THE FAITHFUL III
TITLE: The Faithful (3/9)
DISCLAIMERS: in part one - as always, thanks to my beta friends and to everyone who's bothering themselves to read this. Please tell me what you think!
Sheridan awoke slowly; the dim light in the room warm on his eyelids, he blinked and opened his eyes carefully. His mind was still fuzzy, a jumble of images and voices: Justin, Morden, Anna... Delenn. Delenn?
"Hush." Her voice was quiet, and close. He tried to sit up: pain lanced through his head and arms, and his chest felt as if it were on fire. A gentle hand came to rest on his shoulder, pushing him back down, and he didn't need to look to know that touch.
"Yes." She sounded as if she were smiling, touching his lips with a finger. "Quiet now." He twisted his head as far as possible, following her voice, trying to see her, to reassure himself that it was really her. Then she stepped into his line of sight, a vision of beauty even if her skin was pale and her eyes tired. He smiled up at her, blinking back the hazy light - candlelight, he realised, looking away from the flickering flames at the end of the bed. Echoes of the light danced in front of his eyes; he winced and blinked.
"Keep still," Delenn admonished softly. He managed a slightly jaunty grin, not really surprised that it was hugely painful.
"Guess I survived, then." There was no reply; she turned away, working on something that her body obscured from view. He frowned, reaching out a stiff hand to her. "Delenn?"
"This is not a joking matter, John." She turned back to him, holding a soft cloth that she lifted expertly to his forehead, wiping away the dried blood and dust. He winced, reaching for her hand, wondering why she didn't look him in the eyes.
She looked down, holding the cloth in her folded hands: after a moment she took a deep breath and met his concerned gaze. There were tears in her eyes.
He worked his swollen hand into her bandaged one, not needing to speak to tell her what he wanted to say. She smiled, a little sadly, and a solitary tear escaped her control to travel down her pale cheek. He reached across with his other hand, unable to help wincing at the pain of movement, and halted its glistening path with a gentle fingertip. He smiled gently and tenderly caressed her cheek, pressing his palm to her warm skin. Her other hand came tentatively up to cover his; she closed her eyes, pushing back the tears, turning her face into his palm.
"I thought I'd lost you." Her voice was thick with emotion, so much that he could hardly make out her words. He didn't reply; there was nothing he could think of to take away the pain of what he had done to her. Another tear fell and he wiped it away, wanting more than anything to keep her from crying for him.
"I'm sorry, Delenn," he said softly. "I hurt you, I know." He tried to sit up, managing admirably for his injuries: it was desperately painful to move, but not as much as it was to watch her cry. "That wasn't what I wanted."
"What did you want?" She refused to let the tears fall, but they filled her voice and his heart ached for the pain he'd caused her. She looked at him with a quietly hurt expression, her voice shaking. "What was it that you wanted from this?"
He looked up at her, pouring all his love for her into the only answer he had.
Her eyes glistened with unshed tears: he pulled her close to him, and after a moment she wrapped tentative arms around his shoulders, hiding her tears in his dusty hair.
"I love you, Delenn. All I wanted was to be with you." He held onto her, the warmth of her body assuaging the aching pain of his injuries, needing only to know that she was there, real, in his arms. "I didn't want to leave you."
"I know." He no longer heard the stifled tears; whether because they had escaped her control or she had pushed them back, he didn't know, but her voice was clearer now. "I didn't mean to mislead you," she said softly. He heard the pain and trepidation in her voice, pulling back to look up at her.
"Don't, Delenn. Not now."
She shook her head, looking away, taking a deep breath to cover her hesitation and rushing on. "Everything you said was true... I knew Anna might be alive, I knew she might be working for the Shadows and I hid it from you. I should have trusted you, I should have told you-"
"Delenn." He shook his head slowly, trying to quiet her, but she seemed unable to stop the words from escaping.
