A CUP OF TEA BEFORE BED

By Frieda W. Landau

 

 

 

Hi,

This story takes place the day after Delenn returns to B5 from Minbar, after Atonement. I guess you can call it a gap filler. The ending is not what I originally planned - in fact the whole part in John's quarters isn't what I planned either - but Delenn (who seems to have taken up temporary - I hope - residence in my head) insists that's the way it was, and who am I to argue with her.

   I'd like to thank my beta readers for being so helpful and patient: Char, Penny, Pat, Annette, Lynne, Gwyn, Kim, and Mary. Thanks guys.

   Any and all comments will be greatly appreciated, positive and negative. Though I hope the latter are few.

 

 

 

 

*****

Delenn was angry. If she had known what Lennier wanted to talk about, she would have refused to see him this early in the morning. She was tired. After a week's absence, her reunion with John last night was more than satisfactory. But she was feeling the lack of sleep. And now Lennier was pressing her to make a decision she was not prepared to make. Her voice was harsh, the words clipped. "This is not your concern, Lennier. I, and I alone, will decide what, if anything, I tell Sheridan."

   "With respect, Delenn, it is my concern." His posture was submissive, but his words were not. "Sheridan is my commanding officer. I would be derelict in my duty if I did not make sure he is informed."

   "Nonsense." Delenn fairly spat out the word. "You are not a warrior."

   "By choice, no, I am not. But I serve under him in the White Star Fleet, and I accept his authority over me. Delenn," his voice pleaded, "you must see that his enemies can use this information against him. As can your enemies. Humans have a saying, ‘forewarned is fore armed!' Sheridan must be told."

   "And Minbari say ‘understanding is not required, only obedience.' You seem to have forgotten that."

   "Delenn, we are both pledged to you, Sheridan and I, in our own way. I learned of your role in the war with the humans, and I am still at your side. Are you afraid you will lose him, if you tell him? He loves you. That will not change."

   "Enough!" Delenn shouted, eyes blazing and hands clenched at her sides. "You forget your place."

   Lennier stood completely still as his faced paled. He clasped his hands on his breast and bowed his head. "I beg forgiveness, Sechet Delenn. I submit myself to your authority."

   Delenn started at the archaic term for mistress. Was he mocking her? She stepped closer to search his face. The raw pain and anguish she saw there drained all the anger out of her. Gently, she touched his hands. "It is I who should beg forgiveness of you. Please, tell me you did not hear my words."

   When he did not respond, she took his hands between her own. "Look at me, Lennier. I know you are right. That is why I was angry."

   At that, Lennier raised his head and gave her a dubious look. She smiled at him. "That is much better. It is a long time since I first told you to look up. We have traveled a hard road together since then. If not for your loyalty and support, I would have stumbled many times. You deserve better of me. I am sorry."

   Lennier drew his hands back to his chest in a formal gesture of reverence. "I did not hear your words," he said in the formal dialect of his caste. But he smiled shyly.

   Delenn did not know she was holding her breath until she exhaled softly at his words. "Then we are friends again?" She smiled at his nod of assent. "Thank you, Lennier. Please leave me now. I have much to think about."

   Delenn's smile faded as the door closed behind her aide. She had not told Lennier the entire reason for her anger. He had come perilously close to exposing her secret fear. She knew John would not leave her if he found out about her wartime role. That was the problem. He would still love her, the one who ordered the slaughter of his people. And despise himself for that love until it corroded his soul. Before she would let that happen, she would leave him.

   But Lennier was right. John's enemies could use her role in the war with Earth to devastating effect. Look what they did with that ill-advised ISN interview. What could Clark's people do with the knowledge that she gave the order that started the war?! And what of her enemies? Too many Minbari knew of her role in the war with Earth. And some were now her foes -- those who resented her breaking of the Grey Council to aid humans, or were jealous of her resurgent power and influence. And then there was Callenn. Although he had agreed to her becoming one with Sheridan, Callenn was not happy about it. Could he use the information to stop their mating? Yes, John would have to be told, and soon.

   The Babcom signal broke into her thoughts. There was a problem with the trade agreement she had spent tedious weeks negotiating. Perhaps, if she would explain article five to the Gaim ambassador again? Delenn sighed. It was going to be a long morning.

   Three weary hours later, Delenn signed off the com. Almost immediately, it signaled again. This was too much! "Yes," she snapped, "What do you want now?"

   John's face appeared on the screen. "To see your sweet face and hear your gentle voice?"

