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18 November 2011 @ 08:02 am
Fic: Anathema Chapter Four  
Title: Anathema
Specs: Babylon 5, John/Delenn, 427700 words
Rating: R
Previous Chapters: One, Two, Three

Had she thought her quarters too small to pace? Even that little rental room in Red Sector? After she folded the bed into the wall and cleared away everything else, there was only room for two long strides, or three short ones. One two three – it wasn't even enough time for a full thought.

One two three – his smile when I awakened.

One two three – the feel of his arms around me.

One two three – so close, he's so close
.

Delenn slapped her hand against the wall and gave up pacing. She sank to the floor, ignoring the dull ache that was all that remained of the pain in her shoulder, and tried to pray. She prayed for strength, for resolve, for determination, for focus.

All she could think of was what she had seen a few hours ago.

Yesterday she had spent the entire day in her little sleeping cell fighting the after-effects of the healing serum. John had checked in on her, but she'd been too tired and in too much pain to really notice. Today she had awakened relatively clear-headed, though she was still somewhat fatigued. However, she was awake enough to know that her plans had fallen into disarray. Instead of traveling to Centauri Prime with Lennier, who would do as she asked, quietly and efficiently, she was now flying with John Sheridan, who would think nothing of locking her in a prison cell and doing it with a smile, thinking all the while it was for her own good. She felt obscurely that he had managed to outsmart her, which was ridiculous, but the fact that he was here stung her in some strange way. All she had wanted to do was keep him at a distance and keep him safe, and he managed to keep wriggling in closer and closer.

He had come to check on her this afternoon. It was his third trip from the cabin down to the sleeping rooms in as many hours, and the very sound of his footsteps was enough to set Delenn's teeth on edge. Again, he stood in front of the door and waited, but she had set it to lock, and he could stand there for as long as he wanted, the door would not swing open on its own at his approach. She thought he was using it as a barometer of her feelings, and that when she wished to talk to him, she would unlock the door and allow him into her presence. But she does not wish to talk to you, she thought darkly.

His knock at the door startled her; the previous two times he had walked down here today, he had left upon discovering her room was locked to him. Delenn felt her heart jolt and begin to race. Her fingers shook as she touched the panel that would unlock the door.

John's eyes searched her face. Delenn thought she had arranged her features into her best default diplomat face – no smile but no frown, eyes open and clear, an openness that would invite the other to speak freely – but she could see from John's face that she had not succeeded.

“How are you feeling?” he asked, his hand on the door frame, his body leaning in toward her. She crossed her arms and took a half-step back.

“Well, thank you.”

“Can I get you anything?”

“I am perfectly capable of tending to myself now. I apologize for requiring your services yesterday; I was not myself.” Delenn thought that to be a perfectly professional way of putting it, but she watched John's face first fall, then harden into something she had not seen from him before.

“Do you want me to leave?” he asked. Yes, she thought. I want you to leave, because I don't know how to think when you are near. Every decision I make is broken, and I'm finding it harder to care. Leave, John, because you are making me into someone I am not. I am already too little Minbari as it is; do not take away what is left. She didn't say that, though – how could she? Not answering was answer enough, it seemed, as his eyes seemed to burn right through her.

“I thought...” he started, and then he shook his head, letting out a short, bitter laugh.

“What did you think?” Now he would not answer her, and the truth of the situation hit her suddenly. “You thought I would fall into your arms. You thought I would need comfort and solace and that I would let you...” Take me. You thought I would let you take me and do with me as you wished. “...provide that comfort.”

Now John was the one taking a step back, his face slightly stunned. Delenn went on, knowing full well that she wasn't angry with him but with the Council, that she was angry with the entire universe. He was here and they weren't, so it seemed only fair that he should bear the brunt of her rage.

“I wanted you to stay on the station,” she told him. “Now you will be missed, and anyone looking for me will have good reason to look elsewhere.” That was only a practical truth that not even he could deny, but she felt like a craven saying it, when it was not the real reason, not at all. She wanted him to stay on the station because she did not trust herself around him.

John swallowed hard, looking anywhere but at her. For a moment she thought he would say something, but he only turned and walked back to the cabin, leaving her alone. Delenn stared at the door to his sleeping room for a minute or so before she finally stood back, allowing her door to swing closed. She didn't bother locking it. She did not think he would return any time soon.

