Sheridan was piloting a Starfury, being chased by some mysterious, monstrous ship ten times the size of his own. He was only meters from the surface of Babylon 5, sliding past the solar arrays, trying to dodge and weave and draw the thing following him into the station's firing solution. The station was thousands of klicks away, and he just tried to run. Every time he thought he'd pulled far enough ahead, the enemy ship gained on him. The controls of the Starfury were slow to respond, and he kept overcompensating, careening wildly first one way, then the other. He found himself in a dive straight for Epsilon Three; no matter what he hit on the console, nothing happened. The planet swallowed up the stars, and he could see the atmosphere grow from a hazy shimmer into a blinding red inferno enveloping him. He tried to pull the eject, but he couldn't reach it. The g-forces grew and grew, and he was getting heavier and heavier...
Sheridan woke up with a start, sliding down the surface of Delenn's bed, and he nearly panicked. He managed to grab the edge of the infernal thing and stop himself. Pushed with his feet, got himself back upright. His heart was still hammering; he hated that particular anxiety dream. It had only recently begun to take place around Babylon 5; just a few weeks ago he was still flying around the Agamemnon, and it wasn't long before that he had still been chased by a Minbari fighter.
He turned his head and looked over at his Minbari. Delenn was curled up in her chair, sound asleep. Sheridan watched her breathe, watched her eyes move back and forth underneath her eyelids. She was having a dream of her own. He wondered what she was dreaming about. He wondered how long she'd stayed awake, watching him.
Sheridan stood, tentatively stretched out his limbs. Nothing felt stiff or sore, which surprised him; maybe her bed wasn't as awful as he'd thought. The light had just begun to brighten; he probably had an hour before he'd have to leave. He crouched by her chair, watched her face for a few minutes. He was about to declare the whole watching thing a Minbari tradition that just didn't make sense to humans when she shifted a little, her brow slightly furrowed. She breathed out his name. She was dreaming about him.
Then she shifted again. Hummed a little sound, her breathing changing. Oh. Oh. It was that kind of dream. Sheridan was torn. Part of him wanted to camp out right in front of her and watch. Part of him wanted to figure out if he could somehow participate. But most of him wanted to spare her any embarrassment. He needed a shower anyway, so he pulled himself away and went to the head, quietly closing the door behind him.
He turned the water on, hoped that Minbari didn’t take cold showers. No, nice and warm. He stepped in, and, as always, took those first ten seconds to turn his face up into the spray and breathe out in one long exhale. Sheridan examined the pretty bottles on the shelf under the shower head. This gooey pink one was probably shampoo; he gave it a sniff. Flowers. Great. He might as well hang a sign on his back. He used as little as he could, lathered his hair up in the rough, quick strokes he’d perfected at the Academy, when they’d often got only two minutes in the shower.
The door to the head clicked open. He hoped she didn’t mind that he’d borrowed her shower. He didn’t think she would, but so much of this was still so new, and he didn’t want to make blind assumptions.
“Hey, I’ll be done in a sec,” he called out, aware that she could probably make out his body through the opaque glass of the shower door. She’d given him the once-over last night, but that had been after some fairly intense emotional intimacy, which was different than a naked man hanging out in your brightly lit bathroom just after you woke up.
“May I join you?” She probably meant in the head in general. Brush her teeth or something.
“Sure.” He started rinsing the suds out of his hair when he heard the shower door open and close. Sheridan froze, then slowly turned. She was standing naked just behind him, smiling a little, looking completely relaxed. “Hi...” he said, pretty sure his brain had fallen out of his ears.
Delenn didn’t say anything, just brushed past him to stand under the shower head. His nervous system short-circuited. He just stood dumbly on the other side of the shower and watched as she closed her eyes, tipped her head back into the spray. There wasn’t a thing he could do. He had to watch the water run down her body, had to memorize every line and curve. Last night he’d told her that her breasts were perfect; he’d had no idea.
