Shannon (kungfuwaynewho) wrote,

Fic: Alma Mater Chapter 7

Title: Many Happy Returns
Specs: Babylon 5, John/Delenn, 7000 words
Rating: PG for language, implied sexytimes

John was happy.  There were many different ways Delenn could tell that John was happy.  The most evident, of course, was his smile.  He was almost always smiling, though, so she had to look for a wide smile, his teeth exposed, dimples in his cheeks.  When John was happy, he laughed a lot.  Delenn had not realized how little she laughed until she came to Earth, and met John; she laughed a great deal more now.  When John was happy, he would speak more loudly, as though he wished to share his exuberance with everyone nearby.  When John was happy, he would kiss her extravagantly, hug her tightly, sometimes even hug her in such a way that her feet came off the ground.  Humans, she would often think in such circumstances, with a smile of her own.

Delenn especially liked when John forgot that he was supposed to be sad, or angry, or frustrated, or disappointed, and instead became happy again.  He would be staring at his homework, scowling, and then she would smile at him, or reach out to touch his hand, or he would remember something from earlier in the day, or a song he liked would begin to play, or any number of things would happen, and suddenly that bright grin would be back on his face, just like that. 

But she knew John was in an especially good mood when he sang.  He sang all kinds of songs.  Some she was now beginning to recognize as popular Earth songs.  Some he made up himself.  The lyrics could be quite humorous, but were more likely to be totally banal.  Yesterday he had sung a song about folding his socks.  Delenn did not really understand; either he was happy about folding his socks and could not keep himself from breaking into song, or the act of singing itself made the task more enjoyable.  She suspected the latter, but he had smelled the clean clothes with an expression that seemed almost joyous.  Perhaps he greatly enjoyed clean clothes; that would be a surprise, though, as he often had an odor.

As he did at this moment, at lunch.  He had a physical education class just before their meal break, and refused to shower afterwards, on the grounds that he would only perspire again and require another shower after his athletic practice after school.  Delenn had strictly forbidden him from embracing her during the interval, though he often caught her unawares from behind.  He was also now singing - loudly, brightly, only slightly off-key.  Nick and Alfred and Regina and Yvonne were singing with him.  The Humans had begun only a few days ago to sing some very strange songs.  The lyrics made absolutely no sense to her, but everyone seemed to know them.

Delenn looked a word up on her lectern.  She had been confused before; now she was utterly perplexed.  John noticed her expression, and brought the song to a flamboyant finish.

“What is it, Delenn?”

“What did the prostitute do to earn such vengeance?”  Delenn was not pleased, though not particularly surprised, when John and everyone else at the table stared at her with blank faces, as though she had spoken in Adronato. 

“The prostitute?” John asked, his head slowly tilting a bit to the side. 

“That is to be killed.  Or has already been killed; I was unable to parse the meaning, as you can see.”

“Who’s killing a hooker?” Nick asked, cramming his mouth full of food.

“A man named Jingle,” Delenn answered, though that was only a guess.

“What?”  Alfred, eyes wide.  He often looked at Delenn as though she were a type of oracle.  Secretly (she would admit this not even to John), she found it amusing, even flattering.

“And the prostitute must be cleaned first?  Is this some kind of Human ritual?  I have looked through my lectern, but I can find no reference to it.”

“Delenn, what are you talking about?” Yvonne asked, giggling.

“It is not my fault you sing such ridiculous songs!”

“I love you,” John said, looking at her with a stupid, dreamy look on his face.

“I looked it up.  ‘Whore’ is a derogatory name for a prostitute.  I do not know why you are singing about her, and why she must be killed.”

“Who’s killing a hooker?!” Nick asked again, a bit too loud this time.  Mrs. Chu glared in their direction.  The students sitting at the table next to theirs had all turned around and were also listening.

“You are all very annoying people.  I am only asking about the song that you were just singing.  One whore soaping slay.”

A second of silence.  And then they were all laughing.  Delenn no longer felt more than the tiniest, most fleeting needle of hurt, almost immediately forgotten, because she knew this group of Humans was not laughing at her with malice, but with affection.  And she could tell that for whatever reason, her difficulties with their language made them happy, none more so than John.

