IN MEDIAS RES
This is the sequel to 'Steel And Fire', which turned out better than I expected and which asked me politely for a little sibling to play with. How could I refuse? This no-sex thing is a real adventure. (Don't worry, there's plenty of smush to be going on with. What do you think I am, a plot monster?) Anyway, I hope this is as good as the original – you know what they say about sequels.
And remember, feedback is the ambrosia of writing! Pleasepleaseplease write me! I have such a sad and lonely life...
The route between blue and green sectors was busy that morning: Sheridan tried to keep his good humor to himself at least barely, knowing that if anyone got a look at the true brightness of the smile he could feel creeping onto his lips, there'd be rumors flying before he even reached Delenn's door.
The thought of Delenn made his resolve slip momentarily, and he grinned a good morning to three junior officers before he managed to reign it in again. He checked the time on his link for the fourth time since leaving his quarters: exactly oh-eight-hundred hours just as he turned the corner, avoided the sentient traffic from the transport tube and pressed the chime.
He grinned broadly, glad he was facing the door. "It's me." He managed to hold back using her name, knowing there were people who, if not actively listening, were at least within hearing range. "Can I-"
The door slid open in anticipation of his request, and he greeted his new partner with the smile he'd been struggling to contain all morning. "Good morning, Delenn."
She smiled back at him, gesturing for him to come inside. "Do you think so?"
Sheridan shrugged, but the smile persistently refused to leave. "I don't remember many better."
Her smile widened a little, amused at his words. "Please, sit down. I hope this will be all right." One hand made a slightly hesitant gesture toward the breakfast bar; he turned and raised his eyebrows in surprise. He didn't recognise a lot of the array she had laid out, supposing it to be Minbari, but his stomach was certainly ready to give it a go. His mouth watered at the sight of a pitcher of orange juice accompanying the unusual breakfast.
"Like I said: I don't remember better." He flashed her a reassuring smile. "It looks great. Did you make all this?" Delenn looked a little embarrassed at the question and he chuckled. "I guess we're gonna get on better than we thought. Not too hot in the kitchen, huh?"
"I would not offer if I had made it," she admitted somewhat sheepishly. He almost laughed, seeing how seriously she seemed to take the subject.
"Don't worry about it. Hell, why d'you think I've never invited you for breakfast before?" She laughed softly at the self-deprecating tone in his voice and held out one hand to the stool on the outer side of the breakfast bar.
"Please, sit." He did so, unable to keep his eyes from her as she circled the bar to take a seat opposite. "Help yourself to anything you require." She had to laugh when he made an almost dramatic leap for the orange juice, his eyes sparkling as he began to pile the plate in front of him. "Do you not usually eat breakfast?"
He grinned, looking so young and full of life that her breath caught for a moment, it was so different to her usual perception of him. She tried to remind herself that this was a new side to their relationship, privately hoping she would have many more opportunities to see that carefree humor in his eyes.
"Oh, I eat. I wouldn't call it food, though." He refilled his glass. "The mess hall is where you go when you *need* to eat, not when you want to. This," he looked up at her and his eyes flashed in pure enjoyment, "this is what you call *food*."
Delenn smiled, looking pleased and perhaps a little relieved. "Then we will have to do this more often. I cannot have you starving, after all."
He stole a look at her over the rim of his glass, hiding a smile as he realised she hadn't noticed her own slip. She hadn't meant to make it that personal, but he knew she meant it. Taking a bite of something that looked almost suspiciously delicious and tasted even better, he reached a daring hand across the table and slid it into hers. She looked up, surprised at the apparently sudden gesture: meeting his smile with her own, a private affection touched her expression and she adjusted her hand to hold onto his.
Sheridan got the impression, rather distractedly, that whatever muscles he used for smiling were going to ache unbearably after this morning. Not that he really cared; it'd been a while since they'd had occasion to get much exercise.
"You're pretty hungry, too," he noted with a hint of surprise, sneaking a look at her own plate in between bites. Delenn tipped her head sideways a little, smiling.
