Specs: Babylon 5, John/Delenn, 5400 words
Previous Chapters: One
She turned, and he was standing there, a grim look on his face. His eyes seemed to sneer at her, and when he spoke, it was with the flat contempt she'd heard only once before, when the Minbari had decided to exterminate the Human race. He spoke with the bone-deep hatred she had once heard in her own voice.
“You have been judged Anathema,” he said, and he drew out the dagger. It had no name, this blade, this thin piece of hammered steel. It needed none. She had never seen it before, had not seen even a picture of it in a book, but she knew what it was immediately. She knew what it was, and what it meant; he could have saved his words.
He rushed at her, the blade held out, swinging toward her in a shining arc. Only a second to act, no more. She reached for the vase beside her, but it was gone, and her hand met empty air. The second was past, and before she could move, before she could run, before she could even scream, he grabbed her by the hair, spun her around, and drew the blade across her throat.
Delenn awoke with a gasp, though it didn't seem there was enough air in the room to breathe. She stuck a hand up to her neck, sure it would meet warm, sticky blood, but the skin there was whole. Clammy, but whole.
She sat up, feeling her heart pounding in her chest. A moment of disorientation as she remembered where she was, the bed beneath her flat – there were no Minbari rooms left to rent. She was sweaty all over; she had forgotten to adjust the temperature settings. The bright lamp light didn't seem comforting anymore. There were still shadows, but now they were outlined in harsh relief.
Somehow she had fallen asleep. Her neck ached, and the arm she'd managed to sleep on was numb and yet hurt at the same time. Delenn took long breaths, in and out, trying to slow her heart rate. Then her door chimed, and she felt the adrenaline hit her system at the same time she reached for the dagger.
“Delenn?” The Captain's voice, warm and gravelly. Relief hit her like a hammer blow. “Come in,” she told the door, and it slid up obligingly. It wasn't until the Captain entered that Delenn remembered she was wearing only a nightgown and was covered in a thin film of sweat. By then it was too late. He walked in slowly, and there was so much compassion in his eyes when he saw her that she had to bite her lip to keep tears from building.
“I couldn't sleep,” he said, voice a little hoarse. “I couldn't do anything but worry, even though I'd posted guards all up and down the hallway outside.”
“I know he didn't just show up to talk to you. I know something else happened.” Then, as if she'd pointed to it himself, his eyes slid over to the dagger. All that work, and she'd left it right out in the open. She might as well have sent it to him in a box.
“He was sent to kill me,” she whispered. It felt good to say it, and the tight band she hadn't even known was strapped around her chest loosened a bit.
“Sent by whom?”
“The Grey Council.” He didn't understand, couldn't understand, and he just stared at her for a long, long beat. Then he shook his head, and walked away. For a split-second Delenn thought he was leaving her, but he just stepped into the tiny lavatory that was scarcely big enough to admit his body. A moment, and he returned with something in his hand. Delenn was too embarrassed, too ashamed, to look at him to tell what it was. She sensed him hesitating beside the bed, and then he carefully sat down on the edge of the mattress behind her.
“Delenn,” he murmured, and she hated to hear the pity in his voice. But there was affection in his voice, too; she didn't think anyone had ever said her name quite like that. Maybe Dukhat, once, but they had both convinced themselves it wasn't the case. The Captain carefully pulled her hair behind her shoulders. He did something to it, pulling and twisting chunks of it, and it felt absolutely exquisite. When he finished, he draped her hair back over her shoulder. She looked down at it – a rope of sorts. “I have a little sister,” he said, explaining something, she guessed. “Did I wake you when I rang?”
“No. I was already awake. I'd had a bad dream,” she explained. She knew that Humans found sweat to be repulsive; she certainly found it so. She wondered that he could sit this close to her. The Captain only hummed a little, and then laid a cool, wet cloth on the bare skin of her shoulders. He gently washed her back, and it felt so good that she drew her knees up to her chest and rested her head against them. Soft, gentle circles, the pressure of his fingertips through the cloth more physical contact than she'd had in...years, she supposed. She couldn't really remember. He brought the cloth up to the nape of her neck, and rubbed it a little harder against her scalp, the hair there nearly wet with sweat. He blew cool air over her shoulders, her neck, and then she felt him press the softest of kisses to the skin beside the strap of her nightgown.
