Disclaimer: All owned by JMS and Babylonian Productions.

Timeline: Shortly after the second season episode "Divided Loyalties"

Thanks to: Kathy, for beta-reading

****

She was tired, tired beyond belief when he showed up. All the debriefings had exhausted her to the point where she was trying very hard not to feel resentful. After all, it was not her fault that she had failed to fulfil her complete purpose. It was the traitor, Alexander, who had exposed her.

None of her interrogators had been known to her or that weak other self which was gone now. It was somewhat ironic that he should be the first familiar presence, considering how the *other* had feared and hated him. In her own estimation, he was flawed. He had allowed the mundanes to fool him, and he had not discovered the *other's* secrets. It was not just that he should be in a position to judge her.

"Not just in a position to judge you," he said, startling her. She had not felt him scan her. Admittedly he outranked her in powers just as he did in terms of office, but she still was reasonably sure she would have felt him. He probably had guessed. "In a position to save your life," he continued.

She stared at him, refusing to give anything away.

"You have a different body language," he said. "Curious. I wasn't aware that Esterdom could be that thorough, given his sloppiness in other matters."

Esterdom, then, was the one who had created Control. He had just told her something which nobody else had revealed, and judging by his slightly mocking, superior gaze, it had not been an accidental slip on his part. She decided to do something Talia had always longed for, and never would have dared. After all, she was not Talia.

"You aren't exactly in a position to talk of sloppiness", she replied, taunting him in return, "are you. Letting a P5 and some mundanes outwit you. Really, Mr. Bester. I'm surprised you still kept your rank."

His face didn't change, nor did the pleasant, matter-of-fact voice.

"Maybe I merely reinforced your cover," he said.

"Did you?" she asked surprised.

"Didn't I?" he asked back, and then smiled. There was no mirth in his dark eyes. "You could try to find out, you know. But then. no P5 could ever get through a P12's shields. Or can they?"

Immediately, her own shields went up. She should have done this the moment he entered the room, she thought, and cursed her exhaustion. The humiliating thing was that she knew it would not be of any use against him, if he really intended to scan her, and he knew that she knew. Whatever gift Talia had received from Jason Ironheart was not accessible to her.

He said nothing, but gestured for her to take a seat.

"What do you want?" she asked warily, when they sat down on the old, frazzled couch her recently allotted room had been equipped with. Some part of her, which was too tired and too irritated to care, wondered whether she should offer tea.

"To save your life," he answered, continuing to smile at her. "As I said. You are aware that your.premature departure from Babylon 5 could create considerable embarrassment right now, aren't you? Psi Corps didn't exactly get the best publicity in recent years, and with the Corps' close ties to the President, the whole incident could be exploited by our paranoid friends on the station. We are, after all, answerable to the Senate. There could be questions. There could be a committee. Given the enthusiasm senators show for creating new paperwork, there will *definitely* be a committee."

"And it would be better for the Corps if I were not there anymore to answer questions," she concluded with a bitter taste in her mouth. All the years of her existence had been a teasing, excruciating torture. Being trapped in a body with another consciousness that must never be allowed to become aware of her. Having only ever brief access to the body, and each time it had been harder to let go. But she had always told herself that once she had finally completed her task, she would be rewarded for her faithfulness to the Corps. That body would be hers, to take advantage of as Talia never had done.

So far, her entire reward had been a room obviously hastily reassigned to her, which she had not been allowed to leave, debriefing after debriefing, and now, it appeared, an early death. She could not question the logic of the Corps; it was mother and father, more literally in her case than in most others. But something in her screamed that she wanted to live.

"Some people might take that perspective," Bester said, and startled, she realised she did not know whether he was replying to her spoken statement or her thoughts. Her shields had dropped in her sudden, unexpected pain.

Then she realized something else. He would not be having this conversation with her if she did not have something which he wanted. Talia might have believed he simply enjoyed the opportunity to gloat, or to torment her, but she knew better. He might be flawed, but he was a rational creature first and foremost.

"Why don't you enlighten me about your own point of view," she returned.

Finally, some sparks of genuine amusement lit his eyes. It was not a reassuring sight.

"With pleasure," he said. "It is really rather simple. I hate waste. And I believe you could be of more use alive than as an attractive corpse. There are enough of those about, Ms Winters."

