NIGHTMARES AND DREAMS

By Cheryl Hathaway

 

 

 

Greetings!

   Many thanks for the feedback. It does help keep me writing.

   This story follows my story "Fine," and the resolution is over a year in the future (somewhere shortly after episode 521, the end of the regular season 5 episodes, and obviously before "Sleeping in the Light." I haven't been keeping up with season 5 spoilers. If there are any, it's pure coincidence. Obviously it spoils events up through and including all of season 4. As always the universe and characters belong to J. M. Straczynski, Warner Brothers, PTEN, TNT, and anyone else who has legal rights to them.

   There are a few "plot flaws," but they occur within the nightmares, and my supposition is that within a nightmare anything is possible. The only real speculation in it is that Delenn becomes pregnant within the first six months after they are married, that the new Interstellar Alliance continues to have problems with raiders, and that Delenn uses her own experiences from the past to try to help John in the future.

   In this story, John Sheridan has chosen not to discuss his experiences with anyone, despite Dr. Franklin's advice. What follows is the result....

 

 

 

 

*****

   -----One-----

   John Sheridan was running. He panted and gasped. He could not catch his breath. It felt like he had been running forever.

   He was in a tunnel or cave of some sort. The tunnels of Mars? It had to be. That accounted for the reddish cast to the soil and the stones. Someone was behind him, hunting him, chasing him, right on his heels.

   He wasn't alone. That was a surprise. There were others running with him. Some of them he knew. Michael was there--Michael Garibaldi who had sold him out, Michael who had done him such a huge favor in telling him about his father's abduction, and then had used that to capture and try to destroy him.

   He needed to get away from Michael. He needed to escape, but every time he tried to strike out on his own, someone reached out and pulled him back, kept him with the group. He had to get away.

   He ran and he ran. The tunnels seemed eternal. Once he fell, and Stephen was there--Dr. Stephen Franklin whose face melted if you looked at it too closely, who kept telling him Delenn didn't love him...that she had other lovers...that she was trying to use and harm him. Stephen kept giving him things. Coffee was the last thing he remembered Stephen giving him. Whatever that had been in that cup, it wasn't coffee, at least not all coffee. After drinking it, he had been unable to focus. Everything he had seen had wavered and moved, as if the whole world were a field of tall grass being whipped this way and that by a strong wind. Voices had resounded in his head yelling at him about things he'd done wrong, chastising him for things he couldn't have done differently, begging and pleading for him to stop injustices that were impossible to change. He had been made to see things he knew weren't true--but, seeing was believing. How to separate the two? He ran and ran and ran.

   He ran until he fell again. Lyta helped him up. She ran with him. He knew Lyta Alexander was a Vorlon-enhanced telepath. Whenever she touched him could almost see a small spark...as if she was scanning him. Why would she scan him or anyone without permission? She could lose her license to be a commercial telepath. She could be labeled a rogue and be hunted down by the Psi-cops. Maybe that's why they were running together. Maybe they "all" were trying to get away.

   His legs were so tired they didn't want to move. His face felt hot, but the rest of him was cold. Perspiration had formed and dried many times on his skin. His brain was reeling, but he could not stop. His lungs burned. His throat was raw. He ran and ran and ran.

   Electricity, like lightning bolts, lanced from the tunnel sides. One caught him and twisted itself inside of his chest. Like a giant fist grabbing his heart, it pulled him down into darkness.

   There was no air. There was no light. There was no life. He was dying. He ran and ran and ran.

   He could not stop. He dare not stop. To stop was to be dead.

    ----------

   Stephen Franklin, Babylon 5's chief medical officer, checked the monitors beside his friend's bed. He shook his head. *He's having another flashback. That's twice in one night.* He noted the time and intensity. Based on the readings for respiration, heart beat, and blood pressure, this one was a bad one. When the flashbacks came at night, they were like very bad dreams. So far, most of the Captain's flashbacks had been just that: nightmares. *Let's hope it stays that way,* Stephen thought. *Let's hope it stays that way.*

   -----Two-----

   John Sheridan was falling. He knew he was. Hell, he'd jumped off a precipice. What else would he be doing?

   Behind, not nearly far enough behind, the world exploded. The White Star ship had followed its final orders, orders he had given it. Crashing through the skylights high above the Shadow city, it had detonated just as it reached ground level. More megatons than the mind could comprehend had just reached critical mass literally over his head.

   He didn't look back. He knew Anna was gone. He knew the city and the White Star and the Shadows were gone. His hopes for love and happiness, all his dreams, were gone. He was going to die, perhaps a few minutes and seconds after those above him, but the saying would continue inviolate: "If you go to Z'Ha'Dum, you will die." He had come to Z'Ha'Dum. He would die.

   He fell and was surprised to find himself still falling. The heat of the explosion passed and was replaced by a terrible cold. *Cold as the grave,* he thought and shivered. He tried to will himself not to think.

   He fell and he fell and he fell.

   Someone, something took hold of his hand, arrested him and stopped his fall.

    ----------

   The female med tech checking his pulse asked, "Captain, are you all right?" They were on a cargo ship en route from Mars to the White Star fleet. The woman held a breather mask before his face, encouraging him to use it. "Just take a deep breath, it'll help," she insisted. He did, and it did, though the weightless cargo hold still made him remember falling.

   Her eyes asked questions he couldn't answer. How could he ever explain to anyone what it had been like to fall to his death, what it had been like to fall at Z'Ha'Dum?

   "I'm fine," he said. "Just fine."

   -----Three-----

   There were three other men in the room, but no one was looking at them. All eyes were focused on a man in black, who raised his eyes to the faces above before turning back to his tormentors.

   It had been three days, three long bitter days, since he had first come to this place. He had not come of his own free will, but rather been dragged insensible and unable to defend himself...sold out, betrayed, abandoned.

