WHAT GOES AROUND (II)

By Castor (formerly known as Anon)

 

 

 

Chapter 9

 

 

   The first of those two days passed without incident. Sheridan kept to his quarters, unwilling to risk another unfortunate encounter, and he quietly emptied his cupboards of anything that might act as a trigger, the coffee being gratefully received by some passing crewmember who couldn't quite believe his luck but wasn't about to argue. Originally Sheridan had been determined not to do that, wanting to face his problems head on, but it was becoming increasingly apparent, to him at least, that what he wanted to do and what he could do were not the same thing. On the second day, Delenn and Survaal tried to prise him from the sanctuary of his rooms, but he pleaded exhaustion and retired to the bedroom, spending the next few hours staring at the ceiling unless someone came to check on him, at which point he feigned sleep.

   Delenn had a meeting to attend that could not be delayed and, shortly thereafter, Survaal was asked to return briefly to the Hel Fi to administer to a crew member who had been injured while practicing with the Denn'bok. Survaal checked on Sheridan and found him apparently asleep, 'though the healer seriously doubted that was the case. Nevertheless, he was needed elsewhere and Sheridan clearly had no intention of leaving his rooms. Notifying Delenn, who promised to return as soon as the meeting was over, Survaal reluctantly left.

   Sheridan heard the door close and released a sigh, then thumped his fist angrily into the mattress. 'You're a coward, John Sheridan,' he thought. 'You've lived here longer than you've lived anywhere since you were a kid, and now you're scared of the place... scared of meeting some annoying bastard who'll leave you a shaking mess on the floor because he threatens you with a pen!'

   Furious with his own inadequacies -- and the fact that he was giving in to them -- he threw the covers aside, put on his clothes and marched into the lounge, grabbing some paper and a pen. He sat down at the table, spread the blank pages out in front of him, and deliberately removed the cap on the pen, holding it in his hand for  a moment as he watched the shaking increase. Grabbing the errant left hand with his right he forced it down onto the page and tried to write. The paper shifted under the heavy strokes and he swore, grabbed up a piece of sculpture to act as a paperweight, pinned the paper down and tried again.

   By the time Delenn returned there were several scrunched up pieces of paper strewn around Sheridan's chair, all of them covered with his attempts to sign his own name. They looked less like a grown man's handwriting and more akin to that of a four year old or a drunk suffering from DTs.

   "John, what are you doing?" she asked, moving quietly towards him.

   He didn't look up. "I'm not gonna be beaten by this, Delenn. I'm gonna keep this up until I win!" he snarled, tearing the used up sheet from under the paperweight, crushing it in his fist and hurling it to the floor before grabbing another and starting again. She watched him for a moment and then moved closer.

   "Can I help?" He turned to her and, for the first time, she realised his eyes were glistening with unshed tears of frustration while the rest of his face was set in a determined scowl. She reached out to him but he turned away, bending once more to his task.

   "No." It was said through gritted teeth. She watched his efforts, noting the shaking of his hand was even more pronounced than before, his own anger and frustration only adding to the problem.

   "John, stop this. For a little while, at least," she pleaded.

   "I've got to do it. I'm not gonna let it beat me."

   "'It' is you. You are fighting with yourself. Whatever you do, win or lose, a part of you must be beaten."

   "Then I'm beating the part I hate." Another attempt. The paper tore under the pen and he cursed, moving to another spot to try again.

   Steeling herself for the backlash, she placed a hand on his shoulder, refusing to be thrown off when he jerked away. "Let me help," she repeated, moving around him slowly until she was on his left. Carefully, as though dealing with a frightened animal, she ran her hand down his arm until she reached his hand, covering it with her own. "You're too tense. If I tried to sign my name in that state it would come out just as bad. Let it go, John." She gently prised his right hand away, swiftly covering his left before the shaking grew too much. "Stop trying. Just hold the pen for a while. Don't try to write with it, just hold it." She kept her hand over his while, with her other hand, she stroked across his back, feeling the tension in his muscles.

   He lifted his hand from the page, and she quickly moved to remove the paper.

   "Delenn!"

   "Just for a moment," she soothed, feeling his shaking lessening. "You cannot write anything until the shaking stops. Now," she added, scooting a chair around with her foot and sitting beside him, "I'm going to remove my hand. Do not try to do anything. Just hold the pen in your hand. You do not have to sign anything, and no one is making any demands. If you want to put it down, do so. If you want to hold on, do so, but you are under no pressure. All right?"

   He nodded and watched as she slowly removed her hand. The shaking instantly increased and she covered it once more. "Imagine my hand is still there. I am with you and I will not leave." Again she moved her hand away. For a moment the shaking returned in full vigour and she saw his jaw clench as he fought to get it under control. "What are you thinking? Right now, right this instant, what is going through your mind?"

   "That I've got to keep my hand still."

   "Who said you had to? Let it shake for a while if it wants to. If you think you're going to drop the pen, put it down."

   He looked at her through narrowed eyes, and she nodded and smiled. Turning back to his hand he slowly lowered the pen and watched as the shaking subsided. Reaching for it once more he cursed as the problem returned.

   "When you reach for the pen, what are you thinking."

   "Nothing!"

   "Then what are you feeling?" She wasn't sure she was doing this right, but it felt right and, given the state he was in, they had to do something until Henshaw arrived. "Analyse it. Talk your way through it. What are you feeling?"

   He shook his head. "Nothing," he repeated, but there was a hesitancy in his voice.

   "Nothing at all, or nothing you want to share with me?"

   A pained smile crossed his face and he nodded. "I guess... nothing I wanted to share."

   She nodded but said nothing. It was up to him to decide if he was ready to talk. After a moment he took a deep breath. "Frightened." He snorted. "Stupid, isn't it? I mean, how can I be frightened of a pen?"

   "Is it the pen, or what it means that frightens you?"

   He turned once more. "When did you get to be a psychologist?" It was a feeble attempt at humour, but it was there.

   "I wanted to understand what was happening. I have read Dr. Henshaw's reports on other victims of President Clark's methods. If it's any consolation, you are not alone."

   "So I gather... But I'm not sure I want my wife analysing me."

   "Then put it down to caring for you. I believe that was in our vows."

   He nodded. "It was at that." He stared again at his hand. "They wanted me to sign the confession. If I did that... I knew they'd kill me. Me and everyone who'd fought alongside me. Susan, Stephen... and what they'd do to you if they ever caught you...." He shuddered.

   "But they didn't. Clark is dead, and Earth is returning to what it once was. It's over."

   "I know that!" he snarled, then was instantly contrite. "I'm sorry.... I know, really. Consciously I know but...." He shook his head. "It just doesn't seem to be getting through to the rest of me."

   "It will," she said softly. "So, you knew that if you signed the document you would die?"

   He nodded. "Not immediately. They'd parade me around as an example. Proof that you couldn't beat the system. Once they'd done that, then...."

   "It must have annoyed them greatly that you did beat the system," she interrupted with a smile.

   The tension started to break. "Yeah. I really got under their skin, didn't I?"

   "The very fact they used so much against you proves how important it was to them that they broke you. I think you...," she paused, flipping through her memory of John's way of speaking, "...you 'seriously honked them off!'" she finished.

   He chuckled and then turned back to his hand. "Hey! The shaking's going down!" He picked up the pen and reached for the paper but she stopped him.

   "Then let us not move too fast. Put the pen down for a moment." Frowning, but seeing that at least something was working for a change, he complied. "Now," she said, pulling a sheet of paper out and putting it in front of him. "Hold your hand as if you had a pen there and pretend to write. Just mime the movements."

   "Huh?" This didn't make any sense.

   "Please, John. For me."

   He shrugged, convinced this was a waste of time and set to. The shaking returned. "Oh hell!" he muttered.

   She covered his hand once more. "Now just rest your hand on the page. Do not make any movements, just let your hand stay there for a while." While he did as she suggested she carried on in their former vein. "Did they ever give you any idea how important you were to them?"

   "Hmm? Uh, no. Well.... At first I was non-expendable, then they claimed I was expendable and made me think I was about to be killed... then they started all over again, so I guessed I wasn't *so* expendable, but after a while...."

   She nodded. "They wanted to make you think you could die at any moment, when in fact they could not afford to lose you until they had the confession. You were much too important to them."

   He nodded. "Pretty much."

   "And you won."

   He shook his head. "Not really. I didn't lose, but I'd hardly call it a victory. In any case, towards the end I'd've signed anything if I could have read it."

   "And your subconscious, knowing this, found a way to protect you. I would think it would be reassuring to know that your belief in what is right is so deeply ingrained, your mind will not let you betray it, even when your body wishes to. That is quite a defence mechanism!"

   He snorted. "Yeah, but I wish I could decommission it now."

   She nodded to his hand. "Look." He looked and saw his hand had stopped shaking. "Now, remember you are not signing anything of any value. It has no consequences whatever for you or anyone connected to you, beyond giving you control over yourself." He nodded. "Now move your hand as though signing your name."

   He moved, hesitantly at first, and then with increased assurance as his hand remained steady. He looked up, a child-like delight in his tired face.

   She returned the smile. "Now pick up the pen. Do not put it to the page. Just move it over the surface as though you were writing."

   He reached out and grasped the pen, moving it slowly and deliberately. Still his hand manifested none of the signs of its earlier reluctance. She nodded, squeezing his shoulder.

   "All right. Do you want to take the last step, or do you wish to stop?" The look in his eyes was enough to tell her he wanted to know if he'd regained control.

   "Then remember, all the time that you are writing, that you won. It's over. You are now President of the Interstellar Alliance and Clark is dead. He and his men have no hold over you now. What you choose to sign is up to you alone. And you do not have to finish. If you start to feel uncomfortable, stop. All right?"

   He took a deep breath and slowly pressed the pen to the page. With deliberate strokes he drew the letters of his name. It didn't look quite right -- some of the characters had been delineated slightly differently and the loop at the bottom of the J wasn't as full as it had been before, but there was little question it was him, and it had been achieved without the slightest hand shake.

   She grinned. "I would not be surprised if your signature has changed slightly. It's a reflection of you, and you have changed, but it seems you are winning your first battle."

   Eagerly, wanting to practice, Sheridan wrote his name several more times with increasing assurance until the pen moved smoothly in his hand. At last, eyes shining with delight, he looked up.

   "I did it!" he said happily.

   "Yes, you did," she agreed, kissing him softly.

   He stood up. "Where are those blasted papers I was supposed to sign?"

   She stilled his eagerness. "John, I think it's best to build up slowly. You are still having trouble reading those, are you not?"

   He sighed. "Yeah, damn it!"

   "One stage at a time?" she advised gently.

   For a moment he looked as though he might argue the point, then his shoulders dropped and he nodded. "You're right. Much as I hate to admit it, mind you. I don't want to lose this, now I've got it back." He sighed. "I'll practise some more, work on reading the papers. When I feel comfortable with it..."

   "I think that is wise."

   He ran a frustrated hand through his hair. "Yeah, but damn it, I *want* to get back to normal. I don't *want* to be like this!" He turned to her. "How long, Delenn? How long is this gonna take?"

   "For an answer to that I think you will have to ask Dr. Henshaw. From what I can tell it relies on so many different factors there is simply no way to tell for sure." Her look conveyed her own frustration.

   He groaned and turned away, moving dejectedly. Delenn stood up and crossed the distance between them, standing in front of him. She lifted his chin with her hand so she could look into his eyes.

   "But it *will* come. It's harder to build than to destroy. Do not push too hard. In the long run, I think it will work out faster."

   "And in the meantime I'm leaving the Alliance in the lurch."

   "I'm dealing with the important matters. You had completed the first phase before this began. It will take a while for the new order to settle down and for people to accustom themselves to it. Don't worry. I will not let you fall behind. I can read to you anything that is important." She pressed her hands to his chest. "You are not letting anyone down. Do not even think that."

   "I don't like not pulling my weight around here."

   "You are pulling far more than any of us. We can shoulder the rest until you are ready."

   He nodded slowly, still not completely convinced.

   *******************************

   "Ah, Dr. Henshaw! Good trip?" Franklin extended his hand in greeting and Janet Henshaw put down her bags to shake it.

   "Fine. Long, of course, but it gave me a chance to catch up on my reading."

   "We can talk when we've got you settled. I'll show you to your quarters and then we can grab something to eat. I know the food on those Earth transports isn't anything to write home about," Franklin returned, offering to carry the larger bag.

   She shouldered her own lighter one and together they walked out of Customs. "Actually, once I've stowed my gear I'd like to talk to Delenn."

   "Not the President?" Franklin queried. They were keeping their voices low but, as ever, the bustling sea of races were far too preoccupied with their own matters to pay much attention anyway.

   "Not yet. I want to make sure I'm up-to-date on the situation and I think she and I will be working a lot together. I've never worked with a Minbari before, or even a half-Minbari for that matter. Actually...." She paused and looked around the Zocalo. "I've never worked in a place like this before or had such... um... an important patient. I'll admit, I'm a little nervous here." She turned on Franklin's stunned look. "But I'm only admitting that to you. Doctor's privilege and all that."

   They'd reached a transport tube.  Stepping inside Franklin gave the address and then waited until the doors closed on the seething masses beyond, leaving them alone before turning to Henshaw.

   "Delenn is a charming and intelligent woman. I don't think you'll have any problem working with her so long as she understands what you're trying to do. As for the President...." He paused and then resumed with a shake of his head. "John's a good man. If you want my professional opinion I'd say right now he's confused, scared, angry, frustrated, and desperate for a way out. I know he and Delenn have been reading your papers so they've got some idea. The main thing is to keep this away from the press or the other Alliance members. The Alliance is too unstable for us to admit its leader is having problems with his mental health, so officially, he's recovering from a bout of the 'flu."

   "A severe bout I take it?"

   "Chronic. And prone to relapses," he returned sadly.

   "Then the sooner I talk to Delenn, the sooner we can get this mess cleared up." They reached her room and Franklin opened the door, handing Janet her room card. Putting her bag down, he quickly explained the amenities.

   She nodded. "Okay. Can you give me, say, half an hour? I'd like to clean up a bit and change my clothes. After that we can get started. Uh.... I assume they know I'm here?"

   "Uh huh. I told them as soon as your transport came through the gate. I know Delenn's got a meeting at six, but until then she's all clear. I think they're eager to meet you."

   Henshaw raised an eyebrow and gave Franklin a look that spoke volumes. She knew all too well how patients typically felt when the 'shrink' arrived: defensive, suspicious, and determined to put on the appearance that nothing was wrong, that it had all been some terrible mistake and they were sorry for wasting her time. "Try again," she said flatly.

   "Okay. Delenn's interested and I think she's just hoping you can help John. John is... well...."

   "It's all right Dr. Franklin...."

   "Stephen, please."

   "Stephen. I'm Janet. Anyway, I know how patients feel about me. I have no ego to bruise in that department. The sooner we cut the crap and get on with trying to undo the damage Clark's men inflicted, the better. Efforts to soft soap what's happened are only going to delay matters. Besides, I've seen it before, remember? Not this bad, admittedly.... Well, not in so short a time, anyway. Normally, by the time they've gone through what the President's gone through there's not much I can do. The fact that he was put on the fast-track, and then rescued before he got habituated to it is probably our only advantage here."

   "There is one other."

   Henshaw looked quizzically at him for a moment and then nodded. "Oh, Delenn. Yes. I hope she's everything she appears to be. We're gonna need it."

   "She is, Janet. I can guarantee you, she is."

   ***********************************

   "Hey, doc, can I talk with you a minute?"

   Franklin looked up to see Garibaldi, hands in pockets, leaning against the door. "If you're quick. I promised Dr. Henshaw I'd show her around."

   "Actually, that's what I wanted to talk to you about." He moved forward awkwardly. "Look, I know she's here for Sheridan and she's gonna have her work cut out for her there, but I was wondering...."

   "If she could see you as well?" Franklin nodded. "I wondered how long it'd take you to realise you needed to work some of this out."

   "Uh, it's not like that. Not exactly, anyway. I just...." He ran a hand over his head. "Look, I've lost a good friend over this. John's given me the job as Head of Covert Operations for the Alliance and that's a big deal. Says a lot about him... not sure it says so much about me, but I'm working on that. Anyway, I just wondered.... You see, John and Delenn and some Minbari guy came into the baseball diamond while I was doing some practice swings the other night. Nothing happened, but if looks could kill...."

   "I think what you're trying to say is you'd like some reassurance John's forgiven you? Or at least understands it wasn't your fault, right?"

   "Yeah," he shrugged, "pretty much."

   "Michael, he wouldn't have given you the job if he had any reason to doubt your loyalty. Isn't that proof enough? If you want him to come over and say he's sorry I think that's going to be a long time coming." He was getting ready to leave. "He understands, believe me. Anything else?"

   "Uh, yeah. Could you tell the new Doc if she needs me for anything, anything at all, just yell out. I owe Sheridan. If I can pay it back, I will."

   "I'll tell her, but if you want my opinion, the best way you can pay him back is by giving this new job everything you've got. He's going to be relying on you."
   "Yeah, I know," he nodded as Franklin patted him on the shoulder and left. "I think that's what I'm afraid of."

 

 

 

Chapter 10

 

 

   "So she wants to talk to you first?" Sheridan asked, slightly confused. "I thought she was coming here to see me."

