THE FAITHFUL VI
TITLE: The Faithful (6/9)
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!
Delenn sighed. Quietly, of course; careful not to let Franklin hear as he administered the daily dose of the medication which, to her relief, now kept at least the physical sickness away. She had been confined in MedLab for over a week now, and despite her protests that she should be out with the fleet, or at least in Ivanova's place in the War Room, there was a much more private reason for her desperate need to leave. She had no doubt that with John still... sleeping, she was the natural leader in his place, but she grew more afraid by the day that if Stephen did not release her soon, she would not have the strength to go back and face her life again.
Franklin drew the injector back from her arm, tapping it thoughtfully against his palm as he matched her hopeful look with a tired smile.
"Well, Ambassador." He set the injector down on the tray and wheeled it out of the way as he checked the monitors again. "One more day and it looks like you're free to go."
She managed a smile, despite the uncertainty in her eyes. "Thank you, Stephen."
"I still want you to rest," he reminded sternly. The smile widened just a little. "You're as bad as John when you want to be, and I will drag you back in here if I hear you're over-exerting yourself."
The smile dimmed again slightly at his mention of Sheridan. "Is there still no change?"
"Nothing new." His tone was reticent. It was obvious he hated being the one to break such news every day, but she had to know. They would tell her as soon as there was anything to tell, of course, but still some part of her needed to ask the question.
"May I see him?" She had only been into that cool, sterile room once or twice, when she could persuade Megan of how beneficial it would be for her own condition, and although it hurt more than words to see him that way at least it meant she was close to him. There was so much she needed to ask, needed to tell... Lennier's words still weighed heavily on her mind, and more than anything she was fearful of whether her resolve would outlast John's fever-induced coma. A week now, and still nothing...
"Go in for a little while. It might do some good." The doctor ran a hand over his cropped hair, looking tired as he shook his head. "I've done everything I can think of... now he has to do his part. If he's not ready to wake up-"
"Then he will not wake up," Delenn finished softly. He looked chagrined and she managed to flash him a tired smile. "I have been told that already."
He matched her look for a moment. "I wish I had something else to say."
"You have done all you can. That is what matters." She held the smile, drawing on what little belief she had left to reassure them both. "All we can do now is have faith."
He nodded tiredly, and it wasn't hard to see the exhaustion in his eyes. She saw it in all of them, when they took time out of overflowing schedules to visit her; yet another reason why she desperately needed to be at work again, away from her own thoughts and in the place they needed her to be. Where John needed her to be. It was a credit at least to his leadership that they had coped so long, but nothing could replace his determined vision to end this war. She could only hope to hold it together long enough that he would be at her side again, healthy and unwavering just the way she had last seen him, before all the horrors had begun. They had had so many dreams, been so resolved to finish this and build a life together, and in all their time it had never occurred to them that the price for their destiny might be so high... or so personal...
"Still no word?"
She looked up in confusion, schooling her expression to a glance of tired questioning. "I'm sorry?"
"Lennier." Her facade slipped immediately, albeit only for a moment, and she knew by the sudden sympathy in his tone that he saw it. "Look, I know I don't know an awful lot about this-"
"No. You do not." She turned her head away, over-reaching deliberately to hide her face and grasping the few reports she had managed to coax from Ivanova's over-protective control. "Thank you for your concern, Stephen, but there is nothing to be done. Now, I'm sure you have more important duties than my welfare."
"Not until John's awake."
She shot him a look: he countered it with a warmth that made her feel suddenly guilty for her stiff tone. If they could only leave her to deal with it alone, the way Minbari coped with such shame...
But then, she could not be Minbari any longer.
"I... apologise," she acceded softly. He smiled wryly, and she tried hard to return it. "Some things about Humans, I still find... difficult... to understand."
He nodded, giving her a silent smile of friendship: she managed to mirror that far more easily, she noticed, and he seemed pleased by her reaction as he wheeled the medical cart out of her room. He paused at the door then, and turned back to look at her. "One thing about Humans you should know, Ambassador. We're damned difficult to get rid of when you need us."
