Delenn tried to remember the last time she'd had this much fun, or had felt laughter bubble up inside her so easily. Besides that, she knew that she was brightening the Captain's spirits, and that warmed her. When she had joined him, he had been pacing, his brow knit with worry. The tension had practically radiated off his body. But now he was smiling, and his eyes were clear.
She pretended to concentrate. "I butt, you butt, he or she butts." She saw John shake his head, laughing.
"Butt. Butt butt?"
"You sound like a motor boat," he said, looking very young. Delenn had no idea what a motor boat was, though she understood the meaning of the words taken separately, but she wanted to keep playing. He evidently found it quite enjoyable to listen to her difficulties with his language - why, she did not know precisely - and she was in no hurry to end their time together.
"Motor butt? I do not think I like the sound of that." She wrinkled her nose up, and he made his own face. He was playing along, too; she could tell.
"Well, I don't blame you. I'm against the whole idea."
"Then we are in agreement." Delenn no longer even knew what they were talking about, though she didn't particularly care.
"Abso-fraggin-lutely." John grinned at her then, and Delenn felt a flutter in her stomach that she had started to feel all too frequently in his presence. She pushed the flutter aside - she had not sat with him to cater to her own feelings, but to try and make him feel better. She believed she had done so, but for the feeling to be more than transitory, he had to understand what had just happened.
"There, you see," she said, and he prompted her to continue, still smiling. "Something has gone your way today. It's the way the universe works." Delenn put her hand over his, telling herself that she was only interested in comforting him, that Humans felt a greater need for physical contact than Minbari. It had nothing to do with her own desire for physical contact, specifically with the Captain. He seemed surprised, though, and actually looked down at her hand over his as though he wasn't sure it was real. "Wait just a little while, and the wheel turns."
John looked at her again, and she did not think she had ever seen him look at her in such a way. The flutter in her stomach returned, stronger this time.
"Thank you," he said, and she knew the words were not hollow; the sentiment was genuine. He was always so open around her, so ready to listen to what she had to say. Knowing it was egotistical to find it so flattering, Delenn still found herself wanting to go on. There had to be more she could say, another way to put the idea; she didn't want this moment to end.
There was a muffled sound, and then John pulled his hand away from hers. At first she thought he simply did not wish her to touch him anymore, but then she heard Mr. Garibaldi's voice and realized that John was answering his link. He looked her way – regret, she thought, on his face – and there was that flutter again. She had to look down, gather herself. It had been a very long time since she had been an acolyte, since she had felt so unsure of herself; timid, nervous. Sometimes being around the Captain made her feel that way again. Delenn was not sure if she liked it or not.
"I have to go," he told her, and she nodded. They stood, and Delenn found herself terribly concerned with what to do with her hands. She had an urge to reach up and touch her hair, arrange one of the locks over her shoulder; it was strange how quickly the gesture had become automatic. She had been unaware how often she put a hand to her hair until Lennier had pointed it out to her, concerned that others might interpret the gesture as evidence of boredom. (Delenn had been unable to admit to Lennier that many times the gesture meant exactly that.) She fought down the urge and glanced at John. He looked worried again, his face tense.
Most of the time, Delenn's propensity to analyze a situation, to carefully consider various options, and to weigh pros and cons was a good thing. It had served her well throughout the years, and what she thought of as her innate calmness and practicality had helped her in more ways than she could have imagined. She had trained herself to be even more careful, and even more cautious, after the incident with the Prometheus. One moment of weakness, where she had let her emotions rule her, had led to unspeakable horror and pain. The consequences of allowing herself to act without thinking, to let something other than logic and rationality guide her decisions, were simply too great.
And yet…Delenn wasn't perfect. She could not spend every minute of every day trying to approach every possible decision as coldly and unemotionally as possible. She did not want to, either. The flutter in her stomach resolved itself into several different wants – she wanted to make him feel better; she wanted to touch him; she wanted to know what it would be like to kiss him, even just for a single second. So she decided to do all three, and leaned up on tiptoe to kiss him on the cheek.
