Chapter Eight: Lacunae
She would never forget the day she had been made Satai. Minbari had ceremonies for everything, yet this ceremony was simple, barely deserving the name. Dukhat stood before her, gazing down at her with such pride. The others stood in a circle, surrounding them. The lights were turned low, and Delenn shivered despite herself.
Dukhat stepped even closer, so close that for a moment, her breath caught. Perhaps he noticed, for the corner of his mouth quirked. He reached behind her, taking hold of the caul of her grey robe. As he drew it over her head, the edge of his thumb brushed against her cheek.
Dukhat held onto the fabric a fraction of a second too long, his eyes never leaving hers. Delenn felt the will of the universe enter her heart, and she knew that the path that stretched before her was just, was right.
"I am Grey. I stand between the candle and the star," she said in no more than a whisper, but the words rang in the quiet chamber nonetheless.
The day was not yet halfway gone, and she was already so tired she did not think she would make it till evening. The pictures she had viewed last night would not leave her mind. No matter what she did, she kept seeing those bright smiles, those laughing eyes. But most of all, she kept seeing Sheridan's face, the love written on his features. So she didn't see Morden heading her way at first, strolling with an arrogant roll to his hips, jacket slung over his shoulder, as though he didn't have a care in the world. He saw her, though, and the smile he aimed her way would have been infectious coming from nearly anyone else. From Morden, it was a grin carved into a rotting gourd, something filled with dark horrors. Goosebumps rose suddenly all over Delenn's body, even her face, and her fingers itched for the feel of a denn'bok.
"Ambassador," Morden said, dipping his head her way. The Captain had clearly ordered his release, and yet to see him loose in the corridor, without even a single guard, made Delenn absolutely furious, though it had been exactly what she'd argued for the day before. In the few seconds it took for her to pass him, her eyes never leaving his, aware of her heart pounding away in her chest and a hot flush across her cheeks, a hundred thoughts seemed to rip through her mind. Alone, just the two of us. No one else to see what would happen. I could kill him now, in this instant, and no one would ever know.
Except it wasn't true. They weren't alone. Whether his Shadow handlers were only watching her through Morden's eyes as psychic hitchhikers, or whether they were with them in the corridor even now, invisible to her senses, they would know anything Delenn did, and the repercussions were likely to be terrible beyond her imagining.
Now Morden was behind her, and it was like passing out from under the shadow of a bird of prey, circling overhead. Delenn released a breath she had not known she was holding, though she didn't feel entirely safe until she had turned the corner. Then she stopped and leaned against the wall, not needing its support so much as its comforting solidity under her hand.
It was necessary for Morden to be released, for all the reasons she had given to Sheridan and more besides, but still, she could not help but think, what have I done?
"We are Grey. We stand between the darkness and the light."
Delenn had sat with Sheridan for hours the night before. In silence for a long time. She had not known what he needed from her – the comfort of her presence, someone in whom he could confide his fears, or perhaps just another warm body in the darkness. At some point, her eyes scratchy and raw, her body growing stiff and uncomfortable, Delenn shifted, ready to stand and leave. Sheridan finally seemed to remember she was there. He turned slightly, enough to look at her. Though her eyes had adjusted some, it was still difficult to make out much of his expression in the dark. He was normally so spirited, so vivacious; it was odd to have no idea what he was thinking or how he felt.
"I'm sorry," he said hoarsely. He didn't elaborate. Delenn didn't want him to. She didn't want any clarification, because she still felt acutely aware of her lie to him, the lie that she knew for certain that Anna was dead. The lie that seemed to pulse beneath the surface of her skin, just waiting for her to open her mouth so that it might spring forth. So instead she just nodded, raised her hand and rested it gently on his shoulder. "Me, too," she whispered. Sheridan shook his head – was he rejecting her apology? He stood, paced away into the darkness, and Delenn's hand fell limply to the sofa.
"You have nothing to apologize for," he said gruffly, his back to her. She longed to join him, to rest her head between his shoulder blades and wrap her arms around his waist. She wanted to hold him so badly that the desire threatened to choke her.
His accusation earlier still rang in her ears, and the words to answer him were right there. Yes, I wanted to know if you were trustworthy. Yes, I wanted to know more about you. But that isn't why I asked you to dinner, Captain, and that isn't why I have wished to see you every day since. I think I'm beginning to love you. But Delenn could not say those words. They would put motive to the lie, and even worse, they might not be accepted. She did not believe her feelings were reciprocated, and that was a rejection she could not stand. So she just sat silently, watching Sheridan slowly walk into his kitchen, set out two glasses, and pour them full of cool water. He brought the glasses back to the sofa, handing her one wordlessly.
Delenn sipped, the water welcome indeed. Suddenly she had a desire to swim, to immerse her entire body in a pool of liquid this cool. She would sink to the bottom, her weight seeming to disappear, currents rushing past her skin and through her hair. She hadn't swam in many cycles, probably since before she'd been an acolyte. Nothing sounded better.
Why wouldn't Sheridan speak? Surely his mind was racing the same as hers, and surely he still had questions for her, but he remained mute. After he drained his glass in one long swallow, he sighed, a sound that seemed to issue from his very soul. Delenn realized she could not stay here for another moment. She would do or say something she would regret, and she felt their blossoming friendship was on the verge of irrevocable ruin. She took one last polite sip and set her glass aside.
"Please don't go," he said, and his hand groped out for hers, but Delenn stood before he could grasp it. She knotted her fingers together behind her back and kept her eyes on the floor.
"It's late. You should get some sleep." She certainly wouldn't be able to sleep tonight, so it was ludicrous to think that Sheridan would be able to sleep, yet what else could she say?
"Delenn..." His voice was pleading, broken. It sank claws into her heart, and Delenn knew that if she stayed she would be lost. So she moved to the door, forcing herself to take each individual step.
"Good night, Captain," she said, and she stepped through the door before he had the chance to reply. A few paces and she stopped, resting her back against the wall. Blue Sector very quiet this time of night. She could hear no one else nearby – those not asleep in their beds would be in C and C. So she let herself stay right where she was, just outside the Captain's quarters, and if anyone saw her, she didn't have the energy to care about any suspicions they might have. In truth, a part of her was hoping that Sheridan would come to the door, that he would see her still here, and that he would draw her back into his quarters. If he did, she would go with him. And if he invited her back to his bed, she would go there, too. It would be a terrible mistake, but a part of her didn't care, and so she lingered, hoping that perhaps he would take the decision out of her hands.
