Specs: Babylon 5, John/Delenn, 5800 words
Previous Chapters: One, Two, Three, Four, Five
Author's Note: LOOOOOL I have no idea why it's taking me so long to post this. I'm sure everyone's forgotten about it by this point. Ah well.
She would have liked to make it to the city before nightfall, but she was exhausted. Mentally more than physically, which was worse, she thought; she wanted to be completely alert when this began. So Delenn asked John to find them a place to stay. He was talking to a fisherman now, a few meters away, his naturally open and affable face making the Centauri trust him completely right off the bat. They were newlyweds, John told him, and on the spur of the moment had decided to come to Centauri Prime on their honeymoon. They hadn't done a lick of research. Where was a nice, quiet, tucked-away place to stay?
While the two men went over various options, Delenn just watched John. His kiss had been unexpected, surprising, and completely perfect. There was no longer any need to pray on it, to try and decide if it were the right path – it had felt so very right, and that was all the answer from the universe she needed. As tired as she was, she also wanted to stay the night in this little village because she wanted to spend time with John alone, without worrying about anything else. Besides that, a week spent constantly on edge had taken its toll.
“All right. Dalos says there's a really nice little bed and breakfast just about a half a mile from here. He's going to drive us up.” John helped her to her feet, and offered her his arm. She took it gratefully. The drive was short; Dalos kept up a running monologue of the sights of the village (mostly houses and the Centauri domesticated livestock), happy to show off his home to strangers. Delenn let his voice fade away and rested her head on John's shoulder.
The inn was a few hundred meters up the mountain, tucked into a small valley there. One side had a wonderful view of the sea, the other of a rippling brook wending its way through the mountain valley. It was a small building, holding no more than a dozen rooms. The fisherman dropped them off, inviting them to join him for dinner at his home if they so chose; he would make them a fish stew, rich and hearty, with plenty of Brivari to follow it down. John thanked him graciously without ever committing them; the fish stew could be the most delicious ever made, but Delenn had no desire for anyone's company but John's.
She let him go inside to make the arrangements. There was a stone bench by the cliff's edge that she sat on, the seat warmed by the sun. Delenn closed her eyes and turned her face up into the sunlight, breathing the fresh, salty air, letting her mind rest. It had been a churning froth of turmoil and self-doubt for long enough that she had a hard time remembering being at peace; the coming days were like to be even worse. She needed a respite.
John joined her, putting an arm around her shoulders. “I got us a room facing the sea. Is that okay? One room? I figured since we're supposed to be newlyweds...”
“One room is perfect.” She slid her arm around his waist and leaned against him. John kissed her hairline, so softly and tenderly that she couldn't help but sigh. “You have done so much for me.”
“Hush.” So she did.
It was a small room, but bigger than what they'd had on the shuttle, so right now it seemed fit for a king. Plain walls, the window hung with white sheer curtains; a single landscape painting; a wide, soft bed covered in a blue coverlet to match the sea outside. It didn't look anything like the ostentatious extravagance John was used to when it came to Centauri – he liked it much more. Delenn sat down in a chair in the corner, watching him quietly as he unpacked their bags and opened the window to let in some fresh air.
John took off his shoes and sat on the bed, leaning against the head board. He patted the bed beside him. Delenn took off her head scarf, unwinding it with a delicacy that he found incredibly attractive – though that was the case with almost anything she did these days – then sat down beside him. He took her hand.
“When we get back to Babylon 5, when all of this is over, I'd like to start seeing you.”
She furrowed her brow at that, and a slow smile spread over her face. “Are you not seeing me now? Have you seen nothing but me for the last week?”
“It's a Human expression. It means...I'd like to court you. Date you. Pursue you as a romantic partner. How do the Minbari put it?”
Her smile widened, and her eyes were definitely on his mouth. “Shan'leth nai, but the colloquial expression translated into English is 'to go through the rituals.' The process is much more complicated and involved than my understanding of Human courtship.” Then she sighed, tracing his fingers with her own. “I have wanted you as well, but I did not think it would be appropriate.”
John didn't quite know what to say to that. “Because I'm a Human. Minbari don't marry other species, do they?”