Except he turned his head – to say something to her, or because he saw her moving and didn't know what she was doing (she wouldn't consider that he knew what she was doing and turned his head toward her on purpose) – so that Delenn ended up kissing him on the corner of his mouth. She hadn't intended the kiss to be anything other than a light, brief peck – friendly, that's all – so she didn't jerk back or otherwise betray her surprise. She thought maybe John saw it anyway; it might have been only his own surprise, though. He looked at her again – deep, penetrating – and now she did put a hand in her hair, and duck her head, and blush.
"Goodbye, Captain," she said, though she wasn't sure she said it loud enough for him to hear. Her cheeks still burning, Delenn turned and left the garden. She tried to make herself slow down and walk normally, but she knew she failed. Walking on instinct, feeling embarrassed and exhilarated at the same time, Delenn returned to her quarters before she remembered she had a meeting on the other side of Green Sector. She arrived late, out of breath, and again with that feeling of being a silly little acolyte. Thankfully she had enough to try and handle during the long meeting that she was able to focus and stop incessantly thinking about the kiss. She had mostly managed to forget about it by the time she was able to relax in her quarters that night, when the Captain stopped by to see her.
"I just wanted to see how you were doing," Delenn said, stepping into his quarters. He was sitting at his counter, hunched over a little, and as far as she could tell he hadn't been doing anything before she arrived. She saw that he had taken off his dress jacket, and chided herself for the brief pang of disappointment that caused.
(A few times, Delenn had allowed herself to imagine the Captain – in his dress uniform, which for some reason she found more attractive than his everyday uniform – stopping by to see her late at night. She usually only let herself get so far in her imagining – the beginning of a kiss – before she shook herself and made herself stop pretending things in her head.)
"Fine, fine. The whole station is talking about what happened. Every race that was in the garden saw something different, and yet…the same. A being of light," John said, his face bright and excited. To look at him, one would never guess that a few hours before he had been falling, nothing between him and the rotating ground beneath. If Kosh had not saved him…
Delenn couldn't hide her shiver, and John noticed. "Yes, each according to his or her type," she said, trying to appear nonchalant, but John could see right through her. She wondered that he could know her so well already, but that was a silly thought; the Universe had brought them together. She knew that; she had known that for awhile now. That didn't keep her from sometimes feeling a little overwhelmed in his presence. She felt overwhelmed just now, as he turned in his chair to face her more fully.
"What is it?" he asked, and Delenn was very aware that there were two different ways this conversation could go. Along one path, she would smile and tell him nothing, and they would continue to talk about Kosh, and shortly thereafter she would leave, and return alone to her quarters. Along the other path…and without thinking about it, without considering the consequences, she took the first steps.
"When we saw the explosion, when I saw that you were falling, John…" She faltered now, unable to summon the right words, she who had always known what to say. "It is one thing to know that you are alive, and safe. It is another to feel it," she finally said, stepping closer. As she had done once before, she brought her fingertips up to his cheek. His skin was warm and smooth. Delenn felt something tug inside her, as though her core were fashioned out of metal, and John was the pole to which she was aligned.
What happened next required no thought, so she did not think. She was aware of his hand coming up to rest on her waist as she leaned down and pressed her lips against his. He twisted in his chair again, the hand on her waist moving to the small of her back, pulling her forward so that she stood between his legs. She pressed herself against him, kissing him more fully. Once, in temple, just after the war had ended, Delenn had fasted for three days, taking only a little water. Three days sitting on a mat, meditating, allowing the miserable detritus of the war that still swirled around inside her to leave her body and mind and soul. When she had finally stood and walked out of the temple, she had done so on shaky legs, feeling curiously light and untethered, as though she did not wholly exist inside the normal three-dimensional world. She felt like that now, kissing John, being kissed back; his hands firm on her back; his good, masculine smell; the sound he made in the back of his throat when she caught his bottom lip between her teeth.