"It would have been silly of me to make so much if I did not mean to eat it."
He cast an appraising glance over her body, as much as he could with the bar between them. "You must work out." At her perplexed expression, he raised his eyebrows. "Then I guess Minbari have damn speedy metabolisms."
"I am no expert at biology," she apologised with a shrug. A teasing smile crept onto her lips and she wriggled her hand inside his. "But perhaps we are a little... warmer... than other species."
Sheridan coughed, taking a gulp of orange juice to wash down the fact that she had caught him more than a little off-guard. Delenn just sat there – admittedly looking more than a little coy – toying with her fork between two fingers. She didn't look up; he studied her for a moment, a small, pleased smile beginning on his lips. Memories of the previous night were still fresh in his mind: he wouldn't admit it to her, knowing how displeased she would be, but he'd slept very little that night. He was pretty sure, given the slightly sleepy look that crossed her face every so often when she wasn't paying attention to herself, that she'd shared his restless night. Given how far their relationship had really progressed in the past twenty-four hours – not that he'd noticed until afterwards – he was surprised at how *much* sleep he'd actually gotten. After all, how was he supposed to sleep when the woman of his dreams had spent the latter half of the evening expressing her pretty damn positive feelings for him? The words 'I love you' hadn't come up, that was true, but he didn't need to hear them to sense the truth; to see it in her face when she looked at him, and even when she didn't. Especially when she didn't. Like now.
He pulled his hand back slightly, sliding his fingers between hers and pressing their palms together. "I never noticed that." He put his fork down and reached out, his fingertips brushing her cheek. "You know, I think you are a little warm..." He grinned as his words, and his touch, made her blush. "Getting warmer."
Her gaze flicked up to him, looking embarrassed: on seeing his smile she matched it, albeit hesitantly, with one of her own. "I am... not used to this." His eyes shone with patient amusement; in a slow, deliberate movement he looked into her eyes, keeping eye contact as lifted her hand to his lips and kissed it.
A deep, hot blush coloured her face, but she found herself unable to look away from his honest, unswerving gaze. In public, among other people, the gesture had been gentle and almost teasing; here alone, after the previous night, it took on a whole new depth of meaning. Combined with the look in his eyes, it brought a fresh heat to her skin – and to her surprise, a shy smile to her lips.
He stood up carefully, unhurriedly, never breaking the gaze that locked onto her soft, shy expression as he walked around the breakfast bar into the kitchen and took her other hand in his.
"You know," his voice was casual, "it really isn't all that difficult to get used to." He pulled her gently up from her seat and drew her toward him, careful not to be too forward, not wanting to rush the physical side of their relationship too quickly. He'd never been one for fast, physically intimate affairs – not that he wouldn't mind being intimate with Delenn, but she meant far more to him than that. Add to that the fact that she was Minbari, which brought a completely new square to the board game. He'd studied – discreetly – her culture and customs, as well as what little Minbari biology he could get his hands on, but her people were notoriously tight-lipped when it came to revealing themselves to other races. He just hoped Delenn didn't feel the same way as most of her people...
He noticed her smiling up at him then, and any reservations he might have had fled his mind. "Delenn?"
Her smile became a soft laugh. "I was just thinking... that perhaps I could become accustomed to this after all."
He grinned and pulled her close against him. "That's good to know."
They stood in silence for a long few moments, his arms around her waist while she leaned against him. A curious fingertip explored the insignia on his uniform, lightly tracing the line of his chest. She *was* warm: refreshingly so after so long alone. He smiled down at her, unable to help the slightly undignified expression of awe that flickered over his features.
"I love you." The words were said on impulse, but the meaning behind them shone deeply in his eyes. "I don't know how or why or when, but I do, Delenn."
To his surprise, there was no embarrassment in the face that looked steadily back at him. "I know." A tentative caress touched his cheek; he turned toward her exploring fingertips, eager to bring them closer.
"I guess I made it pretty obvious last night."