But he did not come to the door. Delenn walked back to her quarters, back to her narrow bed. She did not sleep.
The Grey Council had summoned her. The summons had been brief, even curt. As Delenn sat in the flyer, en route to the Valen'tha, she tried to keep her thoughts centered. Positive. Optimistic. But she knew, she knew.
She was supposed to wait. She was supposed to bide her time and ignore the signs, and wait for the Council to give her their permission. And she had not waited, she had done what had needed to be done, she had entered the Chrysalis on her own. Now was the hour of reckoning.
Delenn closed her eyes, trying to ignore the hyperspace hum, that slight vibration she never noticed at first, but that after an hour began to intrude upon her consciousness, seeming to make her very bones shudder and sing. She could not push the sensation away, and as it deepened and deepened, setting her teeth on edge, Delenn could no longer lie to herself.
She would not be returning to Babylon 5.
She had seen Morden the next day, but not Sheridan. She had hoped he would call her, or come to see her, but he did neither. As the day progressed, Delenn became more and more worried that all her counsel from the day before had been thrown aside. He had decided he could not abandon his wife, even to near-certain death. He would go after her, go to Z'ha'dum, and Delenn would never see him again. Hadn't she seen the way he looked at her, seen the evidence in the picture she had found? Just when the worry became a certainty, Delenn passed Commander Ivanova in the corridor. Even though Susan was clearly in a hurry, Delenn put a hand on her arm, drawing her aside for a moment.
"I'm sorry, Ambassador, but I've got a fire to put out, and by that I mean I have a literal fire to put out." Susan was already walking away. Delenn was quite unused to being dismissed so quickly and summarily, and felt a sudden rush of pique despite herself.
"I just wanted to know if you'd seen the Captain today." Delenn made herself stand still as a statue, kept her eyes on the Commander's, kept a bland, vaguely amiable expression on her face. Inside, a storm. The storm only grew as Susan stopped. A strange look came over her face, something almost suspicious. In the space between two heartbeats, Delenn became absolutely sure that Sheridan had left. He was en route at this moment, hurtling toward his doom.
And he had not said goodbye.
But no sooner than it had appeared, the odd look on Susan's face vanished, replaced by one of concern, perhaps even compassion. "Yeah, I saw him for a couple minutes. He's been locked up in his office, but he came into C and C at one point. Did you need anything, Delenn?"
Locked up in his office and making a quick journey to Command and Control could still mean he was planning to fly to Z'ha'dum, but for no reason she could articulate, Delenn did not think that was the case. Relief filled her, and she had to struggle to keep from smiling broadly at Susan, who would probably take the gesture as a sign that Delenn was mentally ill. "I don't need anything, Commander. I'm sorry to have bothered you." Before Susan could say anything else, Delenn nodded curtly and hurried away. She had relied on work to keep her mind off her worries, but the thought of another meeting was enough to turn her stomach, so she stopped at the next Babcom she passed and canceled the rest of her evening. She'd had no appetite for days, and the strangled knots in her stomach had not yet relented, but Delenn knew she had to eat something, so she picked up a salad and some soup. She almost doubled her order – maybe Sheridan would stop by and see her this evening, and undoubtedly he would not have eaten, either – but a superstitious twinge made her change her mind. If he did not stop by she would have leftover food, prepared for a purpose and then not eaten, a bad omen.
Sheridan did not come, and Delenn ate her food alone, mechanically, not tasting a bite.
"Ambassador," a voice called out, and Delenn turned, trying to spot Captain Sheridan in the crowd. Red Sector was always crowded, but today, and at this hour, it seemed every single person aboard the station was packed inside the plazas and corridors, jostling to buy trinkets and gadgets that none of them needed. Finally she saw Sheridan waving, tall enough that his head poked above most of the crowd. They both made their way to the wall through unspoken agreement, finding a narrow space between two booths. There was a bruise over one of his eyes, a scrape on his cheek, but he smiled at her just as brightly as ever.
"I see the Strieb did not do too much damage," she said, trying to keep her tone light. That he was on his feet looking as hale as ever led her to believe he had not been tortured, or wounded too greatly, but it was still hard to be certain. But Sheridan just smiled even wider, if such a thing were possible, and inclined his head close to hers.
"Thanks to you." His smile faded, and his face grew very serious. His eyes seemed to pierce straight through her. Delenn felt a warmth in her cheeks and knew she was blushing, cursed the infernal Human parts of her that led to such a betrayal of her emotions, yet she could do nothing about it. Sheridan's eyes drifted over her face, and she thought he was looking at that silly pink flush, but his gaze dropped to her mouth. Delenn moistened her lips with her tongue, out of nervousness, not even thinking. Sheridan quickly looked away, back out over the crowd. "If you hadn't been out there just then..." he murmured, voice quiet, barely able to be heard. Then he looked back at her, straightening up, the distance between them increasing.
"So what were you doing in a flyer out there?" he asked, head cocked to one side. Delenn smiled a smile that she knew was tight, probably unattractive. She had been returning from the Valen'tha in disgrace, of course, stripped of her title and privileges. She had been forced to witness the ascension of Neroon, listen to his invective, watch as he threatened to tear apart the Council and all it stood for asunder, with absolutely no power to do anything to the contrary. She had been sitting in the flier, her blood boiling, filled with thoughts of vengeance. Then she would come back to herself, filled instead with thoughts of self-loathing. Vacillating between the two extremes left her feeling nauseated.
Then a signal from the station – the Captain had been kidnapped.
As Delenn looked up at Sheridan's warm, affable face, patiently waiting for her answer, she felt a weight lift off her shoulders. So she was no longer Satai – what difference did that make? She was still the same person she had always been, even now, even after all the changes she had gone through. She just shrugged, leaning against the wall, and he adopted her casual pose. "I had been...running an errand. Something unpleasant but of no importance.
"I was just on my way back home."
