Disclaimer: I don't own Sheridan and Delenn, I don't own B5, and I equally don't own the song lyrics that inspired this story and its title, which I first heard set to a YouTube J/D video, which made me cry.
Author's Note: I know, I know *huge, dramatic sigh*. I promised several of you a light, fluffy piece following The Really Big Story. But um. Then one day I was bored at work. Lighter stuff coming. Promise. Meanwhile, I followed this little (completely unexpected) plot bunny… set in Tuzanor, late 2280/early 2281, and we all know what that means. Tissues, anyone?
How do you prepare, when you love someone this way, to let them go a little more each day? – Beautiful, by Jennifer Paige
The Hurting at the End
It started with the dreams, or shortly thereafter – late-night confessions, long-kept secrets of the soul, crippling truths kept buried for years… bubbling to the surface. John Sheridan told himself the first time he did it that there was logic behind the insanity – if he hurt her, it would hurt less at the end, when he was gone… when she had to go on living, perhaps as much as a century, alone. If he could give her a reason to love him less, in the end, she would benefit.
Delenn, on the other hand, responded for her own reasons – to cling to life, to keep talking, as long as possible, to pretend that their life together was like Shaharazad – that if she continued to have things to tell him, it would never end, and they would never be apart.
In the end it didn't matter. It didn't work, for either of them.
He started it, without pretense or introduction. They made love, passionately, reverently, and as they were lying together in the darkness afterward, he spoke. "I cheated on Anna, once."
The harsh irony of the fact that Delenn lie naked in the arms of her husband as he confessed to unfaithfulness to his second wife did not escape her. She recoiled from him slightly – both at the confession, and at the name that hadn't been spoken in their home since they'd come to live on Minbar – but did not pull away completely. "Why?" she asked, her tone carefully neutral.
"I was stationed on Io. We hadn't been married long… I was there for years without her. I was… lonely. Young. Foolish."
She sighed, blinked against tears – why was this coming out, after all this time? And why now, when they had so precious little time left, however little they spoke of that reality? But she said nothing.
"A bunch of us went out to celebrate… Ivanova's promotion, actually, to full Lieutenant. I… had a few too many." He swallowed hard. "There was this redhead who looked just like Anna, at least through the alcoholic haze, and I…" Now it was his turn to sigh. "I never told her. Anna. By the next time I saw her again it… it didn't seem right."
Delenn remained silent for a long moment. "And me?" she said at last.
"No. For 20 years… before that, even… and for as long as I live… it has been only you."
More silence. Then, "We are neither of us the people we were before we met. Life and destiny changes everyone… some more than others." She resumed her place, comforting and familiar, pressed against him, closing any space between their naked bodies. And she held him tighter than before, unwilling to let go. "I could not love you any less if you had," she whispered.
And, holding each other through the night, they slept.
"I had begun the sleep-watching ritual once before."
Three weeks later, Delenn's confession filled the heavy silence in their bedchamber. John had awoken, suddenly and frightfully, sitting bolt upright in bed, sweaty, disoriented. The motion, and the loss of his warmth, had woken Delenn in turn. They didn't talk about it. They didn't need to. The dream was coming more often all the time. She knew.
They had fallen back together into a comforting embrace, and when John responded, he wasn't sure if his wife was still awake. "Anyone I know?" He didn't look at her, but he didn't pull away.
Now he did shift noticeably, breaking their contact to pull back and look into her eyes.
Delenn closed her eyes against his heartbreaking stare. She couldn't bear to see his pain any more than he had borne hers three weeks prior.
But then John was holding her again, his chin resting on her head, arms coming back around her. "You didn't finish."
"I was not comfortable with what I saw." She turned in to face him. "The courtship ended soon after. He always resented me for it, I think. But he also… always loved me."
"Yes." She kissed his jaw, eyes closed, making a memory of the feel of him. "He could never reconcile the warrior and the priest within himself, until the end."
"But you loved me, even while I was still working that out."
"I love you, even as you are still working it out."
There was nothing more to say. They fell to silence, and then to sleep, and the book was closed on another day.
And so the exchange went - not every night, but with mounting frequency and intensity as the days clicked by. Their kisses became more passionate, their lovemaking more desperate, and with their words, they each dared the other, with increased ferocity, to back away, to leave, to run from the pain that was inevitably coming.
