Evaluation

12 February 2260

0700 hours

Three more had died during the night. Two Centauri who had never made it out of their rooms; two heart attacks in the dark; alone, scared. Over a full day before anyone came to help. Franklin couldn't think of anything that could have been done differently, but it still gnawed at him. The third was the female pilot who had been poisoned with the Carnifex blood. He had thought yesterday she was responding well to their newest idea, but apparently she'd had another seizure in the night, and this time she didn't pull through.

Franklin finished reading last night's log, wishing he'd been here - he couldn't help but feel that if he had, he could have saved her. The other four poisoned slaves - the two maintenance workers from the aft docking bay, a Brakiri hustler and a Minbari worker found still guarding a room in Grey Twelve hours after the last Carnifex was dead - were all still critical, in drug-induced comas while they ran their tests.

Franklin was beginning to fear he wouldn't be able to fix them.

He needed to start his rounds. Sand in his eyes - he'd had a fitful night's sleep, tossing and turning, never seeming to fall any deeper than a doze. There was a stim in his desk that was calling to him, but he wanted to wait till at least after lunch. Garibaldi had been sleeping last night when he checked on him, but all his read-outs looked good. He'd let him go today. Ivanova had demanded release yesterday, and Franklin had allowed it - he was too tired to fight with her, and if he hadn't signed her out, she would have just left anyway. The last he'd seen of her, she was still too pale, and he ordered her to check in every day; he wasn't holding his breath.

"How's it going?" he asked Leshke, who was putting his Babcom back together. Maintenance was going to be backed up for weeks, so anyone who had any kind of technical expertise was being rustled up to help.

"Good," she said, and Franklin knew he wouldn't get anything more than that. He grabbed his diagnostic and a clipboard, feeling petulant and old. Everyone else seemed to have gotten a few days off to rest; after the Carnifex had been destroyed he'd been right back at work, barely a moment to breathe since. But that was how it usually went.

Before he started, he took the stim. Fuck it.

xxx

0730 hours

Sheridan woke up in stages. The first stage was pain. Not so bad now, but his pills had worn off during the night. It was the puncture wounds in his arm that hurt the most, which surprised him, since he'd nearly forgotten about his fight with that single Carnifex almost immediately after it happened. They were starting to itch under the pain, and Sheridan knew he was going to fight scratching at them all day.

The next stage was warmth. He'd forgotten how soft his bed was, how thick and heavy his blankets, how perfect his pillows. A nice, warm cocoon, and it would have been hard enough to get out of bed anyway, if he had been alone.

The last stage was Delenn. He could feel her hip against his, her stomach under his arm. Sheridan opened his eyes, and her face was turned his way, relaxed in sleep. This was the third morning he had awakened to this sight; her door was still broken, and she had made maintenance put her name at the bottom of the to-do list. They were in no hurry. Lennier had moved her valuables into a rented room, but she hadn't set foot inside. There had never been any discussion that she would stay with him; they hadn't needed one.

There had been few survivors who had been beat up worse than her, but she had categorically refused to spend the night in Medlab, and Franklin hadn't seemed in the mood to argue. After she'd had her ribs wrapped tightly, her arm put in a cast, her shoulder popped back into its socket, and her feet bandaged - while Sheridan had his own injuries, seemingly minor in comparison, taken care of - they'd hobbled up to his quarters and slept like the dead. Sheridan hated leaving the station essentially in the hands of Lieutenant Corwin, but he had been in no state to make any decisions.

The last two days had been a blur. Ships had piled up outside. While Sheridan was grateful that Mr. Lennier had managed to "recruit" so many fighters, Green Sector was in chaos, nearly a quarter of the rooms with hacked door mechanisms needing to be repaired. Zack had needed to put almost half the station's security there to keep looting from getting out of hand. Most of the population had been trapped for over twenty-four standard hours, and many had not handled it well. But all things considered, they were back on their feet, and with a little bit of luck (the last thing he needed was a new crisis), things would be back to normal soon.

Sheridan reached up and brushed the hair back from Delenn's face, still fighting moments when he couldn't believe she was alive, that she was real. He still didn't know what had happened to her after she'd been dragged out of the water reclamation room by the Minbari; the one time he had asked, she had told him that she didn't want to talk about it. Something in her voice told him that now was not the time to press.

