Shannon (kungfuwaynewho) wrote,

Fic: Metamorphoses Ch. 9

Title: Anchor
Rating: PG
Specs: Babylon 5, John/Delenn, 7850 words
Disclaimer: Any dialogue from the show comes from JMS, not me.

Previous Chapters: One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, and Eight

The timekeeper signaled mid-day, and Delenn glared at the list of items on her screen, all things needing to be done today that were still undone. More than a dozen. Every morning, as she went over her agenda with Lennier, she made a mental schedule of when she planned to have each item finished. This morning, she had planned to have that list of items – signatures, documents to be read, treaties to agree to, et cetera, et cetera – finished by mid-day. Not even remotely close.

Delenn took her tablet and turned it screen-side down on the table. She did not want to look at it just now. In five minutes, she would start anew, but at this particular moment she needed to pretend that list did not exist.

And then her door chime sounded. Delenn thought very seriously, for half a second, about taking up her tablet and flinging it at the door as hard as she could.

“Yes?” she asked of the air instead, aware that her voice was testy and feeling quite proud of it.

“It's me.” Sheridan's voice (John's voice, she had begun to think), and she knew she was smiling only because it tugged at her face. She didn't smile much these days.

She told the door to open, and Sheridan entered, already pulling down the zipper on his jacket. “Jesus Christ, I'm going to kill them all.” He flung himself onto her sofa, grabbing a cushion and shoving it over his face. Since he couldn't see her, Delenn indulged herself, studying his form, and maybe if her gaze lingered a bit too long at certain sections of his trousers, well, no one would ever know. Then he made a noise, like a very gruff, quiet shout, muffled by the cushion.

“Have you eaten today?” she asked. She knew that he often skipped meals, either because he was too busy or because he simply didn't remember to eat. It was odd, though, because when she did see him eat, he did so with a voracious appetite. In response to her question, he made some other sound, maybe speaking a word, but again, the cushion muffled it beyond recognition. “I have pizza,” she went on.

Sheridan sat up, the cushion tossed aside. “I'm interested.” Then he cocked his head at her. “Why do you have pizza?”

“Because that's all I wanted last night. I was tremendously hungry because...” Hmm. She did not want to discuss her menstrual cycle with him, newly-made decision to be friends or not. But he only nodded, mumbled “right, right,” and picked invisible lint off his shirt. Delenn retrieved the left-over slices and put them on a plate, opening up the warmer.

“Nope! Cold, I'll have it cold.” He bounded over to the other side of the counter, leaning across it, arm outstretched. Delenn kept the plate in her grasp. “Delenn.”

“Are you sure you don't want me to warm it up?” she asked with as innocent a tone as she could muster.

“No, that's good.” He continued to lean over the counter, stretching forward, looking completely ridiculous. Delenn looked down at the plate, biting her lip. Hoping to look unsure.

“I can't imagine that's safe, Captain, to eat food completely cold.”

“One hundred percent safe. Here we go.”

Delenn picked up one of the cold slices – it was completely firm, not flopping about at all, the cheese solid, how was this appetizing? – and nibbled delicately on the pointed end. Sheridan rested his head on his hand and waited, the corners of his mouth turned down in the most beautifully exaggerated frown. “Well,” she said, stretching the moment out. “If you insist.”

She strolled to the table and put the plate down, sitting back down opposite. He joined her after a beat, glaring at her with mock indignation. Then he took up one of the slices and shoved half of it in his mouth. Another sound, now, one of pleasure, and Delenn picked up her tablet and read her list. Friends, friends, friends. She was not going to watch him eat, watch his mouth and hands; she wasn't going to listen to the sounds he made, imagine what other occasions might prompt similar noises. Because they were friends, because everything else was too complicated. They had decided. It was final.

“You'll break it,” he said in a laconic drawl, and Delenn loosened her grip on the tablet. She glanced up to see him polishing off one slice and starting on the second, something smug and knowing in his eyes.

“I feel as though every day I have more to do, and less time in which to do it,” she said, which was true, even though it had nothing to do with why she had been clutching the tablet's edges tightly. For Minbari, such an obfuscation was not considered a lie. She was very good at it.

Sheridan's face softened. “Have you eaten today?”

“Some juice this morning. Yesterday I was starving; today, I have no appetite.”

“Is that normal? Have you talked to Dr. Franklin?”