Suddenly she was tired, so tired she could not stand, let alone pace. Delenn sank to the floor, wishing there were tears, but her eyes stayed stubbornly dry. When you find yourself besieged by grief, despair, anger, hopelessness – the negative emotions that afflict even the wisest of us – seek catharsis. Purge yourself of darkness. Weather the storm and you will be the stronger for it. Dukhat's words, and like so many of his words, they were ones that she lived by. She wanted to cry, to give herself over to the storm, but she felt nothing. Her skin and flesh and bones were a shell, and inside she was nothing, nothing at all. A hollow woman, all her dreams and hopes no more than smoke in the air.

She wanted to pray, or meditate, but she had no candles – the ship's tiny air recycling system could not handle them. When had she started to need such a crutch? Delenn felt ashamed just thinking about it. The truth was, though, that she could not begin to attempt to reach some focus unaided, so she picked a spot on the wall in front of her. The paint had peeled and chipped, revealing the unfinished gray structural board underneath. Delenn stared at it until her eyes unfocused and a few tears spilled down her cheeks, unheeded. She stared until she forgot that she was staring and her eyes slipped closed, and the ship disappeared.

Some time later – how much later she could not say – she stood, one of her knees creaking as she did so. John was here now; there was no changing that. He would not leave her on Centauri Prime to fend for herself. Fighting with him would only make it easier for anyone hunting her to pick them off. Best to put everything else aside and work with him.

She would have to apologize.

Delenn smoothed back her hair and took a drink of water, rinsing the stale taste of inactivity out of her mouth. A moment of hesitation called to her, and she fiddled with a pleat in her dress, listening. Get it over with, Delenn. She held her chin high and walked out of her room to the narrow hallway outside, raising her hand to knock at John's door.

But John hadn't locked it, and as soon as she stepped up it swung up on its own, revealing the room beyond. The mirror image of her own, mostly taken up by the bed when it was down and engaged. John was sleeping, soundly if the sounds he was making were any indication. He was on his stomach, his face turned her way, and at first all she saw was his face, smooth and relaxed in sleep. Delenn felt a sudden urge to sneak inside, sit on the floor beside him, and watch him sleep. But that was foolish, of course, and unnecessary; she would not be going through those rituals with him. She would leave him to sleep, and talk to him later.

As she prepared to step back and go back to her cell, Delenn saw what she had not before. John was wearing only a single article of clothing, a pair of absurdly small pants. No, they are not pants, they are something else – what is the word? She couldn't remember. Whatever they were called, they covered him only from well below his waist to just below his...

Delenn felt herself blushing, which she had grown quite accustomed to since the Chrysalis. She also felt something else - her heartbeat quickened and her nipples hardened. She felt the soft tissues in her genitals begin to swell with blood, that low ache that demanded attention she didn't feel comfortable giving. But if John were the one paying attention...

Delenn shook her head and told herself to leave, to back away and return to her own quarters. But she was frozen there, staring. If his tiny pants were a little shorter, she would be able to see the bottom curve of his buttocks; she could nearly see the top. Not that bare skin would be much different from the view she already had. The cloth was tight, hiding nothing of his form. He seemed to be nothing but long, firm muscles, and she wanted to touch each and every single one. Touch? She wanted to climb on top of him and lick and taste, and if he awakened now she would let him do whatever he wanted. She would let him have her, body and soul.

It was that realization that finally brought her to her senses. Delenn tore her eyes away from his nearly-naked body and stumbled back to her own room. She pulled the bed down from the wall and sat on the edge, almost frightened as she became aware that she was trembling. The ache between her legs was stronger than she'd ever felt, so strong that she found herself sucking in deep breaths, not knowing how to deal with this Human thing that threatened to undo her. She could feel her pulse pounding away down there, and all she could see when she closed her eyes was John's body, those long muscles, those expanses of skin she wanted to taste. “Stop it, stop it, stop it,” she told herself, tears prickling her eyes.

