TRIBUNAL (II)

By Leyenn

 

 

 

 

*****

....Is Often Not So Nice....

"How could everything have gone so wrong?!" John Sheridan paced angrily, desperately, across the carpet for at least the two hundredth time that morning. "How did it happen, Lennier? How could I have just - just let them take her away from me?! I just stood here, watching, and they took her away! I knew what would happen if they got hold of her, I *knew*, and I still let them take her!"

   "You are not to blame," the young Minbari comforted pointlessly. He knew it was useless: Sheridan would not be consoled. And neither would he, inside. He was telling the Captain the truth - he no more blamed him for the past days than he did himself for letting Delenn visit the city. But Sheridan would not have that, refusing to accept anyone's apologies or their repeated assurances that it had not been his fault.

   "She's been gone for twelve days, Lennier! That's *twelve days* of them doing God knows what to her! And I don't even know where they've got her yet, after that long! She probably doesn't even know where she is or what day it is by now!" He swung around again, his gaze pinning Lennier to the seat. "I know what these people are like, Lennier. These are the same guys who would have killed her during that - that stupid abduction on B5! Whatever they did to me, I can guarantee they're treating her ten times as bad!" He dropped into the chair, leaning forward with his head buried in his hands. Lennier began to rise, standing to put a hand on the man's shoulder.

   "We will find her, John." His voice was soft, informal. "Wherever she is, they cannot hide her forever. Very soon now, the Rangers will find her, and then we will waste no time in rescuing her." His face twisted into a malicious snarl. "And whoever is responsible for this atrocity will be *dealt* with as we see *fit*." Sheridan looked up tiredly, smiling ever so slightly at the venom in his friend's tone.

   "Thank you, Lennier. I know this is hard for you too, it's just... whenever I think about her, I can't stop seeing that cell they had me in. I keep wondering... what if she's in somewhere like that? What if they've managed to break her? I didn't even know whether it was night or day in there, didn't have anything at all except Delenn. I came so close... I would have gone mad if it hadn't been for her."

   "Then everything will be all right." Lennier stood fully again, turning for the door as Sheridan looked up incredulously.

   "What do you mean, 'everything will be all right'? They've had practice, Lennier. These people are good at what they do. How do we know she can last until we find her?" The Minbari turned back from the open door with a small, serene smile.

   "She has you."

   And he was gone, leaving Sheridan sitting in silence amongst the maps and reports. He slowly tried to get up from his seat, only to find that the latest stim had worn off and he collapsed onto the floor in a cross-legged heap. He didn't even bother to try to get up: his mind wasn't paying attention as tears streamed silently down his face. This always happened, he noted tiredly. He got angry, hit something, broke something, yelled at whoever or whatever happened to be nearby, and then collapsed as the anger finally burnt out until the next hour. He was only eating to have something to do, remembering Delenn always admonishing him for not taking proper care of himself. *Well, honey, I hope you can make an exception,* he thought to her with an almost hysterical note of amusement. *Oh, Delenn. Why did I have to let you go?*

   It had started the afternoon after her arrival, he remembered again with a resigned sigh as he sank fully onto the carpet, going over the events again in his mind to try and find where he had gone wrong, what he could have done to stop it all from happening. He hadn't trusted the four men at the door, even when Delenn insisted he let them in to 'be hospitable'. *She obviously enjoyed the night,* he allowed himself to think with a small amount of joy. The elation had shone in her eyes even hours after they finally got up - until those men had started to speak. He tried to push away the memory of that conversation, but it did no good. Claiming to be the Geneva police, they had come to his room, made some fancy speech about 'war crimes', knocked him unconscious and taken his one and only reason for living away from him. And she had gone willingly, that was the ugly part about it. Delenn, always ready to stand up for what she thought was right, had truly believed that she was guilty enough to warrant whatever they would do to her. He had tried, desperately tried to tell her it was all a mistake, that she didn't know what was going to happen... but she had gone anyway, proud and unafraid even through the tears in her eyes at leaving him. They had led her away like an animal, taken her away and knocked him out even though he had simply stood and *let her go*, following the insane idea that whatever Delenn wanted was right, that he shouldn't interfere. *Stupid, stupid, stupid. You're not right all the time, Delenn. No one's right all the time.* But he wasn't angry at her, much as he'd thought he would be. He really didn't care why she had done it - he knew why. Because no matter how much they did and how hard she worked, she had never forgiven herself for the wrong word that caused a war... a war that had almost killed the one man she loved and treasured above all else. So she had willingly given herself over to the 'authorities' on the solemn belief that the right side would prevail.

   He'd only fully realised afterwards who they really were, when he called the local law enforcement to demand she be released into his custody. By then, the remaining Nightwatch bastards had been three hours on their way to wherever under the sun they were keeping her - and that was only presuming they still had her in the same place now as they had twelve, almost thirteen days ago. Which wasn't likely.

   "*Always remember I love you, John Sheridan. As long as we are both alive, for all eternity, I will always be in love with you.*" Remembering her gentle touch, her soft kiss and those parting words to him made the tears fall even harder. *I love you too, Delenn. I hope you still believe that.*

   *Oh, God, please let her still believe that.*

   * * * * *

   

*John....* The thought was cut off with a black hand, mentally connecting with the side of her face and knocking her weak body off balance.

   "You have been warned against thinking of him, Ambassador. You will refrain from doing so, or we will have no choice but to punish you again." Delenn nodded timidly, knowing they could see it, forcing her thoughts away from her fiance. It wasn't an easy task: after what seemed like an eternity of this, there was nothing else left for her to turn to. But she couldn't face the punishment she knew they would use, and so she abandoned the only refuge they had left her and turned her mind into the darkness.

   It had been going on for a month, or so she thought. She couldn't be sure, but it certainly seemed that long. In reality it was probably a lot less, but Delenn had long ago lost the ability to tell one day from another. There was no daylight or night-time in her solitary cell - only the darkness for her to measure by. That, and the screams. Hour after hour, she could hear other captives' ordeals being broadcast through the compound, as a lesson to her and all the others that they had to co-operate.

   But she had no idea what they wanted. When they had captured - her thoughts turned away at the warning jolt of pain. But at least there had been a reason then. Now...

   She shivered: the floor was cold, damp. She hadn't eaten or drunk anything in almost two weeks now, other than the injections they forced into her to keep her alive. Her will was slowly breaking, she knew it; they knew it too, and she knew that they knew. Anything would have been bearable, but without John... She screamed in pain, squeezing her eyes shut and curling up into a foetal ball as the telepath on duty fired agonising fire through her mind.