“It's just this time...this...” She paused. What were the euphemisms Susan had rattled off, one after another, the day Delenn had asked her about cramps? Something about sharks, something about aunts. “This...” She waved her hand about in the air. Sheridan put the pizza down, looked at her.

“So is it, um, a new thing?”

“Since my change, yes.” Why were they having this conversation? How had this happened? Delenn knew that menstruating was simply a biological function and there was no reason to feel ashamed or embarrassed about talking about it, but it was John, and it was her reproductive system, and it just seemed inappropriate somehow.

“That sucks,” he finally pronounced. He shook his head, looking glum. She certainly had not wanted to bring his mood down.

“It's fine.” She wished she did have an appetite, so she could eat something, so she would have something to do with her hands and an excuse not to look at him.

“You feel okay?” Now he was gazing at her with concern, his eyebrows making an angle that told her he was worried about her. Even just a few months ago she might not have been able to decipher that particular Human facial expression. Delenn realized, a little guiltily, that it was...nice that he worried about her. To have his attention directed her way.

“I'm all right. A little tired.” His eyebrows raised now. Asking a question. “It is a fleeting fatigue, that's all. Really, Captain, I'm fine.”

“You could talk to Franklin about an iron supplement,” Sheridan said casually, going back to the pizza. Delenn already took a dose of extra iron, along with several other vitamin and minerals, in her personalized daily supplement. The iron was to prevent anemia, a thinning of the blood, a condition utterly foreign to Minbari, who more often had to combat a thickening of the blood from various minerals found in Minbar's water. From what Franklin had told her, anemia and lack of iron was very common among menstruating women; much less so in men. She narrowed her eyes at Sheridan.

“How do you know about iron?”

“I know things.” He smiled at her, starting on the final slice. Delenn felt a little embarrassed. Of course he would, he had been married before, had he not? It was a topic that was likely to have come up at some point. He probably knew more about the many difficulties of her new reproductive system than she did, even these many months later. It was a disquieting thought.

Before she could formulate a reply, his link beeped. The monotone female voice of the station's computer systems followed. “Reminder: Alpha and Beta Wing drills, twelve-thirty.” Sheridan slapped the link and polished off his impromptu lunch.

“Well, I'm off. Don't work too hard.” Another of his charming grins, he dropped the plate in the sink (though did not wash it), and left. Delenn glanced up at her timekeeper: he had been here less than ten minutes.

He hadn't stopped by to discuss anything of import. He knew he had an appointment for which he would have to quickly leave, yet he visited her anyway. Would this now become a common occurrence? Would he extend her the same courtesy if she happened to be in Blue Sector and had a few minutes to spare? The very thought – of going to his quarters in the middle of the day for no reason, of sitting beside him talking idly for a few moments, of even taking a light lunch, perhaps – was enough to bring yet another smile to her face.

Delenn returned to her agenda and continued working. If she had been fatigued, she no longer realized it.

A few days later Sheridan sent her a message. Free the 21st from eighteen-hundred on. You can figure out the details. Delenn wanted to smile, but Lennier was standing beside her, and indeed, he turned to her with a slightly quizzical expression on his face.

“The details of what?” he asked. Part of being an aide to someone like Delenn – once Satai though no longer a member of the Council, yet still very powerful in her own right – meant that Lennier needed to be direct, needed to speak his mind. He could not constantly worry about whether or not he might cause offense, or inquire into something the details of which he need not know. Yet Delenn still felt he was being perhaps a bit too forward in asking her this question, since it was obvious to see this was a personal message from the Captain.

“We had planned on having dinner together, the next time we both had a free evening,” she replied. Then she realized she was looking at her hands, so Delenn raised her chin and lifted her eyes to his; she did not want even the slightest indication that what she was doing was inappropriate or unseemly. Lennier's face was now totally blank.

“I will arrange for the smaller of the two conference rooms in our wing to be reserved for that evening,” he said smoothly. Each race's wing had two rooms set aside for smaller functions; Delenn often used the Minbari conference rooms for meetings with caste representatives on days when she needed a respite from her own quarters.

“That will not be necessary,” she said, perhaps too quickly. “We will dine here.” When Sheridan had first introduced the idea, Delenn had considered another meal at the Fresh Air – she would don her Human dress again (or perhaps purchase a new one), arrange her hair, apply some tint to her eyelids and lips. This time, they would reserve a table in the corner, something more secluded. She would not be so nervous, and would be able to more greatly enjoy herself. But now, considering it, Delenn decided she would rather dine more informally. Where would they find more privacy than in their own quarters? And this time, a server would not come along, announcing the restaurant was closing, and force them to leave.

