Title: untitled Talia/Garibaldi fic

Author: Little Red

Rating: PG (so far)

Category: Talia/Garibaldi friendship/UST, missing scenes

Spoilers: missing scenes for "A Voice in the Wilderness" and "The Quality of Mercy" so far, and will continue through at least the beginning of season two. "Legacies" is also mentioned.

STATUS: WIP

Author's Note: I'm fooling around with writing Talia/Garibaldi, since, er, no one else is doing so. I was shocked to discover I'm not *actually* alone with this OTP, just *mostly* alone.


***


It's something around the thirtieth time Mr. Garibaldi has asked her out. Talia has lost track of the exact number -- however, she's sure that this is the first time she's said yes.

"My dinner appointment cancelled; there's some confusion with his transport. Drinks?"

He actually gapes at her, flirtatious bravado grinding to a tentative halt. "Really?"

She's joking, actually, only felt like yanking his chain and prolonging their customary banter until the lift reaches its destination, but she pauses before replying. Even through her best defenses, she feels a wave of excitement and nerves from him that make her feel like it would be cruel to smack him down now, even if their flirtation is never really that serious.

Besides, she wasn't lying about the transport. She really is all dressed up with nowhere to go. "Sure."

Garibaldi speaks hesitantly, for him, still waiting for her to pull the rug away. "It'll take me a minute to wrap things up at security... half an hour?"

"Sure," she says again, as the lift stops to let him off at his destination.

He casts her a few more looks before the door closes, like he wonders if she's feeling all right, or if he's being set up for a surprise party.

She rolls her eyes once the doors are closed and the lift is moving again. She'll regret her moment of weakness tomorrow, when he redoubles his efforts to win her over, but she can't help smirking to herself. Even if it's overwhelming whenever she's tired or in a rush, she can't help liking the way he looks at her.

No, an hour or two with Michael Garibaldi definitely isn't the end of the world.


***


He changes his order to 'just water' after she chooses a wine and asks for two glasses, and she can't help a flicker of surprise.

"What?" he almost snaps. "You didn't know?"

She wonders if he realizes that his defensive posturing actually broadcasts his thoughts louder than normal, until he's practically shouting at her about recovering alcoholism and B5 being his last last last chance.

"No, I didn't. I'm sorry." She wants to know more than the mere flash she got before her mental barriers adjusted, but she doesn't ask.

"Oh." He shifts and offers her a wry smile, perhaps to compensate for his overreaction. He looks uncomfortable in the upscale place in red sector where she made reservations for her absent client. "I figured everyone knew. Especially..."

He waves a hand at her, and now it's her turn to feel defensive. Even with the Psi Corps' constant and loud insistence that its members never scan normals without their permissions or a legal warrant, people assume telepaths know everything about them. In truth, she probably knows much less than anyone else. Because of that same false assumption, people rarely gossip with her.

"You probably know far more about me than I know about you," she points out.

He nods, looking pretty confident. "Probably. I used to want to be a telepath, you know. Make my job easier."

She doesn't say that it would make his job impossible, since telepaths can't enroll in the regular divisions of the Earth Force. "I did some work in the criminal division of the Corps," she says instead. "Trust me -- you're better off staying outside the minds of these people if you can manage it."

The wine and water arrive. Talia wonders if it's rude for her to drink at all in front of him -- even though he did agree to drinks -- but pours herself a glass to keep that thought from being too conspicuous. "You should've stopped me from ordering a whole bottle if you weren't going to help me with it."

He grins, and she can't help but smile back. He watches her take the first swallow, and she senses hunger in his eyes. She doesn't think it's meant for the wine, and that thought gives her chills she can't explain.

"So." She reaches for conversation, "tell me about-"

His link beeps, and he answers it with a sigh. "Garibaldi."

It's Sinclair, requesting his assistance, and Garibaldi shoots her a wry look before agreeing.

"Sorry." He looks truly apologetic, and more disappointed than she would have expected. He thinks this is his one and only chance, she realizes. The chills haven't quite gone away.

