Author's Note: This is an AU that was previously posted on LJ. It will be posted here in five long sections, and some parts have been slightly revised from the original.
Part I: Too Sharp a Sun
'Sometimes the sky's too bright
Or has too many clouds or birds,
And far away's too sharp a sun
To nourish thinking of him.'
Standard disclaimer applies; not my characters or settings or backgrounds, those are JMS and other copyright-owning folks'. But they are my words.
Delenn was working hard on the policy paper outlining the Alliance's views on self-determination and colony worlds. She rubbed her eyes, and sighed deeply. The comscreen was starting to waver as she stared at the words that seemed wholly inadequate and increasingly meaningless. She missed John. She hated it when he had to go off-world without her, but this time it was necessary. Some ceremonies the President had to attend in person.
It was getting late, and he still hadn't checked in with her. She had put David to bed about an hour before, although he begged and teased to be allowed to stay up for his father's call. Walking around the sitting room, she tried to stretch her muscles, which were tense with fatigue. The meetings today had seemed to go on forever. Wandering into the kitchen, she filled a cup of tea from a warming carafe. Sipping the drink, she considered that at times she almost regretted the founding of the Alliance. It seemed to suck all the time out of her life; all the time she wished she could spend with David, with friends, and most of all, with her beloved husband. They had so little time as it was; so little time until it would be over, at least for him. She mentally shook herself, put down the empty cup, and returned to the sitting room. There was no use pursuing this line of thought; the work was important and had to be done, and at least it was distracting her somewhat from worrying why John hadn't called.
She settled back into the chair in front of the computer, determined to finish this last section before allowing herself some time for private meditation before bed. As she touched the screen, some papers rustled and blew off the table. 'That's odd,' she thought as she bent to pick them up, 'Where has that breeze come from?' She glanced over to the sliding doors leading out to the garden, and froze when she observed they were open. She distinctly remembered closing them after showing David the direction in which his father's ship had flown when he had left. The guard stationed outside those doors would never enter without announcing himself, so there someone else must be here…inside. 'David!' she thought immediately. Straightening back into her chair, with no outward indication of her unease, she slid her hand down the left side of the keyboard, pressing a small button discreetly located there.
The screen lit up immediately, and she was relieved to see Susan's face. "What is it, Delenn?" she asked.
Delenn replied easily, "I was just taking a break, Susan. How is the situation on Level 14?"
Susan's voice remained steady as she replied, "Same old, same old, you know how it is. Say, I was in the middle of something here. Can I call you back?"
"Certainly, but do not wait too long. I am getting very tired, and will retire soon."
Delenn broke off the connection, sure her message had been received, and help would arrive shortly. She considered her options. She had to check on David first. She considered trying to contact the guard at the front door, but then whoever was inside might reach David before she did. In any case, Susan would be there soon, and her first priority had to be the safety of her son. She rose, stretched, and went over to a table by the open door. She gently eased open the small drawer, reached in, and withdrew her denn'bok.
She then quietly but swiftly strode towards the inner door that led to David's bedroom. She eased open the door, and was relieved to see him lying in bed, asleep, sprawled almost sideways in his earnest slumber. His stuffed gok had fallen off the bed, and she bent to retrieve it, keeping her thumb over the release catch on her weapon. She tucked the toy in beside her son, then gently touched his face. His eyes snapped open. She laid her finger to his lips, indicating he was to remain silent. He saw the denn'bok, and his eyes widened. "Stay here," she whispered, "Do not interfere, no matter what, David." He nodded, closed his eyes, and tried to calm his breathing to maintain the illusion of sleep.
Delenn took up position just inside the door, allowing her eyes to completely adjust to the darkened room. She would wait here, protecting her son, until help arrived. She tried to calm her wildly beating heart, wishing once again that John were there. Just as she began to suspect she had over-reacted to a door open from a faulty catch, she heard something. Thinking at first that the noise came from behind her, she turned slowly and stared into the dark shadows of her son's room, listening intently. Then, she heard it again, definitely from outside the room this time. It was a rustling noise, followed by a small scraping sound from the vicinity of her bedroom. She took a breath, then slowly peered around the doorframe. An indistinct figure was just visible against the dim light from a single bedside lamp. She pulled back into the shadows, putting the denn'bok in front of her, ready to be extended into fighting position. The shape resolved itself into a stocky Minbari in a Ranger cloak. As the figure silently glided towards the door to David's room, she pressed the button and simultaneously stepped into the light, blocking the way into her son's room.
The Minbari smiled grimly, extending his own weapon. Fury rose in her throat as she realized that one of her Rangers, one who was sworn to live and die for her, was preparing to strike her down. Their pikes clashed, and she strove to remember the lessons she had learned so long ago. Her attacker was stronger than she, but not as well trained, and definitely not as motivated. He lunged again and again, as she sidestepped his blows, landing an occasional one herself. Finally he caught her on the wrist, hard. She cried out, and grimaced at the pain; that hand would be useless for a while, and one-handed, she was at a disadvantage.
David was enthralled, watching his mother battle the stranger. He had watched his father practice with the denn'bok, and knew his mother was familiar with the weapon, but he had never seen her in action. He didn't understand why a Ranger was fighting with his mother though—he had been around Rangers all his life. They were his protectors, his teachers, his friends. His Aunt Susan was now leader of the Rangers. This one must have gone bad somehow. He couldn't help bouncing in his bed a little; it was so exciting. Then the Ranger hit his mother's wrist, and he heard her cry out in pain. Suddenly his Sheridan temper came to the fore. Without thinking, he charged from his bed, yelling a challenge. He was stopped abruptly by a hand gripping the neck of his pajamas, lifting him off the floor. "Be still!" a voice commanded.
Delenn heard David's voice, and instinctively turned towards him. She heard a loud crack before she felt the pain as the denn'bok connected with her skull. 'David!' she thought, then 'John...' as she slid into unconsciousness.
David roared at the sight of his mother, unmoving on the floor, blood pooling beneath her head. More angry than frightened, he twisted and turned, flailing his arms, trying to get loose from the iron grip which held him suspended.
Susan Ivanova waited outside the door to the Presidential suite. She had sent one of her team around to the garden door to check on the guard who was supposed to be stationed there. She had not been able to raise him on his link. The guard who was supposed to be at the front door had disappeared. She knew this was a hostage situation from Delenn's coded message, but she still had no idea how many hostiles were involved, and the location and condition of Delenn and David. Her link chirruped, and she whispered into it, "Go."
The Ranger she had sent into the garden reported that he had found the guard, dead, and the doors open. He could see a little into the room, and reported that Delenn was holding off what seemed to be a Minbari Ranger, a cadet, at the entrance to David's bedroom. There was no sign of the boy, or anyone else in the apartment. Then he spoke urgently, "Entil'zha Delenn has fallen! Go in now!"
The door to the residence exploded inward as a small team of Rangers, led by Susan Ivanova, entered in a highly efficient and well-choreographed manner. One Ranger launched himself at the man standing over Delenn, bowling him over onto the floor. He was followed by another, who helped him pinion the struggling man flat. Susan gestured to two others in her group to stand guard over Delenn's still body, then she turned to concentrate on the man, another cadet, holding David Sheridan aloft. He was in a good position for a stand-off. David's room was an internal one, no windows and only one door. It was designed that way on purpose to make it defensible against intrusion, but it worked against them when the intruder was already inside. And as he had a valuable hostage, he would be calling the shots…for now.
"Are you all right, David?" she asked.
