DISCLAIMER: I don’t own them… if I did there would have been kissing and such. This story is not intended for profit but simply to test my ability to create something I am happy with that others might enjoy. Babylon 5 and its characters are the property of J. Michael Straczynski, Warner Brothers, PTEN, and/or TNT. No infringement intended.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Thanks to soporificeffect for being my hero and betaing my story at the nth hour. Also, thanks to the lovely glass of 2005 Schild Estates Barossa Shiraz that saw me through the final draft.
CHALLENGE: Written for Passion & Perfection's Big 5000.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SPOILERS: Minor reference to Divided Loyalties.
All These Walls
"Oh, not again! Damn, what is wrong with her?" Security Chief Michael Garibaldi asked no one in particular as he quickly made his way to Earhart's to sort out yet another brawl. Another brawl involving none other than an extremely pissed-off Russian Commander, who had been in a mood to end all moods for three weeks straight. "Someone's got to get to the bottom of whatever's up her ass."
Arriving at the scene he found Ivanova sitting at a table holding an ice filled cloth against her mouth. Clearing his throat to get her attention he was met by a pair of steely grey, angry eyes. "Commander..."
Susan held her hand up to forestall further conversation as she removed the ice from her mouth. "I don't want to hear it, Michael. Those excuses for human beings deserved everything they got." The fire in her eyes increased as she continued to relate her version of events. "They were watching me, waiting until they thought I was good and drunk. Then one of them was going to approach me and offer to walk me home." Jaw clenching, she continued, "Then, the other two were going to join him, subdue me, and I'm sure you can guess the rest."
Tamping down his own anger at her telling of the story Michael tried to reason with her. "You should have called me, Susan. I would have brought a team down and we would have arrested them."
"Then what?! They didn't actually DO anything, Michael! It would have been my word against theirs." Pounding her fist on the table, she went on. "I may be second in command of this station, but at trial I would have been off-duty and drunk. Reasonable doubt, Michael, and they would have walked." Getting more incensed she got up and started pacing. "And the next time they decided to pull that stunt of theirs it could be someone who isn't able to defend themselves."
"You're probably right, Susan, but you can't take these matters into your own hands." He watched as his statement sunk in and she turned, giving him an incredulous look. "I know why you did what you did Susan, I really do. But the fact is, as second in command of this station, you of all people should be following the rules. This isn't the first time you've behaved badly and the Captain's not gonna put up with this for much longer." No sooner had that sentence left his mouth than his communicator chirped. "Garibaldi here." He said into the back of his hand.
"Mister Garibaldi, I've just heard a most disturbing rumor " Captain Sheridan was at the end of his rope with Ivanova and you could hear it plainly in his voice. "Tell me it isn't true."
Moving out of hearing range of Ivanova, Garibaldi attempted to explain as much as he could about the situation. "Sorry, Captain, but it seems there's been yet another brawl at Earhart's. Near as I can tell, three grunts decided they wanted to take advantage of the hot brunette sitting at the bar sucking down vodka like water."
"Near as you can tell?"
"Well, um, I've talked to Susan and she told me about what these guys had planned for her. Pretty nasty stuff, Captain. I also have eye witnesses to talk to, uh, but I can't question the three stooges until they regain consciousness."
"Regain consciousness!" Exasperation was clearly evident in his voice. "And the Commander?"
"She's fine. Sore knuckles and a busted lip, but other than that you'd never know she laid out three pretty good sized guys."
"Don't sound so impressed Mr. Garibaldi. Her behavior is not something to be applauded."
"Not to worry Michael, I sometimes marvel at her ability to drink enormous amounts of vodka and walk away as if she'd only had a few drinks." Chuckling at that he continued. "She is certainly quite an enigma, our Susan."
"That she is Captain, that she is."
Returning to Ivanova's side Garibaldi sighed. "Well, you know the drill, cool off tonight and then in the Captain's office at 0600."