"Captain? Captain, are you there?" Ivanova's voice, coming from the Babcom. They were just outside its field of vision. Delenn jerked back, and the abrupt end to the kiss made a smacking sound that was horribly loud to her ears. They froze. Ivanova spoke again, her voice a bit muffled. "I thought you said he went back to his quarters?"
"Yeah, just a sec," John said. He stood as Delenn took a careful step back, and he placed a gentle finger on her lips. Wait - be patient. Then he walked to the Babcom. "What is it, Susan?"
"It's Lieutenant Keffer. He's missing."
Even though Delenn had no reason to think so, she was suddenly, completely certain that the pilot's disappearance was not a normal event, explained by instrument error or a hyperspace quake or even as a result of enemy fire. She knew, as her heart turned to ice, that the Shadows had finally made their first move.
Delenn had to put her water glass down; she was laughing so hard she was afraid she would spill it all over herself. John was laughing, too; his eyes looked suspiciously shiny, and seeing him laugh so hard that he was crying just made her laugh even harder.
"All of her clothes?" she asked, putting a hand to her stomach. John nodded, his grin insanely bright even in the rather dim light of his quarters.
"All of them! I couldn't have looked away for more than thirty seconds, and I turned back around and she was completely naked. Completely."
"And she was a representative of your government? What was she planning to do?" Delenn could only think it was some sort of bizarre Human ritual she had never heard of; the truth would never have occurred to her.
"I have no idea. I guess she thought I'd be so overcome with desire that I'd just sleep with her, just like that, and then..." John shrugged. He pushed what food was left on his plate around, a vague smile still on his face. Delenn became aware that her own smile had departed long ago. "She knew by then I wasn't going to fall in lockstep with Nightwatch and everything else Clark is doing. Maybe she wanted to seduce me thinking that I'd go along with it then. Or that she could essentially spy on the command staff through me.
"This is something Humans do?" Delenn asked, trying to keep her voice from sounding cold and stiff, failing completely. John looked at her closely, his own smile now gone as well.
"Some," he said, and she didn't like the way he seemed to be examining her. "Not me. Even if I had found her attractive, which I didn't."
"Why didn't you find her attractive?" Delenn told herself that she was only making conversation. She was not trying to figure out, through process of elimination, what he did find attractive – and whether she met any of his criteria.
"She was…she was unpleasant. I would have found her pretty repellent even if she'd just been parroting the party line, but she actually believed all of that bullshit."
"But before you found this out, before her personality and beliefs were revealed as so abhorrent, did you find her attractive?" Delenn knew that he liked her, that he cared about her. But did he want her? Did he desire her? She didn't know. Perhaps, just as he had found this Musante to be unattractive because of her political affiliation, he would find Delenn attractive only because of their friendship. This was not so different from the Minbari concept of attraction; and yet…
John was looking at her oddly now. She had never seen that expression on his face before, let alone directed at her. Then he stood, rather abruptly, and gathered up their plates. He went to the sink, dumping the dishes in loudly. "She's not my type," he finally said, in a brusque voice.
Delenn puzzled over that as he washed the dishes. She couldn't see his face, but his back seemed tense. Had she angered him? She could not imagine what he meant by "type." Were there different types of Humans? She thought that their species was essentially homogenous. He must be referring to some kind of arbitrary delineation. If there were Humans – his own species – he did not consider to be his "type," then what could he possibly think of her?
Delenn shook her head; there was no point in heading down that path, because she would only upset herself and would never come to a conclusion. Instead she joined John in the little kitchen. He was cleaning the dishes with great vigor, attacking them. She rested a hand on his arm; the muscles there were taut.
"I'm sorry I upset you," she said quietly, and the memory of laughing was now quite distant. John dropped the dishes in the sink and turned to her, sudden. He was tall (had he always been this tall?) and close. Very close.
