“Please don't go,” he had said. And then he'd reached for her, saying her name, when had he began using her name so familiarly? Delenn couldn't remember. She tossed and turned on the hard mattress, unable to find a comfortable position. She knew that sleep was lost to her, that she should rise and make productive use of this time, but she could be as stubborn as any Minbari, even now.
She should have stayed. That was the thought she wrestled with, what kept her awake. Her rational mind continued to provide the reasons why staying would have been the worst mistake, but she didn't want to listen. She just wanted him. And she wanted to make sure he didn't leave.
Thoughts of his wife tormented her. Anna Sheridan, a woman she had never met. The woman he had loved. Still loved. Delenn realized that if Sheridan wasn't sleeping, it was not thoughts of her that kept him awake, but thoughts of Anna. He would miss Anna, remember Anna, desire Anna. Not her.
Now Delenn pushed herself up from the bed. Hadn't she always known that to be the truth? Sheridan was an outgoing, friendly man, and he had never been anything other than friendly with her. No doubt he behaved the same way with many other people. And she had been so starry-eyed around him – what was the word? Susan had said it once. A smash? She had a smash on him? That didn't sound right.
She went to her computer, jabbed her fingers at the screen, going from menu to menu. A mistake, she thought, this is a mistake, but she didn't stop. Finally she found herself looking at a picture of Anna Sheridan, standing in front of a standard exploration ship, smiling brightly. Reddish-brown hair, sparkling eyes. Round, pink cheeks and full lips. She wore a shirt with no sleeves, just a strip of fabric at the top of each shoulder, and she wore shorts that ended closer to her waist than her knees. Wide expanses of bronzed skin.
This was what Sheridan found attractive. A woman who could not look more different than Delenn, with her strange dark hair, her cool eyes, her pale skin.
Delenn kept searching. Pictures of Anna Sheridan at digs, pictures of her at university, pictures of her with colleagues. Big toothy smiles, her energy seemed to leap from the screen. You could almost hear her laughter. It would have been bright and effervescent, the kind of laugh that made you laugh yourself, even if you didn't know what she was laughing about.
Pictures of Anna with her husband. Delenn's fingers fell to the screen, accidentally zoomed in on the image. Anna was looking down, her lashes dark fans against her cheeks, watching as Sheridan slipped a ring on her finger. But his eyes were on her face, and the love there was so strong that there could be no denying it.
No one had ever looked at Delenn like that. They looked at her with raised eyebrows, with wide eyes, with questioning glances to their neighbors. They shook their heads at her, they pointed, they laughed. They called her names.
Delenn closed the picture, closed all of them, but they were already burned into her brain. A despair took hold of her that was as chill as a winter rain.
What a fool she was.
It was late when Sheridan came to her quarters. So late, she had indeed changed into her night clothes, and as she struggled into one of her robes, she couldn't manage to find the ties. They were trapped somewhere in the folds of the fabric. Delenn didn't want him to leave, so she let him in anyway, just grabbing the sides of the robe and clutching them together at her waist.
He stood there just inside the doorway, only the half of his face near the kitchen lit. This stare was nothing like the one at the athletic field, when he had been so confused, so disarmed.
“Hi,” he said, and he smiled. “Delenn.”
She wanted to hug him. Instead she just smiled back. “Hello.”
“You didn't wake me,” she interrupted. “I just cannot find the...” She fluttered her hands, trying to indicate the strip of fabric that would secure the robe, ties didn't seem like the right word. Of course, that meant the robe gaped open, and Sheridan's eyes dropped immediately. Did he have no courtesy at all? (Of course he doesn't, he's a Human, some antiquated part of her psyche answered, something that had lain dormant since the early years of the war.) She grabbed at the robe again, feeling that she might as well be naked in front of him, though the nightgown was no more revealing that the black dress had been at their first shared dinner together. She was still very aware of how thin the fabric was, of the way it outlined her breasts.
Sheridan just stepped forward until he was right in front of her. He moved his hands slowly, as though he was afraid she would strike him, and reached around her body. He found the strip of fabric, and drew it around her waist. He tied it, and when he cinched it tight, there was something in his eyes, which never left hers, that made her feel weak. His hands stayed where they were, and Delenn waited for them to begin to slide over her body. “You look as though you feel better,” she said, though it was nearly a question. Sheridan nodded. He was too close, far too close, but Delenn could not make herself step back. “Tell me what happened,” she said instead. She needed to know how he could have forgotten her so completely, and be sure that it would never happen again.
Sheridan nodded, stepped back. The composition of the air in her quarters didn't change, but Delenn felt as though she could breathe again. She joined him on the sofa, making sure to put a discreet distance between them. She kept a hand on the collar of her robe.
He told her about the Markab who had killed himself, bashing his own head in against a pipe. About the being that had jumped from the Markab corpse to Sheridan himself. About the hallucinations, the strange emotions. “This thing, it made me feel these things, trying to send me a message about its own situation. Fear, homesickness.” Sheridan paused, his eyes finding hers. “Loss. The loss of the things that...mean the most to me.”
Delenn swallowed hard and dropped her eyes to her lap. That feeling of being on the precipice, of something vast and unknown just before her, made itself known again. There were a thousand questions she wanted to ask him, and suddenly she couldn't remember a single word of English.
“I've missed you,” he said quietly. “Missed seeing you. Missed having you at my side helping me to deal with all of this. Missed talking to you. It all went wrong, after Morden.”
“That is his nature.” Delenn reeled, his words completely unexpected. She dared to look at him again, and it was clear his gaze had never left her face. He shook his head, just once, the gesture calm.
