THE FAITHFUL VII
TITLE: The Faithful (7/9)
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!
"I had a visitor today."
Delenn gave her fiance a curious glance, setting down the thick folder of reports she had brought for him to read. Life in MedLab was hardly stimulating, and since she seemed to be the only one who understood that enough to slip past Franklin's all-too-numerous restrictions it had fallen to her to become his messenger in this last week of confinement.
"Oh?" Anything official would surely have come through her, but she was never surprised by the occasional over-zealous Ambassador that 'needed' desperately to speak to Sheridan even in his still weakened state. "Was it anything important?"
"No idea. I was asleep when he came by."
There was something very, very odd about his voice, she noticed with a touch of confusion. Something that sounded-
"Lennier." She spoke his name quietly, terrified suddenly of her own knowledge that it was the truth. "Lennier... was here?"
"That nurse of yours came in to tell me. She didn't know what he wanted, but he didn't look too happy to be here." He raised his eyebrows in question, even though his eyes said he knew the answers. "You didn't send him, then."
She looked down at her hands. "No."
"He came on his own, I guess." He flipped open the folder, started to shuffle the reports.
"It would seem so." Her fingers laced together, her grip tight as she stared at them pressed into her lap.
"You don't know what he wanted?" Another shuffle, pulling out a select few papers and setting them aside.
"No." She closed her eyes to avoid looking up at him.
"Oh." His tone was carefully conversational, his eyebrows raised just slightly as he scanned the first report in line. "I thought maybe he'd have mentioned it to you."
"No." She paused and opened her eyes, the white skin of her knuckles matching the sharp tension she felt in her chest. "We have not spoken."
"So I hear." He flicked a glance at her, and she could do nothing but meet his eyes. The tension sucked in on itself, became a sharp ache in her heart and a stinging sensation behind her eyes as she held back the pain from him. He picked up the folder again without looking, one hand flipping it open as the other tidied his papers back inside and closed it. A deep breath echoed in lights on the monitor as he went silent, placing the folder to his other side with exaggerated care. Then he was looking at her again, and her resistance was melting as easily as it always did when she looked at the man she loved, the man she had risked everything for.
"What's going on, Delenn?"
She couldn't tell him. She had thought she could, had imagined the words a thousand times in her mind in the darkness since that first night, but she couldn't find them again with him there. How could she do that - tell him how she had betrayed her people, abandoned her customs and traditions, made herself outcast and pariah for one simple night with him? She could hardly expect him to understand the depth of her sin, but how could she try to explain it when she knew how much it would hurt them both for him to know?
She was taking too long, and he knew something was wrong; he put his hand on both of hers, squeezing her aching fingers. She tensed, feeling his own reaction to that and looking up again to meet a deep, sudden frown.
"Tell me. Delenn." He pulled her left hand free, his own grasp assertively stronger than even the previous day. "Something's up and I want to know. Now tell me."
Even her own breathing sounded painful, her voice unable to rise above a terse whisper. "I don't know how."
"Try," he returned quietly. She felt tears burning her eyes, feeling the pain as she pulled in a deep breath and tried to find the words.
"Lennier... he is not... happy. With me," she added after a moment. Sheridan frowned.
"Why not? Because..."
"Yes." She didn't want him to try and understand. She would just tell him, and then she would go. She didn't think she could bear seeing the hurt and betrayal in his eyes the way she had with Lennier, knowing that this time it was her fault alone and she could do nothing to take it away. "Because he knows that I am... that we were... intimate." She looked down. "Before we should have been."
He looked confused. "I don't get it. Was someone keeping a diary?"
"I should have been." His comment had been almost amused, but his eyes darkened as he registered just how serious she had made it.
"What does that mean?" She went quiet and he scowled. "I'm getting sick of games, Delenn. Have we done something wrong in all this?"
She didn't want to answer that. Such a simple, simple question with such a terribly complicated answer... it hadn't been wrong, she didn't want it to be wrong, but everything outside the safety of his arms said otherwise. She knew already that news had reached her clan of their relationship, and it could be any time now that they sent someone to inform her of her dishonor. The Minbari on station still knew nothing, thank Valen, but it could not stay that way forever and to tell him of that... how could she? To let him know that this time, when he could walk beside her again and the looks of disgust followed her it would be because of their love and their one expression of it?
