Specs: Babylon 5, John/Delenn, 8000 words
Previous Chapters: One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven
A/N: I thought I'd finish posting last year's hetbigbang before I started writing this year's.
Babylon 5 was under attack. Hordes poured out of the jump gate, ships beyond count, a million black specks and each one carried death. John was in C and C, shouting out orders, but everyone there just laughed at him and went about their business. “Goddamnit, get me a firing solution!” he bellowed. Corwin and Ivanova just giggled behind their hands, the eyes turned his way cruel and mocking. The attack wings were no better. No one was forming up. Instead, they just cavorted this way and that, doing tricks.
He was just going to have to fly himself.
John ran through the corridors, quickly becoming lost in the maze. Left, right, left, right, no matter which way he turned, he saw only blank walls. There were rooms behind them, he knew, he could hear voices from behind the bulkheads, chattering in alien gibberish. John pounded on the walls, demanding entrance, but was again ignored. And now something was coming up the hallway behind him, they'd been boarded, who knew what it was, he couldn't run anymore, he reached for his gun but the holster was empty, the Minbari were aboard, they were coming for him, he was Starkiller, after all, and they'd been saving up something really special all these years, they were behind the bulkheads, they were all around, it wouldn't be long now, it wouldn't be long at all.
John turned the corner, and Delenn was waiting for him.
“Where do you think you're going?” she asked with a coy smile, putting a hand on his chest. Her robes were cut low in the front, the neckline slashed nearly to her navel, revealing most of her breasts. She guided his hand to them now, letting him stroke the soft flesh.
“The station...” he said, though he didn't know why. The station was fine. It was empty, as a matter of fact, completely empty, except for the two of them. John lowered his head to her breasts, pushing the rest of the fabric aside, revealing taut, swollen nipples. He sucked on them eagerly, as Delenn held his head securely down, her fingernails digging into his scalp.
“You're filthy,” she said. He nodded; no point in denying it. “A filthy, dirty Human. An animal.” Yes, yes, he was all those things and more. “A hairy, disgusting animal,” she purred, and then she bit his ear. John felt himself harden, his cock stiffening so quickly that it burst open his trousers, and they fell to the floor forgotten. He was so hard, he had to touch himself, but Delenn grabbed his wrist, sharp nails digging into his skin, and forced his hand away.
“Is that what you do late at night? Do you touch that horrible thing and think of me? As though I'd let you put it inside me.” Even now, she had a hand on the back of his head, keeping him still, rubbing a nipple over his lips. He opened his mouth to take it, and she slapped him. Then she shoved him away.
“I don't understand,” he said. Even now she stood in front of him, tits hanging out of her robes, and they were so beautiful, she was so beautiful. He was an animal, yes, but why would she let him touch her and then tell him she would never let him touch her? His cock hurt, his balls hurt, he just wanted someone to touch him – it could be her, it could be him, it didn't matter. Delenn grabbed his arm and spun him around, shoving him forward into the wall. It was surprisingly soft, and he sank into it.
“Oh, John,” she said, and she ran her hands down his bare back, and he bucked his hips forward when she reached his ass. Fine, he would fuck the wall. It was so soft under his body, and her hands were on his ass, rubbing and squeezing, dear God had he ever been so hard in his life?
John woke up, rocking into the mattress beneath him, his groin one delicious and awful ache. He could hear Delenn behind him, her breath coming in quick, sharp gasps that she tried to stifle. She slowly drew a finger down the crack of his ass, all the way down, and her fingers probed forward just below his anus to rub the skin there, lower to his balls, her other hand massaging and kneading.
“Jesus,” he choked out. If he was aroused all to hell then so was she. It sounded like she was running a marathon back there, the way she was breathing. Suddenly her lips were on his ass, kissing one buttock, licking the skin first tentatively, then with greater and greater pressure. Her mouth closed and she sucked, and John began to fuck the bed in earnest. “Jesus Christ,” he moaned. As far as he knew, she hadn't even touched his cock yet.
Slowly, her breath now sounding like a high keen on each inhale, she spread open his cheeks, thumbs rubbing to either side of his anus. If she'd had a strap-on or a dildo or anything, he'd let her fuck him right now, he was so turned on. She gently pressed one finger against the opening there, then very, very carefully worked the tip inside. John felt his balls tighten up even more and knew the end was near, and he certainly didn't intend to finish this by coming all over the sheets. He finally turned to look at her. She was an absolute vision, hair tousled and loose around her shoulders, breasts high and perfect, one hand on his ass and the other between her own legs.
