Author’s Note: Just for clarification, this story is in no way intended to reflect the real experiences of a person with Dissociative Identity Disorder; it is built firmly on the Jekyll and Hyde model instead. Mental health tags were included as potential trigger warnings, just in case. The title is, naturally, taken from a quote in Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde.
“What do you mean, ‘you don’t know’?”
The woman who had recently been Talia Winters pursed her lips in annoyance. Bester had come to collect her personally, which was no surprise, although it was a bit of one that he’d been conveniently close enough to get here within a day. But then, no one in the Corps had as much of a vested interest in taking down Babylon 5 as he did, even if his reasons were a bit more…personal than the Corps’. His frustration with her inability to give him the key to that downfall was understandable. Hell, she shared it. But the way he was looking at her as if he thought this were deliberate on her part: that was inexcusable. “Just what I said. I don’t know. I can’t remember.”
Still frowning, Bester rose from his seat and began pacing the length of Winters’ quarters aboard the station, every now and then pausing to give her another suspicious stare. “Stop looking at my like I’m one of the traitors,” she snapped. “I couldn’t be even if I wanted to. You know that.”
“I do,” he answered briskly. “But the program was designed to completely eradicate the original personality, while leaving the memory intact. You should know everything that Talia Winters knew.”
“I should,” Control answered, folding her arms defensively. “I don’t. Trust me: this is just as frustrating for me as it is for you.”
“As it should be.” Bester agreed. He looked at her and pasted on a smile that was almost sweet, if not for the undercurrent of spite in it. “Please, Ms. Winters, don’t stand on my account.”
“Don’t call me that,” she snapped. “Talia Winters was a traitor to the Corps. She was weak. I am not Talia Winters.” She couldn’t disobey a command from a ranking member of the Corps, though, even an indirect one, so she sat.
Bester seated himself opposite her, still watching her with narrowed eyes. “Fair enough. How about ‘Ms. Jacobs’? I’m told ‘Jacob’ is Hebrew for ‘Supplanter,’ which seems…fitting.”
Jacobs. Something about that did feel right, fitting, as he’d said. No matter how she felt right now about the person bestowing it on her. ‘Jacobs’ gave a curt nod.
“Very well, Ms. Jacobs,” Bester continued with false cheerfulness. “Perhaps you would care to explain to me how the program could work perfectly on every test subject and yet still fail in your case?”
She hesitated a moment before answering, scrolling back through Talia’s memories to confirm what she suspected. There were so many holes, but most of them were small. There were certain moments, certain conversations and thoughts that were absent, but the moments framing them were still there. And since Jason Ironheart was far beyond the Corps’ reach, most of Talia’s memory of him was intact. All except for one thing…
“It’s Ironheart. He…changed her somehow, made her stronger. I don’t know how, though. She’s keeping that from me too.”
Bester leaned in, the skin between his eyebrows creasing into a frown. “Why are you talking about her like she’s still there?”
“Because she is,” Jacobs spat out angrily. “You’re right, when I was activated it should’ve wiped out her personality entirely. But whatever Ironheart did to her protected her somehow. I can feel her, I can even hold her back, but I can’t get at her. I can’t destroy her.”
Eyes widening in alarm, Bester rose from his seat and began pacing again. “That isn’t what you told Commander Ivanova.”
She didn’t bother asking how he knew that. Oh, he didn’t get it from Ivanova (although why she was so sure of that was something else she didn’t understand), but all he would have had to do was eavesdrop when the Commander told someone else.
“Of course it isn’t,” was her curt reply. “If they knew there was anything left of Talia Winters in me, they’d never let me go.” A shiver passed through her at the thought. She was programmed for self-preservation. She’d tell a thousand lies not to have to go back into that dark corner of Talia’s mind, or worse…be wiped out entirely. “They’d try to…bring her back.”
“Well, we can’t have that.” Folding his hands matter-of-factly behind his back, Bester smiled at her in a manner that was almost kind. “Get some rest, Ms. Jacobs. Our transport for Earth leaves first thing in the morning. With any luck, a good night’s sleep will jog your memory.” Then, with a jaunty salute so smart she could practically hear his heels click, Bester left.