He hadn't meant to wake her, but her eyes fluttered open, and her cheek curved up into the palm of his hand as she smiled. He ran his thumb over her temple and the place where her bone crest blended into her skin. Sheridan didn't know how much time he had before he would need to get up and get going - not enough.

"You're watching me sleep," she murmured. He nodded, moving his hand down to her neck, running his fingers through the hair at the base of her head. Scratched her scalp there, and smiled at the way her eyes slid closed again. "What did you see?"

"You looked like you were having a nice dream," he answered. She'd had a nightmare night before last, had actually woke him up with a good, hard slap in the face as she'd thrashed about. He'd had to hold her for nearly an hour before she stopped shivering.

"It was nice. I was on Minbar, up in the mountains. We were building a temple, and I was in charge of the flowers." She opened her eyes again, and Sheridan wondered if she knew that she possessed him completely, if she could see it in his eyes. "It seemed quite logical while I was dreaming."

"Dreams always do." A shadow passed over her face then, and again he wanted to ask her what had happened to her. What the Minbari had done. Instead, he kept his voice light. "Will you be at the meeting this afternoon?"

"Yes. I also have a few things I would like to accomplish this morning. I have a feeling the meeting will run long."

"What kind of things? Anything I can do for you?"

"I am tired of being cooped up. Besides, I am perfectly capable of walking where I need to go."

"I know." Damn it, but it would be nice just for once if one of the women he fell in love with would occasionally let him take care of her. All of them, headstrong, independent, far stronger than they appeared. It was a Catch-22; that was why he loved them. Delenn looked like she was preparing for whatever argument he would make next - he could see a little list growing behind her eyes - so he leaned over and kissed her. Slow and gentle, just the simple pressure of lips on lips; it would be awhile before they'd be able to do anything other than just look at first base. Sheridan could feel her relax, and he ran his hand gently along as much of her as he could. He knew Minbari weren't as physically demonstrative as humans, but she wasn't complaining, and he felt like he needed to touch her whenever he could.

Then his alarm went off, and she jumped a little more than the quiet beeping justified. Sheridan rolled over, feeling eighty years old, and turned it off. Rolled back over, and she had turned her head to look the other way. There was nothing over there but wall, and he wondered what she was thinking about. He kissed her neck, more as an excuse to draw a big breath of her into his lungs, then forced himself out of bed. He had a hundred things to do before the meeting and nearly all of them unpleasant, but they wouldn't get done if he didn't get going. He pulled on his uniform, wincing at every movement, then turned, expecting to see her watching him, that soft smile on her face. But she was still looking at the wall, and when he left, he did so with the first cloud of worry growing inside.

xxx

0800 hours

Garibaldi had always loved walking the station. Out on his feet, up and down the corridors, through the different sectors, seeing as many faces as he could. It was the only way to really know the mood of the station, and he couldn't do his job if he didn't know whether people were jumpy or happy or anxious or angry. He couldn't walk much today; Franklin had released him from Medlab with a stern warning that if he pushed himself, he'd risk pneumonia or another collapsed lung - or both. Moreover, Zack had assured him that he had everything under control, and that Garibaldi should take some time off and get himself healed back up. Still, he wanted to see at least a little before the meeting, and he wanted to get back into the swing of things.

He was walking through Red Sector, and it was disconcerting, seeing the empty booths, the food carts with no jostling, angry queues in front; strange to be able to walk freely down the central corridor without running into one of every type of alien on B5 within ten minutes. A lot of people didn't seem to feel quite ready to come out into the open yet, and he couldn't really blame them. Garibaldi himself felt that the station had revealed itself, not as the friend and home he'd thought it to be, but as a knife ready to twist and cut the hand that held it. He found himself tensing up as he approached bends and corners, holding his breath when he heard someone approach.

Worst of all, Garibaldi found himself wishing he could have a drink. He kept replaying that long moment at the edge of Grey Sector, Ivanova unconscious beside him on the floor, the three Carnifex coming his way. He had given up, closed his eyes and waited to be torn to shreds, just for the promise of a drink. He knew that staying sober was a battle that would never truly end, but he'd thought he was doing better than that. Had he really chosen alcohol over his own life? Was that what he was reduced to, when everything went to shit and he was out of options?