“One whore soaping slay!  One whore soaping slay!” Nick shouted out, in the cadence of the song.  He slapped the table with his hand; that was what he did when he was very happy, she had learned.

John put an arm around her waist.  “No, stop, you are smelly and you are damp,” she complained, shying away from him. He persisted, though, trying to nuzzle her neck, and she had the hardest time rejecting him when he was this happy.

“One.  Horse.  Open.  Sleigh,” he enunciated carefully.

“Why are you killing a horse?”

“No, no.  S-L-E-I-G-H.  It’s something you ride in.”

“Maybe if you all did not sing with your mouths full of food, I would be able to understand the words more clearly.”

“I love you,” he said again, this time whispering in her ear.

“I’m glad,” she whispered back, a second to bask in the glow of his affection.  “Now I mean it, John.  Stop holding me.  You are quite revolting at the moment.”


Busy, busy.  He was so fucking busy.  Classes!  Basketball practice!  Math tutoring!  The occasional news interview!  A serious girlfriend!  And he also had An Idea he was working on; right now he wasn’t doing much more than light research, mostly just letting the whole thing percolate in the back of his brain.  He was stumped on how fast an object needed to rotate in zero-g to create artificial gravity, and how much power that would take; physics was not his best subject.  Delenn was good at physics, but for a reason he hadn’t quite figured out, he wanted to keep what he was working on to himself for the time being.  He was afraid that she would think it was silly.

The sun was already setting by the time he got out of practice, showered, and got dressed again.  John went to collect Delenn from the library.  She wasn’t at any of the tables working on homework…there she was, over in the corner in a big overstuffed chair, reading a book.  She hadn’t seen him come in, so he took a moment just to look at her.  She had her lower lip caught between her teeth, which sometimes indicated that she was concentrating very hard on understanding what she was reading – she looked like that doing psychology homework, which had a lot of jargon she was always looking up.  But she wasn’t checking her lectern, so she must just have been engrossed in whatever it was she was reading.

John sometimes felt like he didn’t know what to do with the love he felt for her.  It was too much; it was overwhelming.  Kissing her wasn’t enough; making love to her wouldn’t be enough, when they got to that point.  He had an urge to just…smoosh himself against her as hard as he could.  He shook his head, thinking that his own thoughts were just too weird and gross, and she saw the movement and looked up.

“John,” she said, registering his presence.  Maybe that was enough – a woman existed named Delenn, and she knew who he was.  Maybe that was enough.

“You ready to get out of here?”

She carefully marked her place and joined him, taking his hand.  He stuck his free hand into his pocket, as he’d been doing all day.  (McCarty had been cracking lots of jokes, but when he’d answered Ms. Van Houten’s question about how to calculate the length of an arc with I’d be happy to tell you, the answer is cool, but I’m very distracted by John’s pocket pool John had threatened bloody, horrible death and McCarty had finally shut up.)  John closed his hand around Delenn’s gift, making sure it was still there.  Every fifteen minutes or so, he’d be positive he’d lost it, but no, it hadn’t gone anywhere.

He’d had a tough time figuring out Delenn’s birthday.  The Earth calendar and the Minbari calendar didn’t really mesh all that well.  It didn’t help that Minbari didn’t celebrate birthdays (it had been ten agonizing minutes explaining the concept in the first place), and Delenn didn’t actually know exactly when she’d been born.  She remembered her father telling her that it had been very cold, one moon cycle before the Leth’An, which was a holy day set aside to remember loved ones who had passed beyond the Rim.  (It sounded like a boring and depressing holiday to John, but that was Minbar for you.)  So he’d arbitrarily picked December 1st as her birthday.

He hadn’t told her that part yet.

“John?  Where are we going?”  She’d realized that he wasn’t taking her to her house, or to his, or to any other place she knew.  He just smiled at her, enjoying the confusion and frustration on her face.  Minbari didn’t do surprises, and Delenn still didn’t know how to deal with them; it was kind of like being with a little kid.  She was excited and upset and anxious and happy all at the same time.  “Where are we going, John?” she asked again, grabbing his arm.