"I should have told you everything from the beginning, but I was afraid of what might happen... what it would do to you if you knew. What it would do to us." She stared into the dying candlelight, shame filling her voice. "I should have had more faith in you. I should have loved you less and trusted you more-"
"I don't want that." He took her hand and pulled her down onto the bed beside him, holding her gaze with his. "Delenn, listen to me. I won't deny that I was angry, or hurt by what happened. I was. I was angry at you, at Kosh, at the Shadows, at the universe for making me the one to make that decision. I didn't want that knowledge, those choices. Fight or surrender, life or death... you or Anna." He smiled ruefully. "It was easier to be angry at you than to tell you the truth, but when I walked out of that room... that was the hardest thing I've ever done." He touched her cheek, looking deeply into her eyes. "I did this for you, Delenn. I do everything for you. Sometimes you're the only reason I have to keep going, do you know that?" He saw from her expression that she didn't. "I would have died for you down there, Delenn. I would have given my life for you without a second thought, and I still would. If I had to, if it meant you were safe." He smiled tenderly, tracing gentle fingertips over her face. "Could I love you that much, and not forgive?"
There was a long silence: and then, because she could think of no other reply, she leaned close and kissed him, and there was an even longer silence before she drew back to look into his eyes.
"You know," she told him slowly, firmly, "that I would never ask that of you."
"You don't have to," he told her gently. Seeing the pain that seemed to bring her, he smiled reassuringly. "I don't want to die, Delenn. I don't want to leave you again." He held her to him, albeit gingerly as his injuries reasserted their presence. "I can't keep myself from wanting to protect you. You'll have to forgive me for that."
"I would forgive you anything," she said softly, and he believed it completely.
"Then you know how I feel." He smiled at her surprised and somewhat confused features. "I forgive you, Delenn, for everything you think I should... I always will, even apart from the fact that you saved my life down there." He frowned suddenly. "You still haven't told me how you knew."
"I-" She looked up at him, obviously judging how much to tell him. She seemed to realise she was doing so, looking repentant and slightly hesitant as she answered. "I saw you in a dream."
He laughed in amazement. "A dream? You came out here and risked your life on a dream?"
"I knew you were still alive. I do not know how... or I didn't, until I came here."
He frowned, intrigued. "How?"
"Kosh," she answered quietly, her voice strangely subdued. He raised his eyebrows, somewhat surprised that the Vorlon's influence might reach so far.
"He - called you here? All the way from Babylon 5?"
"I think so."
Sheridan paused then, his eyes suddenly sorrowful as he noted what she had already seen. "Kosh - is he -"
She nodded silently, hearing him curse under his breath as he tilted his head forward, shaking it slowly in remorse. "Damn it, Delenn..."
"He saved you. He saved both of us, in the end." She looked down, her voice quiet in mourning for a moment. "I think he knew that he would not return from here. It would have been a miracle..."
"Yeah, I know." He sighed and went silent for a long few minutes; she almost jumped as he gently touched her hand. "That painful?"
She looked surprised for a moment, meeting his eyes: that tender smile she had missed so much was back, gazing at her, and she had to pull herself away to grasp what he was saying.
"Not now." He seemed about to press the issue and she put on a firmer tone, laying the bandaged hand on his shoulder and easing his tension. "It will heal. It doesn't matter now. What matters is that you are alive, and we will be home soon. Together." Her fingers brushed his face, and her frown deepened as she reached the bloody gash under his left eye. "You should lie down and rest, John. You are hurt, and I have no way to tell how badly." He smiled at her concern, about to object, but winced as she gently explored the edges of that deep cut. Delenn stood up, reaching for the soft cloth she had discarded earlier, and ignoring his protests guided him back onto the bed.
"Relax, John." She smiled tenderly, seating herself carefully beside him and leaning over to clean the wound. He winced again, sucking in a breath as blood came away on the damp cloth. "I'm sorry," Delenn murmured softly. He smiled, although it was painful as she continued to dab at the cut.
"It's not your fault." He curled his fingers around hers, halting her ministrations for a moment. "I can't think of anyone else I'd rather have here." He grinned a little ruefully. "Except maybe a medical staff. Or a crew."
"Perhaps both would be useful," she agreed with a smile. He smiled back as she slipped her hand out of his, allowing her to continue her attentions and trying not to show his discomfort, knowing she was afraid to hurt him even as she tried to take away the pain. He didn't let on to her that he knew he should never have moved, or that he was sure at least some of his injuries were more serious than she realised. Delenn had a large measure of common sense, but no real medical training - certainly there was no way she could set his broken right arm, or heal what were undoubtedly fractured ribs and the long, ragged gashes that stretched across his left thigh. The best she could hope for would be to dress the numerous cuts and bruises that decorated his body; proof, if he had no other, of what he had been through to be with her again.