   He wiped his hand across his mouth, smearing it with blood. He'd mark at least a few of them, before they finished him. So small a thing had become a point of pride for him. Even if he had been free, there were too many to ever fight...three and three more and three more again. He was not free. Perhaps a foot of chain extended from each wrist to the metal band secured around his waist. It was just enough chain to let him eat--just barely enough for personal hygiene, if you weren't too fussy about such things. There was not enough chain to let him get a swing at them, not enough chain to let him defend himself. He could just barely manage to cover his face, but no sooner did he do so than a blow from elsewhere would send his body arching and pull his hands down and away again.

   It seemed as though every supporter of his enemy wanted a turn to take revenge for untold wrongs done, somehow, by the "traitor." He'd never thought of himself as a traitor, just someone doing his job, a job that had to be done or countless thousands would die. It didn't matter what "names" they called him.

   The blows came more quickly, or he was slowing down...probably a combination of the two. He could not move fast enough--no matter how he tried. They always hit the very spots that made it hurt the most.

   He shook his head, trying to gather his scattered thoughts as best he could. Black spots filled his vision...dancing randomly. He could not breathe. He could not draw one single deep breath. It hurt too much. He panted shallowly, willing his eyes to stay open. If he let his eyes close, he knew he might never awaken.

   He shuddered as one of them laid hold of his shoulder and pulled him forward shaking him insistently.

    ----------

   "John!"

   "John, can you hear me?"

   "John, it's all right."

   He awoke to find his Delenn's arms around him. He awoke trembling, soaking wet, his whole body tense with the strain of fighting phantoms. He awoke knowing it was not "all right" but that--God willing, with time--this too should pass. He reached out one hand and gently patted hers. With time, this too shall pass.

   -----Four----

   His body was exhausted. All he wanted to do was sleep. It had been three nights--well, three night-designated periods--since his interrogators had let him sleep.

   First, there had been Clark's goon squad. They had stood silently, waiting for his eyes to close. Every time his eyelids fell, one of them would hit him again, making sure he stayed awake. Then, there had been lights in his eyes, lights he could not turn away from. Now, it was toxins put in his food, the only food they'd given him since he had gotten here. The interrogator had said it wouldn't kill him, but he wasn't so sure. God knew, it had made him sick enough to almost wish he could die.

   He had thrown up their corned beef sandwich. He'd thrown up the water they'd left for him that morning. He had thrown up stuff he'd forgotten he'd eaten. He'd thrown up after there was nothing left inside of him to throw up.

   Now, even hours later, he could not sleep. Every time he laid his head down on the floor, his body would insist that he needed to throw up again. He'd gotten so used to dry heaves that, now, he just let his knees come up toward his chest to try to ease the cramping.

   Trying to fight the toxin was impossible. Now that it was in his system, all he could do was wait for its effects to pass. In retrospect, he knew he shouldn't have eaten the sandwich. But he had been so hungry, he would probably have eaten things he liked a whole lot less, and there were no guarantees that the next sandwich would be poisoned or next glass of water wouldn't be. He was at their mercy. He had to eat and drink.

   He coughed and choked. He had aspirated some of the mess he'd brought up before. If he was lucky he wouldn't end up with pneumonia. If he were lucky....

   He laid his head down again on the concrete. Again, the pain came. Again, he retched. Hour after hour, it went on, until he didn't care if he ever ate or drank again. He just wanted to stop throwing up. He prayed for the pain in his guts to relent just a little. It didn't.

   Much later, he heard a metal door opening and closing. The interrogator had returned. He was past caring.

    ----------

   "John, what do you want in your omelet?" Delenn asked. She was beating a bowl of raw eggs and getting ready to pour them into a skillet.

   He looked at her and at the eggs. His face was totally white.

   Without a word, he disappeared into the bathroom they shared. When she came to check on him, she hesitated outside the closed door. He was being ill, as ill as she had been during the first three months of her pregnancy. Not knowing what to do, she quietly turned away.

   -----Five-----

   *A sky full of stars is a beautiful thing.*

   John stared at the starfields as they slowly revolved around his tiny ship. *A mote in God's eye,* he thought, *that's all that we are.*

   His Starfury was derelict, spinning and drifting in vastness of space. He had a few hours power left--if all he used was life support and the locator beacon. He debated using only the locator, but if he died did it truly matter whether they found him or not. If, on the other hand, he put all the power into life support, then he might live an hour or two longer, but...it would be an hour or two without any hope of rescue.

   He still thought the stars were beautiful, like clear crystals hung against black velvet, black velvet like Delenn's black dress--beautiful and soft. That dress was so wonderful just to touch. He remembered putting his arms around her, feeling the softness of the material and, with wonder, the woman beneath it.

   A red light flashed on the panel before him--a low oxygen warning. He turned it off. Checking the amount left, he gradually increased the flow to the cockpit. There was little enough left, but he would breathe freely while he could. A little oxygen must be left in his suit tanks, though not much. During combat, a pilot breathed suit-oxygen--just in case his craft was hit, in case it decompressed for some reason.

   Delenn was going to give him hell for taking a Starfury out to chase raiders. He was supposed to be a responsible person...the Captain of Babylon 5, but fighting with paperwork had never been his first choice. He'd really wanted to see those raiders get what was coming to them.

   He'd seen it, by God, and then gotten caught in the backlash when a jumpgate opened nearly on top of his ship. Hunter and Logan had died instantly. At least he hoped they had; their 'Furies had incinerated. His one-man ship had been tossed like a carelessly flung pebble somewhere in the darkness of space. He didn't want to know the odds of being found. He knew they were not good.