“You’ll see.”

She flopped back into her seat with a huff.  He was surprised she hadn’t noticed his clothes; he’d brought them along to change into after practice.  He didn’t usually wear a dress shirt and actual nice slacks, let alone real man shoes.  But she wasn’t a hundred percent yet on what different Human clothing meant; she was still faintly scandalized every time she saw him in his basketball uniform (your legs, John, I can see almost all of your legs), but was delighted the time she showed up early on a Saturday morning and caught him still in his bathrobe.

“What was your trip here like?” he asked, starting to look for parking.  Of course December 1st would fall on a Friday, and of course he’d decided to take her downtown.  He could plan and plan and still manage to screw things up.  It was gonna be okay, though.  He would make it okay - better than okay.  Tonight needed to be perfect.

“To Earth?” she asked.  He nodded, and she thought for a little bit.  “To be honest, there was not enough money to buy the best ticket, so I was in a rather small room without access to what were considered the luxury amenities, which unfortunately included the observation lounge.  I mostly read and meditated in my room.”

“Ah.”  That’s what he’d been hoping for.

“Why do you ask?”

“Oh, just curious.”  But she was looking at him askance – he wasn’t the greatest liar in the world.  Most people seemed not to notice, but Delenn almost always did.  He decided it would be better to own up to it, so he dropped her a wink.  She glared at him – what is it John what is it tell me tell me! in her eyes – then settled back into her seat.

But he found parking!  He slid in right before some grizzly bear in a plaid suit who literally shook his fist at him, and for a second he was afraid the guy would try to race him for the spot anyway.  But then he could see the guy get a good look at Delenn in the passenger seat, and he drove off with an almost fearful look on his face.  Stupid son of a bitch, he thought as he came around the car to help Delenn out.  She caught the change in him and was looking a question his way, so he smooched her and made some shit up about stepping in a slushy puddle, and she was so concerned with trying to figure out where he was taking her that she let it slide.

He was taking her to a place with a French name he didn't know how to pronounce.  His mom had worked with him, along with how to say the names of the foods he was going to order; it was a lost cause.  Sometimes he wanted to pat her on the head and tell her that for all Dad was a diplomat and had been everywhere, and she was educated and fancy and shit, at the end of the day John himself would be a big corn-fed Midwestern farm boy till the end of his days and that was that.  But tonight he was going to eat duck-ah-low-raaaaaange and lays-airy-co-vairs and he was going to look the waiter straight in the eye and order a glass of wine and see what happened.

"John.  Oh, John, what is this?"

“It’s a restaurant,” he answered, grinning at her.  She still thought it was strange that Humans paid other people to prepare their food, when doing so for another for free was considered a great honor on Minbar.  But she always seemed to get a kick out of it when he took her out – some things crossed the cultural boundary between them, and she seemed to understand that eating out, especially at an actual restaurant, was something a little more special.

“I don’t understand the words,” she murmured.  There was a menu on display out front, and she had stopped to stare.  She wasn’t the only one staring – a couple smoking by the doors had turned their way and were looking at Delenn as though she were eating a puppy right in front of them.

“It’s in French,” John said, putting his arm around her waist.  He hoped she didn’t see the couple; he didn’t want her feeling self-conscious.

“Je ne parle pas français,” she said, her accent better than his.  That was just uncalled for, really.  John smiled, took her inside.  She looked all around as he walked up to the maître d’.

“I have a reservation for two under Sheridan,” he said, and the feeling that he was an adult now, that this was something adults did, that he wasn’t just a kid playing dress up, struck him quite suddenly.  The maître d’ scrolled through the screen on his podium.

“Yes, right this…”  The man trailed off; he had seen Delenn, who was standing quietly, holding John’s hand.  When she had first moved to Earth, those first few weeks at school, she might have blushed and looked at her feet under such scrutiny, but now she just looked back at the maître d’ levelly.

