couldn't even pretend to be reading it. "John, what they did to you there... you cannot just ignore it and hope it goes away. With the drugs they used even you don't know everything they did." She gripped his hands in hers, her voice gaining an urgent quality. "John... you need help."

   He looked up sharply, anger simmering just below the surface. "I know what they did, Delenn. I was there. I've read Franklin's reports that give me the official terms, but I don't need them given a name to know what it felt like. I was tortured. I was poisoned. I was subjected to just about every indignity in the book and a few more besides. I know I'll never be completely free of what they did to me, and I know it takes time to heal. Nightmares are part of the process. I'm handling it, all right? Don't make me sound like I'm a Starfury short of a squadron just because I'm having a few bad dreams."

   "Grouch," she said, standing up.

   Sheridan blinked, lost for a moment. "I beg your pardon?"

   She nodded knowingly to herself. "Grouchy, crotchety... who invented that word anyway?" She shrugged and then eyed him, hands on her hips. "I can certainly see the need for it. On a purely practical level you need your sleep. You cannot do all that needs to be done over the next few weeks if you are not getting a good night's rest. At the very least, ask Stephen if he can help you there. Even *you* must admit that makes sense."

   He stared at her for a moment, his head still trying to get around her sudden change of tactic. At last he laughed, shaking his head as he stood up and moved towards her. "Only you," he said, gripping her arms. "I don't know how you do it, but you know how to get around a man. Look, I promise, as soon as I get a free moment I'll pop down and see if Stephen can give me something to help me sleep, all right?"

   She nodded and then turned serious again. "And then, when you have some more time, will you ask him for some advice on how best to deal with all this?" Sheridan turned away and Delenn mentally kicked herself for pushing too hard, too fast, just when she'd got him to take the first step.

   "If I get some time. I make no promises." His back was rigid and he seemed to be struggling for a moment before he turned around, the folder now tucked safely under his arm. "Don't forget I had all this explained to me when I was in training with Earthforce. I can probably tell you exactly where I am on the recovery schedule and what the next stages are. But, right now, I have another meeting. See you at lunch?"

   She sighed. The discussion was tabled... for the time being. "I have a meeting with the Llort. When do you finish today?"

   He snorted, striding towards the door. "Sooner if I get to my first meeting on time. I'll see you tonight." With that he was gone.

   Delenn remained in the conference room for some time, piecing together everything she knew. She had a meeting of her own in just over an hour, but that gave her plenty of time. She walked up to the Babcom and put a call through to Medlab.

   "Delenn?" Stephen was, as ever, busy, but he didn't look nearly as harassed as her husband right now. "What can I do for you?"

   "Do you have a few minutes to talk with me? It's... a personal matter." She left the rest unsaid.

   Franklin had known Delenn for too long to think she would ask for an immediate consultation on something that was not vitally urgent. He nodded. "Sure. It's a bit hectic around here, but if it's important...."

   "It is," she said firmly. "I'll be right down."

   **********************************

   Sheridan stared at the plate in front of him. He'd forgotten how unappetising the food in the mess hall could be, but he was in a hurry and all the restaurants were packed out. The end of restrictions and the stories told of Babylon 5 and its inhabitants had made it a major tourist destination. It would die down in time, but for now everyone wanted to see where so much that was already passing into legend had taken place. With so many trying to eat at the same time the service, he knew, would move at the speed of a valium-doped snail. Not to mention an undisturbed meal in such surroundings had become a pipe dream. Even if they didn't come straight up to him and ask to shake his hand (or request his autograph!), he could feel people watching him. It was like living in a goldfish bowl. He'd considered ordering something delivered to his office, but maintenance had been working on the public address system nearby and the noise was driving him nuts. Apparently there'd been some kind of short during the night and several of the loudspeakers used during emergencies needed to be replaced and tested. The banging he could live with, but the mindless chatter the maintenance men indulged in had decided him. He had to get away.

   "Excuse me, Mr. President?"

   He looked up to see a young security officer nervously shifting his weight from side to side as he balanced a tray in his hands.

   "Can I help you?"

   "Um, I'm sorry sir, but there's nowhere else to sit." The man motioned with his elbow to the rest of the crowded room. Sheridan had been so absorbed with his own thoughts he hadn't noticed the hall filling up. The general hubbub drowned particular conversations, providing a familiar background hum he'd automatically tuned out. "I was wondering...." He nodded to the empty seat opposite Sheridan. Here, at least, people tried to give him space. Nevertheless, there were limits.

   "Of course. Be my guest."

   The young man sat down, his nervousness highlighted when he knocked the glass of water on his tray flying. Sheridan swept the few drops that had fallen on his trouser leg away without comment.

   "Oh God, I'm sorry! I'll get you a towel."

   "No need. It missed me. You'd better get yourself another glassful, though," he added, poking at his own plate. "This stuff's drier than Mars."

   The young man nodded and hurried away, returning with two glasses. "Sir? Mr President? Would you like a glass of water? I noticed you didn't have any...."

   Sheridan looked up at the glass being held out to him. For a moment the world seemed to tilt slightly. Instead of the edgy young security officer he saw someone else. Someone telling him he should drink it slowly, that it was safe but he didn't want a repeat of last night. His mouth suddenly filled with the taste of bile. He swallowed hard.

   "Sir?"

   Sheridan shook himself. "I'm sorry. Thank you." He took the glass and contemplated it for a moment before taking a healthy swallow. The security officer sat down and began to arrange his tray. He hadn't taken much, and Sheridan wondered how he lived on so little. To his unspoken question the man produced a bag that had, unbeknownst to Sheridan, been placed by the chair while he was lost in thought.

   "My wife," he said by way of explanation. "She doesn't like me eating in here so she sends along some sandwiches. I tried to explain to her about eating with the rest of the men, but you know how women are... uh, sir. I mean..." Suddenly the man had realised who he was talking to so familiarly.

   "It's all right. It's all right. I understand. I'll have to see about making some sandwiches of my own next time." He watched as the man placed a wrapped sandwich with exaggerated care on his tray, trying not to upset anything else. "What have you got in there, anyway?" Whatever it was, it had to be better than the swill he was trying to eat.

   With a flourish he unwrapped his prize and presented it to Sheridan. "Corned beef and mustard! Can you believe it? It's been so long since I had this stuff and she knows how I like it. Someone in the Zocalo had some. Cost a fortune but it's worth it." He took half the sandwich in both hands and bit into it, savouring the flavour. "Hmm. Seeded mustard with some attitude!" He picked up the other half and offered it to Sheridan. "Would you like some? It's really good."

   Sheridan stood up briskly. "I'm sorry, will you excuse me? I have another meeting." He left as swiftly as he could, making a beeline for the head. He barely got into the cubicle and on his knees before what little he had managed to swallow came right back at him. The retching went on long after there was nothing left to bring up, leaving him panting and his sides and throat aching. He tried to stand up and a wave of dizziness put him back on his knees, his stomach heaving once more. He fought the powerful urge, struggling to get his rebellious system in check. He knew the reason -- how could he not? As soon as the man had placed the sandwich on his tray Sheridan had been back in his cell, hungry, confused and frightened. When the content was revealed and offered to him he knew he'd gone pale. The associated memories had been too much to handle. He thanked God he'd made it to the head in time and that no one else was in here. He doubted his luck would hold much longer, though. With an effort he drew himself to his feet, placing a steadying hand on the cubicle wall and sternly pulling himself together. With compulsive neatness he cleared up after himself, making sure there was no evidence of what he'd done. The smell and taste still filled his mouth and nostrils and he made his way to the water dispenser, washing himself several times before he was satisfied there was no evidence of what had happened. He wiped the unit thoroughly, straightened his jacket, rescued his papers, checked himself in the mirror and, with a curt nod that all was well now, despite the haunted look he still carried, smartly left the room.

 

 

 

Chapter 2

 

 

   By the time he returned to his office, he'd put all thoughts of his sudden loss of control earlier out of his mind. The only nagging reminder was his growling stomach, but that, too, was ignored as he tried to make sense of the points raised in the last meeting. He pored over the flims, trying to find some compromise position that would satisfy all parties without completely pulling the teeth out of the proposal he'd initially offered.

   "TESTING, TESTING. ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR. TESTING."

   He nearly leapt out of his skin. The speakers in all the surrounding corridors were blaring out at a level that made his desk shake.

   "TOO LOUD. TURN IT DOWN! TESTING, TESTING."

   Sheridan waited, hoping the noise level would be reduced swiftly.

   "TESTING, TESTing. One, two, three, four. Yeah, that's better. Now try the sirens."

   Sheridan closed his eyes and covered his ears as the wail of the emergency sirens filled the room.

   "This is a test. I repeat: this is a test. Testing, tesTING. ONE, TWO, THREE... NOW WHAT HAVE YOU DONE? ...WELL TURN IT BACK DOWN AGAIN! NO, WE NEED IT LOUD FOR THE SIRENS AND NORMAL LEVEL FOR EVERYthing else or we'll... that's better. Testing, Testing. One, two, three, four..."

   "Nice to know you can count," he muttered, trying to concentrate on the flims. It couldn't last much longer.

   "Testing, testing. One, two, three, four. OK, let's see if the system is all synched up. Testing, testing..."

   Sheridan stiffened. The lights in the surrounding corridors were flashing brightly as the voice continued.

   "Testing, testing. One, two, three... You will co-operate with the State for the good of the State and your own survival...."

   He blinked. He did NOT hear that. It was just his mind playing tricks again. He shook himself, rubbed his eyes and returned to his papers. The voice continued.

   "..Testing. One, two...You will cooperate with the State for the good of the State and your own survival. You will confess to the crimes of which you have been accused. You will be released and return to society a productive citizen if you cooperate. Resistance will be punished. Cooperation will be rewarded. Testing, testing. One, two, three..."

   "NO!" He thumped the desk in frustration and then jabbed a furious finger at his comlink.

   "C&C." It was Corwin.

   "Would someone get this din turned off? I'm trying to work in here!"

   "I'm sorry, Mr. President. We have to make sure the new emergency public address system works."

   "I don't give a DAMN what you have to do. Do it when people aren't trying to work here! Now get this racket turned off NOW. Do I make myself clear?!"

   "Sir... regulations..." but Corwin didn't sound so convinced.

   "DO I MAKE MYSELF CLEAR?"

   "Y...yes sir. Sorry, sir. I'll deal with it now."

   "Testing, tesTING. ONE, TWO... NOW WHAT? WE'VE JUST GOT A FEW BUGS TO CLEAR OUT OF THE SYSTEM... JEEZ, TURN IT DOWN, WILL YA? I SAID, WE'VE just got a few... thanks... bugs to clear out. Shouldn't take more than fifteen minutes... OK. Yeah, we'll wrap it up."

   As quiet descended Sheridan tapped his link again. In cold tones he said, "Lieutenant, one last thing: tell those maintenance men neither I nor anyone else wants to hear their private conversations broadcast over the entire station while they're working. I expect someone to give them a refresher course on comlink protocols, preferably in the next fifteen minutes."

   "Uh, yes sir." There was a pause and then Captain Lochley's voice came over the link.

   "Mr. President, can I come and see you?"

   "I'm busy, Captain."

   "This is urgent, sir."

   He sighed. "Very well, I'm in my office. If those maintenance men follow orders you might actually be able to hear yourself think in here. Sheridan out."

   When Lochley arrived he was in the middle of a paragraph. Still reading, he raised his hand. "I'll be with you in a minute, Captain," he assured her. Lochley stood stiffly, waiting for him to finish. Finally he looked up, putting his stylus down on the desk. "Have you any idea the tightrope you have to walk trying to keep the Alliance worlds from tearing each other's throats out? At least when the Shadows and the Vorlons were around we had a common enemy. These days the only thing I can use to bring 'em together is common sense, and there's precious little of that flying around spare." He shook his head and then pasted on a smile. "Now, what can I do for you?"

   "Primarily, sir, you can stop giving orders to my men."

   "Excuse me? Captain, this is my office. I can't work..."

   Lochley interrupted. "Sir, with all due respect, you should follow the chain of command. It's not up to you to put Lieutenant Corwin on the spot. You should talk to me first. I'll relay your instructions to Lieutenant Corwin, and THEN he can tell the maintenance men."

   Sheridan's eyes narrowed. "Captain, in case it's escaped your notice, I AM the President. God knows there are few perks that come with this job, but I'd appreciate it if you'd allow me to deal with something as minor as this without inconveniencing you."

   "Nevertheless, sir, it looks bad when even the President can't follow the chain of command. As an ex-Earthforce officer..."

   "LET'S TRY THIS AGAIN. WE CAN.... TURN IT DOWN! ...That's better. We can finish it up in no time and he won't notice. OK. Ready?"

   Sheridan raised an eyebrow as Lochley stiffened. "You were saying, Captain?"

   She pursed her lips for a moment and then raised her comlink to her mouth. "Would you excuse me for just a moment, sir?"

   He waved his hand, sitting back with a satisfied grin on his face as he watched.

   "Lochley to C&C."

   "C&C here, Captain."

   "Put me through to those idiots on maintenance." Sheridan raised his eyebrow at her word choice but kept silent.

   "Maintenance here."

   Sheridan put his fingers in his ears and awaited the outcome.

   "Were you or were you NOT told to abandon repairs for the time being?"

   "Sir, we thought..."

   "And were you or were you NOT told to use standard comlink protocols while you were working?" she added, over-riding him.

   "Yes, sir, but..."

   "Then why can I hear your voice belting out of the speakers even NOW?!"

   "Oh shit! Turn the bloody link off, she can hear... uh...." The voice trailed off and Sheridan pulled his fingers from his ears, satisfied the farce was over.

   "I will tell you when you can go back to work in this area. In the meantime you WILL report to your section head for remedial instruction in comlink protocols. After that you will report to MY office. Lochley out."

   Sheridan nodded with approval and picked up his stylus once more, but Lochley wasn't finished.

   "Sir, I understand your annoyance, and they will be dealt with, but please don't go over my head again. I don't need you undermining my position on this station by issuing orders as if you were still Captain here. There can only be one Captain of Babylon 5, and last time I looked that was me."

   He eyed her for what felt like a full minute, trying to see if she would back down. Instead she maintained her steady gaze. Finally, with a sharp nod he said, "All right, Captain. You've made your point. It won't happen again."

   "Thank you, sir."

   He bent to his work and then realised she was still standing there. "Was there something else?"

   "Sir... may I speak plainly?"

   "By all means."

   "You look like hell."

   He sighed. "I'm tired, Captain, that's all. It's been a long day and those speakers haven't helped."

   "Sir, with all due respect, you look rather worse than tired."

   Sheridan looked up, frowning. "You have a point to make?"

   "I was just thinking... after all you've been through...." She trailed off, seeing the look of censure on his face.

   "I'm perfectly capable of  dealing with my own problems, Captain," he responded stiffly. "Thank you for your concern. Now, if you wouldn't mind...." He indicated the flims in front of him.

   Lochley ducked her head, realising the interview was now at an end. "Yes, sir." She paused for a moment. If anything he looked worse now than he had a minute ago, but he was bent assiduously over his desk, refusing to look up. With a smart about face, she left the room.

   After a pause to ensure he was alone, Sheridan put down his stylus and rested both fists on the table. His knuckles were white. After a while he lifted one hand and looked at it. He was shaking. He concentrated on the hand, willing it to still, but the shaking increased. He squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head, trying to shut out the images that were dancing in front of him: images of a stark, cold, grey room with a single desk and a relentless voice.

