Once upon a time, John Sheridan had believed in love at first sight. A girl in his second-grade class with pigtails that curled; a cadet across the exercise yard, running with a long, smooth stride; his sister's friend, dragged home for Thanksgiving dinner. Once upon a time, John Sheridan had let himself fall prey to those early glances, to silly, awkward small talk, to tentative first kisses. But John Sheridan had been dumped; he had been divorced; he had been widowed. He decided that maybe love was overrated. Love at first sight? It was nice to think about, and sure gave the vidmakers plenty of fuel, but it was just a dream, a fancy. Love at first sight was a bulwark against cold, hard cynicism, against a view of the universe demanded by living in it for a spell.
So when he sat in the Council Chambers and watched as Ambassador Delenn pulled back her hood, John Sheridan reminded himself that first sight meant nothing.
After a few months, he was able to greet Delenn most days and think of her as nothing but the Minbari Ambassador, one of the many alien diplomats whom he had to persuade, reason with, sometimes threaten and sometimes coddle. Most days he kept everything purely professional, not out of any exercise of will but just out of simple habit. Most days he didn't remember that first moment, that first meeting, that first sight.
He was strolling back to Blue Sector after dealing with some unpleasantness in Down Below and decided to go through the Zocalo. Maybe not the fastest option, since it was almost always the most crowded spot on the station, but he liked the vibrant energy of the place, and more importantly, he wanted to pick up something to eat for dinner. Later, he would tell himself that he recognized Delenn from behind because of the tell-tale bone crest, but in the moment he didn't see it at all, or the colors of her robes, or even the length of her hair. He just knew it was her, knew it in the angles of her body. Without consciously deciding to, John headed her way.
She was looking at something in front of a little booth, a Minbari standing inside, watching her with an expression of indifference so absolute John knew it was hiding something else. He didn't know what Delenn was looking at, though; it looked like a crystal paperweight. It could have been anything from a clock to a small bomb, or it may have just been a paperweight. He waited for her to acknowledge his presence, but she seemed lost in her own world.
"I've been meaning to thank you," he said, and he felt bad for startling her. She clearly had had no idea he was there at all. "What's that?" he asked, gesturing to the crystal. She seemed surprised to still be holding it, and set it back down on the table. The look of indifference on the shopkeeper's face had turned to irritation.
"It is used to hold down the corners of unfurled scrolls." Ha! It was a paperweight.
"Did you not like that one?"
Delenn shrugged. "I do not need one." She wandered a few steps away from the booth, but it seemed like she didn't know what to do next. It was odd, and John wasn't quite sure what to say. She saved him from coming up with something. "Thank me for what?"
"For the whole Strieb thing. If you hadn't come along to show Ivanova where to look, they may not have found our lifepod in time." Delenn put a hand up to her hair, the most endearing gesture John had perhaps ever seen. He got the impression that Minbari weren't really comfortable with people thanking them. It was probably just one of those things that was supposed to go unsaid in their culture. "You saved my life," he went on, and was rewarded with a blush on top of the hair touching. Did she have any idea just how adorable she was? Probably not. John reminded himself to be good.
"And how are your injuries?" she asked, though she wasn't actually looking at him, but rather at her own feet. They had started walking, drifting aimlessly forward, toward the fore exit of the Zocalo and in a direction that would eventually lead to Blue Sector. Delenn seemed content to follow his lead.
"Fine, fine," John murmured. In truth, he had pulled something in his back at one point that was still giving him a fair bit of pain, especially first thing in the morning and at the end of the day. There was also a bruise on his thigh about the size of a grapefruit that had turned the purple of a Mars sunrise. Right now, he was more concerned with whatever was going on with Delenn. He'd never seen her so withdrawn. Something had happened sometime around his abduction, and by God, he planned to get to the heart of it. "So, any meetings for tonight?"
"No," she said, and again, something in her voice hinted at a side of her he didn't think he'd ever seen. She always seemed so sure of herself, so absolute in all her convictions. He saw that she was twisting her fingers together, wringing her hands. "No meetings tonight. I'm just..." She waved her hand in the air but didn't finish the sentence. John wondered how long she had just been drifting through the station, looking for something to distract her.
"I really enjoyed the night we had dinner together," he said, deciding to go for it. Hell, there was no reason they couldn't be friends, right? Friends hung out together. Friends had dinner. Friends talked about what was bothering them. "Why haven't we ever done that again? You don't have any meetings, there's nothing urgent going on right now. Let's have dinner."