"I'm fine, Aunt Susan…but that man hurt my mother! And this one won't let me down!" as he replied he managed to twist around and land a hard kick on the man's shin.
"Who are you? What do you want?" demanded Susan. She wasn't at her best in hostage situations. She was assessing her chances of rushing the enemy, but it didn't look good. She had two men holding the flailing Ranger on the floor, and two guarding Delenn. That left her with one other, who had entered from the garden, and herself.
"I want you to let my brother go. I will take him and make sure he troubles no one here again," the Minbari replied. "I wish no harm to Delenn or her child. Please believe me, I came here to prevent this."
"I need to question this man. As Rangers, you are under my command. I can give you my personal guarantee that no harm will come to either of you in my custody. Let the boy go, and we can discuss this elsewhere. We need to get medical attention for his mother!"
The man hesitated, then nodded, and set David on the floor. He rushed towards Susan, grasping her free hand. Susan pulled him close and gave him a quick hard hug, then shoved him towards the Ranger behind her. He quickly put David behind him, and urged him to be silent and stay put.
The Ranger raised his hands, open palmed, towards Susan. "I surrender to your authority, Anla'Shok Na. I accept your guarantee of my brother's safety."
Susan kept the man covered with her firearm, and gestured to the Ranger behind her. "Check him for weapons. I want to talk to him here. You two, take his brother to the brig—I don't want anything to happen to him on the way either, or you will answer to me! Send for reinforcements and an investigation team. And for God's sake, get a medic in here!"
David had quietly approached his mother. He had never even seen her sick, much less unconscious and bleeding. He stifled a sob, then stiffened his spine. He would be needed to take care of his mother, since his father was not there. He sat cross-legged on the floor beside her, and took her hand in his. "It'll be all right, Mama. I'm here."
The requested medics rushed into the room. One took David aside to check him over, the others gently examined his mother on the floor. She was regaining consciousness, and muttering his name. He shrugged off the medic, and returned to her side. "I'm here, I'm all right. Nothing happened to me, Mama, really. Aunt Susan and the Rangers got both of the bad men."
Delenn struggled up to a sitting position, and pulled David into a tight embrace. "Thank Valen you are all right! They did not hurt you, did not touch you?"
David replied, "I am more likely to be hurt by you crushing me, Mama! Now let them finish helping you!"
Susan had been questioning the man who had 'kidnapped' David. She approached Delenn, and said, "Listen to your son…he has more sense than you do! David, I need to speak with your mother alone. Go over there with Isilinn for a moment." David started to protest, but he recognized that look, and simply nodded and left.
"I know this isn't a good time for you to hear this, but this man is the brother of the Ranger who attacked you. He says he followed his brother here, trying to stop him reaching David. Delenn, they are both of the Third Fane of Chu'domo."
Delenn looked stricken. She gestured the hovering medics away, then spoke directly and quietly to Susan, "They are of Lennier's clan? Do they know where he is, what became of him? Have they spoken to him? What did they want with my son?"
Susan looked pained at the grief and fear visible on her friend's face. "I don't know yet, but I will. The guard stationed in the garden is dead; they will have to answer for that, as well as for breaking their oaths. I'm afraid I have more questions than answers at this point…"
Just then the com system chimed, and the computer announced "Incoming message from President Sheridan."
Before anyone could stop him, David raced to the com unit, hit the 'Receive' button and cried out, "Dad! You'll never guess what happened! Some bad Rangers got in my room, and Mama fought one and…" He was abruptly cut off as Susan stepped in front of the viewscreen.
"Hi John, " she said with a false brightness in her voice, "Everything's under control here. How are things going with you?"
"Susan? What are you doing there at this time of night? What's David talking about? Where's Delenn?" With each question his voice became more edged with anxiety and rising anger.
Behind her, Delenn had struggled to her feet. "Move aside, Susan. He will not rest until he sees me, even as I am. I would be the same in his position."
At the sight of his beloved wife, blood streaking her face and matting her hair, a weeping crack visible in the crest above her left ear, John Sheridan's face froze. He opened his mouth to speak but no words emerged.
"I am alright, dearest. It looks worse than it is. There is nothing to worry about." Delenn said reassuringly, hoping to erase the look of horror and pain on John's face.
John turned away from the screen briefly, and spoke to someone not visible to Delenn and Susan. "Minbar, full burn. No questions, just go!" He turned back and said, "Get yourself taken care of, love. I'll be there as soon as I can. Somebody put David back to bed. And Susan, I will call you in two hours for a full report. I expect some answers." He leaned forward to gently touch the screen where his wife's battered face was still framed. "I love you. Sheridan out."
Susan heaved a sigh of relief. "That went better than I expected. And I have at least two hours left to live, too!"
Delenn winced as the medics cleaned her face and began applying salve and sealant to the wounds on her face and crest. "David, go to bed. Susan, report to me here in an hour. Wake me if I'm sleeping. I need to know what is going on before you or I talk to John again."
"What do you expect me to find out in an hour? You people expect miracles!"
"I have every faith in you, Susan, as does John. We would never have asked you to command the Rangers if we did not. David, go to bed! Now!"
With that exchange, David reluctantly went back to bed, the medics continued their work, and Susan left with one suspect in tow, after having left two Rangers at each entrance to the presidential residence, as well as two stationed inside.
Susan strode back to her office in Alliance Headquarters, where she had been working late when she had received Delenn's distress call. She indicated the suspect should sit in the chair facing her desk. A Ranger took up position immediately behind the man, who looked determined, if a little frightened. As well he might, thought Susan to herself. If he survived her interrogation, there was still the retribution from his fellow Rangers, not to mention what he would face when John Sheridan hit planetside. "So, what's this all about, Ranger?"
The man swallowed hard, and began, "I told you that my brother Nashok and I are of the Third Fane of Chu'domo, the clan that Delenn's aide, our brother Ranger, Lennier, belonged to as well…"
Susan, still wondering what in the world Lennier had to do with this, interrupted, "Does the past tense 'belonged' refer to Lennier's leaving the Rangers, or do you have some later knowledge of his fate that you would like to share?"
"No, Anla'Shok Na. My brother has made claims of such knowledge, but frankly, his reliability has been suspect. We were surprised when he petitioned to join the Anla'Shok; we were surprised when he was taken for training. He had previously expressed very negative attitudes regarding the Anla'Shok, the Alliance, even President Sheridan. I was elected to follow in his footsteps here, and ensure he did not fall into error, and bring disgrace upon our clan."
"Well, that hasn't worked out so well for you, has it? What happened tonight…what was your brother's plan?"
"I have stayed friendly with him as we trained. He stopped his wild talk of revenge and dishonor. I honestly thought perhaps the training was showing him another path. Then tonight he informed me he had guard duty at Entil'zha's residence. He was replacing the normal guard, who had taken ill. The look in his eyes sent chills down my spine. He didn't confide in me, and I couldn't be sure…at any rate, I decided to shadow him tonight, to act as a second guard in case his intentions were not honorable."
"And what did you suspect his intentions were?" Susan was beginning to lose her temper. This was not going well; Minbari tended to prevaricate rather than speak directly. She would have to talk to the actual perpetrator before she met with Delenn, and she was running out of time.
