Specs: Babylon 5, John/Delenn, 5800 words
Summary: Standard hurt/comfort, UST.
It felt as though a band of metal were cinched tight around her head, along the line of her bone crest. The worst of the pressure was right at her temples, and as Delenn walked the corridors of Blue Sector, she rubbed her fingers against them again, as though she could banish the pain that easily. It wasn't just the headache, though; she felt nauseated, dizzy, and very fatigued. She concentrated on putting one foot in front of another, in schooling her face to betray no sign of her pain. The lights overhead were horribly bright, seeming almost to pulse. Her heartbeat, too, was dreadful to bear, thudding as it did in her ears, each throb tightening the band around her head.
She could call the Captain, she knew, and reschedule. He would understand. But they had been hammering out this trade agreement between half a dozen League worlds for nearly a month, and finally had everyone gathered together in the same room. It seemed absurd to throw the entire business back up in the air just on account of a headache – though it did not seem like “just” anything right now. It was an agony, and Delenn began to wonder how she would ever make it through the meeting.
She did make it through the whole meeting, though thinking back on it later she would recall very little of the proceedings. In truth, her presence had not been strictly necessary beyond appearances; her work had chiefly been done weeks ago, in arranging everything and meeting with the various representatives, in getting everyone to agree in the first place. Clasping her hands on the table, Delenn did her best to look at whomever was speaking, though what they actually said often drifted in one ear and out the other.
By the end of the meeting, she became sure she was infected with some virulent pathogen. Her death was imminent; there simply could not be this amount of pain otherwise.
The signatures collected – some with more threats of violence than others – the various diplomats and translators began to disperse. Delenn remained where she was, sitting as far back in the corner as she had been able to, her head bowed. She thought about hooding her eyes with her hands, trying to block as much light as she could, but she wanted to make it back to her own quarters before succumbing. She was afraid if she gave even an inch now, she wouldn't be able to make it back to Green Sector.
Slowly, slowly, the conference room emptied out. The nearly unbearable din of voices diminished to blessed silence. Delenn decided to wait a few minutes more, to see if the relentless gnashing and gnawing in her head would quiet down just a little, just enough that she might be able to walk without her head exploding.
It turned out that she wasn't alone. She knew it was John even though he said nothing, and she kept her eyes closed. He walked over to where she sat, claiming the seat beside her. His hand rested on her shoulder, gently, barely any pressure, and the comfort of such a simple gesture was enough to make the dam break. Hot tears spilled down her cheeks, though her eyes never opened.
“What's wrong?” he asked in a whisper, his fingers rubbing a small circle.
“My head.” It was worse now than it had been before the meeting began, even though she had sat very still. It was worse now than it had been just five minutes ago. A roll of nausea swept through her midsection, and through the inside of her skull as well, it seemed. Delenn bit her lip and dug her fingernails into her palm, but those were only candle flames trying to compete with the sun.
John made a sound, a hum and a cluck of his tongue. Sympathy in that sound, but something parental as well, something a bit disapproving. Suddenly Delenn didn't want John beside her at all; she wanted her father, wanted his arm around her shoulders. She hadn't wanted that for years and years, for longer than he'd been gone, and she had to cover her face with her hands.
“Here. Let's go to my quarters.” He helped her to her feet, his arm around her shoulders, strong and secure. Delenn opened her eyes to look, and the light was like a knock with a denn'bok, right to her forehead. She stopped and moaned, unable to contemplate making the walk even to only John's quarters, let alone to her own.
“It's okay,” he said. “Keep your eyes closed, I've got you.” Delenn nodded, once, very slow. John murmured something into his link, clearing the corridor between here and his rooms, and then they began to walk. It was an odd sensation at first, walking blindly, letting John guide her steps, but Delenn gave herself over to it. She realized as they made a turn that she trusted him completely; not once did she fear taking a bad step, or being run into anything. Not only did she keep her eyes closed, she closed her mind as well, aware only of his arm around her and taking one step after another.
They stopped, he opened his door, and they stepped inside. She peeked just a little, and watched as he waved off the lamps, turned off most of the lights, and dimmed the two he left on. There was just enough light to see by, and it was an incredible relief. Delenn sagged against the wall, unsure what to do next. Would she sit on his couch until she felt up to walking back down to Green Sector? Perhaps he would send for Dr. Franklin. She decided Stephen was the absolute last person she wanted to see.
