Delenn awakened one morning, and, without knowing it, she was happy. Two weeks before, everything had started to work out. Ivanova had done so much more than just show her how to wash her hair; she had shown her that it was all right to let go of some of those artifacts from her old life that simply no longer applied. She had shown her that behind every uncomfortable aspect of her new existence, every trial and tribulation, there was a purpose.
Delenn had finally resolved how to repay Susan for all that she had done. Taking her lead from Lennier’s example, she was not going to do anything that would only draw attention to herself, that would make the gesture about her and not about acknowledging her gratitude. She drew an adequate salary, on top of what was already paid to rent her quarters. Some necessarily went to her few material needs; some she used to assist Minbari on the station who were having trouble making ends meet; some she spent on financing certain trade missions, as an investment; some she donated to a fund to provide meals to those in Down Below; some she set aside. Delenn took half the credits from her savings and sent it home to Minbar, to the Sisters of Valeria; they would light a candle in Susan’s name every day for the next two years, and in the light of that flame recite their morning devotionals.
Delenn hoped that her mother would light the first candle.
On that morning, the first morning since the Chrysalis that she had awakened without a cloud around her heart, Delenn used her new human shower for the first time. She had put in a request for maintenance to install it, and backed up as ever, they had only arrived to do so two days earlier. She bathed, and dressed, and prepared her hair, and it was so easy and trouble-free that by the time she was done it was already routine, and she could set her mind free, let it roam about and think and prepare and decide.
On that morning, she made breakfast for herself and Lennier, and the simple look of surprise and pleasure on his face was worth every minute of agony she’d endured. They had spent an entire day the week before working out which spices and Minbari ingredients no longer agreed with her new palate, a meticulous system of trial and error that Lennier seemed to relish. They finally discovered that it was the jenn that tasted rotten to her, and the hylax that tasted too sour; after expunging those two staples from her pantry, and sending out a memorandum to the restaurants on the station which prepared Minbari food explaining the importance of keeping them far away from anything the Ambassador ordered, Lennier was satisfied he had solved the problem.
On that morning, she left her quarters and, for the first time since the Chrysalis, was not on guard. She didn’t check for exits, or keep track of the faces around her, or worry about every sound she heard. She was vaguely aware of a strange feeling, and once stopped, wondering what it was, but could not place it. It was the absence of fear.
On that morning, Delenn was heading down a corridor toward her first meeting when she saw the command staff came out of the mess, laughing boisterously, the sound like clear bells echoing between the bulkheads. She was thirty or so meters away, and they turned the opposite direction; just before they turned the corner, she saw Sheridan toss his head back, laughing, and slap Garibaldi hard on the shoulder. They were close, the four of them. A good team.
She needed to be a part of that team.
“Will he be ready?”
Delenn had been making her way through Green Sector when suddenly Kosh was there, his encounter suit looming ahead of her as though he had already been there, waiting, though she was sure she had not seen him.
“To whom are you referring?” She knew already, of course.
No answer. Kosh slid silently away, not waiting for her response. She knew her response had to be yes, but did not know if it was true.
Was Sheridan ready? The Shadows had returned, and Valen had foretold that the Minbari would join with the missing halves of their souls to fight against the darkness. There would be no alliance with Earth itself - Delenn had pinned her hopes to Babylon 5 long before Sheridan’s arrival and the assassination of President Santiago, even before Kosh confirmed that the ancient enemy was stirring from its fastness on Z’ha’dum.
She didn’t doubt Sheridan’s military strengths, his strategic insights, his ability to command. He was Starkiller, after all. But would he be ready? Great sacrifices would be required, and no one is willing to sacrifice himself without knowing for what purpose. When the time came for Delenn to reveal to Sheridan the existence of the Shadows, their unfathomable strength, their insidious designs, he would have to trust her. That was imperative. She had vowed that night, in the dark, on the edge of the abyss, that she would be his greatest ally, that she would stand by his side during the coming storm, but that couldn’t happen if he didn’t trust her. Delenn felt that he respected her, perhaps even liked her, but did he trust her?
She didn’t know.
Delenn needed someone to whom she could freely talk. Someone kind, someone who would listen with an open heart. She needed to speak with a female. A human female. She wished she could ask Ivanova, but the Commander would ask too many questions. Delenn didn’t want any questions; she just wanted some answers.
She made her way through the Zocolo, ignoring the calls of the merchants from their booths, and entered the shop from which she had purchased her nightgowns. There, in the back, the human shopkeeper, with her pretty braids of hair. She was wrapping up an order, and thankfully the shop was empty.
“Might I trouble you for a moment?” Delenn asked, brushing past the lacy wisps of cloth. The shopkeeper - Sherri, that was her name - raised her head and beamed.
