Shannon (kungfuwaynewho) wrote,

The Bloody Ones - Chapter Nine

9 February 2260

0900 hours

When the first Carnifex entered the central corridor, Franklin found he couldn't stop being afraid.  But it was a good fear, an ordinary fear, not the mind-freezing paralysis he'd experienced when he had faced the Carnifex in Medlab One.  Seeing the creature under bright lights was a horrifying experience; he'd never thought there would be an alien that didn't fascinate him, that didn't make him want to forget everything else and just dive into research and tests and hypotheses - this, though.  This Carnifex he would have been quite happy to never see at all.

The monster slunk down the corridor, thin tongue snaking back and forth through the air, claws extending and retracting.  Franklin found himself glad that he was well back from the front lines - if the Carnifex realized it was surrounded, if it learned the blood was poisoned and decided to retaliate, he should be safe.  Guilt followed that thought almost immediately, and he glanced over at Hobbs beside him.  She looked petrified, and he reached over and put his hand on top of hers. 

The Carnifex slowly approached the nearest bucket of blood, crouching down low.  Franklin watched with numb horror as some thick, dark fluid dripped off the creature's fangs.  As it knelt with surprising grace, two more Carnifex came in, the same slow and tentative entrance as the other.  The first began to drink the blood, and Franklin fought against the rolling wave of nausea that threatened to overwhelm him.  He could see several people ahead of him turn away, covering their eyes. 

The other two began to drink.  Three others came up behind them.  Franklin kept his eyes on the first, waiting and hoping.  How would it react?  Would it be aware that the blood was eating it up from the inside?  Was there enough Vitamin C to even make a difference?  He hadn't had time to do enough tests.  Surely he hadn't gathered all of free Green Sector here and then drawn all of the monsters into their midst with no hope of success. 

Another Carnifex entered.  The first moved on to its second receptacle filled with blood.  Franklin began to feel the first glimmers of dawning despair.


1045 hours

Sheridan came back to consciousness in fits and starts.  At first, he thought he had nodded off to sleep in his office chair - what had he been working on?  Paperwork, probably.  It never ended.  He decided that whatever it was could wait a little while longer, and he let the darkness claim him again.

The second time he came to, he found he couldn't quite open his eyes, but he could see the light through his eyelids, warm and red.  He was moving from side to side.  Bumpy ride.  He decided that he must be back on the farm, napping in the corn in the back of the wagon as his dad sat up front, Molly and Ray taking them into town.  They were good horses; when was the last time he'd ridden either?  A long time.  Now that he was back home, he'd have to take them out sometime soon.  Sheridan dozed then, every now and then awake just enough to think about how nice it was to have a rest.  Did he bring Delenn back home with him?  She would love the green and gold fields, stretching to the horizon.

Delenn.  He came awake with a jolt, realizing he was being carried, remembering Menendez leaping at him with mad eyes and bared teeth at the same time he remembered the pool of blood, Delenn's torn dress.  He tried to raise his head but couldn't; a lightning bolt of pain hitting him behind his eyes hard enough to nearly drive him back into blessed unconsciousness again.  He was slung over someone's shoulder, and thought if he could just fight enough, whoever it was (Menendez?) would have to drop him.  But his hands were tied together, and he didn't seem to have any strength.

Sheridan slowly did his best to open his eyes, but one seemed stuck shut.  The other was only able to see blurry floor.  He listened as hard as he could, but he had no idea where he was, how long he'd been carried like a sack of potatoes through the station.  He could hear something, vaguely, like the glimmer of heat at the end of a road.  No words, just...feelings, emotions.  They were inside his head, and he moaned, wanting to claw the malignancy out.

Then he was falling, hitting the floor in a jumbled heap, and for a split second he was sure his skull had cracked open.  He tried to lift his hands again, but before he could, they were grabbed, yanked above his head and secured to something, dragging the rest of his body upright with him.

"What?" he croaked out.  God, his head.  It throbbed and pounded and screamed, every headache he'd ever had all rolled into one.  The light was so bright.  Even with his eyes closed, it was blinding.  Why had he turned the lights back on?

"I've already sent for them!  Finish your job.  I will not wait."  The Minbari's voice, choked with anger, and Sheridan felt an echo of that rage float through him.  He could hear the heavy footsteps of someone pacing back and forth in front of him.  Something huge nearby; he could sense the presence, and felt his flesh break out in hard goosebumps, still an unnerving sensation for all that it had happened a dozen times already in the past day.

