Specs: Babylon 5, post-S5, 5000 words
June 24, 2263
Delenn was pregnant. Hugely, gloriously, wondrously pregnant. They were meeting with her personal physicians once a week, now that she had entered the final stage. According to the Earth calendar, she was eight months along; no one was sure how much longer she had to go. The average gestation of Minbari took the equivalent of eleven Earth months. When the chief physician had told Delenn she might have two more moon cycles to go, she had given him a look that John had last seen on a view screen in Babylon 5’s C and C.
If she caught John watching her as she waddled to and fro, she would scowl at him, or say what were definitely rude things in Adronato. Sometimes both. If she caught John grinning at her as she waddled to and fro, she would threaten him. “Stop smiling right this instant, John, or I will never be intimate with you again.”
He couldn’t wait until she actually gave birth. The things she said then were going to be amazing.
Delenn had steadfastly refused to change her routine. She scheduled just as many meetings as she always had, and worked straight through her lunch period as was her custom. For much of her pregnancy she had seemed to have more energy, not less. Thick, lustrous hair; clear, shining skin; and oh, her tits. She was like a goddess, walking through the corridors of the ISA headquarters. Now that she looked positively ready to pop, John thought it wouldn’t be at all inappropriate to start worshipping her. But she had finally started to flag, and most nights when she returned to their quarters she looked exhausted. Unwilling to request what for her would have been special treatment, she still insisted on cooking their meals.
This morning had been difficult for her. Her nights had become more restless as she struggled to find a comfortable position in which to sleep. She had pulled herself out of bed looking groggy, irritable, and cantankerous. If she knew that he found those emotions utterly adorable on her, she would probably smack him, which he would just find even more endearing.
“Why don’t you take today off?” John asked as she glared at her own reflection in the mirror. He came up behind her and wrapped his arms around her midsection, nuzzling the back of her head.
“No,” she answered, short and crisp, and he smiled into her hair, glad she couldn’t see it.
“You look tired.”
She spun on him then, suddenly more quick and graceful than anyone her size should have been. A dark look on her face, and if she were a goddess, she would be the kind to capriciously throw lightning bolts around. “I do not look tired,” she informed him, in a tone that would brook no disagreement.
“Your doctors said you shouldn’t work yourself too hard,” he said gently, but she was already marching back into their bedroom, and goddamn it was funny to watch her march when she had to practically pump her arms to achieve that much speed. He followed her, and she was already ripping off her dressing robe and pulling on her daytime robes – one brief glimpse of her body, full and round and he loved every single thing about it, from the faint stretch marks to the dusky blue flush around her navel, which had shown up about a month ago. She wasn’t happy with her body. He knew this based on the pointed remarks she made, often implying the entire state of affairs was his fault. He knew it was his fault, and it filled him with the most perfect masculine pride.
“Delenn?” he said, and she continued to ignore him. “Delenn.”
“I have too much to do today.”
“Why don’t you reschedule one of your meetings?” John tried to help her snap up her robe, but she swatted him away. He knelt to slide on her stockings, and that she allowed, since she could no longer do it herself. But she was not happy about needing his help. He dropped light kisses on each of her knees anyway.
“No,” she said.
“No what?” John knew exactly what she was saying no to, and he slid his hand up and down her calf.
“Hurry up and finish,” was her only answer. He finished. “I am meeting with the Council today,” she went on, “to go over the ISA’s plans for the coming cycle. This meeting cannot be rescheduled.”
“I can do it for you. I am the President, after all.”
“Where are we planning to build a satellite installation?” she asked him, and John had an instant’s flashback to his fifth grade teacher, who had loved pop quizzes, the poppier the better.
“Yedor,” he guessed, though he stated his answer with absolute authority. Delenn looked at him for a beat, and then she slipped on her shoes and left their quarters without another word. A minute after she was gone, he distantly remembered her talking about the new ISA installation a week or two ago, and that they were hoping to build it in Tinarel. He was glad that his vice-president was such an understanding lady (when she wasn’t eight months pregnant, that is), and didn’t continually remind him of just how dumb he was.
He rescheduled his own afternoon and evening meetings, and went shopping. Tuzanor’s markets were almost too pretty to think of as being functional spaces; normally when they went shopping, he let Delenn pick everything out while he wandered around, staring at this and that. Now he had to actually figure out where everything was, what he needed, and how he was supposed to buy it. Minbari weren’t fond of currency, preferring barter and favors, an elaborate system of services and goods owed that could sometimes stretch back generations. John didn’t like to owe anyone favors for fruit and vegetables, and he didn’t have much to barter. He also had no services he could render in payment, since he didn’t think I’m essentially in charge of you was much of a service, all things considered. He eventually worked it out (paying for the Minbari equivalent of broccoli by kissing the head of the booth keeper’s baby; some things were apparently universal) and made his way back home. His Minbari aide kept requesting to assist him in the kitchen, but he shooed her away, and set to cooking his wife a delicious dinner.
