TURNING POINTS

By Jeanne

 

 

 

   When this was first written I had seen "Confessions and Lamentations" once. A friend sent me a copy of the episode months after this story was posted. When C&L was recently shown on TNT, I picked the story up again. Originally planning on doing the revision for myself and sending it to a few friends. I have been asked to post it to the Story Book. I hope you enjoy a revisit to Turning Points. Comments are always welcome.

   Thanks to Peggy, Freida and Lara for their beta reading.

 

 

 

 

*****

   Standing outside the door, John remembered his first reaction to Delenn when she spoke to him about the Markab. He had anticipated she was going to ask to be let off the station. He had been angry, disappointed with her and expressed his displeasure in words and tone. She had been the last person he thought would ask to leave. Instead she requested to be let inside the isolation zone to care for the sick. His heart had sunk as he realized this was the request he should have anticipated from her. So little was known about this disease; there was a very good possibility she would not come out alive. That thought had upset him more than he cared to admit.

   He had tried to persuade her not to get involved, not to go into the Isolation Zone. She was passionate in her argument, and he could not, as much as he wanted to, disagree with her reasoning. He had avoided looking in her eyes when he agreed to allow them entry. He could very possibly have been sending her to her death. It pained him even to think that he might not see her again alive.

   When he had started to contact C&C, he felt the light touch of her hand on his. "Don't look away, Captain," she had said as though reading what was in his mind. She answered his unasked question of ever meeting again with, "The place where no shadows fall," as she gently caressed his face. He had been surprised at her intimate gesture and stunned at his reaction. The desire to turn his head and kiss her palm. It had taken great effort to resist that impulse.

   Her words did give him hope. He had called as she turned to leave and told her to call him "John" when they met again. To let her know he would be waiting for her return. When she bit her bottom lip, he wanted to run after her, try and persuade her not to go. But he knew it would be useless; she was determined, and he understood why. They both would have to live with the result of their decision.

   Now, he was waiting outside the isolation zone for the door to be opened, trying not to let his impatience show, wondering whether she was all right. On one level having a conversation with Stephen, asking questions, replying to what was said. On a deeper level worrying about Delenn. Recognizing now that the worry had been there since he gave her permission to enter. The door finally opened and he stepped inside. He saw no one was standing and heard nothing, no sound at all. That silence scared him.

   There was the unmistakable smell of death in the room. It assaulted his senses the moment the door was opened. He knew the odor from experience; there is no other smell like it. The bodies of the Markab covered the floor. The ones closest to the door were in the positions they died in. Those Markab a little further away had been put into a resting position, arms folded across their chests. He could see bodies of children and infants scattered among the adults. This disease had spared no one. His mind cried out, "Delenn."

   This was death on a large scale unlike any other he had ever seen. In battle, there was always destruction, flying debris, broken bodies, cries of pain and blood everywhere. The survivors moved quickly to help the injured, calling whenever they found someone alive. It was always noisy, orders being shouted, damage reports coming over the com, with a lot of commotion, fire and flame.

   You could not avoid stepping in blood or over a body part or an unrecognizable form. If it was a dead body, you never looked at its face. You learned not to see things during battle; after, when it was over, you looked and grieved for lost friends. Then tried to forget the pictures of death that invaded your dreams. The bodies of the Markab covered the floor as far as he could see, but the quiet stillness of the room made it all seem unreal.

   He tensed. There was a sinking sensation in the pit of his stomach as he unknowingly held his breath while searching for any signs of movement. Then further back, in the dim eerie light, he saw first one person begin to rise and then another. He relaxed and began to breathe when he recognized one of the two as Delenn. He didn't see Lennier walk past and barely registered what he said to Franklin. His focus was on Delenn, no other, only on her.

   As she slowly came closer, he could see the look of shock on her face. She called his name, came into his waiting embrace and looked up at him with an expression of pain and intense grief. The touch of his arms was all she needed to let go of the emotion that had been bottled up inside. Delenn repeated his name in a shaking voice and began to cry. John tightened his hold, wishing that, somehow, he could take away her pain. He knew she would have to relive it all again when it came time to talk about what she had seen and felt.

   The others started coming in, not yet understanding what had happened here. What had started as a rescue team turned into a clean-up crew. But he was not concerned about what needed to be done next; Stephen could very capably deal with that. John's arms were wrapped tightly around his priority.

