MISTLETOE AND ORANGE JUICE
Liljana Howe, not quite Xmas, 1997.
Hiya! Short intro this time, need to print, print, print! Just dropping off my little seasonal contribution to the Babylonian festivities. Hope you like it - shortest piece of fanfiction I ever wrote! Hope there're no more spelling or grammer mistakes (I did that one on purpose), but blame it on a lousy spell checker and heavy deadlines. You know who you are!
The carol Delenn sings in the Zocalo is 'Mary's Boy Child', one I happen to think is in close ranking for the best Christmas carol ever written. 'Greatest Gift Of All' is an EMI number and I've included the words at the end. (That one is the best Christmas song ever written.)
DISCLAIMER: Why do they never celebrate Christmas on B5? I thought I'd rectify that little oversight - one of very, very few, but then even The Great Maker takes a little time over some stuff. I would like to stress that these characters DO NOT BELONG TO ME, and that I AM ONLY BORROWING THEM FOR THE DURATION. They belong to JMS, TNT AND WARNER BROTHERS. Thank you.
The sequel to this story can be found under the title 'The Impossible Is Possible' on this archive. We now return you to your regular ISN Christmas broadcast.
*****"It's me." The door swung open, revealing an empty living room as Sheridan stepped inside. "Delenn..." he started to say -
Then he saw her.
She was standing in the doorway to her bedroom, smiling gently. He barely registered this, however, since he was staring rather openly - rather too openly - at the rest of her.
He'd only ever seen her in what could be called 'dressed up' once, and that had taken his breath out to the nearest star system, but this... The dress was light blue, almost silver in colour, and with simple straps rather than the long sleeves she usually wore. They were decorated with silver thread in intricate patterns, a design reflected on the fitted waist. He'd never noticed, really, just how good her figure was until now. He couldn't say she was thin, but then he certainly couldn't say the opposite either. The silken fabric shimmered over her skin, enhancing the light curves and making her seem almost perfect. *Shut up, John. What are you talking about, 'almost' perfect?* She turned slowly, seeking his approval - and she got it. It took his breath away, seeing her like this...
The skirt was slit behind her a little: not far enough to show anything, but far enough. The back was tied from her waist upwards with the same blue colour in thin strings, a criss-cross pattern that revealed much more than he thought a Minbari would usually have done. John distractedly wondered where she had managed to get such an outfit. He couldn't imagine Delenn shopping for something like this, not even with someone else; she certainly learnt fast, if this was what she could come up with from Human fashions.
"You've been studying," he said awkwardly. Christmas was pretty hard to miss on B5, he had to admit, but Delenn seemed to have put in some extra study time.
"I thought it would be appropriate," she explained with a shy smile. "Was I wrong?"
"No, no, it's beautiful. You look..." He threw his hands up in despair, unable to find a word that did her justice, and simply grinned instead. "Are you ready?" She looked up at him again; this time her smile was apologetic.
"I'm sorry, John - I'm running a little late-"
"No problem: I'll wait." He grinned. She flashed a smile and disappeared into the bedroom again. He turned slowly, gazing around, taking in the room. He rarely came to Delenn's quarters, but what he had seen he decided reflected her. Her personality filled the room: functional, but with a child-like curiosity that showed in all the little things scattered around - some were Human, which surprised him somewhat. *Why should it? She is partly Human now, after all.*
"John?" she called out, as if worried he had gone.
"Still here," he answered with a grin. She nodded inside the bedroom, her back to him. After a few minutes of silence, he heard her voice again.
"John," she said conversationally, "did you know that I love you?"
He whirled around, amazed at her nonchalance - and saw that the door was open. She was sitting with her back to him on the end of the bed, watching his reflection nervously in the mirror. *Ohhh, Christ. What a way to say it! And it was sincere!*
*But then again,* he considered when he looked at her, *perhaps it was the only way she could think of to say anything.* He got the impression that Delenn had never really been in love before, and she didn't seem to know very much about the feelings he could tell she had now. Judging by the look on her face as he got closer, he'd just about hit the target on that one. For a long moment, all he wanted to do was reach out and hold her, promise his love with the same devotion he'd heard in the tone of her voice. It was so easy to admit to himself that he loved her: he'd done that a long time ago. More than anything he'd been afraid of how she might react when he told her. If he told her. Which he hadn't, and now she'd got in first. And if she had picked an odd way to tell him she felt the same - well, he couldn't fault her on sincerity.
He reached the borderline of her bedroom, stopping abruptly at the boundary and looking hesitantly at her. She still had her back turned, hands clasped in front of her before one came up to brush the back of her neck, the way she always did when she was nervous. Sheridan smiled at the gesture, amazed but glad at how familiar it had become. His smile came easily, leaning carefully on the doorframe but still somehow unable to take himself inside.
"Can I come in?" It seemed like a horrendously stupid thing to ask, considering her sudden revelation, but he felt better for some reason to know he had her permission. He needn't have worried; she turned back and beckoned him in, patting the bed beside her and shifting to meet him. Still, he entered cautiously - it wasn't every day he went into an Ambassador's bedroom, and after what she'd just told him -
"You have a Human bed," he said slowly. It broke the ice: she registered the surprise in his voice and smiled.