The pause continued.  “You were going to show us to our tables?” John prompted, bringing Delenn around the podium.  The maître d’ blocked him, holding up a finger.  Something about that raised finger – so simple, so seemingly inoffensive – made John start to see red.

“Oh, I’m so very sorry,” the maître d’ said, his tone implying anything but.  “We do not serve Minbari at this establishment.”

“What?” John asked, feeling something behind his eyes start to throb.

“Your…companion.  She is Minbari, is she not?”

“Of course I am Minbari,” Delenn said, not an ounce of shame, but without any anger, either.  But John felt her squeeze his hand tightly; one of these days she’d just snap one of his little hand bones, he knew it.

“We do not serve Minbari at this establishment,” the maître d’ repeated, with a tight little smile that was so prissy and smug that it was the last straw.

“That’s bullshit,” John told him, letting go of Delenn’s hand and neatly stepping around the maître d’. 

“Young man!  Young man, you can’t…”

“Hey there, folks!” John called, voice too bright.  The heads in the restaurant all swiveled his way.  Some faces were already angry at the interruption, some were vaguely alarmed, but most were just curious.  He figured that teenaged boys didn’t usually burst into this place and start yelling at the patrons.  “I just thought you should all know that this restaurant just refused to seat my girlfriend because she’s Minbari.  If you have a problem with that policy, then get up and leave – that’s the only way you can get through to people like this, by taking away your business.  If you want to sit and eat at a place that turns people away just because they’re different, then be my guest, but I just want you to know that you’re a bigot and a shithead.”  With that, he bowed, turned, and walked out.

Delenn was waiting for him at the door, looking at him with a mixture of pride and regret.  “We can eat somewhere else…” she said, and goddamnit, she should not be the one trying to comfort him.

“That’s not the point.”

“John, it’s fine.”

“No it isn’t!”  He didn’t mean to shout at her, but he was so angry he was seeing spots.  Before they could start back to his car, though, three couples came out of the restaurant.  The first wasn’t much older than they were, probably in college, and they exchanged info.  (“You hear of anyone else that has a policy like that, you let us know,” the girl said, insistent.)  The second couple were actual, legitimate French people, and they both kissed Delenn on the cheek.  He knew she wasn’t a huge fan of kisses from People Who Were Not John, but she accepted them with grace.

The third couple were probably in their sixties, with elegant silver hair and the beginnings of wrinkles.  “I recognize the two of you, from the news,” the man said, smiling.

“That’s us.”  John really didn’t feel like being reminded of that right now.

The woman handed Delenn a small piece of paper, folded in half.  She held her hands and bowed in the Minbari way; the man took the opportunity to lean in and whisper rather loudly into John's ear.  “You wanted to take your pretty little girlfriend out someplace nice?  This is a date?”  John frowned at him.  “Minbari have weak palates.  She would not have liked French food anyway."  A conspiratorial nod, and then the older couple turned and walked away, arm in arm.

"Look at this, John."  Delenn showed him the paper - two lines in an elegant script.  When you're ready, join us.  925 Iowa Ave.  John looked up, but the couple had already disappeared.  "What does it mean?"

"I don't know."  He took her hand and started walking in the opposite direction, toward their second stop.  He couldn't decide if he wanted to try and find someplace to eat along the way or not; mostly, he was thinking about the last couple.  How strange, to not just give him their number.  John looked at the slip of paper again, and an idea occurred to him so suddenly, so completely, that as soon as he thought of it he found himself positive he was right.  Those people were spies.  Probably worked for the GIA.  They had been waiting for the best time to approach them both, and now he was about to be recruited into some top-secret program aimed at resolving the Earth-Minbari conflict before it turned into a war.

Maybe, John thought as they waited to cross the next intersection, they’d ask him to go off-world.  In disguise.  Piloting his own ship...

Delenn squeezed his hand, and smiled up at him when he came back to Earth.  He realized that he had been staring off into the distance, probably looking morose as shit.  So the French restaurant had been strike one; he wasn't out yet.  Part two of this birthday date was still in play, and he decided that was the best part of the date, anyway.  Still, he was hungry.  He'd only had one lunch at lunch and no dinner, and they'd played a hard scrimmage against JV after school on top of that.

