Disclaimer: I own very little in this story. John Sheridan, Anna Sheridan, Liz Sheridan, Garibaldi and Delenn are property of JMS/ Warner Brothers; General Lochshmanan appears in The Shadow Within novel written by Jeanne Cavelos; the song lyrics that inspired this piece are from The Dance written by Tony Arata and performed by Garth Brooks. But the actual text of the story is mine.
Background: Reference is made to events in B5 episodes In the Shadow of Z'ha'dum (Season 2), And the Rock Cried Out, No Hiding Place (Season 3), Shadow Dancing (Season 3) and In the Beginning (TNT movie) and sort of takes for granted that you've seen them. Reference is also made to events in The Shadow Within (novel); however, you do not have to have read the book to understand the story.
Author's Note: I've been trying to work out this story in my head for a long time. It seems to me that the series, as well as most fans, kind of gloss over a couple of elephants in the living room: 1) John Sheridan was a widower when he came to B5, still clearly mourning the loss of his wife, whom he loved very much, and 2) Anna Sheridan was not always evil, because if she was, John never would have married her. She gets a bad rap for who she became. She didn't ask for that fate; it was chosen for her. She was just a scientist trying to do her job and ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time. But we all (myself included) love John and Delenn and hate that Anna did what she did, so we forget these things. My goal here was to pull some heart strings, try to make us remember them. On with the show…
"And I'm glad I didn't know the way it all would end, the way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance; I could've missed the pain, but I'd have had to miss
The dance." – The Dance, Garth Brooks
Before We Danced with Shadows
Captain John Sheridan sighed and rubbed at his stubbled face, fighting exhaustion and tears. He'd let Morden go, and with him all of his renewed hopes for Anna had gone as well. She was almost certainly dead – and if she wasn't, he'd never know for sure what had happened to her. He had put on a good façade for the others, and he'd gone to Kosh with stoic determination – but after leaving Kosh's quarters and returning to his office to finish sorting out Anna's things, a wave of emotion had come over him, the likes of which he hadn't felt since the first weeks and months after learning of the Icarus's fate. Today had brought back all of those terrible feelings, all of the regret that he had finally allowed himself to begin letting go of. Hell, he'd even noticed that his heart felt… almost whole again… especially in the presence of one beautiful and perceptive Minbari ambassador.
He glanced at the box still sitting on the corner of his desk that contained the last of Anna's things. This was all he had left of the woman he'd been married to for seven wonderful, passionate, beautiful years. One box. Brushing a stray tear from his left eye, he reached inside and pulled out the first object his hand fell upon.
It was a framed photograph from his sister's wedding. In it, John and Anna – best man and maid of honor – flanked the bride and groom. He remembered this day like it was yesterday. This was a photo that Lizzie and Danny had dubbed a "blooper" and had discarded when they put together their album – but Anna had saved it from destruction, framed it and kept it for all these years. They hadn't even been dating at the time – Anna had been after Liz for months to set them up, and John had refused time and again – but the photographer had captured a moment here. Neither John nor Anna was looking at the camera. They were smiling, eyes sparkling, at each other. Later that same night, she'd crumble his defenses and the avalanche would begin.
"Come on, Johnny. It's my wedding day, and she's my maid of honor. It's just one dance."
"Sure, one dance. Right." John shook his head and looked across the crowded room at Anna. In truth, he'd been blown away when she had come down the aisle. He'd known Anna since she and Liz were pre-teens, and he had never looked at her as anything more than a kid. But in the low-cut bridesmaid gown, her long red hair tied in a neat bun at the back of her head, it was clear she was no longer a child. He'd had to pry his eyes away when she reached the altar, and he'd found himself stealing glances at her throughout the ceremony. The last time, she'd caught him and given him a smile and a wink. He'd looked away quickly, his face flushed in embarrassment. Now, in the relaxed atmosphere of the reception and after three…? four? drinks, he wasn't sure he could trust himself to just dance with the redhead. But he wasn't about to admit that to his sister. "Don't think I don't know she's got a crush on me."
Liz rolled her eyes. "Your point?"