“He didn't help, but I think...I think we've both been damaged lately. And sometimes it's difficult to let other people in, even though it would make things so much better.” Sheridan reached out with two fingers and very delicately slid a lock of her hair back behind her ear. Delenn could not have hid her shiver even if she had wanted to.
“You don't seem damaged to me,” she said, which was only the truth. Now Sheridan looked away from her, and it was though a connection between them had been severed.
“Part of me died two years ago,” he murmured, his voice low, almost hoarse. “It happened, and for a long time I couldn't believe it. And then it was easier to just keep not believing it, to not think about it, to just...go on. It was easier to cut out everything around where that part had been and fill up the empty space with work. It was so much easier that a lot of the time, it was almost as if I was glad that a part of me was dead. But whenever I realized that, when my sister called on what had been our wedding anniversary, when I found something of her's in a drawer, when I heard a funny joke and made a mental note to tell her later, whenever that happened? I have never hated myself so much in my entire life. And then, of course, the best and easiest way to get past that was to pretend it had never happened, either. I made myself not think about it, about any of it. Made myself not deal with it.
“So when Morden showed up, when all of that happened, I had to deal with it. I had to acknowledge it. And it hurt. I've never been good with mental pain, I like being happy so I just make myself be happy, as much as I can. But that pain, it wasn't the worst. The worst was the guilt.”
“You aren't responsible for what happened to her,” Delenn said. She tried to sound as logical as possible, so she would convince him. “It wasn't your fault.”
There was a long pause while he studied his hands. Then he looked back at her. “That's not what I feel guilty about.” It took a moment before the meaning of his words reached her.
“Oh,” she said quietly, more an exhalation than a word.
“Yeah.” All night he had been looking at her in some way she didn't recognize, didn't know how to categorize. Now she knew. It was the look she had seen in the picture, as he slid the ring on Anna's finger.
“I don't mean to make you feel guilty,” she said. She didn't like how defensive she sounded.
“That night, that night you sat with me, I wondered what my life would be like if Anna hadn't died. If she were still here. Would she have come to the station with me? Would she have been with me as I got to know you? Would that have changed anything between you and me?” He paused, and Delenn felt every emotion she had ever felt, all mixed up and jumbled together. “I felt guilty because I realized that it wouldn't have made any difference,” Sheridan finally said. His face blurred in front of her, and Delenn dragged her hand across her eyes, not wanting him to see her tears.
They sat in silence. Delenn felt that every muscle in her body was locked stiff. She concentrated on breathing evenly, of letting the tightness in her throat melt away in slow, unnoticeable increments.
“Delenn. Say something.”
More silence. If she tried to speak now, only a croak would issue from her throat. The pause lengthened and lengthened, but Sheridan didn't move, didn't say a word.
“I don't know what to say.” The barest whisper, she couldn't even hear it herself, but she thought he did.
“Do you not feel the same way?”
She shook her head, a tear spilled down her cheek. “I do,” she said, and she bit her lip hard enough to draw blood. “I do.” Sheridan got up suddenly, and she was certain she had somehow managed to anger him, but he only retrieved a tissue and brought it back to her. She wiped her eyes and under her nose, and he rested his hand between her shoulder blades. She laughed a little, the sound dry and bitter. “And I have felt guilty because I should be worrying about the Narn and Centauri, and about the Earth government, and about the Shadows. And instead, all I seem to worry about...is you.” What a relief to admit to that! It wasn't until she said it that she realized he might misinterpret her words. But he only rubbed his hand up and down a little. His touch was so comforting she felt she might weep.
“Maybe mutual guilt isn't the best place to start a relationship,” he said lightly, with a short laugh of his own. “Can we just be friends?” he asked. “Let's just be friends for now. Okay? The way things were before.”
“Yes,” she agreed. “I'd like that.”
After that, it seemed that all the tension between them vanished. They made plans to meet for dinner some time in the indeterminate future; their schedules were both so full, it was hard to plan for much of anything. Sheridan talked more about flying out into space to take the unknown entity home – how sure he'd been, how once he had climbed into his ship, he hadn't felt a moment of fear.
Once he yawned, though, Delenn stood and went to the door, which forced him to follow. She did not want him to fall asleep on her couch again. It would not be a good idea to test their vow to remain friends and nothing more so soon, not when she still felt so labile. Before she could react, Sheridan put his arms around her, drawing her close. His scent was warm and full, and she breathed it in.
“That part of me, that died?” His breath puffed against her ear. “I felt it again, that first time I saw you. I'm glad.” Delenn just closed her eyes, concentrated on nothing besides the feel of his body, his arms tight around her.
It was a long time before he let go.
Dukhat walked her back to her chamber, their pace unhurried. At some point her hand had found his. At her door, he surprised her with an embrace, pulling her tight against him.
“Master,” she said, and he released her, his smile bright.
“I am not your Master any more. You are Satai, and we are equals.” Delenn knew there was something in his eyes, something that had never been there before, but now was not the time to explore it. She only inclined her head to him, courteous yet shallow, signifying acceptance of his words, not deference.
“And perhaps you will regret nominating me in the first place,” she said lightly. Dukhat laughed.
“What do you have up your sleeve, Delenn?” She didn't answer him, only smiled and entered her chamber.
Once inside, she found the book of prophecy she had carried with her for the last eight cycles. Dukhat had thought her to be joking, perhaps, but she had not been. She had many plans, many plans indeed. The grey robe hung carefully in the closet, Delenn lay on her bed, reading Valen's words once more.