Specs: Babylon 5, John/Delenn, AU, 7900 words
Rating: PG-13 for language and serious first base action
Dedication: For xphilehb :)
Delenn slowly woke up to many different sensations, all new, all strange, and all pleasurable. It had taken her a few minutes after she had first laid down on John's bed to acquaint herself with the angle; she had been unable to shake the feeling that she was going to slide backwards right off the bed. Now, though, she felt incredibly comfortable, the mattress so soft that she felt like she was sinking into it. She generally only slept with a single light cover, setting the temperature in her room to compensate for cooler nights and a lowered metabolic burn. She was very warm under John's thick blanket, much warmer than she would have thought comfortable, but she liked it a great deal.
Mostly, though, she was aware of John's body behind hers, his chest against her back, his knees drawn up right behind hers. His arm tight around her body. His warm breath on the back of her neck. She would have expected to feel awkward waking up and being held like this, but instead it felt perfectly natural. He was making a light sleep sound, a rasp as he inhaled, much like her childhood gokk's sleep sound, and listening to the regularity of it lulled her back to sleep.
So Delenn did not hear the bedroom door open and close. She did not hear shouts from downstairs. She did not hear heavy footsteps coming down the hall, or the bedroom door being opened more forcefully. What awakened her was the lights coming on with sudden brilliance.
She had not expected to meet John's mother wearing only her shift while sleeping in his bed. By the look on her face, John's mother clearly had not expected to meet her in such a way, either.
"John, I would like to speak with you downstairs." Her voice was tight and controlled, and Delenn pulled the blanket up over her breasts, feeling horribly exposed. His mother was no longer looking at her, was in fact looking over her head at John behind her, pushing himself up on an elbow. Delenn still wished she could pull the blanket up over her head.
"Mom?" John still sounded half asleep. His arm tightened around her.
"Downstairs. Now." A long moment of no movement from either of them, and then John seemed to realize that his mother was going to wait for him to get out of bed to follow her out of the room. John climbed out of the bed, and even through the embarrassment and awkwardness Delenn couldn't help notice her body protest the removal of his warmth. He came around the bed and pulled the blanket up around her shoulders, then slid his hand down her back. Then he left, pulling the door closed behind him.
Delenn lay still for a few seconds, and then got out of the bed herself. How strange, to have to roll over, sit up, then stand, instead of just being able to push oneself upright. She pulled her outer robe back on, secured the fastens, and pulled back on her shoes. No longer feeling naked, she found herself needing to do something. John's mother had seemed quite upset with him, and whatever the cause, she had not wanted to speak to him in Delenn's presence. That worried her, especially since his mother had not greeted her, had not even acknowledged her.
Delenn straightened John's bed, pulling the blanket up over his ridiculously large pillows. The blanket was very pretty, different patterns and colors stitched together in a seemingly haphazard fashion that made a cohesive whole nonetheless. There were other articles of his clothing here and there, and she picked them up and placed them in the receptacle for that purpose. She tidied the items on his desk. Then there was nothing left for her to do without having actual cleaning tools, and it seemed an imposition besides. Now that she was no longer moving, she could hear voices, muffled and unintelligible. She went to the door and carefully opened it.
John and his mother were arguing, their voices drifting upstairs clearly enough to be understood. Delenn poked her head through the threshold and saw a young girl sitting at the top of the stairs, looking her way. The girl waved her forward, so Delenn walked down the hall to join her.
"What has the rule always been? No girls in the house if both parents are out. Not only did you bring a girl to the house, you had her in your bed!"
"We were just taking a nap! We had our clothes on for crying out loud."
"I saw her dress hanging up on your chair."
"Oh my God, she had on another one underneath. I guess she didn't want to wrinkle her fancy outer dress or something. What difference does it make?"
"It makes a lot of difference. There are rules in this house--"
"Yeah, a lot of stupid, pointless rules." Delenn looked down at the girl, who had her face pressed between two rails, listening avidly. Blonde hair, light eyes, very pretty. John's sister, Lizzie. Delenn knew that she should return to John's room, that she had no right to listen to this private conversation, but seeing his sister eavesdrop as well somehow presented enough of an excuse for her to stay right where she was.
"You are more than welcome to dislike my rules," John's mother continued, her voice lower and somehow more dangerous for it. "But you will abide by them. You're grounded, for one week. You come straight home after practice every day, and you're in for the weekend, as well."