   If he had had any idea which way to go, he might have aided the searchers. He had no idea. His navigation computer and communications board had been effectively wiped by the same "charge" that had flung him here. His scanners, if they were still working, detected nothing. He had no way of testing to see if they were functioning or not.

   He looked at the stars, and he thought of Delenn. He loved her. He knew that. He hadn't told her yet. He wasn't sure just when he would. He was waiting for the right time. *You dunderhead,* he told himself, *if you make it back. You tell her today! If you don't make it back, she's never gonna know.* The problem with arguing with yourself is somehow you always ended up being wrong. He should have told her before, but when?

   The oxygen sensor was blinking again and a temperature one as well. He eased the oxygen control open another half a notch. It stuck fast. There was no further for it to go....

   He shivered inside his suit. Time was not on his side. Folklore said when you ran out of oxygen, you just got sleepy and never woke up. He was running out of oxygen, and he didn't feel tired--not at all. He suspected folklore was designed to make those who lost loved ones and friends that way feel better. He didn't figure anybody'd ever asked the folks who had died.

   The starfield shifted again, so that he was facing Orion once more--Orion, the mighty hunter, a myth from ancient Earth. Those three belt stars still kept his name even though his legend was mostly lost--lost among the stars.

   More lights on the panel winked at him. He lowered his suit's helmet and secured the bolts. It was time to use what suit oxygen he had left. It would only give a few more minutes, but a few more minutes was a lifetime when it was all you had.

   He drew a deep breath--a luxury--and realized how shallow his regular breathing had become as he had tried to conserve the oxygen that had remained in his ship. There was water left in his suit's reserve tank. He drew a small sip from the nozzle.

   He did not want to die out here. His greatest fear had always been dying all alone.

   A buzzer on the Starfury's board accompanied the warning lights that he kept turning off. A ship within sensor range. He was suddenly very awake and paying attention. His sensors must be working. The captain knew he had no way to signal them, except the locator beacon. He shifted all of his ship's power to that. The gentle sounds of air moving and automatic systems functioning ceased.

   He held his breath and waited. The ship he had detected turned toward his. It approached at rapid speed. The locator beacon had done its job. It would be okay, he was going to make it. He was out of oxygen for all intents and purposes, but he could hold out until they got here.

   As the ship approached, he recognized the outline. It wasn't from Babylon 5 or any of the non-aligned worlds. It was one of the raider group he had helped defeat. He shivered. The only question now was whether they would fire on him or try to take him prisoner. He wasn't sure which one to hope for. Sometimes a quick death is preferable.

   It did neither. Holding its trajectory, it swept by his crippled ship leaving him screaming in its wake. *You bastards. You God-damned bastards.* There was nothing left to fill his lungs. All his air was gone. Red spots created a wash across his vision.

    ----------

   "Mister President," the Drazi ambassador was insisting, "we must do something about these raiders in the border sectors. What are your plans for dealing with them?"

   John blinked. He was in a conference room, in the Blue Sector, belonging to the Interstellar Alliance. Seated at a table with him were representatives from a dozen or more worlds. On the other side of the table sat Delenn. She looked worried, and she was looking straight at him.

   "I'm sure the Rangers will be able to deal with the problem," he said, hoping he sounded like he had some idea--any idea--what the hell the problem was. The new Alliance had many problems. Maybe he would let Delenn make an appointment for him with Stephen. This was getting ridiculous and happening too often.

   -----Six-----

   "John, I can't save both of them."

   "Both?" John looked at Stephen. "But she's only going to have one...."

   As the truth of what Stephen was telling him sank in, John shook his head. It couldn't be.

   "What happened?" he asked incredulously. The baby was due in just another week or two. It couldn't possibly be too early.

   John and Delenn were still newlyweds, well almost newlyweds. Their first anniversary had only been a few weeks before. As usual they had wanted to celebrate quietly, but neither the press nor their friends would let them.

   At the party, John had stood behind Delenn wrapping his arms gently around her. He loved to stand like that gently resting his hands on his soon-to-be child. He felt as though, holding them both in his arms, he could protect them from everything. Obviously, he could not.

   Delenn had been in such a wonderful mood that morning. She had sent him to his office with a hug, a wave, and a list of things to pick up on his way home. She had meetings scheduled in the afternoon, but she'd planned to clean closets and work on the baby's room in the morning. She had wanted him to find blue paint that would match some material she had chosen to go over the crib. He'd been perhaps halfway through the shopping list when his comm link had beeped.

   The message had paged him to Med Lab immediately: Delenn had gone into labor. He hadn't walked. He'd run. When he'd gotten there he'd had to wait. He had paced, of course. When did he not pace? He had eaten all the fingernails on one hand. One of the med techs had taken pity on him and kept him supplied with coffee.

   Stephen looked sadly at his friend. Coffee wasn't going to help. Stephen would rather have walked on hot coals than have to tell his friend what had happened, but there was no choice. "The placenta, the part that lets the baby get nourishment from Delenn, has separated too soon. Delenn is hemorrhaging and the baby isn't getting enough oxygen or nutrition. We've got to do something and we've got to do it soon. We don't have a lot of time, John. What do you want me to do?"

   John felt as though someone had just hit him--very hard and very low. *Oh, Delenn, what do I do now?* He was going to have to make a decision and, whichever way he chose, it was going to be wrong. Of all the moral choices to have to make, why this one? Both choices led to damnation.

   He looked at Stephen and lowered his eyes. "Save her, Stephen. Save her."

   Stephen didn't wait to hear more. He was back in the delivery room within seconds and making arrangements to do what was necessary to save the President's wife.