There was a rare spirits shop up ahead; Centauri Brevari and real Earth wines and that Brakiri drink that tasted like motor oil but burned for hours in the absolute best way. For the first time since he'd been on the station, Garibaldi went inside.

xxx

0830 hours

Delenn rang the bell again and waited, far longer than it would have taken anyone to answer the door in such small quarters, even though she knew that if Laetitia were inside, she had decided not to answer. She had come down yesterday, as well, and had been met with similar silence.

She was closer to the room Lennier had rented for her than she was to John's quarters, and she needed to pick up a few things anyway, so she headed that way. She didn't like the way the pain medication Dr. Franklin had prescribed for her made her head feel - fuzzy and disconnected - so she didn't take it this morning. She hadn't had a choice the day before, with John hovering nearby, but thankfully he had left this morning before she'd even dressed herself. Everything hurt, maybe even worse than that long day, but Delenn relished the pain, made herself feel it as much as she could. She deserved it.

Inside the little rented room, furnished with the bare minimum, her belongings stacked in such a way that she could barely navigate to the com unit. Once there, she turned the system on, then stood in front of the blue light for a long time, not seeing the screen in front of her but a ship from long ago. Smoke and dead bodies and screams. Dukhat whispering something to her, but she could not understand his words. No mercy! she had screamed, and war had followed. John had fought in that war, had been defined in large measure by that war. Had lost friends and family in that war. And she was the cause, she had set it into motion, started them all down that road that led only to death and ruin. She slept beside him in his bed, let him touch her and kiss her; she was so selfish. If he knew, he would hate her, just as the John from her nightmare had, the John that had spit at her and pushed her away. He would never know, not unless she told him, and if she didn't, that was the worst lie of all.

Delenn was standing in front of the com unit, and she could have been there for ten minutes or ten hours; she had no way of knowing. Her ribs hurt so much she could barely keep standing.

"Record message from Ambassador Delenn for Registered Telepath Laetitia Barberini. Laetitia, I hope this message finds you well. I wished to tell you that if it were not for you and your strength I would not have survived this recent ordeal. I know that I dragged you into great danger, and then abandoned you. There is no way I can ever adequately apologize. I can only say this: I could not have left him. I do not ask you to understand or forgive. I only want to wish you joy."

xxx

Laetitia never heard that message, was at that moment negotiating with the Corps to purchase her a ticket back to Mars. She left two days later, and never set foot on Babylon 5 again.

xxx

0930 hours

Ivanova felt good. Better than good, she felt great. Better than great, she felt fan-fucking-tastic. Sure, she was still tired, and her side still hurt like a son of a bitch, and she was going to be busy every second she was awake for the foreseeable future, but she had survived. Survived a real fight, out in the trenches, not just standing around in C and C telling other people what to do. She still felt a little high from the whole experience - although part of that might just be the good stuff Franklin had put her on.

Down to the brig, and there was only one prisoner who mattered - the Minbari. Ivanova could have watched through the monitors, but she really wanted to see the bastard's face. Past the guards, the Minbari telepaths resting outside the door between interrogation sessions, and there he was, chained up securely to a chair. Awake, and looking at her. Ivanova smiled at him and wished she could have ten minutes with him all to herself - but she was well aware that everything was being recorded.

"How're you feeling?" Ivanova made herself lean up against the wall just as easy as could be, even though she could feel the knife wound complain like a motherfucker at the angle. The Minbari said nothing, just glared up at her with his remaining eye. "I bet they're not pumping you full of those nice painkilling meds like I've got. I bet those little scratches I gave you just hurt like the dickens right about now. See, I hear that without your little monster buddies, you're not quite as powerful as you used to be. Not able to block out all that pain on your own."

Ivanova waited, but the Minbari stayed silent. She didn't think she'd ever seen so much hate on a face before. She was glad the chains were there. "Guess what? We captured your little ship. The one that was coming to pick you up." Did his eye twitch at that? "Found lots more of those little zombies of yours. And there was someone else..."

That did it. He lunged at her, only moving an inch or so before the chains bit into his arms and legs and torso. Ivanova smiled again, and leaned down good and close.

"I promise, once we figure out what we're going to do with her, we'll let you know."

xxx

1430 hours

The command staff wasn't scheduled to meet in the conference room for another half-hour, but Sheridan found himself walking that direction anyway. He was a little cranky, the way he got when he felt tired and overworked, and he was hungry but didn't have much of an appetite. What he really wanted was to see Delenn - the sight of her face alone was like a balm for all that troubled him. He'd been thinking about her, about the way she'd turned away to just stare at the wall. She'd been through a traumatic experience, so it wasn't surprising that she was taking some time to deal with it. Still, he wondered if he should suggest she talk about it; if not to him, then to a counselor or something.

