STEEL AND FIRE
This is a little piece set after 'Severed Dreams' for my own enjoyment. Lots of mush but no sex. :)
P.S. There is a mention of Kosh in this story. What he's quoted was said to Talia in season one's 'Deathwalker', but for my purposes he repeated himself. You'll see. It really was too good to pass up.
DISCLAIMER: This is apparently useless, therefore there will be no disclaimer on this fanfiction. However, for the record none of this is mine - probably not even the idea.
*****"You look tired." Sheridan looked up and Delenn smiled gently. "Actually, I think the word is 'exhausted'."
He grinned ruefully. "Probably. Hell, so much has been happening lately it's a wonder I haven't collapsed long before now." He wouldn't dare admit it to anyone else, but Delenn was a different matter. They were, after all, partners. He smiled at the memory, still able to recall her approval when he had kissed the back of her hand and her embarrassment at their interruption. The way she had leaned into him when he had put his arm around her assured him her thoughts were edging in the same direction as his own.
"You should rest," she insisted, gently pushing. He shook his head.
"No, there's too much to do. I have to start new duty rosters, try to beef up security long enough to stop any saboteurs-"
"John." That tone stopped him mid-sentence. "It's late. You are tired. Go to bed."
He smiled playfully. "Going to join me?"
Delenn blushed ever so slightly. "I do not think we are ready for that yet," she said in a quiet voice. "Besides, I slept on my journey here. I am no longer tired, while you *are* exhausted. I would only distract you. In fact," she rose from the couch. "I am distracting you already. I should go, and let you rest."
"You don't have to go yet," he protested, reaching out for her hand to stop her. "You still haven't told me what happened with your government."
"Tomorrow," she assured him.
"Now," he insisted gently. "I won't sleep even if you do go," he admitted. "I've got too much to think about right now. At least stay for a little while, take my mind off things."
Delenn sighed and nodded: she couldn't resist that child-like smile, and his warm grasp on her hand made everything slightly hazy. "For a little while," she compromised. "But you must rest soon, John."
"I will," he promised. Delenn nodded and sat down again, beside him.
"If you promise to do so, then I will stay. I worry about you, John: you do not take good enough care of yourself. You will become ill if you carry on like this."
"Would you take care of me?" he teased, putting on a 'sad-puppy' expression. Delenn laughed softly.
"Why do I sense that would only induce you to become ill much sooner?"
He grinned. "You know me too well, I guess." She coloured, and he realised he was staring at her. He did that a lot lately, but he'd thought he was being a little more discreet about it than to let her see. Floundering, he coughed and began to pack away his work. "So, how did Minbar go?"
"How did it... go?" She frowned. "It did not 'go' anywhere."
Sheridan chuckled. "No, I mean how did your trip go, how was it. It's a figure of speech," he added, trying to explain. "So?"
"How was the trip?" He nodded. "It was... eventful." He raised an unenlightened eyebrow. "I did not go to Minbar. The Grey Council rule from a ship which patrols Minbari space."
"Novel idea," he commented. "How did you find out where they were, then?"
Delenn looked away briefly. "I have... sources," she said vaguely. *Please do not push me.*
He nodded, accepting her secrecy. It wasn't really important: he'd just been curious. "What did they say when you saw them?"
Delenn sighed. She had known it would come to this, sooner or later: she would have to tell someone herself, without relying on the inevitable rumour mill. "They said nothing," she told him truthfully.
He raised his eyebrows, that singly Human expression of surprise. "Nothing?"
"I talked a lot," she admitted. He laughed. "Is that amusing?"
"It is to me. That's the last thing I'd expect you to say." His eyes sparkled. "What did you say?"
"A lot of things." Trying to sidestep the question.
This time he wasn't having it. "Such as?"
"Prophecy... war... A lot of things." She paused, steepled her hands together, trying to maintain her control. "I broke the Council."
Sheridan gaped at her. "You *broke* the Grey Council?!" he asked incredulously.
"Yes." Her voice was quiet, a torrent ready to explode.