He hesitated, then said slowly, "I believe he meant to kill the boy. He believes strongly that all association with humans should be cut off, and that the child is an abomination." He stopped and asked for a glass of water. After taking a sip, he continued. "I followed him, as I said. He was stationed at the front door. When he saw me, he asked me to take his place momentarily, that he had to ask the guard in the garden something about his instructions. He seemed to be gone a long time, and I grew nervous. I went out to the garden entry, and found a Ranger on the ground, dead. I panicked and entered the apartment by the open door. A noise alarmed me and I ducked into a room with the door ajar. It was the child's room, and I decided to stay hidden there and prevent any action my brother might take. It never occurred to me he would attack Entil'zha!"
"Why didn't you tell someone about this?" Susan exploded. "Where did your brother get these ideas?"
The Minbari nervously licked his lips, and went on, "My brother claims that he has spoken with Lennier, and that he follows his instructions…" Then he burst out, "I do not believe that! He was a child when Lennier went off to Babylon 5 to serve Entil'zha Delenn! Why would he communicate with my brother alone of all our clan? We know that Lennier left the Rangers in disgrace, but the circumstances are not known to any but the elders. I tried to stop him, Anla'Shok Na! You must believe me! I did not know until this evening that he still harbored these delusions, much less that he would act on them!"
"You should have told someone, you know that." Susan said grimly. "Even as trainees, you swear an oath relinquishing your clan ties…your allegiance should have been to me, to Delenn, to your fellow Rangers, and to the Alliance we serve." She nodded at the guard, "Bring him along; we need to speak to the brother and make sure this was an isolated attempt." She stood and left the room, wondering if Lennier was actually involved, and what she would do if he was.
Delenn was sleeping fitfully. Although the doctors had given her a healing drink to ease her passage into sleep, she could not rest with her wounds, and her heart, aching. Finally she decided she would get more rest from meditation than from lying in the dark trying to sleep. So she arose, and went to a small table in one corner of the bedroom. She lit the large white candle in the center of the table, and tried to focus.
Susan approached the presidential residence with trepidation. She had attempted to question the Ranger who had attacked Delenn, but he was raving in his cell, completely incoherent, and she suspected he would be so for some time. What was she going to tell Delenn? If she mentioned Lennier's supposed involvement, it would crush her friend. Every instinct she had told her it was extremely unlikely that Lennier had 'put out a hit' on David Sheridan! She suddenly wished Garibaldi was there. Maybe she would touch bases with him later, and see what he thought of the whole mess.
Delenn heard the door chime and left her chamber, nodding to the Ranger on guard. She let Susan in with a quick embrace. "Thank you! I don't know what would have happened without your setting up our code messages."
"It's my job, Delenn, " replied Susan, secretly pleased at her friend's approval. She didn't look too bad now that the doctors were done patching her up. Which was good, considering John was probably only a few hours away now, and she didn't want to think about his reaction to his wife's injuries. "Sit down, I'll tell you what we've found out so far."
Susan quickly summarized the story she had gotten from the Ranger, emphasizing his brother's madness, and glossing over the possible involvement of Lennier. Delenn wasn't fooled, but was too weary and heartsore to pursue the matter. She longed for her husband to be home. She asked Susan if she would like to wait with her, and speak to John from here, but Susan declined, and insisted Delenn return to bed. She didn't protest very long, and Susan left for her next confrontation, hoping it would go as well as the last, but fearing it would not.
David lay in bed, listening to his mother and Susan quietly discussing the evening's events. He had picked up his mother's denn'bok when he sat next to her, waiting for the medics to arrive. He fingered the trigger button, and considered what had happened that evening; the blood running from his mother's head, the look on his father's face. He came to a decision.
He waited until all was quiet; then got out of bed, pulled on a robe, and went out into the room. A human Ranger stood silently by the closed door to his parent's bedroom; one eyebrow went up quizzically at the sight of a slight boy in pajamas and robe, carrying a denn'bok, looking up at him with a serious expression. "I mean you no dishonor, but I should guard my mother," he declared matter-of-factly.
The Ranger started to say something, then nodded, "It is your right. But I must also stay, on the order of Ranger One."
David nodded. He understood that orders from Aunt Susan were not to be ignored. "I will stay by the door. You may wait over there," and he gestured towards the center of the room. The Ranger bowed his head, and took up his new position. David sat in front of his mother's door, one hand holding the denn'bok, the other clutching a link that his aunt had given him not too long ago. It had only three buttons, links to his home, to his parent's flyer, and one directly to Susan's link. She had told him he was not to use it casually, but only for emergencies. He hadn't understood then, but he did now. As time wore on, he began to nod, then finally slumped over in slumber. The Ranger gently placed a blanket over the boy, then resumed his watch.
Susan awoke as the sun streamed in the open window. She had fallen asleep at her desk again. Stretching, she felt her back crack. She was getting too old for this. The call from John had been long and exhausting. She had too few answers for his liking, and his temper didn't improve as the call wore on. At least he had agreed with her that Lennier's involvement was extremely unlikely, and it was best not to discuss it with Delenn until they had more information. She had sent a polite demand to the Chu'domo clan elders, 'requesting' their presence that morning to discuss these events and their part in them. Then she must have fallen asleep. She checked the clock above the door; John should be getting in any time now. As a gigantic yawn split her face, she decided she had best grab a shower and some breakfast. John would want to see his family first, but then he would descend on her, and she wouldn't have a free moment for a long while after that.
John called Susan as his flyer hit Minbar airspace, and told her he would see her in about an hour, after he had checked on Delenn and David. As soon as he hit the ground, he strode quickly through the corridors with two hyper-alert guards flanking him. He shrugged off aides, assistants, and ambassadors with an equal opportunity glare. Once he hit the private wing of the IA headquarters, he quickened his pace even more. It was still quite early, so he entered the room quietly. The Ranger on guard made a ritual bow, then gestured for silence, and pointed to the sleeping boy in front of his bedchamber door. John walked over and squatted down next to David, and touched his shoulder lightly.
He jumped back, as a denn'bok extended in front of him, and David, for one moment glared at him fiercely. Then, "Dad!" he cried and dropping his weapon, jumped into his arms, bowling him over onto the floor.
"Hey, give me a minute to catch my breath," said John, smiling, "What do you think you're doing, sleeping out here? And isn't that your mother's denn'bok? Where is she, anyway?"
"She's still asleep. Aunt Susan came back to talk with her, quite late." He yawned ostentatiously.
"You're tired. You should have been in bed…"
David interrupted, "Since you were not here, guarding Mama was my responsibility. I had the denn'bok, and the link Aunt Susan gave me."
The watching Ranger commented approvingly, "The boy will make a good Ranger. He has a warrior's heart."
Just then, the door to the bedroom opened, and a sleepy, disheveled Delenn appeared in the doorway. "What is going on out here, " she began, then "John!" she cried delightedly as she caught sight of her husband on the floor. He arose quickly, stepped into their bedroom, and gently took her in his arms. The world folded in on them, and they were lost in one another, in the joy of being together again.
David smiled, watching his parents through the open door, then went over to the Ranger, carrying the denn'bok. "Can you show me how to close this? And do you think you could get me some breakfast?"
"Certainly, young warrior," answered the guard, then, nodding towards the couple, he bent over to whisper "Should we ask them if they want anything?"
"No," replied David, "Mama says when she and Dad get like that, the Universe is talking to them, and Dad says the Universe is not to be interrupted. Let's go to the kitchen and see what's there."
John and Delenn clung to one another; drowning in the relief that came from another postponement of their inevitable separation. Tears came to John's eyes as he carefully examined the cuts and bruises left by the vicious blow his wife had taken in defense of their child. "I should have been here," he said hoarsely.
