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disclaimer: BABYLON 5, Ivanova, Talia, and all characters and situations thereof, are all rights and © J. Michael Straczynski and Bablyonian Productions. This is a not-for-profit effort for the purpose of fan-to-fan appreciation of some wonderful characters :).

This is a station story. pre-"Div. Loyalties". Sexual innuendo. Swearing. Nudity. Telepathic indignity. Great, big, leapin' liberties were taken with the mechanics of starfury technology. Just imagine that it's really a '72 Chevy Ivanova is working on. :) not yet beta-read. Alternate title: The Three Fine Behinds. Aaaaand now--enjoy. ;)


THE PILOT'S POSITION

by metis

"And here's Cobra Bay, where the fighters are kept," Michael Garibaldi pointed out pleasantly as he carefully eyed the attractive blonde woman next to him. Babylon 5's resident commercial telepath, Talia Winters, stepped away from the station security chief to gaze with interest about the busy, noisy docking bay. Maintenance personnel milled about starfuries in their dock locks, monitoring fuel and diagnostic equipment and prepping the fighters for readiness. The smell of engines and oil filled the air, as well as a metallic crispness Talia could not identify. She stepped curiously to the EF fighter nearest her, its x-wings suspended by a support rig as a person clad in maintenance coveralls worked, bent over and half-hidden beneath its engine hatch.

Nice ass, Talia admired privately as she maneuvered to where she could duck her fair head just enough to see the insides of the starfury from a polite distance.

"If you like, I can show you my fighter and give you the opportunity to experience the pilot's position," Garibaldi suggested beside her. The security chief smiled engagingly, all charm as he thrust his large hands into his dark gray uniform pants pockets. Talia gave him a wry twist of her red lips that displayed a dimple in her high-boned cheek.

"Mr. Garibaldi, that won't happen to be on your list of 'Most Favorite Things in the Universe', the 'pilot's position', I mean," her distinctly deep, husky voice joked. As the security chief snorted a chuckle in response, running an embarrassed hand through his receding hair, Talia noted curiously that the cute behind she had admired earlier seemed to stiffen upon hearing their voices. The telepath glanced up at the craft's side and instantly recognized the aggressive two-headed eagle insignia emblazoned on the surface. Oh my goodness, she thought, could it be--

The person beneath the hatch stepped back and straightened, large, bright blue eyes falling directly upon the telepath as a dirty rag worked slowly between oil-stained, elegant hands. The maintenance coveralls were suspenders-styled, the front flap's straps pulled over the proud delineation of breasts and a trim, broad-shouldered torso clad only in a dark, Earthforce blue sleeveless tee. Sweat stained the area between the breasts even darker. Talia's eyes immediately veiled and ran a discreet, assessing gaze over the muscled lines of slim, strong arms streaked with a subtle sheen of sweat and glistening grease marks. The hot temperature of the hanger bay seemed to inexplicably rise by a couple of degrees.

"Ms. Winters," came the rich, terse tone from the wide, yet proud mouth of the dark-haired woman before her. The tall woman's only indication of surprise at the telepath's presence were the dark, sharp eyebrows which rose slightly over the cool, blue eyes.

"Commander Ivanova," Talia replied easily in her deep tone. The cock of her fair head as she returned the commander's professionally polite regard seemed to communicate silently, 'what a surprise, indeed.'

Garibaldi cleared his throat. The insignia that marked this starfury as Ivanova's had been on the other side of the craft before he and Ms. Winters had stepped closer to it. Had he known beforehand whose starfury it was, he would have steered the blonde as far away as possible. It was too well known that Commander Susan Ivanova had little tolerance for Psi-Corps telepaths.

"I was giving Ms. Winters a tour of Blue Sector and Cobra Bay. Showing her a bit of the fighter pilot's side of life on this station," the chief informed good-naturedly.

The commander took her time assessing the chief's reply, bringing up a hand to slowly wipe at the perspiration on her smooth forehead, leaving a streak of grease.

"Civilians are forbidden this close to the launch decks," Ivanova replied in clipped, subtly accented tones, the only hint of her Russian heritage. "I don't recall approving any request for this sort of visitor authorization."

"Uh, that request was sent to Sheridan--Commander," Garibaldi answered carefully. Damn, Ivanova was pulling rank on him, and in front of the telepath, too. He also knew full well that Captain Sheridan didn't handle visitor authorization requests, his second-in- command, Ivanova, did. Once he got back to his office, he'll have to dummy up a request quick and have it get 'stuck' in a backlog before reaching John Sheridan's desk. Then get Sheridan to back him up, Garibaldi plotted hastily. He caught the hem movement of the telepath's dark green dress as she rose nervously to the balls of her heeled shoes, her black leather gloved hands swinging to clasp behind her. A deep breath escaped her red lips and the blonde's gray-blue eyes looked at him pointedly. Damn.