Franklin and Garibaldi were already in the conference room, on opposite sides of the table, just sitting there silently. Sheridan sat down himself. There was a weird vibe in the room, the silence strained and not at all companionable. Sheridan found he couldn't quite bring himself to break it, so he looked through his papers, not really reading the words on the pages. Ivanova and Zack joined them, and finally Delenn.

He could tell the minute she walked into the room that she was in pain - too much pain. Sheridan wondered whether she'd remembered to take her pills this morning. He smiled up at her, but she didn't even glance his way, just sat down and looked at her hands.

"Okay," Sheridan said, knowing that he was going to be distracted over her the whole meeting now, "why don't we start with you, Stephen." Franklin took a long beat before answering.

"Six hundred twenty-three casualties. A quarter of those from the interruption of medical services only. The Brakiri and Minbari poisoned by Carnifex blood died this morning. The other two...I'd be surprised if they were still alive by this time tomorrow. The same goes for the half-dozen we found on the Minbari's ship. Without the Minbari controlling them, their bodies seem to fight to reject the Carnifex blood - we're seeing seizures, cardiac arrest. I don't know..."

Stephen trailed off, and Sheridan felt bad for him. He knew that the doctor hated losing patients at the best of times, and having to sign over six hundred death certificates in just a few days was definitely taking its toll. It seemed everyone else felt the same way, and that silence descended again. Sheridan glanced over at Franklin, but the doctor was staring at a paper in front of him. Sheridan didn't even think, but dropped his eyes to what Franklin was reading.

Pros: Work longer, more shifts.

Cons: Becoming a son of a bitch.

Before Sheridan could even begin to think about what that meant, Stephen went on. "We've done autopsies on several more of the Carnifex corpses. The ones who died in Green Sector, who had drank the contaminated blood, didn't reveal much; the Vitamin C continued to eat through their flesh and especially their brains long after they died. But there were two bodies in relatively good condition that let us learn quite a bit: they were riddled with cancers and tumors, and they're radioactive. Once we get back on track, I want everyone who had any contact with one, even if they were just in the same room, to come in for treatment. If the stories are right and they live in the voids between stars, they probably use nuclear power. Maybe unshielded. You probably noticed that they didn't have eyes; the optic nerve was there but atrophied. That's all I can say for sure right now; we'll be running tests for a long time." Another heavy silence fell, everyone lost in their own thoughts. Sheridan tried to imagine the home of the Carnifex, out in the dead of space, populated by blind, radioactive monsters, and could not.

Zack finally broke the silence. "Green Sector's getting all locked up again. Probably will be done in a day or two. Maintenance is really busting their ass out there; have we thought about maybe giving them a bonus?"

"Don't know that we have the money for that," Sheridan said, knowing that Zack was right. "I'll see what we can do, though."

"I asked the Minbari telepaths what they'd learned," Ivanova said, shifting a bit in her chair. Sheridan watched as she brought up a hand to her side, seemingly unconsciously. "But they said they weren't authorized to tell me anything. I assume they reported to you, Ambassador?"

Sheridan looked up at Delenn, and winced when he saw how tired she looked. Tired, and pained, and he wondered if she were coming down with something; her skin looked nearly transparent, her eyes fever-bright. She spoke without her usual strong, confident manner; quietly, sentences trailing off, addressing the table rather than the people sitting around it.

"The Minbari's name is Jallenn. A telepath, the equivalent of a human P12. At least, as he was evaluated eight years ago, before he left Minbar as part of a diplomatic mission to a newly discovered race on the edge of civilized space. The ship never returned and was presumed to have been lost in hyperspace. Looking through his records, there is nothing that indicates he would become such a vicious individual; before his disappearance, Jallenn was a valued member of his caste and clan, always performing his work in the best tradition of Minbari service.

"The telepaths have learned much from his mind. His ship was boarded by the Carnifex, who killed everyone on board except for Jallenn and his sister, a telepath herself. Jallenn negotiated with the Carnifex telepathically, and swore his allegiance to them in return for his sister's survival. Apparently, the Carnifex were having a harder and harder time controlling their puppets - too many millennia of divergent evolution. The Carnifex gave Jallenn something more than just allowing his sister to live; they were able to amplify his telepathic powers, and it seems that it was this more than anything else that eventually corrupted him."