John brought her a glass of water, on the cool side of lukewarm. She was very aware of his eyes on her face as she drank. “What kind of pain medication do you use? Human? Minbari?”
It hurt to think. “That is something we are still experimenting with. The analgesic tea I drank before my transformation does not work very well now. For the times when I normally need to manage my pain, aspirin is not the best choice.” She really did not want to discuss anything regarding her menstrual cycle with him, and thankfully he just nodded.
“Let's try some aspirin now.” He had two pills in his palm that he offered to her. Delenn swallowed them with another drink of water, not feeling especially optimistic. His hand was on her back again, between her shoulder blades; she found herself thinking, quite ridiculously, that perhaps the pain was not so bad after all, if it prompted him to bring her back to his quarters and continue touching her. She wondered, not for the first time, if he felt at all the same way about her.
“Oh!” he exclaimed, his face lighting up. He left her, almost jogging back over to his little kitchen, rummaging around in the cabinets. One of the things Delenn was coming to love about him (and even just parsing that thought in such a way in her own head was enough to make her feel a little light-headed) was being able to see him have a thought, a realization, an epiphany. It was as though the idea was something tangible and real, and he had just seen it hanging in front of his eyes. His whole face lit up, making him look almost young; for a few seconds, Delenn forgot she had a headache at all. “Aha!” He stood triumphant, and brought her a bottle of some liquid.
“Is this a tonic of some kind?” she asked, proud of how even her voice remained. John's smile, which had not left his face since his grand epiphany, grew even wider.
Delenn thought a moment. She remembered Mr. Garibaldi telling her that his father was called “Pop.” She hated when English words had several different meanings, none of them related. John opened the bottle and handed it over. She took a tentative sip.
“This is soda,” she remarked. John scoffed.
“Soda. Who taught you that? They're wrong. It's pop.”
How could he make her smile when her head still seemed caught in a vice? “Whatever you call it, it's a little sweet for my taste. Is this a home remedy? What did Susan call it? Something to do with old women.”
“Pop has caffeine in it. Caffeine's good for headaches.” He was looking at her so affectionately, so solicitously, that Delenn felt she had to have another drink, even though she felt her teeth would dissolve right away.
“Is the effect meant to be instantaneous?”
“No.” He brought a hand up to her head, gently smoothing down her hair from her bone crest to the nape of her neck. She felt her arms break out in goosebumps. “It's still really bad, huh?” Thinking about it brought the pain back to the forefront of her mind. He must have seen the answer on her face.
“How does a hot shower sound?” John asked, his hand still cupping the back of her head, his fingers moving gently against her skull. Delenn couldn't understand how anything could feel so good when the rest of her head hurt so very much.
“A hot shower sounds like a very good idea,” she admitted, though she was loathe to leave. She had hoped he would invite her to sit for half an hour or so, just sit on his couch in his quiet, dim quarters. She did not even need to talk with him; just to sit beside him would be remedy enough. Before she could thank him and turn to the door, however, he moved his hand to her shoulder and gently guided her deeper into his quarters, toward his bedroom. She didn't even think about it at first, just took another drink of the beverage, which she was starting to enjoy despite herself. By the time John had pulled his sliding doors shut, and was rummaging in his drawers, Delenn realized that something else was going on.
“Will this work?” John asked, holding up an article of his own clothing. It looked very large and soft, with long sleeves and a wide round collar. There was an emblem of some kind on the front, and a name written underneath in an archaic script Delenn would have been hard-pressed to read in full light and with all of her faculties. He continued to look his question at her, but she did not know what the question was. Would the thick shirt work for what? John pursed his lips and returned to the drawers, hunting about. “Probably everything's too big,” he said to himself.
Were the clothes for her? Understanding dawned slowly, yet even after the realization of John's intent had sunk in, Delenn felt no brighter, nor more able to properly deal with the situation unfolding. There has been a misunderstanding, John. I thank you for the kind thought, but it is best that I return to my own quarters. That is what she needed to say to him, and yet her mouth seemed locked shut, the words unable to form in her head. She might have been able to say it in Adronato, but that wasn't likely to do much good.