   He became conscious of movement around them and the low tone of whispering. More of the crew had started to come in. Their immediate reaction was one of horror and disbelief upon seeing the bodies lying at their feet. Going deeper into the room, they became of aware of the Captain standing there with the Minbari Ambassador in his arms. Delenn was unsuccessfully trying to control her tears, and John tried to shield her from their curious gazes with his body. It was impossible; the crew had formed a circle around them.

   The ever-growing audience made John decide it was time to get Delenn away from the death, the pain and the prying eyes. He picked her up, whispering that he was taking her out of here. The crew saw the look of frustration, annoyance and anger on his face as soon as he started to move and hastily cleared a path for him. Delenn buried her face in his neck as he held her in his arms. Quickly, he walked toward the open door. His neck was wet! Tears.

   It was Delenn's tears he felt.

   Stephen tried to stop him, but John shook his head and swiftly went out of the room, ignoring everyone who tried to get his attention. He didn't want to get into any discussions. He had one purpose in mind. To get Delenn out of there, to shelter her from view, to let her grieve unobserved. The others could handle this without him.

   He stood in the corridor looking for a private place to take her when one of the maintenance crew appeared and motioned to him. John followed the crewman down the hall and around the corner to a small supply room. After he carried her in, the door closed behind him with a clang. He turned in a circle, looking around for a place to sit down with her. There was nothing, no comforts at all, just supplies for the maintenance crew. This was not a place he would have chosen, but at least it was private, and for that, he was grateful; Delenn did not need to have anyone else witness her unrestrainable grief.

   John put Delenn down, wrapped his arms around her and held her close when the tears began to fall in earnest. As her body shook with sobbing, he slipped his hand under the long silky chestnut hair and began to firmly rub her back. He could smell the oppressive odor of death clinging to her hair and clothes. It didn't matter; nothing mattered except the woman he held firmly in his arms. Delenn was in agony. She had helped him so many times in the past. It was his turn to help her in any way possible.

   He started to talk softly about anything that came to mind: his impression of the Academy when he went to visit; his sister, Lizzie's first date; a toy horse from a Christmas he could remember; his parent's farm and how he loved to go there; his mother's favorite perfume.

   As he talked, her crying became less intense, her shaking less violent. She was far from calm but beginning to get back under control. His hand became gentler on her back, still rubbing but not so hard.

   He continued talking. The strange animals on Vertog. Different foods that he had tasted, both good and bad.

   Her crying had almost stopped; the shaking had turned into an occasional shudder, and his hand began to lightly caress her back. He went on to the first time he met Ivanova, his favorite season on earth and what planet he had been on that closely resembled it.

   Finally she became still in his arms though her breathing was still irregular. He held her quietly, letting her recover from the strong emotion. His breath stirred her hair as he pulled her closer.

   When she began to breathe normally, he said, "When I was about seven we moved to Mkasas -- a planet where my Dad was going to be assigned for two years. Two years! It was the longest I could remember that we were going to be in one place.

   "The Mkasas' weren't the most advanced culture we had lived among, but the people were kind and striving to create a better life. My father admired their desire to become part of the whole, not just a piece of the universe.

   "My parents said I could have a pet -- something they had not allowed before because of our frequent moves. It had to be native to the planet, and there was a good possibility I wouldn't be able to take it with me when we were transferred.

   "I choose a Rakanit, a kind of a dog; I named him Comet. He had long brown and . . . a color I can only describe as purple . . . fur that got into everything. My mother hated it. She said it reminded her of a large rat with long hair. I loved him. He followed me everywhere. He slept on my bed, was under my chair at dinner and snuck in the schoolroom with Lizzie, our tutor and me. He cried when I went somewhere and couldn't take him with me.

   "We went back to Earth, to the farm, for a vacation. Comet had to stay behind because of the quarantine on animals. I put up a very big fight trying to take him with us, but I finally realized the stay in quarantine would have been longer than we were to be away.

   "When we returned to Mkasas, I couldn't find Comet anywhere. I was heartbroken. My pet had disappeared, and no one knew where he was. Finally we found out that he had wandered outside the Embassy Compound.

   "I knew what must have happened to Comet. Rakanits were used, in times of great need, as food by the people on the planet who had little. I went to my room, closed the door, and began to cry inconsolably.