   "You must not disobey our orders, Ambassador. Failure to abide by the rules with result in punishment." The voice was a flat monotone, but it was not recorded. Whoever's voice it was, they were observing her ordeal right now. She wanted to ask why, to find out what they wanted from her, but those thoughts only made the pain increase. In desperation, Delenn blanked her mind. After what felt like hours of thinking about nothing, feeling nothing but the fire, it finally reached a stage when the pain had stopped. *No, not stopped. Only faded enough to be normal.* She edged backwards, finding a wall and leaning gratefully back against it. The tears dried on her cheeks: she had given up trying to wipe them away each time. That pain never really went away now; it would only reduce enough for her to think relatively clearly, whenever *they* wanted something of her. She shivered in fear, remembering what the last man had wanted and huddling further into a ball as shame and agony washed over her. It had been so long since she felt even minutely alive... They seemed to enjoy torturing her; not for any reason, simply because the interrogators wanted their warped 'justice'. The only food she was given was poisoned, and even that would not have been edible on its own; the last drink they gave her had been almost a week ago, and even before that the water only contained poison or drugs to give her hallucinations - the only dreams she had now. She barely remembered what it was like to sleep: every time she tried they would flood stimulants into the room to keep her awake, or use the telepaths to set fire in her thoughts again until rest was the last thing on her mind. But the beatings were the worst. She begged, prayed for them to be finished soon, but they never were. She couldn't even look at the men any more, not after what they had all done to her... she wasn't even sure she would be able to look at John, or anyone else. That night with him seemed so long ago, she couldn't remember the details now... The pain came again, and she cried out softly in a timid apology.

   The only experiences she truly knew, in that sense, were the ones where she lay crying for hours afterwards, too ashamed to even try and clean herself up when she knew there would be nothing she could do. How anyone could make her feel so dirty, she could never have imagined before that first time. He'd been surprised at how hard she fought, she remembered with a very slight half-smile. The beating had been particularly vicious after that: he had broken her wrist, she knew that for certain, and the difficulties she had in breathing made her believe that at least three of her ribs were cracked in that one attack. He'd also been surprised to find that she wasn't a virgin - John had taken care of that - but it certainly hadn't stopped him. It had shocked her that he would have taken her virginity so roughly without a second thought - that had probably been the reason he told her so at the end of it, that she would hate him all the more for it. And she would know, after knowing that, that there was no way she would get out of this darkness alive.

   * * * * *

   

"Captain Sheridan! Get up, *now*!" Lennier's voice came clearly through his tortured dreams of Delenn, mixing with the flashbacks of his own ordeal even as he thrust them furiously back.

   "Lennier? What is it?" Instantly awake, he allowed himself a measure of hope at the Minbari's elated features.

   "We've found her! There is a penitentiary under the Atlantic sea bed, used for convicted and mentally unstable criminals. They have her there, although the prison workers have no idea - they have all been ordered out."

   "What?! Why? On who's orders?"

   "The sea floor is unstable. The government ordered it closed for demolition three months ago - we checked the details, even Clark admitted that it was a danger. We estimate they have had her there for almost the entire time she has been gone, but we know they plan to move her off-planet. We just don't know when." He blinked as the transmission cut off abruptly, leaving him facing a black viewscreen on the White Star bridge.

   "Was there a problem?" he asked the female behind him in Adronato. She shook her head, motioning that Sheridan had disconnected himself. "In Valen's name," Lennier breathed. "He plans to find her himself." He looked down, offering a silent prayer for the Captain's success even as his rational mind took over. "He'll never reach her. They will kill him before he even enters the prison." He shook his head, turning back to his aide. "Get me the Agamemnon, immediately. Tell Captain James I want to speak with him, and I will not take no for an answer."

   * * * * *

   

The seashuttle sped angrily through blue, crashing waves of water, its accelerator as near to the upper end of the scale as Sheridan's fury could get it. He'd deliberately chosen an older model shuttle, knowing that the people he was dealing with would immediately distrust a more efficient, more up to date transport. This way, at least he could keep up the pretence of being one of them until he was inside the compound. He was definitely mad, but even that didn't stop him having enough intelligence to know that Nightwatch by now was running short in the cash department.

   He could see the prison station clearly now, half-buried under layers of Atlantic sea sand. Reaching out, he flicked a switch to power up the comm system: he'd taken it off-line to gain more power for the engines, but now the voice enhancer came on as he prepared for the most difficult part of his hastily put together plan. The idea was that he would bluff his way inside, pretending to have supplies on board as well as information on the White Star fleet. Of course, they would know immediately that it was him once he got on board, but by then he'd have enough weaponry and ammunition on his person to blast them all halfway to hell. He glanced back to his store; the shuttle was cramped, and the huge pile had to be held together in a spare seat along with the medical equipment he thought he'd need. He had no idea what they were doing to her, but the very idea of keeping her so well hidden suggested that it wasn't likely to be a dinner party.

   Turning back to his control panel, Sheridan barely had time to grab the edge and prevent himself falling from the seat as a massive shock wave tore through the shuttle. It bucked and rocked fiercely, powering forward against the sudden wash of water rushing over the hull. A sudden hissing noise drew Sheridan's attention: he looked to his side and groaned at the sight of water pouring through a crack in the computer panel. Any minute now and the whole thing would short-circuit, leaving him to steer a dead weight into the closed bay doors in front of him. Fighting through static, he drew a surprised breath as the viewscreen showed him the reason for his problems. A huge explosion had torn through half of the prison block, and the sea floor under it was collapsing faster than he had imagined for such a large compound. But the doors were open, he realised with elation. If the damned hunk of metal under him could just hold out until they were inside... Water gushed through his console now, and the screen flickered valiantly once before death finally claimed it.

   "Shit!" He swung a punch at it, actually denting the plastic and causing a rush of air as the vacuum inside escaped. "Great. No getting out this way, then." He rubbed furiously at the window, now dented with numerous cracks but tenuously holding together, to get a good view of his target. He'd brought his own explosives to deal with the station afterwards, but at least that was one more thing he wouldn't need to take in with him. He'd move faster without a lot of the ammo, even though it might lower his chances of getting Delenn out alive. *Either that, or we both go down in that bloody place.* He growled angrily, slamming on the autopilot while it still worked and heading for the weaponry. *Not a chance.*

   Thankfully, the autopilot was the last thing to go. Sheridan was ready to leave by the time it cut out, and even though the entire shuttle bay was tilting wildly into the sea bed he still managed a relatively decent landing. Even better, the doors closed behind him - and God be praised, the room was actually vaguely airtight when he left the shuttle, stuffing an emergency medkit into the bag on his back. He abandoned the wreck of his shuttle without a second thought: it would never be seaworthy in time to get them out, and he couldn't afford the wasted time trying to repair it enough for what he'd planned. *Just have get through the doors some other way,* he thought wryly. There was no one around, which was surprising; he'd expected a lot more resistance than this. Hell, they were practically helping him inside! *Don't knock it, John,* was the admonishing thought that came to mind. This had been a futile gesture anyway: without whatever divine help he was getting, there was no way he could have even gotten this far without being shot down. However, everyone else seemed to be far too preoccupied with the explosions to pay much attention to him. It was typically Nightwatch, he noted grimly, making his way down the darkened corridor with the aid of a palmlight. They had to be the lowest of the low, to take Delenn and bring her to this place, probably intent on leaving her once nature finished its demolition job. He growled, drawing the PPG and powering it as voices came from the room ahead.