"That's bullshit. This has nothing to do with your precious rules. This has to do with Delenn being Minbari."
"Stop being ridiculous, John."
"I heard you the other night, fighting with Dad. 'Doesn't John dating a Minbari bother you? Do you really want him dating one of them?'" Uneasy silence. Delenn tried to swallow the lump in her throat. It didn't matter how many times she heard something like that; it always stung. Then a small hand crept into her own, and she looked down to see Lizzie looking up at her, a warm smile on the girl's face.
"We'll talk about this later," John's mother said.
"No, we'll talk about it now."
"You can go to your room. When I say that we'll talk about it later, that is exactly what I mean."
"I have to take Delenn home."
"I'll call her host family. One of them can come pick her up." Then John came upstairs, walking so loudly Delenn wondered if he were trying to stomp holes through the floorboards. He paused at the top of the stairs, looking at her for a moment, his face angry and flushed. Then he went straight past her into his bedroom. Delenn felt horribly guilty - she should have not joined him in his bed, and certainly should not have removed any of her clothing. It was her fault that his mother was angry with him. She hoped that he would not be angry with her as well. He was the one who had asked her, after all.
He came back out of his room, shoes on his feet. "I'll take you home," he said, still sounding furious.
"You do not have to. I can wait for Judith. I do not wish to cause any further trouble." John wasn't looking at her, just shaking his head and scowling into the distance. "Should I wait downstairs?"
Their kisses before this point had been light, gentle, soft. This kiss was not; John put his hands on either side of her head and smashed his lips against hers, hard. He made a low sound in his throat and then released her. All of the air in the house seemed to vanish, and Delenn found every thought in her head must have joined the air. John put one arm around her, his hand squeezing her ribcage just beside her breast, and he looked down at his sister. "Liz, we will do your essay when I get back. I'll stay up all night working on it if I have to. Okay?"
The girl nodded, and John extended his other hand to help tug her up to her feet. "It's a good thing I like you," she said, and the grin on her face looked so much like John's that Delenn almost found it disturbing. "Otherwise I could tell Mom how much you just macked on your girlfriend." John smacked Lizzie on the shoulder, and she punched him in the upper arm. Were they having a fight? But no, they were still smiling at each other. Humans could be so odd.
John kept waiting for Delenn to ask where they were going, but she never did, just looked out the window like she had last night, watching the scenery go by. Every now and then her fingers would squeeze his lightly, and it took all his willpower not to pull over right then and there. But he kept driving around the lake, passing the shelters and the marina and the playgrounds, and after ten minutes came around to the side with rockier and steeper drops down to the water. No one did much fishing over here, and there were quite a few nice little turn-offs tucked away in the trees. He pulled into one of them and parked.
He came around the car to open her door, and helped her out. Delenn looked around them, a bemused smile on her face. Then John opened the back door and gestured for her to get back in the car. He could tell she wanted to ask him a question, but after a moment she nodded her head down to him once and gracefully climbed back in. He slid in after her and closed the door.
Then he put one arm around her waist and kissed her cheek. "I'm sorry," he whispered, brushing his lips against her little ear. He rested his head against hers, just breathed her in.
"Why are you sorry?"
"For my mom." She just shook her head against his, then turned to kiss the corner of his mouth, still a little tentative.
"You think your mother does not like me because I am Minbari." John nodded and sighed, and he would have given anything to keep Delenn from knowing that. He wouldn't blame her at all if she decided she'd rather not spend time with him outside school anymore; the last thing she needed was to hear more bigoted crap. "I have been thinking, John," she said, shifting to lay her head down on his shoulder. He hugged her close without realizing it. "And I cannot believe that your mother is that prejudiced."
"Delenn, you heard what she said."
"I can think of several reasons why she would not want you to spend time with a Minbari that have nothing to do with prejudice. Just remember what occurred at the game establishment. That type of thing will happen all the time. Your mother may wish to spare you that." He didn't want her to be right, because he didn't feel like being reasonable, and he certainly didn't feel like giving his mother the benefit of the doubt. But if Delenn preferred to think that his mom was just looking out for him, that was fine. That was definitely better than the alternative.
She rested a hand on his chest, then poked him with a finger. "You did not tell me you were not allowed to bring females into your house."
"My mom has a lot of rules like that. She likes rules."