John surged toward her, and they didn't so much kiss as just shove their tongues together. He was going to last about three thrusts, but God if they wouldn't be good ones. He pushed her down to her hands and knees, and someday when they had time he was going to pay just as much attention to her ass, it was a lovely, lovely ass, but right now he needed to be inside her or he was going to die. He entered her in one long thrust, and she screamed.
He made it to six.
He regained just enough composure and use of his limbs to not collapse on top of her. He didn't know if she'd come or not, not that it really mattered in his decision-making process. He flipped her over onto her back and buried his head between her legs. Truth be told, John would not have guessed her to be so vocal. “John, John, please, oh, oh, please, yes, there, John,” she moaned and screeched, and every now and then she'd throw in some Minbari word or phrase he guessed were curses. He didn't usually go for chatter, it always sounded fake and porny to his ears, but he was loving it from Delenn. Then her hands were fisting in his hair and her shoulders came off the bed, and he bore down and sucked till his jaw hurt.
After, he rested his head on her thigh and watched her chest rise and fall as she breathed. “So tell me about this time you watched me sleep in just my boxers.” A flush started somewhere between her breasts and spread upward.
“You were on your stomach, and I just...” He found it delightfully endearing that she could be so shy when it came to talking about this sort of thing when she'd been fingering his ass not ten minutes before. “I just wanted to touch you. When I woke up, just now, you were lying the same way. And this time, I could touch you.”
“Does this mean we get to recreate one of my fantasies now?” He expected a laugh, for her to pull him up for a kiss; instead, she grew quiet. “Delenn?”
“We have other things we must do today.” He knew the tone in her voice. It was the tone that said it was time to stop playing and get to work. He crawled up and kissed her anyway, trying to tell her through the kiss that everything would be okay, that whatever happened he would be there. Maybe she heard it, because she smiled at him.
“I love you,” he said, and then they got ready to leave.
They walked hand in hand down to the forum. Centauri were rushing here and there in a veritable frenzy, and one with his head buried in a reader nearly ran right into Delenn. No apologies, just a scowl and a baring of sharp teeth. At least no one else seemed to notice them otherwise. They were just a couple taking a morning stroll, perhaps a bit unusual in not being Centauri, but that happened. John let himself breathe freely for a few minutes.
Just west of the forum was a big stone amphitheater. He paid two crowns to the fat guard at the front gate for entrance, one each for him and Delenn. When no shows or events were being put on, the wide stone risers were a popular place for lunch, for students to study, for lovers to meet. There were four other groups here now, clustered here and there, but a quick check revealed none to be Minbari.
They found a seat on the back riser, under an awning that provided welcome shade against the already warm and sunny day. Better still, they could see the main entrance as well as the smaller staff entrances by the stage, along with seven of the eight emergency exits. If and when Hallier came to join them, they would hopefully see her before she spotted them. Just in case.
Speed didn't really exist in hyperspace. Of course, neither did they, if you wanted to get technical about it. Nonetheless, John dropped the old delta-v on the Brakiri smuggling ship, wanting to conserve as much fuel as he could. Delenn sat beside him, a reader forgotten in her lap. He didn't know which books she'd brought with her, and was a little curious, but the time for casual chit-chat was in the past. They were on their second day of watching the screens after the Minbari warship scare, and he would have liked nothing more than to take her to the back and screw her silly, and in at least one way the constant tension would be alleviated, at least for a few minutes, if that's exactly what he did. But it wouldn't be right, he knew that. So he sat and watched and waited.
“We traveled to Centauri Prime together, a year after she became Satai.” Delenn's voice startled him; he didn't think she'd spoken at all that day. “The Emperor wished to forge a stronger alliance with the Minbari, something we would have liked but only on our terms, which we knew to be unlikely. Still, it was decided that we should at least make the attempt.
“The Centauri court feted us with all their usual decorum, which is to say none at all. An extravagant river barge took us from city to city on the main continent, ending at the capitol a full three weeks after our arrival. Nine cities in all, with feasts and plays and parties planned in each, and it would have been seen as a dreadful insult not to attend each and every single one. On our return back to the Valen'tha, I slept for nearly a full Minbari day, almost twenty standard hours.”
She paused then, and he wondered if despite all her typical Minbari reserve she hadn't enjoyed herself just a little, being catered to, wined and dined; it almost sounded like a triumph. And indeed, he thought he saw a tinge of fond remembrance on her face.