She did not see Sheridan the next day, or the next. Three days after her revelations, after their argument, after the long night in his quarters, there was a meeting of the League of Non-Aligned Worlds. Delenn walked to the chambers with a churning stomach, a clammy sweat on her palms. She knew for a fact that the Captain was still on the station, and if he had ever harbored plans to depart for Z'ha'dum, he surely would have left by now, so that was not the cause of her worry. And she knew that he had forgiven her, that he bore her no ill will. Yet her anxiety persisted, reminding her of the nearly-omnipresent anxiety she had experienced the first week after her change. The walls seemed too close, the eyes of those she passed too curious, the crowds too loud. She wished for nothing more than to remain in her quarters, spending the day in solitude. Before, she had often longed to see Sheridan, hoped to run into him unexpectedly, and sometimes she even devised schemes that would give her the opportunity to bump into him, apparently by accident, schemes later discarded as being foolish, childish. Now, knowing that she would see him at the meeting, Delenn found herself dreading it.
By the time she reached the Council chambers, she was a few minutes tardy, something apparently so unexpected and bizarre that even Londo gazed at her with frank surprise. Delenn took her seat, face hot, her eyes on the table before her. Yet though she did not even really look at him, she knew that Sheridan didn't even glance her way.
Like all the Council meetings in recent weeks, nothing was accomplished. The ambassadors were a cantankerous, fractious bunch. As the Markab ambassador shouted invective at the representatives of a dozen other worlds, so furious that spittle flew from her mouth, Delenn found herself gripped suddenly by a wave of hatred, an emotion so potent, and one she was so unused to, she didn't recognize it for what it was at first. When she realized she would happily throw the lot of them out of an airlock and not miss a moment of sleep over it, it was all she could do to keep from running out of the chambers right then and there. Instead, she just clasped her hands tightly in her lap, stared at the table, and counted in her head, letting the monotonous stream of numbers block out the incessant bickering, the unending strife.
After an eternity, the meeting ended. The ambassadors departed, some still spewing filth, others having forgotten the recent curses already and marching out together for entertainment and frivolity. A dreadful headache had set up camp, and Delenn waited for the chambers to clear out before she attempted her own escape. Soon only a handful of bodies remained, Sheridan among them. Delenn finally dared to look at him.
How handsome he was! He had shaved since the ordeal with Morden, and she thought his hair had been trimmed as well. His uniform was impeccably crisp. There was an aura of strength and authority surrounding him, something almost tangible, and it reminded her so much of Dukhat that for a moment she was millions of light years away, on a different ship altogether, in a place where she always felt safe and loved. The memory was enough to make her smile, and her heart felt light.
"Captain," she said, waiting for him to look up from the papers he was gathering. She would invite him to dinner. They would put the past few days behind them. Maybe they wouldn't return immediately to the place they'd been the day he showed her how to play baseball, the day she thought he would kiss her, but it wouldn't take long, she didn't think.
"Ambassador," he replied curtly, never lifting his eyes. Folder under his arm, he turned on his heel and left.
After a few minutes, the rest of the remaining ambassadors were gone as well, and Delenn was alone. The chambers sat silent, like a hollow shell. Delenn remained unmoving in her seat, staring sightlessly ahead of her, waiting for the ache in her stomach to go away. But it never did, so she finally stood and returned to her quarters. By the time she walked through the door, she had made up her mind.
I answer to other Minbari. Not freaks.
Even now the words rang in her ears. Ashan's words, spoken with such flat impudence, such absolute conviction. Nothing she ever said or did would ever change his mind – how many others were like him? How many fellow Minbari, men and women who were her blood, would no sooner look at her as destroy their own honor?
Sheridan was telling her a story, of being stranded in his craft, perhaps during the war; she had been hearing Ashan in her mind, had missed the beginning of the story. "I never thought there could be anything worse than being all alone in the night," he said. Even though she knew exactly what conclusion he would draw, Delenn could not help but respond.
"There is. Being all alone in a crowd." His face grew very serious, and she knew that in some way, her words hurt him, as they must hurt any caring, compassionate soul. But she kept speaking. "You feel cut off from your people, from your government. You even begin to doubt yourself. I understand it so well that it cuts to my heart."
Maybe it was this admission that brought him to her door that night, wearing the same jacket he had worn when they'd dined at the Fresh Air. When she answered the door, he stared at her for a long moment. "I'm sorry," he finally said. "It's late. Did I wake you?"
Delenn was confused. "No, I was reading. Why?"
He made gestures indicating her clothing. Enlightenment did not follow. "You're in your...night...clothes?" he finally said, brow furrowed. Why she found his absolute and utter confusion with anything to do with Minbari so adorable, Delenn did not know.
"This is what I was wearing all day. I just took off the outer robe." She shook her head at him as he grinned broadly, and then his eyes swept her form from top to bottom and back to her face, much as they had the night at the Fresh Air, though this time his gaze did not linger on her legs.
"Did you want to go grab something to eat?" he asked. Delenn hated that particular euphemism. It made it sound as though they were going to hunt for live game with their bare hands. But she nodded, and before she knew it they found themselves at a corner table, the seats built into the walls, in some little restaurant tucked away in a part of the station she'd never visited before. It was dimly lit, the atmosphere hushed, and Delenn was very aware of her knees brushing against Sheridan's legs.
"I haven't been able to stop thinking about what you said, in the rock garden," he said, playing with his fork while they waited for their meals to arrive. It was not a conversation she wanted to have again, but she could think of nothing to say. She kept her eyes on the flickering candle flame. "Is it really that bad?" he asked. There was something in his voice that said he wanted her to answer in the negative, to assure him she had only been exaggerating, that everything was, as the Humans put it, as right as water. But she could not do the Human thing and tell the little lie to make things simpler. She could not say anything at all. She just looked at the flame, willing her tear ducts to remain dry, doing her best to keep her face still.
"Ah, Delenn," he said, tossing the fork aside. He scooted closer, his hand coming up to her back, but then the server arrived, putting plates in front of them, making idle small talk, and by the time he left, the moment had passed.