“No.” The word hung in the air between them. He wanted to fill up the silence, to plead his case, but he bit his tongue to keep from what he knew would end up as babbling, and let her work out what she would say next. “John. It is difficult to explain to someone who is not Minbari.”
“You don't have to explain. Whatever you want to do, I'll respect. I won't push you.”
“I know. That is another thing that makes me want you.” Another pause. He wanted to sneak a peek at her face, to try and figure out what she was thinking. But he wasn't going to make her feel self-conscious, not now when she was finally confiding in him. “When two Minbari become close, there is a specific and set path to be taken. Rituals, everything proceeding at a slow and careful pace. Each stopping point allows the two to decide whether they wish to continue.”
“And you're not sure you want to? Continue on this path with me?”
“Stop trying to figure out what I'm going to say next, John. I want to continue. Very much so. But...I don't want to wait. It can take a year to proceed through the various rituals. It is a lengthy process. I want to skip all of it, right now.” John let himself perk up – she wanted him now. That's what he wanted, too. They were on the same page after all. “I want to...be with you. Physically. But for a Minbari to do such a thing before formally joining with the other is dishonorable, for the individual and the clan.”
“Ah.” No wonder then that he'd kept getting so many mixed signals from her. She reminded him a little of a teenager who really wanted to make it with her boyfriend at prom, but was worried about what God might think if she did. He didn't really know what to say – he'd been the boyfriend who'd done his best to get every girl into the backseat.
“Things are different for me now, since my change,” she said, her voice so quiet he could barely hear her. Now he did glance her way. Pink cheeks, fingers worrying with the bedspread – she was nervous, shy. He wanted to smother her in kisses. “I feel things differently. Attraction for Minbari is generally a mental thing, one soul drawn to another. To feel that attraction in my body, to feel unable to resist, is difficult for me to know how to deal with.”
John leaned close and kissed her chastely on the cheek. “I'll sleep in the chair, or on the floor.”
“Delenn, I respect your culture and your beliefs. And I know how hard it is to deal with your body's urges and hormones and all that. I don't want to inadvertently tempt you into doing something you're not ready to do.” She opened her mouth to argue with him, but he cut her off. “Why don't you take a little nap? You look ready to drop. I'll figure out what route we'll take into the city.” Reluctantly, she nodded. The need to kiss her was so strong that he had to get off the bed right that instant or he knew he'd give in. He heard more than saw her lie down on her side, her back to the window and the chair in the corner.
All he wanted to do was climb back into the bed, to make her feel better, to kiss her and hold her and make love to her until they fell asleep in each other's arms. Instead, he accessed the local data net and started doing some research.
She woke up foggy-headed with no idea where she was. The wall in front of her was blank, and she stared at it while her brain woke up a few seconds behind the rest of her. They were on Centauri Prime, staying at an inn in the mountains. Was it morning already?
Delenn tried to roll over, but at some point had become tangled up in the bedspread. She wondered if she had covered up in her sleep, or if John had done it for her. Finally untangling herself, she looked for him – he was asleep in the chair in the corner, head tilted against the wall in what looked like a very uncomfortable angle, his legs seeming to stretch all the way across the room. She wasn't sure, but the quality of the light coming in the window looked more like twilight than dawn.
There was a cool, almost cold, breeze coming in through the open window. Delenn went to it, looking out over the sea below. White sails broke up the smooth blue sheet here and there, and as she watched a bird fell out of the sky, coming back up a moment later with a wriggling fish in its talons. How long had it been since she'd been on a planet's surface, instead of in a ship or on a station? Too long, in truth. Just breathing air that was fresh and moving, and hadn't made a million trips through recyclers, was a novelty. She was happy to do nothing but just watch the ships sail across the sea, white waves break on the rocks below, the clouds move across the sky.
“Hey.” She turned to see John smiling up at her. “Do you have any idea how pretty you look standing there?” Delenn shook her head, fighting off sudden, stupid tears. No one had called her pretty in years and years, maybe not since she'd been a child. John stood, and then slapped a hand to his neck. “Ow. Shit.”
“You cannot sleep in that chair again.” He groaned, in agreement she thought, and Delenn reached out to take his hand. She tugged until he stood behind her, and she maneuvered his arm to wrap around her waist. He obliged with the other as well, and rested his head on top of hers for only a moment before he drew back.
