Love and War
gapfiller, Atonement, S4
They made space for her to be alone on the ship. Her rank as ambassador and former Satai, as a leader within the Religious Caste, demanded it. In addition, it was required for one so soon to undergo the Dreaming, to spend time alone, in meditation, preparing for the ritual. No one knows what to expect from the Dreaming. It is said that what exists in the Whisper Gallery is what you bring into it. Who among us knows exactly what that might be? It might be a revelation. It might be a realization. It might be a revocation of all we thought we were, and all we thought we would be.
When Delenn received the message from her clan, recalling her to Minbar in order to explain her choice of mate, her heart had quailed. She knew that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to explain the direction her heart had taken in this matter. The strength of the bond that already existed between herself and John Sheridan still surprised her. It had happened so quickly, and yet often she had wished it could progress even faster. How could she defend her decision to others? Even those who knew her well were confused, if not dismayed, by her choice.
Asking him to perform the last part of the sleep-watching ritual had revealed her determination, and her weakness. She wanted to reaffirm her decision, and to indulge herself in the event it might be her last look at him. Her eyes had blurred and stung with tears over and over through the night as she watched, though she permitted none to fall, having no wish to explain them if he woke.
In the end, she knew no more than she had known before, and it was all she needed to know. They were bound, heart, mind, and soul. And even if she did not return, part of her would never leave him.
A gentle, questioning voice sounded through her reverie, and she opened her eyes to see Lennier smiling down at her. He gestured towards the seat next to hers, and she inclined her head to indicate that he should join her. Her voice she did not trust at that moment.
"I find myself looking forward to the Dreaming; it is such an honoured and yet mysterious ritual. Is your meditation progressing satisfactorily?" Lennier hated the fact that she was nervous. There was no reason that he could see; her fears regarding his reactions were completely unfounded.
"I was thinking about my mother." She didn't know why she had said that, although it was partly true.
Lennier looked surprised. "Your mother? She is one of the Sisters of Valeria, is she not? An honour for your family, and for your clan."
Nodding her head in agreement, Delenn paused in recollection, then recounted the story. "I was very young when the Sisters came to our clan, telling us that my mother had been chosen to join the sisterhood. My mother held me very tightly, and told me that she had to follow her heart in this. I did not truly understand what it meant, that she would leave us and go with them. I only saw her occasionally after that, and although I understand as an adult why she did what she did; the child in me remembers the sense of helplessness and bitter loss that I initially felt."
Lennier cocked his head to one side. "But it was the right thing to do; to follow her heart. She is serving all the Minbari people in her position." Much as you do, he thought, wondering if she saw the parallels.
"If you are meant to return, the Dreaming will reveal the reasons. You should trust in the elders, and in the Dreaming. 'Faith manages', you told me that." He smiled, confident that he had reassured her.
Delenn said simply, "Of course." As Lennier got up to leave, telling her he would return with her evening meal in a few hours, she thought to herself how little he understood. It could be that what she was meant to do was not what she longed to do. And she had little faith in Callenn or the others. The iron grip of fear held her heart, and as she tried to calm her mind, her thoughts drifted back to her last evening with John. She had invited him to dinner, before the sleep-watching ritual.
"And that's when I told him, worse things happen in space!"
She smiled at this punchline, but it was more at the expression on his face and the wonderful light that danced in his eyes, than at the joke itself. Although it was true, as she had once told him, that her people valued laughter, the differences between Minbari and human humour were often greater than the similarities. Still, she appreciated his attempts to divert her. He knew that something was going on, something that had to do with her impending departure. There was no questioning, no demands that she share her concerns, just gentle sympathy, support, and futile attempts at distraction.
She kept things light and casual, wanting him to remember her this way. She had worn a human dress, knowing he liked the way she looked in such clothing. The thought of the desire in his eyes when he had seen her sent shivers down her spine. He noticed, and responded instantly, moving his chair closer to hers. The warmth emanating from his body was like the glow from the embers of a dying fire. That comparison made her shiver anew.
The conversation went on, weaving a web of connection between them. It was always like this, even when there were topics that could not be touched, they found their own path through the thicket of political necessity and cultural imperatives. She could no longer remember the uncertainty of the past, the time of testing, when she and Kosh evaluated his ability to be the leader they were seeking. It all seemed so long ago, and so unnecessary.
"Delenn, I want to tell you something."
He was staring at her intently, and had taken her hand in his. It was her left hand, and his fingers rested on the ring he had given her, slightly caressing it.
"I know that you can't tell me why you're leaving, or why we need to do the last part of this ritual before you go." Clearing his throat, seemingly struggling for the right words, he continued. "Do you remember that I told you that the worst part of Anna's death was the way we parted?"
She nodded wordlessly. Where was he going with this?
"I let her go without telling her I loved her, and then, when she didn't come back, that was what haunted me...than I hadn't spoken."
She started to speak, and he laid one finger across her lips. "This is as important to me as your rituals are to you. I just want you to know I love you. That's all. Nothing will ever change that."
Fear flooded through her. She managed to say, "You cannot know that. There are things about me, things I have done, that might well change your feelings."