The door securely locked, her Babcom set to record all incoming messages, the lights turned off, Delenn lit a candle. She kicked off her shoes and sat cross-legged in front of the flame. For hours she stared, clearing her mind, clearing her heart. At first she spoke to herself in words. You know what Sheridan must be – a leader in the coming war. A general. That is more important than any fleeting fancy that may have captivated you in the dark, late at night. That is more important than any hope to reconcile your peoples, if such a thing is even possible. Forget your silly dreams. Forget any hopes of love, of romance, of an ending such as they tell in legends. Hopes are for those fortunate enough to live beyond responsibility.
As evening stretched into night, as her muscles cramped and stiffened, Delenn moved beyond the need for words. The meditative state pulled her under, a dark tide that rolled over all obstacles in its path. She felt herself suffused by those qualities that had always been her touchstones: duty, honor, selflessness. What was coming was too huge to contemplate, too large for a single mind to envision. To worry about silly trifles like dinners and kisses was to diminish herself, and she needed to do the opposite. So Delenn let it all go. The tide kept rising.
By morning, the candle flame sputtered out in a pool of wax. Delenn rose, body stiff, but she did not feel it. She ate...something, though she didn't remember what it was ten minutes later. She met with Lennier, who seemed happy to see her, quite unlike his rather stoic demeanor the last few weeks, but it didn't occur to Delenn to inquire as to the cause. She went to meetings, she answered queries, she read reports, she criss-crossed the station until she had to stop and look at a map to remember where she was.
The Captain crossed her path, but Delenn had no business with him at the moment, so she only nodded and continued on her way. If he seemed taken aback, if he even seemed hurt, if his eyes followed her down the corridor until she was out of sight, then Delenn did not see it.
Had she ever been this exhausted? After the Chrysalis, she knew, she had often been weary, and certainly there had been days on end during the war with the Humans where she had worked without sleep, without even a moment's rest. But for some reason, the last thirty-six hours had been especially trying. Watching the Centauri and Narn throw themselves into war out of ignorance and spite, because they were obstinate and wanted to see blood more than they wanted anything else, and being unable to do anything to stop it – it was enough to exhaust anyone. They would need the resources of every race for the upcoming war, the real war. The war with the Shadows.
Delenn needed to eat, and she needed to shower, and she most certainly needed to sleep, but she couldn't seem to rouse herself from the sofa. When the door chime sounded, she had half a mind to ignore it. Let Lennier think she had gone to bed. But then the Captain's voice filled her quarters, and Delenn could not refuse him.
He didn't seem to mind that she didn't stand as he entered, and joined her on the sofa. Months ago he had sat with a respectable distance between them; now he was only a few scant inches away, close enough that she could feel the heat from his body. "God, this day," he said, and sighed. It was a sigh she wished she could mimic, as it seemed to let him release some built-up tension; a sigh would not suffice for her. She needed something much more than a sigh; once she figured out what that was, of course...
"It was a long day," she agreed, and he grunted, that sound that always seemed to lodge right in her bones.
"A long, awful, fragging long day."
"You said long twice." She turned, resting her head against the back of the sofa. He grinned at her, turning himself.
"Long long long."
"Long long long long," she responded, and he laughed. The urge to lean forward and kiss him struck her so strongly that for a moment she could think of nothing else. Would he see it in her face? But he was still laughing.
"Long to the fifth." He made a face at her, waggling his eyebrows. Challenging her.
"Long mora'zha," she shot back. The look on his face could only be surprise, maybe even shock.
"Is that a curse? Is that a Minbari curse?"
"It means 'dreadfully,' but in such a way as to imply that its state cannot be changed."
"Do Minbari curse? Will you teach me?" Delenn laughed herself. She had been thinking of the reporter, the Earth reporter, who had visited the station while all the nonsense with the Centauri ship had been going on. The reporter who had asked her questions, asked whether she worried about the Humans who would hate her because of her new appearance. Delenn had found herself crying in front of the woman, utterly humiliated. If she were to confide in anyone, it would not have been Lennier, or even Susan – it would have been Sheridan. But now the reporter's pointed questions seemed meaningless, completely unimportant. Delenn leaned forward and put her mouth close to Sheridan's ear. He was laughing even before she whispered the filthiest curse she had ever learned.
"What does it mean?"
"You must promise never to use it," she said, and she narrowed her eyes at him to make sure that he knew she meant it. He nodded, mimed some kind of gesture in front of his lips. Delenn whispered the translation, feeling heat in her face using the English words. Sheridan hooted out laughter, clapped his hands, slapped his knee. He laughed and laughed so long she was afraid he might injure himself.
"Can I say it to Garibaldi? Please? He'll never know what it means."
"Captain, you promised." She looked at him very sternly, and he nodded, but there was a mischievous glint in his eye she did not trust.
They talked for hours, even though they were both completely worn out. Finally he tried to stand, and he nearly lost his balance. "Just stay where you are," she said, laughing again, she had been laughing so much her stomach hurt, even her face hurt, it was ridiculous. Sheridan collapsed back onto the sofa, stretching out. His legs stuck out over the end. Delenn found a spare blanket in the chest at the foot of her bed and spread it over him. "Do you need an extra pillow?" she asked. He didn't answer, just stared up at her with wide, guileless eyes. It was on the tip of her tongue to invite him to join her in her own bed – chastely and platonically, of course. Of course. But then he just shook his head slowly, and his eyes drooped closed.
"Thank you," he whispered. Delenn stood there, watching him for a moment. His face fell slack, and the years seemed to disappear. A lock of hair had tumbled over his forehead, and she wanted to smooth it back. She thought about remaining where she was, watching him sleep, but she could not. Not yet. She retreated back to her bedroom, thinking she would never fall asleep, not now. But she was asleep in seconds.