“I'm not going to let anyone hurt you,” he said. Delenn nodded, an acknowledgment of his words, not an agreement. She only wished it were that simple.
“Anyenn's death means nothing,” she told him, forcing strength into her voice. “More will come, and they will keep coming until I'm dead.”
“No,” he said, as though it were as simple as that.
“Captain.” His fingers slid down her arms, the barest of caresses. “John,” she amended, and now that she was cool she could feel the heat of his body behind hers. A shiver ran through her despite herself, and she made herself scoot away, turning to face him. “If they come for me and you are here, they will not hesitate. Your death would be acceptable...what is the term? Collateral damage?”
“I don't care.” She could almost laugh at the brazen, stupid confidence in his voice. “This is my station – my fragging station, do you hear me? - and I'll lock the whole damned thing down if I have to.” Delenn sighed, starting to become frustrated in trying to reason with him. It was also difficult to try and remain logical when all she wanted to do was climb into his arms.
“John. If the Council has to wait years, it will. Once someone has been judged Anathema, they will not be allowed to live. They soil and stain the universe itself merely by existing.”
“I see.” He shifted, leaning back against the headboard of the bed as though this were his room, and she were the one visiting. She hadn't moved far enough away – he ran a finger down the back of her hand. Delenn became sure that he was trying to distract her. “Were the Humans once judged Anathema?”
“Yes,” she admitted, though she would never tell him she had been one of the five to make that judgment.
“But you changed your minds. Here I am, still alive, and I know your people just fucking hated me.” Delenn smiled; she couldn't help it.
“They won't change their minds,” she told him. Her throat tightened up, and she felt her eyes sting.
“Why are they doing this?” he asked. She couldn't answer, couldn't say it. She just reached up and tugged at the rope he'd made of her hair. “Fuck,” he muttered. Delenn still thought telling him was a mistake, still worried that she was exposing him to mortal danger, but she was simply too weak. What strength she had once possessed had been burned away by the Chrysalis. John made no move to leave, and she wasn't sure what to say, or what he expected of her. Delenn stood, as cold now as she'd been hot before; she hugged her arms, wishing she'd brought a robe. She felt so very small in her thin Human nightgown. She was keenly aware, perhaps for the first time in her life, of her femininity, and what exactly that entailed.
A moment of scrutiny, as John just looked at her, and then he stood himself, one hand rubbing the back of his neck. He looked as awkward as she felt.
“Are you going to be okay here?” he asked, and she could tell he wanted her to say no. Instead she just nodded. He passed her on his way to the door, and Delenn rested her hand on his arm, just for a heartbeat.
“Thank you.” The look on his face was one she hadn't seen before, and suddenly the thought of him leaving was more than she could bear. “There is a bed that folds out of the wall,” she told him, pointing. He stared at her blankly for a moment before he turned and looked. “You do not have to stay, of course...” John didn't seem to hear, unsnapping the latches at the top and drawing it down. The bed was very narrow, and the mattress was very thin. John sat down on the edge of it experimentally.
“I will sleep there,” Delenn told him. He didn't move. “You may take the larger bed. If you wish. If you'd prefer to return to your own quarters...”
“No, no. I'll sleep here.” He reached out and took her hand, squeezed it gently. Then he drew it up to his mouth and kissed the back of it, just as he had kissed her shoulder. A brush of his lips with the barest bit of pressure, like the flutter of a soft-winged moth against her skin. She wanted to thank him, but the words seemed to lodge in her throat. She thought that he saw it in her eyes, though.
Delenn returned to her own bed, thinking that the distance between them was short enough that she could take his hand again, but instead she rolled over and faced the opposite wall.