   "We gotta leave her!" The voice was panicked, almost hysterical. "We'd never get her anyplace else anyway, and you know what'll happen if we come outta here with her in tow! We won't last five minutes - that bloody Sheridan'll crucify us!"

   "He wouldn't dare," the other man assured calmly. "Not when we got *her*. He'll do anything to keep his precious Minbari whore safe. And that includes paying whatever we want. After that?" Sheridan, slowly pushing open the door, saw him shrug. "We'll just kill her."

   "Oh, will you?" His voice was malicious, noting instantly the guard behind the door and easily gunning him down without a qualm. "I don't think so. It's *my* turn for the fun now." That sounded as if it may once have been amusing. His tone indicated it was anything but. "See you in Hell, guys. Say hello to your boss for me." The gun fired three times: three bodies, including those two he'd heard, fell lifelessly to the floor. "Vengeance from Valen," he spat, stepping over the corpses. The door at the back of the room was open, and as he brushed the flashlight beam over it he could see a row of secondary doors. They were solid, unbreakable, and he knew instinctively that Delenn had to be there somewhere. It took less than a second to be in that thin corridor between the room and those cells. Row after row after row of cells confronted him, and Sheridan let out a yell of frustration, punching the wall. It was hopeless!

   The prison rocked again, and he fell heavily onto the floor. The PPG went clattering into the darkness, and he cursed angrily at the foot that was suddenly planted in his chest. Fury, built up and held in over the past days, finally released in the hideous snap as he twisted viciously and broke his attacker's ankle. He was on his feet without a thought, and although the guard managed to get in a punch that blinded him temporarily in one eye and one that he was pretty sure broke a rib, he was no match for Sheridan's absolute rage. Savagely, uncaring, he snapped the guy's arm and threw him backwards, hearing with a slight satisfaction the crunch of bone connecting with the heavy metal doors. He found the flashlight easily as it was still active, although flickering wildly, and passed it over the sight. It made him gag, a feral snarl building up as he vigorously wiped the blood from his injured face. He could see, thank God, although blood was pouring from the cut over his eye socket and blinding him again every time he managed to clear it. But it was enough to see that he'd just killed a Minbari. One of Delenn's people... and one wearing a Nightwatch band across his arm. A traitor, worse than any Human Nightwatch bastard: this one had sold out his own leader for money, power or whatever the sick idiots had promised.

   For the first time, Sheridan saw the ferocity of his anger. The amount of force he had thrown into that last punch had crushed the warrior's cheek, and he'd managed enough power in his fury to crack the bonecrest completely and splatter blood and shards of bone across the cold grey walls. Remembering how much it took to kill a Minbari warrior, he grinned maliciously. The feeling soon faded when he realised that he had no weapon, though. Oh, fuck. He stood still for what seemed like hours, running over his options. Try every door, hopefully find her relatively quickly and then search for the PPG - or hope to God that the door was unlocked. Or, he could find her another way. It didn't take long to decide; he didn't trust his luck, not after everything that had gone right so far. There was a saying somewhere, he remembered: good luck runs in threes. *Must be Minbari.* He laughed humorlessly, slightly relieved at having managed to reach this far into his plan. *Well, I've had at least nine chances by now. That leaves me with, oh, no lives left?* Sheridan turned away from the corridor, checking it once more for any other warriors before re-entering the bloodied room behind him. Quickly scanning it with the flashlight, he let out a sigh of pure relief. On the table, spread out under the calmer of the men's rather mangled torso, was a plan of the compound. Sheridan roughly shoved his victim out of the way, not caring about the blood and simply wiping it away from the flimsies. *Oh, my luck really is too good today.* Clearly marked over the plan of the corridor behind him was a character of death - the skull and crossbones, an ancient symbol used during the Earth/Minbari War to indicate Minbari war cruisers on the space charts. Sheridan had seen them a thousand times, and it was obvious what they meant now. *Now if only I can get in....* He started scanning the room with the palmlight, too dubious about how water-tight the power supply was to risk turning on the lights.

   "Keys, keys, where would they keep the keys..." he rifled quickly through the dead men's pockets, growling his frustration as another explosion rocked the compound and threw him on top of a damp, bloodied corpse. The annoyance barely lasted a second, however, as something thin and very definitely key-like fell from the man's stiffened hand. Sheridan chased it over the floor, feeling it skid across the puddle of thick, dark liquid and grasping desperately for the edge. Laughing almost hysterically at his luck, he dragged his bruised body up over the rim of the table and found the room Delenn was in on the plan again, thinking wryly that he would probably never forget the number for that. He half-crawled, half-ran to the corridor, wiping the card against his trousers to remove the blood and praying for it to be in working order. Sprinting forward, he had to grab for the doorframe to stop himself as another shudder tilted the floor violently downward. It took two tries to find the keyslot, but thankfully the old system still had enough power in it to open the door first time. For one horrible second, Sheridan remembered about the code - and then the blank wall in front of him cycled open, and he breathed a ragged sigh of relief that the system was too old to have a working lock code on each door.

   The room was in complete darkness, and only his failing flashlight let him see inside. It was growing dimmer by the minute - but that didn't matter as he finally caught sight of what his heart had been waiting to see for almost two weeks. Cowering in a corner, Delenn was curled in on herself and shaking, her breathing laboured and uneven - but she was alive! *Whoever is looking out for us, we must be truly Chosen.* Sheridan almost cried in relief at the sight of her, at her side in little under a second as his legs gave way and he reached out to touch her shoulder. She made a low sound of pain, trying half-heartedly to move away from the light without even looking up, hiding her eyes from the sudden brightness. There was nowhere to go; she was pressed tightly against the wall as it was and her exhausted, beaten body would barely move enough to get an inch from his presence. In desperation, he flicked off the light and shifted closer to put one arm around her shoulders, holding her steady as she fought and then stopped abruptly, instinct telling her the reality of that touch. Suddenly her demeanour changed completely: the sound she made, although still incoherent, was no longer one of fear but one of final and long-awaited relief. She was hurting so much, and although her body was less than a foot from his, it took almost a minute for her to reach him and pull herself into his embrace. Sheridan edged nearer, lifting her into his arms and holding her so tightly she thought he was never going to let her go. He was crying, she realised: tears of joy at having her in his arms again, tears of pain as she whimpered softly in agony, tears of burning anger at the people who had done so much to her.

   "John?" Barely able to believe he was really there, she steeled herself for the inevitable pain and called his name. A racking cough followed it, her breathing coming just that little bit easier when the telepath didn't respond and she cried in relief, in the ecstasy of painlessness. It had been so, so long...

   "I'm here, honey." His voice was choking, rocking her against him and hurriedly kissing her hair. "I'm here, I promise, everything's gonna be okay. Oh God, what would I ever do without you, Delenn? I love you so much..." He looked down at her, stroking her hair and gingerly kissing her forehead. It was too dark to see what they might have done to her - but she was alive, and that was all that mattered. The rest is negotiable, Stephen had said. Stephen. Outside, away from this hellhole.