“Ambassador! I’m so glad to see you. I can’t thank you enough for your gift - you really didn’t have to do that. I haven’t been able to afford real flowers since I’ve been on the station - I still have them in my room, although they’re pretty dried out now.”
“Of course I had to,” Delenn said. “Mere credits were not adequate to express my thanks.”
“Can I help you find something?”
“Actually,” and she had planned this ahead of time, but found herself strangely embarrassed, as though the shopkeeper would instantly know about which man Delenn spoke, “I was hoping to ask for your help in a more personal matter.”
“No problem,” Sherri said, and she gestured to a small sofa at the back of the store. “Have a seat. Can I get you something to drink?”
“No, thank you. I have a meeting in thirty minutes. I will need to leave soon.” Delenn stared at her hands, aware of Sherri’s warm, pleasant face turned her way, and tried to think of where to begin. “When a Minbari female wishes to…learn more about a Minbari male, there is a specific way to do so. A clear path. One follows a series of rituals, designed to take the couple from mere acquaintance to an eternal bond, should they walk the path to its end. There is no ambiguity. As each ritual is completed, the couple decides if they wish to continue; to do so means they are pleased with what they have learned so far, about the other, and about themselves.”
“That sounds…really nice. Seriously. I think my entire dating life could be summed up with the word ‘ambiguity.’”
“It is a good system. But the male whom I wish to learn more about is not Minbari. He is…human.”
“Ahh.” Delenn finally turned to Sherri, who had the oddest look on her face, almost as if Delenn’s admission had brought her great joy.
“If he were Minbari, I would know what to do next,” Delenn said, finding it easier to breathe now that the hard part was over. “But I am not sure what the human rituals entail.”
“I see. Well,” Sherri said thoughtfully, her eyes looking around at the flimsy underclothes hanging all around, “I’d want to know how well you know this guy. Are you friends?”
Delenn looked around at the nighties herself. Was Sherri about to suggest…? “I would say that our interactions have been friendly. Our relationship is professional.”
“And you’d like it to be more?”
“More what? I would like to know more about him.”
“Would you like your relationship to be more…romantic?” That was a good question. Delenn’s first thought wasn’t a thought at all, but was instead the memory of his presence beside her when they watched the vid, that feeling of warmth. No, she did not want their relationship to become romantic. That wasn’t the plan. She needed to learn more about him, and for him to learn more about her, so they might begin building a foundation of trust. That’s all she wanted.
“I get it,” Sherri said, and she put her hand over Delenn’s. “You have to work with this guy, so even if you wanted to take it to the next step, you’re afraid that it might make things messy. You don’t want to ruin your professional relationship if things don’t work out.” Delenn stared at her, amazed. Was she an unlicensed telepath? The look on Delenn’s face must have been humorous, because Sherri laughed. “You probably came here because I’m the only human girl you know, right? But I don’t believe in coincidences. My mom was a matchmaker. I picked up a few tricks, watching her as a kid. You were definitely meant to come talk to me about this.”
“I can see that now. The universe puts us in places where we can learn.”
“You can ask him out to dinner. You want to get to know him more? That’s how humans do it. While you eat, you can talk - about anything other than business. You probably talk enough business as it is. And if it goes well, you’ll have dinner again in the future. At least, that’s the way it usually works.”
“If I ask him to dinner, will that signal to him that I am desirous of a more romantic relationship? Because I do not want him to think that.”
Sherri stood, shaking her head, and started moving things around, wiping a cloth in her hand over the surfaces, even though the shop looked clean enough to Delenn already. “Oh, no. For humans, a dinner date is just a way to get to know each other, outside of whatever environment you usually interact in. It’s just friendly. You said you were friendly?”
“Yes, quite friendly.” Delenn stood, feeling much better now that she had a plan. “I shall ask him to dinner. Thank you again, Sherri.” The shopkeeper turned, her smile infectious.
“You’ll have to let me know how it goes.”
Delenn was pleased with her plan. It was straightforward. She would find Captain Sheridan and ask him to join her for dinner. They would talk. She would learn more about him - she knew what kind of soldier he was, now she had to know what kind of person he was. He would begin to see her as more than just one of the ambassadors on the station. She would become his friend.
Except that she could not find Captain Sheridan. After she left Sherri’s shop, she was busy in meetings the rest of the day. Delenn had thought it would be easy enough to find the Captain and invite him to dinner the next day. True to his word, Lennier had scheduled her plenty of time between her meetings at midday; eating some kind of filled pastry while she walked, Delenn made her way to the Captain’s office. It was empty.
It was empty the day after that, as well.