Delenn smiled quietly at that, as he left her alone; she was surrounding herself with Humanity, she realised as she actually considered it. Of course there was John, and Ivanova who had become her closest female friend almost as soon as she had emerged from the chrysalis - and now Stephen, still more reserved than the others but suddenly a close confidant when she had needed one most... and Marcus, always obedient but with that jovial, younger-brother playfulness that exposed itself so rarely in her presence. She had never considered before - never had time to spend doing so before, she realised with a touch of sadness - just how much the Humans here had come to mean to her. And she to them, apparently, she reminded herself with a forceful hope. Even in the midst of everything, it felt so good to know that she might be able to belong here, among them. And with Lennier's current state of mind...
He cared for her. She knew and understood that, and she had tried hard not to do anything that might call that fact to his attention. He would be mortified if he ever knew his feelings were so obvious, to her or to anyone... But in hiding her understanding, she realised now, she had kept from him any indication that she could feel that way for someone else... and that she could come to feel so strongly as to act as she had, to complete her transformation from Minbari to Human the only way she had known how. Her final betrayal of Minbari ritual had come as a shock to him, and perhaps - privately - an insult that she had seen fit to keep both the knowledge and emotions to herself. However it hurt, she wasn't surprised at his refusal to visit her again. Marcus delivered her work now, with a forced cheerfulness that told her instantly of his anger toward her young aide. She had considered passing on a message for him, but what could she say? The image of his pain-filled expression still burned her mind, and she knew that he had heard everything he wanted to hear from her. Pursuing him now was only desperation in the face of that which lay still in the next room, needing no pursuit but hope and giving her no option but to wait and pray.
She slipped down from the bed, still a little slowly in anticipation of the nausea that had usually accompanied the movement and relieved that the rest and regular medication had reduced at least those symptoms. Smoothing her robe, she steadied herself for a moment and slipped on her overdress, preparing herself at least on the surface for appearing to the outside world again. She was Delenn even if she was not Minbari, and she would be strong. Because she had to be.
And because she had nothing else that she knew how to do.
She knew the way to John's room, would have known it even if that last visit had not been escorted so slowly that she had taken in even the tile pattern on the flooring before finally being allowed to see him. Something still pulled her to his side; hardly as strongly as Kosh's appeal, of course, and plainly different - this time she knew it was her own heart, the strength of her own feelings instead of the Vorlon's urgency that drew her close to her lover again.
The room was unattended as she stepped inside, resting her hand briefly on the doorframe for support at the sight of him again. How long had it been since he had moved, or his expression had changed - days, growing closer to weeks now? Even his breathing was the same as the last time, the quiet lights of the monitors still beating the same rhythm as always as his chest rose and fell evenly alongside. How long would she wait now? How many days more would he stay this way while their child grew and their cause struggled to hold onto the strength he gave it?
She remembered her own words to Franklin - that all they could do for him now was to have faith, hoping it would be enough and not knowing what else there was left for them all if it wasn't. And she needed it now, to keep her strong for both of them - for all of them, she corrected herself silently as she touched his cool hand, the memory crystal clear of that strong grasp holding her as she told him of their child. How much faith she had left now, though, she wasn't sure.
She sat down slowly beside the bed, taking his hand between hers and carefully avoiding the IV that fed under his pale skin. Franklin's regen packs had done most of the work of healing for him, and she could only remind herself that without Kosh's miraculous protection he would not even be here to be healed at all... but she knew that gentle face and strong body better than anything in her world, and to only watch the changes his injuries slowly wrought was heartbreaking. Before, she had been able to do something, at least, but watching and waiting and praying... it wasn't enough, not with the weight of worry for everyone on her shoulders even as she sat at his bedside.
"I miss you," she whispered softly. He didn't stir, not that she had thought he would for simply the sound of her voice; she lifted his hand carefully to her cheek, trying to imagine for just a moment that he was awake and touching her that way, the way he always did. "Everything is so difficult now... Susan does what she can, but I think she knows it isn't enough..." She closed her eyes for a moment, pressing his palm tighter to her cheek. "Nothing will be enough until you are well again."
