Chapter 9: Death and Life

Part 1

"I can pretty much guess your reaction when you hear this, but I think it's the only way. When you and I were in the time rift with Babylon 4, for a moment . . . I jumped forward in time. We'd won the war but Centauri Prime had been devastated. You said this future couldn't be changed. You also told me: Do not go to Z'ha'dum. I began to wonder: What if that future happened because I listened to your warning and didn't go to Z'ha'dum?"

"You see, John, back a million years ago . . . there were forces prowling around the galaxy . . . beyond anything that we could understand. And, like anything else . . . most of them outgrew this little corner of the universe . . . and headed off toward greener pastures. Shepherds, you might call them. They wanted to look after the younger races, bring them around . . . help them evolve into something better. One of these was the Vorlons. The other was what you call the Shadows."

"The Vorlons are like your parents, I suppose. They want you to play nice, clean your room, do it by the rules. I guess you could call them "lords of order."

"The others, the ones who live here, believe that strength only comes from conflict. They want to release our potential, not bottle it up."

"What if . . .? What if I could prevent the fall of Centauri Prime . . . and end the Shadow War by going there? What I want is to stay alive to be with you. But you were right before. This is about more than what I want. So I'm going, even though I know it's almost certainly a trap."

"It's really simple. You bring two sides together and they fight. A lot of them die but those who survive are stronger, smarter, and better." "It's like knocking over an anthill. Every new generation gets stronger . . . the anthill gets redesigned, made better."

"John, they think that the human race shows great potential. When all this is over, we can be riding high, the first to rebuild, making things our own way. But the only thing that's standing in our way now is you."

"Let go of those other races. You can't hold them together. Evolution will be served one way or another."

"And I want you to know . . . that I love you, Delenn. Goodbye."

"There's nowhere to run. Come back inside, we can work this out."

"Jump. Jump. Now!"

"I fell, a long way. It seemed to go on forever."

"Nothing goes on forever. Not falls, not you, not I . . . not love, not life. Entropy consumes everything. We all hit bottom . . . sooner or later."

"During the war I fought Minbari. I killed Minbari. Saw many of my friends die at Minbari hands. Here I am . . . in love with one of them. For a long time I thought about not saying anything, but . . . the moment my heart crossed that line . . . there wasn't much I could do but see it through. Yeah, I've fallen off one hell of a cliff. When I look in her eyes . . . I let myself think, maybe I really can fly."

"Who are you? What do you want?"

"Tick you're alive. Tock, you're dead. The only way out is to surrender to tock."

"Kosh is in you and he's part of the problem. You're the other part. You're both still clinging to life. Both afraid to let go. You must lay down the burden of life, both of you . . . and surrender yourself to tock."

"No, I can't. The others need me."

"It's not exactly what I had in mind, but . . . It's temporary until I get you a real engagement ring. It's an Earth custom. You see, you give someone you love . . . an engagement ring as a kind of down payment for another ring . . . the kind that you exchange when you get married. I don't know when we'll be able to get to that part of it. We may not survive the next two weeks. But I wanted you to know that whatever time I have left . . . I want to spend it with you."

"You can't turn away from death simply because you're afraid . . . of what might happen without you. That's not enough! You're not embracing life. You're fleeing death. So you're caught in between . . . unable to go forward or backward. Your friends need what you can be when you are no longer afraid. When you know who you are, why you are . . . and what you want. When you are no longer looking for reasons to live . . . but can simply be."

"I can't. I don't know how to do that."

"You must let go, surrender yourself to death—the death of flesh, the death of fear. Step into the abyss . . . and let go."

"It's getting darker."

"I know."

"It's easy to find something worth dying for. Do you have anything worth living for?"

"I can't see you anymore."

"As it should be."

"What if I fall? How will I know if you'll catch me?"

"I caught you before."

"What if I die?"

"I cannot create life . . . but I can breathe on the remaining embers. It may not work."

"But I can hope."

"Hope is all we have."

"Do you have anything worth living for?"

"Sleep now. I will watch and catch you if you should fall."

"Delenn!"

Part 2

John shifted uncomfortably in bed, his legs entangled in the covers, his mind held prisoner to unsolicited dreams. He knew he was dreaming, felt the perspiration on his forehead and back, sensed the toxic pull to the nether region. He was falling once again. Unable to swim against the debilitating tide, he succumbed, going under, taking one last breath, one last look into the light before giving-in, blacking-out.

"I've seen the face of the enemy. They're not gods, and they're not indestructible. I've fought them, and I've killed many of them. And I've survived. Tell your governments that the only man who survived Z'ha'dum sends this message: We can end this. Not just for now, not just for the next 1,000 years, but forever!"

"I thought I'd never see you again."

"I'll never leave you, Delenn. Not if the whole universe stood between us."

"Captain, I just thought you should know. They've got your dad. We've got a couple of days before we can move. We should be able to break him out. Now, I've got some people who can help, but they want a meeting."

"It's a tranq. Don't fight it. Give it up or they'll hurt you!"