"My point is, if I give her one dance, she's going to blow it all out of proportion and think I like her back." He downed the glass of whiskey in front of him and watched Anna dance with Lizzie's new husband. It was a weak argument and he knew it.
"Do you?" Liz raised her eyebrows and smiled playfully.
"No!" The exclamation was too loud and too fast. Liz didn't buy it and, in truth, neither did John.
"Dance with her, Johnny. Just once. A fast song," Liz persuaded. "Neither one of you came with a date, so it's not like you're going to make anybody jealous. Then you'll figure out there's no chemistry, she'll get off my back, and you can get back on board the Lexington in a couple of weeks without wondering what might have happened."
John pinched the bridge of his nose, puffed his cheeks and exhaled slowly. "Fine. One dance." He stood as the song that was playing came to an end and Anna and Danny parted. Liz watched with a smile as her brother took Anna's hand and the two picked up the rhythm of the next song. She watched as they stood too close, watched smiles light both their faces as they talked and laughed about something like old friends… or new lovers.
"What did you do, Lizzie?"
Liz tore her eyes from the couple as Danny joined her at the edge of the dance floor and put an arm around her back. "If I'm lucky? Nothing. If they're lucky? Something wonderful." The music changed again, this time to a slow song, and she expected John to thank Anna for the dance and flee the dance floor. What happened instead both frightened and delighted her. Her brother pull Anna close, Anna's head coming to rest against his chest as both of them closed their eyes. "Come on," she said to Danny now. "Let's dance."
John sighed again and put the picture aside. He'd keep that… probably. One concrete memory of her he'd never forget, not in a thousand lifetimes. They'd danced on the dance floor, and then they'd gone outside for privacy and danced under the stars to music only they could hear… and then he'd kissed her… and then it had gotten out of hand too fast for either of them to stop it. They'd made love for the first time that night – "fucked" was more appropriate, his crewmates would correct him later – clumsily, carelessly and more than a little drunk.
He didn't regret it. Not then, and not even now.
Maybe especially not now.
No… even knowing what he knew now, even knowing the pain that would come from it, he wouldn't take back a second of it.
But would he have, if he had known then… how it would end? Would he have left it at just one dance to placate his sister and spared himself the pain? He couldn't say.
"I can't stop thinking about you."
"I… this is crazy, John. We're at war."
John leaned against the wall of the Lexington's conference room, head tilted back, eyes closed. "The reality is it's only a matter of time and I'll be dead." It was a cold, unforgiving truth. The best decision he'd made in his life was turning down General Lefcourt's offer for the position of first officer on the Prometheus four months prior; still, sometimes he thought it would have been better to have died in that first encounter than to forge on, trying to keep hope alive for Earth in a war that could not be won.
"Don't talk like that." Anna's face filled the Com screen, green eyes shining with unshed tears. "You're a survivor, Johnny."
"Tell that to the Minbari." He opened his eyes. One step and he was standing directly in front of the screen. He reached out as if to touch her face. "That night… after Liz's wedding…"
"I have to. I might not get another chance." He turned away from her to compose his thoughts, and when he was ready he faced the screen again. "I didn't think it would mean anything. But I…" He shook his head. "If there's any way I can come back to you, Anna… I want to try… to do right by you. Now… I'm not great at relationships. My career is important to me and I can be a real pain in the ass sometimes, and I have a knack for being a bumbling fool when it comes to romance, as you… probably gathered." He blushed as memories of their last night together filled his mind. "I'd understand if you didn't want me. But if you'll have me, I'd… really like to try."
"We'll start slow." Her voice wavered. She sniffled. "Dinner."
"Deal," he whispered. He traced the outline of her lips, closed his eyes again at the memory of how those lips had felt against his own.
"Commander Sheridan, please report to the bridge."
Sheridan looked up as if to make eye contact with the disembodied voice of his superior officer. "You take care of yourself, you hear?"
"You too." She gave him a brave smile. "I'll see you… when I see you."
John nodded sharply, not trusting his voice. The screen blinked off, and he turned and strode toward the bridge.
Irony had a way of rearing its head in the ugliest ways imaginable. They'd had that conversation because he was certain he'd die before he saw her again. Every time he saw her in those first couple of years, in fact, he was sure it would be the last time. He'd even given her his burial requests, laid out his funeral for her before the Battle of the Line. He was certain that she would bury him.