John woke up, and was aware of three things more or less simultaneously. One, his neck was seized up tight as can be. Just the slightest turning of his head was enough to make the muscles there and in his shoulders scream in protest. Two, he was still on the bed only by dumb luck; all of one leg and half his torso were hanging off, and for a sleep-addled moment he was sure he was going to fall clean out. It was important he figure this out and quick at that, because of number three. Three was his erection, and it didn't matter that he'd fallen asleep fully clothed. If she saw him, she'd see that as well, and he didn't think that was for the best. He listened for a moment. It would be unfair to say that Delenn was snoring, but she was definitely breathing – long, slow breaths, and the steady rhythm made him want to crawl into her bed with her and go back to sleep himself. Maybe do other things, too. But no – she'd made it clear she wasn't interested in exploring that, even though he was pretty sure she did want him. John eased himself off the hard pallet he'd slept on, which put him right beside her bed.
A moment to look down at her, face soft in sleep. Wisps of dark hair had escaped the braid and curled here and there. She was beautiful; anyone who couldn't see that was a stain on the universe themselves. John tore himself away and squeezed himself into the microscopic head attached to the rental room. It was a good thing the door slid up into the wall; he probably wouldn't have managed it otherwise. He flipped on the fan, hoped it both wouldn't wake her up and would cover up any noises he might inadvertently make, and took care of his morning wood. That out of the way, he washed his hands and face, and looked at himself for a second in the mirror.
What are you willing to do, Johnny-boy? How far will you go for her? That was a good question. He knew what the answer should be. He represented more than just himself; he represented the station and therefore Earth itself. If he defied the Council, he might very well draw the wrath of the entire Minbari Empire, and Earth still bore the scars from the last time that had happened. And if he did this on behalf of a Minbari? He might very well piss off Earth just as much, if not more. He was in between a rock and a hard place, if the rock and the hard place had thousands of nuclear weapons at their disposal, and a history of genocidal war.
John went back to the bed. Delenn had rolled over onto her back, one nightgown strap having slid down her arm. Her breathing was still slow and steady, and he could see her pulse beat in her throat. There wasn't a decision to be made, really. Fuck the rock, and fuck the hard place, too.
He sat down on the floor beside the bed – God, his knees, when did he start getting old? - and resumed his watch. He didn't want her to wake up alone. He thought about checking in on the link, making sure there weren't any pressing emergencies, and then just staying with her all day. But he couldn't do that. John brushed his fingertips as lightly as he could down her arm, wanting to wake her gently. She was breathing so deeply he figured it would take a while to wake her, but her eyes opened almost immediately.
“Did you sleep well?” he asked, and she nodded once. There was something almost wary in her eyes. He moved his hand up, brushed those wisps of hair away from her face. “Move up to my room?” She'd be safe there, tucked away in the heart of Blue Sector. No one's quarters were more secure than the CO's. He ran his fingers over her cheek, then drew his thumb down to her lips. She just stared at him, her eyes big gray pools that seemed to shine with a light of their own. Her mouth looked so soft and inviting, and he leaned forward to kiss her at the same time Delenn leaned back and turned away.
She sat up, avoiding his eye. He watched as she tugged her strap up, then crossed her arms over her chest. “I'm sorry,” he said. His words were genuine; he hadn't planned to try and kiss her, he really hadn't.
“No, no,” she murmured, though she still didn't look at him. “Nothing's changed, John. It is too dangerous for you to be around me.”
“Appeal to the Grey Council.”
“There is no appeal.” She almost sounded satisfied at shooting him down. John leveraged himself up, leaning over the bed, not letting her look away.
“Then we go public,” he insisted. “We announce that there's a target on your back, pressure the Council to change their minds. They won't want to deal with the fall-out, especially from your people.”
Delenn stared at him. She shook her head with a bit of contempt of her own, as though she couldn't believe how stupid he was. “My people hate me. As far as I know, one Minbari supports my decision, and that's Lennier. If you make this public, it won't be only the assassins sent on a holy mission. Every Minbari in this sector will be scrambling to end my life.” She leaned close to him then, a hand on the side of his face. It would have been romantic if she hadn't continued to speak. “There is nothing to be done. You need to understand that.”
