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 Babylon 5 dvds. It is essentially a missing scene or an epilogue for The War Prayer, and it may not make a great deal of sense, if you haven't seen the episode, or at least read a summary. This is a follow-up to an earlier fic I wrote called "A Meeting of Minds" that was based on the previous episode, Mind War, which can be found here. There may be at least one follow-up—a post-The 'Deathwalker' missing scene--assuming I finish it, of course. Thanks to ErinBree and to CheerfulOceanGazer for their invaluable help in beta'ing this piece. Any remaining mistakes or missteps are entirely my own. If you spot any, please feel free to let me know.
SPOILERS: Semi-major Susan spoilers for episode #107: The War Prayer. Susan and Talia spoilers up through and including that episode.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To suzotchka67[at]gmail.com

One Step Forward. Maybe.
By Susan P


Talia Winters walked into the casino, and took a brief moment to scan the gaming area--just out of curiosity, since as a telepath she wasn't allowed to gamble. She didn't waste much time on people watching, however, and turned toward the bar. She saw Susan Ivanova sitting there, as she had hoped she would.

She took several steps toward the bar, but then hesitated for a couple of seconds before stepping up to it and taking the empty seat next to Ivanova. She signaled to the bartender, who was serving another customer near the opposite end of the bar.

She turned and greeted the other woman warmly. "Good evening, Lieutenant Commander."

Ivanova turned to acknowledge her, briefly, looking vaguely embarrassed, before turning to stare down into her drink as she replied, "Ms. Winters."

Just then, the bartender appeared to ask what she wanted. "White wine," she replied halfheartedly. Talia had hoped to be able to spend some time in the other woman's company, but it seemed they would both be drinking alone tonight, despite sitting less than a foot apart. It was a shame, really. Talia had felt certain that they had made some sort of connection that night Ivanova had come to her quarters to check on her, following the incident with those Psi Cops who were looking for Jason Ironheart.

Her own lapse that evening, however, might possibly have caused this setback. Ivanova had forgiven her for her unintended projection of some deeply personal thoughts about Jason--or so it had seemed to Talia at the time. Now Talia wondered whether the nature of that shared knowledge might have increased the awkwardness between them. Or it could be something else altogether, for all she knew. Their interactions in the past hadn't exactly been friendly, although their last meeting had seemed to be an exception. Still, Ivanova's reticence seemed to indicate that they hadn't made as much progress as Talia had thought they had.

She took her drink from the bartender gratefully, and took a healthy swallow before turning to look past Ivanova to watch the ISN news broadcast on the nearest monitor.

Talia had been watching somewhat absentmindedly for several minutes when she noticed Ivanova turn to look at the broadcast. Talia looked between the monitor and the other woman for several seconds--long enough to get the basics of the news story: the arrest of one of the leaders of the Home Guard group that had been terrorizing and, in some cases, murdering several non-human targets on Babylon 5 and other outposts.

Even in profile, she could see Ivanova tense up, a frown forming on her face.

Before Talia could think better of it, she asked, "Did you know him?"

Ivanova turned on her, her face hard and her eyes flashing with anger. Talia recoiled a little, throwing up her hands in submission. She knew full well what the other woman must have assumed. "What I read was in your body language, Lieutenant Commander, not your thoughts," she replied as calmly as she could manage.

The other woman seemed to deflate almost immediately, and looked down for a moment. "Of course," Ivanova spoke softly, looking back up at her before continuing, "I apologize."

"It's all right," Talia excused the offense. It wasn't that uncommon for non-telepaths to assume she was prying, even when she wasn't--or when they were broadcasting their thoughts so loudly that she couldn't help but hear them. It bothered her more coming from Ivanova, however, because she very much wanted to make a personal connection with the other woman, and it seemed that the officer's biases against Psi Corps--understandable though they may be--would always be standing in the way of that. Still, there was no point holding a grudge.

"No. It isn't," Ivanova replied seriously. "But thank you for being willing to let me off the hook."

Talia just nodded, smiling slightly.