She was supposed to be dead. Why wasn’t she? Anything had to be better than this hell, tossed like a discarded toy into the darkest corner of her own mind, cut off not just from everything and everyone she cared about, but even from her own body.
No. She knew why. That…thing controlling her body had said it herself: Jason. Jason’s “gift” was the reason she was trapped here. Why, Jason? Why would you give me just enough power to survive, but not enough to fight her? Why didn’t you warn me that she was there?
Oh, she’d fought. She’d fought like a cat, clawing and kicking at the darkness even it swept over her. She’d battled for control as the imposter ripped into Susan, mocking and twisting what they’d shared with the implication that it had all been a lie. She’d fought harder than she’d ever fought in her life, but nothing had worked.
If she could have cried, she would have. He’d heard her. Somehow Jason had heard her. Which meant somebody knew she was still in here. Jason, why? she asked again, her mental voice sounding as weary and beaten down as she felt.
He didn’t answer. Talia, you must break free.
I can’t. I tried, but she’s too strong.
Jason’s presence expanded in her little corner of her mind until it felt like he was filling it, embracing her. You are stronger than you know. But no one can fight this battle alone.
Then help me, she pleaded.
I have given you all the help I can. Jason’s voice was quiet and resigned as he spun images at her, images of all the precious secrets he had helped her keep. I am not what you need to win this battle. Not anymore.
It was on the tip of her non-existent tongue to ask, then who is? But the answer came to her before she could because it was one of those secrets. It came to her in a whisper of silk on skin, of long auburn hair tangling around her fingers, and in the shock of climax when a mind that had always been closed was suddenly opened to her.
Talia muffled a cry. Susan thinks I’m dead.
Jason’s mind wrapped around hers in one final caress. Then show her you are not.
Susan tossed fitfully, her body recoiling on instinct away from the empty spot on the mattress that Talia had occupied last night. She was vaguely aware that she was dreaming, aware enough to be a little surprised that she’d managed to sleep at all. Her darkest secret was out, and not just to the Captain but to someone who now had no reason not to give her up to the Corps. Truthfully, she should have run, should have just deserted and hopped the first transport out the minute Talia transformed before her eyes. But she couldn’t. Because it was Talia, and keeping her secret meant nothing if she had to sacrifice Talia to do it. The Control personality might be right; there might be nothing left of Talia to save. But what if she were wrong?
Susan, help me…
As if conjured by her doubts, the figure of Talia slowly materialized in front of her. She was wearing the same suit she had been this morning, her hair gleaming like sunlight in the strange, sourceless light of this dream world. But instead of the proud, disdainful smile Susan had last seen on that painfully familiar face, she looked lost, pleading. One gloved hand stretched out towards her as if trying to grab onto something, anything to keep her from falling into the pit that yawned beneath her feet.
Susan’s first instinct was to reach for that hand, to take hold of it and keep hold of it no matter what happened, to Talia or to her. But fear seized her before her feet could move. Because what better way for the false Talia to trick her into revealing herself than to get her to close what could only be the visual representation of a telepathic circuit?
“How do I know it’s you?” she demanded.
It’s me, Talia promised, her face pleading. Please. I know what she told you, but I’m alive. I’m still in here.
“Prove it.” Her voice sounded harsh even to herself.
Her eyes even more desperate, Talia glanced down at her hands. With barely a thought, she ripped the gloves from them, casting them aside into the surrounding darkness. The Psi Corps badge on her lapel followed.
Susan’s heart skipped.
She couldn’t do that, even if she wanted to, Talia urged, confirming what Susan suspected. She reached out again, this time with a bare hand. As she did, the room around them seemed to stretch and thin, the distance between them widening as if Talia were being once more pulled out of her reach.
Reacting without thought, Susan lunged forward, grabbing Talia’s hand and holding on as if she never intended to let go. The moment she did, the connection between them that had flared to life for the first time only last night spilled open again, flooding through them both with a rush of mutual relief. Because there was no possible way she could doubt anymore: this was Talia, not the cheap imitation of her that had twisted in the knife only hours ago.