"You didn't upset me. You couldn't." His voice was deeper than usual, raspier. She saw that his eyes were very dark, almost black. Standing in such proximity to him was almost too much for her to process. And in a single instant, Delenn understood why the Musante woman might have done something as impetuous as strip off all her clothes. John could be cynical, and he might have been right that the political officer had ulterior motives. But whatever motives she might have had would not necessarily have been mutually exclusive from a sudden desire to be with this man, to find yourself helpless before him, to be willing to do anything so that he might take you.
Delenn would never remove her clothing in such a calculated manner, even if she had been thinking clearly enough to conceive of such a gambit. But she could think of nothing to say in response to him, and could not bear for him to turn away from her. Her heart pounding, a dull roar in her ears, she did the only thing she could think of, the only thing that seemed right, the only thing she had truly wanted to do for so long that it seemed she had been waiting her whole life – she kissed him. It wasn't very graceful, or romantic, and actually didn't even feel that good, as much as she had to strain her neck up to reach him. There was a moment when he didn't move, and Delenn knew in that moment that she would not regret kissing him, even though in a second or two he would pull away from her and explain that she was also not his type; their interactions from now on would likely be difficult and awkward.
Then John grabbed her, his hands rough on her back, pulling her against his body even as he pushed her back against the kitchen counter. The edge of it dug into her bottom for a moment until he lifted her enough to set her on top. He grabbed the hair on the back of her head, his hand wet. She felt a drop of water slide down her neck. His tongue pressed against her lips, seeking entrance. She granted it with a moan she could not help. He was making noises of his own – desperate, hungry. A jolt of something electric and dangerous swept straight to her core, and Delenn realized her own hands were grabbing at him, trying to tug him as close as possible.
John ripped his mouth from hers, and she wanted to whimper at the loss, but he moved his lips to her throat. No soft, gentle kisses like she might have imagined late at night, in rare moments of indulgence; he licked, nipped, sucked. There was a violence to his kisses that bent her backward, and her hands fumbled for purchase on the countertop. She struck something, and distantly heard the sound of breaking glass.
Then he was kissing her again, his tongue thrusting roughly against her own. And he was lifting her, her legs coming up around his waist instinctually. She could feel something against her, something hard – and she knew what it was, and what it meant, and what he wanted to do to her. A warning signal went off in her mind even as her hips bucked forward. He was carrying her somewhere – his bedroom, she figured out when he ran her into the edge of one of his bedroom doors.
"Sorry, sorry," he mumbled against her lips. She shook her head; the bump into the door hadn't hurt. It had somehow felt good, actually. Everything felt good, every single sensation, from John's fingers digging into the small of her back to the edges of his teeth against her tongue. Everything felt so good that it was almost overwhelming. They made it to the bed, and Delenn found herself surprised by how gently he laid her down. His bed was soft and yielding beneath her, but his body was not as he climbed on top of her. His hardness against her again, the sensation amplified by his weight, his hips moving against her, and it felt good, it felt so good, Delenn had never known that anything could feel this good.
John's fingers worked at the fastens on her robes. He had to stop kissing her to see what he was doing. A lock of hair hung down over his forehead, and with shaking fingers Delenn pushed it back. He stopped, looking back up at her.
"Delenn? Do you want this?" She knew that she should tell him no, tell him to stop, tell him they had already gone too far. There was an order to things; she had not watched him sleep, she had made no offerings to her temple. Even if they consummated nothing tonight, her clan was not here to pray and meditate on their behalf. They were doing everything wrong.
Delenn nodded, undoing the fastens herself. John was looking at her as though she were giving him a gift, and he was unworthy, so she kissed him again. A moment to be lost in that, and then he was tugging down the top of her shift, bringing his mouth to her breast. They were doing everything wrong, and Delenn found she didn't care a bit.
"More than anything else, I wish it would rain. Just for a little while." John was tired, but for the first time Delenn realized just how tired he was. It was more than fatigue of the body; it was fatigue of the soul. He was a man without a home, and no man in such a state could survive for very long.