She opened her eyes, found the shampoo and handed it to him. “Will you wash my hair?” she asked, tone completely normal, as though they’d done this hundreds of times. Maybe he was still dreaming. He tried to say of course, but it came out as a choked gurgle. He poured shampoo in his hand, squeezing out probably three times as much as he needed. She had already turned around, facing away from him.
Sheridan started on the top half of her head. For some reason, he’d thought she could pull her hair up and over the bone crest, but it actually grew out from the scalp and then down into the bone. He could only move the hair the tiniest bit, so he carefully used the tips of his fingers to lather the shampoo up.
“For Minbari,” she said, “bathing is an important ritual. We believe it to be symbolic of rebirth. Normally we would not bathe together until after we had completed the watching ritual and a few others, but I wanted to share this with you. I think we have both been reborn the last few days, together.”
He washed the rest of her hair, a lot simpler. “So this is another of the rituals we go through as we explore our relationship?”
“Everything can be a ritual if you approach it in the proper mindset. But no, this is not a specific ritual. However, since we have already shared more physical intimacy than we ought to have at this stage in our relationship, I felt that the benefits of bathing together were more important than strict adherence to tradition.”
He rinsed her hair, then Delenn retrieved another bottle. Sheridan held out his hand, but she poured the soap into her own, started washing his chest. He leaned down to kiss her, and she pulled back.
“We’re bathing,” she said, as though that were all the explanation he needed.
“I can’t kiss you?” She shook her head, hands still on his chest. “Ever?”
“This is our first time bathing together.” She sounded a trifle upset, like a schoolteacher who had just figured out her student hadn’t been listening.
“Of course.” She gave him a look that told him she would let him go, this time. She ran her soapy hands over his shoulders, down his arms, then underneath them, scratching her nails through the hair there. Normally he was a little ticklish, but laughing while she had her wet, soapy hands on him was the last thing on his mind. Then her hands traveled down his ribcage, around to his stomach, one finger sliding over his navel, her thumbs just above his pubic hair.
Rebirth. Important. Only bathing. Be in control. Think about Londo or something. Then Delenn stepped back, handed him the soap. “Now you finish.” That didn’t seem fair. Sheridan washed the rest of his body, quickly. She talked a good talk, but he could see her eyes taking particular interest as he soaped up his groin, and he might have lingered there a little bit longer than he needed. Then she stood aside so he could rinse, and kept her back turned to him.
“Now you wash me.”
“John...” He grinned at the back of her head, loving that schoolteacher voice again, enjoying playing with her just a little bit. He washed her back, and as he ran his hands over the delicate curves of her shoulder blades, the prurient interest that had floated just under the surface of this entire exercise melted away. Maybe he never felt reborn after taking a shower, but there were plenty of times that he came out and felt like a human being again. Felt energized, ready to start his day. He had never thought about sharing a shower as a way to share that experience, but he liked it.
When he knelt to wash her legs she didn't protest. Neither did she protest when he turned her around, washed the rest of her. He rinsed her off, then they just stood under the spray for awhile, arms loosely around each other. They had been reborn together. He liked the sound of that.
They toweled each other off, and he combed out her hair. Leaned against the door and watched as she dried it, arranged it. "You're pretty good at that."
"I had a good teacher."
"Who?" he asked, at a loss. He had an image of Lennier helping her do her hair and had to tamp down a most undignified snort.
"Ivanova," she said, finishing up.
"No shit." Sheridan felt like the Grinch just then, thinking of Susan showing Delenn how to brush and dry and style her hair. Not that Ivanova didn't have lovely hair herself (he was a man, not a robot), but he'd never seen her as the nurturing sort. But his heart hadn't grown too many sizes to not make him realize he'd also picked up some good ammo, should he require it.
Delenn headed back into her bedroom, hanging up her towel as she did so, and yes, the mere existence of something as lovely as her ass was reason enough to find them attractive. Sheridan pulled his uniform out of the thermal unit, gave it a sniff as always - yep, it was clean. He didn't trust the damn things. His mom still washed clothes with soap and water, hung them out to dry if it wasn't too cold, and nothing cleaned in a thermal unit ever felt as clean, even though he knew intellectually the clothes that came out were ten times more clean than even the best detergent could manage. He joined Delenn, hoping they'd dress each other, but she was already pulling on her outer robe, snapping it in front.
