THE FAITHFUL I
TITLE: The Faithful (1/9)
RATING: Probably PG.
CATEGORY: Kinda AU, kinda post-ep
SERIES: My first deliberate multi-parter, but other than that no.
SUMMARY: An alternate ending to 'Z'Ha'Dum'/beginning to season four, the only other plausible way I could see to do it.
DISCLAIMER: Nothing here is mine, as usual. I do this purely out of love and respect for the series and the characters, and I wouldn't even want to write it for money. No, seriously.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: I personally think some of the prose is going a bit purplish round the edges, but that's how it came out. As always, thanks to my beta friends and to everyone who's bothering themselves to read this. Please tell me what you think!
ARCHIVE: If you think it's worth your time, put my name on it and it's yours. Please tell me, though, so I can point all my friends at your page.
The darkness enveloped her, pulling her in, grasping at her even as she fought to be free of it. She screamed his name again, unaware that she was doing so aloud and that she would soon attract the attention of her aide. She forced her eyes open, fumbling blindly at her side for the light. His name was the only word on her lips, a prayer to be said over and over, and she hadn't the presence of mind to call for the lights to be raised. Instead she swept a hand awkwardly at the small pyramid to the side of her bed; it cast a pale, almost sickly glow over her distressed expression before falling with a muffled thud to the floor.
The sound brought back a flood of images she was trying hard to remove from her mind: the sound of breaking glass, of an oddly-shaped object rolling lopsidedly in the shadow of a shadow. His face, her face, the flat impersonality of a computer screen, the sight of her own reflection streaked with tears, her robe soaked with them. Then the peaceful pain of the candle flame in the darkness, the only warmth she had felt in her life for three weeks now.
She stood up, the room once again in darkness. It was preferable that way; at least she didn't have to see the tangled bedclothes and tear-soaked pillows, the evidence of yet another nightmare. Didn't have to see the tidiness and normality around her that served only as a reminder that life was supposed to go on. She didn't want it to go on. Not alone, not again.
Not without him.
"John." The sound of his name on her lips was a bittersweet pain, a reminder of both what he had given her and what she had lost. What good was knowing their love was real if he was gone, and she had not even a body to mourn? No one would dare make the journey to retrieve him; even if they went as far as Z'Ha'Dum, they wouldn't touch the surface. Most still didn't believe he had managed to do so.
It made her angry, that they could dismiss him so easily. He had given so much for them, given his life for them so Ivanova and the others believed, and yet they protested it was not enough.
These days, these mornings, in the dark and the silence and the sorrow, that anger was all that kept her going.
She showered and dressed quietly, not even affording the kitchen a glance as she knelt and silently replaced the candle to begin her vigil anew. Lennier would wake soon, and he would find her, as he did every morning, praying. Praying that John might still be alive. Praying that he might come back to her. Praying that he might forgive her, that he had not meant his last words to her face. Praying that she might hear him tell her he loved her, in person.
Praying that she would have the strength to go on without him.
Tentative footsteps behind her alerted her to Lennier's presence. He was dressed and ready for the day, as always. Part of her felt ashamed of leaving him to continue her work while she sat in the darkness; guilty, as well, for what she was putting him through. He cared deeply for her, even now she could understand that, and to see her acting this way hurt him deeply. She knew that he believed she was starving herself, having eaten nothing for almost two weeks now; she could not tell him that every time she ate she had only the time to run to the bathroom before she was violently sick, nor that she was almost sure she knew the reason. Only by pretending she had eaten during the day, while he was away, had she managed to keep him from calling a physician to see her. She knew that soon, very soon now - perhaps even today - he would report her condition to Stephen Franklin, something she desperately did not want. She could not reveal to Lennier, or to anyone, what she knew Franklin would confirm as soon as he examined her. She did not want to starve; the thought of harming what might be all she had left of John hurt almost as much as the thought that he might never know what had happened during their last and only night together.
Besides that, she reminded herself as she saw Lennier enter the kitchen and concentrated harder on the candle, she believed John might still be alive. She did believe it. She must believe it.