"There is something." She stayed silent, knowing he would take that as affirmation. "Is it us?"
"Yes." She ignored the tears that blinded her eyes, keeping her gaze away from his to hide them. "Among my people, it is considered... sinful... to become so intimate with someone before the rituals of joining are completed. It is a great disgrace to the caste and clan, and a personal..." She swallowed stiffly. "A public dishonor."
"Public?" His eyes narrowed. "How, exactly? And how public?"
Delenn looked away, her voice shaking. "I am considered... the word is mal'cra." She pulled her hand from his, clasping her palms together tightly to force her voice steady. "Outcast."
"Outcast." His voice was stony - with anger or simply shock she couldn't tell and didn't want to know. "Both of you?"
Sobs welled in her throat at the awful thought and she choked them back, nodding quickly and not trusting the tears to stay inside if she spoke to that dark, agonised look in his eyes. She wrapped her arms around herself, for some small comfort in the face of his anger and hurt and betrayal. Was this what it felt like to tear someone's heart apart? To watch love and anger at war in a single soul and see anger win? Because it was winning, at least the first battle, and it hurt more than she had ever thought possible to do that to him.
"Why in God's name didn't you tell me, Delenn?!"
"I wanted you." She could barely hold in the tears now. "John, I wanted you so badly... I didn't know if we would have time, if the rituals could be completed before something happened to one of us..." She had been right about that, at least, for all the good that had come of it. Would things have happened this way if they had not been together, if Kosh had not been able to attain that connection with her through him? If they had never had that one night, those few hours before the nightmare began, would he even be alive now? Or would she have lost him forever, for the sake of a few rituals yet to be completed?
"You should have told me." His voice grated with pain, his tone biting into her even though the resentment was trying to hold back. "You should have let me have that choice too, Delenn. I deserved that much, didn't I?"
"I knew what you would say-"
"Damn right you know what I would've said!" His eyes blazed, and knowing the fury would be fleeting made it no less painful to see it thrown at her again. "This isn't something that goes away, Delenn! It's not as simple as wanting to sleep with someone, even with Humans - there's a whole other life to be considered here!"
"I didn't know!" She clasped her hands to her chest, biting her lip to keep from sobbing. "I didn't know it would happen, John, please... I didn't think it could..."
"But throwing away your own life would have been okay? Not bothering to tell me what would happen to you would have been okay?!"
"Yes!" She could feel the anger than burned in her own words, but when he stared at her then in shock and deep, terrible hurt she felt helpless to use it. "No, no..." She shook her head as he continued to wait, trying to make sense of her own whirling thoughts. "I don't know - I didn't think of it that way. I only wanted us to be together..."
"It could have waited, Delenn. We could have done this properly, the way it should have been."
"I didn't want that." How could he not see that was true? Couldn't he remember? "We had so little time, John... I wanted us to have something-"
"And what about my say?" She looked away then but he carried on, angry beyond his ability to stay rational now that he knew. Bad enough that her people hated him, but to just - just throw her life away like that... "Did you even think about what matters to me, Delenn? About how much you matter to me, how much..." He shook his head angrily in disbelief and looked down at her hands, clasped over her belly; his voice was quiet and cold and harder than stone. "Is there anything else I should know? Any other decisions you decided you should make alone?"
That hurt. She could see his remorse even in the next instant as he realised his words, but by then the pain was all she could feel. The tears slid silently down her face as she stood up; he reached out for her but she was already too far from the bed, her own sobs and pounding headache drowning out his voice as he tried to call her back.
"Delenn, I'm sorry-"
She ran quickly from the room.
