Nine: The Journey Home

The Centauri nurse held the light in front of her eyes, first one then the other. "Good. Now follow it back and forth without moving your head." Delenn obliged. She found she was becoming quite sick of being examined by nurses. This was the third occasion in two weeks. If she never had her blood pressure or temperature taken again, she would die content. "Any pain?"

"Of course there is, I fell and hit my head," she said, knowing she was being unnecessarily short with the poor man just trying to do his job, yet she didn't particularly care. She felt more than heard John chuckle beside her.

"All right," the nurse said, unfazed. "Nausea?"

"No."

"A mild concussion. Stay awake for the next four to six hours. If the pain increases-"

Delenn cut him off. "Or I grow nauseated or my vision becomes altered, see a physician. Yes, I know." The nurse packed up his things then looked to John, not turning to leave until John had nodded. There were still half a dozen Centauri and Minbari in the lighthouse, taking care of the corpses John had left upstairs. There were five of them, and she couldn't believe that all John had to show for the fight were two small bandages on his forehead. She wished she could have seen it; he must have been magnificent.

He was smiling at her now, just looking at her without trying to hide it. "What?" she asked, unable to keep from smiling back.

"I told you a Human skull was plenty strong enough."

"If I were still completely Minbari, the fall would not have hurt at all," she groused. "I need a kiss." He gave her one, holding her so carefully and tenderly. She heard those still in the building come down the stairs with the last of the dead, and they could not help but see them locked in an embrace on their way out, but Delenn could not bring herself to care.

Some time later, Londo returned from wherever he'd gone to, bearing beverages. He handed John a glass half full of an amber liquid. "Whiskey? It cost me an arm and both legs, I'll have you know."

"Thank God," John said, and he tipped the glass back and drank half of it down in one long swallow. Delenn watched his throat appreciatively.

"And for you, Delenn, some nice hot tea, though I think you also could use a stiff drink." Delenn resisted the urge to roll her eyes at him and instead lost herself for a moment in the warmth of the tea's vapors wafting against her face, the slightly-bitter heat sliding down her throat.

"Why are you here, Londo?" John asked.

"Why am I on my own home world? Captain, really."

"And you just happened to show up at this lighthouse with some Religious caste Minbari?"

"Ah, you have me there." Londo drank deeply from his own glass, smacked his lips, and took a moment to stick a poker into the fire, rekindling the flames. They were in for a story.

"Commander Ivanova had everyone convinced that you were stuck in your quarters with some kind of disgusting Human infection, Captain. The description of your symptoms was quite...explosive." Here Londo made a gesture that caused Delenn to wince, even though she knew that John had not been ill at all, of course. "And we all saw Mr. Lennier make many trips a day to the brig, where carefully-leaked rumors had placed you, Delenn. As far as I know, most everyone back at Babylon 5 believes that you two are still there.

"One night, very late, I was quite rudely roused from sleep – and some very pleasant dreams involving a very beautiful woman, mind you – by Mr. Garibaldi. I was practically marched up to Blue Sector, where Ivanova had hidden away those Religious caste Minbari before the rest of the station found out they were on board. They had been looking for you, Delenn. Apparently they almost had you, in the Dilgar system – what were you doing there, by the way?"

"It doesn't matter," John gritted out. "Why were they looking for Delenn?"

"Word had reached your Grey Council that one of their own had gone rogue. Not you, though of course you did, too – the Council should rethink its standards perhaps, hmm? This rogue had sent assassins after you, leading them to believe their cause was sanctioned and therefore completely honorable. You had evaded them, but now they feared you would flee right to the rogue herself.

"And now you were on your way to Centauri Prime. Would I join them, and convince you to trust them? Well, how could I say no?" Londo smiled that almost-feral grin of his, looking quite pleased with himself. As well he should be, Delenn thought. She now owed him a significant debt, and she had no doubt that the day would soon come when she would have to repay it.

"Were you with them at the inn?" John asked, finishing off his drink.