“When I sent my message to Hallier, I told her to meet me in eight days where an octopus had grabbed her wrist and squeezed. I knew that any attempt I made at sending a message in code would fail, as any code can be broken. I could only appeal to a memory, one that hopefully she had shared with no one else. I also could only hope that she even remembered the incident to which I referred. I was afraid to be more specific. Arvenia was the third or fourth city on our tour, and at a banquet at the amphitheater there, the live octopus on her plate flung out a tentacle and managed to grab her. She reacted, may have let out a small noise. It didn't hurt, of course, and honestly was of little import, but for whatever reason, it struck the Centauri at our table as being most hilarious. They laughed and laughed, and pantomimed it over and over, staggering about with their octopi clutched in their hands, tentacles wriggling wildly. After awhile we ended up laughing, too. Finally the main dishes were cleared away, along with the rest of the octopi.
“They were staging a show for us, not the first of the tour and far from the last. This one was a tragedy, a story of the great god of the sea. He fell in love with a daughter of the moon, and every day they surged toward each other, but could never quite meet.”
“The tides,” John murmured.
“Yes. Hallier and I had been informed prior to the opening of the show that the story of the sea god and the moon maiden was one of the most poignant and touching of all the stories in Centauri legend, and that the dramatization boasted some of the finest actors in the quadrant. We were even brought a basket of handkerchiefs in preparation.
“The lights dimmed, the theater quieted, and the play began. The set was beautiful, one of the most beautiful I've ever seen. The actress playing the daughter of the moon was a revelation. I will admit, I grew teary-eyed at her lament. But then...”
“The sea god,” John said, having an idea where this story was going.
“The sea god. Sometimes he takes the form of the two-headed Centauri dolphin. Other times he has no form at all, but manifests himself through numerous small creatures, a figure built of fish and crab, sharks and seaweed. But for this production, the great god of the sea took the shape of a mighty octopus.”
John laughed, and for a minute or two, he forgot to watch the screens.
“By this point, word must have spread beyond our group. The theater erupted, and nothing could be heard but gales of laughter. I believe one Centauri actually passed out from laughing so hard he forgot to breathe. The poor actors tried to soldier on, but their cause was lost.”
Delenn smiled, and she ran her fingers over her own wrist. He didn't think her words were meant for him at all. “There were three circles in a line, from the suckers. Like a bracelet.”
There was no show in the amphitheater today, and certainly no feast. It was just more waiting, although it was of course much nicer being outside in the fresh air. Delenn seemed far more serene than she had been since they'd left Babylon 5, though their activities the night before might have contributed, as well. John tightened the arm he had around her waist, pulling her a little closer. He saw a ghost of a smile flit across her face.
She gave a little more thought to the question than was necessary, and anyone who was okay wouldn’t need to do that. Still, she answered with a bit of a shrug. “I’m better. I just want it to be over, one way or the other.”
“Not one way or the other. Just one way.”
After thirty minutes had passed, and John had finished his inventory of everyone present, he decided to relax a little bit, and spend some time replaying everything they'd done the night before as well as this morning. When that hour was up, he started counting the risers in the amphitheater. Seventy-two. They were divided into six sections. Four hundred thirty-two. He looked up and down their section, trying to guess how many people could sit comfortably. Maybe fifteen to his side, but only five or so to Delenn's. He rounded down to twenty, feeling he'd maybe stretched his math skills to the limit, as far as doing multiplication in his head. Four hundred thirty-two by twenty would be around eight thousand six hundred. That would be a big crowd of Centauri laughing at you, if you were an actor portraying the god of the sea.
He moseyed over to the nearest exit. Sure enough, there was a sign listing total capacity. John stared at it, sure at first he'd translated the Centauri digits wrong. Then he rejoined Delenn.
“This place seats twenty-five thousand Centauri?”
She made a face. “It was dreadful, really. They were two, sometimes three deep on the risers. We were in that box there.” She pointed to one of two enclosed boxes on either side of the center aisle, about ten risers from the stage. They were open-air boxes, but chest-high walls would have kept the riff-raff from getting too close. “I felt like I was in a boat, sailing atop a sea of Centauri.”
She didn't seem to want to talk much, so he left her to it. By now the expectation that her friend would join them shortly had passed, and John was pretty much just plain bored. If he'd felt more up to speed, he might have walked the risers, up and down, but he was still pretty sore from the hike. Damn, why hadn't he thought of getting a book or a game or something?