"I've got to get going soon," Sheridan said, tugging on his boxers. She was making the bed, and he wondered if all women knew how to tuck the sheets in so they actually laid flat, if it was genetic or something.
"It's only oh-six-thirty." He'd thought that her lights were synched with standard morning, but she must have set them earlier than that.
"Oh. Then I've got some time." He was still bare-chested, and as she was finishing the bed he came up behind her. Put his arms on either side of her body like he was going to do a push-up against the bed, and waited for her to turn around. He lowered himself onto his elbows, smiled at her response.
"John. I do not want to change into another set of robes after you wrinkle these."
"I'll be very careful." And he was, gently lowering himself the rest of the way. He felt her spread her legs just a bit in an attempt to accommodate him, and she put one of her hands at the small of his back, fingers just inside his waistband. Then they were kissing, and Sheridan decided he was going to resign as Commanding Officer of Babylon 5, and sign up as Commanding Officer of Kissing Delenn. He'd have to take a pay-cut, but that was okay.
She arched her back underneath him, pressing herself up, and he felt something hard poke him just over his sternum. He broke off the kiss, rubbed the spot.
"I'm sorry," Delenn said, fingers fighting his aside to administer to the reddened area. "It was my pin."
"It didn't really hurt much, don't worry about it." Sheridan braced himself on one arm, took a good look at her pin. He'd noticed it, since it was the only piece of jewelry she wore, but hadn't thought about it much. Three different crystals, one after another, all of slightly different shades of light purple. "This is pretty."
"The top crystal is from my childhood home. The middle is from the temple I attended while an acolyte. The last is...from my father's grave." He rolled onto his hip beside her, put his hand on her neck, thumb under her earlobe, fingers rubbing the back of her neck.
"Then it's more than just pretty, I guess."
"Yes." She rolled over to mirror him, kissed him. Soft, soft. "No matter where I go in the universe, I carry my home with me."
"It's not so different for soldiers. Most everyone I know has something from home, something small they can take with them from ship to ship."
"And you? What do you carry to remind you of home?"
"It's up in my quarters. I'll show you tonight." She was running her nails through his chest hair, lightly, and he figured it was an entirely new experience for her. Sheridan wasn't used to this much physical contact with someone else; it had been a long time. He felt like a dry riverbed underneath a sudden downpour.
"Will you be back in your quarters for dinner?"
"Yes," he said, trailing his hand down her arm. "Barring an emergency, I will be back in my quarters by twenty-two thirty, and I expect to see you there."
He'd only been kissing her ten minutes or so after that when his link beeped; he supposed making dinner plans in advance was tantamount to shaking his fist at fate when it came to this station. "Captain, get up here ASAP. General Franklin has just shown up with six ships of Ground Pounders. Don't know why." Ivanova sounded even more harried than usual, which wasn't surprising. Sheridan didn't even bother answering, just flung himself off the bed and looked for the rest of his uniform.
"Shit. Shit!" Where were his shoes? He hadn't walked over here barefoot. It figured that EarthForce would send that large a party of troops and not even give him a warning. He wouldn't be surprised to find out this was some kind of bullshit test or something. He pulled his shoes on, zipped up his jacket, and was almost to the door when he remembered Delenn. Sheridan turned around, and she was coming his way, his rank and insignia in her hands.
"I'm sorry," he said, jabbing his neck a little trying to pin his rank on as quickly as possible.
"Don't apologize, just go." He grabbed her by the shoulders and gave her a good, hard smooch, then turned and left. Jogging up to the tube, he knew there wasn't a chance in hell he'd have dinner with her tonight; maybe, if he was lucky, he'd have the opportunity to at least call her and let her know. He thought how nice it would be to come back at the end of the day and just have her there, know that even if all he did was strip and climb into bed that he'd be climbing in beside her. Maybe soon.
