Varieties of Repentance

by Deborah

Fandom: Babylon 5

Pairings: Mild Sheridan/Delenn, Delenn/Lennier vaguely implied.

Disclaimers: Belongs to JMS, who'd better not be reading this.

Rating: G (sigh)

Summary: A few years before Sleeping in Light, Sheridan and Lennier have a conversation about forgiveness.

Warnings: Spoilers for end of season 5, and if you haven't seen it this fic might not make much sense.

Archive: Sure, just tell me where.

Notes: I haven't yet read Peter David's novels, so this is likely to be AU to them. Based mostly on episodes 'War Without End,' 'Atonement,' "Moment of Transition,' 'Meditations on the Abyss,' 'Darkness Ascending,' and 'Objects at Rest.' The prophecy mentioned here has no basis in canon.

Dedicated to Maia, who sent me the entire series because she knew I'd love it. Now that's a friend.

*

Part 1

*

After the liberation of Centauri Prime, John Sheridan and Delenn returned to their home on Minbar. They had seen too much on the ruined planet, it was good to be surrounded by the soothing green of the ordered garden, and to hear nothing but the calm rhythmic snipping of the gardener's shears. David had gone immediately to join the Rangers, thought he was young, saying that they had saved his life and this made him one of them. It was hard to be without him, but it was also good to be alone together.

The battle for Centauri Prime had gone far more easily that they had imagined. The Grey Council on Minbar was under the guidance of a new leader, one who had taken the place Delenn had left for Neroon, and then for the One who was to come. The prophecy had spoken of one who would be of all castes, Warrior and Worker and Religious. The castes certainly worked well together under his direction, putting aside struggles that still felt so recent. But whoever he was, he had organized the Minbari response to cripple the Drakh almost immediately. And even now, teams of Minbari sent by the Grey Council were down on Centauri Prime, to heal and to teach, to build and to rebuild.

"We owe him a debt of gratitude," Delenn said, as they rested in the garden. "It would be good to know his name."

"I don't see why they won't tell you," Sheridan answered, moving closer to her on the bench. "You were the one who reestablished the Grey Council. You were the one who reminded them of the prophecies regarding the One who was to come."

"Since I have become President, they will not speak to me. They say that I have chosen my path as the leader of the Alliance, but that I must now let Minbar seek its own destiny." Delen sighed. "You know this is the way among my people, not to see those of the Grey Council unless there is need."

"I will never understand your people. How can they trust a leader when they don't even know his name?"

"I wonder something similar about your people," Delenn said with a smile, "how they can trust a leader who was not chosen by Valen in prophecy from a thousand years ago. But I would very much like to know the name of this leader. He is the one who gave the order that saved David's life. He was there for us, in the hour of our greatest need."

Sheridan felt something clench inside at those words. Once, Delenn had told him, someone had sworn to Delenn that he would be there for her in her hour of greatest need. She might not think that Sheridan would remember this, but Sheridan most certainly did. He felt an odd sort of pain as he realized who Delenn thought this new leader might be.

*

"I need to meet with the head of the Grey Council," Sheridan told the Minbari ambassador.

"That is not possible," she said. "The Grey do not meet with outsiders."

Sheridan leaned over. "Ask him if it would make a difference if I reminded him that since I am the Entil'zah and he has taken vows as a Ranger he is under my command? Or if I told him that Delenn would never know?"

She returned in a moment. "It would," she said. "Follow me."

"What is his name?" he asked her on the way up, just to be certain.

"Shakth, of the Worker Caste."

*

It was nothing like a human office. To start with, there was no sign of walls or a desk. Only two bright spots in a darkened spaceship above Minbar. The one Sheridan had come to meet was covered in his grey robes, but he stood with such an air of authority between light and dark that for a moment Sheridan thought that he might be mistaken after all. But then he moved the hood from his face, and Sheridan knew he would recognize this face anywhere: behind a Ranger's pike, above a modest bow, on the other side of poisoned gas and a glass door.

"Lennier," he said, "what the hell is going on?"

*

Part 2

*

"Mr. President," Lennier began, "I am so very sorry."

"I am not the President," said Sheridan. "My wife is. As you know. But what are you doing? How did you get to be," he gestured around, "here? Why are you under a false name? Why are you pretending to be of a different caste?"

"The calling of my heart was to the Worker Caste. This is not pretense."

"You? A worker?"

"We pray with our hands. We fight with our labor. It is good to create. I work every day, even now."

"Even now that you are the head of the Grey Council," Sheridan snapped. "But why? Why did you seek leadership? Why did you change your name? And why don't you want to see Delenn?"

"I can not see her until I have earned her forgiveness," Lennier said. "That was the promise I made her, long ago. She will never love me, I know this now, but I must believe that forgiveness is possible."