She wanted a reply, then. Wanted him to open his eyes and smile at her and answer that everything would be all right soon, but he didn't. And the silence still hurt more than anything.
"I don't know what to do." She wondered if he could hear her voice, or if it was so silent in his world as in hers now. "How can I ask them to do this, John? They want to believe that we can win, that things will be all right, but how can I ask that of them now when I hardly believe myself?"
Susan Ivanova shook out her hair and sighed. It had been a long night, and she had no doubt there were longer to come before they got out the other side of this war. If they got out at all, she reminded herself with her typical pessimism. It wasn't looking very likely right now, all things considered. John still showed no signs of recovery beyond his miraculous return, despite Franklin's concerted efforts to ignore sleep himself in bringing him around, and Delenn had been at his side most of the day despite her own orders to rest as much as possible. She was going to need it to come back to this madness tomorrow, Ivanova knew. It was even driving her crazy trying to keep everything - and everyone - together, and she knew Delenn well enough that even that stubborn Minbari strength couldn't win over alone. Their League support was only holding together on the thinnest hope of Sheridan waking soon, and the suspicious silences whenever she caught them talking only confirmed the knowledge that more and more were uncertain if he would recover at all. It was only a matter of time now until something gave way - whether that would be them or her was down to Sheridan.
"Damn you, John." It was all sliding into hell in front of her eyes, and she needed him as much as any of them did... except Delenn, still clinging to the hope that her outrageous risk in following him to Z'Ha'Dum had not been in vain. After everything, she couldn't believe it might come to leaving him immobile and hooked up to a monitor while they fought out the remaining days of this war without him. And then there was Earth to deal with... and as Human as Delenn had become, none of them could ask her to lead them in that battle.
Damn it, they needed John and they needed him soon. Preferably now and especially for Delenn's sake. And for his baby - oh God, the baby. How was Delenn going to cope? Not to mention everything that seemed to come with it now. She had nothing left on Minbar, and Earth was hardly going to welcome her with open arms...
It struck her that she was thinking as if he were already dead. And she was pretty sure it wasn't all pessimism talking.
Was it really that bad? She wondered where Marcus had secreted the latest bottle of vodka he'd procured for her, and if he might be averse to sharing the rest of it this early in the evening. After a long moment of consideration, it became a serious thought: she reached for her link, about to call his quarters when it chirped under her hand. She sighed heavily, biting back a growl.
"Yes?" She was supposed to be off duty, for God's sake, at least for a few hours! "What is it?"
Corwin's voice came through clearly on the other end of the link.
"*Commander? There's a message for you.*" He paused for a second, obviously trying to keep the mixed anticipation from his tone. "*It's from MedLab.*"
Delenn turned around from the bed in her small room, now neatly made and looking, she imagined, exactly as it had when she had first arrived. Nothing had been left behind - she had brought few belongings here anyway, and what she did have was now neatly packed into a small bag to return to her quarters. She picked up the hairbrush from the low bedside table and leaned briefly against the bed to finish that last task, tidying the loose curls that insisted on falling across her shoulders. She was almost finished when her hearing, MedLab being quiet now that the main shift was over, alerted her to a presence at the door. She looked up, surprised to see Susan Ivanova there and still in uniform from what had undoubtedly been a long day's work.
"Susan." She smiled, hoping it seemed warm rather than tired, and ran the brush once more through her hair to finish. "Is it not a little late for visiting?"
Ivanova shrugged lightly, the hint of a smile on her own lips. "They told me you were still here. I thought you might have gone by now, but luckily not."
Delenn smiled, slipping the hairbrush inside her carryall. "I was just getting ready to return to my quarters." She closed the bag and took a deep breath before looking up, then the cool professional once more. "Was there something I could do for you?"
"As a matter of fact, yes. It's good I caught you." Delenn looked politely interested and Ivanova allowed herself the luxury of that smile now. "I've got something for you to see," she explained as Delenn pushed gracefully away from the bed and smoothed her robe, casting her a curious gaze in return.
"Of course, Commander. Please."