No voice commands on this little shuttle. Delenn reached over and slid her hand across the pad next to the door to lock it. She hated her stupid half-Human body, the way it did things without her permission. For a Minbari to become aroused was a process, one that was not reached without both partners willingly entering a sharing of their bodies and spirits. That was the basis of the Shan'fal – how could two people join each other for life if they were not certain they would be able to arouse the other? The idea of becoming sexually aroused just by looking was ridiculous, completely idiotic. How could Humans ever get anything done?

Even as Delenn realized that maybe she was beginning to understand humanity better, at least in this respect, she laid back on the narrow bed, hiking up her skirt. The ache was insistent; it had become almost painful. She had read about all aspects of Human sexuality before and after her transformation, and was familiar with the technical process of masturbation. She had never done so, however; sexual pleasure by its very nature was meant to be shared. To induce it by oneself was not only silly, it was sinful. There were too few Minbari as it was, and each generation there were fewer. It was incumbent upon each and every one of them to take a mate, and to bear children. That she had rendered herself incapable of doing so was a gross dereliction of duty. For the first time since she had seen the dagger, Delenn allowed that perhaps those who had declared her Anathema were not wholly without reason.

She would not touch herself. She would not give in to these base impulses, the animalistic urges of her changeling body. Even as she told herself this, she found her hands lifting her skirt, brushing her inner thighs. She paused and bit her lip, trying to stop, but she could not. Her pulse was like a drum beat in her head. The clothing in the way lifted or moved aside, Delenn slid two fingers against her labia, the outer folds thick and swollen. She was wet, and somehow that was arousing her, too. One finger brushed against her clitoris, and she cried out as her hips jerked up on their own.

Delenn froze. These walls were thin, just partitions dividing up the space inside the hull. Nothing was soundproof. She listened, head crooked around so she could stare at the door, waiting to hear John come to investigate. She waited and waited, her legs and hand starting to cramp, but the rest of the shuttle was still. Delenn grabbed the pillow with her other hand and bit into the corner of it, then rubbed her fingers against herself again. Good, good, it felt so good, she wanted to weep it felt so good, and then she remembered John's body, remembered all that naked skin, and thought how much she wanted it to be his fingers touching her now – the orgasm hit her before she knew what was happening. The pillow muffled some of her moan. She was distantly aware of her body thrashing, her hips moving to meet something that wasn't there, her head slamming back into the bare mattress.

She came back to herself slowly, her body slightly shaking. Delenn shoved the pillow aside and breathed long, deep breaths. There was a different ache between her legs now, almost sweet, and she stretched, rubbing her fingers gently against herself again, avoiding the areas that were now too sensitive. She felt simply wonderful – chemicals in her brain, she knew. Yes, she understood Humans much better now.

The euphoria didn't last. Now she knew, and wouldn't it be so much better if it were John with her next time? Humans didn't always mate for life as Minbari did, and he had been married before; he had likely been intimate with more than one woman, maybe even several. He would know just how to touch her, how to make her feel the most amazing sensations.

Delenn took off her clothes and cleaned herself up. It seemed she could not wash her hands enough. Would he be able to know what she had done the next time he saw her? The thought was mortifying. She redressed, a high-collared dress with long sleeves and skirts, though the fabric was thinner and filmier than she would have liked; it was the best she could do with what clothes she'd packed. She folded the bed back up into the wall, sat on the floor and prayed. She prayed strength, for resolve, for determination, for focus.

Hours later, she had received none of those things. What she got instead was an excuse, but the more and more she thought about it, the better it sounded. It is done. I am now what I am, and there is no going back. What difference does it make who I take as a mate? Our mating will be fruitless regardless of who I choose.

I should be able to choose who I want
.

As though she had summoned him, there was a knock at her door, startling her so much she actually heard her teeth click together. “Delenn?” he said, and just the sound of his voice was enough to rekindle the now never-cold ember of desire.

She stood and waved the door open.




John hummed to himself as he checked the bottom shelf. There were several things he didn't recognize, but that was definitely a canned ham, and he grabbed it to go in the pillowcase along with everything else. The tin clinked against the bottle of Coke – honest-to-God Coca Cola. He hadn't had one in at least five years. John smiled.

