"So where did you get this dress?" John asked. They were walking back to her quarters, and he was doing his best to tell himself that she was not going to invite him in, and if she did, it would only be in the most professional, dignified way. Nothing would happen. It would be crazy to imagine that anything would happen. So, of course, he'd spent most of the quiet times during their walk thinking of the different ways something could happen. Which was ridiculous, of course, but it had been such a long time since he'd had a nice evening with a pretty girl that he just wasn't thinking straight anymore.
"In Red Sector," Delenn answered. "I had to search for a shop that sold dresses with…more fabric than most which were on display." She tugged on one of her sleeves as she told him this, and John wondered if she'd tried any other dresses on, maybe some with…less fabric. Though for all she was mostly covered, it was a pretty damned clingy dress. And the cut-out was very interesting.
"Have a fun time?"
Did she roll her eyes a little bit? "It was…a learning experience." Yes, she had definitely rolled her eyes.
"And what did you learn?" They arrived at her door, and John leaned against the wall, not quite ready to end the evening. He wanted her to open the door, lead him in while she answered, but Delenn stayed right where she was.
"I find it remarkable how Humans manage to turn the simplest task into a very complicated affair. I converted the measurements of my body's proportions into Human units before I arrived." (And what were those measurements? John thought, then mentally slapped himself.) "But none of the clothes were marked in that fashion. There were numbers assigned to the clothing that had nothing to do with anything. They were completely arbitrary! What should have been an easy errand became quite difficult. I had to cancel two of my afternoon meetings."
John realized he was grinning, the kind of grin that started somewhere around his toes. The idea that she canceled meetings to find just the right dress was incredibly flattering, though he wasn't sure EarthForce would be happy with the idea that the CO's dating life might lead to some kind of diplomatic crisis.
"Well, as far as I'm concerned," he told her, fighting down the impulse to run his hand down her arm and see just how silky that dress really was, "it was time well spent."
Delenn smiled, blushed a little. She put a hand to the nape of her neck, to the soft, wispy locks of hair that curled there. It was an incredibly endearing gesture, especially for someone who didn't have any hair at all six months ago. Then there was one of those awkward moments, that always happened on first dates. First, they were silent, each waiting for the other to say something. Then they both said something at the same time.
"I had a wonderful time-" John said.
"Perhaps we could-" Delenn said.
They stopped, smiling at each other. John's mother still had a framed picture of his junior prom on the wall going up the stairs. He was standing next to Rose Patterson, whom he'd known beyond a shadow of a doubt to be the love of his life (they'd broken up about six months later). In the picture, John had the goofiest fucking smile on his face – like he had just been hit over the head with a brick, and really liked it. He was almost positive he had the exact same smile on his face right at this moment. They both were waiting for the other to speak, to finish their thought – so of course they talked over each other again.
"I'll be free again-" John blurted.
"I did as well," Delenn managed to finish.
It occurred to John that if things were different, he'd go in for a kiss now. Tonight had been the best first date he'd ever had. But he was the CO of an EarthGov installation, and she was the Minbari ambassador. Getting romantically involved with her would probably be a mistake. No, would definitely be a mistake. Besides, he didn't even know if she was interested in him like that, though he kind of thought she was telling a little white lie when she said she just wanted to get to know more about Humans. You didn't spend at least an hour and cancel appointments to find the right dress if you were just interested in getting to know more about a species in general.
At least, he didn't think so.
Delenn was looking down, fiddling with the end of her sleeve again. There was something about her face at this angle – the dark fans of her lashes, the curve of her cheekbones, the set of her lips – that made John feel as though he were looking at her for the very first time. To hell with it, he thought. One little kiss wouldn't be the end of the world, and if she asked, he could just tell her about the Human tradition of First Date Kisses. A very old tradition. Everyone did it. No big deal.
He put two fingers under her chin, and she tilted her face up to his. If he saw a question in her eyes, or alarm, or trepidation, he'd just wish her good night and walk away. But he didn't see anything like that. Just her gray eyes, warm and a little curious. John kissed her – only a second of his lips brushing hers. It was barely even a kiss. He was preparing a more formal farewell – thank you, Ambassador, it was an enjoyable evening – when he got a good look at her face. There was a faint blush across her cheeks, and she was a little starry-eyed. No, she hadn't asked him out as though he were some walking, talking textbook. Not at all.
