Four Days Later

Four days. Four fucking days. Sheridan saw her once after the night he spent in her quarters, at a Council meeting, and before he even had the chance to smile at her and hope she saw what he really wanted to say in his eyes (the other night was fantastic, I think about you all the time, sometimes you're even wearing clothes), Londo was screaming about something and it was all he could do to keep the proceedings from coming to blows. Aside from that, he hadn't seen Delenn in four days. He remembered that not long ago, it might be a week or two between anything other than quick, vague pleasantries in the corridor, each on their way to something important; he hadn't ever really thought about it much. Now it was an agony, and he was getting distracted.

Eating breakfast in the officer's mess. Some kind of blue...something. Shut up and eat it. He shoveled it in his mouth, feeling like he did when he was a kid, and his mom would make him sit at the table until he cleaned off his plate. One time, it had been green bean casserole, and he'd been determined he would last longer than she did. Stubbornness was a time-honored Sheridan family tradition. After an hour, he'd finally caved. He was pretty sure that ice-cold green bean casserole had tasted better than this glop.

"Captain? You keep staring at the table like that, you're gonna burn a hole right through it." Sheridan looked up to meet Ivanova's eyes. Ivanova, a Russian through and through, never more happy than when she could gloat over someone else's suffering. She smiled at him now, and he wondered how long he'd been sitting there like a man ready to throw a punch.

"I'm not having a good day," he allowed.

"Yeah, we know."

"We?"

"Garibaldi and I were talking about it last night," she said casually, finishing off her breakfast with aplomb.

"Last night?"

"After he asked you to review some security cam from the Zocolo and you snapped at him that you had a mountain of paperwork to fill out."

"I do not snap. I am not a snapper."

"You snapped." Now Sheridan stared at her, wondering if the hole he burned through the center of her forehead would smoke first, or if it would just glow red, and then, brains. "Now, whatever's got you in that mood, is it affecting your ability to do your job?"

"Nothing is affecting my ability to do my job. I'm fine."

"Because I'm the XO of this station, and if my CO's just going to stalk around, snapping at his command staff, and you can take that look and shove it, if ever there was a snap it was you, last night, snapping, then I need to know it."

"There's nothing you need to know."

"Mmhmm." Sometimes he really hated Ivanova. In a minute or two, she was somehow going to divine exactly what was going on. He would blink one time too many in a given minute and she would just know. And he knew he'd never hear the end of it. "John, I'm serious. I wouldn't bring it up if I didn't think there was something going on." Oh, fuck it.

He shoveled the rest of his breakfast into his mouth. Said something that came out as "Glurb prawm."

"What was that?" Ivanova asked, leaning forward, looking for all the world like a woman about to open a birthday present.

"Girl problem." He waited for the entire mess to fall silent, for everyone to look his way, eyes knowing. He waited for at least a few chuckles, plenty of sardonic grins. But everyone just kept eating, no pauses in the conversations all around. Sheridan finally worked up the courage to look back up at Ivanova. The grin that covered her face made something start to itch behind his eyes. "So?" he challenged her. "You don't have anything to say?"

"Well, I'd try laying down with a hot water bottle; if it gets really bad you should probably talk to Franklin. The pills they've got these days..." He threw his napkin at her; she grabbed it and both their trays, and after she dumped them she headed for the exit, expecting him to follow in her usual imperious way.

They walked down the corridor a ways before Ivanova cleared her throat ostentatiously, hands behind her back. The picture of innocence. He ignored her. She cleared her throat again. He ignored her more loudly.

"Who is it?" she blurted out.

"Not telling."

"How can I help you if I don't know who it is?" He rounded on her then, a finger in her face. He had to nip this in the bud or Ivanova would systematically ruin his life in her attempt to make it better. God, if she found out it was Delenn...

"No help. I don't need any help."

"But you said-"

"If you attempt to help me, I will throw you in the brig."

"You can't throw me in the brig."

"I can, and I will."