Secret spy man was probably right - Delenn wouldn't have liked French food that much.  But what to eat instead?  The question resolved itself when they passed by a food truck.  The college kids waiting in line (some of the girls in Minbari robes, real ones, not "Slutbari" robes as McCarty called them) greeted them enthusiastically, and the owner passed them out free falafels.  Spicy falafels; John smiled and chewed and pretended he didn't have a tiny tear sliding down his cheek, not when Delenn was touched by the gesture.  He wondered if the lady who ran this food truck knew how she honored Delenn by giving her that food?  He hoped so.

The wind picked up, and John started to get cold.  Only one more block.  He tried not to get tied up in his masculine ego, and he knew that she was a different fragging species, one that had evolved on a much colder world, but it kinda bugged that he was all hunched over against the wind, jacket pulled tight, while Delenn just walked along as easy as could be.  He wanted to be even colder and give her his jacket, but the gesture would be lost on her.

There it was; Delenn stared at the neon sign for a moment, then looked at him with a mixture of confusion and excitement.

"Remember our first date?” he said, smiling.  “I mean, the first part, before..."

"Of course I remember.  It was a wonderful evening."  Fighting with George and overhearing his mom's doubts aside, it had been a wonderful evening.  In a lot of ways, that day marked the end of one part of his life and the beginning of another; BD, AD.  Before Delenn, after Delenn.

They entered the arcade, and John asked at the back counter for Louisa, whom he had spoken to on the phone a few weeks earlier.  Delenn was staring question marks his way, but he resolutely ignored her.  "John.  Who is Louisa."  Was someone talking to him?  He didn't hear anything; he checked out the prizes in the glass cabinet.  "John."  Then Louisa came out.  She was about fifty years old, with a long, thick braid of perfectly white hair hanging down her back, bright blue eyes, and a truly magnificent set of cans.  For about half a second John forgot that Delenn even existed.  Then he blinked, and Louisa was extending her hand to shake, and they grinned at each other.

"You must be John!  Of course you are!  We haven't even set it up yet - it's still in the back!"  She dragged him along, and he dragged Delenn along, and they ducked through a curtain and made their way through the labyrinth of boxes and old game systems.  They entered a room that must have opened out to a loading dock in the back.  Against one of the side walls was a black capsule around eight feet tall and five feet wide.  The black didn't shine under the lights; it looked like null space, a void where the wall and floor should have been.

"John..." Delenn whispered. 

"Look at it!  Isn't it a corker!  Ten thousand credits, but we'll make it back in a month, I guarantee you!  Too many Earthbound folk around here, never a chance to see the real thing, though if you ask me this is better than the real thing!"  John wondered if she always spoke in exclamation points.  This is some great toast I'm eating for breakfast today!  Just a real corker of a slice of toast!

"How much?"  He hadn't discussed this part of it with Louisa on the phone; he'd emptied out his savings just in case, and loaded it on a print-activated credit chit (this only after Dad had lectured him on how dumb it was to carry around three hundred credits in cash).  He hoped he would have enough.

"Oh, screw off, kid," she said with a smile.  "Though not literally; I don't want to be cleaning anything up, if you catch my drift."  He did, and thankfully Delenn didn't.  One last brilliant wink, and Louisa left them alone, the door back into the arcade shutting with a good loud thud.

John walked over to the black capsule and rested his hand gently on its side.  He didn't think he was imagining things; it was definitely warmer than it should have been.  "I read about this six months ago, when they were testing the first prototypes.  It was developed for EarthForce training, but they figured they could make back the R and D money by selling and leasing units commercially."

"What is it?"  He didn't answer her, just found the nearly invisible depression on the side that opened the capsule; there was a sound as the side slid upwards, a barely-there sound.  To John, it sounded like the future.  He took Delenn's hand and brought her inside.

Faint blue lights guided them to sit on the bottom, in two low seats sculpted into the capsule itself.  Once they were situated, the blue lights faded away until they were left in absolute blackness; not even a hint of light, from inside or out.  The air was cool and slightly sweet.  John could hear Delenn's breathing, a little louder and quicker than it normally was.  Her grip on his hand was iron.