But, how…? Susan asked in amazement.
You remember Jason. How he gave me a ‘gift’? Susan could only nod. Talia smiled tiredly. Well, this was part of it. But I can’t fight her alone. I need your help.
Of course. Just tell me what I can do.
Talia’s fingers curled gratefully and almost possessively around her own. You can’t let Bester take me away. I think I can beat her, given enough time and if I have your support, but I won’t get that chance if he gets me off the station. Susan, please. I don’t have much time. I can’t do this when she’s awa—
Susan sat up with a gasp, snapping back to awareness. Her heart was pounding in her chest like it was trying to drum out the 1812 Overture.
She’d always hated dreaming. Whether it be nightmares about her mother, her brother, or a thousand other things, nothing good had ever come from one of Susan’s dreams. But this felt different. This felt real.
And if it was…then she had only a few scant hours to save the woman she thought she might love.
John’s door chimed. Then it chimed again. And again.
Peeling bleary eyes open, he glared at it for a moment before finally forcing himself to sit up in bed. He glanced at the clock and swore. Who the hell would drop by his quarters unannounced in the middle of the night?
The chiming persisted. “All right, all right!” John shouted at the person on the other side of the door, even though with the sound-proofing they couldn’t hear him until he commanded the door to open. Grumbling, he grabbed a robe from the nightstand and threw it on, stomping through his sitting room to open the door and stare in angry disbelief at his second in command.
“Commander, what the hell is so important that you couldn’t just call me on the link?” he demanded.
Susan didn’t answer immediately, instead ducking under his arm and into the room. Only when he turned away and let the door close behind her did she speak. “I couldn’t take a chance of being overheard. Have you swept your room lately?”
Blinking in surprise, John nodded after a moment. “Yeah, with everything going on right now, I sweep it at least once a day. Now, what the hell is going on?”
Hesitating a moment, Susan plopped herself down on John’s sofa before answering. “You can’t let Bester leave with Talia tomorrow.”
He followed her, speaking with a hint of exasperation. “Susan, there’s not a whole hell of a lot I can do to stop him. As far as everyone but the command staff and Lyta Alexander is concerned, that is still Talia Winters, and she’s leaving of her own free will. I can’t hold her against her will without charging her.”
“Then find something to charge her with,” Susan answered abruptly.
John’s eyes narrowed as he lowered himself into a chair opposite. His mind kept working at the problem until finally it nudged an answer loose. “Oh hell. She knows, doesn’t she?”
When Susan looked at him blankly, he added, “What you told me last night. You let it slip to her sometime before all of this happened.”
Susan looked sheepish. “Yes, but that’s not what this is about.”
John’s expression hardened, despite the worry blossoming in his own chest. That was the last thing they needed. If Psi Corps got their hands on Ivanova, she could do more damage to their cause than a thousand Talias combined. Not to mention the fact that she was his friend as well as his subordinate. “Commander—”
She cut him off. “Talia’s still alive.”
He stopped, shocked. “That’s not what you told me earlier.”
“It’s not what I thought earlier,” Susan admitted. “She came to me. Called to me. In a dream. She asked for my help.”
John frowned. “What makes you so sure it’s really her and not…the other one?”
She met his eyes evenly. “Did Garibaldi brief you on the Ironheart incident?”
He nodded. “Not in exhaustive detail, but he went over the basic facts of the case a few months ago.”
“Well, when Ironheart…ascended or whatever the hell it was he did, there was this…light that came out of nowhere and touched Talia. He called it his gift to her.” Susan glanced at him to make sure he was following before going on. “Talia told me once that, after that, she could do things that a P5 shouldn’t have been able to do, things that a P12 shouldn’t have been able to do. Things that she kept secret from the Corps even before she started to break her conditioning because some part of her knew what would happen to her if they ever found out. One of those things was the ability to hide away parts of herself—secrets, abilities—from stronger telepaths.”
John frowned. “And you think she’s hidden herself away from the implanted personality.”