   "She is, but I think she wants to find out as much as possible before she meets you." They were sharing lunch in his quarters, Survaal having decided to spend a little time exploring his new temporary home to give the couple some space. "There is a lot about you that doesn't come out in the official reports." She winked at him.

   "I hope there're some things don't come out in any reports. Official or otherwise," he muttered, taking another mouthful.

   Delenn sighed, put down her fork and leaned over the table, resting her hand lightly on his forearm. "We have to be honest with her, John. She cannot help if she does not know all the facts."

   "Delenn, I think our sex life...."

   "Is being affected by this the same as everything else. And it is just as important."

   He eyed her. "I thought you said it wasn't?" It was sharper than he'd meant, and he winced and turned back to his food.

   "To me, no, 'though I would be lying if I said I did not miss it. But it's clearly of concern to you." She considered him for a moment and then offered a compromise. "I promise, unless she asks specifically I will not bring the matter up. All right?"

   He looked at her for a moment and then his eyes dropped. He was torn and she knew it. At last he nodded slowly. "Yeah."

   Delenn looked at the chronometer and wiped her mouth. "I should be going. She said she would meet me in my quarters. I will bring her here when we are finished. Will you be all right on your own?"

   "I'm not a child!" He tensed and then exhaled long and slow, giving her a rueful grin. "Even if I'm acting like one. I'm sorry. Yes, I'll be fine."

   "And if anything causes you any trouble you cannot handle, you will call me, agreed?"

   Sheridan hated the feeling that he was being mothered and he ground his teeth. Delenn noted the movement and, before he could react, placed a quick kiss on his jaw. "I knew you would agree," she grinned. "I'll be back as soon as I can."

   He nodded but said nothing. She wasn't happy leaving him, but Henshaw had made it clear she wanted to see Delenn alone. If it helped John then she would do anything. Even so, she had hoped Survaal would have returned by now.

   As though sensing her thoughts Survaal was standing outside the door when it opened. He bowed. "Delenn. May I be of service?"

   She heard Sheridan's exaggerated sigh followed by the scraping of his chair as he got up and headed for the bedroom. Knowing John could not see her she motioned for Survaal to remain quiet while out loud she said, "I think John wants to be alone today." Survaal stepped aside so she could move into the corridor. Once the door was closed she checked to see they were alone and then turned to him. "However, I would feel happier if you were nearby. He is... uncomfortable with the idea of seeing Dr. Henshaw."

   "I understand."

   "I wish I did," she muttered and then tried to change tack. Survaal held up his hand to still her.

   "He is a man who is used to being in control. I have been doing some research. In his mind, admitting that he needs the services of a doctor suggests he is weak. A psychiatrist suggests he is mentally unstable or in some way inadequate." Delenn went to protest but he over rode her. "I understand and *you* understand. And, rationally, *he* understands, but emotionally is another matter. From my readings I gather that many humans find it in some manner shameful to admit they have needed the help of a psychiatrist, even under such extreme circumstances as these; particularly humans who have previously been very much in control of themselves and their surroundings. You have dealt with members of the Warrior Caste, Delenn. He is very akin to them in his mentality."

   "But he also understands things the Warrior Caste do not," she returned defensively.

   "Which is why he will accept Dr. Henshaw and listen to her. It is the idea and the associations that attend it that make him uncomfortable. I will stand near and be there should he need me. You, I believe, have an appointment. If you do not hurry you will be late." He bowed and, after a pause, she returned it.

   "Thank you," she whispered before hurrying off.

   ********************************

   "Delenn. I hope you don't mind. Lennier let me in." Henshaw rose from her seat to greet her.

   "I'm sorry I am late. I was detained. And Lennier was quite right to make you comfortable." She took a seat opposite the doctor and accepted the tea Lennier promptly delivered.

   "If I can no longer be of service...?" He waited to see if there was anything else he could do.

   "No, thank you Lennier. That will be all. Dr. Henshaw and I need to speak alone."

   "Then I will leave you. Delenn, Dr. Henshaw." He bowed to both and left quietly.

   Henshaw took a sip of her tea and hummed approvingly. "Very pleasant. Some Minbari herb?"

   Delenn nodded. "If you like it I would be happy to give you some."

   "Thanks." Henshaw contemplated the woman sitting opposite her. She was obviously feeling stressed but not as bad as she'd feared. Something had to be going right. She took a deep breath and put down her cup. "How is the President?"

   "Somewhat... on edge."

   She nodded. "Understandable. I represent something he hates; something he doesn't want to admit to, not even to himself."

   Delenn frowned, still confused. "But he accepted you before."

   "Because I was something in the future, not the present. Now I'm here, his fears are coming to the surface." She leaned forward, putting her hands together and leaning on her elbows. "I haven't met him, but I'd guess right now he's feeling nervous, frustrated, that this whole thing is silly, that he should be able to handle it on his own without professional help and if he can't there's nothing I can do either. I'd say he's also a little irritable and short-tempered, lacking in self-confidence, his sleep patterns are disturbed, he's started to take on some obsessive behaviour..." She was ticking off the points on her fingers. "Sound about right?" Delenn nodded, surprised at the woman's prescience. Henshaw took in Delenn's expression and dropped her hands. "And you are feeling upset, confused and desperately afraid of losing him, right?" Delenn closed her eyes and gave another nod. Henshaw understood, dropping her voice to a gentler tone as she added, "And that's not going to happen. He's made it this far, which means he's got what it takes to go the rest of the way. Believe me, after what he's been through, he should be in a much worse state than he is."

   Delenn stared. "Worse? Dr. Henshaw, with all due respect, I do not think it could get any worse." She stood up and paced the room, her body tense with suppressed agitation. "I do not know what mood he is going to be in when I walk through the door. He cannot read official papers, he has only just rediscovered the ability to write his own name..." Henshaw sat up straighter. So, they already overcame that one? Pretty fast work! She was impressed. Delenn was clearly going to be a major asset as Franklin had predicted. Delenn continued, not noticing Henshaw's attentiveness. "He showers whenever he spills anything on his clothes, even water. At any moment some minor thing can remind him of what they did, and he barely makes it to a bathroom in time. He has lost five pounds in less than a week." She turned and Henshaw saw she was fighting to keep her voice and her expressions under control. "And then there are the times when he forgets where he is -- when he is back in that cell and cannot see or hear any of us." Her voice had dropped to a frightened whisper.

   Henshaw nodded. "I heard about your arm."

   She quickly resumed her seat, her face filled with worry. "Please do not remind John. He refuses to stop blaming himself. I know it was not his fault. He would never harm me on purpose."

   "I know," she returned gently. "I've read enough to know he's not, by nature, a violent man. Unusual for a soldier who's done so much fighting." She paused, wondering how Sheridan managed to keep the disparate parts of his personality so well ordered. The man had discipline and to spare, she decided. She turned back to Delenn. "As to your other question, I can assure you he's in a much better state than some I've worked with. I promise you, he *will* get better. That's not wishful thinking on my part. That's based on fifteen years of dealing with victims of torture and a year of treating the victims of Clark's particular brand of it."

   Delenn frowned. "But Clark was only overthrown a few months ago."

   "True, but I was already helping the underground deal with the mess he was making of people's lives. Not everything I've done is in the official records. If it were I'd be the one needing help -- assuming I'd've survived their techniques. He's going to be fine. Trust me."

   "I will try. It is... not easy."

   "I know. Now, tell me how you got him to sign his name again."

   Delenn related the incident and Henshaw nodded approvingly. "Exactly the right way to do it. Slowly, carefully, and a stage at a time. I'm glad you stopped him trying to do too much too fast. It's quite common for patients to want to try everything else once they've mastered one thing that's been causing trouble. The result is usually disastrous -- often they find they've even lost what they thought they'd mastered -- and they're thrown into despair. You have to rebuild slowly." She sat back for a moment, considering her next question carefully. "Delenn, do you mind if I speak bluntly?"

   "Please."

   "If this is too personal just tell me to back off, but it's all related so I'd just like to check." Delenn nodded, wondering where this was going. "I take it your sex life has disappeared as well?"

   She balked. She had told John she would not tell Henshaw about that directly, and she had hoped the matter would not come up. It was clear John didn't want it discussed. Now she was faced with doing precisely that or lying to Henshaw. The doctor saw the sudden panic on Delenn's face and saved her the trouble.

   "Thought as much. That's usual too. Once your self-confidence is undermined the libido tends to die with it. Rebuild the one and the other should come back in time." She leaned forward. "I was reading over the reports of what they did to him," she said, tapping a rather uncomfortably large folder in front of her. Delenn shivered. "I assume you've not seen it all and the President hasn't told you?"

   "Very little. I think John is afraid if he talks about it he will start reliving it."

   Henshaw grunted. "We'll get him over that. He has to talk it through. Part of the problem is his brain simply doesn't want to deal with all of it. It's just too much. So it refuses to deal with any of it. But that doesn't make it go away, and the longer it sits there, the worse it gets. The imagination starts adding things or dwelling on particular scenes." She eyed Delenn for a moment, considering her next move. Was the woman strong enough to cope with what was coming? If she wasn't (and given the load that would be put on her) the results would be bad for everyone. It was time to test her mettle. "Look, I don't want to scare you, but I think if you're going to be helping me help him, you need to know what they did. In time he's going to tell you himself, and when he does you don't want to look too shocked or get too upset. It makes the patient feel he can't talk to you for fear of upsetting you, and that's something we don't want to happen. He has to be able to talk to someone and you're going to be closest to him."

   "He told me it wasn't that bad," Delenn whispered.

   Oh so typical! And exactly what she expected given Sheridan's profile. Now to explain to this woman why her husband, who clearly adored her, couldn't talk to her about something that was affecting them both. "He didn't want to upset you. Think about it. His whole life has been dedicated to protecting others. To him, this is just one more way of doing that duty. He doesn't want to hurt you, but he knows this would because you love him. So he passes it off as something minor that you shouldn't worry about. Something he can handle on his own."

   "Except he cannot, can he?"

   Henshaw shook her head, sadly. "No. Look, I took the liberty of doing an abbreviated version in standard English. Medical terminology can be a bit intimidating." Delenn gave a half-hearted smile as Henshaw winked at her. "Now it's up to you. I warn you now, even the toned-down version is pretty strong. Are you sure you can handle it? It can wait a few days if you'd rather not, or we can just agree that the President only deals with me. I'd rather not cut you out of the loop, but...."

   "No," she said firmly. "I need to know." She reached out for the folder but Henshaw stopped her.

   "One more thing. Do *not* tell the President or otherwise let him know that *you* know everything that happened. He has to tell you in his own time and in his own way. Are you absolutely certain you'll be able to hide what you know until he's ready to tell you himself? It's important."

   Delenn looked unsure and Henshaw decided she needed more information. If she couldn't read the actual file (which, the doctor had to admit, took a strong stomach even for her) then she at least needed to know the general ideas employed so that when Sheridan finally felt ready to tell his story, Delenn would not immediately be reduced to a wreck.

   "I can give you an outline if you like? Enough so you know the general ideas and methods employed. Would that help?" Delenn nodded soberly and put her hands together in her lap, bracing herself. "All right. Background first. A totalitarian government has two ways they can deal with people who represent a threat to their authority. The first is straightforward: they kill them. That's used for people who're simply not important enough or known enough to be of value to them. The second is torture. That's used when the person is too well known and too active against them. The idea is to break them; make them sign a 'confession'," she spat the word, "which says they were wrong in attacking the government, urges their supporters to change their allegiances, and often names others the government needs to remove. If someone is named in the signed confession they can be killed with relative impunity by the government. We both know that those who're friends of the victim won't believe a word of these confessions; that's because we have some idea of the conditions under which they had to have been extracted. The sad fact is ordinary people -- the average man in the street who's never met the victim or worked with him -- don't want to believe their own government could do such things. When a confession is extracted and broadcast to those people it reinforces their belief in the government. They explain away the appearance of the victims as a necessary part of making these people 'see sense', saying it was the victim's own fault for not trusting the government and acting against it. You understand all this?" Delenn nodded mutely. "Right. Now in the President's case, they'd captured the leader of the whole resistance movement. If they could turn him it would both reinforce the people's opinion of the government as a strong force to be reckoned with, and demoralise Sheridan's own supporters. So they didn't want to kill him, they wanted to 'convert' him; make him a mouthpiece for their propaganda and, at the same time, make him sell out those who supported him. What they didn't realise is that your husband is a very strong man, both physically and mentally. He didn't give in to the standard methods, so they had to use more and more extreme approaches, some of which came perilously close to killing him."

   Delenn's eyes sparkled with unshed tears but her jaw was set firm. "I understand, doctor."

   Henshaw nodded. She had no doubt Delenn could intellectually appreciate the theory. The emotional force of the fact was another matter. She continued, her own stomach turning as she watched Delenn's reactions. The woman was trying to present a businesslike demeanour, but her love for the man they were discussing was making it hard for her not to react.

   "They employed a wide range of mental and physical methods to disorientate, debase, control and otherwise break him. The methods used are fairly standard." Henshaw dropped into a lecture mode, as though she was talking to second year psych. students. "First they weaken the body using beatings, poison, sleep deprivation and regular doses of pain. Whenever the victim seems to be falling asleep from exhaustion they'll wake them up with electric shocks or another beating. They disorientate them so they don't know whether it's night or morning and so have no grasp of the passage of time. When a person is in constant pain even a few minutes can feel like hours. They cut them off from others so they've no one to talk to except their interrogator. This makes them dependent on the interrogator, even grateful to him when he imparts some small snippet of information. Whether it's true or not doesn't matter because they've no way of knowing. They further debase the victim by denying them basic sanitary provisions: a means to wash, a toilet, and clean clothes. Human beings are, by nature, clean. We don't like being covered in our own filth and when you're forced to suffer it you become disgusted with your own body. The fact that the poisons, electrocutions, poor or non-existent diet, fear and stress tends to make the body excrete more makes the victim feel even worse. They have no control over themselves. So to disgust is added self-loathing."

   Delenn nodded, her face pale as her imagination applied the images Henshaw evoked to Sheridan. "Which is why John is using the shower so much..."

   "And why he can't contemplate sex at the moment. If he can't stand his own body because in his mind it's let him down, he can't imagine anyone else would find it attractive." She decided not to add that the exposed nature of the male genitalia made them a natural target for electrodes and beatings. Franklin's check-ups on Sheridan had shown no irreversible physical damage that would explain his lack of sex drive, so it was a fair bet that the mental associations alone were the problem. Henshaw sighed. Now for the really nasty bit. It was ironic that people often concentrated on the physical aspect when it was what it did to the mind that was the key both to the torturer's success and the victim's subsequent problems. Bruises and broken bones would heal much faster than a broken mind. "All right, for some people that's enough. They get to the stage where they'll sign anything just for the sake of a decent meal, a hot bath, clean clothes and a good night's sleep. In your husband's case, however, that was all preamble. What they really wanted to do was break his mind and his spirit. They didn't want to simply program him using telepaths because another telepath would've found what they'd done and they'd be shown up for what they are: a bunch of cowardly, murdering, twisted bastards."

   Delenn was slightly surprised by the vehemence in Henshaw's otherwise impassive voice. The latter gave a rueful shrug. "Sorry. I've seen too much of what they did and the good men and women they destroyed. Back on Earth we've got asylums full of their victims -- people who used to be fine, moral, upstanding, hard-working members of the community, reduced to terrified children or worse. The damage is so severe that even if we used telepaths to reprogramme them to forget all that happened it wouldn't work. Their own families frighten them, assuming they even recognise them. Most of the time any human being leaves them huddled in a corner. Others just sit there, staring at nothing, twenty-four hours a day. They can't talk, have to be fed intravenously or like a baby, can't clean up after themselves..." She closed her eyes, remembering the wards she'd walked through less than a week before. "In their cases, death will be a mercy," she admitted.

   "How can any sentient being do this to another? How can they live with themselves?" Delenn remembered Sebastian, but surely he was an exception. And he'd been in the hands of the Vorlons for centuries. That had to make him different, didn't it?

   Henshaw sighed. This was an aspect of human behaviour no one liked to admit to... even to themselves. "Delenn... the fact is, people are afraid of chaos and disorder. They like to live in a society where they feel there is a structure and security. Chaos frightens them."

   Delenn frowned. "It is the same with my people, but we do not do this."

   "With humans, they would do anything to get and keep that safe, regular, predictable world they know. So the majority ignore what doesn't fit in with it, or they follow orders to restore it -- even orders we would consider morally repugnant. Better the submission to authority than perceived chaos." Delenn was still clearly confused and Henshaw gave up. She raised her hands and then let them drop to her lap. "Look up the Milgram experiments sometime. They're... enlightening, if somewhat disturbing." She shook her head, sadly. "Anyway, the point is, the government authorities can do it because they don't actually participate. They just give the orders and get the results they wanted. They're not in the room, watching how it's extracted. The interrogators and professional torturers can do it because they're 'following orders'. No moral responsibility, you see? Once in a while you get those who just enjoy hurting people. They're rare -- you'd be amazed how much of this is carried out by men and women you'd probably think would be nice people to have over to tea -- but those exceptions are usually amoral rather than immoral. They've simply no grasp of right or wrong at all. They get their kicks from the power trip of inflicting pain, especially on someone who was strong. It makes them feel superior." She nodded. "I know, it's pretty sick." She sighed. "So, in the President's case, they used hypnotic drugs to make him think he was somewhere else, here or somewhere safe, talking to his friends. The doses were high and they used a type of virtual reality brace -- it fits around the victim's head and can be programmed to stimulate particular images in the victim's mind. So they took the world he knew and then twisted it until he didn't know what was real or where he was. When that didn't work, they made him think he'd die if he didn't do as he was told and then, when he'd resigned himself to that, started the whole process all over again, denying him even that small mercy. And they'd act like nothing of what he remembered had ever taken place, so he would start to doubt his own memory and become even more dependent on his interrogators for a sense of self." She leaned back in her chair. "And that's the sanitised version," she finished, watching Delenn carefully.