Someone was in front of him, grabbed his chin hard.  Shook his head.  Sheridan forced his working eye open, and there was the Minbari's face right in front of his.  Sheridan lunged forward, but his hands were still tied together and secured to something above him.  He kept trying, teeth bared himself - he'd rip the thing's throat out.  There was none of the smug insouciance he'd seen on the alien's face earlier.  He stared back at him with the same raw hatred Sheridan had no doubt was reflected on his own features.

"I'll kill you," he gritted out.

"As much as I would like to do the same to you, little soldier, I have something better in mind," the Minbari said.  "A fitting punishment, I think."  The Minbari looked to his right, and Sheridan turned his head - his neck was broken, it had to be, nothing could hurt so much otherwise - and followed his gaze.  Four others, tied to a pipe above their heads that ran along the wall.  The one in the middle, a docking worker, had her head slumped forward, unconscious.  Two others - maintenance, he thought - were staring ahead, faces twisted by terror.  The last was a pilot, and she wept, looking at Menendez, who crouched in front of her, twisting his head back and forth like a confused puppy, but grinning at her, still grinning.

Sheridan watched as a Carnifex approached the female pilot.  She tried to draw back, but she had nowhere to go.  What was her name?  Sheridan should know, he should know the names of all his pilots, but he had absolutely no idea.  The Carnifex stopped just in front of her, then turned to the Minbari.  Roared - a sound like something ancient and malevolent struggling to be born.

"Do it!" the Minbari hissed, and he stood, facing the creature.  "Do it!"  The Carnifex continued to face the Minbari for a few seconds, then turned back to the pilot.  It raised one arm to its massive mouth and scraped a fang along the inside of its wrist.  Black blood poured out in a glut, and Sheridan could hear the sound of it splashing on the floor.  Menendez grabbed the pilot's head, forced her mouth open.  She screamed and bucked and thrashed, but to no avail.

"Stop!  Stop it!" Sheridan screamed, jerking at his restraints helplessly.  The Carnifex brought its wrist down to the pilot's mouth, smearing the blood inside.  Her screams were choked by desperate retching, but Menendez and the Carnifex didn't stop.  Finally, she was let go.  She sank forward onto her knees, and Sheridan was sure she was dead.

Then she jerked up, body tensed.  Her back arched more than it should - she's having a seizure.  Sheridan realized he was still trying to free himself only when he finally pulled his shoulder out of the socket, and white-hot pain blinded him for a second.  He missed seeing the pilot vomit, but he heard it, and nearly lost the battle to keep from throwing up himself.  Laughter then, laughter like the sound of screws being driven through a bulkhead; awful, burrowing into his brain.  He turned to look again, the agony in his shoulder bringing a new wave of nausea along with it.  Menendez still held the pilot's head, but now she was grinning up at him, black blood slicked down her chin and the front of her body.  They were laughing together.

Menendez released her, moved to the next person in the line, one of the maintenance workers, who started screaming.  The Carnifex was licking the blood from its own wound, and only reluctantly moved over, its eyeless face turned the Minbari's way, fangs bared.  The bloody wrist was lowered once again, and Sheridan knew what his punishment was going to be.


0915 hours

Fifteen of them now, fifteen of the monsters drinking the blood they’d put out for them, and Zack watched as five or six more came their way.  Shit.  He’d told Doc Franklin it was a good plan, and it had been the best anyone could come up with, but it hadn’t worked.  Whatever he’d done to the blood just wasn’t doing the trick; they were hoping to kill the things, and instead they were throwing them a party.

Just as Zack was starting to think of ways they could all sneak away, the first of the Carnifex suddenly stood fully upright.  It turned its head back and forth, and even though it had no eyes, Zack got the feeling it was looking around.  That tongue was out again, not like a snake’s tongue but like a snake itself, flicking this way and that.  Then the monster made a noise, the most god-awful noise Zack had ever heard, and he’d heard some nasty ones this day.  It was a like roar and a scream all mixed together in a blender, with an awful screechy whine thrown in for that extra zip.  One by one, the other destroyers joined in, and then the carnage began.

Zack had expected to have to lead in the troops, stand and rally them, run into the center of the horde with weapons raised.  What he didn’t expect was for the monsters to turn on each other, and even start tearing themselves apart.  Claws and fangs ripped through rotten flesh, blood everywhere, and Zack wasn’t the only one who turned away and yacked right on the floor.  The fight seemed never-ending, but finally the sounds of tearing and biting and eating and dying wore away, and relative silence descended.