“That's not going to work. Your bone is poking me in the neck.”
Delenn laughed under her breath, feeling light as air. “I wonder if anyone else has ever said that sentence.” He laughed as well, then dropped his chin down to her shoulder.
They stood there, watching the sky darken to a deep indigo, the clouds turn from white to pink to purple. The ships sailed for home. “I'm starving,” he finally said, nuzzling the side of her neck. “Do you want to go eat some fish stew?”
“No. I don't want to share you with anyone.”
She could feel his smile against her neck. “We passed what looked like a restaurant on our way up here. Want to walk down, bring dinner back here?” She nodded, and he squeezed her tight.
There weren't any lights along the narrow mountain road, but the moon was rising in the twilight sky, full and glowing. It was enough light to make out the edges of the gravel road, the potholes here and there. The base of the mountain was still fairly steep, but the road switched back and forth at a shallow enough angle that the walk back wouldn't be too difficult. It was nice to walk, really walk – it felt like they'd been cooped up on that shuttle for a month. The air was just bracing enough to be refreshing without being too cold, and some kind of fragrant herb grew on the cliffs, scenting the air in such a way that Delenn wanted to eat it. She hadn't realized how hungry she was, too. As they walked, John's hand holding hers, she pretended for a moment that this was her life. She lived in a pretty blue and white room on the side of a mountain, and every morning she opened the window to look at the sea.
The restaurant looked small and homey from the outside, cheery candlelight flickering in the windows, but once inside, they saw that it had been built at the mouth of a cave. Timbers gave way to a stone roof, only roughly carved here and there to maintain the same height. At least fifty Centauri, mostly families, ate at long trestle tables, their conversations loud and boisterous and utterly unintelligible. A few faces turned their way, but they were all ruddy-cheeked and welcoming, and after a few moments no one paid much attention to them.
“I like this place, John.” He smiled at her, and found a server who spoke enough English to take their order. While they waited for the meal to be cooked, they found a place to sit in the corner of the room. John drank a mug of some frothy Centauri ale. It met his approval, judging by the way he smacked his lips and made a silly noise.
“Do you want to try some? Shit, you can't. Wait, have you tried any alcohol since your change? You are half-Human now.”
Delenn cocked her head and narrowed her eyes at him. “I don't think that would be wise.”
“You might just end up mildly homicidal instead of wildly homicidal.”
“I like when you use your schoolteacher voice.” He stole a kiss from her then, quick as can be, yet her heart still raced a little faster at the idea of kissing him in public, in front of strangers, as boldly as though they were already joined. He grinned at her, that wide toothy grin that was the first thing she loved about him, but then the grin turned into an exaggerated moue of pain as he put his hand back to his neck.
“I told you not to sleep in that chair,” she said, feeling bold herself. She put her own hand there, pressing her fingers into his neck, rubbing the knot in the muscle. John's moan would have been horribly loud if the rest of the room had been quieter, but as it was, she didn't think anyone else could hear them.
Then he abruptly stood, and for a second she was sure she had done something wrong. Had he not just kissed her? But he only moved to sit on the ground in front of her, his head bowed forward. “Well, if you insist,” he said with a put-upon sigh. Delenn's first reaction was to check the floor to make sure it was clean enough for him to sit on – in her admittedly limited experience, Human males sometimes did not think ahead to consider such mundane details. The tiles below were nearly spotless, though, and sure enough a Centauri youth with a mop was making his way around the room.
Delenn put her hands on John's neck, just feeling the warmth of his skin beneath her fingertips. She still felt some slight trepidation when it came to touching him; old habits were hard to break, she supposed. She didn't see any point in hanging on to any of those old habits. Not now. She rubbed his neck and shoulders as best she could, not knowing precisely how such a thing was done. There was some skill in it, as she had seen walking by practitioners massaging for pay in the Zocalo. She figured John would tell her if she did something wrong.
Delenn pushed down the collar of his shirt a little, remembering her study of his nearly-naked form on the shuttle. She leaned forward to speak into his ear. “Perhaps after we've eaten, back in the room, I could take your shirt off and rub your whole back.” She intended to continue the massage, but John turned to look at her, his eyes dark, the candlelight playing over his face. For a split-second, she thought he was angry, but she realized it was desire she was seeing in his face, and for a moment they were alone in the room. The reason she was on the planet disappeared, whatever anxiety that had underlain everything since Anyenn had entered her quarters vanished – she was entirely present, thinking only of the man in front of her.