   Delenn was pale and swallowed hard, but she reached out for the folder with a firm hand. "I understand. I know I will not like what I am about to read, and I ask your forgiveness in advance for my emotional reactions, but now, more than ever, I know if I am going to help John I have to understand it all." She looked down at the folder and noticed her hands were shaking. She steadied them on her lap. "Whether I will find it in my heart to forgive these men is another matter," she added softly.

   "If it's any consolation, most of them are dead now anyway. Many took their own lives rather than face the consequences of their actions. Others were murdered by the families and friends of their victims. Some were sentenced to death of personality and some are institutionalised themselves. As for the rest, they're in high security jails serving several life sentences with no hope of parole. Frankly, in my opinion, none of that makes up for what they did. An eternity in hell might be a start, but I leave that to God. I just do my best to fix it."

   "And you believe you...."

   "We," she interjected firmly.

   Delenn gave a faint smile. "We can 'fix' John?"

   "He's got this far. Yes, we can put him back together. He'll never be quite the same as the man you knew before, but it'll be pretty close."

   "Close," she repeated under her breath.

   "Delenn, people change with experience, no matter what *kind* of experience. It's part of growing old. You're not the same as you were a few years ago. Everyone changes. It's how we handle those changes that defines us. From what I can tell, the President is the sort of man who always tries to find something positive in even the worst situation. I've no doubt he'll find a way to use his experience in that same way. All we have to do is help him find that angle."

   "'You don't fight it, you turn it into something positive'," Delenn murmured.

   "Exactly."

   "John said that, a long time ago. It was before he went to Z'ha'dum when the civil war started. He said it was something his father taught him." She was staring into the distance, recalling the day when Franklin gave her the data crystal in which Sheridan stated in his personal log how much he loved her. She smiled at the memory.

   "His father's a wise man," Henshaw returned. She patted the arm of the chair and moved forward. "Do you want me to stay or go? It's entirely up to you. If I go I'll be waiting right outside so if you need me you just have to call. If I stay... well, it's not often I let the spouses of victims read a report, even a sanitised version, but having talked with Dr. Franklin and read everything I can about the President, not to mention now we've talked a bit...." Delenn smiled and reached out to squeeze Henshaw's hand. The doctor realised Sheridan wasn't the only one who felt it a necessary duty to protect others from pain and discomfort. The two were a perfect match. "I really do think you're going to be the key, here. I think I can do it without you, but it'd be a hard fight and I don't think the results would be as good. Between the two of us I think we can get him back a lot quicker."
   "Please stay. I believe Lennier made enough tea for us to have a second cup." She contemplated the folder once more. "I think I will need it," she finished and turned the page with a determined hand.

 

 

 

Chapter 11

 

 

   "What the hell's taking so long?" Sheridan muttered, pacing his room angrily. At first he'd not wanted to meet Henshaw, but now that he'd resigned himself to it he was keen to get started and found the delay grating on his nerves. He'd tried reading a book, watching a vid. and finally, in a desperate effort to distract himself, doing some press-ups. He hadn't engaged in such exercise for some time and his biceps ached. He rubbed them as he moved.

   He tried to contact Delenn's room but found she was not taking any calls so that, at least, told him where she was. "Damn it, I'm going over there," he declared at last, grabbing a jacket and heading for the door. When it opened he found Survaal standing quietly outside. He rocked on his heels, surprised to find the Minbari apparently guarding his room.

   "Survaal? What are you doing here?"

   "I did not wish to disturb you, but I also did not wish for you to be alone if you had need of company. This appeared to be the best way of achieving both objectives," he responded smoothly.

   Sheridan narrowed his eyes suspiciously. "Did Delenn tell you to stand guard over me?"

   "No." It was true. She hadn't said anything about 'standing guard', only watching in case Sheridan needed any help.

   "Survaal, I know the Minbari way of avoiding telling an... untruth. Did she tell you to stay here and watch over me?"

   That one he couldn't get out of. "Yes."

   "I thought as much. I don't need a guard, thanks. Right now I just need to talk to Delenn." He started off down the corridor but Survaal blocked his path.

   "Why do you not use the Babcom?" he asked.

   "Because she's not taking any calls right now," he responded, trying to side step the doctor's imposing bulk.

   "Then, if she does not wish to be disturbed, it is probably better to wait until she returns." He blocked Sheridan again.

   "I've *been* waiting. I've been waiting over three hours! She was the one who wanted this meeting, and I want to get it over with, now if you don't mind...." Again the Minbari blocked him. He released an exaggerated sigh and then looked the man in the eye, his jaw clenching as he struggled not to cause a diplomatic incident by swinging a punch. "Am I free to walk about this station?"

   "Of course."

   "Then would you mind stepping aside so I can?"

   "I will accompany you."

   "I don't *need* any company. I know the way. I just want to talk to my wife!"

   "Hey, Mr. President! You're looking pretty good. How're you feeling?"

   Sheridan turned to see Franklin coming towards him. "Is this some kind of conspiracy to keep me from talking to Delenn?"

   "What?" Franklin looked at Survaal whose face remained impassive. "I dunno about that. I wanted to come by and check up on you." He patted his medical bag. "Brought everything I need with me. I've got about an hour before I have to be back in Medlab and this looked like a good time. Why? Has something happened?"

   Sheridan let his shoulders drop and unclenched his fist. "No, nothing. I was just going stir crazy waiting for Dr. Henshaw, and I thought I'd go see what was holding things up."

   "Come on, John. Two women talking together? What do you expect?" He winked.

   Sheridan eyed the doctor for a moment, looking for any sign of deceit. When he saw none he snorted. "Okay, Stephen, come in. At least it'll make the time pass faster." He stepped back into the room. As soon as his back was turned Franklin shot a meaningful glance at Survaal and motioned with his head towards Delenn's quarters.

   'Go!' Franklin mouthed. 'She needs you!'

   "Survaal, do you want to come in instead of standing out here like a sentry?" Sheridan asked, turning back again.

   "Delenn asked me to be here in case you needed me. With Dr. Franklin here for another hour I do not think I will be needed. If you do not mind, I would like to continue my studies. Unless you would prefer I stayed?"

   Franklin slipped past Sheridan and started to extract equipment from his bag. Sheridan considered the selection accumulating on the table and groaned. "No. That's fine. I think one doctor in my quarters is more than enough."

   "Then I will return in an hour." He bowed and made his way towards the nearest transport tube. Sheridan watched him for a moment and then closed the door.

   "Don't hurry back!" he muttered.

   "Sorry?"

   "Nothing." He took off his jacket and draped it over a chair. "All right, doc. What do you want me to do?" he said in a resigned voice.

   **********************************

   Survaal continued heading for the transport tube until he heard Sheridan's door close. When it did, he smartly about-faced and headed for his own quarters, grabbing his medical bag before setting off at a near run for Delenn's. When he arrived he announced himself and the door opened almost before he'd finished speaking. Henshaw was sitting next to Delenn, rocking her gently and uttering reassurances that everything would be all right. Delenn was sobbing, a folder clenched in one hand, the covers and pages buckling under the pressure being applied.

   "Where's Dr. Franklin?" Henshaw asked.

   "He is with the President," he replied, sorting through his bag. "He asked me to come here."

   Delenn looked up sharply, her tear-streaked face and red eyes suddenly filed with fear. "Is John all right?"

   "He is fine. He was trying to come here to see you. Dr. Franklin distracted him with a medical check-up."

   "Phew! Thank God for that! Last thing we need is him walking in here and seeing this," Henshaw said, looking around at the room.

   When Delenn finished reading the report there had been a deadly silence. This had been followed by a fury the like of which Henshaw had never previously encountered. She knew the Minbari were a force to be reckoned with, but until now she'd not been face to face with one in what amounted to a homicidal rage. She hadn't even been aware this apparently slight woman was capable of the towering fury that had gripped her. She'd just kept out of the way and made a mental note to look up in a Minbari-human dictionary some of what she could only assume were expletives and other invective, hurled by Delenn against those who had tortured her husband. The only one she'd been able to make out was the very standard "Bastards!" which she fully understood and entirely agreed with. Delenn had restrained her fury to the extent that the only victim was a vase that had been caught by her skirt as she whirled around, dashing it to the floor.

   After the fury, there had been another pause. As she watched, she saw Delenn's face metamorphose from anger through pain until it finally settled into utterly distraught. Henshaw had barely caught her as Delenn sagged, and a flood of grief had taken over. When it became apparent she needed something to calm her down, Henshaw had called for Dr. Franklin. She hadn't even noticed how much time had passed until Survaal pointed out Sheridan's agitation.

   "How long will Franklin be there?" she asked as Survaal came around the couch and handed something to Delenn, instructing her in Minbari. She resisted for a few seconds and then acquiesced to his gentle, but stern, admonitions, swallowing the substance.

   "I believe he will keep the President occupied for an hour."

   "Will that be long enough?"

   "More than enough," he assured her, sitting next to Delenn and speaking to her quietly.

   Henshaw set about clearing up the pieces of vase, keeping one ear on the conversation and wishing all the time she spoke the language. There seemed to be some kind of a disagreement going on, and she strongly suspected she was the cause. Doubtless Survaal was decrying her lack of professional judgement in showing Delenn the file, while Delenn was defending her decision. Henshaw herself had debated long and hard on the matter, but the more she thought about it, the more telling Delenn seemed to be the only wise course of action.

   Sheridan was in a unique position as President of the Interstellar Alliance. Unless he took on a permanent physician for his mental health he would have no one to talk to in confidence once he left for Minbar where the Alliance Headquarters were being built. Even on the station, or perhaps especially here, it would be hard to keep the identity of a long-term professional mental health specialist a secret. The last thing the Alliance needed was any doubt as to its leader's competence to do his job. Once Henshaw had sorted out the main problems and taught Sheridan ways of dealing with any others that might manifest themselves from time to time, what the man would really need was someone to talk to; someone who would be there if he needed them, understand and not judge him. A stranger he had to learn to know and trust would be of no use to him and might look suspicious. Franklin wouldn't want to be tied to the care of just one man for the rest of his life, and in any case, she'd heard whispers that he was being considered to follow Benjamin Kyle, on the latter's retirement as Head of Earthforce medical. Sheridan's family was too far away and its members had their own lives to lead. She had no doubt they'd rally to his side if asked, but why upset their lives when the perfect solution presented itself in the form of Delenn?

   Assuming, of course, the woman managed to get herself under control and not ruin everything before they'd even begun.

   Delenn said something to Survaal that Henshaw interpreted as being along the lines of 'There'll be no more debate on this matter. It's settled whether you like it or not!' and then rose and went into the bedroom, quietly closing the partition behind her. A few moments later a flickering light indicated a single candle had been lit.

   "She is meditating," Survaal provided before Henshaw could even ask the question. "When she has centred herself once more, she will be able to face the President." He finished putting his things away and then turned on Henshaw, his eyes flashing with suppressed anger. "You know I do not approve of what you did. At the very least I should have been informed so that I could be here when I was first needed." Henshaw went to say something but he raised his hand and shook his head. "Delenn has explained to me your reasoning and that she approves of it. It is not my position to tell Delenn what she can and cannot do in this instance. She says that she can do as you request and my experience with her leads me to believe she is right. I have never yet seen Delenn fail in anything she has set her mind to.

   "Now," he continued, sitting down and holding out one hand, "may I read the full report? I have seen what the abbreviated version has done. If I am to care for Delenn and Sheridan it would help if I knew the full extent of what I am dealing with."

   Henshaw nodded, indicating the thick folder on the table. "It's right there."

   "Thank you." He reached forward and lifted the file from the table, resting it on his lap and reading. He flicked through several pages barely glancing at them. "I have read Dr. Franklin's report," he said, not looking up. "I am already aware of most of what was done. This is merely to ensure I have not missed anything important." He paused on several pages, nodding to himself before moving on.

   Half an hour later, as Henshaw tried to squeeze another cup from the already exhausted teapot, he returned the file to the table and sat back. "I see," he said quietly.

   "See what?"

   He looked up at her. "I do not believe Delenn is aware that once, many thousands of years ago, Minbari practiced similar barbaric behaviour. It is a stark reminder of what we can do to each other when we forget the value of life." Henshaw nodded and a movement from the bedroom made them both turn to see Delenn emerging. She looked calm, composed and remarkably cool. Also utterly determined.

   She looked at Henshaw. "Dr. Henshaw, if you are ready, I think it's time I introduced you to John."

   "Sure." She picked up the folders, both full and abbreviated versions. "We can drop these off in my room on the way. Don't want him to come across them in here."

   "Of course." Delenn moved to the door and then turned. "Survaal, do you wish to accompany us?"

   "Unless you feel I could be of service, I think it would be best if I did not. The President is already aware that I have been watching over him. I do not wish to make him... paranoid." He stood up. "I would like to return to the Hel Fi if I may. I have some work waiting for me. I will be on call should I be needed."

   "Of course. Thank you, Survaal, for everything. I apologise for my earlier loss of control. It will not happen again."

   "Delenn, given the content of the report, if you had not reacted as you did I would have been more concerned. Valen go with you." He formed the Triluminary and bowed, as did Delenn, then he collected his bag and left.

   Henshaw stepped up beside Delenn. "Shall we go?"

   They reached Henshaw's quarters and dropped off the folders, picking up another bag at the same time, then they made their way to Sheridan's quarters.

   "By the way, you can call me Janet," Henshaw provided. "I prefer a less formal approach. Seems to make it easier on people if they forget I'm a doctor."

   "I understand."

   Henshaw contemplated Delenn's physical stance. She was holding herself somewhat stiffly as if gearing up for battle. As they reached the door, she laid a hand on her arm and stopped her. "Delenn, he's going to notice you're up tight. Do your best to treat him exactly the same as you have in the past. Don't let what you know or my presence affect you."

   "You ask a very great deal doctor... Janet," she corrected, "but I will try." She pressed the door com and Sheridan's voice bid them enter.

   He was doing up his shirt when they walked in, while Franklin put away his hand-held scanners and other equipment.

   "Perfect timing!" Franklin grinned, walking over. "I was just leaving." He eyed Delenn and she smiled and nodded, indicating she was all right and he shouldn't worry.

   "Is everything all right?" she asked, looking at John.

   "Yeah. He's lost a bit of weight and I've given him some vitamin and mineral supplements to boost his system a bit, but otherwise I'd say he's pretty fit. Dr. Henshaw, if you'd like to join me for dinner later...?"

   "Can I take a rain check on that? I don't know my plans for the rest of the evening."

   "Sure. Just don't forget to eat, okay?" He winked and left, feeling considerably more relaxed than he had when he entered. All the time he'd been running through the tests his mind had been distracted as he worried about Delenn, even to the point where Sheridan noticed and asked if everything was all right. Franklin had demurred, assuring him he just had a rather full plate at the moment and a couple of patients were worrying him a little. Nothing major. Now he felt ready to leave them, secure in the knowledge that the crisis was over. Henshaw would fill him in later on the details.

   As Franklin left, Sheridan finished tucking in his shirt and stepped forward, holding out his hand. "Dr. Henshaw. I'm John Sheridan. Pleased to meet you." They shook hands. "Please, make yourself at home. Would you like something to drink?"

   He smiled and Henshaw could see immediately why others followed him, as well as why Delenn loved him. There was something about the man that was hard to define. Good looking, certainly -- the official photographs hadn't done him justice in that regard -- charming of course, but she'd known that. Apart from the fact that it was distinctive, she found it hard to define his voice. Deep and a little roughened, his mid-North American accent was extremely pleasant to listen to. He was slightly taller than she'd expected and he exuded an easy manner that made you want to like him straight off.

   He noticed the way she looked at him and ran a hand through his hair, straightening it. "Something wrong?" he asked.

   "Not at all. I was just thinking that the photographs and vids don't do you justice," she replied with a grin. He rolled his eyes and turned to Delenn.

   "What've you been saying to her?" he asked, closing the distance between them and giving her a hug. She returned it in full measure, holding on a little longer than he'd expected. He frowned as he pulled back. "You okay?"

   She nodded. "It's been a long morning. I missed you."

   "Hey, I missed you too," he smiled, placing a gentle kiss on her forehead. "I tried to call, but you'd shut off the Babcom."

   "I did not wish to be interrupted. We had a lot to discuss."

   "Oh boy!" he groaned. "Two intelligent women talking about me when I'm not there to defend myself. Now I know I'm in trouble!" He laughed and headed for the kitchen area to make some tea, even though no one had asked for any.

   Henshaw watched him. He was making a great show of affability but she could tell he was nervous and was covering it as best he could with good humour. Delenn sat on the couch and Henshaw took the chair opposite. She decided to force the issue a bit, based on something Franklin had mentioned.

   "Have you got any coffee?" she asked. Delenn shot her a look, but she raised her hand to indicate she knew what she was doing.