Captain Sheridan had just come from his office after having to dress down Commander Ivanova yet again. "I'm really worried about her Delenn. I know she's always been volatile, but this seems different somehow." He was at his wits end as to what to do and hoped perhaps the Ambassador could talk to her.
"Yes, I agree. She seems very tightly wrapped."
"Wound, tightly wound." Sheridan smiled at the misnomer. "Perhaps you could speak to her?"
"Of course, I wish to know what disturbs her so, and to offer assistance if I may." A recent memory brought a smile to her face. "After all she was very helpful to me during my transformation."
The Ambassador was quite concerned at the level of worry evident on John's face, she knew he cared for the entire crew but, like Delenn herself, he felt a certain amount of added affection for the Commander. She would do what she could to help the woman, knowing that her assistance would provide the added benefit of easing her beloved's mind.
Meanwhile Ivanova, after getting her ass chewed by the Captain, found herself in a secluded corner of the garden sector. She needed to get away get some perspective on the things she'd been feeling and hopefully find a way out of this mess. No one could understand, or help her with this. No one knew enough about her to understand what this day meant to her. The anniversary of her mother's true death the first one came when she was on the Sleepers. Losing her father and her brother hurt but she could understand war and its consequences. She could never forgive PsiCorp for what they did to her mother and it made her angry. And now, she found herself having feelings for a member of the very group she'd spent her life hating. The combination of anger and confusion had caused the normally volatile Russian's short fuse to become even shorter. The result was a handful of brawls, and overtime for the staff in MedLab.
Security Chief Michael Garibaldi walked through the Zocalo, obviously looking for someone. He spotted the resident telepath, Talia Winters, and smiled as he approached her. "Miss Winters, how are you today?"
She returned his smile and his greeting. "Mr. Garibaldi, I'm fine, thank you. How are you?"
"I'd be better if I could find Ivanova, have you seen her?"
Frowning at the semi-serious expression on Garibaldi's face Talia chuckled. "I haven't, but if I do I'll send her your way." Feeling a bit of a nervous vibe from Garibaldi she asked. "Is everything all right? She's not in trouble, is she?" Not getting an immediate response she realized something must have happened. "What is it, Michael? What's happened?"
"She got into another fight with a couple of jack asses last night. She's been so jumpy lately, but nobody knows why." Rubbing at his face in frustration, he added. "It's getting so you can't even look at her funny or she'll get in your face. I tried talking to her but she say's she's just a bit on edge and it'll pass."
"I take it you don't believe her."
"I hate to say it, but no, I think there's something more to it. But she's stubborn and she loves to keep things bottled up inside." Shaking his head, he chuckled lightly. "I think she's got too much behind those walls of hers and it's leaking out through the cracks."
Just then, Ambassador Delenn rounded the corner and, spotting the telepath and the Security Chief, she quickly approached. "Miss Winters, Mr. Garibaldi, have either of you seen Commander Ivanova?"
"Actually we were just discussing her." Garibaldi offered. "But we haven't seen her."
"Was there something you needed Ambassador?" Talia asked.
"Well, Captain Sheridan asked that I talk with her. It seems she's been acting a bit strangely of late and I wished to see if I could help her in any way."
"I see." Talia's brow furrowed as she too began to worry about the woman in question. "If I should see her I'll be sure to tell her you are looking for her Ambassador."
"Thank you Miss Winters." Turning toward the Security Chief she nodded and walked away.
"So, Mr. Garibaldi, where would a brooding Russian go on this ship if she didn't want to be found?"
"I've checked every single place I could think of Miss Winters." Brushing his hand over his close-cropped hair, he blew out a breath in frustration. "If Ivanova doesn't want to be found, we won't be seeing her until she wants to be seen I think."
