Chapter Six: Promises to Keep
AU from Atonement, S4, set in 2270
Standard disclaimer applies; not my characters or settings or backgrounds. But they are my words.
It was surprisingly easy to sneak them aboard the EAS Phoenix. Susan detailed a group of crew members to play tourist, and the whole group of them met John and Delenn just outside the Alliance sector, and surrounded them, moving as a group towards the docking bay. They were noisy and loud and obnoxious and they were studiously ignored by station personnel and occupants. John's hover-chair, and a hooded Delenn went unnoticed in the center of the crowd. Babylon Five was used to ship crews on leave, and those inhabitants that weren't trying to sell them something, or steal something from them, didn't pay much attention.
John had left copious instructions on everything going on with the Alliance, and had gone over everything with Delenn in detail as well, assuming she was coming back to the station and could assist whoever was put in charge temporarily. He gave her biographies and backgrounds on all the top staff members, and she complained that it was too much to absorb and not what she wanted to be doing in any case. She began to subvert his efforts, distracting him in ways that often led to hours of lying on the bed, touching and talking quietly, telling each other all the things they'd missed in each other's lives the past ten years.
There had also been frightening episodes of pain, and coughing, and fighting for breath. He had medication, which he hated taking, but she insisted, and the look on her face was enough to convince him. He mentally cursed over and over again the circumstances that had brought them back together, but couldn't regret a moment of time spent with her.
Once they had gotten settled on board, John had requested Phillip come by when he was off duty. Coincidentally, Susan had given the young ensign quite a number of short, easy shifts on the trip out. Delenn left them alone to talk at first, but soon John asked her to stay, and she quickly grew fond of Phillip on the short trip. There wasn't time to contact Elizabeth, but John gave Phillip a recorded message for his sister, and hoped that she would forgive him not doing more.
When they arrived in the Coriana system, no one knew quite what to do next.
"I want to set up in orbit around Coriana Six. Phoenix has a large shuttle we could take, doesn't it?" John was sitting in his chair, his chin resting on his fist. There was a small tube pumping oxygen into his nostrils, and he looked drawn and tired. Delenn sat next to him, trying to look unconcerned, while Susan sat opposite them, glaring.
"I'm supposed to send the two of you out into space, alone. Can you pilot the shuttle, Delenn? I don't think John's up to it. And then what, we wait? For what? How long? Why can't I go with you?" This last turned out sounding suspiciously like a plea.
John gave her a weak smile. "You come, pilot the thing, put us in orbit. Delenn can keep us in orbit, easily enough. Then you come back here in a flyer. We'll check in daily, but I don't think it will be long."
Susan glanced over at Delenn, whose eyes had closed, in prayer or pain she couldn't tell. "That could work. My crew isn't too happy about this, but they're giving me the benefit of the doubt at this point. It doesn't hurt that Delenn's with you. The two of you have achieved mythic status at this point, and combined with where we are, well. They're expecting something to happen, something big."
"I hope they will not be too greatly disappointed," said Delenn calmly.
Susan took them over, complaining all the way that she wasn't to be allowed to stay. She made them both swear to check in every eight hours, and said she'd give them two days before coming back. Her last sight of them was of Delenn was sitting in the pilot's seat, with John next to her. Eight hours later, she received a signal that all was well. Three hours after that, she was called to the bridge of the Phoenix.
"The detectors are picking up something, over near the shuttle, ma'am. We thought you'd want to know."
"Can you tell what it is? Is it a ship?" Susan settled into the captain's chair, and quizzed her crew.
"Negative. Not a ship, just some kind of energy field. It's centered on the shuttle now, and it's getting stronger." The lieutenant watched the readings on her screens in fascination. "I've never seen anything like it."
I'll bet I have, Susan thought to herself. And so it begins, or rather ends.
"Orders, Ma'am?" asked Lt. Commander Harris.
"Hold steady, Harris. We'll wait to see if we're invited to the party."
Aboard the shuttle, things were very quiet. It was a small ship, a dozen seats in the back, and a small bridge just big enough for John's chair, and two stations for a pilot and co-pilot/navigator. There was about enough room to pace three meters in any direction without hitting a curved wall. Delenn was sitting in the pilot's chair, attempting to meditate. She hadn't been doing much of that lately, and was feeling the strain of going without her ritual. It was difficult to focus with John's hoarse breathing sounding in her ears, and she fought to keep from asking him how he felt every few minutes.