Delenn momentarily closed her eyes and swayed with the effort to bite back the words that often came into her throat, but that she seldom released. But you won't be here. Not always. She tried not to say the words, even succeeded in not thinking them for days on end, but inevitably something would remind her, and she would have to fight the battle anew. She knew John could see them in her eyes, read them in her stance, but she still fought to keep them unsaid. She had to focus on the moment, because the moments were all they had; and right now, he was there, and that was enough. It had to be enough.
She said, "I am fine. The doctors say it was a mild concussion and minor scalp and crest wounds. Luckily I was turning away, so it was a glancing blow."
"Susan said you were knocked unconscious; that's not minor."
"Only briefly. Everything happened so quickly, and I am still unsure what exactly did happen. Have you spoken to Susan yet?"
"No, I wanted to see you first. And David, though he seems none the worse for it. Did you see he was sleeping outside your door? With your denn'bok in hand? I thought he was going to bean me with it!"
"You see? Between Susan, a contingent of Rangers, and David, I am well protected! Now, go, talk with your son. I am going to get dressed before I join you. And send him back to get dressed as soon as he's eaten!"
John paused at the door and looked back. "Sure you don't need any help getting dressed?" he said suggestively.
She smiled and said, "Help me tonight. First you need to reassure Susan. I am sure she is blaming herself over this; even though it was her codewords that got help here so quickly, and without alerting the intruders."
When John reached the kitchen, David and Paul Adrian, the Ranger guard, were deep in conversation, diagramming the 'battle' on the table, with glasses and silverware standing in for the protagonists. John got coffee, and started to join in, when they heard the front door chime.
"That'll be my replacement," Paul said. "I'll let him in, Mr. President."
"Ask him to stay out there for a moment, would you? I'd like to speak with David privately," replied John. He looked at the boy, who was looking down at the table, something obviously on his mind. "What's up?"
"I didn't listen to what Mama said, and she got hurt because of me," answered David sadly.
"There's a saying I want you to think about, David. 'Discretion is the better part of valor.' Sometimes not acting is the best action we can take. It probably would have been better if you had stayed quiet during the fight, but the important thing is that we learn from mistakes, not dwell on them. You were quiet for most of the action, obeying your mother. You only moved when she was hurt, and that is the hardest thing in the world, to not go to the aid of someone we love who is in pain. I don't know that I could have stayed back myself."
"How do you know what is the best thing to do?"
"You don't always. You do your best. The important thing is to recognize when you make a mistake, and not make the same one twice. That's how we learn. We make choices in life, those choices have consequences, and we are responsible for those consequences. You did well. And guarding your mother afterwards was a good choice. I appreciate it."
"Dad," said David seriously, "I want to tell you something. Something important."
David took a deep breath, and looked directly into his father's eyes. "When you're not here anymore, I'll take care of Mama. I won't leave her alone."
John was taken aback. "What do you mean?"
"I don't know exactly what's going on, but something's going to happen. Not soon, I guess, but someday. Like whenever we talk about whether I'll go to training or to college, sometimes Mama leaves the room, you know? I followed her once. She was in your closet, hugging your Shadow war uniform, and crying. She's sad about something that's coming, and I think it must be about you. I just want you to know, if you have to leave us, I'll be here for my mother. You don't have to worry."
John didn't know what to say. He and Delenn had agreed not to discuss his restricted lifespan with their son, at least not until he was much older, and maybe not even then.
What should he do? Carefully, he said, "If I had to leave your mother and you, you know it wouldn't be because I wanted to. You know that?"
"Then thank you. I can't think of anyone I'd rather have watching over your mother for me. But, David, let's not mention this conversation to her."
David gave his father an exasperated look that broke the tension. "Of course not! She would just say 'I am perfectly capable of watching over myself' in her best Entil'zha voice." Like most children, he could do a passable imitation of his mother's forceful tone. John almost laughed out loud, then gave his son a quick hug.
Paul came back into the kitchen. "Mr. President, I think you should see this. There's a problem you should know about."
John sent David off to get dressed and ready for the day, then followed the Ranger into the living room. A Minbari Ranger was there, and Delenn was tending his split lip.
"What happened? Another attack? Did someone try to get in here again?" demanded John angrily.
The Minbari, Isilinn, looked up from Delenn's ministrations, attempting to make a bow of greeting. Delenn jerked his head back, and said, "Let me finish!" She finished applying the medication from the first aid kit, then stood back.
"No, Mr. President," he replied awkwardly. "The attack was directed at me. Another Ranger attacked me."
"What!" exclaimed John and Delenn in unison.
Paul interjected, "It looks as if some Rangers are blaming the Minbari for the attack on Entil'zha. This could be very bad. We need to alert Ranger One."
"I am meeting with her soon," John looked at the clock, "Correction, I'm meeting with her now. I'll send someone back to take your place here, Isilinn…"
The Ranger bowed his head, "I understand. You do not trust me."
"No, it's not that," said John decisively. "You need to make a firsthand report to Ivanova. Then you can return to your duties here. But I'm not leaving my family without protection, not for any length of time! Delenn, do you have any meetings today?"
"Not today. The doctors insisted I rest after last night's activities."
"Good," replied John. "Keep David inside with you. He must have some studying he could do." David had come back into the room, and began to protest.
Paul interjected, "Let me stay, Mr. President. David and I get on well. I can remain while Isilinn makes his report."
"Good, that's settled then. I'll be back as soon as I can, dearest." John took his wife aside for an intimate good-bye. "We haven't even had a proper greeting yet," he whispered in her ear. She replied in a typically ardent fashion. The two Rangers looked at the ceiling. David just grinned. He was used to his parents' ways, and rather liked them, even when they were embarrassing.
John and Isilinn walked down the corridor towards Susan's office. The occasional suspicious and angry glance reminded John of walking with Delenn around Babylon 5 soon after her transformation. This situation had to be resolved before it affected Rangers outside the IA headquarters; they couldn't afford doubt and mistrust in a tight-knit organization like the Rangers.
When they reached Susan's office, John immediately thanked her for her care of his family, ignoring her protests that she had obviously not done enough. Isilinn told his story, then returned to his assignment. Susan took care to link with Ranger Adrian and let him know Isilinn was on the way.
"Well, what do you think is going on, Susan?" asked John wearily. He hadn't slept much on the trip back, and it was catching up with him.
"I don't know," replied Susan. "The elders are on their way; should be here any minute. Would you like to interview the Rangers involved in the attack? One isn't talking anything but nonsense, and the other spends his time protesting his good intentions. Neither are very informative."
"Might as well. Any update on Lennier's possible involvement?"
"None. None of the other Rangers I've questioned have heard from him, or won't admit it. Feelings are running high; they revere Delenn, and want to go after anyone involved. We'd better solve this fast, or we'll have worse than a split lip to deal with."
"Agreed. Let's go talk to the prisoners."
They hastened to the brig. Neither of them minded letting the elders cool their heels a bit when they arrived, but they couldn't let them wait too long without showing them disrespect. When they reached the confinement cells, Susan paused, "That's odd. There hasn't been a quiet moment since we threw that guy in there. He's never stopped yelling while I was there, and the guards have been complaining since last night."
They stopped in front of the cell, and saw the Minbari sitting cross-legged in the center of the floor, eyes closed, apparently meditating. He seemed to be barely breathing. His hands were on his knees, palms upright. As they approached, his eyes opened, and he whispered, "At last."
