DISCLAIMER: These characters are not mine. They belong to JMS, Warner Bros., and whomever else has a piece of B5 now. I'm just borrowing them for my own purposes.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is the product of re-watching my Babylon 5 dvds. :) This is essentially a missing scene for Mind War, and it may not make a great deal of sense, if you haven't seen the episode, or at least read a summary. There should be at least one follow-up—a post-The 'War Prayer' missing scene—once I finish it, of course. Also, I make no claims that my ideas about how telepathy might work are totally consistent with B5 canon (as opposed to wild-assed guesses *lol*). Thanks to ErinBree and to CheerfulOceanGazer for their invaluable help in beta'ing this piece. Any remaining mistakes are entirely my own. If you spot any, please feel free to let me know.
SPOILERS: Huge Talia spoilers for the season 1, episode 6: Mind War. Susan and Talia spoilers up through and including that episode.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To suzotchka67[at]gmail.com
A Meeting of Minds
By Susan P
The door chime sounded, but Talia ignored it. She didn't exactly feel up to being sociable.
The chime sounded again, and she almost groaned as she realized that she might not be able to shut out the universe for much longer.
"Miss Winters?" Talia looked up from her spot on the floor when she heard that voice. "It's Lieutenan--Susan Ivanova. I...wanted to see how you were doing."
Talia said, "Come in," to trigger the door as she pushed herself up off of her knees. She turned and took two steps toward the door, smoothing out the wrinkles in her dress nervously, as Ivanova stepped through it. She called, "Lights," self-consciously, when she noticed the brunette looking around at the darkened interior of her quarters.
"Lieutenant Commander," she said, nodding politely at her guest. She stuck with the title, despite the fact that the other woman had announced herself by name, rather than rank. Things between the two of them had been frosty, at best, since she had first come aboard. Despite Ivanova's earlier kindness to her, after the unwelcome scan by those Psi Cops, and the apparent concern for her well-being now, Talia was afraid to push her luck by appearing too familiar.
"I was..." Ivanova began, almost-nervously, before taking a deep breath and asking, "How are you?"
"I--" The question threw Talia, in spite of Ivanova's stated purpose for the visit, because she was at a loss for how to answer it. She wasn't at all sure how she was, at that moment. Not to mention who, or what she was, since receiving Jason Ironheart's gift. She frowned slightly as she caught sight of the ancient penny lying on the table. The penny she had moved with her mind, just moments before.
She shook her head and looked back at her visitor helplessly. "I'm sorry." She ran a hand through her hair. "I'm not...sure I know how to answer that, right now."
Ivanova just nodded and looked at her pensively. "Fair enough." She made a vague gesture toward the door behind her with one hand. "Would you prefer it if I--"
"No!" Talia insisted quickly, hating the almost-desperate tone in her voice. Maybe I've been cooped up in the dark a little too long, she thought. "I...think I could use the company, actually. If you have the time?"
Ivanova nodded once. "I'm off duty."
Talia sensed, as she often did when in Susan Ivanova's presence, that there was not just a wall between them, but several, and she wondered whether she might ever get a chance to meet the real Susan--the one she felt sure existed beneath the reserved and controlled mask the other woman often wore in her presence.
Still, given the events of the past day or so, it seemed as if relations between them might be beginning to thaw, somewhat.
"Then, please," Talia said, gesturing toward the sofa, "have a seat."
Ivanova did so, but still looked as if she felt somewhat uncomfortable about the whole thing.
Talia settled in on the sofa--careful not to sit too close to Ivanova. She was tired of having to relate to the other woman as if to a skittish horse, but she also knew she couldn't force the issue. Instead, she hoped to be able to put her guest at ease, as much as she could.
"I wanted to thank you," she began, alluding to her ordeal with Bester and his associate, "for...being kind to me, before. It..."
It had meant a great deal to her, to find compassion in the other woman's eyes, after having been ravaged by the unwanted but compulsory scan, but she was afraid of being too effusive, in her gratitude. She still wasn't entirely sure where she stood with the Lieutenant Commander.
"Well," Talia shrugged. "I appreciated it," she finished simply.
Ivanova waved her right hand, as if to say 'it was nothing.' "I don't...like to see anyone bullied. Least of all by Psi Cops." The other woman almost spat the last two words, and Talia found herself silently agreeing with the underlying sentiment, more than she would have just a few days earlier.
"That doesn't surprise me at all, actually," Talia smiled over at the other woman. "Still...it wasn't nothing to me, so... Thank you."