"John?" He looked up, realising she had been speaking to him although he had no recollection of her words. She smiled in understanding, carefully dressing the clean wound as best she could. "You should rest now. Rest," she insisted as he opened his mouth to protest. "I will be here." She slipped her hand comfortably into his and he smiled with a silent nod. He was surprised, given how long he must have slept already, at how tired he felt; no sooner had he closed his eyes than he felt his grip loosening on her hand, the warm darkness of sleep filling his mind even as the sound of rain filled the softly lit chamber. He woke for the second time in a hazy stupor, and it took a moment to realise she must have given him another dose of painkillers; shaking his head to clear it, he looked down at himself. At some point that he didn't remember, Delenn had removed his uniform and dressed him in a simple, loose Minbari robe that hide most of the evidence of his many injuries. Thinking of her made him frown, becoming aware suddenly of her absence. He forced himself up from the bed; she was nowhere in sight and his frown deepened. "Delenn?"
There was no reply; with a grunt of pain he stood up, careful not to put too much weight on his now-stiff leg and holding his right arm against his chest, fighting to ignore his protesting ribs.
"Delenn? Where are you?" He sighed, managing only a few steps before he fell awkwardly against another bed. She was probably nowhere nearby: on the bridge, most likely. He sighed, feeling the tight, swollen muscles on the left side of his face, trying valiantly to remember what vestiges of Minbari he knew to try and locate her.
He gave up with a tired curse, leaning up against the bed and calling her name again. This time he heard a muffled sound from a side room, turning to see a half-open door. "Delenn? What-"
She was kneeling on the floor, looking about as sick as he had ever seen anyone, and the evidence was clear that whatever it was had been going on for a good while. "Delenn!" Concern flooded his mind and he ran - well, stumbled - to her side, dropping awkwardly to the floor. "Delenn, what's wrong?"
She made no reply, unable to form any sound but for a ragged cough before she was violently sick again. He winced at the harsh sound, gently holding back her hair as he struggled to kneel beside her. The pain, thanks to his would-be nurse, was now only a dull, heavy ache over a blessed numbness and he managed the contortion without too much effort although he was sure he did some more damage. She glanced at him briefly, and he saw gratitude in her eyes as he wrapped his good arm around her shoulders.
"Delenn, what's wrong? What is it?"
"I-" She broke off as a racking cough shook her, and he could see how much effort it cost her not to be sick again. Her voice was quiet and deceptively calm. "I do not think... this is a good time," she murmured under her breath, as if afraid she might awaken the cough again. Before she could say anything else, however, her control slipped momentarily and Sheridan winced at the painful spasms that forced their way through her body, guiding her to him as she collapsed in exhaustion. He held her tenderly, stroking her hair as her laboured breathing reverberated through the small room. It was a long time until she seemed relaxed enough to attempt to move; with a quiet moan she opened her eyes, taking in a deep and hopefully cleansing breath. She seemed to remember then his own condition, struggling to sit up.
"Shh, shh." He held her to him, ignoring the throbbing ache in his arm and chest. "Take it easy. You sound like you're having a rough time."
"That is putting it mildly," she muttered from behind another sudden cough. He smiled wryly, but the concern wasn't far behind.
"How long has this been going on?"
She winced, shifting her weight in his arms. "Too long, it seems."
"Just once is too long. What's wrong?" He brushed her hair back, meeting her eyes. She was pale, her expression one of exhaustion and almost resignation. "You're not ill, are you?"
"No." She smiled ruefully up at him. "Not in the way you mean it."
"Not..." A memory, hazy and indistinct, surfaced on the edge of his consciousness. He stared at her, sure for a moment that he was imagining it until he looked into her eyes. "You're pregnant?"
"I think that is the word." She winced and coughed harshly again. "Stephen gave me some medication, but..." She took a deep breath, forcing down the urge to vomit again. Sheridan hugged her protectively, cradling her to his side with a foolish grin on his face. Delenn was pregnant, carrying his child. His child!
She was also, however, lying prone in his arms having just spent the past God-knew-how-long throwing up the contents of her stomach, and by the look of things there wasn't much left. He cursed inwardly at the situation, able only to keep her from collapsing to the floor rather than help the way he should be able to. Delenn, however, seemed to sense his frustration and smiled, reaching up to brush a light caress across his face.