"Remember who really handles those requests next time, Chief," Ivanova finally informed him, apparently dismissing the situation as she turned back to her starfury. Garibaldi let out his own deep breath and glanced from the obvious discomfort of the telepath to the proud back of the commander.

"Say, uh, Ivanova, I didn't figure you for a grease monkey," he ribbed amiably. He stepped closer to the dark-haired woman as she inspected the engine interior.

"Surprised that I don't mind getting my hands dirty, Garibaldi?" Ivanova replied. "I don't always spend my off-duty hours reading Pushkin and listening to Tchaikovsky."

"Or watching the Bolshoi Ballet," came the husky, humorous comment behind them. Garibaldi actually caught a fleeting grin upon the commander's wide mouth before it was chased away.

"The Bolshoi I will watch only on special occasions, Ms. Winters," the Russian replied without turning around, but the deadpan intent of her rich voice was evident and Garibaldi had to give the smiling telepath a conspiratorial wink for succeeding in winning some approval with the commander.

"Ms. Winters, would you like to take a closer look at the insides of a starfury?" the chief suggested.

"If the commander does not mind," the telepath replied engagingly, but did not attempt to approach. Ivanova stepped away from the open hatch and motioned permission. Talia moved then to the commander's side, bending to inquisitively poke her fair head under the hatch.

"Is that an energy conduit?" the blonde asked eagerly, looking about the interior as the security chief proceeded to helpfully identify the various components to the telepath. Ivanova adjusted the hanging work lamp to shine with better illumination upon the starfury's engine interior.

Shining, gold hair fell to the telepath's shoulders, the straight strands gathered behind one, delicately delineated ear adorned with a simple, black and gold earring. Elegance sculpted the blonde woman's profile, from the high cheekbones to the pale, long throat. Even in the mingled acridity of fuel fumes and oil residue, Ivanova could scent the subtle, heady flavor of the telepath's perfume. The commander leaned upon the upraised arm that casually gripped the suspended hatch above and roamed her bright-eyed regard over the close warmth of Ms. Winters.

Talia glanced up and saw the flexed strength of a bare arm marked with streaks of sweat and grease. Her breath stopped as her soft eyes met the unsettling gaze of large, darkly lashed blues.

The telepath brought her gloved hands up to grip the rim of the hatch opening, knocking a heavy wrench from its casual resting place.

"Watch--" came Ivanova's sharp warning, but even as she and the chief moved to catch the tool it was too late.

The weighty wrench neatly detached a thin hose from its connection as it descended, the tense hose whipping snakelike in Ms. Winter's direction. Like a painter's brush stroke, the black, glistening arc of streaming oil splashed prettily upon the blonde's pale cheek to diagonally streak, lightening-like, down the front of her dark green dress. Quickly Ivanova jerked the hatch further open as the telepath stepped backward in alarm, narrowly missing the hatch with the back of her head.

"Ahhh!!!" Talia cried in fear and surprise as she looked down at herself. The oil was already spreading and staining her clothes and its slick black scent on her face assaulted her nostrils. Ivanova let the hatch down abruptly, inadvertently connecting it with a dull bang with the security chief's head.

"Ow!!" Garibaldi exclaimed, but even as he held his head he looked with concern in the telepath's direction. "Ms. Winters, are you all right?"

Only a husky sound of disgust was the answer as the telepath attempted to wipe some of the offensive liquid from her face with a tentative back hand. She succeeded in smearing it further and dirtying her glove. Ivanova's sudden laughter broke upon the blonde's dismay, clearly amused by the telepath's predicament.

Talia could only glare daggers at the unsympathetic woman as she stood gingerly in her black oil-defiled state, completely at a lost at what to do.

"Ivanova!" Garibaldi reproached under his breath harshly as he stepped to the telepath's side. "Ms. Winters, I'll take you back to your quarters--"

"I'm not walking through Red Sector looking like this!" the telepath interrupted, clearly angered.

"Then I'll run back and personally fetch you a change in clothing--"

"Mr. Garibaldi no thank you! I don't want you going through my things!"

The chief opened, then shut his mouth. He was a policeman, he would be entirely discreet, but it would be true, he would have to go through some of her things.

His comlink took that moment to chime insistently.

Of all the friggin'!!--Garibaldi thought to himself, before deciding to acknowledge the hail. he had left specific instructions with his people to not bother him while he escorted Ms. Winters on an informal tour of the EF areas of the space station. It had taken months to finally get the reserved, yet terribly attractive telepath to warm up to him, and now Ivanova's damn starfury had to go and relieve itself all over Talia.