"I am not Talia Winters," she corrected automatically, while she decided to try and ever so lightly probe the surface of his thoughts. His shields, however, were infuriatingly perfect. Which proved at least that he was not as bad at his job as she had assumed.

Giving no sign of having noticed her attempt despite the fact he clearly must have done, he asked: "Aren't you?"

She remained silent.

"There is a reason why Esterdom isn't around these days, and why the entire programme is finished. His creations turned out to be severely flawed. Oh, the original personality was completely gone, alright, but that left the new person with not nearly enough psychological background to remain stable. Most grew catatonic after two days, or three. But not you. You are, I am pleased to observe, remarkably stable. Which leads me to the conclusion that Esterdom might have been careless in your case. Such an irony, isn't it - that flaws should save a life?"

"I am not Talia Winters," she repeated, harshly. "Talia was weak. She was eternally apologizing for what she was, eternally trying to win their affection."

"And then they let Lyta Alexander kill her without hesitation," he said, "and didn't even try to save their supposed friend. They sent her home like unwanted garbage to a fate they undoubtedly considered worse than death. Mundanes are like that."

She remembered the face of Susan Ivanova then, with her voice begging for some sign that pathetic, pitiful Talia was still alive somewhere. Well, a few cutting words had been enough to put an end to that.

So much for love.

"Talia is dead," she said.

Bester shrugged. "Then one should write her a death certificate," he mused. "Which would make everyone very happy. Personally, I always thought Sophie was a pretty name, but then I suppose you will want to make your own choice."

She grew very still, till she imagined she could hear her own heart beating.

"Let us be clear on this," she finally said. "You are offering to let me leave the Corps?"

"No," he replied coldly. "Nobody ever leaves the Corps. The Corps is mother, the Corps is father. But parents can be.divided, in times such as ours. It is the task of their loyal children to reunite them, and to fight those who would take advantage of their division."

He then did something remarkable. He lowered his shields, not completely, but enough for her to sense that he was absolutely and completely convinced of what he said; even enough to sense fear in him, not for himself, but fear of some unknown threat, which he saw as a cancer, eating the Corps from within. She tried to get a grip on the image, tried to find out what he saw as the origin of the cancer, when he pushed her out and presented the same indestructible surface as before.

"That's on a need to know basis," he said calmly. "And you don't need to know."

"And if I agree to work for you?" she asked. "That is what you want, isn't it?"

He lifted an eyebrow. "You will work for the *Corps*, undercover, as you did before. I will be merely.guiding your steps."

Despite all his neat phrases, they both knew that what he was doing was illegal. Members of the Corps, even high-ranking officers of MetaPol, were not supposed to have their own personal agents. If she told someone of this attempt to recruit her, it would cast a bad light on his priorities, and might even put his loyalty in question.

Of course, if she did that they were still going to kill her. It would not change anything in regards to the embarrassment she represented. Still, Talia would have thought it worth it - since death waited in any case, why not take this man, whom she had hated for so long, with her?

But she was not Talia.

"The Corps is mother, the Corps is father," she recited, and painted her own mirthless smile on her face. "I will do my duty."

She enjoyed letting him wait a bit, trying to figure out which duty she meant. Was there the slightest twitch in the ever so self-possessed fa├žade? Probably not. Which was good, since she was entrusting her life to him.

"My favourite name is Fiona," she said, and then, when she had already given up on trying, she saw that she had made him flinch, after all. Just a little bit, but for a split second, there had been an unguarded reaction, an outburst of emotion so puzzling she did not know what do with it. She couldn't say whether it was relief or horror, or hatred, or shame, or surprise, or all of it. Then it was gone.

"Fiona it shall be," he said, all business and smooth surfaces, and rose. It took her another heartbeat to understand that he expected her to come with him. When her black, gloved hands touched his, helping her up, she realised for the first time that the fingers of his left hand were completely stiff. He could not use them at all.

He stepped back, and she knew he had noticed her observation. Making a quick decision, she did not even pretend it had not happened.

"The Russians have a saying I have heard quoted now and then," she said, in a neutral tone, free of either mockery or submission. "Something about it taking one abomination to know another."

"It sounds like something the mundanes *would* say, Ms Winters," he replied, and this time, she did not correct him.