Zack took a deep breath and peeked around the edge of the crate he was hiding behind.  Five destroyers, picking through the remains of their buddies.  Every now and then they would lift an arm or a leg free from one of the bodies, the limb coming loose with disgusting ease, and then they’d have a little snack.  They must have got here last, Zack thought, waiting for them to roar and freak out like the others, but they never did.  He wondered if the Vitamin C would be too diluted now to harm them, filtered as it now was through the blood of their own. 

There were a couple hundred of them here.  A couple hundred aliens whom he had worked very hard to assemble and get down here ready for a fight.  They could take on five of these bastards.  Zack stood up, aiming his PPG before he finished clearing the crate, and started shooting.  In half a second dozens of others had popped up, and before he knew it, everyone was coming out of their hiding spots, ready to finish them off.   


1115 hours

Delenn lost the trail at the top of the stairs, and wished she'd brought Laetitia with her - the telepath would have been able to point her in the right direction.  Even though that would have been the most selfish thing imaginable, she was so angry with herself it was all she could do to keep from crying.  Stop, Delenn.  Regain your focus.  You must find John.  But she was so tired, and she hurt so much, and the station was just too big.  What could she possibly do?  No weapons, wearing only a shift and one stocking, body broken and weak.  She was no warrior, and prayers were no longer any use.

Then she heard them - shouts and screaming.  Down the corridor.  Delenn went that way, forcing herself to move as quickly as she could.  Running was out of the question, and the best she could manage was a kind of shambling trot.  For a brief moment, she found herself wondering if she looked like one of the mindless slaves.  Maybe this was how they were made.

She stopped in front of a door, one that had been wrenched open from below, the metal buckled and twisted.  A Carnifex had done this.  Delenn read the sign on the wall beside the door:  AFT DOCKING BAY.  AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY.

Delenn ducked under the door, then froze.  There they were, against the opposite wall, no more than ten meters away.  Surely one of the Carnifex would see her, would come her way, and she would never be able to escape, not this time.  But no one noticed her presence.  Not the Carnifex, not the Minbari, not the five humans tied to a pipe that ran along the wall.  John was the last, and Delenn felt a sharp pain under her sternum when she saw him.  His face was bruised, cut; one of his eyes was swollen shut.  Blood from a wound on the top of his head.  He was hanging from his bonds in a strange way.  But he was alive, and Delenn let out a slow, shuddery breath.

Something was happening to one of the other captives.  Delenn couldn't see at first; a Carnifex blocked her view.  Then it joined another as that one stumbled back from the captives; at first, Delenn watched the first monster take the other's hand, and she felt a moment of profound confusion.  Had she been wrong?  Did they have feelings, emotions, relationships with one another?  But no; it was just sinking its fangs into the other’s wrist, drinking its blood.  The other four Carnifex crowded around, and the Minbari started yelling at them out loud, trying to pull the two in the center apart.  Then Delenn was able to see the captives on the opposite end from John.  Both were still tied to the pipe, but both had the thick, black Carnifex blood covering their mouths, running down the fronts of their bodies. 

They were under the Minbari's thrall, now.  Blank eyes, vapid grins.  And the Minbari was even now shouting at the Carnifex, hitting one hard in the arm.  "We don't have much time!  They're nearly here, and I want this done.  Finish it!"  The Minbari easily evaded the half-hearted swipe of the Carnifex's claws, and then it came to the third captive.  And if nothing stopped them, John would be infected soon.  Turned into some kind of brain-dead dark servant.  Fouled beyond any hope of recovery. 

Delenn looked back at him, and was shocked to discover that John was staring right back at her, his face transformed by wonder.  She raised a finger to her lips, and he slowly nodded.  Then Delenn looked down the length of the docking bay - she had to find a weapon.  She couldn't think about how she was going to kill or incapacitate six Carnifex, let alone the Minbari - she just had to do something.  There were stacks of boxes, pallets waiting to be unloaded, barrels.  A toolbox open not far away, but she could see nothing deadly enough.  An industrial mover, but she didn't have the first clue how such a device was operated, and besides, it was against the opposite wall, beyond the group of captives and monsters.