"I had noticed that." He sat carefully next to her, frowning in confusion.
"Why? I thought it was tempting death for Minbari to sleep like that?" Delenn smiled a little sheepishly.
"I have not spent much time sleeping here lately." She glanced up, seeing the shocked expression on his face and qualifying, "It has taken time to become accustomed to your way, but I can manage quite well."
"Why?" He shook his head, not understanding. "Why the sudden change?" He paused, his voice becoming softer. "You said 'your way'. As in mine, personally?" He wasn't quite sure what he wanted her answer to be. The shock of thinking of her with someone else just then had knocked his senses completely off-balance. Content that was not the case, the scene between them both suddenly came to rest in his mind: he was sitting with Delenn, in Delenn's bedroom, close enough to be- well, close. And he was taking her out tonight - he couldn't very well refuse now, after what she'd told him. *Maybe that was why she told me now. She wanted to make sure I couldn't run away.* John suddenly felt immensely sorry for her. If she had really thought he would leave...
She seemed to be having trouble answering him; he smiled reassuringly and covered her hand with his. Delenn looked up in surprise, meeting his eyes - and he suddenly knew exactly what he wanted her answer to be. He touched her chin with his other hand, turning her gently to him and tilting her face up to look at him.
"I love you too, Delenn," he whispered as their lips met. Smiling inwardly, he moved to hold her in his arms and gently touched her hair. Yes, she had definitely put in extra study for tonight. She seemed to be going to a lot of trouble for him; the dress, the bed, the research, all seemed to be leading somewhere... *Right here,* he realised as she hesitantly slid her arms around his neck and pulled slightly away.
"Like that?" he managed to get out. Delenn smiled, nodding silently.
"Yes, and yes." She laughed quietly, a little embarrassed. "Were there any other questions I left unanswered?"
"Only this one," he said with a mischievous grin as he leaned over again. Delenn laughed again, tightened her arms around him and firmly answered the question. Coming up for air, he grinned foolishly and shook his head to clear it.
"Wow." She laughed happily - she seemed to be doing that a lot, he noticed - and stood, taking his hand.
"As much as I would like to stay here and continue answering your questions, we were already late before we started this. I do not think it would be polite to delay our arrival at the celebrations any longer." He grinned, rising to stand in front of her and gently taking her other hand.
"You just want to show off, don't you?" A completely un-Delenn-like expression answered him.
"I do not!" His gaze wandered to her dress again, making her indignation disappear as she smiled shyly. "Do you really like it?" He smiled at her uncertainty, affectionately squeezing her hand.
"I think you look beautiful, Delenn. And so will everyone else. Be prepared for some law suits, though." She looked up at him in confusion as they walked out together.
"Oh? Why?" Sheridan grinned, waiting for the outer door to shut and Delenn to retrieve her identicard before sliding his arm around her waist and leading her away.
"There's *definitely* going to be some whiplash this time."
* * * * *
Ten minutes and several law suits later, the couple finally arrived at the officers' bar. The party was in full swing when they entered, the room decked out in all its Christmas glory with streamers and tinsel everywhere in reach. A tree made the seasonal feel complete, almost reaching the ceiling with its green needles. It was central to the room, decorated with lights, baubles and tinsel glittering under the spinning dance lights. Some tacky Christmas songs played over the speaker system, and they could hear a group of officers - more than a little drunk - singing stupidly along. Sheridan couldn't see anyone on the command staff; figuring they were either late or on the crowded dance floor, he led Delenn inside. She was starting to relax now, beginning to enjoy the double takes and looks on people's faces as they walked by. It was a good thing, since the astonished stares intensified when he stopped just inside the door and kissed her firmly on the mouth. Delenn didn't resist, enjoying the embrace, but when he backed away she gave a slight frown.
"What was that for?" He smiled, refusing to let her go.
"Didn't you like it?"
Her eyes sparkled. "I did not say that. But this," she glanced around, pleased to find that not many people seemed to be watching, "it is a little public..." Sheridan waved it off.
"Ah, but I have an excuse." He grinned and pointed upwards. "Tradition." Delenn studied the white-berried sprig curiously. After a moment, her eyes lit up in comprehension and she looked back at his face with an elfin smile.
"Does that mean I can kiss you too?"
"Hey, Captain! You've had your turn!" Sheridan ushered his date back as a slightly inebriated Marcus dragged Ivanova under the mistletoe. She was obviously still sober, if only a little, because both observers saw the mischievous grin on her lips before they met with Marcus' and almost knocked him over with enthusiasm. When she finally let him go, senses reeling, he blinked after her as she disappeared amongst the crowd.
"Excuse me, Captain. Delenn." He bowed vaguely in their direction. "Hey, *Susan!*" Sheridan and Delenn were left standing in the doorway as the Ranger followed his assailant. John let out a sharp cry as his own companion pulled him forcefully back under the twig - a cry soon stifled by her passionate kiss.