The moment passed, though, when a reedy young man with a fringe of hair wild even by Centauri standards brought over their food, already packaged up and in a sack. John paid him – well, it seemed, if the numerous bobs of the Centauri's head were any indication – and led Delenn to the door. He kept looking at her, a look that made her feel as though she were wearing nothing at all. Her heart beat a little faster, and her stomach roiled almost unpleasantly. He was going to do something to her when they made it back to the room. She could see it in his eyes.
He didn't wait till they made it back to the inn, though. Halfway up the switchback, John tugged her off the gravel road, through the scrubby growth to the side, behind a tall tree with rough bark. The sack of food was left on the ground, forgotten. Her back met the tree trunk as his lips met hers, insistent, demanding. What happened to respecting my beliefs? she might have asked, but her mouth was no longer her own. John had claimed it.
Delenn wondered if he might not claim the rest of her, right here against this tree. She knew the English word for such an action. He could fuck me, right here. Thinking the word was nearly as exciting as the way John was kissing her, his tongue pressing against hers, his hand at the side of her breast. Delenn moaned. She could feel his hardness against her, his hips rocking into her belly, and if he just lifted her up she could wrap her legs around his waist, and he would be there, right where she wanted him.
Instead he broke off the kiss, and for a few seconds they both concentrated on breathing again. Her scarf had fallen off her head, it was on the ground somewhere, why was she thinking about such a thing at a moment like this? John brought a hand to her face, cupping her cheek. Somehow that gesture was more possessive and intimate than his kiss had just been.
“I want you so much,” he said, his voice impossibly low and rough. She could only nod, and he traced the contours of her mouth with his fingertips.
John kissed her again, slow, slow, and so deeply that she thought she might melt. “Are you mine?” he whispered against her lips, and she wondered that he felt the need to ask. She nodded, and then there was nothing but his kiss, his body warm against hers. They would share a bed tonight, and she would join with him, rituals and tradition and everything else be damned. Tomorrow morning she would wake up beside her mate; she smiled as he kissed her, and he smiled too.
The sound of a motor cut through the quiet night, and they paused, more out of simple curiosity than anything else. A car was coming up the gravel road. No, two cars. John moved them just a little, to keep the tree more squarely between themselves and the road. Delenn watched his face as he watched the road up ahead, and as his eyebrows drew together and the corners of his mouth turned down, a trickle of fear worked its way down her spine.
The cars stopped in front of the inn.
Delenn could do nothing but watch as a dozen Centauri emptied out, half heading inside the building, the others surrounding it. Although the walk up the switchback would have taken another ten minutes, they stood only a hundred meters below the inn, and half again as far away. She could hear the Centauri talking, even if she did not understand them.
“Dalos,” John whispered, and Delenn saw him then, the Centauri who had been so kind, so generous, who had driven them up to the little inn and invited them back to his own home, to share his fish stew. He was talking with one of the perimeter guards, pointing up to the room facing the sea, the window with the pretty white curtains.
“Did he know?” she whispered back. “Did he know who we were when he dropped us off?”
“No. You slept for almost three hours. They would have come on us then.” John picked up the bag of food from the ground, and her scarf, too. Then he took her hand and pulled her deeper into the thin woods that lined the road. The moonlight was bright enough that they could pick out a path, but hopefully would not give enough light that the Centauri above would be able to see them. They moved parallel to the road at first, but while the road had been made level, the land beyond sloped steeply. Delenn had to let go of John's hand to steady herself; her right foot was nearly six inches above her left, and she grabbed at trees and shrubs as she went.
They both kept looking up, toward the inn, now falling behind. The activity around it grew and grew; two more cars sped up the gravel road. They paused when one car unloaded five Minbari. The moonlight glinted off their bone crests, as though they were crowned with diamonds. Delenn felt her heart come to a stop. They talked to the Centauri outside the inn, though one walked into the night, in their direction, peering out. There was no way he could see them from this distance, but she still instinctively ducked down. After a minute the Minbari returned to the others, and they entered the inn. “Come on,” John said, a hand on her arm. She let him lead her away. The muscles in her legs began to tighten and burn, and the ankle she'd fallen on when the shuttle's gravity systems had malfunctioned started to ache. Her mouth was dry.