   Sheridan hesitated at the counter for a moment and then took a deep breath, turning around. "No, I haven't. I had it all taken out of here. The smell... brings back some unpleasant memories." He looked at her. "But you knew that when you asked, didn't you?"

   'Touché,' Henshaw thought. 'At least he can admit it. That's a start.' Out loud she said, "Yes, I did. I thought we might as well get going rather than beat around the bush. Seemed as good an opening gambit as any."

   He considered the mug in his hand and put it back on the counter. "Ah, what the hell. I wasn't thirsty anyway." He moved back into the living area and sat down on the couch next to Delenn. "All right, I'm all yours. What do you want me to do?"

   "First of all, what we do is up to you. I can guide and suggest, but we won't do anything you feel too uncomfortable with. Not at first, anyway. As you get used to talking to me we can push a little harder. You set the pace around here, not me."

   "And supposing I don't want to do anything?" he challenged. "Supposing I'm happy letting things ride. What then?"

   "If you were then I'd get the next transport out of here. I can't do a thing if the patient doesn't want to help himself. But you're not and you know it. So do Delenn and Dr. Franklin."

   Sheridan nodded but said nothing. Instead he reached over and took Delenn's hand, squeezing it gently. She closed her other hand over his and Henshaw noted his response to a perceived threat was to automatically reach for his wife. The two supported each other, each making up for any weakness in the other. Of the two she thought that right now Delenn was the stronger, but only by a slight margin.

   "Delenn told me how you two resolved the problem with your signature." She reached into her bag and pulled out a piece of paper and two pens. She placed the paper on the table in front of him and put the pens one on each side. "Can you show me?"

   Sheridan looked at Delenn and then shrugged. He leaned forward, considered the pens for a moment and then picked up the one on the right. He uncapped it, held the paper still with his right hand and wrote his name. Henshaw nodded as the signature flowed with little trouble from his fingers. When he finished, he turned the paper around for her.

   "Satisfied?" he asked with a hint of annoyance.

   "Almost. Try it with the other pen."

   "Okay." He put the first down and reached for the other one. As his hand neared the pen it began to shake. He frowned and paused, looking first to Delenn and then to Henshaw for some explanation. The former was as perplexed by his reaction as he was, while the latter remained impassive. He tried again, gripping his hand firmly in an effort to control the shaking.

   "All right. Pick up the first pen again." He did as was asked without difficulty.

   "Okay, doctor, you've made your point. What's going on? Why can't I pick up the other one."

   "Look at it closely," she suggested. "Do you recognise it?" When he shook his head she said, "It's identical to those given as standard issue to Clark's interrogators. Consciously you may have forgotten it, but subconsciously you remember every feature." She leaned forward and picked it up, activating it. "But still and all, it's just a pen. It won't poison you or harm you in and of itself." She signed her own name to prove her point and then offered it to him. "I don't want you to write with it. Just hold it for a while. Same as you did before. What we're doing," she added, turning to Delenn, "and what you did before, is called habituation. The President has what is called a conditioned aversive response. The pen, the coffee, bright lights, loud noises...." She gave him a significant look. "Certain types of sandwiches," she added.

   He flinched. "How did you...?"

   "People talk. I listen. The security officer you were sitting with was worried by your behaviour and mentioned it to Zack. He, in turn, mentioned it to Dr. Franklin who talked to the guard and found out what happened, then he sent me a report."

   "Hmm. I thought I'd got away with that one," he said thoughtfully. He cleared his throat and looked back at Henshaw. "All right. How do I deal with it?"

   "First, it's probably best to understand why you're reacting this way in the first place."

   "I know why. I knew if I signed their confession I'd be dead soon after, together with anyone who supported me."

   "So if you know, why can't you stop it?" she prompted.

   "I...." He shook his head, looking once more to Delenn to help, but she could offer no explanation. He turned to Henshaw, his eyes full of questions. "It's like it happens before I can do anything about it. Before I'm even aware I'm doing it."

   "Exactly. All of this is rooted in survival tactics, and they work on a subconscious level. If they didn't, we wouldn't be able to react fast enough to protect ourselves. But that means we're not in control of the situation. It happens before the conscious mind has a chance to get involved. What we have to do is slowly retrain your subconscious to recognise the difference between a real threat and something that *was* a threat but is no longer. That pen, the coffee, everything you're reacting to right now -- all those things you think are irrational -- they *were* a rational and perfectly reasonable reaction during your incarceration. They were a conditioned response to a perceived and very real threat to your life. Your brain did exactly what it's supposed to do. It worked out the threat, found a way of protecting you from it, and applied that method every time the threat reappeared. Problem is, it's still doing it because we haven't managed to persuade it the threat is no longer there. The events are still too recent, and the programming too thorough to be shrugged off."

   Sheridan nodded. "So what you're saying is my subconscious is still trying to protect me, and we have to teach it... teach *me* that the reaction is not only useless now, but even harmful, right?"

   "Right."

   "Okay. That all makes sense. So how do we do that?"

   "Like I said, through habituation. We have to keep finding those things that set off what's now an inappropriate reaction and retrain your subconscious to react in a more appropriate manner. To do that we first have to move the reactions *out* of the subconscious so you're in control of them again."

   "Why do I get the feeling this isn't going to be easy?"

   "It isn't. The best way to start, we've found, is for the victim to go through the experiences that programmed those reactions. Describe everything that happened in detail."

   "Oh no." He stood up and walked away, shaking his head vehemently. "No way. Once was more than enough, thanks! I'm not going through that again."

   "You won't be going through it again. All you'll be doing is talking about it."

   "Close enough. Forget it."

   "How can it be worse than dreaming about it every night? Reliving it over and over again even when you're awake? The reason your subconscious keeps making you relive it is because your conscious mind hasn't come to terms with it. It needs to be understood. So long as you keep trying to repress it, ignore it, it's still got power over you. You've got to pull its teeth and claws and the only way you can do that is face it. Your memories can't hurt you unless you refuse to deal with them."

   "I can't. Don't you see? I can't do that." He was getting desperate and Delenn, hearing the fear in his voice, rose from the couch and went over to him.

   "When you had nightmares as a child, what did your father do?" she asked gently, holding his arm.

   "He made me tell him about them."

   "And what happened to the nightmares?"

   "They went away," he admitted. "But this isn't like that. This was real! I didn't imagine any of it!" Now he was getting defensive.

   "I know that," Henshaw responded, remaining in her chair. "I've read the reports. I know everything that they did to you."

   He turned pale. "Everything?" he whispered.

   She nodded. "There's nothing you can say I don't already know."

   "Then why do I have to say it?"

   "Because until you do, until you put a name to your fears and analyse them coldly in the light of reason, they'll still have a hold over you. Like your nightmares, they only have power while they hide in the shadows. As soon as you force them out into the open they lose their force. Talking about them aloud does that."

   "Do you have any idea what you're asking?"

   "Yes. And if there was another way, a gentler way, believe me I'd be the first to use it. But there isn't." She leaned forward, her arms resting on her knees. "Mr. President..."

   "John," he said absently, then turned and gave his best approximation of a smile. "I'm not the President right now... and I won't be again unless we can sort this out," he added sadly.

   "John, I'm Janet."

   He snorted. "Hi."

   "John, this really is the only way we can solve your problems. Now you have to decide. Do you want to get control of yourself once more, or do you want to spend the rest of your life either locked away where no one can touch you, or forever frightened someone's going to remind you of what happened and leave you incapable? It's a harsh way of putting it, I know, but that's what it amounts to."

   Sheridan nodded and then stood there, unmoving, for some time. Henshaw waited patiently, aware of the turmoil he was feeling. Delenn looked over, wondering what she should do. Apparently the answer was nothing so she merely held him tighter and waited to hear his decision. Without thinking, he returned the hug, as automatic in his affections for her as he was in his responses to the things that had happened to him. He chuckled at the irony and then shook his head when Delenn turned a quizzical look to him.

   What a decision! He wanted to be in control, but before he could do that he had to risk losing control completely. Surrender himself to his nightmares and fears...

   'Surrender yourself to tock.' He remembered the words, remembered how frightened he'd been then. Against that, this should be a cakewalk. Then he had to be prepared to die. This time he had to be prepared to lose his self-respect. Oh yes, that's what it amounted to. He knew if he spoke his fears out loud he'd not be able to control the tears, the shaking, the fear... probably not his stomach either. He didn't want anyone to see what he'd been reduced to in there. At least on Z'ha'dum he'd not lost his self-respect. He'd remained true to himself and to his beliefs. Remain there and do nothing, or risk death in the hope of life -- albeit a somewhat abbreviated one as it turned out. He could have taken the coward's way then and stayed below until Lorien grew tired of him and let him fall. Instead he'd chosen to take the risk and hope. It'd been worth it. Now he had a similar choice: refuse to deal with it and end up a prisoner in his own house or even his own mind; or jump into the abyss, risk everything and hope someone caught him.

   He looked down at Delenn who still held him. "I will be here," she whispered. "I won't let you fall." It was as if she'd heard his thoughts. He looked over at Henshaw.

   "You're not alone, John. We'll face it together and we'll get through."

   She said it with such certainty. He didn't know her, but Delenn trusted her, he was starting to, and in any case, it wasn't like he had much choice. He pulled Delenn close and held her tightly for a moment. He'd made his decision and already he could feel his stomach churning at the thought of it, but it had to be. He pulled back and gently raised her chin so she was looking at him.

   "I'm sorry, but I don't think I can do this if you're here. One day I'll be able to tell you... but not today. I... it's not...." He took a deep breath and tried again. "I told you before it wasn't that bad, you remember?" She nodded. "I lied. I... I didn't want to...."

   She placed a finger over his lips. "Shh. I understand."

   He gripped her hand in his own, kissing it gently before pressing it to his chest. "Forgive me?"

   "There is nothing to forgive," she assured him. She smiled and gently stroked her hand across his cheek before pulling away. He watched her as she walked to the door, turning at the last moment to add, "I will be in my quarters when you need me." He nodded and she was gone.

   For a while he continued to look at the door, as though he expected her to walk back in at any moment. Finally he turned to Henshaw.

   "She's a remarkable person," she said.

   "She is that," he agreed softly. There was another long pause before he moved back to the couch and sat down heavily. "I still don't want to do this."

   "I know."

   He rubbed eyes that suddenly felt very tired. "Where do you want me to start? On Mars, or before, when I was captured?"

   "When you were captured. Not just the facts of it. Tell me how you felt as well."
   He nodded. "I was on the Agamemnon. I got a message from Garibaldi to tell me my father had been captured by Clark's forces...," he began.

 

 

 

Chapter 12

 

 

   Delenn had immersed herself, as far as was possible, in her paperwork, trying to take her mind off what was happening in Sheridan's quarters. Every now and then she looked up at the computer monitor wishing he would call her, but it remained stubbornly silent.

   She finished another batch of papers and got up to make some tea. According to the chronometer it had been over two hours since she'd left his quarters. Her mind presented her with the images of what he'd gone through and she gripped the edge of the counter as a wave of nausea swept over her. Once more she was amazed both by his resilience and the depths to which people would go to get what they wanted. The door chime made her jump, but she relaxed when Franklin walked in.

   "Stephen, I was just making myself something to drink. Would you like some?"

   "No, that's fine. I just thought I'd see how you were doing." He walked in, hands in his pockets and noticed the pile of papers. The ones that had been signed now outnumbered those awaiting her attention. "You're getting through your backlog, I see."

   "It distracts me, and it has to be done sooner or later." She stepped back into the main area nursing her cup. "Please sit down."

   He did so and saw Delenn jump as the Babcom terminal announced a message. She stood quickly only to find it was Lennier asking if she could meet with the Vree ambassador later in the week. Since it was not an emergency she asked if she could decide tomorrow and quickly closed the connection, checking to see if there were any messages on hold. There were none. With a sigh she resumed her seat.

   "Still heard nothing, huh?"

   "No. How long do you think it will take?"

   Franklin shrugged. "Who can say? He's got a lot to go over and it's not gonna be easy for him."

   "I know I just... I wish I could be there. I don't like to think of him facing this alone."

   "He's not alone. Dr. Henshaw's there and she's handled this many times before. He'll be okay."

   "But she doesn't know John as I do." She was unconsciously wringing her hands. Franklin couldn't think of anything to say and so remained silent. As the silence dragged out Delenn turned to him. "Could you go? See if he's all right?"

   "Delenn, I really don't think...."

   "Please? I cannot stand the thought of him going through all this with a stranger. He needs someone he knows."

   He sat forward in his chair. "This may sound a little weird to you, but sometimes it's easier for us to tell complete strangers things than it is to tell those we love. If you tell a stranger, you're not responsible for them and they can listen without any preconceptions about you. Dr. Henshaw has two things in her favour over all of us: he doesn't know her very well, so he's got that freedom; and she's a doctor. He knows she can't say anything to you or anyone else about what happens in there unless he gives her his permission. That makes her safe, and right now he needs to feel safe." Delenn nodded but her body posture was still tense. "When was the last time you ate?"

   "I'm not hungry."

   "Well then, how about a walk in the gardens?"

   "I cannot leave here. I want to be ready when John calls."

   "It might not be him. You're more likely to hear from Dr. Henshaw first. After this he's probably not going to be in a fit state to talk to anyone for a while." Delenn looked at him sharply. "Could you?" he asked reasonably.

   Before she could answer the Babcom beeped. "Yes?"

   It was Henshaw. She looked exhausted and there was no sign of Sheridan. "Delenn, is Survaal there?"

   "He went back to the Hel Fi."

   "Damn! Could you ask him to come back over?"

   Franklin stood up and came within sight of the screen. "Do you need a doctor? I can be there in a few seconds."

   "No. Well yes, but not you. It's... well, you read the reports."

   Franklin nodded. He'd been afraid of that. "We'll get Survaal. I'll tell him what I would use under these circumstances, and he can find some Minbari equivalent."

   "Thanks."

   "Janet," Delenn stopped her before she could ring off. "How...?"

   "He's going to be all right, Delenn. Really. But it was... ahh, a tough one. He's dealing with a lot of emotional backlash right now."

   "Did he ask for me?"

   "No. Not yet. He needs to pull himself back together. I'll call you when he's ready." She looked over her shoulder to something off screen. "I'd better go. Get Survaal over here as fast as you can." She rang off.

   Delenn backed away from the monitor as though it had burned her and Franklin quickly took her place, putting a call through to Survaal. He outlined the problem, but before he could make any suggestions Survaal cut him off.

   "It is all right, doctor. I suspected this might be the case. I was preparing when you called. I have already packed a bag and am ready to come aboard. I will be there shortly. Survaal out."

   Franklin heaved a sigh of relief and turned back to Delenn. She was holding her hands in front of her mouth, her eyes wide with fear and unshed tears. He tried to put his arm around her and guide her to the couch but she threw him off.

   "How could your people do this?" she said accusingly. "How could you do this to *anyone*?!"

   "Delenn, it wasn't me! I don't approve of what they did any more than you do. I'm a doctor, remember? I believe in saving lives, not destroying them."

   "And yet doctors worked there, provided the drugs...."

   "And some fought to keep him alive. Look, I don't approve of what they did but you can't hold the rest of humanity responsible for what happened to John. You might as well hold the entire Minbari race responsible for what some of the Warrior Caste did during the Earth-Minbari War."

   "But not to their own people!" she cried.

   His own voice rose to counteract her. "Does it matter? It's barbaric whoever does it. Same species or different it's all the same. If a Drazi tortured a Pak'ma'ra I'd feel just as sick."

   Her shoulders slumped and she fell back into a chair. "I do not understand humans," she murmured, shaking her head.

   "Then you don't understand John because, whether you like it or not, he's human too." It was a sharp barb and he regretted it almost as soon as he'd said it, but it had to be done.

   She stared at him for a long moment, her eyes angry and accusing. At last she stood up.

   "I think you should leave now."

   "Delenn, I...."

   "Leave!"

   Franklin nodded, stood up and made his way to the door. When he reached it he turned and said, "Delenn, John needs you, but he doesn't need you angry and resentful and full of hatred. That's what he's trying to get past. He needs your compassion, your understanding and your love. Don't let anything get in the way of that because, if it does, your dreams not only of your life with him, but also of an Alliance of worlds working together in peace, go with it." With that he was gone, leaving a silent half-Minbari, half-human woman alone with her thoughts.

   *********************************

   "Who is it?"

   "Survaal."

   "Come in."

   Survaal walked into Sheridan's quarters. Henshaw was sitting quietly on the edge of the couch, her eyes fixed on a bundle in the corner of the room that under normal circumstances would have been called John J. Sheridan. His knees were drawn up to his chest, held tightly in place by his arms, and his head was down.

   "I've been trying to get through to him for fifteen minutes. No joy. That's when I decided to call you," she explained. Survaal nodded and walked towards him, but Henshaw put out a restraining hand.  "Slowly," she warned.

   Putting his bag down he took a few steps closer. "Mr. President?" he said softly. Sheridan didn't respond. "Mr. President, I am Survaal. Do you remember me?" He edged closer, reaching out a gentle hand to touch Sheridan's shoulder. The contact was like an electric shock as Sheridan jerked away, trying to squeeze his large frame into an even smaller space. Survaal knelt down beside him, talking quietly all the time. "Do you know where you are?" The frightened figure shook its head but didn't look up. "You are in your quarters on Babylon 5. Do you remember Babylon 5?" The figure uncurled slightly, risking a look at the surroundings.