   "We have to get out of here." His tone was serious, hurriedly brushing tears and blood from his eyes. "I don't know how many are left, we may not have much time-"

   "How did you get here?" Her urgent question made him smile.

   "Let's just say, there are guards out there who are in no doubt about the strength of my love for you." Delenn was near enough to his face to see the expression, and she couldn't help but return it before the pain came back to remind her body of just how badly she was injured. She moaned softly in agony, shifting against him and biting her lip to stifle a yelp of pain.

   "Shh..." John's comforting voice broke through the painful barrier, gently stroking her cheek. "Take it easy, honey. I know it hurts, but it won't be for long, I promise. We'll get out of here soon, get you fixed up, okay?" He gently touched her chin, tilting her head up slowly to look at him. Even in the darkness, he had to force back anger at the sight of her face. Her injuries were obvious; a long, half-healed gash stretched from below her jaw up to just under her crown, and dried blood made the wound look even worse than it was - although it was deep, he noticed - making it difficult for her to speak for any length of time. There were numerous bruises on her cheeks, and dark hair had matted against a deep, vicious cut on her forehead. Her eyes were open, but he'd known by her reaction to the torch that she hadn't seen any light for as long as they'd kept her here. That idea was further compounded by the sound of the door opening and torchlight flooding the room. Delenn turned away in pain and cried out in fear, trying valiantly despite her injuries to move back into the corner even as he reached for her and held her tight.

   "Shh, calm down. I won't let them hurt you again, honey, I swear." They were hollow words - if they wanted to do something, he couldn't very well stop it - but she believed them. Too tired and desperate to do anything else, Delenn simply huddled into her lover's arms and prayed that if someone had come to kill her, she at least wanted them to be together when it happened. A bright, steady flashlight ran over the couple, and whoever it was stepped inside the cell.

   "Captain Sheridan, I have to ask you to come with me." Sheridan looked up, shaking his head violently.

   "No." It took all the strength he had left to say that after seeing her, but there was no way they were taking his soul away again. "No way in Hell." The man seemed unfazed, approaching them steadily as Delenn tried valiantly to protect herself from what she truly believed would be the end.

   "Please, Captain. You will not do yourself or your fiancee any good by refusing. Now I must ask you again to come with me." He glanced at Delenn. "You too, Ambassador." The man's tone of voice made her look up, although she couldn't meet his eyes, and she tried to nod. Sheridan glanced down at her, concern clouding his judgement. But there was something in the way he'd said 'your fiancee', rather than the way Nightwatch always referred to Delenn, as some kind of whore. He couldn't quite place it, but this guy -

   Another explosion tore through the room, and Sheridan looked up in panic to see dark green gas flooding in through the air vents. Their captor turned desperate, standing over them both and repeating his insistence. That last blow to their safe haven against the water had started to make up John's mind, and when Delenn began to cough loudly it finished his decision. He nodded quickly, rising from the floor in one stumbling motion and lifting her into his arms.

   "Keep her away from the gas," the man warned. The door was open, though, and dark tendrils were beginning to wind inside. A curse in Minbari made Sheridan look up in surprise, finally recognising what was happening as their companion tried in vain to waft away the gas. They were being rescued! There must have been people there already, waiting to get her out... that must have been what the explosions were... he hoped to God none of the men he'd killed were Rangers, the same as their rescuer.

   All thought of that fled from his mind as he looked down at Delenn. She was fighting to breathe, coughing heavily and close to being sick, although by the stench in her cell he knew she probably couldn't bring anything else up by now.

   "Change of plan." The Ranger's voice was crisp, clear, hearing the problem even from thirty feet in front. The scream of twisted, wrenching metal echoed in his ears, but Sheridan ignored it as Delenn's breathing got worse. He tried to calm her, but she was hysterical and fighting it, almost unconscious when they suddenly left the corridors and turned a corner, entering a shuttle bay on the opposite side to where he'd entered. This one was brightly lit, although the light fittings were swinging wildly from the ceiling as the prison veered one last, final time and pitched sideways.

   "In here, *now*!" The Ranger all but shoved the Captain and his unconscious burden inside the shuttle, not even bothering to close it until the console was powered up and they were well on the way toward the bay doors. "Gonna be a rough ride, hang on." Sheridan's head shot up in alarm, not realising what their saviour was planning to do until they were through the double doors, leaving a gaping shuttle-shaped hole behind. A gush of water began to fill the room - the shuttle veered sideways, righting itself almost instantly to get away from the whirlpool as the sea floor finally and suddenly collapsed, swallowing their prison.

   "Oh, Lord." Shaking, the Captain leaned forward and rested his head on his hands, wiping sweat and blood from his cheeks before glancing briefly toward the pilot. "Thanks."

   "No problem." Tabbing the autopilot, their Ranger companion spun around in his chair and got up, approaching a cabinet opposite Sheridan as the Captain finally gained enough courage to look at his lover.

   "Oh my God. Dear God, how could they do that..." his voice gave out, dropping to the floor to kneel at Delenn's head and gently removing dark, matted hair from her face. Her breathing was far too laboured, coughing even though she was unconscious and gasping for air. Whatever the gas had been, he knew it had to be an irritant to Minbari at the very least. Forcing his gaze over the rest of her body, Sheridan put one hand over his mouth to stop himself being very ill. All that stopped him was the thought that he couldn't afford to need attention right now, not with Delenn in this state. The clothing she wore was very similar to prison garb; light grey, nondescript coveralls - except these were barely enough to cover her, torn and stained in a dozen places with blood and bodily fluids. He reached out to touch her arm - she jerked back, and he winced at the long, thin cut that ran from the top of the inside of her arm down almost to her wrist. It looked like a razor cut, and he growled in anger at whoever could have been sadistic enough to do something like that. The top of her arm was swollen anyway and he guessed from her reaction that it was probably fractured, if not broken. He got up slowly to sit beside her, thankful to the Ranger who was opening an emergency medkit with as much dexterity as Sheridan himself wished he had. He looked over at her other arm, checking the injuries, and noted with grim thanks that the torture had not been repeated on the other side. Her wrist was obviously broken, however, and blood had dried in a thin crust over various small but deep slashes running over her skin. They were similar to those on her face, and Sheridan frowned at the thought of someone - probably the Minbari warrior - using a poison glove so casually. *No wonder she was so sick. They must have been giving her everything they had.* Barely able to make himself look at the rest of her, not sure if he could stomach it in the state they were both in, he had time to notice that the glove had not been confined to her upper body before slipping into unconsciousness; calling her name even as the Ranger mercifully pressed an injector to his arm and he slept.

   * * * * *

   

He awoke in a brightly lit room, blinking furiously and trying to sit up. A low moan echoed when he finally managed it, not quite believing that anyone could be so stiff. And then everything came flooding back: Delenn's capture, her torture, their escape... Ignoring his own pain, he glanced around and slid hurriedly from the bed when he realised she wasn't there. A glance through the window let him relax; Delenn lay on a Minbari bed - although it was only halfway to forty-five degrees - surrounded by machines and monitors with numerous drips extending from her gaunt body. He breathed a sigh of relief at the steady, reassuring beep of a heart monitor, leaning forward and carefully touching his forehead to the cool plasglass panel.