Ivanova turned to study the monitor, for a second, as if to confirm that the news anchor had moved on to another story, and then took a healthy drink from the glass in front of her.

Talia sighed regretfully and looked away, assuming that signaled the end of the conversation. She took another sip of her wine and wondered if she should just leave the other woman to her own thoughts, and maybe take a walk along the Zocalo--or simply retire for the night.

"In answer to your question," Ivanova spoke softly, prompting Talia to look back over at her. Ivanova was still staring down at her drink, but then took a deep breath and turned to face Talia again. "Malcolm and I were...together...a long time ago. Back when I was stationed near Io. So, I guess you could say that we thought we knew one another, at one time." Ivanova sighed sadly and shook her head. "Turns out we were both wrong."

"Not necessarily," Talia offered, trying to ease Ivanova's mind. "People can and do change. Maybe the Malcolm you remember *was* a different man."

Ivanova shook her head. "I don't know about that. It's hard for me to believe that the capacity for that kind of hatred wasn't always there, on some level."

Talia shrugged. "Maybe it was, and maybe it wasn't. Most of the time, we don't really know what we're truly capable of, unless we're...pushed, or tested. You don't know what might have happened to Malcolm since you last saw him that might have turned him into--"

"A xenophobe?" Ivanova asked incredulously, though she was careful to keep her voice down.

Talia shrugged helplessly. "It's easy enough to turn the blame for your own problems onto others, and once you do that, you can find a way to justify all kinds of prejudice while still believing your anger is righteous. It's happened over and over in human history."

"You are right about that, but..." Ivanova frowned slightly. "If that capacity for hatred *was* there all along in Malcolm, and I never saw it...what does that say about me?"

"Only that you didn't see something that might not even have been obvious at the time. You can't blame yourself for that," Talia offered sympathetically. She itched to reach out to Ivanova, wanting to reassure her, but didn't dare.

"Of course I can. I'm Russian." The look on Ivanova's face was somewhere between a smirk and a rueful smile. "I can blame myself for all sorts of things." And now it was a full-blown smirk.

"Ah. I stand corrected." Talia smirked back at her, glad to see some humor creep back into Ivanova's demeanor. "You *could* blame yourself, of course, but I would advise against it."

"Oh, well, then you should have been more clear!" Ivanova continued with the teasing. She actually smiled, for a second, before turning serious again. "It is good advice, but...it's easier said than done."

"Most things are," Talia acknowledged. "Still, you should give yourself a break. It's highly unlikely that you could have predicted the course Malcolm would take--or prevented things from playing out as they did. You are in no way responsible for his actions."

"I know that...on some level, but it's just hard to..." Ivanova stopped, looked away for a moment, and then slapped a hand against the top of the bar in frustration. She then looked at Talia imploringly as she asked, "How could I have been so wrong about him?"

"It happens," Talia shrugged. "Love can make you..." She hesitated a moment, trying to find the right word, then thought of one particular person in her own past and finished with, "stupid, sometimes."

Ivanova let out a short laugh. "Stupid just about covers it, I'd say," she commented ruefully. "You sound as if you speak from experience."

"I do." Talia kept the reply short, hoping to avoid further questions.

"Care to elaborate?" Ivanova asked, raising one eyebrow and looking at her with undisguised curiosity.

"Not...today." Ivanova already knew far too much about her ex-lover, Jason, after their last encounter, and the relationship Talia was thinking of now was an especially sore subject for her. It simply wasn't something she cared to discuss--with anyone--if she could avoid it.

"That bad, huh?" Ivanova inquired sympathetically.

Talia just responded with a half-nod and a grim smile.

Ivanova started to say, "Well, if you ever..." before looking away with a grimace and then downing the rest of her drink.

'One step forward, two steps back,' Talia thought sadly. Whatever offer Ivanova had been about to make, it seemed she still wasn't quite ready to get too close to any telepath. 'Or is it just me?' she wondered, despairingly.