“Here!” John held a pair of trousers aloft, made of the same thick, soft material as the shirt. There were two thin white ropes inside the waist, and he tugged on them experimentally. “This should work.” He carried the clothing into his lavatory, leaving her sight. She heard the shower come on. Again she felt the need to clarify, to tell him that as much as she wanted a blindingly hot shower right this second, that just the sound of the water spraying was making her feel relaxed, and that she was so tired she did not think she could walk down the corridor, let alone back to her quarters, she simply could not accept this kindness. It would be inappropriate, on several different levels. She wanted to tell him, but instead she just stood there mutely, holding the bottle of soda with both hands, and when John came to the door of the lavatory and beckoned her to join him, she demurely did so without complaint.
John took the bottle from her, setting it on the counter. The lavatory was already filling with warm steam, and standing so close to him in the small space, Delenn began to feel very warm herself. John draped a towel over a bar on the wall, beside the clothes he had already hung there.
“Okay,” he said, and he lifted his hand then almost immediately dropped it back to his side. Delenn found herself sucking in a shallow breath; he had meant to touch her again, she knew, but had changed his mind. She couldn't decide if that were for the best or not. “Are the lights too bright?” She shook her head (too much, it felt as though her brain were sloshing about inside her skull), but John dimmed them a bit more anyway. A moment looking at her, as though he were about to say something. He didn't, though, only stepped forward to leave her alone in the room. There wasn't much space – he was very close, closer than he'd been even when he had guided her to his quarters. Delenn closed her eyes, overwhelmed. She heard the door slide shut behind her, yet stood still for a few seconds, eyes closed, trying to figure out how she had arrived here.
Delenn opened her eyes to see John's clothes hanging on the bar beside the shower. Even if she had initially understood his question to mean that he wanted her to stay here, and use his own shower, and even if she had knowingly and more actively consented, she still would have intended on putting her own clothes back on afterward and returning to her quarters. Surely he did not mean for her to walk half the length of the station wearing those very human – and very masculine – clothes?
She found herself undressing without consciously deciding to do so. It was only when she caught a glimpse of her reflection in the mirror that she realized that she was shaking. How strange to be naked in his space, with his things all around. Delenn felt more than just naked – she felt utterly exposed, every wall and artifice stripped down and away, her very soul laid bare.
The steam filling the room was warm, yes, but now that she was unclothed Delenn became quite cold. Her skin broke out in goosebumps, one of many baffling things to befall her since her transformation. She shivered once, violently, and a spasm of nausea seemed to rip through her head again. Casting aside all other thoughts, she slid the shower door open and stepped inside. The water was tremendously hot; she gritted her teeth together. There was no real need to wash her body, and she certainly wasn't going to deal with her hair. Instead, she just stood directly under the spray, letting it hit the top of her head, hands braced against the wall in front of her. She closed her eyes and let everything melt away.
The heat was good. It felt as though her head were opening up, a flower in bloom. Not only her head, though; she hadn't been aware of how tight the muscles in her neck and shoulders were. Delenn turned, and let the hot water assault the knots there, feeling the tension slowly drip away, the muscles relax and loosen.
She imagined, just for a moment, what it would be like if John were here with her. His hands sliding over her skin, his body pressed close to hers. Delenn shivered again, though she was far from cold. She groped blindly over the wall to turn the water off; this had gone on long enough. She was becoming foolish. Opening the shower door, the air was still soaked through with humid heat. Still, she wanted to get dressed as quickly as possible. The towel surprised her. She had been expecting something much nicer and fluffier than hers – he was the highest-ranking person on the station, after all – but it seemed very standard, perhaps even threadbare. She patted the water from her face first, and thought, this is a towel he has used to dry his own body. He has done this himself. So much for banishing all foolish thoughts.
She finished drying off quickly, not letting herself think. She picked up her shift but instead of putting it on she just held it, her hair still dripping. The headache wasn't gone – she could still feel the savage ferocity of it lurking just below the surface, the hot shower not a cure but just a respite – but she thought she could manage to make it back to her own quarters nonetheless. Once there, she could give herself over to weeping or pacing or whatever undignified reaction she chose.