Ivanova ducked her head, slightly, as if embarrassed, but then gave a slight nod of acknowledgment. "You're welcome." She looked away for a moment, and Talia took note of the crease that formed in her forehead before Ivanova spoke again, quietly. "It looked...painful."
"It was," Talia admitted softly. 'Painful' was an understatement, in fact, but she didn't care to elaborate on that point. Blue eyes found hers again, and then it was her turn to look away, for a moment, while she composed a response. When she looked back at Ivanova, she tried to explain. "We are as protective of our privacy as anyone else--sometimes even more so when among other telepaths. The scans are..." she took a deep breath, trying to steady herself, "invasive." To say the least. "Your first, strongest impulse is to fight against the invasion, but that just...makes things worse." She reached up to rub one temple, in response to the remembered pain.
"I'm sorry," Ivanova apologized, "I didn't mean to--"
"It's all right," Talia reassured her quickly. "The question wasn't intrusive. It's just that the memories are...still too fresh." All of the memories.
"Why do you...submit to it then?" Ivanova asked, sounding angry, and almost accusatory.
"Because the consequences for resisting would be even worse," she answered simply. There was no point in responding to the other woman's anger. She knew it primarily stemmed from what had happened with Ivanova's mother, rather than being directed at her, personally.
Ivanova looked at her questioningly.
"Not that I have any direct experience, mind you." Not exactly, anyway. "But there are stories..." Not to mention some of the things she had picked up from Jason's mind, and the knowledge of what the Corps might have done to him, or how they might have used him, if they had managed to bring him in.
"And still you remain loyal to Psi Corps?" Ivanova asked, sounding confused, and a little angry.
"You ask that as if I have a real choice in the matter. I have only the same choices that were available to your mother: prison, the drugs, or the Corps--all of which mean giving up some, if not all, of my personal freedoms. Or," she took a deep breath and leaned forward, looking away for a moment, as she uttered a thought that could land her in deep trouble, were she in almost any other company, "I could go rogue."
She looked back at Ivanova, but tried hard to hide the apprehension she felt at the thought of what such an existence would be like. She fought the urge to get up and pace away the nerves, and took a deep breath, trying to calm herself. "But that would mean being on the run, always looking over my shoulder, and never being able to feel as if I were free of the Corps, even if I managed to escape its direct control for a while.
"And, yes," she nodded once, leaning back against the cushions again, "I have thought about the alternatives. Maintaining an association with the Corps allows me more freedoms than most of the other options, but..." she sighed softly and ran a hand through her hair, "that doesn't mean that I don't have moments when I feel as caged as you think I am. It's just that I've been lucky enough that those moments have been few and far between, so--most of the time--I don't think about them."
She had surprised Ivanova, she could tell. It was as close to expressing disloyalty to Psi Corps as she had ever come--out loud, anyway. The brunette seemed to be looking at her as if with a new-found respect, and it pleased her to see it.
"Having one of those moments now, are you?"
The question had been a serious one, with only the barest hint of sarcasm, so Talia smiled, slightly, in response. "You might say that. But," she sighed sadly. "I was practically raised by the Corps. It's all I've ever known. Or, all I can remember, anyway. It just... It isn't that...simple, for me."
Ivanova just nodded pensively, and they both fell silent for several moments. Talia studied the other woman surreptitiously, wondering what she could be thinking. Ivanova was more controlled than most of the people she encountered on a daily basis--or so it seemed to Talia, given her admittedly limited experience with the woman. The underlying hostility toward Psi Corps, and anyone or anything associated with it, came through fairly clearly, but in other respects, her mind was relatively quiet, compared to many people she knew. That quiet was a part of what drew her to the other woman, she suspected, as it meant she didn't have to work as hard to shield things out. But it also made it especially hard to get a read on her, at times. She suspected that little short of an actual scan would reveal the other woman's inner thoughts. Not that she would ever consider such a thing, of course.
Still, the mystery about what lay beneath the surface was a big part of what made the Lieutenant Commander so intriguing. Well, that and the fact that she was a very attractive woman, Talia thought to herself.
"Jason Ironheart..." Ivanova began, and Talia was almost grateful for the distraction from her current train of thought. At this point, she still wasn't certain that friendship with the other woman was even a possibility, so there was no real point in contemplating her latent attraction to Susan Ivanova, as it seemed nothing could come of it.
Talia focused her full attention on the other woman and waited for her to continue.
"You two were close?" Ivanova finally asked.
"At one time? Extremely." Talia took a deep breath, her voice thick with emotion as she clarified, "We were lovers."