On the third day, Delenn recorded a message before she left her quarters in the morning, asking the Captain if she could arrange a time to speak with him. She stopped at every Babcom unit she passed as she made her way throughout the station on her way to and from meetings, ceremonies, a ritual meal, more meetings - no messages from Sheridan. She found herself growing anxious. The last time they had spoken had been at Londo’s ascension anniversary. She had thought their conversation to be amicable, pleasant. She had not offended him, had she?
After she entered her quarters at the end of the day, the first thing she did was check the Babcom. No messages. Delenn ate a meal she didn’t taste, wrote a report for the Council that no one would read, changed for bed. Lying there, looking at the ceiling, she found herself wondering if perhaps this wasn’t the right time. Kosh had said the Shadows had returned, but it might be years before they began venturing forth in earnest. She was trying to accelerate her relationship with Sheridan, push it closer than it was at a faster pace than it would evolve at naturally. Perhaps that was not the right plan.
A beep from the other room. Captain Sheridan was on the line.
Did she have enough time to change? No, she didn’t want to keep him waiting. She grabbed her light robe from beside her bed, tied it securely. As she walked to the Babcom, Delenn found herself smoothing her hair down, arranging it over her shoulders. She made herself lower her hands, clasp them in front. She stood ramrod straight.
She could tell the moment his face appeared on the screen that Sheridan was tired. He had removed his jacket and unbuttoned his collar, and she could see his desk behind him, covered in papers. Clearly he was quite busy, overworked. His eyes swept her up and down, as though he didn’t recognize her at first. Overworked, and she was adding to his burden.
“Ambassador, did I wake you?”
“No, I was not yet asleep.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t get back to you earlier. It’s been one of those days. Your message said you wanted to speak with me?” What she wanted to do was go to his office, gather up all his papers and set them aside, and walk him to his quarters; she wanted to prepare some tea, watch him drink it, watch him relax; she wanted to see that careworn look leave his face; she wanted something else without even knowing what it was.
“It’s not important,” she said, unable to ask anything of him. “It’s late, and you look tired. You should rest.”
Delenn could see that he wanted to protest, but was too tired to do even that.
“You’re sure it’s not important?”
“It can wait. Good night, Captain.”
“Good night, Ambassador.” Then her screen went dark, and she felt a brief sting when his face was no longer before her. She continued to stand for a moment, thinking but not in words, feeling the quiet stillness of her quarters around her. She untied her robe and returned to her bed.
It was six days after meeting with Sherri before Delenn finally had the chance to speak with Sheridan. The fourth day she was too busy to even attempt to find him, and hoped during thirty seconds of quiet while in a tube that she might run into him by chance, or that he might even try to find her, but then she was out of the tube and thought about it no more.
The fifth day she went to his office at midday only to find Ivanova there, reading through an enormous binder overstuffed with papers.
“Commander, it is good to see you.”
“How much are you charged for your quarters?” Ivanova demanded, not looking up.
“I’m not sure. The rent is paid by the Federation directly.” Ivanova flipped through the binder, her face a storm cloud. “Commander, I was hoping to speak with the Captain.”
“Is there a problem?”
“No, no problem,” Delenn said, wishing she’d invented a problem before arriving. “I just had a question for him.”
“I can take a message.”
“That won’t be necessary, Commander. Thank you.” Delenn turned at the door and looked back at Ivanova, who had seemingly already forgotten that anyone had just spoken to her. She muttered darkly under her breath, and Delenn worried that she would rip the pages if she turned them any more roughly.
On the sixth day, Delenn had resigned herself to never seeing Sheridan again as long as she lived. The station was too big and filled with too many people, and even if she did nothing but walk the corridors all day she would never run into him. The next scheduled Council meeting wasn’t for another three days; perhaps she would speak to him then. More likely, he would have to cancel or she would have to cancel or the Council would rip itself apart in the meantime or the station would implode. Maybe Epsilon Three’s sun would go nova.
She was on her way to observe trade negotiations between the Gaim and a minor race whose name she couldn’t even remember, thinking up other reasons why the Council meeting would not take place as scheduled (they could be drawn into an alternate universe where humans didn’t even exist; then she certainly wouldn’t be able to see Sheridan), and then there he was, right in front of her, walking with Franklin.
She was too relieved and surprised to even think about making herself look calm, even indifferent, and made straight for him. “Captain, there you are. I was looking for you.” Delenn was aware of Franklin standing just behind Sheridan, listening intently. “May I speak to you for a moment…privately?”
Sheridan sent Franklin on his way, and as he turned back to her, it seemed that he was expecting her to drop another crisis in his lap; he looked guarded, tired. And Delenn realized that she had been so concerned with simply finding him in the first place that she had given no thought as to how she was going to ask him to dinner. She couldn’t very well tell him the truth. Captain, the day is coming when you and I will need to be very close allies, to lead the battle against the most fearsome enemy the galaxy has ever known. I need to get to know you, make sure you’re the right person for the job.