Delenn could not pinpoint anything on Lennier's face changing, it seemed to remain the same still, calm countenance, yet she saw the change nonetheless. He was appraising her. She wondered what his assessment was.

“Very well. I will begin preparations on the nineteenth, then.” It took a moment for the meaning to sink in. He was planning to make the traditional meal for a dignified guest. As she was the one who would be issuing the invitation in the first place, asking Sheridan to dine with her, she should be the one to prepare the meal. Though in truth, making the dinner a formal ritual, and one so involved as the traditional meal for a dignified guest, would never have occurred to her.

It was on the tip of Delenn's tongue to tell Lennier that the traditional meal would not be necessary. She had dined with Sheridan before. Even if Lennier did not know exactly how close she and Sheridan were, he knew they were more than just professional colleagues. The first week he had been on the station (if she hadn't been in the Chrysalis, of course), that would have been an appropriate time to hold such a meal, but now? It seemed faintly ridiculous. But before she spoke, Delenn got a closer look at his eyes. Appraising her, yes, but also challenging her. To turn him down would require she explicitly state that she wished to have an informal, private dinner in her own quarters with the Captain.

She might as well take out an announcement in the daily paper that she had begun the rituals with him.

It didn't matter that to Humans, sharing a casual meal – as Sheridan had done with her just a few days before – was often of little consequence, not worthy of remark. To Minbari, though, any meal between two people not already bound by some kind of relationship – family, clan members, mates – was a meal deserving of ritual, of formality. When she dined with Sheridan at the Fresh Air, all those months ago, there had been a ritual involved. That it was a Human tradition was acceptable to Minbari, even if it were perhaps not preferred. Some semblance of propriety had been observed.

Lennier was waiting for her response. If it had not been for the late-night conversation she had shared with Sheridan, if it had not been for the decision to remain friends, Delenn might have told Lennier she did not require his assistance. She might have let him come to whatever conclusion he so desired. But perhaps this was a reminder from the universe that a certain degree of formality was a good thing. So Delenn just smiled – a thin-lipped smile, she knew, but it was the best she could manage.

“Thank you, Lennier. The nineteenth, then. I will leave the menu to your devising, though if you would like to make flarn, I would not be averse.”

Lennier's smile was not thin-lipped at all. It was wide and free, and he bowed to her deeply.

It was not till she was in the shower the next morning, carefully washing her scalp, that Delenn realized what Lennier had done. The person holding the dinner usually prepared the food. But since Lennier would be doing the preparations, he was as much a part of the meal as she and Sheridan would be. He would be sitting with them, at the same table – or, more likely, on the floor, in a specially-prepared and cleansed ceremonial space.

She had wanted privacy. She had wanted to be alone with Sheridan. She would have, instead, the opposite. Lennier, diligent, loyal, solid Lennier, sitting right there with the two of them the entire meal, listening to all that was said, insisting that every ritual be performed just as it ought (and how Sheridan would balk at having to meditate after every bite!).

Delenn rinsed her hair and rested her head against the tile, wishing she could ask the universe directly what she could have ever done to it.

Sheridan was making a sound. A sleeping Human sound. Delenn had once read the word that described that sound, but she no longer remembered what it was. At the time, she had never heard the sound herself, so there was little reason for her to recall the word.

She hoped it was a funny word, though, because it was certainly a funny sound.

“Should we...” Lennier started to say in a quiet whisper, but Delenn lifted a hand to hush him. He settled back into his cushion with not quite a sigh. At first, Delenn had thought perhaps Sheridan was just in a very deep meditative place, but that had been ten minutes ago. It was quite clear, now, that he was asleep. And if he were so tired that he fell asleep sitting up, at dinner, in strange quarters, under bright lights, then he certainly needed the rest. For approximately the tenth time that evening, Delenn wished that Lennier were not there – and then immediately felt guilty for wishing so.

She had been pleased with how willing Sheridan had been to attempt the various rituals that came as second-nature to Minbari, no matter that he was confused and hungry. It had all felt a bit like teasing, she had to admit to herself, and she could not help but wonder if he thought they were, as the Humans said, pulling his foot. Now, though, she felt perhaps this had all gone too far. It was time to wake him, and allow him to return to his own quarters.

