Disclaimer: I don't own anything or anybody. All hail JMS, who built this playground fifteen years ago; sorry I didn't discover it sooner.
Author's note: Gap filler for "Between the Darkness and the Light." I don't care how much of a survivor Sheridan is, he is human, and a week's worth of imprisonment and torture must have had some lingering effects. Plus he clearly cleaned up a bit before he took command of the Aggie.
This started as a 1-part story for which I could not decide on a title; "Break," "Cry" and "Armor" were all contenders, until a particularly dull day at my real job, when I realized these were all parts of the same, bigger story.
Summary: Sheridan breaks, and Delenn rebuilds him.
Mind Over Man
Part 1 - Break
"I uh. I need to make a call. Is there…" Sheridan flexed his arm uncomfortably. He was exhausted, but so much work lay ahead of them. That was good, that was just fine, because as long as his attention was focused on the next stage of the war, it was not focused on his pain, or on Susan, or on the nightmares he saw behind his eyes – nightmares he knew would haunt him the second he fell asleep.
"You need a doctor," Delenn replied.
"No, Delenn, I told you, I'm fine. I need to call Captain James. Susan asked –"
"I heard her. Marcus heard her. We will get word to Captain James that you are coming aboard the Agamemnon after you have seen a doctor and gotten some sleep."
He was nearly manic at the thought of being forced to face the anguish that awaited him if his mind was pulled away from battle tactics and attack plans. "I will sleep when this is over. Not before." He shook his head in determination.
"A shower, at least," she coaxed, reaching out for him. Her hand brushed his arm and he moved away and began to pace the corridor of the Minbari ship. "You should at least clean up a bit. You… have a smell…"
"Well, thanks very much for pointing that out. Funny thing about being a prisoner of war, they don't concern themselves too much with your hierarchy of needs." He stopped pacing, raked his fingers angrily through his oily hair and clawed at his scalp. Then he stopped, just stopped, and looked at her. The pain in her eyes gave him a whole new way to hurt. "Ahh… dammit!" He exclaimed, and in one swift motion, he lifted a fist and punched the wall.
Her arms were around him then, and her embrace was a natural sedative. The fight washed out of him, and he was no longer Captain John Sheridan, resistance leader, military governor of Babylon 5, the man who had led an interplanetary force into victory over the Shadows – he was just John, an ordinary man, who was very tired, and hurting, and afraid. He felt like a lost child, and all of his fear and pain and grief and loneliness and the feeling that nothing was ever going to be the same ever again overwhelmed his senses. He slid to the floor, defeated.
Wordlessly, gently, she helped him again to his feet. He was catatonic but complacent as she led him into a small room, where Minbari doctors tended to his physical injuries: electrical burns, broken ribs, abrasions and bruises in various stages of repair. They asked him questions he did not hear, but when Delenn translated them, somehow he heard and understood. He answered, but later, he would block it from his mind.
Were you poisoned?
Powder? Liquid? Did it have a taste?
Both, I think. No.
Any other drugs that might be in your system?
Hallucinogens, I think. At the end.
How often were you beaten?
Daily, at least.
When was the last time you ate?
I don't remember.
I don't remember.
His answers were monotone, eyes focused straight ahead. They laid him back for a bioscan, looking for internal injuries. They moved to hook up intravenous fluids – to hydrate, and to clear out any remaining drugs or poison – and he pulled away instinctively, almost violently. And then Delenn was there, cradling his pounding head. Her presence brought a moment of clarity and he lifted his eyes to look at her.
"Not broken," he whispered.
"No, John." She caressed his face – at it was, covered in cuts, chapped lips, bruises and a week's worth of facial hair – and he leaned into the touch. "Not broken."
Her words lifted him. He'd been so close; another day, maybe less, and he would have broken, or he would have died. And yet, she was here, the same as ever.
"Strong." They must have given him something to help him sleep. His eyelids suddenly weighed a ton, and words seemed just out of reach. He grasped the important ones.
"Yes. Strong," she repeated.
Worry flooded Sheridan's exhausted mind. "Love you?"
He could make out the glistening of tears in her eyes. It broke his heart in a million pieces in the few seconds it took her to respond. "I love you, too." Delenn's tears overflowed, and against his will he felt his own eyes welling up. He squeezed her hand desperately, fighting the sedative.
"Stay." He was pulling away. Sleep seemed like the best idea he'd ever heard.
"I will stay. Sleep, now."
He relaxed slightly, but then his muscles clenched and he was clutching her as if she were his lifeline. "Delenn!" For all of his military training, all of his experience in doing what needed to be done and damn the consequences, for all of his fearlessness and fierce resolve to win this war, he was suddenly terrified, slipping, falling…
The tears rode in on a deep sob, and he felt her pulling him close with all her might. He had survived the torture, the pain, the inquisition. He had been strong. He hade been a soldier, a POW, and he had refused to be broken. But here, on this Minbari cruiser, in the safety of Delenn's embrace, he surrendered. He surrendered his fear for the final battle, his physical and mental anguish from captivity, the guilt over his dad and Ivanova and even Garibaldi, and he allowed his armor to crack, and to break.
Delenn accepted it all, holding him as he cried. Wave after wave of tears and fresh sobs racked his weak and tired body, and she bore it all for him. She rubbed his back in gentle circles, felt his tears soak her clothing. She restrained her own tears – his were enough for both of them. No, not broken, she thought. But certainly changed.
It felt like hours, but John's sobs eventually faded to soft whimpers, and then finally, blissfully, quiet as his body became heavy with sleep. Delenn rolled him onto his side and then curled up behind him, still holding him tight. The sounds of the Minbari medical personnel became background noise to his breathing, and she relished in the gentle rise and fall of his chest – proof of sleep, and proof of life.
Her personal physician stood by the bed now. "Yes?"
"His bioscan was clear. No damage to internal organs, but I would like to run some further tests to check for infection."
"Is there… anything else we can do?"
She looked down at John, her sweet, wonderful John, and sighed. "Pray for him. Tomorrow he will take his war home."
"Entil'zha, with all due respect, I strongly advise that he waits at least a couple of days. He's dehydrated, his ribs and burns need time to heal, his wounds may be infected –"
She shook her head. "It won't matter to him. If anything, once he is rested and thinking clearly, being injured will only strengthen his resolve."
"He is foolish. Dangerous."
"He is human."
"I had forgotten." The doctor smiled. "You'll stay here tonight, then?"
"He asked me to stay. I will stay as long as he needs."
She bowed slightly, then ordered the lights out and lay back down beside him. "Goodnight."