"A little." He blinked in pleasant surprise as he realised she was teasing him. The smile in her eyes turned from shy to amused with very little encouragement. "I believe the phrase you used was 'hopelessly in love' with me." She frowned, and he couldn't tell if she were being serious now. "I was under the impression that to be hopeless was a bad thing."
"Not in every case," Sheridan assured her. She smiled.
"I'm glad..." She was quiet then, for a long time, and in the silence a thought came to him. "Delenn?" He didn't even know if he dared ask. "Do you..." "John." She smiled tenderly, and the uncertainty was all but gone from her voice. "You should not worry so much. You will make yourself ill." At his protests she smiled and laid a soft but firm fingertip on his lips. "I love you, very much. In fact," a wryly grateful smile graced her features, "I have spent all night realising how much I love you."
He chuckled. "That figures. I mean, you had nothing else to be worrying about." At the look on her face he made an appeasing gesture. "I was trying for sarcasm."
Delenn shook her head, at a loss. "Humans are a very strange species."
"Tell me about it." She looked confused and he chuckled. "I didn't mean that literally." Delenn sighed, now mystified.
"How do your people ever understand each other?"
He smiled suggestively. "We have a few less... problematic methods of communicating."
"Oh." She smiled, leaning back a little in his arms as he tilted his head towards her. He matched her smile with his own, moving one hand lightly up to rest between her shoulders. Her eyes widened, not unwillingly, as she realised what he meant; "*Oh*..." as his lips touched hers.
She leant into him then, and he found with some wonder that she was definitely not unwilling to communicate – not with him, at least. In fact, she seemed to prefer this method: she was certainly growing accustomed to it, he noted as her arms came up to encircle his neck and pull them closer together. She even *tasted* warm: a soft, slightly fruity warmth that somehow fitted perfectly into his image of her. Her lips parted slightly, then further as he felt her relax into the rhythm and he forgot, completely for the first time, how different they were. It was like... all he could think of was coming home. *Oh Lord, that's corny.* But that was the only way to imagine it, short of 'downright horny': arriving at a place he'd known always known was there, but had never quite had the courage to find. Delenn, however, appeared to have no such qualms: a hand on the nape of his neck pulling him close, tongue searching, brushing his between soft, full lips that moved instinctively in rhythm with his. He took a gamble and broke the kiss momentarily; she made a quiet sound of protest that was quickly smothered by his mouth, catching her lower lip gently between his teeth. She made another sound, this one definitely of pleasure, and her hand tightened on the back of his neck. He smiled into her mouth and gently brushed her tongue with his teeth, pleased when that elicited another murmur from her throat. He'd imagined his first kiss with Delenn as a hesitant, sedate experience: that image was fast disappearing from his passion-besieged mind. The reality was gentle, unhurried, but definitely not hesitant. His mind laughed at 'sedate' as Delenn gently mimicked his teasing, teeth lightly grasping his tongue. He blinked, surprised, pulling back from the kiss for a moment.
Delenn looked up at him, her features expectant, her eyes searching for approval. He grinned down at her, his tone slightly amazed. "Talking isn't the only thing you're good at." She smiled, relieved, seeming almost shy: he crooked a finger under her chin and tilted her head up to look at him.
"I mean that, Delenn." He smiled and kissed her tenderly – practically chaste, compared with a moment ago. "You know I love you."
"Yes." That she had no trouble responding to, a smile on her lips. "That is one thing I know for certain."
He smiled understandingly, stroking her hair as she stood in his arms, as reluctant to move as he was to let her go. "You'll always have that, Delenn," he promised her. She smiled, reaching up to touch his face with a tender caress, a wordless thank you for the support that was never far away: as close as the danger surrounding them. Silently, she rested her head on his chest; Sheridan tightened his arms around her. "We're gonna be okay," he whispered into her hair. "You have to believe that. We both do."
"I know." He could almost hear the tears in her voice, but she didn't cry. "But it is... hard, sometimes."
"I know." He kissed the tip of her crown, reassuring her of his presence, his love for her. "I know, Delenn. But I'm here for you, you know that. Whenever you need me."
She smiled softly, and the tears were thick in her voice now. "I know that better than anything."