   "A lie. It's another damned lie," he muttered at last and drew himself in even tighter.

   "It is real. I am real. Look at me, Mr. President. Did they have Minbari working for Earth Gov.?"

   Sheridan looked up, his eyes red rimmed and hollow with remembered pain, his face streaked with tears. "Not real," he insisted. "Drugs...."

   "No. This is not the result of drugs. This is real. Feel me. Touch my hand." Survaal held out his hand in front of Sheridan, palm upwards. Sheridan uncurled slightly to look at it. His eyes darted mistrustfully from the hand to the face of its owner and back again. "You are on Babylon 5. I am a friend of Delenn, Survaal. Do you remember me?"

   "Delenn?" His voice was croaky and full of doubt. "Where is she?"

   "She is in her quarters."

   "I want to see her."

   "We can send for her when you are feeling better."

   "I want to see her now!"

   Survaal sighed and stood up. As he moved to the Babcom Henshaw tried to stop him. "She can't see him like this!" she muttered. "At least let's get him sitting on a chair. Clean him up a bit."

   Survaal gave her a withering look and turned back to the Babcom. There was an immediate response from Delenn's quarters.

   "Survaal! Thank Valen. Is John all right?"

   "No," he returned simply. "He is asking for you. I think you should come at once." She nodded and the screen went blank. He turned to Henshaw. "Was this necessary?" he asked, indicating Sheridan.

   "Unfortunately, yes. And once he comes out of this he'll already be much stronger than he was before."

   "You assume he *will* come out," he replied, his tone indicating he seriously doubted that possibility.

   Henshaw's reply was cut off by the door chime. When Delenn entered she took in the scene around her and instantly made her way to Sheridan, kneeling in front of him.

   "John?" she said softly.

   The cowering figure shifted slightly at the sound of her voice. With gentle movements she reached out and touched the back of his hand where the knuckles were white from the grip he had on his legs. Slowly, murmuring soft words of reassurance, she prised his fingers loose and slipped her hand into his. He stared at their intertwined fingers, and then his eyes slowly rose up her arm until he could see her face. She reached out to caress his cheek, pushing the sweat-damp hair from his forehead.

   "It's me, John. It's really me. You're safe." She nodded and smiled, reinforcing her words.

   He reached out tentatively, as though afraid she'd disappear at any moment. "Delenn?"

   His hand touched her cheek, and she turned her face so she could kiss the palm. He touched her hair, his fingers working their way to her bonecrest. Uncoiling his fingers from her other hand he used that to touch her dress, her shoulder, and then cupped her face in both hands, drawing her towards him. He kissed her long and hard, tears of relief streaming down his face. When they parted he looked around as though seeing the room for the first time. He saw Survaal, then Henshaw, and he frowned, trying to piece together everything that had happened. Slowly his eyes seemed to refocus and clear. He knew where he was, and with that knowledge came the awareness that he'd scared everyone half to death, not least himself. He groaned and buried his face in his hands, rubbing his eyes and temples before running both hands through his hair, shaking his head and struggling to his feet, Delenn supporting him.

   Slowly he made his way to the couch and sat down heavily. "I should've asked you to stay," he muttered, embarrassed by his reactions. "But I didn't want you to see me like this...."

   "It doesn't matter," she assured him. "I am here for you whatever happens."

   He held his head in his hands once more, his elbows resting on his knees, trying to still the insistent throbbing in his brain. "Oh God, that was bad."

   Delenn turned to Henshaw. "What did you do to him?!" There was no mistaking the sharp and fiercely protective edge to her voice. "You are supposed to be helping him!"

   Before Henshaw could defend herself Sheridan looked up. "No. No it's all right," he said, his voice weak but firm. "She was right. I had to do this. I just... I didn't realise how much I was holding in. Once it started I couldn't stop it and then I... got confused I guess. I forgot where I was." He patted Delenn's hand, giving her a faint smile. "Made a fool of myself."

   "No, John. Never think like that," Henshaw quickly corrected. "You reacted strongly, and I'm sorry I couldn't stop it before it got that far...."

   "As I recall, I was the one who insisted," he returned. "And you were right. Somehow it feels a little better having talked about it. I think the next time we go through this I'll be able to handle it better."

   "The next time?!" Delenn was horrified. "Does he have to go through this again? Surely once is enough."
   "Delenn, the more he talks about it, the less hold it'll have over him."

   Sheridan nodded and then relaxed against the back of the couch, closing his eyes. Delenn still needed to be convinced. "And if it affects him the same way again?"

   "It won't," he replied, his eyes still closed. After a moment he opened them again and looked over at her. "And even if it does, I'll be able to get control faster next time. Besides," he smiled, "you'll be there to catch me if I fall too far." He sat forward, turning to look at her squarely. "I'm sorry I couldn't let you be here. I'm not sure when I'll be able to tell you about it, it... might be a while. Once I can do it without... well, without all that...." He nodded towards the corner, "...then I'll tell you." He suddenly looked apprehensive. "But not if you don't want to hear it. You're not obliged to...."

   She shook her head firmly. "Whenever you are ready, I will be here."

   Knowing Delenn knew the content anyway, but wanting to keep up the facade, Henshaw chimed in. "It's pretty rough, Delenn. You might want to reconsider that offer."

   "No," she replied, looking steadily at Henshaw and playing her role to the hilt. "Whatever it is, I will handle it." She turned back to Sheridan. "It's a part of you and it is something that hurts you. You don't have to protect me, John. I was Grey Council, remember?"

   The reference confused Henshaw, but Sheridan snorted and nodded, letting his head fall back again. "I remember. One day, I promise."

   Henshaw stood up. "I think that's more than enough for today. You might want to get some rest, John, and you should have someone stay with you."

   "I will stay here," Delenn responded instantly. Sheridan reached over and squeezed her arm in thanks but didn't change his position.

   Henshaw nodded. She'd expected that. "Everything's fresh in your mind so I'm afraid the nightmares might be a little strong tonight. After this they should start to die down. I can't promise you'll ever be rid of them completely, but they'll grow less from here on out and they won't be so hard to shake. We've shone a light on the monster and he'll struggle for a bit. Do you want Survaal to give you something to help you sleep?"

   He chuckled, his eyes still closed. "Right now I'm so beat staying awake's the problem." He paused and considered a moment before turning to Survaal. "But if you've got something I can have on standby... just in case? Nothing too strong."

   Survaal nodded and pulled two packets from his bag. "Delenn, if you mix these in water they will calm him. Enough for his body to do the rest. Should you need anything stronger, you have but to ask."

   "Thanks," Sheridan smiled and then pushed himself off the couch. His gait was slow but steady as he made his way to the bedroom, Delenn by his side.

   Survaal placed the packets on the kitchen counter and headed for the door. "I will remain on the station tonight. Call me should you require my services."

   Sheridan braced himself on the door as Delenn turned and bowed. "I will. Thank you, Survaal."

   "Yeah. Thanks," Sheridan added. "Sorry for... what happened earlier."

   "No apology is necessary, Mr. President. Sleep well." He turned and left.

   Henshaw hesitated in the doorway for a moment. "Delenn, will you be all right here? I know you're probably pretty angry with me right now but...."

   Delenn shook her head. "I'm sorry for what I said earlier. I knew this would be hard, it... was just something of a shock, that's all. We will be fine. I hope you will find it in your heart to forgive me."

   "Like he said, there's nothing to forgive. I'll be right down the hall if you need me." She followed Survaal out of the room.

   As the door closed Sheridan heaved a sigh of relief and made his way to the bed, almost falling on it in his exhaustion. Delenn knelt in front of him and untied his shoes.

   "You don't have to do that," he insisted, trying to stop her.

   "It is a small thing. Do you wish to use the shower before you go to bed?"

   "No. I've showered twice today already. If I keep this up the guys in water reclamation'll start to complain."

   "You could use the vibe option," she offered, secretly pleased he recognised his own behaviour.

   "Too tired. I'd probably fall asleep in there. I'll save it 'til the morning."

   She'd removed his shoes and socks and he sat up and began to unfasten his shirt. He'd only got the first few buttons undone, together with the cuffs when he muttered "To hell with this!" and yanked the material from his trousers, pulling the shirt over his head and tossing it in the corner. "I'll grab a clean one in the morning." He stood up and undid his trousers as Delenn picked up the shirt, undid the rest of the buttons and put it in the recycler. She turned around and saw him still holding his trousers, looking slightly embarrassed. He looked at her somewhat apologetically.

   "I need to tell Lennier where I am. I will be back in a moment," she said, saving him the trouble of asking her to leave while he finished changing. She stepped outside and closed the partition behind her. Sheridan shook his head at his own bizarre reactions. They were married for goodness' sake! It wasn't as though she hadn't seen him naked before, quite recently too, and yet right now.... Deciding he was too tired to even think about analysing this latest response, he finished changing, putting the rest of his clothes in the recycler with his shirt. By the time Delenn returned he was in bed, the sheets pulled up to his chest which was covered in a t-shirt done up to the throat.

   Since they'd decided to share their rooms, Delenn had some of her clothes in Sheridan's closet, just as he had some in hers. He lay there, watching her undress, and then felt guilty when she turned and smiled at him.

   "I'm sorry," he said quickly, closing his eyes.

   "What for? I'm pleased you still find me attractive." Still he refused to look at her. "John, do you not like how I look?"

   "Yes!" he responded quickly, turning to see her standing naked by the side of the bed. Immediately he shut his eyes again. "It's just.... I can't.... Oh hell!" He rolled over onto his side, turning his back to her.

   She considered the nightdress she'd rescued from the closet. Would he feel more comfortable if she wore it? Would he feel more comfortable if she slept in the next room on the couch? "Would you rather I did not share your bed tonight?" she asked softly. She couldn't quite hide the hurt in her voice.

   His gut twisted as he realised how he was making her feel. "I just need to sleep. I'm too tired to do... anything else," he finished lamely.

   She put on the nightdress. "I did not ask you to. I, too, am tired, but I should like to feel you near me again." When he didn't respond, she took that as a no and headed for the door.

   "Delenn," he said, stopping her. She turned around and he rolled over, pulling the bedclothes back on her side. The invitation was clear and she accepted it, dimming the lights outside and closing the partition doors before moving back to the bed. As she pulled the covers up he watched her but didn't touch.

   "I do find you attractive. You're everything a man could ask for and then some. I'm just... nervous, I guess. I'm afraid I won't be able to.... I've just been reminded of some things I didn't want to remember."

   "I know," she said softly. She rolled onto her side, looking at him, and draped one arm across his chest. He flinched slightly, but held still. "No demands. I told you before I would be here when you wanted me."

   He held himself stiff for a moment and then relaxed, realising she meant what she said. Raising his arm he encouraged her to snuggle against him and held her tightly. She reached up and kissed the underside of his jaw.

   "Goodnight," she whispered, closing her eyes.

   "Goodnight, Delenn." He dimmed the lights but didn't extinguish them altogether, staring at the ceiling for a while as he heard her breathing even out. She was such a quiet sleeper he had to strain to hear her, but he could feel her chest rising and falling against his side and he took comfort in the movement. A part of him was afraid to give in to sleep, knowing the nightmares that awaited him, but he was too bone weary to fight it and soon his eyes closed.

 

 

 

Chapter 13

 

 

   She awoke to find the bed empty. The pillow was still warm so he couldn't have left more than a few minutes before. She got up, put on a dressing gown and walked into the lounge. He was sitting on the couch in low light, his dressing gown belted tightly around his waist, his hair tousled from sleep.

   "Another nightmare?" she asked gently. He nodded but didn't elaborate. She sat down next to him. "Tell me about it."

   "I'd rather not." He continued to stare into the dimly lit room.

   "I could called Janet," she offered.

   "No. No need to disturb her."

   She shifted slightly closer but didn't touch him. "Was it from when you were captured or later?" she pressed gently.

   "Later."

   "John, I am stronger than I look. Please stop trying to protect me."

   "You've no idea," he whispered.

   "I have been doing some research of my own. I know what happens in these places."

   "You shouldn't have to know," he answered, his voice tinged with anger. "No one should," he added more quietly.

   She considered what more she could say to him. He needed to talk about it, but he didn't want to talk to her and his innate sense of good manners prevented him from waking Janet, even though Delenn felt sure the doctor would prefer to be called under the circumstances.

   "What about writing it down? Or recording a log? I could go back to my quarters if you don't want me to hear you." 

   He shook his head. "It's nothing, really. It'll pass."

   "It is not 'nothing'. It has disturbed you." 

   He turned, suddenly. "Delenn, don't push. I can't handle it right now. I've got enough on my plate without worrying about you as well." His voice was tight with warning.

   "Then *stop* worrying about me. Let me decide what I should worry about. There is nothing that we cannot face together." She reached out to touch him but he pulled away and stood up. "John..."

   "I need to be alone," he said, his back to her.

   Her heart was beating wildly, her eyes stinging and her stomach felt as though someone had opened a jump-gate in it, but she couldn't see a way to get through to him. Silently she rose and went to the bedroom. He sighed in relief and sat down, only to see her re-emerge a few minutes later, dressed. She headed for the door.

   As the shaft of light from the corridor silhouetted her figure he realised what was happening. "No, wait. Delenn, that's not what I..." It was too late, she was gone. "Damn!" He fell back against the couch, punching his left fist into the cushions. "Damn."

   ************************** 

   "Come in." Henshaw looked up to see her guest. "Delenn? What happened?"

   Delenn paused to take in the state of the room. Obviously Janet was having an equally disturbed night. She was sitting in sweat pants and a t-shirt, her feet curled under her on the couch, nursing a drink. "May I sit down?"

   "Of course." As Delenn settled herself Henshaw took in her appearance. Upset, tired, frustrated, scared. It was all there. "I take it he had another nightmare?" Delenn nodded. "And he didn't want to talk about it?" Right again. Henshaw sighed.

   "He didn't want to wake you but I thought..."

   "You were right. I'd rather know at this stage. Anyway, as you can see, I wasn't exactly out cold myself." She stood up. "Give me five minutes to get changed."

   "He said he wanted to be alone," Delenn responded, her voice a dull monotone.

   "He thinks he does. Not the same thing." She grabbed some clothes and disappeared into the bathroom, leaving the door open. "Did he give you any clue what the dream was about?" she called through.

   "He said it was after his capture. He would not tell me any more."

   Henshaw re-emerged, running a brush through her hair. "Sorry?"

   "Something that happened after his capture."

   "Great. That narrows it down." The sarcastic tone wasn't lost on Delenn but she remained silent. "Is he dressed?" A nod. "Right, have you got the card for his quarters?" Delenn handed it over. "You stay here. Stretch out on the bed if you want to. I haven't used it."

   "I told him I would not leave him," Delenn whispered. "Oh Valen, what have I done?"

   "Exactly what he told you to do. It's probably shaken him up a bit. Good. We're not going to get anywhere until he stops pushing people away." She pulled a bag out from under the bed, flipped it open and pulled out a bottle, checking the label before slipping it into her pocket.

   "What is that?"

   "Anti-depressants. If he starts wallowing we're going to lose him, and I've never yet lost someone I said I could help. I don't plan on starting with the President of the Interstellar Alliance. It'd be embarrassing." With a firm tread, her shoulders set, Henshaw left the room.

   ****************************

   Sheridan ignored the insistent call of the door announce. If it was Delenn she could let herself in. Anyone else could go to hell as far as he was concerned. He wasn't in the mood for company. At last the door opened and he looked up.

   "Delenn, I... Oh, it's you."

   "Delenn's in my quarters," Henshaw provided, then ordered the lights up. Sheridan blinked in the sudden brightness, covering his eyes. "Giving your nightmares a home, I see." She went to the kitchen and poured a glass of water, setting it down on the table in front of him before sitting down herself. "Which one was it?"

   "Like I told Delenn, I don't want to talk about it."

   "You've already told me, so what is this? Twenty questions? Do you want me to go through the list until we nail it down?" She sat back in the chair, making herself comfortable. He gave her a look but didn't respond. "You have to talk about it whether you like it or not. You know that, I know that, Delenn knows it too, but she's not quite as ornery as I am."

   He snorted. "Don't you believe it."

   "With anyone else, yes. She'd face down an entire fleet of ships single-handedly if she had to..."

   "She has," he muttered.

   "But she can't face you, like this. Yet she loves you and you love her. Wouldn't you say there's something wrong with this picture?"

   "Taking up marriage guidance counselling now, are you? I'm surprised you have the time." His tone was derisive. 

   Henshaw narrowed her eyes, pulled out the bottle and dropped two pills into her hand, putting them on the table beside the water.

   "What's that?" he asked.

   "Anti-depressants. Take them."

   "I'm not depressed."

   "Could've fooled me. Sitting here in the dark, refusing to talk to those you love and those who care about you, dwelling on the past, sleeping badly, eating poorly. If it's not depression what do *you* call it?"

   "I don't want to talk about this."

   "Of course not. It's painful. Nobody wants to be hurt, but when it comes from the inside what can you do? Either you face it and put it *out*side, or you cut yourself off from everything: the pain, the potential for happiness, love, friends, a life..."

   "I said I don't want to talk about it!" He stood up and headed for the bedroom.

   "If you're going to lock yourself in the bathroom, may I suggest you take some food along with you? Oh, and a couple of ear plugs, unless you want to sit there with your fingers in your ears and hum *real* loud, because I'm going to be right outside and I won't quit."