She loves you and always has, you bonehead idiot. But it was not Sheridan's place to say this aloud, even if he had wanted to, and in any case he did not think Lennier would be able to hear it. Lennier was too pure, too perfect, capable only of unwavering loyalty or utter betrayal. He would not understand how a heart can be divided and still whole, and if Sheridan were to tell him that he still sometimes thought of Anna at night he was sure Lennier would have no sympathy.

"I came here to forgive you," Sheridan said at last. "But you're not making it easy."

Lennier bowed, and Sheridan thought for a moment that he could still see the young aide from his first years on Babylon 5. "Forgiveness is not easy," Lennier said. "But I am grateful for yours. It is not simple, to forgive someone who has tried to kill you."

"Lennier, I've seen you with a pike, and I know full well that if you had truly wanted to kill me I'd be dead. I still don't really understand why you did what you did, or what you were trying to do."

"If you were Centauri," Lennier asked, "would you forgive me?"

"Centauri?!" This conversation was getting stranger by the moment. "What do Centauri have to do with..."

"I caused the start of the Alliance/Centauri war."

Sheridan remembered. Lennier had gone on a mission, sent by Delenn at midnight, against Sheridan's specific orders. The evidence that he had brought back had forced the Alliance to attack before they could begin to understand.

"Delenn was your direct superior," Sheridan said. "You were following orders."

"You have said with regard to your own people that following orders is not an excuse. And I did not obey her because she was my superior. You know this. And Londo...Londo was my friend."

Londo. Dead, but worse than dead - destroyed so completely that for the last seventeen years even his will was not his own, forced to watch the destruction of his beloved home. The worst casualty of the end of the Shadow war. "I don't know why you take responsibility for this. I gave the order to attack."

"You had no choice."

"Neither did you."

"This is easy to say about another, is it not?" For the first time Lennier left the spot of brightness that encircled him, and let the shadows fall on his face as he walked towards Sheridan. "I disobeyed an order that could have prevented the fall of Centauri Prime, because it came from you and not from Delenn. I judged a friend harshly, when I could have looked for evidence of his innocence, because Delenn believed him to be guilty. I let the Alliance consider me so above reproach," he spat the words at himself, "that they could accept my evidence without question. And since Delenn did not question my evidence, neither did I. And Londo was my friend. You survived. Many Centauri did not. If you were Centauri, could you forgive me?"

There was a great deal that Sheridan did not understand about this conversation. Certainly far too few of his questions had been answered. But he had come here to forgive, and that was what he was going to do. "Yes," he said. "Yes. The past has gone on long enough. Everything you've done, all these years...It was a long time ago. And you acted without knowing what you were doing. Yes, even if I were Centauri, I would be willing to forgive."

"Thank you." Lennier bowed his head. "And now I must ask a...a kindness of you. Would you tell Delenn what you said to me?"

"Tell her what?"

"Tell her that you are aware of my guilt in relation to the Centauri, and that even if you were Centauri you would be able to forgive me."

This conversation was getting beyond what Sheridan could fathom. He thought he had come here to forgive someone who had acted against him years ago. Now he found himself asked to carry a message to his wife that he did not understand, from someone who loved her. From someone she still loved.

"Please," Lennier said. "It is very important."

"Fine. But I will need to ask something of you in return."

"Anything, and I will do it."

"Stay away from my wife until I am dead."

*

Part 3

*

"I met the new head of the Grey Council," Sheridan told Delenn that night. "I finally convinced him that because I am the Entil'zah..."

"Yes," she said quickly. "Who is he?"

"He calls himself Shakth, of the Worker Caste."

"Ah."

"You were hoping it was Lennier, weren't you?"

"I chose Lennier as my aide because I saw greatness in him. It is not right for his story to end...where we saw it end. And he swore we would meet again, in time."

"Anna said that she would come back to me as well. You can't always keep a promise like that. But I am convinced that Lennier had a hand in saving our son."

"Yes. That is the sort of thing he would do." She smiled in a way that hurt to watch.

"I was thinking about Lennier," Sheridan began, because he had promised. "I was thinking about how...what he tried to do...might not be the only thing he feels guilty about. He might feel responsible for the evidence he brought, against my orders, which led to the attack on Centauri Prime."

"He would feel responsible for the fall of a world."

"And I thought, I am willing to forgive him, and I think I would be even if I were Centauri."

"You mean this?"

"It has been many years. A moment, when someone does not understand..."

"But you could forgive someone who made war against your world?"

"Yes. I could."

Delenn did not answer, but there were tears in her eyes, and Sheridan wondered why he had been so slow to understand. "Delenn. You fought in the Earth/Minbari war."

"Yes."

"Powerfully."

"Devastatingly."

He put his arms around her. He kissed her cheek, then her hair, then the top of her headbone. "I'm still here," he said.

They talked much of the night, and when they did not they held each other in silence. In the morning Delenn watched the sunrise, in a garden that was strangely quiet without the usual morning sound of the rhythmic snipping of the gardener's shears. And as long as Sheridan was alive, Delenn never found out why.