   "John?" He raised his head at the voice, unable to turn his gaze from the sight of her, alive and free, barely twenty feet away.

   "I want to see her." It wasn't a request. There was no mistaking the authority in his tone and when he finally turned, James saw that same determination in his eyes.

   "John, I think... maybe you should sit down." He held his friend's gaze for a moment; Sheridan sighed softly and nodded, sinking into the conveniently placed chair behind him.

   "What is it? Make it quick, Dan. I have to see her, I have to be there when she wakes up..."

   "That won't be for a while." He looked up, frowning at the tanned, middle-aged officer entering the room. "How are you feeling, Captain? I trust you weren't too badly shaken up during the trip." Sheridan ignored the question, glancing once at his new acquaintance before turning to James with a frown.

   "Who's he?" The other Captain smiled reassuringly, reaching out to lay a light hand on Sheridan's shoulder.

   "It's all right, John. This is our ship's physician, Doctor Richard Farrow."

   "Rick," the doctor put in with a smile. "Welcome back to the Agamemnon, Captain Sheridan."

   "Yeah, yeah, whatever. Uh, my name's John, in case you hadn't noticed." He sighed, resting his elbows on both knees and idly rubbing his beard. "Sorry, I didn't mean-"

   "I know. This must be very hard for you, and I'm sorry. We've done the best we can, but it will be a while before she wakes and even longer before she can communicate properly. Until that happens..." he shrugged. "We have a number of things to go on, piecing together what went on over the past days. Firstly-"

   "Is she going to be all right?" It was an urgent question, and the look in Sheridan's eyes was begging for the answer to be yes. Farrow smiled and nodded, his smile widening as he glanced at James, both watching Sheridan. He released the breath he'd been consciously holding and covered his eyes with his hands, finally looking up with a thin smile.

   "Oh, thank God. You have no idea how much I needed to hear that." He swallowed, his breath shaky with relief, and smiled more brightly at the doctor. "You're the one who's treating her?" Farrow nodded. "Thank you. Thank you so much. If there is anything you need, anything you want, ever, anything, just ask. I couldn't repay you, but..." The other man was shaking his head, a warm smile on his face.

   "There really is no need, Captain - John. I'm only doing my job... and I don't perform miracles. That Ranger guy of yours is the one you should be thanking: if it hadn't been for him, I doubt I would have been able to save her. And the Minbari physicians were a great help, as well as your Doctor Franklin's notes. So you see, it really isn't just me." He shrugged, trying to sound nonchalant. "I'm simply doing my duty to you, Captain." Sheridan smiled slightly, nodding admission before he looked up tiredly and drew in a deep breath, steeling himself.

   "So. Tell me what's wrong." Farrow looked away; Sheridan turned his gaze on James, searching for an answer. "You have to tell me eventually. Come on, dammit, please. I have to know what they did to her. Please, Dan, for God's sake." The other Captain tried to look away; unable to escape those piercing blue eyes, he finally looked down and nodded.

   "All right. You have a right to know."

   "Damn right I do. That woman in there-" he stabbed a finger back at the window- "is my fianc‚e. Now you tell me what they did to her, or so help me God I'll find someone who will." Silence followed the outburst, Sheridan shaking his head and letting out a soft sigh. "I'm sorry. I just - I'm a little uptight right now. I mean, I finally got her back after all that, and now I kind of... I just have to sit here and wait, you know? It's hard." Farrow nodded sympathetically; walking over to the computer terminal and taking a small pad in one hand, he passed it to his patient before sitting back down in the chair with his own pad.

   "This is a list of her injuries. Now I know it looks long, but to be honest... they did some pretty horrific things in there. And you have to bear in mind that a lot of them are superficial: we've managed to clean her up, and most of the cuts and bruises will be gone in a few days. It's the deeper, internal stuff we have to be careful with. Here," he tabbed his hand pad and an area of the diagram on Sheridan's illuminated, "this is a problem, more than anything. The gas you encountered is an ethano-sulphide derivative, almost eighty percent toxic to Minbari. It sticks in the lungs, so she'll have trouble breathing for the next few weeks - I've arranged the loan of a portable breather for when she finally leaves, but my guess is that won't be for at least a week yet. Probably more, depending one what kind of care you can guarantee."

   "The best," Sheridan promised with a determined frown. "I'll make sure of it. You have to realise I'd do anything for Delenn, anything at all." Farrow nodded, his expression serious, and Sheridan steeled himself for what was coming next. He had some idea of what problems there might be, but judging by the look on the doctor's face and James' discomfort, he was about to get the full rundown. The doctor took a deep breath, a slow nod answering Sheridan's promise.

   "Good. Because frankly, Captain... like I said: I can work hard, I can repair all the outward damage, but I cannot perform miracles. Now, her physical injuries? They will heal, although it will take time. The mental scars... I don't know. After everything that's happened to her, you may have to accept that the Delenn you knew will be a long time in coming back. If the worst case is true... she may not come back at all." He saw Sheridan's distraught expression, looking down. "I'm sorry, John. It may simply have been too traumatic for her - or she could pull through. You know her better than either of us," he glanced at James, who nodded agreement, "and you are the best qualified to make that assumption as to whether or not that will happen. But whatever does happen, she's going to need you now more than ever. Her mind may not remember immediately what happened, at least not all of it, but it will almost certainly come back to her in time. Probably quite soon, but we can never tell... and I have no frame of reference to base any assumptions or assurances on. Quite frankly, I've never seen a case like this except in a morgue. I'm amazed she even survived this long, and even more so that she shows all the signs that she will pull through, at least physically. Psychologically..."

   "Delenn's strong. She'll make it." His tone was firm, full of conviction even as he lowered his voice, a thread of helplessness showing through. "She has to." He turned to watch her, blue eyes never leaving her scarred features - missing the shared look that passed between the two officers. Slowly, after a long moment of silence, James rose and moved quietly behind his friend. The other Captain tensed at the hand on his shoulder, shaking his head in refusal to accept what he knew they would tell him. The reason why they thought, why they knew, that she wouldn't be all right. Not really, truly all right. They knew, even if neither could find the heart to say it aloud.

   "Did they?" His voice was hoarse; white-knuckled hands reached out to grasp the edge of the window as he closed his eyes, tilting his head to the window and forcing back the anger. "Tell me they didn't do that. Please." He turned back: neither gaze met his. "Oh, no. Not to her. Not to Delenn, please, God. Isn't that enough?" A hand flicked back wildly, connecting with the window. Sheridan didn't even notice the pain. "Why - why her? She didn't do anything wrong. I was the one who did all this, she was never involved against Clark, not until the end..." His voice trailed away, sinking into the chair and forcing away tears. He couldn't afford them, not now. Delenn needed him to be stronger than that. He tried to imagine her, paradoxically, beside him - supporting him with that complete, crazy faith in the Universe that she somehow managed to have. He felt guilty for that: she was inches away from death and infinitely worse, and now he wanted her to comfort *him*. Wiping away the tears, he swallowed hard at that thought. Delenn needed him now. Later, he could afford his own problems, but not now.