The first time he'd met a Brakiri, the alien had been wearing a bright turquoise Hawaiian shirt, and had ended nearly every sentence with “you hear me, man?” Why they loved Humans, and Earth, and anything to do with Humans and Earth so much, John didn't know. He didn't really care, either. The pirate ship's captain had been a Brakiri, and it had only taken John two days to figure out how to break open his personal stores, which were full of the kinds of things that EarthForce didn't see fit to send its men. And tonight, he was going to have a feast. He locked the room back up and climbed the ladder from the cargo hold back up to the main deck.

It was a sweet little ship. If John ever wanted to hang up his uniform and take up smuggling, he might look into picking himself up one of these. A little bigger than a standard shuttle, but not much more. A spacious cabin, two nice though very small rooms near the stern, a sizable cargo hold, and more hidden nooks and crannies than you could shake a stick at. There was one tucked right under the instrument panel that was just big enough for Delenn, if she pulled her knees up to her chest and curled up in a ball. Should anything suspicious waylay them between here and Centauri Prime, John planned on shoving her inside.

They were two days out from Babylon 5, and John reckoned they had another four or five to go. It depended on the route, which he was making up as he went along. He zigged away from Centauri Prime, off in the direction of Sector 120; then he zagged back, but at a shallow angle, heading roughly toward Earth. He doubled back on their trail twice. They were coming up on a gate in the old abandoned Dilgar system. John planned to leave hyperspace for a bit, maybe lurk behind a moon, check to make sure they weren't being followed.

It was actually kind of exciting, if he let himself forget the reason why he was doing it.

But he knew he wouldn't enjoy the meal he'd assembled if he sat by himself in the cabin, as he'd spent most of the last two days. Delenn had enjoyed her little snit for long enough, and it was time for her to at least be civil. He knew why she was pissed at him, but it would do no good for either of them to wallow in it. John walked back to the aft sleeping berths – a long walk, all of about eight paces – and raised his hand to knock quietly on her door. He could hear her voice, muffled and quiet inside. She was speaking in the Minbari language, and he wanted to do nothing more than just lean his head against the door and listen to it. During the war, he'd come to hate the little snippets of Minbari he heard here and there; it was the sound of death, of destruction, of genocide. Now, though...

He knocked, and her voice cut off immediately. John found himself listening to the silence, trying to figure out if it was an angry silence, a wary silence, or maybe just a patient, long-suffering silence. “Delenn?” he asked, trying his best not to sound as worried as he felt. What if she never forgave him?

But she did come to the door and open it, stand there and look at him, her face utterly unreadable. John realized that aside from the two nights he'd seen her in her nightgown, he'd only seen her in formal robes before, the equivalent to his uniform. She was wearing something soft and filmy, making her eyes look almost blue in the light.

He wanted to rip the dress off her and shove her up against the wall.

Instead, he said, “I was wondering if you wanted to eat with me, in the cabin. The captain had all kinds of Earth delicacies, some stuff even I haven't eaten in years.”

For a second he was sure she was going to refuse. But she smiled, that smile he used to think was just for him. That she could smile it at him now just showed that it meant nothing at all. “Of course. Thank you, Captain.” So we're back to Captain. John smiled back, surprised that he couldn't hear his face creak with the effort, and gestured for her to leave. He followed her to the main cabin, where he had assembled the little picnic between the two chairs. He'd left some music playing quietly in the background, Debussy or Zolorov, something light and airy, but seeing Delenn sit down with her back straight, knees drawn together, chin up as though she were girding herself for an unpleasant meeting, he decided to shut the music off.

“I didn't know what Human foods you'd had before, and what you liked.”

“Michael has introduced me to many things. Most of it, I do not care for.” So she was on a first name basis with Garibaldi now?

John threw her what he knew to be one of his more charming smiles. “You seemed to like what we ate at the Fresh Air.” He hadn't intended it to be a rebuke, but she took it that way, lowering her eyes, her fingers twisting in her lap. “Unless you were just being nice for my sake.”

Delenn looked back up at him, eyes wide. “No! I didn't...that was a very enjoyable evening.” Another smile, and now he didn't think he was imagining the air between them thawing.

Yesterday, the first day on the shuttle, she had slept off the after-effects of the serum. He'd brought her glasses of water and some warm vegetable broth once her stomach had settled. She had been groggy and tired, and John decided to wait till the next day to talk about their plans.