"What occupation does your mother hold?"
"She's in corporate law. It's really boring." No talking after that. He held her, thinking about how long the next week would be. He planned to petition his dad when he got home, but Dad liked everything at home to be nice and quiet, and it was more likely to be that way if he sided with Mom. The grounding would likely stand. He might be able to finagle a single date this weekend, if he were very lucky.
John put a finger under her chin, tilted her face up. Kissed her, back to nice and slow. He wanted to taste her, but he didn't think she was quite ready for serious making out. Besides, it was kind of nice to have something to look forward to.
Delenn watched John walk back to his vehicle, fingers over her lips. Each time he kissed her was slightly different, and the kiss he had just given her in front of her house had been long and solid. She sensed some emotion behind it that left her feeling a little weak. He stood by his vehicle's door, looking at her. He had done this last night, as though he were waiting for her to say something else. He raised one hand and flopped it about in the air. Delenn was fairly certain that was a Human gesture of farewell, and she dipped her own head in return. After his vehicle had departed, and after checking to make sure no one was outside and looking her way, Delenn raised her own hand and flopped it about. Ridiculous.
After a few minutes she went inside, joining Judith at the large dining room table. Judith was grading papers, and Delenn pulled out her homework from her bag. They worked beside each other for awhile in companionable silence.
"You look happy," Judith finally said. Delenn wasn't sure how Judith knew that, since she had not seen her look up at all.
"I am. I take it you received my message?"
"Yes, thank you for calling this time. I didn't expect you home so early. I figured they'd have you stay for dinner."
"John is being put into the ground." Judith's head popped up at that, her pen hanging in the air. She opened her mouth to ask a question, but Delenn decided to save her the trouble. "That is what his mother said, at any rate. I assume it is a metaphor of some kind, because otherwise that sounds like a rather barbaric form of torture."
Judith's mouth grew very, very small, and Delenn suspected she was trying not to laugh. It was certainly not Delenn's fault that the English language was so imprecise, that each word had multiple meanings, and that every concept could be described with multiple words. "And why is John grounded?" Judith finally asked.
"He is not allowed to have female companions in his house without parental supervision."
"Ah." Much like I see, Judith was able to instill a great deal of meaning into such a short, small sound. Delenn appreciated the efficiency.
"What does it mean, to be grounded?" She could hear Livia coming in the front door.
"Usually, it means you can't leave the house, except for school or anything else very important."
"That means I won't be able to see John except at school for a week, and we only share one class." Delenn heard the petulance in her own voice and tried to remind herself that everything happened as the universe directed, though she wasn't very happy with this particular direction.
"Why can't you see John for a week?" Livia asked, bringing in two large bags of food. Delenn found the Human preoccupation of having a stranger prepare their food to be quite strange, but few of them seemed able to prepare food themselves, so she supposed it was for the best. Judith explained the situation to Livia as Delenn set out plates, utensils, and poured everyone glasses of water. They sat down to eat, and before too long Livia and Judith were telling each other stories of their days, and Delenn let their voices drift into the background. She slipped her lectern out of her robes and looked up the word she had heard John's sister say. Girlfriend - a female romantic partner. She finished eating quickly and murmured an excuse, that she had more homework to complete, and they both flopped their hands in the air, not even looking her way. That was a good thing; Delenn couldn't quite keep a smile off her face.
She hadn't exactly lied; she did have more homework. She was not planning on completing it now, however. She moved quietly to the foyer and slipped Livia's mobile out of her purse, then hurried down the stairs to her room. She felt that Judith and Livia would respect her privacy, but she still did not wish to use the com unit in the study. She securely closed her door and then lay on her stomach on her bed, feeling obscurely that she was doing something of which she ought to be ashamed. Perhaps it was simply the memory of John's kiss, his arm around her, his body pressed against hers.
She scrolled through directories until she found John's mobile, then placed a call. "Hello?" His voice was wary.
"John? It is Delenn."
"Delenn, hi! I didn't know who L. Burke was."
"I am using Livia's mobile."
"Liz, that means you have to capitalize it."
"I'm sorry, you are still helping your sister. I will let you return to that; I did not mean to interrupt."
"We're almost done." Then Delenn heard Lizzie's voice in the background - we're done! We're all done! "You sure?" he asked Lizzie, and then Delenn could hear them, but their voices were so muffled she couldn't make out what they were saying. John spoke to her again, voice clear: "I'm glad you called."