He shook his head, unable to quite believe it. "You *broke* your *government*?"
"*Yes!*" She surged from the couch, pacing desperately in front of him. She seemed unsure where to put her hands: steepling them in front of her, pulling them apart, pressing one palm to her chest and rubbing the back of her neck the way she always did when she was worried about something. "Yes, I broke the Grey Council. There was no other way! They would not join us as a group, and we had to have support for everything that will follow..." her voice trailed away and she began murmuring in a combination of Minbari and English. "The prophecies - I had to follow the prophecies, but they wouldn't listen..." Her voice was anguished, words rushing out of control from her lips, and he realised this was the first time he'd ever seen her anything less than perfectly poised, stoic, controlled. If he didn't do something soon she was going to lose it completely.
"Delenn," he said gently. "Delenn, sit down." He shifted forward and grabbed her hand as she moved past him, bringing her to a halt. "Sit down," he said firmly. She sank onto the couch without protesting. He put his arm around her shoulders, the way he'd done earlier. "Now tell me."
"I-" she choked on the words. "I don't feel well," she said eventually in a quiet voice.
"If it's any comfort, neither do I." He shifted his arm further around her, resting his hand on her waist. "I think it's probably the fact that between us, we've just royally pissed off everyone who ever supported us in the first place."
Delenn smiled slightly. "That could be the reason, I suppose."
"It'll go away," he assured her. "I should know: I've pissed off enough people in my time." As soon as he spoke, he realised that was it, that was why she was so wound up. She'd never done anything like this before. She was Minbari: raised to function as part of a culture dependent on obedience and service, on the ideal of the individual subservient to the unit. Minbari didn't fight Minbari: didn't oppose Minbari, not overtly. It was hidden in the shadows of their society, never brought out into the open. For all intents and purposes, the Minbari were a perfectly functioning machine.
And Delenn was the cog out of place, the individual that *broke* the unit, both literally and figuratively. No wonder she was so upset over what she'd done. Faced with such a huge change in everything she had been raised in believe in, how could she not be? And how could he hope to comfort her after that?
"Are you okay?" It sounded lame, but what the hell was he supposed to say? "Maybe if you talk about it..."
"You do not need to hear it," she replied. "You have enough to concern you here," gesturing to the pile of papers on his coffee table. "I shouldn't bother you..." She tried to get up, but he wouldn't let her leave the couch. Her eyes were pleading as she looked at him. "Please, John."
She knew if she stayed, she would have to let it go and talk to him. He knew it too, and he kept her there until the determination on her face faltered and she sank against him. He didn't want her to walk away and pretend everything was all right. He couldn't bear to let her hurt and do nothing.
"Delenn." Smoothing her hair, holding her in the crook of his arm. "Delenn, I care about you." Studying her face, taking her hand. "I'm your partner." Stroking her hand, brushing her hair back from her face. "We're in this together." Taking a chance, caressing her cheek. "Why won't you talk to me?"
It was emotional blackmail, but there was no other way. She would never open up to him otherwise.
"You have enough difficulties of your own, without mine as well." She was answering his question, he realised. He hadn't meant her to, but it was a start. "There's so much you already have to do here..."
"And how do I do that if I don't know what else is going on?" He sighed and tilted his head to rest on her crown. "Delenn, I can help you. We can help each other, but you have to trust me."
"I trust you!" She looked up suddenly. "I *do* trust you, John. You know I do."
"Then why do you hide things from me?"
She looked away. "I just want to protect you, that's all."
"Protect me?" He blinked incredulously. It was the one answer he'd never considered. "I don't need protecting, Delenn. I'm a grown man." *And what do you think you've been doing, mister, keeping things from her?* he yelled at himself. *Why else if not to protect *her* from what *you* know?*
"I know-" she started, but he cut her off.
"No, Delenn, it's okay. I-" He sighed. "I understand. I want to protect you, too, you know."
"I can take care of myself," she said immediately.