Ivanova blinked, a couple of times, before continuing. "But you hadn't seen or spoken with him in...some time?"
"Only through letters, really."
"And yet he came all the way out here to..."
"He came to say goodbye, Lieutenant Commander."
Ivanova frowned, slightly, for a moment. "I can't say I've ever had an ex go to such lengths to track me down. That must have been...some connection."
"You have no idea..." Talia breathed, as memories flooded through her.
Ivanova's sharp gasp tore Talia from her reverie, and she launched herself off the sofa and across the room when she realized what had happened, slamming her shields firmly back in place as she did so.
"Oh God, I'm sorry! I didn't--" Talia reached up to massage one temple, barely able to look at the Lieutenant Commander in her embarrassment. "That should never have..." She turned away, for a moment, desperately trying to both compose and steel herself against what she feared Ivanova's reaction would be.
In fact, the unintended projection of her thoughts was something that never should have happened. Her shielding should have been more than adequate to prevent it. The irony was that she actually felt stronger, somehow, since receiving Jason's gift. She still wasn't at all sure of the extent of that gift, but the recent emotional stress was making it more difficult to explore and adapt to the changes she sensed in herself.
Still, she should have been better at maintaining her shielding, regardless of the intensity of her emotions. She was shamed by the lapse; it made her feel as if she were a green recruit again.
"I'm very sorry, Lieutenant Commander," she began, still facing away from the other woman. She took a deep breath to steel herself, and then turned back toward Ivanova. "It's--" she risked a quick look at the brunette, and was surprised at the seeming lack of hostility in her demeanor.
Still, given the nature of what she had inadvertently shared with Ivanova, it was difficult to maintain direct eye contact. "Strong emotions," she began hoarsely, but then stopped short and took a moment to clear her throat, as she tried to compose herself. "Well, they can be especially hard to shield against. And that can work both ways, unfortunately," she sighed and looked down at her feet for a moment. "I'm afraid that...given recent events, I might be a little..." 'Out of control,' she thought ruefully, but rather than admit that she simply claimed to be, "off my game."
She made the effort to look back up at Ivanova before apologizing again. "I'm sorry."
"I promise you, it won--" The words died in Talia's throat when she finally managed to process the other woman's response--or, rather, her lack of response. She stared at Ivanova for a full second, trying to make sense of it.
"You-- What?" Talia inquired, feeling absurd for asking, but needing the clarification all the same.
Ivanova smiled good-naturedly at her confusion, which just confused Talia even more.
"Ms. Winters," Ivanova began, "that was..." She shook her head for a moment, before continuing. "Well, it was hardly the sort of thing most people would share with...anyone, really, but certainly not with someone they barely know. So, I believe you."
"You do?" Talia eyed the other woman suspiciously.
"Yes!" Ivanova almost laughed, "I do. So, feel free to reclaim your seat. I won't bite."
Ivanova's good humor was contagious, and Talia relaxed considerably. She still wasn't quite sure she would be able to look Ivanova in the eye, for a while, given what she had inadvertently shared with the other woman. But, for now, she just wanted to try to forget about her lapse, if she could. "Are you sure about that?" she asked, with just the hint of a teasing lilt in her voice, as she crossed the room.
"Well," Ivanova smirked, "not today, at least."
"Ah," Talia nodded, noting that the other woman seemed far more relaxed that she had initially. Still, she sat down gingerly as she reclaimed her spot on the sofa. "Good to know. And...thank you for..." She shrugged helplessly and closed her eyes for a moment, trying to compose herself, before she was able to look at Ivanova again. "Thank you."
Ivanova half-shrugged in response, before relaxing back into the cushions. "Still," she said seriously, "I am glad it was an isolated incident. It was...disconcerting, to say the least."
"Sorry," Talia breathed, looking down and wishing like hell she could take it all back, somehow.
When Talia managed to look up again, Ivanova just shook her head and looked her in the eye. "It's okay, really. It's just that... It wasn't something I was meant to know." Ivanova was beginning to look a little embarrassed, herself. "But--for what it's worth--I can assure you that it won't leave this room."
"Thank you for that," Talia replied sincerely. It hadn't really occurred to her that her secrets might not be safe with the other woman, but she was grateful for the reassurance, all the same.
Ivanova just nodded and looked away again. She blew out a long breath, rubbing her hands along her thighs for a moment, before clasping her hands in her lap.
"Some connection, indeed," Ivanova commented softly. "I feel as though I need a cigarette, and I've never smoked in my life."