Weeks after resolving to do her duty and forget about any thoughts of transient romance, Delenn awakened one morning from a short yet adequate night's sleep. The alarm set to chime each morning had not yet sounded, and the lights had only just begun to brighten – it was before dawn, the hour of dreams, a time that had once been Delenn's very favorite. As a child, she used to slip out of bed at this time, tiptoe through the house, the stone and tile cold against her bare feet. Father would still be asleep, and it was nearly impossible to awaken him. Once she had received a terrible fright from a dark dream, and had crept into his bedroom. She wanted only for him to reassure her, to tell her that everything would be all right; years later, she realized this must have happened not long after Mother had left. She had been afraid that Father would leave, too, and she would be all alone. Delenn had stood over him, had placed a hand on his shoulder, had shook his arm, and raised her voice; it wasn't until she climbed up in his bed and hopped up and down on her knees that he finally stirred. By then, the fear had vanished, and she had only been able to giggle when he sleepily asked her what was wrong. So there was no need for her to tiptoe, yet she had to be silent, had to sneak and sidle. She didn't even want the shadows to know she was awake, that she wasn't cowed by the darkness, that she wasn't hiding away in her bed.
Once through the house, she would slip out into the garden behind their house. The garden was small, and mostly made of rocks, but it was her favorite garden out of any she had ever seen, because it was hers. She would watch the sky turn from black to blue to violet and pink; she would listen to the birds sing; she would keep an eye on the delicate frost covering everything, try to capture the moment when it melted away into nothingness, and yet it always seemed she missed that ephemeral transition, something solid and crystalline one moment, a few drops of cold water the next. But mostly, she would think, and she would feel. Imagine she could sense the universe around her, inside her. If she were still enough, if she were quiet enough, the universe would speak to her, makes its intentions and hopes and dreams known. Then she would become an instrument of the universe, at once part of its infinite clockwork and a conscious operator within. Some mornings, as the rest of the city slept, Delenn felt she sensed something lurking behind the mundane, tangible world in front of her, something dense and eternal. A thrill would go through her, and in meditation, she always tried to recapture that feeling, and was rarely able to do so.
This morning, laying in bed, watching the lights in her quarters brighten by imperceptible degrees, Delenn tried to remember the last time she had felt that sense of being connected to something greater than herself. Inside the Chrysalis? That had been part of the reason she had entered into it, why she had changed herself so much, but had she really felt it then? Or had she simply told herself that she knew what the universe wanted? Another lie. She was becoming quite adept at lying, most of all to herself.
Delenn would have given anything, in that moment, to return to the little garden behind her father's house. It had been many cycles since she'd been there last; since before the war with the Humans. When her father had passed, she had not been able to bring herself to return, and relatives had cleared away what few material possessions remained. Now that she thought about it, she could not actually remember the last time she had been home. Some time when she had been an acolyte. Ever since then, home had become an abstract concept, as she had begun to lead an existence where any bed and four walls would do.
Without thinking any further, without checking her agenda or messages, without pausing a single moment more, Delenn dressed. As she pulled on her shoes, she thought of Lennier, and scrawled a quick note for him that she left on her table; perhaps he would see it, perhaps he would not. Again that tiny thrill, entirely inappropriate for one her age, and she left her quarters and hurried out of Green Sector, headed wherever the corridors led her.
It was perhaps ten or fifteen minutes later when Delenn found herself at the athletic field. It was presently configured for baseball, and as she entered she could hear the wooden stick, the name of which she had forgotten, cracking as it was swung at flying balls. Humans, and their ridiculous sports. Delenn had hoped for solitude, but she knew how unlikely solitude was on the station at any time, and at any location. She would slip in, make her way up to one of the observation stands, and watch quietly. The athlete would probably not notice her at all, and she would still find some comfort in the wide open space.
She had one foot on the step taking her to the left-hand stand when she happened to glance over her shoulder. The athlete standing there staring at her, wooden stick resting on his shoulder, eyes wide with what looked like disbelief, was Sheridan. Delenn froze, and her breath lodged in her throat. She had come here hoping the universe would speak to her, hoping for some small, quiet push against her soul. Instead, she had found Sheridan.
Delenn opened her mouth to speak. She still had no breath, and besides, she didn't know what she would say.
Sheridan lowered the wooden stick and walked towards her. Distantly, Delenn heard the computerized voice announce that the next ball was being held. She didn't think Sheridan heard the announcement at all. His eyes were fixed on hers, and she could not remember him ever looking at her so directly, so intensely. He was wearing casual clothing, the fabric stained dark at his chest. Sleeves pushed up, buttons at the throat undone; Delenn was unused to seeing his bare skin, even so little as this; the token greeting she had managed to come up with disappeared, and she was reduced to smiling at him weakly.
Sheridan walked still closer. He was peering up at her almost as though he didn't know who she was. It had only been a few weeks since that day, that horrible, strange day, but it seemed like so much longer. Forget your silly dreams. Forget any hopes of love, of romance, of an ending such as they tell in legends. Her own words rose up in her mind, seeming to mock her. In that instant, Delenn cared nothing for her former resolve, her good intentions. She only wanted this man before her, wanted him with an intensity so keen, she was having a hard time not throwing herself at him now.
"Captain," she finally managed, the word breathy and quiet, scarcely audible to her own ears. Sheridan walked closer, just a few steps away now, close enough for Delenn to see perspiration dotting his brow, close enough to see the bewilderment in his eyes.
The haze that had surrounded her dissipated. Sheridan was looking at her as though he didn't know who she was because he clearly didn't know who she was. Something was wrong with him, and a stab of fear drove through her.
"I should know you," he murmured. He shook his head slowly, his eyes never leaving her face. "I know I should. But I don't, not at all. I've never seen you before. But I have, haven't I?"
One of her hands crept up to clutch at her pin, the edges biting into her fingertips. Delenn found herself nodding, and though she hoped that this was one of those silly Human rituals, a prank, as Mr. Garibaldi called it, she could tell that it was not. "Yes. We are acquainted," she finally managed. "Do you know who you are?" She gripped the crystal pin more tightly, needing that pain to center her. Sheridan's brow furrowed.
"Of course I know who I am," he answered, and Delenn let out her held breath in a shaky exhale. "I know who I am," he repeated, "and I know..." Sheridan shook his head, looking out over the athletic field. Delenn stared at his profile, not knowing what to do. Had he injured his head? Sometimes Minbari with such an injury might forget occurrences in their recent memory; perhaps it was the same with Humans. Delenn stepped down onto the grass, carefully, tentatively. She did not want to frighten him if she raised such a possibility. But he took a step back from her, looking at her face again, that same odd, searching glint in his eyes.