"Yes, I kept saying to them, 'Sheridan will go right over the mountain. He is Human, and Humans are completely irrational.' But they insisted on searching along the sea road, and we missed you again." Delenn smiled. She was glad that they had been missed, if she were honest with herself. She would not have traded those three nights in the hotel with John for anything.

"We could not find you in Arvenia," Londo went on, "Perhaps you had journeyed on? So we continued our search, sending out bulletins, hoping someone would spot you. And someone did."

"Who?" Delenn asked, not knowing why she felt so betrayed. Had it been the pretty maid? Perhaps one of the students studying at the amphitheater, or one of the many fishers and merchants with whom John had traded.

"A very fat guard. He said you came every day to the theater and just sat, doing nothing. Though he did mention that he once caught you, hmm, how do the Humans put it? In a fragrant diction? How the way one says words can smell good and what that has to do with fornication, I do not know." She didn't think she'd ever seen Londo so amused. If he did not shut his mouth soon, she would shut it for him. Perhaps he saw that on both their faces, because he hastily cleared his throat and continued.

"From there, it was easier to track you down and we followed your trail here. Though by that point, you scarcely needed our help any longer. I must say, Delenn, I had no idea you were such a skilled fighter, and so ruthless." Londo beamed at her approvingly, missing the way she swallowed hard at his words. John did not, though, and the arm around her waist tightened. She only wished she felt more comfort from the gesture.

xxx

The Minbari warship that had nearly caught them in the Dilgar system, having carried a message promising sanctuary with absolutely no deception, now met Londo's shuttle in orbit. The Minbari dead had already been loaded, and waited in a lonely row deep in an auxiliary hold for their return to Minbar. Delenn did not yet know if their bodies would be buried, to slowly give back their atoms and molecules to the soil, for the specks of their spirits that remained to re-enter the cycle of life on the planet, to one day be reborn – the fate that Hallier had wished to secure for her by giving her a ceremonial death, one that would let her rejoin the life stream of her people. Or they might be deemed too heretical to return, traitors whose bodies should be left to float in space, or be burned, so that their treachery might be cleanly excised.

As she and John boarded the warship, Delenn thought she understood Hallier's fear. After she went through the Chrysalis, she was literally no longer Minbari – not truly, not entirely. It was very possible that she might have been named a traitor to the Empire, to be cut out and excluded in this life and all that came thereafter. In that case, better to be declared Anathema. From that, at least, she could be reclaimed.

The inner airlock door finally cycled open. A young Minbari male with the relatively smooth bone crest of the Religious caste was waiting for them, eyes cast respectfully downward. Delenn grabbed John's arm for support, her eyes filling with tears.

"Delenn?" he asked, looking back and forth between them.

"John," she started, and her voice cracked a bit. She swallowed and started over. "John, this is Salenn of Mir. My cousin." His face seemed to stay as flat and formal as ever, but there was no mistaking the warmth in his eyes. He was much taller than she was now; the last time she had seen him, she had needed to look down into his eyes.

"Pleased to meet you," John said, not understanding what it meant that Salenn was here. "Do you serve aboard this ship?" It was a ship design with which she was unfamiliar, and she did not know where Salenn was leading them.

"No." The barest tight-lipped smile at that. "When the Grey Council learned what Hallier had done, a representative was sent to us, Delenn's clan. Did we wish vengeance upon her? Would we absent ourselves from the decision and let the universe decide? Or would we confirm that Hallier had seen the truth of things, and lend our support to her decision?" Salenn turned them down a narrow corridor, with doors set in the walls nearly every meter.

"And what did you decide?" John asked. In answer, Salenn stopped in front of one of the doors. "Here is your room," he told them, and bowed to each in turn before he left. No other answer was necessary.

They entered a room not much bigger than those on the Brakiri smuggling ship. One slanted bed, wide enough for two; a night table; candles; a small lavatory. Minbari did not generally put much store in dividing up spaces for the individual – that they had a private room at all, and would not be sleeping in a common room with everyone else – was a minor miracle.