"After you." Ivanova gestured for her to leave the room, following on closely behind and ignoring her enquiring expression. Delenn didn't recognise the route they took: a little surprising, given the amount of time she had spent in MedLab in past weeks, but then she had never realised just how many corridors there could be within the facility. She had not been escorted to the more out-of-the-way areas before, either, which was definitely where they were headed now. A wave of hope slowly overtook her confusion, even though she knew they had passed what she needed to see any number of corridors before...
This new room was small, but relatively bare; a thin book lay on a small bedside table, illuminated by a soft light that drowned out the blinking of those monitors that remained silently working on the other side of the bed. Delenn, however, was looking not at the surroundings but straight at the bed, tears of joyous relief standing out in her eyes as the lone occupant of the room turned his head to look at her.
Her voice shook, barely able to stand as the relief washed over her and she all but raced to the bed. "John?"
He smiled weakly, his voice rasping from disuse. "Bet I look like hell."
She grasped his hand in both of hers, willing back her tears of relief and smiling gently back into his eyes.
"Moderately." She reached out to touch his face gently, a kind of wonder in her own features. "Oh, Valen... I thought I'd lost you again. I was so frightened..."
"I know. But I'm okay, Delenn. Look at me." He lifted her chin slowly with a slightly stiff movement of one hand. "I'm gonna be fine, I promise." He had to take a breath then, but it seemed smoother than a moment ago as he smiled privately into her eyes. "And as soon as they let me out of here, we're gonna go get that ring, okay?"
She smiled back, pulling his hand gently to her face. "I would like that."
"Good." He smiled once more, lovingly into her eyes, before glancing over her shoulder with a weak grin. "Hey, Susan."
Ivanova grinned. "Looking good, John."
"Better than I've been for a while," he admitted, frowning slightly as she came closer. "You don't look too great, though..."
Ivanova scowled half-seriously, approaching the other side of the bed. "Speak for yourself," she retorted with a wide grin. He chuckled hoarsely.
"Probably am. Tell me you're at least holding things together out there."
She sidestepped the question, knowing he wouldn't be surprised. "They're going to be a hell of a lot better when I tell them all you're awake and talking again."
"They're gonna be happy about that?" He almost laughed at the notion, but it came out as little more than a dry cough before he sucked in a breath through the oxygen tubes that fed into his nose. Delenn's hand tightened around his, alarm crossing her face: he laid his free hand atop hers, quickly reassuring her.
"I'm okay, I'm okay. Just a little rough right now." Another pause, another breath but calmer as he squeezed her fingers. "Stephen was here before you, said I'd get a little out of breath for a while. Long drop," he added dryly. A reluctantly amused smile tugged at her lips, reminding herself again that he was right about that much at least - and that to get even this far alive was more than any miracle. But he was here, touching her and speaking to her, and at least the worst was past.
"I hear you got a pretty good ride, though," Ivanova retorted to his comment. He glanced back at Delenn, smiling tenderly at the reminder.
"More than one, Susan."
Ivanova shot he and Delenn a look at that. "Gave the rest of us a good run around for that, too," she reminded them both with a mock scowl. "If you ever do that to me again, John..."
Sheridan coughed quietly, catching his breath. "Believe me, not gonna happen." He looked at Delenn. "Is it?"
"No." She flashed him a soft smile. "As long as I am sure you will not cause such trouble again, of course."
He laughed again, taking in another deep suck of breath from the oxygen tubes. Ivanova frowned at the painful sound that effort made, patting his arm and stepping back from the bed.
"We should let you get some rest." Both of them looked about to protest then; she just glared at him and looked back at Delenn. "He's still not well. If he's going to get better he's gonna need time to rest - and no work," she added with a black scowl at her CO. He rolled his eyes.
"You'd better get used to saying that," she retorted smartly. "Because until Stephen tells me you are fit to do otherwise, you hereby turn over command of this station to me. Is that understood?"
A wry smile touched his pale lips, his voice low but managing amused. "Anyone but you, Susan, and I'd kick ass for that."