Talia decided that she was not content with the wait-and-see approach to finding Susan. She was worried at the Commander's out of character behavior of late and she hoped that she might be able to help in some way. You see, Talia was falling for the Commander. Ever since that first day, when she'd been treated so rudely, she'd found herself fascinated by the woman. At first, it was a challenge to see if she could gain Susan's trust and perhaps even her friendship. Talia was slowly finding her way over and around the many walls the brunette had laid as a defense against emotions. Lately, she was hoping to get over even more of her walls, to breach all of her defenses and see the woman beneath it all. The woman that's it! Where would Ivanova the woman go?
Talia made her way to the Garden Sector. It wasn't a place Susan visited often, but she had taken a walk there with Talia once. Seeing Commander Ivanova in a dark corner of the garden Talia approached her slowly. She noticed the Commander seemed in a trance of some sort. Quietly she called out her name, getting a bit louder each time she received no answer. Her concern was growing and eventually caused her to reach out and touch the woman's shoulder in hopes of rousing her from her preoccupation.
As soon as the Commander felt the touch on her shoulder she lashed out, striking the telepath in the temple and causing her to crash into a nearby bench. Susan, upon hearing the scream her strike elicited, became instantly aware of her surroundings. She watched, as if in slow motion, as the telepath flew toward the bench. Watched in horror as the pale head collided with the hard surface of that same bench.
"Oh my God! Talia!"
Rushing to the woman's side she checked her pulse and found it to be strong and steady. Temporary relief transformed into concern as the telepath lay unconscious before her. Raising her hand to her face, she activated her communicator and called for help. "This is Commander Ivanova, I have an emergency in the Garden Sector!"
Fifteen minutes later Susan was pacing the length of the MedLab waiting, impatiently, to hear Talia's prognosis. "What is taking so long?"
"Commander " Dr. Franklin called out to the agitated woman. As she hurried over to him, he started in on the injured woman's condition. "Miss Winters has suffered two very severe blows to the head. She has not regained consciousness but her vitals are strong. At this point all we can do is wait for her to 'wake up'"
Relief flooded Ivanova's face at this but she still worried. "So there is no long-term damage?"
"Well, at this point, no, but she needs to regain consciousness within the next couple of days." Seeing the perplexed look he received he elaborated a bit. "There's no obvious reason for her continued comatose state, and if she doesn't naturally come out of it, well, I'll be at a loss as to how to treat her. We can keep her vitals stable, but not indefinitely."
"Can I see her?"
"Of course, perhaps talking to her will help bring her around."
As she walked into Talia's room, she was overcome with feelings of shame and guilt for having injured the woman so severely. She vowed to do whatever it took to make things right, and made a personal promise to herself to give the telepath a chance. Looking down at the bruised face of the blonde Susan winced at the discoloration, so livid against the pale skin.
"I'm so sorry, Talia. I never meant to hurt you." Susan took a seat next to the bed and, taking the telepath's hand in hers, began to talk to her. At first she apologized for hurting her, then she apologized for treating her so badly and vowed to make it up to her once she woke up. She started talking about her job and soon she told her about her mother and her fears and her hopes . . .
Later that evening, Dr. Franklin went to check on Miss Winters and found Susan with her head resting on the edge of the bed fast asleep. He was just about to shake her shoulder when he remembered that Miss Winters was lying comatose in that bed for doing that very thing. Backing away he chose instead to call out to her. "Commander. Commander Ivanova!"
Thankfully she responded to his call and looked up at him blearily. "Stephen, what is it?" Remembering where she was and why, she looked at the woman lying so still in the bed, and then looked back at Dr. Franklin. "Is Talia ok? Did something happen?"
"There's been no change as far as I can tell. I was just about to examine her when I saw you sleeping there. Why don't you get yourself out of here and get some rest. I'm sure you've not managed a meal either, am I right?"
"I'm fine. I'd like to be here when she wakes up, so I can explain "
"Susan, I promise, if she begins to regain consciousness I will let you know." Holding up his hand to intercept her rejoinder he continued. "If she wakes up, it will take some time for her to become cognizant. You'll get here in plenty of time to speak to her."