   Finally, tiredly, he looked up. His eyes were blank, exhausted, but there was a hint of peace that made Farrow smile ever so slightly.

   "How many times?"

   The smile disappeared in that instant, and he looked away before answering the inevitable question.

   "Four. Maybe five, at least once by a Minbari. I can't tell exactly." Sheridan's gaze hit the floor, a low moan between guilt and fury rising in his throat. James went pale, glancing at the sleeping patient before he collapsed heavily into a chair.

   "Dear Lord. You said it was bad, Rick, but you never said... Shit, I'm sorry, John. When we catch the bastards, I'll-"

   "They're dead." Venom spat from his tone, a strange pride covering the seething outrage. "All of them. Every last son of a bitch is dead." He stood, turning again to face his lover's sleeping form. "I only wish I'd got to do more of it *personally*." For a moment the total fury remained; then, abruptly, his snarl disappeared and he turned back to them, tiredness in his eyes. "Tell me the rest, Rick. And I mean everything." The doctor paused for a second, watching him: Sheridan simply stood patiently, waiting, and Farrow nodded in resignation before gesturing for him to sit.

   "All right. Firstly, I have to repeat that there are a lot of superficial cuts and bruises that look a lot worse than they are; most will be gone by the time she leaves here, they're nothing for you to be concerned about. A few were infected, but it's nothing the antibiotics in her IV won't sort out. She will be sore, and for her own sake we've had to restrain her until she realises fully where she is. It seems likely they used a poisoned blade-"

   "It was a glove," Sheridan corrected flatly. "A poison glove, Minbari made. I've seen them used before, but never..." The sentence went unfinished, but the unsaid words hung in the air. *Never that bad.*

   "That would be consistent with her injuries," Farrow conceded gently. "I have to warn you, though, that she has been heavily drugged - for her own sake and ours. It was either that or lose her," he added as the Captain began to question. "She was barely breathing when your Ranger brought her in, her heartbeat was all over the place, she *wouldn't* accept any oxygen..." He smiled a little, amusement flashing. "She's feisty, I'll say that. If she still has that much fight left in her, there has to be a good chance of recovery." Sheridan smiled knowingly in return, pride on his features.

   "Delenn isn't one to give up easily."

   "No." The doctor grinned for a moment, then his face became serious. "No, I can see that. And that may be the only thing that's pulled her through so far, Captain. With this many injuries and exposure to the toxins in that gas, I'm amazed she could survive the journey here. I will confess, I didn't believe the reports when they first came in. Not until I saw her, anyway." A shiver, barely concealed, ran down his spine. "There was massive damage to the nervous system, mostly caused by blows or injuries to the spinal column and at least two serious blows to the head. The injuries to her vital organs is minimal, thank God, though she's going to feel very sick from the liver damage until all the toxins are out of her system and everything we loaded into the IV gets to work. We put in as many regen packs as she can handle, and although the damage is extensive it doesn't look to be permanent. It may be a while before she's able to get up and walk around, though." He paused, taking a deep breath before starting on the next area. "That problem is also compounded by the less life-threatening injuries: four ribs are broken, one is fractured and was near to puncturing her lung at one point, which hampers the breathing problems even further. Her left shoulder is broken, she has a compound hairline fracture on one calf - which we have in a cast while it heals - and four smaller bones in her foot are broken. They should heal quite quickly, but there is the problem that movement has to be confined to the absolute necessity to avoid re-injuring them, seeing that they're probably the most delicate. She'll be relying on you for a lot of things over the next weeks, John." He nodded immediately, his expression serious.

   "I know that. I told you: I'll do anything, whatever it takes for her to get well again." There was a pause, a silence before he looked up again. "Is that all?" His tone was slightly hopeful, though in his heart he could tell there was more to come.

   "No. I'm sorry." Farrow retrieved the discarded pad from a chair, scrolling down the list of injuries. "Her left wrist is severely broken, which we had to leave out of a cast until the cuts and bruises around it can heal. There are anti-inflammatories in the IV to take the swelling down, but you'll need to make sure she keeps that arm still for a few days. She lost a lot of blood from the... the injury-" he couldn't use 'cut' to describe that- "to her right arm, but thankfully whoever it was wasn't looking to kill her and missed the vital artery. I know that can't be much consolation right now, but at least we managed a transfusion in time." Sheridan nodded, his gratitude obvious.

   "Thank you, for both of us. I don't know what I'd have done if..." he shook his head, pushing away that option. "Anyway, thank you." Farrow smiled modestly, reaching out a hand to lift the tired Captain from his chair.

   "I did my duty, Captain. More importantly, I did what was right." He led Sheridan to the door, motioning James through before them and carefully steering his patient into the next room.

   "I estimate the sedative will wear off in about a half hour at most, and you'll need to be ready when it does. She'll probably react to the room: she's been kept in freezing conditions for twelve days, and her body is starting to show symptoms of delayed hypothermia. It may take some time to adjust back to normal temperatures - that's why it's quite cool in here, we need to bring her body heat back up to normal again slowly, give her injuries time to adjust. Also, bear in mind that her eyes will have to re-adjust to the light level after having been in darkness for that long, so the lights need to be kept dim.

   "As I said, the gas you were both exposed to has a serious effect on Minbari physiology, and we were hard pressed to find a sedative that wouldn't react with the drugs they fed her. *When* they fed her," he added grimly. "I'd say she hasn't eaten in almost ten days, and judging by the dehydration she probably went without water for that long. In a few days we'll try giving her something solid, but for now the IV is all she'll be able to keep down, so you have to keep her on drinks - water, weak tea, but no coffee or any other stimulants. She needs to rest." He paused, turning to Sheridan with a slightly embarrassed expression. "I'm assuming an awful lot here. This may sound like a dumb question, but I take it you will be the one taking care of her? I'll have nurses look in, obviously, and I'll be keeping a close eye on her myself, but she's going to need round-the-clock care."

   Sheridan gave him a bemused glance, raising his eyebrows in vague humour.

   "You're right. That is a dumb question." James chuckled quietly; Farrow just smiled and continued his monologue, Sheridan listening attentively.

   "You'll have to be patient when she does wake up - she may not know or remember where she is, and understandably there will be some confusion over what happened between her ordeal and arriving here. She was pretty much hysterical by the time we got a sedative into her, so there's nothing to say she won't come out of it in the same state. My guess is she was having flashbacks, possibly hallucinations caused by the gas and drugs they pumped into her."

   "The gas." Sheridan turned slowly. "What kind of chemical did you say it was?"

   "Ethano-sulphide - or a version of it. Heavily contaminated, but still harmless enough to Humans."

