The brush that Lennier had purchased for her in the Zocolo was clearly defective. Delenn had just washed her hair, and knew there was no dirt or oil or any other particles in it, knew that it was perfectly clean, and therefore the brush should be able to move through the individual strands quite easily. But it insisted on snagging toward the bottom, tugging the hairs hard, causing discomfort, even pain. She ended up having to spend more time getting ready than she usually did, and by the time she emerged into the front room of her quarters, Lennier was already waiting for her, the look on his face perfectly placid as always and yet she knew that he could not understand why she could not be ready exactly at the time he arrived so that they might begin work immediately. Lennier was many things to her - a diligent aide, a confidante, even a friend - but she did not think she could explain certain things to him. Not yet.
“Pardon my tardiness, Lennier,” Delenn said, joining him at the table. He handed her the day’s agenda, filled to the brim as always. A meeting with a Minbari merchant ship’s captain at 0800, a request to attend the adoption ceremony of the son of a low-born but very wealthy family to an aristocratic but quite poor member of the Centaurum at 1000, a dispute between a worker and a warrior needed resolving and could she arbitrate at 1100, a meeting with a member of the Minbari warrior leadership here on the station at 1300, and so on, and so on. She begrudged having to spend her time on things like the adoption ceremony, where she knew she was invited only to function as a kind of living ornament, something to make the proceedings seem more important; but her attendance could end up being helpful in some unknown way later on, and besides, she hated the likelihood of Londo confronting her at some point over her absence. “All of this looks fine. Thank you, Lennier.”
“Delenn, we’ve had more reports come in of problems in Sector 19. That is an area primarily under Minbari protection. Shall I forward the messages to the nearest Alyt?” He handed her the stack of reports. Raiders, sneak attacks, cargoes lost, a few casualties. Nothing new.
“No, I will convene a meeting of the Council in the next few days. That area might be primarily under our protection, but it also abuts Drazi space. And several races have met with violence. There is no reason why they could not send at least one ship.”
Lennier nodded his head, understanding her perfectly. “You think this to be a good opportunity for the non-aligned worlds to practice working together.”
“Indeed. Why don’t you draft a letter to the local Alyt in the meantime? It does no good to be overly optimistic, and we may end up needing to take care of the problem ourselves. Is there anything else?”
“No, Delenn.” Lennier gathered his papers together, made sure she had her agenda. “I’m sorry, there is something else. Dr. Franklin sent a request late last night; he wanted to know if you could make an appointment for your next ‘check-up,’ which I am assuming is a standard examination. Did you not already have two examinations in Medlab?”
Delenn did not want to talk about it, but also did not want Lennier worrying about her health. “The doctor only wishes to be thorough. You know that he is very interested in xenobiology; I think that he is simply enthusiastic about the opportunity to study me and my new physiology. It is not as though the universe abounds in hybrids.”
“Of course. Shall I make the appointment for you? You have an opening in the afternoon the day after tomorrow.”
“No. I am understanding of the doctor’s desires, but have no desire of my own to be a test subject. Until I have an actual medical need, he shall have to resign himself to studying the data he already has on file. Thank you, Lennier.”
Lennier’s promptness in all matters was one of his best qualities to Delenn; after she dismissed him he wasted no time in leaving her, and she leaned back in her chair, feeling a few vertebrae shift and pop. She had indeed slept much easier since switching to human night clothes, and today she was wearing her new robes for the first time. The thinner material made an enormous difference, and she already felt she had more energy than she had since her change. The robes did hug her figure more, which was acceptable if out of the ordinary for a female Minbari. But the warm colors were becoming against her dark hair, and highlighted the blush in her cheeks, and it was with a feeling that perhaps she wasn’t a freak, was maybe even a little bit attractive, albeit in a strange, exotic way, that Delenn left her quarters.
On a good day, it took thirty minutes to walk from her quarters to the Captain’s office. Through corridors, up the tube, through more corridors, and everywhere people, people, people. They were accustomed to her new appearance now, or so she had thought, as yesterday she had drawn so few curious stares that she had been able to forget for a few moments that she was unique amongst all quarter-million souls aboard, unique in all the universe. But today there were glances, different from the stares and hard looks of the last two weeks; quick glances and lingering glances and embarrassed glances and appreciative glances. Most were from human men - a security officer, a pilot, a maintenance employee, several civilians - but she also caught a few human women looking her way, two Minbari workers, and one Narn.