He looked at her with compassion, and reiterated with certainty. "They won't change." He shook his head at a waiter hovering over their water glasses and waited until he had moved away from their table. Then he went on, "The things you did in the past made you what you are today. I don't need to know what they are, because I know who you are. And who you are is the woman I want to marry."
She didn't say anything in reply, and he looked at her closely, a smile quirking at his lips. "You said yes when I asked, you know. We're stuck with each other. You might as well get used to it."
She managed a weak smile at that. "I have no regrets."
"Good. Because I'm holding you to it." He started looking around for the waiter, and catching his eye, indicated he should come over. "We just have time for some tea. Would you like some?"
She answered yes while her attention remained on his last statement. If she had to remain on Minbar, had to put aside what they meant to each other, would he understand, or see it as a betrayal? That hurt, and more than she imagined it would. She'd faced losing him before, and would again and again as they continued their dangerous lives. But now she faced not having him taken from her, but having to give him up. It was worse somehow, and even more terrible was imagining what her choice might mean to him.
As these thoughts circled and whirled around, she kept up the surface conversation, laughing and trying to imprint his every word and gesture on her brain. Years of political discussions and diplomacy had made her adept at this kind of multi-tasking. Their tea arrived, and was sipped as they continued to talk about station issues, the situation on Earth, events both past and present. She watched his hands curl around the hot mug, almost enveloping it. His hands were so large, and strong. The Minbari might be physically stronger than humans, but there were other kinds of strength. He was her equal, and if she could bear any coming dislocation, so could he.
"Are you ready to leave?"
Starting at the question, she almost blurted out 'No!' Looking at his face, she realized that their time together was almost over, at least until he came back to her quarters for the ritual.
"I wanted to leave enough time to walk you home..." He smiled, "perhaps through the gardens?"
Rising to her feet, enjoying the feel of his hand under her elbow, she said, "I would like that."
They had walked slowly, even though they were both aware they was under a time limit. At this point, there seemed to be little reason to hide their relationship. Everyone on the station with eyes and a brain, much less a heart, knew; and most approved, or didn't care. So they strolled close together, heads bent towards each other, talking softly. They passed a group of Minbari, who gave them a cold look, and John had tightened his grasp on her hand. "They'll never forget, will they?"
"Some of them will not." Delenn looked up at him, wondering if this was the time to finally bring up her role in the war. She had gone back and forth wondering whether to ever tell him, finally deciding against it. It involved too many secrets not her own. But tonight she felt a renewed impulse to speak. If she never returned, there would be no other chance, and it felt somewhat...deceitful. She was accustomed to deciding what others needed to know, as others decided for her. It was part of the life of a Minbari, and part of the game of diplomacy. This secret was different in nature and scope, but it still it reminded her of the other one she had kept, from him, with near disastrous results.
He gave her a queer questioning look. "You haven't forgotten either, have you?"
Stopped in her tracks, she was briefly disoriented. Realizing what he meant, she looked up at him and said definitively, "You did what you had to do. It was a time of war, and you are a soldier. I do not need to know everything you have ever done, because I know you..."
They both started to laugh, as she realized she was repeating what he had said to her earlier. And for much the same reason, she thought to herself. Happiness welled up in her, and she realized that she had nothing to fear, not from any reaction of his. Love and trust extended between them, strong deep bands connecting them and binding them together.
"We have a saying on that subject," he said, leaning over to whisper a few words in her ear.
She responded in a low sweet voice, "Is that so?" and pulled his head down to hers, capturing his mouth in a kiss.
His arms tightened around her, and they stood for a moment, lost in what they were feeling, surrounded by fragrant darkness, and the occasional sounds of people passing. They would always have this power to shut off the outside world, with its sharp edges and rough surfaces. It no longer existed, only soft lips and probing tongues, strong arms and gentle exploring hands, scent and taste and the sweet deep sound of heart speaking to heart.
The voice wasn't his; it was an oily voice, with a hint of command. Callenn, she thought reluctantly relinquishing her memory, but stowing it away carefully, like a fragile possession stored for transit.
"We are nearing Minbar. I thought we would have the clan meeting right away. You seem anxious about the Dreaming, perhaps it would be best if we proceeded quickly." He sounded earnest, and unseemingly eager.
You don't know anything about me, she thought rebelliously. No one here does. She looked around at her people, her clan members, her beloved friend Lennier. None of you know me as well as the human whom I met less than two years ago. Focussing on Lennier, she realized she was still worried about his reaction to events that might be revealed in the Dreaming. John... her heart warmed at the thought of him; John would understand. She trusted him to understand. It was a difference which Lennier did not see, or did not acknowledge.
Callenn had continued speaking, and she didn't listen, politely. A chill touched her heart. The smug certainty underlying his voice told her that his mind was made up, and not in her favour. Lennier had told her to trust in her clan and the Universe. 'Faith manages' he had said, and that precept had served her well in the past. She would have to agree to abide by her clan's decision, that was part of who she was. But there was another part to her now as well, and that part would fight for what she knew was right.
Delenn smiled, and Callenn smiled back, not knowing what he was up against. She would find a way. They would acknowledge the calling of her heart. As John had told her in the garden, the night before she had left...'All's fair in love and war.'