   He could hear the voice now, repeating over and over in his head. "You will cooperate with the State for the good of the State and your own survival. You will confess to the crimes of which you have been accused, Mr. President." He could feel the clamps on his wrists, holding him in place. He fought them. "You will be released and return to society a productive citizen if you cooperate, Mr. President..." This wasn't real, it WASN'T real... The clamp on his wrist -- he had to be free of it. "Resistance will be punished, John." He had to get free... He forced his arm up and felt the bonds snap under the pressure. "Cooperation will be rewarded, JOHN!"

   He looked up, startled. In front of him stood Dr. Franklin, leaning over his desk clearly concerned. Delenn, meanwhile, was standing a few feet behind him, shock and pain registering on her face. She was nursing her wrist.

   He stared at them for a moment, lost and confused. "Wha...? What the hell's going on here? Where did you two spring from? Where...?"

   Franklin circled the desk, moving to Delenn. "Are you all right?" he asked solicitously. Delenn nodded, still cradling her wrist and staring at Sheridan. "Let me look. Come on, you're not pure Minbari now. Those bones aren't as strong as they once were." She slowly uncovered her wrist and Stephen manipulated it gently. She smothered a cry. "It's broken. Better get you down to Medlab." He turned to Sheridan. "You too! I've had enough of this. It's time you let people help you."

   Sheridan was still confused. Where was he? He thought for a moment, looking around. Of course, his office! He was the President of the Interstellar Alliance. What had just happened, then? What had Franklin just said? Delenn?

   "Oh my God!" he whispered softly, looking up at his wife in horror. "What have I done? Delenn? What did I do?" He stood up and moved towards her, reaching out and, for one horrible moment, he saw doubt in her eyes. Only a flicker and quickly smothered, but there nonetheless. It stopped him dead in his tracks.

   "Mr. President, you *are* coming down to Medlab. Voluntarily I would prefer, but I WILL use any and all means at my disposal to force you if you don't. I can't pull doctor's privilege over you like I could when you were Captain, but I've got a load more weapons in my arsenal." At that moment Garibaldi came hurtling around the corner, summoned by a call from Franklin a minute earlier. "And that's one of them," he added, jabbing his thumb in Garibaldi's direction.

   "I came as fast as I could," Garibaldi panted, "What's going on?"

   Sheridan looked about him, staring at his hands as though they weren't his. He looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights, utterly bewildered still by the events of the past few minutes. "Nothing I..." he paused and turned once again to his wife. "Delenn?"

   She'd never seen him look so vulnerable, so... afraid. She stepped away from Franklin. "It's all right, John. We're going to help you. You're going to be all right."

   He shook his head. "I... I'm fine. I just got disoriented. I was remembering..." he trailed off.

   Garibaldi looked to Franklin. "Doc?"

   "Flashbacks," Stephen responded shortly before modifying his tone to a gentler one as he turned his full attention to Sheridan. "John, you've had a flashback to what happened on Mars. Where were you?"

   "I was... I was in that damned chair again. They strapped me down I... I couldn't move. Had to break free..." He stared again at his hands, rubbing his wrists where the manacles had held him down.

   "He didn't know it was you, Delenn," Franklin said softly, turning to her. "It's not his fault."

   "I know," she whispered. "John? Will you come with us now? Please?"

   "I'm not crazy. I'm not! I was just... remembering. I know where I am now. I'll be fine." His voice was small, uncertain. His eyes darted around the room. Sweat beaded his forehead.

   Franklin took a deep breath. "You've broken her wrist." When Sheridan looked up sharply the doctor raised his hands in a placatory gesture. "You didn't know what you were doing but it could happen again. Flashbacks of this intensity are a bad sign."

   "I'm dealing with it!" he insisted, anger now filling his voice.

   "No, you're not dealing with it. It's taking over because you refuse to deal with it. Now I can help you, but only if you let me do my job." He drew a deep breath. "There's no shame, John," he continued softly. "It doesn't make you weak or incapable if you admit you're a human being. You were done over by the best and they knew exactly what they were doing. They tried to break you. You were in their hands for nearly a week. Lesser men would have broken before we got there, but you held out. You beat them! Don't let them win now because you won't admit you need help dealing with the mess they made of your mind. Please!"

   The desperate tone in the doctor's voice made Sheridan look at him curiously. He was still slightly disorientated but he was piecing things together bit by bit. He knew Stephen was right. The rational part of him told him he needed help. As he slowly turned to look at Delenn, the emotional side, too, realised things were getting out of hand. But still there was the fear, lurking in the background. The fear of....

   "Not Medlab," he said at last, his jaw set. "I'll stay in my quarters if you like while we deal with this, but I'm not staying in Medlab."

   "Just for a few days...."

   "NO!" He clenched his fists, fighting his outburst. Slowly, painfully, he articulated what was going through his head. "They used people... images. Made me think I was already free.... You were one of them." He held Franklin's eyes as the latter reeled at the knowledge. "Then, when you got me out of there and everyone was poking and prodding me.... I can't go to Medlab. Not... yet, anyway." Again, his voice was losing its power. "They made me think I was in my own quarters... free...."

   "John, if you want to use my quarters...." Garibaldi offered.

   Sheridan shook his head, looking at Garibaldi from under lowered lids, anger sparking in his eyes. "No. You were there too. You put me there...."

   For a moment Garibaldi saw the same hatred in his friend's eyes he'd seen the day he'd freed him. Sheridan had emptied an entire PPG cap into a security officer, blasting away at the man's face until there was nothing left; just a body in a uniform, and the uniform identical to the one Garibaldi was wearing. He'd prayed he'd never see that look again. He shuddered.

   "I'm sorry, John. I...."

   He shook his head, raising one hand. "Don't. Just... don't." He waved the hand away. "I know it was Bester. I know you were as screwed up as I am, but right now...." He took a deep breath and squared his shoulders. "I'm going back to my quarters. Delenn," he added, turning to her, "I'm... sorry. I know I should go with you but...."

   "It's all right, John. I understand."

   "You were there too, you know." She gasped, wondering if this meant he found her presence as difficult to deal with as that of Franklin or Garibaldi. He smiled. It wasn't the usual broad smile that lit up his face -- his eyes were still dark -- but a small flame flickered there still. "No. You kept me going. You were the only thing that kept me going. If..." he gestured to her already swelling wrist, "...if you can forgive me...?"

   Her smile was warm and genuine. "There is nothing to forgive," she assured him. "I will come to you when Stephen is finished."

   "John, do you need someone to see you back to your quarters?" Franklin's concern was clear.

   Sheridan snorted. "I know my way around, Stephen."

   "That wasn't what I meant. If this happens again... in a public place...." He left the rest of the warning unspoken.

   Sheridan opened his mouth to rebut the possibility, then he remembered the lunchtime incident in the mess hall. His jaw working in frustration as he realised the truth of Franklin's words, he tapped his link. "Sheridan to Lochley."

   "Lochley here."

   "Could I see you in my office, please?"

   "I'm on my way."

   The others looked at each other for a moment before Franklin voiced what was on their minds. "Is that wise? Perhaps someone who knows you better?" he suggested.

   "Such as? Ivanova isn't here, and I don't think Corwin would know where to start." He nodded to himself. "She can keep a secret, and it won't look unusual for the Captain and the President to be seen walking together. She can keep the tourists away. I know they mean well but...."

   Garibaldi nodded, pasting a small smile on his face and trying to lighten the proceedings. "Your fan club. They're a persistent lot."

   "Hmm," he grunted ruefully. Garibaldi shrugged. It had been worth a shot. Sheridan continued, "In any case the fact is, if the worst happens, she's quick-witted. She can handle it."

   Lochley came around the corner and every eye turned to her. She took in the tableau before her: Delenn clearly injured, Franklin and Garibaldi looking like they'd just survived a battle, and Sheridan in the middle of it all, trying to appear as though he was in control of what was going on but definitely, in her opinion, looking frayed around the edges. She connected the fragment of conversation she'd overheard with her impressions.

   "I can handle what?" she asked.

   Franklin took her to one side and quickly outlined the problem. When she turned Sheridan braced himself for a look of pity. Instead he saw calm acceptance and genuine compassion.

   "Are you ready to go, Mr. President?"

   He nodded. He went to Delenn and kissed her forehead, pausing long enough to whisper, "I love you. Never doubt that."

   She smiled up at him. "I know," she replied in an equally muted tone.

   He contemplated the papers on his desk. Franklin followed his eyes. "You can take them with you if you want. Just don't try and bury yourself in them to avoid everything else."

   He shook his head, tapping the flims thoughtfully. "No," he said, slowly. "If we're gonna do this, let's do it properly. I've just about finished the most important one. Delenn's better than I am right now at judging whether I've done it right."

   "Michael," Delenn said, turning to Garibaldi. "Can you take those papers to my quarters please?"

   "Sure," he responded, happy for an excuse to get away. He still had demons of his own to exorcise and this reminder wasn't helping. He quickly gathered the flims together, put them in a folder and left the room.

   Sheridan turned to Lochley, motioning with his hand, "After you, Captain." He followed her out.

   Delenn turned to Franklin. "Will he be all right?"

   "Eventually. The hardest battle is won; he's finally accepted he's got a problem. Now we just have to deal with it. Come on. The faster we get you to Medlab, the quicker you can get back to him. I've a feeling he's gonna need you over the next few days."

   She nodded and then smiled. "It's as well we are married, otherwise people might talk."

   Franklin stared at her for a moment. He wasn't used to this side of her. Before she had always seemed so driven by destiny, so determined to do what was right and be strong that humour had appeared out of the question. Certainly, she'd never used it with him. "He's starting to affect you, you know," he chuckled.
   "All the time," she assured him with a smile. Franklin snorted and led the way to Medlab.

 

 

 

Chapter 3

 

 

   "Will there be anything else, Mr. President?" Lochley was determined not to push. They'd negotiated the Zocalo with relative ease, Lochley keeping up an animated (and completely fabricated) official-sounding report in Sheridan's ear the whole time, which ensured they were not approached. He had studiously stared at ground, nodding at what seemed like appropriate junctures. Indeed, he would have laughed out loud at some of the things she was saying were it not for the fact that his mind was almost entirely occupied with his present condition.

   "Unless you'd care for something to drink while we're waiting for Delenn?" he offered.

   Lochley looked at him for a moment, trying to determine whether he was actually asking her to stay or just being polite and hoping she'd go. She looked up and down the corridor to make sure the presence of prying eyes wasn't affecting him.

   "My time is your time, Mr. President." It was non-committal while she waited for him to give her a clue as to what he really needed right now.

   "No. I'm sure you have a million things to do. I remember what it was like when I was in charge." He turned to his door and then hesitated. It was the clue Lochley had been waiting for.

   "I've time for one cup of coffee, if you happen to have the real stuff in here..." Sheridan turned back and Lochley gave him a surreptitious wink.

   "Delivered straight from Earth. No more having to sneak around hydroponics when no one's looking!" he returned. "Come in, Captain. Make yourself at home."

   Lochley followed at a discreet distance, relaxing slightly when the door closed on the outside world.

   Sheridan made himself busy setting up the drinks while Lochley sat back on the couch. After a while she drew a breath. "This is a side of you I never expected to see."

   He stiffened slightly, not sure where this was going. "Oh?"

   "A domestic side. As I recall, you used to be able to burn water."

   With a snort he relaxed. "Still can. Delenn never lets me touch the cooking. I've tried once or twice." He turned around, two steaming mugs in his hands. "The results were disastrous and we needed a Hazmat team to clear up afterwards. Here." He handed her the coffee.

   "Thanks," she said, wrapping her hands around the mug. "So Delenn cooks?"

   "She can, very well in fact, but we don't get much time for that. Lennier does some stuff; we order in a lot or eat out, usually between meetings." He sat down opposite her, undoing his jacket button as he did so.

   She nodded, taking a sip of coffee. He watched her expression. "Did I remember right?" he asked.

   Another nod. "You always were good at details."

   He shifted uneasily, sensing a topic drift he didn't care to go into. Taking a gulp from his own mug he said swiftly, "So, how are you finding life in control of B5?"

   "Hectic." She paused for a moment. "Also interesting, frustrating, exhausting, challenging."

   He took another sip, nodding quietly. "So, in general, right up your street."

   "Pretty much," she smiled. "Of course, I had to make some changes. The last captain had some odd ideas about command." She waited to see if he'd rise to the bait. He didn't disappoint.

   "The last captain had other things on his mind," he said, raising an eyebrow.

   "I almost wish I'd been here then."

   "Really?" he frowned. Was that a wistful note he detected?

   "I watched 'VoR'. Just about everyone did, regulations or not. I must admit, I had a hard time recognising the man ISN portrayed. I wasn't sure I trusted 'VoR' either, but it did seem closer."

   "But you didn't join the rebels." It was a flat statement.

   "No. I made a vow to Earthforce...."

   "So did I." There was a hint of challenge in his voice.

   Neither of them needed this right now. She had to defuse it before it got out of hand. "You didn't worry about this when I first came aboard. As I recall, you specifically refused to mention the topic."

   "Yes, well... I suppose it's become a little personal... of late." He stared into his mug for a moment and then took a massive gulp, downing the lot. "Would you... like a top up?"

   Relieved they'd changed tack, she held out her mug. "Please."

   He stood up and went back to the kitchen area. Lochley looked at him for a moment, wondering whether she should say anything. At last she decided she might as well. It wasn't as though it was a closed subject. After all, it was why she was sitting there.

   "You can ask, Captain. I won't bite." He hadn't turned around but somehow he'd sensed her disquiet.

   "What...." How did you put something like this? She took a deep breath and began again. "What did they do to you?"

   He carried on with the drinks, spooning the whitener into her cup. "Officially? Treated me well, fed me, put me up in a nice hotel with warm blankets and hot baths..." He turned around. "Unofficially: beat me up, starved me, poisoned me, threatened me, deprived me of sleep, a means to keep clean, a means to keep warm, pumped me full of hallucinogens, electrocuted me, bound me to a chair...." He handed her the mug. "Shall I go on?"

   "How long were you there?"

   "I'm told... eight days, but they messed around with my internal clock so I didn't know how long I was there until afterwards." He sat down and his voice dropped to a whisper as he stared into the middle distance. "Too long, I know that much."

   "How...?"

   He refocused on her. "Hmm?"

   "How did you hold out? I mean, why didn't you give in?" He raised an eyebrow. She nodded. "You couldn't. I knew that. But still, to be in there for eight days... It must have been...."

   "Hell? About as close as I ever want to get. And in answer to your first question: Delenn." She frowned. "When everything was blackest... when I was about to sign anything, *anything* they put in front of me... she was there. I know I was imagining her but right then..." He shook his head. "The image of her sweet face... that's what kept me going. Every time they tried to make me admit I was under alien influence I saw her and I knew... if that was alien influence, it was a hell of a lot better than what they offered."

   She nodded. "What I don't understand is... well, you're talking about this with me now, and you seem fine. What happened earlier?"

   He held out his mug. "You see this? You're drinking coffee. I can't. This is a Minbari herbal drink. They made me think I was here, in this room, drinking coffee with Stephen, when all the time I was in that cell being fed drugs. I could smell the coffee, but it was all in my mind. I can't drink it now." He snorted. "To be honest with you, the smell is making me gag."

   "I'm sorry, I can...."

   "No, no, no. Don't worry about it. It's one of those things I have to deal with. Just like voices on loudspeakers, bright lights, hospital rooms, steel chairs, the dark, corned beef sandwiches...." He blanched. "Would you excuse me for a moment?"

   Without waiting for a reply he stood up and went into the bedroom, closing the glass doors behind him. Lochley heard the bathroom door shut and then the sound of water. Underneath all that she thought she heard....