Just to prove he wasn’t as dumb as Delenn must have sometimes thought, he was in fact capable of learning. He cleaned up dishes while he cooked. By the time he was finished, it looked like only a moderately-sized explosive had detonated inside the kitchen, instead of an entire fucking nuke.
John had just finished picking up, and was plating the meal, when Delenn came home. She stomped right past him, though her stomps were sad, weak little things. Almost pitiful. Her sighing was like constant background music as he lit the candles and arranged some flowers. Sighs as she took off her shoes. Sighs as she slipped out of her robes, and back into the voluminous, drapey things she wore at home. Sighs as she went into the head, and sighs as she came out. After they were finished eating, John planned to draw her a nice, warm bath. Wash her hair. Dry her off and rub lotion into her skin. Rub her sore little feet. Rub the small of her back. Hopefully rub some other parts of her body, though she had made it clear nearly a month ago that she would inform him when she was ready to be serviced. (The one time he had attempted to bring it up casually, in hopes she would think the whole thing was her idea, she had also informed him that he could service himself from now on. She’d apparently forgotten this vow and had given him an exquisite blowjob four days later, but he didn’t want to press his luck.)
She joined him, and it was clear she had not seen the meal and all his other preparations when she’d returned. John was hoping to see a smile, or at least a nice, warm look, but instead she tilted her head at him, eyes suspicious.
“What is this?”
“It’s dinner,” he said, guiding her to her chair, helping her sit. She looked at the food as though she were expecting it to attack.
“Where did you get it?”
“I made it.” Now she was looking at him as though he were going to grab a fork and start stabbing her. He pretended he didn’t notice, and joined her at the table. A moment of quiet, to sit in appreciation of what the universe provided (good God let’s eat), and then they dug in.
Well, he dug in, at any rate. A lifetime of SUAEI had inured John to pretty much any food prepared in pretty much any way. As long as it wasn’t rotten, or still alive (and he’d made exceptions for both), he’d eat it just fine. The meal tasted pretty good to him. Maybe not the best ever, but better than his last attempt to make Minbari cuisine. He looked up to see how Delenn was liking it, and as he did, she burst into tears.
“Oh, Delenn. What’s wrong?”
“You made all this food!” She took another bite, her face all scrunched up. She set her fork down with a loud sniffle.
“You went to so much trouble!” He came around the table and knelt beside her, rubbing his hand up and down her back.
“It wasn’t that much trouble. Honest.”
“Why did you do this?” She put her head in her hands. John hadn’t expected her to be this overwhelmed by the gesture, and rather than feel pleased with himself, he only felt guilty for not thinking to do it earlier.
“You deserve to rest when you come home,” he told her in soothing tones. “You’re working so hard just to finish making our boy; you don’t need to worry about cooking or anything else.” He leaned up to kiss her on the temple. “Just let me take care of you.”
She shook her head, nearly hitting him in the face. He neatly dodged her, turned his back rubbing into half a hug. “You went to so much trouble,” she said again, and instead of finishing her sniffles and getting back to eating, she started crying even harder.
“I don’t mind. I’d cook for twice as long – I’d cook all day, even. I love you.”
“Oh, but John, it’s awful. I can’t eat it. It’s…all…awful…” No more words then as she broke down, the hormones that normally made her so grouchy now making her weepy and emotional. John rubbed her back for a few more minutes, then got up to call his aide and ask her to bring them some dinner.
October 31, 2269
It had gone on long enough. John’s foot was in the air, and whether Delenn liked it or not, he was putting it down.
David spoke flawless Adronato, and decent Vik. He already knew the seven stages of enlightenment, the prayers for peace and understanding, and the correct ritual of handwashing before an important meal. (This was something that John still hadn’t quite worked out; he could never remember that it was right hand before left, and had to start over, which meant he needed new, clean cloths to dry his hands with, but he’d already dripped water all over them, and by this point Delenn usually hissed at him to hurry up so they could eat.) David could recite the Story of Minbar’s Creation, he knew the names and dates of the three main epochs of the planet’s history, and he of course knew the Tale of Valen (though he didn’t yet know that Valen was someone his Mom and Dad had both known; John was afraid his little mind wouldn’t be able to handle that particular revelation for a few years yet). David loved going to temple, loved afternoon instructional time, loved watching the Warriors practice on the Campus outside the city. In short, he was a perfect little Minbari, for all that he had precious little Minbari blood running through his veins.