"Duty calls," she replies easily. And then, without thinking, only to appease the expression on his face, "We'll have to try this again sometime."

He looks so genuinely pleased that it's instantly worth it. She doesn't expect this from normals -- or from anyone -- anticipates that people will at least try to be cagier around her. This is unnerving, but strangely refreshing.


***


Next time it's lunch. Garibaldi and the commander are dining at their usual lunch counter, next door to the new Middle Eastern restaurant she's been meaning to try. She means only to drop a hello in passing, since she needs to walk right by them anyway and Garibaldi has previously teased her for being far too aloof, but Sinclair stops her with a barrage of scheduling questions about upcoming League negotiations.

The counter attendant brings her a glass of water unrequested, so she decides to sit. Sinclair leaves not long after that to chase down the Tochati ambassador and, feeling strong and a bit playful after a leisurely morning off, Talia decides to stay.

"Any reccomendations?"

Garibaldi shoots her a look, mouth full of french fries, like she's nuts. She admits that it is a bit bizarre that she has only eaten here once or twice in her year on B5, especially when she eats nearly all her meals out, but she prefers to explore the other offerings in the parade of restaurants that are constantly changing ownership. She's all in favor of a taste of home every now and again this far out into space, but eating down-home North American cuisine every day seems excessive.

He swallows -- barely -- before answering her question. "I'd keep away from the chicken." Wise advice on any far outpost, even one getting shipments as frequently as Babylon 5. "Hamburgers are okay, though."

She wrinkles her nose at the thought of reconstituted meat, and he laughs at her. "Come on, it won't kill you."

"Probably."

"Probably." He takes another bite and mumbles, "Mmm. Tastes like..."

She waits while he chews, and tries to keep distaste out of her expression. In a strange way, she finds his lacking table manners endearing, and in a flash she's reminded of her father. She doesn't recall much about her time before Psi Corps. It amuses her that one of about five things she remembers clearly about her father is that he used to eat and run.

"... like nothing, really." Garibaldi takes a swig of water. "If you're lucky. You get used to it."

She lays a napkin in her lap with exaggerated delicacy. "Charming."

He calls over the counter boy with a snap of a finger. "She'll have what I'm having. But give her lots of ketchup."

It arrives quickly, which she figures is the real appeal of this deli counter. Bravely, she digs in.

He actually cheers her on. She doesn't admit it isn't horrible, with all the ketchup, but he grins at her anyway.

"Milkshake?"

"With real dairy?" She doesn't even joke about real milk of the unpowdered variety. That's something else she remembers about her life before age five -- being confined to the table until she finished her entire glass of milk, like calcium could somehow cure her of the abnormal freakiness that kept her screaming all night whenever the neighbors would fight.

She has been thinking more and more about that time, entertaining vague and spotty memories she'd long ignored, since Alicia Belden went to live with the Minbari. Susan Ivanova's vehement hatred of the Psi Corps is unwarranted, or at least exaggerated, but lately Talia wonders if her early childhood among normals was truly as frightening and confusing as she remembers it, or if the Corps encouraged that interpretation of it to bind her to them.

If Garibaldi notices that she wandered into the past for a few moments, he doesn't show it. "I'm not sure milkshakes on Earth have real dairy."

"A good point." It has been a while since she's had a conversation this pointless. She finds she misses it.

Garibaldi raises what's left of his burger -- which isn't much, the way he's been scarfing it down like the apocalypse is knocking at the front door -- in approximation of a toast. "To processed foods," he declares, loud enough to make one of the other patrons look their way.

Talia considers taking a stance of superior maturity, but decides against it. She does, however, completely finish chewing before echoing: "To processed foods."


***


She waits a week after the fighting on Mars dies down, but curiosity and worry finally get the better of her and she asks him about Lise Hampton.

She never really has to go looking for Garibaldi. They seem to cross paths a totally unnatural amount on a station this size, especially considering how their professional lives intersect only rarely. In fact, she's pretty sure that, if she ever wanted to 'just bump into him', she could ride the lifts around for less than twenty minutes and be sure to see him.