   John stood alone in the waiting area outside the Med Lab. He didn't cry, but he didn't pace either. He just stood, isolated and in shock. *My God, what have I done?*

   Within the delivery room, Stephen established an artery block to lessen blood flow to Delenn's womb. Carefully he completed the separation of the placenta and gave her medication to ease and eliminate the contractions. She was exhausted, and he doubted if she had any idea what was going on at all.

   "John?" she asked, raising her head just a little.

   "He's here." Stephen reassured her. The doctor nodded to the med tech who went to get John.

   The med tech stuck her head out into the waiting area. "Mister President, your wife would like you with her." John nodded and quickly pulled on the offered gown and gloves.

   When he stepped through the door to the delivery room, Delenn's eyes met his instantly. She smiled at him a small, exhausted smile. *She doesn't know,* he thought. *Oh, my God, she doesn't know.*

   He walked to her side and carefully took her delicate hand in his larger ones. "Hang on, beautiful," he whispered, holding her hand tightly. Her eyes followed him. She loved him so much, and she knew how much he wanted this baby, how much he wanted a son.

   John bent over and kissed her gently. As if a blessing, at that moment the baby was delivered--so small, so blue, so still--while its parents affirmed their love. Delenn never saw it, but John did. One of the med techs wrapped it quickly in a small white blanket. John continued to hold her lips with his until the med tech had left the room. "I love you," he said finally releasing her from the kiss.

   She smiled back at him, then winced with pain. As he looked down, she began to bleed heavily. She was hemorrhaging again. "Stephen," he called out. Stephen had made himself busy on the other side of the room, trying to give them a moment of privacy. "Stephen, she needs help. She needs help now!"

   Stephen looked up to see John's frightened face and Delenn's so pale she did not look alive. Indeed, as John held her hand, her fingers ceased to grip his, her emerald eyes glazed, and her breathing stilled.

   "No!" cried John, "No! No. No. No."

    ----------

   John's face was a white as a sheet: as white as the sheet in his hands, from the laundry he was folding--to help with the housework--while she was getting dinner. He finished folding the sheet and laid it on the bed. In three steps he was in the doorway between the living room and bedroom.

   Delenn was standing in the kitchen dicing something on the small cutting board. When she turned to get something from the small refrigeration unit, it was obvious she was still beautifully, glowingly pregnant. He quickly ducked back into the bedroom, before she could think to question him.

   He sat on the bed and held his head in his hands. She found him there half an hour later when dinner was nearly ready.

   *I am okay. I am okay. I am okay.* He kept repeating to himself. He wished he believed it.

   -----Seven-----

   He awoke to heat and a crackling noise, a wall of flames leapt up the far side of the room. The smell of smoke and overheated metal was overpowering when he breathed. It was hot and getting hotter. He needed to get out of here.

   He knew he'd have to move swiftly before the fire reached the door. He looked about quickly to be sure he was alone. He was. The better air would be down low, as close to the floor as he could get. If he hurried he could make it.

   He could not move. He was manacled to the chair he sat in. He struggled and called out, but no one paid him any attention. He screamed as the first of the flames reached him. He screamed, and he screamed, and he screamed....

   "John! John, please wake up!"

   "Lennier, I need you now," she spoke tersely into her link.

   "John, can you hear me?"

   He fought an invisible enemy, his arms flailing wildly, his face contorted with pain.

   "John!" she tried to wrap her arms around him, but he would not let her...nor did he wake up. She stayed as close as she could, trying to comfort him with gentling touches. He would not be comforted. He screamed.

   "Med Lab. We need help, and we need it now!" Lennier made the hard decision for all of them. John Sheridan was not awakening from this nightmare, and neither he nor Delenn knew what to do to help him. When the medical team arrived, they promptly sedated John and took him down to the Med Lab for observation. Delenn, walking behind the gurney, did not know what else she could have done. Lennier, walking close behind her, reached out and touched her arm to comfort her.

   "Oh, Lennier, what am I going to do?"

   "What needs to be done." He assured her. "What needs to be done." The two of them followed the gurney, hurrying through the passageways of Babylon 5. They followed it all the way to Med Lab. She hoped that Stephen could tell her what it was that needed, in fact, to be done.

   -----Eight-----

   Delenn walked as if in a dream, a nightmare.

   She had followed the medical team taking her husband to get help. The President had lain unmoving as they wheeled him through the hall. Only by looking very carefully had she been sure he was still breathing. Lennier had moved with her, the proper pace behind. Whenever she had faltered his hand had come forward to steady and support her.

   Doctor Stephen Franklin met them at the entrance to the Med Lab. He cast a professional eye on his friend. John Sheridan had definitely had better days--his skin was clammy, his pupils constricted to tiny points, and his breathing was rapid and very shallow.

   "Take him into Iso Lab One. Get him stabilized," he told the team of med techs who had been standing by. Immediately, they had wheeled John away leaving their boss to deal with John's expectant wife and her advisor.

   "What happened?" Stephen asked Delenn. She shook her head sadly.

   "He said he was tired after dinner. He didn't look well, so I suggested he lay down and take a 'nap,' I believe you call it. He had work to do, but I thought some rest might help him." She nervously twisted her hands together.

   "He went into the bedroom, and I thought he was asleep." She blinked back tears remembering her panic when she had first found him. "He may have been, but when I went to check on him, he was...he was lying frozen in one position. His eyes were wide open--staring a nothing. His mouth...his mouth was moving, like he was trying to call out, but there was no sound. I called Lennier. I did not know what else to do."

   Stephen gently guided her to a chair. He sat beside her and motioned Lennier to a seat on her other side.

   "He would not let me hold him. He would not be comforted. And then,..." She drew a deep breath. "...Then he began to scream. He would not stop, and he...and he, he had some sort of seizure, Stephen. Every part of him was moving--his arms, his legs, his whole body. That is when Lennier arrived."