"Just-"

"Brig!"

xxx

Back in his quarters at the end of a very long day, Sheridan took off his jacket, flung it into the corner. After spending more than half his life in the military, he couldn't keep his quarters anything other than neat as a pin any more than he could stop breathing just for the fun of it, but there were times when making a mess was the most satisfying thing he could do. He kicked his shoes off, one that way, one the other. Socks in the general direction of his bedroom - and he wasn't going to wash the stupid fucking things tonight, either.

God, he needed a drink. He knew he didn't have a goddamn thing in here, but he looked through his cabinets and drawers anyway. He was getting ready to go check his closet when he saw the blinking on the Babcom. Sheridan knew that it was probably just a message from Garibaldi, or Franklin, or one of the ambassadors. But as he turned back to the screen, he let himself hope. Maybe it was her.

It was Garibaldi. If it were an emergency, he would have gotten a call on his link, so he shut it off. He'd watch it in the morning.

The chime that announced someone outside his door rang, like some miserable, evil cherub singing that he was never going to get laid again, and certainly not with her, never ever. "What?" he snapped, and he actually heard himself snapping this time. Wondered if Ivanova was right, and he really had spent the last couple days storming through the station like some kind of deranged angry spirit.

"Captain?" Her voice, oh, it was her voice, but she sounded so unsure of herself. Probably wondering who had replaced him with some horrible asshole. (He wondered what the Minbari word for 'asshole' was; probably something beautiful that meant 'he who stands in the way of his own enlightenment" or something.)

"Open!" And where two minutes earlier a man who was nothing but a huge disembodied frown had stood, now there was a man who had just run downstairs on Christmas morning to find exactly what he wanted under the tree. Delenn was standing just outside his door, already half-turned away.

"This is a bad time."

"No, no, no. Please, come in." Sheridan waved her in, and they stood just inside the door, alternately smiling at each other and looking at their own feet. Now that she was finally in front of him, he couldn't think of a single thing to say.

"You sounded upset," she said. Had she been this beautiful the last time he saw her? He didn't think so.

"I'm not anymore." More looking and smiling. She wasn't bringing up some Council business, or asking him questions about any of the more recent crises, so it seemed like she had stopped by just to see him. She wasn't wearing her outer robe, the one with the shoulder caps; without it she looked so small, almost fragile. "You know," he drawled, ├╝ber-casual, "the human greeting ritual is remarkably similar to our farewell ritual."

"Is that so?" Delenn asked, in a lovely way that told him she was willing to go along with whatever it was he said, willing to go on a little journey with him. He closed the distance between them, put his hands on either side of her face, and kissed her. He kept it short, nearly chaste - suddenly he felt no need to rush anything. Wanted to savor every moment, every step.

"How was your day?" he asked, leading her over to the couch, and this time when they sat down together, there was no pretense, no pretending they didn't want to sit right next to each other. He put an arm around her waist, and she curled up next to his side.

"Long. Yours?" He just grunted in response. He didn't want to talk. He just wanted to feel her warm body against his, surreptitiously smell her hair, sneak a look down the front of her robes. Couldn't see a thing, though; it made sense that a member of the religious caste would wear something dignified and modest. Didn't mean he liked it. Although there was something remarkable in how alluring she could be covered up head to toe.

There was that feeling again, that this was what happened every day. That he came back to his quarters after a long day and sat down with Delenn, soaked her up. Sheridan didn't feel any need to interrupt the silence. He couldn't have said how long they just sat.

Finally she stirred. "John. What did your clothes do to make you so angry with them?" Shit. He jumped up, gathered the offending articles, wishing he'd done it before he'd let her in. He didn't want her to think he was a slob.

"Um, can I get you something to drink?" Now he was feeling awkward again. He should have asked her if she wanted anything ages ago. Suggested they watch a vid. Talked. She probably hadn't come over to just sit and stare into space.

"No, thank you. Come back and sit down with me." He wasn't going to argue with that. As he sat, though, he saw her look at him quite intently, holding her hand out for his. Maybe she did have something important to talk about, and had been putting it off. He hoped it wasn't anything too bad.