It started out so distant and dim that at first it was almost a subliminal impression of light.  A tiny white dot, suspended in the black void, and at first it was hard to tell if it was growing any larger or not.  Then it expanded in an almost dizzying jolt to their senses - a star, hanging before them in shining brilliance.  Flares seemed to snake out right toward them, and John felt Delenn jerk backwards.  He let go of her hand, slid his arm around her waist; she leaned against him, hand resuming its tight grip, but on his knee this time.

They swung around the sun, and a system spun before them, the stately dance of planets bound in orbit.  It wasn't Sol's system; no familiar blue dot of Earth or rocky expanse of the asteroid belt.  A few small planets first, all limned in pale rings of atmosphere.  They swooped down past each, seeing alien lakes and seas, towering mountain chains, desert vistas, ice fields, immense forests, monstrous geysers spewing forth.  Then they flew past gas giants, the colors almost too rich and bright to look at; the eye wasn't meant to see anything like this.  Bands of colors, swirled together, encircled by shining coronets.

A brief respite as they left the system, and then they were dodging comets.  John found himself wishing only for a moment that there were controls, that he could guide them, but he made himself relinquish control over the experience.  The last comet zipped by, and then they were caught up in its tail; glistening specks of dust all around them.  It was like floating in a cloud of diamonds.

They returned to the blackness, and John realized that he was shaking just a little bit.  He wished he could see Delenn's face, but by the time the blackness gave way he was too entranced to look her way.  Tiny pinpricks of light appeared all around them, not too different from the night sky on Earth if you got away from the cities.  But then they hurtled toward a thicker patch of stars, and the galaxy they belonged to came into focus.  They spun around its arms, passed through the veil of a nebula, and were finally swept along on a wave of sparkling, gem-studded asteroids caught in the gravity well of a black hole.  They slipped down past the event horizon, and the singularity overwhelmed them.

The darkness held them, safe and secure; just as his heartbeat slowed down to close to normal, the faint blue lights reappeared, guiding them to the exit.  John helped Delenn stand - her knees seemed as weak as his - and they groped their way out.  The back room of the arcade seemed to hang in front of him as insubstantial as a ghost; he couldn't make out any colors.  Black and white and shades of gray.  He knew it was the trip through the cosmos that had been fake, just an hour spent in a state-of-the-art VR pod, but it was the real world that didn't feel real at the moment.

John looked down at Delenn.  She was looking all around with a slightly dazed expression on her face; he thought that she must feel the same way he did.  But when he took her hand and smiled down at her, she didn't even look at him.  "Please take me home, John," she whispered.  He waited a moment, waited for her to smile, for her to tell him how much she'd enjoyed it, but she just stood there, staring at the ground, eyes blinking like she was trying to keep from crying.  He knew he should go through the store and thank Louisa, but for some reason it felt imperative to get Delenn home as soon as possible, so he slipped out the loading dock door to the back alley behind the arcade.  They made their way back around to his car, and he drove them through the first sputtering flurries of snow of the season.  Normally he'd be thrilled, pulling up some Christmas songs to sing along with, but a glance at Delenn in the passenger seat showed her studying the dashboard.  So he just took the quickest way back, wondering what he'd done wrong.

Strike two, maybe (though he didn't understand how that could have been a strike), but guys hit home runs on two strikes all the time.  He still had her gift in his pocket.  That would have to do it; it would have to.

He parked out front, and was relieved to see that Livia's car was gone; she and Judith must have still been out on their own date.  Delenn still looked vaguely crushed as she unlocked the door, but she let him trail behind her inside the house.  He followed her downstairs to her bedroom, and then they just stood there.  Delenn wringing her hands, John waiting for her to say something, anything.  He stuck his hand in his pocket, and for a second his fingers got tangled on an errant thread, and he was sure he'd lost her gift.  Lost it, after all of this.  But then his fingers closed around the velvet box, and he pulled it out.