He braided Delenn's hair. He grabbed up the pebbles around his seat and saw how far he could throw them. He tested the acoustics of the stage. (When he spoke in a normal tone of voice Delenn could hear him but not understand him, not until he cupped his hands around his mouth.) He talked to some Centauri kids apparently skipping school, who told him he could get free bread after sunset at a bakery further up the road from their hotel. He unbraided Delenn's hair and rebraided it into three braids. He traded the scallops from their lunch to the fat guard who'd taken their two crowns, and in return got some kind of sticky-sweet pastry, two tickets to a show, and a Centauri skin mag he assured the guard he didn't want, but which the guard kept pressing into his hands with a grin and a wink at Delenn. (Turned out, Centauri women wore more than just the hair on their heads in a ponytail. John carefully put the magazine aside.)
If only they'd been able to wait in the hotel room. Then he could have just fucked Delenn all day. That would have been a great way to pass the time.
“I'm sorry,” she said as they returned to their room. She carried her free roll, still not having taken a single bite.
“For having to sit there all day. I was sure...” She trailed off, sighing. “Maybe she waited for us the three days we were delayed, and gave up feeling just as I do now.”
“Don't say that. You asked her to meet you here because you thought she cared enough about you to try and save your life. Do you still believe that she does?”
Only a brief pause. “Yes.”
“Then she would wait for you. And we'll wait for her.”
They ate at the little table in the room. Delenn took slow and methodical bites, chewing and chewing. John now recognized this as the way she ate when she had no appetite, and was eating only to fill her stomach, in what was almost a mechanical exercise.
“We will have to find you an occupation for tomorrow,” she said. “You nearly drove me mad today.”
“What are you talking about?” Delenn just looked at him. “It was fine. I was just waiting with you.”
“John, I thought your head was about to implode.”
“Fine. I'll take a book tomorrow.”
But tomorrow came and went with no Hallier. John finished his book in the afternoon, and then stared at his hands until sunset, fighting the urge to stand, to pace, to do something. He didn't want to irritate Delenn, upset her anymore than she already was. Outwardly she appeared perfectly calm, gazing toward the stage, her posture straight, her hands resting gently in her lap. John saw her occasionally worry at her lower lip, though, and her eyes darted to the entrance to their right, more and more often as the day wore on.
Back in the hotel room, she stood with her arms hanging limp at her sides, and the face she turned his way was covered by a shadow like a caul. “What now?”
John took her hands. “Now we make love, and tomorrow we'll go back and we'll wait again.”
John was flat on his back beneath her, his hands on her hips, but he wasn't pushing her, didn't urge her to take up any particular speed or rhythm. He just held her, sometimes running a hand up to touch her breast, sometimes around to stroke her bottom. His eyes never left hers, not even when she began to move faster, not even when his breath started to come in quick bursts, not even when his pleasure took him over and he spurted warm inside her.
But she couldn't find that pleasure herself, no matter how she moved. John rubbed her with his fingers while he kissed her breasts; when that did not work, he used his mouth on her, pushing his tongue up inside, sucking on the bundle of nerves, licking until he had to stop and take a break. Delenn pushed him away and went into the lavatory. When she heard him try to follow, she locked the door.
“Delenn? Look, it's okay. It doesn't have to be about coming and nothing else. I can still make you feel good.” His voice was muffled through the door, but Delenn could still hear the worry in it. “I can brush your hair, or rub your feet. Or I can just hold you.” Worry, Delenn was tired of his worry, she had more than enough of her own. But the longer she stayed in here, the worse he would get, so she made herself open the door.
“Hey.” She let him pull her close, and this was all the comfort and pleasure she needed. “I'm sorry,” he whispered.
“For what? I am the one who is faulty.”
He pulled back to look at her. “What? No. It happens. It happens to everyone.” She wasn't sure she fully believed that, but it was still good to hear.
“Just hold me, John.” He nodded, and took her back to the bed, wrapping his arms around her tightly, so tightly she couldn't move. Delenn forced herself to stay awake as long as she could, trying to memorize this moment and every sensation, but eventually sleep claimed her.
The maid was true to her word, and had brought them food every day. Today she knocked on their door with a basket filled with fruit, a loaf of hard bread, some kind of spicy vegetable paste, and, of course, plenty of fish. “What did you do with his watch?” Delenn asked the girl.
“To my father,” she answered, in broken but understandable English. “He own Earth watch the once, but job is lost and there is no money, so he sell it. Now he most happy to have new one.” So happy, in fact, that the girl's eyes filled with tears, and she hugged John tightly before she ran off.
They walked to the amphitheater for the third time, and, Delenn vowed to herself, the last time. She thought about the chain of events that had brought the two of them to this planet, to this city, that had led John to need to do whatever he could to keep them afloat. If any of those things had been different, that pretty girl would never have had the opportunity to give her father something that meant a great deal to both of them. Could all of this have been worth it, just for that? She tried to tell herself that it was, but she didn't really feel it.