"His sister, was she involved in any of this? I mean, what are we going to do with her?" Ivanova asked, looking like she could think of any number of things she'd like to do to her.

Delenn paused, and just when Sheridan thought she wouldn't answer, she finally said in a low voice, "She has lost her mind. She will be sent home to Minbar, where her physical needs will be met with as much charity as is possible."

"And Jallenn?"

"The Grey Council does not wish for his involvement in the attack on Babylon 5 to be known. They are willing to allow you to choose whichever punishment you wish in return for your discretion." Sheridan didn't know if she was talking to him specifically or to the command staff as a whole. He knew that in the end, the decision would be his.

"Is there anything else?" he asked the room, and there was no answer from anyone. Ivanova looked at him with jaw set, and he knew she was probably already making a list of ways they could "punish" the Minbari, and would likely figure out how many they could get through before finally killing him. Zack was looking around like he didn't recognize the others, who were all lost in their own thoughts, looking at their notes or their hands or the table.

Sheridan gathered up his notes, feeling a bit piqued. Yes, they were all tired and overworked and most of them were still plenty banged up, but why did everyone seem so goddamn morose? Hadn't they won? Everyone else took the silence following his question as the signal to leave, and within a minute the room had emptied out. All except for Delenn, slowly rising out of her chair, clearly having difficulty doing so.

"Let me help you," he said, going over to take her arm, but she pushed herself upright and adroitly turned away from him before he could get to her side. He walked her to the door, wondering what he had done or said, that now she wouldn't even look at him. "Are you going to be okay getting back to my quarters? I have a couple things I have to take care of."

He didn't think she would answer him. "I'll be fine," she finally said, and still without ever once looking at him the entire time they'd been in the same room together, she left. Sheridan watched as Lennier, who had been waiting outside, came up and asked her something. She spoke to him briefly and continued on her way, leaving her Minbari aide looking as taken aback as Sheridan himself felt.

xxx

1630 hours

Lennier waited outside the conference room for Delenn; the other members of the command staff started leaving, all on their own, no conversation at all. Everyone's faces seemed drawn, anxious. Lennier didn't think anyone could look more unhappy than either Mr. Garibaldi or Dr. Franklin until he saw Delenn, walking slowly beside the Captain, the last ones to leave.

It wasn't surprising, the two of them lingering together after a meeting; they had been doing so for months. Usually they talked more animatedly than this, though; Sheridan had his head bent low next to hers, his face intense, and Lennier could tell that Delenn was barely listening, that she had retreated into herself. They paused for a moment in the threshold, and the Captain was staring at her with such an angry, almost possessive look that Lennier found himself involuntarily taking a step forward. But then Delenn said something and started walking his way, the Captain remaining behind, looking confused.

He waited until she had nearly reached him, which took longer than he would have expected, but she was walking more slowly than usual. "Delenn? Several Minbari merchants who were aboard Babylon 5 during this latest crisis wished to speak with you before they departed."

"They will have to wait. I have something I must attend to." Without waiting for his response, Delenn left. Lennier looked, but Sheridan had turned away as well. Lennier thought about what he had just witnessed.

He had spent the last few days stewing about how foolish he had been to make the same mistake twice. Before, when Delenn was being held by the Inquisitor, Lennier had obeyed her wish that he not interfere, and instead had run to tell Sheridan about what was taking place. Not long after he had informed the Captain about the situation, Delenn had called him from her quarters to tell him that everything was fine, that she was well. Lennier had had only a moment to feel relieved before he'd heard Sheridan's voice, asking her a question, right there in her quarters. After that, they had seemed much closer than before. Lennier hadn't known exactly what their relationship entailed until a few days ago, when again he did not go in to rescue her himself, but left it to someone else. He knew she had not been sleeping in her rented room; she had been sleeping with Sheridan, and every time he thought about it Lennier found himself overwhelmed with guilt, with anger, with a horrible sense of loss.

But now he wondered if maybe he hadn't interpreted everything incorrectly. They did not appear happy together; far from it. They had just left in opposite directions. Delenn normally was not preoccupied, was usually very attentive to anyone's request to speak with her. Something was wrong. Lennier would have to make doubly sure that he was ready to respond to anything she asked of him as quickly as he could. Perhaps Sheridan was simply too busy the last few days to pay much attention to her. Lennier would be there for anything she needed. That was his place.