"Good night," John murmured. He waited until she let herself into her quarters, darting one last, sweet smile over her shoulder before the door cycled closed. He felt a tiny bit tipsy, his head just a little light-headed. He'd read once that falling in love did the same thing to the brain as getting drunk, released the same chemicals. John shook his head – too early to be thinking anything like that. He wasn't falling in love; he was just feeling the warm buzz of a night spent with good company. And, to be honest, he was just a little bit horny. He still stood there in the hallway for a few moments, wishing there'd been more to replay in his head, more to memorize. But he'd be kissing her again; of that he had no doubt.
"This body is only a shell. You cannot touch me. You cannot harm me. I'm not afraid."
John felt his breath catch at Delenn's words. Sebastian's whole game was to provoke her, to goad her. To terrorize her to such an extent that she would do or say anything he wanted. That was the whole point of torture, and whatever Kosh or even Delenn might say about an Inquisition, this whole sad little tableau was nothing but torture. And instead of submitting, instead of getting it over with, Delenn was defying the Inquisitor. John wished he could be proud of her, but he could only feel sick dread coiling in his stomach. He couldn't see Sebastian's face, only the back of his head. He didn't know what his reaction was – rage? Something worse than the fury he'd seen when the man had pummeled him with raw pain as he'd shouted his questions?
The seconds ticked by, each one an eternity. John knew that whatever was going to happen, whatever Sebastian was going to do to her next, he would be made to watch.
Then he blinked, and Sebastian was gone. He stared at Delenn, just as she was staring at him. A moment to realize his restraints were gone, as though they'd never been there at all. Another heartbeat, and then he had his arms out for her.
"Delenn. Are you all right?" She nodded, the warm physical reality of her body against his enough to short out his brain entirely. He pulled back, put his hands to either side of her face. He needed to look at her, make sure that she wasn't hurt, that she wasn't lying to him. Her hands were on his chest, and he felt her curl her fingers into his shirt. There was something raw and desperate in her eyes, even as she told him that she was fine. John didn't believe her, didn't believe her at all. He wasn't going to confront her over it right this minute; he would see if she needed to go to Medlab, but not until he'd moved her out of this room. And he wasn't going to get her out of this room until he figured out how to get that look out of her eyes, until he managed to make her stop looking around the room as though Sebastian might materialize again.
He kissed her forehead. He kissed her cheekbone, the line of her jaw, and then he nuzzled her neck, pressing a feather-light kiss on the pulse fluttering there. Her breaths were slow and deliberate, but there was a slightly ragged edge to each exhale. John looked at her again, holding her face in his hands, gently running his thumbs over her cheekbones. What is she to you? Sebastian had asked him. John hadn't answered, and wasn't sure he could do so even now. She was something, though; he knew that much. He needed her to know that - but if he couldn't figure out how to say it to himself, how could he say it to her?
So he kissed her lips, gentle and slow at first, then pouring more and more of his worry and need and desire and relief into the kiss. By the time he pulled back, needing to get a good look at her face again, Delenn was trembling, gulping in air, and grabbing his hair and the front of his shirt so tightly he was afraid she was going to pull out one and rip holes in the other.
John knew what he was going to say to her. I want you. I need you. You mean more to me than anything - anything. I knew that before now but I pretended I didn't. I'm not going to pretend anymore. He opened his mouth to start, but then he heard a loud, echoing sound coming from outside the chamber. Again, and again. Sebastian's cane.
He kept his grip on Delenn and steered her toward the hatch. The Inquisitor had returned, and John didn't know what new test was in store for them, but he sure as hell wasn't going to let go of Delenn without a fight.
He was exhausted. His head hurt - both where a piece of metal had sliced it open above his left eye, and inside. It felt like a metal band around his forehead, like his brain was too big for his skull. He was hungry. Couldn't remember his last meal, and whatever it had been was long gone. He was thirsty, too. He'd give his right arm for an ice-cold Arsia Orange Smash - not that there'd been any Martian soft drinks on the station in the last six months.
But John was also exhilarated. He felt like he could fly to Earth and take care of the whole mess right this instant. Normally he'd be able to acknowledge the feeling as the usual post-battle high, or even just lack-of-sleep punchiness. But this was something different. And as he stepped off the transport tube and started walking the corridors of Green Sector, he put his thumb on just what it was.