There were bills and notices tacked up everywhere, even some advertisements painted directly on the buildings. The previous two days, they had seen city workers taking the notices down and painting over the graffiti. Today they saw the sheet of paper while it was still up.
HAVE YOU SEEN THESE TOURISTS?
Delenn translated the Centauri text out loud, though she thought John was able to follow the basic meaning well enough. “'Two Human tourists are believed to be visiting this city. An urgent message from home is waiting for them, but their families have been unable to make contact. A reward is offered for any information leading to these tourists.' Take it down, John, right now.” There was a physical description of the two of them above the contact information; she was described as having “a bone growth on her head likely to be covered,” and she wondered if her scarf would make her stand out even more.
“That was smart,” John said, stuffing the paper in his pocket. “If we were advertised as being in trouble, even dangerous, we'd be likely to have Centauri offer to take us in, as a way to thumb their nose at the government.”
John paid for their entrance to the amphitheater. Did the large guard look at her more closely than before? If Hallier didn't meet them today, they would have to move on, come up with a new plan. It would be folly to remain in the city.
John sat patiently beside her for nearly an hour, reading the notice over and over again. Then he started bouncing one leg up and down, and fiddling with his fingernails, and shifting his weight back and forth and side to side. Delenn patted his shoulder. “Just go. Go walk around, I don't mind.” She watched him pace the perimeter, stopping to chat for a moment with two Centauri having what looked like a business lunch. Even though she was at least a hundred meters away, she could see his face light up as they spoke. He was so warm, so congenial. She felt as though all she did was pull him down. Even now, she would like to go join him, there was no reason why she should just sit here all day, but she felt too heavy. It would require far too much effort just to stand, let alone walk all that way.
He walked up one aisle and down the next, stopping to peer inside the royal boxes in the center. They were called that, even though no emperor had sat in this theater in at least one hundred years, or so her guides had told her on that evening long ago, when she had listened to the lament of the daughter of the moon.
“Delenn!” She jumped when John called her name. Even though the royal boxes were locked, he had managed to climb into the left one, and was gesturing for her to join him. When she got there, he helped her get over the barrier, mostly by dragging her up. She was glad the theater was nearly empty; she knew she'd look most undignified.
Someone was yelling. She turned, and saw the entrance guard huffing down their way, having to stop every few meters to pull up his belt. “Get out! Get out!” he yelled, those perhaps being the only words he knew in English. The rest were Centauri curses. John grabbed her arm and tugged her to the front. There was a shape carved into the stone there, but before she could get more than a glimpse, the guard finally showed up, breathing so hard that Delenn feared he might collapse.
“Get out,” he managed between puffs. “Out.” He knew who they were, he would call for back-up now. It was all over. Delenn sighed in resignation, but John only grinned at the guard and pointed to himself, then to Delenn. Then he rocked his hips back and forth into the air, then pointed to Delenn again. Then John gestured to the whole box, and smiled widely.
The guard laughed uproariously. “Ohoho! Oh-ho oh-ho. Hohohohoho!” John waved him away, and the guard puffed his way back up to his post, but not before granting Delenn another lascivious wink. She felt her cheeks burning, and wanted to crawl inside a hole somewhere and die. “Every time someone looks at us, I wish you wouldn't pretend all we do is copulate in public places,” she complained, not even able to feel any relief.
“I'm sorry,” he laughed, dropping a kiss on her temple. “Delenn, look.” They went back to the shape carved into the stone. An open circle, with curved lines coming out from the bottom. There were Minbari symbols carved underneath, and Delenn put a hand to her throat. “I don't know about you,” John said, “but that kinda looks like an octopus.”
“I've been so stupid.” She sat down, thinking of nearly three days wasted, and wanted to cry. John knelt in front of her, hands on her knees.
“What are you talking about?”
“I told her to meet me where the octopus grabbed her hand. That didn't happen here.” She gestured to the whole theater. “It happened here. Right in this box.”
Delenn leaned forward and traced her fingers over the Minbari symbols carved into the stone beneath the octopus. They weren't words but the old cuneiform, the sort of thing you only saw on ancient scrolls. The Council often used them as a reminder of their past, and the legacy they were oath-bound to honor and protect. It would be unlikely that anyone else could read them, if they even knew what they were.
“The lighthouse. Dawn.” Delenn grabbed John's hand. “That's where she's waiting.”