Delenn didn't want to return to her own quarters, to spend yet another night alone. She didn't want to lie down on her narrow, hard bed, staring at the ceiling, hoping for something she didn't know how to frame in words, not even to herself. And she was so tired, her body warm and lazy, her mind cloudy. She set her shift back down and reached instead for the clothes John had left for her. Pulling them on took a moment's thought. They were too big for her, yes, but once she figured out the operation of the thin white rope inside the waistband of the pants, she was at least assured they wouldn't fall off. The inside of the fabric was much softer than the outside, as soft as anything she'd ever felt against her skin. She lifted the collar of the thick shirt and sniffed at it. Just the smell of fabric, a hint of ozone from the thermal washer, the slight dampness of the steam. But she could smell John, as well, a scent indefinable and all his own. She was wrapped up in it.
Stepping into his bedroom, she heard John's voice coming from the main room. He was talking to someone, very quietly. A reply sounded, and for a second she felt herself grow tense – but the reply came from the Babcom. They were still alone. She tiptoed forward until she could hear more clearly.
“There's got to be something you can give her,” John said, and there was something in his voice, something in hearing him talk about her to someone else, concern and worry and something else she was unwilling to put a name to, that made Delenn's eyes prick with tears.
Dr. Franklin sighed, and even though she couldn't see the screen, she knew what expression would be on his face even so. “There's been a lot of trial and error. I don't exactly have any other patients or case studies to reference.”
No. She was the only one of her kind, a mutant, alone and adrift in the universe. One of the tears managed an escape, and she was too tired to wipe it away. John finished the conversation with a quick note of thanks and a promise to call Medlab if the headache grew worse. A click as the Babcom went off, and then nothing but silence, thick and heavy. Delenn just stood there dumbly, not sure whether she should join John or not, feeling an awkward interloper not even comfortable enough to sit down in a chair.
John's footfalls seemed very loud in the quiet. He stopped in the doorway to his bedroom, just looking at her. The lights were still mostly off, the two on very dim; she couldn't see much of his face. It was still almost too much to bear, his quiet, careful study of her, his attention utterly focused. “How are you feeling?”
“Better.” It was the truth. She felt very clearly that what relief she had now was only a thin veneer, though, that the agony was still lurking very close, under a thin shell easily broken. If she moved her head too violently, if the lights grew too bright, then all would return.
John stepped closer to her, his fingertip brushing against her cheek, drawing a line. He was tracing the path of that single errant tear, she realized. “Stay,” he said, and if it wasn't an order, then it wasn't quite a question, either. Still, she nodded.
He pulled back the covers on his bed. Delenn saw it for what seemed the first time with no small amount of dismay. How did one lie down on such a thing? She joined him, his hand resting gently on the small of her back, but she hesitated. She could not stand at the foot and lean back, she would fall, but neither could she rest her hip against it from the side and roll over. John was watching her, probably wondering if she'd changed her mind. She felt stupid and clumsy, and didn't want to look so in front of him, but she didn't know what to do. Her brain seemed locked up and useless.
He was there, though, and even if he didn't know why she hesitated, he was there. His hands guided her around, pressing down on her shoulders until she sat on the edge. His palm cupped the back of her head as she lay back. He tucked her in very carefully. Delenn sighed with relief; it was very comfortable, though a part of her brain was insisting she would slide backwards and off. If she didn't sink right down into it first, of course. The mattress was very soft, the pillow even more so. She felt as though she were falling down into a cloud.
“Just rest,” he told her, stroking her hair away from her face. Her hair was still wet, she would need to eventually return to her own quarters, and there was of course the question of where he would sleep. But Delenn couldn't quite bring herself to care. She relaxed into the softness of his bed, surrounded by his scent, knowing he was close. She slept.
She was dreaming. She knew it was a dream even while it happened, but was swept along in its relentless flow regardless. The mountains were very high, the wind whistling as it swept between the peaks. Frost in the air, biting at her face. Looking down, she could see the blue ribbon of the river, patches of crimson and gold along the banks, the tiny tile roofs of houses and temples.
Delenn turned. John stood beside her, but instead of his EarthForce uniform he wore the autumn-toned robe of the Anla'Shok. There was gray in his hair, and lines around his eyes; he turned to look at her with a warmth in his eyes that cut through the cold.