"Are you finding it difficult to concentrate?"
The voice was not John's and her eyes snapped open in alarm. Turning her head, she saw the person she most feared to see at that moment, standing behind her.
Lorien went over to the chair where John was leaning back, briefly and tenuously asleep. "He is almost there," he said, passing his hand over John's head. "It is almost time." The alien walked back to Delenn, and took the co-pilot's seat. "It was good of you to come."
"You asked me to...you appeared to me, in a dream," Delenn was almost dazed with the suddenness of it. Although expected, now that it was upon her, she found herself straining to keep from calling Susan to come and get them, to take them away. It was panic-driven, and she took a moment to calm herself.
"That is true." He stroked his chin with his long fingers. "Things did not work out as I anticipated. But that is the way of the Universe, always changing, adapting to circumstance." He saw that she was watching John anxiously. "Would you like me to help him?"
"Can you? And what do you mean by help?" She couldn't keep the suspicion from her voice.
"You are cautious. That is good. It is his time to leave this place, but I can relieve his pain temporarily, long enough for you to say good-bye." He went over to John, and laid his hand on his forehead. There was a brief wave of energy, almost visible, that passed from him to the sleeping man.
Delenn noted immediately that the sound of his breathing was gone. She was up in an instant and pressed her ear to his chest, but it was rising and falling as before, just without the rasping, choking sound she to which she had grown so quickly accustomed. She looked up at Lorien, who nodded slightly, and stepped back. "John?" she said, gently touching his shoulder.
He woke with a start. "What is it?" Then as he took a deep breath, with no pain and no cough, he said "What's going on?" His blue eyes stared into Delenn's tear-filled green ones.
"Lorien is here," she said simply.
He turned his head, and caught sight of the First One. Then he tentatively stood up, and Delenn couldn't help but smile at his delight in the return of his mobility and health. "Can we have a little while?" he asked the alien.
The alien inclined his head, his eyes filled with pity, "Just a little. I will wait back here, but we must go soon. I cannot keep you in this state long, and I am not supposed to be here at all. We have not forgotten you, but we did not expect the call so soon."
"Yeah well, neither did I. I don't suppose..." He stopped short as Lorien shook his head. "No, I didn't think so." He took a moment to stretch his arms out to either side, reveling in the lack of pain from broken ribs and damaged lungs. He took a deep breath and blew it out, just because he could.
Delenn watched Lorien wander to the back of the shuttle, making little comments as he went, about the ship, and the people watching them, presumably on the Phoenix. "John," she said, and then she couldn't speak because he had crushed her in his arms, and was kissing her hard and deep, so long she couldn't breathe and no longer wanted to. Responding instantly with ardor and a passion too long denied, she could no longer tell where her body ended and his began. This, this was what she had wanted...what she had missed for ten long lonely years, and now she had only minutes left before it ended again and forever. The pain of this thought surged through her like a rushing tide, but his hands stroking and caressing her everywhere, caught the pain and caged it, leaving only pleasure behind.
When, in a few moments, they paused to catch their breath, John looked at her, thinking this was the hardest thing he'd ever had to do...harder than leaving her to go with Anna to Z'ha'dum, harder than waiting for her to return from Minbar knowing somehow, deep down, that she never would. But he knew it was harder to be the one to stay behind. "Promise me," he began to say.
"Anything. Everything," she replied instantly.
"Stay here. Don't try to follow me, into death, or beyond the Rim, or wherever I'm going. I want you to live a long, happy life. Work on making the Alliance last a thousand years, like we planned." He smiled at her, touching her face, stroking her hair, trying to will her to understand, and to agree.
She had to bite the inside of her cheek to keep from screaming at him. There is no happiness without you. There is no life without you. But she could not deny him anything at that moment. "I promise," she said, and kissed him again.
He caught hold of her hands, holding them tightly between their bodies as they continued to press closer to each other, trying to stave off the inevitable, trying not to listen for approaching footfalls from the rear section of the ship. I love you, they said between kisses; to each other, one after the other, in response, and in unison, over and over. Until...
Lorien was there, beside them, and said, "It is time."
John, still standing and holding onto Delenn's hands, said desperately, "I can't go now. We've only just found each other again."
"You will always find one another." Lorien looked at them both with infinite sadness, and infinite compassion. "You must let go now. This body is not able to sustain your soul any more."