“Yes.” Susan’s expression turned anxious. “But if Bester leaves this station with her tomorrow morning, it won’t matter how well protected she is, we’ll lose our only chance to get her back. Because once Psi Corps figures out that the program didn’t work properly, that it can’t give them the information they want…”
Glancing down, John noticed that Susan’s hands were knotted together in her lap so tightly that the knuckles were turning white. He nodded in acknowledgment, his own mouth drawing into a pinched line. “Right. All right, I’ll see what excuse I can find to keep her here. In the meantime, Garibaldi said he had a line he wanted to follow up on about this. Why don’t you go ask him if it’s panned out.”
Susan’s eyebrows shot up in surprise and a touch of amusement. “You want me to wake Mr. Garibaldi up in the middle of the night,” she repeated.
“Absofragginlutely,” John grunted. He smiled wryly at her. “Why should we have all the fun?”
With a grateful smile, Susan rose from her seat. “Yes, Sir.” She paused about halfway to the door. “Oh, and Captain…? Thank you.”
John grimaced. “Thank me when it’s over.”
“Run that by me again?” Bester asked. He was all courtesy on the surface, but there was a dangerous undercurrent to his voice.
Stephen squared his shoulders and repeated, “It is my considered medical opinion that the conditioning of the alter personality currently in control of Ms. Winters’ body makes her medically incompetent.”
Bester waved a dismissive hand. “Yes, that part I understood. What I fail to grasp is why you seem to think this in some way prevents me from leaving with her this morning. Ms. Winters is a member of Psi Corps. If she is not competent to make her own medical decisions, power of attorney reverts to next of kin, which is the Corps.”
“Unless the member in question chooses a different next of kin.” Stephen felt a swell of triumph when Bester gaped at him. He’d started reading up on the law the moment Captain Sheridan had called him last night and asked if he help keep Talia Winters on the station until they could be sure the Control personality couldn’t be removed. “There’s no statute that forbids it. There can’t be, or that would destroy the illusion of autonomy you give your members. You just rely on the loyalty you program into them from birth to ensure no one ever does.”
“Are you telling me that Ms. Winters changed her next of kin?” Bester’s voice sounded incredulous.
“She did.” Luckily, that was the truth. She’d come to him only a few weeks ago, when her loyalty to the Corps had been finally, irretrievably broken, and asked him her options. He’d been as surprised as anyone when she chose Commander Ivanova, but it had made sense on reflection. If anyone would fight to make sure that Talia’s wishes, not the Corps’, were honored, it was Susan.
“I see.” The Psi Cop’s eyes narrowed. “Doctor, don’t think I don’t know what you’re doing? It’s only natural her friends would want to keep her here to see if there’s any way the Control personality can be removed. But I promise you, it can’t. And even if it could, there is nothing left of Talia Winters to save. You’re only delaying the inevitable.”
“That may be,” Stephen acknowledged. “But I’m her doctor, so until I’m satisfied, she’s not leaving this station.”
“Very well.” Bester folded his hands together and smiled sweetly. “Then until then, neither am I. I do hope you have enough of the sleepers to last that long, or else…” He tsked, shaking his head. “Who knows what some strong emotion might float to the surface?”
“Kosh. Your lead that you wanted to follow up on was Kosh. The Vorlon.” Ivanova’s voice sounded tinny and distant in the breather, but her skepticism came through loud and clear.
Garibaldi shrugged, a rueful smile crossing his face under the glass faceplate. “I know it sounds crazy, but Talia told me once about this weird negotiation Kosh had her sit in on. In hindsight, from the way she described it, it almost feels like he knew this was coming. And hey…” he grimaced. “Beggars can’t be choosers, right?”
She sighed deeply in acknowledgment. “Right.”
Garibaldi said nothing, just raised his eyebrows and lifted his hand to the door chime. The door slid open before he could ring it, though, and Kosh stood there looking at both of them expectantly. Or at least, it felt expectant: it was weird how expressive that dammed encounter suit could be without ever actually changing. Maybe it was something in the tilt of his head.