The lighthouse was downriver, rejoining the sea they'd left four days ago. If he'd only known, he could have skipped climbing down the fucking mountain. Rather than wait until dawn, Delenn decided to head there now. “If she's still planet-side, she is likely monitoring the lighthouse, if she's not there already.” She was almost feverish now, grabbing the few odds and ends they'd managed to accumulate, packing in a rush.
“I still think we should scout it.” He sat on the edge of the tub, watching her sweep toiletries into the bag, her face bright and shining. She whipped around to face him, exultant.
“John, if she were harboring some plot against me, she would not have bothered to add another layer of secrecy to our meeting. She would have fallen upon us with whatever strength she'd brought with her right at the theater.” Her hands clutched at him, and he could see that she was trying to will him to agree. “This only proves that she means me no harm. Everything will be fine!”
He'd traded for a lot more than a few changes of clothes and some fish, that first day in the market. Delenn had been overjoyed with what he'd brought back, and so he'd left it at that. John waited for her to leave the bathroom before he grabbed the black market PPG stuck up in the pipe under the sink. The hotel room was nice, and the food a bonus, but this was what he traded his granddad's watch for. Into his left pocket it went.
John spent some cash on a train ride to the sea, but not enough cash for a private car. They sat opposite an old Centauri married couple who bickered at each other the entire time. Delenn was too keyed up to hold and cuddle, so John put his head back and tried to rest his eyes.
He didn't know why or how he knew, but he knew they were walking into a trap.
The dead of night on Centauri Prime was hardly dark. They were not a species to relish quiet, peaceful evenings, or to retire early. As they walked from the train station down to the sea, along narrow, twisting roads and through crowded back-alley warrens, there were lights strung overhead haphazardly, lanterns blazing in every window, calls and cries and laughter filling the air, Centauri of all ages running here and there. It was a wonder any of them could ever sleep.
John was in full military mode, his eyes ceaselessly scanning everything around them, one hand either at her elbow or the small of her back, the other in his pocket, likely holding the gun he didn't think she knew he had. She wasn't sure the point of his subterfuge, save that he wanted to spare her any more worry. Delenn was hopeful, yes, but she was not stupid. Anyenn's dagger was carefully stowed in the bodice of her dress.
They saw the lighthouse long before they came to it. The beacon at the top was a real flame, the light amplified by mirrors. She felt as though she were being led home. Delenn let John worry about their immediate surroundings; she watched the flame. Sooner than she expected, they came to the promontory upon which the lighthouse stood. The wind whipped off the sea, seasoning the air with a salty tang. Delenn stopped for a moment and turned her face up into it, breathed it in, and dared to whisper a prayer to the universe. There's so much left for me to do. Please, don't let this be the end.
The crowds and the noise had been left behind, and they climbed a short staircase to the lighthouse's door to the sound of waves crashing. John squeezed her fingers and opened the door. Inside was a single room, spanning the full size of the structure. Delenn could see an elderly Centauri nursing a drink beside a wood fire burning in a stove. He turned a dark face their way, liquor dribbling down onto his shirt.
“They're waiting for you upstairs.” Delenn nodded, trying to ignore the way his words set her heart to pounding. There was a staircase that circled the outer wall of the lighthouse, a bit uneven, no railing. The last she saw of the Centauri was his face turned up their way, the firelight gleaming coldly in his eyes, before he went back to his drink.
A heavy oaken door at the top blocked their progress. It swung open with an ear-splitting shriek; there was no chance of sneaking up on anyone in the upper room. John stepped in first, PPG out and ready. Delenn rested her fingertips between his shoulder blades, and she felt certain she could feel his whole body vibrate, as though a current ran through it. He looked back at her, face unreadable, but she somehow knew that he'd like nothing more than for the two of them to walk right back down the stairs, out of the lighthouse, and back to their safe, warm little hotel room.
Delenn stepped inside.
The fire burned in a cradle lofted three meters or so off the floor, mirrors slowly spinning around the flames. A cluster of chairs around a low table commanded the spectacular view of the sea below. Cold drinks sat on a platter on the table. Delenn could see the condensation on the glasses.
Hallier stood with a smile.
Delenn had last seen her only a few months ago, yet it seemed ages. Her friend's face seemed tighter and more drawn than she remembered, and there were new carvings in her bone crest. Sharp ones, the peak at the center jagged and unfinished. Delenn found herself staring at it.
“Delenn. You finally made it. I've been so worried about you.” Hallier was bowing, hands held in a high triangle, and Delenn shook herself. Those were the same warm eyes she'd known for many cycles, the same mouth that looked as though it might smile and laugh at any time. Delenn bowed herself, and then went forward to embrace her.