“So, what? Are you just going to give up? Why don't I just shoot you out an airlock and save everyone the trouble?” She jerked away from him, surprise and shock and fury all mixed together in her eyes. “Jesus, Delenn, you're acting like you just want to roll over and die.”
She slapped him then. It wasn't much of a slap, though it still stung. She said something in Minbari, her voice choked. She repeated the words as she stood, and he could actually see her shaking. “Get out,” she ordered, her accent thicker than he'd ever heard. She pointed a quivering finger at the door. “Out!”
John stood. The Neanderthal part of his brain was certain that he could still throw her over his shoulder, drag her away someplace safe, and take care of this whole business. He was half tempted to try it, but then he remembered the body in the morgue, and the clean pink wound in his throat. John just nodded, feeling stiff and old, and left her.
The command staff were waiting for him by the time he got back to his office. Stephen knew a part of what was going on, but he'd left Garibaldi and Ivanova nearly completely in the dark.
“What I say doesn't leave this room,” John announced, stuffing the last of a protein bar in his mouth. He still wasn't hungry, though he hadn't eaten since lunch the day before, but he needed to have something on his stomach or he'd drop before the day was out. They looked at him, solemn and patient, and John counted himself lucky to have three such people to depend on in a time like this.
“It's Delenn, isn't it?” Garibaldi said. “The attack.”
John nodded. “The Grey Council has ordered her death, because of her change. The man who attacked her was an assassin.” He looked at Stephen, hoping what he said next didn't sound like too much of a reproach. “The assassin brought a ceremonial dagger with him. Delenn used it to kill him. She hid it because she didn't want any of us to know what had happened. She's afraid that if we try to protect her, she's only putting us in danger. She'd rather die than let that happen.” Stephen sighed, looking ashamed and apologetic. That was enough for John.
“They want to kill her because she has hair now?” Susan said with her customary bluntness. “That seems a bit...much.”
“I thought no Minbari had killed another in hundreds and hundreds of years,” Stephen added.
“I got the impression this is different. Government sanctioned, an execution, not a murder.” A pause, to gather himself. “Delenn has resigned herself to her fate,” John said, wishing like hell it weren't the case. “I have not. No one is going to touch a single of those apparently universe-ending hairs on her head. Not while I'm in charge. So. I want every Minbari who is currently on this station to be tracked. Find out what caste they're in, what clan, what they think of Delenn. She's convinced every last one of them hate her, which isn't the case. At least I don't think so. Any one of them who seems the least bit likely to hold a grudge against her, or to blindly follow orders and kill one of their own, I want on surveillance.”
“We don't have a lot of warm bodies to assign to that kind of duty.” Garibaldi wasn't making excuses, just pointing out a fact.
“If your men and women can't watch one or two additional folks, then they need to turn in their guns.” Garibaldi nodded at that.
“I want every Minbari who comes to this station subjected to a thorough search. I want every single one of them watched the whole time they're here. If they seem even slightly suspicious, I want their ass tossed right back to Minbar.”
“John,” Susan said in a warning tone, but she went no further than that.
“And I want Delenn put someplace safe. Find a room and guard it. I want it someplace secure, someplace no one's going to be able to get to without going through a half-dozen levels of security.”
“The brig would be the best,” Garibaldi said. “What keeps the prisoners in would equally keep someone else out.”
“Fine,” John agreed. “The brig. But set aside the largest set of rooms there is, and make them nice. I don't want her to actually feel like she's in prison.” Everyone nodded, and waited for more instructions. “That's all.”
No more talk. They stood and got to work, though Susan lingered long enough to squeeze his shoulder before she left. John spent ten minutes taking care of the essential station business he couldn't pass on to anyone else, and then he sat for another five, letting his mind clear as much as possible. He hadn't meditated in years, probably closer to decades at this point; he wished he could now. But that much calm seemed beyond him. Five minutes to breathe, to close his eyes and listen to the air recyclers, to count his heartbeats.
Two hours of research followed. When he was done, he looked down at the sheet of paper in front of him.