"Do you always learn so quickly just from watching?" he asked with a surprised expression, trying to coax his breath back to its proper place. Delenn returned the smile, taking his hands in hers and placing them firmly on her waist as she turned into him for another kiss.
"Hey, you're only allowed one," he teased. Delenn shrugged slightly.
"I neglected to study that particular tradition," she murmured. He gasped at her enthusiasm - he'd never seen Minbari kiss, but Delenn seemed to have got the hang of it pretty quickly. This wasn't a simple kiss under the mistletoe: this was proof, at least to him and he suspected to everyone else, of how much she wanted him. How much she loved him.
"Oh, God." His voice refused to work, and it came out as barely a whisper. "You learn far, far too fast for me, Delenn."
"Would you like me to slow down?" she asked in half-serious concern, laughing as he shook his head adamantly and led her to a table. Franklin and his dark-haired companion were already seated along with Garibaldi, Lyta and Zack, and the half empty drinks alluded Ivanova and Marcus' return. An array of snack food greeted them, and Sheridan retrieved a handful of small biscuits before straightening again and handing a few to Delenn. All conversation at the table had stopped - and now that he listened, there wasn't much around them - at her arrival with their Captain. Now, they were valiantly trying to restart the awkward discussion while getting a good look at Delenn at the same time.
"Do you want a drink?" Sheridan asked quietly in her ear. She looked up and nodded, smiling politely at the table's occupants and sliding her hand into his, clasping it firmly. They left, arriving at the bar at the same time Ivanova and Marcus returned to their drinks, greeted by Zack.
"Did you see her?" he muttered hoarsely. Lyta shoved him sideways in annoyance, reaching for her glass.
"Stop drooling, Zack."
"Just because she isn't your date," Ivanova added, dropping into her chair.
"Too right," Garibaldi defended his second. "The Captain sure knows where to find 'em." His gaze trailed after the Ambassador; an easy task, in view of the fact that almost everyone seemed to be looking her way.
"John," Delenn said softly. He looked down into her eyes, smiling gently.
"Right here. What is it?" She glanced behind them, catching sight of Garibaldi's scrutiny for a split second before he looked away, and sighed.
"Perhaps this was not such a good idea." His hand tightened around hers, concern clouding his features as he followed her gaze.
"Take no notice. They'll stop staring after a while." He released her hand, pulling her closer and holding her firmly against his side. "If it's bothering you, we'll go somewhere else. There are plenty of celebrations going on. We can go down to the Zocalo, if you like." He handed her a small glass.
"No, it's all right." She sighed, looking down at the liquid. "It will only be the same there. What is this?"
"Orange juice. A rare Earth delicacy, completely lacking in the alcohol department." She smiled, surprised, and he laughed. "I did my research, the same as you. I know what I can drink tonight, just in case..." *What are you saying!? In case what? She wants to come back to your place? Be realistic, John!*
"Just in case..." she prompted him. Embarrassed, he swirled his own glass absently.
"Oh, nothing. Forget I said anything." Delenn tilted her head curiously, smiling.
"No, I want to know. In case of what?" He was blushing now, but she refused to let up. "Were you going to say something?" He shook his head, stopped, and sighed with a small nod.
"Then tell me. John, I want to know." She sat down at the small table nearest them in a tinsel-decked corner, pulling him down to sit opposite her and placing her drink on the polished surface. His hand was still in hers and now she squeezed it affectionately, reaching out to tilt his head up, looking him in the eyes.
"Thank you." He smiled at her, confusion evident on his face.
"For what?" Delenn returned his smile, tenderly caressing his cheek with the tips of her fingers.
"For caring enough about me to do this. I'm not sure exactly how much alcohol it would take to-"
"We don't want to find out, okay?" He moved around the table to sit beside her, pulling her close. "Besides, it's not compulsory to get drunk in order to have a good time. We're doing just fine." He grinned and squeezed her shoulders. Looking around, Delenn smiled in satisfaction. Barely anyone cast more than a glance in their direction, and she almost felt the acid sweetness in John's pointed glare whenever someone did. Assured that they were finally being left alone, she smiled and tilted her head to rest on John's shoulder. She felt a light touch on her hair, shifting comfortably further into his arms under the soft kiss.
"I love you," she whispered quietly. He looked down for a moment, then smiled; placing another gentle kiss on her hair, he caressed her smooth shoulder and rested his head lightly on hers. Delenn's eyes were closed, listening to the music, but Sheridan caught the look on Ivanova's face as she walked past.
'Lucky dog,' she mouthed with a grin. He returned the expression, seeing Marcus sneak up behind her with his own personal branch of mistletoe. The Ranger thrust it under her nose, grabbing her around the waist and drawing her back for another kiss as Sheridan watched, laughing. He squeezed Delenn's shoulder, lifting his head as she did the same and looked toward the couple.
"Now who's the lucky one, Susan?!" he called out with laughter in his tone. She gave him a despairing look, turning toward Marcus and grabbing the mistletoe from his hand. Before her Captain noticed what was going on, she had it above he and Delenn with Marcus watching expectantly.