"I can't!" Even as he spoke, he began to feel warmth flooding through him, and his skin began to glow, a soft white glow that seemed to come from both within and without him. "I won't leave her."
"She has more to do in this world. Leave her now, and when it is time, you will find her." Lorien spoke patiently, repeating his direction as you would to an beloved but errant child.
Delenn kept tight hold of John's hands, though they were beginning to burn her. "Please," she said. "Please, John." Her voice was choked with tears that she would not release. She would not let her vision blur lest she miss one moment of their remaining time.
He dropped her hands, and reached for the chain around her neck. Gently pulling it over her head and crest, he undid the clasp, and let the fine interlocking metal links slide through his fingers and fall to the deck. Holding the ring in one hand, he picked up her left hand with the other, and slowly slid the ring over her finger. "You can wear it now," he said, watching the diamond burn with reflected flame.
"I suppose I can..." she said, never taking her eyes from his face, "but there is no meaning in it. Not any more."
"No," he answered urgently. "I told you when I gave it to you, this ring is a kind of promise. I'm making you a new promise." Taking her face between his hands, he kissed her gently on the forehead and said, "I swear I'll come for you, Delenn. When it's time, I'll come."
Lorien held out his hand, and John turned towards him, stepping away from Delenn. The light grew brighter, and she couldn't see either of them clearly. She heard John's voice once more, saying in a voice filled with wonder and awe, "Well, look at that..."
Then the light flared, brighter and clearer than any light she had every seen. It was as if a thousand suns were rising over the horizon, all at the same time. She screamed, just once, as if her heart had been pierced by fire, and slumped to the deck unconscious.
Susan Ivanova had flown her personal flyer over to the shuttle alone. Those on the Phoenix had seen the bright flash of light that had centered on the small craft, and then spread out to encompass their own. It had passed as quickly as it had come, and when it was gone, they had been unable to raise anyone on the com system of the shuttle. After trying for almost an hour, Susan had declared that she would go over and check it out. After pulling rank on her concerned second in command, and threatening dire consequences to the rest of the bridge crew if they continued to protest, she got the flyer out of dock and flew over to the shuttle. There was a small docking station, and she maneuvered the little flyer into position and used her command override to activate the lock, and let her inside. She walked down the short corridor to the main control area. Delenn was sitting on the floor, her forehead resting on her knees. She was still breathing, Susan was relieved to see. There was no one else there.
Approaching her quietly, she sat down beside her friend, and placed one hand on her shoulder, "He's gone, isn't he?"
"Yes." The answer was clearly spoken, although Delenn's face stayed hidden.
Susan was silent for a moment, looking out the viewscreen at the unmoving stars. Finally she asked, "Was it worth it?"
"Yes," came the answer again, and this time Delenn looked up.
Susan could see her face now, white and calm. Reaching over, she gently touched the Minbari's forehead, where there was a reddened mark. "Did you hurt yourself?"
"Oh yes," said Delenn. "I did. But it will fade in time." She stood up, and looked down at Susan, whose face was drawn and closed. She held out her hand to her friend, and said, "Come. We have much work to do."
Susan took her hand, noting it had the same reddened areas marking the skin, and got up. She went to the control panel to start up the shuttle's engines. "Where do you want to go?"
"Back to your ship, then back to the station. I need to begin the process of, what was it you called it? Putting my hat into the ring?" She touched her crest briefly, and Susan saw the fiery glint of a diamond on her finger. "I do not wear a hat. Is that a problem?"
Susan laughed, "It's a metaphor."
Wryly, Delenn remarked, "I should have known." Going over to the navigation console, she said nonchalantly, "Have you ever considered a career in politics, Susan?"
"No way! I'm not good at that kind of work! All bureaucracy and paperwork, being nice to people you'd just as soon space..." She banged one of the levers on the panel and the ship's engines began to thrum and vibrate. "There, that's got it. It looks like an electro-magnetic pulse went through here, but the back-up systems are okay."
"Hmm," said Delenn, as the panel beneath her hands lit up. "Perhaps you would care to lead the Rangers? You would make an excellent Anla'Shok Na."
Susan stared at her. "You're being a little premature, aren't you?"
"No," said Delenn. "Just optimistic." She smiled, and it was like the sun coming out from behind a cloud. "Besides, I made a promise. I mean to keep it." She straightened her back, and shifted her shoulders, as if to ease a heavy burden, made lighter only by his promise that this was not the end.
It was only the end of the beginning.