Part Three: The Tell Tale Heart
"You two are crazy." Michael was standing just inside the doorway of Susan's quarters, leaning against a convenient wall, his arms crossed tight across his chest and his eyes snapping with frustration. "The Captain's worse off than before."
Susan was sitting on the couch, one leg extended across the cushions. The other rested on the floor, and her foot tapped impatiently against the hard surface. "We tried, and apparently we failed. It did work for a while," she said, turning her head to look at the third member of the conspiracy, who was seated in a deep armchair, white robes gleaming against the soft dark blue fabric.
Delenn pushed back the hood of her robe and said calmly, "I believe it did. For a little while." She smiled at Susan and Michael. "It was good of you two to share your concerns with me. John is lucky to have such friends."
Susan made a face. "Lucky to have friends who tiptoe around a problem, playing tricks on you to get you to relax a little? I'm with Garibaldi, as ideas go, this was nuts." Favoring Delenn with one of her hard stares, she asked, ""How the hell did you get in and out of C&C with no record of your ever being there?"
Delenn evaded Susan's demanding gaze and instead directed her reply to Michael. "I had no idea there were so many hidden access points in the station corridors." A smile flashed across her face before she added delicately, "It must make your job more difficult."
Michael cleared his throat in seeming embarrassment, his eyes looking everywhere but at Susan, who was now openly glaring at him. "Not many people know about them, and that's the way I like it. Well, I guess that's it then. The Captain's lost interest in the whole thing. He's back to obsessing over the war, wound up just as tight as before. Only now he's half-convinced he's having hallucinations." Michael edged towards the doorway, hitting the release with his palm as he did so. "So you two go ahead and try something else if you want to, but count me out of any future plans. Now, I have to relieve Zach down in Ops. Good night, Susan, Delenn." He sketched a nod in both their general directions and fled.
Susan swirled some clear liquid in the crystal glass she held in her right hand and then took a sip. Looking over the rim at Delenn, she asked, "What in the world made you choose those items to put in John's path?" Holding up one hand to forestall explanation, she continued, "Did you think I wouldn't recognize those red berries from that ceremony a couple of years ago?" Shaking her head, Susan scolded her friend. "Jeff found out what they were from Catherine and told me. And I looked up the other things too." She took another drink, muttering, "Centauri love braids, my...What message were you trying to send, as if I couldn't guess?"
"The sennk'ai duma have many purposes in Minbari rituals, and I do not suppose Catherine Sakai was well versed in all of their potential applications," interrupted Delenn, her eyes flashing momentarily. At Susan's raised eyebrow, she sighed, blushing. "I thought if he discovered I was behind the mystery he would not mind so much. Not if the items were...emotionally appropriate." Hesitantly, she confessed, "I think I was attempting to...what is the expression? Catch two birds with one net?"
Susan bit her lip and remained silent for a moment. "We wanted to give John something else to think about," she finally replied. "But maybe what he really needs is someone to talk to. He mostly sticks to station routine and fleet logistics with me. What do you two talk about when you're alone these days?"
"The war," Delenn replied dejectedly. She shook her head. "He talks, and thinks, of little else. I cannot help him with his burden; he will not permit it. Indeed, he avoids our being alone together, except as necessary to fulfill our joint responsibilities. I think he is protecting me." For a moment, a gleam of amusement showed through her concern. "The thought is somewhat pleasing, although such protection is of course unnecessary."
"Of course," replied Susan, stopping short of rolling her eyes. Putting both feet on the floor, and setting her glass down on the coffee table, she declaimed. "Why don't you take the bull by the horns?" She watched Delenn's mouth fall open with some satisfaction. "Go ahead-put your money where your mouth is! Jump in with both feet!" Frustrated and also amused, Susan finally relented at her friend's growing dismay. "I mean, confront John directly." Striving to avoid further confusion, Susan added, "Tell him you want, no you need, to help him. That it's what lovers do. Support each other." Stifling a grin, she ended with, "You could ask him what his intentions are. That'd distract him."
"Lovers," Delenn repeated in a small voice. Her cheeks were aflame. "Is that what we are?" Her voice was low and hard to hear. "And what do you mean by intentions...his intentions? Towards me?"