“I was wondering if you could help me. This is difficult.” What was the best way to ask him? What would he believe, that would seem on the surface to be the only reason yet still allow her to put her plan into motion? “If you could help me better understand what it is to be human.”
She looked up at him, and he seemed taken aback. He barely said something, wanting her to go on. She remembered him telling her that she was brave, remembered him asking about her transformation; he was curious, but not unduly or for ignoble reasons. This would work. At least she hoped so; the look on his face wasn’t particularly encouraging.
“Though I now look more like you, I am not one of you. And if I am to be a bridge of understanding between humans and Minbari, it would help if I knew more about your people.”
“I see. Um, so, what would you suggest?”
“Dinner?” He sounded surprised by that. She stopped and turned, and was not prepared to see the expression in his eyes. He looked confused, and she wondered if maybe he had not had a friendly dinner in quite some time, being as busy as he was.
“Dinner. In all my time here, I have rarely sat and just talked. With you, or with any other human. And I think that I would like to.” There, she had put it so that it would seen she was not necessarily interested only in him, but in learning more about humans in general. She did not want him to get the wrong idea.
He stammered, “Talk about what?” And there it was, that smile.
“Anything. Everything. Except business and negotiations and whose trade agreement is being most unfair to the others.” He made that sound she loved, and this time when the happiness bubbled up inside her, she knew what it was. “Just talk.”
“All right,” he said, “I’ll set it up and get back to you. This evening okay?” She had thought that if he agreed, it would be some days before they would sit down together to eat. She had envisioned a day or two at least to prepare. But she didn’t mind; now she wouldn’t have time to fret and worry.
“Perfect. Until then, Captain.”
“Ambassador,” he said, the word translated through his smile and the low tone of his voice into something else. She headed back the way she’d come, then turned to see him leave. Sheridan was still watching her, something in his eyes, and Delenn quickly turned and made her way down the corridor, unsure of why he was still standing there, why he was watching her walk away. She had surprised him, that much was obvious. But she thought from his smile, from the way his eyes had remained on her, that it was a good surprise.
The trade negotiation had not gone well. The Cora’dai began the talks already assuming the Gaim were looking to cheat them, and the Gaim immediately went on the offensive. Within minutes the two sides were screaming at each other, translators unable to work out what must have been some truly colorful curses, filling the air with squawks and beeps and static. Delenn simply walked out of the room. She had been asked to provide advice, counsel, but there was nothing she could say until everyone calmed down. She decided to walk through the station while waiting for her next meeting, the last of the day. She felt on edge, anxious, and didn’t know why.
She was on her way to the final meeting when Lennier found her. He bowed, face impassive as ever, but she could tell that he had been looking for her for some time.
“What is it, Lennier?”
“I have a message for you, from the Captain.” He handed the note over. It read simply Fresh Air restaurant 1930 hours. “As that is only thirty minutes after the conclusion of your meeting with the Drazi ambassador, I hope you don’t mind that I took the liberty of rescheduling.”
“Not at all, Lennier. Thank you.” He bowed again and left her. She remembered the days she had done the same tasks for Dukhat; she had felt she was always running from one dreadfully important job to another, never able to stay ahead of the endless stream of duties. The duties that, because they were Dukhat’s, were also her own. She would have to schedule Lennier a brief respite from his work. Perhaps a week on Minbar; she was afraid that if he remained on the station he would find other ways of assisting her, which would involve more work, which was certainly not the point.
Back in her quarters, Delenn changed into her nicest set of robes. She looked at herself in the mirror and wondered what else she should do. She had seen human women with pigments applied to their faces, but owned none, and would not have known how to use them even if she did. She gathered her hair and pulled it up against the nape of her neck, and liked the way that looked, but had nothing with which to secure it.
She found herself pacing her quarters, a tight knot in her stomach. She had nearly two hours still to wait before meeting the Captain, and felt that was far too long and not nearly enough. She wasn’t afraid that she would learn something about him that would throw her plans into question; already the business of making sure he was the right person seemed like a formality. What was she worried about, then?
Sherri was helping a customer when Delenn entered the shop. She took the opportunity to study the twists and coils of hair piled atop the human’s head. It evinced a skill that reminded Delenn of fishing nets she had seen in Tadenn of Char’s gallery - beautiful artistry and intricate work, and yet still completely functional. She wondered if the shopkeeper would mind teaching her; she did not want to overburden the young woman, who, judging from the hours she kept at the shop, was quite busy as it was.
Delenn looked through the tiny things hanging from the walls, wondering what possible purpose they might serve. There simply wasn’t enough fabric to cover much of anything; certainly not enough to provide any warmth. She could see her fingers through this one, holding it up to the light. One might as well not wear anything at all.