"Did your mother discipline you for bringing me home?"
"No, she didn't say a word. But my dad came home, and we all had to sit and have a talk, and I'm still grounded. But they're going to invite you and Judith and Livia over for dinner this weekend. Don't say anything to them; I think my mom wants to make the call."
"That will be nice."
"Do you think so? Because if you don't want to, I'll understand. It's not exactly as if she was that welcoming earlier."
"It sounds to me that she is trying to make amends for that. And I cannot blame her for being surprised at the way in which she met me."
He laughed a little. "Yeah, I guess." There was a long moment of silence. Delenn didn't know what to say; she had just wanted to hear his voice. "So I'm supposed to call my mom when I get home after practice tomorrow so she knows that I came home right after practice - I guess I'm ten years old again or something. Anyway, I was thinking. If you wanted to come watch practice, or stay after and do your homework or something, I could drive you home. I'd have enough time to do that. If you don't want to, that's okay."
"No, I would like to!" she exclaimed, glad that he had brought up the possibility. "I have been upset at the idea of not seeing you for a week."
"You'll see me."
"But you will not be able to linger after you have driven me home, so we will not see each other much."
"You'll see me at school."
"But we will be at school, John. We will not be able to speak privately, or..." She found herself blushing, and wondered that she felt too shy to say the word kiss when she had certainly kissed him plenty the last few days.
"Oh, we will. You'd be surprised what you can get away with at school. We'll figure it out." There was an anxious, fluttery feeling in her stomach at that, and she knew she'd spend the rest of the night wondering what he was planning.
Harrison was going on about feudalism or something, and John figured he'd borrow Delenn's notes before the test - she was somehow able to follow the lecture, write down notes, and keep up a conversation with him at the same time.
What do you have next hour? he wrote to her.
Can you skip it?
What do you mean?
If you didn't go to class, would you miss anything important?
We are reviewing for a test. I could review at home, certainly. Why would I not go to class, though?
I just have study hall next hour. We could go someplace and talk.
Would it not look suspicious if I were not in attendance for only a single hour, when I was present for the rest?
You could always ask to go to the nurse or something after attendance. Say you were sick.
That would be a lie.
You said you were upset that you couldn't see me. That's kinda like being sick.
That is an equivocation.
Because Minbari never do that.
She looked at him askance then, and he was afraid for a second that he'd offended her. Then the corner of her mouth quirked up, and he knew he had her.
John had joined her as she walked toward the nurse's office, and he smoothly guided her right down the hallway past the office and more classrooms, to a part of the building to which she hadn't yet been.
"What if someone sees us, John?"
"The key is to look confident. Look like you're supposed to be going wherever you're going. See, the auditorium is locked during the day, but the band room isn't. And the band is down on the field practicing their marching." They entered the empty band room, walked to the back, and John opened a door and led her inside. "Except that you can get to the auditorium through the band room." He grinned at her then, and even though she still felt guilty for not attending her calculus class, she couldn't help also feeling excited.
The auditorium was dark, only a tiny amount of light from the small windows in the doors letting them make out where they were going. John led her up to a row of seats in the corner, and Delenn felt a thrill go through her as they settled down. She shouldn't be doing this, and would face disciplinary action if caught, and Judith and Livia would be quite upset with her if that happened. The knowledge of all that was what made it thrilling, and as John started kissing her Delenn wondered if his grounding was a bad thing after all. They likely would not have done this otherwise.
He had one arm holding her securely to him; his other hand was sliding up and down her side, but gently, with so little pressure that she could barely feel it. He licked her bottom lip again, like he had done yesterday. She didn't think, she just wanted more of him; she opened her mouth to taste his lips as well, and their tongues met. If anyone had described to her in words the concept of pressing her tongue against someone else's, she would have thought it to be revolting. But it was perfect, and she leaned into him at the same time he made a startled sound, and pulled back to look at her with a dazed look on his face.
"What?" she whispered, and watched a slow smile appear, like a sunrise. He just shook his head, then claimed her mouth again, thumb pushing her chin down so he could slide his tongue inside her mouth. Delenn had had no idea that a kiss could be this rich and deep; she started to feel warm all over, her skin more sensitive. Time lost all meaning, and it was through a fog that she dimly became aware that she couldn't breathe. Her brain decided that continuing to kiss him was more important than breathing, but her body felt otherwise, and she pulled away and tipped her head back to draw in air.