"I will be fine," she assured him, sounding at least a little confident. "It will pass soon enough. It always does."
"'Always'?" He frowned. "How far along are you?" She looked confused and he smiled at that familiar expression. "How long have you been sick?"
She winced. "Nearly three weeks now."
He stared at her in disbelief. "Three weeks? How long was I out down there?"
Delenn smiled ruefully. "Nearly three weeks." She managed to look amused. "Surely that should not be difficult to work out."
He grinned. "I guess not." She was smiling at him now; he kissed her gently on the forehead, toying with a strand of long, dark hair. "I love you, Delenn," he told her impulsively, watching her smile brighten and a sparkle appear in her eyes. "Have I told you that today?"
"No." She smiled at his shocked expression. "You have been asleep for over twenty-six hours. You needed to rest," she reminded him firmly.
"So do you," he retorted. Delenn sighed.
"I knew you would be like this." At his wounded features she relented somewhat, smiling reassuringly. "I'm fine, John. It is just... tiring, that's all." She took a steadying breath before attempting to rise from the floor. "I didn't think we would be alone for so long," she admitted after a moment. "I thought, when they discovered what I had done, that someone would come after me."
Sheridan laughed suddenly: she frowned, looking confused, and he shook his head despairingly. "It figures. Just when neither of us is in any condition to use it constructively, we finally get some time alone."
Delenn smiled and blushed, knowing full well what kind of behaviour he was referring to. "We have already used such time 'constructively'," she reminded him with a somewhat amused smile, laying one hand lightly on her abdomen even as she reached for a glass of water that awaited her on the table. She took a grateful sip, and another, finishing the glass before she turned to look down at him, still watching her from the floor. He grinned up at her, grasping her offered hand and glad that - even now - she was stronger than she appeared, or he would have spent the rest of the journey on the floor. He stood up awkwardly, half-pushing, half-sliding up the wall as Delenn supported him on the other side. He tried to walk alone, taking only three steps before his injured and probably infected leg gave way and he stumbled against the wall again. Delenn was immediately at his side, her small, strong hands on his arm and shoulders supporting his weakened limbs and guiding him back to bed. He went without protest - wisely, it turned out, when he saw the determined worry on Delenn's face. He smiled up at her as he lay down, taking her hand in his.
"I'll be okay, Delenn," he promised her, putting all the confidence he could into that assurance. "The painkillers are working," he added gratefully, trying to wipe that concern from her features. "How far are we from the station?"
Delenn smiled and sat down carefully beside him, seeming as unwilling as he was to remove her hand from his. "Two and a half days, at least." She cautiously touched the dressing on his cheek, shaking her head uneasily. "You need medical attention, John. What I can do..."
"What you can do for me is more than any doctor I know." He smiled and took her hand, pressing her fingertips to his lips. "They can fix me up later. Right now, having you here is enough. Being alone with you is enough." She smiled despite herself, and he lightly squeezed her fingertips. "You know I love you, Delenn, more than anything. You're all I need right now." He reached up and pulled her down to him, and before she could protest she was lying at his side, held firmly in the crook of his good arm. He was surprised at how little discomfort her weight caused. Luckily the bed was wider than those ordinary Minbari contraptions, having the added advantage of being flat, and there was room enough for Delenn to fit into his side without crushing his injuries.
"John," she started: he put a finger to her lips, silencing her.
"Delenn, I'll be the first one to admit that I'm not in any shape to do what I would dearly love to do with you right now," he smiled as she blushed slightly, "but there is no way in hell I'm spending another two days alone with you without being this close."
"Two and a half days," she corrected with a smile. He grinned, running his fingers lightly over her back.
"I'm glad to see we're on the same wavelength here."
"I missed you," she confessed quietly. He glanced down at her, and she met his concerned gaze with her own. "You were gone for nearly three weeks. Almost everyone thought..." She shook her head suddenly and huddled closer to him, wrapping careful arms around his neck. "They believe you died at Z'Ha'Dum, and by now they probably think the same of me. I know that there are those who had... concerns... about my state of mind."
He couldn't help smiling at the idea. It was, after all, ridiculous even if it had been his salvation. "You mean the whole dreaming I was alive part?"