She isn't doing that now, but only because he got into the lift only one stop after she did. These things unnerve her, but only when she has nothing else pressing to contemplate.

"Your friend on Mars... did you ever manage to reach her?"

She braces preemptively against whatever emotion will come at her, since she's sure it will be something strong. The tiny confines of the lift makes it worse, but she has always struggled more than many other P5s when it comes to completely blocking strong sentiments in close proximity. Garibaldi's thoughts and feelings tend to catch her off guard more than most -- something else she only considers when she doesn't have enough interesting things to do.

He frowns. "Yeah. Yeah, she's okay."

Talia doesn't have to be a telepath to recognize that he doesn't want to talk about it.

She offers anyway. "And are you? Okay?"

He glares at her, his eyes revealing just the edge of a tightly controlled rage that makes her gasp. She has sensed this about him before -- even seen it when she watched him bodily tackle a lurker who had seriously maimed one of his men -- but it has never been directed anywhere near her. Suddenly, she longs for the measured, quiet company of other telepaths. All those who called her remarkably brave for accepting this position had been thinking of the aliens she'd have to scan, but being surrounded by incessant human mental noise is just as demanding.

But the weakness is hers, not his. She clamps down on any further reaction and forces her nerves to relax as she stands her ground.

"I didn't mean to pry," she assures him.

Garibaldi looks away from her and she winces to herself, feeling on the periphery of her senses how guilt has now been mixed in with all his other tumuluous emotions.

"Yeah."

The lift stops, nowhere near her original destination, but she's feeling a bit shaky so she slips out past a pair of Centauri stepping in.

"Talia."

She turns around. It's rare he calls her by her first name, and whenever he has, it has always been important.

"Thanks anyway."

The lift takes off, leaving her in the hallway. She closes her eyes, feeling almost like the long-stifled emotion and sad set of Garibaldi's shoulders are wrapped in the empty space around her, and wants very much to be able to help.


***


five... six... seven...

Talia is sitting down the hall from Karl Mueller's medical cell, far enough out of her usual telepathic range to keep from sensing anything, and trying to remain calm. Out of habit, she's twenty minutes early for her appointment. Usually she takes this time to feel out the crannies and echoes of the room before she has to start scanning people, but there isn't much chance of that in this case.

Despite the disruption of her routine, she's all right with that. She can do with this particular scan being a little less sharp than most. Given the furious way Mueller exploded at his sentencing and the grisly murder details she learned before being drafted into service in this case, Talia can't imagine anything could dull this scan enough for her liking.

"Ms. Winters."

Garibaldi. Talia takes one more deep breath and then puts her zen-inspired relaxation technique on hold -- Garibaldi isn't someone who tends to disappear as a result of being ignored.

"Yes?" Her tone sounds almost snappish to her ears, but she doesn't apologize. She's here to do a difficult job; being friendly is an extraneous effort she can't currently afford.

Garibaldi's eyes flick down to her altered Psi Corps badge, never missing a detail. She wonders, with an edge of cruelty, why that ability to notice any subtle change doesn't seem to extend to other human beings, to recognizing discomfort and then adjusting his attitude accordingly. For example, her discomfort at the conference with the ombuds, when he so casually requested that she violate Earth and Psi Corps laws and endanger her own mental sanity to satisfy his vengeful curiosity about the serial killer she's about to scan.

Or maybe he did notice. Garibaldi might be so used to giving orders to subordinates and interrogating suspects that he's out of practice at respecting a boundary when he finds one.

It's also possible that it's not his fault at all, and that she's being unfair. She might be better at hiding the extent of her feelings than she thinks she is.

"Did you need something, Mr. Garibaldi?"

She isn't upset with him, or, if she is, it's unwarranted. There's no way for him to know exactly how much it took out of her to wander around in a serial killer's mind the first time she was assigned to a case like this, or how much she fears having to do so again.