She patted down the front of her robes. "Do I need to change?"
"No, nothing that fancy. We'll go back to my quarters." Danger, danger, John Sheridan. Maybe Delenn heard his mental warning, too, because she looked hesitant, and he watched her eyes dart around as though they hoped to land on something that would give her a solid excuse, a way out. "Or if there's a restaurant you know, some place maybe a little quiet, where we could talk?" He waited. She was looking at something, and John finally turned to see what it was. A small group of four Minbari were clustered around a salad bar, all staring at Delenn and whispering amongst themselves. Glancing back at Delenn, John saw how hard she was trying to cover up whatever she was feeling, and yet her face still looked stricken, tight.
He let his fingers brush against the back of her hand, just for a moment. As he had hoped, she looked away from the Minbari who seemed to be judging her, and she raised her chin up, just a little, just enough. "No, we'll go to your quarters. I would like to talk." Now she moved with purpose, driving adeptly through the crowd. John followed.
He ended up grabbing a burger and fries; she picked up something that looked much healthier a little further down the tube. Though he would have liked to snuggle down into the couch, the lights turned down low, maybe some music playing lightly in the background, John took their food to his table and let her arrange things onto plates while he poured drinks. He would have killed for a beer, but made do with iced tea. "Delenn?"
"Plain water, please." John turned away so she wouldn't see his smile. Plain water. God bless.
They ate for a few minutes in silence. Their first dinner together, John had spent the first half of the meal goggling at her hair, her dress, her whole demeanor; he hardly remembered what they even talked about. He'd expected everything to be different now. He'd known her for awhile. They'd spent a fair deal of time together, though most of it, of course, had been in purely professional contexts. And yet he felt just as overcome, and he kept remembering the few previous times he'd felt this way. But you're not going to walk down that road again. You know where that road leads.
"All right," he said, setting the burger down. He wiped his fingers on a napkin and set his plate aside. No distractions. "Out with it."
Delenn looked down at her plate in confusion. "Out with what?"
"What's got you so down. Why you're wandering around Red Sector for no reason. Out with it."
Delenn just shook her head, still staring at her plate. "You wouldn't understand," she murmured.
"Something's happened that your people don't like. Your transformation?" It was just a guess, but when she looked up at him with wide eyes he knew he'd hit the mark. "You mean to say they're not over it yet?"
"Captain, please don't impose Human values and mores onto Minbari culture. That will never answer any of your questions." John bowed his head, accepting the rebuke. Though he really didn't think he was too far off-base.
"What happened?" He didn't think she was going to answer him. She twirled her fork around and around, retreating farther and farther into some inner world. John wanted to reach across the table and grab her, put his hands to either side of her face and make her look at him, make her answer, but he made himself sit and wait patiently.
"I have been...removed from the Gray Council." Oh, shit. If she'd pulled out a gun and shot him, she couldn't have surprised him more. She continued to play with the fork, poking at her food, and John did his best to let her words sink in. In the end, he thought about how he'd feel if he got a call tonight telling him he was out, to pack up his bags and report back to Earth; he'd probably look just like that.
His first instinct was to grab her hand, lead her into his bedroom, and take her to bed. He suddenly wanted her so badly he could think of nothing else, and he couldn't help but wonder how long he'd desired her without being consciously aware of it. John stood, gathered up their plates, busied himself at the sink taking care of the dishes. Don't you fuck things up, he told himself, though he was starting to worry that was a losing proposition. He heard Delenn stand and walk to the door.
"I should go," she said, but she just stood there. Waiting for him to stop her. John rubbed his wet hands on his pants and came around the counter as quick as he could.
"No. Don't go, Delenn."
"Call me John." He might have gone too far with that, but then she smiled, more with her eyes than with her mouth, when with most people it was the other way around. "There's got to be something we can do to make you feel better." For less than a heartbeat, her gaze flitted down to his mouth, and John had a premonition of how this night would end. Delenn stepped toward him, and John prepared to kiss the absolute daylights out of her, but she just rested her head on his shoulder and slid her arms around his waist, slowly, tentatively, as though she were afraid he would push her away.
Oh. Well, hugs were good, too. John pulled her close, tangling his fingers in her hair. She smelled nice. In fact, he thought she might be the nicest thing he had ever smelled.
"I had to beg them to let me stay on the station," she said, her voice muffled. And then she spoke with a bitterness he would never had expected. "They only relented because this way, I'm far away. They can pretend I no longer exist."