   "Ahh, you're here. How is he?" It was Franklin escorting Delenn whose arm was in a cast.

   Lochley stood up and nodded towards the bedroom doors. "He's in the bathroom. We were talking and he suddenly went pale. I don't know, but I think he's throwing up in there."

   Delenn hurried through the doors, closing them behind her with a small shake of the head to Franklin who'd been about to follow. Stephen turned to Lochley.

   "What set him off?"

   "The thought of a corned beef sandwich, I think." She looked over her shoulder towards the bedroom, then turned back. "I think I should go."

   "No, wait. I need you to tell me everything he told you. Not just the words but how he said it. If you can, tell me how you think he was feeling.... Can you do that?"

   "Have you got about a week?" She sat down and Franklin sat opposite, listening intently.

   *****************************

   "John?" Delenn knocked softly on the bathroom door. "John, it's me. May I come in?"

   "Not... not right now. Just... just give me a moment. I'll be out in a minute." His voice was muffled through the bathroom door, but he seemed to be panting.

   She could hear the false ease he'd tried to inject into his strained voice. Softly, she tried to reassure him. "John, it's all right. I just...."

   "Delenn, would you go back into the living room, please? I just need a little privacy, okay?"

   "But...."

   "LEAVE!"

   She frowned, moving away slowly. When she reached the door she pushed it aside and then stood there for a moment. Franklin looked up, a query on his face. She shook her head and then motioned for him to remain where he was. Stepping back into the bedroom she pulled the door shut once more. There was a pause and then she heard the distinct sound of retching from the bathroom.

   She shook her head. He wanted to hide this from her, pretend he was in control. She could understand his wish, but she also knew if they were going to get through this they had to face it together, no matter how unpleasant or, in his mind, shaming some of it would be. Squaring her shoulders against the onslaught she knew she faced, she went back to the bathroom door.

   "John, I'm coming in whether you like it or not!" She wasn't sure that was the right approach, but this had gone on long enough. She wrenched open the door and found him on his knees over the toilet, his eyes red, sweat running down the sides of his face and vomit staining his beard. Closing the door swiftly, she reached for a cloth and soaked it in cold water before kneeling down beside him. He tried to wave her away.

   "No, you shouldn't...." His body was wracked once more and he leaned over the bowl, steadying himself on the rim.

   "Shh. No one else will come in. I told them not to. It's just me." She placed the cloth over the back of his neck, holding it there as what were now dry heaves shuddered through him. She turned it over, feeling the heat from his skin as she pressed the cooler side down once more.

   The heaving paused and he leaned back on his heels, and then cursed when he saw the stains of vomit on his trousers. He went to rub them away with his hands, but she intercepted him, using the cloth to remove the worst before rinsing it and gently wiping his face despite his half-hearted protestations.

   Still panting, he slid to one side, propping himself up on the bathroom wall.

   "I... I'll be all right," he assured her. "Just... need a little time."

   "I know. Take all the time you need."

   He shook his head, swallowing against the taste of bile still in his mouth. "You shouldn't... have come in. You shouldn't... have to see me like this." He was gulping the air, swallowing hard.

   "And who else should? I'm your wife! Do you think I have never been ill myself? I know what this is like."

   "I'm not ill!" he said with as much force as he could muster. "I just remembered..." He paled and pulled himself with an effort back to the toilet. Another dry heave shuddered through him and Delenn gently stroked his back with her good hand, tears welling in her eyes.

   "In Valen's name," she whispered. "What did they do to you?" Side by side they knelt together, Delenn feeling the tremors passing through him as he struggled to regain control of himself.

 

 

 

Chapter 4

 

 

   Franklin sat back, shaking his head. "I'd read the debriefing but I wasn't there so I didn't know all that." He paused thoughtfully. "They must have poisoned a sandwich and fed it to him. That's why the mere thought of it makes him ill."

   "I think so."

   "Well, it's a good start." Lochley looked up, surprised. "No, I mean that he said so much to you. I'm a little surprised, frankly. I know you two had met before but...."

   "We knew each other quite well, Stephen," Lochley interrupted. "We're not strangers."

   "Oh?"

   She stood up quickly. "And I really have to get back to my duties. If you wouldn't mind?"

   "Sure, sure. I'll catch up with you later." He watched her leave, slightly confused by her reaction and then dismissed it. Sheridan was his chief concern. He looked to the bedroom door. Delenn had made it clear he shouldn't interfere but they'd been in there a long time. Perhaps he ought to go in?

   He stood up, uncertain what he should do. Delenn would have his hide if he went against her, but Sheridan was his patient and she hadn't any training in dealing with post traumatic stress of the type Sheridan was facing. For that matter, neither had he. He'd read all the treatises, but he was no expert and what they needed here was an expert.

   He paced the room, mentally flipping through all the people he knew who had the skills required. There was no one on Babylon 5 up to the mark. Oh, they had counsellors, but not for this sort of thing. This required specialist training, not to mention past experience with such situations. So who did he know on Earth who would fit the bill?

   He went over to the computer console and started pulling up files.

   *************************

   Sheridan was leaning on the sink, his arms still shaking, but he'd managed to wash his face and rinse out his mouth and nostrils to rid himself of the taste and smell. His throat was sore, his nose smarting, his stomach felt like he'd got a foot wide hole in it and his whole body was trembling so hard he wondered if he was blurring at the edges.

   "All right?" Delenn asked softly.

   "Better," he assured her. He looked down and shook his head. "I should change these trousers." He straightened, his legs still shaking. "Is Stephen still out there?"

   "I think so."

   "I don't think I can face him right now. Could you ask him to come back later?" He hated to admit it, but he was exhausted. Being so weak, and over something as stupid as.... He stopped the train of thought, nervous that it would set off another attack. It wasn't like he'd been shot or crashed a Starfury. Those were things people got ill over. Not....

   She saw his distress. "John, why don't you get some rest? Your appointments are cancelled, you have nothing else to do today and I know you didn't sleep well last night. A few hours sleep may do some good."

   "Oh," he said, drawing himself up and looking at her. "Sleep would be great... if I could get some."

   "Do you want me to ask Stephen if he can give you something?"

   "No, no drugs," he said firmly. "I've had my fill of those for now. Maybe some tea? Might help settle my stomach a bit. I haven't managed to keep anything down all day."

   She nodded. "You get into bed. I will send Stephen away and make you some tea."

   **************************

   "I think I've found just the person, Delenn," Stephen said, acknowledging her as she came out of the bedroom.

   "Oh?"

   "Dr. Henshaw. She specialises in victims of torture. Of course, they're usually military personnel who've been caught by unfriendly species, but she's been pretty busy in the aftermath of Clark's rule. She knows the methods used. I've seen her work and she's good. Adaptable, caring, professional.... I wanted to clear it with you first, but I really think she's the person we want on this."

   "Can we not handle it?" she asked, preparing John's tea.

   "We're gonna need all the help we can get on this one." He nodded towards the bedroom. "How is he?"

   "Tired. He's going to try and get some sleep."

   He pointed to the cup she was filling with boiling water. "What's that?"

   "A Minbari herbal infusion. It's also a mild sedative."

   "A bit like your version of hot milk, huh?"

   "Is that what you use?"

   "It certainly helps, but not on an acid stomach, and I bet that's what he's got right now."

   She nodded and then turned, her face contorting. "It was bad, Stephen. I've never seen him so ill."

   He reached out and lightly patted her arm. "I know. I wish I could say it's gonna get easier, but I'm afraid it'll probably get worse first."

   "I was afraid of that. I had better take this to him."

   "Should I...?"

   She shook her head. "No, not tonight. I will watch over him. If I need you, I will call."

   "If you're sure you can handle it...." He didn't sound too certain.

   "He's my husband. I can handle it, and I have dealt with things like this before."

   "You have?" He was surprised.

   She sighed. "During the war with your people there were times the carnage became too much for some... for me as well. Some of the younger acolytes did not have such great reserves to face what they saw."

   "Humans?"

   She shook her head. "Our own." She was lost in thought for a while and then she drew herself back to the present. "If you would come back tomorrow? I do not know how he will be feeling, but I will call you as soon as he is ready to talk."

   "And Dr. Henshaw?"

   "I will ask him tomorrow. He has to make the decision, Stephen. I will not force it on him."

   "No. He's had enough people doing that, hasn't he? Okay, I'll wait, but try and convince him, Delenn. She really is the best."

   "I cannot promise anything, but I will try. Goodnight, Stephen."

   He let himself out, watching Delenn draw the bedroom shutters closed behind her as the main door slid shut.

   ***************************

   He was lying in bed, staring at the ceiling when she entered. With a sigh he covered his eyes with his arm, blocking out the light.

   "Computer, lights at sixty percent," she said. As they dimmed she moved to his side of the bed, sitting on the edge. He moved over to give her more room and then pulled himself up. The bed head was uncomfortable and Delenn put the tea down, leaning across him to grab a pillow to put behind him.

   "I feel like an invalid," he snorted with disgust, then he gave her a half smile. "Thanks."

   She retrieved the cup and handed it to him. "Drink your tea," she ordered softly.

   He took a sip and nodded. "Better. Uh... how's...?" He gestured to her cast.

   "It will be fine. Stephen set the bone. It should heal quite quickly."

   "I can't believe I did that. You know I would never hurt you on purpose, don't you?" She nodded. He shut his eyes tightly, rubbing at the bridge of his nose with one hand. "God, I am so screwed up."

   "But you won't be," she assured him. "We can deal with this."

   "I know, I just...." He put the cup to one side. "I don't like being out of control, you know? I know up here," he tapped his temple, "what's causing this. The rational side of me understands it, realises it's not real, even realises why it's got such a hold of me, but I still can't seem to... get control again." His hands twisted together as though he was trying to wrestle some tiny, but incredibly strong and wily creature. At last he let them fall in his lap. "I feel like I'm running like crazy just to stand still. I thought I was getting a handle on it." He snorted and turned to her with a smile that had nothing to do with humour. "Obviously I was wrong." He retrieved his cup, took another sip and then frowned suspiciously. "What else is in here? Did Stephen insist you give me something to make me sleep?"

   "No," she said simply. "Just herbs. I believe it's the equivalent of your hot milk?"

   "Ahh," he nodded, taking another sip. "Look, I'm... well, I'm not going to be much use for a few days... the timing's lousy and...."

   "And if I thought you were doing this on purpose I should be very angry with you," she interrupted with mock severity. Then she leaned forward and caressed his cheek with her good hand. "But it's not your fault. Rest now."

   "It's still early. What are you going to do?"

   "I will have Lennier fetch the papers from my quarters. I can watch over you and check them at the same time. I'm sure they will be fine."

   "You've got more faith in me than I have right now," he muttered, finishing the drink and setting it aside before easing himself down in the bed.

   Delenn lifted the extra pillow away and pulled up the bedclothes, smoothing them over his chest. "I have always had faith in you and you have never let me down."

   "There's a first time for everything, you know. Don't put me up on too high a pedestal. It's a long way down."

   "Then if you fall, I will catch you, and we will climb back up together."

   He grunted and then smiled, closing his eyes. "Thank God for you," he murmured.

   She leaned forward and stroked his hair away from his face. "Shh. Rest now," she whispered, gently pressing her lips to his.

   Delenn stayed with him until the sounds of his breathing indicated he was sleeping peacefully, then she rose quietly and went to the other room to contact Lennier. He brought the papers with him as requested, hesitating in the doorway before leaving.

   "How is President Sheridan?" he asked.

   "Resting, for now... but I'm frightened, Lennier. This is a side of him I have never seen before. I'm not sure I know how to handle it."

   "You will," he returned firmly. "I have never known you to fail in anything you put your mind to, Delenn."

   "That is what I just said to him, but this time...." She looked towards the bedroom, her expression uncertain.

   "Would you like me to sit with you for a while?"

   "Just as we used to when you first came here?" she smiled. "It has been too long since we sat together."

   "I would like that."

   "As would I."

   He bowed and went to the kitchen area. As Delenn read through the agreement, he quietly cleared away the dirty mugs and then brought her a cup of a favourite tea. She received it gratefully and he sat down opposite her, sorting through some of his own papers that he had brought, just in case.

   ***************************

   The noise made them both turn in the direction of the bedroom. With a sharp look to Lennier, Delenn put down the last of the reports Sheridan had been forced to abandon and made her way swiftly to the partition, pushing it aside.

   Sheridan was moaning in his sleep, muttering to himself. Occasional snatches made sense, but the rest was too disjointed. What she did understand was enough to tell her he was having another nightmare. Lennier stepped up behind her.

   "Should we wake him?" he asked.

   "Not yet. It may pass." She stepped towards the bed as his movements became more agitated. Encumbered as she was by the cast she was nervous of trying to hold him for fear her awkwardness might be misinterpreted by his nightmare-ravaged mind. She beckoned Lennier knowing he had sufficient strength to hold Sheridan should the nightmare prove too intense.

   The words began to make more sense. He was responding to an unseen interrogator. "Maybe... beat the system... every time I say no.... just outside...flesh. Inside's what counts.... No.... That's a lie.... Records.... No.... Beat the system... the truth.... That's a lie.... No! NO! Delenn!"

   She bent down quickly, her earlier fears forgotten as she automatically responded to his call and shook him. "John! John, wake up. It's just a nightmare. You're having another nightmare. Wake up!"

   Lennier was just about to interfere when Sheridan's eyes opened and he blinked in the low light. For a moment he looked around him, unsure of his surroundings. As the images in his mind passed to be replaced by those of the room he turned and saw her.

   "John?" she sat on the edge of the bed and gently placed her hand on his chest. "It's all right. You're home."

   He pulled himself up in the bed and looked at his hands as though seeing them for the first time. Hesitantly he reached out and touched her. When she didn't vanish like mist he pulled her to him, holding on as though his life depended on it. She rocked him as one would a child frightened of the monsters under the bed.

   "Shh. I'm here. There is nothing to be afraid of now. I'm real. You're safe with me. Shh."
Lennier quietly exited the room, closing the doors softly. He collected his papers and those Delenn had completed and then headed for the door. As he reached it he turned back and contemplated the low glow emanating from behind the partition glass. He could hear faint sounds. One voice was Delenn's who, in soft tones, was trying to reassure. The other, he felt certain, was the sound of a man terrified he was losing his mind.

 

 

 

Chapter 5

 

 

   "I will authorise her arrival," Delenn informed Franklin the next day when he came to check up on Sheridan and ask if she had made a decision on Dr. Henshaw.

   "Good. I think it's for the best, really." She nodded but didn't respond. "How was he last night?"

   "Not good." She looked exhausted.

   "More nightmares?"

   She nodded. "He got back to sleep after the first one, but he woke up again at around four. After that he refused to rest."

   "So what did he do?"

   "He came out here, downloaded some files he needed to look at...."

   For the first time Franklin noticed the flim on the floor. He stooped to pick it up. "And?"

   She accepted the report from him and put it on the table. "He insisted I try to sleep and I did try. But then I heard him muttering to himself. I thought, perhaps, he had fallen asleep on the couch and so I came to investigate. He was cursing himself for not being able to understand one of the reports." She looked up. "It was not particularly complicated. He has handled much worse before, but this time...." She shook her head. "It might as well have been written in Fik for all he could understand it."

   Franklin nodded. "Where is he now?"

   "Showering."

   "Now? Doesn't he normally shower earlier?"

   "He did," she sighed.

   "Ah."

   She pulled herself together and sat up straighter, her tone more businesslike. "When can Dr. Henshaw get here?"

   "Well, I took the liberty of contacting her last night to make sure she'd do it. She said if you and John okayed it, she could be here on the next transport from Earth."