"So can I," he reminded her. She smiled suddenly, then laughed. A moment later he joined in. "Steel and fire, Delenn, that's what we are. But steel bends, and fire burns out if you don't treat it right." He looked at her seriously. "We'd do better at taking care of each other."
She smiled at his analogy. He was right, she knew that, but it didn't make it any easier to ignore a lifetime of training.
"I know, it takes some getting used to," Sheridan added. "I hate letting anyone else in. It's like admitting I can't handle everything."
"No one can handle *everything*," she said gently. Sheridan flashed a wry grin.
"Doesn't stop us wanting to, though, does it?"
She smiled in surrender, caught in her own well-meaning trap. "No," she admitted. There was a pause, and then she sighed. "There are some... things I have not told you." She held her breath, unsure how he would react to that.
"No more than there are things I haven't told you, I guess," he returned equably. "You wanna go first?"
"What do you want to know?" Her voice was quiet, hoping he would pick up on her defensiveness and not question her too deeply. As much as she accepted his words, she was not eager to put them into practice.
"Start from the beginning," he shrugged. "Or did you want me to start?" It might be easier on her- He realised that was only protecting her again and sighed inwardly. Everything came down to keeping her safe, to not hurting her, but in the process he was deceiving her and probably hurting her even more.
"There is one thing I want to tell you," he started, remembering how he'd felt when her face appeared on his screen in C&C and the look in her eyes when he kissed her hand. "If... things between us are heading the way I think they're heading, which you'd better tell me now if they're not-" she smiled warmly up at him and he understood "-well, there's something I should tell you. Something you might not want to know." He sighed. *Better now than later.* "I was married before."
"Anna," she said immediately, but he was too busy correcting her to hear the strange tone in her voice.
"No, not Anna. Before Anna." He didn't think Minbari had a word for 'divorce', but he had to try. "When I was younger, I married another officer in Earthforce - Elizabeth Lochley, her name was. We were still in the Academy, far too young to make a commitment like that. It didn't last." He sighed, not looking at her. It had been a while since he'd thought of Beth. "All I remember about back then are the fights. We argued *all* the time. After three months, we were allowed to file for divorce. We didn't even have to discuss it - just filed the papers and moved out. I've barely heard from her since then, and I've never made the effort. We wasted what we had as friends by getting married: that's all there is to it. I just thought I should tell you," he finished lamely. It sounded weird - he'd never even kissed her!
Delenn smiled sadly. "Thank you." She wasn't sure what to say after that. She had to tell him... but she couldn't, she couldn't lose him to his first impulse when he heard her words.
She took a long, deep breath to calm herself, and began.
"John," she said carefully. "You must promise me that what I tell you... you will not react until I finish."
Her green eyes were serious. "I promise."
She put her hands in his, looking up at him, forcing herself to do this. He had to be told. Before anything happened - before she lost him to his ignorance instead of his instincts. She had to tell him...
"Anna may still be alive."
His mouth dropped open, his eyes blazing with anger, hurt and hope. "*What?*"
"John," she reminded him gently, "you promised me."
He stared at her. "Yeah, but..."
"You promised me," she said firmly. "Please, John. I'm doing this for you."
Sheridan's mind was whirling, emotions splattered across his distraught features. He looked as if he might cry, scream, laugh or hit her all within the next second. But she held his gaze, pleading with him, and eventually he reigned in his tirade with a shuddering breath. "Okay."
She looked gratefully into his eyes and, gently, touched his cheek. He flinched, but she understood. He had trusted her, and by keeping this from him she had betrayed him. He would hate her when she was finished, she was sure of that now, but it would be better than knowing he loved a lie.
"The ship that went to Z'Ha'Dum, the *Icarus,* was destroyed in orbit. You know that." He nodded, obviously forcing himself not to speak. "Some of her crew survived on the surface, including Anna and another... by the name of Morden. He has visited the station a few times." She would tell him the whole truth, nothing spared. "He visited me a few years ago, asking what I wanted. I would not tell him." She bowed her head. "I believe some of the other Ambassadors were not as fortunate. Most did not understand the danger he represents." She looked urgently into his eyes, making him look at her. "Morden works for the Shadows, John. He *is* the Shadows - they control him, there is nothing left of who he was or what he was. His is a *vessel,* a pawn they use. Anna was on the surface of Z'Ha'Dum with him. Do you understand me? If she survived the explosion on the *Icarus*, she could *not* have survived the Shadows."