Lennier looked at her, and she forced herself not to meet his gaze. He would only express his concern for her again, and it was becoming almost more than she could bear. He didn't know, of course, that his subtle over-protectiveness reminded her only that much more of John Sheridan - or that she knew that if John was gone, he was the only one she had left who loved her and might possibly love her child.
He continued to look at her for a long moment, and Delenn felt tears well in her eyes. Finally, he turned away without speaking, but she felt his concern and perhaps even disapproval for what she was doing to herself. He would never say it aloud, of course, for which she was glad, but she felt it all the same in the resigned silence of his departure.
The door cycled shut behind him, and only then did Delenn allow herself to look away from the candle flame, turning her head away from the door as if he might still be standing there. She kept silent only for fear of alienating him, knowing that his disapproval was nothing now in comparison to how he would react to the news that she carried John's child. Lennier was not ignorant: he knew what had to have occurred between them to allow this to happen. Delenn, also, was not ignorant: she knew how many rules and rituals she had ignored, and however little she cared, there was no excuse among Minbari. She would be lucky if Lennier would be able to make himself stand by her, and she had given up hope that she would return home as anything more than a disgrace. She was already looked upon as an embarrassment to her people; the knowledge that she had deliberately broken her people's highest rules and mated with a non-Minbari would be enough to guarantee that she and her child would be outcasts for the rest of their lives. It was little comfort to her that Valen had been through the same, and she found it only ironic that their lives should be so similar.
If John were here... She stopped the thought. Nothing mattered if she could have him back. She would gladly be an outcast, a freak, a disgrace, anything if he were to walk in and take her in his arms. But if she had truly lost him...
She had few tears left these days, but what she did welled in her eyes, spilling silently down her cheeks. She reached up to wipe them away, allowing herself the fantasy that it was John's hand on her face, his fingertips that dried her tears. But Delenn was Minbari, and fantasies came hard to her. Reality was an easy intruder, and it brought only more tears.
It was late afternoon, or growing that way. The lights were down, as they always were, but Delenn didn't notice. She was focused on the flickering candle flame, on the way it danced slowly, almost sadly, a kindred spirit for her emotions. The door sounded; she blinked, taking a long moment to draw herself out of the meditations that took up her day. The buzzer sounded once, twice more before she was completely awake, turning to look at it. Lennier would not use the chime and she did not want visitors. Perhaps if she ignored them, whoever it was might leave her alone.
She stood carefully, walking slowly to the kitchen, pouring a glass of water and taking a grateful sip. It was all she could drink without feeling unwell... and she hoped suddenly that it was not Franklin behind the door. It chimed again; she stood still, willing them to leave her alone.
There was an unusual chirp, and then the door slid open. Delenn froze, afraid suddenly to speak or move lest whoever it was see her.
"Ambassador?" She cursed, a word John had very reluctantly taught her, at the sound of the doctor's voice. "Delenn?" He turned, looking for her, and in the darkness her glass caught the light from the doorway. Franklin stopped in his tracks, looking directly at her. "Hello, Delenn."
"Stephen," she said slowly. She gripped the glass in both hands, wishing she didn't feel so vulnerable. "Did Lennier ask you to come here, or did you take it upon yourself?"
"He said you weren't eating." He was trying to sound sympathetic, but she could sense his disapproval even more than Lennier's. Franklin could be fanatical about medical matters, and it was easy to see from her figure that she had been mistreating herself.
"I'm not hungry," she told him with a slight shrug.
Franklin wasn't buying. "Lennier may keep quiet out of respect for you, Ambassador, but I'm not Minbari. I don't respect you enough to let you starve yourself to death. That won't bring him back and you know it."
She took a step back, hurt by his tone. "You believe... that John is dead." He was silent; she wanted to hit him, to force him to admit that it might not be true. Her voice was deceptively timid, painful. "You believe it. You all believe it."
"It's been nearly three weeks," Franklin reminded her. "And that's three weeks since you ate anything. I know Minbari can fast for a long time, but you're not fully Minbari any more."
"I have eaten," she protested. He looked at her enquiringly, stepping forward with scanner at the ready. She backed up another half-step, but there was nothing she could do to keep him from his duty. She tried to remind herself that John would want this, and that he would be horrified to see her like this when and if he returned. And if she lost his child because of it...