She had done it. She hadn't meant to leave that way, for everything to come out so harsh and cold, but when he had said those things... had she been foolish in thinking that he wouldn't hold that mistake against her? Perhaps she had, she realised. Perhaps she had been wrong in thinking he could forgive something so deep so easily... or was it just that this was too similar for him to believe she had not meant to make that same mistake again? She hadn't meant for this to affect him, and that at least she knew was too thoughtless to ever be true. Of course it would affect him to be the instrument of her disgrace, even if she had invited it and it was she who had made him an unwitting part of it. It had been beyond foolish to think that he would just accept her ignoring what custom required of their relationship and allow her to 'throw her life away'... and she should have known John would put it that way, the way she should have seen it herself before. To her it was only half a life, now, but John loved all of her - why had she thought he would be happy to see this happen to her, even if it was by choice?
She had run almost all the way to her quarters before she realised she had not even bothered to take the transport tube that stood right outside MedLab. To be still meant she would start to think again, to replay everything in her head and feel the tears restart, and when that happened she would simply curl up and cry.
She picked up her pace, trying to move fast enough that no one would see her face as she turned the last corner to her quarters and fumbled for her identicard. The doors opened on blissfully darkened quarters; she slipped inside, her back hitting the wall as she tipped her head back, hugging herself tightly and sobbing into the darkness.
The voice interrupting his self-recrimination was purposefully cheerful in that infuriating medical fashion; Sheridan sighed heavily and dragged his head up from the pillows. Much as he wanted to get up and run through the corridors, to be able to pull Delenn back to him and hold her and tell her he hadn't meant it, it seemed all he was able to do in looking toward the door right now. That nurse was there - Megan, the one Delenn was always so pleased with. God, was it that kind of time already? He'd only been staring at the ceiling for a few minutes, he knew, although they seemed like hours with Delenn's tearful face hovering in his thoughts.
He nodded tiredly as Megan held up the usual set of medications - mostly to keep the pain at a dull ache for the moment, he knew, which was somewhat ironic since he couldn't feel anything except his own regret and resentment right now. She went about the task in pretty much silence, for which he was more than grateful - the last thing he needed right now was someone asking how Delenn was feeling, which seemed to happen a lot on the rare occasions when she wasn't at his side these days.
The injector pressed against his skin, cool for a second, and he lay back into the pillow again as she checked the monitors and gave him a light smile.
God, he wanted that to be Delenn smiling at him now.
The darkness had enveloped her, warmed her, kept her quiet and thoughtless for hours now, but it was no longer silent. She had little interest in who could be calling her private quarters - if John had spoken to anyone it was most likely Ivanova, and there was always the slim possibility that it was Lennier...
But then, the small thin package on her breakfast bar was a more than gentle reminder that it was likely to be someone else entirely.
She lifted her head slowly, the blinking screen casting a bluish light across the room in front of her as she looked toward the kitchen again. The message was a standard diplomatic packet wrapped with typical Minbari efficiency, but she had no doubt of what was enclosed inside. It had been a week now, after all, and if Lennier had not informed them then she had no doubt there was someone else who had completed the unenviable task for him. Her clan could be very efficient that way.
The sound was insistent: Delenn stood up carefully, wiping roughly at the dried tears on her face and hoping she looked at least presentable enough that her caller would not ask too many questions. She had an awful idea of who they might select for this task, and she had no wish to speak with either choice in her present state. If it were not now, however, she knew it would only be another time and if she were unlucky, a personal visit. Delenn sighed and straightened her robe, squaring her shoulders.
The message blinked on.
The image was there, now: she took a deep breath, calming herself. At least it was not Callenn; she had half expected him to be the one to do this personally, but it was some small blessing that he obviously considered his duty done in sending official notice of her disgrace. Now, however, she was forced to complete what had to be done at the worst possible time, with one of her oldest friends who would no doubt count among her deserters before the day was done.
The pale woman on the screen hesitated, looking distinctly unnerved by her expected task. //I was asked to speak with you on behalf of our clan, Delenn.// She looked down, pausing before continuing. //I am to inform you of... of your...//
"It's all right, Mayan." She managed a smile, deliberately speaking the reassurance in English rather than their native tongue. "I know of their decision. And it is just like Callenn to choose you for this," she added with a sour frown. Seeing her friend's obvious discomfort she sighed, smoothing out the front of her robe to afford herself an excuse for looking away. "I am sorry, Mayan. I know neither one of us would wish it this way, but there is little choice in the matter now."