She arched an eyebrow: he gave a stiff chuckle, glancing warmly at Delenn. "Okay, anyone but you two. And try to keep her in line, okay?"
Delenn smiled - humor at least meant he was healing now, she supposed. "I will do what I can," she promised solemnly. Her eyes met his, and they sparkled with relief at his jovial mood. He smiled and squeezed her hand.
"I'm gonna be fine, Delenn. Honest. Give me a few days bed rest and some painkillers and I'll be as good as new in no time."
"In about three weeks, actually." Ivanova shrugged at his sudden angry stare. "Doctor's orders. Or do we have to strap you down?"
"John." Delenn's gentle but firm voice cut him off as she turned to look at his exec. "May we have a few minutes?"
Ivanova gave her a look: she matched it with an earnest gaze, and the other woman relaxed carefully with a nod. "Sure. Just get him to rest, okay?" She jabbed a finger at Sheridan. "You're lucky to be alive, mister. Don't start taking it for granted."
He watched her go, noticing with a little healthy trepidation that Delenn waited for them to be alone before speaking; that never boded well, especially for any determination he might have been storing up. It tended to crumble when Delenn got personal - and when she looked at him like that, and spoke in that tone of voice...
He cut in quickly, wanting to reassure her. "Delenn, listen to me. I'll be fine-"
"No." Her eyes were haunted for a moment then, pain filling them. "You have not seen what I saw. What I watched you go through to bring you back here. You can't understand..." She paused, quiet for a beat as she swallowed hard. "I almost lost you. If that happens again..."
"It's not going to happen. Delenn?" He touched her other hand, pulling it into his to hold both tightly. "You hear me? It's not going to happen. I'm here for the long haul now."
She didn't look convinced: he sighed, about to try again, but her soft voice stopped him then.
"John, please. For me." She looked earnestly into his eyes, slipping her hands free to cover his with a gentle, careful touch. "It was so hard for me to get you back. Everyone here has made such great sacrifices for you... if anything happened to you now, when we could prevent it..." Her eyes deepened with that soft look that was worse than all the sobbing in the world and he sighed inwardly, knowing he'd lost this battle the instant she walked through that door.
"Okay, okay. I promise. Three weeks of bed rest - but not one minute more! And I want you in here every day," he added firmly as an afterthought. She smiled.
"I have been and always will be." She leaned over and kissed him tenderly, caressing his cheek as she looked down at him. "Now you should rest. I will stay and watch for as long as I can."
He gave her a small smile of mock defeat. "Okay." There was quiet for a few moments then, his eyes drifting shut, and she could tell easily that he was infinitely more tired than he tried to appear. "Want you to rest, too, though. You're sleeping for two now..."
She smiled warmly, that absent touch she seemed to have developed coming to settle on her tender abdomen. "I will rest when you are sleeping. Hmm?"
"You never fight fair," he teased in a lazy tone. She smiled and kissed his hand.
"I know. Sleep now."
He seemed not to have heard her, eyes still closed: she sat back carefully into the chair, watching him, until the silence was broken with a quiet word.
He opened his eyes again. "The three nights..."
She frowned lightly at him, a little frustrated. "Yes?"
"Does this count?"
The frown became a soft smile.
"Go to sleep, John."
He grinned playfully, the memory of such teasing on their last night clear in his eyes. "Only if you catch me."
"The bed is flat," she reminded him with a touch of amusement. His hand covered hers again, fingers slipping between her own.
"I don't need a bed to fall, Delenn. Or for you to help me up again." His gaze was deep and clear, his eyes filled with thanks and love for her. "I never wanted her back, you know. Not for a second."
"I know." Her voice was quiet, eyes downcast for a moment before she looked up again and smiled softly. "Don't worry. Everything will be fine now."
"Hmm." His eyes drifted closed, his fingers squeezing hers; her confidence seemed to reassure him and moments later he was sleeping lightly, one hand still holding on tightly to hers. Delenn smiled at the peaceful look on his face now, gently smoothing his hair and letting her free hand linger over his sleeping features.
She could do this. He would soon be well again, and soon everything would be fine.
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