Delenn found that the glances made her self-conscious. She missed the days she could traverse the station in relative anonymity. Her own people had recognized her, of course, and a handful of humans, the other ambassadors, but most of the time she could conduct her business in a quiet little undisturbed bubble. But the glances also made her feel good, even though she had done her best to remind herself that her value as a sentient being, as one tiny spark in the consciousness of the universe, was totally independent from her physical body. Still, enough people had looked at her with surprise and even disgust in the last two weeks to make her sometimes look at her own reflection in the same way, so she allowed herself a moment walking the last stretch of corridor to luxuriate in the sensation. She didn’t even mind that her journey had taken her an extra ten minutes, and she was likely to be late to her first meeting.
Delenn entered the Captain’s office, a twitch in her stomach as she turned the corner to approach his desk. She had not seen him since he had walked her back to her quarters after the last Council meeting, and found herself wondering if she would draw a glance from him as well, and if so, what kind of glance it might be.
His office was empty.
Delenn found herself at a loss. She stood in the middle of the empty room for one moment, then another. Should she sit and wait? Should she leave a note? How would she leave a note? She stepped forward and peered down at his desk, seeing handwriting that might have been his own, turning her head to get a better look. Footsteps just outside. Delenn jumped back, then tried to stand nonchalantly, one hand up in her hair, a new nervous tic that she couldn’t seem to banish.
Ivanova entered, brisk and professional as always; she pulled up when she saw Delenn. “Ambassador? Something I can help you with?” She had one expressive eyebrow raised (perhaps that was their purpose?), as though expecting some other surprise. A nasty surprise, if the look on her face was any indication.
“I was hoping to speak with the Captain.” Delenn was painfully aware of how odd she must look, just standing by herself in the empty office. Ivanova tossed a folder onto the desk, turned to leave, and called over her shoulder, “He’s probably still down in the docking bay.”
Delenn hurried to follow, wanting to ask what the Captain was doing in the docking bay, but lost Ivanova around a corner. It wouldn’t be as long a walk down there, but she would be unable to make it to her meeting with the Minbari merchant without being so late as to give unavoidable offense. She ought to just send Sheridan a message, which would be simple enough; if she convened a meeting of the Council, would he be able to attend? She needn’t have walked all the way up here to begin with, considering how busy her day was. If the Captain was in the docking bay then he was no doubt busy himself, probably overseeing some Starfury exercise or meeting an important dignitary. A message was the prudent, sensible thing to do. The Minbari thing to do.
Delenn walked back to Sheridan’s office, turned on his Babcom system. Her finger hovered for a moment over the screen. She made a call.
Lennier’s face, ready for whatever she had to say, as though he had been waiting in stasis in front of his screen for this specific moment.
“Lennier, please cancel my first meeting. Something has come up.” She had just enough time to hear Lennier’s assent, and then Delenn was making her way down to the docking bay.
Perhaps there had been some emergency, some vast, galactic crisis that necessitated that all two hundred and fifty thousand people aboard this station make their way directly between her and the docking bay. Delenn was tall for a Minbari female but still shorter than many of the members of the other races, and she pushed her way into the tube, unable to see anything but the chests and backs of the people surrounding her, and for one heart-shattering instant she was back inside the Chrysalis, her arms held tightly to her chest, the air thick and close. Panic swelled in her stomach, and she closed her eyes, tried to find that piece of still, quiet calm that always existed inside her heart, tried to keep her breathing steady, tried to keep sweat from beading up on her forehead. And just as she began to realize that she was going to fail, the tube doors opened and the occupants poured out.
Delenn leaned against the wall next to the tube for a moment, smoothing her hands over her robes, concentrating on the feel of the fabric under her fingers. She had ridden in crowded tubes before and never had such a reaction. She thought for an instant about asking Franklin about it, but it was too soon; she wasn’t ready to face him yet. Then she thought about retreating to her quarters, pulling the walls around her and huddling in the cool, quiet darkness, telling Lennier to cancel everything, and she had almost made up her mind to get back in the tube and leave when she saw him.