John and Susan stepped into the cell, gesturing to the guard to remain outside. The Minbari remained seated, smiling slightly. "Now is the time for your Mora'dum, Sheridan. My respects to Lennier when next you see him." His body stiffened, his eyes rolled up, and his lifeless body slumped to one side.
Susan rushed to see if there was anything she could do, while John yelled at the guard to send for a medic. From the next cell, they heard a voice say brokenly, "It will be of no use, Anla'Shok Na. My brother is dead. He has stopped his own heart. Look to your family, President Sheridan. There is no other fear left to you."
John's eyes widened, and he rushed back towards the residential areas. Susan charged into the next cell, grabbing the Minbari by the collar and slammed him up against the wall. "What do you mean? Tell me what you know, or by God, I'll…"
Just then a guard came running in, "Ranger One! The elders are here, and they say they have information that Entil'zha is in danger!"
"Dammit!," said Susan, as she dropped her captive, "I'll be back for you. I have to find out what is going on!" She left at a dead run, without a backward glance.
Susan had left two guards at the front door to the Sheridan's home, and two at the garden entrance. She had also posted guards at each end of the hallway leading to the front door, and had teams roaming the walled garden's perimeter. What she didn't know was that there was another entrance to the gardens, from underground. The old abandoned Ranger Academy in Tuzanoor had many levels, and there had been tunnels leading to many areas in the city. One led into a small temple in the garden which lay between IA headquarters and the new Ranger Institute. It had been discovered by the group that had been working with Nashok. That group included a Minbari telepath called Ranell, who was also working with another interested party.
Cirra was an envoy with the trade delegation from Centauri Prime to Minbar. He met Ranell at the old Academy. The Centauri received Ranell's report that Nashok had failed and been captured with equanimity. "These things happen," he said, "What does Durell plan to do now?"
"He intends to try again, later today. He wants me to distract the guards while they grab the boy and retreat to the tunnels. It could work, with a great deal of luck."
"Try it then. But be careful of yourself. I would prefer not to lose you in the attempt. We have plans for you."
Ranell smiled nervously, "Also, I thought you should know…the younglings have sent a false message to Lennier, hoping to lure him back to Minbar, to witness their triumph over Sheridan. I don't know if they will be successful…"
Cirra interrupted, "We do not even know if he is nearby, or if he will get the message. Still…" he went on thoughtfully, "If he appears, perhaps we can put his presence to use."
"How?" asked Ranell.
"Lennier has a…history with the Sheridans. While you are in the President's mind during your little ceremony, play on his paranoia regarding Lennier. It might come in useful."
"All right. I'll have to probe his mind to find his fears for the Mora'dum; I can implant a suggestion that Lennier is behind the whole thing at the same time."
Cirra smiled. "That would do nicely. Oh, and you might want to incorporate something to do with heights in your game. My associates tell me it is likely that Sheridan has a slight problem with vertigo."
Ranell nodded, and said "I need to get back. We'll be leaving soon."
"Good luck," said Cirra in reply.
A short while later three Minbari emerged quietly from the hidden entrance. Ranell took up a position with clear line of sight to the two guards at the door to the Sheridan's home. After a moment, one of the guards pointed into the grounds, saying, "Look, isn't that the Sheridan child? How did he get out here?" Both guards only hesitated a moment before taking off after what they thought was one of their charges. As they reached the shadows under the trees they were both struck from behind, and fell to the ground. The telepath threw a small rock at the glass door. After a moment, he threw another one.
Inside the apartment, Isilinn and Delenn were discussing the possible reaction of the other Rangers to Nashok's attack. David was sitting at the desk, staring at a set of workpages on the comm screen, wishing he was anywhere but there. After the excitement yesterday, schoolwork was the last thing on his mind. Suddenly he heard a small 'click'. He looked curiously at the glass doors leading to the garden. Then he heard it again. He looked over at his mother and Isilinn, but they were deep in conversation. He went over to the door, which for some reason was ajar. He reached out to push the door open a bit more, then poked his head outside. Suddenly, he felt a hand clamped over his mouth. "Stay quiet, young one," he heard whispered, and he thought to himself, not again.
Hearing a muffled cry, Delenn and Isilinn jumped up, then froze as they saw a Minbari in religious robes, holding a weapon to David's head. They rose slowly, following the silent directions of David's captor. First Delenn, then Isilinn, went into the garden. Two others, also armed, came up behind them, and they fell into line behind the person holding David hostage. They followed to the tunnel entrance, entered, and soon they all were lost to sight.
John rushed towards his quarters, fear rising in his throat. He remembered what Delenn had told him long ago about the Mora'dum, the 'end of fear'. It was a ritual that was part of Ranger training; one in which you had to face your greatest fear and conquer it. If Lennier was indeed involved in this plot, he would know Sheridan's greatest fear. He rounded the corner, and paused, panting, at the sight of the door to his rooms. The two guards were there, and snapped to attention as they caught sight of him.
He nodded abruptly at them, and thumbed the keylock to open the door. He entered slowly, trying to brace himself for what he might find inside. What he found was nothing. The room was empty. There were some small signs of a struggle, a table overturned, a light on the floor, but no sign of his wife, his son, or the Ranger Isilinn. He turned around and around in the center of the room, looking for any clue, any idea of where to look, of what to do next. There was nothing. He sank into a chair, and sat, stunned. She was gone. His reason for living was gone. His son was gone. And he had no idea how to find them.
Susan found him there a few moments later. She went to him, and placed a hand on his shoulder. "The clan elders are here. They have some information, John. They think they know where they've been taken. Come on, we have to go."
He looked up at her, "We have to find them, Susan. We have to."
"I know. We will. And if they've hurt either of them, they'll pay. I promise you, they'll pay."
They went back to Susan's office where a trio of older Minbari were waiting. The leader of the three paled as he caught sight of John's face, and he bowed nervously before he began to speak.
"We are not sure what it going on ourselves, Mr. President. We have had some contact with Lennier over the years. He has a few elderly relatives that he checks on periodically, but he has not returned to Minbar to our knowledge. He has shown no indication he wishes to come home, and has never evinced any animosity towards the Alliance or you personally. He has become something of a legend among some of our young people. Some of them feel he was unfairly dismissed from the Rangers, and that he never received the recognition he deserved for his role in the war with our Great Enemy. We have discouraged such talk when we hear of it."
"So you don't think he's involved in this?" asked Susan.
"I cannot believe he would be; and we have no evidence of it. But I am worried about some of the young ones. They can be rash, and if what you say is true, at least one of our clan has dared to offer violence towards Delenn. Perhaps he has encouraged others…"
John interrupted, "Aside from who is responsible, do you have any idea where they might have taken them?"
"I do. The old Ranger training institute here was abandoned when the new headquarters was built ten years ago. There are still tours for our monks; it is a favorite place for our young ones to visit. We believe that a group that has been studying the history of the war has been meeting there, and they include some who were friendly with Nashok. One of the leaders is called Durrell. His mentor says he has made some ill-considered remarks that indicate he is not comfortable with other species."
"Why do you think these people have taken Delenn and the boy? Nashok mentioned a Mora'dum—do you have any idea what they have in mind?" queried Susan.
The Minbari exchanged nervous glances, and their spokeman continued, "There have been remarks made about the President's command of Rangers during the war, that he was unqualified, even though chosen by Delenn. He never underwent training, or the rituals required of the Anla'Shok. It wasn't just that he was human, Sinclair, the Ranger One before Delenn, was accepted. There were…questions, even though understanding was not required. Delenn asked much of our caste during the war. She also asked, and gave, much of herself, but the younger ones do not understand this. Whatever they have planned, they must be stopped before they harm Delenn."