“Thank you for coming.”
“How could I not? Please, sit.” Hallier led her to the table, sliding one of the drinks her way.
“This is John Sheridan.” John seemed content to stand right where he was, so Delenn did not bother asking him to join them. Hallier had never been very fond of Humans. Like many Minbari, she was still suspicious of the circumstances that led to the end of the war.
“Captain,” she said in a haughty tone. Then, to Delenn: “Is he your bodyguard?”
“He is my mate.” It lasted for a second, no more, and immediately after Delenn couldn't even be sure she really saw it – a spasm of sorts crossed Hallier's face, a contortion that took Delenn aback. But then Hallier was smiling, not warmly but at least politely, and gesturing to an empty chair.
“If that's the case, then you must join us.” A beat, and John sat down, hands on his knees. Delenn should have been relaxed, should have felt happy and hopeful. Her heart was pounding, her throat was tight, and there was a funny taste at the back of her throat. She watched Hallier's eyes slide away for just the barest of moments, to the far corner.
They were not alone.
“You've been in the city for three days now. Why did you not come to the lighthouse before now?” Hallier drank from her own glass, and gestured again to Delenn's.
“You've known we were here? Why didn't you meet us at the amphitheater, then?”
“There are others here, in search of you. Unfortunately, I did not come secretly enough. My presence here is known. If I had returned to the theater, I might have led them right to you.”
John's voice was a shock. Delenn had not expected him to join in the discussion. “So rather than meeting in a wide-open public place, in the heart of the city, surrounded by thousands of Centauri, you decided to meet here, at the end of a choke point, in a deserted lighthouse? 'Cause if the other Minbari know you're here, they're probably watching this place, and they probably saw Delenn stroll right up inside.” He tried to stare Hallier down, his eyes cold, but she only laughed.
“Captain, you think like a Human, not a Minbari. That certainly saved your life once. Do not presume to think that a similar gambit will save Delenn.”
They didn't have time for this. “Hallier, who voted against me? Can we convince enough of them to change their minds?”
Hallier looked at her, then reached out a tentative hand to her head. Surprise in her eyes as her fingers brushed against Delenn's hair. “It is softer than I would have thought. What is it like, no longer being a Minbari?”
Something cold lanced through Delenn's heart. She did not think she imagined the faint sound of a shoe scuffing against the floor somewhere to her right. “I am still Minbari, Hallier.”
“Who voted against me? We must hurry, if we have any hope of success.”
Hallier shook her head, patted Delenn's hand in an exaggerated show of pity. “The vote was not remotely close. There will be no persuading anyone to change their minds.” Then she took up Delenn's glass, and pressed it into her hand. “I can see how difficult the last several days have been. You are tired, worn out. It is a struggle just to stand each morning. Here, have a drink.”
John stood, eyes on the glass behind. He walked over, ducking his head a little as the mirror spun past. “Someone is coming.” Delenn stood herself, turning to look. Three little cars were driving down the promontory road, heading right for the lighthouse. She had a feeling she knew who was inside.
“They're coming for you,” Hallier said. She circled around to face Delenn, her voice low, gentle. “Will you let them take you? Will you submit meekly? Or will you drink?”
Delenn looked down into the glass she held. A cool yellow-green liquid with a faint milky scent - saneth juice, her favorite. She wondered what poison was mixed inside, and how quickly it would kill her. She glanced up at John, who waited patiently. A number of emotions were warring on his face – love, resignation, anger – but he said nothing to her. He would allow her to make whatever choice she wished without trying to influence her one way or the other. She loved him for it.
Delenn threw the drink down to the stone floor. The glass shattered, and the liquid spread out into a puddle. “Did you call the vote,” she asked Hallier, “or did someone else?”
“I called it. When you were summoned, I believed you would be declared Ra'faleth then and there. But they only stripped you of your title and duties and let you go. I called the vote, but no one joined with me. They all retained shreds of affection for you, could not contemplate ordering the execution of one of their own.”
“You had affection for me once.”
“I loved you more than any of them!” The persuasive, almost hypnotic calm in Hallier's voice vanished. She grabbed Delenn's arm with no small amount of desperation. “I would have done anything for you! But the woman I loved no longer exists.”
“No,” Delenn agreed. “No, she doesn't.”
She drew the dagger from her dress.
Over the next two minutes, Delenn heard many things going on all around her – shouts, punches, bodies hitting unyielding surfaces. She smelled the acrid tang of PPG fire, the rising coppery scent of blood. But she had eyes only for Hallier.