He held her close with one hand, the other stroking her hair, rocking her very gently, closing his eyes to the world. His own voice was quiet. "It's okay to cry, Delenn."
"I-" Interrupted by a quiet, nearly silent sob. "I know..."
"No, you don't." He'd seen this coming ever since he'd gotten her alone last night, since she'd first let her composure slip in front of him. "No one ever told you that before. No one just held you and let you cry, let you let it all go. No one could ever do that for you, or you wouldn't have such a hard time with it now." He buried his face in her hair, his voice quiet in her ear. "Well I'm here now, Delenn, and I don't know what else I'm good for, but I know I can do this for you." He could feel her shaking, tears running silently down her face. He'd only ever seen her cry once, in his arms, and even that she had never mentioned again: had hidden all the pain away, just as always. If he wasn't careful, she'd do it again - bottle up everything inside and never let him in. Much as it hurt to see her cry, it was infinitely more painful to imagine her sobbing alone without ever trusting him enough to let him see that. "You know the most selfless thing in the world, Delenn? It's to let someone else hurt and not try and make it all better, because sometimes you can't. Sometimes you don't have to. It's just enough not to be alone." That struck a chord; she turned her face into his chest, and he felt her tears. "Let it go, Delenn."
He'd seen her cry before, held her while she cried after the Markab isolation; for hours, then, he'd cradled her in his arms and rocked her tenderly, almost like a child, until she fell asleep only to wake in tears again from the nightmares. He'd even stayed in her quarters that night, although neither of them had gone to bed: he'd sat up on the couch with Delenn in his arms, her head resting on his shoulder, her arms wrapped about him. The one pitiful, almost frightening detail that stood out was the feeling of her fingertips in the hollow of his neck, resting on his pulse, searching for it as if afraid it might disappear: he could still see her face, her eyes, as she had looked up suddenly from a light sleep, losing the steady beat beneath her hand and literally terrified into wakefulness. She had cried in relief then, not just fright; really understanding for the first time that he was there with her. It had been obvious then that she had never cried in front of anyone before: not surprising given her rather distant upbringing. He vividly remembered the sound of her sobbing, would recall it in acute detail even if she weren't cradled in his arms now doing the exact same thing, if he couldn't hear her choked breathing on his shoulder or feel her shaking against him. He turned to lean against the breakfast bar, carefully drawing her up close to lean into his chest, rocking her just the way he had almost a year before.
She cried for a long time, but not with the desperation or grief of that first time. Now her tears were filled with the confusion and helplessness of the past few days - the sheer enormity of their actions and the extent to which they had alienated themselves and those under them. To the outside world, Delenn was an untouchable, immovable figure: without fear, without doubt or hesitation. She paid dearly for that, with her comfort, her peace of mind and most of all her happiness. Here in his arms, she was finally and simply a woman, lonely and afraid – made so by her own actions and her belief in what she was trying to do. It hurt like hell to see her cry that way, in his arms, knowing there was nothing he could do to take away the pain; only hold her and reassure her that she wasn't completely alone in her world.
He had no idea what time it was when he moved her to the couch, or when he left to collect a soft cloth from her bathroom. He sat down beside her, holding her close with one arm, using that hand to tilt her head up to look at him as he tenderly wiped the rest of the tears away.
"Better?" His voice was deliberately calm, even light; Delenn smiled, if a little hesitantly.
"I..." A stray tear escaped: she reached up to brush it away, but he got there first. "Thank you." Sheridan smiled and kissed her tenderly on the forehead. "Don't mention it. And no," he chuckled and shook his head, "I didn't mean that literally." He reached over and took her hand firmly in his. "You can tell me anything, Delenn, you know that. Whenever you have to talk, I'm here." He smiled ruefully, reassuring her. "Believe me, I'll know how you feel." She looked a little embarrassed and he squeezed her fingers, holding her gaze with his own. "A few tears won't kill me, Delenn." He looked at her seriously. "The only person they hurt is you. If you keep them inside, sooner or later you'll put out that fire I love about you." She seemed a little taken aback by his honesty, looking at him silently, but her eyes betrayed her understanding: Sheridan smiled, satisfied, pulling her to him and gently guiding her head onto his shoulder.