Delenn didn't realize she was crying until John brushed one of the tears away. She hugged him tight, needing the feel of his arms around her, needing his support as the meaning of Salenn's words hit her. For two weeks she had believed herself hated and reviled by all. No doubt there were still many Minbari who would not accept her, who were happy to see her cast out of the Council – that would never change. But her clan, her family, had not forsaken her. She would have to defend her choice of John as a mate to the Elders, but she would deal with that when the day inevitably came, and not a minute sooner.

She tipped her head back to smile at him. When confronted, she would simply tell the Elders to look at him. His whiskers had grown out, and were close to being a full beard; if he were to shave the sides, he would look like many of the wisest Minbari, including her dear Dukhat. He was brave, and gallant, and so very noble – anyone who looked at him could not fail to see that.

"How's your head feel?"

"Like it's stuffed full of clouds and wrapped in thick fog." He kissed the center of her forehead, and then, after a moment's thought, the corner of her eye, and then her temple, her cheek, her jaw. "Now," she said, working her fingers under his shirt, "what could we possibly do to make sure I stayed awake for the next two hours?"

Delenn thought there was nothing she'd seen in the whole universe more beautiful than his smile.

xxx

John slept, his face turned her way. Delenn watched him as his eyes moved beneath closed lids, watched his chest slowly rise and fall, watched him shift and sigh. She waited for the revelation, to see something new – she slowly realized that was the revelation. John wore his true face at all times. She had seen it from the first day she'd known him.

She had carefully slipped out of his arms nearly an hour before, and now just as carefully slipped out of bed. Someone, perhaps Salenn, had placed a few traditional Minbari robes in the closet. She slipped into one now.

Ships were never silent, and Minbari warships, even when they were not at war, were no exception. Still, she only passed a few people on her way through the ship, each bowing his or her head respectfully her way. They had finally found her, these people sent to save her from an unjust death, from something no better than murder. No wonder she saw a few smiles, though she found it difficult to return them.

First she went to the auxiliary hold, where five narrow steel coffins rested in a row. They had gone to Centauri Prime with Hallier, to help carry out what they thought was the righteous judgment of the Council. They had only been doing their duty, and for that they were dead. Delenn rested a hand on each coffin and said a prayer. "I'm sorry," she said at the door as she left. Weak words that changed nothing, but they were all she had.

The second errand was more difficult, and she nearly turned back once. But it needed to be done, and better here than on the station, or even back on Minbar. "She wants no visitors," the physician told her.

"Hallier attempted to end my life through deception. Her actions were dishonorable. I have the right of confrontation."

The physician glanced up sharply. "She is seriously injured, and in some pain." The woman set her jaw. "Satai Hallier is under my care."

"Do you deny me my right?"

In the end, the physician could not, though her disapproval was more than evident. Delenn was led through the medical bay to the enclosed rooms at the back. They were all empty save one, which boasted not one but three guards outside. Warriors, who parted to allow Delenn entrance with nary a word nor a glance. She would not be disturbed, no matter what they heard. She wasn't sure if she was happy about that or not.

Hallier had been resting, but her eyes opened the moment Delenn entered. A beat as they stared at each other, and then Hallier smiled.

"So you've come for confrontation. I thought when you did not finish me off in the lighthouse that maybe you were too weak, too much a coward, and I was very surprised. But now I see that you did not want your Human to see you as you really are. Does he know that you once ordered the complete annihilation of his species? I wonder if he would be quite so infatuated with you if he found out that you were responsible for the deaths of so many of those he cared about."

Delenn closed her eyes and waited for her heart to stop racing. "You will not provoke me to anger." What separated her from Hallier? Only that when Delenn had cast her vote, she had not been alone. It was only tradition and custom that validated her cry for vengeance, that now threatened to ruin Hallier completely.

Delenn took Anyenn's dagger from her sleeve and opened her eyes. She saw fear on Hallier's face, but also courage and determination. She would hold her head high and accept whatever fate was chosen for her.

"When you put this blade in the hands of an assassin under false pretenses, you not only betrayed me, you betrayed thousands of years of our people's faith, our most sacred beliefs."