"Well? Come on, Captain. Tradition," he warned with a wide grin. Sheridan looked at them both, about to oblige when Ivanova decided the pause had been too long and leaned under the branch to kiss him playfully on the lips.
"Excuse me, Commander, but I believe he is my date?" Delenn turned her shocked companion back towards her, kissing him firmly as Ivanova quickly fastened the mistletoe to an overhang and stepped away, clapping along with Marcus.
"Hey, that's not fair!" Sheridan frowned in mock annoyance at the offending plant: he let out a low sigh and went back to the task in hand as Delenn forcibly reminded him of what he should have been doing.
"Come on, Marcus. Let's go see if we can find ourselves another branch, hmm?" Ivanova led her unprotesting date away - still sober enough to know what he was doing - glancing back only once to see Delenn and Sheridan barely inches away from each other, conversing quietly.
"I'm going to get back at her for this," he muttered sincerely as the Ambassador laughed.
"How? Would you like to hang mistletoe above their table, too?" His eyes lit up, and she laughed. "Fine. But they are not sitting at a table yet, and chasing them around the room will become very tiring. May we get back to what we were doing?" He sighed in mock despair.
"Okay, if you insist. I'm going to end up hating this tradition by the end of the night." Delenn laughed as she pulled him back to her mouth.
"I think it is a wonderful tradition. Do you have any others I should know about that may come in useful tonight?"
* * * * *
"So... the idea is what, exactly?" Delenn looked doubtfully at her companions.
"The idea is to get drunk-"
"Or simply silly," Marcus interjected.
"Or silly," the Commander allowed, "and sing stupid songs and dance around the Christmas tree. The great big one they put in the middle," she added.
"I know what a Christmas tree is," Delenn answered with an admonishing smile. "I'm just not sure about the meaning behind it."
"There is no meaning," Sheridan explained. "It's just meant to be fun. There're thousands of traditions around Christmas time - including your favourite," he added privately with a smile as they approached the entrance to the Zocalo. Having left the party at Earhart's after almost two hours, the group had frequented both the celebrations up in C&C and those at Fresh Aire before arriving here. Sheridan turned suspicious eyes on Ivanova and Marcus: over every shop and stall hung mistletoe, along with Christmas roses, poinsettias and holly.
"They must have uprooted the entire Garden for this," he murmured in wonder. Delenn smiled, looking up at the mistletoe and kissing him lightly on the cheek.
"Is that the best you can do?" Ivanova asked with a grin. "Hey, Marcus, my demo model. Over here." She motioned for the other couple to move out of the way, glancing up to check she was in the right place and grinning in anticipation. "This," she took her date's face in her hands, "is how it's *really* done." Marcus didn't resist - obviously - and grinned for a second before she covered his mouth with hers and pressed against his body, easily letting him open her mouth with his tongue. Sheridan stood behind them with Delenn's hand in his, waiting patiently with a quiet smirk on his features. Eventually he shook his head and said loudly;
"I do believe she likes him, you know." Ivanova pulled away from the kiss, frowning at him.
"I do not!" she snapped indignantly, turning back and pulling the Ranger back to her. Marcus grinned at Sheridan, giving a shrug that said he didn't care one way or the other before she growled at his hesitation and yanked him against her.
"I think," Delenn murmured conspiratorially, "we should leave them to their tradition for a while." Sheridan nodded, tapping Ivanova on the shoulder as they slipped past into the marketplace.
"Catch us up later, okay?" She waved a hand back distractedly at him: he took it for what it was - 'yes, get lost' - and led Delenn down the steps. The celebrations were louder here than they had been in the officers' bar, and Sheridan had to lean close to his date to hear what she was saying. Not that he minded, of course.
"Does Susan really mean that? She sounded serious, but why-"
"Oh, I think she means it. She doesn't like to admit it, but they get along great. When they're not biting each other's heads off, that is." He grinned. "I think I know what they'll be doing tonight."
"Oh? Is it the same as what we will be doing?" He blinked, looking quickly down at her in shock.
"I don't know. What will we be doing?" Delenn simply smiled knowingly.
"I am not sure. I have not studied that... area of Human tradition." She smiled, looking up. "You will have to teach me." Sheridan coughed, laughter following his amazement.
"I am interested," she allowed.
"You're more than that."
"Perhaps." She flashed a smile and led him into the crowd. The celebrations had been going on for hours now, almost all day, and as a result most people were too drunk or too silly to notice Delenn and her following companion. They had danced briefly at Earhart's, but Delenn was evidently further into the Christmas spirit now as she pulled him up against her. Her talent on the dance floor was a pleasant wonder; this was obviously yet another area of her studies, he thought absently. The music was slow, romantic, and when Sheridan looked up he saw the band leader wink discreetly at him. Smiling in thanks for the thought, he cast his gaze idly around the crowded marketplace - spotted Ivanova, her cheek resting lightly against Marcus' as she whispered in his ear, and smiled at the sight.
After a moment Delenn murmured something, and his eyes turned enquiringly back to her as she looked up, lifting her head from his chest to smile contently.