“Captain?” she said gently. “Captain Sheridan?” He mumbled something she didn't quite catch, something regarding numbers, and then he awakened. Delenn felt a stab at the obvious embarrassment on his face, and she wished she had been able to notice his fatigue before this point. She let him know that he had been sleeping, and expected him to apologize (to which she would graciously tell him that no apology was necessary), but instead he insisted he had only been meditating. Delenn always found herself perplexed by the human propensity for falsehoods in circumstances when all involved knew they were falsehoods and nothing more. Did Sheridan believe them to be naïve? Or was he so desperate to maintain his honor – little though it had been bruised – that he felt a lie was in order? In any event, Lennier said, rather prickly, that the sound Sheridan had been making did not seem to have anything to do with meditation. Delenn glanced sharply at her aide, though he didn't catch the look; there was certainly no need to belabor the point.

“I don't snore,” Sheridan protested just as his link beeped. Snore! That was the word! It wasn't as funny as she remembered. But then Ivanova was requesting Sheridan come down to the docking bay and Delenn knew that their evening had come to its end, even before he ended the call. She could hardly blame him for making his escape, and did not mind the slight sarcasm she detected when he agreed to her suggestion that they have dinner again sometime.

It was only after he left – Lennier cleaning up the remains of the meal, still stung that Sheridan hadn't seemed to enjoy the flarn – that Delenn realized just what the dinner might have looked like to the Captain. An agreement to keep their relationship professional and friendly, which should accommodate the occasional shared meal quite easily. And yet, the very next time they found an evening to spend together, not only did she require him to eat food with which he was not familiar, in a highly stylized manner, but she also had her aide literally sitting between them.

Would he now think she didn't wish to spend time together just the two of them, alone? Would he think this to be a direct response to his stopping by her quarters unannounced a few days ago? Delenn sat down, a dull throb in her temples.

“Delenn?” Lennier, obsequious as always, asked from the sink. “Are you all right?”

“Fine, fine. Oh, Lennier, leave that and I'll finish.” He bowed his head to her unspoken request that he leave not just the dishes but her quarters entirely and made a quiet, unobtrusive exit.

Delenn thought a string of ugly words in her head, as though they were written in damp sand; then she imagined the tide coming in and washing them all away. Today, perhaps more than any day in the last few months, she missed being completely and wholly Minbari. She never used to worry and fret over other people's thoughts and feelings like this! There had been many whose company she enjoyed, with whom she might have wished to be closer, but never before had such thoughts consumed her as they now did. It was her stupid Human hormones and her stupid Human organs. For one brief, shattering second, she had the sensation that she could rip them all out of her own body with her teeth.

Delenn shook herself, finding a candle to light so she might meditate for a few minutes – as though she hadn't just meditated enough for two or three weeks – but not before one last ugly Human thought rolled through her head. And it is that stupid John Sheridan, too, who is to blame. Delenn remembered his smile when he thought he would finally get to eat – but no, John, now you must do some other silly little thing – and wished she could call him back to her quarters so they could have a proper, ordinary meal. She shoved the candle back in its drawer and decided to go for a walk.

Her walk took her to a little Markab girl, just having found her father dead. As Delenn consoled the child, contacted the authorities, and shepherded the little one back to her own people, she found some small measure of comfort in the infinite complexities of the universe, and her own hubris in ever thinking she knew even one small part of her own place in it. Had her dinner with Sheridan been as she might have wished, they could very well have remained in her quarters the rest of the evening. Had she not sent Lennier away, they might have found some other work with which to occupy their time. Had she not grown so frustrated with her fledgling Human emotions, she might have been perfectly satisfied meditating as usual, and so never come to stand in the right spot at the right time. For the universe wished for her to be there in that moment, to hug the Markab child close and give her what small amount of sympathy and comfort she could.