Then she realized that the room itself was a weapon.  All she had to do was get to the other end before they saw her.  John and the captives were tied to a thick pipe; their bonds looked to be made of rope, and Delenn could only hope the knots were secure enough.  She began to slink along the wall, moving behind the boxes and crates whenever she could.

The middle captive, screaming.  How long did she have?  How long would it take before they made it to John?  She had only covered ten meters of ground, had at least another thirty to go.  Now she came to an open space, no cover at all.  She found herself wishing again that John had never turned the lights back on.  Delenn stepped out from behind a cluster of barrels, edged to the side with her back to the wall.  John was still looking her way, and just as she was only a few meters from some kind of large machine to hide behind, the Minbari followed John's gaze and looked right at her.

They stared at each other for a long beat, and Delenn felt him trying to climb inside her mind, felt a warm lethargy grip her limbs.  But he was weaker than before, and Delenn found that she could shake him off. 

"Take her!  Bring her to me!" the Minbari screamed, pointing her way.  Delenn didn't wait to see how many Carnifex answered the Minbari's command; she turned and ran. 

She ran for the airlock controls on the far wall.  The pains all through her body seemed to dissipate, and she found herself realizing that even if she were able to open the airlock before the monsters retrieved her, she had no way of keeping herself from being sucked out into the vacuum herself.  But that was fine.  Better that she die relatively quickly than John be turned into the echo of a monster himself.

The English letters and words on the airlock controls swam in front of her, and for a brief, eternal moment Delenn couldn’t read them at all.  Then she was hitting the right buttons, everything so straight forward. 

She could hear one of them, one of the Carnifex, and it was only a few seconds away.  In a moment, its claws would tear through her back, rip at her flesh.  She could almost feel it already.

No greater love hath a man than he lay down his life for his brother.  Had this been the Inquisitor’s purpose?  To prepare her for this moment?  If so, Kosh had chosen well.  She was ready.

She only had to pull down the handle.  It was nearly as thick as her arm, and she didn’t think she would be strong enough.  But it came down, slowly, and at the last second she looped one of her arms through it, held on to her other wrist just as she had done when she’d choked the Drazi slave to death. 

Flashing lights.  An alarm, loud and strident.  The first harsh whisper of air rushing through the opening doors.

The Carnifex was a pace away, and she could feel its breath against her back.

A noise like she had never heard before, so loud that it ceased to be a noise but instead became part of the fabric of the Universe itself.  Something was pulling at her feet, her legs, and she found herself tugged nearly horizontal to the floor.  The metal of the handle cutting into her arm - the pain was unbearable.  She had to let go.  She couldn’t stand this another second.  Delenn screamed, unable to hear herself at all, knowing she was screaming only because she could feel something in her throat tearing.  She let go of her wrist - a bone in her arm broke, she could feel it - and groped at the airlock control panel.  Hit every button blindly. 

The pressure began to relent.  The noise diminished.  Delenn realized her feet were on the floor.  She slipped down the wall, her arm sliding out of the handle limply, and she collapsed in a heap.  No time to rest; she had to make sure John was safe.  One arm was broken, one shoulder out of its socket, but no matter.  She used both arms to push herself back up to her feet, the pain back and as strong as ever; Delenn didn’t notice it.  She could no longer remember a time before the pain. 

She turned, walked away from the airlock.  Forced her eyes to open.  Black spots swimming in front of her vision, and she couldn’t draw enough air into her lungs.  No Carnifex in sight; the human slave who had not been restrained gone as well.  Horrible fear stole into her heart, and she looked for the pipe, didn’t see it at first, and she was sure that the captives had been pulled out through the airlock along with the rest.  No - there he was, hanging limply from the pipe, and as she watched he slowly brought his head up, looked her way.  Then John looked back down the row of captives, the brief smile that had been on his face melting away.

The Minbari, holding onto the leg of the female captive on the end.  He was standing himself, and had a difficult time doing so.  Delenn could see even from this distance that something had happened to his leg; great gashes in the flesh of his thigh, deep enough that she could see the bone.  Then he turned toward John, and Delenn saw the knife he held in his hand.

There was a toolbox over on a pallet by the door, but she’d never get there in time.  She knelt and pulled off her remaining stocking, and everything was moving too slow.  Too slow, she had to move faster, but after a few steps in the direction of the Minbari she stumbled and fell.  It was like her legs weren’t moving as a team, and she had to move one, then the other, each time an individual command, after she got herself upright again.  The Minbari had abandoned walking, and was dragging himself toward John with his arms, knife still in his hand, his useless and ruined leg sliding along the floor behind him.