"Do you have any allergies or illnesses I should be aware of? Are you currently taking any medication? Have you had any trouble with your heart? When I ask a question, you will respond at once. You will not hesitate; you will not consider; you will not lie. Cooperation will be rewarded. Resistance will be punished."

"The Vorlons are going to hit Corians 6. We can't allow that. I had hoped to go against them at a time and place of our choosing . . . but with 6 billion lives at stake, we don't have that luxury anymore . . . so we're going to launch our counteroffensive."

"We will gather the entire fleet outside the orbit of Coriana 6. That is where we will draw the line against the Vorlons. We are going to force the issue to make sure the Shadows are there . . . when the Vorlons come out."

"If they want Armageddon, then let's give it to them!"

"The jaundice will pass in a couple of hours. I'm sorry I had to do that. Part of the process. We have to break you physically before we can get to your mind. My superiors monitor all the interrogation rooms randomly throughout the day. If they don't see some indication that you're willing to cooperate . . . well, I can't be held responsible for the consequences. The best thing for you to do is to cooperate."

"We're going into the heart of the fire, on one side the Vorlons . . . on the other, the Shadows, and us in the middle. Whether any of us will ever come back . . . I don't know. When I took command of Babylon 5, I found a note on my desk. Someone had left it there for me. It was a poem by Tennyson. I still remember the last part of it. Though we are not now of that strength. Which in old days moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are. One equal temper of heroic hearts, made weak by time and fate. But strong in will. To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."

"This is your confession. Allow me to summarize. You plead guilty to charges of treason, mutiny, conspiracy to commit mutiny, sedition, terrorism—''

"That's a lie."

"Conspiracy to overthrow the government, illegal seizure of Earth property . . . assault on fellow officers, sabotage . . ."

"Now, just a minute."

"Willful destruction of public property . . . disobeying direct orders of superior officers . . . and the murder of 547 officers and crew on board the EAS Roanoke."

"I won't sign it!"

"You will sign it! You will sign it and read it aloud in full view of the public . . . so they'll know that we haven't forged your image or the signature. You will name your accomplices. You will apologize to the families and friends who died while fighting you. And in the end you will beg for mercy . . . on the grounds that you're under the influence of aliens . . . who are trying to subvert the government and undermine the authority of the president."

"I demand to see an attorney! I demand the presence of a full military tribunal. You have no right—''

"No, you have no rights!"

"Look at it. Thousands of ships. Over two dozen races working together for the very first time. You put together a hell of a team, Delenn, you should be proud. Win or lose, we'll go down fighting."

"Order versus chaos . . . choose one."

"What if we reject the idea that we must decide which of you is right? What if we simply walk away?"

"You cannot do that. There is only chaos and evolution."

"There is only order and obedience. You will do as you are told."

"You will walk through that door when you confess and not one second before. That piece of paper and a few words is all that's standing between you and that door. Don't you see how foolish this is? I'm not keeping you here. They're not keeping you here. You're keeping you here. Are you suicidal or simply self-destructive . . . preferring to let us to do the work for you? Don't you want to leave? Don't you want to be free?"

"Yes."

"Then sign it and speak. That's all. Then you can go. They don't want you dead. They want you as a symbol, not as a martyr. As a warning to others."

"Then you'll kill me."

"No. Absolutely not. They'll come for you eventually. But they'll wait . . . until you've been forgotten. Until your fate no longer means anything to anyone. They'll come in the night. It'll be very quick. But until that time . . . you will have your freedom. Sign and speak and you can leave here. It's really that simple."

"The Vorlons ask only one question over and over: Who are you? You, for you the question is: What do you want? I have never heard you answer that question. Who are you? What do you want?"

"You don't know, do you? You've been fighting each other so long, you've forgotten. You've lost your way. So how can you guide us? How can we learn who we are and what we want if you don't even know it anymore?"

"It doesn't matter which side wins this today. A thousand years from now, it'll start all over again. You're trapped in this cycle as much as we are. But we can't afford it anymore. We don't need it. We don't need you. We've learned how to stand on our own. We'll make mistakes, but they'll be our mistakes, not yours."

"Your secret is out. All these other races know you for who you are. So, what now? "

"We refuse to take sides in this anymore. And we refuse to let you turn us against one another! We know who we are now. We can find our own way between order and chaos. It's over because we've decided it's over. Now get the hell out of our galaxy. The both of you!"

"I know you can do it. I know you want to do it. Well?"

"No. You know . . . it's funny. I was thinking about what you said. The preeminent truth of our age . . . is that you cannot fight the system. But if, as you say, the truth is fluid . . . that the truth is subjective . . . then maybe you can fight the system. As long as just one person refuses to be broken . . . refuses to bow down."

"But can you win?"

"Every time I say no."

Part 3

John's eyes gradually slide open, the darkness of his bedroom not as bleak as where he'd been, where his spirit traveled many nights. But the nightmares were getting better. At least he no longer woke screaming, drenched in sweat and tears. And then there was . . .

He sat up in bed, throwing the comforter from his body, and standing. There were sounds coming from the outer room. John made his way towards the door, listening as the woman's voice repeated a broadcast he'd heard too many times to count.