“Thinking of trying one out?” Delenn turned to see Sherri just behind her, the customer gone.
“No. I was just thinking that…” But she didn’t want to offend the shopkeeper.
“What? Go ahead.”
“They just seem rather silly.”
“Oh, they are. So, Ambassador, how was your dinner?”
“It is tonight. In about ninety minutes, actually.” Delenn found it quite amusing, how happy the young woman seemed about all of this. She supposed the Minbari ambassador asking her for help in studying a human male would be a novelty, though. “I do not wish to bother you, but I was hoping you could help me with my hair. You have such lovely hair.”
Delenn knew few people who were immune to praise. Sherri smiled very sweetly as she walked around Delenn, looking her over. “Is this what you’re wearing?”
“Yes. It is not appropriate?”
“It’s very pretty. I actually think your hair looks just right the way it is. It reminds me of old paintings. So, where are you eating?”
“The Fresh Air. I have never been. I do not believe they offer much Minbari food, and I am told it is rather expensive.”
Sherri had an odd look on her face, and she looked Delenn up and down again, more seriously now.
“You made a reservation at the Fresh Air?”
“No, the Ca…my…my friend did.” Sherri had one hand at her chin, appearing deep in study. Something seemed wrong. Perhaps the Fresh Air was not well-suited for conversation; some of the venues on the station were quite loud.
“You know, since you want to learn more about human rituals for this kind of thing, maybe you could wear the type of dress a human would wear if she were going out to dinner? It’s just a thought.”
“You do not think I would look strange?”
“No, not at all. Come on.” And Sherri hurried to the back, flipped off the lights, then ushered Delenn out of the shop. She pulled the doors closed, locked down metal grating. Grabbed Delenn’s hand and pulled her into the Zocolo.
Delenn didn’t like the idea of a ‘dressing room.’ It seemed indecent to change out of her clothes while not in her quarters. But she supposed things could not get any worse. She had already had to change into human undergarments when her shift had been visible through the hole in this dress. She wasn’t sure she was comfortable with this hole. The rest of the dress was very nice, covering her shoulders and arms and legs as it ought, even if it did cling rather tightly to her body. But the hole exposed her chest, the tops of her breasts, and all the rest of the dress did little to make her feel she wasn’t going to walk out of this small room naked.
“Ambassador? Is everything okay?”
“I will need your help again with this metal locking mechanism.” Delenn turned her back to the curtain, and felt Sherri come up behind her, pull up the tab that secured the dress around her. It was a poorly designed garment if it required assistance to put on. But Delenn did not wish to appear ungrateful, so she said nothing.
“All right, let’s see it.”
Delenn stepped out, and was gratified at the expression on Sherri’s face. The human made a twirling gesture with a finger, and Delenn submitted, moving slowly around in a circle. “It looks all right?”
“This is definitely the dress. You look amazing with a capital amazing.”
“I do not know about this.” Delenn gestured to the hole in the dress, but Sherri only nodded her head emphatically.
“That’s what makes it. Mitzi? I’m gonna do her hair in the back, okay?” The owner of the shop, an older woman whose eyes had not left the mini-vid player in her hands, nodded and muttered something. Sherri led Delenn into a storage room in the back of the shop, hands on her shoulders to push her down into a chair. Delenn was not used to so much physical contact; it seemed the human girl was always grabbing her hands or touching her back. But she found she didn’t mind. And what she had said to Sheridan wasn’t a complete ruse; she did want to learn more about humans, understand them. Humans were more physically demonstrative than Minbari; that was good to know.
Sherri had begun to work with Delenn’s hair, and she felt herself relax. It was an immensely pleasurable feeling.
“How did you learn to arrange your hair that way?”
“It’s the style on Orion Seven. That’s where I’m from. Our dresses are actually a lot more like your robes than what you’re wearing now - big drapey sleeves and all. Girls do each other’s hair, learn how to do all the different kinds of braids. There are books, and instructional vids. ‘A woman’s hair is her crowning glory’ - that’s what my dad always said. I bought new clothes when I came to Babylon 5, but I couldn’t imagine doing my hair any other way.”
Sherri used some kind of metal rod on a few pieces of hair. Delenn could feel heat against her neck.
“Humans believe a female’s hair to be important?”
“Some do. Women can do more with their hair than men, since men usually keep their hair short. It’s a way to make yourself look unique, I guess. And a lot of men find hair attractive.”
“Hair? What is attractive about hair?” Sherri laughed at that, her fingers gently touching the pins securing Delenn’s hair, making sure everything was in place.
“I don’t know. It’s just pretty, I guess. You don’t think your hair is pretty?” Delenn did, in fact, but it was more about the darkness around her face, the contrast with her eyes. And she liked the feel of it between her fingers, often found herself twirling a lock of it while deep in thought.