She leaned over and kissed him. Sheridan was glad her eyes were already closed, because he stared at her in shock for a second or two. She hadn't exactly been reticent, but she hadn't initiated anything before now, either. She sure as hell had initiated this, though; her tongue was already in his mouth, her hands in his hair. She had drawn up on her knees beside him, and once he regained his senses, he pulled her over onto his lap, her legs to one side; he didn't figure she could straddle him in that robe, anyway.

This was definitely better than talking. This was better than eating, or breathing. Who needed to breathe? Delenn did, it turned out, and she came up for air, gasping against his cheek. Sheridan took the opportunity to kiss her throat. Goddamned high collar; he tried to figure out how to undo the top few snaps of her robe, but they were soldered shut or something. She leaned back, and he was terrified that she was going to say that he was moving too fast, was going to tell him that she just wasn't that kind of girl. Looking at him with dark eyes, she easily unhooked the top two snaps, then held up a finger.

"That's all."

"Yes, sir," he muttered, then dove back in. He was glad she had human ears, sampling one of her earlobes; Minbari ears kinda creeped him out. Plus, it gave him more lovely long white neck to kiss. She tasted good; he licked the notch in her collar bone, and she hummed at that. He could feel the vibration against his lips. Then Delenn grabbed his head, pulled him back up to her mouth.

"Shouldn't be doing this," she murmured after awhile, pulling back to pepper his face with tiny, perfect kisses.

"Why not?"

"I'm religious caste. There's an order to things. Rituals, traditions."

"Then go back to your quarters."

"Don't want to." He rolled her over then, laid her down on the couch. Arranged himself over her, most of his weight on his elbows and legs on either side of her body; he was afraid he'd crush her otherwise. He'd been married twice, with a few other women before and in between, but he felt like he'd never kissed anyone before this. Maybe no one in the whole universe had kissed, really kissed, before this moment. They were discovering it together for the first time.

His link beeped. "Captain, you turn in yet? Something's come up." Thank God it was Ivanova. She'd understand. Sheridan raised the link to his mouth, settling down a little more firmly on Delenn as he did so.

"Is it an emergency? I've got a code SX-1 here."

A pregnant pause. "No emergency here, sir." He was going to face the third degree tomorrow, he knew it. "Congratulations, sir."

"Shut up." He cut the connection, then looked down at Delenn. Her hair was strewn over the cushion beneath her; he wanted to see it spread over his pillow like that. There was a lovely pink flush in her cheeks, and her eyes positively sparkled. "Hey," he whispered, and drew a finger along her smooth brow. "Do you want to stay here tonight?" She didn't answer, just looked at him, and he could tell she wasn't sure exactly what he was asking. "Just to sleep. No funny business, scout's honor."

"You may sleep," she finally said. "I will watch."

"Watch what?"

"Watch you sleep." She looked so happy beneath him, he didn't want to ruin it, but he did not have a clue what she was talking about.

"Why would you want to watch me sleep?"

"It's an important ritual," she said, then closed her eyes and bit her bottom lip as he shifted a bit on top of her. "I should have watched you sleep before I kissed you. I have felt a little guilty about it the last few days."

"Really?" There was something oddly endearing in that. "So how exactly does this ritual work?"

"When you sleep, your true face is revealed. I must observe it, study it, and decide whether or not we should continue exploring this relationship."

"So...there's a chance you won't like what you see, and that'll be that?" She smiled up at him, twined her arms around his neck, and pulled him back down.

xxx

Delenn was in the head, changing into the t-shirt he had given her. At least he hoped she was - she'd examined it from every angle after he'd handed to her. "It's clean," he'd said, pretty sure that it was. As soon as she'd left, he had changed into his own sleep shirt and pajama pants, then sat on the edge of his bed, feeling unsure and nervous and excited all at the same time.

Not that kind of excited, buddy, he sternly told his lap. That was the last thing he needed. He'd promised her no funny business, and he'd meant it. He got the impression that as much as she might want him (and he found himself wondering if she'd picked up any human hormones, and if that had anything to do with it), she was also conflicted because of her culture and religious upbringing. He didn't want to pressure her, make her feel that he was only interested in her sexually. Sheridan was well aware that he was falling for her, really falling for her, and he would make sure she knew it.