   "But not to Minbari." His gaze never left Delenn, starting to approach and quickening his pace when he realised no one was making a move to stop him.

   "No." Farrow shook his head, following his visitor to the bed. "It has some kind of side effect that we can't figure. The mixture itself is toxic to their systems - there's nothing like it on their world - but this is the first time I've seen a victim firsthand. I've never studied Minbari physiology in any great detail: all I can say is that something in the gas sets off a - a chain reaction is the only way I can describe it."

   "Ethanol." Sheridan looked up from his lover's face, turning back to the doctor. "That's alcohol, right?" Farrow gave him a bewildered nod, glancing at Delenn.

   "Well, yes - in its purest form. Alcohol itself is a slightly different mixture-"

   "But they're both the same, chemically?" The doctor nodded; Sheridan looked back at Delenn, gently taking her hand and covering it with his. There were bite marks across the back of her pale skin, and he shuddered at the idea of the amount of pain she would have to have gone through to do something like that to herself. He leaned back slightly, keeping his gaze on her, and ran his free hand over his hair as the pieces fell together. "Alcohol is poisonous to Minbari. It causes a hormone imbalance in the brain, turns them psychotic." After a short moment, he hid the frown and smiled reassuringly up at the flustered physician. "Don't worry, I didn't expect you to know. It's very difficult to detect exactly, and they keep it a tight secret - there are a lot of things other races can do with knowledge like that. It was just that Delenn told me." He smiled privately. "There are a lot of things I know about the Minbari." That comment raised a soft laugh from both officers behind him, and just for a moment, Sheridan managed to feel happy. At least Delenn had him, the way he'd had her when they took him away.

   "John," Farrow's voice was gentle, "there's something else you need to know." He glanced up, concern clouding his eyes as the doctor began to explain. "We found evidence of telepathic activity - enormous amounts of it, used almost continuously over the whole time she was there. Scanning, projecting... enhancing the hallucinations caused by the drugs, mostly." His tone became softer, and Sheridan steeled himself for the final blow. "It's possible... I can't be sure until Delenn can tell us herself, but... it is possible that they tried, if not succeeded, to block her memories of you."

   There was nothing that could have hurt more than that. Sheridan shook his head, at first in despair and then violently, desperately, refusing to believe the news.

   "I'm sorry, John." He shook the touch from his shoulder, reaching out to lay a gentle hand on Delenn's cheek and swallowing the lump in his throat.

   "Are you saying she won't remember me?"

   "No, I'm not saying that." Farrow wasn't sure of the truth in his statement, but Sheridan needed some hope right now. "It's possible she may have selective amnesia over a few things - memories of the past months, most likely, as those would be the easiest to come to mind - but I don't believe the damage is permanent. Like everything else, it doesn't seem to have been planned to kill her, but rather to keep her alive for as long as possible. And she will remember you, I'm sure of that." Quite how he managed the conviction behind that, he couldn't be sure. "In fact, you may be all she remembers, at least for a while. That's why I'm warning you to be ready when she wakes from the sedative. She will remember what happened very soon after becoming conscious, and I haven't been able to flush all the drugs from her system so it's likely the sickness and hallucinations will continue for a while. If she trusts anyone to get her through that, it's going to be you." Sheridan nodded understanding, remaining in silence for a moment before Delenn stirred slightly under his touch, emitting a low moan.

   "Anything else I should know? If there is, you'd better tell me now." Farrow was already ushering his Captain from the room, turning to follow himself and head into the room Sheridan had occupied.

   "No. No, I think that's finally it. Just... be patient with her, reassure her and make sure she knows she's safe." He glanced once more at the man leaning over his patient and smiled a little as he slipped hurriedly into the next room. *What am I saying? He'll do just fine.*

   * * * * *

   

Delenn awoke in a very cold, very painful place, feeling a light pressure on her hand - almost as if someone were holding it... but that could not be. Not here, in this place, this hellish place. She opened her eyes: it was dark. Too dark.

   She screamed. More accurately, she tried to scream, but the oxygen mask over her mouth made the noise barely recognisable. Terror came from the memory of that mask, the feeling of someone roughly forcing it over her face and the painful blows when she fought against it. She had learnt her lesson the final time; the agony in her broken shoulder increased as she moved against the restraints and she simply dropped back to the pillows, sobbing hysterically and praying for the pain to end.

   "Delenn, Delenn, listen to me. Listen." She tried to turn her head, fighting the strap across her chest and begging desperately in Adronato for whoever it was to get her out of this torture. It was too much, too similar to the place they had put her *then*, when the warrior had come... Her tears became those of fear rather than pain when her pleas were ignored - but the voice was still there, vaguely soothing amidst the hysteria.

   "Please, calm down, listen to me. *Please*, honey; just listen, just for a moment." He was touching her hair, gently stroking her cheek and carefully avoiding the gash that hurt so much. "You're safe now, Delenn. It's okay now, you're safe now. It's all over, I promise, nothing's gonna happen to you now, not any more." Finally recognising his voice, John's voice, she forced away the pain long enough to look at him: catching sight of his face, sitting beside her and holding her hand, she shook her head in disbelief - it couldn't be him, it couldn't be. They had done this before, made her believe he was there only to snatch the hope away again until she hardly knew what was real anymore.

   "No, no, don't do this... Please, anything, but not this, please..." Sheridan frowned slightly at her hysterical cries, vainly trying to calm her. Everything he did seemed to make it worse, make her more agitated - and every time that happened she fought harder against the restraints, crying out in pain from the injuries.

   "Delenn," he tried one more time, "Delenn, look at me. It's John - please, honey, you're gonna hurt yourself, calm down." She closed her eyes, crying silently as memories flashed through her thoughts. *John...* The name only brought the memory of a searing fire in her mind, and she started to fight the restraints again in protest.

   He couldn't stand seeing her like this any more. Safety or no safety, he was going to stop her crying - one way or another. He didn't even look toward the observation room; not noticing that Farrow, called away, had been replaced with an orderly. She made it plain that she wasn't happy as he started to unlock the restraining straps, her voice increasing Delenn's fear as it called sharply through the intercom. He bit back a reply, knowing it would only make the problems worse, and fiercely punched the screen into blackness. His link chimed: he ripped it off and tossed it angrily across the room, uncaring as to where it ended up. Finally, despite the struggles, he managed the restraints one by one until only the warm sheets held his fiancee down. He loosened them slightly, pulling the chair nearer and leaning close to her to stroke her cheek, reassuring. Free of the bonds, she began to minutely relax - until her eyes opened again to find the room held in darkness. This time her screams were real, breaking through the barrier of her mask, and the orderly was well on her way to the chamber when Sheridan moved onto the bed and lifted her as gingerly as he could into his arms. Whatever Farrow had said, he figured it would do more damage to leave her until she injured herself again. The nurse, however, did not seem to share his perspective.