   "What I remember most is my mother coming in, holding me in her arms and talking. She must have talked for an hour or more, patiently waiting for me to stop crying. I don't remember what she said, but I do remember the sound of her voice and that, in my pain and grief, I wasn't alone."

   Delenn was resting against him. She was so quiet and still, he wondered if she had heard any of what had been said. When she didn't respond, he began to question if his story had helped or if he should have kept his mouth shut.

   Then she lifted her head and looked up at him with her tear-streaked face, vivid green eyes looking through wet lashes. In a barely audible voice, said, "In my grief, I also knew that I was not alone. Thank you, John."

   He laid one hand on the side of her face, took his thumb and wiped first one cheek and then the other. John saw the pain was still reflected in her eyes, but the tension was gone from her body. She leaned up against him and put her head back down on his shoulder. John held her, contented, pleased that he had been able to help ease her pain in some small way.

   Delenn slid her arms around his neck, cleared her mind of all thought, felt the rhythm of his breathing and listened to the soothing sound of his heartbeat. Allowing herself to feel the comfort in his arms, the understanding in his silence. Savoring the knowledge she was safe, protected from all harm within the circle of his embrace.

   She was so small and delicate in his arms but with a will of steel. Her hair was soft on his cheek, the silk of her dress cool on the back of his neck. He felt a stirring deep within him. As if something was waking up after a long sleep. Unconsciously he knew there was a decision to be made: put it back to sleep or let it wake up on its own. The compassion he had been feeling suddenly turned into a depth of tenderness he never before experienced. This woman he held in his arms, this *Minbari*, touched him in a way no one ever had before.

   The vastness of the universe collapsed to encompass the two of them, blocked out the rest of creation and allowed nothing to intrude. They stayed wrapped in each others arms for a long time. Neither of them willing to break the spell, willing to break the emotional connection the universe had woven around and between them.

   Finally, thinking of her well-being but with a great deal of reluctance, he stroked her hair and said softly, "I should take you back to your quarters to rest." He felt more than heard her sigh as he continued to stroke the long thick hair. His cheek rested on the top of her head, not forcing her to move until she was ready. Indeed, in a way hoping that she would not move, he was willing to hold her indefinitely.

   She did not want to stir out of his comforting embrace but knew he was right. A moment later, Delenn looked up at him, exhaustion visible in her eyes, nodded and stepped away. Her knees began to . . . "What was it called?" She grabbed onto the stray thought, anything to avoid thinking about the Markab. "Oh yes, buckle," as she sank to the floor.

   She could barely stand on her own, so John promptly reached out and put his arm around her waist before she ended up on the floor.

   "Delenn, can you walk or should I carry you." The concern was evident in his voice.

   "I can walk." She refused to appear completely weak and helpless but then after taking a few steps without support, conceded, "With help."

   He guided her to the lift and used his security code for an override to go directly to the level her quarters were on. She relaxed against him, and he tensed in order to support her weight; his arms circled her waist.

   Delenn placed her arms on top of his and began to do some meditation, breathing in deeply. But the thoughts that entered her mind did not have anything to do with meditation. He smelled so good, so human, with his own distinct scent, so clean. She had been in the middle of death and decay for days, had forgotten what clean was. Her skin felt gritty, her hair greasy, her clothes were filthy, covered with the signs and smells of sickness and death. A shower could not come too soon. Her back rested against John's chest, and she felt comfort in its rise and fall. It confirmed that life surrounded her, and she remembered the reason why the tears had started.

   Her head fell back against his shoulder. He gently rubbed her bonecrest with his cheek; its texture was rough and smooth. He heard her sigh and wondered if it had feeling. As if in answer to his question, she moved her head, the bonecrest lightly brushing his cheek; she sighed again and turned into him. Took one of his hands, held on tightly as she brought it up to her cheek and whispered in his ear. He replied in the same manner, as he folded his arms securely around her, "I understand." The lift reached its destination all to soon. He did not want to leave her.

   The BabCom was chiming insistently as they entered her quarters. He knew that she would want to be seen standing on her own, to be the Ambassador from Minbar, so he led her to a chair. She held on to it, gave him a grateful smile as he stepped away, and answered the call.

   A Minbari female appeared on the screen. The conversation was short and entirely in Minbari. Delenn said very little; at one point she visibly stiffened, then nodded her head. The only words he understood were "Franklin" and "Lennier".

