Disclaimer: Babylon 5, John Sheridan and Delenn are property of JMS/Warner Brothers. But the story is mine.
Author's Note: My foray back into fanfiction after over a month away. This story was screaming to get out. In the Shadow of Z'ha'dum gapfiller - intended to be set before Sheridan visits Kosh in the final scene of that episode, but it's not that important.
A Moment in the Mirror
John Sheridan leaned heavily on his bathroom sink, hands clutching the sides of the vanity so hard his knuckles had turned white. He stared at his own reflection, had been doing so for a good ten minutes, but he didn't recognize the man looking back at him.
The man on the other side of the mirror looked lost. Pain dulled his eyes as much as anger darkened them, several shades deeper than their usual hue. That man was tired – physically and emotionally exhausted beyond words, and yet he carried so much hatred in his tense shoulders, his creased brow and well-set frown it was clear he wouldn't sleep tonight either. There was at least a couple days' worth of scruff on his face, something John seldom did – and tear tracks, if you looked close enough. Evidence of something else John seldom did.
That man can't be me, he thought. He's carrying so much emotion and I… I don't feel any of those things. I don't feel anything at all.
Though to say he was numb was not entirely true. He felt something. He felt helpless. Hopeless. Anna was gone. Morden likely knew her fate, but he'd had no choice. He had to release Morden, and when he left, so did John's renewed hopes of finding his wife – alive or otherwise. Somehow having a few disjointed pieces of the puzzle felt worse than knowing nothing at all.
The man in the mirror was the picture of what John had let himself become. Deep down, he knew that. Today he'd stepped into an alternate reality and become someone else – a darker version of himself. All of his worst traits, all of his weaknesses and flaws had been uprooted and exploited for the benefit of his life's author, a good man turned inside out and backwards and misrepresented by his own body and mind. That's who was staring back at him from the other side of the mirror.
Except… that IS me. A touch of fingers to his own rough cheek was confirmation enough. This was no evil twin, no mirror-image reproduction or bleed of reality into fiction. He had illegally detained and questioned another man, a clear abuse of his command. He had threatened to bring Garibaldi up on charges of insubordination. He had deliberately sent Talia Winters past Morden in the hall in order to get a telepathic scan, no matter the cost.
And then there had been Kosh and Delenn, and he'd let Morden go free. A misunderstanding.
Now, with all the facts reviewed and presented in his own mental court of law, he just felt broken.
His door chime sounded, and he resolutely ignored it, wishing not for the first time that there was a way to silence the damn thing. It sounded again and he cursed, looking away from the mirror for the first time in nearly a half hour. A third chime of the bell and he stalked out to his living room. "Who is it?" He knew the words came out bitter. He didn't really care.
Her voice caused him to close his eyes and draw a deep breath almost on instinct. Of course the universe would send him the one person he wouldn't have the heart to turn away with an angry bark. "Open." Calmer now as the door obeyed his voice command, cycling to allow the Minbari ambassador entry.
She was beautiful, as always. She smelled like honeydew melon and the first warm wind of spring across an open Midwestern plain, and he was further calmed by her presence as she moved into his quarters, stepping past him as she always did, eyes averted until they faced one another.
I want her here. I just WANT her.
No. No, I don't.
I miss Anna.
But all he said was, "Ambassador. What can I do for you?" and hoped it came across as he intended – a polite, professional inquiry – and not as it sounded to his own ears – an exhausted man down to his last straw.
"I wanted to see how you were doing." Her tone was subdued, innocent as always, so that he never knew if she was or if she wasn't.
He bit at his bottom lip and turned away. "I'm fine."
Delenn moved further into his quarters and he didn't stop her; each movement was sure and purposeful, as though she lived there, as though she belonged there.
Maybe she does.
"If you are lying to me for the sake of my honor, it is not necessary," she answered at last. "But if you are simply avoiding a discussion about your feelings, I understand. I've come to expect it from the males of your species." She had walked the front room of his quarters in a slow circle, studying the wall hangings as though she were in an art gallery. Now she stood at his door again, and she did make eye contact as she added, "And since you are too polite to ask me to leave, I will just go." She prompted the door.