   Stephen looked at Lennier. "I am not familiar with the term 'seizure,' but what Delenn has said describes what I saw. I called Med Lab immediately. I knew he needed more help than we could offer."

   "Until your people got there, we just tried to keep him on the bed. I have never seen anything like it." Lennier looked to Delenn for confirmation.

   She shook her head in agreement. Gently she rested her hand on her abdomen where their child was nearly ready to be born. "I knew some things had been bothering him, but this was so...out of control. Stephen, what is wrong with him?"

   Stephen drew a deep breath. *John never told her. Had he ever talked to anyone, anyone at all, about it?* Stephen doubted he had. "Delenn, when John was in Clark's hands, back before the attack on Mars, they did some pretty horrible things to him. I only know part of it, but what I know is more than enough."

   "The interrogators injected him with drugs that were meant to confuse his mind so they could mold and control him." Stephen tried to think how best to explain what had been done to John. "He was very strong and very brave. The more they gave him; the more he fought them. Ultimately they gave him hallucinogens--drugs that totally divorced his mind from reality. They're nasty drugs, banned years ago, but that didn't stop them."

   "It wasn't something they did to him once, Delenn, and then it was over. They used those drugs again and again, probably increasing the dosage every time."

   She looked at the doctor, understanding beginning to dawn in her eyes.

   "How much damage did they do?" Lennier was the one who finally asked.

   "I wish I knew. I wish I knew." Stephen shook his head. "They said they wanted 'repentance,' 'conversion.' Toward the end I would say they were just trying to destroy him."

   "In any case, the big problem with the drugs they gave him is that they can cause 'flashbacks'--hallucinations that can reoccur at any time. Things buried in his mind can come forward without warning: things that really happened, things they made him think happened, things that never happened that were somehow triggered by the interrogation methods they used. Sometimes the 'flashbacks' are short and over almost before the person experiencing them knows what's happened. John had one like that on Mars while I was helping him recuperate. Other times.... I just don't know, Delenn, how long one can last."

   "And you knew that John could, would, have these hallucinations?" Delenn looked at and through Stephen. Obviously she was not pleased that no one had told her.

   "Yes. I knew that in all probability John would have some on-going problems from what was done to him. 'Flashbacks' was just one of those possibilities. If the flashbacks only happened at night, they'd be nightmares--horrible, vivid, and frightening--but, just nightmares. That's all John ever admitted having to me. Has he had a lot of nightmares, Delenn?"

   Delenn shook her head "yes." There had been many nightmares--nightmares and worse. At least now she could begin to understand what had been happening.

   "I have been worried about him, doctor. There have been nightmares--not every night, but often. He would not let me contact you for something to help him sleep." It was also dawning on her that John, not Stephen, was the one who had been keeping things from her. "He has been easily distracted, more and more lately than ever before. Could his distractions have been caused by these 'flashbacks?'"

   Stephen nodded. "I want to go check on him now. I think the best thing you can do is go back to your quarters and get yourself some rest. I will call you as soon as there is any change."

   As Delenn and Lennier started to leave, Dr. Franklin caught Lennier's eye. Allowing the Minbari Ambassador to precede him to the lifts, Lennier turned back to the doctor who added quietly, "It's after midnight already. Cancel all of both of their meetings for today and the rest of the week. If someone questions you, declare it their second honeymoon and, for pity's sake, keep the reporters and journalists out of it for now." Lennier nodded. He would attend to it. Diplomacy he understood.

   -----Nine-----

   Stephen put on a gown, mask, and gloves and entered the Iso Lab. He could have drawn the inner curtains insuring privacy, but that would also have insured curiosity. To deal with what was wrong with John he needed none of the above.

   *Time and patience,* he thought, and maybe something to block the 'flashbacks' until they could get things more under control. *Damn you, John. Why didn't you let me help before?* Remembering all that had happened, he sighed. There weren't many dirty tricks Clark's people hadn't used. *They didn't pull out his fingernails or set fire to his hands.* At least in reality they hadn't, who knows what they had done virtually.

   The sedative John had been given before bringing him to Med Lab would wear off shortly--in an hour, maybe two. Already the monitors for heart rate and blood pressure were indicating a return to consciousness.

   *Do I restrain him?* It wasn't really a choice, and it was one of the reasons he had wanted Delenn out of here. "Full restraints and stand by with adrenaline and a neural blocker."

   Stephen's staff was well trained. They moved to do what they were told. The adrenaline would help keep things going if John's body tried to shut down on them, and the neural blocker should help short-circuit some of the wild, uncontrolled messages his brain had been sending to his body.

   Already the EEG was beginning to show spikes and valleys as it crawled slowly across the monitor over the head of the bed. "Set up an IV with saline solution and prep him for a complete brain scan." The med techs moved. The boss had spoken.

    ----------

   Inside a small portion of his own mind, the dying man in the chair watched the skin on his arm turn black, char, and flake away. It burned and burned. Already he could see the bones in his fingers...what was left of them. His legs were gone. He marveled that he continued to breathe, to feel. He'd stopped screaming. He didn't remember when; maybe his lungs were gone, too.

   From somewhere, from nowhere, John remembered the Vorlon's inquisitor Sebastian and words he'd spoken in anger and frustration as the inquisitor had threatened to kill him. He'd told Sebastian to "go to hell," and Sebastian had answered him. He heard the words ring loud and clear, "This *is* hell, Captain, and you are its chief damned soul."

   John knew where he was then. This must be hell.

   *If this is hell, there should be others here.* There should be, but there weren't. He was alone--alone in an inferno. He'd always been afraid he would die all alone.

    ----------

   Two hours later the Med team was ready, as ready as they were ever going to be. Stephen continued to monitor brain activity closely.