Delenn emerged, and Sheridan thought, not for the first time, that there were few things sexier than a woman wearing a man's shirt and nothing else. Her legs were heavenly, not that that was surprising to him at this point. He watched her unconsciously tug down the hem of the t-shirt, which stopped quite a few inches above her knees.

"I brought you a chair," he pointed out, and she sat in it more gracefully than a woman wearing just a t-shirt should be able to do. He hunted down an extra blanket from his closet and handed it to her, watching as she spread it over her legs. "Can I get you anything else? A pillow, a glass of water?"

She shook her head at him, and was looking him up and down, gravely. What had he done wrong now? He sat down on the edge of the bed across from her. She opened her mouth once, drawing in a breath, then closed it. Sheridan realized there was something she hadn't told him yet.

"What is it, Delenn?"

"During the day, we wear the face we wish others to see. It is a shield, between our true face and the world. The same is true of our clothing. We use it as a barrier, something to help keep our most private self truly private." She wanted him...to take off all his clothes. Okay. That was obviously the next logical step. He nodded, stood, tugged off his shirt. Started to untie the drawstring on his pants when she looked down at her lap, and even in the dim light he could see the flush that overtook her face.

"Am I not supposed to be naked?"

"No, you are. I just..."

"Close your eyes and I'll do it quick, then hop under the covers. Can I be under the covers?"

"You may."

Off came the pants. In the two seconds it took him to climb into bed and pull the covers up to his chest, he felt incredibly vulnerable. Her eyes were screwed shut, and he knew she hadn't seen anything, and wouldn't see anything, and she wasn't exactly dressed up herself, but he still felt completely exposed. Which was the point of the ritual, he supposed.

"All tucked in." Delenn opened her eyes, and he smiled at her, wanted to reassure her. A look came over her face that he couldn't interpret - there was tenderness in it, and affection, and a little surprise, he thought. Then he saw her eyes go shiny, and realized she was fighting back tears.

"Thank you," she whispered, and he had to resist the urge to go over to her and kiss her senseless. He just nodded, then rolled over on his side so he could look at her.

"John," she finally said, after a few minutes. "You will not be able to go to sleep if you do not close your eyes." So he closed his eyes, but his mind was racing, every thought tumbling loudly. He was hyper-aware of her presence, was sure he could even smell her. There was the faintest sound - what had she just done? He didn't know, and it was driving him crazy. But he knew she was watching him, watching his face, so he couldn't peek or she'd scold him again.

The mattress dipped beside him, and he felt her sit next to his hip. Her hand pressed against his brow, smoothed it. "You are making the most horrible face. You should not frown so." He laughed at that, and looked up at her. Then she curled up on top of the covers facing him, the blanket over most of her legs, but he could see the curve of one calf, silver against the dark comforter.

"When I was a young girl," she said quietly, "my mother joined the Sisters of Valeria. After she left home, I had trouble sleeping. At first I did not know that my mother's absence was the reason. I would lie awake every night, and watch the moons ride across the sky, and worry about sleeping. And the more I worried, the more awake I became, no matter how tired I was, no matter how little sleep I'd had the night before." He covered one of her hands with his own, feeling honored that she would share this with him. The fact that she had once been a child was extraordinary to him for some reason. "My father found out one day when I fell asleep during evening meal. I was most ashamed, but he only said to me, 'Delenn, when we sleep, we allow ourselves communion with the universe. Think of yourself sinking into the universe's embrace, and know that you are cherished.' That night I finally cried for my mother, and was able to sleep."

Sheridan felt himself fall in love with her, in that moment. He reached for her, and she curled up against him, her head on his shoulder, one of her legs slung across his hip. He squeezed her close, wanting to pull her inside of him somehow.

"Can you watch me sleep some other night?" He felt her nod, and he kissed her forehead, smoothed her hair away from her face.

He held her, and fell asleep.