But today had been a trial. Delenn had locked herself up in her room and spoke to him only a little, and coldly at that. “I wanted you to stay on the station,” she had said, a bit imperiously. “Now you will be missed, and anyone looking for me will have good reason to look elsewhere.” John found he had a hard time arguing with her logic. So aside from a brief nap, since he'd skipped the previous night's sleep programming in the route, he had stayed in the cabin, staring at the screens. He'd been half-expecting to be told to turn the shuttle around and return to B5 after they'd made it to Centauri Prime, like he was no more than a bus driver.

But now it seemed they were okay again, at least enough to sit in the same room together. He kind of wanted to make sure she knew he wasn't going to put the moves on her, that he just wanted to be a friend, a good friend, the kind of friend who helped keep you from getting assassinated, but he decided it would be best not to draw any more attention to the events of today. Best to ignore it, water under the bridge, and move on. In that spirit, John cracked his knuckles and showed off the spread he'd put together.

“This is a ham, which we used to have every year for Christmas. Some fruit, though I drained off most of the syrup, I know you don't like things too sweet. Mashed potatoes, from powder, but there was a freeze-dried tab of butter I mixed in, the extent of my culinary prowess. And some green beans. They're not fancy, but my mom would say you have to have a veggie.” He looked up at her expectantly.

“It looks wonderful, John.”

He dished up two plates, and for a few moments they ate in silence. The ham was too salty, the fruit soggy, the potatoes only okay, and the green beans limp and bland, but goddamn if it wasn't one of the better meals he'd had in awhile. Delenn only took a few bites of the ham, he saw (more for me later), but polished off the potatoes and fruit. John watched as she speared a green bean and looked at it quizzically, jiggling it a bit.

“It's a green bean,” he explained again.

“This is a vegetable?”

“It's a...bean vegetable.”

“A legume?” He hated it when she knew more English than he did. Aware that he was watching a bit too closely, John sat back with a grin as Delenn raised the single green bean to her mouth and delicately nibbled at the end. She made a face at him, half regret, half befuddlement, her mouth curved in a delicious line, and set her fork back down.

“She doesn't like legumes. Check.”

“Who are you talking to?” she asked, and she didn't need to say anything. He could read the forgiveness on her face.

“Just keeping track, for future reference.” He tapped his temple.

“She doesn't like the red or pink meats, either.”

“Fish and poultry only, check.” He held up a finger, mock serious, and the expectant look on her face was gratifying. John wanted nothing more than to sweep everything aside and cover her with kisses, but no. That time was past. “And now, for the pièce de résistance...”

He'd laughed out loud when he'd found it on the shelf, the laugh so surprising that he almost bent over double from the force of it. It was lighter than he expected, and he turned it over and over, examining it from all sides. Before he'd gone to get Delenn, he had unwrapped it and put it on a nice plate. Now he drew it out from behind his chair with a flourish.

She looked at it, then back at him, and if she'd had eyebrows, they'd have been raised. He waved his hand over it. “Tada!” Still nothing.

“Should I be excited?” she asked, sotto voce. John nodded gravely. “Oh, John, it's wonderful!” A long pause. “What is it!?”

“It's a cake.” It was a cake! A frosted cake with sugar flowers and vines, and there'd been a little plastic sack of candles with it, and John lit them now. He was pretty sure it was a chocolate cake, but honestly, it didn't even matter.

“To have one's cake and eat it too. I see now, it's a treat. I did not know grown men would become so excited over a pastry.” John lit the last candle and looked up at her suspiciously. “Of course, you have set it on fire. This would make anything exciting.”

“This is a chocolate cake. This is a real chocolate cake, baked in a real oven, frosted with real frosting. Delenn. Nothing could make this more exciting.” How a Brakiri pirate had got his hands on a vacuum-sealed chocolate cake, he didn't know, and neither did he care. They blew out the candles before they made too much smoke, and he started cutting. One big slice for him, one smaller and daintier slice for Delenn; secretly, he hoped she wouldn't want any of her frosting. She took her plate from him with her bottom lip between her teeth, and took another one of those tiny, tentative bites.

She paused with the fork still in her mouth, and her eyes grew wide, and John knew he had her.