"I have eaten," she repeated insistently to Franklin as he studied his readout. "But..." She took in a shaking breath. "I get sick."
He looked up at her, and she almost saw the switch between personal and professional. "After you eat?"
"Yes. No." She took another breath, shaking with the fear of admitting this to him. "When I begin to eat. I can't drink anything either, only water."
He frowned, and she didn't protest as he adjusted his scanner and started to pass it over her again, more slowly. "But you're not sick if you don't eat?"
"No." She sighed. "Sometimes a little dizzy, disoriented, nothing more."
"How are you sleeping?"
She took an angry step back and stared at him. "How do you think I am sleeping?" she demanded. "I don't sleep. I have nightmares, every night." Anger filled her throat, choking her voice. "I cry myself to sleep, and I wake up doing the same. I see his face, and her face, every time I close my eyes. I hear voices telling me he's dead, and whenever I see anyone their face says the same. The way yours does now." She pushed his hand roughly away. "Lennier will tell you I am starving myself to death, because that is what he believes. He believes John is dead, just as you do. As everyone does."
"And you don't." He knew well enough to make it a statement. Delenn half-smiled humorlessly.
"I have to have faith, Stephen. I'm nothing without him."
"Delenn," he started, but she shook her head and moved past him to the slowly melting candle.
"You should have seen it by now, Stephen." When he frowned in confusion, she smiled and leaned over, lightly blowing out the candle. "I am... how do Humans say it? Oh, yes." She smiled painfully. "With child. John's child."
His eyes widened, and he crossed the room to check her already certain diagnosis. The look on his face told her without words what she already knew.
"I am right."
"Yes." He nodded, and when he looked at her his concern had evolved into alarm. "I need to get you to MedLab to do some more tests. There's only so much I can do here, and you need some nutrients in you. I don't know how you've managed this long." He started to pack his medical kit away. "Why haven't you told anyone before now?"
"You would not understand." She turned away from him, clasping her hands in front of her, restless now she finally had company.
"Try me." He picked up the case and held out a hand, gesturing for her to precede him. Delenn stepped back to the couch, away from the door.
"I can't leave here. I can't..." She took a deep breath, appealing desperately to him. "It was hard enough to tell you, and that I did only out of concern for the child. If anyone were to find out..."
Franklin frowned at her reluctance. "Look, Delenn, I appreciate that this is a sensitive matter. But if you stay here and you don't eat, sooner or later you and your child will die. You know that."
She looked down. "I know."
Concerned and somewhat perplexed at her behaviour, he put down the case and sat down carefully next to her on the couch. "You may not want to hear this, but you are more than just the captain's partner, in whatever sense you want to think of it. You're not nothing just because he's gone."
"He isn't..." She stopped and looked away, one hand covering her tender abdomen, shaking her head tiredly. "The highest law among my people is to keep our race pure, Stephen. They may not show it often, but many Minbari are not... tolerant of other cultures. Other races." She sighed, looking carefully at him. "You know that many of my people despised my change. They sent me away because they did not want to look on a Minbari with a Human face." She shook her head at his sympathetic touch on her arm. "They want the Minbari to be pure, Stephen. It has been that way as long as we've known others existed. No Minbari has ever taken an alien for a mate, and they would never be permitted to have children if they did."
He looked at her, stunned by her words. She appealed to him again, trying to make him understand.
"We have rules, Stephen. Rituals that must be followed." She allowed herself a very slight smile; it was all she could muster. "Quite a number of them, actually." Memories, as clear as crystal, flashed through her mind. "I didn't care. We had each other, and that was all that mattered. I didn't..." she coloured, embarrassed to be discussing this with him. "I didn't think."
"You didn't follow the rules," he elaborated carefully. Delenn shook her head silently, unable to look at him. "Is it really that important?"
"I will be fortunate if I have a home to return to," she said softly. "As for a family..." She lifted her head, only realising when she saw his face that she must be crying again. "I'm lucky, I suppose. Most of my family died years ago. At least they will not suffer my disgrace."
Franklin just shook his head in disbelief. "You're telling me that just because you picked a guy they don't like, you're what? In exile for the rest of your life?"