Only one Human captain has ever survived battle with a Minbari cruiser. He is behind me. You are in front of me. If you value your lives, be somewhere else. He couldn't stop hearing Delenn's words in his head, over and over. The pride in her voice when she referred to him; would he have ever been able to imagine, more than ten years ago, a Minbari speaking of Starkiller with pride? But it wasn't just that, as puffed up as it made him; it was the power that had radiated from her, visible even on his fuzzy view screen. He'd known that Delenn was smart, and decisive, and a good leader. He'd even known she was Grey Council, once upon a time. But he hadn't known that she was like that - a fierce warrior, the kind of woman that made men want to drop to their knees and offer up their hearts. For her to keep, break, use, ruin - didn't matter. No wonder the French had first thought Joan of Arc was a messenger from God; that kind of power had to be divine, and there was no choice but to submit.
John stopped outside her door, getting his bearings. He'd cared about her for a long time, loved her for a little while, and wanted her since the first time he'd seen her. But what he was feeling now he couldn't even begin to figure out, didn't know how to categorize. He'd just have to play it by ear. He rang for entrance.
"Yes?" One word from her - when he couldn't even see her, for Christ's sake - shouldn't send a lightning bolt straight to his groin, but there it was.
"It's me," he said. He didn't want to jump to conclusions, and for all he knew he'd imagined every time he thought he saw his own desire reflected in her eyes, but John was pretty sure he knew exactly how this night would end. Which was a good thing - he felt like if he wasn't inside her in the next half hour he might die.
Her door opened, and he stepped inside. Shit. Delenn was in her robe, and the room was mostly dark. He couldn't get a good look at her face.
"Did I wake you?" he asked, feeling like the galaxy's biggest idiot. It hadn't even occurred to him to check and see what time it was. She was probably just as tired as he was, and had finally taken care of everything she'd needed to take care of and had just climbed into bed when here he'd come, the big bumbling galoot he was.
"No, no," Delenn answered, her voice gentle. John saw the way she put one hand up to gather her robe tight just below her neck. He did his best to not let his disappointment show on his face, didn't want her to see and misinterpret; but it was going to be a long walk back to his quarters to jerk off alone in the shower. "I was just making some tea," she went on. "Would you like some?"
No, he thought, I do not want any tea. I did not come all the way down here for some fucking tea. I want you. I want to fuck you. I want to fuck you so much that I'm no longer capable of conscious thought. I want to rip open your robe, rip off whatever you're wearing underneath, and I want to shove you right up against the wall. I want to make you scream. I want to bury myself so deep inside you that I won't be able to tell where I stop and where you begin. That's what I want.
"Tea sounds great," he said, and he watched her as she headed to her little kitchenette and prepared the tea. Minbari sure loved their little rituals, and watching her calmed him down a little bit. Still, John was glad it was as dark as it was in her quarters; he was still as hard as a rock, and there would be no hiding it if she could actually see.
"Do you want to talk about it?" she asked, waiting for the water to boil. She leaned back against the counter, her arms crossed in front of her chest. He wasn't a body language expert by any means, but he knew she usually didn't close herself off like this around him. She never really had.
"Talk about what?"
"Whatever is bothering you," she said. The dim, mellow light made her look like a painting.
"Nothing's bothering me."
"John." A note of chastisement in her voice, but also warmth, affection. John realized he had showed up in the middle of the night, and was even now standing stiffly in the center of the room, not saying much. She probably thought he was pissed about something, or upset, not so extraordinarily turned on that he was trying to ignore the whisper from the back of his brain to just jump over the counter and knock her down.
"I just wanted to see you." Delenn looked at him for a long moment, her face unreadable. Then she turned back to the tea, and John sat down heavily, thinking he'd just failed some kind of test without even knowing he was taking it. She came over with two cups of tea, handing him one, and it took him a second to remember what he was supposed to do. He took a cautious sip - hot, and a little astringent.
Delenn sat beside him. Her back was straight, her knees close together. Prim and proper. For her, sex was probably part of some elaborate ritual. Minbari probably only did it when they were trying to have a baby. She wouldn't be interested in a good, hard fuck - not with him, not with anyone. She probably wasn't interested in him at all. He was her partner - a colleague, someone with whom she could share the duties and responsibilities of the coming war. His horniness finally started to wear off. What had he even been thinking? He hadn't been thinking, hadn't had enough blood in his brain to think - that much was obvious now. John sighed.
Delenn took the cup of tea from him, set it next to her own on the little table in front of them. She took his hand, squeezed it gently. "John," she said, voice low, almost a whisper. "What's wrong?"