   "If I okayed what?" Sheridan appeared in the doorway in a dressing gown, rubbing his hair with a towel. He looked slightly tired and perhaps a little edgy, but otherwise all right.

   "John, I've got no experience in treating torture victims. Neither have any of the other medical staff. It's just not something we've faced out here. There's a doctor on Earth called Janet Henshaw. She's had a lot of experience with this sort of thing... especially since Clark was ousted."

   "I'll bet," Sheridan responded coolly, making his way to the kitchen to fetch some tea.

   "She's the best there is, John," Franklin offered, trying to persuade him.

   "And she's not got a backlog of patients a mile long? She can just drop everything and come out to deal with me?"

   The note of sarcasm wasn't lost on Franklin. "No, she's got enough work to last her two lifetimes, but you're the President of the Alliance."

   Sheridan turned around, a cup of something in his hand. "Not right now I'm not. Right now I'm just one more... what did you call me? A victim." He snorted and made his way over to the couch.

   Franklin was confused. "Look, yesterday you said...."

   "I know what I said," he interrupted sharply. "That was then. I'm going to handle this."

   "Oh yeah, right. Like you were handling it yesterday when you broke Delenn's wrist?"

   Delenn winced as Sheridan, who'd been in the process of sitting down, stopped dead and slowly looked up. Franklin cringed inwardly under the gaze. If looks could kill, this one would have been held responsible for the demise of millions. "That was a cheap shot," he said in a deceptively mild tone.

   Franklin looked to Delenn who was studiously avoiding his face. Something had happened in addition to the nightmares. Something he didn't know about. "Okay, yeah. Look, I'm sorry. I guess we're all feeling on edge right now, all right? But hiding from it isn't going to make it go away. You've tried that method and that's where it got you. Face it, John. It's time you brought in the heavy cavalry. And frankly," he added, when he saw a surge of anger flash in Sheridan's eyes, "I don't give a damn whether you approve of her coming here or not. You're not Captain here any more. I checked with Captain Lochley and she approves." He raised his hands, putting a lid on his own frustration. "Look, all you have to do is talk to her once, okay? If you don't like the way she works we'll... try to figure out something else... 'though I'm damned if I know what." He added the last in a muted tone. Sheridan grunted and sat down, his body posture indicating a complete refusal to even contemplate the idea of Henshaw. "You've got four days before she can get here. That's assuming she gets the first transport out. If you can get a handle on things before she arrives, then fine. If not...."

   "Was there anything else?" Sheridan asked, raising an eyebrow.

   "Do you want me to give you something to help you sleep?"

   "I'm sleeping fine, thank you."

   Franklin stared at him. "What? I thought..."

   "Stephen, perhaps you should leave us now," Delenn interrupted, rising smoothly and moving to the door.

   Responding to the implied command he stood, his body radiating uncertainty. Something wasn't right here, but for the life of him he couldn't work out what. He looked at Sheridan who turned away, directing his attention to a picture on the wall. He turned to Delenn and spread his hands indicating he needed some guidance. She indicated the door. Clearly now was not the time. He took the hint. "Uh... yeah. All right. I'll... I'll see you later then." He was almost pushed from the room and stood for some moments outside, wondering what had just happened.

   Inside, Delenn was feeling much the same. "What is going on?"

   Sheridan drank his tea in silence. Realising he wasn't going to answer, she crossed the room and knelt down beside his chair. He refused to look at her. Frowning, she looked him up and down for a long moment. Still he stared straight ahead or into his mug. It was as though he had tuned out everything around him.

   "John, answer me please. Why were you so rude to Stephen? That's not like you."

   Nothing.

   Part of her was tempted to walk away and leave him to stew. Another part realised that was exactly what she shouldn't do. This was just another of his defence mechanisms -- a way to protect himself from pain. She'd noticed things over the past few weeks in particular -- things he avoided, things he shied away from, jobs he was never around for. Until today she'd simply put it all down to his hectic schedule and coincidence, but now she began to suspect there was nothing coincidental about it. Whether he realised he was doing these things, however, was another matter.

   "John, look at me please."

   Still he gazed ahead.

   She placed a hand over his but there was no response. "John Sheridan you will not shut me out!" she insisted, rising to her feet. "You have never given in before and you are not about to do it now. You're a fighter. You don't let people push you down like this."

   At last he turned to her. "And where did it get me, hmm? Look at me. I can't even read a simple diplomatic paper any more!" His voice was rising. "I might as well be a child, Delenn! I can't even read!"

   "We will work through it. There will be a reason for it. Dr. Henshaw may be able to tell us what it is."

   "And what if she can't?"

   "We will face that when we come to it, together."

   He snorted. "Oh great! I can't even get THAT right now!"

   Was that what all this was about? A somewhat disastrous attempt at sex? Surely he wasn't serious. "John, this is...."

   "Ridiculous? Is that what you were going to say? Yeah, sure why not say it? Say it so everyone can hear you." He raised his hands as if addressing an audience. "The President of the Interstellar Alliance is ridiculous. He can't read, can't bear the sound of loudspeakers, sandwiches make him throw up and now he can't even make love to his wife."

   Hands on hips, she stared at him as he wallowed in self-pity. She pursed her lips, thinking for a moment, and then she squatted down in front of him, resting her cast on one wrist and gripping his other one in her good hand.

   Startled he looked at her. "What the hell are you doing?"

   "Push me away," she said simply.

   "What?"

   "Push me away," she repeated, tightening her grip as best she could and leaning heavily on her cast.

   He tried to pull away but she increased the pressure. "Delenn, what are you doing? That hurts!"

   "It was meant to. Now push me away."

   Tired of what appeared to be some kind of game on her part, he twisted his arms around and pushed her back -- not with any great deal of force, but enough to rock her on her heels a little. When he tried to stand up, she pushed him down into the chair and resumed her earlier position.

   "I'm not in the mood for this," he said in a tight voice.

   "As you would say, 'tough!'. Now do it again."

   Annoyed with her persistence he moved more swiftly this time, but she was on him before he could slide out of the way.

   "And again!"

   "I'm not playing this game, whatever it is."

   "Who said anything about playing? I am serious. Do it again."

   "What's the point? You just keep coming back."

   Her frown disappeared and she smiled, releasing her grip on his wrists. "Exactly. No matter how hard you try to push me away, I will always come back. I thought, perhaps, I should make that clear since it's obvious you will not listen to my words any more."

   He stared at her for a moment, annoyance, confusion, frustration, despair and even amusement all warring on his face. Finally it metamorphosed into what could best be termed rueful resignation and he shook his head. "You did it again, didn't you?"

   "Umm hmm," she nodded.

   "And where did you learn that particular trick?"

   "My father." She sat on the arm of his chair and smiled at him, stroking her hand over his cheek.

   "He was a wise man," he answered, turning his face slightly to press a kiss to her palm.

   "I think so."

   "But I might not have fallen for it. I could have just pushed you so hard you ended up on the floor and then gone into the bedroom."

   "Then I would have followed you."

   "I could have hurt you." He looked at the cast but refused to touch it.

   "You could, but it would have made no difference. The man I love, the man I married is still there. So long as he is there, I will stand by him. What Clark's men did is... is..." She struggled for the word and finally spat something in Minbari. Sheridan raised an eyebrow.

   "Do I want to know what that means?"

   "It is not said in polite company," she assured him.

   "Ahh," he nodded. "Does that make me impolite company?"

   His sense of humour was back, thank Valen. Now she just had to fix everything else as best she could. "That depends."

   "I take it that's a not too subtle reminder that I should apologise to Stephen, right?"

   "Or at least explain yourself to him, yes. He is trying to help."

   "I know, I know. It's just there are some things...."

   She covered his lips with a finger, stilling him. "That you don't have to mention... at least not now." She paused, considering for a moment. She turned and contemplated the flim still lying on the table. A thought occurred to her. "John, would you mind if we tried something?"

   "Like what?"

   She slid off the arm of the chair and moved to a shelf in the room. Since electronic media had superseded printed books, and space on a space-station was limited, bound books were not common. Old, leather-bound, gold-edged books were collectors' items. John had two on that shelf. She examined the bindings and realised she had read one of them fifteen years before while searching Earth archives for some clue as to the human resilience during the Earth-Minbari War. While that memory was far from pleasant, the book had made for interesting reading, with much still relevant despite the age of its original authorship. She knew exactly what she was looking for and flicked through the pages until she found the right chapter. The words had struck her the first time she had read it. Now they seemed eminently appropriate.

   Turning once more to see Sheridan eyeing her quizzically, she collected the flim from the table and walked over to him.

   "You said you could not understand the words, but you could see them, am I correct?"

   "I'm not blind. They just.... I dunno. It didn't seem to matter how long I looked at them they were meaningless. Worse than meaningless because I knew I should understand them." He looked up. "Have you any idea how that feels?"

   "No," she returned honestly, "but I've had an idea." She held out the report. "Read it to me."

   "I told you, the words don't make sense."

   "John, humour me, please. Just try it."

   With a sigh he took the flim, flicking it to make it stand up straight. After a long silence he shook his head, flinging it down on the floor in disgust and rising from the chair in agitation. "Nothing! I told you, it just doesn't make any sense!"

   She nodded and then touched his arm, making him turn around to face her. "Try this," and she held out the slim book, the pages open.

   "What difference does it make? They're still words on a page. I. Can't. Read!" He enunciated each word with care, as though he was trying to explain something to a five-year-old child with learning difficulties.

   Delenn refused to respond to his tone. "They are words in a book. Ancient words. Not the same thing at all." He went to turn away but she stopped him. "John, please. Just once more."

   With an exaggerated sigh he snatched the book from her hands and stared at the pages. As she watched, his frown turned into surprised delight and he looked up at her, his mouth working, but no words coming out. He turned back to the book, double checked and then said, " 'Know your enemy and know yourself, and in a thousand battles you will not be defeated.' It's Sun Tsu's 'The Art of War'. I can read it!" He flicked through the pages as Delenn smiled, nodding in understanding. She picked up the flim and offered it to him.

   "Now try this again."

   He took the flim and stared at it, his face contorting as he struggled. Turning back to the book he mouthed the words he saw and then returned to the official paper. At last he turned to her, utter confusion on his face.

   "Why can I read one and not the other? They're both in standard, this... it doesn't make any sense!"

   She took the flim from his hand and read it aloud. "I, John J. Sheridan, do hereby affirm...." Do those words sound familiar?" He shook his head, still confused. "What did they try and make you sign?"

   "A confession that...." His face registered shock and she nodded, knowingly. "I had to read and sign to say I understood and agreed.... Is THAT what this is all about?!"

   "I am no psychologist, but it seems to me you found a unique way of getting out of signing the paper. If you could not understand it, you could not sign it. Did they ever read it out to you?"

   "Once, a bit of it. He summarised a lot. I knew it was a pack of lies and I refused."

   "But they kept pushing?" He nodded. "And you were afraid you would sign it if they pushed hard enough?"

   "I would have. I damn near did, but then it looked like they'd changed it. It just didn't make sense any more, so I refused."

   "Did you ask them to read it to you again?" she pressed.

   "No. I just told them it was nonsense. If it didn't make sense I wasn't about to sign it."

   "Exactly."

   He shook his head. "No. No, this doesn't work. Why not just stop being able to sign? I've got more control over that and my handwriting was getting pretty shaky anyway towards the end.... Besides, I could read papers before."

   "But not ones that started in that way. Have you tried to read any others since this started?"

   "Yeah. None of them make sense."

   "Then perhaps," she returned thoughtfully, "your antipathy towards the content was transferred to the official appearance of the document."

   "Some kind of association, you mean?" She nodded. "I dunno, it sounds pretty weird to me. And why would my brain do that anyway?"

   "I do not know. Perhaps Dr. Henshaw can explain it to us."

   He grunted, still not convinced, but his success in reading The Art of War had restored some of his self confidence. He took a step closer, loosely putting his arms around her. "Perhaps this means something else is going to work as well," he suggested.

   She shook her head. "I think it might be better if we did not do that for now." He frowned. "At least not until we know why you were having problems before. If there is a psychological reason behind it, we may reinforce it if we try before we understand what is happening." She returned his embrace, smiling up at him. "And good things are worth waiting for," she added.

   "Hmph! I hope so!"

   She considered his clothing. "Shouldn't you get dressed? Much as I am enjoying the view, we may have visitors."

   He gazed at her for a long moment and then said, "I think, right now, what you should do is get UNdressed."

   "John, I told you...."

   He shook his head. "That's not what I meant. You didn't get much sleep last night, did you?"

   "No, but...."

   "Then I will get dressed if you promise me you'll get at least five hours sleep," he interrupted, capturing her face in his hand. "You're what's keeping me sane right now. For my sake, if not your own, huh?"

   She went to argue with him but he silenced her with a kiss. When he pulled back she looked into his eyes and saw his concern. It pleased her to see him feeling so much better in himself that he could worry about her. Perhaps she could afford to leave him for a few hours.

   They went into the bedroom together, Sheridan quickly donning some light trousers and a dark grey patterned shirt. Delenn didn't feel right going to bed in the middle of the morning, but two nights of interrupted sleep, combined with the emotions of the day and the injury to her wrist (which was presently making itself known by a dull throb) made her less argumentative than usual.

   As Sheridan laced up his shoes and stood to leave she plumped up the pillows, still feeling something of a fraud. "Are you sure you will be all right?" she asked, ready to forego the rest if he needed her.

   He snorted. "I'm not going anywhere, am I? I'll be right here. Now go to sleep."

   He watched for a moment as she settled down, then he ordered the lights lowered and quietly stepped into the main room, pulling the doors to behind him.

   "John."

   "Hmm?"

   "Leave them open a little."

   "But if I decide to watch a vid or something the noise'll wake you," he argued.

   "That noise will not wake me." There was a slight emphasis on the first word and he frowned. Finally he shrugged and did as she asked. If it made her feel better who was he to argue?

   Sitting in the lounge he downloaded some story files and lost himself for a few hours in the sheer pleasure of being able to read once more. He was selective in his choice. While some of the classics appealed, he didn't think 'The Count of Monte Cristo' or 'The Prisoner of Zenda' would be a good idea under the circumstances. Besides, his concentration levels weren't up to the long haul of a major novel. Instead, he found a collection of short stories and read a couple of them, smiling in satisfaction when he finished the second one.

   A thought occurred to him and he called up everything in the databases on psychology and post traumatic stress disorder. Normally the idea of self analysis didn't appeal to him. He was far too well aware of his own failings and preferred to keep them hidden, even from himself, but Sun Tsu's words had hit home. The enemy, in this instance, was himself. To defeat this enemy he had to understand what had happened to him and why he could not control it.

   He flipped through a few articles that contained occasional insights, then found another that might as well have been written for him. It was recent and he grew more and more engrossed as he read what was practically a description of himself. It gave him hope. At least his situation was not uncommon, and knowing there were others made him feel less isolated -- less like some kind of freak. He dimly registered the fact that he had to go over some paragraphs more than once to fully comprehend them, but he put that down to the unfamiliar terms and presentation style and ignored it.

   "This guy talks sense," he muttered, flipping back up to the top of the paper. "Who...?" His eyes widened for a moment and then he smiled. "Well, well." He turned to the computer console and called up Medlab on the Babcom. Franklin duly answered. "Stephen, good. I... ah.... I wanted to apologise for this morning. I behaved badly."

   "Don't worry about it," Franklin replied. "If I've not gotten used to being attacked by my patients by now I need to find another job!" He paused and then added, "You wanna talk about it now?"

   "No.... Delenn and I talked it through and I found a paper in the archives." When Franklin cocked his head Sheridan shrugged. "My sudden inability to read appears to be selective. Official documents I have to sign are a 'no go'. Anything else...."