John had asked him a week ago if he were excited about Halloween, and David had asked him what Halloween was.
Delenn and the boy were visiting a shrine out on the plains, and would be back around the first sunset. John had bid them farewell as though it were any other day, but as soon as he had word that they had well and truly left the city, he started. He had planned as though it were a military op, and the Minbari he had enlisted as part of his plan answered to him as though he were still a military commander, which made him perhaps happier than it ought to have.
A tiny Warrior uniform made to David’s measurements. A fully extendable denn’bok only a meter long. A black silk purse, like the one Delenn took to temple to carry her offerings, except that of course David would be the one receiving the offerings.
A route had been planned through the city, and confederates were in position. Sadly, the one thing that David was truly afraid of was also the only actual Earth thing he really knew about. (After making it through three minutes of a vid, he’d run to his room and refused to come out. But he incessantly peppered John with questions for weeks later. “Is it like a denn’bok? Do they hit each other with it? Is the ball magic? Does it kill people?") John had been preparing for almost a month, and the last item had arrived two days ago. He’d been fretting about it, and had finally asked his aide to have the member of the Worker caste that made their clothes to try and draw up a pattern based on vids – no need, now. As he toured the route, making sure everything was in place, Herrenn came out of his house to show off the costume, grinning in a way few Minbari ever grinned.
“How do I look?” the Warrior asked. The last time John had seen him was two days ago, and he’d been bellowing at a Drazi during the semi-annual treaty renewals – it was a stark contrast from the Minbari now doing an honest-to-God twirl.
“I’m glad we got the hat,” John answered. “It just wouldn’t have worked without the hat. Now smear this under your eyes.”
Herrenn took the profferred tube and opened it. A question in his eyes that many Minbari would not have voiced – not to each other, certainly not to John. But Herrenn was not most Minbari. That’s why John had picked him for this, perhaps the most important part of the evening. “What is this?”
“It keeps the sunlight from reflecting up into your eyes. You don’t want the glare to blind you.”
“But your son will not be coming this way until it is nearly dark.”
“Just put it on.”
Checking the route and Herrenn’s costume and decorating their quarters were important, but the most important task of all was also the most challenging. He had treats to make. Some candy he bought, having it shipped from Earth in fairly creative ways, making sure that neither Delenn nor David saw any of it ahead of time. (His favorite had been a Snicks Bar hidden in a box of cigars.) But there were some things that just needed to be homemade. He popped popcorn and melted sugar and made popcorn balls. He swore and cursed and threw things and had a time-out and finally finished baking chocolate chip cookies. And he jury-rigged a goddamned weaving machine to spin a canister to make ice cream.
Everything was ready. And unlike his last attempt at cooking, John knew damned well that everything tasted wonderful. Everything tasted great. The cookies tasted okay, and everything else tasted great. (He’d left the cookies in too long. They weren’t quite rock hard, but they were close. David could make ice cream sandwiches. A brilliant idea!)
He heard them coming home long before he saw them. David was at the age where he was wide awake before first sunrise, needed two naps before lunch, ran around like a crazy person on drugs for an hour after eating, conked out immediately following as though he were dead, had around twenty minutes of normal, sedate behavior right around dinner, and then was crazy again for a few hours, fighting falling asleep as hard as he possibly could, until John finally picked him up and bodily put him to bed.
“They were birds! Up above the clouds! I saw them!”
“Birds cannot fly that high, David.”
“Birds! Great big so’lina! I saw them, ama, I saw them!”
“They were shuttles, David.”
Delenn’s footsteps were silent, but he could hear David’s little pattering gait growing louder and louder, along with his son’s insistence that the objects he’d seen flying were the ancient bird-gods of myth. And then all sounds ceased. Long moments of stillness, and John, now standing between the huge lit candelabra, pulled on his night-black robes, bringing a fold over his head, shadowing his eyes.
“Who goes there!” he shouted in a deep, gravelly voice. More silence. He knew Delenn would recognize his voice – he may have occasionally used a similar voice (same amount of gravel, a little less volume) in the bedroom – but he was hoping that David didn’t. She wouldn’t know what was going on, but she would know they were safe. Even now she would be taking the boy’s little hand, perhaps already clammy and damp. She would be whispering a few comforting words. Who do you think is waiting for us, David? Why don’t we go find out. She would be leading him forward, through the entryway, up a few steps, right into…
Screams! Shrill little boy screams! He had just walked into the fine silk threads John had strung loosely across the threshold, as close to spiderwebs as he could get. He had sprayed the threads with watered-down nectar, just to make them a little bit sticky. David would be pulling them away, probably getting frantic. Delenn would be hiding a smile – not necessary, since he had manually turned off all the lights and set them to answer to his voice command only, so David would not be able to see her face. Or much of anything else.