Ivanova did her best to cease laughing, but could not prevent the wickedly broad smile that curled her mouth. She had a dark sense of humor, and it was very entertaining to witness the usually immaculate telepath's formally pristine, professional appearance become comically disrupted. The path of the offending oil had managed to even mar the bright surface of Ms. Winters' Psi-Corps badge at her dress collar, then trail quite spectacularly over the curve of one breast, across the telepath's flat abdomen, and then disappear over the horizon of a generous hip. The oil completely complemented the form-hugging lines of the telepath's attire, and for some reason, this unfortunate accident made Ms. Winters less this perfect, remote representative of an organization Ivanova despised, but a more....human person. The distasteful expression gracing the telepath's pretty features was priceless.

"This is not funny," the glaring blonde snapped at the commander, but she could not help the reluctant grin that crooked her full lips in response to the gaiety that lit up Ivanova's usually reserved and darkened features. The Russian suddenly appeared so youthful.

"Right! Garibaldi out!" the chief barked into his comlink, worry creasing his features. He returned his attention to Ivanova and Talia.

"The Centauri and Narn are at it again--looks like a mini-riot in Brown Sector. And wouldn't you know it, our two favorite ambassadors are right in the middle of it!" the worry left the security chief's face and a contrite expression took its place as he regarded Ms. Winters' predicament. "Talia--" he began.

"Don't worry about it, Garibaldi," Ivanova suddenly broke in, casually tossing him her dirty rag as she stepped closer to the two. She made a curt, beckoning gesture to two maintenance dock workers nearby, who immediately hurried in to see to her starfury. "I'll take care of Ms. Winters."

Garibaldi fumbled with the rag and then realized that grease was getting all over his hands. Goddammit.

"I don't like the sound of that," Talia muttered in bad-temper. Ivanova raised a sharp eyebrow at the telepath's comment.

"Talia?--" Garibaldi questioned.

"Go on, Chief, what more trouble can Ms. Winters get into?" Ivanova assured almost cheerfully. Perhaps too cheerfully.

Garibaldi stepped into Ivanova's space, surprising the commander.

"If so much as a hair of hers is out of place," he began in a low voice, looking pointedly at his fellow command officer. Ivanova had to smirk. Her friend really had it bad to actually risk threatening her. But then, Psi-Corps telepaths in her presence did end up in unfortunate circumstances for some reason....like the Psi-Corps member who fell into a swimming pool--after being thrown from a three story window--back on Io.

"Promise. She'll be the picture of perfect health the next time you see her," Ivanova replied in a solemn tone. She gave the security chief a little push in the direction of the docking bay's exit and even added a playful slap to his behind. Garibaldi looked as startled as if he had seen a naked Vorlon.

"Y'know, I don't know if I should even thank you for taking care of Ms. Winters, considering it was your starfury that did this to her," he remarked, disgruntled. The chief gave the telepath one last consolatory glance as he made to leave. "I'll check in on you later, Ms. Winters."

As Mr. Garibaldi then set on the brisk pace that was his trademark, Talia noticed that the commander's slap to his backside had left a distinct, greasy hand print. One that really drew attention to the security chief's very firm, very cute butt. When the telepath returned her wary attention to the commander, she was faced with yet another wryly raised eyebrow.

"I'll take you to the pilot's locker room. We've showers there and I can get you a change of clothing. If you please, Ms. Winters?" Ivanova indicated with a hand. The gesture pointed out the exit portal they would take as well as for the telepath to proceed the commander. Talia passed Ivanova but looked pointedly at the Russian's dirty hands.

"Don't even think it," came the dire, rough-voiced warning over the blonde's shoulder as she sauntered haughtily to the exit. The commander--along with several other dock personnel--watched the sexy swing of hips and long legs stride along at a certain telepath's distinct, feminine beat and shook her dark head, suppressing yet another grin. She had to admit, Talia Winters might be Psi-Corps, but she had one hell of a fine behind.

***

"This is where we'll shower?" Talia asked, clutching her towel to her body as she suspiciously eyed the commander, similarly toweled.

"Of course. Growing up in the Corps, I'd think you were used to shared facilities," Ivanova commented casually. They had stripped down in the locker room and now presently stood before the communal vibe shower room, clad only in towels. The commander thought the telepath looked rather cute in her vulnerability--fair hair tousled and a big smudge of grease on her cheek. The blonde now stood two inches shorter than the commander. The previous height equality had definitely been the telepath's heeled shoes, Ivanova noted to herself rather smugly.

"Yes, I was raised in a group environment since I was five," Talia agreed. "But this is different."

"How so?" Ivanova inquired innocently. Her big, bright eyes widened some more, indulgently awaiting the telepath's explanation. 'How so' indeed, you boarding school brat, Talia thought sourly. Taking off one's clothes in the discreet atmosphere of a locker room was one thing, but having to stand in a brightly lit vibe-shower room bare-assed naked with another bare-assed naked woman she happened to think quite attractive was another barrel of squirming Yogtree all together. She didn't think she would be able to tear her eyes away from the sight of molecules of grime and sweat vibrating off Ivanova's exquisitely bare, muscled flesh. Thank goodness I'm not a man, Talia thought. At the moment, the alluring images her anxious mind was entertaining would have had her towel revealing a most embarrassing reaction.