Sheridan, accompanying another Earthforce officer, walking away from the docking bay in her direction. They were talking, laughing, and at the sight of her quarry Delenn thought she would feel relief, but instead her heart kept hammering away, faster than ever, and her palms felt damp and clammy.
“Valen, stand beside me,” she whispered, and headed toward him. He saw her, their eyes locked, and then there was a flood of something inside her, something warm and good, and she could not keep the smile off her face, or out of her voice. “There you are.” Sheridan’s smile was brief, and he made the introductions to the human beside him, a pleasant-enough looking man who at first had The Look on his face, then The Glance. You should not feel pleased at humans looking at you in that way, Delenn, a voice in her head said, the little voice that was always there with a warning or a rebuke or some pertinent detail she’d allowed herself to forget; once that voice had been Dukhat’s, but more and more often she imagined a tiny Lennier inside her mind, always ready to tell her something she didn’t want to hear.
“Captain, I was hoping to convene a meeting of the Council later this week to discuss the problems in Sector 19.” If she had not said there you are upon seeing him, had not looked like the silly fog-headed acolyte she knew she had, he might think she had just run into him while about on her own business and remembered to bring up the meeting. Instead he would have to wonder why it was so important that she speak to him about something so trivial. She wondered the same herself. He was answering, his manner easy, telling her to let him know the time of the meeting, that he would be there, and she was grateful for this Maynard’s presence, because now she could make her exit quickly, professionally, with more grace than she’d managed before. She walked past the two men, toward the docking bay, as though she had business to attend there.
Delenn sat down, next to families waiting to be reunited, and bored businesspeople, and disaffected souls lucky enough to be able to afford a ticket back home, and she waited until she didn’t feel like she was going to break apart into a million pieces.
Delenn sat at the table in her quarters, waiting for her next appointment. The arbitration between the worker and the warrior had not gone well; she had been short, fractious, out of sorts. Neither had been happy with her decision, although both grudgingly agreed to go along with her terms. Now she was hungry, but nothing sounded good, and she didn’t have time to eat anyway. Her body felt sore and tender, and she was tired, but her mind was racing, running over her brief encounter with Sheridan again and again.
What exactly had the look on his face meant? She knew that she had interrupted the conversation he was having with Maynard, someone he evidently knew well. On top of that, he was probably embarrassed at having to introduce her, having to field the inevitable questions about why she looked the way she did, what she had done, and why. It was the last thing he would want to talk about, she was sure.
She looked at her hands. Her knuckles were a little redder than usual, and the skin on the back of her hands was dry, rough. The same was true of her heels, her elbows, her knees. She could hear Franklin’s voice. Humans naturally have rougher skin, from when we used to be hairy, savage primates - the same gene pool you’ve willingly entered. Rough skin, useless bumps, ugly noses, hairy eyes and heads, nonfunctioning taste buds, all part of the human condition. There are probably some aspects of our race that are pleasant, even attractive, but you didn’t seem to pick any of those up. Let me run another test…
Her door chimed. She let in Teronn, a member of the warrior leadership on Babylon 5, an unusually quiet man for a warrior. Delenn had only met him a few times since the station had begun operating, but she liked him, respected him. They made their greetings - polite, the words the same as they always were, but she could sense something ugly going on. It was there in his eyes, in the clipped words, in the closed-off body language. As they finished the ritual pleasantries, Delenn found herself growing defensive, anger and frustration already boiling up inside her.
A long beat of silence. Teronn only looked at her, and she realized that he had kept himself several paces away, did not want to be too close to her, was at this very moment looking at her with distaste.
“I’m not sure I understand the intent of this meeting, Teronn,” she said, facing away from him, unable to tolerate that look a second longer. She knew she was being rude, that her demeanor would only make the meeting more uncomfortable, but did not care.