John took the opportunity to kiss her neck, the tip of his tongue tracing her ear, his teeth nipping at a tendon. She moaned, then imagined his lips continuing to move down her body, and her hips jerked upward of their own accord.
John pulled away from her, even his arm sliding out from behind her back. He sat up straight, and Delenn felt her face go hot. She had never been so mortified before. "I'm sorry. I did not mean..."
He hunched over, elbows on his knees, drawing in long, deliberate breaths. "Let's just take a little break," he said, voice rough.
"I'm sorry," she whispered. She had never been at the mercy of her own body like that before, as though it were independent from her mind. John reached over and took her hand, weaving his fingers through hers. Even this simple touch seemed like too much contact; she wanted to climb onto his lap, and was appalled that such a thought had even occurred to her.
"What are you sorry for?" he asked, and she didn't have an answer. "You don't have anything to be sorry for." His lips back on hers. Distantly, some time later, Delenn heard the bell ring, signaling the hour was over. She just curled her fingers tighter in John's hair.
John knew he had a big shit-eating grin on his face, but he couldn't do a damned thing about it. Not only had he never experienced a better make-out session, he was pretty sure no one else in the history of the universe had ever so thoroughly explored first base before. When McCarty slammed into him, shoving him against his open locker door, John just laughed. It wasn't until he got a good look at his best friend's face that the smile finally slid off his face.
"You son of a bitch." John had no idea what was going on, and the confusion on his face just seemed to make McCarty even angrier. "Did you even bother to get started, or did you forget the minute you saw your new Minbari girlfriend?"
John shoved him back, heedless of the freshman girl McCarty stumbled back into. "The fuck are you talking about?"
"My Econ homework. That you promised you would do. And I wrote your stupid fucking paper for you, and I spent a lot of time on it, Sheridan."
"Are you joking? You're acting like this over some homework?"
"Eligibility for the next quarter is today! And now I'm below a C in Economics, and that means I'm going to sit on the fucking bench for the rest of the year."
"Why did you leave it on me, then? Jesus Christ, Nick, if one assignment is that important, you do it yourself. You didn't even remind me!"
"I called you three times last night!" God, he had. He'd heard his line ping at least a couple times when he'd been on the phone with Delenn, and he'd ignored them.
"I'm sorry about the Econ homework. I really am. But you being ineligible is not my fault. Maybe if you hadn't been riding the line--"
Then McCarty slugged him. John didn't even think, just punched him right back. Someone ended up pulling them apart, though John had no idea who. The worst part about getting in a fight at school was having to sit side by side afterwards outside Sumalong's office, waiting for the principal to call them in. McCarty spent the entire time with his face buried in his hands, and John could claim that none of it was his fault all he wanted - the truth was that he'd blown it, and fucked over his best friend. And there wasn't a thing he could do to make it any better.
Delenn walked back to her locker after seventh hour ended. She was planning on completing all of her homework in the library, then beginning her research for the psychology paper that was due next week. Part of her wanted to watch John at his sporting rehearsal, but she still felt a little light-headed, still felt not entirely in control of her own actions. She loaded her textbook and papers into her bag, then watched a young man trip as he was coming down the hallway toward her.
"Roses!" he said under his breath - though loudly enough for Delenn to hear - then picked up his things and continued on his way. None of the other students seemed to take any note. Delenn had to practically climb into her locker to hide her laughter. She had thought John's promise at the gaming establishment to be an example of Earth humor - a wild claim with no possible hope of completion. But he had done it; how, she had no idea. Her laughter died away as she wondered if he had done it for her.
"What are you doing?" John's voice, behind her, sounding lifeless and dull. Delenn realized she still was leaning into her locker, and turned to look at him. His face was still sporting a fading bruise around one eye and a healing cut on his lower lip; now there was a fresh contusion over the opposite cheekbone.
He looked as though he wished to say something, but he finally just put his arms around her waist and dropped his head to her shoulder, letting out a sigh. Delenn stroked the back of his head and neck, aware of the looks they were garnering from the other students in the hallway. She closed her eyes, preferring not to see them, and murmured everything will be all right in Adronato, feeling that the actual words were not as important as the implied comfort.