“I suppose. I am still adjusting to it.”
Sherri came around front, looked Delenn over. “Okay. Looks good. We’ll do just a little lipstick, mascara, maybe some light eyeshadow. You’re so pretty, you don’t need much.”
“You think I am pretty?”
“Minbari have mirrors, right?” Delenn couldn’t help but smile at that, and closed her eyes as Sherri prepared her pigments.
Feeling completely unlike herself, aware of the heaviness of her eyelashes and the slick balm on her lips, Delenn followed Sherri to the counter, where Mitzi continued to watch her vid. The shopkeeper scanned Delenn’s credit chit without ever looking away from her screen.
“I’ll drop your clothes off at your quarters,” Sherri said, fixing a tiny piece of Delenn’s hair.
“You are too kind. I cannot thank you enough.”
“Shh. I’m having fun. Mitzi, look at the Ambassador. Doesn’t she look great?”
The shopkeeper glanced up, grunted. “She’ll definitely turn heads.” Back to her vid.
“All right. You’ve got about fifteen minutes, and the Fresh Air’s a bit of a walk. You better go. And I want to be debriefed at some point.”
“I will make sure to.” Suddenly Sherri was putting her arms around her, an easily and spontaneously given hug. Delenn found herself returning it.
“Good luck,” the girl whispered, and Delenn smiled, left.
The walk from the dress shop to the restaurant had been a daunting one. People stopped what they were doing, conversations came to a halt, one man even followed her a few steps. Delenn began to worry that Sherri had been wrong, that wearing a human dress was a horrible breach of protocol, was offensive. But then Sheridan had given her the same open-mouthed, wide-eyed look when he saw her, and he had told her that she looked very attractive. Many Minbari facial expressions were similar in meaning to human ones, but she didn’t think she would ever get used to how many human expressions had multiple interpretations. She had thought that look to be one of confusion, even shock, but apparently it also conveyed appreciation.
They were waiting for their appetizer, something stuffed with something else; many of the words on the menu were unfamiliar to her, so she had told Sheridan to pick out his favorite. While he had read the list, she had thought about the feeling that had sparked through her when he leaned over the back of her chair, the territorial quality he had possessed. What she had mostly thought about was how much she had liked it.
“I just think it’s a load of bull. Just one more way they can demonstrate who really holds the reins.” They had agreed not to talk business, but Sheridan had seemed to find himself unable to refrain from complaining about a rent increase on his quarters.
“I would not think sixty credits a week enough to make much difference in a budget the size of EarthForce’s.”
“Exactly! It’s just a slap in the face, nothing more.”
“What will happen if you do not comply?”
“Oh, who knows.” Sheridan was looking out over the restaurant, jaw tight, thinking, and Delenn took the opportunity to study his profile. She hadn’t seen him out of uniform before. He looked quite different, and yet not at all at the same time. It was very curious. “I’m sure they’ll come up with something.”
“You could afford to pay the thirty credits, could you not?”
“Sure. But that’s not the point.”
“So it is a matter of principle.” He nodded, looked very serious. Intense. “You think EarthForce will come back with some other demand, or consequence for your inaction. Then you will continue to refuse, as a matter of principle. How far would you be willing to take this? What is it worth to you?” What would Sheridan do, what decision would he make, when he found himself between an irresistible force and an immovable object? She could not have asked for a better case study.
“I don’t know. I do know that I do not want to back down, not if I can help it. Then the next time, when it’s something that does matter, they might think they can push me into a corner again, expect me to just buckle, cave in, right like that. I’m the one who should be in control of this station, not just be a puppet, with EarthForce always pulling the strings.”
“Is that not part of your military culture, though? To take orders.”
“Every soldier has to ask himself, or herself, if those orders are just,” Sheridan said, leaning over the table, pinning her with his eyes. “That’s as much a part of wearing the uniform as anything else. Now, I’m not saying paying a few extra credits in rent is some huge moral dilemma. But at this point in my career, I think I’ve earned the right to not be treated like some common grunt.”
Then the waiter arrived with their appetizer, and they were quiet for a moment, eating their first bites. Whatever it was, it was delicious, reminding Delenn a bit of foods flavored with jenn, at least the way they had tasted before her change.
“You like it?” Sheridan asked, smiling.
“Yes. I have had many interesting experiences with food recently.”
“I bet. And you’re feeling better?”
Delenn nodded, wishing she hadn’t confided in him that night, feeling exposed. Although perhaps it was a good thing, to be a little vulnerable around him. Humans seemed to appreciate weaknesses in each other, provided they were minor. “It seems I have finally completed my period of…transition.” His eyes were on hers, steady, not flitting up to her bone crest like so many other people’s. She found she could not meet his gaze for long, and dropped her eyes back to her food, helpless to keep a smile from tugging at her lips.