He shook his head. Even if he knew what to say, he couldn't say it to her. He was acutely aware of her eyes on him, watching him closely. This had been such a mistake. He would apologize, wish her a good night, tell her he'd see her tomorrow, and leave.
"I know it was difficult, firing on your own people. But you were acting in the defense of this station, and the civilians on board." Her voice was so soft, so quiet.
"It's not that," he said, shaking his head again. John stood up, abrupt, and felt more than saw Delenn startle. He felt clumsy and stupid; he didn't know what to do with his hands; his throat felt tight. "You should drink your tea, and get some sleep," he told her, walking to her door.
"Stay," she said, her voice lilting up at the end of the word, turning it into a half-question. "Please? I...I don't want you to go."
John turned back, and saw that she was standing as well. She had her hands clasped in front of her, and looked so small and vulnerable. The image was such a contrast to the way she had looked on the view screen in C and C, when she had looked all-powerful, utterly without fear, that John felt his heart clench. He closed the distance between them in two long paces and kissed her, hard. She was frozen for a moment, and then she wrapped her arms around his neck, opened her mouth for him. She didn't just let him grab her waist and pull her hips hard against his, she encouraged him. Maybe some time in the future he'd take his time, and explore her, and learn just how she wanted to be kissed; right now, he felt like he had to kiss her as much as possible in as short a period of time as possible.
A few minutes later and she was struggling with the buttons on the front of his shirt. She would have had an easier time of it if she hadn't kept running one hand down to stroke him through his pants. John broke the kiss off and looked at her, breathing hard; he wanted her to decide what was going to happen next.
Delenn took his hand and led him into her bedroom.
John gestured to his uniform jacket, folded neatly by the door. "I've given up something that really mattered to me. My uniform and everything that goes with it," he said, hoping she would understand the significance of his sacrifice. Delenn didn't say anything, but he could read her face, the way her eyes seemed to shine as she looked at him.
"And what I've never told anyone before now…" He paused, trying to find the right words. He'd rehearsed this in his head on his way over, taking the tube and walking to Medlab with Susan and Michael, preparing to meet Stephen here. Everyone silent, everyone probably doing the same thing. John wanted to tell her how much she meant to him, how much he cared for her. "When you were hurt..." he started, then stopped. He took one of her hands, held it between both of his. He wasn't sure when you were hurt, I wanted to kill that guy was the most romantic way of putting it. Besides, he didn't need to dress it up, didn't need to go on and on. The words were right there.
"I almost lost you today," he finally said, his voice hoarse. He realized he was squeezing her hand too tightly, and he forced himself to loosen his grip. John wanted to sit down on the mattress next to her, but he was afraid that might hurt her back. So he just moved a little closer, leaning down. "I almost lost you, and you wouldn't have known how I feel, wouldn't have known what you mean to me. I love you, Delenn." He watched her swallow hard, could see her heartbeat in her throat. He cupped her cheek, brushing away the tear there. Then he kissed her - gentle, gentle.
John stood back up, smiling down at her. She smiled back, though she still didn't say anything. She didn't have to - he knew. He raised her hand and kissed her palm, then left the room, Michael passing him as he entered to do his part of the ceremony. John had work to do, and things to take care of, but then he'd grab a few things from his quarters and come back down here. He'd find a cot somewhere and drag it in beside her bed, so he could sleep next to the woman who loved him back.
What a fuck-up. John wasn't sure this date could have been more screwed up had he done it on purpose. Over-ambitious, he'd tried to make flarn. It had sucked. Delenn had swallowed every bite with a smile, but she wasn't any good at lying. Didn't have enough practice at it, he guessed. It didn't help that his kitchen looked like a grenade had gone off. Not exactly the most romantic thing in the world, to look over and see stacks of grimy dishes three meters away.
All of which would have been bad enough, but then he'd had to go break up a fight. The slice on his arm stung, enough that he couldn't quite forget it was there. He was also sore, and tired. He felt old. Twelve hours ago he'd entertained the thought that maybe he'd end the evening with Delenn snuggled up against him on the sofa, watching a vid or just talking. He'd never seriously thought he'd end up taking her to bed, but it had been nice to idly imagine it while he was doing paperwork today. Instead, he was going to spend the night alone, banged up, his arm throbbing, trying to scrape old nasty flarn off his pots and pans.
