Chrysalis

Inside the Chrysalis, Delenn dreamed.

Dreams of youth. Her first year as an acolyte, finding herself lost in the corridors, finally running, frantic, only to come to closed door after closed door. Realizing only on the day of the closing examinations that she ought to have been studying the Centauri language this entire cycle, but had attended not a single day's instruction, and now she found herself staring at a screen covered with indecipherable symbols, the dread weight of despair settling all around.

Dreams of Babylon 5. Something dark and ancient was chasing her, always just out of sight. Her robes too thick, her strides too short. She always ended up in Brown Sector, pushing her way through moldy refuse, the sound of the creature's breathing becoming louder and louder. Delenn tried to cry out for help, but there was no one else there, no one at all, the whole station empty, and even if it were not, she hadn't breath enough to call out.

Dreams that were memories. Dukhat dying in her arms. Returning to Minbar only to learn that her father has passed beyond the Veil, his last message to her ringing endlessly in her ears, and she should have known, she had seen his eyes were dead even then. A human, in an Earthforce uniform, standing down at the end of a hallway, shouting out "Isil'zha! Isil'zha!"

Dreams of the future. Walking through the gardens with Jeffrey Sinclair, the warm pressure of his hand around hers. But in this dream she hadn't changed - he had. Her eyes traced the edges of his bone crest, solid and smooth as befitted a member of the religious caste. His skull free of rough human hair. The bridge of his nose wide and solid, shielding his eyes somewhat, making him look even more wise. Walking with this Sinclair, Delenn felt wholly at ease, as though some horrible wrong had been righted. She felt herself suffused not with love, but with a respect so deep that it bordered on awe. Here was her place in the universe, and some part of her she didn't even know was missing was restored. She was complete.

xxx

Delenn was swimming towards the surface, thick and oily liquid around her, seeming to grab with devious hands at her feet. Her lungs burned, and she kicked hard, but seemed to come no closer to the light she could see above her, cool and blue, whispering a promise of sweet air and comfort. Delenn caught on fire, the liquid around her not a liquid at all but flames, harsh, guttering flames, coal black. Her skin cracked, and the flames sank into her with relentless pressure. Horrible twisting and churning in her abdomen, her head surrounded and filled with a nameless agony.

Suddenly she was falling, bound with countless strands of rope. Delenn landed on a hard floor, tried to free herself, but her movements only tangled her more. Finally she was able to pull away the wispy strands, and she rolled onto her back, and breathed. The air had never smelled sweeter, and she drew in breath after breath, filling her lungs with it, remembering the tea they had drunk as acolytes so they might have visions of their true paths, wondering if good, clean air could have the same effect.

Delenn opened her eyes. She was in her quarters. She was awake.

She tried to sit up, but her muscles were weak and didn't answer as they should. She reached out a hand to grab the edge of the table beside her, and then she saw herself. The skin of her hand and arm was dark and thick, cracked like the floor of the river basin outside Tuzanor after a drought, looking not even like skin but instead the rough scales of some reptilian beast.

"In Valen's name," Delenn heard. The voice that said the words was awful, choked and guttural, and Delenn realized with a shuddery gasp of fear that the voice belonged to her, just as the dark, cracked skin belonged to her. She had thought the swim through fire to be a dream, the last of the dreams of the Chrysalis, but this was no dream. Something had gone wrong. Something had gone terribly wrong.

What had she become?

xxx

Delenn finally made her way to her bedroom, the long struggle to stand and walk finally abandoned, and she crawled to the closet and dragged down a robe. There was no pain, but she felt that if she moved too fast then her skin would finish cracking and fall off, exposing the flesh underneath. It was as though she had been carefully wrapped in broken glass, and the sensation was so unnerving that it took all the will-power she had to not start screaming. She was afraid that if she started, she would never stop. So Delenn pushed everything out of her mind except each task, one after another. Sit back on your ankles. Pull the robe around your back. One arm through the sleeve - gently, gently, don't catch the fabric on your skin. The other arm. Draw the robe around you. Tie it.

She needed to meditate. The candles were on the table, so she crawled back that way, one movement after another, slow, steady. Every sound so loud in her ears - the rasp of her breath, the thundering of her pulse, the hiss of her robe dragging on the floor. She carefully lit a candle, doing her best to ignore the way her heart hammered even faster at the sight of the tiny flame. She was tired, she was so tired, so instead of sitting before the candle she crawled to the corner, rested against the wall.

Delenn watched the flame, tried to slow her pulse, let herself enter the meditative state as familiar to her as breathing, the warm comfort like strong wings enfolding her, the tranquility like a soothing balm. But it wasn't working. The feeling of her skin, so alien, could not be banished from her mind. The thickness of it gave her a curiously hollow feeling, as though the essential part of her had been scooped out and this shriveled husk was all that was left behind.

The flame mocked her. It twinkled so gaily, with such an innocuous charm, but it was a lie. She couldn't look away. Delenn became sure that she had not actually lit the candle. She couldn't remember doing it, and she stared at the flame, at the lazy trail of smoke above it, and a deep certainty filled her - the evil that had chased her through the station, that dark and noisome thing borne out of some diseased womb, was here with her, in her quarters. It had lit the candle, to remind her of what it had done to her after it had caught her, the way it had set her on fire - for that was what had happened, wasn't it? Was there any other explanation for the state she was in, the visions of black fire eating away at her until she was nothing, just a shell?

It was with her, right now, watching her. Delenn looked around her quarters, frantic, but minutes (hours? days?) of staring at the flame had blinded her to the darkness, and everywhere she looked she saw only the afterimage of the bright light, always hiding the creature, it was always just behind it, and the fear grew and grew and the scream was right there, just behind her lips, when she saw him.

Sinclair, his kind eyes looking down at her, his hand tight around hers. His face, still his own and yet not, the face he should have had, the face of his soul, she thought, smiling down. Delenn tucked the image away, closed her eyes. One breath. Two. Three. The sensation of a presence melted away. Delenn opened her eyes, and the candle flame was just a flame, no dark harbinger of something evil just a few paces away. Still, it gave her no comfort, so she reached out a shaking hand to extinguish it.

Sinclair. She would have to see him soon, now that the Chrysalis was over. How could she bear to have him look at her? He would be repulsed, and all of this would be for naught. She was supposed to have made herself more like him, so that they could be together, not just as friends and allies, but as lovers, to be a bridge between Human and Minbari. Delenn looked down at her hands, her ugliness, and choked back a sob. She was supposed to carry his child! That had been her plan, hidden from the Council who would never have allowed it, who had only grudgingly gone along with only the idea of exploring the Chrysalis, who had authorized nothing. She had gone her own way, accelerated her plan, sure that when she emerged Sinclair would find her beautiful. And all the hurt and pain from the war, still carried by all of them ten years later, would be smoothed away. What a gesture it would have been! Satai Delenn of the Grey Council, the one truly responsible for the war (although the humans would never know that, could never know that), and Commander Jeffrey Sinclair, a survivor of The Line, side by side, bound by a force more strong than anything in the universe. And their child, a mingling of the bloods of Earth and Minbar, a symbol made flesh that no differences could stand between their peoples. He would have been the future.

All for nothing. Distantly Delenn thought she should be feeling something - anger, disappointment, despair - but she felt numb, nothing more. And it was with only half an ear that she heard her door slide open and shut, and saw Lennier enter and stare at the broken remains of the Chrysalis.