"Who are you?" he asked. The tone of his voice was something Delenn had heard before. It was the tone Lennier had used when he had seen her just as she emerged from the Chrysalis, when she had still been covered in thick, rough scales. It was the tone Teronn had used when he had questioned her in her quarters, wondering aloud whether she was still Minbari at all. It was the tone the Grey Council had used when they had dismissed her. It was the tone Ashan had used. I answer to other Minbari. Not to freaks.
It was a tone that did not ask who are you? but instead what are you? Hearing it come from Sheridan's lips, seeing it reflected in the curious and maybe even hostile shine in his eyes, it left her breathless and exposed. A sharp wind would be enough to cut right through her, blow her into dust.
"I am Delenn," she said. What else could she say? Sheridan shook his head again, his eyes drifting up to her bone crest, down her hair, back to her eyes, to the ridge just above. Marking everything that made her not Minbari, not Human, not anything but herself. Then without saying another word, he turned away from her, walking past the white square set in the dirt and to a small door in the wall behind, disappearing from her view.
Delenn had no memory of sitting right where she was, on the lowest step leading up to the observation stand. She would later not be able to remember how long she sat there. Her fingers were numb, and they lay like white worms in her lap. Her heart thudded so hard it hurt, she could feel it knocking in her throat, like something trying to get out. Some time later, another athlete entered, and she stared at Delenn with wide blue eyes until Delenn came back to herself. "Are you all right?" the woman asked, a stocky Human woman with thin, tight braids and bulging muscles, and she put out a hand, meaning to touch Delenn. She nodded, attempted a smile, and fled, not trusting herself to speak. Down the corridor, and there was someone at the first Babcom she came to, so she kept walking. There was a crowd loitering a few meters from the next Babcom, and they stared at her as she passed, stared with eyes asking what are you? what are you? what are you? She made it back to her quarters.
As the door cycled open, she became suddenly sure Lennier would be there. She did not wish to see him. He would ask questions, he would fawn over her obsequiously, and the thought was enough to send a jolt of adrenaline through her system. She would have to order him to leave, she knew, and he would not want to. But her quarters were empty. Delenn sagged onto her sofa. There was no reason for her to feel this way. Obviously Sheridan was injured in some way. That was all. It had been incredibly irresponsible for her to let him leave like that, to not stay with him, immediately call for medical assistance. And yet the incident still left her feeling raw, as though she had been flayed. She allowed herself only a few moments rest, and then she stood and went to her own Babcom, putting through a call to Medlab.
"I need to speak with Dr. Franklin," she said, in what she hoped was an even, calm tone. The nurse on the other side didn't seem to notice anything was wrong – he at least didn't stare at her with wide eyes like the Human athlete with the huge muscles – so perhaps she had managed to get herself back under control.
"Dr. Franklin's with a patient."
"It's an emergency," she responded, and if she put an imperious edge to her words, then so be it. The nurse nodded slowly, eyes appraising, and a hold screen flashed up. Delenn waited. Would it be faster to simply go to Medlab herself? But then the hold screen vanished, and Stephen stood before her, his eyes a little weary (as usual), his face tired (as usual), his smile warm (thankfully, as usual).
"It's about Captain Sheridan," she started, and then stopped as Stephen nodded. He already knew.
"I've got the Captain in a room right now, running some more tests. He just came up, told me what happened. It's...there's been..." Stephen stopped, and frowned, as much as he ever frowned.
"You cannot tell me. I understand. A physician's oath of confidentiality."
"Well, that," he allowed, "and we don't actually know what exactly is going on just yet." That was not what Delenn wanted to hear. Worry slid a cold hand around her throat, and she swallowed hard. "Look, Ambassador, I need to get back. Maybe he'll tell you about it later himself."
Delenn nodded, and said something incidental and meaningless – she didn't think Stephen even heard. The screen went blank. Something was wrong with Sheridan, something even Dr. Franklin didn't understand, and she had to remain in the dark.
She glanced over, and saw that her note to Lennier was gone. A data crystal sat in its place. After a beat, Delenn took it up and loaded it. Lennier's face appeared on her screen, so familiar, like a clan member she had known her whole life. How could she have ever planned to send him away, to order him away? It had been some time since she had hated her odd Human emotional shifts, but she hated them now, hated herself, that she could have ever thought something so...disloyal.
"Delenn," Lennier said, "I hope you will not take this as an imposition, but I have made some adjustments in your agenda for the next few days. I have sensed that something...has changed lately in the way in which you view the world. Your demeanor. This necessarily requires a period of adjustment. I have scheduled a meeting with the Laks'an this evening. She is visiting the Brekana Colony at the moment, so there will be a delay of two minutes each way. I felt you needed to speak with her." Lennier clasped his hands and bowed. The recording ended.
She was glad that he had made a recording, rather than telling her in person. Scheduling her a meeting with the Laks'an was an imposition, he was correct, and if he were standing here in front of her, she would tell him as much. Since he was not here, Delenn could take a few deep breaths and be rational. Lennier was right. She was in need of spiritual guidance. She had thought about scheduling a meeting herself months ago, just after the Chrysalis, but had realized then that she needed to reach an even keel herself before hand; to do otherwise would only waste the Laks'an's time.
There were a few hours before the scheduled appointment. Delenn made herself eat a small meal first, just bread and fruit. Then she bathed, taking care to make sure she was especially clean. She dressed in a simple blue shift, pulling her thin, white robe over it. She carefully plaited her hair in a single braid, unsure what the Laks'an would think of her having hair at all. And then she lit a fresh candle and waited.
A chime sounded, telling her it was time for the meeting. Delenn felt a thin coil of nervousness snake its way through her stomach. She had only spoken to the Laks'an once before, and that had been in her previous incarnation, twenty some cycles earlier. It was amazing that Lennier had been able to secure her an audience so quickly, but perhaps even as former Satai she still was important enough to warrant such consideration. Perhaps the Laks'an was curious herself. It was hard to say. How would she greet Delenn? With courtesy? With warmth? Or would she look at Delenn as so many others of her people did, with distaste, with revulsion? Would she look at Delenn and only see a freak?