Talia felt the laughter bubbling up in her, and tried in vain to stop it, but it spilled out of her all the same. She felt foolish, and then a little out of control, as she fought to stifle the fit of laughter prompted by Ivanova's comment. Ivanova simply sat there, calmly, watching her, which only served to make her feel even more foolish.
When she was finally able to regain control and catch her breath, she shook her head and smiled ruefully at Ivanova. "I'm sorry, I--" She sighed and smiled self-consciously at the other woman. "I think I needed that," she said finally, realizing that she felt...lighter, somehow, than she had moments before.
Ivanova just smiled slyly at her, as if that had been her plan all along. "You'll be okay."
"I will," Talia replied quietly. She wasn't nearly as certain of that as Ivanova seemed to be, given all that had happened to her recently, but she very much wanted to believe it. "It's just that... I know Jason's not really gone, but...it's hard to know that I will probably never hear from him again. I'll miss him."
Ivanova nodded soberly, and Talia didn't need psi ability to know that the other woman was reflecting on her own losses. "I can understand that, but... You got the chance to say good-bye, at least. That's more closure than most people get."
"That's true, of course," Talia acknowledged, "and I am glad that I got the chance to see him, one last time. It's just the 'goodbye' part that's a little...difficult to deal with, right now. But, you're right: I will be okay." She managed a small smile, trying to reassure the other woman, as well as herself. Seeing Jason again--feeling all those emotions again--made her feel the loss more keenly. Still, she was grateful that they'd had the chance to say goodbye, before he evolved into...whatever he now was.
They fell silent, and the silence soon turned uncomfortable. Talia wasn't quite sure what more to say to the other woman. There were so many things going through her head, since Jason's visit and his gift, but she didn't dare discuss most of them with anyone. Not now, and maybe not ever. Ivanova, for her part, seemed equally at a loss for words, so Talia decided to give her an easy out, before things got any more awkward.
"I'm sure you must have things you need to get back to, Lieutenant Commander. I wouldn't want to keep you from them."
"No, I--" Ivanova began, shaking her head uncertainly. She opened her mouth to speak, but then stopped short, blew out a long breath, and tried again. "My duty shift is over, but it has been a...difficult couple of days. I think I could use some rest."
Talia was a little surprised that Ivanova didn't eagerly leap at the ready excuse she had offered. Still, even though she would be glad for the woman's continued company--awkwardness and all--she felt it might be best to release Ivanova from any sense of an obligation to stay. She wanted to stay in the Lieutenant Commander's good graces, and she was afraid to push things too far.
"Then you should probably go get some rest."
"I--," Ivanova began, before turning to focus in on her intently. "You'll be okay?" It was phrased as a question, this time, rather than a statement.
"I'll be fine." Talia smiled back at her.
Ivanova nodded and pushed herself off the sofa. Talia stood, as well, and turned to face the door.
"Thank you...for stopping by," Talia said sincerely. "It was kind of you to check on me, and I, uh..." she hesitated a moment before adding, "I was glad for the company."
Ivanova ducked her head, almost shyly, in a nod of acknowledgment. "You're welcome. Good night."
Talia watched regretfully as the other woman walked away and stepped into the corridor. Now she would be left alone with her own thoughts, again.
Ivanova turned her head to look at Talia and nodded once more, before turning to leave.
Talia sank back onto the sofa as her door slid closed. Her eyes scanned the room aimlessly, at first, until she caught sight of the ancient penny lying on the table. She leaned over, reached out to grab it, and proceeded to study it as if she'd never seen such a thing before.
She was tempted to continue with her attempts at trying to move it with her thoughts, but decided against it. For now, it was enough to know that she could. She could always work on her newly-acquired telekinetic skills at a later time. Given what had happened with the Lieutenant Commander earlier, it seemed obvious that she needed to work on her shielding techniques.
She gripped the penny in one fist and leaned over to drop her head into the other hand, resting it against her palm. "Oh, God," she breathed, her thoughts and emotions in an uproar now that she no longer had to work to contain them.
How could I have... Of all the things to... Jason, what have you done to me? She thought wildly, trying desperately to understand all that had happened in the last day or so, and why. To Jason. And to herself.
The Lieutenant Commander--'Susan' some traitorous voice in her mind whispered--had been far more understanding than she had any right to expect, really, but Talia was still mortified at having shared something so deeply intimate with someone who, as Ivanova herself put it, was not meant to know it.