“Ambassador,” Susan exclaimed, sounding startled. “I’m sorry, we didn’t mean to disturb you…”
Kosh gave her a look that managed to convey ‘of course you did’ without saying a single word or moving a thing but his neck. “So,” he stated in the sibilant but musical tone of his translator. “It is done.”
Garibaldi couldn’t quite suppress a snort. “If by ‘It is done,’ you mean Talia Winters has been reprogrammed by the Psi Corps, yeah, I guess it is. We’re hoping you can tell us how to undo it.”
Kosh said nothing, didn’t even acknowledge that he had spoken. The iris of his encounter suit remained pointed straight at Ivanova. It was no wonder she squirmed, even if she kept her eyes level and never flinched from that weirdly piercing gaze.
In spite of himself, Garibaldi felt a little insulted. Not that he wanted to be the object this little staring contest, but what was he, chopped liver? “Talia told me what you did. With that Vicker? You recorded her personality. Almost as if you knew this was coming.”
This time, neither one of Michael’s companions acknowledged him. Kosh just kept staring at Susan, and she stared right back defiantly. Much to his surprise, Kosh was the first to break the silence. “Is she essential?”
Is she essential? Wow, that took some nerve. It was on the tip of his tongue to retort that some of them didn’t judge another person’s value based on how useful they were, but Susan cut him off.
She said it with such conviction, such passion, that Garibaldi did a double take. Wait a second, since when did Susan I-Hate-the-Corps Ivanova talk about a telepath like she was essential to her very existence?
Kosh regarded her for a heartbeat more, then inclined his head.
It was like waking up slowly from a never-ending nightmare. Normally Talia could barely function, if at all, while Control was awake, but the moment Susan and the Captain walked into her rooms, she started to feel again. Oh, she still drew input from her senses even if she couldn’t control the body that housed them, but knowing what was going on around her and feeling the slightest ability to affect it were very different things. The minute her eyes—Control’s eyes, for the moment—locked on Susan, she felt a glimmer of the latter for the first time in two eternal days. Especially when Susan didn’t flinch away this time as she had when Control had taunted her.
Her body reacted very differently of course, responding to the fear and the anger of the personality currently controlling it. “I don’t know what the hell you think you’re doing, but you have no right to hold me like this. No matter what your precious doctor thinks.”
Sheridan nodded. “I see Mr. Bester has already briefed you on the situation. Good. That’ll save us both a lot of time and trouble.”
A smile twitched at the corner of Susan’s mouth, even though every line of her body screamed discomfort. Talia wanted more than anything to reach for her but her hands wouldn’t cooperate, balling instead into fists.
“You’re grasping at straws,” Control spat again. Talia refused to grace her usurper with the name she had chosen for herself. “When Psi Corps finds out about this—”
“Which I’m sure Mr. Bester is trying to make happen as quickly as possible,” Sheridan interrupted. He smiled. “Mr. Garibaldi’s gremlins ought to keep him busy for a while yet, though. And when he does get through, he might find EarthGov slightly less cooperative than he’d like. You see, we’ve already informed them that…another party has taken an interest in your case.”
Talia felt the other’s confusion a heartbeat before she spoke. “What other party?”
The door slid open again on cue, and much to the surprise of both souls currently at war in Talia’s body, Ambassador Kosh of the Vorlon Empire stood there, regarding her with an expressionless stare through the iris of his encounter suit. Behind him stood a figure that was, in his own way, every bit as strange as the Vorlon, even though he appeared human on the surface.
Talia took in the broad-brimmed hat, colorful suit and cheerful expression of the Vicker she’d known as Abbut and her spirits lifted. All those nights she’d lain awake wondering what Kosh could possibly want with a recording of her thoughts and memories…she’d imagined the worst but she’d never imagined this. Had he known, somehow? About the enemy sleeping in her mind?
Even more surprising, Talia felt Susan reach out and gently brush her thoughts. I know you said you could beat her given time…but we didn’t have time.
Unfortunately, raw and untrained as she was, Susan didn’t have the finesse to direct that thought only to the part of Talia that was still under her command. Control reacted. Spinning to face Susan, she spat out, “So that’s what you’ve been hiding, you bitch! God, when the Corps finds out about this, I will make sure they make your life miserable!”