   "Interesting. Some kind of self-preservation mechanism, perhaps? Which paper was it? Maybe I ought to read it."

   "I suspect you put it there. It's by Janet Henshaw."

   "You know, we got an update from Earthforce medical only yesterday and I haven't had a chance to check it out yet. What's the article reference?" Sheridan gave Franklin the direct code that would bypass the search engine. Franklin paused for a moment as he flipped through the précis. Finally he let out a low whistle. "Sounds familiar, certainly."

   "I think I have a few other factors that'll give her something to chew on, but yes. She certainly seems to know her stuff. I can't say I'm exactly looking forward to meeting her. I'm not sure I like the idea of someone I don't know knowing me so well," he added to answer Franklin's unspoken query. "Still, it'll be nice to get back to normal."

   "Just... well, don't expect miracles too quickly, John. Knowing the cause isn't the same thing as finding the cure, and each person is a little different. Whatever happens, it's gonna take time. Keep that in mind."

   "Thanks for the support," he replied, trying to keep the disappointment from his voice.

   "I'm just trying to make sure you don't set your sights too high, too soon. I... um... well, I mailed your medical files out to Dr. Henshaw. She's en route now so it'll get her up to speed on the drugs and methods they used. From the sounds of things a lot of what they did was S. O. P., but it all helps."

   "Why do I get the impression I'm under a microscope?"

   Franklin chuckled at Sheridan's rueful expression. "Because you are? Don't worry. We'll get you out of that petri dish just as fast as we can."

   "Thanks.... I think."

   "I'll pop by later and see how you're doing. Where's Delenn?"

   "Sleeping. I told her to go to bed. I haven't been particularly good company as a sleeping partner of late. She needs her rest."

   "And you need her," Franklin finished. Sheridan looked a little sheepish and then nodded. "I envy you, John. That's quite a wife you've got there."

   "Yeah," he nodded. "I know. Speak to you later." He shut down the connection.

 

 

 

Chapter 6

 

 

   She had been asleep. The dreams had been mixed and not all of them pleasant, but they had been just dreams. The sound that awoke her was most definitely not a dream. She was out of the bed before her brain had time to consciously identify it, so it took a few seconds for her to put together the implications of what she was seeing.

   The lounge was rapidly being destroyed by a furious whirlwind that under normal circumstances she called her husband. Looking across the disaster zone as another item flew across the room to smash into the wall, she caught sight of the computer. A freeze frame showed the ISN spokeswoman during Clark's administration with a picture of Michael Garibaldi behind her. Delenn didn't have to ask the content of the broadcast -- it was indelibly etched into her memories: the announcement of Sheridan's capture as a result of Garibaldi's treachery.

   A pause in the barrage of missiles made her turn to see Sheridan on his knees, apparently trying to protect himself from an invisible assailant. She didn't know who to curse: Sheridan for looking at those files in the first place, the Babylon 5 computer for having them available, or Alfred Bester for causing so much pain. To her surprise she'd long since forgiven Michael. The man tortured himself daily over what had happened, even knowing it had been beyond his control. Since Sheridan's curiosity was one feature of him she loved (among many) she decided it was a split vote between that bitch Higgins on ISN and Bester, with the latter easing into first place. Much as her training and natural sympathies led her to want to forgive, Bester seemed to have earned himself a special dispensation in her mind.

   None of which, of course, was helping John, who was now curled in a foetal position on the floor, reacting to what could only be well-aimed kicks from his unseen assailants. She rushed forward and then paused. Help him, or call help? The flashback was strong and she doubted he'd recognise her if she touched him. Instead, he'd probably lash out without warning. While she had little doubt Franklin could fix any injury Sheridan inflicted on her, she didn't want John to suffer any more guilt for something he did while completely oblivious to her presence. She moved swiftly to the console and called Medlab.

   Franklin responded quickly. "Delenn? What's wrong?"

   "Stephen, we need you here." She didn't add any more detail and none was required.

   "I'm on my way."

   Sheridan's spastic jerks threatened to bring his head in direct contact with the leg of the table and she pulled the latter out of the way. Getting as close as she dared she said loudly, "John! It's not real. Listen to my voice. It's *not* real. You are on Babylon 5. Listen to me! You are on Babylon 5. It's over." She maintained the mantra as he twisted and jerked in response to the blows his memory dealt him. Either he was re-living the battle over and over, or it was a particularly vicious and sadistic beating. She edged closer and then veered away as he kicked out, barely missing her. The door chime was the most wonderful sound she had ever heard.

   "Yes!"

   Franklin was through the door even before it had finished opening, two burly Medtechs and a gurney in tow. Quickly summarising the situation he motioned for them to hold Sheridan still and then pushed the hypo into him before he could react. Sheridan continued to struggle, and one of the Medtechs was sporting a black eye before he finally succumbed.

   "Right, let's get him to Medlab," Franklin said, motioning for the techs to lift the now unconscious President onto the gurney.

   Delenn shook her head. "No, Stephen. You cannot take him there. When he wakes up he will be more confused and frightened than he is now. He will think he is back on Mars. You cannot do this."

   "Delenn, with all due respect...."

   "No!" Her tone brooked no argument. "Carry him into the bedroom. The bed is soft and the room familiar. He will be confused but not terrified." The techs looked from Delenn to Franklin and then back again. "Do it!" she ordered. Franklin nodded and they hoisted Sheridan's dead weight between them, Delenn opening the partition wider to let them through. When they had deposited him on the bed, she and Franklin loosened his clothes and then pulled the covers over him before moving back into the living room. The techs departed with the gurney leaving Franklin shaking his head.

   "Delenn, this can't go on. He didn't even wake up from that one. I don't know if he'll wake up once that tranquilliser has worn off. The dose I gave him was enough to knock out an angry Narn and you saw how long it took to take effect. You have to face reality. You don't have the facilities or the skills to look after him here. He's going to hurt himself if this goes on. I thought this whole idea was foolish right at the start and now I know it. For God's sake let me get him where we can keep an eye on him."

   She drew herself up, somehow managing to overcome the fact that she was still in her nightgown. "And what would you have done in this situation?"

   "Well, for a start we'd have used the restraints so he didn't hurt himself."

   "Exactly! You would have recreated in the real world what he is experiencing in his mind. And when he does come around and finds himself strapped down in a medical facility, how do you think he will react? When you tell him he is safe, do you think he will believe you? And when you pump him full of drugs in an effort to stop him from becoming too agitated, will he believe he is free or still in the clutches of Clark's men?" She took a step forward, looking utterly menacing despite the flimsy nature of her attire. "I am not doing this out of some misguided attempt to recreate one of your cheap Earth romance novels! I am doing this because I honestly and truly believe it's the best for John. I want my husband back, Stephen. I don't want him terrified of loudspeakers and year-old news reports...." The tough front was cracking under the pressure. Franklin moved towards her.

   "Delenn...." he said softly.

   "I want him back, Stephen. In Valen's name, I want him back!" Her speech was thick as she fought the tears that hovered on the peripheries. This was not just a person fighting for another's rights. It was a woman terrified of losing her husband who was going to do everything in her power to hold on to the man she loved. Franklin backed away. There was no way he could take on that particular tiger and win. Determined not to let him see her loss of self-control, she turned away. "Thank you for coming," she said at last in a tight and formal tone. "How... how long will John be unconscious?"

   Franklin shook his head. "In theory? About six hours with what I gave him, but from what I saw he's fighting it with all he's got, so you could probably knock an hour or so off. Maybe two." He decided not to dwell on the thought that Sheridan might not choose to return to consciousness at all. Whatever else he was, the man was a fighter. If Z'ha'dum couldn't keep him down it was unlikely this would.

   "In that case, we have four hours before you need to be here." The implication was plain and Stephen wasn't sure he liked it.

   "Delenn... look, if anything should go wrong...."

   "Nothing will go wrong!" She said it with a vehemence that told the doctor she was trying to convince herself as well as him. She turned around and he could see she was still fighting to keep herself from breaking down. She took a deep breath and then looked at him through deceptively calm and cool eyes. "If you would return in four hours we can speak again then."

   "Delenn, look, I know you don't like the idea, but there *has* to be someone here! You need a nurse or a doctor of some kind...."

   Without a word of warning, she went to the Babcom and called up Stellarcom. A Minbari war cruiser was presently parked near the station and she contacted the ship's Captain. A few words were exchanged in Adronato and then she closed the connection and calmly turned back to the curious and confused face of the doctor. "I have asked if one of the Minbari medical staff could be temporarily assigned here. At least then John will know he is not in Clark's clutches. Of all the races, the one Clark would never use, which could never be bent to his will, is the Minbari. The doctor is on his way now, so if you could meet him and explain what you have given John and any possible side effects I would be grateful."

   He sighed and nodded. At least she accepted the need for a medically trained person in the room, and Minbari medicine was pretty advanced, even if their knowledge of humans was not as extensive as his own. "All right, I still don't like it, but it's your call. I'll brief him. What's his name?"

   "Survaal"

   **********************************

   Franklin was pleased to note that, in keeping with most of the Minbari he had met outside the Warrior Caste, Survaal was calm, businesslike and got to the point. He read through everything Franklin had on Sheridan's condition, checked up and cross-referenced the human and Minbari databases to see which of the latter's medicines could safely be used in the event of another relapse, asked a large number of penetrating questions and finally, after more than three hours, stood up from the computers and walked over to where Franklin was reading through some files.

   "I believe I have now gathered sufficient information to deal with the President's immediate physical problems. I will study the rest as and when it is required. Thank you, doctor, for making your databases so freely available. I assure you such willingness to share information is not common, especially between your people and mine. I am grateful."

   "No. If you manage to keep John from getting worse or hurting himself, I'm the one who's gonna be grateful," Franklin assured him. He indicated the screen. "I've been doing some research of my own. There are some things that seem to be standard across the board, like asking the patient to list the things he finds distressing and going through what exactly happened to him." Survaal nodded. He'd found the same in his studies. "Well, I checked with Dr. Henshaw. Now she'd rather do it all herself, but we can't have him just sitting on his hands for three days waiting for her. If I know John he'll be going stir crazy without something practical to do, but I think we have to be extremely careful. If we can keep him from getting too caught up in the memories...." He raised his hands, indicating that might not be as easy as he made it sound.

   "We can try, Doctor. I would be honoured to contribute whatever I can." The Minbari bowed and turned towards the door. Franklin cleared his throat and Survaal, recognising the tone, turned back. "Was there something more?"

   "Well... ah, yeah. I'm not just worried about the President here. Delenn... well, she's taking this pretty hard and...."

   "Have no worries, doctor. Delenn is a remarkable..." He hesitated. Minbari was no longer appropriate, but then neither was human. "...Female," he finished at last with an apologetic glance. "She is perfectly capable of taking care of herself. However," he added before Franklin could interrupt, "under such circumstances, her judgement could, quite understandably, be impaired. Since it is clear she loves Sheridan, and the feeling is reciprocated, she is important to his recovery. I will watch over them both with equal care. If you could have someone show me the way?"

   He shook his head. "No need. I'll take you there myself. I'd like to see how he's doing." He glanced back at the screen. "Who knows? Maybe we'll be able to make a start on this mess."

   Survaal bowed. "In that case...." He indicated the door and Franklin led the way.

   ***********************

   "It's my fault," Garibaldi muttered as he stalked his quarters like a caged animal. "No, it's Bester's fault!" He paused. That certainly sounded a lot better. Nevertheless, it didn't solve his immediate problem: a sense of impotence in the face of events. Garibaldi hated it when he couldn't do anything to solve a problem, but this one was so far out of his league it might as well have been in another galaxy. He knew nothing about what Sheridan was going through, except what little paralleled his own feelings when he realised what had been done to him, and that didn't include over a week of beatings, torture, drugs and who knew what else. He was Sheridan's friend, or had been. Now....

   "I gotta find out what's going on," he said to the room at large, running a hand over his head before letting it fall as a fist to his side. "I gotta do *somethin'*!" He turned to the Babcom unit and sighed. He'd avoided looking at anything associated with those days when he was under Bester's control, and he'd been unable to bring himself to read the full details of Sheridan's incarceration. He'd seen the results when they'd rescued him, hanging on by a thread and barely able to stand. That had always been enough... *more* than enough. No longer.

   "Computer, search the database. I want everything you've got on Sheridan's arrest and imprisonment."

   "Searching."

   Garibaldi sat down on the edge of the chair, his heart beating like a jackhammer. He did *not* want to do this. When he saw the ISN report on Sheridan's capture his heart sank. That was only the beginning, and he knew it was going to get a lot worse.

   ***********************

   Delenn was meditating, barely. With half her mind attuned to her husband's breathing, trying to spot any change or hesitation, she couldn't give her full attention to the task she had chosen. She had to centre herself again; find a core of peace and strength from which she could face this challenge and win. That centre was proving remarkably elusive. Almost relieved when the door signal put an end to her efforts, she checked the time and then rose quietly. She had changed into more formal attire after Stephen's departure, knowing he would return eventually with Survaal in tow. Their earlier encounter had been an emergency. She could be forgiven for her lack of preparedness on that occasion, but not twice in a row. Projecting a more composed outward appearance than she felt, she placed her hands together and faced the door as the chime went off again.

   "Enter."

   Franklin ducked his head as he entered, Survaal following. Seeing the healer Delenn put her hands together in front of her chest, forming the sign of the Triluminary before bowing in the traditional manner. Survaal returned the salute.

   "Delenn," he said quietly.

   "I am glad you are here, Healer Survaal."

   "My duty is to serve, Delenn. I go where I am needed." He took in her demeanour. While she was covering it well there was no doubt she was nearing the end of her physical and mental resources. Yes, he was definitely needed. "Where is President Sheridan?"

   "He is resting in the bedroom." She pointed to the partition that was slightly open to enable her to keep one ear on him during her meditations.

   Survaal indicated the small bag he'd brought with him. "I would like to examine him, if I may. Perhaps you would come with me? I do not wish him to awaken to an unfamiliar face. He has been through much already and I would not wish to further add to his confusion."

   Delenn nodded. Survaal understood. She led the way to the bedroom, quietly pushing the partition aside. Franklin stood in the doorway watching, but otherwise left them in peace. Survaal seemed to know what he was doing and his words showed he understood the precarious mental tightrope they were walking. With minimal fuss, and with Delenn hovering on the other side of the bed, he went through a series of tests that did not require Sheridan to be awake. Towards the end, Sheridan stirred and Survaal instantly straightened and backed away.

   "Delenn, I believe he is returning to consciousness. Perhaps you should be here." Delenn sat on the edge of the bed and placed one hand on Sheridan's chest.

   "John? John, can you hear me? It's Delenn."

   Sheridan groaned in his sleep and shifted uncomfortably. Survaal nodded and turned to Franklin.

   "I believe his earlier exertions may have strained some muscles. I will mix something to ease the discomfort." He turned to go, but Delenn stopped him.

   "Survaal, you know he does not want drugs?"

   "I understand. A mere herbal remedy, and nothing that will harm him in any way. You have my word on it. It will merely relax him and give his muscles time to repair themselves. He has an unusual physiology." He turned to Franklin. "Something to do with his gift from the First Ones, perhaps?"

   Franklin nodded. "I don't understand it, but I suspect he wouldn't have survived the interrogation without it."

   "I am inclined to agree, doctor." Sheridan stirred once more and all eyes turned to him. "I think, perhaps, it would be best if we waited outside. Delenn can introduce me when she believes he is ready for company."