Talia tried to imagine whether a friendship with Ivanova might be a real possibility, assuming they could find some common ground. If they were both telepaths, or both not, then maybe--just maybe--they could sit down with one another and have a pleasant conversation without it becoming hopelessly awkward at some point. There was little point in speculating about things that couldn't be changed, however, so Talia did her best to shake it off.

Still, in spite of all the issues that seemed to be in the way, she wasn't yet ready to admit defeat entirely. So, she decided to try again, and attempted to change the subject, slightly.

"So, I guess now you have had an ex go to great lengths to track you down," Talia said, referring to their last conversation.

"What?" Ivanova turned back toward her, looking bewildered for a moment, before she seemed to remember what Talia was referring to. "Oh, that. Well..." Ivanova glanced down at her empty glass and then looked up to catch the bartender's eye to signal for another, before turning back to face Talia.

"Yes, and no, I suppose," Ivanova replied with a dour look on her face. "Regardless of what Malcolm told me his reasons for coming were, he didn't come here for me. Renewing contact with me might have been a secondary goal--at best--but his other...agenda," she spoke the word as if it left a bad taste in her mouth, "was his real reason for coming to Babylon 5. Pursuing me was probably little more than a means to that end."

"Then he's a fool!" Talia replied with some heat, before making a conscious effort to lower her voice, "in more ways than one." She took a quick drink of her wine to try to cover her reaction.

Talia found herself angered beyond reason that anyone should put such a look of sadness---or maybe disappointment--on the other woman's face. She had wanted to reach out to Ivanova, to soothe whatever hurt the other woman might be feeling, but she resisted the impulse. Partly because she knew she couldn't, really. They weren't close enough that Ivanova would welcome the gesture with open arms, much less take comfort from her willingly.

She also held back because, in spite of how badly she wanted to reach out to Ivanova, the strength of her own reaction troubled her. She and Ivanova weren't exactly friends, and might never be, so it hardly seemed worthwhile, at this point, to feel so...strongly about Susan Ivanova. Yet she did, despite knowing it might be in vain.

Talia set aside her inner musings and turned her attention back to the woman next to her. Ivanova looked at her oddly, for a moment, then turned to stare down into her empty glass before murmuring a quiet, "Thank you." After a moment, Ivanova shook her head and seemed to shake off her mood, to some degree, with the gesture. But when the bartender arrived with her drink, Ivanova took a healthy swallow of it.

"For what it's worth..." Talia began, deciding to pretend she hadn't heard Ivanova's last words. "I'm sorry that the revelations about Malcolm and his...activities have upset you like this. But I, for one, am very glad that you and he don't see eye to eye with respect to the other races, though I can't say I'm surprised you don't share his views."

"Well, thank you for that, but..." Ivanova canted her head to one side before asking, "Why isn't it surprising? We barely know each other, after all."

"I--" Talia took a deep breath, trying not to take that last comment personally as she scrambled to come up with an answer. She had been unprepared for the question. It simply wasn't the kind of thing that she would have considered the other woman capable of, but she wasn't certain that she could easily explain why. Ivanova had asked the question in earnest, however, and she felt she needed to at least attempt a reply.

"Your reputation, for one thing," Talia noted. She'd done business with people who had had dealings with the Lieutenant Commander, and she seemed to be generally respected, by humans and aliens alike. Even those who had been on the receiving end of Ivanova's temper, for one reason or another, seemed to hold her in some esteem--if reluctantly. In addition, it was clear from Talia's own dealings with the station's command staff that Ivanova was liked and respected by many of her colleagues.

"And..." Talia shook her head and shrugged. "It's hard to explain. It's just...something I sense in you--or, rather, something I don't sense in you."

In response to Ivanova's look, she clarified, "It isn't telepathy, or anything remotely like that. It's just..." she shrugged again, slightly, "a feeling, I guess."

"A feeling?" Ivanova raised one eyebrow and smiled at her indulgently. "And are these feelings of yours always accurate?"

"Not always," Talia acknowledged, "but they often are, and this feeling is one I happen to trust. I just can't see you as being capable of that kind of bigotry."