“I have been delegated by others who…” He trailed off, and in that one moment between heartbeats, Delenn knew what was coming. Remembered that conversation she’d overheard at lunch, the warriors who didn’t know she could hear (or maybe they did know, maybe they were glad she could hear, she had not even thought of that, not until this moment), and the one who had vowed to do what he could to remove her. Teronn continued, “Delenn, there is concern among our people here on Babylon 5. Meaning no disrespect, they worry that you are no longer one of us.” How could he mean no disrespect, and say something like that to her?
“I am more one of us at this moment than I have ever been. More than you will ever know.” And as she said the words, she realized they were true. Throughout the last two weeks, every day bringing with it some new challenge, some new change, she had never stopped thinking of herself as Minbari, never questioned her identity, not in the way it mattered most. No longer Minbari? He might as well say she was no longer alive. And she no longer feared the look on Teronn’s face, no longer cared what he might think about her. She knew who she was. Turning to face him, she said, “I appreciate your concern, but there is nothing I can tell you at this time. Later.”
“This cannot wait. We need to understand what is happening,” Teronn immediately replied, not even listening to her. And suddenly her anger and frustration, her fatigue, the embarrassment over her meeting with Sheridan, even her dry skin and tangled hair, all of it merged to form a towering pillar of pride, and she rode it toward him, feeling the power in her limbs, an elemental power that made everything sharp and clear.
“Understanding is not required, only obedience.”
He bowed, and she thought he sensed that power, but raising his head he said, “To our own kind, yes, but that is the question. Are you any longer our own kind? We have a right to know.” Just as suddenly as it had arrived, that pride and power disappeared, like mist in a ray of sunlight, and she felt the doubts and worries flood back. “If you cannot give us what we need, we will ask permission to send a representative to speak directly with the Grey Council. Unless you object.”
He had skated close to the line of outright disrespect and disobedience in the way he had spoken to her, but had not crossed it. But this…asking her permission was an obvious ploy. If Delenn did indeed object, she would only further damage her reputation on the station. Those who were suspicious of her would become only more so. Those who had been willing to wait, the few who had even accepted her, would wonder what she was hiding.
“No. No, I have no objections. Is there anything else?”
He had wanted her to object, she could see that, the disappointment on his face. But she would not make it that easy for them. Teronn left, and Delenn took a deep breath, thinking about the difficulties that lay ahead. A representative would be sent to the Grey Council, and she would be summoned, she knew that. Out of simple curiosity, if nothing else. What would the Council say? She had avoided thinking about the more far-reaching consequences of her change, of the fact that she had entered the Chrysalis without the Council’s authorization. She thought again of that pride she had just felt, the pride that had given her power, that had made her feel herself again for just a brief moment. The pride she always used to feel, that had made her think she was fulfilling prophecy, that she alone knew what was necessary.
She had been proud, yes, too proud. And now there would be a reckoning.
Delenn and Lennier walked through Green Sector, and he was telling her something, some incident between a Gaim and a pak’ma’ra, and she nodded and smiled at the right times, but was not listening. One last meeting and then her day would be over. Lennier would probably want to go over his notes - he always worried that he might have missed transcribing each and every word perfectly, and that if he did there would be great chaos - but she was sure she could get rid of him quickly. Delenn knew that once she was alone the doubts and concerns would start gnawing at her mind again, that she would pace and worry, that she would sit down to work to try and distract herself but be unable to focus, that she would wish for Lennier’s presence, but right now she just wanted to be alone.
Lennier had stopped, and she walked another few paces before she realized it. She turned, and he was looking at her, a question in his eyes. The lights dimmed, and her head seemed filled with fog, and she groped at the wall as she felt her knees buckle. The corridor twisted and turned around her, and Lennier’s hands on her arms were solid and good, and she grabbed onto him.
“Delenn, what is it?” There was real fear in his voice, and she made herself stand up straight, even though the world was still spinning around her.
“Just a little dizziness. I am fine. I should have eaten earlier, but did not have time.”
“I will make certain to schedule you more time between meetings at midday. This is my mistake.” She tried to object, but he continued on; there was no stopping Lennier when he felt it was his duty to look after her. “I will cancel this meeting, and accompany you to Medlab.”
“No, no. Lennier, that is not necessary.”