"Um, this is for you.  For your birthday.  I know you said you don't have one, so I picked today.  Happy birthday."  Not the best speech, but he felt like trying to say anything else would just make him start babbling even worse, so he held the box out.  She just looked at it, so he took her hand, flipped it over, and rested the box on her palm. 

Delenn looked at the box, then stroked the top of it with her fingertips.  She finally made eye contact with him, and all he could see on her face was confusion.  "Thank you for the gift, John." 

"You didn't look at it."  She wrinkled her brow at him, then looked at the velvet box again. 

"It is very nice."  Oh, for crying out loud.  John took the box back from her and opened it up.  She stared at its contents for a long, long beat, that look she'd worn at the arcade coming back over her features. 

"It's a tradition, kind of.  Boys give their class rings to their girlfriends to wear.  But you don't really wear jewelry, especially not rings, so I took it to a jeweler."  The jeweler had snipped away the part of the band that wasn't engraved, straightened and thinned the rest, and attached a pin mechanism to the back.  Now John carefully undid it, and pinned the brooch he'd had made from his class ring onto the front of Delenn's robes.

She looked down at it, touched it gingerly, and burst into tears.  She looked up at him with an almost reproachful look, and John felt the bottom of his stomach fall out.

"You don't like it," he said. 

"It's perfect.  And the arcade was perfect, and the meal was perfect, and even trying to take me to such an impressive restaurant was perfect.  I cannot do the same for you."

"But it's your birthday," he explained.  "I'm the one that gets you presents; you're not supposed to give any in return."

"But you always do such wonderful things for me!  I have researched your holiday traditions.  I will be expected to give you gifts in a few weeks, but I have nothing I can give you.  I came to Earth with a single case of possessions, and I have no money.  There is nothing I can give you, nothing at all."

"No.  No, Delenn, that's not true."

She didn't seem to hear him.  "I will be so dishonored," she managed through her tears.  John wiped her cheeks dry, then held her face in his hands.

"Give me a kiss."  She sniffled and stared at him, so he repeated himself.  She leaned up on tiptoe and brushed her lips against his.  "There's no better gift that you could give me.  That anyone could give me.  You're the only thing I want."  She kissed him again, melting against him.  He hadn't said anything that wasn't one hundred percent true; this was all he wanted, this right here, this woman in his arms.


He'd reluctantly torn himself away from Delenn, before Livia and Judith had even come back.  He was afraid he'd go too far, and that was the last thing he wanted, especially this night.  It was getting harder and harder to keep himself confined to kissing and occasional above-the-waist petting; his body didn't understand genetic incompatibility or anything like that, and was screaming at him to make a baby with this girl post haste.  Their make-out sessions were getting shorter and less heated, and he was sure Delenn noticed, but it really wasn't a conversation he thought they'd be able to have.

So he drove home, not seeing the road at all, and thank God he traveled the route between their houses all the time.  His stomach was still lodged someplace around his heart, and his head was swimming; the things she did to him.  Mr. Gomez gave him a funny look from his car as he passed him turning onto their street, and it wasn't until John parked the car that he got a glimpse at himself in the rearview mirror and realized he was grinning like he was hopped up on all kinds of drugs.

Inside, slipping up to his bedroom without running into anyone else.  He took the time to carefully hang up his nice clothes, and then even though he felt as though he'd never sleep again, he climbed into bed.  Trying to do anything else was ridiculous; he'd never be able to concentrate.  So John just lay there, replaying the evening (he skipped the French restaurant part), letting himself just feel everything he felt for Delenn without having to think about it.  Despite himself, he found himself dozing, and the clink against his window snapped him awake with a snort.

John convinced himself he was hearing things, or had actually been asleep and dreaming, when he heard it again.  Tapping this time, right on his window.  Half a second of old childhood fears crowded in on him.  The Nightsnatcher from Dilgar has finally come to get me he's going to drag me outside and eat all my skin.  He walked cautiously over to his window, but his lamp was on right beside it and all he could see was his own reflection.

Tapping.  Light tapping.  John's arms broke out in goosebumps despite himself. 