As he headed back toward Green Sector, Lennier couldn't help the small smile that played over his face.

xxx

1930 hours

Delenn had almost finished packing her few possessions that had been moved into John's quarters - mostly clothes, which had managed to spread themselves far and wide. Some still neatly folded on his couch, one set of robes hanging in his closet, one set in the thermal unit, and one set she found under the edge of the bed, badly wrinkled. She tried to remember if she had undressed that first afternoon, when they finally made it back to his quarters after being attended to in Medlab; that first day after the Carnifex had been defeated was a general blur, and besides, she wouldn't let herself focus.

If she focused, if she thought about what she was doing, she was afraid she'd lose what tiny scrap of willpower she had left. She didn't want to leave, didn't want to spend the night alone in a strange bed, didn't want to wake up in the morning without his warm presence beside her. But she had to. There was more at stake here than just her personal feelings, and she could not continue to lie to him. So she folded her nightgown and gathered up the few things she had in his bathroom and packed everything into the one bag she had. No matter if everything wrinkled; she could deal with it later. She didn't think she would be able to make another trip up here.

She was just finishing up when she heard his door open behind her. She heard John stop right where he was, just inside the door; she could feel him looking at her. Delenn remembered when she dropped her brush; it had taken her nearly five minutes to bend down and retrieve it. If she hadn't been so clumsy, she would have been well on her way by now, and would not have had to deal with what promised to be a difficult confrontation.

Delenn stood, arranged her bag over her shoulder. She would just have to make this quick; besides wanting to avoid as much unpleasantness as she could, she didn't know how much longer she would be able to stand.

"Where are you going?" He already sounded hurt, and Delenn ruthlessly pushed away the emotions the sound of his voice conjured up; she wanted to comfort him, wanted to reassure him that everything was fine, wanted to kiss him and feel his arms around her. But she couldn't do that; not now, not ever.

"I am going to the room Lennier rented for my use. Thank you for allowing me to stay here the last few days." She walked toward the door, but he stayed right where he was. She couldn't get around him without touching him, and that was the last thing she wanted to do.

"What is this?" She couldn't make herself meet his eyes, so she stared at the golden bar of his rank on his chest, kept her eyes fixed on it. Five minutes. All she had needed was five minutes.

"There is a war coming with the Shadows. That war must take priority over everything else."

"Why does that mean you have to go?"

"I cannot be with you. And you do not want to be with me."

"That's not true!"

"It is. There are things that you don't know about me. If you did... We will have to work together, rely on one another. That is all that matters."

"Delenn-"

"Don't," she cut him off. Did he know how helpless he made her feel? Just a few more moments, and he would break her, with nothing more than his voice, sounding betrayed and broken. Delenn stepped forward again, face only inches from his chest, and still he wouldn't move. "Please let me go," she said, dismayed that the words came out in only a whisper.

"Delenn..." And now she did look up at him, unable to stop. Something inside her broke at the look on his face, knowing that she had caused it. She tried to keep her face impassive, and knew she was failing. But he only dropped his eyes, nodded, biting on his cheek. "Can I...can I carry your bag down for you?" His kindness even in this threatened to undo her completely, so she just shook her head, not trusting to speak. He finally stepped aside, but before she could move forward he put a hand on her shoulder.

"You're wrong," he said. "I just want you to know that before you leave. There's nothing you could tell me that would change the way I feel about you."

"You should not say such things, John."

"Do you not want to be with me? Is there something I've said or done?"

She shook her head wildly, appalled that he could even think such a thing. "No, no."

"How can you make this kind of decision for me? How can you know that I wouldn't want you?"

"Because there are things-"

"Things I don't know about you. I refuse to accept that. I refuse to believe that there is anything, anything, that you could tell me that would change my feelings for you."

"You will have to believe it."

"I won't. I never will. I love you, Delenn."

"The war was my fault!" She hadn't meant to say it, and now it was too late to take it back, but perhaps this was the only way. Right now John still looked surprised and not much more, but she knew that would change soon, so Delenn dropped her eyes back to his chest. "I had just become Satai. I was on the Valen'tha when the Prometheus fired upon it. Our leader died in my arms. Four voted to wait, to see what had gone wrong. Four voted to immediately return fire, to go to war. I was the deciding vote. I voted for war."