   "I'll have security take you away."

   "You can't do that because right now you're just another guest aboard this station. Captain Lochley will take my advice and that of Dr. Franklin over you. Until you go back to being President she's got no reason to listen to you outside of the fact she knows you, and given she knows you she's going to want to do what's best for you. Right now, I'm it."

   He stopped at the door. "Delusions of grandeur?"

   "I know my job."

   "Well maybe you'd better get another one, because this time you blew it." He walked away. She got up and followed him into the bedroom.

   "No. If you keep walking away, *you're* the one who blew it. You'll have no one to blame but yourself."

   He rounded on her, his temper flying out of control. "You think I *like* being like this? You wanna try some of this shit? You have no idea what it's like from this side. You read the books and give your talks but you haven't been here. It's not so damned easy from where I'm standing."

   "I know."

   "Like hell!"

   She sat on the edge of the bed. "Have you ever heard of Michael Henshaw?"

   "No."

   "Michael Henshaw, the old Lord Glamorgan, was my father."

   "So you're heir to a large estate back on Earth. So?" She raised her eyebrows and he blinked. "Wait a minute. It must have been over twenty years ago. You're not...?" She nodded, waiting to see his reaction. "But you must have been about fourteen at the time!"

   "Thirteen, actually. Didn't stop them."

   He nodded. "I remember. It was in all the papers. When they found you at first they thought you were dead. Beaten, starved..."

   "You forgot gang-raped." She said it so coldly, clinically, as a simple matter-of-fact that Sheridan was rocked on his heels. "But then they planned on killing me anyway so what did it matter to them? I was just the rich man's daughter. Someone ripe for kidnapping."

   "I'm sorry... I didn't realise..."

   "That someone who went through all that could end up doing something like this? Who better? It took a long time for me to rebuild my life but once I did and realised it could be done, I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of it." She stood up and walked over to him, staring him in the eye. "So don't tell me I don't know what it's like from that side. I've been there. I know every detail and I still don't give up. Not when I know a person's got what it takes to come out the other side, and *you* have, but you won't do it if you keep pushing people away, *especially* people like Delenn. She's strong enough, she can take it and she wants to help you. You're lucky to have a wife with her patience, but even she has her limits. You need each other. You're not protecting her by not telling her, you're just shutting her out."

   He turned and went to the bed, sitting down on the side of it. "It's not right. She shouldn't have to hear it."

   "Of course what they did to you isn't right, but it's in the past. Don't let it affect your future. If you do, then those bastards have won and they're not worth it." She went to the partition and then paused. "The pills are on the table. If you don't think you can pull yourself out on your own, use them. There's no shame in admitting you're human. No one should be asked to carry what you're trying to carry alone. If you think you can manage without them fine, but don't make a fool of yourself trying to prove a point. I'm going back to my room and I'll send Delenn down here. Talk to her, John. For her sake and yours. Don't let those bastards win. Not now."

   He nodded weakly. Henshaw turned to go and he looked up. "Janet."

   She turned. "Yes?"

   "You didn't blow it."

   She smiled. "I know, Mr. President."

   *********************************

   "Are you sure?" Delenn asked. Henshaw nodded, collapsing into a chair. "What did you say to him?"

   "I pointed out a few things. Helped him understand what was happening."

   "And he asked to see me?"

   "I told him to talk to you and said I'd send you down there. He agreed." She looked around, slightly distracted, until her eyes alighted on the drink she'd been nursing earlier. Exactly what she needed! It was a bit warmer than she liked, but she wasn't about to water it down by adding more ice. She took a healthy swallow and nodded as it burned down her throat. She looked up to see Delenn still standing by the door. "I didn't put a PPG to his head. He wants to see you." Delenn remained where she was and Henshaw frowned. "Want to talk about it?"

   "I feel... I am becoming lost in all of this. I know I should be worried about John, and I am, but..."

   "Give him this chance, Delenn. He had a tough day today. There probably won't be another one as hard." 'I hope not!' she added privately. "He has to get past this stage and he'll need you there, beside him."

   "I know, I..." She stalled, trying to find a way of saying what she was feeling without sounding as though she was being selfish. Henshaw waved a hand, encouraging her to continue. "I'm his wife and I love him. I love him more than I thought I could ever love anyone... But I don't want... I'm not..."

   Henshaw nodded and put down her glass. "You're afraid he's going to stop seeing you as his wife and start seeing you just as someone he can lean on when he's having a hard time and push away again when he's feeling stronger, is that it?"

   Her shoulders sagged. "Yes."

   "For a while it may be like that. For the record, a lot of marriages don't survive PTSD. The pressure on the victim's spouse is enormous and some feel like they're drowning -- becoming a mere life-preserver the victim clings to until they reach shore again. But some *do* survive and I really think this is one of them. You've got the stubbornness, the love and the sheer strength of will and knowledge of self you need to survive it."

   Before Delenn could answer the door announce interrupted them. The door opened to reveal Sheridan, still in his dressing gown.

   "May I?" he asked. His voice lacked energy and he looked liked he'd gone five rounds with his conscience and lost. Henshaw nodded and he stepped inside. He stood, looking at Delenn for a long time, trying to find a way to explain things to her. Would she understand? She'd always understood before, but maybe that was the problem. He'd assumed she'd be there for him, no matter what. Deep down a part of him knew that after all they'd been through together that was still the case, but he'd pushed hard this time and when she'd left he'd felt angry -- at himself, at her, at everything and everyone who'd brought them to this point. He'd let that anger over-ride his good sense, a perverse pride preventing him from admitting he was being an idiot, cutting of his nose to spite his face. He hated having to admit he needed someone, not just as a lover or a friend, or even in their professional role as a psychiatrist. This was his mind and his emotions he was trying to deal with and if anyone ought to know about those it was him. He deferred willingly to those who had more military or diplomatic training than he had, prepared to listen and learn. Why couldn't he do that now, when the matter was so much more important? He worked for days trying to comprehend the minutiae of trade agreements, but he wasn't prepared to put in that same level of commitment when it came to his own well-being and that of someone he cared about more than his own life.

   She held his gaze and he dropped his eyes. He seemed to have spent the last few days doing nothing but apologising, but he never tried to fix what was causing the problem. Now he had to do it again and he wanted to make sure that this time it wasn't just a word. This time it would contain his willingness to change, to work with others to solve his problems.

    "I... uh... I'm not doing too well today," he said at last, looking more at the wall and the floor than at her. There was another long pause and then he spread his hands and lifted his eyes to her face. "But driving you away was about the dumbest thing I've managed so far. I won't blame you if you tell me to get lost but I was wondering if... well..." He released a sigh. "It's pretty cold in that bed without you, Delenn." He waited, nervously, stuffing his hands in the dressing-gown pockets. When she didn't answer immediately he added, "But it's on one condition."

    She frowned. "Oh?"

   "If I ever try and drive you away again you'll ignore me." He stepped closer to her, dropping his voice and putting every ounce of his feelings for her into his words. "I couldn't bear to lose you. Not when it took me so long to find you in the first place."

   Delenn closed her eyes and smiled. When she opened them again he was still watching her, waiting to hear her decision and she knew if she said no he would accept it, turn and walk away, trying to cope with everything alone.

   And she knew she would never let him do that.

   She reached out and took his hand. He released a breath he hadn't even realised he was holding and turned to Henshaw. "Thank you."

   "You're welcome."

   As he reached the door he allowed Delenn to go through first and then followed, automatically reaching for her waist before abruptly pulling back. Perhaps that was asking too much?

   Not at all.

   He smiled as she wrapped her arm around him and fell into step at his side. It felt so right he wondered how he ever could have considered not having her there. When they reached his quarters he quickly unlocked the door and then stood aside to let her enter. As the door closed and he engaged the lock she continued into the room.

   "Delenn," he said quietly. She turned and he crossed the intervening distance, gripping her upper arms and simply holding her for a long moment before he pulled her into a tight embrace. "I'm sorry," he murmured into her hair, resting his cheek against her. "I know I've been saying that a lot lately but I do mean it. I..." He gritted his teeth as he realised he had to give some kind of explanation. Asking her to wait was expecting too much. "Some of the things they did to me in there... When I think about you and me together..." With a half strangled gasp he let his head fall to her shoulder. "Oh God this is hard."

   She felt him lean on her heavily as though he no longer had the strength to support himself. She stood, bearing the extra burden in silence, waiting for him to decide what he would do. After a while he composed himself slightly, the weight lifted and he placed a tender kiss in her hair before pulling back and leading her to the couch. He was still uneasy, unable to settle, and he got up and paced the room.

   She had an inkling of what he had in mind and her immediate thought was that now was not the best time. He'd gone through so much today already and it had nearly destroyed him. While a part of her longed to get this out of the way so they could begin to rebuild, another part wanted to put it off... indefinitely if humanly possible (which it wasn't), for a few more days to give him time to recover at the very least. It was strange. After trying to get him to talk about it for so long now, suddenly, when it looked like she would get her wish, her most fervent hope was that he would change his mind. Perhaps one day human emotions would make sense to her, but that enlightenment presently appeared unlikely. Ultimately, though, it was up to him. It was clear he was already distressed by the whole notion. She offered him a way out. Let him decide and she would follow. "John, perhaps you should rest."

   He shook his head, running his hand through his hair. "No. This has gone on long enough. When I start pushing you away it's got out of hand." He paused and considered the pills Henshaw had left. Not now. Besides, he might have need of them later. That or Survaal's concoction. "I've done this once today," he muttered, more to himself than to her, "I can do it again. Get it over and done with." He turned and sat down in the chair opposite her, leaning forward with his elbows resting on his knees. "Are you absolutely certain," he said with deadly seriousness, "that you want to hear what happened? Because once I start this I won't stop."

   He was willing, almost eager to resolve the issue once and for all. Her path stretched out before her and she placed her foot upon it. "I'm certain." No hesitation, her voice firm and steady.

   He wanted to ask her if she really understood what she was letting herself in for, but he knew if he tried to explain why she might want to reconsider he'd end up telling the story anyway. Instead he nodded and took a deep breath. "You remember when Michael called me and told me they'd caught my father? Ivanova warned me it was a trap but I wouldn't listen. I should have, I know, but... it was my father. I couldn't leave him there if there was the faintest chance of rescuing him, and I trusted Michael. I didn't know what'd happened to him then... none of us did. I couldn't believe he'd betray me..."

   Reading the cold facts of what had been done to him had been traumatic enough. Hearing them from his own mouth was infinitely worse. She made a mental note to thank Janet for allowing her the preview so that she had some protection, but even that proved almost inadequate as the events and emotions poured out of him; a hurricane of descriptions battering upon the slowly crumbling walls of her own stability. For his sake and her own she shored them up with the strength she had found in her meditations. 

   For Sheridan, too, the retelling was almost more devastating than the first time. He wasn't describing it to a stranger any more. Henshaw had fought her own reactions on several occasions, but the way Delenn remained stoically in front of him, refusing to give in while the tears streamed down her face was almost too much to bear. Rather than look at her he concentrated on a patch of the floor, memorising every feature as he told his tale. At one point he broke down completely. He felt rather than saw Delenn rise to hold him and he waved her away, knowing he wouldn't finish if he allowed himself that release.

   Reluctantly she sat down once more, her whole body screaming with the need to comfort him as he fought to get his voice under control. When he told of how the image of her had helped him to hold out against them she smiled despite the tears. All the time he had been held she'd meditated, wanting to cross the distance between them and be beside him in spirit, giving him the strength to endure until rescue came. Perhaps, in some bizarre manner, the universe had allowed her to do that. In any case, it gave her some small comfort to know she had helped; had been there when he most needed her, whether as a figment of his increasingly vivid imagination or by some miracle of the connection that held them she didn't know.

   It didn't matter.

   He had just reached the moment when Franklin, Garibaldi and Lyta had broken into his cell to rescue him when his voice failed completely. This time he didn't try to stop her as she swiftly rose from the couch and wrapped her arms around his shaking shoulders, holding him as though her life depended on it. They cried together, sharing the grief of the loss of the man he had once been. His were great wracking sobs, the agony of the manner in which that life had been ripped from him still too fresh in his mind to be controlled. Hers were the silent, steady tears of one who cannot feel the same intense immediacy of the brutal destruction of that life, but who is close enough to be enveloped in the darkness that follows.

   They remained that way for some time, Sheridan desperately aware of her tears but powerless to console her; Delenn rocking him in her arms, murmuring words of comfort that could never be adequate to the task. When the worst of the storm subsided she reached for the glass of water, offering it to him. He took it in both hands, water slopping over his fingers as he struggled to lift it to his lips. She steadied the base, allowing him to drink it all.

   "Let me have it," she whispered as he maintained a death grip on the glass. "I will refill it for you." He nodded and uncurled his fingers with a conscious act of will. She moved away slowly, ready to hurry back if he showed the slightest sign of needing her, but the relative peace held. With an economy of movement she went to the kitchen, ignoring the cramps in her shoulders. She opened the packets Survaal had left and emptied them into the glass, using the rush of water to stir the mix. Returning to his side she offered it to him. "I have used the preparation Survaal left for you," she said, determined there would be no more lies and tricks. "Drink it down. You need to rest." She held the glass as before while he sampled and then swallowed as she directed. "Come, we cannot sleep out here." She encouraged him to stand, slipping his arm over her shoulder and supporting his unsteady gait as he made his way to the bedroom. When they reached it he begged leave to go to the bathroom, going through the nightly ritual he'd previously abandoned. The shower remained postponed until the morning, but he washed away the worst of the tears and sweat before re-emerging. She helped him off with his robe and eased him into bed, pulling the covers over him. He was asleep almost as soon as his head touched the pillow. She paused to stroke his cheek, laying her hand on his chest before going back into the living area and recording a time-delayed message for Henshaw, Franklin and Survaal. She outlined what had happened and asked them not to disturb either herself or Sheridan until late afternoon or when she called, whichever came first. It seemed likely he would sleep heavily and long after the emotional trauma of the day and, if truth be told, she suspected she would do the same.

   That task done she fetched two glasses of water, setting them both down on her side of the bed so that he would not knock them over by accident if he awoke disorientated. She closed the partition, got undressed, slipped into bed beside him and ordered the lights dimmed. The day's events had left her with a great sense of achievement as well as some apprehension, but the former, coupled with her own exhaustion, won out and soon the rooms were silent but for the occasional interruptions of Sheridan's snoring.

 

 

 

Chapter 14

 

 

   "Delenn?" She felt a hand touch her face and she was startled awake to find Sheridan propped up on one elbow, gazing down at her, his expression a mixture of bewilderment and amazement. She rolled over and smiled at him.

   "How are you feeling?" she asked.

   "Like I was run over by a Vorlon Heavy Cruiser. Did what I remember happening actually happen yesterday?" There was an odd sense of unreality about his memories. They were blurry, with an almost dream- (or nightmare-) like quality to them. That he had apparently told his tale, twice no less, pleased him. It had been hanging like a sword of Damocles ready to cleave him in two for far too long. That the telling had rendered him senseless on the first occasion, and an emotional wreck on the second mortified him. For a man who placed so much emphasis on discipline and self-control his behaviour was hopelessly out of character. True, it was understandable given the circumstances, and true, he hadn't done it in the middle of the Zocalo (thank God!), but still the memory, hazy though it was, both stunned and disturbed him. And that he had told Delenn, caused her so much pain when he had made a private oath when he first arrived on her cruiser that he would never make her suffer, even vicariously, what he had gone through, despite his verbal assurances to the contrary... He winced.

   "Yes," she said softly, smothering her own memories as they threatened to release another flood of pain.

   He fell back, piecing together the details. With a groan he covered his eyes with his forearm. "I'm sorry," he said, unable to look at her. "You shouldn't have had to listen to that."
   Mirroring his earlier position, she reached over and pulled his arm away. "Yes, I should," she returned, brushing aside the hair that had fallen over his forehead. "I needed to know. To understand. Now we can rebuild." He grunted, unconvinced. "Janet said telling us about it would help you. Has it?"

   "I don't know." He searched through his mind, trying to find any differences in how he was feeling. Much to his surprise he gave a slow nod. "I think... I think, maybe, yes. Something's changed. I don't feel quite so hemmed in. Before it was like a tube wreck I knew was going to happen. Now it's over with and I'm still here, it's not quite so bad. I know there's still a long way to go, but I think I'd put a lot of my fears into that moment."

   Still lying on his back he turned to her. "I was afraid I'd lose you."

   "Never," she assured him with a smile.

   "For a moment there...."

   "I needed some time to think," she interrupted quickly, not wanting to be reminded of the event. "You would not let me help you and I didn't know what I was supposed to do."

   He shook his head. "I didn't mean to," he said, his voice full of regret. "I just didn't want to hurt you."

   "Sometimes it is necessary," she returned. "And not knowing was worse." She looked up. "Computer, what is the time?"

   "The time is fifteen thirty-six, Earth Standard Time," the clipped female voice responded.

   She turned back to Sheridan. "I left orders we were not to be disturbed until late afternoon at the earliest. Do you want to see anyone or would you like me to ask them to leave us alone for the rest of the day?"

   He yawned, rubbed his eyes and shook his head. "I haven't slept this late since I was a teenager. I'd better get up."

   He pulled the bedclothes aside and got up, making his way to the bathroom. A few minutes later Delenn heard the shower start up. She would have to wait until he was finished to see to her own requirements so she passed the time by making some tea and then contacting Henshaw.