As the telepath stood before the patient commander, weighing the pros and cons of the increasingly alarming situation, another towel-clad woman moved by in the passageway, her skin fresh and hair fluffed, as if she had just finished with vibe-showering.

"Commander," the young woman addressed easily as she passed.

"Lieutenant," Ivanova replied in her rich, professional tone.

Talia's blue-gray eyes widened in realization and she abruptly moved down the passageway to where the lieutenant had departed. Before her lay another shower facility--this one with low partitions separating the vibe-shower units.

The telepath turned, indignation evident in every aspect of her towel-clad form.

"You--" her attractive mouth twisted out accusingly. Ivanova squeezed quickly by the irate blonde, dropped her towel and stepped into a stall.

"Better get clean quick, Ms. Winters," Ivanova called out above the high-pitched hum of her vibe unit. "Next squadron's due in from maneuvers and the locker room will be chaos!"

Talia let out an exasperated sigh. She knew that Garibaldi and Ivanova were fond of playing practical jokes on each other, but did that juvenile attitude really have to spill over to include her? Now she wondered if the oil hose had entirely been an accident after all....

Talia stepped into the stall next to Ivanova's--but not before she gave the turned commander's nude buns an assessing appraisal. Hardly payback for the joke the Russian nearly played on her, but satisfying nonetheless. As she keyed her own setting, she glanced over the low partition to her shower companion. Ivanova's eyes were closed, her mouth and demeanor relaxed as the sonic vibrations cleansed the surface of her skin and hair. A flexed, bare arm rested against the shower wall, oily grime particles disappearing from the white smoothness of her flesh. Ivanova pushed off the wall, eyes still shut, and turned so that the luxuriously long length of her rich, thick hair gained the benefit of the vibe setting.

This was unexpected, seeing this side of the commander. It was unconscious, open, and so unlike the often hostile and professionally distant woman she knew. Talia turned her eyes away, respecting the commander's privacy in this entirely unprivate situation. The telepath touched her cheek reflectively, and noticed the grease residue still remaining. She keyed the vibe unit for a higher setting.

If Ivanova felt comfortable enough with the telepath to actually attempt a practical joke on her.....then perhaps Talia finally had the chance to become this wary woman's friend....and perhaps...perhaps something more.

"There's a special setting for the vibes to get grease out of your hair," came Ivanova's melodious voice, suddenly breaking upon the telepath's thoughts.

"Really? What is it?" Talia asked, but instead of answering, the commander merely swung an arm over the stall partition and quickly keyed in the sequence. The sudden, jarring vibration of the new setting threatened to rattle the startled telepath's clenched teeth right out of her mouth.

"Feel better?" Ivanova asked cheerfully as she ran her brush through her long thick hair. They were back in the locker room, both in towels, and Talia was gingerly testing her jaw with a careful hand. She only threw the commander a gray-eyed glare, then proceeded to take down the uniform clothing in Ivanova's open locker.

"Hey! I was going to wear that!" the dark-haired woman protested.

"And I guess I'd be wearing the EF towel?" Talia replied sarcastically. She held up Ivanova's dark blue Earthforce slacks to her own waist, measuring the length and fit.

"I would have lent you my jumpsuit, the one that goes under the flight gear," Ivanova explained.

"I think I can get into your panties," the telepath murmured, busily holding up Ivanova's spare pair of fresh lacy undies to her own pelvis. Ivanova nearly choked--or fell over--her normally composed and cool features a bright and embarrassing red. The blonde, on the other hand, seemed oblivious to her innocent slip of innuendo and was demurely pulling on the commander's panties beneath her towel wrap.

"I doubt I'd fit these," Talia asserted, helpfully tossing the still reddened commander her matching bra.

"Hey, I may not have a rack like yours, but I'm a decent size," Ivanova retorted, turning around to slip her towel down to her hips and pull the bra straps on. She personally thought she was a very good size. Ms. Winters however--the set on her put the domes of Mars to shame.

"'Rack'??" the deep throated laughter of the telepath suddenly sounded behind her, and when Ivanova turned, the smiling blonde was buttoning on the commander's white, pressed dress shirt, casually leaving the first two buttons undone. "Where did you learn an American term like that?"

"From your fellow East Coast exile, Mr. Garibaldi," Ivanova replied.

"Huh. I already know what Mr. Garibaldi thinks of my 'rack'," Talia snorted, pulling on Ivanova's EF slacks. As she tucked the ends of the shirt into her waistband, Talia gave the commander an easy glance under her pale lashes.