John struggled against his bonds, to no avail.  Delenn would have to get to the Minbari first.  She pushed herself to go faster, no energy to do so but she found it anyway.  Blackness crowding in around her, and she pushed it away.  Only a few more minutes, and she would be finished.  She was gaining on the Minbari; she would reach him before he reached John.  She was almost there.

The lights went out. 

She was standing in Grey Six, in the communications relay room.  A Carnifex lay dead on the ground beside her, her denn’bok sticking out through its head.  Delenn couldn’t stop shaking, couldn’t stop herself from sucking in air even though she knew she was hyperventilating and needed to control herself.  Even after she had told John the story of the Carnifex, there had been a part of her that hadn’t really believed that they existed, that they could possibly be here, on Babylon 5.  But there it was, its monstrous hulk of a body not a meter away.  She had come out of hiding and walked right up to it, told it to leave - what had she been thinking?  The fear that had fled for a few moments reappeared, and Delenn was afraid she would be sick.

Then John was coming her way, his face hard.  He was angry with her, she could tell; he was staring at her with such intensity, and as he drew closer Delenn flinched away, waiting for him to strike her.  But he didn’t - he grabbed her with rough hands and pulled her close, then kissed her, if this hard and almost violent embrace could be called a kiss.  He moaned into her mouth, arms coming around her, fingers digging into her back.  Delenn felt a jolt of something run the length of her body, coil deep in her belly and between her legs, and she grabbed at the back of John’s head, wanting him all around her, wanting him inside her.

Then he was pushing her back, and the good hurt of his hands on her back was gone, replaced by his hands on her arms, and this hurt wasn’t good at all.  His face twisted, and she barely recognized him.

“John, I had to.  It would have eaten us.”  Then he pushed her, hard, and she nearly tripped as she stumbled backward.  “John?”

“Get away from me.”

“John, what are you doing?”

“Don’t call me that,” he spit out, sneering at her.  “Don’t call me by my name like you know me.”

“But you said--”

“You’re just a Minbari,” he cut her off, and Delenn felt the first tear slide down her cheek.  She had known this day would come, eventually.  Hadn’t she always known?  “As though I would ever want a Minbari as a friend, let alone...”  John laughed then, an acidic laugh that cut her right to the bone.  “What, did you think some hair on your bony head would be enough?  Did you think I would invite you into my bed?  Do you have any idea how many friends I lost during the war?  People I loved, people that mattered?  Killed by your kind, dead because of you.  Because of what you did.”

Delenn tried to say something, but the words were stuck in her throat, and she found herself choking on them.  John kept going, and she wanted to clap her hands over her ears, block his words out.  But she couldn’t. 

“You think they were the monsters on this station?  You’re wrong.  You’re the monster.  Millions dead because of you.  They called me Starkiller once.  They’ll call me something even greater now, after I rid the universe of you.”  He was right, of course, and Delenn bowed her head and accepted whatever he decided was the just punishment for her sins.  The last thing she saw were John’s hands, reaching up for her throat.


1130 hours

The Carnifex were starting to turn on each other, and Sheridan dully wondered if all of the blood in the air kept them from being able to control themselves, whatever slight amount of control they'd had to begin with.  He didn't want to watch anymore; he just wanted to wait for the end to come.  It wouldn't be long now.  He turned away from the sight of the Minbari slapping at one of the creatures as though it were some overgrown, mutated pet, and that's when he saw her.

Delenn, standing on the opposite side of the room, just inside the door.  She was looking at the others, her face calm.  Sheridan wondered if he were already dead, but no, surely if he were dead he wouldn't still be hurting like this.  He must be hallucinating, his mind losing its grip on reality.  Then she turned and looked at him, and his breath caught.  Her hair was a riot of dark curls outlining her pale face, and she was wearing something filmy and white; Sheridan had seen suns rise behind alien planets, had seen stars peeking through nebulae like jewels in the mist, had seen verdant green shoots growing out of good earth, but he had never seen anything as beautiful as her.

She had come for him.  Not an angel - they were just Vorlons, anyway - but a messenger.  She had told him once that if something happened to her, she would see him again, in the place where no shadows fell.  He would join her there, now; she had come for him.  He opened his mouth to tell her that he was ready, but Delenn held a finger to her lips.  He nodded, and then watched as she started to move down the wall, away from him.