"Well, fuck them," he said. She pulled back enough to look at him, the surprise on her face almost comical. "That's what I said. Fuck them."
And then she laughed. It was beautiful, glorious. Her laughs on their first date had been understated and polite. This was something altogether different. She ran her fingertips along his cheek, gazing up at him with shining eyes, and John knew he was a goner.
"What do Humans do when they feel like this? What is your ritual, to make yourselves feel better? I tried the Minbari way, but it did not seem to help." What do Humans do? We fuck like bunnies. He could tell that whatever professional distance he'd been able to maintain between them was fully eroded, probably forever. It was going to be a chore from now on to keep everything to a friendly level and no further. John slid his hands up and down her back once and then stepped back.
"We do things that are bad," he said, and she only smiled.
Fifteen minutes later, they were ensconced on his couch. She had taken off the outer part of her robe, and her shoes, too. Her dress was sleeker and more form-fitting than he'd expected, though he would have liked to replace it with a big baggy t-shirt of his own. Delenn had turned her nose up at chocolate cake (blasphemy), but had accepted a big bowl of vanilla ice cream. Plain, again. Minbari killed him, they really did. He'd pulled a vid up, something dumb and thoughtless, where people fell down a lot and hurt themselves. It didn't really seem to be Delenn's cup of tea, but she wasn't complaining, either, and she did ask what Humans did. Sadly, this was what humans did.
John was deciding whether or not he wanted to scoot a little closer and slide an arm around her waist when he caught her pushing her melting ice cream around and around in the bowl. She hadn't eaten much of it at all, now that he looked a little more closely. Her eyes were pointed toward the screen, yes, but she wasn't really watching. John made a command decision and turned the vid off, plunging them into near-darkness.
"John?" He took the bowl from her and set it down on the table.
"What are you thinking?" he asked. He'd left on one low light in his bedroom, and filtered through the frosted panes of the sliding doors there, it made her look ephemeral, as though she might vanish at any moment. A fairy queen, just here to visit for awhile. "Delenn, you can't keep dwelling on it."
"You asked me what would make me feel better. I am ashamed of what would make me feel better, that is what I'm thinking about. I remind myself of the person I used to be, a long time ago, a person I had vowed to never be again."
"What, Delenn? What is it that you're ashamed of?" He felt strongly that whatever it was, she needed to get it out. There was something inside her now that would fester if left alone.
"I want to hurt them," she finally whispered. "The ones who voted against me, the ones who removed me from the Council. I want to hit them, to strike them. I want to scream at them the worst things I can imagine. I want to hurt them." She let out a long, shaky sigh.
"There's nothing wrong with that. Delenn, that's a completely normal response." She started shaking her head long before he was done speaking.
"I have felt this way before, and the results..." She stood, and before he could say a word she was sliding her shoes back on, finding her outer robe.
"Goddamn it," John said without thinking, suddenly so angry he could hardly see straight. "You don't have to be perfect, Delenn. You don't have to censor every negative thought that goes through your head. So you screwed up once in the past? Big fragging deal. Everyone does. That's life, okay? That's life." She was standing in front of his bedroom doors, and he couldn't see her face at all. Just her form, backlit with that soft, gauzy light. John thought she was going to hit him, hurt him instead of the Minbari who'd kicked her out of the Council. But no, she was just grabbing his head and pulling him down for a kiss.
It was rough, and their noses smashed together, and her fingernails were digging into one of his ears, but God, it was perfection. John set aside every rational thought he'd ever had and wrapped his arms around her, pulling her as close as he possibly could. Her tongue was cold at first, from the ice cream, he figured, but it didn't take long to warm it up. She was moaning, maybe even trying to say something, but he didn't plan to release her mouth anytime soon. John half-carried, half-dragged her toward the bedroom, ignoring the way her body tensed against him. When he had to let her go enough to try and fumble the doors open, though, Delenn took the opportunity to step away, breathing heavy.
"We can't," she said. "We...Minbari do not...we can't." Now he could get a better look at her, at tousled hair and kiss-swollen lips.
"Minbari don't fuck?" he asked, feeling stupid. She closed her eyes and bit her bottom lip. John smoothed her hair back from her face and kissed her again, slow this time, making sure she knew she was being kissed. "Can I touch you? Can I taste you?"