"Ye-e-ss," drawled Susan in reply. "John's intentions towards you. And yes, lovers. For God's sake, Delenn, it's written all over your face! All over both your faces!" She leaned back against the couch and put her hands behind her head. "There's a time-honored method for distracting men, and it works especially well for those who are head over heels in love already."
Delenn blinked, then opened her eyes wide as she took in the implication. "Susan!" she exclaimed. "John and I...we have not yet reached the level of intimacy required for the initiation of physical interaction."
"No?" queried Susan. "What about that time I interrupted you two in his quarters? You remember, when I called to notify him about Vir's little masquerade?" She almost stopped at Delenn's expression of mortification. "Something was about to happen between you two or I'll eat my hat."
"You do not wear a hat," remarked Delenn faintly. "Though I have seen Mr. Garibaldi wearing a hat..." She cut herself off and straightened her back, bringing herself stiffly upright. "That was different. John had been injured, and I only meant to help." She stopped, flustered, then began again, "Well, I may have had...I can see why you might have thought..." Susan began to laugh and Delenn finally gave in and joined her, admitting, "You are correct. My intentions were not completely in line with my traditions at that point."
"Exactly," said Susan smugly. "No one's saying you have to jump the guy's bones in the War Room, but some concrete indication of the depth of your feelings might not come amiss. Something more than cultural hints and mysterious gifts. You need to surprise him, shake him out of this obsessive focus on strategy." Susan picked up the glass, remnants of ice clinking against the sides. She held it against her forehead, letting the cold drops of condensation dampen her skin and the few strands of hair that had escaped from her ponytail. "This whole thing is giving me a headache. I am so tired of his carrying on cranky like this." She snorted. "He's probably just hungry. I don't think he eats, or even sleeps any more. The delegation from Earth arrives tomorrow; maybe they'll have some news from home. It's not likely to be good news, but it's something else to think about besides the fleet and the Shadows." Susan drained her glass and set it down. "They sent a message ahead via Theo; two of them want a separate, and discreet, meeting with the Captain."
Delenn seemed pleased by this announcement. "Perhaps there is something I can do there." Leaning forward, her hands clasping her knees, she said, "Tell them the meeting will be over dinner. I will arrange it. At least John will have to eat, and it will take him away from the War Room."
"I'll let them know as soon as they arrive," said Susan. Curious, she asked, "How do you plan to get him to come?
Delenn favored her with an enigmatic smile. "Do not worry. I will make certain of his attendance." Talking quietly, almost to herself, she added, "It is almost time." In her normal voice, she confided, "I have heard your people say that love is a gift. I will give John a gift...not like the mysterious tokens before. A gift of hope, the gift of a fighting chance. It will be a surprise, and perhaps that will help him more than this game we have been playing."
Susan regarded her sharply, then shook her head. "You're not going to tell me what you're talking about, are you?"
"No," replied Delenn, eyes alight with plans and dreams. "I am not." She leaned forward and patted Susan's knee. "But I thank you. For your assistance, for your advice...and also for the further lessons in your language. I may go ahead and, as you say, take the bull by its horns."
Susan laughed. "The original proverb is something like 'take a bull by the horn and a man at his word.' And it's true, when John Sheridan says something, he means it through and through. But it's not the spoken word you need lessons in...body language can be just as confusing with different races. It's even confusing within a race, especially between male and female."
Delenn looked struck by this. "It is true that John is a man of few words." Lost in thought, she rose, and removed the white outer robe that covered her normal bright clothing. She folded the material into a neat square in preparation for departure. Standing, she accompanied Susan to the door, the robe draped over one arm. Turning to her friend, she made her farewells, adding a query, "What is said without words may convey a deeper layer of meaning, is that true of your people? It is true of mine, for all that we try to codify and qualify meaning by use of ritual."
Susan put her hand to her forehead, rubbing her temples with thumb and forefinger. "Actions speak louder than words, I think that's the saying you're looking for." She summoned up a smile. "Sometimes we humans say it best when we say nothing at all. Good night, Delenn." As the door closed, she added, "And good luck."