“I’m waiting for you…” he intoned gravely, dragging the last syllable out, putting a little shake in his voice. David would be torn between fear and curiosity, terror and ecstasy, that most wonderful contrary combination of emotions that had seemed to define John’s own childhood. The boy would be tugging on his mother’s hand while he shrank away from the walls, shadowed as he had never seen them, hiding who-knew-what monsters and horrors.
The dry ice, so prevalent on Minbar’s surface, was still sublimating thick vapors from the pans of warm water John had tucked into nooks around their main room. He checked to make sure the clouds were swirling ominously around his ankles, and crossed his arms forbiddingly across his chest.
Any second now. John realized he was having more fun than he’d had in years. This was what being a dad was all about. If he hadn’t already smeared his face with silvery-gray paint, he might have allowed himself one grateful, indulgent tear.
Heavy breathing. Heavier footsteps. The poor kid must be terrified! John smiled, unable to help himself.
Here they came…
Delenn was carrying David as he hadn’t allowed anyone to carry him in almost two years. On her hip, his little head buried in her neck, his little hands fisted in her hair. Even in the dim, flickering candlelight John could tell by the way his shoulders were moving that he was crying. Even if he hadn’t been able to figure any of the rest of it out, he would have known that it hadn’t been the best start to the night based on the way Delenn was looking at him. It was a look that said: John. My Human mate. Why do you do such things? Why do you do such things to me? Do you have a brain in your skull at all, or do you just use the space to store extra stupid, in case you run out?
“Davey, hey buddy, it’s me. It’s Dad, okay?” David craned his neck around, took one look at the gray-faced, dark-robed man looming in what should have been the safest place he knew, and howled in terror.
Half an hour later, after John had washed off his face and turned on the lights, the three of them sat on the couch, David tucked tightly between them. Not only did John have to explain Halloween to David, he had to explain it to Delenn. “I thought that it was a day to honor your dead?” she’d said, frowning at him. No, honey. It’s a day where we let our kids dress up like heroes and princesses and monsters and ghouls, we do our best to scare them shitless, and then we ply them with sugar.
It was hard to explain trick-or-treating to members of a species – and David’s DNA aside he was as Minbari as they came – who would consider a trick the worst affront to another’s honor. So he kept it to the treating.
“But why did you wish to scare him?” Delenn asked, smoothing down the boy’s hair, the candlelight striking her face in such a way that John was reminded of a Madonna with child.
“Because it’s fun.” The answer sounded lame even to his own ears.
Then David was allowed two bites of his candy bar, which perked him up, and then he was shown his little Warrior costume, which turned him into another creature entirely. John got to see the look of absolute and undiluted glee he had been hoping for, and he thought his own face would split from grinning.
“I am a member of the Warrior caste! I wield a mighty pike!” (John had to hug Delenn and hide his laughter in her hair. He made a mental note to remind David that he had said this in about eight years.) “Shadows beware!”
They left their home and walked through the city. The route was lined with paper lanterns. He’d wanted jack o’lanterns, but the cost to line the mile or so of their route was a little high even for him. Maybe next year he’d have one shipped out for the three of them to carve together.
Clusters of Minbari here and there stood outside and watched, smiling for the most part. He’d enlisted some kids around David’s age; it was no fun to trick-or-treat alone. Little Faran was wearing pure white robes, her face painted white as well, her bone crest slicked with wax until it shone. David’s best friend Castoon was wearing his regular play robes, but had painted his bone crest bright scarlet. And Junin, who was normally a very quiet child who had never looked at John any higher than his knees, was almost manic, hopping up and down, the crystals he had tied around his waist clanging together like he was some pagan god of wind chimes.
Peppermints and popcorn balls and sugared tea leaves and pieces of bubble gum and thick Minbari “honeycomb” and little chocolates were dropped into the kids’ bags. Many of the Minbari had made their own treats as well. The kids screamed “trick or treat!” in English, no one but John having any idea what the strange words meant. His confederates played their roles flawlessly. A monster (Castoon’s father wearing a rubber mask) chased a pretty Minbari girl right across their path; she screamed so convincingly that even John got goosebumps. A Brakiri on the corner told the kid’s fortunes, after they paid her a piece of their candy. His own aide stood just far enough away that the kids couldn’t recognize her, and just smiled and stared at them as they passed; it was damned eerie, and John watched David take Delenn’s hand. She looked down at their son, and he thought maybe now she understood why parents sometimes let their little kids get scared, instead of protecting them from all possible sources of fear. It felt good to be the person who made your child feel safe.