“Then allow me to make an appointment with Dr. Franklin for tomorrow.” She could not tell him no, so she nodded, and he led her back to the door he had stopped in front of, that she had passed while lost in her own thoughts. He pressed a button to announce their presence, and Delenn slipped her hand down to squeeze his, in thanks.
For the first time since her change, Delenn was ready in the morning before Lennier arrived. She thought about eating some breakfast, but had awakened with a vague nausea and decided to stick with water. She could probably have used these unexpected few minutes free to prepare for upcoming meetings, go over the reports from Sector 19, do something useful, but instead just brushed her hair. She had felt like a conquering hero this morning after finally loosening all the tangles, and now the brush running through the strands was relaxing, calming. She wished she could brush straight down from the crown of her head, but that was of course impossible with her bone crest in the way. She twirled the ends of her hair around her fingers, making little curls, liking the way they looked against the shoulders of her robes.
The door opened, and Lennier entered, clearly in a hurry. “Good morning, Delenn. How was your night?” Code for did you nearly fall down in a faint again? She set her brush aside, made herself look bright-eyed and alert.
“I slept quite well, thank you, Lennier. You are busy this morning?”
“Yes. If you do not mind, I will give you your agenda and leave to attend to some personal business. It is nothing you need concern yourself about. I can of course rearrange it should you require my presence this morning.” He stood in front of her, waiting, and Delenn was struck by how proud she was of him. How noble he looked, and smart, and kind. She sent up a silent thanks to the universe for the day he came to her.
“No, Lennier, have the day to yourself.” He bowed and left, and Delenn picked up her agenda. Then she brought her fingers to her mouth, caught between smiling and biting her lips, momentarily overwhelmed. Her morning had only three meetings, with plenty of time between each; the last item on the agenda was her appointment with Franklin at 1300 hours. The rest of her afternoon and evening was free.
Lennier had obviously taken as many of her duties on himself as he could, given her as much freedom today as was possible. He did not wait in her quarters until she realized it, did not want any gratitude or praise; he did it because he knew she needed it, and because he wanted to. Delenn wiped away a tear, swallowed the rest, and ventured out of her quarters to greet the day.
The instant Delenn stepped into Medlab, she found herself in a near panic. That same feeling from the tube, on her way down to the docking bay, overcame her again. It was the smell of these rooms, the frequency of the lights humming, the temperature of the air. She made herself walk to her assigned room, where Franklin was already waiting.
“I’m glad you could make it, Ambassador. Please, have a seat.” He gestured to the table, grabbed his preliminary diagnostic tool. She removed her outer robe, laid it beside her, and sat. The strongest urge to run, to flee, filled her completely. She bit the inside of her cheek, forced the urge away, looked straight ahead. “I’m sorry about what happened at the last exam,” he said. “I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.”
“I am fine.”
He started waving the wand over her, and she could see that he was taken aback by her abruptness. “Lennier tells me that you nearly fainted last night?”
Franklin waited, but she stared resolutely at the wall in front of her. There was a placard asking patients to inform their doctor if they experienced any of the following symptoms - coughs, chills, rashes. Some kind of infectious disease, she guessed. She wished there were a placard up there with her symptoms - panic, despair, fear, rage, worry. She would tell Franklin all about it, and he would say, of course, we see that all the time - here, take these pills, and that would be that.
“Ambassador, is there something wrong?”
“I do not understand the necessity of these frequent examinations, Doctor. I am fine.” Delenn did not want him to speak to her. She did not want to make human small talk. She wanted this over and done with so she could get out of this place.
“Ambassador, you’ve been through quite a change. Even if I weren’t curious from a scientific point of view, I’m still a doctor and you’re my patient. I have to make sure you’re not suffering any side effects from your…transition.” Side effects? Her life was nothing but one large side effect, all the time. And he already knew about her increased body temperature, the change in her sensation of taste, probably knew that the changes in her reproductive system had upset her a great deal, so he was now just hoping to learn more than she had already told him. Likely he would not be satisfied with hearing that everything was fine, she was fine, nothing was wrong. Nothing was wrong at all. “So?” he asked, stopping and looking at her.
“Nothing of consequence. Momentary dizziness, fatigue, that’s all.”