The cake was in ruins between them. John was telling a story about a childhood birthday, one of the few rituals their peoples shared. Delenn wanted to ask him to stop, her stomach and sides and even her face hurt from laughing, but the last thing she wanted him to do was stop.

“I found out years later they were all in on it, but I think that makes it even better. So there I was, in my little fireman's hat and my little fireman's overalls and my little fireman's boots, and I'm out directing the traffic as it leaves the house, when I hear my mom start yelling. 'Fire, fire!' I turn around and sure enough, black smoke's rising from the back yard. So I run to the back just as fast as my short little legs can take me.”

“Short?”

“Yeah, I didn't hit my growth spurt till I was almost fourteen. I was a short, chubby thing as a kid, something which to this day gives my sister Liz endless joy. Anyway, I get back there, and the trash can's on fire, great big flames just shooting out the top. Little did I know that my Uncle Grant was right around the corner with a fire extinguisher, just in case. My mom goes, 'Oh, thank goodness, it's you. What should I do, Johnny?' And I'd be happy to forget this next part, but no one has ever let me forget – I put my hands on my hips...”

At this point, John demonstrated the gesture, face set in a very stern and serious expression, and Delenn could see him as he must have looked as a child, clad in a miniature uniform, so very proud of himself, and so very brave. Had his parents known the kind of man he would become even then?

“...and I looked right at my mom, and I said, 'Ma'am, I need you to step aside,' and I waved her towards the swing set. Then I hitched up my little fireman's overalls, and I bypassed the bucket of water that had already been prepared for me, and I went straight to the water hose. I cranked her up to high – I didn't hear it, but at this point my mom told my dad to put the damned camera down and keep me from doing something stupid, but he just kept on filming – and I blasted that water right into that trash can.”

Delenn had an idea where this story was going, and she started laughing helplessly.

“Instead of putting the fire out, I knocked the trash can right over, and everything inside that was on fire just erupted out of the thing, all over the ground. One piece of wrapping paper flew over and caught the tablecloth on fire. Here come uncles and aunts and cousins, and Liz is squalling in the background, and I've got a little pudgy hand up shouting 'Stay back, stay back, I've got this under control,' and before anyone can get to me I spray just about everyone with the hose. At this point my dad finally puts the camera down – the vid from this point on is a view of the corner of the house at a ninety degree angle – and runs over to stop me before I make anything worse.”

Delenn was laughing so hard she could feel tears trickling down her cheeks, and she had to fight to breathe. “And did he? Stop you?”

“By that time, I had put out the flames in the trash can and on the ground, and had started in on the table. Ruined the rest of the cupcakes, by the way, I was pissed about that the next day, let me tell you.”

She felt curiously light-headed, and she didn't feel she could attribute all of that feeling to the laughter. “When did you no longer wish to become a firefighter?” she asked after the story had ended, and she had regained some semblance of composure.

John shrugged. “I don't know exactly. I know there was a period in there where I wanted to hunt the native dinos on the Orion colony, and of course I always had this vague dream of being a pro ball player, but I know that by the time I was in high school, I was dead set on being a pilot.”

“Do you ever wonder what your life would be like if you had chosen a different path?”

He looked right at her, his eyes locked on hers, as serious as she had ever seen him. There was a lengthy pause, so long she thought he might not reply. “In the past, maybe. Not anymore.”

Delenn found she couldn't meet his gaze. She busied herself with cleaning up the remains of their meal, tidying up the cabin. John didn't move to help, and she was painfully aware that he was watching her. The task didn't take very long, though, and she found herself with nothing to do but to sit down again, the distance between them seeming to shrink. She wracked her brain, trying to think of what topic they could cover next, or perhaps a graceful way to thank him for the evening and return to her room, when suddenly he was beside her, leaning in front of her, his face just before her own.

“John...” Delenn pressed herself back into the chair, her hands tight on the arm rests, but he wasn't looking at her. He was studying the instrument panel, one hand braced on the chair just above her head. She could smell him, and the urge struck her to lean up, nuzzle his throat, press her lips against the pulse she could see beating there. Before she could even decide what to do with this thought, he was gone, sitting back down in his own chair.