“We can't stay here forever,” he said. Delenn looked behind, to the great temple built into the mountain face. Though it stood in full sunlight, there were shadows lurking under the pediment, behind the columns. They called out her name in chattering voices.
John held out his hand. She took it. He pulled her close, wrapping his arm tight around her. Delenn buried her face in the folds of his robe, breathing him in, the cold fading away. They were falling now, falling and falling, though they had not jumped from the cliff's edge. She was safe from the wind, and she was not afraid; John held her close. She relaxed in his arms, waiting to hit the water.
She awoke, the sensation of falling persisting for another second. Her muscles tensed against it, waiting for the fall to end. But she was only in bed.
She was still warm, though, and John's arms were still wrapped around her body, her head tucked under his chin. He was sleeping, she could hear the slow, rough sound of his breathing, and it threatened to lull her back to sleep. Their bodies were knitted together, hardly any space between them. The heat from his body enveloped her. Delenn thought for a moment. Her head felt clear; she sensed no pain at all. But she was still tired. If she just gave herself over to it, she would fall right back to sleep.
Would that be a good thing, though? Perhaps it would be better to slip out of his arms and out of his bed, as quietly as possible, to put on her own clothes, and to leave without ever waking him up. She could call him, to thank him later. A call would be best; with distance, she could remain professional and detached. She could keep the conversation short and to the point Then everything would return to the way it was, the way it had been just yesterday, when they had worked together as Captain and Ambassador, and if she had ever thought of anything more it was only a passing fancy. That would be for the best.
John shifted, rolling forward but there was no where for him to go, so his body only pressed more snugly against her own. Delenn had read about human intoxication, though she had of course never experienced it; she felt intoxicated now, though, unable to make the correct decisions, her reasoning and logic faulty. She stayed right where she was, unable to move a muscle.
How long she dozed, how long she drifted in the not-quite sleep of early morning, she didn't know. Minutes or hours, she would have stayed right where she was indefinitely if John's Babcom hadn't clicked on with his wake-up call, the computer's voice listing the messages that had come in during the night.
Delenn froze, unsure what to do, not knowing whether to look at him or not. She felt his muscles tense for a moment before he relaxed again, and one of his hands began to rub against her back, slowly, lazily, almost as though he were not aware of it. Feeling very bold, Delenn touched him herself, running her fingertips up his flank. He hummed into her hair. “How'd you sleep?” he asked in a low murmur. She nodded, sliding her hand down to the small of his back, wanting to hold him as well. She waited for him to sit up, to release her, to smile and say something light and then the day would begin. But he didn't. Of course, neither did she.
As long as neither of them moved from this warm little cocoon, it was as though they were in some kind of in-between. The real world, filled with meetings and crises and battles to come, had drifted away, was become something faded and intangible. Only this space, this bed, this little pocket of warmth and security, really existed. Once they left, they would have to acknowledge the real world again, and that things between them had changed, perhaps irrevocably.
A beep, incredibly loud in the quiet, startled her. Then she heard Commander Ivanova's voice, muffled and yet somehow tinny as well. “Captain? Hello? We missed you in the mess.” The voice was coming from behind her – John's link must be on the nightstand on her side of the bed. Delenn rolled onto her back, sticking her hand out and trying to find it. “John?” Ivanova asked again. Delenn thought how nice it would be to kill her the next time she saw her.
“Yeah,” John barked out, and he pushed himself up on an elbow. Then he leaned over her, reaching for the link himself. He was no closer to her than he'd just been, but instead of being at her side, now he was over her, his face just above hers, closer as he stretched out one last little bit to snag the link.
He lost his balance, and nearly fell clean on top of her. He managed to catch himself on his other arm, and now he had an elbow to either side of her head. They stared at each other for a moment. Delenn became aware that her breathing was very quick, very shallow. If she leaned up just the tiniest bit, the tips of their noses would touch. And if she leaned up just a little more than that....
As though he could read her mind, John's gaze flicked down to her mouth. Delenn held her breath. He would kiss her now, settle his weight down atop her, cover her up like a blanket. Delenn's eyelids fluttered shut, and she felt his breath against her lips.