Delenn shifted restlessly. "I did not... tell them... that part." She looked down, toying with his robe, aware that he was now staring at her. "I knew what they would say, and it would have taken too long to convince them. I barely reached you in time," she reminded him in a quiet voice. "I'm afraid I will have some explaining to do when we reach the station."
He couldn't help it: he started to laugh. Delenn looked up at him, clearly worried, but the amusement in his eyes convinced her there was nothing wrong. It was as if, finally, he had realised the momentous events that had occurred around him and the fact that not only was he still alive, but the universe was still in one piece around him. It was an amazing thing, even if he had no idea how long it would last. He looked down at Delenn; seeing her beautiful face looking up at him, he suddenly knew what he had to say to her - what was most important and could not wait one second longer. "Delenn?" He took her left hand in his and looked at her seriously. "Delenn - will you marry me?"
She froze, looking at him; after a moment she sat up, propping her head on one hand with an unreadable expression. "What?"
"Marry me." He took her other hand urgently in his own. "I love you, I need you and I want to be with you. Forever. I want you to be my wife." He smiled ruefully. "I know I should have a ring for you, and there are usually traditions to these things, but I'm not really in any shape to be getting down on the floor right now..."
A slightly amused smile touched her lips. "Why would you want to do that?"
He smiled inwardly and shrugged. "It's traditional that a guy gets down on one knee when he proposes marriage."
Her eyes sparkled, and she smiled very slightly. "But I am not on the floor. I am here, with you."
"I know." His smile widened and he slipped his fingers through hers, looking up into her eyes with the deepest love she had ever seen. She smiled, tenderly caressing his face and his gentle smile, as if she might memorise this moment forever. He was battered and bruised, filled with painkillers and fighting exhaustion, but to Delenn he had never been more the man she wanted - never more alive than when she looked at him now, and pledged her life and love to him forever with one simple, tender and passionate gesture.
The medical bay was dark when Delenn opened her eyes: her breath was hard in her chest, gasping at the half-awake remembrance of a dream. She frowned, shivering, suddenly cold and peered into the darkness, assuring herself that this was reality and not the dark, bloody caverns of Z'Ha'Dum. John was there, with her and alive: not the lifeless, battered corpse she had seen wearing his face in her nightmare. She forced herself to relax, feeling his body against her, his chest rising and falling shallowly under her hand. He was cold, she realised: too cold. Panic gripped her as she sat up, kneeling over him; only when she put her fingers to his neck and felt his pulse did she force some measure of self-control on herself. He *was* alive. She had only been dreaming.
She put the back of her hand gently to his face, trying to soothe the tortured expression on his features. Whatever else had happened to him on Z'Ha'Dum that she didn't know or understand, it was obviously at least as bad as her own imaginings. He stirred under her touch, his eyelids fluttering restlessly; leaning toward her hand, a sudden grunt of pain coming from his lips. His skin was clammy; sweat formed a thin sheen on his forehead, his breathing coming in shallow, uneasy rattles and groans from his chest. Fever...
"John." She took his hand urgently in hers, panic momentarily overtaking her. He had been fine when she'd fallen asleep, content to lie next to him when even the effort of holding her in his arms had become too much. She had waited until he slept, lying on her side facing him, watching the careful rise and fall of his breathing and the slow relaxation that overtook his body as he fell deeper into sleep. They had been in space for over two days, probably over three: how Kosh had held him in a suspended state for so long, she had no idea, but now that his body was functioning for itself again she had noticed his injuries worsening. Infection would soon set in, if it had not done so already: she had bathed and dressed the long scrapes on his arms and the deep gash under his eye, but other than cleaning away the dust and grime there had been little she could do for the even deeper wounds on his thigh. There were other scratches, angry red against his pallid skin, that were starting to show signs of infection as well: she hesitated over a long, relatively thin cut that traced his bicep, soothing him apologetically as he stirred and moaned at her touch.
"I'm sorry." He wasn't hearing her, but she had to say it anyway. She pulled back the sleeves of his robe where they rubbed on the livid wounds, giving in after a moment and ripping the material, knowing she would be unable to make him move enough to strip him of it. Better to have the wounds exposed where she could easily tend them than inflame them further.