   "Oh, John. I am sorry. I thought you were the Gaim ambassador again."

   John grinned at her. "In that case, you're forgiven. The Gaim ambassador would try the patience of a saint! I just called to tell you that report you wanted is ready. You can pick it up anytime."

   "Thank you." Delenn made a sudden decision. "John, can you join me for lunch today? Please." She smiled sweetly at him.

   "Well, OK. I'll see you in about an hour. Oh, and I'll bring that report. Save you a trip." His face faded from the screen.

   Delenn set two places at the breakfast bar and prepared a simple meal of salads and fruit. When John rang the bell, she poured two glasses of cold orange juice. He was early.

   John dropped a data crystal on the counter, gave her a quick kiss, and picked up a glass. "Ah!" He smacked his lips. "That's delicious. I can never get enough of fresh-squeezed juice." He was trying too hard. He knew something was up.

   Delenn motioned John to sit and took the stool opposite. For a while they ate and talked of inconsequential things: the latest gossip about the ambassadorial community; the rash of seemingly senseless thefts in the Zocalo; anything but the reason for the lunch.

   Finally, Delenn pushed her plate to one side. Clasping her hands in front of her on the counter, she said, "John, when I told you I had to go to Minbar to take care of some old business, I did not tell you the whole truth."

   "Why am I not surprised," John muttered under his breath.

   "What did you say?"

   "Nothing." John took a sip of his juice to cover his embarrassment.

   Delenn frowned and continued. "I returned home to get the approval of my clan for our joining." John interrupted sharply. "They did approve, didn't they?"

   She nodded. This was even harder than she thought. Perhaps she should begin with something else. "While I was home, I discovered something about my family."

   John interrupted again. "Don't worry. Every family has a black sheep." At her puzzled look, he added, "you know, a rogue relative, someone the whole family's ashamed of."

   "Oh, no. It is nothing like that." "Then, what?"

   "I am descended, through twenty generations, from Valen."

   John's astonishment was comical. "Valen, as in Sinclair Valen?" She nodded yes. "Did he know?"

   "I do not believe so. But I do not really know. And I could not ask him because I did not know myself." Delenn ran her hand through her hair, and then continued. "It is all very disorienting. Valen is the most revered leader of my people, and Jeffery Sinclair was a dear friend, and they are one and the same, and I am their, um, his descendent."

   "Well, when you put it like that, I see what you mean. She frowned then, and he placed his hand over hers. "Delenn, doesn't it please you to be descended from Valen?" "Of course, John." "Then what's the problem?"

   She pulled her hands free and got off the stool. Pacing the room, she explained. "As a descendent of Sinclair, I already had traces of human DNA before my transformation. What if that was the reason I was chosen to fulfill the prophecies? Not because I was worthy, but because the triluminary would work on me."

   John walked over to her and placed a hand on her shoulder to stop her pacing. "Delenn, you told me once, the Universe puts us in the right place at the right time. Don't start doubting that now." He smiled and placed his other hand under her chin, tilting her face up toward his. "I don't care why you were chosen. I'm just grateful the Universe put you here for me to love." He kissed her very gently. "And I'm very proud and honored and pleased that our children will be descended from a great man like Sinclair. Now," a lascivious grin spread over his face. "If there's nothing else you have to tell me...."

   Delenn pulled away and continued pacing. "John," she began. She paused and started again. "John, what do you know of my life before we met?"

   John thought a moment. "Uh, let's see. I know you were Satai when you came to Babylon Five. Although you were Dukhat's chosen successor, you turned down the leadership of the Grey Council to remain here. You are one of the leaders of your caste...."

   Delenn turned to interrupt. "Where did you learn all that?"

   He grinned at her wide-eyed look of incredulity. "I have my sources, and besides, your, uh, ancestor left detailed files on the ambassadors assigned to the station."

   "Oh." She turned away again. "Um, John, um....This is difficult..."

   Before she could continue., the com signal sounded. It was Ivanova. "Ambassador, there's a...Whoops! Sorry."

   "No, please, continue, Commander." There was a note of relief in Delenn's voice.

   "Yes, well, that ship you asked us to look out for just docked. You wanted to be notified immediately."

   "Yes. Thank you, Commander. I will be there shortly."

   She turned to John. "I am sorry, John. We will have to talk later. I have been waiting for some time for the dispatches on that ship." She kissed him briefly and hurried out the door.