"Spare me your piety. Remind me again how you waited for the Council to formally approve your transformation."

Delenn accepted the rebuke, knowing that it was her transformation that lay at the heart of all this.

"I have hair on my head now, yes. My body temperature is higher. There are different hormones, and my reproductive system has changed. Even my taste buds are slightly different. And if I took this dagger right now and cut off my arm, my body would be altered in a different way. Would it also alter my spirit?"

"You have always been my dearest friend, Delenn, but you speak just as much nonsense as ever. There is a world beyond spirits and philosophy, a world we all must live in day after day."

"And do I not live in that world?"

Hallier just shook her head, looking as weary as Delenn herself had felt since all of this had begun. She realized this had been just as great a strain on her friend as it had been on her. The thought made her unreasonably sad. "You live apart from our people," Hallier said. "You live amongst Narn, Centauri, Drazi, even Humans. You eat strange foods and speak strange tongues. And now you've taken a Human as a mate. Can you truly mean to say you still live in the same world I do?"

"It is because of you, and those like you, that what I did was necessary. I hope one day you will see that."

"One day? There are not many remaining to me."

"I will ask the Council for clemency on your behalf. There is still more work in this world for you."

"No. Delenn, don't. Just use the dagger. Please, I beg you, just let it be done." Delenn closed her ears against the desperation she heard in Hallier's voice, and replaced the dagger in her sleeve. She knelt beside the bed and took Hallier's hand.

"You throw my decision in my face, that horrible day I named humanity Anathema. Know this: it would have been too easy after it was all over to let someone else impose a punishment, to give myself over to someone else's judgment. I have spent more than ten years trying to atone for my actions. I must give you the chance to do the same."

Delenn squeezed her hand, this woman she had once thought of as a sister, and left her. John was still sleeping when she returned to their bed. She thought for a moment of waking him, and telling him of her actions before the war, of clearing her conscience once and for all. But no, today was not the day for that, though it would be one day soon, of that she had no doubt. For now, she joined her lover in bed and finally gave herself over to sleep.

xxx

It was good to be back. As soon as they boarded Babylon 5 – to a decided lack of fanfare, for which he had his command staff to thank – a million and one things demanded his immediate attention. The first was to go over the decisions Ivanova had made in his absence.

"Of course, they're all technically your decisions," his XO told him as they made their way through Blue Sector. "You were in your quarters the whole time, puking. Okayed everything I sent your way. Speaking of which, that was a good call, the way you fixed that whole ruckus between the merchants in the Zocalo and EarthGov, when rent went up. A very good call."

Susan had an eyebrow raised, waiting. "Ah, yes. An excellent call. I imagine EarthGov's thinking whoever made that call deserves a raise. Make sure it gets to the right person, will you? Take it out of my personal funds until we get reimbursed."

He always knew when he'd managed to satisfy Ivanova, because she looked just a little less likely to kill the next person who crossed her. They made it to C and C, and John was a bit bemused to see everyone's big, beaming smiles and sharp salutes. "Good to see you back on your feet, sir," Corwin said with a grin. Once he was back at his station, calling an overall station status report up to his screens, he leaned close to Susan. "Does everyone really think I've been in my own quarters this whole time?"

"Pretty much. I guess it's easier to believe that you're an enormous baby who can't deal with a simple case of the flu, than that you'd do something as stupid as take off for more than a week with no notice and certainly no permission." John glared at her, but his heart wasn't in it. She did have a point.

He read the latest status reports for each Sector. Everything was much as it normally was – lots of little flare-ups, but nothing they couldn't handle. "Hope you're feeling better, sir," one of the junior lieutenants whispered as she hurried by his station. John realized he'd been in the middle of stroking his beard as he read when she'd reminded him of Susan's ploy; he wondered if the whiskers weren't one of the big reasons everyone believed the story. He couldn't even remember the last time he hadn't been clean shaven.