“The gate's up ahead,” he said, and then he was busy plotting a course to bring them out of hyperspace. For a few minutes, his attention was diverted.

Delenn thought that this was as good a time as any to make her exit, but instead, she watched him at the controls. Deft, economical movements, the seemingly effortless work of someone who knows what they're doing, making it look as simple as can be. His face was a study in concentration, and Delenn looked at him, taking full advantage of this rare opportunity, to look all she wanted without him or anyone else aware of it.

Looking was not all she wanted to do. Even now, as she held her breath waiting for their return to normal space, she wanted to touch him, to leave her chair and climb into his lap, to kiss him until she ran out of air. There was a funny feeling in her stomach, a tightening and stretching, and for a moment she wondered at the intensity of her body's response to his mere presence. But no, that was the gate up ahead. They were caught in its relentless pull, sucked down to the faux singularity at its core; the molecules and atoms that made her up sang out, wanting to fly ahead into that abyss. She could see dead black space ahead of them, and the black looked like the rent in the fabric of the universe, instead of the gate they were flying into. For a half-second the forces were equaled, the pull and the push, and as always, Delenn closed her eyes against it.

Then they were through, and the last of the sensation melted away, leaving her feeling as though she'd had a gentle shove between the shoulder blades. Her eyes flicked up to the chronometer – only thirty seconds had passed, though it had felt like ten minutes at least. Once upon a time, she had been almost accustomed to the feeling, had been able to work right through it with no more than that half-second's hesitation, but it had been too long. She felt itchy and ill at ease.

“Looks clear,” John said, startling her a bit. There was nothing visible to the naked eye through the cockpit, and the sensors and instrument panel meant little to her. John didn't quite relax into his seat, but she saw him slide his fingertips away from the controls in his arm rest. No weapons aboard this ship, but he had other things at his disposal. Delenn hoped they wouldn't have to use them.

“I'm going to park us behind the main moon of Dilgar 4. There's some radiation coming off the giant, too. Should cover our signature should anyone do a scan.” She could see the gas giant up ahead, probably no more than a hundred thousand kilometers away. They would reach it in around an hour. Delenn settled back into her seat and watched. No matter how many times she made the trip, she was always a bit in awe upon arriving at a new planet, even an uninhabited one. Each one was different, and beautiful in its own way. Dilgar 4 was a soft creamy white with streaks of amber and pink, encircled by a delicate ring that glowed a nearly pure white. How strange, that toxic gases and rocks could be so lovely.

They flew in silence, the only action beside the growth of the planet ahead of them the dropping of three sensor relays, all automated by the computer. John reached over and took her hand, and she almost laughed at the thought that it was almost worth it, all the events of the last few days, just to be able to hold his hand like this, to be close to him.

“What is it?” he asked, squeezing her fingers. She couldn't think of anything to say, so she just shook her head.

The moon's shadow swallowed them up. John pressed some buttons and moved some sliders, setting the engines to fire periodically to keep them between the moon and the planet.

“How long do you plan to stay here?” she asked, barely able to get the words out before a yawn took her by surprise.

“Eight hours or so. If someone is tailing us, it's hard to say how far behind us they are, or if they drifted off the beacon in hyperspace to keep us from noticing. Hey, I'll stay up and keep an eye out. Why don't you go get some sleep?”

Delenn shook her head again. She didn't want him out here by himself, keeping a lonely vigil for her sake. Neither did she want to return to her little room and sleep on the narrow, hard pallet there by herself. She would have to eventually, she knew, but she felt like being obstinate, wanting to postpone the inevitable.

So they sat, the sensors broadcasting nothing but the background noise of the universe, the screens empty. After some time, John darted to the back of the ship - to use the lavatory, she guessed. But he returned with a hair brush, her hair brush, and she frowned at him.

“Did you go into my room?”

“Just for a second. I didn't snoop around or touch anything, Scout's honor. Stand up.” He was going to brush her hair. Delenn couldn't argue with that, so she stood, and he grabbed the cushion from her chair and set it on the floor in front of him. She sat, and he took a moment to get situated, scooting in the chair until his knees came to either side of her shoulders. Delenn closed her eyes at that, then was unable to stifle the noise she made as he put his hands on her hair, pulling it behind her shoulders and drawing his fingers through it.