"Have you ever heard the phrase 'Starkiller', Stephen?" she asked ruefully. He winced. She nodded weakly, her expression achingly alone. "John is Human. My child will be more Human than Minbari, but Earth will never be their home. Neither will Minbar, if those in power have their choice. This is our oldest and highest law, Stephen - and that we performed none of the rituals..." she shook her head, clasping her hands protectively over her growing child. "I will be lucky if Lennier stays when he hears of this."
The doctor frowned, trying to work out the situation. He obviously believed it to be less final than it was, Delenn thought painfully. "There's no way you could pretend you performed all these rituals?"
"Not all of them are private, Stephen," she told him tiredly. He raised an eyebrow but let it pass. She smiled and laid a hand tentatively on his arm. "Thank you, but there is nothing you can do."
"There is." He stood up, grasping her hand before she could pull it back. "I'm taking you to MedLab. If I have to, I'll sedate you, but I'd rather you came willingly." He held up a hand to halt her protest. "None of this goes any further than this room. If anyone asks, I'll make your excuses - and that includes to Lennier, but you are coming to MedLab. You can't go on like this."
Delenn paused; after a long moment she nodded hesitantly and stood up. "All right."
"Good." He picked up his case, gesturing for her to go first; as the door opened she blinked into the light, covering her sudden reaction by turning back briefly to look at him.
"Thank you, Stephen."
Franklin smiled, putting one hand on her arm to guide and support her. "It's my job. That and the captain would kill me if I didn't do something."
Delenn swallowed back the emotions those words caused. "Thank you," she said in a whisper. He smiled back and nodded, guiding her toward the transport tube.
When they reached MedLab, she was grateful for Franklin's personal attention: he put her in a private room, instructing his staff that he alone would be treating her, citing her emotional state as a reason. He did, however, allow one nurse to attend her; a young woman by the name of Megan who was too timid to speak to her, let alone ask any questions. Franklin ran all the tests - and there were many - himself, leaving instructions for the nurse to set up an IV. Food, Delenn supposed, in some form anyway. He'd also left some tablets, with the instruction that she was to take them every four hours, and injected her with at least four different types of drug once he received the preliminary test results. Lennier arrived soon after that, and although he looked concerned Delenn could see he was pleased that something was being done for her. She sighed painfully, leaning back against the pillows they had provided and briefly closing her eyes. He wanted to ask questions, she could see it in his expression; just as he had wanted to that morning, but as always he held back. Out of respect, Franklin had said: she studied him as discreetly as she could, wondering if that were completely true. She knew he respected her, of course... but that was perhaps not all. He had pledged himself to her side, and Delenn knew something Franklin did not - that her young aide cared much more for her than he told or showed anyone. She wondered, as she lay back and let Franklin take yet another blood sample, what she could have done to attract such attention from him. But then, what had she done to deserve John's feelings for her?
That thought made her throat close up, and a slight sound of pain escaped her lips. Franklin apologised, obviously believing it to be his fault, and she saw Lennier start forward out of the corner of the room. She turned her face away, not wanting him to see her pain now. He had endured it long enough; at least tonight he would sleep peacefully, without her sobbing and screaming in the next room. She glanced back and saw him, standing stoically once again, watching with concern as Franklin put the blood sample in a portable machine that she imagined ran some sort of test. He measured out some kind of drug into an injector, placing it beside the bed as she looked at him in confusion.
"It's just a sedative. I want to check a couple more tests," he glanced at Lennier out of the corner of his eye, "then you can get a good night's sleep." Now he turned to look fully at the younger Minbari. "Why don't you go back to the Ambassador's quarters and get anything she needs? There's nothing else you can do here for now."
Lennier looked at her for permission: Delenn nodded gratefully, watching him go with no small amount of relief. Franklin smiled reassuringly at her expression.
"I'll give you the sedative in a moment. You'll be asleep before he comes back. I'll send him home."
She smiled slightly back at him. "Thank you, Stephen. For everything."
"No problem." He held up the injector, and she obligingly held out her arm. "Goodnight, Ambassador."
It seemed to take effect almost immediately; no sooner had he emptied the injector into her arm than she felt her eyes begin to close beyond her ability to control them. Franklin drew the light cover over her, and the last thing she saw was his reassuring smile before she slipped into a blessed oblivion.