They were waiting for their dessert. Delenn found herself almost uncomfortably full, but was loathe for the evening to end, so when the waiter suggested another course she agreed wholeheartedly. She had let Sheridan order for her again, and he had done so with an intriguing mix of enthusiasm and deference. She was reminded again of the word Susan had told her. Gentleman. She had looked it up in her computer, and felt that it could have no better definition than the man sitting in front of her.
She leaned forward, chin in hand, and studied his face. Sheridan withstood her scrutiny for only a moment. “What?”
“Every time I look at a human face, there is a moment when I am made aware of our difference. When I look and see…an alien. Someone who is not myself. And it is not the hair, or the lack of bone crest, or the nose. It is the eyebrows.”
He leaned forward himself, smiling. “Really?”
“What I have found most peculiar is that I do not have this feeling when I look at you. I do not think, he is not my kind. There is no little jolt. And I have finally figured out why that is.” She let the pause draw out, until he looked as though he might burst. “You do not have any eyebrows.”
Sheridan sat back, the most delightful look on his face. He slapped the table top. “I do, too.”
“No. I have looked. No eyebrows.”
He laughed, then leaned forward again. Very close. “Then you didn’t look close enough. I definitely have eyebrows.” She leaned nearer herself. She knew he did have them; very light, both in color and thickness, but obviously there. But Delenn took the opportunity to get a clear look at his eyes. Hazel, as she’d thought; a lovely golden brown with flecks of green. She sat back, adjusted her napkin, enjoying herself.
“No eyebrows,” she declared. He was laughing again, and the couple at the table next to them glanced their way.
“Do not be upset! This is a good thing. Eyebrows are ridiculous.”
“Is that so?”
“They serve no purpose. They simply hang there, hairy and distressing. Often I have the hardest time paying attention when I speak with Mr. Garibaldi. I believe his eyebrows, what is the word? Hypnotize me.” Sheridan was laughing hard now, his mirth contagious, but she made herself stay serious. “They are always moving, up and down.” She used her hands to demonstrate. “And sometimes at angles. I find it particularly disturbing when they move independently of one another, the one up and the other down. And then when they draw together, and there is simply one long eyebrow stretching across the whole face?” She gave a shudder, and he actually put his head down on the table, he was laughing so hard. The entire back of the restaurant was looking their way, a few people chuckling themselves. The communal quality of humor was one of her favorite things about humans.
Sheridan’s laughter lessened, and he held a hand over his stomach. “I have eyebrows,” he said weakly, and wiped at his eyes.
“So you say.” Now she watched him lean forward, chin in hand, mimicking her earlier pose. “What?”
“I’m trying to imagine what you would look like with eyebrows.”
“Please don’t. What an awful thought.”
He reached out and took one of her loose tendrils of hair between his fingers, held it up until the end laid on her face where an eyebrow would be. He tilted his head, looking at her. She took a piece of hair from the other side of her head and held it up herself. Then she waggled it up and down, and couldn’t help smiling at the little laugh he couldn’t hold in.
“Do I look more like a human this way?” He released the hair and she did the same. He continued to look at her, and his gaze became more serious, felt more heavy upon her.
“I like the way you look, just like this.” Delenn was aware her heart was beating harder, wondered if Sheridan could tell. She didn’t know what to say, felt pinned by his gaze. Each second drew out, longer than the one before, and she felt she would be caught in this place forever, lost in his eyes.
The waiter seemed to appear from nowhere, setting their desserts before them, asking in sharp, loud tones about coffee or tea, and Delenn was able to tear her eyes away, center herself again. She had told Sheridan that she had finished her period of transition, and maybe that was true. But she felt that maybe she was entering a new time of change, that her transformation was not limited by only her physical differences from her old life. That the Chrysalis had done something not just to her body, but to her soul. Glancing up at him again, his eyes already on her, she was sure of it.
“Sir? I’m sorry, sir, but we have to close up.” Their waiter, looking as though he’d rather go into battle with a Drazi armed with only his eye teeth. He couldn’t quite manage to meet Sheridan’s eye. Delenn looked around the restaurant; they were the only guests still there. The other tables were empty, the chairs stacked on top. She saw a lonely figure mopping the floor near the front.
“Oh,” Sheridan said, aware of the same sight. “Of course. I hope we didn’t inconvenience you.”
“No, sir. Of course not, sir.” Sheridan stood, took a few credit disks from his pocket and handed them to the young man as he shook his hand. “Thank you, sir.” The waiter stepped back, and Sheridan held out his hand. Delenn looked at it a moment, not sure what he intended.