Mayan's half-smile was sympathetic, and a little pitying; there was no doubt that she had spoken with Lennier, Delenn realised, and even if he understood her feelings then Mayan had not been informed of them.
"Your mother sends her regrets to you," she said softly. Delenn wondered how it was possible for such a quiet, gentle tone to tear so sharply at her heart. Regrets? A child, let alone a grandchild was more of a gift than many Minbari could hope for... were regrets all the blessings they saw fit to bestow on her now? No joy, no happiness for the gift she of all Minbari had been destined never to have - only cold regret and a few uncomfortable words from the one friend who would consent to speak with her again now.
"There was no other message?" she asked in a quiet voice. Mayan's careful smile faded, her eyes already shadowed with pain for this duty.
"No other. The Sisters are still in prayer from the anniversary of Valeria's blessed appearance, and I do not think she saw fit to say much more."
Valeria's appearance... an ironic excuse, Delenn realised with sadness, knowing that the angelic being would never repeat the stunning feat her mother was still now celebrating. Even more deeply ironic that she had been the final witness to his true appearance, and yet his most devoted Sister could spare no time or even kindness for her now. Would she be pleased at all to know that her blessed deity had given her grandchild at least the chance of a happy life, or would the only answer be more regrets that the baby would be born at all? For Delenn now, knowing the answer in her heart made it all the better to be forbidden to ask. Callenn's blunt notice sealing her fate only confirmed her family's indifference now.
"Was there anyone else?" She was certain it was a waste of questioning, but perhaps someone might see past their own prejudice long enough...
"No," Mayan informed her softly. At least it pained her to do this, if no other, but for that Delenn could not truly make herself grateful.
"No one else spoke to you before this?"
"No one else." The discomfort in her stiff posture was obvious, not wanting to break such detailed news of the judgment. "Callenn has told the clan what happened. He did not want this for you, Delenn," she insisted earnestly at Delenn's softly derisive look. "He cares for you as much as any other, but there was nothing else he could do. To take a mate without the proper rituals, and that he is Human - you know the elders could not stand by and allow it to happen. There would be outrage among the clan..." She paused, her voice lowered as if the words themselves were shameful. "And to bear the Starkiller's child..."
"His name is John Sheridan." Delenn's voice spat with sudden, protective anger at the use of such an epithet from someone she considered a friend - her closest friend, for years, before this lonely destiny had taken her so far from home. "He will be my husband, and he is a good man, Mayan. The least you could do is speak his name."
The other woman looked down, that smile of sympathetic regret touching her lips again. "Of course, Delenn. Forgive me, but Callenn informed us-"
"What Callenn believes and what is truly correct are rarely the same thing," she cut in with some heat. There had never been love lost between herself and that particular clan elder, despite their blood relationship being closer than many among such a large family. "But he does as tradition requires of him, as always."
"He could do nothing else, Delenn. For what you have done..." She paused, steadying herself for a moment to calm her voice. "I have no wish to argue this with you. I only hoped to understand why... to know what could have changed you so much to abandon your life for them. For him," and although she tried to hide it her suppressed reaction to Sheridan was more than obvious.
"This has changed me, Mayan." One hand touched her hair, the other gesturing vaguely to the room around her. "My life here. The destiny I share with John means more to both of us than anything we have alone." Not a lie, she reminded herself; only a belief she hoped still held true. "I did not want such a life for our child, but I would rather this than to have nothing of John at all." Mayan seemed unconvinced, but she was hardly surprised. "I love him, Mayan, and I have done so for very much longer than Callenn or my mother or any of our clan would believe. We have a life here, together, even if there is nothing else for us at home anymore. It will be enough," she assured her friend firmly. It will have to be, was the private thought that she pushed away. Mayan did not see it, thank Valen... and to only add to the pain, Delenn could hardly decide if that were a good thing now. Mayan was obviously trying to hide her own emotions as well, the minutes since her features had appeared seeming endless in the otherwise darkened room. There was silence for an awkward moment; Mayan seemed to shift uncomfortably, steepling her fingers with more concentration than her lifelong friend had ever seen in those eyes.