   Franklin hesitated and then acquiesced. The healer had a calming manner about him that made you want to agree with whatever he suggested. For a moment Franklin wondered if he might be an empath -- it would certainly be a useful skill in his profession. As they entered the lounge, he observed Survaal quizzically. The latter inclined his head.

   "I can sense some of your feelings, doctor. Be assured, I use the gifts the Universe has given me only for good."

   "I believe it. Whether John will...."

   "He needs time. He has ignored the demands of his mind for far too long. Perhaps I will be able to help in some small part there as well." He retrieved some items from his bag and poured them into a mug, topping it up with water and stirring to mix the concoction.

   Franklin snorted. "We could use some of your people here on the station. With gifts like that there's a lot we might be able to do."

   He turned, still stirring the liquid. "I do not think some of your people have yet come to terms with the Minbari as allies. It would be as well not to feed their fears. In time they will learn and we will benefit from each other."

   "Hmm. Your medicine is so far advanced compared to our own, I'm not sure what we can teach you."

   "Hardly advanced in this instance. We merely understand better how to use nature's own gifts. This mix, for example. The plants grow wild on Minbar and are common enough. We have found that in certain combinations they work well on overtaxed muscles with no ill effects. I would be happy to give you samples." Franklin nodded. He was always eager for anything that did the job without inflicting more harm. "As to what you could give us.... The will to live, perhaps? Never to give up hope? During the war I never ceased to be amazed at human resilience and determination. Even when there was no hope, still you found some."

   "It's hard for a species to admit they're about to be wiped out. It's too great a thing for us to contemplate so...." he raised his hands and then let them fall. "We don't. We simply don't accept it might happen."

   "And the Universe followed," Survaal returned with a soft smile. "We, on the other hand, fought out of duty and a belief, foolish though it proved, in the rightness of our cause. And we did contemplate failure. Not because we did not have faith in our superior numbers and technology, but because your species seemed so certain they would survive. It gives an enemy pause."

   "Thank God!"

   "Indeed."

   "Survaal?" It was Delenn, standing in the doorway. "Would you come in here, please?"
   "Your pardon, doctor," Survaal said, rising. Franklin nodded and watched him enter the room.

 

 

 

Chapter 7

 

 

   The crash of the vase was followed by the sound of water dripping off the shelf and onto the floor. Garibaldi was pacing the room, furiously thumping one fist into his palm. He stalked to the table and threw it over, scattering the papers that had lain there, then he rampaged through his cupboards like a man possessed, hurling plates and cups to crash against the walls. Only the chime of the door announce caused him to pause in his fury, and then only long enough to warn the person outside he was in no mood to chat. The door opened anyway and Zack ducked as another plate flew through the air and shattered, scattering pieces into the hallway beyond and causing a passing Pak'ma'ra to look around in confusion before hurrying on his way.

   "Hey, hey, hey! Michael, what's up?" Zack said, raising his hands in a gesture of peace.

   "What're you doing here?" Michael snarled.

   "We got a report it sounded like there was a fight in your quarters. I thought I'd better come check it out."

   "Yeah? Well now you've checked. Don't trip on your way out."

   "Look, Michael, this ain't like you...."

   Garibaldi rounded on him. "Not like me? *This* isn't like me? No THAT...," and he pointed to the ISN recording showing the interview with Dan Randall in which Garibaldi attacked Sheridan, "THAT isn't like me." He grabbed up the pencil-like remote and stabbed a button. The image changed to the station security recordings showing Garibaldi decking Sheridan in the hallway. "And that." Another jab, this time to show the report on Sheridan's capture. "And that. That's not like me, but no one did *anything*. No one tried to stop me. Sheridan let me go without so much as a decent explanation, you guys put up with all my security breaches and no one, NO ONE spotted it was Nothing. Like. Me!" He was standing in front of Zack now, so close Zack could smell his breath. There was no sign of alcohol, just the wet heat of fury.

   "We tried, Michael, but you wouldn't listen. We didn't know what Bester...."

   "Bester! That bastard! I swear when I get my hands on him I'll tear him apart."

   "Yeah, well, I don't think there'd be too many'd stand in your way. All we knew was you'd come back from wherever you'd been... I dunno... edgy."

   "Edgy? You call that edgy?!"

   "You helped Sheridan nail Kosh, and you did everythin' he asked for when it came to the Shadow War."

   "But not for Earth. Didn't it enter *anyone's* head there was something weird going on here?"

   "Yeah, sure, but there wasn't much we could do when you wouldn't talk to us. You tore me a new one when I tried to talk some sense into you, then you kept breakin' the rules." He laughed a little nervously. "I tell you, I wanted to deck you a few times."

   "Well why didn't you, huh? Ivanova had it right. You guys should've killed me."

   "I don't shoot friends." Zack spoke quietly and Garibaldi looked up.

   "And friends don't sell their friends down the river to have their brains Swiss-cheesed by 'Torturers, Inc'. Didn't stop me though, did it?"

   Zack tried for a more placatory tone. "Look, Sheridan was actin' a little weird when he came back too. You ask the Doc. Hell, he was scarin' all of us. You just seemed to be takin' it a bit more personal than the rest of us." He eyed Garibaldi as the latter continued to pace the room, running his hands over his bald head. "Michael, I know how you feel..." He knew the instant he said it, it was a mistake. Garibaldi stalked over.

   "Yeah? Go on then, Zack. Tell me how it feels. I could use some dime store psychology right about now," he taunted.

   "Hey, don't take it out on me. I tried to make you see sense, remember? Look, you're right, I don't know how it feels. I don't *want* to know how it feels. All I know is you're not doin' anyone any good busting up your place like this and scarin' the neighbours. Now why don't you go down to the sports area and work off some steam?"

   "You honestly think a few hours batting practice is gonna cure me?" Garibaldi asked in a disbelieving tone.

   "Well, if you imagine every ball is Bester's head...."

   ******************************

   Sheridan was still groggy, but he pulled himself up enough to greet Survaal. The latter shook his head.

   "Do not exert yourself, Mr. President. You have been through quite enough."

   Sheridan relaxed slightly, but he still eyed the new arrival warily. "Delenn tells me you're a healer."

   "It is my calling," he responded, inclining his head.

   "She says you're pretty good."

   "She does me too much honour. I merely enable the body to heal itself. I am... a facilitator, nothing more."

   "Hmm." Sheridan didn't sound convinced.

   "And you do not trust me," Survaal added without malice.

   "Nothing personal, doctor. I don't trust myself right now."

   "But you trust Delenn?"

   Sheridan looked at his wife who was sitting beside him, quietly stroking her thumb across the back of his hand as he held her. "With my life," he said, his gaze never wandering from her face. She smiled in return.

   Survaal handed Delenn the mug. "In that case, this is a mixture that will help relax his muscles and allow them to heal. Would you taste it, please?"

   She nodded and reached out for the mug. Sheridan stopped her. "What are you doing?"

   "Showing you that you are among friends now," she assured him, taking the mug and sipping it. Almost immediately she could feel the tensions leave her own muscles. She nodded at Survaal, realising he had done this on purpose, knowing her body was as much in need of rest as Sheridan's. "It's good, John. Drink it."

   He was still wary. "Is this gonna send me to sleep? I seem to be sleeping my life away here. If it's all the same to you, I'd rather be uncomfortable but awake."

   "It will relax you. Whether or not you sleep is entirely up to you. Given what you have been through, I would suggest some much-needed rest would do you good but, as I said, it is up to you."

   Still not happy, but encouraged by Delenn's reassuring smile, Sheridan took the proffered mug and sniffed it. "Doesn't smell like anything much," he muttered.

   "We try not to put patients off what is good for them by making it unpleasant. Drink, Mr. President. I assure you, it will do you no harm."

   He felt Delenn squeeze his hand and saw the look in her eyes. It was enough. He drank the lot down in two gulps and returned the mug to Survaal, who handed it to Franklin. "In case you wish to investigate further?"

   Franklin shook his head. "I can wait until you give me the raw materials. I'll go wash this up." He disappeared in the general direction of the kitchen unit.

   Sheridan watched Franklin leave and then turned to Delenn. "I... I don't actually remember how I got here." He looked around the bedroom, his mouth working emptily as he tried to find words to describe his confusion. At last he shook his head and looked at her imploringly, seeking an explanation.

   "You had another flashback," she told him quietly. "It was... bad, John."

   He blanched. "I didn't...?"

   She shook her head. "No. I'm fine. I was far more worried about you."

   "What... what set it off?"

   "You don't remember?" She wondered if she should tell him and bring back the memories.

   He shook his head. "Nothing. I remember reading some short stories, then an article on... well... all this." Survaal made a mental note that Sheridan was having difficulty actually saying what was wrong with him. "I called Stephen, told him I'd talk to Dr. Henshaw... after that...." Another wondering shake of the head. "I just don't... remember."

   Delenn opened her mouth to reply and Survaal placed a hand on her shoulder, stilling her. "Mr. President, whatever caused this attack, it is perhaps best not to resurrect it now."

   "I can't keep shutting it out, doctor," he returned sharply. "I've got to face this."

   "Yes, you have, but you do not have to do it all at once."

   "Survaal, with all due respect, it's my life. I have to deal with it *my* way." He was becoming agitated.

   Franklin, who had returned and was listening from the doorway, went to interrupt and Survaal raised a hand. The reports had filled him in on the relevant details and it was becoming clear that keeping it from Sheridan was going to cause greater immediate problems than the potential risk of telling him. "Very well. You were watching an ISN broadcast on...." He paused as he saw Sheridan's face pale.

   "Michael!" he whispered hoarsely. Delenn gripped his hand more tightly as he began to shake.

   Survaal calmly turned to Franklin. "Dr. Franklin, would you be so kind as to bring my bag to me, please?"

   Franklin did as requested, and Survaal thanked him with a slight bow before reaching inside and retrieving something. He put the bag down and watched, quietly, as Delenn tried to steady her husband.

   "Why did he do it?" Sheridan murmured. He turned to his wife. "Why did he do it, Delenn?"

   "It was Bester, remember? Bester programmed him because he needed to find out about the telepath virus being designed by Edgars' Industries. Bester used him, John, programmed him. It wasn't his choice. And as soon as the programming was ended, Michael came to get you, remember?" Sheridan was still shaking and Delenn looked apprehensively at Survaal. The healer, for his part, was watching Sheridan carefully, his fist tightly closed around whatever it was he had retrieved from his bag.

   "*Do* you remember, Mr. President?" the healer asked.

   There was a long pause in which the air was thick with tension as everyone waited on Sheridan's next words. He looked around him for a long moment and then turned his gaze to the ceiling, wracking his mind for some inkling of recall.

   "He came to fetch you, with Stephen and Lyta. They got you out of there and brought you back to me," Delenn reminded him gently.

   Sheridan's wandering gaze finally settled once more on Delenn and she nodded, reaffirming her words. A glance at Franklin and then Survaal added to the reinforcement.

   "Bester?" he said quietly. "Bester!" he repeated, more firmly this time. "I remember. He came to me while I was waiting on President Luchenko's decision in Earth Dome. He threatened to kill me if anything had happened to his lover."

   "That's right," Delenn said encouragingly. "Michael is not your enemy."

   "He's pretty messed up too, John," Franklin added from the doorway. "Not in the same way you are, but Psi Corps did a number on him. If it weren't for Lyta, Bester would've gotten away with it, too. She found out what had happened and showed the rest of us."

   Sheridan nodded slowly, and Delenn noted his hand had stopped shaking. She smiled up at Survaal who picked up his bag and dropped the object he had retrieved back into it. Franklin rubbed the back of his neck where the tension was only now beginning to ease.

   "Mr. President, you have made an excellent beginning. You have a long journey ahead of you, but you have taken the first step."

   Sheridan looked up and nodded, pasting a rather weak smile on his face. "Yeah. I guess I didn't realise how messed up I was, did I?" He considered the bedspread for a moment. "You know, if I'm going to get some sleep tonight I really ought to get out of here." He went to get up, and Delenn placed a hand on his chest. She looked questioningly at Survaal.

   "I see no reason why not. We will be here. You are not alone, Mr. President. Whatever you face we will be here to help you."

   "Hmph! I wonder if you'll still be saying that in a week. Stephen tells me I make a lousy patient," Sheridan muttered, shifting awkwardly under the bedclothes.

   "You have *no* idea!" Franklin deadpanned.

   Delenn smothered a laugh. "Would you like something to eat? I know you haven't..." she trailed off, remembering why he would be hungry.

   He nodded. "Good idea. I think... the best thing I can do is try my damnedest  to just get on with things. Handle it a bit at a time...." He considered for a moment, shaking his head. "Not that that particular method has been successful so far but right now.... I just don't know any other way."

   "Food would, indeed, be wise," Survaal agreed. "As to the rest, there is no hurry."

   He and Franklin quietly left the bedroom to give Sheridan some privacy while he dressed. Delenn remained behind in case he needed any help. In fact, he dressed without fuss. Delenn noticed the bruises on his body where his earlier struggles had brought him into sharp contact with furniture, but she made no comment. They were minor against the matter at hand.

   When he was ready, they stepped outside to find food waiting on the table. Two places set, in fact. Delenn looked at the doctors quizzically.

   "You need to eat as well, Delenn," Survaal admonished.

   The two sat at the table while the doctors retired to a corner and discussed matters in a muted tone. At last Sheridan tired of the whispers.

   "Look, could you two either include me in this or go outside?" he said, rather more harshly than he'd intended. Delenn covered his hand. "I'm tired of being talked about behind my back, Delenn," he said to her unspoken thoughts.

   "We were debating how best to handle things until Dr. Henshaw gets here," Survaal replied calmly, taking no offence at Sheridan's irritated tone.

   "And?"

   "Right now, the best we can come up with is one day at a time," Franklin supplied. "Although there are some things we need to talk about."

   "Like what?"

   Franklin, seeing their plates were now empty, moved back and sat down in an armchair. "Well, a list of things that worry you -- the triggers. At least that way we can identify them and try and isolate the reason behind your reactions. Work to desensitise you to them. That sort of thing. It'd help Dr. Henshaw if we've already done the spade work."

   "I thought you didn't want to get involved. Isn't that why you sent for her in the first place? If you know how to handle it, why does she have to come all the way out here?" Sheridan was on the defensive again and Franklin made a mental note: there's one trigger.

   "If I could guarantee you'd follow the book to the letter, I wouldn't be too worried, but you've never followed the rules. Why should you start now?" He was trying to lighten the mood, and Sheridan bit back an irrationally sharp retort long enough to consider his words. At last he looked up and nodded.

   "You've got a point there." He sat back. "Okay, where do you want to start?"

   Franklin shrugged. "I dunno. What's the first thing that comes into your head? Is there anything making you uncomfortable in here right now?"

   Sheridan considered the question carefully and shifted on his seat. It was hard and suddenly felt very uncomfortable. He stood up and moved to the couch. "That chair, for a start," he offered, pointing to the steel chair he'd been sitting in.

   Delenn, understanding the idea but wondering if armchair psychiatry was a particularly good idea, decided to make the most of his reaction. At least it kept him talking and thinking.

   "What about the chair?" she asked, turning her own to face him.

   "Hard. Cold. It just... suddenly made me want to get away from it."

   Delenn continued to watch him and Sheridan realised he was the centre of attention... and he most certainly did *not* like it.

   Delenn noticed his reaction and stood up, walking over to the couch to sit beside him. Sheridan nodded, but instead of putting his arm around her, he leaned forward, his arms resting on his knees. Franklin, too, had seen Sheridan's discomfort.