"You like this music?" He returned her smile, affectionately caressing her cheek with the backs of his fingers as she nodded.
"It's beautiful. It sounds almost like something we have back home." She abandoned the normal dance posture, sliding her arms around his neck and tilting her head back to his shoulder. John tightened his hands on her back, glad that the dance was simple enough to require so little thought. Listening to the music, he frowned for a second at something unexpected, leaning down to kiss her hair. She was singing, very softly, and the sound of her voice made him smile: he hadn't known she knew any Christmas carols.
"*Hark now, hear, the angels sing, a new King's born today; and Man shall live for ever more because of Christmas day...*"
"Delenn?" She looked up, embarrassed.
"I'm sorry, I-" he silenced her with a finger on her lips, smiling warmly into her eyes.
"It's okay. You really do like it, don't you?" She nodded, the soft smile beginning to return when she realised he wasn't offended. "I've always liked that song. Some of the Christmas stuff is nice - I can get you a recording, if you like." At her nod of admission, he leaned down and whispered softly, "I've got a confession to make - I'm not exactly the one you should be talking to." Delenn frowned, uncomprehending.
"I don't understand." Sheridan grinned apologetically.
"I'm not a Christian. Not religious, actually."
"You're not? But then why..." He shrugged as she trailed off, knowing what the question would be.
"Christmas is as much a secular holiday as it is a religious one. It has been for centuries, though the matter's still open for debate as to whether it should be." Delenn considered it for a moment, then;
"I think it should. It is good to have a time when everyone can relax and celebrate together, and if you all enjoy yourselves..." He frowned mock-sternly.
"What do you mean 'yourselves'? You're enjoying tonight, aren't you?"
She smiled as the music stopped, agreeing eagerly.
"I am glad you do not need to be Christian to celebrate this holiday, John." He took her hand, gently raising it to his lips.
"So am I." He led her from the floor to a stall selling various Christmas delicacies. Looking at the array, he was amazed at just how much Earth foods they managed to get out here for the seasonal celebrations.
"The traders were feeling generous this year," the stallholder said, noting Sheridan's amazed expression. "It being Christmas and all, they decided to get in the spirit of things. So," she smiled brightly, "what can I do for you, Cap'n? Ambassador?" She bowed a little, her smile widening when Delenn returned the greeting with one of her own.
"Ah, I don't know... this is very new to me, I am not familiar with these, um..." Searching for a word, she looked up at her guide and smiled apologetically. Sheridan grinned at the familiar words, squeezing her hand as he looked back at the stall.
"Try the mince pies," Ivanova suggested from behind them. "Best ones around, or so I'm told."
"That they are," the woman behind the stall agreed proudly. Sheridan shrugged.
"Well, if that's true - ever had mince pies, Delenn?" She shook her head, smiling uncertainly. "Okay, then; I guess we should introduce you to another one of the best traditions around Christmas time."
"Better than mistletoe?" she asked with a sparkle in her eyes.
"Uh... no, not quite. But almost," he added with a smile. Delenn took the warm pie from his hand, eager to try something with such a high recommendation. He watched her, waiting for the inevitable smile of contentment; he'd never once known her to dislike a Human food, and this was no exception.
"Oh, lovely. Why do we not have a holiday like this on Minbar?" she muttered softly. Sheridan handed her another morsel, offering his credit chit - the stallholder shook her head, shaking a hand at him when he tried to insist.
"Oh, go on. Enjoy yourself, Cap'n. I can manage without your credits tonight. Consider it my Christmas gift to you both." She waved them away, ushering Ivanova forward. "What can I get you, Commander?"
"Do we get free food too?" Marcus asked with a child-like grin, draping his arm across Ivanova's shoulders.
Sheridan led his date to a relatively empty corner of the Zocalo to wait, eager to draw her away from the slightly more rowdy partygoers - that part of Christmas she could do without knowing. Delenn smiled up at him, huddling closer to kiss him on the mouth. He relaxed immediately into it, returning her affection even when he pulled back and smiled, glancing up; expecting to find a sprig of mistletoe, he was surprised by the sight of a holly branch.
"What was that for? It has to be mistletoe, you know. You can't pretend any old leaves are the right ones." Delenn shrugged, finishing the last of her food and turning back just as he finished his.
"I have an excuse. This is not my tradition, remember. I cannot help being a little unclear on the details." She wrapped her arms around his neck again, leaning closer. "Do you mind?"
"Not at all." He grinned, pulled her against him.
"Good." Her smile made him suddenly want to be alone - very alone - with her. "I am not really so ignorant, you know," she murmured as their lips touched, not quite kissing. "I know quite well which decoration I am looking out for." She laughed, her forehead touching his. "But it is a good excuse, do you not think?" Sheridan smiled, touching her cheek and bringing her face up the last inches to his.
"A wonderful excuse," he agreed. They laughed quietly, a succession of light, small kisses following the exchange before he took her face tenderly in his hands and kissed her passionately. He smiled into the kiss as she opened her mouth slightly, inviting his careful, gentle exploration. She surprised him - something he hadn't thought she could do after tonight - with her own touch on his tongue, and suddenly nothing else was there except the sweet taste of Delenn and the eager, loving touch of her mouth on his.