She was running. She didn't remember where she was, or who she was, or what she had been doing before. She seemed to have been running for as long as she could imagine, perhaps even longer. Whether she was running from something or to something, she was no longer sure.
It was dark where she ran, and old, over a thousand years older than she. Tall, broken stone spires jutted up from the ground itself, covered in dark, spidery writing that seemed in its very essence to be evil, no matter what it said. She could not read it: the script was alien to her even if she had been able to stop and make out the characters. Although the reason was unclear to her, she did remember that she must not stop running, whatever happened.
The ground was a dark, dusty brown-red, with no sign of life anywhere. It was hard; she fell in her haste and felt the pain of rock and bone connecting. She struggled up, knowing she must keep running, just a little further: the dust clung to her clothes, to her face, and as she reached up to wipe it away she felt a warm stickiness under her left eye. Blood - she was bleeding from the fall. There were things here that craved her blood, she remembered: not the taste of it but the sight of it, of her, dead on the ground.
A scream pierced the dead air, and she remembered.
The Shadow resembled nothing she had ever seen on her homeworld, but it still seemed familiar somehow. Although she had never seen a Shadow being before, she knew it instantly. She raised her gun and fired, again and again and again and again until it screamed once more and lunged for her. She stood her ground, the small gun aimed directly at its head, and fired.
The Shadow shrieked agony, and she saw the light fade from its many eyes even as it disappeared from in front of her. She had no idea where the Shadows went when they died, only that she had sent any number of them there in the last hour. Hurriedly, before another one of them could find her from the death throes of this one, she changed direction and ran toward the ruins. They towered over her, but she used that to her advantage: another came after her, but the ruins hid her from its view. For all their power in space, the Shadows were easy enough to evade on the ground. Their power now came from their advantage - they were on home ground, and she was running for her life.
Her pursuer broke off to the screaming call of another of its brethren; using the moment she changed direction again, running back the way she had come. She did not remember precisely why, but she knew she had to reach the human habitation. There was where she could do what she had to do. She reached for her link; it was buried in her pocket, but working and awaiting her instructions. It was difficult to input the right code while she ran; seeing the entrance only a hundred or so meters away, she ducked behind a boulder and completed the instructions. Praying that it was right, having no way to know, she left the final code uncompleted. All it needed was the last digit and it would activate, and the city would be destroyed.
She ran, knowing full well that she was visible to them, heading for the entrance. She made it with only a few meters to spare, ducking inside to the frustrated shrieks of those chasing her.
She wove through the city, through rough-hewn dusty red chambers and smooth, metallic corridors, trying to remember where she should go. She rounded a corner-
And she was there, the shadow of a woman she had once known like life itself. Calling to her. Tempting her. She squeezed the link, activating the final code. If they got her, they would have no one else.
There was a balcony there. She struggled up onto it, and as the shadow that had once been Anna extended an offering hand to her, she jumped.
There was darkness. It was black, and cold, and very painful. Agony, even. Her body ached and throbbed and burnt in more places than she had imagined she possessed. She could not feel her left arm; her right made her glad of that small miracle. Her eyes were filled with burning white spots that floated across her vision, and her mouth was drier than the dust that covered her battered body. There was something good in this situation, she was sure, but she could not remember what it was. She was mortally injured, bleeding profusely from numerous wounds, and nearing freezing. She could hardly see where she was through the spots, but what she could make out was rugged, cold and dark red. Darker than her blood, anyway, which soaked the ground around her, although it seemed to have stopped for now. When she looked up, she saw only darkness; there didn't appear to be a down, or a way out of the cave she was in. She must be far enough inside and far enough down to escape the blast...
It came back to her in slow, agonising portions. The scream; the fall; the light, and the unbearable noise and heat and pressure. Then finally that indescribable sound, and-
She should be dead. But she wasn't...
"Delenn? Delenn, wake up. Ivanova's here to see you."
She opened her eyes, blinking, expecting the burn of white spots on her eyes. She frowned as Franklin's dark face filled her perfect vision, reflexively touching her left cheek. There was no blood; no cut at all, only smooth skin.
"Mm.." She shook her head, trying to sit up and make sense of her surroundings. "What? Where am I?"
