Standard disclaimer applies; not my characters or settings or backgrounds. But they are my words.

The whole thing was finally over. The shark of a lawyer had turned out to be somewhat useful in the end. The woman had adeptly handled the negotiations with Earth leading to the rapid acceptance of Ashan's revised statement. That in turn had led to the expunging of the indictment against him, and had left all the fault in the incident with the dead man...Minbari. Whatever. Garibaldi had Ashan locked up, pending his deportation to Minbar, along with a recommendation that in the future he avoid Earth space in general and Babylon 5 in particular. The lawyer was headed back to Earth. It was over.

As he walked the corridors, John Sheridan realized he still felt uncomfortable about the whole sorry incident. Going over what had happened, he couldn't put his finger on what was bothering him. He'd been happy enough to be vindicated, and also to find a solution that didn't ruin Lennier's life, or mark his clan as dishonorable. Delenn had been grateful for his intervention, and for a moment he basked in the warm glow left by her admiration. Even Ashan was merely being sent home, not the worst of fates. The Minbari had obeyed his clan elders, surely there would little or no repercussions for him.

Pausing to purchase a drink at a small open bar in the Zocalo, Sheridan sat down on a stool to think about this some more. He didn't hate Ashan, or wish him ill. But there was part of him that wanted to understand. It was easy to say that it was reaction to the War; lots of people on both sides held onto their grievances from that terrible time. As a soldier; war and death was part of his job. If a soldier tried to pursue vengeance, he would never be able to fulfill his mission.

Ashan was a civilian. Maybe that was the difference. Or maybe it was something about being a Minbari, and part of a rigid caste and clan system. The ties that bound clan members resulted in the negative actions of one bringing dishonor to all, or a good deed collectively bringing honor to them all. It was not a viewpoint he was unfamilar with; in the military, he was used to civilians lumping all soldiers together. One bad egg could tarnish the reputation of a whole squad, or even a whole force. That's why they had an honor code. Sipping his juice, he suddenly realized that the Minbari could be said to have an honor code that applied to their entire race. 'Minbari do not lie' was impractical in his opinion, but it wasn't a bad goal. Lying was not something to be encouraged, and allowing exceptions to protect another's life or another's couldn't say that was exactly wrong.

He handed his credit chit to the bartender and awaited her return with it. The desire crystallized in him; he wanted to talk to Ashan. Taking back the chit, he hit his comlink and asked Garibaldi to set it up, over-riding his Security Chief's objections. Then, a plan of action decided on, he made his way through the Zocalo in the direction of the holding cells, where Ashan awaited the next passenger transport back to Minbar.

Along the way, he began to notice the Minbari in the diverse crowd of humans and aliens. There weren't very many of them, but he still spied one every few meters. Most didn't see him, or averted their eyes downward if they saw him looking. Others met his glance; some with curiosity, some with a deliberately blank expression. A few had eyes that stabbed him like daggers. He'd seen this reaction before, and usually he ignored it. This time he met their eyes, those in each and every hostile face, keeping his expression neutral, and bowing his head slightly in recognition of their presence. He was gratified to see that a few returned his gesture. Most, however, greeted his overture with looks ranging from confusion to contempt.

When he reached Security, Garibaldi met him at the door with his arms crossed. "Captain, this is a bad idea."

"When I want your opinion, Mr. Garibaldi, I'll ask for it." This was something he had to do; had to sort out. It struck at his very reason for being here, and whether he would be able to do his job. "Lead on, Michael. You can stick around it you want. I just want to talk to him."

Garibaldi looked at Sheridan suspiciously for a moment, then shook his head. "I've got work to do. It's down that corridor. Hit the button by the door when you want let out."