The road was well behind them now, having looped back up to finish the climb to the inn. They paused, and John peered all around, getting the lay of the land.
“They will ask around, and learn that we were just at the restaurant,” she said, catching her breath. “Did anyone see us leave? If they know we headed back up the mountain...”
“I don't know. We can't go back to the village. Let's try to make it to Arvenia.” That had been their destination, an easy twenty minute drive for tomorrow. She didn't even want to think about how long it would take to reach on foot, in this terrain. “We can climb this slope, up to the valley. Follow the stream to a cleft in the mountain, then down the other side. The city's straight inland from there.” Delenn could see the route in her head; they'd had a glimpse of the city as they'd flown down to land. Up high, it had looked close enough to touch. Just on the other side of the mountain, after all.
Another ten minutes clambering forward on the slope. Once John grabbed at a shrub as he lost his balance, and the roots pulled clean from the ground. He slid down a few meters, and Delenn had a sudden vision of him tumbling down, bones snapping, dead before he stopped falling. He caught himself on a rock, though, and the worst injury was a tender ankle and a scratch on his cheek. After that, they decided to climb.
Delenn had always found, even when she'd been a child, that intense physical exertion cleared the mind like nothing else. Her first year at temple as an acolyte had been a study in that truth. She remembered climbing the stairs to the Aerie, eight hundred steps hewn into the mountain face, narrow and slick with dew, her fingers so cold they were numb, unable to secure handholds as she ascended. Once at the top, she would pray for a solid hour, keeping time by the sundial in the floor, the birds above squawking and shrieking, sometimes even landing on her shoulders, demanding grain. By the time the hour was up, her muscles would be cold and stiff, and the descent was an even worse nightmare. She was always sure she would fall. Acolytes had in the past, usually to be found broken beyond repair. But Delenn had always had the most wonderful thoughts on such treks, her mind seeming to open up, all the dust and shadows cleared away. She would return to her dormitory full of ideas, epiphanies crowding against each other, seemingly insurmountable problems all easily solved.
The same was happening now. Climbing, grabbing onto branches and roots as she went, looking for handholds and a good path, her mind was racing, skipping from one conclusion to the next. Dalos had not known who they were when they had first landed. He had not known who they were when he brought them to the inn, and had not known for some time after that. But at some point, maybe while she was sleeping, maybe while they walked down to the restaurant, maybe even as late as when John was kissing her behind the tree, he had learned who they were, and had alerted the local authorities.
Who had told him? Who had known that she was on Centauri Prime? It was possible that the Grey Council had sent out a general alert, and that Dalos had nothing to do with it. It may have taken most of the day for word of their arrival at the checkpoint to trickle down to someone who was aware of the Empire's desire for her whereabouts. Maybe every major planet had a bulletin tacked up on the proverbial wall, with her description and image, and maybe John's, too. Maybe there were many different species on the lookout for a Human and a Minbari who looked like a Human traveling together.
But as Delenn climbed, she found it hard to believe that was the case. It was not in the nature of the Grey Council to expose their wishes in such a way. To confide in other species? Beneath them. To ask for a Centauri's help? Delenn could not see it. To broadcast galaxy-wide that they were looking for her and could not find her would be an admission of weakness. Her plan to come to Centauri Prime specifically had been known, and they had been lying in wait.
Why not capture her in orbit? Why give her the opportunity to go to ground? Whoever was here didn't have much power, couldn't convince the Emperor (or, more likely, his council and cronies) to set up a cordon around the whole planet. Her list of suspects grew smaller and smaller, until she was left with only one name. Someone who knew she was coming here, who could afford a sizable reward for any information, who would have to operate as a private citizen to keep the Centauri government out of it, and keep anyone from suspecting the Council itself.
The slope flattened out abruptly, and Delenn stumbled forward. John was there to help her up. In truth, she had forgotten he was there, her mind had been so focused on her thoughts. “Let's sit a minute,” he said, and they found a flattish rock wide enough for the two of them. The inn was a good kilometer away, maybe more. It seemed the activity there had died down, as most of the lights were now off. John opened the sack and pulled out their food from the restaurant, something else she had forgotten about. Her stomach growled noisily as he handed her a container.