Delenn waited. She could hear John breathing, but he said nothing. She knew that she could probably leave it at that, but found herself going on anyway. Even as she spoke, she wondered at the self-destructive urge she felt, wondered why she was determined to ruin everything.

"I didn't just vote for war, though. I called for our warriors to be merciless. I wanted the human race destroyed. The humans have been told before that the Minbari as a species went mad, but I do not think that to be true. It would be better to say that I went mad, and everyone came tumbling along with me. Afterwards, too long afterwards, when I regained my senses, it was already too late. No matter what I did to try and stop the horrors unfolding, no matter how hard I worked, it seemed the inertia of violence was too strong. It doesn't matter that I was eventually able to convince the warriors to stand down, the Grey Council to surrender; it doesn't change what I did. Nothing ever will."

Delenn felt empty, purged of the guilt she had carried with her for over ten years, the guilt that not even the Chrysalis had been able to expiate. She had never truly confessed these things to herself, let alone to anyone else. As the silence lengthened, despair slowly crept into the emptiness. She had known his rejection of her would happen, but knowing something and finally experiencing it are two very different things.

"I'm sorry," she whispered, and turned to go. Again, John stopped her with a hand on her shoulder. She waited for him to strike her, to shake her, to say the awful things that she couldn't stop hearing, not even when he had held her and kissed her in his bed. But instead, his other hand came up to her face, gently cupping her cheek. Delenn made herself look up at him. She couldn't read his face, not at all, and they just stood like that for a moment.

"Have you eaten today?" he asked, and at first she was sure she had misheard him. He asked her again, and she mutely shook her head. "I'll make you something to eat, and then you can take your pain pills." Now his other hand came up, brushing her hair back, and Delenn stared at him, trying to figure out what he was thinking. "I don't know why you woke up this morning hell-bent on fucking everything up," he went on, "but you don't need to be skipping your pain pills. Minbari might be stronger than humans, but you're not invulnerable."

John put an arm around her waist, drew her close. For half a second, Delenn wondered if everything after she had opened the airlock had been a dream, a nightmare vision the Minbari had forced upon her; now he was giving her hope, only to snatch it away again. But this felt real, and as John kissed her on the forehead, Delenn began to realize that the nightmare wasn't going to come true.

"After you've had some dinner, you're going to take a nice, hot shower. Then I'm going to brush your hair, and rub your shoulders, and put you in bed. My bed." He challenged her then with a look to tell him otherwise, and Delenn couldn't. She just nodded, let him pull her against him, let him put his arms around her and rest his head on top of hers.

She hoped he wasn't waiting for her to let go first. She wasn't planning to do so any time soon.

xxx

14 February 2260

1500 hours

Sheridan only had about fifteen minutes before his next meeting, so of course today was the day Red Sector got back up to speed. The shops were crowded even more so than they usually were, or at least that was how it seemed. He knew that Delenn didn't know anything about Valentine's Day, but he wanted to get her something anyway. What to get her, though? Everything looked too garish or cheap or useless. Sheridan hated shopping, especially for girls. He always hoped something would jump out at him, preferably with a sign that said this is the perfect gift!, but nothing ever did.

It would be easier if she were human, and he could just pick her up some lingerie, chocolates and flowers. Lingerie... But no, he wasn't going to start thinking about that just yet. He finally settled on a pair of earrings; she'd worn earrings to their dinner date the year before, but he'd never seen her wear any since. These were pretty little crystals - amethysts, he thought; almost the same color as one of the crystals in her pin. He hoped she would like them.

Now he was running late, and he jogged out of Red Sector. Jogging hurt. He was going to feel like an old man for awhile yet. He didn't even see Kosh until he'd passed the alien. Sheridan stopped, turned back - that encounter suit just loomed in the corridor, filling him with the same vague sense of unease and unworthiness and wonder all mixed together he always felt in the Vorlon's presence.

"Ambassador?" he asked, unsure if Kosh had even wanted to speak to him at all. But nothing with Kosh ever seemed to be a coincidence, so he thought it likely. The Vorlon didn't answer, but just as Sheridan was getting ready to apologize and move on, the tinkling bells that signaled that the ambassador was speaking sounded out.

"You did well." Sheridan waited for more, but no more was forthcoming.

"Thank you." Kosh turned and drifted away down the corridor. Sheridan stood there a moment, wondering how one being could always be so damned obtuse, and then jogged back the other way toward his meeting.