   "Heart rate and respiration coming up, he should be back with us in just a moment. Stand ready, and when I tell you I want those meds in stat." The Iso Lab team was poised to go into action. Now they just had to wait. Now it was up to John.

   John opened his eyes, but they did not focus. He opened his mouth, but he did not scream. He felt hands holding him. He wasn't alone. Tears formed in his eyes and ran down his cheeks.

   "John!" Stephen leaned over him.

   "Neural blockers, stat!" The team moved. They were well-trained. John didn't even notice the pin-prick on his arm.

   "John, look at me. Focus! Focus on me!"

   For a long moment, Stephen thought he was going to slip away again. Then, the eyes slid left just a little and fastened on his face. "Stephen? How did you get here?"

   "I work here, John. I work here."

   He signaled for someone to contact the President's quarters. "Tell Delenn he's awake, and she can see him. Just tell her to give me a few minutes, I'm going to need to run some tests...and I'm going to need to run them now."

   -----Ten-----

   President John Sheridan of the Interstellar Alliance and his wife Delenn, the Entil'Zha of the Rangers, sat across his desk from Dr. Stephen Franklin. This was as close to an official medical conference as they had ever come--at least since they'd first discovered Delenn was expecting. That had been a happy occasion. This one was not.

   John sat with his arms resting on the arms of the chair. It was the way his arms had been held by the manacles Clark's interrogators had used. It was probably just an automatic gesture but Stephen found it still made him cringe. He sometimes wondered if, consciously, he didn't remember more about the condition John had been in when they rescued him than John did.

   Delenn reached out and laid her hand on John's arm. He looked at her and smiled somewhat sheepishly. He hated being the center of so much attention. It didn't feel right somehow.

   Somehow, in his own mind, John knew that he should have been able to get past all of this without needing anyone's help. It was really ridiculous that someone who had as much experience as he did--who had risen through the ranks of Earthforce as he had, who had fought and out-foxed the Shadows and the Vorlons, who had engineered and brought about the end of Clark's regime on Earth--couldn't handle a little rough treatment. It wasn't like he was a first-year recruit. My God, he'd gone to Z'Ha'Dum and come back! That had to count for something. He'd always paid the price for what he'd done--even when it had cost him as much as Z'Ha'Dum had demanded. *Twenty years,* he remembered Lorien's voice when he'd told Delenn. *Twenty years. No more.*

   Stephen cleared his throat. John and Delenn both looked at him expectantly. "John, a little over a year ago I gave you some choices. I told you that you were going to need to talk to someone about what had happened to you on Mars. I left it open that you could come to me, even though I knew that might not be easy. When you didn't choose to come to me, I understood, but have you talked to anyone?"

   "I was just a little busy then, if you remember," John bristled. "And I've been more than a little busy since."

   "Why did you advise him to talk to someone, Stephen?" Delenn ignored John's sniping comments. "Is this something that 'talking about' can help?"

   Delenn had been truly frightened by what she had seen happen to John. Whatever it took to make it right, she would see to it that it got done.

   "Talking is the best therapy I know for the kind of abuse you were subjected to," Stephen continued speaking directly to John. The last thing he wanted was a reoccurrence in John's mind of the people who talked about him "as if he were not there."

   "But, Stephen, that was a long time ago now...." John voice trailed off. He knew what his friend was going to say next...at least, he thought he did.

   "And how long ago was the last flashback, John?" The President winced. It had been less than twenty-four hours. "Whatever Lorien added to your metabolism has helped, but nothing can get you passed these nightmares, unless you want to do it."

   "You mean there is a way to make them stop." John looked incredibly relieved.

   "Yes, but it won't be easy." Stephen steepled his hands in front of him. "Right now you are on some special medications called neural blockers--they are slowing down some of your brain's messages to your body. Hopefully, they will allow you to not have any more waking flashbacks, at least not as severe as that last one."

   John stared a Stephen. The beginnings of a scowl formed on his face. He knew he was continuing to receive medication, but he had had no idea what it was purported to be doing. He wasn't sure he liked the idea of taking something that effected his brain.

   Delenn took the news somewhat more calmly. "That is what you are doing, for now?" Stephen nodded "yes." "What do we need to do for the future? Surely being always on some form of medication is not an option."

   "No," Stephen turned to her, "No, it's not. What really needs to happen is for John to relive some of what happened to him." He turned and included John in what he was saying. "And after you've faced what really happened, then all the things that didn't really happen should no longer have any power over you. Your mind is confused. It knows bad things happened, and they did. You can't wish them away or hide them in a closet."

   "I could tell you that it could have been worse, but I doubt you would believe me. Trust me, both of you. It could have been worse." John shifted, finally, in his chair. He placed his hand over Delenn's where it rested still on his arm.

   "Stephen." John's voice was very low and very serious. Just looking at him, it was obvious he was afraid. "Could any of this effect, have effected, the baby?"

   "It would be highly unlikely for it to do so. I wish I could say for sure, but I can say most probably not. The drugs you were given effect the neural pathways much more than the reproductive ones." John closed his eyes and let out a sigh of relief. Delenn squeezed his hand. At least their child should be all right.

   "Doctor, if I have heard you correctly, what John needs is to somehow repeat what has happened and identify what was real and what was not real." Stephen nodded. "On my world, on Minbar, there is a way to do just that. I do not know if it would work for someone not born of the Minbari, but it is a possibility."

   Both John and Stephen looked at her with different degrees of startlement and surprise. She fidgeted, drawing her hands back into her own lap. She was not comfortable suggesting this. She did not even know if the clan elders on Minbar would allow it, but somehow it made sense. It provided a reason for why the universe had forced her to go through "the dreaming" yet again before she and John were married.