He'd managed to greet the General not too long after he'd docked, feeling like a goddamn cadet, standing there at attention for a good ten seconds before the great man deigned to return his salute. Now he was walking with Garibaldi and Ivanova to the briefing room, to learn why the hell twenty-five thousand Ground Pounders were being unloaded onto his station.
"You smell like flowers," Ivanova said darkly, and Garibaldi gave him a big thumbs up.
"Now is not the time," Sheridan replied, putting on his very best CO voice, complete with frowny eyebrows and turned down mouth.
"I bought that shampoo," Ivanova hissed.
"Well, thank you, Commander. My hair is so soft, and I feel very pretty," he said, and they turned into the briefing room.
"I'm very glad you feel pretty, Captain. Now, if we can get started." General Franklin, who had him beat in the frowny eyebrows department, no question about it. Sheridan carefully marked which of his own men and women smirked at the General's remark - they'd get theirs later, that was for sure. This was all somehow Ivanova's fault. But her eyes quit smiling and he quit worrying about revenge within the first thirty seconds of the briefing. Sheridan felt himself fall back into the familiar rhythms of military strategy, the planning of an op, the deference for the chain of command warring with the need to highlight problems with the plan.
By the end of the briefing he'd forgotten about dinner.
Sheridan was walking back up to the briefing room, which for the time being was the General's personal base of operations. He'd been checking on the billets for the GroPos - by the time they got all of them settled, it would be time for them to ship out. Too many people on the station; the air recycling systems were chugging along as well as they could, but the air smelled more stale and redolent than usual. Garibaldi was up ahead, and as soon as the Chief saw him he came running Sheridan's way, a peculiar look on his face.
"Look, everything's okay. It's okay."
"Okay. Glad to hear it."
"There was...an incident. She's okay, John, everything's okay." Sheridan didn't hear the half-dozen 'okays,' he only heard what was in between - there had been an incident, and she had been involved. Delenn.
"Some of the GroPos got in her face, talking shit about her, about the way she looks. I think one of them grabbed her arm. That's it, though. Okay? She's okay. I just thought you should know."
"Who." Sheridan felt something dark settle around his heart. "Who grabbed her? Who said things to her?"
There was a long pause. "By the time I got there, one of the others had broken it up. I don't know who. Maybe it would be best if she stayed in her quarters till they ship out?" But Sheridan had already left, heading to Green Sector.
Sheridan rang at her door, wanting to hold her, wanting to find someone to punch as hard as he could, wanting a hundred different things and feeling utterly powerless. How could anyone look at her and not see what he saw? How could anyone stand in her presence and want to harm her?
The door opened, and he went in, hoping that she would be making tea, or reading papers, or sitting in front of her little computer - hoping that she really was okay, that she had shrugged the whole thing off.
Lennier was kneeling on the floor, cleaning up broken glass.
Sheridan felt the room tilt just a little bit, felt like something very bad was about to happen. "Delenn, is she..."
Lennier paused, looking up at him, utterly inscrutable. "The Ambassador is not feeling well. I tried to convince her that she should see Dr. Franklin, but she refused; perhaps you will have more luck."
"Is she...?" He gestured toward her bedroom. Lennier returned to his chore, and Sheridan got the impression he was about to be dismissed.
"The Ambassador contacted Commander Ivanova and requested that she be let in to your quarters. I asked her to wait until I could arrange an escort for her, but again, she refused." Sheridan knew that he would get no more information. He also knew, with a single, unheralded burst of understanding, that Lennier loved her, maybe as much as Sheridan himself did. And he knew that the attaché blamed him for what had happened to Delenn. He couldn't begrudge him that last one; he blamed himself, too.
There was nothing else to say. He left Lennier to his broken glass, and left.
The walk back to his quarters took an eternity. Everywhere, the GroPos, hordes of them, clogging the corridors, lounging in doorways. Every single face the one that had harassed Delenn, that had grabbed her. As he neared the home stretch, Sheridan told himself that there was no reason to still feel so anxious - the broken glass hadn't meant anything. It was just a coincidence. She had decided to wait for him in his quarters. That's what he'd wanted, right? They were just on the same page, that's all.