Delenn hoped he was keeping an eye on the screens, because she certainly wasn't. Ivanova had brushed her hair once, and it had been a revelation; since then, only she had maintained it, and it simply did not feel the same, brushing her own hair. She didn't know why the sensations should be any different, but they were, so much so that she felt as though she might melt straight through the floor.

“Is it still weird, having hair?” he asked, dividing her hair into sections and brushing out each one.

“Yes,” she admitted. He put the brush aside and ran his fingers along the place where the hair grew out from the bottom of her bone crest. There was no way she could hide her shiver. “Sometimes I walk past a mirror and I catch a glimpse of myself through the corner of my eye, and it's a surprise. I turn, expecting to see a stranger behind me. Other times, I feel as though my head is too light, too fragile. I worry about being hit in the back of the head.

He rubbed his fingers against her scalp. “The skull's pretty strong,” he murmured. “Even our thin Human skulls.”

“I know. I know this, intellectually, but when you've spent your whole life accustomed to a certain weight, it is not a matter of days or weeks or even months to get used to it.” He hummed at that, then resumed brushing. Delenn waited for him to ask more questions, but no more were forthcoming.

How long he brushed her hair, she had no way of knowing. It wasn't until her chin hit her chest and she had to put a hand out to keep from falling sideways that she realized how near sleep she was. John's hands were on her shoulders, helping her up at first, but then he guided her to sit down on the chair in front of him, between his knees. He pulled all her hair over to one side, then rested his chin against her shoulder, whispering into her ear.

“Are you ready for bed now?” It wasn't fair, that he should ask her such a question when she was so sleepy, her mind foggy and unable to follow a logical train of thought. She heard herself tell him no, because she didn't know what he was asking, if he meant ready for sleep? or if he meant something else entirely. He began to rub her neck, scratching the skin lightly with his nails, tracing a line down what part of her spine wasn't covered by her dress with a fingertip, then following it with his lips.

Delenn shivered again, though she was far from cold.

“I think about you all the time, you know,” he said, punctuating the sentence with another kiss, this one to the side of her neck. “I try not to, even tonight I told myself I was just going to be your friend and nothing else, but I can't manage to get you out of my head. And I don't want to.” He brushed his nose against her skin, and she heard him inhale. “When you invited me to dinner, that first time, did you know what you were doing?” he asked. It took Delenn a moment to translate the words, and she couldn't remember the last time she'd had to consciously do that.

“I wanted to learn more about Humans.” A chuckle in her ear, and then he kissed it, too. “I wanted to learn more about you,” she clarified.

She felt him nod. “I've wanted to kiss you since that night.” Kisses down her jaw, back to her ear. His tongue traced the edge of it, and he nipped at her earlobe with his teeth. “You ruined me that night, Delenn. I've been yours since the moment I saw you in that black dress.”

She wanted to turn and face him; she wanted to flee. Torn between the two, Delenn froze, unable to do much more than try to keep her breathing steady. One of John's hands was on her stomach, the other slid down her arm. He clasped her hand for a moment, then rested his hand on her waist, bringing it up her side. A shaky breath tore out of her throat, and he sucked gently on the tendon in her neck as his fingers brushed the underside of her breast.

When the panel beeped loudly, she jumped so abruptly that she heard John's teeth click together when the top of her head banged into his jaw. For one utterly nonsensical moment, she thought the ship was warning her specifically. I see what you are doing, and you had better end this foolishness before you do something you'll regret. The time of regret was over, though; she was smitten beyond recall, and he had finally wormed his way past all her defenses.

Delenn waited for him to whisper something in her ear, to resume the slide of his hands over her body. Even now, John's hands gripped her tightly, holding her close, her back against his chest. She could hear nothing but his breathing, harsh and a bit uneven, and could feel it puff against her cheek. Delenn turned her head, and this time, she would kiss him, capture his mouth fully, show him that she wanted him just as much as he apparently wanted her.

Instead, John maneuvered her aside and out of the way, and he stood and leaned over the instrument panel. Delenn blinked and swallowed disappointment and rejection. Then her eyes focused on the screens as well.

Another ship had flown out of the gate, and was even now lurking out there, just on the other side of the moon.

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