   They finished talking, and Delenn turned to him with an unreadable expression on her face, saying, "She would like to speak with you." She slowly, with great difficulty, left the room under her own power using different pieces of furniture for support as she went.

   He heard the Minbari start addressing him, "Captain . . ."

   John ignored the voice, his eyes followed Delenn's progress to make sure she reached her bedroom safely. Ready to rush to her side if she showed the slightest sign of faltering, he watched closely until she was out of sight.

   The voice called again, persistent in the demand for his attention, "Captain Sheridan."

   The speaker waited until he turned to the screen and she was certain that she had his complete concentration.

   "My name is Shatenn. I am . . . the closest word in your language is a psychologist. I have just talked to Doctor Franklin. He described to me what was found in the isolation zone and a little of what the Ambassador and Lennier have experienced. He asked that I go directly to Lennier; I will come to Delenn when I am able. On instructions from Doctor Franklin, I have told Delenn to shower, eat and sleep. The sleep and eat I understand. The shower . . ." She trailed off.

   John let the remark go by, refusing to allow the slow burn that had been building at her tone to make him explode. He was more concerned with Delenn's well-being than this one's arrogance.

   "Doctor Franklin told me that you have been with the Ambassador since she left the isolation zone. That was almost two standard hours ago." Her voice dripped with disapproval.

   He still didn't respond, just waited calmly for Shatenn to go on.

   "I must ask a of favor you, Captain," she continued unenthusiastically. "The Ambassador should not be left alone right now, and I must go to Lennier. I realize this is an inconvenience, but there is not another Minbari of her rank on Babylon 5 I can ask, and it is obvious that Lennier will be unable to help at this time. Will you stay until she falls asleep? I will come as soon as I am able."

   She now sounded almost contrite, but he had the distinct impression that she would rather have someone, *--anyone--* else stay with Delenn.

   He allowed no annoyance to creep into his voice as he replied, "Yes, I agree Delenn should not be left alone. I will stay with her." It was easy to see that Shatenn was not at all happy with this arrangement but had no other choice. He was glad of the excuse to stay.

   "I will send someone with the food Dr. Franklin ordered. Encourage her to eat though I think it will be very little. Get her to drink as much of the tea as you can." Her, "Thank you, Captain," was very terse. "I will be with Lennier if the Ambassador needs me." The BabCom blinked off.

   John took off his uniform jacket, contacted C & C and gave instructions to call Ivanova if there was an emergency, that he did not want to be disturbed. Waiting for Delenn, he connected to the computer in his office to make sure there was no new crisis. He quickly reviewed the messages that waited for him, then shut the Com off. There was nothing that needed his immediate attention. He would talk to Stephen in the morning when the full report would be ready. Everything else could wait. He heard the shower turn off as he sat back, recalling how she felt in his arms and how protective he was being of her.

   He was startled out of his reflection by the door chime. He answered the door, and a young Minbari female was standing there with the food and tea Shatenn had promised to send. She started to come in, but he took the containers from her, saying he would take care of it. A look of surprise quickly crossed her face and was gone just as fast. John thanked her and went to the kitchen area to search the cabinets for dishes and a cup. He did not expect to see the very familiar food that was in the containers, but the tea was definitely Minbari. He arranged the food on the plates, heated it and the tea, and put everything on the table, glad that he didn't have to do any cooking.

   Delenn came into the living quarters shortly after. She was dressed in a pale blue robe made of a thin silky material that clung to her body as she walked. Though her face was still drawn and tired, she looked a little more relaxed after the shower. It was her eyes that exposed the pain she was suppressing.

   Even in her distress, she was lovely. Her supple form moved with an elegant grace that was accented by the clinging robe. When she grabbed onto a chair to keep from falling he mentally chided himself. He was here to watch over her, help where needed. What was he doing -- admiring her other worldly beauty, forgetting she was still weak and exhausted. He quickly went to her side.

   Delenn had been unsure who would be waiting when she opened the bedroom door and was relieved to see John standing there. Shatenn was not receptive to asking John to stay, and Delenn was uncertain, when asked, if he would agree to remain. Right now, she was more comfortable with him than another Minbari, someone who had not seen the dead Markab, who would not -- could not -- understand the soul wrenching pain she was experiencing.

