They had returned from Bester's little trek out to Z'ha'dum a week ago, and John had been swamped ever since. One fleeting glimpse of Delenn in the corridors, and she had looked terribly distracted – he wasn't sure she'd even seen him. At least, John thought selfishly, she was just as busy as he was, and wasn't kicking back enjoying quiet evenings and uninterrupted nights. It was much easier to deal with how much he missed her knowing they were in the same boat.
And he did miss her. He missed her dreadfully. So today John put off a couple things that could wait and carved out a few precious hours in the evening, with which he planned to have a date with his fiancee. Come hell or high water. And considering the reports he was hearing from water reclamation in Brown Sector, there might be literal high water. But John would delegate! Someone else would take care of it! Walking from C and C back to his office, he browsed through the Fresh Air menu, trying to decide what he was going to have later. Since he had a mountain of paperwork to get through before he could take the evening off with a relatively clear conscience, he decided to call Delenn in the tube.
"Yes?" she answered, and her voice sounded...funny. John decided on eggplant parmigiana. For about the dozenth time in his adult life, he had decided to give up on synth meat. It was always a disappointment.
"I reserved us a table at the Fresh Air tonight," he announced, feeling quite smug. He hoped to convince her to wear that black dress from a couple years ago, the short, slinky velvet one. And tonight, by God, he was going to recreate some very old fantasies, including the one where he explored the cut-out in her dress...
"Not tonight, John," Delenn said, abruptly jolting him out of his reverie. Her voice sounded distant, a little foggy, as though she were on the other side of the room from her Babcom. Maybe she was. Though if she were working, she'd be at her little table, which was just right there. Not working? Taking a break? John scowled at the opening tube doors as he marched down to his office, wishing he were at the other end of the station instead.
"Can't you clear just an hour? I'd really like to spend some time with you," he whined. He tried to make it sound like it wasn't a whine, but it was a whine. At the very least, he supposed, he could pick something up and they could eat in her quarters, though that would likely turn into a work meeting rather than a romantic interlude. And though a work meeting with Delenn was better than an evening with no Delenn at all, it still wasn't what he was hoping for.
"I said not tonight, John. Next time you should consult me before you make plans." Now her voice was thick, almost choked. Was she really that angry?
"What's wrong?" he asked in as neutral a tone as he could manage.
"Nothing's wrong. I'm fine." And with that, she cut the connection, just as John walked through the vestibule and into his office. Garibaldi was lounging in front of his desk, and Garibaldi was absolutely the last person John felt like seeing at the moment. The man had been short with him since he'd come back from Z'ha'dum the first time – sometimes almost bordering on disrespectful.
"Trouble with the missus?" the chief asked, a smirk on his face.
A few choice replies came to John's mind, but he bit them all back, sitting down. He decided to just ignore Garibaldi instead. Five unpleasant minutes later, requisition forms signed and handed over, Garibaldi left, and John allowed himself thirty seconds to feel maudlin and sorry for himself. He'd allowed himself, for about ten minutes after making the reservation, to think that maybe, just maybe, he'd get lucky tonight. (Not actually laid, per se, but was it so wrong to hope for a handjob?) Now he had nothing to look forward to but more of the same, and a girlfriend who was mad at him for some reason.
John did his paperwork. There was something about this part of his job, all the way back to the Agamemnon, that still made him feel like he was in junior high, doing homework. He begrudged every stupid paper he had to read in full, puzzling sometimes over the legalese that infected just about everything at a certain level. He grumbled at the pages that required three signatures and four sets of initials. And he glared at the Babcom and his link, both of which broadcast messages and queries and updates, but nothing from Delenn.
What had it been about her voice? Even the first word out of her mouth had sounded odd, not like her at all. There were plenty of nights where, after he'd walked her back to her quarters and suffered the long, solitary march back to his own, he'd called her again, lying in bed in the dark, just needing to hear her voice one more time that day. Her voice was always warm, comforting, like a perfect hug. The voice that had come over his link earlier hadn't been much like a hug at all. It had been prickly and sharp, an angry cactus. Why was Delenn an angry cactus?
John finished his paperwork, checked in on C and C, canceled the dinner reservation. He changed out of his uniform into trousers and a sweater, grabbed some sugar cookies (Delenn's secret weakness), and made his way down to Green. Two calls came in on the link during the twenty-minute journey. John delegated one to Ivanova with sincere regrets, the other to Garibaldi with an internal grin. By the time he made it to Delenn's door, John was feeling much more optimistic about everything. Obviously he had just caught her at a bad time. They could reschedule a fancy dinner some time soon, and tonight they could just snuggle and cuddle and whatever else she was inclined to do. (Handjob? Maybe?)