"I do believe he likes her, you know." Ivanova broke through the barrier between themk and the rest of the galaxy, her voice dripping with sarcasm. Sheridan reluctantly pulled away, unable to resist kissing her once more before he looked up and grinned.
"Oh, I do. Unlike you, I don't hide how I feel." His expression took away the sting, and she grinned back at her superior in good-natured amusement.
"That was hiding it?" Marcus whistled, squeezing the Commander teasingly. "Do I get to see the exhibitionist Susan too?"
"Only if you're very, very good," she retorted with a smile.
* * * * *
"Wow, what a night." Sheridan sank onto the bench, taking two drinks from the passing 'waitress' with a seasonal greeting and handing one to Delenn. The Gardens certainly looked festive; strings of golden angels hung around each bench, bells shining over the entrance and soft music winding through the trees. Tinsel wound its way through each and every bush, while the taller trees twinkled with fairy lights and some even with fake snow. The same white powder was scattered across the Japanese stone garden, as well as covering the floor. It even gave a realistic crunch, he noted with satisfaction as he pressed his foot down experimentally. Ivanova, seated across from them with her arm around Marcus, grinned at his testing.
"Looks, feels and acts exactly like real snow," she recited in a monotone. "Says so on the packet." Sheridan laughed, hugging Delenn against him and taking a sip of the orange drink.
"You know, I can't think of any time I enjoyed Christmas Eve as much as I have tonight. I'm actually looking forward to tomorrow, and that doesn't happen very often."
"That is because you have your friends here," Delenn said with a smile. "It is always good to have everyone around you." She glanced over at Ivanova and Marcus, watching her, and smiled before turning back to Sheridan. "I have enjoyed tonight as well. I think it is definitely the company," she added with a soft smile in his direction.
"Hey, it's not over yet!" Marcus stood abruptly, lifting Ivanova to her feet and motioning for them to follow. Delenn looked up at the Captain, puzzlement on her features, but he shook his head in bewilderment and simply followed the Ranger. Ivanova evidently didn't know where they were being taken either; by the time they reached red sector, Marcus was being threatened by all three with various seasonal forms of torture ranging from Ivanova singing carols in his ear to being force-fed a thousand mince pies - all of which simply made him all the more stubborn.
"What are we doing here?" Sheridan recognised his office, frowning in confusion. "There's nothing-"
"Merry Christmas, Captain!" Garibaldi grinned foolishly, kissing Delenn quickly on the cheek as she stepped inside the room and pointing upwards. At the same time, Franklin gave Ivanova a friendly kiss on the lips while Lyta grabbed both Marcus and Sheridan for their part in the tradition. Finally released from the hold of each female member of the gathering, Sheridan looked up - and laughed. Along the entrance to his office the command staff had hung a thick string of mistletoe, so that anyone entering could not possibly avoid it. He saw Lennier step nervously up from behind Garibaldi, realising what the Security Chief had in mind a second before he shoved the young Minbari playfully under the branches.
"Only chance you're gonna get, Lennier. Go on," Garibaldi motioned toward Delenn, ignoring the dubious look on his friend's face.
"It is disrespectful..."
"Oh, come here." Delenn sorted the problem easily, reaching forward and placing a fond kiss on his cheek. "There. You see, it isn't so bad." She smiled at her aide, turning in mock annoyance to the Chief. "As for you, *Mister* Garibaldi, I think you should realise that not everyone is quite as eager as you to get their pleasures vicariously." She was walking slowly, deliberately, into the office, a teasing smile breaking through her facade as Sheridan came quickly up behind her and kissed her on the cheek, sweeping her back into his arms.
"Now, now, no beating up on my staff, okay? Especially not that one." Delenn frowned, playing along with a confused half-smile.
"And why not? He is not particularly valuable, is he?" Sheridan shrugged, shaking his head noncommitantly.
"No, but we need him to cook Christmas dinner tomorrow." She laughed.
"Very well: in that case, I will leave him alone until tomorrow. If we see anyone tomorrow," she added with a seductive smile.
"You've had too much to drink," he accused playfully. Delenn frowned, indignant.
"I have not had anything 'to drink', thank you, Captain." She smiled, dropping her voice and coming closer. "I just like to plan ahead, that's all."
Sheridan shook his head at her expression - one that could only be described as 'sexy'. Somehow, he'd never imagined Delenn giving him a look like that. Hell, he'd never imagined her giving *anyone* a look like that. And decidedly not in public. *But hey, don't bite the hand that feeds you. Especially if it belongs to a certain someone...* he hugged her tightly, oblivious to some of the more curious looks from the Ambassadors and command crew who hadn't had the fortune to hear of their activities that evening.
"Is it just my overactive imagination, or are you not usually this extrovert?" he murmured against her ear. The light air over her skin made Delenn shiver, even as she smiled up at him over her shoulder.