   "Delenn, how is he?" the doctor said from the screen.

   "Better, I think. We only just woke up so he is in the shower. If you could give us another half an hour to get ready before you visit?"

   "Of course. And how are you feeling?" There was an edge to Henshaw's voice.

   "I am fine." Henshaw raised an eyebrow and Delenn nodded. "Really. It was... difficult, but it is over with. John described it as being like a tube wreck you know will happen, but we both survived it. Now we have to move on."

   "We'll get there. It's not over yet, but this was the hardest part in many ways. I'll see you in an hour. You need to eat as well, you know." She grinned and signed off.

   Delenn checked the cupboards and found them somewhat bare. Something more to be added to the list -- food shopping. She could do that later. In the meantime, she put through a call to one of the cafes that she knew did all day breakfasts, and had them deliver. As she signed off Sheridan walked out of the bedroom in a bathrobe, a towel around his shoulders.

   "It's all yours," he said, rubbing his hair.

   "I made some tea and put in an order for breakfast. They should be delivering soon. Would you like me to wait until they arrive? Remember, you are officially suffering from the 'flu."

   "I think I can fake it," he grinned. "Go grab a shower." As she passed he stopped her, leaning down to kiss her on the lips. "Thanks," he murmured, pulling back.

   She didn't have to ask what he was thanking her for. "You're welcome," she smiled and headed for the bathroom.

   He fetched a blanket from the bedroom and wrapped himself in it, settling in front of the com-screen to watch ISN. When the door chime went off he called "Come," in as thick a voice as he could manage. The delivery boy stood in the doorway. "Can you put it on the counter?" he said, feigning a coughing fit. The boy nodded and did as requested. "Oh, you need to be paid." He went to stand up but Delenn, now dressed, appeared in the bedroom doorway.

   "Stay there, John. I will deal with this." She produced a credit chit that the boy promptly ran through his reader, thanking her.

   "Hope you feel better soon, Mr. President," the boy called out as he headed for the door.

   "Thanks. Me too!" he returned, and then sneezed. It hadn't been intentional, but the timing couldn't have been better. He sniffed and gave the boy a rueful smile as the latter grinned and left. Delenn chuckled.

   "I never knew you were such a good actor," she laughed.

   "To be honest, neither did I!" He shrugged off the blanket and joined her at the counter, sorting out the plates as she doled out the food. They sat down at the breakfast table and Sheridan found his appetite much improved. Taking this as a good sign, Delenn allowed him to finish off the rest of the meal and then suggested he get dressed while she put the plates in the cleaning unit. When he re-emerged in dark trousers and a brown patterned shirt, the cuffs rolled back and the collar undone, she nodded approvingly.

   "Already you look better."

   He nodded and wrapped his arms loosely around her waist. "I feel better. I don't think I can get back to work just yet, but in a few days I should at least be able to get through some of the paperwork. There's going to be enough of it!" He rolled his eyes at the thought.

   She frowned. "What about signing the formal papers. Will you be up to that?"

   "That's something I want to talk to Janet about. I need to prioritise a bit. If we can get that sorted out first I can get some work done. Then we can work on the other stuff..." he dropped his voice. "Including us," he added. "I'm sorry that's been put on hold for so long..."

   "It's all right," she assured him. "It can wait."

   He smiled, shaking his head at the apparently limitless bounds of her patience and pulled her into a hug, kissing her neck and receiving a gentle hum of pleasure in response. The door chime went off and, without pulling away, he activated the door. Henshaw walked in, bag in hand.

   "Well, that's nice to see!" she grinned.

   He pulled away a little sheepishly, Delenn straightening her hair. He cleared his throat.

   "Janet," he acknowledged formally.

   "Hey, don't stop on my account. I can come back later."

   "No, no. That was... it." He looked at Delenn. "For now, anyway." She nodded. "Please, take a seat."

   "I need to do some shopping," Delenn supplied. "We are running out of food. I will leave you for a little while, but I will be back soon." The last was added quickly as she saw Sheridan's face fall slightly.

   "Sure. I'll be okay. Do you need my credit chit?"

   She waved the chit she'd used to pay the delivery boy. "I have my own." A thought crossed her mind and she frowned. "I will need to look over my appointments schedule, though. I will be as fast as I can...."

   "Don't worry, Delenn. I'll be here until you get back. If we need you, we'll yell out," Henshaw said, sitting down.

   Reassured, Delenn reached up and kissed his cheek. "See you later," he said as she turned and left. He went over to the couch and sat down, only belatedly remembering his manners. "Oh, did you want anything?" he offered, prepared to get up again.

   "No, that's fine. I've had enough coffee to keep a small town awake for a week. So, how did it go?"

   "Better than I could have hoped," he replied, leaning back. "Not that I was in particularly good shape by the end of it, but we got through it."

   "Can you talk to her more easily now?"

   "I... Yeah, I think so. Some things still won't be easy but..."

   "They'll come, in time. We've a lot to get through. Where do you want to start?" As she'd said, it was up to him to decide the running.

   "Official documents," he declared firmly. "It sounds stupid when I think of it now, but signing them...."

   "Is still a problem, right?"

   "Yeah."

   "Then let's have a go at it." She got up and walked to the table, pulling several sheets of paper, some flims and a pen from her bag. Some were blank, some had writing on, some were headed, but had nothing else on them, and some were a combination of the two.

   "Before you ask, none of these mean anything. We can get something you actually need to sign later. These are just to practise on and we can destroy them all when we've finished, okay?" He nodded and sat down. She pulled out a chair opposite and spread the papers on the table.

   "Remember how you and Delenn worked out how to write your name?" He nodded again. "It's pretty much the same for all of it. A stage at a time. If you feel yourself reacting, talk about it. Describe what you're feeling at each stage. Bring your feelings out of the subconscious and into your conscious mind. That way you can take control of them. If it gets too much, back off. Whatever you do, never push too hard, even if you think you can do it. Not at this stage."

   "Why not?"

   "You're feeling better, but your subconscious is still pretty jumpy. It gets scared off easily. If you try and force it it'll just reinforce the protection mechanisms it came up with before and they'll be even harder to break down. The main thing is to open up. Each time you feel a panic attack coming on, stop, think about it. Ask yourself why it's making you feel like that, what it's reminding you of. Then take a look at what it is you're trying to handle and remind yourself what's really going on."

   "Sounds easy enough," he said thoughtfully.

   "It does, but it isn't. The human mind is incredibly complex. Just as well. As someone once said, if it was simple enough to understand, we'd be so simple we couldn't!" He laughed and she grinned at him. "But we do understand a lot of why it behaves the way it does, now. Still, it can spring surprises on you. Be ready for them."

   He raised an eyebrow. "If I could be ready for them they wouldn't be a surprise, now would they?"

   "Okay, perhaps it'd be better to say prepare yourself for them as best you can. When they hit, they can be disorientating, frightening. What you have to remember is that it all makes sense to your subconscious. You're not crazy and you're not losing it. Everything has a reason, even if it's so obscure you can't figure it out immediately. And there's no pressure on you. Certainly not now, but even later that's still the case. The only pressure is what you apply. If someone makes you uncomfortable and you feel like you're losing control, back away; tell them flat out you'll deal with it later. In that sense, you're actually in a very fortunate position. After all, who's gonna argue with the President?"

   "You'd be amazed," he returned dryly, looking over the papers in front of him. "What about that pen you had before? Might as well kill two birds with one stone."

   "No, that's exactly what you mustn't do. That's what I meant about going too far, too fast. Break the problems down and attack them one at a time. Signing official looking documents is one problem. Using the same pen as they tried to make you write with in that cell is another one. Deal with one or the other, but not both together."

   "All right, you're the doctor." He picked up the pen, activated it and pulled over a blank sheet of paper. "I take it you want me to start on one of these, right?" She nodded. He signed his name, checked it to see it was acceptable, nodded and reached for a headed sheet.

   "Hang on. Turn that page over and sign on the back, on the bottom, as though there was something written above it."

   He did so and there was a slight jump in his signature. Frowning, he took another blank page and tried again. Smoother. Three more attempts and the signature at the foot of the page was as good as that scrawled across the middle. He did one more to ensure the problem had been solved and then sat back. "Odd," he said thoughtfully. "I didn't feel anything, but I reacted even so."

   "That happens too. With minor reactions, they don't last long enough to generate any noticeable emotions. It's only if you keep pushing without allowing yourself to work them out that they can build. Now let's try it with a headed sheet." She pulled one across and put it in front of him. "Just sign at any angle to start with."

   He nodded, turned the paper to one side and signed it. Again there was a noticeable jump in the signature and he angrily spun the paper around to sign it at the bottom. Henshaw stopped him. "No," she said gently. "Remember what I said. Don't try and force it, even if it's annoying the hell out of you. See?" She pointed and he saw his hand was shaking. "Turn the paper to one side and try again. We can go back to the blank sheets if it doesn't work. Look at it. Remind yourself there's nothing on there and we're going to tear them up and incinerate them afterwards."

   With a long-suffering sigh, he put down the pen and sat, staring at the page for a while. When he felt he had regained control, he picked up the pen and very deliberately signed clear across the paper heading. It was steady. He reached for another page and tried again, Henshaw shunting the spent papers to one side. It took six attempts before he managed to sign it smoothly at the bottom.

   "Do you want to take a break for a bit?" she asked. He shook his head. "Okay. Now, you were having trouble reading official papers, right?" A nod. "Then let's try with this one. It's part of 'The Wind In The Willows', but it's written on officially headed paper. Just read the story."

   "I feel like a five-year-old," he muttered, taking the page from her.

   "Well you're not. You're a fully-grown man who was put through more than anyone should be asked to deal with, and your extremely efficient brain came up with a way to save your life. Now we're just training it to let you live it."

   He grunted and looked at the page. She could see him tense and she placed a hand on his shoulder. "Read along with me," she said, looking over his shoulder.

   She read the opening words aloud for him, slowing down until his face cleared and he carried on without her. When he finished she grinned. "There. You did it."

   "I can't believe I'm getting this excited about being able to read a page from a novel!" he returned, his relief tinted with self-deprecation.

   "When you can't feel your legs, just being able to wiggle your toes is an achievement. Take your rewards where you can. You've every right to feel proud every time you move a step closer to reaching your goal."

   "And when I fail?" His voice had dropped as he considered what lay ahead.

   "You won't. Ultimately you won't, even if there are times you fall down. Just remember, it doesn't matter if you fall down, just so long as you're two inches taller when you pick yourself up off the floor."

   He nodded. "Thanks. I'll remember that." He paused and then looked at her. "Is this how you got yourself back together?"

   She nodded. "Pretty much. There isn't really any other way of doing it. You can use telepaths to break through some of the problems if they're particularly recalcitrant, but in general, this is the way that seems to work best. Slowly, carefully, a stage at a time."

   He thought of something and then coloured as he realised what he'd been about to ask. Henshaw saw his reaction and smiled.

   "It's all right. Yes, I do have a sex life as well, when I can fit it into my work schedule! Long term relationships are still a little hard, but that's got as much to do with my work pressures as it has to do with any residual problems with intimacy. Yours will come back too, in time."

   He looked up at her sharply. "Did Delenn...?"

   "No. She didn't have to. A loss of interest in sex or an apparently incomprehensible impotence even when you *are* interested is a common side effect of what you've been through. You've seen Dr. Franklin's reports so you know there's no physical damage. Once you've got your confidence back in other areas, that'll probably come back too."

   "Probably?"

   She sighed. "It's a difficult one. The human libido is affected by a surprising number of things, and not always predictably. Stress is a common factor, though. Whether you feel it or not, you're under a lot of stress right now, and very few of us perform well under pressure. Some get a thrill out of it, of course, but a lot find their minds just shut down the sexual urges while they concentrate on other things." She looked at him. This was clearly a matter for concern, even if his sense of duty drove him to get his signature sorted out first.

   "Why don't we leave this for a bit while Delenn's gone and we can talk?" she suggested, indicating the papers.

   He shook his head. "I've got to get this fixed. It can wait." He bent to the paper.

   "Not if it's on your mind. It's distracting you. Come on, if we talk about it now, we can go back to the signature when she comes back." She took the pen from his hand and stood up. "No need to sit here while we talk, and I think I'll take that offer of tea, now." Reluctantly, he stood up and went to the kitchenette. The tea was made quickly and they settled down in the main area, Henshaw in an armchair and Sheridan on the couch. He fidgeted nervously.

   "I wonder why people always get nervous when it comes to talking about sex?" she said conversationally. "It's a massive part of who we are, important, and yet most of us go shy when the matter's raised and shut down like a clam."

   "It's private and personal," he returned defensively.

   "True, but we know we all do it. You know, one of the ways I get over any nerves I have meeting important people is imagining them having sex. It's a great leveller. No one looks at their best when in the middle of a good orgasm." He raised an eyebrow and looked at her.

   "Ah. My guilty secret," she admitted with a chuckle. "Yes, you too!"

   "Was I any good?"

   "I'm refusing to answer that on the grounds it may incriminate me!" she laughed. "Anyway, it's not the point. What are you scared of?"

   "Scared?" He thought for a moment and then sighed. "We tried, just before you arrived. Unmitigated disaster. I wouldn't say I was the best ever in bed, but I'm better than that. I couldn't do anything right. I was clumsy, I couldn't... well, I just couldn't...."

   "'Get it up'?" she asked bluntly. He flinched and then gave an embarrassed nod. "Sex is more in the mind than in the body. When the mind's in a mess, things that are considered unimportant to survival get shut down. Problem is, we put a great deal of store by sex... men in particular. There's a lot of pressure on you to perform. We're still slightly hog-tied by the notion that the man has to lead the way, but it doesn't have to be like that, and you don't have to get an erection to give Delenn a good time."

   He stared at her. "Are you always this blunt with people?"

   "I can beat around the bush if you want, but that'll just waste time and we both know what we're talking about here. If you want to give her pleasure, there are other ways that don't involve penetration. And you have to be prepared to let her give you pleasure as well. Don't feel you have to reciprocate. You've told her what happened so she knows why the whole notion of sex is difficult for you at the moment. You're under no obligation to return the favour until you feel up to it."

   "That's not the point," he returned. "It's not a question of duty, I just want to!"

   "Then use the other methods. I'm sure you don't need a manual to explain how to do it, and Delenn won't mind. She *will* mind if you shut her out. If you want to have sex but your body isn't responding, don't worry about it." He gave her a look that spoke volumes as to the possibility of that option. "Okay, you will worry about it regardless of what I say, but it isn't important." Another look. She sighed.

   "John, you're speaking to a woman here, remember? Trust me on this. A man who knows what he's doing can give his wife the most mind-blowing orgasm she's ever had without any suggestion of penetration. If all you're worried about is that Delenn isn't getting her fair share of that, the fact you can't get an erection at the moment doesn't matter a rat's ass. And the only reason she'd like you to have an orgasm is for the pleasure it gives you. It makes her happy to see you happy. We're not that different, really. It's great when everything's working, but you can quit worrying about whether you can send her to Venus and back. You can. And if she suddenly wants to try and arouse you because of the pleasure it gives you, don't feel compelled to perform or that you're in some way letting her down if nothing happens. Lie back and enjoy what she does for its own sake."

   "You think she'd want to? I mean... after what I told her...."

   "After what you told her, the first thing she wants to do is remind you how much she loves you, all of you, as you are now."

   He shook his head. "I can barely look at myself remembering what they did. I even had Delenn leave the room the other night while I got undressed. It's stupid I know... it's not like she hasn't seen everything, but it felt wrong."

   "It felt wrong because what they did taught you it was wrong. It's what they wanted. But look at yourself, honestly. If you were any cleaner you could perform surgery. The bruises, burns and cuts have all healed. There's no physical evidence on your body of what they did to you."

   "You've got a camera in the shower?" he asked sarcastically.

   "No, but I've read Franklin's daily reports and I know how these things go. The physical damage heals a lot faster than the mental damage.

   "Let her love you in every way she knows how. You've nothing to be ashamed of. When she looks at you she doesn't see the man who was in that cell. She's sees the man she's in love with. Frankly, and this is speaking non-professionally and strictly off the record, you're a damned handsome one!"

   He snorted. "Thanks, I think!"

   "The other thing you might consider is getting some magazines or movies. There's no pressure on you there, but they might stir something. As a matter of biological fact, men respond more strongly to visual stimulation than women. If you don't want to be seen buying those things I'll get them for you."

   "Ahh, no. That's okay, thanks. I'll try without for now. Not that I haven't enjoyed them in the past, but I'm not sure what Delenn would make of it. Minbari don't think the same way as humans."

   "All right. You know her better than I do, but don't dismiss it. If you need anything, just ask." She looked at the chronometer. "Delenn'll be back soon. Do you want to carry on with the writing? We can talk about this again later if you want to."

   "Yeah. Maybe." He was lost in his own thoughts and then looked up. "Sorry. It feels strange talking about my sex life with a near stranger. No offence."

   "None taken. The fact that I'm a stranger is actually something in my favour. Just remember you can talk to me about anything. I don't shock. I've heard it all, believe me."

   "I can imagine." He took a deep breath and stood up. "Let's have another go at that writing."

 

 

 

Chapter 15

 

 

   Delenn took longer than expected to return. Franklin turned up just to check how things were going and was full of praise when Sheridan, somewhat embarrassed, showed him what they'd been up to.