The atmosphere aboard the station changed so swiftly over the next few hours it nearly took Delenn's breath away. How little was necessary to instill fear in even the largest groups of people! Their respective species no longer mattered; in fact, had she not felt some of that fear herself, she might have thought about how fear united disparate groups as little else could, and how tempting it might be to use that fear for one's own purposes. But as she hastened from one place to another, trying her best to avoid those most crowded sections – especially the corridors through which the Markab were being herded for Franklin's medical tests – she felt a most inappropriate smile tickling her lips. Using fear: it was a standard Minbari strategy, in warfare and in diplomacy, and most especially in galactic politics. She had certainly relied on the non-aligned races' fear of the Minbari's technological and military prowess plenty of times in her years on Babylon 5; was she even aware, sometimes, of what she did? Yet now it seemed a base trick, something unbecoming and beneath her. The smile was not a smile so much as a grimace. How thin the veneer could be, the difference between the woman she was today and the Minbari she had once been, crouched in a pool of blood, shrieking for vengeance.

It was with that memory cascading through her mind and spirit – the pain and grief as near as though it had happened yesterday – that Delenn changed her course, finding her way with little difficulty to the Markab isolation zone. It wasn't until she received an audience with Ambassador Fashar, until she had been speaking with him for several minutes amid a cloud of fear and anxiety and worry, that Delenn realized she had made her choice when she'd first held the little girl. It was a choice made not by her intellect but by her soul, and like many such choices, it took some time to percolate up to her consciousness.

Then there was only thing left to do. She made the trek back across the station to Blue Sector. To Sheridan's quarters. He was tired when she entered, she could see that clearly. Tired, yes, but strong; others would have found their shoulders bowed by the weight of the responsibility the Captain carried. Others might even be broken. But Sheridan only seemed to gather strength, and though he argued with her at first – mistaking her intentions entirely in two very different ways – she understood that he knew her choice was as much a foregone conclusion as she did. Yet still he did not acq uiesce.

“They are afraid,” she explained to him, stepping close. “We wish to do what little we can.”


“Lennier has asked to accompany me.”

Now he grew angry. If she were to go in alone, he could think she only meant to carry in some supplies and leave. But if Lennier were to go in with her, their mission of mercy would be much more involved than that. “Delenn, I cannot allow this!”

“I understand the risk, Captain.” But did she? She again tried to explain to him her reasoning, but her reasoning mattered little. She would die or she would not; her fate was not her own to control. Her only choice was what to do with what little time she might have left, if that time was indeed limited.

“You will be exposing yourself to massive contamination!” he insisted. Was the same not true for the security personnel who had led the Markab to the isolation zone? Was that not the same risk faced by Franklin and his medical staff? But she was more to him than his men, than the doctors and nurses, than Franklin. She knew it, but at this moment could take no pleasure in the thought. “If I let you into that isolation zone...I can't let you out again.” That was the crux of it for him, she knew. Suddenly she knew what he feared, what specific outcome he had already begun to dread. She only wished she could brush away the terrible worry she saw written in every line on his face...and then she knew that she must try to comfort him, if she were to step one foot inside with the Markabs.

“I know.” He must see that she went forward willingly, with no illusions. His face fell even as understanding flooded it, and her heart seemed to rend and tear at the sight. His voice was low, dead, as he finally agreed, raising his link to speak to security. She put her hand on his, needing him to look at her again, not wanting this deathless silence between them.

“Don't look away, Captain,” she murmured, and he haltingly returned his gaze to her eyes. “All life is transitory,” she went on, speaking to him as seriously as she had ever done. “A dream. We all come together in the same place at the end of time. If I don't see you again here...” And she brought her fingers to his cheek, his skin shockingly hot, and she wanted so much more than this. She wanted so much more than this. “...I will see you in a little while, in the place where no shadows fall.”

His eyes were so keen, so sharp. The look that passed between them was more than she could take, and she withdrew her hand, afraid of what she might do if she did not. It was with that sudden panic that she turned away, needing to flee, needing to escape. How she loved him. No number of resolutions, no amount of steadfast determination, could keep her from loving him. It was simply part of her being now, and she would carry it with her into a place of death.

“Delenn?” he said, arresting her flight as simply as if he had thrown a net.

“When I do see you again,” and she didn't miss the slight emphasis he put on a few of those words, “call me John?” A question, as though she would refuse, as though it were not all she wanted. She could not trust herself to speak, could hardly think at all.