Aside from the lingering sense of shame she felt, Talia was now left wishing she'd been aware enough of what she was doing at the time to have gleaned some sense of the other woman's mind. She found herself longing for that sense of connection, of reciprocity. Not that she could hope for such a thing with the Lieutenant Commander. The best Talia could hope for with a non-telepath would be a certain...receptiveness. A willingness to be touched in that way and to be open to sharing their thoughts. She couldn't really envision such a thing ever happening with Ivanova, however, given their short, somewhat dubious history.
Still, given recent events, Talia found herself longing for the comfort that often came with the willing touch of another mind.
Her thoughts drifted again to Jason, and she clung to the thought of him, and to the moments their minds had touched during his visit. As chaotic as his mind and soul had been at times, he was still--at his core--the Jason she remembered and still loved. She held on to those memories, deriving a sense of peace from their connection, and using it to calm her own chaotic thoughts in a way that Jason hadn't quite been able to do, given the extreme nature of his transformation.
Whatever Jason had given her, whatever it meant for her abilities, it seemed to be more a matter of adapting to the changes, rather than becoming something different, as he had Or so she hoped.
But she had to adapt, and quickly. She couldn't risk any further slips like the one she had made tonight. Had she made such a mistake in the presence of almost anyone else, they'd probably have already reported her to the Psi Corps. That simply could not happen. She had to find a way to regain control--to appear as if nothing of consequence had happened to her, beyond losing a dear friend.
Once she had her emotions back under control, she uncoiled her fist and looked down at the penny in it again, strengthening her resolve to regain control of her shielding abilities.
She took a deep breath and got up. She first returned the relic to its proper place, before making herself comfortable again. She then went to work on trying to shut out as many of the voices as she could, as well as reinforcing the wall around her own thoughts. If she ever encountered Mr. Bester again, she would certainly need her shields to be as strong as they possibly could be. If he--or any Psi Cop, for that matter--picked up even a hint about what Jason's parting gift to her really was, she was doomed. She had to find a way to hide it, somehow--from everyone.
Susan Ivanova made it down the corridor and into the transport tube without encountering any overly-familiar faces, for which she was grateful. She was equally grateful to find the tube empty. When the doors slid closed, she slumped heavily against the wall, blowing out a long breath.
"Dear God," she whispered under her breath as she leaned her head against the wall of the transport tube, taking in a shaky breath, before straightening up, slightly.
She had lied to Ms. Winters when she said that what had passed between them would stay within those walls.
No, she would not dare speak of it to another soul, but... It seemed that she would be carrying it around with her, whether she wanted to, or not--and possibly for some time to come. She had managed to take advantage of the telepath's embarrassment, as it had given her some time to shove her reactions to the accidental intrusion aside and to compose herself and her countenance in the hopes of concealing how shaken she truly was by the experience. The other woman had been clearly distraught by her lapse and Susan had seen no point in making her feel any worse about something that could not have been intentional.
Luckily, Ms. Winters had been so preoccupied with her own thoughts that she hadn't seemed to pick up on anything that made her look beyond the surface reaction. Susan had either managed to put on a far more effective performance than she had realized, or Ms. Winters really was 'off her game,' due to recent events. She was grateful to have escaped further scrutiny, in any case, but the facade had become harder and harder to maintain, the longer she remained close to the telepath.
She--quite literally--could not get the experience out of her mind. Ms. Winters and Jason Ironheart really had shared a very intense connection, it seemed. Nothing in Susan's experience even came close, with the exception of the times her mother had touched her mind, but that was a different sort of connection altogether. The images--the feelings--she had picked up from the other woman, while not exactly sexual, were powerfully erotic, deeply emotional, and not easily forgotten.
But she had to forget it. She had to find a way to put it out of her mind, somehow. Because she absolutely could not--must not--be thinking about what it might be like to make love to Talia Winters. It didn't matter that the woman might not be quite as in lock-step with Psi Corps and its policies as Susan had assumed she would be, and it didn't matter that the woman's voice did things to her, at times, that were positively indecent. More importantly, she simply could not allow it to matter that she had felt, for just a moment, what it was like to be loved by Talia.
She closed her eyes, for a moment, as the sensations from Ms. Winters' contact with her mind washed over her again, and she almost groaned in frustration as her body reacted in predictable, but maddening, ways.
She growled under her breath and pushed herself away from the wall of the transport tube, fighting to control both her emotions and her baser instincts. She had to find a way to file this experience away in some small corner of her mind. Pretend it had never happened.
Easier said than done, she thought dubiously. Still, she had to try to forget it. She couldn't allow herself to dwell on what it had felt like to be touched by another person's mind, after so long.
More than that, she had to find some way to keep her distance from Talia Winters. She couldn't allow herself to get that close to a telepath--any telepath--ever again.
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