"It is Christmas," she responded with a soft smile. "This is the time to relax and enjoy ourselves, is it not?" She nodded at Sheridan's confirmation, leaning back into him. "Well, that is what I am doing." He said nothing for a moment, and she glanced up to regard him. "What's wrong? Have you never seen a Minbari having fun before?" Her companion turned suddenly sheepish, and she laughed with a light shake of her head. "I suppose there is always a first time." Looking discreetly around, she smiled conspiratorially and whispered; "From the looks we are receiving, I do not think many others here have ever seen me... what is the phrase?"
"Letting your hair down," he suggested with a smile. Delenn smiled dubiously and took a deep, amused breath.
"I have never understood that phrase - but I will trust in your judgement that it is the correct one to use."
"I think it was the one you were looking for," he verified with a smile. Delenn twirled in his arms and reached up, her arms twining easily around his neck as they retreated from the group a little.
"Hmm. It is not quite what I *am* looking for, but it will do until we are alone." Her enticing expression was definitely something he'd never expected to see; Sheridan covered his surprise with a quiet cough, aware of the glances they were getting.
"Uh, Delenn?" She shrugged, noticing the eyes on them.
"I am relaxing. If they do not like it... well, this is the season for goodwill, is it not?" He grinned at her logic.
"You hit it right on the money. Come on," he kissed her lightly, long enough to show his serious interest, before clasping her hand and leading her toward the gathering around the tree in the corner of his office. Silver bells and fairy lights sparkled in its branches, glitter-filled baubles dangling from the frosted green needles and small chocolates swinging vigorously as Ivanova pulled one off to feed Marcus. Watching their friends with curiosity, Delenn glanced up at the Captain and smiled mischievously, reaching out to take a chocolate holly leaf and holding it up in front of him. Looking down, he grinned at her patient expectancy and opened his mouth, letting her place the sweet taste on his tongue - and laughing softly in surprise when she followed it with her own. Garibaldi coughed beside them, a wide grin covering his face as Sheridan pulled back with a perfectly happy expression on his features.
"Getting a little used to this, aren't we, Ambassador?" He glared mock-seriously at his Captain. "You're sure you haven't got her drunk, John?" Delenn laughed, noticing the concerned frown Lennier tossed her way and waving it off as he came closer.
"I have not had any alcohol all night, Michael. And neither has your good Captain," she glanced at the man holding her captive in his arms, "so no one-" she smiled pointedly at her aide- "has any cause for concern."
"I don't know about that," the Chief quipped, earning a playful punch from Ivanova as she handed him a wrapped parcel.
"Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah, Michael - oh, and shut up." She picked up another load of gifts as he unwrapped the shining paper and offered them around. Delenn looked down at the box in her hands, uncertain as to what she should do. Sensing her doubt, Sheridan leaned over and explained;
"At Christmas time - and at Hanukkah, which is the Jewish festival - it's traditional to give and receive presents from friends or people around you." He smiled, a little embarrassed. "I'm not going to tell you what Susan gets us all every year. Though she did break the tradition once, if I remember - but I'd rather not go into that." Delenn seemed appeased, but her curiosity flared as Ivanova handed Marcus his gift, watching with sparkling eyes as he unwrapped it. Silence fell across the command staff. Opening the box, he barely glanced inside before his eyes widened considerably and the lid snapped hurriedly shut. Laughter filled the room; Ivanova kissed him on the cheek and laughed.
"Welcome to the team, Marcus," she whispered with a provocative smile. He teased the gift open again for a short second, eyes meeting hers before he cleared his throat and said loudly;
"If you would all excuse us, ladies and gentlemen - and Ambassadors," he added hurriedly, aware that he was suddenly babbling uncontrollably, "the Commander has a, ahem, a-"
"An initiation ritual," Ivanova put in with a grin that left their companions in no doubt of which kind of ritual that would be. Or of what was in the box.
"John?" Delenn slid her arm into his as they watched the retreating couple, "I'm not sure I understand what Susan gave him... Why have you not opened your gift?" He looked down at her, covering her hand with his and smiling with a knowing shine in his eyes.
"Answer one: it's something best explained in private, so I'll tell you later; answer two: because I know what it is already and again I'd prefer to open it in private. If you noticed," he motioned around them at the others busily exchanging gifts, "no one else has opened the presents from Ivanova. That's because she has a rather... risque sense of humour, and it tends to come across in the gifts she gives." At her dawning look of comprehension, he nodded. "I'll show you later, if you like. Are you going to open yours?"
Delenn looked doubtfully at the package.
"I am not sure I should, after what you have just told me." He grinned.
"Oh, she won't have given you anything that bad. It's only that I've known Susan for ten years, so she kind of feels she has a right to give me something obscene." Delenn laughed, turning the gift over in her hands before taking a deep breath of mock courage and attacking the wrapping.
"Oh..." A slow smile crossed her face, gazing down at the open gift box. Nestled in the glittering 'snow' lay a silver bracelet, inset with a string of sapphire and emerald gems. They sparkled perfectly as she lifted it carefully from the soft cotton and held it up to the light. Sheridan smiled at the expression on her face, gently taking the bracelet from her hand and opening the clasp.