"Ambassador. Wait." John looked down, intently studying his feet as his shoulders rose and fell with a heavy sigh. There were so many things he wanted to say – but none of them seemed appropriate. "I'm sorry." He looked up, barely lifting his head, his eyes doing most of the work. "Stay. Please?"
Delenn considered for a moment before she complied, stepping away from the door – but she did not sit down. She stood facing him instead, asking directly, "How are you?"
John let a pause slip by before he rubbed at his eyes and slumped his shoulders forward as though all the fight had gone out of him. "I miss her, Delenn," he admitted, more emotion in his voice than he intended. "I never stopped missing her, never stopped loving her – but I did let myself start to move on…" With you. The words weren't quite there. "And then Morden showed up like a ghost out of the past and it's—it's like the universe was playing some kind of horrible joke. Like it felt it had to remind me that I am a widower; that Anna died. Like it wanted to taunt me with the fact that there's more to the story than I'm allowed to know, and that's just the way it is, so I better damn well get used to it. I feel like a puppet." He did, right then – his limbs, his body had become heavier with each word. "And the worst part is, I have no idea who's got hold of the strings." He looked at her now, right in the eyes, letting her see the broken, defeated man he'd become.
Delenn came forward quietly and sat on his couch. He joined her, too tired to wonder why they hadn't been sitting all this time. She said nothing, and he wasn't sure if that was because she didn't know what to say, or because she was waiting on him to finish saying his piece.
Probably a little of both.
When the silence got to heavy, she asked, "What would you have done if Kosh and I had not given you good reason to release Morden?"
It came from so far out of left field that it threw him off balance. The best he could do for a response was a confused, "What?"
"Would you have harmed him physically? Tortured him? Worse?" A pointed raise of her eyebrows – was she angry that he didn't immediately respond with NO? – and she continued. "Would you have detained him until Commander Ivanova or Mr. Garibaldi reported your actions and relieved you of command of this station?"
"I… don't know." The answer scared him, and again he had the feeling that in that interrogation room, he'd become someone else.
"And now. Now that you have released him, if you were called to account for your actions, do you feel you would have a good argument?"
If possible, he felt even more defeated. "No." A brief hesitation, and then – for reasons he couldn't explain – he was telling her the rest. "I became someone else in there, Delenn. I was myself, but I… I wasn't. It was like I was watching the whole thing from outside while someone else masqueraded as me. My emotions, my anger, were so in control that the better part of me just… stood back to watch."
She didn't explain further, and he didn't push. But something in the ambassador's demeanor changed then, shifted or melted away and a certain part of her that had until now been distant seemed suddenly within reach.
"I think we all have moments where we become someone other than ourselves. The key is to not let that personality become so all-consuming that the best parts of us suffer for it, or go away forever."
John was wringing his hands in his lap now. "I came damn close," he admitted. He had so many questions – how do you understand? What have you lost? What have you endured? How could a person like you know what it's like to stand on the edge of moral insanity? Tell me… But now was not the time. "Ambassador?"
"Yes, Captain?" Was she a bit breathless as she addressed him, or had he imagined it?
"Thank you for stopping me before I got that far." Her eyes were a fascinating color, a grey he'd never seen before.
"It had to be done. I couldn't… allow…" Definitely breathless. And was she sitting closer, leaning toward him? Only for a moment, and then she broke their hypnotic gaze, squared her shoulders forward and straightened.
John mirrored the gesture, clearing his throat as he did so. She got to her feet – a bit flustered, he thought – and he followed her to the door.
In the open doorway, Delenn paused to look back at him. "Get some sleep, Captain."
"I will." Now he was the one who was breathless, probably grinning like a fool for no apparent reason. "Delenn?"
Call me John. It was right there on the tip of his tongue. Call me John and let me take you out to dinner again, let me hold your hand, let me kiss you, let me… "I'll see you tomorrow."
She nodded and tucked a long lock of hair behind her ear. One more look at him, one more locking of the eyes and then she turned away and was gone.
John leaned against the closed door and let out a long exhale.
When he breathed in again, the normally stale recycled air in his quarters smelled of honeydew and springtime.