Ivanova looked at her thoughtfully for a few seconds. "Thank you, but..." She frowned for a moment before continuing, "You seem to be giving me a great deal of credit considering that I... Well," she sighed, "I don't know that I've always been entirely...fair, where you're concerned."

"I don't know that you have, either." To claim otherwise would be an obvious lie, and that would do nothing to win Ivanova's respect. "But the fact that you can recognize that just proves my point, I think." Talia smiled softly at Ivanova for a moment.

"In any case, I know where your feelings about Psi Corps come from, and I might feel exactly the same way, were I in your shoes. I know your attitude doesn't stem from any unreasoning fear or hatred of telepaths. I've been the target of both often enough to know the difference."

Ivanova seemed troubled by her revelation, a frown marring her features. "That doesn't exactly make me feel better," she finally said, looking back at Talia sympathetically.

Talia just shrugged. "It comes with the territory, I'm afraid. There were times in our history where things would have been far, far worse for someone like me, so I guess I'm lucky in that respect." Talia took a small sip of wine before continuing. "One of the consequences of having this gift means that many, if not most, people look at me differently because of my abilities."

"Gift?" Ivanova asked dubiously. "Is that how you see it, despite the consequences?"

Talia contemplated the question for a few seconds before answering. It was how she had been taught to view her abilities since she was a child, after all, but it wasn't always as simple as that. "Most of the time, I guess. Not that there aren't moments when I wish I could return it," she noted with a slight smirk. "But..." Talia sighed resignedly. "I don't know... My abilities manifested early. As much as I might sometimes wish I could shut the voices out entirely, I'm not sure what it would feel like if I couldn't hear them at all." Talia shrugged slightly, saying, "I guess that doesn't make much sense to you."

"It does, actually," Ivanova nodded, a small smile playing at the corners of her lips. "You're caught between two clichés: the one about the grass being greener, and the one about the devil you know."

Talia chuckled softly. "Yes. Exactly." It was one thing to fantasize that her life might be easier or better if she didn't have her abilities--if there was nothing to mark her as different or Other--but it was another thing entirely to try to imagine what her life might be like without them.

Ivanova nodded thoughtfully and took another sip of her drink.

They sat in silence for a few moments, but for once there seemed to be none of the usual awkwardness between them, and Talia breathed a mental sigh of relief. Maybe they were making progress, after all.

Ivanova took another long swallow of her drink, draining it. After setting the glass back down on the bar, she turned to face Talia again. "Thank you for..." she hesitated a moment, as if searching for the right words, and then canted her head to one side before continuing, "trying to cheer me up."

Talia smiled. "You're welcome. Did I succeed?" She leaned forward, anticipating the answer far more than she probably should have.

Ivanova appeared to think it over for a moment, and then smiled slightly and nodded, replying, "As much as anyone could have, I think. So, thank you again."

"Anytime," Talia smiled at her warmly.

"Now, if you'll excuse me. I have an early day tomorrow."

"Of course," Talia replied, trying to hide her disappointment. She had been enjoying their conversation--especially once Ivanova's spirits had improved--and would have liked to continue it. But she couldn't compel Ivanova to stay, so she simply told her to, "Have a good evening."

"Thank you," Ivanova smiled and stood up. "Good night."

Talia nodded once as Ivanova stepped away. She watched, in spite of herself, as the other woman stopped to settle her tab with the bartender before winding her way through the crowded casino to the exit--her eyes following Ivanova as if glued to her form. She only looked away when she lost sight of the brunette altogether.

She stared dejectedly at the remains of her drink, feeling troubled by the fact that she was so downhearted by the other woman's departure. There was no reason to take it personally, after all. Not this time, anyway. Still, she was disappointed that Ivanova had left, and she wasn't entirely sure why.

Talia wanted to forge some kind of connection with Susan Ivanova, for reasons even she couldn't fully understand or articulate, which made the situation troubling enough. Add to that the seeming impossibility of bridging the gap between what she would like to have happen, and what Ivanova might actually allow, and it was all the more disquieting.