Someone rang outside his door. "Come," he barked out. What he wouldn't give for one interrupted day; it was probably Garibaldi, or Ivanova, bringing something else to dump in his lap. But it was Delenn who came in, a little smile on her face. John thought it would be nice to just give in, and ask her to baby him for a little bit. It had been so long since anyone had taken care of him, had even shown the inclination to do so.
"I wanted to see how you are doing," she said.
"I've had worse." Apparently, it was more important to make sure she didn't worry about him. That, and a smack of machismo. Tell her that his arm hurt like a son of a bitch, and would she just let him put his head in her lap, and could she stroke his hair for a little bit? No. Oh, no. "I'm just sorry that it interrupted our dinner."
"There will be other dinners," Delenn said, and that perked him up a bit. "But if you keep doing this you will get killed one of these days, and then there will be no more dinners." That was one way of looking at it. John thought about making excuses - it was happening right under his feet, he couldn't just do nothing - but he was too tired. Besides, she knew all of that. She accepted it. And he liked to think she wouldn't want it any other way. She had responsibilities just as he did, and shirking them would be the last thing either of them would want the other to do.
So he just nodded, and tried to fasten up his jacket. He brought up his right arm to his chest, and his bicep flexed, and it was like getting cut all over again.
"Ow," he said. Had he said ow since he was a kid? Delenn was in front of him, her fingers deftly fastening his jacket. John thought about protesting, but this was basically what he'd wanted. And he didn't usually get to have her this close, didn't usually have the chance to study her face without her seeing.
"I hear that when it happened, Vir was with a woman," she said, and he could feel the warmth of her breath on his chin. "Apparently they're to be married soon." Delenn didn't usually gossip - he wondered why she was bringing this up.
"So I understand. It must be the shortest courtship on record; she just got here yesterday," he murmured, wondering what she'd say if he told her to go ahead and unfasten everything again. He'd changed his mind - he was going to stay right here. And hopefully, she would, too.
"Perhaps you should check the air recycling system." She had finished, and gently smoothed the fabric over his chest with her fingertips. Then she finally looked back up at him, and he could see that her eyes were dark with desire. But there was a question on her face, as though she wasn't sure what he would do or say next. How could she not be sure? "There may be, as you say, something in the air," she said, her hands on his chest, her face just inches away from his.
John's brain supplied him with maybe there is as the proper response, which was stupid, so he ignored it. Over the course of one second, he thought of all the times he'd wanted to kiss her but had chickened out. After their first date; sitting in the garden, when she pretended she didn't know what "butt" meant; after the Markab death chamber, holding her in his arms; the Inquisition; a hundred other times since. John had always told himself that it wasn't a good time. That she might not want him to. That it would make things too complicated. That he would wait until the next time. There had always been some interruption, something going wrong, something that got in the way. It took John one second to decide that this moment was not going to go on the list.
He dipped his head and kissed her, and was gratified to see her eyes shut well before he got there. Her lips were warm and soft, and she slid her hands up to the back of his neck. John put his right hand on her waist, and used his good left arm to pull her close, wanting her body nice and snug against his. He was in no rush; he didn't need to go to bed with her tonight, or anytime soon. Better to take their time, to relish each and every moment.
John deepened the kiss, liking the little hum he heard her make, the way her fingers curled in his hair. Then there was a click.
"Captain? I...um...I didn't mean..." John broke off the kiss and turned his head to the Babcom, where Ivanova had a front row ticket to see the Captain and the Minbari Ambassador making out. Her eyes were a little wide, but she looked more embarrassed than surprised.
"It's okay," he said, feeling Delenn step back. He looked at her, and she looked a little embarrassed, too. She put her hand up in her hair, that nervous gesture that he loved, and he reached down to squeeze her hand. "What is it?" he asked Ivanova.
"It's Vir. He..." she trailed off.
"It's nothing. I'll take care of it."
"Susan, you called me. You obviously thought-"
"I'll take care of it!" she said, and the Babcom screen went dark. For a moment, John thought about calling her back, or heading down to the attaché's quarters anyway. Delenn clearly had the same thought.
"I should go..." she said, not making any move to do so. John put his arm back around her waist, drew her close again.
"No. If she needs me, she'll call me back. In the meantime..." He kissed her again, feeling relief flood over him. Why had they denied this for so long?
Delenn pulled back just enough to whisper against his mouth. "Why did we wait so long?" John laughed, even as he reclaimed her lips. It didn't matter anymore; the waiting was over.