After a quick meal and a shower Susan tried her best to relax while awaiting word on the blonde telepath's condition. She tried to tell herself that her anxiety was due to her feelings of guilt and responsibility - nothing more. But with nothing to occupy her mind she found herself revisiting that notion. She knew she'd treated the telepath badly when she first came to the station. She knew the woman had done nothing wrong - Talia couldn't help who she was and she had no idea that Susan had reasons for her distrust. Before she realized what was happening, the brunette was sleeping soundly.
Some time later Susan awoke to the fleeting fragments of a dream that was quickly dissipating. She raised her head and wiped at the wetness on her chin as she stretched and yawned. Slowly the events of the day reasserted themselves and she gasped as she remembered - Talia! Slapping at the BabComm link she quickly connected to MedLab and upon seeing Doctor Franklin's face appear on the screen she instantly asked. "Stephen, how's Talia? You haven't called me so I can only assume she's still in a coma."
"Unfortunately, you'd be right. She hasn't regained consciousness." Stephen couldn't hide his concern. "I'm out of options here, Susan. I'm thinking I should get in touch with PsiCorp and see if they can help at all."
Susan's concern quickly turned to shock when what Dr. Franklin said sunk in. "What! You can't be serious! Are you telling me there's absolutely nothing you can do?"
"There's no medical reason for her continued comatose state. Her systems will start to fail, slowly but surely, until she drifts into a vegetative state from which she'll never recover." You could see and hear the frustration in the doctor's voice. "I don't like it any more than you do - maybe even less since I'll be forced to admit that they can do something I can't."
"So what, you're going to just let them come in here and get inside her head and then what? What if they don't have the answers either?" Susan was feeling a bit panicked. She didn't want PsiCorp touching Talia. Not after what they did to her Mother - she was not going to let them take someone she loved from her again! "Don't call them, Stephen, not yet. Give me some time with her."
"Look, I know you don't exactly care for PsiCorp, but they may be our only option."
"Please, Stephen, just let me try to reach her."
It wasn't often that Commander Ivanova let herself appear frightened or weak and so Stephen found that he had only one option. "All right, I don't suppose it could hurt. You can have until tomorrow morning Susan, then I have to make the call."
"I understand. Just let me clear my schedule and I'll be right there."
If Susan Ivanova believed in luck, she'd be thinking that she was on a pretty good streak. She was able to clear her schedule today and tomorrow with barely a grumble. If Susan Ivanova believed in luck, her palms wouldn't be sweating and her heart wouldn't be trying to beat out of her chest. If Susan Ivanova believed in luck, today would be the day when she'd love to have its existence proven. Today she was going to face her greatest fear in hopes of rescuing someone she just came to realize she loved.
Dr. Franklin assured her they wouldn't be disturbed stating that he'd placed a privacy lock on the door, which would only allow him entry. He also assured her that he would not enter the room for the next eight hours unless he felt it necessary. Convinced that she would not be interrupted nor her actions discovered, Susan sat on the edge of Talia's bed and started up a conversation with the blonde telepath. At first she spoke aloud, letting Talia know what she was planning to attempt and then slowly she slipped into Talia's mind
It was much darker than she would have expected and that gave Susan pause as she moved along the outer edges. Perhaps the darkness was caused by the absence of cognizant thought being processed. Whatever the reason, it had Susan's nerves on edge and caused her to second-guess her decision. Then, she pictured the telepath the last time they had dinner together, she was laughing and light-hearted and so heartbreakingly beautiful, and Susan knew she would do whatever it took to help restore that lovely soul.