Yes, she was lonely, and yes, she found Susan Ivanova intriguing, and incredibly attractive, even if dealing with her could be very frustrating, at times. But why Ivanova? she wondered. Why not someone more...approachable? Talia almost snorted at the thought, knowing that finding someone 'approachable' among mundanes wasn't exactly a simple thing. And there really wasn't a thriving telepath community on Babylon 5--not one that she knew of, anyway.

She chided herself almost immediately for thinking of non-telepaths in those terms, even in her own head. It was no less wrong than the kinds of biases she had been discussing earlier with Ivanova, even if it was an attitude that was prevalent among her peers in Psi Corps--one that she had been exposed to since childhood. It wasn't even as if she actually felt that way, it was just a troublesome remnant of her Psi Corps training--one that should definitely be discarded.

In any case, it was hardly an attitude likely to win any friends on Babylon 5--least of all the elusive Susan Ivanova.

That thought brought her right back to wondering why she felt so drawn to someone who showed so few signs of being open to her. Except for Ivanova's visit to her quarters, after the incident with those Psi Cops, the other woman had shown no signs of being open to approaching her, and had in fact seemed to go out of the way to avoid her on a few occasions. Ivanova hadn't walked away from her this evening, however, even if she had been less than welcoming a couple of times.

Given their past history, or lack thereof, Talia couldn't be sure that either encounter actually meant that relations between her and Ivanova might be improving. Ivanova's visit to her quarters may well have been an isolated incident, rather than any particular impulse to be nice to her.

In spite of Ivanova's attitude toward Psi Corps, she had to have some measure of sympathy for telepaths, in general. Her mother had been a telepath, after all. Given Ivanova's biases, she likely assumed Talia was as much a victim of Psi Corps as her mother had been--whether or not Talia saw herself that way. So, Ivanova may have come to check on her simply because she felt compassion for someone in pain or distress. That didn't make the act a prelude to friendship. In fact, Talia felt certain that if the incident with Jason hadn't happened, tonight's encounter with Ivanova might have been as frosty as ever.

Still, tonight *had* felt like the beginning of...something. Talia couldn't be certain what they had begun, however, nor was she certain of what she really wanted it to be. Friendship with Ivanova was probably all Talia could realistically hope for, and she would count herself lucky if their relationship did reach that point someday, but it wasn't at all clear whether friendship was a real possibility. Wanting anything more than friendship with the other woman was likely foolish, at best. She wasn't even sure whether Ivanova's preferences included women, and even if they did that didn't mean Talia would have a chance with the other woman. Even if the interest was there, Talia was a member of Psi Corps and she had no clue whether Ivanova would ever be able to see past that and find a way to really trust her. Knowing all that didn't exactly curb the wanting, however, even if Talia knew she'd be better off if she could let go of all expectations where Ivanova was concerned.

Talia blew out a long breath and tried to will herself to let it go, if only for the night. "Easier said than done," she whispered softly to herself, but it was loud enough to catch the attention of the bartender as he passed by. He turned to look at her, asking, "Excuse me?"

"Uh, sorry," she muttered, feeling a little embarrassed at being caught talking to herself. "I just..." She reached for her credit chit and presented it to the man. "I'd like to take care of my bill."

The bartender waved a hand and shook his head. "It's already been taken care of."

"It's..." Talia shook her head, somewhat confused, but she was already beginning to wonder if there might be some man lurking whose attentions she would have to deflect. "What?"

"The Lieutenant Commander took care of your tab."

"She did?" Now Talia was even more confused, and she frowned for a second, before doing her best to shake it off so that she could appear more composed than she felt. "Oh...thank you," she said to the young man, before finally pulling back her hand and putting her credit chit away again.

The bartender moved on, and Talia downed the remaining wine in her glass, still trying to process what he had just told her.