Tears unwillingly filled her eyes, half in anger and half despair as she looked at his now naked body. His wounds, at least from the outside, did not appear to be life-threatening, but Delenn knew better. Without treatment soon, the infection that had set in with a vengeance in his torn thigh would only worsen and travel through his system. His skin was already too warm to touch, the fever setting in under her hands. She laid her palm to his forehead, briefly, feeling the cold sweat that beaded on his burning skin.
"John." She shook him gently, pushing down her panic. "John, wake up. Please." It took a long moment: then he stirred, his eyes half-opening, looking up at her with hazy eyes.
"John." His name was a harsh breath of relief. "Can you hear me?"
"I'm here." She held tightly to his hand, stroking his face. "I'm here, John. It's all right." She wasn't sure she believed her words, but that didn't matter. All that mattered was that he knew she had faith. "It will be all right, I promise. Just lie still."
"Delenn..." His voice was more insistent now, somehow slipping away. He reached for her, and she saw confusion in his eyes. "Are you..."
"I'm here, John. I won't leave you." She took a deep breath, holding his hand to her heart. "I need something to cool you down. I will be back soon." She leaned over and kissed him tenderly on the forehead. His skin burned under her lips. She took a shaking breath as she pulled back, removing her hand from his and looking down at him. Surely she, they, had not been through all this to lose him now? To such a little thing?
She forced those thoughts back, managing to find a bowl she could fill with cold water in the galley area of the medical bay. She tried the comm system again, as she had done any number of times while John had slept during the past few days, but still there was no answer to her hail - from a ship or the station. If they had sent someone to find her, she had been too good at evading them on her first journey, although she could not understand why she could not raise Babylon 5. Especially now, when it was so vital that John receive medical attention - why had they left her alone? Did they think she too was dead? No. Lennier, if no one else, would not believe that until he had found her. So why?
She wouldn't think of it, she decided. She would concentrate on John, on helping him until they could arrive home. For him, she had to believe. For him she would believe. He needed her faith now.
She went back to him, covering his naked body with a smooth sterile sheet she had found and wrapping it loosely around him to keep him warm. He was shivering slightly, and sweat stood out on his exposed skin. Within minutes the sheet was damp, clinging to his body, but there was nothing she could do. She had cared for sick friends before, had nursed her father years ago when he had contracted a particularly virulent illness on Minbar, but she had never encountered a Human fever before. She had nothing more than a basic idea of what to do, hoping against hope that what little medication she dared to give John would keep him stable until their seemingly endless journey was over.
He stirred again as she wrung a length of bandage over the bowl of water and laid it gingerly on his forehead, holding his head still with her other hand. He opened his eyes and looked up at her, and she saw to her intense relief that he was still at least partly coherent.
"Shh." She touched his lips, gently. "Shhh, it's all right." She saw the pain in his face as he struggled through the fever to stay with her. "You can sleep, John." She heard momentary tears in her voice and swallowed them firmly, stroking his face reassuringly. "I will take care of you. Sleep now."
His eyes closed slowly, almost hesitantly: only when she was sure he could no longer see her did she allow the despairing tears to well up, hurriedly wiping them from her eyes.
She blinked hurriedly, looking down at him, lovingly stroking his hair. "Shh. Save your strength."
"No." He coughed, drawing in a ragged breath, and she felt him shiver under her hands. "Delenn... I have to tell you..."
"Please, John." She was fighting to keep her own control, seeing him so close to leaving her again. "You need to rest."
He shook his head slightly as she took the damp cloth from his forehead and dipped it in the water, smoothing it over his face. "I want to - to tell you - in case..."
"No." She couldn't help crying at the resignation in his tone. "I will not let you leave me again. I need you." Her hands trembled with restrained emotion as she held the cloth to his face. "I love you, John. I don't want to be alone again, please..."
"Delenn." Her name was a forced breath on his lips. "I'm sorry..."
"Don't." She leaned over and kissed him, and he felt her tears on his face before she wiped them away with the soft cloth that stroked his skin. "Don't say goodbye. I don't want to hear it again."
"I love you..."
She held her breath, wiping her tears roughly away as his eyes fluttered closed. "I know, John." A sob filled her throat as she watched him slip into restless unconsciousness, his breathing shallow. She laid the cloth on his burning forehead, running her fingertips delicately down his cheek, her eyes hot with tears. "I know."
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