   As she walked to the lift, Delenn admitted to herself that she was just delaying the inevitable, but telling him was harder than she imagined. But he would have to be told, and soon.

   Delenn put down the report she was reading and got up to stretch. It was after eleven. She hadn't realized it was so late. The rest could wait until tomorrow. She closed up the Ranger office and started back to her quarters. She still had to figure out a way to tell John. She walked automatically, paying no attention to her surroundings. Still on auto pilot, she punched in the door code and entered. She was half way to the bedroom before she realized she was in John's quarters and not her own.

   Since her body seemed to have made the decision for her, she would abide by it. She would wait for John and tell him then. It was probably the best way anyway.

   She made herself a cup of the earth-style tea she had developed a taste for during late night strategy meetings with John during the Shadow War. Out of habit, she carried the tea over to the couch and sat in her accustomed place - to the right of John's seat. When the Shadow War ended, the meetings continued, but now they met in John's quarters, and they no longer discussed war. They tried to meet every night, if only for the time it takes to drink a cup of tea and kiss good night. Sometimes, when there was time, they made love before she returned to her own quarters.

   But always, they would spend time just sitting together, his arms around her and her head snuggled comfortably against his shoulder, talking of the present and planning for the future. She smiled to herself, remembering the night he finally told her about his glimpses of the future while on Babylon 4. She still did not know if she believed in that future. But she hoped the part about their son was true. She wanted children, John's children. And he was pleased at the idea of a son. She knew he would be a good father. But what sort of mother would she be? Only time would tell.

   She rose to pour another cup of tea and mentally shook herself. Here she was daydreaming of a future that might never happen, and would never happen if she did not tell John. She refilled her cup and stood at the counter, sipping and thinking.

   She broke the trust between them once by keeping information from him.. She could not risk doing so again. Even though he would probably forgive her, again. How could they continue to join their hearts and blood to become one as long as the past had the power to come between them. She would tell John as soon as he came in. No preliminary chatter, no leading up gradually. And definitely no physical contact! She did not trust her resolve once she was in his arms.

   Lost in thought, she did not hear the door open. "Hey! Save some of that tea for me." Delenn dropped the cup and whirled around. Instantly, without thought, she was in his arms. For a moment, she yielded. His embrace excited and comforted her. Then, gathering her resolve, she pulled away and stepped back a few paces. Before John could protest, Delenn took a deep breath and held up her hand. "John, please, stay where you are. There is something I must tell you."

   He lowered his arms and waited for her to begin. "John, earlier today I asked what you know of my past. You know already that I was a member of the Grey Council." He nodded and she continued. "I ...I was on the Grey Council throughout the war between our people." There! She had said it! But why was he just standing there nodding his head? "John, do you understand what I said? I was responsible for the death of so many of your people."

   "And I killed many of yours," he said evenly. "We were at war then."

   "But that is not the same," she insisted. "You were a soldier following orders. I was giving the orders! I was the one who cast the deciding vote for war after Dukhat was killed." She started to shake with emotion, but when he took a step toward her, she held up her hand to stop him. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. "The Council was divided. They came to me, as Dukhat's chosen, to choose. Dukhat's blood was still on my hands; his body lay at my feet. I wanted revenge."

   She opened her eyes. "But that is not justification for my actions. In that moment I betrayed everything Dukhat taught me. And now that one moment of rage can destroy you." She struggled to continue as her eyes filled with tears. "What will your enemies do with the information that your Minbari freak ordered the slaughter of your people?" Her voice broke. "I am so sorry, John," she sobbed, "for what I did to your people and for what I am doing to you." She stood there, trembling, tears streaming down her face, lost in misery.

   John crossed the few feet separating them. He put his arms around her and drew her against his chest. She tried to pull away, but he would not let her. Stroking her hair, he murmured soothing sounds and held her close until she regained control. Still without speaking, he gently steered her to the couch and sat her down. He retrieved her discarded cup, poured fresh tea and held her while she drank. First a few small sips, and then great, greedy gulps.

   "Whoa! Easy there." John smiled at her. "Feeling better now?" She nodded and kept drinking, this time at a more moderate pace. "Good." John stopped smiling. "You were right Delenn. We have to talk.. How long have you thought of yourself as a freak?"