She nodded her head slightly in deference to his wish and left his quarters, unhappy that she was not as courageous as she might hope. For she had her worries about what was to come – how could she not? – and would have liked to embrace him before she left. Not just because there existed the possibility, no matter how small she might like to think it, that she would never see him again; one ought never gamble with plagues. But it was also that she felt she needed to ground herself, as one placed a hand upon the rock pillars to either side of the great crystalline bridge in Tuzanor before crossing it, lest the passing generate a painful electric shock. She had forgotten to do so once, lost in some thought that had been quite important at the time but had drifted away like so much else, and the shock, when it came, had been enough to make her bite her tongue. Delenn remembered that now, making her way through the curiously-hushed corridors, the way she had felt betrayed by the bridge, as though the faceted crystals had shocked her on purpose.

Were plagues any different than the vagaries of electricity? Mindless, voracious, the viruses and bacteria cared little for what destruction they wrought. A pity there had been no way for the Markab to ground themselves; a travesty that there had been no warning.

Back in her rooms, Delenn made her brief preparations, hurrying to her duty and yet still, somehow, postponing it. She could not help the morsel of fear lingering beneath her sternum, the way it was already slowly becoming a knot of anxiety that would only harden and grow as the day went on. Finished now and needing to depart, she nonetheless took the time to splash her face with cold water, standing for a moment, dripping into the sink. She did not meditate, she did not pray, she only stood there, letting the moisture evaporate off her skin, letting herself breathe without interruption. She ought to have embraced him, she ought to have said something, some words that even now she couldn't bring to mind. She ought to have said goodbye.

There were thousands of Markab in the isolation zone, and yet again Delenn's path crossed that of the little girl. She had sent Lennier to find the child's mother – faith manages – and then sat down with the child. Shanar, she was called, and Delenn was touched that her fear came not from the death that surrounded her, but from the simple fact that she missed her mother. So Delenn told the girl the story of the time she herself had become lost in the city, eventually finding her way to a temple and the tremendous security she had immediately felt upon walking inside; and it was at that point in her story that Delenn remembered a great truth: that stories are more often told to ourselves than to anyone else.

How long had it been since she'd thought of that day? That feeling of safety, the immediate lessening of all her fears, had been one of the defining moments that led to her entering the Religious caste. Of the priest that day, she had thought even less, yet she realized that she pictured not one of her own people in her head as she came to that moment in the story; she instead imagined Jeffrey Sinclair. How strange.

“I will not allow harm to come to my little ones here, in my great house.”

Such a thing ought to be true for all children, in all places. Even as Delenn finished the story by telling the child of how her parents had found her just then, so too did Shanar's own mother arrive. Harmonies and coincidences were part of the structure of the universe, Delenn was sure. She stood, smiling at the reunion, believing that all would soon be well. Franklin would find a treatment, and though the loss of life had been severe it had not been absolute. Things would be put right.

Then Shanar stumbled, swaying under a sudden onslaught of dizziness. Delenn could do nothing but watch, feeling powerless, petrified. A few moments of that weakness, and then she rushed to the mother and child; she helped find a place for Shanar to lie down; she brought water, blankets; all around her the fragile order she and Lennier had assisted in maintaining fell apart; it seemed the great mass of Markab left all fell ill in one single instant; the end came very quickly.

The silence was absolute, as thick as the still air that threatened to choke them. The silence felt like something physical, a solid weight pressing against her, covering her. The silence warped the reality of the room around her, making it hard to see, hard to focus. So Delenn gave up, her eyes pointed ahead but not seeing anything, not seeing the corpses lying everywhere, corpses rotting even now, corpses left undisturbed, resting wherever each Markab had died.

So maybe the silence was a good thing. It could function the same as a candle flame, in the absence of that symbol of life. She could use it as a platform, a way to rise above this mundane reality, try to touch something greater and vaster than anything she could imagine. Delenn forgot about the Markab corpses, the sickly-sweet scent of decomposition all around, the stale air, her aching, stiffening muscles, even Lennier, sitting beside her.

When the door creaked open, Delenn did not hear it. She was deep into meditation, far away from the station. But Lennier took her arm, and she came back to herself with a jolt. Now he is sick, now he is dying, I will have to watch, and then I will be all alone. The thought struck her with such force that Delenn nearly gagged, the scent of death much stronger now, surrounding her like a cloak. But Lennier's grip on her arm was strong, and relief was written all over his face.

They helped each other stand.

The door seemed miles away, and Delenn did not think she would make it that far. Her legs were blocks of wood, she told them to move and they did, but jerkily, and she could not feel them. An odd, disconcerting sensation, made worse as the blood began to flow back into the muscles, stinging jolts of pain. She would not be able to walk all the way to the door, even leaning against Lennier. She would have to stop, she would have to rest, but where? Every surface was covered by a corpse. The reality of the situation struck her again as though it were the first time, as though she were seeing the room and all it represented anew.