"Good evening. We begin our broadcast today with a special report . . . providing continuing coverage on the unfolding Babylon 5 story. President Susanna Luchenko met today with representatives of the newly formed Interstellar Alliance. In a historic move, Earth has agreed to join forces with the new Alliance. In the same press conference . . . the newly elected president of the Interstellar Alliance, John Sheridan had this surprising revelation: 'Now, in order to join the Alliance . . . the rights of the colony world must be respected. If the majority of their population votes for independence, they must be freed. Later this afternoon, President Luchenko will sign an executive order . . . declaring Mars a free and independent world.

After the press conference in Earth Dome this morning . . . Sheridan and Delenn left for Babylon 5. It's rumored that they were married in a private ceremony . . . aboard one of the White Star ships. Sources tell ISN, they will head up the newly formed Alliance from Babylon 5 . . . until more permanent facilities can be located in Tuzanor . . . on the Minbari Homeworld—''

"Off," John said. He fully entered the living area, his eyes scanning the room, and finding her. "How can you watch that? It's been playing consistently for the last two weeks—in whole or in part."

"It has always amazed me how Humans feel a need to publicize every aspect of one's life. Is there nothing left to the realm of privacy on Earth or is everything so openly dissected, judged, ridiculed, or praised?"

Like so many times in the past, John didn't know whether Delenn was joking or making a serious cultural analysis. He decided it was too late at night to ponder the inner workings of his wife's mind, so he simply shrugged.

"I thought you performed the last forgiveness prayer three weeks ago, Delenn," he said instead, taking in the all-too familiar white, black, and gray candles beside her prayer rug.

"I did," she said, standing, gathering the items off of the floor. "That doesn't mean I still don't feel a need to revisit them every so often. I suppose I always will."

John wondered how long Delenn would carry the guilt of continuing with the Minbari mating ritual after Anna's death. As far as Earthgov, Anna's parents, and everyone except for Marcus, Lennier, Susan, and Michael, no one knew of her return. Everyone thought she'd perished with the others on the Icarus.

"You've paid your penance, Delenn. For the last year, you've done everything your caste demanded of you. Between the civil war on Minbar and the battle for Earth, we spent most of the year apart. A year is what they required, and we gave it to them."

And it had been one hell of a year. John was thankful the Minbari used the Earth calendar instead of their own or he and Delenn would still be in a state of limbo.

"I know, John." She approached, her black, silk nightgown caressing her slender form in the most enticing way. "The fact that Anna died on Z'ha'dum and never made it to Earth to challenge the death declaration and reclaim her identity is . . ." She visibly struggled for the right word. "Splitting hairs," she finally managed.

It was splitting hairs but John would take it. For once, he appreciated Minbari logic and their precise way of conceptualizing facts. Legally, if not technically, Anna was dead when Delenn married him. And since she was never able to change that fact through a court of law, the marriage between himself and Delenn stood. Meaning, Delenn could proceed with the last mating ritual with the acceptance of her caste and clan. But not without a year of penance for the very blurry line they were willing to draw.

And that was the cross they both had to bear. And why she still felt a need to drag herself from their bed in the middle of the night, and pray for forgiveness. But forgiveness wasn't to be found in the light of a candle flame. As long as they found happiness together, a small part of her would always feel guilty about Anna—about her horrible fate. But John knew Delenn would never admit that in her darkest, most selfish moments, she wished Anna had never returned, that death had truly claimed her five years ago. That is what the year of penance was truly about, nothing more, nothing less.

He offered his hand and she took it. John led her back to their bedroom and settled them both under the covers. He supposed he should harbor as much guilt about Anna as Delenn. After all, she had been his wife. He'd loved her and mourned her death for many years. And perhaps that was the true reason. He had already mourned her, come to terms with her absence in his life, his heart. And he grieved for her now, but the pain wasn't nearly as strong as it once had been.

And what he'd come to realize and eventually accept, was that his future with Delenn was predicated on Anna's death. It was a harsh, bitter pill to swallow, but it was the truth. Her death, his death, gave him this life, this present, and a future with this woman. And for that, he wouldn't feel guilty.

John kissed her cheek and then her lips, pulling Delenn into a protective embrace. "What doesn't kill us; makes us stronger, honey. We're stronger for all we've been through. We now know no one, and nothing can come between us. Not even death."

"I know, John." She touched his cheek, her hand soft and tender, eyes as lovely as he'd ever seen them. "Twenty years will never be enough, but I am grateful for the time we've been given. It's more and less than what I thought we would have."

"You're more than I thought I deserved." She blushed and John knew he would spend the next twenty years doing all within his power to make her happy. By making her happy, by enjoying and appreciating life, he would also be honoring Anna's memory. She wanted him to move on, to find joy with Delenn.

"Have I told you today how much I love you?" he asked, his lips grazing hers.

She nodded. "Yes . . . but you may continue to repeat it for as long as you like."

"Oh, I plan to. Every day . . . that I can."

Author's Note: Thank you very much for reading Between Two Wives and a Hard Place. I had no idea that my little idea would take ten chapters to finish, so I truly appreciate the time you invested in the story. In addition, I want to thank those who reviewed along the way. Such support is always gratifying.