“Nothing else is bothering you?” Delenn took a deep breath, knowing that if he pressed much more it would all come out, and it felt like a dam inside her was about to break. Then Franklin went on. “How are the other Minbari reacting to your situation?” And that reminded her of the meeting with Teronn, and she grabbed onto that anger, and used it to make the dam strong again.
“Fine.” If she would not discuss the reaction of the other Minbari with Lennier, then she certainly would not discuss it with Franklin. She found his asking such a question presumptuous, as though that had anything to do with her health.
“They accept this without question?” This. Everything she was going through, reduced to this. She would not let him see her, would not let him see that the exact opposite was true, that as far as she could tell the only Minbari who accepted her (no, this) were a few workers and Lennier.
“Of course.” Delenn smiled then, ready to finish the conversation for good, remind the doctor who exactly was in control of this situation. “So, when does the new delegation arrive?”
“What new delegation?” Ah, she had him.
“I don’t know, I only heard Mr. Garibaldi mention to someone that he was awaiting their arrival. I believe they’re called Bagna Cauda?” At this Franklin turned and sighed. The someone to whom Mr. Garibaldi had mentioned the bagna cauda had been Delenn herself, when they found themselves taking the tube down to Green Sector together. Two minutes of Garibaldi ranting about his new diet, then describing to Delenn in detail exactly what each individual bite tasted like, the texture, the butter melting and dripping, and Delenn, feeling more than vaguely nauseated, finally blocked him out entirely by slipping into a deep meditative state, which would be unacceptably rude with most people, but Garibaldi didn’t seem to notice her absence at all.
Franklin was putting his tools away, muttering under his breath about calories and cholesterol, so Delenn slipped her outer robe back on, thanked him quietly, and made her exit.
Seven hours before she could even begin to think about going to bed, and Delenn didn’t know what to do with herself. She tried to remember the last time she’d had a break more than fifteen or thirty minutes long, the last time she’d had the freedom to explore the station, shop in the Zocolo, eat a leisurely meal. She couldn’t.
Unfortunately, she didn’t feel like doing any of those things. Exploring the station would just lead to nasty looks from her own people; shopping would just remind her of all of the things she’d had to purchase recently to accommodate her new life; and even though she could feel hunger gnawing away just under her ribs, she had no appetite. She walked to a Babcom system, looked up this evening’s scheduled entertainment. A 22nd century Earth vid, some kind of Brakiri sporting event, a Centauri opera.
No. Delenn didn’t want to attend any of those things, because she knew that even sitting amongst dozens or even hundreds of others, she would be alone. If she explored the station or shopped or ate she would be alone. If she returned to her quarters she would be alone.
She would give anything to talk to Sinclair right now. He would understand, and without saying a word he would make her feel better, just by being there. It struck her all at once how acutely lonely she was on this station, how her days passed in an endless stream of work that she could either do in her sleep or taxed her to her limits, how the only person she could talk to she found herself unable to burden any more than she already had.
Delenn found herself walking to the Zen garden, which often happened when she lost herself in her own head. If she was going to be alone, she might as well be so in a place that she found peaceful, restorative. She turned to enter and stopped - a man was standing in the entrance, facing away from her. She could see just enough of his profile to recognize the Captain. Delenn paused a moment, unsure if she should disturb him, but she remembered conversations with Sinclair in this same garden and wanted desperately to have even a fraction of the same comfort.
“Captain,” she said, and he turned to her. That jolt of nervousness to her core. “I can come back if you wish to be alone.”
He immediately stopped her. “No, no, no. Please.” She entered, thinking that maybe it was worth the turmoil to have just a second of the relief she felt at him inviting her into his presence. Maybe that was the price the universe demanded for happiness.
“I heard the news. I’m sorry for your loss.” She didn’t know how close Sheridan had been to the pilots, but knew that those in the military keenly felt the deaths of their comrades - especially an officer for those under his command - no matter how often it occurred.
A beat. She regretted bringing it up, then he said, “That’s the hard part, isn’t it? Sending young people out to die.” He looked as lost as she felt. It hurt to look at.
“But they saved others. At the right moment, they were at the right place.” Trying to comfort him, trying to say the right words to make him feel better. It was suddenly very important that she make him feel better. “They knew what to do. As you did.”