It made sense, but he didn't understand. "But you said... she might still be alive?" The plaintive hope in his voice made her heart break.
"Even going to Z'Ha'Dum is a death sentence for anyone." She shook her head as he started to speak. "Listen to me, John, carefully. Her mind may be dead, her *soul,* but her body - her body would still be alive. The Shadows can control anyone, John, can coerce them to do anything unless they are protected. Setting foot on Z'Ha'Dum, no one can hope to be protected from the Shadows' influence."
He stared at her, breathing shakily. "You're saying that Anna was - might have been - coerced by the Shadows. Tricked into working for them."
"They would not turn away a useful pawn," she assured him. It was a cruel word, but it made him realise what she was talking about.
"They've taken her." His voice was monotone, bleak. "She's dead, isn't she?"
"I don't know," she answered honestly. "She may not be completely. They must know of her connection to you. If she would work for them willingly-"
"No!" He pulled away from her. "Not Anna."
"John, please." Couldn't he see it hurt her as much to tell him this? "You can't know that she would withstand their coercion. It is possible... but not likely. No one has ever turned away from the choice they give."
"No one?" his voice was a hoarse whisper. "In how long?"
"No one in a thousand years," she said softly. His body shook as he let out the breath he'd held, and her heart filled her throat as she saw the terrible realisation in his eyes. "I'm so sorry, John," she whispered. "For knowing, and for not telling you." She swallowed the emotions leaking into her voice. "I want you to know... for what it matters to you... I tried to stop them from reaching Z'Ha'Dum. Jeff and I... we couldn't stop them. Your government wouldn't listen, and I couldn't tell them enough to make them." She reached up to him again, caressing his cheek with glistening green eyes. "I'm so, so sorry."
She knew what it felt like, he realised. The tone in her voice when she spoke, the indescribable sympathy in her face. "You lost someone," he said carefully.
"I lost many people," she said vaguely, instinctively pushing him away again.
He shook his head. "There was someone - I can tell. Delenn?" He lifted her chin. "Who was he?"
"It's not important."
"It is to me."
She sighed and shook her head at him. How could he be so concerned after hearing what she'd said? How could he have any sympathy left for her when his own grief was so overwhelming?
"Who, Delenn?" he pressed. She broke under his gaze.
"Dukhat." She sighed and closed her eyes. The grief was no longer as fresh, but she could still see his face and hear his voice as she had a decade ago. "He was our leader before the War."
"I know. I heard about him. That's why the War started, isn't it? Our ships fired first and Dukhat was killed in the firefight. Then you declared war on us." He was so matter-of-fact, she was taken aback by his unwitting honesty.
"That is what happened," she said slowly. "I... declared war." She looked away, unable to face him as she let it sink in.
She nodded, still turned away. She should go now. She should leave him alone, before she did any more damage. She should -
John put his hand on her cheek and turned her to face him. "You loved him, Delenn, didn't you?"
She shook her head, in desperation rather than answer. He couldn't have heard her properly. "John, I started the war. *I* started it, do you understand? I told them to fight, even though I knew he would never have condoned it. *Me.* *I* cast the deciding vote."
"That fire burning out of control again," he said lightly. He shook his head. "I don't care about that, Delenn. I have bigger things to concern me than hating you for something you can't change." His voice was suddenly tender. "And I could never hate you anyway, Delenn, you should know that, so stop trying so hard to make it happen."
"You wanted to know everything," she said defensively. "I cannot help what I know or what I've done."
He smiled sadly. "You didn't understand. It isn't what you say that matters, it's the way you say it - like you're afraid I'll hit you as soon as the words are out. Fear doesn't suit you, Delenn, and neither does self-pity."