"I like your rack just fine, Commander," she commented in a low, rumble of appreciation, and Ivanova found herself blushing deeply for the second time that afternoon.

As the commander slipped on the light silk of her flight jumpsuit, she noticed the telepath cinching the EF belt one notch smaller than how Ivanova usually wore it. 'Slim as a Drazi Sun Hawk and with a flight deck big enough for a Minbari heavy cruiser', Ivanova recalled, remembering the ludicrously descriptive words a young, inebriated ensign had delivered at Earhart's. She had dressed down the poor ensign with her usual Ivanova ire, but she never did forget his apt description of the station's resident commercial telepath.

The commander pulled on her boots. Talia was busy giving one of her heeled shoes a shake, the shiny brass of her Psi-Corps pin falling into her pale, bare palm.

Ivanova straightened, watching the telepath.

The blonde woman stood, slowly rubbing the still stained surface of her service pin with a thumb. Telepaths were required by EA law to wear the badge while in the presence of the non-telepathic. It was a way of identifying and controlling the psionically talented--make sure they did not misuse their ability in any way. Yet, because of Ivanova's own long-standing hostility with the Corps, she didn't like the idea of Talia wearing the badge on the commander's own clothes.

The telepath contemplated her service pin a while more, then stuffed it into a pocket of the EF slacks. From her other heeled shoe, she fished out her earrings, placing them at her lobes. She faced Ivanova slightly, but did not look at her.

"I should get my things to the cleaners," her low voice finally said, the casualness strangely distant, even as she smiled slightly. Still not looking at Ivanova, she gathered up her rolled dress and left the pilot's locker room.

***

"What's this station come to, when an old woman can't get to her quarters before the fresh spoo of the day goes spoilt!" the tiny, wizened, female Narn complained loudly into the bent commander's ear. She and Talia presently stood in the Zocalo, Babylon 5's shopping and dining bazaar in the station's Red Sector. The commander had pursued the telepath after she had left the locker room, insisting on paying for the blonde woman's cleaning. After dropping Talia's clothes and soiled gloves off where the station's command staff had their dress uniforms taken care of--therefore, a reputable enough establishment as could be found on the station--Ivanova had intended on walking the telepath safely to her quarters. Instead, Nana'Toth, diplomatic attaché Na'Toth's great, great aunt and the station's resident, elderly curmudgeon, managed to stop Ivanova and was now intent on complaining extensively about the small riot in Brown Sector and the 'Centauri' situation.

Ivanova glanced over the gnarled Narn's wrinkled, spotted head to where the telepath waited among the Zocalo stalls. Talia looked positively rakish in the casually worn EF clothes. The blonde stood, a hip aggressively au contraposto, her chin raised almost defiantly as shoppers milled about her. Her hands were thrust into the uniform pockets. She hadn't removed them since they left the cleaners.

No badge; no psi-dampening gloves--the gloves required by EA law to prevent telepaths from inadvertently scanning by skin contact. Talia was breaking the most significant EA laws regarding telepaths in the book. Add to the precarious situation the fact that in the Zocalo, Ms. Winters was bound to be recognized not only by the merchants but by the very clients she served as a Psi-Corps commercial telepath, made it very likely that Talia could be reported and charged for her transgressions....and severely punished.

The woman who had been raised by the Corps since the age of five hid the stress becoming apparent about her mouth and eyes and shifted her weight once again. The delinquent-style stance was practically perfect.

"Nana'Toth--" Ivanova interrupted.

"Stop the fighting! Stop it, I say! Now an old woman can't even get her fresh spoo home from market without it getting spoilt!!"

"Nana--" Ivanova tried.

"Kill 'em all!!! Every last one of those fan-headed Centauri!!" the tiny old Narn shrieked.

"I'm sure the last war would have been over faster if the Narn Regime had recruited a hundred of you, Nana," came an amused, husky-toned voice.

Nana'Toth's frail frame puffed up a bit, her red eyes glittering.

"They would have needed only ten of me," she stated proudly.

Ivanova spared the smiling blonde at her side a quick, grateful glance. With that one compliment, Ms. Winters had easily diffused the elderly Narn's rising, near hysterical anger. The telepath was not a member of the Commercial Corps for nothing.

"What happened to your clothes, Mindwalker?" Nana'Toth suddenly inquired of the taller blonde woman. Her sharp red eyes lasered over Ivanova's flight suited body and then over the casual looseness of the telepath's borrowed EF clothes. Talia glanced nervously at the commander over the elderly Narn's spotted head, suddenly realizing what her wearing Ivanova's clothes implied.

"Nana--" Talia began.

"Never mind," Nana'Toth interrupted. She grabbed both their arms, forcing Talia's bare hand to leave her slacks' pocket. With surprising strength, the old Narn moved the two women's arms so that the back of their hands touched briefly.