“What makes you think this is the right place for me?” he asked, and she wondered that he could feel that way. How could he not know?
“The universe puts us in places where we can learn. They’re never easy places, but they are right.” And the universe was doing it to her, right now, making her say these words, feeling the truth of them in her bones. “Wherever we are is the right place, at the right time. The pain that sometimes comes is part of the process of constantly being born.” He walked beside her into the garden, and she could no longer remember feeling anything other than what she felt at this moment, the rightness of her place in the universe.
“You sound like you’ve been doing some thinking about this on your own,” he said, his voice soft. Was she that easy to read?
“Perhaps.” She turned to him, and he was standing closer than she’d thought, and his eyes were on hers. He made that noise again, that “Hmm” sound, but more open than before, encouraging her to go on. “We are both, I suppose, going through…transitions.” His gaze was too strong, and she had to turn away again. There was something happening to her, and her next words were to herself. “But the universe knows what it’s doing.”
Sheridan continued following her, and part of her wanted to run away. She was on the verge of something, some great discovery, and she felt herself standing on the edge of the abyss, not knowing what was ahead of her, wanting it and fearing it and needing it. It would be easier, safer to go back the way she’d come, but she wanted to jump, wanted to see what was out there. “I wish I had your faith in the universe,” he said. “I just don’t see it sometimes.”
“Then I will tell you a great secret, Captain.” Delenn turned back to him. “Perhaps the greatest of all time. The molecules of your body are the same molecules that make up this station, and the nebula outside, that burn inside the stars themselves. We are star stuff. We are the universe, made manifest, trying to figure itself out.” He was looking at her, and she could feel it, whatever it was out there, rushing through her blood. “As we have both learned, sometimes the universe requires a change of perspective.”
Sheridan smiled at her, nodded. They turned to walk back the other way, and his hand came up again, to guide her forward, and he wasn’t trying to force her to move faster or anything like that, not at all. He was just being…she knew the word, she had to think, but then he was speaking again. “So is that what you tell yourself, those times when it all seems too much? That the universe is asking you to change your perspective?”
“Sometimes. Knowing something to be true and feeling it are two different things.” He made that low sound again, and Delenn felt an electric current shoot down low through her abdomen. “I have had difficulty lately, remembering that I am but one part of the puzzle, that there is a reason behind every circumstance.”
“So you don’t feel you have control over your life? If we’re all just where the universe wants us to be, then how does anyone have free will, have the ability to make their own decisions?”
“But we are the universe,” she told him, and he laughed, shaking his head. “I have spoken with Mr. Garibaldi about this, although perhaps not in these terms. He says that some humans have a way of saying the same thing. That it is ‘God’s plan.’”
“I suppose that is the same thing,” Sheridan said, thoughtful. “Maybe it all boils down to taking what comes at you with an open mind, and making the best of it.” They were walking down the corridor now, back toward the front of the station. “Where are you headed?”
Delenn found herself strangely embarrassed. What would he think of her work ethic? “I have the evening free,” she finally said, and was surprised when his face lit up.
“Me, too. I was going to catch the vid the Classic Film Society was showing tonight. Did you want to join me?” She thought again of what she had said to him, what she had really said to herself, and she nodded, not trusting herself to speak.
Sheridan walked her back to her quarters, and they chatted lightly about the vid, something about star-crossed lovers whose families fought against their being together. Delenn hadn’t really paid too much attention to it, more interested in Sheridan sitting next to her, his quiet laughter, the way the flickering light from the screen played over his face. Humans tended to be taller and broader than Minbari, and Sheridan was tall even for a human, so she found herself very aware of his physical presence. She felt her awareness was not a bad thing. In fact, she had felt a very pleasant warmth all evening, nothing like the horrible heat she’d suffered those first few days after her change; a warmth that filled her, made her feel buoyant.
Sheridan had purchased the same popped corn that Garibaldi had once shared with her, when he had showed her his favorite entertainment, a duck who was constantly injuring himself. She had gingerly eaten some then and hadn’t liked it, so when Sheridan casually offered her some just before the vid was about to start, she was afraid to offend him by refusing, but worried about eating something she knew she did not like, especially considering how much difficulty she had faced recently when it came to food.