John took her hand and led her out to his vehicle. It was not just the students looking their way with surprise or wonder or disgust or what looked to her like fear; a few teachers also cast curious glances in their direction, two outside the front doors whispering to each other. John seemed not to notice at all, and Delenn endeavored to follow his lead. He drove to the diamond-shaped field he had taken her to the day before, and parked his vehicle with another sigh. Then he sat, staring forward at nothing, and she wondered if he remembered her presence. She wanted to ask him why he had collected her, why he was not at his rehearsal, but she was loathe to break the silence.
"I am such a screw-up," he finally said, and it hurt to hear the anger in his voice, anger she knew was directed at himself.
"What happened, John?"
He didn't answer for a long moment, and she wondered if he had even heard her. "I told McCarty I would do his Econ homework, and I forgot, and now he's ineligible and can't play." Delenn bit back her immediate response, which was that doing each other's work was cheating, and John should not feel guilty at all. It was not his work to complete in the first place. "He wrote a paper for me. I can write papers fine. I don't like to, but I can. But I told him I wouldn't do his Econ homework if he didn't do something for me. And then I completely forgot. So we got in a fight."
Delenn found herself wanting to tell him that he should not solve all of his problems with physical altercations, and that if he had not been so academically dishonest he would not have had this problem in the first place. But she quickly decided that he would hear all of that and more from his mother, if the conversation she had overheard yesterday was any indication. So she just took his hand, and they sat for nearly a quarter of an hour before John's mobile rang. He looked at the screen, and she thought he wouldn't answer, but he finally did.
He listened for awhile, his face impassive. "I know," he said, and his hand squeezed hers. "I know, Mom. Yeah, I'm suspended for three days." More listening. "I'm at the baseball field. Yeah, with Delenn. I just needed to see her for a little bit, okay?" There was a tremble in his voice, and Delenn realized he was far more upset than she had thought, and she had thought him to be quite upset. He leaned his head back, closed his eyes. "Okay. Thank you, Mom. I love you, too." He ended the call, and brought her hand up to his mouth, kissed the back of it. "She said you could come back to the house with me. If you wanted to."
"Of course." He kissed her hand again, a gesture that was somehow more intimate than the kisses they had shared in the auditorium, and then he drove her back to his house.
There was something on the vidscreen. John had no idea what it was; his eyes were pointed that way but he certainly wasn't watching. He didn't think Delenn was, either. Her head was nestled against his shoulder, her face turned to the side. Lizzie had come home a few minutes earlier, looking at the two of them snuggled up on the couch with wide eyes, and John had waved her over. She had plopped down on the other side of him, and he'd hugged her close. A nice warm girl sandwich. What was on the screen? Girls and boys trying on dresses and screaming; one of Lizzie's shows. He supposed she was the one watching, then.
The dress show gave way to a show about raising horses in Wyoming, which was a little more interesting. Lizzie did her homework, and after a bit Delenn got hers out, too. John knew he'd have a shit-ton of work to do himself, but he couldn't make himself care. He watched Delenn write - perfect neat letters, every a looking exactly like every other a, the same with all the other letters. It was a little creepy. He supposed learning to write in a different language was hard enough, without also learning a new alphabet, too. For the first time he realized just how hard she had to have worked to be able to come here, and he'd cajoled her into skipping class so they could make out.
Fuck-up. Such a fucking fuck-up. Delenn had told him on the phone last night about mishearing the word "grounded," and how Judith had tried not to laugh. He thought of that story again, and figured that Delenn had been right the first time. He should just dig a hole in the back yard and climb inside. John rested his head on top of Delenn's, and blinked hard against sudden stinging tears. Don't you fucking cry, you goddamned girl. Dad had once sat him down, after Grandma Sheridan had died two years ago, and told him that there was nothing wrong with crying - that it wasn't unmanly, or anything to be ashamed of. That it was important to allow yourself to experience your emotions, and not try to shut them out. John still thought it was a load of horseshit; they wouldn't give him a medal at the Academy for experiencing his emotions, they'd probably toss him in a latrine. Might as well get used to acting like an actual man now.
Keys in the door. Mom. She was home early. John sat up a little, took a quick swipe at his stubbornly leaking eyes, and then she came in, giving them all a once-over. "Oh, John," she said, shaking her head at him. Then she pulled out some credits from her purse. "Go get some pizzas." Lizzie eagerly snatched the money, started counting. John stood, grabbed his mom and hugged her tight. He forgot about the fact that he was almost a full head taller than she was; for a second, he felt like he was about nine years old again.