"In MedLab." He laid a hand on her left arm; she blinked as she felt the light squeeze. "Ivanova wants to see you. I haven't told her anything so far, but..."
Delenn nodded, too distracted by the odd feeling of having been somewhere else when she obviously hadn't been. The dream had been so vivid! She had felt the dust as she inhaled it, the blood sticking to her fingers, the whine of the energy cap and slight ricochet of the PPG as she fired-
Where had she gotten that idea?
"Hey." She looked up, surprised by the intrusion. Susan Ivanova stood at the end of the bed, her long hair free and somewhat tangled, uniform rumpled. It had obviously been a long night. "I can't stay long. I thought you might like someone to talk to for a while."
"Yes." She didn't know why she asked so impulsively, only that she suddenly had to know. "You have a PPG, do you not?"
Ivanova blinked. "Uh, yeah. Got it right here." She tapped her sidearm. "Can't be too careful these days. Why?"
"May I see it?" She expected Ivanova to protest, but the other woman shrugged and unclipped the holster.
"Sure. If you want." She turned the gun in her hand, handing it over. Delenn smiled gratefully, taking it carefully and studying it. Hers was different - had been different. It had-
"There should be..." she trailed off, trying to remember what it was called. "A cap. Here." She tapped the back of the gun. Ivanova raised her eyebrows, looking a little guilty as she held up a small cylinder between two fingers.
"This what you're looking for?"
Delenn smiled, nodded. "Yes. But it was..." she shook her head. "It was different." She turned it over; it was smooth, but for a small code on the underside of the barrel. That was different. She looked up sharply. "John has a gun like this."
"Yeah. Two of them." Ivanova looked at her in concern. "Delenn, what's this all about?"
"I..." What should she say? 'I had a dream I was John'? "It's nothing. I was just curious. There were none..." She swallowed. "In his belongings. They weren't there."
"Oh." Ivanova looked more than a little uncomfortable. "Well, he probably, um... took them with him. To - To use," she corrected swiftly, not wanting to mention that place just yet. "He wouldn't have gone out without a fight, Delenn," she said gently.
"I know." She had seen the fight, or some of it at least. She was convinced of that. It had been so real, so definite, she could do nothing but believe it. Then she remembered the pain, and the belief that even beyond the agony something was good. She should have been dead...
But she hadn't been. She'd been alive; injured, freezing, nearly unconscious, but... alive. I had a dream I was John.
She blinked, looking up through sudden tears. "Yes, Commander?"
Ivanova laid a careful hand on her arm. "You don't look well. I'll get Stephen."
"No!" Delenn quickly forced a reassuring smile. "I feel much better, Susan. Honestly. I just need to sleep for a while longer, that's all." She smiled and touched the hand on her arm gently. "Thank you for coming to see me."
"No problem." Looking a little bemused at the sudden dismissal, Ivanova turned to leave. "I'll drop by again soon, okay? You get some sleep."
She kept the smile up long enough to be sure Ivanova was gone; then it faded into a confused frown. She had had many dreams of John's fate since he had been gone, but always she had seen his face; battered, bruised, horrifically injured, and always dead. In the rare dreams when he came back to her, he was never injured at all - so why now had she believed, even after waking, that she was alive? That he was alive? Still she was confused by the feelings, the sensations of being there. She knew, even if it were simply a dream, that she had seen Z'Ha'Dum, the homeworld of the Shadows.
But it was not unheard of, was it, for dreams to mirror reality? The Centauri placed a huge importance on dreams, even believing them to have prophetic powers - and they often did, at least among their seers. If she were Centauri, she would be halfway to Z'Ha'Dum by now...
She tried to push that thought away. No one would be willing to risk the trip, and even if they did, it would not be she who went. Franklin and Lennier would see to that. She would remain safely on the station, in MedLab, while those who believed that John was dead surveyed the barren surface of the planet for his remains.
She wiped at her face, feeling tears there, still surprised that no blood came away on her fingers. A small thing, but for some reason it convinced her above all else that what she had experienced had not been a simple dream. John was alive, or at least he had been. She owed it to him to find him.
She owed it to herself, and to their child. She would not simply accept their fate.
She would not go out without a fight.
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