It isn't Garibaldi's fault, but he frightened her. He has a violent streak in him, perhaps deeper and more desperate than she had initially thought. She doesn't yet know what to make of that.

Garibaldi pours her a mug of coffee from the tray behind him and holds it out. "Are you ready for this?" he asks.

No, she wants to say, because that's what it feels like. She isn't built for this.

"Of course," she replies instead, head high. It she has no choice in the matter -- which she doesn't -- she might as well face her fears with as much dignity as possible. Talia resists the urge to touch her badge to make sure the black ribbon is still there -- like that is the source of her show of strength.

She waves away the offered coffee. Unfazed, Garibaldi starts to drink it himself.

"You want me to go in with you?"

For a moment, she really does. She's fairly certain that, if Mueller moves to attack her, Garibaldi will pull a weapon faster than anyone else.

However, the more likely attack she'll be facing won't be one visible to the naked eye. Talia thinks that, instead of helping, Garibaldi's thoughts and emotions in the room might only end up distracting her.

Rather than getting into a discussion she never really wants to have about why he presents more of hazard to her psychic stability than any of the other guards, she scoffs, "I can handle it."

He makes a worried face, but doesn't press her. "I've got some things to take care of anyway. I'll catch up with you later." And then, as an afterthought, instead of the good luck she expects, "Good hunting."

Talia bristles at that, although she knows it's meant well.

"We're ready for you, Ms. Winters," one of the guards announces, not giving her a chance to recenter herself.

That's all right, she decides. Annoyed and a bit high-strung is probably better for a court-ordered criminal scan than relaxed, anyway.


***


She doesn't know if he was looking for her or not, but Garibaldi finds her in the Zocalo. It's nearly 0200, far later than she's normally awake, and certainly later than she's normally out. The energy in the casino and other public areas of Babylon 5 changes when the majority of the people are past the pleasant point of intoxication, and it's not a change Talia Winters usually enjoys.

"Ms. Winters."

She does her best not to show it, but it's good to see someone she knows.

"Mr. Garibaldi."

He smirks like she's made some kind of joke, but his eyes are worried. "You okay? I don't think I've ever seen you around here at night before."

She doesn't know if his observation is based on an actual mental tally of her usual movements around Babylon 5 -- something that's entirely possible when dealing with Michael Garibaldi -- or because she looks so out of place at a table on the edge of the Darkstar, nursing a red wine in a room full of hard liquor.

However, at this hour, there aren't too many public areas -- at least in the human sections of the station -- still full of people. Most of the time, Talia deals with nightmares like she deals with everything -- quietly -- but then, most of her nightmares have been simmering for years. With something as fresh as this afternoon's scan of Karl Mueller still making her feel less than human, she feels like she needs the white noise of others' thoughts around her to distract her.

There's a total lack of ulterior motive in Garibaldi's face, only concern, so she tells him some of the truth. "Can't sleep," she admits. "You must get that sometimes, too, dealing with people like that."

She doesn't miss that his gaze slides down to the drink in her hands. "Yeah, I do. Hard not to."

She nods toward the empty chair at the table, and he sits down.

"Mueller's dead, you know. He escaped and... friend of the Doc's in Down Below did him in. Self defense."

Talia shudders at the revelation that he was free for any length of time, fiercely grateful that he hadn't come after her to make her another voice in his murdered choir, as he'd threatened. It takes her another moment to realize that, even now that he's dead, she feels no sympathy for him.

She's not sure she wants to, not in this way, but she understands Garibaldi a little more.

"You're still not happy," she observes.

"Still more than he deserved." He frowns. "I am sorry that you had to get mixed up in this. If there was another way-"

She waves off his apology. It doesn't really sound forced, and she suspects it took quite a bit for him to fully realize why she was so reluctant, but what's done is done. "I'll be all right."

"Yeah."

A glass shatters somewhere else in the club, surrounded by a few raised voices, and she flinches.

Garibaldi goes to touch her arm, but pulls back before making contact. "You want to go for a walk?"

She surprises herself by saying yes.


*to be continued*


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