"And what of our son?" asked John quietly. His voice spoke of barely controlled rage.
"I am even more afraid for your son, Mr. President. You must hasten and find them both. Our clan still owes you a debt over the affair with Ashan. We can send guides, or there are certainly older Rangers who trained in the Institute who could guide you. There are caverns underneath the main floors, carved from crystal and stone. The Mora'dum training was usually done there. We believe that is where they will be found."
Delenn awoke on a cold stone floor to silence. She lay still, striving to locate her captors before letting them know she had regained consciousness. She heard labored breathing from nearby, but that was all. She risked opening her eyes a slit, and saw a bare room, some boxes, one low light on the wall. She sat up, somewhat gingerly, and looked around what was apparently a storeroom. Isilinn lay on his side, his hands tied behind his back, a bloody gash in his forehead. It was his breathing she heard. Memories were coming back to her now…someone had captured David, they had followed him into the garden and down into a tunnel, and then…..what? Her head snapped up suddenly as she remembered the rest. Where was David? Where was her son? He had been held, a gun to his head. She began to panic, then as Isilinn groaned, she recalled her situation and began to untie his bonds. She searched the unconscious Ranger for weapons, and found none. She had the thin cord they had used to bind him; that could be used as a garrote if necessary. His Ranger pin had a sharp point, but it would only be useful in close contact. It seemed Isilinn was badly hurt; she would have to move him to a more protected position. She started to shift the boxes, but they were quite heavy and the strain made her head ache. Getting knocked unconscious was becoming a bad habit, she mused. Finally she got them in position, and then managed to drag Isilinn behind them.
Pausing to catch her breath, she leaned up against the wall. Her head was hurting quite badly now, and as blood trickled down her cheek, she realized her wounds of the previous night had re-opened. Suddenly, she went completely still. Were those footsteps? She glided quietly to a position behind the door, where she would be invisible to anyone coming in from the corridor. Tightening the cord in her hands, she winced at the sharp twinge in her injured wrist. She tried to calm her breathing, focusing on ignoring the pain, while closely watching the opening door. Delenn waited until the shape was clearly visible as a Minbari male, outlined against the brighter light of the corridor. She tensed, then sprang, raising the garrote over the man's head, tightening it around his neck. Her prey pulled back, dragging her into the corridor, into the light. She gasped, then dropped the cord as if it had burned her. "Lennier!" she cried.
John and Susan led a team of Rangers into the storage areas below the main hall. They separated into pairs to expedite the search of the dozens of small rooms and the few larger caverns. The two humans headed for the largest cavern, one of the main sites where the Mora'dum was experienced. As they entered, they heard voices; two, maybe three Minbari speaking in Adronato. Then they heard it—a child's voice, screaming in pain. Susan tried to hold John back, but he broke loose with an oath, and charged in the door. She held back, just outside the doorway, weapon raised, hoping to remain as back-up if things went wrong as she feared they would.
John ran forward, releasing his bottled up rage as he bowled over the first person he encountered. He slammed the Minbari's head into the ground, then leapt on the next cowering figure, taking him down with a tackle around the knees. He threw a roundhouse punch at the man's head, which rammed into the rocky ground with a satisfying thump. He looked up at the last man standing, who was smiling at him in a knowing way, pointing a weapon at his head.
"I'd suggest you pause for a moment and consider the position of your offspring before your next action," he said smugly, pointing at the far wall of the room. As he spoke, Susan was quietly stepping into the room, sticking to the shadows along the wall, and so far unnoticed.
"I am called Durrell, and this, Mr. President, is your long-delayed Mora'dum."
John blinked. His vision blurred, then cleared. Suddenly there was a deep fissure in the rock floor of the cavern at his feet. He could see David sitting on a narrow ledge, on the opposite side. The ledge was barely wide enough for even a small boy, and he had a precarious hand hold on the crumbling rock behind him. One arm was lying useless in his lap, sprained or broken. The gap was not very wide, but as he stepped up to it, his head swam with vertigo and memories, memories of falling.
"It's two miles down, you know," said Durrell. "I don't know how long he can hold on over there. I think his arm is broken. Why don't you jump over and get him first before you deal with me? I'll wait, I promise. Or you could take me first, but he might fall. Of course if I escape, I could probably get to your mate and deal with her before you found me. She was unconscious, but alive when we left her."
Susan couldn't tell what John was doing. Durell was talking to him, and gesturing to a blank wall. She couldn't see David, but thought she could hear him whimpering softly, and fairly nearby. Deciding to locate the hostage first, she edged further into the room. As her eyes adjusted, she spotted the child, cowering against the wall behind Durrell. She also saw someone else, hidden in the shadows beyond where Durrell and John stood, and then she felt…SNAP! Her psi blocks fell into place. The other person present was a telepath! Damn, she thought, the telepath was probably projecting an image into John's mind, something to do with the 'test' they'd devised for him. Edging closer to David, and keeping her blocks up and tight, she finally reached the child. He saw her, but had enough sense to remain silent. She tapped a coded message into her link, telling the nearest Ranger team to silently converge on her location. Touching David gently, she gestured towards the door, indicating he should move quietly along the wall towards it. He nodded, and began to move.
That taken care of, Susan considered her next move. If she took out the telepath while he was in John's mind, she could damage her friend irreparably. And what about the other Minbari, with his gun trained on John? She flinched as a silent Ranger touched her arm. They were very good at that. Looking towards the door, she saw his partner escorting David out of the chamber. None of the antagonists had noticed their movements; they were too engrossed in their little mind game. Tapping her forehead, and nodding towards the telepath, she let the Ranger know to put up the rudimentary blocks which were an integral part of Ranger training. He couldn't hold up against a determined assault, even by a low level telepath, but he could remain invisible for a short while, if no one was looking very hard.
John was starting to shake; Susan was concerned about what was going on inside his head. She had to end this soon. There was still Delenn to consider. Lord knew what was happening to her. She signed to the Ranger to take out Durell on her signal, and to concentrate on disarming him. Then she took careful aim, and popped the telepath in the kneecap. The man screamed and buckled over onto the floor, and Susan brought down her gunbutt on the back of his head to knock him out. At the same time the Ranger launched himself at Durell, denn'bok extended, knocking the weapon out of his hand, then quickly securing him with his hands tied behind his back.
John had collapsed when the telepath cut contact, but he was sitting up and groaning, holding his head in his hands when Susan approached him.
"Pretty bad, was it?" she asked.
He looked up and shook his head. "I don't want to talk about it. Not right now. Where's David?"
"We got him out. He's on his way back to HQ to see the medics. But there's no sign of Delenn. I've checked with the other teams. They haven't found her yet."
John got up and went over to Durell. "Where is she?" he demanded. "Where's my wife?"
Durell smiled faintly, then crunched something in his mouth. "Good-bye, Mr. President. You failed the test, you know. Give my best to Lennier when you see him." Then he stiffened and his eyes went glassy. He was dead.
Lennier stared in shock. "Delenn, what are you doing here?"
She stared back, unable to speak. He was older; for some reason she hadn't expected that. He was dressed in a tan leather jacket and pants, with a long-sleeved collarless white shirt. Again, she had somehow expected him to be in his robes or a Ranger's cloak. She blinked back tears, and said, "It is good to see you again, old friend."