"You pouchlings have fun!" the tiny old Narn bade, then turned to gather the handles of her shop walker and push it aggressively into the Zocalo crowd.

Ivanova had no idea what to make of that. She gave Talia a quick shrug of bewilderment, the telepath in turn giving the commander her own questioning, wide-eyed look as she stuck her hand back into her pocket. Together they headed into the evening crowd, making their way for the habitat ring of Red Sector.

The number of hurrying, moving bodies in the Zocalo proper was increasing; workers heading for quarters, people and aliens rushing for evening meetings or transport departures. As the Vorlon ambassador was fond of calling it, it was "The Hour of Scampering", and emotions--and sometimes tempers--were high as different sentient life forms from every part of the universe converged like colliding atoms at this one station thoroughfare. In the hurl and burl of body traffic, the telepath and the commander weaved carefully, but even a former New York City native like Ms. Winters could not avoid the rude jostle of a few oblivious passerby. When the telepath appeared rocked once again by an inadvertent run-in with a very large Pak'ma'ra, Ivanova stepped forward hurriedly. She caught the look of bewilderment and disorientation in Talia's pale face and realized that the blonde's clumsiness was due to factors beyond mere carelessness. She quickly placed an arm around the telepath.

"Earhart's is over there," she indicated with a quick jerk of her dark head. "Let's wait this out."

Talia only nodded in reply. As they moved through the crowd towards the bar that was Earthforce's officer lounge, Ivanova did her rude best to keep the passerby from bumping into the blonde woman. Talia was a close-proximity telepath; unlike their rogue counterparts, Psi-Corps telepaths were not conditioned to everyday physical contact. The enforced habits of glove wearing and maintaining a professional distance kept Psi-Corps members highly sensitive and dependent on physical separation from the 'normals'. Add to this the inadequately thin barrier of a cotton EF shirt and the heightened emotional phenomenon of "The Hour of Scampering", it was possible that even an experienced telepath like Ms. Winters could not maintain her telepathic shields against such an assault on her unique senses. Ivanova suddenly realized that the full covering and thick fabric of the suited attire Talia always seemed to favor was more than just to look 'nice'.

"Will I be accepted?" the telepath suddenly asked, bringing Ivanova's full attention to her. Talia's normally soft, husky tone was alarmed with ill-concealed stress. "It's only for officers and I'm dressed like this."

"Don't worry," Ivanova assured. "You look fine, and if anyone says otherwise I'll sock them in the face."

That got the commander a nervous, throaty chuckle, and as she led the telepath through Earhart's entrance, she could feel the tense, slender shoulders beneath her arm relax significantly.

The shockingly loud, hearty welcome by the off-duty officer personnel at the sight of Ms. Winters was certainly a surprise, though Ivanova could surmise why. As the bemused telepath left the shelter of the commander's arm to accept the good-natured ribbing of rambunctious pilots, Ivanova knew that Talia's little accident in Cobra Bay had already traveled the EF grapevine and made the gossip rounds of Earhart's. Ivanova leaned back on the bar rail and grinned as she watched Talia relax and accept the teasing compliments concerning her borrowed clothes. The blonde even shot back a few easy, humorous comments of her own that got the off-duty crew howling. When the members of Zeta wing enthusiastically hoisted a surprised Ms. Winters onto the bar top, Ivanova finally decided to step in.

"Mascot! Mascot! Mascot!" came the deep-voiced, enthusiastic chant of cheerfully inebriated fighter pilots.

"Sorry boys and girls, but Ms. Winters won't be the mascot of Zeta squad, or any squad," Ivanova interrupted, as she placed hands around Talia's slim waist and lifted her off the bar top. As she led the telepath to a tucked away table, she added over her shoulder. "Except maybe my own."

That got the Russian huge, mocking groans of disappointment from the members of Zeta wing. As she and Talia sat down, she saw that whatever stress the telepath had been experiencing in the Zocalo had now left her attractive features and was replaced by a happy, engaging smile.

"The pilots loosen up quite a bit when they're off-duty," Talia observed, her blue eyes bright as she looked about the room over Ivanova's shoulder.

"Just remember to never mention business in here," the commander warned good-naturedly. "Or you'll have to buy the whole room a round of drinks."

"I'll remember that, Commander," Talia replied, eyes widening at the idea of such a penalty.

"And calling me by my title would also be business related, so please, call me Susan," Ivanova informed casually. "Jovian Sunspot," she added to the bar attendant who approached.

"Ginger ale," Talia informed the attendant with a smile. She returned her attention to the dark-haired woman before her, her soft blue-gray eyes now impish "Then by all means, Susan, please call me Talia."

Ivanova ran her fingers along the short table top quickly, ending with a nervous rap of her knuckles as she non-verbally replied with a quick smile in the telepath's direction. Her name, rolled out so casually yet in that gorgeous, husky tone was quite unnerving.