She slid off the bar stool and made her way toward the exit, a smile forming on her lips and hope blooming in her chest before her thoughts came to a crashing halt, and her steps along with them. She took a quick look around to be sure that no one was likely to bump into her, and stopped to take a steadying breath.

'Damn it!' she thought to herself, before propelling her feet forward again. So much for letting it go. With one gesture--a gesture that likely meant far less to the other woman than it had to her--Ivanova had washed away Talia's resolve to try to set aside any hopes or expectations she might have about the two of them becoming friends.

But it wasn't--and might never be--that simple, and she should know better than to fantasize that so simple a gesture could lead to any radical change in their so-called relationship.

'It was a kind gesture, nothing more,' Talia thought to herself as she walked up to the nearest transport tube. 'She probably didn't think anything of it, and neither should you,' Talia admonished herself again as she waited for the next car.

She didn't have to wait long, and she groaned inwardly as the doors slid open to reveal Security Chief Michael Garibaldi, as she had suspected they might. It was happening a little too often lately to be merely coincidental, she feared.

"Miss Winters," he greeted her a little too cheerfully.

She only hesitated a moment before boarding the car, deciding that she would simply have to grin and bear his company, even if she didn't quite welcome it at the moment. She nodded at him and offered a subdued greeting of her own, "Mister Garibaldi."

She faced the front of the car quickly, hoping to forestall further conversation--a tactic that seldom worked with the Chief, unfortunately, but it was the only thing she could think of, short of being overtly rude. She prayed for a swift, if not quiet, trip to her own quarters, where she could be alone with her thoughts again.

Susan Ivanova stepped away from the bar after settling her tab and, on impulse, Ms. Winters' as well. She felt the telepath's eyes on her as she made her way out of the casino.

She'd had a vague sense that the other woman was watching her while she was paying the barkeep, but, being distracted at the time, she had brushed the feeling off.

Now, however, the sensation of being watched was palpable. So much so that she was tempted to turn around to verify her suspicions, and yet didn't dare because she felt sure that if she did turn around, Ms. Winters' eyes would indeed be focused on her and her alone, and Susan wasn't at all sure how she felt about that.

She tried to shake it off and continue on her way, but she hesitated for just a split-second as she reached the main entrance of the casino and a thought struck her: 'She's lonely.' Ivanova was suddenly as convinced of that as if Talia had admitted it to her openly.

Ivanova kept moving, eyes forward, until she was out in the Zocalo. She made her way to a vantage point where she thought she might be able to see the other woman without being seen before she dared a look back toward the casino's entrance. She caught a slight glimpse of blonde hair near the bar and took a couple of steps to her right to get a better view.

Talia Winters was indeed still at the bar, but she was looking considerably more...forlorn than when Susan had left her. She was facing the bar with her head lowered and her shoulders bowed, slightly.

Ivanova forced her feet to stay glued to the deck while she fought conflicting impulses to go back to the blonde's side, or run like hell the other direction.

'She *is* lonely,' Ivanova thought again. 'She wanted the company. She wanted *my* company.' She suddenly felt sure of that. She thought back to the number of times she had beat a hasty retreat when she happened to see the blonde woman so much as look in her direction, wondering if Ms. Winters really had been seeking her out in each case, or whether it was just her own biases against anything or anyone connected to Psi Corps that had made her overly paranoid.

Then she thought back to the 'I can't believe you're being nice to me' look Ms. Winters had given her in Sinclair's office when she had handed the blonde a glass of water after those damned Psi Cops had forced her to submit to a scan. She remembered seeing how much pain they seemed to be putting Ms. Winters through. She also remembered wanting to tear those Psi Cops apart, not just for what they were doing to Talia, but for what their kind had done to her mother, so many years ago.

It was the first time she had seen Talia Winters as something other than a representative of Psi Corps. The first time she had seen her as a person--someone as trapped in Psi Corps' web as her mother had been. That was part of the problem. Talia Winters was beginning to make Susan think about her mother a little too much, which could be painful even when recalling the best of memories.