"John," she whimpered, and then her arms were around his neck again. John thrust his tongue into her mouth, wanting her to imagine what it would feel like against other parts of her body, wanting to tempt her. He must have succeeded, because she nodded, still kissing him back with an almost wild abandon. John picked her up completely, no longer willing to leave a thing to chance. He dropped her onto the bed and immediately climbed up on top of her, settling his body down snugly against hers. Had anything ever felt this good? He was so horny, he thought the top of his head might come off.
She was wriggling beneath him, hips bucking up, her nails digging furrows into his back even through the shirt. John didn't think there was any way he'd be able to work out the fastens on her dress, and certainly didn't want to waste the time. He shoved the fabric up roughly, sliding over to his right side so he could work his left hand up between her legs.
"Oh, John. Oh." And then she said something in her own language, something moaned out, ending in a hiss as he finally managed to navigate whatever undergarments she had on under there, sliding one finger against her warm, wet center. She keened, a noise he never, ever thought to hear from her. He wanted to be inside her so badly he wanted to weep from the wanting of it, but if tonight ended with him jerking off alone in the shower after she'd returned to her own quarters, it would still be one of the greatest sexual experiences of his entire life.
It only took a few moments more before she came with a choked sob. John did his best to bring her down from the orgasm gently, kissing her throat, her jaw, murmuring nothings into her hair. Her breathing was just starting to even out when she giggled, just the slightest bit.
"What?" he asked, letting one finger stray back inside her body. She hummed at that, angling her hips to encourage him.
"I do feel better, now."
"Good. I'm glad." Delenn found his lips for another kiss, running her hand down the front of his body. Please touch me, oh God, please, he thought incoherently, just as her fingers brushed against his groin.
"You'll have to show me how to touch you," she whispered, though he didn't think that was true. Just the way she was rubbing his length through his pants was easily in the top five of handjobs he'd ever been given. He rolled onto his back, carefully easing down his zipper.
"Oh, fuck," he grunted as she slipped his cock free. One time, just one time, he'd let himself think about her while masturbating, and it had been a scenario a bit like this, her fingers gently running up and down, barely any pressure at all. "Wrap your fingers around, like...yes, like that." She didn't need much instruction after that, pumping her hand up and down in just the right rhythm. The time he'd jerked off to a fantasy of the Minbari Ambassador getting him off, he'd felt bad about it afterward, like he'd somehow sullied her just thinking about it. He sure didn't feel bad now, though, especially as she leaned forward to give the head of his penis one quick lick.
He had about five seconds of warning, enough time to push her back, to grunt out something that might have been words. Then he came, and it had been so long since it had felt like this, like something given to him, something more than just a physical reaction to the right stimulus.
She laid down beside him, head on his shoulder, her hand still gently cupping his softening cock. Everyone joked about men falling to sleep right after, but he was so content and warm and satisfied, he felt himself nodding off almost immediately. Only the way Delenn was pressed up against him, the edge to her breathing, made John rouse himself enough to roll her over onto her back. Now he took his time to at least unfasten the bottom of her dress, pushing the fabric out of the way enough to let her spread her legs. "John, I want you to..." She trailed off as he slid down her panties, which actually looked like just regular panties. Before John could consider that any more, she opened her legs even wider, tipping her head back into the pillows. He would ask her about Minbari underwear later. For now, he had some going down to do.
Delenn lasted quite a bit longer this time, but he didn't complain. She tasted good, the softness of her inner thighs against his cheeks was extraordinary, and the sound of her cries and moans something he would never tire of. After, he dragged himself up enough to rest his head on her stomach, and he dozed while she scratched her fingers through his hair.
"Thank you," she finally said, and then she sighed. He wanted to do nothing more than to take off all of her clothes, and his as well, and get under the covers with her, and cuddle her tight. And that was exactly what he did, reveling in the feel of all her smooth skin against his. John was glad she didn't suffer an attack of principles, and just stayed here with him instead. It would most likely be awkward in the morning, figuring out how to get her out of his quarters without drawing attention to the fact that she'd spent the night. If the wrong person saw her, they might as well take out an ad in the paper. But that was a worry for later. John tugged her even closer, tangling their limbs together.
"I've wanted you since we had dinner together," she said, absently running her hand up and down his back. "Did you want me, too?"
John kissed her first, wanting to buy just a little extra time. "Since that night," he finally said. "You were wearing that black dress..." She laughed a little, and then settled down to sleep. John wasn't going to tell her that he'd wanted her since the very first moment he saw her.