As Susan moved further into Talia's mind she began to hear muffled sounds, and then images started to appear around her - a giggling blonde infant with loving parents; a crying child cowering from a figure all in black; a quiet and studious teenager; a beautiful, confident woman. Suddenly the images and sounds were joined with emotions that Susan could feel as if they were her own. She felt the blonde's love for Jason Ironheart, confusion and shock at PsiCorp's treatment of the rogue telepaths; pride and empowerment at her effort to stand against Bester; sorrow mixed with joy at Ironhearts ascension; fear at the gift he gave her; and finally love for an angry Russian Commander. Just as she realized what that last feeling meant she also realized that she was no longer alone.
"Isn't this romantic? Your knight in shining armor has arrived to save the damsel in distress."
Susan started at the voice, at once familiar but so very cold and emotionless. "Talia?" The woman standing in front of her looked like Talia Winters but there was something not quite right about her. Looking beyond the woman she saw another figure huddled on the ground. Talia? "What is this? What's going on here?" Susan asked the standing blonde.
"Ah, Susan, Susan, Susan, so many questions." The blonde smirked at the Commander. "I have a few of my own to ask namely, how exactly did you come to be here? Is there something you've been hiding?" This evil Talia laughed out loud at the expression on Susan's face, but instead of a joyful sound it sent chills down the brunette's spine. "Oh isn't this priceless? She couldn't tell you were a latent telepath could she? And you, sleeping with the enemy? Tsk, tsk . . . "
"Who. Are. You." Susan growled. She was growing tired of this woman's game. She needed to know just what happened to the Talia huddled on the floor and so she moved to her and reached down to touch her. The woman cowered away, so Susan spoke calmly to her and kept contact with her. "Hey Talia, it's me, Susan. I'm here to help you sweetheart, just tell me what I need to do."
Receiving no response, she turned back to the blonde standing across the way. "What did you do to her?"
"I'm just looking for information Commander. I'm sure you're familiar with interrogation techniques." She sneered at the woman on the floor. "She's weak but she still refuses to tell me what I need to know!"
"And what is that?"
"She has the key that will let me out of here. Do you have any idea what it's like to lurk in the shadows of her mind? To watch events unfolding and not be able to change them?" The blonde moved toward Ivanova and ran her hand up the Commander arm. "Now that you're here, you can help your little girlfriend find what I need."
Susan was repulsed by the woman's touch and pulled away from her. "What do you mean let you out of here? Where exactly will you go?"
"Well, I won't actually go anywhere. If you must know, I'll simply take over this body." Running her hands up her own torso, she sighed. "It's not perfect, but I suppose it could be worse."
Initially stunned by the sight of the blonde touching herself Susan quickly shook it off and asked the question. "So what happens to Talia if you take over her body?"
"Honestly, I don't really care. But I do know that neither of us will survive if she doesn't tell me what I want to hear."
"So are you holding her here somehow?" Susan asked, growing more confused at the situation.
"Well, when you so conveniently knocked her completely unconscious, I was able to gain a small advantage and move from the shadows of her mind. So thank you for that. Now, if you could do me one more favor and get her to give up the trigger . . . "
Susan thought for a moment before answering. "Why would I do that, when it would mean the end of my Talia?"
"Figured that out now, did you? Let's just say that if you don't help her find the trigger, she and I won't be the only ones to die."
A gasp was heard from the woman lying on the ground and both women turned at the sound. Susan rushed to the blonde's side as the evil Talia stood there and laughed. "I don't think she liked what I just said. Perhaps that was just the motivation she needs to give me what I want?"
"Talia?" Susan sat next to the blonde and pulled her into her arms. "I won't let her hurt you."
The blonde found strength in the brunette's arms and looked deeply into her eyes as she spoke. "Susan, we can't fight her, and I can't let you die because of her." Each woman had tears in her eyes as they contemplated what might happen. Talia reached up and touched Susan's face and mouthed the words Trust me.
Susan understood the telepath's words, and even though she had no idea what the blonde had planned, she decided to go along with whatever she suggested. "What are you saying, Talia! I can't just let her kill you!"