"I'm sorry," he whispered. She pulled back and looked at him, that look that he could never evade, that he had to endure.
"We need to get your life in order, John Sheridan," she said, and John felt at that moment that whatever he had managed to fuck up, she would figure out how to fix.
Delenn didn't know how she felt about pizza. The bits of meat on top tasted good, but the texture of the melted cheese was not pleasant, and the rest didn't taste like much at all. But John and Lizzie were eating it like they had not eaten in weeks, making incoherent sounds of pleasure, and Delenn did not wish to make them feel guilty for selecting a food she did not particularly care for. So she smiled every time they looked over at her, chewing and chewing, though she had a feeling that John's mother was not convinced.
She had finally introduced herself as Miranda Sheridan, shaking Delenn's hand and warmly welcoming her to their home. As John had driven to pick up the pizzas, Delenn tried to work out how she felt about Miranda. The woman had been very angry with John for bringing her to the house, enough to punish him for a solid week. But when he had fought with another student at school, which to Delenn seemed a more serious mistake by far, his mother had rewarded him. It was most puzzling. Delenn wished to ask John about it, but he had turned up a very loud song on his vehicle's sound system, and he and Lizzie were singing along with horrible voices at the top of their lungs.
Someone was entering the house - a man, as tall as John and with the same eyes, who looked a bit older than Miranda. He smiled as he looked at the four of them around the table. John's smile.
"It's good to meet you. I'm David Sheridan. You must be Delenn." She stood and held out her hand to complete the Human greeting ritual, but David made a triangle with his hands and bowed to her. "May our friendship be a happy one," he said in perfect Adronato, better even than Livia's; Delenn could only bow her head in return, too honored to speak. David joined them, eating the cooling pizza with nearly as much enthusiasm as his children. Delenn finally finished her piece and then just watched the Sheridans eat, and talk, and laugh.
Dinner with Livia and Judith was usually rather quiet. And dinners at home on Minbar were usually taken alone; her father rarely returned home before she retired to her own room. How strange to sit amidst so much chatter and noise. Now David was telling a story about his day, and everyone listened with bright faces.
"Of course, I don't usually get involved in the usual inter-departmental spats, but I'll be damned if I was going to sit there and not say anything to that bully. Making Theresa cry like that. But he's technically my boss, and I don't really want to go back to the trade negotiation runs, on a ship 300 days out of the year. So I think, what would show him, without putting my own ass on the line? And then I remember when he came back from the Drazi homeworld, his one and only trip."
"You didn't. Dad, you didn't." John looked positively joyous, and Delenn was confused, as she always was when a Human's words did not match his face.
"Two phone calls and a bottle of eighteen-year-old Glenkinchie, and what do you know, a two-foot-long Great Desert Scorpion just happened to make its way into his office." Miranda had her face buried in her hands. John hit the top of the table. David went on: "He screamed for about five minutes, and then he threw up." Lizzie laughed so hard she slid out of her chair and onto the floor. Delenn didn't understand why this story was funny, since it sounded as though the man in question was quite terrified of the insect, but being in the center of so much mirth made her unable to keep a smile off her own face. Miranda looked up at David, and she wasn't laughing; Delenn thought that she might scold her husband. But instead she just put a hand over his.
"It's about time someone gave that jackass a taste of his own medicine," Miranda said. "I've hated him ever since he hit on Padma at the New Year's party after sending Dev clear out to the edge of the Rim." David had also done something morally suspect, and Miranda approved of it. Delenn simply did not understand the woman.
Lizzie was still hooting out laughter, and John tugged her back up into her chair. He turned to look at Delenn, all traces of his former grief and anger entirely gone. His eyes were bright, and his smile sunk barbs into her heart. He snuck a hand under the table and squeezed her knee. Delenn wasn't sure how it was possible - she had known him for only four days. He did many things of which she did not approve. He was rowdy and boisterous and often acted without thinking. More importantly, he was Human, and she was Minbari. None of it mattered. Delenn realized that she loved him.
"No. A run has to be all the same suit. Four in a row." Delenn shot him a quick glare that she would no doubt deny if he mentioned it, and picked her cards back up. She rearranged her hand again.