   "Look, if you want me to leave, Survaal knows the drill. He can fill me in later. And we don't have to do this right now if you don't want to. We've got three days before Dr. Henshaw gets here." He looked around and picked up a data pad. "How about this: you tell Delenn all the things that bother you, and she can write them down... or you can if you want to." He was bending over backwards to be accommodating, and suddenly Sheridan found that irritating too.

   "Don't suddenly get a pleasant bedside manner on me, Stephen. I'm not sure I can handle it," he muttered, staring at his hands, which he was now rubbing together in a distracted manner. He looked up, a thin smile taking the heat out his words.

   Franklin considered John's hands for a moment. The man was clearly uncomfortable, and growing more so. "Does this set up make you nervous?"

   "You've got to admit it does smack of the Inquisition a bit," Sheridan returned. "I feel like I'm expected to make a full c..c..con..." He trailed off and his eyes widened. Delenn noticed his knuckles whitening as he gripped his hands more tightly and tried to control the shakes that were passing through him. She placed a hand on his shoulder and he jumped at the sensation. Through gritted teeth he ground out, "No. No! I can handle this. Just... just give me a minute here."

   Survaal quietly appropriated a chair and made himself comfortable, watching carefully.

   Sheridan looked up, his eyes red from suppressed tears. "It's ridiculous, isn't it? I can't even say the word."

   "Not ridiculous, Mr. President," Survaal assured him. "Understandable, painful, and a terrible thing for someone to do to another sentient being, let alone one of their own species... But certainly not ridiculous."

   Sheridan nodded and thumped his clenched fists on his thighs, trying to regain control. At last he looked up. "Why is this happening now? Why didn't I go through all this before? I seemed to be handling it fine, then."

   Franklin sighed and sat back. This was safer ground and Sheridan needed to understand. "I've seen it a hundred times when we've worked in places where something really bad's going on. People carry on fine all the time the pressure's on them. When it relaxes -- when they start to feel the situation is getting back under control -- that's when they lose it. The shaking starts and the tears. Or maybe it's when they get home that night and tell their wives or husbands or girlfriends about it. I've had guys, six foot four and built like a battle cruiser crying for an hour or more in my office because they were the ones who found a dead child, or someone so mangled we didn't know what species it was, let alone who."

   He leaned forward. "John, right after you were released you only waited long enough to get patched up, then you went straight back into the field. When you led the assault on Earth, Delenn tells me you went to ram one of the defence platforms." Sheridan nodded. "So that's something else to add to the list. Then you had to face Luchenko, Bester, make sure you got amnesty for everyone who fought alongside you and resign your commission. You got married, came back here to a hero's welcome, and started up the Interstellar Alliance, AND had a madman try to kill you before you could even start. That's a lot of distractions!" Sheridan snorted, and this time, when Delenn touched him, he didn't overreact. "Now things are starting to settle down a bit. Not much, I'll grant you, but against what it's been like? Your mind has been waiting for a time when it's safe for it to relax, but you've been keeping it on the go, so the problems built up until finally we get a trigger you can't ignore, and everything starts to fall apart. You're like an over strung instrument. Something had to give."

   Sheridan nodded quietly, his eyes fixed on the floor. Delenn continued to stroke his back, trying through that touch to impart some reassurance. "But we can fix this, right?" he asked.

   "Yes, John. We can fix it," Franklin returned with a firm nod. Sheridan looked to the others and all of them were in agreement.

   "Wish I had your faith right now," he muttered.

   Franklin stood up. It was clear they weren't going to get much done today and he had a pile of paperwork that wouldn't get done on its own. "I'm gonna go back to Medlab, but Survaal is staying here, okay?" Sheridan grunted, still lost in his thoughts. Delenn looked up and nodded, giving Franklin leave.

   After he'd gone, Sheridan rocked on the couch uncomfortably for a while before rising and grabbing the dishes. It gave him something to do -- something he knew he *could* do, and right now he needed every affirmation he could find. The task was done in under five minutes and, once again, he was at a loss. "Delenn? Uh, how about a walk in the gardens? I think I need to get out of here for a while."

   She nodded and rose smoothly. "I'd be happy to."

   "You can come along if you want, Survaal," Sheridan offered.

   The healer bowed. "I have never been aboard Babylon 5 before. I would like that very much."

   Sheridan grinned. *Now* he had something to do. "Oh, well in that case, we'll give you the grand tour, huh Delenn?" She smiled in agreement.

   *****************************

   Garibaldi's arms ached, but he grunted with grim satisfaction as another ball went hurtling into the far distance. Zack's idea had been a good one and he was working off a lot of pent up anger. He drew back for another hit and heard voices behind him. One of them, in particular, grabbed his attention and the ball flew past unnoticed.

   "And this is the sports area," Sheridan was explaining. "We have a baseball diamond; there're some pools over there, but they're really more for water purification and decoration than anything else. Mind you, I...." He trailed off as he turned around and saw Michael.

   Sensing the sudden change in atmosphere, Garibaldi stiffened slightly and then forced himself to relax. He turned and saw Sheridan watching him.

   "Mr. President, Delenn," he said formally, nodding to them both. He noted Sheridan's left hand was clenched, and he appeared to be shaking, but it was hard to tell from this distance. He wandered over. "How you doin'? Showing around a new guest? Sorry, we haven't been introduced. My name's...."

   "Michael Garibaldi. I am pleased to meet you," Survaal filled in, bowing to him." I am Healer Survaal, from the War Cruiser Hel Fi."

   Garibaldi returned the bow and then looked at Sheridan. The man was clearly struggling. "Ahh, look, I've been out here a while. I think maybe I should hit the showers before the Pak'ma'ra start taking an interest." He looked at Delenn who was watching her husband.

   "John?" she said quietly.

   Sheridan shook his head. "I'm fine, Delenn. Fine. Just a bit of a surprise, that's all." He turned to Garibaldi. "Sorry, Michael. No need to interrupt your batting practice. I was just showing Survaal around the station. He's gonna be a guest for a few days at least so we're giving him the grand tour. It's not like I've got anything else to do right now." He managed a self-deprecatory laugh, but it was short lived. Garibaldi tried to respond but the smile wouldn't reach his eyes, which flickered from Sheridan's face to his hand. He saw it clench convulsively, apparently without Sheridan's awareness.

   "You want to hit a few, John?" Garibaldi offered, holding out the bat. "I've been imagining Bester's head on the balls. Amazing what a difference it made."

   Sheridan hesitated and was about to decline when Survaal said, "What is this baseball? I have heard of it but never actually seen it. I take it this is the playing area, yes?"

   Sheridan held Michael's eyes for a moment and then turned back to Survaal. "Ah, yeah. You have a pitcher who stands over there, basemen, fielders and a short-stop who stands right about here." He pointed out the various positions. "The idea is for the opposing team to hit the ball somewhere between the white lines and then run from base to base before the ball's returned. If a batter reaches a base after the baseman has the ball, the batter's out. When three people are out, you swap sides. The principle's pretty simple, but it works off some steam. It's been going for hundreds of years. Do you, uh, have any sports on Minbar?" It was a funny thing, but he'd never thought to ask Delenn that. He put it down to the fact that most of the women he knew (with one or two notable exceptions) despised sport with a passion. Somehow he couldn't quite see Delenn done up in baseball gear running the bases or trying to use a catcher's mitt.

   "Our children play sports, but once we reach adulthood there are other callings. I believe the Warrior Caste have some activities that might qualify as a sport, but they are more practice for battle and can be quite violent and even deadly on occasion," Survaal supplied.

   "I can imagine," Sheridan nodded. "We have some sports like that ourselves."

   Delenn motioned to Garibaldi who was still holding out the bat. "Why don't you show Survaal?"

   "Oh, it's been a long time since I swung a bat," he returned, clearly nervous of making a fool of himself. "I probably couldn't hit a thing."

   'Except maybe me,' Garibaldi thought and then dismissed it. "Go on, John. A few swings might do you good."

   Sheridan considered the bat for a while and then, with Delenn and Survaal's encouragement, accepted it and took up position in the batting box. He made a few practice swings and then waited for the delivery. He swung at the first one but missed it completely.

   "Give it another go," Garibaldi suggested. "Like you say, you're out of practice."

   He grunted and tried again. Another miss. This time he needed no encouragement, and he faced the machine squarely, his jaw tight. When the ball came he hit it with everything he had and it hurtled off into the distance. Two more followed suit.

   Garibaldi whistled. "Those went further than mine. You wanna tell me the secret?"

   Sheridan shook his head and handed the bat back, giving Garibaldi a significant look. "I don't think so," he said grimly. Garibaldi nodded. He was afraid of that. After a short pause Sheridan turned back to Survaal. "Ah, how about I show you the command centre?" he offered, determined to put some distance between himself and Michael. Rationally he understood it had not been Michael's fault, but emotionally he was still trying to come to terms with what had happened. "I think I can clear it with Captain Lochley." He brought his link to his mouth and then paused, noticing the way his hand was shaking.

   Delenn noticed it as well. She reached up and closed her fingers over his, denying him access to the comlink. "Perhaps tomorrow. I think we should go back to your quarters. We have seen a great deal, and I am sure Survaal has many questions. We can discuss them over some tea."

   Survaal nodded. "The station is magnificent, Mr. President. A fitting symbol of all it has achieved."

   Sheridan grunted, lowering his hand at Delenn's gentle insistence. "Tired?" he asked, quietly. He knew she wasn't -- she had the stamina of an ox -- but he needed an excuse; one that didn't show up his own weakness.

   "A little," she returned, seeing his question for what it was. "It has already been a hard day, but if you wish to continue the tour I will go home alone."

   "No, no, no. We can call it a day," he assured her, thanking her with a look. She nodded almost imperceptibly. "Uh, Michael? Try not to send one of those into the core shuttle, huh?"

   "Damn! That was my next target!" Garibaldi smiled. "Sure thing. You guys take care of each other." This last was most definitely directed exclusively at Sheridan and Delenn. "Survaal," he added politely. He was determined not to give John any reason for antagonism.

   The group turned and left the baseball diamond, exiting through the door that led away from the core. Garibaldi shook his head. It was going to be a hard fight, but they'd get there... eventually. He turned and looked up at the core shuttle. With a slightly mischievous grin he took up his position in the box and waited for the next pitch. When it came he arched the bat upwards, aiming the ball squarely at the moving target. It fell a long way short but he nodded to himself. A few more and then he really would quit.

 

 

 

Chapter 8

 

 

   "Thanks."

   "For what?"

   "For getting me out of there."

   "You looked as though you needed rescuing."

   "I do," he murmured.

   Survaal observed without comment as Sheridan released his grip on Delenn's hand and then encircled her shoulders. She returned the embrace, wrapping her arm around his waist. Side by side they made their way back to Blue Sector.

   ********************************

   "Mr. President? President Sheridan!"

   Sheridan groaned. They'd been travelling the less frequented corridors back to Blue Sector, but they couldn't avoid the Zocalo altogether without taking a most circuitous route, probably through parts of Downbelow. The over-enthusiastic human who was rushing up, pudgy hand outstretched and a beaming smile as wide as the Golden Gate Bridge, was exactly the type he'd been hoping to avoid. He sighed, squared his shoulders, pasted on his most ingratiating smile and turned to greet the man.

   "Yes. How may I help you?"

   "Oh, Mr. President, sir! I can't believe I'm actually getting to meet you at last!" the man gushed. "You know, I never did agree with anything Clark said. I knew he was telling a pack of lies right from the start."

   'Yeah, right!' Sheridan mentally snorted. 'And I bet you were right there, hiding behind the trash cans until all the fighting was over.' This man was the type he detested on sight. The fact he insisted on giving a blow by blow of the events as though Sheridan was in some way unaware of what had transpired only added to the irritation.

   "Mister...?" Sheridan waited for the man to provide a name.

   "Oh, yeah, sure. Sorry, I forget. Everyone knows you and you don't know everyone else. It must make it kinda hard having all these people knowing as much about you as you do! Heck, more in some cases! You know, we read everything about you..."

   Sheridan tuned out the rest of the monologue as he patiently waited for the man to get to the point. Delenn touched his arm.

   "I will be over here," she whispered, pointing to one of the stalls. Sheridan rolled his eyes and nodded, turning his attention once more to the phenomenally long-winded man.

   "Uh... sorry, what did you ask again? I'm so thrilled to meet you I can't think straight!"

   'I doubt you'd recognise logical thought if it jumped up and bit you in the ass!' Sheridan thought sourly. Out loud he said, "That's quite all right. I was wondering what I should call you." 'Apart from an annoying, space-for-brains pain in the butt.'

   "Oh yeah! Sorry. Um, the name's Clarke, but with an 'e'. Embarrassing, huh? I had to keep telling people I wasn't him!"

   "I'm sure. Was there something I can do for you?"

   "Uh, well yeah. I know you're a busy man and all, and I wouldn't normally bother you... running the Alliance and everything...."

   'Get to the point!' "It does keep me quite busy, yes."

   "Ahh, that's a hint I should stop wasting your time, right?" The man wagged his finger. "Practising your diplomacy, huh? Must be hard dealing with all the back-stabbing and the rest in the political arena -- you being an old military man and all."

   Sheridan sighed. "It is. Mr Clarke, I'm sorry to hurry you but I really am rather busy."

   "Oh yeah, right. Anyway, I was wondering...." He rummaged around in his inside pocket and produced an autograph album. "Could you sign this? It's not for me, you understand. My daughter, Angelica... we called her that because she's such an angel... well, she admires you so much." He leaned forward and nudged Sheridan in the ribs. "Between you and me, I think she's got a bit of a crush on you," he said in a conspiratorial whisper, adding a rather leery wink.

   Sheridan smiled weakly and looked at the autograph album. "Uhh, I don't appear to have a pen on me."

   "Oh, that's OK. I have one." Clarke patted his pockets for a minute and then produced a pen. Sheridan took it in suddenly nerveless fingers, fumbling for a moment to get the nib out. "Oh, let me. It can be a little awkward." He snatched it back and removed the cap. "There you go."

   Sheridan took it. "What did you want me to write?" he added opening the book and looking for an empty page. He noted he seemed to be keeping the company of some pop stars and film actors. Was this what he had come to? Signing his name in a book the girl would probably lose before she was twenty, and forget about years before that? So much for the exalted office of President.

   "Oh, just your name, that'll do fine. She doesn't expect anything else. Just, you know, sign it."

   'Sign it!' Sheridan blanched. He gripped the book tightly and raised his hand. He knew he was starting to shake and as his hand neared the page the shaking increased. He could feel the sweat prickling his forehead.

   Clarke looked at him. "Is there a problem?"

   He swallowed. "Uh, no. I was just trying to think of something to write for her."

   "Oh no, really. That's kind but it's not important. Just your name will do. Don't want to keep you hanging around any longer, you being so busy and all."

   Sheridan was stalling, trying to find a way out of the situation. He looked over to Delenn but she was discussing a sale with the trader and didn't look up. The shaking was becoming more pronounced.

   Clarke frowned. "That's a mighty bad shake you've got there, Mr. President, if you don't mind me saying so."

   'I do, actually. Mind your own blasted business!' "Uh, yes. It comes and goes. It'll settle down again in a minute."

   "My sister had something like that. They put her on some medication. Sorted it out in no time. Maybe you should have a word with your doctor, huh? Get him to give you something?"

   The room was starting to tilt dangerously. The lights that criss-crossed the floor suddenly seemed too bright and he squeezed his eyes closed, trying to shut them out.

   "Hey, Mr. President? You okay?"

   He nodded weakly and looked at Clarke. The image of the man shimmered in front of him, the edges too sharp; contract too strong. His knees seemed to be giving way under him. 'Not here! Please God, not here! Get a grip, John!'