Instead… instead, he had buried her. And it wasn't even that. He hadn't even been able to properly lay her to rest. She was dead and forgotten on some godforsaken planet out on the rim, dead at the hands of an ancient race who were planning to stampede across the galaxy. Anger surged through him at this thought. They'd taken his wife, taken the love of his life from him, and now they were coming for the rest of his race.
Like hell, he thought. You bastards messed with the wrong man, and I'll take you down if it's the last thing I do.
Reaching into the box again, John grasped something soft and pulled it out to look at it. He blinked several times in recognition… this was his. It was his Earthforce Academy sweatshirt. He buried his face in it and inhaled. All these years, and it still smelled like her. It was an intoxicating assault on his senses. He clutched it harder, rubbed the fabric over his cheeks as he remembered… he'd given this to her the night he'd proposed.
"Keep it," he had said. "It looks better on you anyway."
They'd stayed awake all night, alternately talking, holding each other and making love, despite any promises they'd made to take things slow. Both of them knew what was at stake – they knew he was going up into the stars again the next day, and the odds were good that he'd never come back. He'd told her, breathless and sweaty as the sun rose, that he wanted to marry her and fill a house with red-headed children. She'd cried when his shaking hands placed the ring on her finger.
Would he have done it the same, if he'd known? The question surfaced again at this new memory, looming large and unanswered in his mind. The answer was not a real answer at all, but it was the best he could do: It's just better I didn't have to make that choice. At least this way, I have the memories.
"Captain? Captain, you OK?"
"Hmm? I uh… yes, Mr. Garibaldi. I'm fine." Sheridan shook his head to clear the memories and stood up from his chair. "Something I can help you with?"
Garibaldi swaggered closer to Sheridan's desk, hands in his pockets, and gave a casual shrug. "Just checking up on you. I uh… I know letting that guy go… wasn't easy and I know… Well. I know what it's like to lose someone you love. I'm sorry about… about your wife."
"It happened a long time ago, Michael."
"Maybe, but the wounds take a long time to heal sometimes, and having them ripped open just when they've just scabbed over hurts like a bitch." He gestured with his chin toward the box. "Still working on her things?"
"Yeah." Sheridan's tone was resigned, tired.
Garibaldi took a long look at his CO - this man who, despite earlier misgivings, was quickly becoming a friend. Finally he said, "It's waited this long. It can wait another day. Go to bed, John."
"Yeah… yeah, it can wait." John took one more look at the box as Garibaldi turned to exit. As an afterthought, John took the sweatshirt with him to his quarters that night and allowed himself one final, mourning cry into the soft navy fabric, and he slept with it on his pillow so he could smell her sleeping next to him all night – so he could feel, one last time, like he wasn't alone in his bed.
The next day, he washed it… noting as he pulled it from the thermal unit that it no longer smelled like Anna. Now it smelled fresh and clean, like a new start. He folded the sweatshirt and put it away with his other civilian clothing, knowing he'd probably never wear it again.
"Ah-ha!" Garibaldi waved an accusing finger at Sheridan, but he was smiling ear to ear. "You finally did it!"
In turn, Sheridan put on what he hoped was a very innocent face as he set his lunch tray down opposite his chief of security and settled into his chair. "Did what?"
"You kissed her."
"I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about." The captain took a big bite of his sandwich and raised his eyebrows, mildly challenging the other man to continue.
The challenge was acknowledged and accepted with a single nod. "You kissed Delenn. It's all over your face." Sheridan's small sigh and quick aversion of his eyes was all the confirmation Garibaldi needed. He leaned in close, eyes gleaming. "How was it?"
"How was what?"
"Shhh, shhh, keep your voice down!" Sheridan hissed. He looked around. The officer's mess was mostly empty, and the other few occupants didn't seem interested in the conversation the two men were having.
"Well," Sheridan stressed the word as he stabbed at his salad with a fork, "A gentleman, Mr. Garibaldi, doesn't kiss and tell."