   She turned to her husband. "You remember when I had to return to Minbar, after the third night of watching." John nodded. He did not know where she was going with this. "I went at the insistence of my clan. They did not want us to marry. If I could not provide sufficient reason in their eyes for it, then the joining would not happen. To do so, I was allowed--no required--to go into 'the dreaming.'"

   "It is hard to describe, but 'the dreaming' takes one forward and 'the dreaming' takes one back--it took me back to face the one moment of rage for which I will always bear guilt, but it also let me hear what I needed to hear from the lips of my old mentor. It freed me to say to my clan: this is right; this I shall do."

   "Graciously, they allowed me then to do what I had declared I would do. They made me a symbol of life, a great sacrifice in their eyes." Irony colored her words. "I was to be one sent to wed with a defeated enemy--a magnanimous gesture. It was never so. The heart does as the heart does, and I came to you because I loved you. I still do." John smiled at her affirmation of love, still unsure where all of this was going.

   "I want to take you to Minbar with me," she said. "I want you to go into 'the dreaming,' face these horrors, and put them behind you. I will go with you--to guide and to protect you."

   Stephen raised his eyebrows. "Delenn, that's not reasonable. You could go into labor any day. I shouldn't even let you travel, let alone participate in something like you're describing."

   "Stephen's right, Delenn." John agreed. "What you describe might do the trick, but I can't let you go with me." She began to get that stubborn look that John knew all too well. "Hear me out. I love you more than life itself. Do you remember the night I folded clothes? Delenn, I had a 'flashback,' one of those waking nightmares, that night. You found me sitting with the job half done and thought I'd been woolgathering." Delenn nodded her head and tucked the phrase "woolgathering" away in her memory to be looked up later.

   He took a deep breath and continued, "I lost you in that nightmare, Delenn--you and our son. I saw you both die. I couldn't handle it if anything were ever to happen to you--either of you, both of you. I need you safe. Listen to Stephen, please."

   "But, if I do not go with you, who will protect you? Who will be your guide?" Delenn knew that she needed to protect their child. She had not known what John had faced that night, only that he had been so shaken by it that he had been in tears.

   "Who went with you into 'the dreaming?'" John asked.

   "Lennier. He was...." How could she tell her husband, that another loved her that much? "He volunteered. He would not let me go alone."

   "I can think of any number of people who would go with you, John, if the Minbari will allow it?" Stephen looked quizzically at Delenn.

   "If I ask, I believe it will be allowed." Had she really become that powerful on Minbar? Apparently, she had. "It is, however, another kind of nightmare. I do not think you will be able to use your medication to help you there. There is a cup, a chalice--like a silver flower--from which you must drink before you enter the 'Whisper Gallery.' The liquid in that chalice is not poisonous, but it is very potent. Minbari fast and purify themselves first. I think the fasting may be wise, based on what I know of the experience."

   "It is said, 'There is nothing to fear in the dreaming--that there is nothing there that you do not bring with you.' You will need to prepare yourself. You will be taking a great many things--unpleasant things--with you. It is never easy to face reality. We are none of us as good or as honest or as compassionate as we wish we were." John wanted to ask what she had seen in "the dreaming," but somehow he could not. If and when she was ready, she would tell him.

    ----------

   "John, are you sure you want me to go with you?" Michael Garibaldi looked at the President with incredulous eyes. "I know less about Minbari ceremonies than I do about birthin' babies."

   "Exactly," said John, "which is why Stephen needs to stay here with Delenn. Babies he knows about, and she needs him more than I do."

   "You're sure."

   "I am. Michael, you were there at the beginning"--he hadn't meant to bring that up--"and you were there at the end, when you rescued me. I don't know what all this 'dreaming' of Delenn's is going to entail, but I've figured out it's not going to be easy. No matter what she says, I don't see the Minbari religious caste being overjoyed to share one of their 'mysteries' with me. In the eyes of many of them, I'm still the 'Starkiller.' I want someone at my back I can trust."

   Michael didn't know what to say. He'd never figured John would trust him again.

   "What time do we leave?" he asked.

   "As soon as possible. I'd like to get this over with and be back here before my son arrives." John smiled wistfully. He'd actually prefer not to go at all--but that was no longer a choice.

   "I'll meet you in Docking Bay Four in say three hours." Michael shook his hand and walked swiftly away. It would take him only a short time to wrap up some business, and he'd be all set to go.

   John headed back to his quarters to tell Delenn that it was arranged. By now, she probably already knew. There had been Rangers in the crowd near where he and Michael had been talking. She was keeping tabs on him, one way or another, wherever he went.

   "Must be nice...to have someone who loves you that much." He remembered Stephen's words when he had complained that he was being over-protected. "Nice to have someone who cares."

   He increased his pace. He'd at least get a kiss and a snuggle before he had to leave. His traveling bag was already packed; it already had been when he went to get it out this morning. She was about six steps ahead of him. He smiled and kept walking.

   -----Eleven-----

   John stood in a dark hallway lit only by glowing panels at either end. Michael stood just behind him and to his left. The faint sound of bells from a triangular instrument carried by a Minbari acolyte floated on the air.

   As he moved forward, John had a sense of foreboding. This had been safe for Delenn. There was no guarantee it would be safe for him. He straightened his shoulders and shook of the feeling. No sense in borrowing trouble.

   He wore a white robe and white sandals on his feet. He had expected to feel silly in the traditional Minbari dress, but he didn't. He had taken no medication for over twenty-four hours. He knew he could have a "flashback" at any time. None had come, at least not yet. Michael looked and felt silly. White robes and sandals were definitely not his style. Still, he had made a commitment, and he would stand by it.

   They stopped in the antechamber outside the "Whisper Gallery." The elderly Minbari who had led them there opened a compartment and removed a cup of silvery metal, the one Delenn had spoken about. It did look like a flower, sort of. She had neglected to mention that the contents of the chalice would bubble and steam--yet be very, very cold.