The screen brightened, and Delenn found herself looking at smooth, polished crystal facets. They glowed slightly, blues and greens. Comforting, serene. Distantly, bells were ringing. And then the Laks'an entered the frame, pausing for a moment with her head bowed, her eyes closed. Tears sprang unbidden to Delenn's eyes. Even with light years between them, meeting through viewscreens, she felt an immense feeling of gratitude, and awe. The Laks'an opened her eyes, raised them to Delenn's, and she smiled broadly. Two teeth were missing. Delenn bowed her head, and then could not help but smile in return.
The Laks'an was the holder of the Minbari cultural heritage, each vessel born when the previous one passed beyond the Veil. Whereas other Minbari knew that they had lived before, time and time again, though they did not possess any specific memories of those previous lives, the Laks'an was different. The Laks'an remembered all. She remembered the cycles still in living memory; she remembered the Time of Growth; she remembered the Dark Days; she remembered the last Shadow War. She remembered Valen. She remembered the birth of the Minbari as a species, maybe even was the very first Minbari. That, she could not remember.
This incarnation of the Laks'an was still a child, not yet ten cycles old. But her voice was deep, melodious, not child-like in the slightest. "Delenn of Mir. How good it is to see you! You are quite changed from our previous meeting. But still a child of Minbar."
Delenn couldn't breathe. She gasped, trying to draw air into her lungs. Tears clouded her vision. Still a child of Minbar. The Laks'an said it was so, and who was any other Minbari to argue with her? Laughter broke through her tears, and Delenn knew that from this day forward, everything would be all right.
"Please don't go," he had said. And then he'd reached for her, saying her name, when had he began using her name so familiarly? Delenn couldn't remember. She tossed and turned on the hard mattress, unable to find a comfortable position. She knew that sleep was lost to her, that she should rise and make productive use of this time, but she could be as stubborn as any Minbari, even now.
She should have stayed. That was the thought she wrestled with, what kept her awake. Her rational mind continued to provide the reasons why staying would have been the worst mistake, but she didn't want to listen. She just wanted him. And she wanted to make sure he didn't leave.
Thoughts of his wife tormented her. Anna Sheridan, a woman she had never met. The woman he had loved. Still loved. Delenn realized that if Sheridan wasn't sleeping, it was not thoughts of her that kept him awake, but thoughts of Anna. He would miss Anna, remember Anna, desire Anna. Not her.
Now Delenn pushed herself up from the bed. Hadn't she always known that to be the truth? Sheridan was an outgoing, friendly man, and he had never been anything other than friendly with her. No doubt he behaved the same way with many other people. And she had been so starry-eyed around him – what was the word? Susan had said it once. A smash? She had a smash on him? That didn't sound right.
She went to her computer, jabbed her fingers at the screen, going from menu to menu. A mistake, she thought, this is a mistake, but she didn't stop. Finally she found herself looking at a picture of Anna Sheridan, standing in front of a standard exploration ship, smiling brightly. Reddish-brown hair, sparkling eyes. Round, pink cheeks and full lips. She wore a shirt with no sleeves, just a strip of fabric at the top of each shoulder, and she wore shorts that ended closer to her waist than her knees. Wide expanses of bronzed skin.
This was what Sheridan found attractive. A woman who could not look more different than Delenn, with her strange dark hair, her cool eyes, her pale skin.
Delenn kept searching. Pictures of Anna Sheridan at digs, pictures of her at university, pictures of her with colleagues. Big toothy smiles, her energy seemed to leap from the screen. You could almost hear her laughter. It would have been bright and effervescent, the kind of laugh that made you laugh yourself, even if you didn't know what she was laughing about.
Pictures of Anna with her husband. Delenn's fingers fell to the screen, accidentally zoomed in on the image. Anna was looking down, her lashes dark fans against her cheeks, watching as Sheridan slipped a ring on her finger. But his eyes were on her face, and the love there was so strong that there could be no denying it.
No one had ever looked at Delenn like that. They looked at her with raised eyebrows, with wide eyes, with questioning glances to their neighbors. They shook their heads at her, they pointed, they laughed. They called her names.
Delenn closed the picture, closed all of them, but they were already burned into her brain. A despair took hold of her that was as chill as a winter rain.
What a fool she was.
It was late when Sheridan came to her quarters. So late, she had indeed changed into her night clothes, and as she struggled into one of her robes, she couldn't manage to find the ties. They were trapped somewhere in the folds of the fabric. Delenn didn't want him to leave, so she let him in anyway, just grabbing the sides of the robe and clutching them together at her waist.
He stood there just inside the doorway, only the half of his face near the kitchen lit. This stare was nothing like the one at the athletic field, when he had been so confused, so disarmed.
"Hi," he said, and he smiled. "Delenn."
She wanted to hug him. Instead she just smiled back. "Hello."
"You didn't wake me," she interrupted. "I just cannot find the..." She fluttered her hands, trying to indicate the strip of fabric that would secure the robe, ties didn't seem like the right word. Of course, that meant the robe gaped open, and Sheridan's eyes dropped immediately. Did he have no courtesy at all? (Of course he doesn't, he's a Human, some antiquated part of her psyche answered, something that had lain dormant since the early years of the war.) She grabbed at the robe again, feeling that she might as well be naked in front of him, though the nightgown was no more revealing that the black dress had been at their first shared dinner together. She was still very aware of how thin the fabric was, of the way it outlined her breasts.
Sheridan just stepped forward until he was right in front of her. He moved his hands slowly, as though he was afraid she would strike him, and reached around her body. He found the strip of fabric, and drew it around her waist. He tied it, and when he cinched it tight, there was something in his eyes, which never left hers, that made her feel weak. His hands stayed where they were, and Delenn waited for them to begin to slide over her body. "You look as though you feel better," she said, though it was nearly a question. Sheridan nodded. He was too close, far too close, but Delenn could not make herself step back. "Tell me what happened," she said instead. She needed to know how he could have forgotten her so completely, and be sure that it would never happen again.
Sheridan nodded, stepped back. The composition of the air in her quarters didn't change, but Delenn felt as though she could breathe again. She joined him on the sofa, making sure to put a discreet distance between them. She kept a hand on the collar of her robe.