"Can I ask you a non-business related question?" Talia suddenly asked, as their drinks were placed before them.

The commander eyed her a bit warily, but perhaps more in jest than in real concern.

"You may," her rich tone delivered with regal cautiousness.

"What was it like, growing up in St. Petersburg?" Talia questioned, and she could practically see the alert set of Ivanova's shoulders relax their slope by a millimeter or two. As the commander answered her, and Talia risked more questions about Susan's younger life, she watched the intriguing, dark-haired woman before her soften and display upon her distinct, attractive features, the play and movement of the varied emotions that reminiscing brought to her. A mischievous quirk of her wide mouth as she related a funny anecdote about her brother; the reflective, distant sadness that entered her bright, blue eyes as she spoke of her father.

Susan had beautiful eyes; large, expressive, and darkly lashed. At rare moments like these, those beautiful eyes unveiled to become the undefended, mirrored portals to her complicated Russian soul.

Since that first moment she had caught sight of the commander, upon the telepath's arrival to Babylon 5, Talia had felt that this was what had drawn her so inexplicably to this infuriating woman. This woman who had been abrasive to her, combative, and of course, rude enough to laugh at her embarrassing misfortune in the docking bay earlier today. Deep beneath the proud, contentious exterior--this extremely frustrating, layered exterior that was resistant even to friendly interaction--lay such stark, vulnerable emotion, its naked frailties tugged at the telepath's heart.

As they did now. Ivanova had survived many sad moments in her life, and it was only inevitable that talking about her youth should bring up the old losts.

Talia's bare hand moved impulsively across the table but when she saw the commander's own hand stiffen where it rested on the table top, the telepath's fingers did a nervous skip across the surface to arc self-consciously through the air back to her glass of ginger ale. As the telepath occupied herself with fiddling with her straw, she tried not to look at the commander. It had been so obvious that she had intended to touch Susan's hand, that her own hand's retreat back to her drink must have looked comical in its lame endeavor. Talia heard a soft laugh escape Susan's lips.

Great, Talia thought to herself sourly. She's laughing at me again.

"That's enough questions about me," Ivanova stated. "Now I've a question for you."

"Mm?" was Talia's only acknowledgment as she sipped demurely on her straw.

"What kind of trouble has a nice girl like you ever gotten into?"

Talia's full lips had to break out into a playful grin at that one. Susan had been quite a handful as a youngster. Talia doubted that anything she had done in the strict confines of Psi-Corps could compare to the hijinks the Russian had pulled.

As Susan tried to wheedle details from Talia, the commander openly studied the telepath's features and subtle gestures. The vibe shower had removed all vestiges of make-up from Talia's face, but the lack of such accents as lipstick only left the telepath's face fresh in it's simple, elegant beauty. She had a soft, sensual regard, especially when she listened, her lids half-hooding over her warm, blue-gray eyes. The throaty voice, the mouth with its endearing, attractive twist....the casual splay of an open EF shirt revealing the lines of a bare collarbone.....Susan was finding many things to like about the telepath, and it was additionally interesting how increasingly attractive Talia looked in the commander's clothes.

An amiable lull fell into their conversation and Ivanova shifted once again in her seat. She usually didn't move around so much, but then she wasn't used to wearing her flight jumpsuit without the benefit of underwear either. Thanks to the telepath, Ivanova was clad only in her bra underneath the thin, silk and cotton layers, and personal awareness of that often made the commander self-conscious, though she tried hard not to be. Thankfully, noone else in the bar could know this--except for the woman across from her. As Ivanova shifted once again, a small smile played about the telepath's lips as she busied herself with her drink. The commander suspected that the secret little smile was entirely too knowing.

Ivanova scowled back. The telepath had the benefit of a full set of underwear--since she had opted back in the locker room to wear her own bra again. If Talia could wear her old bra Ivanova didn't see why the telepath couldn't wear her old pair of panties, but if the commander had tried to point that out, Ivanova was sure that the telepath's reaction back in the locker room would have been to roll off the pair she was presently wearing and returning it to the Russian--perhaps with a toss to the commander's face, for good measure, and Ivanova was certain she couldn't have survived that provocative situation with any dignity. Nope, none at all.

Again, the pale hand that had almost approached her own lifted to tug unconsciously at the opening of the EF shirt. Talia's hands were slender and pretty, and it was a shame that in public they had to always be covered by gloves. Ivanova knew however that the law was the law, and despite it having been dangerously interesting, testing how far the telepath's bravado would go in defying her deeply ingrained Psi-Corps training, the commander finally decided to end this situation before Talia got into very serious trouble.

"I could have someone go to your quarters and fetch your spare gloves," Ivanova suddenly suggested. "It wouldn't be Garibaldi, of course," she added with a smile, softening the urgent tone of her suggestion.