"Here," he took her hand, fastening her gift around her wrist. "I'll have to reprimand her tomorrow," he muttered seriously. Delenn looked up, shocked.
"Why? It's beautiful." Defensive of her friend, she laughed when he answered;
"She didn't follow my instructions. I told her to get you something that would do you justice." He grinned, offering a small, gaily wrapped token from behind his back. "I hope I managed to do a little better." Leaning down, he kissed her tenderly on the cheek. "Merry Christmas, Delenn."
She smiled up at him, her fingers passing hesitantly over the paper until, at his urging, she unwrapped it to reveal a small velvet box inlaid with silver strands. She opened it with more care this time, jerking back slightly as the latch came open under her touch. John was watching her, she realised with an uncertain smile. Whatever he had gotten for her, she knew it would be lovely, but it didn't stop the tingle of nerves as she raised the lid a little further. Far enough to see inside, and she gasped softly.
"You like it? I wasn't sure-" He laughed as she turned and wrapped her arms around him, a delighted kiss coming to land on his mouth. "Well, I didn't think it was that good." He grinned, gazing into her eyes as she leaned back in his embrace. "Want me to put it on for you?" She nodded, taking the pendant from its setting. If her touch on Ivanova's gift had been careful, the hold she had on his was reverent, as if afraid it would be so delicate as to break when she lifted it. He smiled, opening the small clasp and motioning for her to lift her hair; his hands traced a light path across her skin, resting softly on the back of her neck as he fastened the chain. She looked down, shivering at his touch, and smiled happily. It was obviously not intended to, but the pendant's emerald set among a string of diamonds complemented the bracelet perfectly. It was silver just the same, a solid wishbone resting in the centre of the braided herringbone chain; however, the central piece caught her gaze and she lifted it carefully to get a closer look. A wonder-filled smile came to her face; for perching on the impression of the wishbone was a delicately carved white bird, inset with diamonds, with a small branch in its beak. For a moment she thought it was mistletoe: then, studying it more carefully, she noticed that the berries were not white but a light green - emeralds again.
"It's a dove," Sheridan explained quietly, tilting his head to rest lightly on hers with a loving smile. "It's an ancient symbol, going right back to before the origins of Christmas. The story goes that there was a huge flood, and when the only people to survive - God's people - came to find land, they sent out a dove. It came back with an olive branch," he gestured to the tiny charm, "and they followed it to the Promised Land. The dove has been used among Humans for centuries, as a symbol of love... and peace." She glanced up at that, gently touching his face with one hand while the other closed lightly over his gift.
"Thank you," There were tears in her eyes at the soft whisper, and he tenderly wiped them away as one fell silently down her cheek. Delenn smiled, slightly embarrassed. "I think... I would like to go home now, John," she murmured quietly. He nodded wordlessly, touching her chin to tilt her face up for a final, loving kiss before they left the others to their celebrations. They walked in warm silence through the station, huddled contently into each others' arms. Occasionally someone else would pass their journey, but most people were either already home or staying out for the partying into the early hours.
Sheridan looked down at his companion, his eyes catching on the token around her neck and smiling involuntarily as he remembered the look on her face. All the treasures, all the troubles in the galaxy had been worth it just to see her smile up at him, to see the tears of joy shining in her emerald eyes. He lifted his hand from her waist to touch her hair, gently brushing it back from her warm, smiling features and leaning down to kiss her lightly. Delenn looked up into his face and smiled in return, twining her fingers with his and lowering both hands back to her side as they continued walking. After a short while, the smile returned to his features: she was singing again, a beautiful carol he only vaguely remembered. He turned his head to look at her, realising with surprised pleasure that she was singing for him.
"*Through the window, I can see, snow begin to fall; knowing you're in love with me, is the greatest gift of all.*" Delenn lifted her head from his shoulder and smiled, gazing into his eyes. "*Knowing you're in love with me, is the greatest gift of all.*"
He smiled, amazed to find he was fighting back joyful tears of his own.
"You have a beautiful voice," he whispered softly in her ear as they paused outside her quarters. She looked down in embarrassment for a moment, nervously fingering the necklace on her pale skin. Wiping away the discomfort, he kissed her again; slowly and sensually, caressing her hair until finally moving away with a warm light in his eyes.
"So, did you enjoy yourself?" Delenn returned his gaze, smiling at the tenderness in his voice and absently touching the pendant around her neck before moving further into his arms.
"It was wonderful. Ever since I came here I've studied your - the Christmas festivities, but I never really understood them."
"And now? Do you understand?" She looked up with a soft expression.
"Yes." She smiled tiredly, contentment on her face. "I love you." As if it answered the question, he thought absently as they walked on together; past her quarters and toward his own.
* * * * *
And so it does. After all, what is Christmas but a celebration of love? Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and have a joyous New Year, everyone. I can assure you John and Delenn did.
The Greatest Gift Of All. (Delenn's Christmas song to
John Jarvis (not me, unfortunately).
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