"Sure, sure…" Garibaldi narrowed his eyes at his superior officer and shook his head. "Must've been some kiss."
It was. Even the memory made John's toes curl. "Michael, don't you have someone else to harass?"
"Not particularly." Garibaldi's face softened. "OK. In all seriousness? I'm happy for you. I remember how you were last year… about Anna. I know moving on hasn't been easy for you, and I just want to say… good for you. Delenn is… pretty special."
"She is," Sheridan agreed with a nod. But at the mention of Anna's name, his memory tugged away at him, and his heart ached just a little at the reminder that he was, when it came down to it, a widower. He had been in love, so in love, before. And if he was honest with himself, that was why he was being so careful with Delenn. The way his heart had broken after he'd received word of the accident… he couldn't bear to go through that again.
"Welcome home… Captain." Anna's lips felt like velvet against his own, a sharp contrast to the rough feel of her hands in his – calloused from years of archaeology expeditions, but like his battle scars, she was proud of them. They proved her experience in her field, and he wouldn't deny her that. John's heart swelled as she greeted him with his new commission.
"Are you kidding? ISN and Universe Today have been all over your promotion like a dog with a bone. 'Minbari War Hero 'Starkiller' John Sheridan Commissioned to Captain,'" Anna quoted as she kissed him again. "Captain Sheridan. It has a nice ring to it."
"I really wish they wouldn't make such a fuss. I'm no hero. I was just trying to stay alive, that's all." John grasped her hand in his and the couple began to amble slowly toward their on-base apartment. "Ah well. What matters is I have a new command waiting for me – after I get a much-needed six-week leave with my beautiful…" He paused as they reached the front door and punched in the code. "Wonderful…" He pushed the door open and pulled her into a deep kiss, their tongues dancing as they crossed the threshold. "Wife. I've missed you," he breathed huskily against her lips.
"Oh Johnny…" Anna sighed as his arms surrounded her. John relished in the warm feel of her, hugging her as tight as he dared. He closed his eyes and inhaled, the familiar scent of her perfume filling his nostrils. "I've missed you too. But I'm so proud of you." She pulled back to cup his face in her hands, giving his clean-shaven cheeks a gentle pat as she smiled at him. "Your own starship."
"Mmmhmmm." He kissed her full on the mouth for a few brief moments before pulling her into another full-body hug. "It's something I've always wanted… but…" He sighed.
"I… think… sometimes… I just wonder… if it's all worth it." Another sigh. "Sometimes I just think… I'd gladly give it all up… to stay home with you."
Anna laughed a little and gave him a sad smile. "John…" She caressed the side of his face gently, and John leaned into the contact. "That's a sweet thought. Really. But it's not the kind of lives we have. It's not the kind of people we are. You know how it is when you have a long leave… for awhile, it's great. But after about two weeks, you're bored out of your skull. You thrive on adventure, excitement, on things happening… And as for me, well… I know it's hard to believe, but while you're up there playing space hero, I do actually have a career of my own." Her fingers trailed across his lips and he returned her sad smile. "You know I'm right."
"Yeah." He leaned down to kiss her again gently. "Well, maybe someday, huh? When we're old and gray…"
She laughed again, and that made him smile more. He did love the way she laughed… he pulled her body tighter against his, glad after months apart to have her in his arms, and kissed her more passionately. "You know, they say you can't have it all," Anna reflected when their lips parted, "But right now… in your arms… I sure feel like I do."
His response was another kiss, quickly improving on the last, as he maneuvered them toward the master bedroom.
"Captain?" Garibaldi was waving a hand in front of John's face, and he blinked several times and snapped his head in the chief's direction. When they made eye contact, the balding man gave a low whistle. "That must have been some kiss. I tell you, in all my years I have never been kissed so well that the memory of it the next day makes me go on a mental vacation like that. You uh… you got something else on your mind?"
"Huh? No, no no no." John shook his head and glanced down at his lunch tray. "But I think I'm about done with this. I need to get back to the War Room anyway, but um. Thanks for the chat."
Garibaldi nodded in response and watched as the captain departed. "Must've been some kind of kiss," he repeated under his breath.