She could not give him back his home, but she could let him remember it for a little while. So Delenn called up the sound of falling rain, and the surprise and gratitude in his eyes was enough to make her breath catch. "Sleep now," she told him, holding out her hand. He gripped her arm instead, as though she were a lifeline he needed to cling to, before he slid his hand down to hers. She watched his face for a few moments; his eyes closed, his breathing slowing. And then his fingers tightened around hers, and he brought up his free hand to cover his eyes. His mouth was tight, the corners pulled down, and Delenn realized that he was fighting back tears.
She slipped off her bed and came around behind him. John started to sit up, craning his head around to look at her. She pushed gently on his shoulders. "Lie down, John." He was so tired. He did as she told him, reluctant. She brought her fingers up through his hair, running her nails against his scalp, and he sighed. How long had it been since anyone had touched him with affection? Aside from the few times she had allowed herself to do so - the briefest stroke of her fingertips on his face, her hand covering his. Tired, without a home, and with no one to love him. No wonder he could not sleep.
Delenn massaged his scalp, ran her fingers through his hair. She remembered how good it had felt when Susan had shown her how to arrange her own hair, that first month after the Chrysalis; when she had asked, the Commander had told her that it always felt good when someone else touched your hair. She had been unsure if the same was true for males, but based on John's reactions, it appeared to be so. Then she moved her hands down to his neck; the muscles there were hard, and John jerked a little when she pushed her fingers into the knots there. But slowly he relaxed, and she rubbed his neck and shoulders until the muscles felt slack under her fingers.
She was loath to stop touching him, but it was important that he sleep. Delenn leaned over, placed a kiss in the center of his forehead. She came back around the bed, but before she could return to her own, he took her hand again. She watched as he brought it to his lips, pressed a kiss to the back of it. Swallowing a sudden lump in her throat, Delenn realized that she was also tired, that she also had no home, and that she could not remember the last time anyone had touched her with affection. Except for John, of course, who had held her when she needed to be held, who always looked at her with warmth and understanding.
"Thank you," he whispered, but she shook her head. Whatever she had just done for him, he had done for her as well, without even knowing it. Still holding his hand, Delenn leaned down and kissed him, hoping to impart that to him through the gesture, since she did not think she would be able to find the words. He understood, and his hands came up to her back, holding her, knowing she needed to be held; she kissed him, knowing he needed to be kissed; they loved each other, knowing they needed to be loved.
Three days ago, Delenn had attempted to walk up to Blue Sector, and had finally been forced to call Lennier to help her back to her quarters when she could not take even one more step toward her goal. That day she had acquiesced, and let Dr. Franklin prescribe her an analgesic for the wound in her back. Three days had also healed the wound considerably, and so taking it slow, giving herself time to rest if she felt she needed it, Delenn again made her way to John's quarters.
The entire time she had been held captive, she hadn't been afraid. Worried and anxious, certainly; not for herself but for the others. But in those moments of bedlam, as shots rang out and men and women screamed and shouted, Delenn had felt real fear, fear as she had not felt before in her entire life. Time had slowed to a crawl, and she had seen with perfect crystal clarity the man pull the knife out, saw him look for a target, saw his eyes fall on John. As though she were in the grip of a vision, Delenn could see the knife fly through the air, could see the blade strike John, could see his body crumple. She could see his blood spill out.
In that second before she acted, she saw John die.
Standing outside his door, gathering her strength before she rang for entrance, Delenn remembered that second with a shiver. She could not even contemplate losing him. When she tried to imagine it, when she tried to picture her life without his presence, she could only see a great black void. She could not do it. Remembering that he had said the same thing to her, she pressed the button beside his door.
"Who is it?" His voice was gruff, forbidding. She wanted to wrap herself up in it like a blanket, and the sudden need for him was too much for her tired and healing body to handle. Tears came to her eyes, and she had to put a hand to the door frame for support.