It was a short walk down the corridor to the cell where Ashan was being held before transport. Briefly, Sheridan wondered about the Minbari's effects, his quarters, his work on the station. There wasn't more than a flicker of concern; he knew that Delenn, or Lennier more likely, would have seen to everything already. At the door, he glanced up at the Security monitor, announced his name, and waited patiently for the retinal scan to confirm his identity. The door swooshed open, and he stepped inside. There was a bunk against one wall, sanitary facilities behind a sliding door in the opposite wall, a table and two chairs in the center of the room. The only light came from recessed spotlights in the ceiling. They were covered with a metal grid to prevent a prisoner from gaining access to the electrical power behind them. Ashan was seated at the table, eyes closed, hands on the table, palms open and facing up. His breathing was so slow and slight that Sheridan almost went over to take his pulse. Then, Ashan's eyes snapped open, and at the same time, he began to breathe normally.

"Captain." He spoke softly, but his voice was hard and brittle. "How may I be of service?"

Sheridan thought the last word was accompanied by a subtle sneer. "I wanted to ask you some questions." Then he looked around the room, trying to set an atmosphere more conducive to conversation. "I hope they've made you comfortable in the short time you'll be staying here."

"Yes. Is that the extent of your questions?" Ashan hadn't moved, his hands still lay still on the table. "I have nothing to say to you."

Sheridan's temper was already rising. He wasn't the one in the wrong here. "Then you can listen!" At Ashan's contemptuous smile, he said , "When you look at me, all you see is Starkiller, is that it?" He clenched his teeth to keep from adding more.

"What do you see when you look at me? When you sent your Security people to search for me, did they have a description besides that of 'Minbari'?" Ashan's stare was challenging, and uncompromising. "You wish an apology, or an explanation? You deserve neither. Delenn believes she can be a bridge between our worlds. She is wrong, and she will come to see that her self-mutilation was ill-considered and useless. There is no reasoning with someone as devoid of honor as yourself."

"Mutilation?" Words failed Sheridan as he considered the implacable Minbari in front of him. "Is that what you consider her change?"

"Change..." Ashan spoke as if his mouth was filled with ashes. "Yes. She has changed. She is no longer one of us. Is she one of your kind? Or has she set herself apart from both races?" He shook his head. "It hardly matters. She made her choice, as I made mine. As you made yours, all those years ago."

Sheridan took a breath. "Were you in the war, Ashan? Did you fight my people?"

"No." Ashan looked down at his hands, and turned them palm down. "I am religious caste. And although I am trained in the ways of the warrior, I did not fight in that war."

Sheridan took the seat opposite Ashan. He looked at his own hands, large, strong and capable. They were capable of many things. Striving to make a connection, he began, "My ship was disabled. The Captain was dead...I thought we were all going to be dead, very soon. Your ships were too strong, impossible to defeat. What I did," he hesitated, wondering how many rules he was breaking by even discussing this with a civilian, a Minbari civilian at that. "What I did was within our rules of warfare. It might not have been within yours, but that's hardly my fault."

Ashan stared at him. "It is hardly our fault that you are barbarians, and that the ways of civilized warfare are foreign to you."

Sheridan sighed, and stood. "We're not going to settle this, are we? Well, although I'm sure you don't believe it, I don't hold any grudge, and wish you well." He started to hold out his hand, then thought better of it, and placed it instead in the small of his back. He went to the door, and hit the button to alert the guard. He couldn't help but hope that Ashan would say something, give him some indication that his words had been understood. But there was no sound from behind him as he left.

As he made his way back to C&C, he wondered at the stubborness of hate. Once people separated into tribes, it was almost impossible to get them to see each other as allies...or even as people. How much harder was it going to be to overcome the tribal instincts of different races, different species? Especially, in the case of Earth and Minbar, when those two races had been at war not so long ago? His father had always said that once the war was over, the true battle began. He thought of what Delenn had said to him; that she understood his feeling of abandonment. Now he understood a little of what she was going through. Between them, they'd managed to break through the barriers that separated their peoples. They'd done it with mutual sympathy and respect.

It was a start.