"I should go now." The words were quiet and apologetic. Delenn forced a smile, hoping it might be understanding even if it were agony inside.
"Of course." She tipped her head slightly in acquiescence. "I'm sure there are many things which require my attention as well. I should not keep you too long."
Mayan nodded absently... almost reluctantly, it seemed.
"Are you..." She trailed off for a moment and paused, carefully folding her hands before looking up with a softer tone and an honest sadness in her eyes. "Will you be all right, Delenn?"
"I think so." Hurt and guilt flashed into those eyes then, and she dredged up the last of that smile from behind the pain to reassure her friend just once more. "I will be fine, Mayan. Truly. To be Human is not so bad, despite all that Callenn may tell you." She tried to look amused, or at least hopeful. "And if you ever pass this way again, perhaps it would not be too much for you to examine his presumptions for yourself?"
Mayan smiled; very slightly and sadly, but it was a beginning at least. "I will remember, if we ever cross paths again." Her hands closed tightly in the image of the triluminary, and Delenn felt a tearful smile come to her lips as Mayan afforded her a deep bow. "Valen go with you, Entil'zha."
The tears slipped down her cheek again at the reverence and warmth in that farewell; she answered the bow and looked up to see Mayan smiling just a little, her own eyes glistening with unshed tears. "And with you, Mayan," she returned in a whisper. "Goodbye."
"Goodbye, Delenn." And the screen went blank once more.
She was growing to hate that unit, she realised as she stumbled to the couch in a numb daze. And if bad news should be in threes, as John sometimes teased her, then she had one more use for it before she could rest easily here again. Already things seemed different than before; Callenn's package was still there, unopened and waiting for her to acknowledge the decision of her clan, and the room was once more swathed in darkness but it was no longer blissful and warm as it had been. Now it was cold and hard, and filled with that silence that was too quiet even to break with noise. She was almost afraid to speak, even to breathe, longing for John's arms to come out of the silence and wrap around her, that strong embrace to keep them all safe and warm and make everything all right again. It would be, in at least some fashion, if she could just hold onto him and know that they had a chance to make things right together. But after what had happened... she had no doubt that anger and pain could fade, as it almost always did, but she didn't know now whether their trust would fade with it. And what could they have if that was gone?
The thought of such loss brought Lennier's face to her mind again. She wondered what he could have wanted, visiting John so late - and now, of all times? He would have known John was awake, of course, but he had not even been to see her since that day in MedLab, and she had no idea what he might want of her fiance. To see the one who had enticed her to give up so much of her heritage, perhaps? Perhaps he looked different now, the man who had one day been his leader and the next his mentor's lover? She could imagine so, knowing Lennier as she did; he had been her friend, her anchor for almost three years now, and it was almost as painful to lose him to this as it was to feel so uncertain with John. So many losses in her life, each just as deep in its own way and too many that haunted her now. And if John might become the last of them, if he could not forgive her this time... as much as Mayan's words ripped at her heart, the thought of losing John's trust in her was even more than she could bear. How foolish she had been to think that it would be easy for them now, just because they were together...
Her body had given in weeks before to the pain gnawing at her soul, but she had always forced herself to stay strong - because she was Minbari, because that was the way things were done and because it was easier to do so than to face the agony still locked within her own mind. Outside she could hide it, hide the fear and pain and helplessness behind the strength she built for their cause but in here, in the darkness with Mayan's voice still loud in her ears, there was finally nowhere left to run to. She felt numb, the anguish and fear overwhelming everything; she tried in vain to drag her breathing under control, feeling the tears come again and covering her face as if to hold them in for just a few seconds longer. She was Delenn, she would be strong - she had to be...
"Oh, Valen." The words came out as a choked whisper between sobs as she collapsed to the floor, wrapping her arms around her belly to cradle the tiny, heartbreaking miracle growing there and rocking softly in the darkness. "Please, Valen, help me..."
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