“Who knows when we'll eat again,” she said, not much of a benediction on the meal, but the most honest one she could think of. Spiced meat, soft bread, chunks of white fish with herbs and tart, salty berries – Delenn didn't taste any of it. She knew wolfing down her food wasn't very attractive, but John was doing the same, so in that respect they were well-matched.
John was sopping up the juices in the bottom of the container with his bread when he looked up at her, wanting to ask a question but afraid of her answer. His face was so easy to read. “What is it?” she asked, finishing her own meal.
“Tell me about your friend, the one you're supposed to meet here.”
So his thoughts had taken a similar bent. “Hallier joined the Council a few cycles after I did. A Worker, so never very influential – that has been a problem for a long time. But she was focused, diligent, and very moral. Although we were from different castes, we became friends almost immediately. For nearly five cycles, we were the only two women on the Council. This was not an example of any kind of sexism, as it might be on your world; it was simply the way things worked out at that time. At any rate, we were very close. I knew her better than anyone else on the Council, and I knew the rest of them very well.” Try as she might, Delenn could not seem to make herself seriously consider that Hallier had tricked her into revealing herself on Centauri Prime, let alone that she would have gone along with anyone else on the Council who had voted for Anathema. Such a vote did not have to be unanimous – that she well knew.
“Someone knew you were coming to Centauri Prime.”
“It could have been someone on Babylon 5. It could have been the Brakiri pirate whose ship we borrowed – Lennier told him he would return with Brivari. Another on the Council might have learned Hallier had traveled here, and guessed at the reason. It could have been anyone.”
“And it might have been Hallier herself.” Delenn turned away from him, kneeling beside the rock to find a place to hide the empty food containers. John was saying nothing she wasn't thinking herself, and yet she grew angry at him even still, for voicing her thoughts aloud.
“She would not have betrayed me.” Delenn believed that. She had to.
“If she felt you were no longer Minbari, if she thought you had been totally corrupted, she wouldn't see it as a betrayal.”
“Then what would you suggest, Captain?” she spat out, facing him again – he only smiled at her, a little sadly.
“You already vetoed my suggestion.”
“That I should live out my days in Babylon 5's brig, kept like a bird in a cage?”
She knew even as she did it that she was doing her best to bait him, to make him angry. She wanted to fight, to yell and scream until she had no voice, to pound her fists into stone until her knuckles split and her blood spilled. John probably knew it, too, but he did not indulge her. He only stood and joined her, running a finger down her jaw.
“I don't want a bird in a cage, not when that bird is so beautiful flying free.” Delenn did her best not to smile, but she was tired and worried and ached horribly. John laughed, putting his hands on her waist, pulling her close. “I'm not much of a poet,” he admitted.
“No.” They were laughing then, and Delenn threw her arms around his neck and hugged him as tightly as she could.
“Let's put as much distance between us and the inn as we can,” he whispered, and even though she nodded, they just stood there for a few minutes, holding each other.
The dawn was cold and gray, the only indication of the sun a slightly brighter spot in that smooth dove sky. They were on the other side of the mountain, following the stream down. On this side, the stream looked to become a river, and it ran straight for Arvenia. Even though they hugged the woods to the left bank, John was still wary about continuing on under the light of day. “We don't know what resources they're willing to expend, if they're going to look for us from the air or not.” Delenn didn't think that would be the case, but she was so bone-tired she knew she couldn't walk much further.
It wasn't a cave exactly, more of a depression in the mountain side, which was rapidly becoming a hill. There was enough cover for the two of them, if they lay closely, side by side. John found a few branches on the ground with leaves still attached; he dragged them over. Delenn climbed in first, lying down on ground soft with green moss and dead leaves. John arranged one of the branches, climbed in behind her, then levered the second branch into place. It wouldn't hold up to a close examination, but it would do for anything else.
John fitted his body against hers, his chest solid and warm against her back, cocooning her from the worst of the winds blowing down from the north. She covered one of his hands with her own, and he squeezed her tight.
It was not the bed she would have chosen for the two of them to share tonight, but she was happy for it nonetheless.