What is she doing? Sheridan wondered, and then as he watched, he began to notice things he hadn’t before.  She was hurt; she moved gingerly, and held one of her arms crooked up close to her chest.  What he had thought to be some kind of ethereal gown looked instead like a slip of some kind, and it might have been white at one time, but now it was dirty, ripped.  There was blood on it here and there.  Delenn slipped behind some barrels, and Sheridan did his best to shake the cobwebs out of his brain and think.

A pool of blood.  Her dress, ripped and torn.  But she wasn’t wearing her dress now.  Had someone else died in that place? 

Was she alive?

Sheridan watched her emerge again, and he couldn’t help it; he moaned at the sight of her.  Alive.  She was alive, and right here.  He forgot about the Carnifex, the Minbari, all of it, and was drawing in a breath to call out to her when he heard a voice, angry and shrill, scream something out in an alien language.  The Minbari, and he was staring at Delenn himself.  One of the Carnifex began to thunder away in pursuit of her, but she was running.  Running fast, as though she had just got up after a good night’s sleep, that dark hair billowing behind her.  Sheridan tugged at his restraints again, screaming out her name. 

“Delenn!  You’re going the wrong way!”  She was running right to the end of the docking bay, and there was nothing there but the airlock.  The Carnifex would corner her and if she were lucky, it would tear her apart right there.  But no, the Minbari wouldn’t want that.  She’d be brought back, tied to this pipe, and be turned into one of them.  Just like Sheridan himself.  And Sheridan knew in a moment of absolute despair that the Minbari would make him watch.

But Delenn wasn’t cowering in the corner of the docking bay, wasn’t looking wildly around for an exit.  She was at the airlock controls, confidently turning everything on.  Sheridan realized what her plan was just as the warning lights began to flash.  Was this worse?  Was it worse to see her sucked out into space, than to see her turned into one of the slaves?

Then thought was gone, and the air inside the docking bay was pulled out along with everything else that wasn’t secured.  Sheridan kept his eyes open as long as he could, and saw boxes and barrels tumble out; saw Menendez spin end over end like a rag doll, his head striking the edge of the airlock; saw the Carnifex actually dig their claws into the floor and hang on for a moment before being sucked out themselves; saw the last Carnifex grab at the Minbari’s leg to try and keep itself inside, the Minbari hanging onto the pilot, both of them suspended in the air; and then Sheridan saw nothing.  His head came up and struck the bottom of the pipe, and he had just enough time before blackness swallowed him up to obscurely realize that the pressure from the air’s evacuation had managed to pull his arm right back into the socket where it belonged.

He didn’t stay in the black for long.  He became aware that he was breathing, that the air was staying put for the time being.  Sheridan shook his head, tried to lift it, and couldn’t.  What was the point, anyway?  Delenn had sacrificed herself to save him, and he wanted it to be the other way around.  He couldn’t bear to look up and see the empty docking bay, know that her cold body was out there somewhere, drifting alone.  But she wouldn’t want him to give up.  She had done this for him, and he would honor that.

Sheridan made himself look up, and she was standing there, looking at him.  There was just enough time for a burst of joy to bloom in his stomach before he saw movement out of the corner of his eye.  The Minbari, still holding on to the leg of the female pilot, his hand digging through one of the pockets on her flight suit.  Sheridan watched him pull out a knife, and then he was coming for him, crawling on the ground and leaving a trail of bright red blood behind him.

Sheridan couldn’t help the instinctual movement and tried to pull away.  He looked up -  Delenn was pulling off a sock?  That’s what it looked like, and then she was walking their way.  Sheridan could see that she was in pain, could see it in her face, but she made good time, and he thought that she would reach the Minbari before the Minbari reached him.

And then she stopped.  She was looking vaguely in his direction, but her eyes clouded over, unfocused.

“Delenn?”  No sign that she had heard him.  Her sock dangled limply from her hand.  “Delenn!”  The Minbari was only a couple feet away, knife held out in front of him.  He stopped crawling, and rolled over enough to watch Delenn.  Laughed, and looked back at Sheridan, that evil good humor restored.

“So close, and yet we are all slaves to our own worst fears.”  He rolled back onto his stomach, began crawling again toward him, relentless.  So this is it.  He didn’t know if Delenn would hear him, didn’t know what the Minbari would do to her once he was done with him, but he wanted to say it to her, at least once.