To her surprise, she blushed at his reprimand. From his lips, the words had an effect no one else could create. Shame coloured her cheeks: he was right. She had been so convinced he would hate her, she had tried everything to make it the truth. "I'm sorry," she said in a quiet voice.
"That's the last time you're allowed to say that," he half-teased. "There are things I'm sorry for, too," he assured her, "but I don't think anything is bad enough for you to hate me. I hope it's not."
"Your past is obviously not as dark as mine," she said sullenly, and was surprised when he shook her roughly for the comment.
"Stop it." He scowled at her. "I don't *care* about your past, Delenn. What does it take to get through to you? I only care about *you*."
His vehemence shocked her: Minbari never showed emotion so physically, especially not anger. "I-" she started to apologise then stopped, afraid of what he might do if she said what he had forbidden. When she was quiet for a long while, he looked down to study her and anger faded to understanding in his eyes.
"Delenn." He sighed lightly and shook his head. "I would never hurt you, Delenn. Not willingly. I'm sorry if you thought that." He tried to reassure her. "I just need you to understand, that's all. I feel like I'm bashing my head against a wall here." She frowned in confusion and he chuckled ruefully. "It's another figure of speech. I mean, I don't seem to be getting anywhere. Whatever I say, you're still convinced that in the end I'll hate you. I don't know what to say to make you believe me."
"Nor do I," she said softly. Sheridan sighed and put his arm around her shoulders again, studying her face. He said nothing for a long while, then she saw something between anger and amazement flit through his eyes.
"Do you like who you are, Delenn?" he asked very quietly. "Do you like yourself?"
She struggled to find an answer. She didn't want to know what the truth was. "Don't you like me?" she returned plaintively.
Sheridan gave her a look. "That doesn't even deserve an answer," he scolded lightly. "And you didn't answer my question."
She shrugged, trying to be nonchalant about it. "What does it matter?"
"It matters to me, Delenn. I want to know."
"I don't," she protested. She felt him try to hold her and fought against his grasp; unable to get away, unable to face the way he was looking at her, she turned her back to him. "Don't make me answer that..." her voice faded into breaking tears.
"Delenn," he leaned close and whispered in her ear, stilling her. Gently, he turned her back to face him. Sympathy shone in his features.
"You just did."
"I'm sorry," she said again because she couldn't think of anything else. He looked so disappointed in her - she couldn't bear it. "I don't know what you want me to say..."
"I just want you to be happy, Delenn. Is that so much to ask?"
"I am..." She stopped. "I'm happy when I'm with you," she confessed shyly.
"No one else?" He sounded both sad and pleased at the revelation.
"Lennier," she admitted. "But - sometimes I think he only stays because he swore himself to my side. He can't break that bond even if he chose to."
Sheridan didn't understand, but he got the gist of the idea. "It would mean more if he'd never done that," he guessed. "If you knew he was here because he chose to be here, now." She nodded. "I can't help you there, Delenn, but from the way Lennier acts around you I think there's a little more than duty keeping him here." She looked up in confusion and he struggled not to laugh. "You don't know, do you? You really think- Dear God, Delenn, you must be blind. How can you not see how he looks at you, how *everyone* looks at you?" Smiling, he put his hand to her face and tenderly caressed her cheek, a fond look in his eyes. "Delenn, most of the male population here would give their life's worth to do what I'm doing now."
She had to use all her control not to stare blankly back at him. "W-what?"
He smiled, shaking his head in amazement. "I figured you knew. Hell, you can't miss it most of the time!" Seeing her shocked expression, he chuckled and drew her close. "I may be the lucky one, Delenn, but I have a lot of competition. I'm not the only man to ever fall hopelessly in love with you, I know that much. Hell, I could probably track you by the number of broken hearts you leave behind."
She didn't need to understand what he meant to know it was complimentary, but that hardly mattered as her mind never got that far through the words.
"What did you say?" She sounded distant when she spoke.
"A lot of things," he teased, "all of which were compliments."