So, now Susan felt even more conflicted about Talia. On the one hand, she knew she had every reason to stay as far away as possible from telepaths--*any* telepath--because that was the only way to stay as far away as possible from Psi Corps. Where there were telepaths, there was Psi Corps--one way or another--and it would be far safer for her if she kept her distance from the both the organization and its representatives.

On the other hand, Susan no longer saw Talia as just a telepath. Now, telepath was only part of the story. She saw Talia Winters as a person now. Someone with compassion, intelligence, and a sly sense of humor--or so it seemed from their recent encounters. Talia Winters was a woman who hurt and who loved just like any other.

"Oh, hell," Ivanova muttered to herself. 'And I just bought her drinks,' she thought. What was Talia likely to think she meant by that?

'And just what did you mean by it?' a traitorous voice whispered in her mind, 'It isn't as if you go around buying drinks for random strangers, after all. Not when there's no interest, anyway.'

She was on the verge of telling her inner voice to shut the hell up when she was startled by a familiar voice.

"Lieutenant Commander?"

"Ambassador Delenn," Ivanova smiled down at the Minbari, who was looking at her oddly. "Was there something you needed?"

"No." Delenn canted her head to one side and asked, "Is there something *you* need?"

'To have my head examined, maybe,' Ivanova thought to herself. "Um...no. Not really."

The Ambassador continued to look at her as if not quite believing the answer. It made her a little uncomfortable, so she added, "I was just...questioning...something."

"And you have not yet arrived at an answer?"

Ivanova stole a quick glance at blonde sitting at the bar. "Not really, no."

"May I help, in any way?" Delenn asked earnestly.

Ivanova smiled at the Ambassador but shook her head. "I don't see how. It's...complicated, and kind of personal. But thank you for the offer."

"Of course." Delenn smiled and bowed slightly, as was her custom. "Good evening."

"You, too, Ambassador." Ivanova smiled back at the other woman and nodded in farewell.

Ivanova absently watched the Minbari walk off before quickly turning her attention back to the casino. Talia was still sitting at the bar, but she was talking to the bartender. Ivanova decided that it might be best to make a hasty retreat. She wasn't any clearer about much of anything, where Ms. Winters was concerned, but it wouldn't do to have the blonde catch her loitering in the Zocalo--as Ambassador Delenn had just done--when she should have already been in her own quarters.

Ivanova headed for her quarters, trying to put aside any further internal debates regarding Talia Winters. She would find no easy answers tonight, and she really did have an early day tomorrow. She needed the rest, and she couldn't allow unresolved questions to interfere with her ability to sleep. So she resolved to put it out of her mind, at least for the night, if not indefinitely.

After reaching her own quarters, she looked around for a moment, taking in the familiar surroundings in an attempt to settle herself. She then poured herself a stiff drink and walked into her bedroom. She placed her drink on the nightstand, then stripped out of her uniform and got ready for bed.

When all that was done, she turned down the bed and sat on the edge of it. She looked over at the framed image of her mother on the nightstand, which turned out to be a mistake. She clenched her jaw and closed her eyes tightly, for a moment, until she could get her emotions under control.

Once she had, she grabbed the drink, drained it, and slid into bed. "Computer. Lights. Set alarm for 0500." The room went dark immediately and the computer replied, "Alarm set."

Susan stared blankly at the ceiling for a moment or two, and then sighed softly, and closed her eyes. Just a couple of minutes later, however, she opened her eyes again.

"Computer," she asked, " what's the time?"

"Twenty forty-one."

'Oh hell,' Ivanova thought. Too early for bed, really, even with an early wake-up call. She debated for a moment whether to get up and try to read or maybe watch a vid, for a while, but ultimately decided against it. 'A little extra sleep never killed anybody,' she thought to herself. She turned onto her left side and rearranged her pillow before flopping back down onto it.

"Though with my luck I'd be the first," she mumbled to herself.

"Query?" the all-too-chipper computer voice asked.

"Never mind," Ivanova grumbled at the infernal thing. She then heaved a heavy sigh, closed her eyes, and prayed for sleep to take her.

The End

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