John heard him. He shook his head and didn't turn back, but it was a long walk to the War Room, and his mind was cluttered. He fought off the memories of Anna and tried to focus on Delenn. Were they in a relationship now? Had they been in a relationship before, and he was just too stupid to realize it? I have a knack for being a bumbling fool when it comes to romance. He could hear his own voice clear as a bell, saying those words to Anna, and he laughed without smiling – maybe I should give Delenn a similar warning.
The romance hadn't mattered, though, with Anna, and he suspected it wouldn't matter so much with Delenn either. They had similarities, when it came down to it; both headstrong, both committed to their careers. But it was that, in the end, that had cost Anna her life… maybe I should be more protective of Delenn, he thought absently. Try to dissuade her from taking any undue risks, keep her out of harm's way…
He shook his head to physically dismiss the thought. That would never work. If he did that, she'd kick his ass all the way to Proxima Centauri, and if they were in a relationship now, they wouldn't be in one for long. She would never stand for being protected.
Still… Anna… He sighed. If she'd been more of a home body, if she'd been…
Another sigh as he reached the War Room.
If she'd been anything else, could he have loved her?
If Delenn were anything else, could he love…
"Love?" he mouthed the word to himself, pausing at the top of the stairs. It felt strange, unfamiliar, alien on his lips. His heart ached. Love. The last woman he'd applied that word to… had broken his heart, broken his world… and yet…
"There's been a terrible accident, John."
The sinking feeling he'd had in his gut ever since General Lochshmanan had suggested he take this call privately bottomed out with these words. The rest of his conversation with the general was a blur. He remembered the important parts – the Icarus had exploded just outside the atmosphere of the planet they'd been sent to survey. There were no survivors. Anna was dead. He felt the tears sting at his eyes, but he blinked against them, partly in denial, and partly because in spite of this bomb that had just been dropped on him, he was still in command of the Agamemnon, and he would not let the rest of the crew think he was unfit for that duty, not after he'd just spent months bringing them around and convincing them that he deserved this command, that they should follow his orders, that they should trust him.
The weeks that followed were also a blur, and John went about them as though he was observing tragic events in someone else's life. Not my wife, he thought to himself as he rummaged through their filing cabinet and safe, trying to remember where Anna kept their legal documents, their pension papers… their wills. In fact, it was when he finally located the bundle of papers at the back of the safe and sat down to pull out Anna's will, her burial instructions, her final wishes and rites… that reality hit him like a ton of bricks. It was printed plain as day… I, Anna Jean Sheridan, make this my last will and testament.
For two days, he sat on the floor of the office in their apartment. He couldn't – wouldn't – sleep in their bed. He didn't eat. If he slept, it was only because he passed out from the exhaustion of tears and emotion and pain. The pain… he would never forget this pain. John didn't do emotional pain. He just didn't. He didn't do tears; he didn't do weakness. But his world had just been turned upside down, and among a million other things he didn't know how to deal with – like funeral arrangements and contacting her family and moving on – was the unmistakable emotional pain of loss.
He was vaguely aware of the passage of time, but only because he occasionally had to get up to use the bathroom and in doing so, he passed the clock in the hall. He was also vaguely aware of their Stellarcom beeping, indicating waiting messages. He didn't care. He just sat… and cried… and thought about Anna… until he heard the sound of the door clicking open and then closed, and footsteps entering their apartment.
"Who's there?" His voice was hoarse.
He looked up at his sister's voice as the footsteps reached the threshold of the office and stopped. Her face was red from crying, and her eyes shone with fresh tears. She looked like she hadn't slept in days; her hair was a mess; her shirt untucked. "You look like hell."
Liz laughed at him then, a short, choked laugh that rode in on a sob, and she reached up to wipe her nose as she sniffled. "Speak for yourself." She entered the room and sank down on the floor next to him, pulling her knees up to her chest. "I've been trying to reach you."
"I've been…" He made a general motion with one arm to indicate the room, the legal papers at his feet, and then he threw his head back. "God, Lizzie."