1. There is a body called the Grey Council.
2. They live on a ship.
John crumpled up the piece of paper and tossed it in the bin. It was unbelievable how little information was out there on the Minbari government; he couldn't imagine anything similar regarding Earth. He was sure EarthGov knew more than that, but it would all be classified, at a security clearance higher than even he had. For a wild moment, he imagined calling Clark. Mr. President? I was hoping you could tell me about the Grey Council. Yeah, the bald, bony bastards in charge. I'm kinda pissed, because they want to hurt this pretty girl I like.
Yeah. That would go over well.
If there was one thing the military was good at, it was getting shit done. By the time he wolfed down another protein bar and knocked back the truly horrid dreck the mess called coffee, he checked in with Garibaldi and Ivanova.
“We've got cams trained on every entrance to Green Sector, and monitors on the Minbari hubs. There are currently twenty-eight thousand, six hundred and fourteen Minbari on-board on the station. We flagged two hundred and thirteen,” Susan told him as they walked down to the brig. “They have brand-new fans keeping eyes and ears on everything they do.
“Only three Minbari have boarded so far. One's a regular trader in the Zocalo, and I could no more see him hurting Delenn than my own babushka. One's an old blind nun or whatever they call them, a hundred years old if she's a day. The third we weren't sure about, so she's got a babysitter, too.” Access to the brig was almost as tightly guarded as the reactor core or C and C. The first set of doors required a key card with Level 5 access. The second set of doors was manned 24/7 by two guards, both of whom had orders to shoot on sight anyone who posed the least threat. The third set of doors opened after print and eye scans. Then each individual cell needed both a card swipe and a retinal scan, those keys entered into the system only after checking in with the guards at station two. John felt pretty proud of himself when they finally entered what would be Delenn's new rooms.
“This secure enough for you?” Garibaldi asked with a smirk. Secure, yes, but also very comfortably decorated. Aside from the gently glowing field around the door, it didn't look like a cell at all. Carpets had been laid; a big stuffed couch on one wall; two low tables like Minbari liked, one topped with thin taper candles. John glanced at Susan. “Lennier helped us,” she said. She always knew what he was going to ask just before he actually did.
A few screens had been set up, partitioning off one end of the cell into a bedroom of sorts. There was a weird slanted thing in there that John realized must be a Minbari bed. “What the hell?” he asked no one in particular. The other two just nodded. “Exactly,” Susan said. “What the hell.”
“Maybe it's good for the back?” Garibaldi offered. John sure hoped so.
“Thank you both,” he told them, feeling just the tiniest bit overwhelmed.
Garibaldi scratched the stubble on top of his head, looking a little awkward. “I'm gonna go check in with Zack.” He left John alone with Ivanova. His second watched him with a knowing look, content to stare at him for God knew how long until he finally got sick of it.
“What?” he demanded.
“You and Delenn. How long?”
“No.” Maybe they would have been, at some point, but he thought that time was past. She'd been scared and vulnerable, and he'd taken advantage of that. He could be a real selfish prick. “No,” he said again. “We're not. I just...I want her safe, Susan. I don't have to be sleeping with her to want that.”
“Okay,” she said gently, and she ran her hand down his arm. It was nice to have a woman in your life you weren't attracted to, nor her to you, and to be close enough to her to be able to share affection from time to time. Sometimes you just needed a bit of comfort, the kind of comfort only a woman seemed able to give. John put his other arm around her shoulders, gave her a quick half-hug.
“Will you tell her about this? Ask her if she wants to move here?”
Susan raised her eyebrows. “Me?”
“We...didn't part on the best of terms.” Susan still looked a little surprised, but she nodded and left, as quick as that. John wandered around the room. Some food already laid in; they'd hooked up a portable cooler, hung some cabinets. Lennier had supervised other things, he was sure – her clothes were here, a few trinkets he recognized from her quarters.
John didn't know what else to do. They'd put in a switch to control the lights – manual, but better than the lighting being left up to the guards' discretion. He dimmed them down to almost nothing, then lit one of the tapers. He sat on the floor, crossed his legs as best he could (he really was getting old, and soft, and his knees didn't touch the ground like they used to), and watched the flame flicker. Slowly, the red and yellow and orange light filled his vision until he saw nothing else.