Lennier smiled, and bowed slightly, "As it is to see you. But what is going on? Why are you here? You've been hurt!" He frowned at the bruises and dried blood on her face.
"Come, I'll get you out of here."
"There is a wounded Ranger with me, Lennier. And somewhere they have my son…I must find him! Do you know where we are?"
"We are in the training halls of the old Ranger Institute. This is where I trained…" his voice trailed off into memory. He shook his head as if to free it of painful thoughts, "Is this 'they' going to return for you?"
"I'm afraid so. I hid Isilinn behind some crates, over there. He has not yet regained consciousness. I'm afraid he is badly hurt."
"Let me take a look at him. Do you have any weapons?"
"Only the cord I used on you, and Isilinn's Ranger pin."
"Here, take my denn'bok. I never use it; I only carry it with me as a reminder of what I once was. I have a plasma gun I use."
Delenn took the weapon, bowed formally, and said, "I will use it wisely, and you honor me with its use."
Lennier's answering smile was tinged with sadness. Honor was not something he thought of in connection with himself anymore. As he was examining the Ranger, he heard Delenn hiss, "There's someone coming!"
Lennier took up position just inside the doorway, gesturing to Delenn to stay back by the crates. A religious caste Minbari peered into the room hesitantly. He held a weapon in front of him, but his hand was shaking, and it was pointing up, then down. Lennier sighed, this one was as much a danger to himself as anyone else. "Drop your weapon," he said quietly from the shadows.
The young Minbari dropped the gun as if it had shocked him, and held his hands in front of his chest, palms outward in sign of surrender. Lennier stepped into the light from the doorway, and the captive gasped, "Sech Lennier!"
"Delenn, bring the cord. We will need to bind him," said Lennier. "And now, please enlighten us as to what this is all about? How did you know my name?"
A few minutes later, Delenn and Lennier moved away from their captive to discuss privately what they had learned. Lennier was still shaking his head…how had he become the symbol of a resistance movement aligned against the Alliance he had assisted in forming? These people were targeting Delenn in his name! Though, he mused thoughtfully, perhaps Delenn was not the actual target. She had not been badly hurt, and was not even left bound, as the Ranger had been. Perhaps they were after someone else…"Delenn," he asked, "What is going on right now in the Alliance, and with President Sheridan?"
Delenn answered slowly, "Well, we are coming up on the end of John's second term as President. He will not accept a third. They want me to take his place, though I do not desire the position. He will probably help Susan with the Anla'Shok. I believe he will become Entil'zha after me. There are other things. Why do you ask?"
"Because this whole thing makes no sense! If they wanted to kill you, they could have done it while you were unconscious, yet you were not even bound! This room was unlocked! And why am I here? Why lure me back here with a ruse? Is this really some small conspiracy of deluded Minbari youth, or is something deeper going on?" Lennier paced back and forth, thinking hard. He noticed Delenn was pale, and swaying on her feet with exhaustion and pain, so he pressed her to sit down and lean against the wall. He settled down besides her with a sigh.
Delenn turned to face him."Why did you not come back, Lennier?" She looked at her friend sadly. "I have hoped and prayed for this reunion. I have missed you."
Lennier avoided her eyes and answered, "I have kept in contact with my clan elders, sporadically, over the years. I have some relatives still alive to whom I owe duty and respect. I am not so lost to honor as to forget them."
"You were never lost to honor! You faltered once…only once in all your years of service, and only briefly. I never lost faith in you," her eyes were shining with tears, as she reached out to gently touch his face. He placed his hand on top of hers, and looked into her eyes to see if there was truth in what she said.
"Get away from her, Lennier," a gravelly voice came from the doorway.
Both Delenn and Lennier scrambled to their feet, Delenn calling "John!" as she rose. Her joyful expression turned to apprehension as she saw John was pointing his weapon towards the two of them. "John?," she continued, "It's all right. It's Lennier. You can put the gun away."
Susan and the Ranger accompanying her came up behind John. Susan moved into the room past Delenn, and approached Lennier. "Lennier, I'll have to ask you for any weapons. No one is sure what's going on; we have to be cautious."
Lennier understood at once, handed his weapon to Susan, and submitted to being patted down. He never took his eyes off Delenn, however, who was now directly confronting her husband in the center of the room. John's eyes were haunted, and they constantly flitted back and forth between his agitated wife, and Susan and Lennier. Suddenly, from the opposite side of the room, the prisoner made a break for the door. Without hesitation, John turned and fired, hitting the young Minbari in the back. The Ranger at the door caught the man as he fell, and pulled him out of the room, out of danger.
"John, what are you doing?" Delenn cried in horror. "He was bound, and just a boy! He was no danger to you, to us! What is wrong?"
Susan said softly, partly to herself and partly to Lennier, "We ran into a Minbari telepath. He was in John's mind for a little while. That must be it."
John turned his attention, and his weapon, back towards Lennier. "Stand away from Susan, Lennier. Ask the Universe for forgiveness for what you've done to me and mine."
Delenn stepped in front of Lennier, saying as she did so, "You will first have to deal with me, John Sheridan. I will not let you do this. It is not you doing this; it cannot be!"
"You told me once I was dangerous, Delenn. Didn't you believe it?" Delenn stared disbelievingly as the gun was pointed back at her, directly at her heart. John shook his head, grimacing in pain, and for a moment his arm lowered and his hand started to open. He made an attempt to speak, but couldn't. Then he stiffened, raised his arm again, tightened his grip on the gun, and smiled grimly. "If you want to go first, I can handle that..…"
Susan, meanwhile, had whispered instructions to Lennier, and caught the eye of her Ranger, who was now directly behind the President. "Now!" she cried, as she launched herself towards Delenn, knocking her to the floor, covering her to shield her from any gunfire. Lennier, meanwhile, ran at Sheridan, head down, ramming him in the mid-section, and knocking his gun arm up. The Ranger standing behind the President grabbed his arm, and wrested the weapon away. Sheridan collapsed to the floor, wheezing from the blow to the stomach, and holding his head as if in agony. Delenn practically threw Susan off of her, and scrambled over to John, taking him in her arms, cradling his head in her lap, making soothing noises, "It's all right, love. It'll be all right, I know you didn't mean it."
Susan quickly summoned Rangers to take out the wounded Minbari prisoner, and recover Isilinn from his hiding place, and get him some medical attention. She collapsed on the floor next to where Lennier was standing. "I'm a little out of breath! I'm getting too old for this stuff."
"You seem to me to be in excellent condition, Anla'Shok Na," replied Lennier.
"Lennier, after all these years, and all we've been through, please just call me Susan. I am so tired of titles. Even just Ivanova would be better!" She leaned her head back against the wall, suddenly limp with exhaustion and relief. She didn't want to have many more days like the last two, at least, not any time soon.
Lennier hesitated. "What do you plan to do with me? I was not involved in this plot or conspiracy or whatever it was. I'm as much in the dark as you are."
"I kind of figured that. I'll have to debrief you. I'll have someone take you to my office to wait…I've got to get John to the hospital and make sure whatever telepathic nonsense they pulled is over and done with, then Delenn will want to see David, and…"
"I will be happy to await your convenience," Lennier replied. He sat down abruptly beside her, overcome by everything that had happened. He said, his voice slightly trembling, "I never thought I would see Minbar again, much less this place. It brings back so many memories. I've had a lot of time to think the past ten years. I've wandered the galaxy trying to get her out of my heart, but nothing seems to work." Then, pointing at John and Delenn, he said with a mix of irony and pain in his voice, "Just look at them."