She put her arms around him and he broke down again, only this time it was worse because he had someone to hear him when he asked the questions that had no answers – someone to confirm that they really had no answers. "Why? God in heaven, why? I'm a soldier! She was supposed to bury me! And Lizzie… Fuck. I just want to know, can somebody please just tell me… what she did to deserve this? What did I do to deserve this, and when will it stop hurting, Lizzie? When? I…" He held a clenched fist to his heart, trying to indicate the location and depth of the pain he felt. It was real pain, physical, tangible, and he couldn't explain it if he tried. So he didn't. He just leaned into his sister's offered embrace, and they cried together.
…And yet… here was Delenn, a Minbari, for God's sakes, making him consider it again. He remembered how much it had hurt in those first days. He remembered how hard it had been to bury her when there was, in fact, no body to bury. He didn't even get a chance to say goodbye. It was the worst pain he'd ever felt, worse than any battle wound, and he'd gladly trade it for a PPG burn straight to the heart, because he was certain it would hurt less. But…
"John? Mr. Garibaldi said I would find you here."
But he couldn't take it back, he knew that now. He couldn't stop the small smile that crept across his face at Delenn's appearance in the War Room. No, he couldn't take back the pain of losing Anna, because as horrible as it had been… without it… he wouldn't have Delenn.
If he'd known that back then… if he'd made other choices… he wouldn't have this, here, now. Not for the first time, and not for the last either, he thought… It was better he hadn't known.
"What's wrong?" Concern creased her brow and echoed in her voice.
"Nothing. Nothing." He held out his hand, and she slipped hers instinctively into it. "I was just thinking."
"Oh?" She smiled now, her eyes sparkling. "About what?"
"About how I wouldn't trade you… for anything." He clasped her one hand in both of his now, shaking gently as if to confirm something.
"Something is bothering you."
"I…" He looked away from her and laughed slightly under his breath. When he looked at her again, he sighed. "I'd like to take you to dinner tonight, Ambassador."
"I think that can be arranged."
"And then…" He blushed a little at his next request. "Would you… that is. I would like… to dance with you."
Her smile widened. "Dancing?"
John shrugged. "I… don't know if Minbari do it, but… it's an Earth custom… for a couple… when they… when they feel the way…" He took a step closer to her so that he could feel her body heat, and the last words were quiet, but more confident than the ones that had come before, "The way I feel about you."
Delenn studied his face for a long moment. When she spoke again, her tone was level and serious. "This is about Anna, isn't it?"
How does she always know? "You have to understand. The last time I gave a woman my heart… I…"
"I do understand, John." Her voice was no more than a whisper. "I will dance with you."
He nodded in agreement. "You know… it's funny, really. In another time, another place… I think the two of you could have been friends."
"Perhaps." She still hadn't raised her voice.
He sighed and sat down, picking up a random report and reading through it. "What would you say if I asked you… when the time comes to confront the Shadows in Sector 83… to stay here?"
"I would say…" Now her voice had assumed its usual tone. They weren't looking at each other – he was still feigning reading the report he held, and she was studying a star map – "What is that Human phrase?" She paused to think, and he chanced a peek at her. A smile was tugging at the corner of her mouth. "Up yours." These last words came down like a judge's gavel – definitive and final. No appeal. And, John reflected as he considered the pronouncement, he wouldn't have it any other way.
"That's sort of what I thought."
"Heavenly Father, into your hands we commit the spirit of Anna Sheridan, your humble servant who on Earth was a beloved daughter, wife and friend; who strove every day to commit herself fully to the most important things in her life, among them her husband John and her renowned career as a freelance archaeologist. The accident that befell the science vessel Icarus was a terrible tragedy that claimed 140 lives long before their time. We pray that all of their loved ones, but especially the grieving friends and family of Anna gathered here today, will find peace in the fact that Anna and the others died while in service to Earth, and that they are in a better place, at home in Heaven, where they no longer feel any pain."
John heard the words of the minister, but he was disassociating – I can't see Anna, and she's not here, there's no body, so it's not real. Not my wife. This had been his mantra for the past week and a half, and he held onto it now even as he stood at her memorial service; even as two commissioned Marines came forward and gave him the folded flag; even as he heard the sound of Taps… even as the minister, the same one who had married them, spoke the words that John had memorized and had spoken himself, words that could not have any other meaning: "From the stars we came, and to the stars we return, from now until the end of time."