   She had barely made it this far under her own power. Undressing, taking the shower and finding the robe had completely drained her. Her cast-off clothes were still lying in a heap on the floor. She did not have the energy to completely dry her hair and knew she would not make it any further without John's help. She leaned up against him, slipped one arm around his neck and placed her hand on his chest. Drawing strength from the steady beating of his heart.

   He again held her in his arms; it felt as though she belonged there, that an empty place had finally been filled. He could feel her body heat through the thin silk of her robe. His hands caressed her back. Her face tilted up to his. Her eyes . . . He must get her to eat something and helped her to the table. She sat down and made a face at the food before her.

   John sat opposite her and said, "Delenn, I have my orders from Shatenn."

   She looked at him with a resigned expression on her face. "I have mine also."

   John shook his head and said, "It can't be that bad."

   She, in return, gave him a wry smile. "I suppose there is no avoiding this."

   "Delenn, it is only food and tea," he replied.

   "Yes, yes, I know. I am not hungry," she muttered.

   "This is not for hunger but nourishment," he coaxed.

   Delenn sighed and drank some tea, making a face as she swallowed. She put her elbow on the table, rested her chin in the palm of her hand, picked up her fork and, with another sigh, started toying with the food. In a few minutes, it was clear to John that she would not eat any of what was set before her.

   He tried to persuade her to eat just a little. "Delenn, please try to eat a little something. You haven't eaten much of anything in the past several days." She got the fork halfway to her mouth, wrinkled her nose and put it back down.

   Several times, she looked as if she were about to say something but changed her mind, then went back to making designs on the plate with the food.

   Until she gave up all pretense of trying to eat and sat staring off into space, seeing things that should have been left in the Isolation Zone.

   He glanced at the plate and laughed. She was startled at the sound and looked at him, surprise in her eyes. He explained, "When we were at the farm, my mother took care of the home, something she loved to do, and Dad checked on the business of the farm. Mom loved being a 'homemaker' with no one looking over her shoulder. She cooked all the meals and tried to accommodate all our tastes.

   "I loved peas and mashed potatoes. Lizzie hated peas, would eat the potatoes but would rather have rice, which was not my favorite. One night, Lizzie decided that Mom was favoring me, too many nights of peas I guess. She was about five and refused to eat them. She mashed up the peas and began making designs on her plate.

   "Mother tried to reason with her. Food was not to play with, but she refused to listen and added the mashed potatoes to the design she was busy creating.

   "Of course, I had eaten everything on my plate and asked for more, but instead of shoveling it directly into my mouth, I began to play also. It became a competition between us, who could make the most intricate designs. My mother threw up her hands and, after clearing up everything else, left the kitchen and us to our creativity. Told us to clean up after we were done.

   "We went on for an hour or so, taking the food off the plates, combining our designs on the table and then ending up on the floor. The design got quite big and then we got bored. We cleaned up as best we could and joined Mother in the other room.

   "A little later, we heard the kitchen door close, followed by a loud crash. My father had come home. Mother went running to see what had happened."

   "Lizzie and I looked at each other; we hadn't done a very good job cleaning up the floor and went flying to our bedrooms to avoid getting yelled at by Dad."

   Delenn looked down, saw peas and mashed potatoes making an intricate design on her plate. John could see the corners of her mouth turn up slightly. He took the fork from her hand, put the plate out of reach and said, "Finish your tea." He could tell from her expression that she was about to become rebellious. Before she could protest, he put on his most brilliant smile and said in his most charming manner, "Please."

   She hesitated and then grinned back at him and gave in. She picked up the cup, slowly drank the tea while John cleared the dishes and told another story of Lizzie.

   Delenn's frown turned into a grin as she listened, then into a smile, a giggle, a chuckle and, at last, into a laugh. She was lovely, radiant. Her face was transformed, shining with enjoyment. Her eyes sparkled with amusement. The exact opposite of ten minutes before. By the time he finished his tale, she was done with the tea. When he took the cup, she turned inward, reliving the death of the Markab. A frown quickly replaced the smile; the vivacious woman disappeared.

   She could not continue like this. She would never get any rest. He wanted to chase the haunted look from her face, the torment from her eyes. Whatever was tearing at her soul needed to be out in the open now. It could not wait for Shatenn. He gently asked, "Would you like to talk about it?"