"Please, Susan, it's the only way - only one of us will have to pay the price."
"No! I can't let you do it!" The brunette was frantic now, unsure of the blonde's plan, she worried that Talia didn't actually have one and was trying to get Susan to acquiesce.
"You have to. It's the only way. I'm getting weaker by the moment and soon I won't be able to do anything about this. I won't let you die as well. You have to live for me." The two women huddled on the floor expressing their deep emotions while the evil Talia smiled at her apparent victory.
"As touching as this whole scene is, I think it's time to move things along." Moving to stand over the pair she reached down for the brunette's hand. "Time to go, Ivanova."
Susan brushed off the blonde's assistance and got to her feet. With one last look at Talia, she said a silent prayer and closed her eyes. Moments later she awoke, as if from a dream, once again sitting by the side of Talia's bed. Susan stood over the blonde woman admiring her beauty. She prayed that she was doing the right thing, sending the trigger that Talia had given her. She leaned over her and kissed her lips. She couldn't help feeling like the prince in an old earth story about a sleeping beauty who is awakened by a kiss. Or perhaps it was more of a Judas kiss. Closing her eyes she reached out to Talia's mind . . . and sent the trigger.
At first nothing happened, but soon there was a cacophony of sound as the monitoring equipment's alarms began to go off. Stephen rushed into the room and began checking Talia's vitals. "What happened?" Stephen yelled over the noise.
"I don't know, I the machines just started blaring." The last bit of her response was shouted into the silence as the machines resumed their normal function. Talia's eyes flew open and she reached out and grabbed the brunette's arm. Susan stared into the wide-open eyes of the telepath, trying to determine who it was that had awakened.
"It worked." It was all the blonde could manage in her weakened condition, and the effort to speak cost her dearly, but just before slipping back into unconsciousness she saw the look of hope in Susan's eyes.
A few hours later Talia awoke. She was beginning to remember all that had happened and what Susan did for her. As her thoughts turned to the brunette, Talia felt such a sense of comfort, and she knew that when she opened her eyes they would be met by gorgeous blue ones. And she was not disappointed, instead she was captivated by the swirling emotion in those blue depths.
"How?" It was the question Susan most needed to have answered. She had risked everything by sending the trigger, and although Talia had claimed success, it was not easy for Susan to accept that it was still true.
"I found it, the trigger she was looking for, but I didn't want to give it to her. I allowed her to push me and hurt me while I looked even more deeply into this place they had hidden inside me." The blonde's eyes began to tear up as she recalled the horror of understanding that she was simply a tool to these people who had professed to be mother and father to her. "That's when I found the failsafe, another trigger that would destroy the implant if it became necessary. I knew that PsiCorp would have a way to keep these personalities in check, by holding the threat of destruction over them." The blonde reached up to brush a tear that had escaped the brunette's eye. "I'm sorry I couldn't explain. There was no time, and I was growing weaker. I didn't want her to discover what was about to happen. Thank you for trusting me Susan."
"You have no idea how hard that was for me. I've been asked to trust people so many times in my life only to have them disappoint me in some way." Susan took a deep cleansing breath before she continued. "When I sent the trigger and nothing happened I thought you'd deceived me in order to get me to leave to save me. I was proud of you, but also very angry. Then all hell broke loose and I thought that you were going to die, or you'd wake up and be that bitch who wore your face." The emotions were beginning to overwhelm her, until she felt a comforting presence entering her mind.
Susan, I'm okay. I'm here and I don't plan on going anywhere. I love you and I need you to continue to trust me.
The brunette understood what Talia was truly saying, that she would not tell anyone about Susan's abilities. "I do trust you, more than you know. Thank you." Susan knew that she was defenseless against the blonde, and that she had opened herself up to her in a way she'd never done with anyone else. This woman had breached her defenses and torn down all her walls and Susan knew that she would never be the same. She needed to trust in herself, in Talia and most importantly in their love.
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