Anna hadn't been military, but she had died in service to her world, and so her funeral was military standard. That was fine. John had done this before, was familiar with the rites and rituals. It made for less to think about, made it less personal. It could easily be someone else's funeral.
But it wasn't. It was Anna's.
He didn't realize he was crying until he felt Liz's arm come around his shoulders and pull him close. Instinctively, he sought the warmth of her embrace.
Her hand brushed against his cheek and it brought him to the present like a gentle shake of the shoulder – not jolting him from his memories, but coaxing him out of them. He opened his eyes to stare into hers – they weren't green, but grey, and her hair was a tangle of chestnut separated by a ridge of bone, almost like a crown. She felt natural in his arms, he found, as their bodies swayed easily to the music.
"You're a quick study."
She smiled up at him. "I had a very good teacher."
John chuckled from somewhere in his chest, and he couldn't help but reflect on that laughter… he knew, but he wasn't sure Delenn did, that this was his "prelude to intimacy" laugh. Anna had called it that, anyway. It hinged on seductive, felt comforting and warm to a woman he held close, and was reserved for those times when he was ready for a moment that had been something else to progress to a higher level of intimacy. He nodded at his own thoughts and leaned down to kiss his Minbari dance partner, memories of Anna fizzling to the background of his mind.
"Tired?" She asked him, and he realized he'd closed his eyes for the kiss and although their lips had parted, his eyelids remained closed.
"It's been a heck of a day," he affirmed with a nod. "Computer, end program." The music stopped, and they swayed in silence a few more beats before Delenn pulled back from him and moved to his bed. She turned down the covers and ran her hand over his pillow. Then she stepped aside, moved back against the wall and waited.
It took John a moment to realize she was waiting for him to lie down. He smiled awkwardly at her. Then he shrugged and started to undress.
He loved Delenn in that moment for her modesty as she rubbed at her neck and then turned to exit the bedroom to allow him privacy as he got ready for bed. He loved her for a lot of things, actually, but hadn't gotten around to saying those words out loud. Hell, it hadn't been a week since their first kiss, and in that week, his mind had been a jumble of present and past, of dreams and memories of the last time he'd been in love, of how that had gone and how this might go the same way, and was he really ready to take that chance?
And now she wants to watch me sleep. He shook his head and laughed to himself as he stripped off his uniform, noting that it stunk something awful and would need to be washed before he left his quarters tomorrow.
Stripped to his boxers, he cracked the door a bit to let her know she was welcome to join him again, that it was safe for both his modesty and hers, and crawled into bed. "Lights," he ordered, and the room darkened on command.
It was strange – he'd thought that he would feel awkward or self-conscious with Delenn in his room, wide awake and watching him sleep, but it was quite the opposite. Instead he found her presence comforting. He heard her come in, closing the French doors behind her. "Delenn?" He was lying on his back, eyes closed, hands folded over his chest.
"I have a confession."
He could hear the smile in her voice as she responded, "There is no need for disclaimers between us, John. If you have something to tell me, then tell me."
"I think I snore."
Now her laughter filled his bedroom, and he wrapped himself in it, a smile creeping over his own face, though he still didn't open his eyes. "I know that you snore. But only when your sleep is troubled or uncomfortable."
Now he did open his eyes and prop himself up on his elbows to look at her with a creased brow in the darkness. "How do you know all that?"
She sighed in prelude to giving up a confession of her own. "Because I have already watched you sleep for one night." She smiled at him, a coy smile John hadn't thought her capable of. "On the White Star, on our way to Ganymede."
John flopped back down on the bed, his own baritone laughter filling the bedroom. "Ah… Delenn." He sighed dramatically and folded his hands behind his head. "Well then if that's true," he said more seriously, sitting up slightly to give her one last look, "I shouldn't be snoring tonight."
She smiled at him in response, and he fell back onto the bed again, turning onto his side for a moment. As sleep took him, his last thoughts were of the way it felt to have a woman's body spooned against his own – and how he longed to feel that warmth again, from the beautiful woman who would stand watch over him through the night.