"I thought sets were all the same suit."
"No. A set is like three tens." Delenn stared at her cards. John snuck a quick glance around the table. Mom and Dad weren't even looking her way, were idly studying their own cards - but they were old hat at never betraying their thoughts when it came to aliens. Lizzie was smiling like an idiot, and John kicked her under the table. Delenn finally discarded, looking pretty unhappy.
His turn to draw. Another wild card - he could go out now if he wanted to, but decided to sandbag a little bit. At least until Delenn managed to lay something down. She hadn't done so yet, not the entire game. The first few hands that hadn't seemed to bother her, but he could tell she was getting frustrated. He was pretty sure his dad was sandbagging, too; he barely looked at his own draw before discarding it.
"How are you enjoying Earth, Delenn?" his mom asked, and John was going to get up early and go out and buy her breakfast. The last time he'd tried to make her breakfast - last year on Mother's Day - he'd forgotten to peel the onion before he chopped it up for the omelet. The year before that he'd put liquid smoke instead of vanilla in the pancakes. Best to just buy it - maybe some big gooey cinnamon rolls or something.
Delenn smiled. "It is not at all what I expected. Such wide open spaces - I thought the planet would be much more crowded, based on your population density figures."
"That's because those are averaged over the whole planet," Dad said, elbows up on the table, smiling his lopsided smile. "There are places on Earth that are so crowded it's tough to figure how people keep going. But Midwestern America is still pretty open."
They finished the hand. Delenn managed to lay down a paltry set of fours, and John and his dad sandbagged too long and Lizzie managed to go out and catch them both. Then John started to hear real distant rumbles of thunder. Delenn noticed them, too, and her eyes got a little wide. She looked around the room, and over at him. John pretended not to notice, shuffling the cards ostentatiously.
"Delenn, watch." He splayed them all out, then flipped over the end to make the whole line flip in succession. Just as he raised his head to grin at her, hoping to get a grin in return, a good, loud crack sounded as lightning struck someplace close. Delenn jumped, clapped a hand over her mouth, but not before she let out a tiny scream.
"Thunderstorm! Thunderstorm!" Lizzie ran to the backdoor, flinging it open to plop down on her back on the back deck. Delenn was still staring at him, and John couldn't tell if she was just surprised or if she was actually a little afraid.
"I thought you had lightning on Minbar?" Dad asked. She shook her head.
"Only at the poles. I have never--" But she didn't finish her sentence. This time, they could see the flash of the lightning. One thousand one, one thousand two. Boom! He could hear Lizzie's delighted giggles from the back porch.
"Lizzie! Get inside!" Mom got up to make sure Liz complied, and Dad gathered up the coffee mugs, dropping John a sly wink. John stood, helped Delenn up.
"You want to go watch the storm come in?" She didn't nod, didn't smile, just looked at him. Close enough to a yes as far as he was concerned. He took her hand and led her down the hallway, past Dad's study and around the corner to the greenhouse. Three of the four walls were glass windows from top to bottom, and all of the roof. He settled them down on the wicker loveseat - his kingdom for a futon! - and snuggled her close. Dad would keep Mom occupied. They'd have a half hour at the very least. John kissed her neck, her jaw, then tucked her head under his chin.
Lightning flashes all around, the sky laced with them. Respectable thunder. Rain started up first as a vague sprinkle that barely registered against the glass, and then within seconds there was a torrent, the clatter of the raindrops against the roof almost loud enough to drown out the thunder. Delenn slowly relaxed against him, realizing that there was nothing to fear.
"Thank you," he whispered, and he didn't figure she'd be able to hear him over the rain and thunder. But she turned in his arms, looking up at him.
"For coming here. Not just to my house tonight. Thank you for coming to Earth. For coming to my high school. I can't imagine my life anymore without you in it." He held his breath; that was a hell of a thing to say, and as the silence after his words lengthened John felt his heart start knocking in his chest. She was looking at him, but he couldn't tell what she was thinking. Finally she brought her hand up to his face, and he watched a single tear slide down her face, twinkling like a diamond as a bolt of lightning snaked overhead.
"Thank you for being here." She slid her hand around to the back of his head, drew him down for a kiss. John knew that this was it - he'd met the woman he was going to spend the rest of his life with.
Chapter Five - A Line in the Sand