“Everything okay, Captain?” Ivanova's voice pierced through the fog that had settled over them both. Delenn's eyes flew open, and she felt a stab of panic, as though Ivanova had materialized in the room with the two of them. She saw John's face for only a second, as dark a scowl on it as she'd ever seen, and then he was moving aside, sitting up and presenting her with his back.
“Yeah, yeah. Just slept through my alarm. The station coming apart?” His voice was brusque, sharp. Delenn was glad it wasn't directed at her.
“No. Just wondered if I'd see you in C and C, or if you were taking the day off.” Delenn hid a smile behind her hand; it was good that John had a second officer who could give it right back.
“Be there in ten.” He clicked off the connection, but rather than get out of bed and start getting ready, he just sat there. The knowledge was sudden, and seemed to hit her right in the stomach – Delenn wanted this every morning. She wanted to wake up beside him, to doze in his arms, to see him like this, unguarded, relaxed. She thought about sitting up next to him and resting her head on his shoulder. Before she could do more than think, John turned to look at her.
“You can stay if you want. It's still early.” Delenn nodded, and then a yawn overtook her. She covered her mouth and stretched, the move certainly not designed to be seductive in any way. John's eyes darkened as he watched her, though, his gaze as intense as it had been when he'd leaned over her. “If someone had told me yesterday,” he said, voice rough, “that I would wake up this morning with you in my bed....”
For a moment, she thought he would toss his link aside and climb back into his bed beside her. He wanted to, she could tell. Perhaps if Ivanova had not just summoned him to his post. He made up his mind quickly, and stood, walked to his closet, pulled out his uniform, and disappeared into the lavatory without a single backward glance.
Delenn thought to get dressed and leave before he came back out, but her clothes were still in there, as far as she knew. Instead, she tried to smooth out the covers on his bed as best she could, which was difficult because she had to keep moving around the infernal thing to straighten out the corners. When she finished, it still looked rather lumpy, but it would have to do. She made her way into his kitchen, that feeling of being an interloper who had no business here returned. Delenn shook it off, and poked around looking for something to eat. Thankfully their kitchens were arranged the same way – she was able to find some bread, which she put in to toast. Some milk, too. Reconstituted from powder, it was not as rich as she liked, but it was better than plain water in the morning; she poured two glasses. Just then, John emerged, clean-shaven and trim in his uniform, which he seemed to always wear as though it conferred special powers.
“Delenn,” he murmured, taking the toast and milk. He made a face at her, one which she thought signified regret. Humans tried to say far too many things with just their eyebrows. “I have to go.”
“Could we.... I'd like to see you tonight.”
“There is a Council meeting at seventeen hundred,” she said, confused. “You will see me then.”
“No, I mean....” He had not been finishing many of his sentences this morning. Tearing off a bite of the toast, he chewed, looking at her with no small amount of amusement. “How about dinner? We could...talk.”
Yes, they did have a lot to talk about. “I would like that,” she said. Then he just looked at her, the way he'd been looking at her since he'd first come over to her after the meeting last night. She wanted to take the meager breakfast out of his hands and drag him back into his bedroom, though to do what, she wasn't quite ready to say. Maybe he saw that in the way she was looking at him, because he cleared his throat. “Okay.” A nod, half a grin, and then he was gone.
Delenn sat down on his sofa, her own breakfast forgotten. What she should do before she did anything else was set aside a decent amount of time to pray and meditate on this new development. Did she want to pursue a deeper, more personal, likely romantic, relationship with John? This was not a move to be taken lightly, to be rushed. The prudent thing to do would be to cancel the dinner tonight, take a step back, and breathe. She needed to be absolutely certain before she did this. More was at stake than just their own personal feelings. She was a representative of Minbar, he the same for Earth. Dark forces were coming, and they would have roles to play in that conflict. Her own wishes and desires were far from paramount.
She dressed, thinking it over. In the end, she knew there was little debate to be had. She jotted down a note and left it on his table. Meet me at my quarters at twenty hundred hours. Folding up his thick shirt and pants tightly, she tucked them under her arm and took them with her. If he wanted them back, he could try and plead his case, but she decided that she liked them. He had offered them to her, after all. She thought his clothes were not the only thing he was offering.