There are no thoughts in your head. Your mind is free. You are aware of nothing. You are not aware that you are aware of nothing. No body, no mind, only consciousness. Let your spirit mingle with the universe and know peace.
John tried, he really did, but it had been far too long since he'd known peace.
Susan had come to her not ten minutes after she had given Lennier the data crystal. After explaining what John had done, Delenn agreed to the move – but not because she thought she'd be any safer in the brig. She knew that John would continue to hound her no matter what she said or did; let him think he was protecting her, and it might be that he would leave her alone.
A veritable squadron of soldiers and guards escorted her up to Blue Sector, into the center levels of the station. She had never visited the brig; she had to admit, it was well-fortified. Susan herself accompanied Delenn the rest of the way, but she left her at the door of the cell. Delenn stood there for a moment, just looking at him. A candle burned in the dark room, casting flickering light on his face. His eyes were closed, his face slack. He was handsome, so handsome that she felt she could stare at him for hours. She fully entered, and the door slid down behind her, the security field crackling back into life. She expected the sound to alert him to her presence, but she saw not even the slightest movement from him.
The room was truly lovely. Part of her wished she could stay here; this was nicer than her own quarters were. It was a tempting thought, to stay. It would be so easy to give up all her duties, to rest for the first time in nearly twenty years, to let John attend to her as much as he wanted to. She imagined the time she'd have at her disposal. Time to read, to study, to pray. Time to eat slow, thoughtful meals. Time to rest, to sleep, to dream. Time even, maybe, to love. But if she stayed here, whatever time she might have would be short.
Delenn knelt beside him, and put her hand to the cheek she had struck. “John,” she whispered, and his eyes opened. They were dark, and she didn't quite know what he was thinking. “I'm sorry,” she said, and she kissed his cheek. She needed to say more, but she didn't know the words, in English or in any other tongue. “I'm sorry.”
He looked at her for a long moment, face still inscrutable. Perhaps she had offended him so greatly that he could not forgive her. But no, he brought his hand up to her hair, brushing it back from her face. “You don't have anything to apologize for,” he said, and then he turned back to look at the flame. “It's been a long time since I meditated. I think I forgot how.” She sat down on the floor next to him and looked at the candle flame herself. She knew just how he felt. Delenn waited for the room to drift away, for her mind to come into focus, but it seemed there was something blocking her. Instead of becoming less aware of her physical body, she became more aware – she was a little cold, and her head felt stuffed full of thick clouds. Mostly, though, she was aware of John beside her, his leg just brushing hers, the steady rhythm of his breathing.
“John?” she said, breaking the silence. “When you left, I…” How could she explain it to him? “I haven't felt so much grief and shame since the war,” she finally said, hoping he would understand without asking any questions she couldn't answer. He nodded, though she could barely make out the movement in her peripheral vision. His hand covered hers, fingers squeezing gently. “You're right. I did what I did, the Chrysalis, my change, I did that because it was the right thing to do. I believe that. I will not bow my head and go meekly to the slaughter.”
“We'll figure something out,” he said. “Until then, you'll be safe here.”
Now he turned to face her, looking as frustrated as she’d ever seen him. “Delenn. Please, just…please just do this for me.”
“I’ve already figured something out,” she told him. “I sent a message with Lennier, to the one member of the Grey Council I trust.”
“You mean one of those who ordered your death?”
“Hallier would not have voted against me. I know this.” Delenn said it with more conviction that she actually felt, but it would not do to let John know that. “If anyone can help me, she can.”
John nodded, though he didn't look very confident. “Okay. Until then--”
“Until then,” she cut him off, “you must act as though I am still on the station. Guard this room, and send your men and women on their rounds, and thoroughly question any Minbari who arrives.”
“And where are you going?” he asked, in a tone that told her he would happily lock her up here and treat this room like the prison cell it was. Let him think that for now; she knew what power she held over him. He would do what she wanted in the end.
“I am going to where I asked Hallier to meet me. To Centauri Prime.”