"I know what it's like right now, Delenn. How confusing everything is?" He took a long breath. "How lonely." She looked up at him, and he realised he'd never used that word aloud before. He awarded her a reassuring smile and reached out to push her hair back from her face. "Everyone feels alone at times, you know. I know it's different for you..." His fingertips traced the line of her crown and he saw sadness creep into her eyes. "I can't pretend to know what it's like for you, but I can try to understand, at least sometimes. Hmm?" Delenn nodded wordlessly and he smiled, waiting for her to say what he could see in her eyes.
"I just... ever since my change, people - *my* people..." she paused, but he didn't interrupt, waiting for her to continue. "They treat me differently... as if I were an embarrassment to them. An insult." She swallowed hard, feeling the sobs well up again even though she had no tears left to cry. "I tried from the beginning to convince them otherwise, to help them accept me, what I represent." She looked down at her hands in her lap, fingers locked with his. "They wouldn't listen. They wouldn't hear me, but still I tried. But now..." She closed her eyes for a long moment, as if she were afraid to say the words would make them true. "Now I've done their work for them. They can do what they want to do - to simply pretend I no longer exist."
He decided, wisely, not to answer that; just wrapped his arms further around her and held her close to him. Delenn nestled her head into the crook of his shoulder, calmed by the warmth and life of his presence. When she spoke, her voice was quiet. "It is hard, that's all. My place has always been to serve my people, and now..." "You are helping them," he assured her. "They just don't know it yet." He tried to sound as confident as possible. "They'll understand one day." "I hope so." She hated herself for being so pessimistic, but she couldn't seem to shake the feeling. "But sometimes, I feel so... isolated."
"You're not, Delenn. And we will finish this, I swear."
"I know." She smiled, but weakly. "It is only... everything is so confused, so chaotic... it feels as though we've come so far, but..." She shook her head, more out of helplessness than disagreement. "Sometimes I can't see an end to anything." She sighed and closed her eyes tiredly. "I can hardly see the past anymore."
"'In medias res,'" he quoted solemnly. She looked mystified. "It's an old language from Earth. It means 'in the middle of things', or something like that."
Delenn sighed ruefully, her eyes still closed as if they could shut out the world for a few more moments. "That is certainly true."
"In more ways than one," he teased, and was rewarded with a quiet smile. "Seriously, Delenn, we'll get through this. Trust me." He tilted her head up with his free hand; she opened her eyes and couldn't help but smile at the confidence in his expression. He returned the smile and kissed her again, warmly and intimately; she melted into his embrace, amazed at how *right* his arms felt around her, pushing the world away, reaching for the confidence he embodied. Sheridan pulled away very slightly, tilting his head, forehead resting against hers, his face barely an inch away. She smiled and caressed his cheek gratefully.
"I trust you. After all, if there is a middle to things, then there will be an end." Her smile became more affectionate. "To some things at least."
Sheridan grinned. "I love you for so many things, you know that?"
"Yes." She leaned forward and kissed him lightly. "But you may continue to tell me for as long as you wish."
He raised an eyebrow, grinning into her eyes. "I might just do that..." His arms tightened around her, and she reached up to meet his kiss - He smiled ruefully as his link chirped, reminding them both of how many others awaited their attention today. He pulled back reluctantly. "I have a meeting. I have to..."
"I know." This time, however, she only smiled at him and nodded, reaching up to complete the kiss. He smiled and obliged her, eager to be delayed, unwilling to release her for anyone. The meeting would just have to wait, at least a few minutes.
When he finally did turn to go, he wasn't surprised that she stood up with him and followed him right to the door, just as he had done the previous night. A thought occurred to him and he smiled somewhat wryly.
"Didn't do much talking, did we?"
Delenn colored, but her eyes sparkled. "No, we did not."
She smiled, confidently. "I'd like that."
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