“They’re kicking us out.” She snapped out of her reverie, took his hand, and he helped her stand. They walked toward the front, and he released her hand. She felt a pang, but then felt his hand on her back, leading her forward. Delenn had not really thought much before the last few weeks how rarely she had any physical contact with another, and found herself soaking up the sensation like a sponge.
“Can I walk you to your quarters?” he asked as they exited the restaurant. The station was never empty, but there were far fewer people out and about than there usually were.
“I would like that.” They turned down the next corridor and it was completely empty, no one in sight. She felt they were in their own private little world.
“So? How did you like the food?”
“It was delicious,” she said, which was the truth. She had actually been surprised by how good everything had tasted. She generally thought of food as fuel, nothing more, and had rarely given it much thought until her change had thrown her usual habits into disarray. “Although I do not think I shall need to eat much tomorrow.”
That little grunt of his. “No, I’m pretty well fortified myself, too.” They walked in companionable silence for a while. She found herself remembering his remark that he did not think of Minbari as laughing. Delenn quite enjoyed laughing herself, and was surprised that he thought of her as humorless, as she did not think of herself that way. Surprised, and still a little stung. Which was ridiculous - he could not have had much personal contact with Minbari, and when he had, it was not likely anyone was laughing.
“Do you like jokes?” she asked.
“Yes. Do Minbari tell jokes?”
“No, but Mr. Garibaldi has been teaching me. Humans seem to appreciate surprise, a defying of expectations, the suffering of others, word play - which often escapes me - and self-deprecation.”
“That’s not what Minbari find funny?”
“We generally find humor in the failure to reach spiritual enlightenment.” He grunted, seemed to think. “Of course, we have our own forms of word play, as when a single word means different things in the different Minbari languages. I would imagine they translate as poorly as some of your…what are they called?”
“Yes, puns. These are the types of things one is not taught when learning a language. One must learn through immersion.”
“Well, I’m not much for puns, but I am world-class at knock-knock jokes.”
He demonstrated by knocking his fist against the wall. “So if someone knocked on your door, you would ask…?”
“Who is there?”
“Right. And then I answer, and you repeat it and add ‘who’ at the end. And then the punch line.”
“This is the part of the joke that provokes laughter, yes?”
He nodded. “Okay. Knock knock.” He was already smiling.
“Who is there?”
“Gesundheit!” And he chuckled, seeming very pleased with himself. Delenn smiled herself, but did not understand. “‘Gesundheit’ is German for ‘bless you.’”
“I have heard humans say this after another sneezes.”
“Ah. I see it now.” They were nearing her quarters. She could only walk so slow.
“You didn’t think it was funny?”
“Be quiet. I am trying to think of a joke.” She thought self-deprecation to be the best choice. Dukhat had always told her that a man who could not laugh at himself could not laugh. “Londo also likes human jokes, did you know that? He told me a joke once about a light bulb. I heard Mr. Garibaldi tell a joke about a light bulb as well, but the people involved and the ‘punch line’ were different.”
“Just like a knock-knock joke,” he said. “The possibilities are endless.”
“Here is one, then. How many Minbari does it take to…now I don’t remember.”
“Yes, screw in a light bulb. What is a light bulb? The lights on this station are cylindrical.” He was already lightly laughing, shaking his head, and she decided to go on. “How many Minbari does it take to screw in a light bulb?”
“I don’t know. How many?”
“No one knows. They surrender before finishing the job, and never tell anyone why.” Sheridan stopped dead in his tracks. Delenn turned, and the look of surprise on his face upset her. What had she done wrong? Then the surprise melted into laughter, as loud as it had been in the restaurant. She laughed herself, feeling effervescent, as light as air. He started walking again, his hand again on her back, and they turned the corner and there were her quarters.
They stopped in front of her door. He was very close. She would only have to raise her hand to touch him, and she grabbed onto her dress so that she wouldn’t.
“Would you like to come in for some tea?” He looked down at her for a long beat, and it seemed his gaze dipped down once, to her lips.
“I would love to,” Sheridan said, and she knew the rest of the sentence was coming before he said it, “but I have to make an early start in the morning.” She nodded, anticipating his answer not making her disappointment any less. “I had a lovely evening. A great evening. The best evening I’ve had since I’ve been on the station.”
She knew she was smiling too widely. “Me, too.”
“The next time we both have an evening free, the same evening, we should do this again.”
“I’d like that.” Then he was looking at her again, as if he wanted to say something else. She wanted to say something but didn’t know what. He finally started walking away. Delenn stood there, watching him leave as he had done the last time he had walked her to her quarters, but this time, halfway down the corridor, he turned to look at her again.
“Good night,” he said. She felt that if she gave the slightest indication she wished him to do so, he would come back.
Delenn sat in the dark. Three days before, when he had called her late at night, she had looked at him on the screen and not known exactly what it was she wanted. Now she knew.
She wanted him.