Her former friend shook her head, tears streaming down her cheeks. “I tried to offer you honor and tradition. Once Anyenn had ended your life, you would have been brought home to Minbar. You would have been prayed over, your body cleansed. Your clan would have agreed that your spirit would return, needing to make the journey again. You would have known peace! I wanted you to have the chance to be Minbari again.”
Delenn didn't answer. She just held the dagger out, moving toward Hallier, pressing her back against the wall. “This was my choice, Hallier. My choice.”
“You made the wrong choice.” Before Delenn could react, Hallier grabbed the edge of the mirror as it spun in its slow circuit just behind her. She twisted it, shining the light directly in Delenn's face, blinding her. Delenn raised the dagger, taking a step back, but she was too late. Hallier knocked her down, and the back of her head met the stone floor with a crack. The world closed down to a pinprick of light, a muffled shriek. She felt as though she was moving through thick fog, dense and suffocating.
Someone was calling her name, but she couldn't tell who. Sleep was doing its best to claim her, snagging thorny fingers into her brain, dulling her senses. Delenn fought against it, and made herself open her eyes, made herself move. Her fingers tightened; the dagger was still in her hand. She was so heavy, fighting against the drag of twenty or thirty standard gravities, but still Delenn got to her knees. There was something dark on the floor, and she stared at it without comprehension for five seconds before she realized it was blood. My blood? She felt no pain, only a sick and agonizing ache from the back of her head and neck. Then she saw that the blood wasn't pooled, but was instead smeared along the floor. The smear led around the base of the great fire and out of her sight.
Delenn crawled, following its path.
She slid in the blood, felt it soak into her dress. The stones of the floor pressing into her knuckles hurt, but she would not let go of the dagger. Now she could understand John's words as he shouted, on the other side of the room. “Drop it, right now! Drop it!” A challenge was snarled out in the language of the Workers. Death first. Delenn heard the crack of the PPG firing as John obliged.
She crawled another meter and found Hallier. Her friend was sitting with her back to the big oil-filled drum, hands pressed to her stomach. Now the blood was pooling, spreading in a big sticky puddle under her; Hallier's arms were red up to the elbow. “You've killed me,” she said weakly when she saw Delenn, her eyes half-lidded against pain and blood loss. There was no hatred in them, though, just grief. The scarf had fallen from Delenn's head long ago, so she sat beside Hallier and pressed her skirts against her abdomen. The fabric soaked through almost immediately, and she increased the pressure. “What are you doing?” Hallier asked in a whisper. There was a single blood drop on her bottom lip. “Why should you try to save me?”
Footsteps. John stood a few meters away, gun hanging at his side. There was blood on his brow, the much brighter red of Human blood, and his shirt was torn but he looked otherwise unhurt. He said nothing – he would leave this up to her. She kissed Hallier's forehead.
“You shouldn't speak. Try to conserve your energy.” Hallier coughed in response, a fine spray of blood hitting Delenn's cheek as she did. Then she heard noises coming from below, at the base of the lighthouse. Pounding, shouts, and the sound of many feet running up the inner stairs. Hallier laughed, a thick, wet sound. Her eyes rolled back in her head before they managed to focus on Delenn again.
“The last of my Workers are coming for you now, the ones your Human pet didn't already murder. They won't offer you a quick death, by blade or by poison.” Her fingers twitched, and Delenn saw that she was trying to point to Anyenn's dagger on the floor beside them both. “Finish it now, Delenn, for all of us. Or if you're too much a coward, your mate can do it.”
“No,” John said. His voice seemed to strike her right in the heart, flooding her with strength. “No one's using that dagger again, and anyone who tries to come through that door gets to deal with me.” As if on cue, those inside the lighthouse finished their ascent and started banging loudly on the heavy oaken door.
“The door will not hold them for long,” Hallier said. Her voice was no louder than a whisper, and her lips were nearly blue. Delenn felt a current of fear run through her. Hadn't she asked John to promise to kill her in anticipation of just such a circumstance? The fear seemed to dissipate, and John voiced her own question.
“If they're with you, then why is the door barred against them?” All the answer she needed was written on Hallier's face – sudden disappointment, yes, but also something that looked curiously like relief. Then a familiar voice cut through the din, yelling through the door. Familiar, yes, but so incongruous that Delenn could only stare at John in shock, seeing the same emotion in his raised brows.
“Captain Sheridan? Ambassador Delenn? It would be much easier if you opened the door for us, yes? I'm not as strong as I used to be,” Londo Mollari called out.