Then she saw John.

He was standing in front of the door, limned in white light from the corridor behind. Delenn could not see his face, could not tell whether he was looking at her or at the room. Someone said something, and Lennier answered, but she couldn't make out the words. A ringing in her ears. She could only see John, real and solid before her, no dream. She slipped out of Lennier's grasp, but walking was easy now, just a few steps more.

“John,” she said – his name, she had held it in her head like a talisman during this long, dark night. She brought her fingertips to his face, needing to feel his warm skin, needing to know for sure that he was alive. His hands on her arms, sliding around to her back, pulling her close. The richness of his scent enveloping her, and it was that more than anything else that brought tears to her eyes. It took only a heartbeat, and Delenn could not stop the flood. The worry and heartache and pain and fear and resignation and grief all hit her at once, and she could only cry out from the force of it, clutching at John, knowing he would keep her safe till the storm passed.

“I'm not leaving you,” he said, chin raised, obstinate. She had only gently suggested that he return to his quarters and get some sleep; he looked as exhausted as she felt, dark circles around his eyes, hair pointing in many different directions, his face scratchy with beard. John unzipped his jacket and took it off, tossed it onto a chair, and looked around the living room, surveying it as though he had not been inside a dozen times at least. He poked at one of the cushions on her sofa.

Delenn wanted to invite him to her bed, wanted nothing more than to slip into the blessed unconsciousness of sleep with his body warm beside her own, but her mouth seemed locked shut. She could only stand, watching him as he sat down, needing to do it in stages, apparently as stiff as she was. Then John looked at her, as though he were seeing past her skin, past even muscle and bone, into her very soul. “Delenn? What is it?”

She was so tired, too tired to answer. John must have seen it, because he stood again and came to her before she could even protest. Holding her by the arms again, his hands squeezing her biceps, and Delenn cautiously put her own hands on his white shirt, palms flat against his chest, feeling his heartbeat. “How does a shower sound?” he asked, his voice low, as though she might break if he spoke too loudly. She was too tired to take off her clothes, too tired to stand in the shower, too tired to wash her body, but she needed to bathe. The miasma of the Markab's tomb clung to her like smoke. Delenn nodded, and John rubbed his hands up and down. She turned, and he followed her through her bedroom to the lavatory, one hand at the small of her back. Grounding her.

The lavatory door swung upwards, and Delenn stepped inside. The lights were harsh, they bit at her eyes. John was just behind, and his presence kept the door from dropping. Would he watch her bathe? Was that what he had meant when he said he would not leave? But he only reached out and slid his hand down her arm again. “Do you have a robe, or something you can change into? You need to wash these clothes, too.” Yes. He was right, of course. Still she could not find the words nor the energy to speak. John left, and she listened to drawers opening and closing, the quiet whisper of fabric brushing against fabric. He returned with a nightgown, a robe. Delenn took them from him, clutched them against her chest. What she ought to do next was beyond her, a complexity her brain could not decipher. John brushed her hair back from her face.

“I'll be in the front room,” he said, that same low, comforting voice. “I'll be on the couch. I'm not going anywhere.” Delenn brought her eyes up to his, and the warmth there filled her up. He turned and left her then, she stepped back, and the door slid shut. But he was not far, and that knowledge gave her the strength to finish these few small tasks. She put her nightclothes on the towel bar and undressed, then stuffed the robes into the thermal washer, though to be honest she would rather have burned them, or sent them into space. Then she stepped into the shower, and let the hot water pound her flesh, loosen the knots, wash her clean. Warm tears slid down her face, and she let sobs wrack her body again, here, where no one would see.

By the time she finished, she felt more like herself, the strange lethargy from earlier gone. Bone-tired still, nothing would change that but a long, uninterrupted night's sleep. Delenn dressed, the belt of the robe too difficult for her sleepy fingers to manage, so she left it open. John had pulled the frosted doors between her bedroom and the living room closed, and flickering blue light passed through. He was watching a vid, or the news. For a moment Delenn just rested her head against the doors, feeling him here in her quarters, his warm, solid presence.

“Hey,” he called out, and she slid the doors open. He was lying on the sofa, legs sticking out over the end some, but he was simply too tall and that was not her fault. Propped up by decorative pillows, a thin blanket over his legs and chest.