"The Chief has quite an interest in me," Talia chuckled softly. "I just didn't want to give him the temptation of absconding with one of my panties as a souvenir."

Ivanova laughed out loud at that one.

"By the way, you don't have to return mine," Susan informed lightly.

"I wasn't planning to," Talia replied, and innocently sucked on the straw of her ginger ale.

Ivanova found her face grown hot again, eyes falling to regard her own hands on the table. It was disconcerting, how the telepath managed to make years of developing an assertive and experienced veneer puff like so much smoke to leave behind only this embarrassingly self-conscious school girl state. Ivanova knew this kind of sexual banter; this sort of repartee had never phased her own considerable wit. But with Talia, somehow it no longer remained about wit. No man or woman had ever made a gesture of sacrifice for Susan as Talia had tonight, in deciding not to wear her badge. And what was more, the telepath had not addressed Ivanova's suggestion.

"I would like to take you to dinner," Ivanova said softly. "But first, we should go back to your quarters."

Talia paused a moment, looking intently into Susan's eyes, then touched the side of her cool glass in nervous thought.

"You don't have to make up anything more to me because of the accident this afternoon, Susan," the telepath finally said. "I--"

"What did I just say?" Ivanova interrupted. Impulsively, she laid an elegant hand over the telepath's own, long fingers. "I would very much like to take you to dinner. It would be my pleasure."

And Talia no longer had any words for that, her throat caught by the sincerity sparkling in large, bright eyes. Silently, she slipped out of her seat as Ivanova rose from hers, the commander's hand never leaving the telepath's. They walked out of Earhart's together, and Talia swallowed suddenly, deeply touched. She distracted herself from the powerful emotion by focusing on her psionic shields, for the commander was doing something the telepath had never dreamt she would be able to achieve: She held Talia's bare hand in complete trust.

Now Talia, she chastised herself. This may not mean as much to her as it does you. Take it easy, take it easy.....

"What is it?" she heard Ivanova's rich voice ask, the commander apparently aware of Talia's sudden mood change. The telepath turned her fair head to give the commander a smile.

"I was thinking," she began playfully, unconsciously swinging the hand clasping hers. They moved easily through the thinning evening crowd that traveled the corridors, slipping by the few hurrying station residents at their own relaxed pace.

"Michael never did get around to showing me one of Earthforce's greatest highlights, so perhaps you can, after dinner of course," Talia continued, now regarding the commander under her lashes. The coy manner of the look piqued Ivanova's curiosity considerably--besides the sudden spark of jealousy at the telepath's casual use of the security chief's first name.

"And what would that be, Ms. Winters?" Ivanova asked formally.

Talia placed a thoughtful finger to her chin, regarding the corridor's ceiling as she pondered.

"The 'pilot's position'," she finally replied.

At the telepath's suggestive grin, another blush grew slowly to spread from Susan's rosy cheeks to her ears. The telepath released the commander's hand and headed away. Susan watched the sexy jaunt of the provocative and now endearing woman before her, straightened the fit of her flight jumpsuit, and then set off resolutely for the telepath. If anyone could read anything of the determined bearing of the dark-haired woman now pursuing the casually strolling blonde, it would be that of a soldier resolute in seeing her newfound mission to its victorious end. Yes ma'am.

***

What a way to start the morning, Garibaldi grumbled, hurrying to secure his outer flight suit. Raiders hitting a shipping run, one of Ivanova's practical jokes finally catching up to him via the circumstance of his spare uniform trousers actually being a substitute set two sizes too small, and his still suffering the indignity of everyone, including Sheridan, having seen the big hand print on his toosh while trying to break up the fighting in Brown Sector. The crude comments were back-handed compliments in a way, but did as much for his ego as the near split his substituted pants nearly did when one of the civilian personnel dropped her work on purpose in order to see the security chief bend over. And what was worst than even all that? Garibaldi fumed as he sprinted for his fighter. He had left several messages with the telepath last night, hoping she wasn't still angry, and he still hadn't received an answer. The thought of months of hard work ingratiating himself with Ms. Winters gone down the drain because of a stupid, wiggy oil line was enough to drive the teetotalling chief to drink.

Hopping into his cockpit and strapping in, Garibaldi actually caught sight of the culprit starfury, with its blazing, two-headed eagle. Two people were presently at the craft; one was Ivanova, casually dressed and helping a very familiar, golden-haired form, suited up in Ivanova's flight jumpsuit, into the cockpit. Garibaldi turned his head back to the front of his craft as he felt the dock clamps lift his fighter and set him into the launch deck. As he flicked switches, readying his starfury for space flight, he heaved a huge, sad sigh of realization that immediately fogged up the visor of his helmet.

Goddammit.

the end! :)


"Delta leader to delta wings, show's over. Let's collect the stragglers and return to base." ( Signs and Portents )