   John took a sip and passed it to Michael. Michael looked like he'd rather not, but he did it anyway.

   "Who seeks to enter the dreaming?" intoned the Minbari elder.

   "I do," affirmed John.

   "Who will go with you to guide and protect you?

   "I will," Michael's voice was strong and sure. He didn't know about guiding, but protecting he meant to do.

   "Enter, the way is prepared." The diamond-shaped panels on the doors to the Whisper Gallery opened revealing a room lost in white mist. Carefully, deliberately, John stepped into that mist. Michael followed close behind him--unwilling to be separated by even so tenuous a barrier as mist. The passageway closed behind them. They were within "the dreaming" now.

   The room contained--among other things--marble benches set at intervals. On the floor were mats, randomly placed. Everything was white and pure and clean. Everything, but them.

   *The dreaming takes one forward. The dreaming takes one back.* John remembered Delenn's words. Until this moment he hadn't really understood their significance. Here, within this room, he might travel anywhere.

   He sat down on one of the cool stone benches and motioned Michael to join him. His thoughts were on Delenn. *Where else would they be?* The mist swirled and he heard her cry out...and he heard a baby cry.

   "Michael, walk with me." John held out his hand and felt his friend's grasp. They stood in Med Lab and watched Stephen deliver his son--a boy. He had known it would be a boy. The child was beautiful, but not more so than his mother. Dark hair circled the tiny head which someday might be adorned by a bonecrest as well. That didn't matter. Nothing else did. He had a son, and mother and child were healthy and strong. He felt a weight raise from his heart.

   He hadn't realized how much he had believed the lie from his nightmare that they both would die. *They will not die,* he told himself and, holding Michael hand, continued through the dreaming.

   There were times he cowered and cried out in pain. There were times he flung Michael from him, only to have him return and guide him still.

   What had been real was all here waiting for him. What had not been real was banished. Pain had been real; hunger had been real. The lack of sleep, the virulent toxins, the electrical shocks--all were real. The Drazi had sat across from him, had let himself be argued out of confessing, had been taken away to "die horribly," and had returned to take his bows for an "excellent performance." The interrogators and the lights, the taped propaganda and the manacles had been real. The intravenous "nutrition" had existed. They had put something into his system that way...whether to help him or harm him he still didn't know. The rest of it was false--fabrication--outright lie and subterfuge. He had been hurt. He had been susceptible. When they had used their machine--the one that went around his head, he knew now the machine had been real. All the things it had made him see were not.

   He was never abandoned by his colleagues. He was never burned or mutilated. He had been starved, yes, to a certain degree; left without water, yes; deprived of sleep, of privacy, of normal human rights--yes; but not the rest of it. Now, he could name it a lie.

   He held his head up. *I did not break. You could not break me. I survived.*

   Michael did not know what to think. He was not here to dream, but to help John. However, when John fought his battle in the bar again--and called out for help. What could he do, but be there? In the dreaming, they fought together. In the dreaming they were both betrayed. Now, they both knew who the real betrayer had been. God help Bester, if he crossed paths with either one of them again. Now, they both knew the truth.

   The chief had never known what John had gone through after the bar fight. He had heard what ISN said, but he'd always known that their report was "crap." Now he walked with John and faced the queue of cowards who didn't want to fight anyone, just beat someone helpless to a bloody pulp. He saw the multitude of faces cheering on those who had hurt his friend. That had been real, too, and that was the source of John's damaged ribs and vertebrae, the broken collar bone, the bloodied face, and the concussion.

   Holding John's hand Michael felt his pain. The pain had been real. Walking together, they passed through it and were whole. The whole they formed together was greater than the sum of its parts. They had both been hurt, but they had survived.

   The drugs had come next. John had known they would. He remembered the beginning of this part well, being held down and injected with the small doses that had prepared his body for the larger doses yet to come. That had all been real: the retching, the drooling, the shaking that had set his whole body trembling, the seizures. My God, there had been seizures in that room. He had not remembered. His mind had cast that image away--had hidden it until now.

   John began to see a pattern: falling at Z'Ha'Dum had been real, escaping through the tunnels had been real, the beatings on Mars had been real, the toxins in his food had been real. He had really been lost in his Starfury, long ago, he'd told Delenn about it...about his fears and his fascination with space. He had been incredibly worried about her and the baby, and--yes--he had once told Sebastian to "go to hell" and been told by him, in turn, that he was already there. Every nightmare had a core of reality. Every flashback did, too.

   The nightmares weren't just because of what had happened to him on Mars--bad as those things had been. Z'Ha'Dum, the Shadow War, and a hundred other small events were part of his nightmares, too--things his mind had stored away, things that had happened that he had not wanted to face. Consciously, carefully, he brought he each one forward into the light of the dreaming, and he let them all go. Yes, those things had happened, but he divested them of power. They could no longer harm him; they would no longer haunt him. *No more!* his mind and body said. *No more.*

   John ended up lying on one of the white mats. He was curled up on his side, but he was no longer in pain. He was finally, confidently asleep. There would be no dreams, no nightmares.

   Michael watched and waited. Michael, the protector, sat alone on a white bench and held his head in his hands. There was nothing else he could have done, no way he could have changed things. He, too, in that quiet and holy place faced the demons in his life. He, too, left them behind in the mist when they walked out of the Whisper Gallery--seven hours later.

    ----------

   On Babylon, 5 Delenn still waited for their child to be born.

   On Mars, Lise Hampton-Edgars waited for the proper mourning period to be over. She waited for someone she loved to make up his mind what it was that he really wanted.

   In their waiting, both of them smiled. Somehow, it would be all right.

 

*****

 

 

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