“Are you comfortable?” she asked, proud of how even her voice stayed. John just looked at her, and her lips quirked in a smile – how strange, to be able to smile! She loved him for it. “Did you wish to shower?” she went on.

“Too tired to get up. I'll get one in the morning.” Delenn nodded. She didn't want to say goodnight, didn't want to leave him, but she could hardly keep her eyes open another second. She left the doors open, so she would be able to hear his sleepy noises if he made any (she had forgotten the word again), let the robe slide off and hit the floor, and she found her bed, her perfect, glorious bed, and lay down on it. A few moments of that soft blue light, and then John clicked the screen off. Another few moments to be aware of his closeness, to revel in that security, and then sleep claimed Delenn between one heartbeat and the next.

The silence was absolute, as thick as the still air that threatened to choke them. The silence felt like something physical, a solid weight pressing against her, covering her. The silence warped the reality of the room around her, making it hard to see, hard to focus.

And then the silence was broken. A scuffling sound, somewhere in the dark. A scrape against the concrete floor. A creak, a whisper. Delenn peered into the black ahead, the black all around, but she could not see. More sounds now, to her left and right, behind her, before her. Quiet, momentary, ominous.

The sounds of the Markabs rising. Death had come for them, but it had not taken them away. They were still here, bodies seeping fluids. Tissues gone soft, sloughing away from bones. The corpse at her feet rolled its head to look her way, eyes bulging out of the sockets. Teeth fell from its jaw, striking the floor like pebbles. It said her name with a grin, dark ichor flowing down its face like tears, but it was only its eyes, swelling until they popped, sliding down its black, rotted cheeks.

It wasn't a Markab at all. It was John, dead like all of the rest of them, crawling on the floor toward her, inch by inevitable inch. Even now his hand reached out for her ankle, and his head rolled back, those eyeless sockets finding her, a dark grin on his face. “Delenn...” he croaked, and then he laughed. She couldn't move. Frozen. His fingers wrapped around her ankle, digging into her flesh. Another laugh, malevolent, and Delenn was not afraid because she could not move. She was afraid because even now, she wanted him.

The nightmare shattered, and Delenn sat up, heart hammering so hard her whole body trembled. After just a few seconds, the horrible images began to dissipate. She knew by morning she would hardly remember the dream at all. But the fear remained, along with a sense of filth, that there was something wrong with her mind that she had such images inside in the first place.

A sound from the next room. One second of absolute terror at the unknown noise, jabbing into her midsection, and then Delenn recognized John's sleep sound. Relief hit her almost as soundly as the fear just had, and she sagged forward. Too many emotions in the last three days, too many chemicals dumped into her bloodstream. She felt so strange, so tired of the vacillations.

Delenn pushed herself to her feet and shuffled to the frosted doors, her legs stiff again. She had set one small light in the kitchenette to glow at five percent brightness at night, just enough to see by in case she came out this way. It was enough light to see John on the sofa, one arm hanging down and touching the floor, his head back, mouth slightly open, the sleep sound issuing in regular intervals. Again, Delenn had the urge to creep close, sit down quietly, and watch him sleep. What would she see?

Before she could think on the urge, let alone before she could decide one way or the other, John stirred, though she did not think she had made any sound. Then his eyes opened, and he saw her. What could she say? I had a nightmare. You were dead. She wasn't a child, and the fickle fantasies of night shouldn't bother her at all. So she said nothing, and neither did he.

John drew aside a corner of the thin blanket covering his chest. That, and nothing more. A need more potent than anything she had ever felt sank into her bones. Delenn stepped forward, and when John still said nothing, only looked up at her with warm eyes, she came to the edge of the sofa. John put a hand on her hip as she carefully climbed on top of him, his body her bed, his shoulder her pillow. He drew the blanket over her back, then kept his arm around her, slung around her waist. He brought his other hand up to her head, smoothing back her hair, thumb brushing her cheek.

Tomorrow they would have to return to their carefully circumscribed roles, Captain and Ambassador. Tomorrow she would not be able to slide her hand over his chest to feel his heartbeat, and he would not be able to press a soft kiss against her forehead. Tomorrow they would both pretend anew that there was nothing between them, no magnetic pull, soul not calling to soul. But it wasn't tomorrow yet.
Tags: b5, fic, j/d

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