John rang the bell, made sure the sugar cookies were front and center, and put on his most winning smile.
It took a long time for her door to swing open. When it finally did, the first thing John saw was the huge scratchy blanket wrapped around her shoulders, trailing down to the floor, making her look a bit like some kind of tiny despot. Her hair was wavy and tangly, actually kinda attractive in its own way. The tip of her nose was pink.
"I said I was fine," she said, her voice obviously nasal and stuffy, now that he was hearing it in person and not over the link. Then she coughed into a blanket-covered fist, the most pitiful, sad little cough he'd ever heard.
"Aw," he couldn't help but let out, like he was looking at a mud-covered puppy crying in the rain. "You have a cold."
"I am not cold," she announced imperiously, with the grouchy tone of someone who is rarely sick and therefore blames the entire universe for her misfortune. "I am freezing." She turned, the blanket swirling around like a magnificent cape, and went back to the couch. John followed. Of all the reasons for her grumpy, prickly voice he had thought of, that she was sick wasn't even on the list. He felt a little bit like a jerk, but just a little bit. She could have just said.
She had clearly been ensconced on the couch all day. Two other blankets of varying thicknesses; a pile of pillows; two empty teacups; a wastebasket filled with tissues. There was what looked like some kind of official document – though how he thought he could tell, considering it was in the Minbari language and script, John didn't know – on her tablet, but the device was partially stuck under a couch cushion. John glanced up at the Babcom, then smiled. An old black and white Earth film, muted. Lovers embracing. He didn't even know that she watched Earth movies, and found it so incredibly endearing he thought his heart might explode.
"What are you smiling about?" Delenn said, and now she was definitely grumpy. She snatched the cookies out of his hand. "What are these?"
"They're for you." Her face did not light up; indeed, it crumpled. "Hey. They're just cookies."
"I cannot even taste them!" she practically wailed, and John pulled her close, not so much giving her a hug as administering it. "No, John." Delicate fists pressed against his chest, but he was stronger (today, at any rate) and didn't let go. "I will infect you."
"I got my 'noc this year. I'll be fine."
"Dr. Franklin inoculated me against rhinovirus, as well, even though he did not think I would be able to catch the illness. The shot clearly did not work."
"Maybe the reason it didn't work is the reason he didn't think you'd come down with a cold in the first place. Your special hybrid powers."
Delenn scoffed against his chest, and gave up struggling. She looped her arms loosely around his waist, tucking her head under his chin. John rubbed her back as best he could through the blanket-cape. She tried to pull away to cough, but he kept his arms locked around her, and she coughed into his chest. "John," she chided him, and he smiled.
Some time later, he helped her clean her couch encampment a bit, though she wasn't happy about it. "When you're sick, you let other people take care of you. That's how it works," he told her. A calculating light entered her eyes, and John wondered what she would have in store for him the next time he got sick. Then he popped the cookies in the warmer so they'd seem fresh, made up mugs of hot mulled apple cider (reconstituted from powder, but what the hell), and joined her amongst her cushions and pillows and blankets.
"Hedonist," he said in mock gruffness. She only nodded. "How's a hot shower together later sound?" He thought maybe he'd snuck 'together' in there without notice, but she rolled her eyes. "What?"
"I am not going to share such an intimate experience with you for the first time while I have...this...mucus coming out of my nose."
John choked on his cookie, just a little bit.
"Yeah. I don't want to shower with you anymore."
Then she turned coquettish gray eyes his way. "You could rub my back?"
Even though she couldn't taste them, or so she claimed, Delenn inexorably made her way through most of the cookies. They watched the end of her old movie, and John convinced her to snuggle up tight against him. He brushed her hair until she nodded off, her chin nearly resting on her chest. Then he slipped off her robe and rubbed her back, wishing he could slip off her nightgown, too – he let himself imagine rubbing slick oil into her bare body for thirty seconds or so, and then she coughed the most horrifying, gravely cough, any carnal thoughts he had flying out the window.
"Stay till I fall asleep," she murmured, eyes closed, sounding asleep already. John climbed onto her bed behind her and rested his arm over her waist, listening to her breathing until it smoothed out and slowed. He was tempted to stay till morning, but since she hadn't expressly invited him to do so, he didn't want to overstay his welcome. Maybe when she got over her cold. John made himself slide off the bed, feeling a little drunk. He dropped a soft kiss on her forehead, waved off her lamp, and crept back out to the corridor. Up to his quarters, as light as air.
Best date ever? Maybe not. But a damned good one anyway. Even with the mucus.
(Though he didn't get a handjob.)