“Delenn?  I love you.”

She had been looking at him with dead eyes, her face slack, but now she blinked.  Seemed to come back to herself, and she looked all around in a panic.  The Minbari was at Sheridan’s knees and pushed himself up, that knife drawing ever closer.  Delenn seemed to see the Minbari again, and Sheridan watched her face go hard and resolute. 

The Minbari raised the knife, pulled it back for one final slice. 

Delenn came up behind him, put her long sock around his throat, and pulled the ends in opposite directions, drawing the sock tight.  She tugged the Minbari backwards just as he swung the knife forward, and Sheridan felt the tip of it whisper along his cheek.  Delenn keened as she continued to garrote the Minbari, who slashed back at her with the knife.  Sheridan was sure that he was going to end up stabbing her, but she managed to evade the blade, kept twisting her sock tight, and slowly the Minbari stopped fighting, finally slumping on the floor.  Delenn pulled the sock away, then put her fingers to the Minbari’s throat.  Sheridan could only watch as she tied his hands together with her sock, and wondered why she was bothering; he was clearly unconscious, if not already dead.

Then he stopped thinking of anything at all, because she was kneeling in front of him, only inches away.  The threat of danger finally past, and she was here, right here, safe and sound.  She brought one hand up to his cheek.

“What did I tell you?” she asked, and Sheridan just shook his head mutely.  She smiled at him, bringing her face close, whispering against his lips.  “I told you not to do anything that would require me to rescue you.”  She kissed him then, softly; a benediction. 

They might have stayed like that forever if the remaining sane captive, the maintenance worker restrained not two feet away from Sheridan, hadn’t finally blurted out: “Can you please untie me?”


1245 hours

The maintenance worker - Rudolf, from Prague - had finally left them twenty minutes ago, vowing to run forward and bring back help.  They had struggled forward a little while longer, but now that the last of the adrenaline was fading away, Sheridan finally ran out of steam.

Now they were sitting on the floor, his back against the wall, her back against his chest.  She was cradling her broken arm in her lap, and he winced at the purple mottling running up and down the skin there; she had confessed to him already about her broken ribs and her shoulder, and she seemed to be having a hard time walking, too.  He wondered how long she’d been running around barefoot. 

He brought one of his hands up, laid it on her chest and felt her heartbeat under his palm.  His fingers brushed against her brooch, which he had pinned back onto her slip when they’d sat down, so it wouldn’t dig into her back.  She hadn’t said anything when he did that, only leaned her head back against his shoulder, her eyes screwed tightly shut.  Sheridan had kissed her bone crest, and he did it again now; it was the only part of her he could reach without jostling her.  She shivered lightly, and Sheridan was sure that she was cold, in nothing but a thin slip.  He hoped she was getting some of his body heat.  He tried not to worry about things like shock.

After Rudolf had interrupted them, Delenn had retrieved the knife and cut Sheridan’s bonds, and he had cut the ropes securing the other man.  Together they had dragged the  Minbari to the pipe and tied him up.

“Why don’t you just kill him?” Rudolf asked, a tremor in his voice.

“I have some questions,” Delenn answered, her voice cold.  Then they had left, the other three still tied up; now they looked like confused children, heads turning this way and that, naive frowns on their faces.  Maybe Franklin could do something for them; it was hard to say.

Sitting on the floor, resting for the first time in hours and hours; Sheridan had no idea what time it was, how long he’d been in Brown Sector, running around first looking for Delenn, then avenging her.  He still couldn’t quite believe that she was here, that she was okay.  He wanted to ask her what had happened in that corridor, why he had found her dress in a pool of blood; he wanted to ask her where she had been, what had happened to her; he wanted to ask her how she’d broken her ribs.  He wanted to ask her why she had stopped like that, just a few feet from the Minbari, like she’d been turned off.  But now was not the time.  Now he was just going to hold her, one arm loose around her waist, the other holding her heartbeat; he was just going to feel the tickle of her hair against his face; he was just going to listen to her breathe.

Footsteps coming their way.  Sheridan didn’t move except to drop his hand from her chest, grab the knife at his side.  But they were human faces, Zack in the lead, everyone grinning good, human grins.  They were all shouting something, glad voices crying out, but Sheridan just let it all drift into noise, closed his eyes, and rested his head against Delenn’s. 

X. Evaluation

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