No! Talia cried out in desperation, unheard or ignored. She’d fought so hard to keep that precious secret. Susan couldn’t just throw her life away like this.
Susan still didn’t flinch. Stepping forward until she was standing almost nose to nose with Talia, she simply stated, “No. You won’t.”
Kosh lingered in the doorway for a moment as if for dramatic effect, then glided into the room, Abbut following on his heels. He regarded Control with that same enigmatic one-eyed stare he’d turned on Susan earlier. She shrank back.
The head of his encounter suit swiveled to look at Sheridan and Susan. “Go,” the translation matrix commanded, it’s echoing tones even more severe and ominous than usual.
Sheridan nodded and turned back towards the door. Susan didn’t move.
“Ivanova,” the Captain called curtly from the doorway.
“I’m not leaving.” Susan remained resolute. She flicked her gaze to him briefly and then back to Talia. And no matter who was in control, Talia knew that look was meant for her. “I made a promise.”
Kosh’s attention pivoted back to her. He regarded Susan for another moment implacably, then turned away. “Acceptable.”
Sheridan nodded once again and left, the door closing behind him.
Control lunged for it with a fearful cry, but Susan blocked her way. “And what are you going to do?” Control spat venomously. “Hold me down?”
“No,” Susan answered baldly, grabbing her hand and ripping the glove off before wrapping her fingers around Talia’s just as she’d done in the vision they’d shared last night. “Just hold on, like I promised I would.”
If asked about it afterwards, Talia could never quite describe what it had felt like when Kosh had given her back her mind. Like any battle, there were some moments, some images that were clear as a data crystal, but most of it was a blur of pain and fear. She understood now why Lyta Alexander had become so…strange after she touched Kosh’s mind, but as for what had actually happened to her…Talia could only guess.
Truth be told, she didn’t want to know. She could have asked Susan if she did, but the memory of those nightmare days was something she just wanted to put behind them. That Susan had fought for her, that she’d even risked herself to do so, that was all Talia needed to know.
“If you don’t want to think about it, then stop thinking about it,” Susan mumbled sleepily from beside her, her face burrowing deeper into Talia’s hair. They were sprawled together across Susan’s bed, just as they’d been nearly every night since that day. Somehow after facing their worst fears together, the fears they’d harbored about each other had seemed so much smaller and more trivial by contrast.
Talia laughed deep in her throat. “Sorry.” She twisted around in Susan’s arms to face her, one finger reaching up to trace the line of her lover’s jaw in wonder. “Do you ever wonder…what Kosh meant when he asked you if I was essential? Somehow I doubt the Vorlon Empire is that concerned with your love life.”
Susan opened her eyes, gazing sleepily into Talia’s. “Well, there’s that whole thing John just figured out about telepaths being an effective weapon against the Shadows. With Jason’s gift, you make one hell of a powerful weapon.”
“Not as powerful as we make together,” Talia responded with a smile.
Susan hadn’t lied when she’d told John her own latent telepathy was so minor as to be almost negligible, but Jason’s enhancement of Talia’s gift seemed to more than make up the difference, especially since that gift had blossomed in way she never imagined since she’d reclaimed her life. Perhaps it had only been Control’s presence in her mind holding it back to begin with. But now…now it was no wonder that Kosh had agreed to not only help free her, but also to take her under his protection so Psi Corps couldn’t touch her without risking the ire of the Vorlon Empire.
Either that, or even Vorlons could be closet romantics after all.
Susan grunted in amusement, blinking lazy eyes. “You know, I never asked for any of this,” she grumbled mildly. “I was perfectly happy pretending to be a mundane and keeping every telepath I met at arms’ length.”
Talia laughed again. An idle thought slipped free from Susan’s drowsy mind that she loved Talia’s laugh, and that just made her smile more. “You might have been satisfied, even content, but happy? Really?”
Susan smiled sheepishly. “Well, I thought I was. I suppose I didn’t know how happy I could be.”
Talia leaned in and kissed her. Neither did I.