   She started to say, "Yes," but it caught in her throat. Her eyes filled with tears, she bit her bottom lip and pressed her hands tightly together. John reached across the table and took her hands, gently covering them until she threaded her fingers through his. He said softly, "Come, you'll be more comfortable over here," nodding toward the sofa. He helped her up and, when they were seated, put an arm around her shoulders as she nestled close to him.

   "Take your time. Tell me only what you can," he said, trying to encourage her to begin.

   She took a deep breath and held it, having difficulty trying to put what she saw and felt into words, not quite knowing where to start. After a moment, she exhaled and began with the young girl who had been separated from her mother. Once she started, the words came tumbling out.

   "The little girl was frightened, in a scary place, having recently lost her father and, now, without her mother to comfort her. I understood her fear and told a story of when I was lost and alone at her age. Trying to give her the reassurance that her mother would be found as my parents had found me. The child's reaction was so like what I remembered of mine when her mother came."

   Delenn was speaking so softly, John had to lean in closer.

   "Lennier was just as pleased as I was that they were reunited. Then in the next instant, the child showed the symptoms of the disease." Her voice started to waver. "We were able to find a comfortable place for them, and I stayed, watching the child die in her mother's arms. Soon she too started showing signs of the sickness.

   "The mother was devastated at having lost husband and daughter so close together and was getting weaker. I tried to tell her of 'the place where no shadows fall'." Delenn swallowed, paused and said with a catch in her voice, "This is not part of the Markab religion. There is no belief in an afterlife once the physical body is dead. Nothing I said gave her comfort. She died in my arms, thinking she would never again meet her loved ones.

   "I moved on, trying to help where I could. The Markabs had many different reactions to their situation: anger, resignation, fear, questioning why this was happening to them. They were moral people; this disease should have passed them by. Some, at the beginning, treated the isolation as a holiday, telling stories, laughing and joking. That attitude changed abruptly when the plague quickly spread, as the feeling of helplessness and despair grew.

   "The Markabs' reaction to me were just as varied. Some were angry that I was seeing their agony, confusion and pain. Some welcomed my ministrations; others wanted no part of me.

   "I became alarmed when one death started blending into another." John could feel her body getting tense and saw her hands clench. "These were all individual souls. I should be able to keep them separate in my mind and prayers, but there were too many dying too fast. I have never felt more helpless."

   John knew from her disjointed account this experience had affected her deeply. He did not break her train of thought by asking questions; it was more important for her to talk. He kept quiet, letting her continue uninterrupted, trying to show compassion by holding her close.

   She went on, "The Markab who had not been stricken were caring for the sickest. The strongest were organized to move the dead bodies to one part of the room, a small section away from the door. In a short time, it became full, and the living were moved to make room for the dead.

   "The stench had become almost unbearable at one point. The smell of death was so overwhelming, I began to question if I could continue. My meditations that have always been a source of comfort and strength in the past were not helpings." She shook her head and shuddered. "I did not know what to do next. I was beginning to doubt everything that I have ever believed in.

   "In the middle of all that death, I was called upon to help deliver a baby." She paused and reached up take his hand. "This was not the joyous occasion it should have been." She squeezed his hand tightly. "The mother did not live to see her son." She paused again. "The baby, when born, never drew a breath." John pulled her closer, and she leaned into him trying to get even nearer. It was a few minutes before she was able to continue.

   "It became apparent to me then that the dead were no longer being taken to the separate area." A shiver ran through her body. "There was no one left strong enough to move them. The chanting that had been going on continually since we entered the Isolation Zone had also stopped. I looked around and saw very few people standing. I could not see Lennier and began to get concerned.

   The Markab were not allowing any communication outside the Isolation Zone. I had no idea if Doctor Franklin was making any progress on finding a cure or if the disease had crossed species. I did not know how long we had been locked in; I had lost track of time.

   "I went to look for Lennier, walking among the bodies, not knowing who was alive or dead when a hand grabbed my ankle." He felt her shudder. "I bent down to find the living Markab, only to realize there was no one alive; it was a muscle reflex action that moved the hand that touched me. I could barely keep from screaming."

   She paused, trying to stop the tears that had started again and tried to nestle closer to him. John tightened his hold around her shoulders and covered her small ice-cold hands with his large one, trying to warm them. Delenn regained some composure and, her voice wavering, forced herself to continue.