He told her about the Markab who had killed himself, bashing his own head in against a pipe. About the being that had jumped from the Markab corpse to Sheridan himself. About the hallucinations, the strange emotions. "This thing, it made me feel these things, trying to send me a message about its own situation. Fear, homesickness." Sheridan paused, his eyes finding hers. "Loss. The loss of the things that...mean the most to me."
Delenn swallowed hard and dropped her eyes to her lap. That feeling of being on the precipice, of something vast and unknown just before her, made itself known again. There were a thousand questions she wanted to ask him, and suddenly she couldn't remember a single word of English.
"I've missed you," he said quietly. "Missed seeing you. Missed having you at my side helping me to deal with all of this. Missed talking to you. It all went wrong, after Morden."
"That is his nature." Delenn reeled, his words completely unexpected. She dared to look at him again, and it was clear his gaze had never left her face. He shook his head, just once, the gesture calm.
"He didn't help, but I think...I think we've both been damaged lately. And sometimes it's difficult to let other people in, even though it would make things so much better." Sheridan reached out with two fingers and very delicately slid a lock of her hair back behind her ear. Delenn could not have hid her shiver even if she had wanted to.
"You don't seem damaged to me," she said, which was only the truth. Now Sheridan looked away from her, and it was though a connection between them had been severed.
"Part of me died two years ago," he murmured, his voice low, almost hoarse. "It happened, and for a long time I couldn't believe it. And then it was easier to just keep not believing it, to not think about it, to just...go on. It was easier to cut out everything around where that part had been and fill up the empty space with work. It was so much easier that a lot of the time, it was almost as if I was glad that a part of me was dead. But whenever I realized that, when my sister called on what had been our wedding anniversary, when I found something of her's in a drawer, when I heard a funny joke and made a mental note to tell her later, whenever that happened? I have never hated myself so much in my entire life. And then, of course, the best and easiest way to get past that was to pretend it had never happened, either. I made myself not think about it, about any of it. Made myself not deal with it.
"So when Morden showed up, when all of that happened, I had to deal with it. I had to acknowledge it. And it hurt. I've never been good with mental pain, I like being happy so I just make myself be happy, as much as I can. But that pain, it wasn't the worst. The worst was the guilt."
"You aren't responsible for what happened to her," Delenn said. She tried to sound as logical as possible, so she would convince him. "It wasn't your fault."
There was a long pause while he studied his hands. Then he looked back at her. "That's not what I feel guilty about." It took a moment before the meaning of his words reached her.
"Oh," she said quietly, more an exhalation than a word.
"Yeah." All night he had been looking at her in some way she didn't recognize, didn't know how to categorize. Now she knew. It was the look she had seen in the picture, as he slid the ring on Anna's finger.
"I don't mean to make you feel guilty," she said. She didn't like how defensive she sounded.
"That night, that night you sat with me, I wondered what my life would be like if Anna hadn't died. If she were still here. Would she have come to the station with me? Would she have been with me as I got to know you? Would that have changed anything between you and me?" He paused, and Delenn felt every emotion she had ever felt, all mixed up and jumbled together. "I felt guilty because I realized that it wouldn't have made any difference," Sheridan finally said. His face blurred in front of her, and Delenn dragged her hand across her eyes, not wanting him to see her tears.
They sat in silence. Delenn felt that every muscle in her body was locked stiff. She concentrated on breathing evenly, of letting the tightness in her throat melt away in slow, unnoticeable increments.
"Delenn. Say something."
More silence. If she tried to speak now, only a croak would issue from her throat. The pause lengthened and lengthened, but Sheridan didn't move, didn't say a word.
"I don't know what to say." The barest whisper, she couldn't even hear it herself, but she thought he did.
"Do you not feel the same way?"
She shook her head, a tear spilled down her cheek. "I do," she said, and she bit her lip hard enough to draw blood. "I do." Sheridan got up suddenly, and she was certain she had somehow managed to anger him, but he only retrieved a tissue and brought it back to her. She wiped her eyes and under her nose, and he rested his hand between her shoulder blades. She laughed a little, the sound dry and bitter. "And I have felt guilty because I should be worrying about the Narn and Centauri, and about the Earth government, and about the Shadows. And instead, all I seem to worry about...is you." What a relief to admit to that! It wasn't until she said it that she realized he might misinterpret her words. But he only rubbed his hand up and down a little. His touch was so comforting she felt she might weep.
"Maybe mutual guilt isn't the best place to start a relationship," he said lightly, with a short laugh of his own. "Can we just be friends?" he asked. "Let's just be friends for now. Okay? The way things were before."
"Yes," she agreed. "I'd like that."
After that, it seemed that all the tension between them vanished. They made plans to meet for dinner some time in the indeterminate future; their schedules were both so full, it was hard to plan for much of anything. Sheridan talked more about flying out into space to take the unknown entity home – how sure he'd been, how once he had climbed into his ship, he hadn't felt a moment of fear.
Once he yawned, though, Delenn stood and went to the door, which forced him to follow. She did not want him to fall asleep on her couch again. It would not be a good idea to test their vow to remain friends and nothing more so soon, not when she still felt so labile. Before she could react, Sheridan put his arms around her, drawing her close. His scent was warm and full, and she breathed it in.
"That part of me, that died?" His breath puffed against her ear. "I felt it again, that first time I saw you. I'm glad." Delenn just closed her eyes, concentrated on nothing besides the feel of his body, his arms tight around her.
It was a long time before he let go.
Dukhat walked her back to her chamber, their pace unhurried. At some point her hand had found his. At her door, he surprised her with an embrace, pulling her tight against him.
"Master," she said, and he released her, his smile bright.
"I am not your Master any more. You are Satai, and we are equals." Delenn knew there was something in his eyes, something that had never been there before, but now was not the time to explore it. She only inclined her head to him, courteous yet shallow, signifying acceptance of his words, not deference.
"And perhaps you will regret nominating me in the first place," she said lightly. Dukhat laughed.
"What do you have up your sleeve, Delenn?" She didn't answer him, only smiled and entered her chamber.
Once inside, she found the book of prophecy she had carried with her for the last eight cycles. Dukhat had thought her to be joking, perhaps, but she had not been. She had many plans, many plans indeed. The grey robe hung carefully in the closet, Delenn lay on her bed, reading Valen's words once more.