The dream came more frequently as well.
He had resented her, early in his tenure on Babylon 5, for launching the investigation into accusations that he had killed Levell in cold blood, and for her anger at the suggestion that Ashan had lied about what he had seen; he'd resented her even more for the lack of apology when he was proven innocent.
She had been angry with him after emerging from the chrysalis and learning about the incident with the Trigati. She had doubted, at least in part, his leadership ability for quite some time. She had called him Starkiller in her heart, if not aloud, for the first two months of his appointment.
They made love under the stars until dawn, and time slipped silently by.
She had been pregnant once before. Likely conceived the night of their Shan'Fal, she learned of it during his imprisonment and torture on Mars. By the time he had been rescued, she had miscarried.
He had told Dr. Franklin, and all doctors hence during the nearly 10 ½ Earth months that she'd carried David, to put her life before the baby's – even after she'd explicitly instructed him to put the child first.
David left to join the Anla'shok, and John said his first final goodbye.
She had fasted nearly to death in her grief over his fall at Z'ha'dum, and only an intervention by Dr. Franklin with one of John's journal entries professing, privately, the smallest seeds of love for her had pulled her from her despair. If not for that, John likely would have returned to find her dead.
During the Earth-Minbari War, after the infamous destruction of the Back Star, he had made a lesser known and much-regretted decision: He and the crew of the Lexington had been instrumental in the destruction of the civilian colony at Kartash 6, which was of little military value to either side, but where 5,000 Minbari men, women and children had been killed.
Letters went out to their friends. They both cried. It would be the last time they did so together.
And then, on the night before the arrival of all those they held dear, the night before the last night, Delenn offered her final confession. As she did so, her voice careful and measured, she knew her attempt to spin a never-ending conversation, to continue to have things of value to tell him, things he had to stay to hear, and so he would not leave, had failed. This was the greatest secret of her soul, stored away from him in the lowest, darkest corner, where no light could shine on it.
"I was a member of the Grey Council when we first encountered your race." As always during their moments of confession, the bedroom was bathed in darkness, the silence broken only by the voice of the sinner. "After Dukhat was killed… the council was divided, and I… Mine was the deciding vote. In rage, in senseless grief and madness… I cast my vote… I gave the order to start the war that nearly destroyed your world."
Several lifetimes could have passed in the silence that followed. John didn't move. Delenn barely breathed. When it was finally broken, his words, barely audible, lifted a burden from her shoulders that she had carried for over 30 years.
She sat up beside him even as he remained flat on his back on the bed. Their eyes met, and he saw in hers the shock he had expected to see if this moment ever came. "How long?"
"Does it matter?"
Delenn didn't respond. She was frozen, her mind thinking back over all the time she had known her husband – before and after he'd assumed that title – trying to pinpoint how, and when, he had found out her most regrettable secret.
"If you hadn't… there would have been no reason for Babylon 5. If you hadn't… we never would have crossed paths. If you hadn't… who knows where we would be now?" He sat up beside her now and took her into his embrace. "I forgave you for this a long time ago, Delenn. And when… when I'm gone… as your years pass and your memories fade… make no mistake, and never forget – I love you without reproach. I begrudge you nothing. The future… is always born in pain. And we… we built quite a future, didn't we?" She nodded against his shoulder. "So, Satai Delenn." He cupped her face in his hands so he could gaze into her beautiful eyes as he used her old title, long forgotten and cast in shadow, now brought into the light again by his intonation. "Don't cry for my world, for your decisions, for your secrets or for me. Tomorrow our friends will come… and I want to hear your laughter, and I want to hear your wisdom, and I do not want to hear your regrets. Promise me." She said nothing, and he raised his eyebrows and waited.
"I promise." And she kissed him, long and passionate, until she had to pull back for breath.
They settled back into bed in comfortable, familiar silence.
And they fell asleep, holding one another all through the night, as the book closed on the night before the last night – leaving only the last night, when there would be no confessions, and there would be neither stringing along nor pushing away. There would be no attempt to dull the pain. Love endures. Faith manages. And there would be love, and there would be faith… but the last night would inevitably tumble into the very last day, which at this point was the future… and the future, they both knew, was always born in pain.