   A hand suddenly appeared on his shoulder and another was wrapped around his waist. He jumped and looked about him, his eyes registering undisguised terror. Survaal was gripping his shoulder and Delenn had appeared at his side, supporting him.

   She turned to Clarke. "I'm sorry. My husband has had... what is your term? 'A dose of the flu?'" She gave Clarke her most gracious smile. "He is not yet fully recovered."

   Clarke nodded. "Ahh. Sorry to hear that. Yeah, there're some nasty bugs going around. I thought he looked a bit off colour. No offence."

   "None taken," Sheridan replied thickly.

   Clarke looked expectantly at the autograph book. Clearly he did not consider 'a dose of the flu' an excuse for Sheridan not signing his name. Delenn calmly took the offending items from Sheridan's fingers.

   "Perhaps another time?" she suggested, handing the pen and book back to Clarke. "I am sure you understand."

   "Well, my little Angelica is gonna be pretty upset I didn't get the President's signature," Clarke returned, his voice taking on a wheedling note. "I'd hate to disappoint her."

   "I am sure she will understand." Delenn's own voice was taking on a steel edge within its overtly silken tones.

   "Well, how about a picture? I brought a camera with me. Thought I could get...."

   "I do not think so. If you would excuse us." Politely but firmly Delenn guided Sheridan around the objectionable man and headed towards an exit. When Clarke started to follow Zack suddenly appeared at his elbow.

   "I think you should leave them alone," Zack suggested.

   "I just wanted a picture!" Clarke protested.

   "Yeah, well I don't think the President is available for a photo call right now."

   Clarke tried to manoeuvre around Zack who made a motion with his hands. Two burly security guards promptly blocked Clarke's path.

   "Hey, what is this? Isn't he supposed to be a public servant? I'm not asking for anything major, just an autograph or a picture. He got so big now he can't deal with the little people any more? So much for all his claims to be a man of the people!"

   "All right, that's enough," Zack said sternly. "I think you'd better go."

   "Hey, I've got my rights! This is a free station, you know! If he doesn't want to have people talk to him like a normal human being he shouldn't walk in the public areas."

   Zack motioned to the guards and they stepped up to Clarke, making it clear if he didn't go with them they'd carry him. "You can't arrest me. I've done nothing wrong! Take your hands off me!" He struggled but the guards tightened their grip and firmly directed him away from Sheridan's retreating form. Clarke was furious. "He's just like all the other politicians," he yelled over his shoulder. "Given 'em a bit of power and it goes to their heads! They've no time for the people who put them there! Well maybe he should remember who put his ass in that chair!" He was yelling loud enough that his voice carried to Sheridan's ears and the latter shuddered.

   "It's all right, John. He doesn't understand."

   He nodded and concentrated on his footing, putting all his efforts into the suddenly daunting task of walking, but the taunts were burning in his brain. His stomach roiled and he looked around desperately.

   "Delenn, I believe he is going to be sick," Survaal informed her calmly. "Is there somewhere nearby we can go?"

   Delenn nodded and led the way, Sheridan swallowing hard to keep his rebellious stomach in check. The second they got through the door he bolted for a cubicle while Delenn remained outside, ready to redirect any who chose that moment to use the facility. Ten minutes later Sheridan and Survaal emerged, the former visibly pale.

   "Tell me we can put a stop to this!" he pleaded as she put her arm around him to lead him back to his quarters. "I'm not sure how much more I can stand."

   "We will, my love," she assured him as they entered a transport tube. "I promise you we will." She gave the command and the elevator hummed as it took them to their destination.

   Survaal nodded. "I am sorry we allowed that to happen. I should have interrupted as soon as that man produced the book, but I have never seen anything like that before."

   "No autograph hunters on Minbar, huh?" Sheridan said, straightening against the cramps that still plagued him.

   "It is a strange ritual."

   "Hmm."

   "I'm sorry too, John. I didn't know he was going to do that," Delenn added. "I should not have left you."

   "No, it's okay. I've got to learn how to handle this. It was just a bit much, that's all." He smiled at her. "You were there when I needed you. That's the important thing."

   The transport tube's note changed as it slowed, the doors parting a second later. The three made their way to Sheridan's quarters without further incident. As soon as they were inside, Sheridan headed towards the bathroom and, a few minutes later, the sound of the shower could be heard. Delenn shook her head and sat down heavily.

   "Obsessive behaviour," Survaal provided. "They did not allow him to maintain even the most basic levels of cleanliness while he was incarcerated. I believe he is trying to make up for it."

   Delenn nodded. "I know. I just hope station resources do not complain." Survaal frowned and then realised she was not being altogether serious. "I wish Dr. Henshaw would get here. He needs more than we can give him."

   Survaal considered Delenn's tired frame. "But she will need your help, Delenn. Perhaps you should return to your own quarters for a few hours." She looked up sharply but he didn't back down. "I will stay here with him, never fear, but you need to recuperate. This is a strain on everyone, but on you and the President in particular. He needs you. I believe he will be resting for a few hours and I suggest you do the same."

   She went to argue and then realised it was pointless. Survaal was determined and, what was worse, he was right. "You will call me if he asks for me?"

   "Of course."

   Reluctantly, she made her way to her own quarters.

   *************************

   She awoke suddenly in the early hours of the morning. She certainly hadn't intended to sleep so long after completing her paperwork, but her body clearly had other ideas. The weakness of her mostly human body had annoyed her before, but this time it was, in her opinion, unforgivable. She rose swiftly, showered, changed and made her way to Sheridan's quarters, her gait alternating between a fast walk and occasional near jogs. Should anyone see her, she didn't want them to get the wrong impression and so she restrained herself, but never had the distance between their quarters seemed so long. She distracted herself with the thought that she had found it quite odd to sleep alone. A few short months ago she had known nothing else. Now, the bed seemed empty and cold without him lying beside her. She looked forward to when he was sufficiently healed so that they could return to the sleeping arrangements she now found so comfortable. It pleased her to note that 'if' had not even entered her mind. He would recover -- of that there was no question -- it was merely a matter of time.

   When she arrived, she smoothed her dress before pressing the door com. There was no need to let John know she was worried about him by arriving dishevelled.

   To her relief the door opened to reveal an almost domestic scene. Survaal was sitting on a chair while Sheridan was stretched out on the couch, his feet up on the table in front of him. He turned as she walked in but didn't get up.

   "Feeling better?" he asked.

   "I think I should be the one to ask that question," she returned with a smile and then bowed to Survaal who had risen to greet her. She motioned for him to sit once more and then stepped around the couch. Sheridan lightly patted the seat beside him and she settled against him, further comforted when he slipped his arm around her shoulders.

   He gave her an embarrassed grin. "Ach, you know me. Never did know when to quit." She offered up a silent prayer of thanks for his tenacity and squeezed his hand. "Survaal here has been telling me about Minbar," he filled in, changing the subject. "It sounds incredible."

   "It is, as you would say, 'quite something'," she agreed before turning to Survaal. "My reports are... functional, but they do not give me the details. When was the last time you were there?"

   He considered for a moment, remembering that Sheridan wouldn't understand Minbari chronology. "I believe the correct answer would be two months ago."

   Sheridan smiled and nodded, grateful to the healer for saving him the embarrassment of having to ask for a translation.

   "Did you go out among the people?"

   "Of course. In my calling one goes where one is needed."

   "And?" She leaned forward and Sheridan noted how eager she was for news of home. He found it both endearing and slightly upsetting. Tuning out their discussion, he analysed the sensation. These days he thought of Babylon 5 as home. Apart from his family, everyone he cared about -- all his friends, his wife, his work -- everything was on Babylon 5. He wondered how he was going to feel when he left the station for the last time and moved to Minbar. Even the name seemed to have a poetic ring to it; nothing as humdrum as simple "Earth". He remembered how, even when fate seemed to have marked mankind -- and him in particular -- for extermination, he had wondered about the home-world of the enemy. How could he have known then that one day he would be in love with and married to one of those enemies and contemplating the move to her planet? He chuckled. The universe had an odd sense of humour.

   Delenn was distracted from her conversation by his quiet laughter and turned a curious eye to him. "What is it?"

   "Hmm? Oh, nothing. I was just thinking what an odd universe we live in." She cocked her head, failing to fathom the source of his humour. He shrugged. "You had to be there," he returned, refusing to supply any further elucidation.

   She looked at him for a moment but he waved her expression away. Humans, she decided, were a perfect example of that oddness in the universe but, at least in this instance, she found the trait attractive. She returned to her conversation.

   "So the Worker Caste have been rebuilding?"

   "At a magnificent rate. The major cities are almost restored. It will take some time to reach all the outlying areas, but the work proceeds steadily. I think you will like what you see when you finally arrive."

   "And the people. Do they resent what I did with the Grey Council?"

   Survaal considered his words carefully. "On the whole, I would say not. There are those who believe tradition should over-ride need, but the results are there for all to see. Situations change, and we must change with them. In time they will come to understand."

   "I take it you approve, then?" Sheridan interjected.

   "Indeed. With the end of the Shadow Wars we must face the future with hope. The three castes worked well while there was a common enemy, but the time for fighting is over. Should there be any trouble we still have our warriors, and the Religious Caste carries on as ever, but now we must build. Yes. I approve." He smiled warmly at Delenn and she released a sigh. "Did you think I would not?"

   "I do not know. I did what I thought was right, but one always wonders," she admitted.

   Sheridan snorted. "That's the human side of you. We always wonder."

   "It is a good thing," Survaal said, rising from his chair. "It is late. I think I should retire."

   "Are you going back to the Hel Fi?" Delenn asked.

   "No. Captain Lochley and Dr. Franklin found me quarters nearby. I will remain for as long as I am needed." He bowed. "Mr. President, Delenn."

   Sheridan nodded while Delenn stood to return the bow, waiting until Survaal had left before turning to her husband. "You look better," she commented. "Did you sleep well?"

   "Not at first. Survaal gave me something in the end. I didn't want to take it but..." His mouth twitched and she nodded. "In any case, whatever it was it kept the nightmares at bay. I think that's the first time I've slept for more than four hours without waking up shaking."

   She considered the chronometer and shook her head. "You realise the rest of the station is asleep?" He nodded. "What were you planning on doing until dawn?"

   He paused for a moment and then smiled. "Talk to me," he said simply.

   "About what?"

   "Oh, I dunno. Anything. Everything. Just so long as there's nothing about what's happening now, meetings, or whose trade agreement is causing trouble." He winked at her.

   Laughter crinkled her eyes as she caught his paraphrase. "That seems like a lifetime ago," she murmured, resuming her place next to him.

   "It does, doesn't it? A good meal, I think."

   "I'm not sure I noticed. I was too fascinated by the human Captain I was dining with." She placed a hand on his thigh, stroking him through the thin material of his trousers.

   "I seem to recall a certain Minbari Ambassador, in a dress no one could tear their eyes from, making a new Captain feel very special that night."

   "The feeling was mutual."

   He frowned. "Have you still got that dress?" She nodded. "Then, when this is all over, I'm going to take you out to dinner."

   "For our anniversary?"

   "Hmm? I hope I'm better before then!"

   "I was thinking of the anniversary of that first dinner date."

   "Ahh," he nodded. "When is that?"

   She chuckled. "Ivanova warned me men could never remember significant dates in a relationship. She advised me to write them all down."

   "A wise woman. So?"

   "Next month."

   His face fell and he turned away. "I'm not sure I'll be ready by then, Delenn."

   "Then we will dine in here, alone. Just the two of us," she whispered, determined not to let him lose his earlier good humour. She reached up, cupping his face in her hand and gently forcing him to look at her. "So long as you are with me, that is all that matters."

   She considered him for a moment. Stubble running from the edge of his goatee across the rest of his cheek grazed her fingers, but while the dark circles under his eyes were still there, they were not as pronounced as before. Still, as he returned her gaze, a slightly haunted look remained. It broke her heart to see the man who had faced death so many times without flinching, cowed by his own dreams and memories. He rubbed his cheek against her palm, and then paused, hearing the scratching sound caused by the stubble. He reached up and ran his fingers across his face.

   "I should have shaved. I'm sorry," he apologised softly.

   "It's of no matter. It's there every morning when you kiss me." With a frown she noticed that, even though there was no one to bother him, his hand still shook slightly. Capturing it she kissed the palm softly and smiled.  He shifted and cleared his throat uncomfortably.

   "Ah, look. After that disaster the other night...."

   He'd misinterpreted her, thinking that here was one more person who was going to make a demand he could not fulfil, no matter how much he longed to. She chuckled, earning a hurt look in return. As he opened his mouth to retaliate, she covered his lips with her fingers, shaking her head. "You do not have to *make* love to me to prove that you love me, John. We are together. That is enough."

   "Hmph! For now, anyway."

   "No." She was adamant and he looked at her, his gaze roving from the tip of her bone crest, down to her throat and then back to her lips before settling on her eyes. "What we do in bed together is wonderful, and I will be here when you are ready, but there is far more to you... to us... than that." She shifted slightly so that the unwieldy cast would not press into his side and then considered it. "Besides, I am no more in a position to do that right now than you are."

   He winced and she instantly regretted the comment. She had not intended to remind him of his previous lapse. "I do not blame you, John. Please stop blaming yourself."

   He nodded sadly, but it was clear he was still struggling with a sense of guilt. Gently, she leaned her head against his shoulder, her other hand resting on his chest. "Hold me," she whispered. For a moment he hesitated, then a gentle smile spread across his face and he wrapped his arm around her, revelling in her presence. If only everything in this sorry mess could be so simple.

   ********************************

   "Jeez, what a mess!" Henshaw muttered under her breath. She'd managed to get all the reports on Sheridan's incarceration and was poring over them as she headed towards the station. Give Clark's men their due, they kept meticulous accounts. Of course, they'd tried their damnedest to destroy them before they were caught, but Sheridan's had slipped through, in large part because someone sympathetic to him had managed to get a copy before the main one was destroyed. Even so, it hadn't been easy to track down. Now she had it, though, it made grim reading. They'd started with a more or less standard approach, but they'd obviously realised he was going to be a tough nut to crack and had piled on the pressure earlier than usual. She shook her head as she read the list of drugs that had been used and the amounts. No wonder he was losing it. The miracle was he'd managed to hang on for so long. She read through Franklin's most recent message, telling of the results of their attempt to get Sheridan to talk, and fired off a reply to the effect that they shouldn't try anything else until she got there, unless Sheridan himself chose to do so. She was determined he should feel neither pressured nor restricted. He had to set the pace, at least at the start. Once they got things going they might be able to speed things up a bit, but that would depend on him. Having seen inside the cells they used, as well as reading the reports, she had a fairly shrewd idea what triggers would set him off anyway. She read through her list and nodded. She'd tick them off as he came to them.

   The Asimov had a comfortable lounge area for passengers to wander around and relax. It was officially 'night' at the moment, and a lot of people were trying to get some sleep in an effort to maintain some kind of order in their biological clocks. Thus, apart from a few insomniacs, the area was more or less deserted. She stood up and stretched, raising her arms above her shoulders as she arched her back. She could hear the joints popping and knew she'd been sitting there for far too long. Rubbing a hand over the back of her neck she jerked her head a few times to work out any remaining kinks and yawned. According to the chronometers it was zero four thirty -- definitely time for some shut-eye. She had enough to think about for tonight and she had a feeling some of it might attend her dreams. She collected her papers and data pad, nodded to the other incumbents of the area, bidding them goodnight, and made her way to bed. The cubicle was tiny with barely enough room for the bed, a shelf, and a monitor inset into the bulkhead. She stripped off and slipped under the covers. Contemplating the monitor for a moment, she decided against doing any more research. She still had two days.

 

*****

 

 

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