But the popped corn was delicious, and she found herself making an involuntary sound of pleasure at the way it melted against her tongue, the saltiness so perfect, and she ate another piece, and another, her eyes closed. Her fingertips were greasy, and she licked them clean, and even that was bliss. It occurred to her that she ought to thank him, so she opened her eyes and looked his way. Sheridan was staring at her, his mouth slightly open. Delenn felt her cheeks grow hot; she had managed to embarrass herself in front of him again. “I’m sorry, I have not eaten yet today. I haven’t eaten much recently, to be honest.”
“Why not?” His voice was low, pitched only for her ear, and he had shifted in his seat to face her more fully. She stared at her hands in her lap, and found she could not lie to him.
“Nothing tastes good, and I have not felt well.” He didn’t answer, but she could feel him looking at her. Then the lights dimmed and the vid started up, and she drew in a shaky breath. They were having a nice time, and she had to ruin it. Then she saw he held the popped corn in front of her again, and he dipped his head low, next to hers. She could feel his breath against her hair, and shivered.
“It seems this tasted pretty good.” She glanced his way, and there was that smile. Maybe the night wasn’t ruined after all. She took another piece, feeling shy and brazen all at the same time.
Now they stood in front of her quarters. “You said you haven’t felt well,” he said, one arm braced against the wall above the door, leaning slightly forward. “Is that connected to your transformation?”
“Yes,” she admitted. Sheridan shook his head slightly, looking down at her in a way she could not decipher.
“Did you know, before you began the process, what was going to happen?”
“Not exactly. I had an idea, but some of what I thought I knew turned out to be wrong.” He started to say something, then changed his mind. He was looking at the floor, thinking, and she was about to thank him for a lovely evening when he swiftly looked up at her.
“I cannot imagine being that brave. Doing what you did. I don’t know of anyone who would be able to change their very identity, let alone for such selfless reasons.” And suddenly Delenn knew why she had felt such torment, why the despair and anger and hopelessness had built and built - she hadn’t had selfless reasons. She had told herself they were, smug in her prophetic rightness, but they were selfish. All her grand plans, her visions of the future, they were about her, about her greatness, about her place in the universe.
Tears stung her eyes, and she tried to blink them away, but there was an ache in her throat that threatened to choke her. Delenn realized she was going to break down in front of him, and tried to cover her face.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean…” he said, and his hands were hovering in the air on either side of her body.
“I’m sorry,” she said, voice thick.
“No, I’m sorry,” Sheridan retorted, and she looked up at him, surprised. There was a gleam in his eye, and she couldn’t help but laugh even through a sob. She wanted to step forward and bury her face in his chest, wanted his arms around her, wanted it so much it hurt. And she thought maybe he wanted the same thing, but then the link on his hand beeped. It was Garibaldi, his tinny voice cutting through the air between them, and Delenn took the opportunity to breathe, dry her face, get herself under control. After Sheridan had assured the Chief he was on his way, he looked at her. Why couldn’t she tell what he was thinking?
“Thank you for the evening, Captain. And do not apologize. What you said…means a lot to me.” He nodded, the slightest movement of his head, his eyes never leaving hers. Then he put one hand on her upper arm, the barest pressure, a hint of a smile, and he walked away, down the corridor.
Delenn watched him until she could no longer see him, and stood in front of her door even longer, until finally someone else came her way. She let herself in.
It was late, but Delenn couldn’t sleep. She laid on her back, hands clasped under her breasts, eyes pointed at the ceiling but seeing the stars above her head. She felt so at peace she simply could not give the feeling up, not for the sleep she needed, not for anything. The right person, at the right time. When she had emerged, it was not Sinclair here but Sheridan. Her body had changed, but not enough to allow her to bear a child to a human. She was where the universe wanted her.
Something dark was coming. Delenn knew that Babylon 5 would be at the crux of what was to come, that Sheridan would have an important part to play. He would need her, as an ally, as a friend. Whatever would happen, they would face it together - she vowed that now, in the dark.
She stood at the edge of the abyss. Something great and mysterious before her.