   "I found Lennier, and we managed to gather the last of the living Markab in one area. Together we tried to care for them. Having seen over 4,000 Markab die, we had become somewhat numb, but these were the last. Caring for them was almost unbearable for me. The thought of not believing you would meet your loved ones in an after life . . . I had found nothing I said could comfort them in any way.

   "Lennier was having a difficult time accepting the Markab's fate, and I could not show him any weakness or doubt. He had to see that my faith was unwavering in order to help him keep his faith strong. There were no words of comfort we could offer the Markab that would be accepted. No words of hope to be said. Doctor Franklin had not arrived in time.

   "The last one asked, 'Am I the only one left?' I could not control my tears as I answered, 'Yes.' He said . . ." She stopped. "He said, 'Do not cry for me, for us; cry for all the unborn who will never see the light of day due to our stubborn foolishness'.

   "I felt my heart break with his words. Then he was gone. No Markab left alive, just bodies wherever I looked. Lennier and I were alone, surrounded by death, unable to leave, unable to make contact with anyone outside the Isolation Zone. The Markab had destroyed the communication system beyond our knowledge to repair.

   "We had eaten very little since entering the quarantine and were exhausted. Neither of us was able to sleep. I had no idea how long it was between the last death and the door opening. It seemed like a lifetime.

   "In this time, I began questioning my faith. I thought it so strong, so much a part of me, that nothing could shake it or make me doubt. But this, watching a race die, one after another after another, was the worst thing I have ever experienced." It was here that she separated herself from the experience. These were the words that told him how much this had touched her.

   These were the words that he hoped Shatenn would be able to help her with later. "My despair was complete, all consuming, overwhelming." Then she revealed how deep her anguish was, "I felt alone in the universe with no hope, no light, no reason to go on."

   He heard her breathe deeply and let it out slowly, trying to calm herself.

   She had stiffened and was no longer resting against him, no longer wrapped in his arms, her body was tense and unmoving.

   John tried to think of something, anything, to say that would be of help to ease her despair. He knew her faith was her center, the foundation on which she had built her life. That right now she needed something to grab onto. He searched his memory for anything that might help her -- then he remembered what she had told him at a time when *he* was questioning, confused and in pain. He gently laid a hand on her shoulder.

   "Someone once told me, 'The Universe puts us in the places where we can learn. They are never easy places. They are right. Wherever we are is the right place at the right time. Pain sometimes comes. It is part of the process of constantly being born.' She also told me that, 'Sometimes the universe requires a change of perspective.'"

   John felt her begin to relax and lean back. He turned her around to face him and pushed the long hair away from her eyes. He shifted position, and she pulled her legs up on the sofa, rested on his chest, her head on his shoulder, her forehead against his cheek. He knew she remembered also.

   He continued, whispering in her ear, his breath stirring her hair, "Humans also have a saying: 'Things always look different in the morning.'"

   She listened to the soothing sound of his voice. His words wrapped around her, a healing balm on an open wound and she relaxed into him.

   He put his other arm around her, pressed her closer, breathed in the scent of her freshly washed hair and felt her snuggle in against him. "You are not alone, Delenn. There is always hope; only sometimes it is very difficult to see." In the next few minutes, her breathing slowed. She was almost asleep, and again he felt the universe wrap its spell around them.

   If no one was coming, he would have let her sleep in his arms -- watching through the night to make sure no nightmares interrupted her dreams -- but he could imagine Shatenn's disapproving face if she found them in this position, and he did not want to cause Delenn any complications. It was time to get her to bed.

   He caressed her back, saying quietly, "Delenn, come. You should be in bed." She nodded and lifted her head from his shoulder -- so close, she was so close. All he had to do was bend his head slightly to kiss her. She slipped her arms around his neck and ... time stopped.

   Her eyes were half-open, watching, waiting. Her lips were full, red, moist and tempting, just a few enticing inches away. He traced them with the tip of his finger, exploring their softness. She was mysterious, wise, strong and vulnerable. He closed the distance. She was enchanting, unlike anyone he had ever met before. Her lips parted slightly. The gap between them became smaller. Her eyes closed, and the dark lashes lay on her pale skin. He could feel her breath on his lips, an invitation to come closer. She lay relaxed and unresisting in his arms. Only a hairsbreadth away from being kissed.