   "That's great! I knew you could do it!" Franklin cried, slapping him on the back.

   "No need to pile it on too thick, Stephen. It's a small step," Sheridan demurred.

   "Not for you. I know how hard that one was."

   Sheridan had reached the stage of being able to read and sign at the side of an official document covered in text. The foot of the page was still proving difficult, but he was edging nearer. Franklin asked a few routine questions about his diet and general health, expressed delight to hear he'd eaten a hearty breakfast and slept over ten hours without waking up from a nightmare, and then took his leave. As he walked out Sheridan turned to Henshaw, a broad smile building on his face.

   "Okay, I'll bite, what?" she said, grinning in return.

   "Got another sheet of headed paper?" he asked.

   "Sure." She produced a sheet and he sat down at the table and began to write. When he'd finished he considered the result, nodded to himself, and then signed at the bottom with a steady hand. Henshaw's eyebrows went up in approval.

   "Wow! What's all that about?"

   He grinned and folded the paper, putting it in his pocket so she couldn't read it. "Something I could happily sign my name to," he returned with a wink. Before Henshaw could enquire further the door opened to reveal Delenn, Lennier behind her weighed down with shopping bags. Both Henshaw and Sheridan shot forward to relieve Lennier of his burden.

   "Are we having a party?" Sheridan asked, peeking into the bags. "You've got enough here to feed the entire command staff for a week!"

   "Just us," she assured him. "I thought it would be wise to fill the cupboards. I'm sorry I'm so late. I had to deal with a trade dispute." She turned. "Lennier, did you bring..." Before she could finish her sentence Lennier produced a file from within his tunic and handed it over.

   Henshaw considered the aide in silence, watching how he looked at the couple. Delenn seemed oblivious to the way she was regarded, and Sheridan was too caught up in the food delivery and what Delenn was telling him about raider activity to notice either, for which Henshaw was profoundly grateful. 'There's going to be trouble here,' she thought sadly.

   Lennier noticed her scrutiny. "Doctor? Is there something I can do for you?" he asked politely, but there was an edge to his voice.

   "Nothing at all. I'm sorry, I'm still a bit new to the station. Apart from Survaal you're the only other full Minbari I've seen close to. I was being rude. I apologise." It was a lie. She knew it and she strongly suspected Lennier did, but he had the grace not to call her on it.

   "If you are interested in Minbari culture I would be happy to teach you," he offered.

   'In a pig's eye,' she thought. 'You'd just like to distract me from helping John.' She shook herself. That was unfair. It was pretty clear Lennier didn't entirely approve of Sheridan and Delenn's relationship, but it was just as clear he was devoted to Delenn, and if being with John made her happy he'd stand by her... as much as it galled him. "I'll have to take you up on that when I'm not so busy," she replied with a smile.

   He bowed. "Delenn," he said, turning to her, "is there anything else you require?"

   "No, thank you Lennier," she replied, putting away the more perishable food items while Sheridan read over the report, frowning at the content while privately revelling in the fact he could read it. She smiled at him, and he looked up and grinned before returning to his reading. She turned back to Lennier. "If you could bring that trade agreement over when it's ready to be signed...?"

   "Of course. Delenn, Mr. President, Dr. Henshaw." He bowed to each and then turned and left.

   Henshaw took that as her cue. "I'd better be going as well. We've done enough for today. I'll come back tomorrow. Would nine o'clock be all right?"

   "You do not have to leave," Delenn assured her. "I was going to make some dinner, if you would like to join us?"

   "No, that's fine. I think John wants to show you something anyway," she added, giving Sheridan a wink. He grinned in return as Delenn looked from one to the other. "I'll see you tomorrow at nine."

   "Thanks, Janet. For everything," Sheridan said as she went to the door. "I feel like I'm finally starting to get a handle on what's going on, and for the first time since this all started... I think I'm going to win."

   "I know you will," she smiled and walked out.

   After she left Delenn stood, hands on hips, eyeing Sheridan. "Well? What was it you had to show me?"

   He beckoned her to the table, the evidence of what they'd been working on still on display. "John, that's wonderful!" she cried.

   He shrugged. "Silly, isn't it? I feel pathetically proud I'm actually reading and signing my own name again on official documents, even if they're irrelevant and my signature's in the wrong place."

   "You have every right to be proud. It's a big step." He gathered together the papers and headed for the recycler. "What are you doing?"

   "Getting rid of this lot. It's cluttering up the place." Before she could stop him he'd dropped them all into the recycler and hit 'confidential waste'. A brief flash of light and the evidence of what he'd done had been reduced to its component elements. Disappointed he'd so summarily destroy all proof of his achievement Delenn wondered if his depression was returning. He turned and smiled at her. "But the one that really matters," he added, pulling the sheet out of his pocket, "is here."

   She cocked her head to one side, a curious frown on her face, and accepted the paper. As she unfolded it he stepped behind her, encircling her waist in his arms and reading over her shoulder, glancing at her face from time to time to gauge her reaction.

   It was everything he could have hoped for. As she read it, tears sprang to her eyes. Tears of joy. In it he had written what she meant to him, how much he loved her and how grateful he was that she stuck by him no matter how much he tried to drive her away. He'd finished it formally with the words 'I, the undersigned, confess to all of the above, John Sheridan.' She read it again and then turned in his arms to see him smiling down at her.

   "I mean every word," he said, bending down to kiss her. She wrapped her arms around his neck, holding him tightly as she returned his touch in full measure. Then, when she was expecting him to pull back, he deepened the kiss and she felt his tongue lightly caress her lips before pressing between them. She opened her mouth willingly, welcoming him with a sigh. His hands roved her back, igniting fires she fought to quench. When he broke away she was slightly breathless and very aroused.

   "I'm working on it," he assured her. "I miss you."

   "And I miss you," she returned, her voice slightly unsteady as she continued her struggle with her body's reactions.

   He looked at her carefully. He could see the effect he'd had and knew what it felt like to have your hopes frustrated at the last minute. He thought about Henshaw's suggestion and appreciated the value of it, but still he found himself nervous of engaging in anything approaching intimacy. "I shouldn't have done that... not when I can't finish what I started," he muttered regretfully.

   "No. It was wonderful," she returned quickly, determined he not be put off from what little he could offer.

   His practical side asserted itself. He knew what he'd want to do in these circumstances if the situation were reversed. It seemed only fair to offer Delenn the same option. "Look, why don't you grab a shower and I'll put this stuff away?" he suggested, reaching for one of the bags.

   She covered his hand with her own and he looked up slowly. "I can do that, but it has been a long time since you scrubbed my back," she returned carefully. He looked down and she could feel him closing in on himself again. "There is no pressure for you to do anything else, and if you don't want to I will understand."

   "It's not that I don't want to," he said quickly, covering her hand with his own. "I just... I can't believe..." He shook his head and went silent.

   She reached out and turned his face to look at her. "Believe," she whispered.

   He looked into her eyes, hesitantly at first as though he couldn't trust what he saw there. She reached out and cupped his face in her hand. "Believe," she repeated more firmly.

   He wanted to. He wanted to grab her in his arms, carry her to the bedroom and make love to her for hours. Then he remembered what had happened the last time they'd tried and his doubts began to build. He tried to remember what Janet had said, how he didn't have to go all out for full sex, just do what he could, but it didn't feel right. He tried to analyse why it didn't feel right, what was the problem, and he remembered. He remembered what they'd done to him, the filth, the electrocutions, everything... and suddenly he couldn't cope. Everything came crashing around him and he felt himself starting to panic. He struggled to overcome it, to remember the warning that it would frighten him and the only way to regain control was to give himself time to move the fear from the subconscious into the conscious, break it down and see exactly where it was coming from.... But he couldn't do it, because he knew where it had come from and he didn't want to go back there, not even in his memories. He looked at Delenn, remembered himself telling her what had happened. How could she bear to be even near someone who'd done that... who'd admitted it?

   He had to get away. He backed into the kitchen cupboards.

   "I'm sorry, I... I can't.... I'm sorry." He turned sharply and headed for the bathroom leaving Delenn standing, stunned, in an empty room. She considered following him, trying to force him to recognise she didn't see what he clearly saw, but she knew that wouldn't work. There had to be another way.

   She heard the sounds of the shower and went to the Babcom unit. Henshaw frowned as she saw Delenn's face. "What happened?" she asked without preamble.

   "I'm not quite sure. He showed me what he had written... it was wonderful... did you know he had done that?"

   "I knew he'd written something he said he could put his name to, but he wouldn't let me read it."

   "It was everything he felt about me. And then he kissed me and it felt as though things were returning to normal and then...." She sighed. "He just ran out. He's in the shower now. I don't know what to do."

   Henshaw nodded. "Is this a secure line or do you want me to come over there?"

   Delenn looked over her shoulder. The shower was still running but she wasn't sure how long it would last and somehow she didn't think it would help matters if he came out to find Janet standing there. "I'm engaging secure mode."

   Henshaw promptly synched her own console. The image flickered slightly and then righted itself, a small symbol in the bottom right hand side of the screen indicating the security level of the call. Such security was not open to all on Babylon 5, but the President, Captain, doctor and security chief, as well as the ambassadors could invoke it. There would be no records and no means of access. It was safe.

   Satisfied no one could log on to the conversation, Henshaw continued. "He's coming up against a clash he can't deal with. On the one hand there's what he remembers, what they did to him and how it made him feel. He finds his own body repulsive and he can't figure out how anyone who loves him doesn't feel the same way. Before you didn't know, so he felt he was lying to you. Now you do, and it's confusing him. You love him, but you obviously don't feel the way he does, and he wants to trust you but he's still got those images, that humiliation. Right now I'd guess if there's a scrubbing brush in the bathroom he's removing several layers of skin trying to get rid of something no one can see but him."

   "How can I make him understand?"

   "First of all, you can't *make* him do anything. If you try and force it head on he'll run, just like he did tonight. It's too much to handle. What you can do is guide him and show by your own example he's got nothing to be ashamed of. And you can encourage him to help you. Concentrate on getting him to make you feel good so he doesn't have to think about his own feelings. I know that sounds weird, but it's not you he's afraid of, it's himself. He's afraid he's going to let you down, that you're not going to want to touch him... not in that way... and if you did he'll not be able to respond. So make it so he doesn't *have* to respond. Take the pressure off his sense that he has to perform by giving him a way of pleasing you that's guaranteed to work and doesn't require his own physical arousal. Do you understand?" Delenn nodded. "And then just move slowly. Touch him, but don't push the matter if he pulls away. If you build up a little bit at a time he'll allow you to do more and more as he gets used to the idea." Delenn released a frustrated sigh and Henshaw nodded. "I know, it's hard. Men feel there's a great deal of pressure on them to 'perform' well. What you have to do is take that pressure off him. Tell him what you want, what your needs are, and show him he can fulfil those needs without actually engaging in full sex."

   Delenn heard the shower switch off. "I have to go. Thank you. I will... try."

   "Good luck."

   The connection was shut down. Delenn made herself busy putting away the rest of the food. By the time John emerged she had a few options for dinner laid out for his approval.

   "Delenn, I...."

   "What would you like for supper?" she asked brightly, smiling and indicating the options in front of her. "I must admit I'm hungry, and I'm sure you must be."

   He opened his mouth and closed it again, shaken by her approach. Would he ever understand this woman? How could she be so damned patient with him when he was losing patience with himself?

   She walked around the counter and paused in front of him. "I'm just going to get out of these formal clothes. I don't want to spill anything on them while I'm cooking." She reached up and kissed him on the cheek. He stood there, stunned, unable to respond to her. "Did I ever tell you I love the smell of your aftershave?" And with that she disappeared into the bedroom.

   "What the hell just happened?" he muttered, staring after her. He reached up and rubbed his cheek. He'd shaved rigorously, the skin smarting as he'd put on the aftershave. In fact, his whole body was sore, he'd scrubbed it so hard, and there she was telling him she liked the way he smelled. He sometimes wondered these days if he was overdoing it. Hell, he knew he was... but it was the only way he could cover the scents of fear and filth that seemed to fill his nostrils.

   Still wondering he turned his attention to the counter. She'd picked out three of his favourites, so choosing wouldn't be easy, but he appreciated the care she'd taken. Any one would do, so he grabbed two at random and put them back in the cooler and then started to sort out the pans that would be needed to cook the remainder. He contemplated starting and then shied away. Here was one area where he knew he was totally inept. It had surprised him when he discovered Delenn was actually a good cook. He'd rather assumed her status meant someone else would always have cooked for her, but she explained it was one of many things taught in temple. Minbari Religious Caste temples sounded more and more like a universal finishing school. There didn't seem to be anything they weren't taught.

   He was still mulling over the implications of that last thought when Delenn reappeared, wearing a simple brown dress. She hadn't bothered with shoes, a decision that surprised him, but she smiled, nodded approval at his choice and set about the kitchen with speedy efficiency. While she was working she told him of the meeting she had attended, that Lochley sent her regards and hoped to see him at some point to go over some matters she thought he might be able to help with, none of which, she assured him, Lochley considered urgent. At one point she paused and looked up from her work.

   "And thank you, once again, for your letter. When I first came out of the chrysalis I wondered what people would think of me. I had no way of judging my own appearance." She dropped her head. "Some called me a freak."

   His eyes widened and he quickly moved around the counter, turning her to look at him. "No! Whoever said that is an idiot... or blind. You're a beautiful woman... anyone with eyes in his head can see that!"

   She smiled softly. "And you're a handsome man. Anyone with eyes in her head can see that." Before he had a chance to react she spun around to catch a pot that was about to boil over. She laughed as she set up the next stage in the cooking. "So handsome you distract me until I almost burn your dinner. Go and watch ISN. I will not be much longer."

   "Is... is there anything I can do to help?" He felt very odd, and he couldn't pin it down. All he knew was he wanted to be near her. She made him feel... safe? No, that wasn't the right word. Almost, but not quite. Confident? Not as much as he would like, but he was getting there. Loved?

   He watched her work, saw the care with which she made sure everything was exactly how he liked it. Yes, loved and cared for. Everything else was negotiable, but not that. It was a fixed point, a beacon in the darkness leading him home.

   Apparently oblivious to his scrutiny, but in fact very well aware of everything she'd said and done, and his reactions to each part, Delenn put out the plates. "Could you set up the table? I will not be much longer."

   He nodded, mutely, and put out cutlery, mats and glasses that he filled at the sink. They sat down and ate, Sheridan savouring the first mouthful and complimenting her on the high standard she'd produced in so short a time. She somehow managed to maintain a steady stream of words, preserving the semblance of conversation. His responses were short, by his standards, but at least he was responding. When they were finished he insisted on clearing up alone, but Delenn wouldn't hear of it and they shared the task. That done she suggested they watch a movie. With Lennier's help she'd managed to clear a lot of her backlog of paperwork and the rest, she insisted, could wait until the morning. She flicked through the options until she found something she thought they might both enjoy. When she turned around she noted, to her chagrin, that he'd chosen to sit in the armchair. She curled up on the couch without comment.

   About twenty minutes into the movie he got up to get something to drink and when he returned he sat on the other end of the couch. The movie was an action-adventure but it did have a romantic element. He didn't seem to be bothered by that factor, and the plot was fast-paced enough to keep his attention. She quietly scooted around and rested her head on his lap. He flinched, but then, when she fidgeted slightly to make herself comfortable before settling down to concentrate on the film, he relaxed, laying his hand on her shoulder. When the hero and heroine held one another, taking solace in each other's presence in the face of what was to come, she hummed quietly.

   "I know what that feels like," she murmured and gently touched his hand.

   Impulsively he bent down and kissed her head. "So do I," he agreed.

   When the film finished she yawned.

   "I know I have slept most of the day, but I seem to have fitted two days into what remained," she said, rising from his lap. "If I stay here any longer I think I will fall asleep. Not that you don't make a very good pillow, but I think I would be better in the bed." Without asking if he would be joining her she rose, planted a kiss on his cheek, whispered, "Goodnight, my love," and made her way to the bedroom.

   He flicked through the channels to catch the ISN broadcast. Thankfully there was nothing monumental. They did mention he was suffering from 'flu and that they wished him a speedy recovery, but beyond that there was nothing of significance. He raised a silent prayer of thanks that the universe was granting him a reprieve and turned to lean on the back of the couch.

   Through the partition doors he could see Delenn was now lying in bed, apparently already asleep. He considered watching another movie and then dismissed the notion. His internal clock had been upset by the previous day's events. It would do him good to get it back on schedule. He checked the chronometer and realised it was even later than he'd suspected. Quietly he put his glass in the sink, dimmed the lights in the lounge and walked through to the bedroom, pulling the partition closed. He found his shorts quickly, but a clean T-shirt eluded him. Apparently, they were all in the recycler. Delenn rolled over in her sleep, disturbed by the sounds of drawers opening and closing. He decided to forego the T-shirt, not wanting to wake her up. He felt uncomfortable climbing into bed beside her so scantily attired, but it was that or sleep on the couch and while he'd done that before, unintentionally, he'd discovered to his cost that he was rather too long in the leg to rest there comfortably. The next morning, he distinctly remembered, had been spent with an extremely stiff neck.

   With an economy of movement he slid under the covers, pulled them tightly over his shoulders, rolled onto his side, his back to Delenn, and settled down to sleep.

 

*****

 

 

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