   So he locked her out. One touch on the terminal above the bed was all it took, although that was hard enough with Delenn holding him so tightly. He checked her shoulder, hearing her sob in pain as she tried to put her left hand on his and gently removing it with a soft, reassuring smile. He remembered the damage Farrow had mentioned, wondering briefly if he really was doing the right thing by holding her like this.

   "John?"

   That decided for him. He didn't care what the consequences were - and they'd be pretty dire, if the nursing staff had any say - he only wanted Delenn to know he was there, that it was him holding her and keeping her safe against the darkness.

   "Shh, shh, I'm here. It's me, I promise. Honestly, swear to God, no substitutes. You just relax; you're safe now, okay?" He looked down, tears of relief shining on his face when her eyes lit up in recognition and she nodded slowly. Even that hurt, but Delenn had never been so glad to feel anything in her entire life. John held her still as her breathing slowed, calming her terror and gently rocking her as the hysteria faded. After a long, long time, her grip on his body loosened slightly and he started to let her go. Delenn suddenly cried out, shaking her head violently.

   "No, please, don't let me go. Don't leave me..."

   "Shh, it's okay." He tightened his arms again, enough to reassure her without doing any more damage. "I'm not leaving, I'm right here: I'm not going anywhere ever, ever again. Don't you worry about that, okay? Just take it easy, you're gonna be fine." Delenn paused and then nodded, taking in a series of deep breaths before she managed the strength to speak again.

   "John... I'm scared, I'm so scared..." He sighed, smoothing her hair and rocking her ever so gently against him as she buried her face in his shoulder, not caring for her injuries.

   "I know, love, I know... shh, it's all right, I'm here. I'll take care of you, Delenn, I swear, I'll never let anyone hurt you again. I'm so, so sorry..." His voice faded into tears, holding her tight and gently lowering his head to hers, trying to comfort her through the pain. He tried twice more to let her go, but each time she only clung tighter to him and vehemently denied the agony he knew she could feel.

   "Delenn, listen to me. Are you listening?" She nodded very slightly against his chest, biting back a soft moan when the angry gash protested their contact. "Okay. I know this is hard, I know you're scared, but if you don't lie down soon I'm going to end up hurting you. You've been through enough, I don't want that to happen. Come on," he gingerly reached around his neck and released her hand, gripping as firmly as he dared when she protested. "Delenn, be sensible. I'll still be here. I told you that and I meant it, but you're hurt and I don't think you realise how badly." The protests subsided for the moment and she allowed him to lower her back to the bed, under the light covers before daring to look around them. The room was larger than her previous cell, as far as she could see, but the darkness made it impossible to tell exactly.

   "John?" His name was almost a sob, fighting the terror of her memories. He was still there - *thank Valen,* she thought in relief - but the reassuring warmth of his body wasn't near enough to keep the cold darkness away and Delenn had to force down her fear. She remembered John coming to find her, holding her in the cell, promising that everything would be all right... She trusted him. No one else could have calmed her, but she trusted John's word: if he said she was safe then she believed it, no matter how confusing and terrifying her life was right now.

   "What's wrong?" He tenderly stroked her cheek, noticing the bruises and placing a feather-light healing kiss on each one before smiling down at her. "Tell me, sweetheart. I can't make it right if I don't know what it is." Delenn stayed silent for a while, partly too tired from crying to speak, and partly too frightened that anything she said might shatter the blanket of love he held around her. John waited, patient, simply holding her hand and awaiting her answer. Eventually she took a long breath to start, searching for words.

   "I'm scared," she whispered finally. She couldn't stand holding back the fear any longer: it was far too strong to stay in the back of her mind. "It's cold, and - too dark. I can't - can't help..." the tears came again, and she tried to wipe them away before Sheridan reached over and took her hand.

   "Keep still, honey. That's what the restraints were for - you got pretty banged up back there, but if you keep still everything will be fine. I'm sorry, I should have taken them off before you woke up." He smiled in apology, carefully wiping away the tears with the tips of his fingers. "That's it, it's okay.

   Computer," he glanced toward the screen, "bring the lights up. Slowly," he added at the rapid change as Delenn squeezed her eyes shut in pain. "Half lights okay for now?" She nodded slightly, grateful for the action as a shiver passed through her body. She could see where she was now: a medical facility somewhere, probably on a fleet ship. It made the fear subside, seeing that her surroundings were so different to the prison cell.

   "We're on the Agamemnon," he murmured quietly with a smile, noticing her distraction. It turned to a frown when she shivered again, trying to hold herself still the way he had asked. "Computer, what's the temperature in here?" John sounded vaguely annoyed, she noticed, though he was hiding it well.

   "It is currently sixteen point seven degrees Centigrade." Sheridan let out a low, inaudible growl.

   "Bloody doctors, they think they know everything. Computer, raise the temperature to twenty-seven degrees Centigrade and keep it constant. And give me control of the environmental systems in this room, access Sheridan omega four."

   "John!" The voice came from the door, and Delenn tensed in sudden panic as the portal slid open.

   "Easy, sweetheart. It's all right." He turned her head very gently toward him, caressing her cheek and carefully tracing the crown along her temple. "No one's gonna hurt you while I'm here." The computer made a sharp noise in confirmation of his changes, and Delenn fought to keep still at the sudden, if only slight, shock.

   "What the hell do you think you're doing?" The orderly was frowning in anger at him: Sheridan simply ignored her, paying attention to Delenn and no one else before Farrow laid a hand on his shoulder. Delenn flinched as if he'd touched her. Sheridan firmly lifted the hand away, all the time keeping a tight hold on hers and gently stroking her pale skin, reassuring.

   "It's all right, Delenn. This is Doctor Farrow, the one who's been treating you. This," he glanced back at the orderly with disdain, "I presume is someone who is no longer necessary?" He addressed the question to Farrow, who met his gaze for a moment and then nodded, gesturing for his subordinate to leave the room. She cast a glance at Sheridan for a moment, then nodded once to Farrow and turned. When the doors closed again, Delenn relaxed slightly: Farrow didn't seem to notice her tension while Sheridan was only aware from the tight, almost painful grip on his hand. It was obviously painful for her, but right now they both placed emotional comfort over the physical need to heal. Farrow glanced down at the contact for a moment, then smiled privately and turned his gaze to his patient. He reached out one hand to check the sealant on her cheek: Delenn fearfully backed away, fighting tears.

   "Delenn." Her eyes met Sheridan's, begging for him to make the newcomer go away. "It's okay, I promise." Seeing she wouldn't be convinced, he looked up at Farrow. "Give us a few minutes?" The doctor frowned slightly, then nodded and went back to the observation room. Sheridan turned back to Delenn and smiled reassuringly. "Better?" She nodded mutely, but the pain was clear in her eyes. "Too soon, huh?" He leaned over and kissed her gently, ever so lightly on the mouth. "When he comes back, I'll make sure that's the last time for a while. He just wants to check you over, that's all, it won't take long." Stroking her hair, he smiled when she nodded again. "Okay. After that it's just you and me, I promise. No one else."

 

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To submit a story, questions, or removal of your story please mail to fanfiction@jumpnow.de.