   She was also the Ambassador from Minbar, who had just been through a version of hell he could only imagine. This was not the time or the place for this, however appealing and desirable it may be. He reluctantly pulled back and breathed, "Delenn, you need to get some sleep."

   She opened her eyes and looked directly into his. She could read the concern and tenderness there, plus something else that was not so easily identifiable. He had many layers yet to be discovered. A yawn surfaced that could not be smothered. If she was not so tired, she would try to define it, explore it, but not now. Her mind was too sluggish.

   She would prefer to stay in his arms, to sleep feeling his life rhythms, to know immediately upon waking that death was in the past. That it was time to live again. One word invaded her drowsy thoughts, "Shatenn."

   She moved away, and he helped her up. She leaned into him, unwilling to give up his warmth. He did not resist the impulse to caress her cheek when she looked at him with those beautiful green eyes. John slipped his arm around her waist and guided her to the bedroom, stopping when he saw the slanted bed. She was awake enough to be amused at his reaction, looked up at him and smiled, too tired to make a comment but knowing what must be going through his mind. He helped her into bed, and she put a hand on his cheek, softly saying, "Thank you," and closed her eyes. John turned to leave.

   "John", she called in a sleepy voice. "I would like to meet your mother some time."

   "I'll see if I can arrange it. I believe she would like to meet you as well," he replied.

   She was asleep before he finished speaking.

   He went into the kitchen and, as he cleaned up, thought about what she had been through.

   He had seen many people die in battle. You go into battle with the knowledge that there will be death and that you might die as well. That was a fact he accepted a long time ago. The Markab bodies in the quiet stillness of the Isolation Zone didn't completely register in his mind as dead. If there were noise, fire and flame, all the uproar he associated with battle, it would have been more realistic. Her words gave him a peek at the emotional reality of the Markab confined in that room.

   She watched them all die, almost 5,000 Markab. Then spent an underdetermined length of time sitting among the corpses, not knowing when or if the door would open to let her out. Not knowing if she and Lennier would die alone. She had no idea if the rest of the station had been infected.

   The small amount of the experience she shared tonight gave him just a glimpse of what she had witnessed. The pain, the anguish of what not only *she* felt, but also the Markab. That depth of feeling was enough to shake her faith. He was glad she told him. It spoke of her trust.

   Delenn had put herself in the middle of a terminal disease, knowing that the exposure might cause her death. She was not medical personnel from whom that behavior would not have been unusual -- in fact, it would have been expected. It was compassion and a belief that the Markab needed the help she could offer had taken her into that room. She revealed her conviction that all life is scared no matter what the race, no matter what the cost. It had also exposed side of her he had not really seen before: her courage, her determination to do what she thought was right, to help people in need, to get personally involved no matter what the risk.

   Ever since their first meeting, his perception of her was constantly changing. What she had just been through revealed another facet that made him revise his opinion yet again. His respect and admiration for her was constantly growing.

   He went back to the bedroom when the kitchen was clean and leaned up against the side of the door to look in on her again. She was sleeping peacefully. Hopefully she would not wake during the night; sleep was what she needed now. In the morning, when there was more distance from what had happened, she would have to look at it again. Shatenn would be able to help her better than he had this evening.

   The stirring he had felt inside himself earlier grew stronger, and he embraced the feeling. He quietly moved to the side of her bed, trying not to disturb her but wanting to touch her one more time. She was exotic, beautiful, intelligent, compassionate. Delenn stirred as if beginning to wake. "Shhhh, go back to sleep. I'm still here," he said softly. Her eyelids fluttered as she turned over on her side and became still again, her breathing slow and even.

   He began to step away, then gave in to his desire to touch her and gently brushed the silky hair off her cheek. He remembered what she had whispered to him in the lift. She told him that her tears, at first, were tears of relief; that she was alive and with him. Then and only then, did she cry for the Markab. That statement spoke of many different emotions.

   He stood there for a time, just watching her sleep. Thinking of all that had happened between them in such a short span of time. He knew that tonight their relationship had changed and wondered where the universe would take them now.

   At long last, he silently moved away from the bed. He turned when he reached the bedroom door and, with one last look at her sleeping form, told the computer, "Lights low," and left.

[END]

 

*****

 

 

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