He often dreamed of Anna, despite his feelings for Delenn. He expected he would always dream of Anna sometimes, because even though he seemed to finally be moving on, even though he felt less empty because Delenn had filled the holes in his heart that Anna's death had left, John had loved Anna with all his heart and soul, and those kinds of things… time may heal the wound, but it never closes the door entirely. There would always be a place in his heart and a part of his mind reserved only for Anna. It couldn't be helped.
Delenn had told him this, and that's how he knew it was OK that it was true.
It was easier to accept once he'd decided there was no shame in it, no reason to fight against it. He'd been in love. His lover had died, but not the love itself. It never would. And the woman who had his heart now… was comfortable with that.
And so tonight, he didn't wake during his dreams of the redhead, of her voice, of her presence. He was remembering that first dance, the first time he'd held her, the first time he'd fallen in love with her… on a crowded dance floor at his sister's wedding.
She looked a little lost, standing in the sea of dancing couples without a partner. She was so pretty. She was… He searched his mind for another word to describe her, but it was clouded by too much alcohol and the unexpected desire he felt for the young woman before him, and his vocabulary was limited mostly to lame pick-up lines, compliments and one-syllable words. Words like, "Hi," which he offered now as he stood beside her on the dance floor.
"Hi," she returned with a bright smile, her face flushed and her voice barely audible above the blare of the music.
"Want to dance?"
"Sure." He was glad that she seemed equally eluded by big words and long sentences. They began to move with each other to the beat.
"Great party!" He yelled now to be heard over the music and the white noise of alcohol and hormones in his head. There was another simple sentence running circles through his head, one which he could not, would not, no no no… it would not come out of his mouth, but there it was in his mind… Want to fuck? No, those were definitely not the right words. How is it possible that I'm so terrible at relationships? This was not the first time he'd wondered about this, but it was the first time he cared.
John's heart pounded in his chest as Anna's hand touched his and a jolt of electricity shot up his arm and straight to his heart. He raised his eyebrows, emboldened by her touch and by the alcohol and the atmosphere and the… everything… and took her hand with purpose, pulling her close and spinning her around the dance floor. She shrieked with delight. And then the music faded to a slower tempo… they paused for a moment. He'd never remembered this moment so clearly before, not even when it was happening and real, but their eyes locked, and he didn't let go of her hand, and he pulled their bodies against each other and then… then history began.
"You OK?" He breathed into her ear.
She nodded, but there were goosebumps on her arms, and her breath was ragged. He could swear he heard both of their hearts now, pounding in a single rhythm, loud enough to be heard above the music.
"Want to get out of here?"
Another nod and he took her hand and led her purposefully off the dance floor and outside. "Pretty night," she remarked.
"Mmhmm." He pulled Anna to him again, tighter against him this time, and together they found their own music to sway to.
It was a different voice that brought him out of the crystal clear dream and settled him firmly into reality. He blinked several times in the darkness while he got his bearings. It was Delenn's voice, and he was on Babylon 5, and tonight, she was watching him sleep. Except she had just woken him, which seemed completely counterproductive to this ritual, unless she was waking him out of courtesy to tell him she was leaving, that their relationship was over.
The look in her eyes, fearful, regretful, and something else he couldn't pin down, told him that had to be it. His heart sank. Had he spoken Anna's name aloud during the dream? He hadn't meant to. "Delenn, what's…?"
"John there's… there's someone here to see you."
He shook his head and reached out for her hand. She accepted the gesture with more hesitation than she'd ever had when he touched her. "It can wait until morning."
"No, I really don't think it can."
"Who is it?"
She allowed a long pause. "Get dressed," she said quietly, and with a long look that John couldn't interpret to save his life, but without another word, she turned to exit the room, leaving him with little choice but to do as she asked. He sighed at the mystery that was Delenn of Mir and shook the dream about Anna from his mind as he pulled on his robe – anyone stopping by at this time of night was going to get what they asked for – and paused for just a moment, frowning at the dead silence coming from the front room of his quarters. Whatever, he thought. There better be a damn good explanation for this. And he reached for the knobs to pull open his bedroom doors and greet his unexpected late-night visitor with all the courtesy he could muster.