But he remembered too late just how afraid David had been when they’d first come home. What was coming up ahead was likely to just be too much for the boy, but John didn‘t realize in time. They were already walking up the path.
“Shit! Hang on.” He tried to run ahead, but the kids were all walking side by side, and he didn’t want to shove them out of the way. He heard Delenn asking him what the problem was, but Herrenn was already coming out his front door.
The costume looked great. Cleats, pin-striped pants, jersey (and he’d even had the Minbari’s name sewn on the back), and last but not least the recently-arrived ball cap. The Warrior adjusted the brim, slung his wooden bat over his shoulder, and smiled. “How are you children doing tonight?” he asked, in what must have been his attempt at a flat American accent. John would have laughed if he’d been able to breathe.
The kids didn’t move. There was a long beat of silence. Then David shrieked. Delenn was moving forward to grab him even as David took his denn’bok and charged. He smacked Herrenn right in the thigh, and John could tell he’d done so as hard as he absolutely could.
John had never been so proud in his life.
His little legs gave out halfway home, and John carried him the rest of the way. Back to their quarters, David’s head lolling about on his neck, but he insisted on dumping out his bag and sorting through all his treats.
“Are you ready for bed?” Delenn asked him.
“You look sleepy.”
“David, don’t shout at your mother.”
“Sorry, ama. Can I eat this?”
John brought out the chocolate chip cookies and the ice cream. (“John, he cannot eat any more food. His stomach will split open.”) David turned the cookie over and over, then took a tentative nibble. His face turned to John’s, and it was one of those moments where John saw not David, but the combination of his families in his face. John’s own face as a child, although with his father’s ears and his mother’s hair. David’s mouth was a round little O, and he stared at John with Delenn’s big gray eyes.
Then he shoved the rest of the cookie in his mouth.
“John, stop him. David! That is enough.”
“It’s Halloween, Delenn.”
“He will learn bad habits.”
David ate another cookie, then ate some ice cream. His eyes were getting heavy and glassy. More ice cream ended up smeared over his face than in his mouth. He sorted through his candy again, hunched over the pile on the floor like a tiny little pirate gloating over his hoarded wealth. Finally he came up with one of the popcorn balls. He turned it over and over in his hands, and it got warm enough that John could see it begin to get sticky.
“He will need so many baths,” Delenn said in a quiet voice, mostly talking to herself. She was pretty tired, too, having shrugged out of her outer robe and shucked her shoes; John rubbed her feet. “There is something in his hair.” A sugared tea leaf; John plucked it out.
Finally David brought the popcorn ball up to his face. He opened his mouth as though he were a python - he might have actually unhinged his jaw - and took a bite. With a savage twist of his head, he broke off his mouthful of caramel-y popcorn. Chewing, chewing.
Then David’s little hands were flying in the air. He stared at his parents with horror and panic, wide awake again.
Muffled screams that might have been words. David’s face turned bright red, and fat tears rolled down his cheeks.
“David?” Delenn was down on the floor in an instant. “John!” He joined her, and was horrified to see red blood dripping down his son’s chin.
“Jesus Christ! David!” John dug his fingers into the boy’s mouth and pulled out the half-chewed lump of popcorn ball. Embedded in one side was one of David’s baby teeth. David reached up, still sobbing, and stuck a finger into the bloody hole in his mouth.
It took them a full hour to get him calmed down enough to sleep.
The next day, John saw that David had put his bag full of candy on the little table by the front door, where Delenn put her papers and things to take into the city. John waited a few days, but the bag remained, untouched. He finally gave it to his aide to disperse among the other children.
A month later, he asked David if he wanted to try making cookies with his dad. David stared at him balefully, then crawled into Delenn’s lap and wouldn’t talk to him the rest of the day.
The next year, almost two dozen little Minbari children went trick-or-treating, David with them. (He was wearing a tiny Army of Light uniform, having spent the past three months obsessively watching vids of his own father. “I am Commander David Sheridan! I order you to surrender your ship!”) David came home and sorted his treats into two piles - those with wrappers, and those that were homemade. Everything homemade was set aside, and the next day John found a pile of them on the little table by the front door.