"It's Delenn," she answered, hearing the quaver in her voice, knowing John would hear it too. His door swung open and he was there in front of her, his hands reaching for her, concern in his eyes. Delenn gratefully let him gather her up, buried her face in his chest and breathed in deep. "I'm sorry," she said, and she cursed herself for being so weak. It was wrong to accept this from him, but she wanted this moment. To soak up, to remember, to cherish.
John was shushing her, murmuring nonsense words in her ear. Half sounded like Human foods, half simply meant nothing to her. But it was so good to be held, to feel him care for her in a real, physical way.
"I'm sorry," she said again. "It took longer to walk here than I thought."
"Why didn't you call me? I would have come to you." There was so much concern in his voice, and so much affection, that Delenn was afraid she would begin to weep.
"You already came to me once," she explained. "You brought the ceremony to my bedside. Now I must return the favor." It was difficult, but Delenn made herself step back and away from the security of his embrace, the warmth of his body. John was looking at her curiously, and she took in a shaky breath. She had already lied to him - she had come to him not out of some need for reciprocity, but because of what she had to tell him. If she had been in her own quarters, she knew that she would not have been able to bear it had he walked away from her in anger. Better that she be the one to leave.
"First I will tell you what I have never told another. A few others know, because they were there, but it is not the same as sharing the knowledge voluntarily." She paused, knowing that this was the point of no return. She could say something else now, and he would never know. But she needed this, even if it meant destroying their relationship. She could not continue down this path with him, could not continue to allow their hearts to grow close, if she kept this secret any longer.
"When the Prometheus attacked, when Dukhat was killed, the Council voted on what to do next. The vote was tied. Three wished to wait, to talk to the Humans, to find out what had gone wrong. Three voted for an immediate response. They voted for war. The deciding vote fell to me." John was staring at her, shaking his head, as though he could negate what she was saying, as though he already knew. But she had to say it. The words came out in a whisper. "I voted for war."
John stumbled away from her then, a hand out blindly groping for a chair. He sat down in it hard. It seemed he stared at nothing, his eyes blank, but Delenn knew he was seeing the events her vote had put into action. Ships destroyed, his people killed, a civilization brought to the brink of extinction.
Delenn waited. She would not offer excuses, apologize for something that could never be forgiven. She waited for him to ask her to leave; she waited for him to yell at her, to curse her, perhaps even strike her; she waited.
"And the second?" he asked, his voice husky. He did not look at her.
"The first thing is to tell a secret. The second is to give something up. What are you giving up?" She had not expected this; she hadn't thought he would want to be anywhere near her once she had revealed the truth. But she had not come unprepared.
"Minbari do not put much store in material possessions. This is normally why the sacrifice is so meaningful; we do not own that much, that giving something up would be easy. But there is nothing I own that I need. Nothing that I could not give up without a moment's thought. I have decided that I will not give something up. Instead, I wish to give something to you."
He would laugh darkly now, and tell her that there was nothing she could offer to him that he would accept. Instead, needing to push himself upright with both arms, he stood and looked at her. He looked stunned, and the eyes he turned to her were dull.
"What are you going to give me?"
Delenn took a few breaths before she answered, needing to center herself. "Hold out your hands," she said. A beat of silence, as he considered her, and then he put his hands out. Delenn walked up to him slowly, the wound in her back screaming, each step a sudden agony. Again she waited for him to turn on her, waited for him to explode, but he just watched, his hands palm up in front of him. They trembled slightly.
Delenn took his hands gently between her fingertips. He didn't jerk away from her touch. She brought his hands up to her ribcage, pressed them against her sides. She waited again, forcing herself to hold his gaze, to not look away. Slowly, slowly, he realized what she meant. He drew in a sharp breath.
"This is all I have. It's yours." John shook his head, and she felt her heart turn to lead. He was going to reject her. But again he surprised her; he reached down and took one of her hands, pressed her palm against his cheek.
"It's not all you have. You have this." John put himself into her hands just as she had done. They held each other, and Delenn found herself searching for his mouth. Relief as he kissed her back, and she could feel hot tears slide down her face even as she felt them on his as well.
"I love you," she whispered, holding him tight.