Last night on the warship, he'd hunted around for a razor, knowing it was likely to be a fruitless search. When Delenn found out what he was intending, there was no mistaking the disappointment in her eyes. So she has a thing for beards, does she? There were quite a few other things he now knew she had a thing for, most of it stuff he wouldn't have expected two weeks ago.

While he went over attack squadron readiness, John made a list of a few things he needed to grab before tonight. He was going to make sure it was perfect.

xxx

There was still a remnant of a bruise under one eye, but other than that, it was hard to see that Lennier's nose had ever been broken.

"I know you said you wanted to return to your normal duties right away, but I've only scheduled you for two meetings tomorrow." Lennier raised his chin, as if daring her to contradict him. Delenn only smiled.

"Thank you, Lennier." He nodded and gathered up his papers. "And thank you, Lennier, for everything else you've done. I am sorry I had to leave without you."

"It was for the best. By staying on the station, I was able to aid in the ruse that you were still here."

"A ruse for no one's benefit."

Lennier stopped what he was doing and turned his full attention her way. "You could not have known that, Delenn."

"I should have known that the one person I trusted to save my life was the one person who wanted to end it. If I had known, lives could have been spared."

"Their deaths are not your fault. No one wishes to view their friends with suspicion, or believe their faith is misplaced." He rested a hand on hers for scarcely a heartbeat. "It was not your fault."

She turned away, looking over at the shelves against the wall, crystals and candles. It was both strange and a comfort to be back in her own quarters. Delenn wished she could accept his words, so similar to John's the night before. It would be easier to absolve herself of any blame. But like she'd told Hallier, one could not always take the simplest path.

Five coffins in a row. Anyenn, the Trustee. Perhaps even Hallier as well. Was Delenn truly blameless?

"Was there anything else you needed?" Lennier asked. She shook her head, and heard the door cycle open. You have to tell him, and you have to tell him now.

"Lennier, wait." She turned to see him step dutifully back into the room, face expectant. The dagger had been sent on with Salenn to return to the Council, but Delenn felt as though she held a blade in her hands all the same. "I will be staying in Captain Sheridan's quarters tonight."

There was nothing else that needed to be said. She watched a shadow quickly spread across his features and watched him just as quickly try to hide it, but she thought she would see that shadow for a long time to come. "Did you want to cancel our morning meeting to go over your agenda, then?" There wasn't a single break or tremor in his voice; Delenn heard the pain in it nevertheless.

"No. Meet me at oh nine hundred in the zen garden. I think I would like to start spending more time in the gardens." Lennier nodded and left.

Delenn sat down and put her head in her hands. She sat there for a very long time.

xxx

Candles – check. Lotion – check. Blindfold – check. A teeny tiny lace teddy Delenn was unlikely to wear but what the hell – check. John kept himself from whistling as he finally returned to his quarters at the end of a very long day, but it was a close thing. He planned to stash his purchases – candles in his bedside table drawer, lotion in the head, teddy someplace well-hidden until the time seemed ripe to spring it – and clean up a bit, then call Delenn. She'd hopefully already ate, because he didn't feel like wasting any time. While on the call, he might wince a little bit, put a hand to his neck. When she arrived, she might say, oh John, let me rub your back, and what do you know, he'd already have lotion. John smiled to himself and ran his card through the lock; it was a pretty good plan.

The door cycled open, and John stepped inside to find Delenn already inside, sitting on his couch and staring at her hands.

John set the sack on the counter and immediately forgot about it. "Delenn? What's wrong?"

She stood, and he braced himself for tears, for fatigue, for a weariness that stretched down to her soul, but the face she turned his way was peaceful and radiant. She stepped into his arms. "Two weeks ago, if something were wrong I would take a walk through the station, or pray, or dwell on it late at night when I should have been sleeping. However I dealt with it, I would have been alone." She pulled his head down for a kiss, a kiss that was somehow tender, sweet, scorching, and exhilarating all at once. "Now when something's wrong, I can do this, so you see, nothing's wrong at all."

John kissed her again, resolving to kiss her every night like this, kiss her until whatever troubles she had just disappeared. He kissed her, then carried her into the bedroom.