Susan looked. They were gazing into each other's eyes with that "alone in the Universe" look they got sometimes. "What? They look like that a lot."
"Before I left the Anla'Shok, I had decided that their union was a mistake, undertaken primarily for reasons of politics and prophecy. I tried to believe Delenn was misleading herself as to her motivations and her true feelings. I guess I didn't want to believe she truly loved him."
"Lennier," Susan said wearily. "You were the one 'misleading' yourself." She was tired and exasperated enough to blurt out, "You only had to look at them, for God's sake. I'd known John for almost ten years before he came to take command of Babylon 5. He was bowled over by Delenn from day one, although he kept it hidden pretty well at first. Plus he had issues to work out; unresolved stuff about Anna. Delenn was harder for me to read. There was the whole prophecy nonsense; and she had been knocked off-balance by her transformation, and the unfamiliar feelings that brought up. I put her behavior down to mixed signals at first, but it became clear pretty quickly she felt the same way he did. She loves you, but not that way. Lord, I'm not sure anyone in the entire galaxy has ever loved one another the way they do. It's downright scary sometimes."
Lennier asked hesitantly, "I thought you believed 'all love is unrequited'?"
Susan looked at him with pain in her eyes, "There's a human expression about the exception that proves the rule. I guess they're it. And we're not."
Later that evening, Lennier was sitting in front of Susan's desk in her office at IA headquarters. Susan had finished de-briefing him, and had assured him that while she personally was satisfied he was not involved, it would be a good idea if he underwent a psi-scan for confirmation. They could publicize the results, and put an end to any speculation among his clan and among the Rangers that he had organized the kidnapping. John and Delenn were still at the hospital with David. The Minbari had telepathic specialists for cases of psychic abuse, and John had been scanned and cleared of any residual influences.
"I still don't understand what this was all about," complained Lennier. "It just doesn't make any sense. Were my deluded clan members acting alone, out of xenophobia and revenge for imagined wrongs? Or was someone using them, to try to get at the Alliance itself, or more specifically, President Sheridan?"
"We've begun interviewing the young Minbari involved." Susan said, then going on, she emphasized, "They were all quite young, and members of your clan, except for the telepath, Ranell. He and Durell seem to have been the driving force behind the plot. Unfortunately, Ranell is also dead. He has killed himself, like Nashok and Durell."
Lennier looked up in shock, "Suicide is extremely rare among Minbari, unless it is self-sacrifice done to save another. And three of the conspirators are dead in this manner?"
Susan nodded slowly, "I see what you mean. It is somewhat…convenient." She went on, thinking aloud, "So David was kidnapped as bait for John, to lure him to his Mora'dum. They felt he didn't deserve his leadership position with the Rangers during the war, and had heard the rumours that he might become Entil'zha after he steps down as President. And they took Delenn and Isilinn because it was quicker than subduing them. But why was Delenn not even tied up, or locked in?"
"She is still venerated among most religious and worker caste Minbari. Maybe the younglings disagreed as to whether to harm her further," mused Lennier. "Who sent the message that brought me here? That must have been someone within my clan—no one else would know my Va'salier has been ill, or how to contact me. And how did they know I would receive the message in time to get here?"
"Your clan elders say they had nothing to do with it. I suppose someone in the group could have figured out how to reach you. Maybe they didn't care when you got here. Maybe you were supposed to be presented with the results for approval. How is your aunt, by the way?"
"Fine, well, no worse anyway. Certainly not at death's door as indicated. I was quite close to Minbar when I received the message, and I went straight to her home when I arrived. A further note was left with her, indicating I should re-visit the old Institute if I wanted to learn the proverbial 'something of interest'. It was like a child's game, suitable for the younglings involved, I suppose."
"Do you think the telepath programmed John to kill you? If so, why? I suppose it would have made a lovely scandal if John had killed you, or Delenn, or both of you. But your clan members wouldn't have wanted you harmed. You've got quite a cult of personality going there. Maybe we have two groups working together, but with different reasons for going after John—one personal, and the other political." She stopped for a moment, then continued, "How does your clan normally communicate with you?"
"They have access to the emergency frequency in my flyer. I also have a comm drop on Centauri Prime. I check it every six months or so, sometimes less often, sometimes more. Vir set it up for me."
"You're in contact with Vir? How is he? What's he doing now?"
"He's in the Royal Court, in and out of favor depending on Londo's whims. There's something going on there, Susan. I think the Alliance should be watching the Centauri carefully. Vir has been quietly organizing like-minded associates among his people to combat some of the excesses of Londo's regime. They have been spiriting away political prisoners, spreading accurate news to counteract the propaganda, and documenting abuses of power."
"That's very useful information, Lennier. Somehow it doesn't surprise me about Vir—we humans have another saying: Still waters run deep. Vir has hidden strengths, we found that out back on the station during the Narn-Centauri War."
"Speaking of Narn, I ran into G'Kar there. Lyta was still with him, but about to leave. They had some fascinating stories about their voyages out towards the Rim."
"Well, it's a fascinating place. I could have spent another ten years exploring it, if bloody EarthForce hadn't been determined to maroon me in Geneva. Me! Piloting a desk! Thank God John and Delenn offered me this job; I'd have gone mad within a year. I'm glad to hear G'Kar made it back intact. But where was Lyta off to?"
"Mars," Lennier said, then added a trifle uncertainly, "Or so I supposed from some things she said. She has never gotten over Byron's death, you know. She still blames PsiCorps. I'm afraid she might be meeting with the telepath underground there, and who knows what she has planned after that?"
Susan sat back in her chair, and said admiringly, "You haven't lost an inkling of your Ranger training! This is the best information I've gotten in months about what's going on out there." She paused, then added, "We still don't know whether there's anyone else, beyond your clan members, behind the kidnappings--perhaps someone who was involved with Ranell. Will John still be a target after he resigns? Or will they shift their attention to Delenn?"
Lennier looked grim. "They had best not."
Susan regarded him thoughtfully, then said, "Lennier, I have a proposition for you. I am in need of an agent in the field. Not a Ranger; they are sworn to non-interference, and have no mandate beyond the worlds subscribing to the Alliance. Someone who can move in and out of places without remark, who has intelligence-gathering training and experience. Someone who knows key people in high places in various places, like Centauri Prime, Narn, Mars, and Babylon 5…."
"I think I know where this is going. I'm not sure I…" interrupted Lennier.
Susan went on, "And someone who is sworn to serve and protect Delenn. I think such a person could be very helpful to me, to the Alliance, and to Delenn. She's going to be President, and she's going to be a target, Lennier. It's inevitable. I have pledged to live and die for the One, and even if John becomes Entil'zha after her, they will still both be the One to me. I could use some help here. I'm stuck on Minbar most of the time, and the Rangers have their limitations, as I've pointed out. You would report to me directly. You wouldn't need to have any contact with either of them, if it's too painful for you."
Lennier just sat there for a moment. Here it was; his chance to redeem himself, and his lost honor, in Delenn's service. Tears filled his eyes. Although he had told Delenn he would see her again, he had begun to believe this moment would never come. He had even come to accept her love for him as something real, but different, than her love for Sheridan. He nodded his acceptance, speechless. Then, for the first time in a long time, he bowed, and made the sign of the Triluminary to his new superior.
Susan smiled with satisfaction as she leaned back in her chair, "Lennier," she said, "I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."
……………..There can always be new beginnings, even for people like us……………….….