And yet, as he reached his door, he felt a sharp stab of worry. He ran his card and the door opened. His quarters were dark, utterly dark. He had a light in the kitchenette set to turn on as soon as the door opened, but it stayed off, meaning it had been shut off manually. A whisper of something terrible shivering up his back, Sheridan stepped forward enough for the door to swing closed behind him, felt around on the wall till he found the switch. The light came on. He only had to glance around to see she wasn’t in the front half; the frosted panels leading to his bedroom were closed.
He couldn’t bring himself to speak, so he dimmed the light by hand. Walked forward, needing to see her and wanting to run away. He pulled the panels apart, and for a moment couldn’t see a thing. Then his eyes adjusted, and he could just make Delenn out, curled on her side in his bed, buried under the covers. She was facing away from him, and he didn’t know if she was awake or not. As quietly as he could, he stripped down to his boxers and t-shirt, then gingerly walked around to the other side of the bed.
She was awake. He crouched down till their faces were level, and waited.
“Ivanova let me in.”
“I know. Lennier told me.” Sheridan didn’t know what he’d been expecting, but it wasn’t this. She looked remarkably calm, dry-eyed, and if she hadn’t been lying awake in the dark, and if he hadn’t seen the broken glass, he might have thought nothing had happened at all. “Delenn--”
“I don’t want to talk about it.” Her voice made it clear that she would brook no argument. He wanted to tell her that he was sorry, that it had happened on his station and it was his responsibility; he wanted to tell her that she was beautiful; he wanted to tell her that he loved her.
But not tonight.
Delenn pulled the covers aside, moved onto her back. He saw that she'd changed into one of his t-shirts, and he wondered if she found it comforting. He was going to lie down next to her but she reached for him, and he settled himself on top of her. She kissed him greedily, hungrily. Her hands stole under his shirt, slid over his back. Sheridan felt himself respond, knew she could feel his hardness against her, but she only pushed her hips upward, her fingers digging into his flesh. He tore his mouth from hers, sucked hard on the tendon in her neck.
"John," she moaned, and he knew that he was completely and utterly lost. He pulled himself up on his elbows, breathed, got himself under control. "What are you doing?" she asked, hands trying to tug him back down.
"I'm going to make you feel better," he whispered, and he resisted her attempts to return to the hard, fevered kiss from before. This wasn't going to be about him, only her, and it was going to be gentle, perfect. Sheridan felt her finally give in to it, and her hands quit pulling at him, began sliding up and down his sides in slow, languorous strokes. He tugged off her shirt, took a moment to gaze down at her body, painted in chiaroscuro. He kissed his way down, stopping and taking his time any time she made a sound, or moved against him.
After he finished laving attention onto her belly, he stood up, grabbed her behind the knees and tugged her down to the bottom of the bed. Knelt on his knees in front of her. Delenn propped herself up on her elbows, eyes wide. “John?”
“I said I was going to make you feel better.” He kissed the top of one knee, then the other. Gentle. Rubbed the tops of her thighs, and felt her relax. Sheridan parted her legs, could feel the muscles there trembling. He pressed kisses along the inside of her thighs, up and up; she was gasping now, choked sounds in her throat, hands clutching the bed sheets. He finally spread her open, made love to her with his mouth. He kept backing off, trying to draw it out; returning to kiss her inner thighs, her lower belly, stopping to blow cool air over her, rocking back on his heels once and just rubbing her thighs again, but it still didn’t take long. He watched her orgasm shudder through her, and kissed her back down. Her breathing slowed, and one of her hands came up to stroke the back of his head.
Sheridan stood, lifted her up in his arms; she was boneless, limp. He laid her down carefully, and she rolled over, giving him room enough to climb in behind her. He wrapped his arms around her, spooning her as tightly as he could, and as he kissed her bone crest he heard her sigh, a sigh that had the edge of tears in it. She reached a hand up to cover one of his, and he realized he still had his link on. Sheridan took it off, tossed it on the floor. He didn’t care if God Himself called, he wasn’t going to leave her tonight.