See Part 1 for Disclaimer and notes.
Part 3 – Armor
The sound of running water was music to his ears. He was certain, in that moment, he'd never heard anything more glorious.
John and Delenn stood together in the captain's quarters on board the Minbari cruiser. Their meal had been quick, and then she'd gotten the water running for a shower – a real, honest-to-God shower – and now he wanted nothing more than to let the water engulf him. He started to remove his shirt but winced in pain at the effort.
"Let me." And Delenn's hands were there, lifting the shirt up and over his head. Her fingers grazed his bare stomach and it spread a warmth through him. He let out a sound of contentment at the contact.
As she moved to unfasten and remove his pants, he noted how comfortable he felt with the gesture. She'd undressed him the night of the Shan'Fal, and he'd blushed a shade of red he didn't know he was capable of. Since then, they'd had only rare occasion to be intimate, and when they did find time, he realized now he had focused so much on the ultimate goal that he hadn't paid much attention to the removal of clothing, so long as they were, indeed, removed. Now he treasured every moment of it, relished in the brush of her skin against his as she pushed his pants down his legs to the floor.
It felt so good to have her near him, touching him, helping him. It felt good to surrender, knowing that if he allowed himself to do so, she would build him back up in all the places he was broken. She would provide the armor he lacked.
"Join me?" He asked. He was naked before her now, unashamed as her eyes roamed his battered body. She was still fully clothed.
Delenn nodded, and wordlessly John reached for her and began to undress her. She relaxed as he had under her own touch. His skin was rough, his hands calloused, but his touch was as gentle as ever.
Her smooth, unmarked skin was a sharp contrast to his. It didn't matter. She shivered and sought the warmth he projected. Hand in hand, they stepped under the spray of the shower.
Water cascaded over them, and he held her against him, eyes closed, mind finally quiet. This moment, like all others, couldn't last. All the same, this moment, the sound of the water, the steam rising around them, their bodies pressed together, was precious and quiet and healing, and he wanted to hold onto it for as long as possible.
Delenn moved first, floating out of his embrace and reaching for a bottle behind him. She dabbed shampoo into her hand, raised her arms and began to massage the gel into his scalp. John bowed his head to the touch, closed his eyes as soap ran down his face, but his hands stayed braced on her hips – his anchor.
He flinched as soap ran into a cut above his left eye, but it only hurt a moment and then her hand was there, brushing aside the offending suds before she rinsed the rest of his head.
She proceeded to wash his body in the same quiet, gentle manner, carefully cleaning cuts and bruises, only skating a touch over his broken ribs. She washed away dirt and sweat and grime. She washed away dried blood and urine and vomit. She washed away pain and shame with love and comfort, and when she turned off the spray of water and wrapped him in a towel, he felt cleaner than he'd ever been.
Delenn gave him a smile, her trademark smile that covered every emotion he felt, and he hugged her as tightly as her injuries would allow.
When he released her, she lifted a hand to his face. "I will get you a razor."
John nodded in agreement. She turned away and he faced the bathroom mirror, using his hand to clear where it had fogged. He did not recognize his reflection.
Is that me? He lifted a hand to his face. His reflection mirrored the motion appropriately. He touched his cheek where Delenn had moments before and felt the roughness of facial hair. It felt strange, but appropriate – an outward reflection of the change he felt inside.
"I think I'll keep it," he mused, and in the mirror, his reflection smiled. He nodded in decision. His reflection nodded. Delenn appeared behind him and he focused on her reflection as she handed him a razor. "Don't need it," he said before turning to face her.
Delenn raised her eyebrows but didn't object. He strode into the bedroom. His uniform – cleaned and pressed, ready for battle – was laid out on the bed. He exhaled slowly. Her arm came around his waist. "It is time," she said.
"Captain James is ready for you. The rest of the fleet is standing by, awaiting your arrival."
John nodded to acknowledge her words, but he remained rooted where he stood. So she moved, and as she had undressed him, she now reversed the dance. He stepped into undergarments and pants; she fastened them. He raised his arms and the black fabric of his uniform top hugged his torso. She fastened the notches on the side. She handed him his link and PPG and he affixed them appropriately. She handed him his command rank, but she would not place it. He would have to do that.
He accepted it from her, turned the gold bar over in his hand. The last piece of his uniform, his armor. Slowly, he lifted it to the appropriate place on his chest. His eyes locked with hers as he put it in place, a motion he'd done a million times, one he could do without looking. When he pulled his hand away, the metal felt heavier than usual.
"How do you feel?"
It was a deceivingly difficult question; it fell into the same vein as Who are you? and What do you want? He felt her searching his face for the answer.
"Changed," he said finally.
Changed, indeed. "And?"
"Tired. Hurt. Determined. Loved." He paused, pulled her close again. "Terrified."
"Strong," she offered in a whisper.
"Strong," he echoed his words from last night.
"Because of you."
"No, John." She released the embrace, held him at arms' length. "You were brave when I met you. And you are brave still, or we would not be standing here." She took his right hand and held it against her chest in a gesture of comfort. "And now we must go. I will join the fleet in hyperspace, and your ship awaits you."
"I know." He cleared his throat and pulled away. There was a moment where they both adjusted their thoughts, moving from love and romance to battle-ready, and then he strode out the door and she followed a step behind. As they boarded shuttles to their respective waiting battleships, he took one last look at her. He may have been strong before he met her, but he was certainly stronger now. Twice now he'd been to hell and back; twice, her love had kept him alive on that trip.
"Captain on deck!"
Well, he thought, the rule of three. Once more into the fray.
"With the permission of Captain James, I'm assuming command of the Agamemnon. A friend asked me to command the final battle from here."