With fingers that looked more steady than they felt, he reached out and waved off his lamp.  Delenn's white face hung outside his window, peering in at him.  He stared at her for a second, nonplussed.  Then he unlocked the window and opened it up.

"How did you get here?"

"Judith drove me over."

"No, how did you get here?"  Delenn waved her hand at him, and he helped her climb into his bedroom.  There were splotches of pink on her cheeks, and she looked nervous, but also excited, happy.  "How did you get up to the window?"

"I climbed.  There is a porch just underneath.  You did not know that?"

"Of course I know it - I've snuck out enough times.  Why didn't you just come to the door and knock?"

She looked everywhere but at him.  He hadn't seen her look or act like this in a couple months; not since they'd first started making out and she'd been too embarrassed to actually discuss kissing out loud.

"I did not wish your parents to know I was here," she said, blushing even more.  John didn't have a clue what was going on, and before he could formulate his next question Delenn sidled up to him, hands on his chest, tugging on his shirt as she leaned up to kiss him.  John found he didn't care anymore why she'd snuck over - though it wasn't really sneaking on her end, since Judith had brought her over, and that was kind of weird - he was just really happy to be kissing her again.  Surprise kisses were the best.

But the point of no return loomed up sooner than ever, and he backed up, breaking the kiss off.  "John..." she protested, trying to follow, but he held his hands out.

"That's all."


"You know why, Delenn."  Something gleamed in her eye then, something he hadn't seen before.  Something a little devious, a little flirty.  She closed the distance between them again, her hips moving side to side far more than they usually did, and she captured his hands when he held them up again to stop her.  She kissed him, boy did she kiss him, putting a hand over his heart.  She slid it down his chest, not stopping at his sternum, not stopping at his navel; she just kept on going, and John finally jerked back, feeling like an exposed live wire.


"Shh, your parents will hear."  Her mouth latched onto his neck, and her hands were everywhere, absolutely everywhere.  John felt his higher brain functions shut down, one after another.  Goodbye, language.  See you later, cognition.

"What...what..." he stammered, and she wound her arms around his neck and licked his lips.  Nice to know you, motor skills.

"The Minbari have a ritual."

"Of course you do."  Hey, sarcasm was still working.

"It is an important ritual.  But I am the only member of my clan living on this planet, so it cannot be done as it ought.  I think you will prefer it this way, though."

"What's the ritual?" he asked, hoping she wasn't expecting him to meditate any time soon.

"The Shan'fal.  It is an exploration of one another's centers of pleasure."

Her words might as well have been a mass driver landing between them.  Oh sweet holy hell.  John stared at her, knowing his eyes were bugging out of his head, pretty sure he was starting to drool.  He could feel his heartbeat in his groin, and knew that he'd die pretty soon.

"Delenn.  You don't have to, you know.  What I said earlier, about you kissing me being a gift..."

"Be quiet."  He obeyed, snapping his mouth closed so fast his teeth clicked.  "You talk about boyfriends and girlfriends, and your traditions.  Giving me your ring was an important step in our relationship as far as you are concerned, yes?  Relationships progress in a certain way on Minbar as well.  There are steps that a couple must follow.  This is one of them."

"Are you sure?"

"I am sure."  This time he didn't push her away and didn't freak out when his body responded.  He gave himself over to it, to each sensation.  They undressed each other, and she was more perfect than he could have ever imagined.  Exploration was the right word for it; they took their time, learning all they could.  John learned that Minbari experienced pleasure differently than humans, not a steady climb toward a single peak, but something more like a sine wave; there was an ebb and flow to it, and he studied the rhythms of her tide.

Hours later, he held her in bed, sure that no human being had ever felt happier and more satisfied than he did at that moment.  "I love you," he told her, and it wasn't something he felt, it was just an objective fact he was reporting.  But she had already fallen asleep, curled up against him.  John hugged her close and surrendered to sleep himself.  His last conscious thought was that nothing would ever come between them.  Nothing.

Chapter Eight - An End )

Tags: b5, fic, fic: alma mater, j/d

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