   She looked at him in surprise. "That is unimportant. You have to prepare to...." John interrupted. "It's important to me. More important than anything else right now." He took the empty cup from her and placed it on the floor. He crouched down in front of her and took her hands. Holding her eyes with his, he told her firmly and deliberately, "I don't ever want to hear that word from you again. Understand? You are not a freak. You are a loving, generous, giving, open-hearted, and very beautiful woman. Never forget that. And never forget that I love you." He squeezed her hands and got up to sit beside her..

   "Thank you, John," she whispered. She blinked a few tears out her eyes and turned to face him. "But we must discuss what I told you. Not even your love can change the fact that I led my people in the war against yours."

   "Delenn, the war ended over fourteen years ago. Since then you have worked to build bridges among warring worlds and to unite them to fight the Shadows. From the day we met, you have supported me and fought at my side. Without you, the odds were the Shadows would have won. If your intention was to atone for your "moment of rage," you've more that succeeded. The lives you've saved far outnumber those who were killed on both sides in the war."

   She shook her head. "But I am still responsible for those lives." "Yes," John said, "as I am for those I killed. But that was in war, when we do what we must. We all have to come to terms with our actions. And then get on with our lives as best we can. But that's not really what's bothering you now, is it?" Again, she shook her head.

   "All right," he said. "Let's look at the situation. You believe that if Clark's people find out about your role in the war, he will use that knowledge against me. Right?" At her nod, he continued. "A few months ago I would have agreed with you. But not now. Not after all that ISN has been broadcasting about me. Clark has so many lies going that even the truth seems like a lie."

   He shifted position so that his arms were around her. Pulling her comfortably against him, he explained. "My enemies either believe all the lies about me - and you, or act as if they do for their own reasons." "Yes, that is true." "OK now, if the information should get out, our allies will think it's just another of Clark's lies. And our friends who know you and love you, won't care."

   She turned to face him. "How can you say that?" Ivanova lost her brother in the war. Franklin's father fought in the war, as did most of the others."

   "Sinclair also fought and he became your friend. Hell, I fought and look at me!" He grinned and she blushed. "Delenn," he was serious again. "There will always be those who will not or cannot forgive you. Just as there are Minbari who will never forgive Starkiller. Our time together is too precious to let the past intrude."

   She gently trailed her fingers down his cheek. "Yet the past is always with us," she said softly. John tightened his arms around her. "True. But we can acknowledge the past without letting it rule us."

   She lay her head on his shoulder and relaxed into the comfort of his arms for a few moments. Then, abruptly, she lifted her head to look at him again. "But what about your family?" "What about them." John asked, puzzled. "Will they accept me?" "You mean in spite of the war?" She nodded. "They will welcome you," he told her, "at first for my sake. And after they get to know you, they will welcome you for your own sake." He was so certain, she had to believe him.

   "Speaking of relatives, what about your family or clan or whatever? Will they accept me?" "My clan consented to our joining," she answered firmly. "That is all that is required." John smiled at the glint of steel in her eyes. "You ARE feeling better."

   She snuggled into a more comfortable position against him. "There is one point about which I am curious. Well, two points, actually. When did you discover I was on the Grey Council during the war, and why did you not tell me you knew?"

   John laughed. "I was wondering when you'd get around to that. OK, OK," he said as she poked his chest with her elbow. "I knew you were on the Council before I met you. Sinclair's files on you were quite detailed. And I never told you because you never asked."

   She gave him a shrewd look. "John, it pleases me when you try to learn Minbari ways. However, I would be happier if you did not follow our custom of never divulging information unless specifically asked."

   John laughed and hugged her tight. "I don't know about you," he said, "but I'm going to have a cup of tea and then go to bed." She gave him a wide-eyed, innocent look. "Is that an invitation," she asked, amused. He kissed the tip of her nose and said, "only if you want to sleep. It's been a long day and I'm tired." "So am I," she ruefully admitted. She rose and pushed him back on the couch when he tried to follow. "Sit. I will get your tea." Looking at the puddle of tea near the counter, she added, "And clean up my mess."

   Leaning back, hands behind his head and feet propped comfortably on the low table in front of the couch, he watched her quickly mop and make a fresh pot of tea. She turned to get a clean cup, and saw that he was smiling at her. She gave him a dazzling smile in return and poured his tea.

   As she handed him the cup, he said, "Maybe I'm not as tired as I thought." "But I am," she answered, with a touch of regret. "And I have much to do tomorrow, as do you." "Yeah, I guess you're right. Sit with me while I finish my tea?" "Of course."

   They sat quietly, side by side, holding hands while he drank.

 

*****

 

 

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