"You said something," she insisted. "You said that you had..." she still wasn't sure she'd heard right. "That you were not the only man to 'fall hopelessly in love with me'." She blushed.
"Oh. That." He managed to look slightly embarrassed, obviously hoping to slip it past as an unquestionable. "Well, I thought since it was confession time I might as well let the cat out of the bag. Tell you how I felt," he corrected when she opened her mouth to ask. "I thought you might have had some idea by now, actually."
Delenn shook her head. "I-I hadn't thought about it. Not really." She couldn't admit, not to him, that she'd begged the words to emerge every time they were together. Couldn't tell him how often she'd seen him in her dreams at night, in the darkness when she closed her eyes - couldn't let him know how much she *had* thought about it, imagined being with him.
"I was told," he teased in a voice that was exceedingly amused, "by a very reliable source, that Minbari do not lie. So either you are *very* bad at telling the truth or I need to have a long talk with that source of mine."
Delenn reddened and didn't answer. He tilted her face up, but she avoided meeting his gaze. Sheridan frowned.
"Or maybe you're trying to spare my feelings," he said carefully. "You're allowed to do that, aren't you, to lie to protect someone else? Even if it's not a lie, because the words tell the truth even if your voice is lying." He let her go, but she didn't look away. "Kosh once told me to listen to the music, not the song. I think it's a little obvious to explain now, don't you?"
"Yes," Delenn admitted. "I do not sing very well," she added with the hint of a smile. He couldn't help it: he burst out laughing.
"Oh, Delenn, why do you have to have such a screwed-up view of the universe? This would be so much easier on me if you'd just said everything at the beginning."
Sensing he was teasing her, she scowled playfully and returned: "You started this. Obviously there are things you wish to confess as well. Why did you not simply tell *me* everything at the beginning?"
"Because I didn't *know* at the beginning," he retorted. Seeing the conversation in danger of slipping into something serious again, he quickly yawned. "You're tiring me out," he accused, drawing her into the crook of his shoulder.
"You chose to love me," she told him archly. "It is your own fault."
"I didn't *choose* to fall in love with you," he protested. "It was just damned lucky."
She smiled. "I do remember you saying that you were 'the lucky one'."
"Remember me saying that I had competition?" She nodded. "Good. Maybe I didn't waste my breath, then. Take a look around next time you go somewhere and tell me what you find out. Either you're a better liar than I gave you credit for, or you're in for a very big, very pleasant surprise."
"You are being very insistent about this," Delenn noted.
"You bet." He grinned. "In fact, if I weren't so damned tired, I'd walk you home myself to make sure nobody steals you." Delenn laughed.
"No one is going to steal me, John. I do what I like with who I like, and there is nothing more to say on the matter."
"I'm glad that's settled. Just remember that who you like likes you in return, hmm?" She smiled coyly and nodded.
"I will remember that you love me, John." The open speech surprised them both. "And that I can... confide in you." She looked up to make sure it was the right word. "That we care for each other." Amusement touched her lips. "And, I will remember to look out for the surprise you expect me to receive."
"You do that." He grinned, caught off guard by a yawn. "I don't want you to go," he started, but she was already standing.
"It was late when I arrived. Now it is *very* late." Her eyes sparkled. "We can meet for breakfast, if you would like that."
He stood, escorting her reluctantly to the door. It opened, and she turned to say goodbye. He took her hand in his, meeting her eyes as he lifted it gently to his lips and kissed it.
"I'd love to." She couldn't find words, only whirling emotions as he leaned over and kissed her very softly on the lips. "Take care of my fire, Delenn," he said in a whisper. "I need you."
She smiled up at him. "John Sheridan, I can and will take care of myself."
He scowled at her. "Haven't you listened to *anything* tonight?"
She gave him a sparkling smile. "You cannot have it both ways, my love."
He shone like a star when she spoke those words. "Come to my quarters in the morning. We have a lot to talk about."
"I will." He was unwilling to release her; she tugged her hand free of his grasp with a tired smile and turned to go. "And Delenn?"
She turned back to him. He was grinning.
"You *do* talk a lot."
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