WHAT MAY BE REQUIRED OF YOU (II)
By Tamzin Grey
Delenn pelted towards the tunnel leading to the underground chamber. Everything was silent now, after the huge din which had sounded like an explosion, or an earthquake. At that instant she had found herself free, the lock on the door bursting open, the guards gone. She had begun to run almost blindly, instinct taking her straight to the centre of the explosion, straight to John.
Hardly slackening her pace, she negotiated the tunnel and the narrow stairway at the end and burst into the hall. The devastation which met her stopped her dead in her tracks. The place was wrecked, but more than that - the roof was entirely gone leaving the square chamber open to the sky, just another hollow among the surrounding mountains. Looking up in amazement she saw not just the sky blazing with stars, but the black silhouettes of the mountain peaks and the sharp pinnacles of rock which grew like stalagmites from the stony ground.
There were no Shadows in the hall. The only living being was John Sheridan, doubled up on the floor clutching his stomach, his right leg twisted under him at an unnatural angle. His face was grey and sweating under its two-day growth of beard, and he was breathing as if he had just run a hard race. She rushed over and crouched by his side.
"John! John, are you hurt?" Even as she said it she recognised the stupidity of the question. Of course he was hurt. It was obvious. He needed a doctor, someone of his own species, not a Minbari changeling who knew next to nothing about human bodies. The deserted hall and her unguarded cell told their own story, though. Whatever it was he had learned from Kosh, it had been enough. The Shadows were dead.
Sheridan's breathing wasn't getting any better and he was obviously in bitter pain. Delenn leaned closer. "What can I do for you?" she asked helplessly.
"Nothing.... Leave me.... Aaahhh...." He cried out, the pain seeming to overwhelm him for a moment, and she saw him dig his fingers into a crack in the stone floor. She caught his hand and clasped it to her breast. He gripped her fingers like a lifeline, and gradually seemed to get his breathing under some sort of control. "Sorry," he whispered. "Can you help me sit up? Against the wall, maybe?"
The wall was only a couple of paces away, but Delenn began to doubt if they would ever reach it. It was only this world's light gravity which made it possible at all. Sheridan was heavy, much heavier than she had realised, and could do frighteningly little to help himself. As she gently straightened his right leg he bit off a scream and buried his face in his hands.
It took nearly half an hour, but finally he was almost comfortable, propped half-sitting against the rock, his injured leg straight in front of him. Delenn fetched the only blanket from her pack, which was still where she had left it, and wrapped it round him, padding it between his shoulders and the cold stone. As far as she could tell the break in his leg was a clean one, below the knee, and the skin was unbroken. However his face was a dreadful colour and there was something very wrong about the way he was breathing. She sat back on her heels and regarded him with concern.
"If I could splint that leg somehow, and find you something to lean on, do you think you could move?" she asked dubiously.
"I don't know," he replied in a low voice. "I don't think it's just the leg. It got me here." He gestured to the left side of his abdomen. He was sitting slightly hunched, his arms crossed over his stomach in a guarding posture, his face twisted in pain. Delenn's alarm increased. Hesitantly, she unfastened his uniform. There was a bloodstain on his shirt, but it was fairly small and quite dry, and she could find no wound to correspond with it, only a large purpling bruise just below his left ribs. She had barely touched him, but she heard him draw in his breath sharply and saw beads of sweat stand out on his forehead.
"I think there's something wrong inside," he muttered through gritted teeth. Gently, she re-fastened his clothes against the cold night air and covered him over with the blanket.
What could she do? Unless he could be got out of this death-trap he would never get off the planet. The open air wasn't far away, in fact it was all around them, but the narrow, uneven stairway looked like an insuperable barrier. There was plenty rubbish around to make splints, and she selected a couple of metal rods and some strips of canvas and set to. Sheridan bore her ministrations without complaint, and after a while she achieved reasonable immobilisation of the limb. She found another rod, longer than the splints, and held it out to him.
"Do you think you can manage to stand?" she asked, without much confidence.
Even in the light gravity it was hopeless. Sheridan did his best, but was quite unable to get to his feet. He fell heavily back against the rock, sick, dizzy and gasping for breath. For a moment Delenn thought he had fainted, but he came to with a moan and began to cough, weakly and painfully. Thoroughly frightened, she crouched beside him and tucked the blanket back into place. After some time his breathing steadied, but his face was still grey and drawn and he was clutching his stomach once again.
"Delenn...." His voice cracked. He licked his dry lips and started again. "Delenn, I'm terribly thirsty. There was some water back in the gully I think was clean. Could you get me some?"
Stricken, Delenn sprang to her feet. Dare she leave him? But however serious his injury his condition seemed relatively stable, and he was clearly tormented by thirst. With a worried glance at his drawn features, she turned away. There were several containers lying around and she chose the biggest she could easily carry, a large jug.
As she negotiated the stairs, she wondered again how she could possibly get Sheridan up to ground level. If only Ivanova and Corwin would return! David Corwin's wiry strength would make all the difference. Surely, surely they would be here soon!
The gully was nearly half a mile away, and the stream still ran clear and unspoiled. She drank herself, then filled the jug and carried it carefully back to the hall.
* * * * * * *
By the time she returned Sheridan was perceptibly weaker. His skin was pale and clammy, his breathing was laboured and his eyes were clouded with pain. Nevertheless he smiled when he saw her, and reached gratefully for the water. He drank thirstily, and after a few moments Delenn began to wonder how much it was safe for him to have.
"Not too much, not too fast," she whispered, wondering if she should take the jug from him. However he relinquished it readily enough, nodding in agreement, and rested his head against the wall.
Delenn looked at him, frowning. She was inescapably reminded of the mad Soul Hunter and his attempt to bleed her to death. Before she had lost consciousness she had felt very much as Sheridan looked now. Was it possible for a human to lose so much blood without any outward sign? She supposed it was. It certainly looked as if he had some sort of abdominal injury. Internal bleeding? If so, was there any way to stop it? Might it stop of its own accord?
"How do you feel, John?" she asked gently.
"Not so bad," he replied, his voice faint. "It's not as bad as I was afraid it was going to be."
"What do you mean?" she asked, not understanding.
"Sebastian.... the Inquisitor.... said I would die alone, deserted by everyone. I wasn't looking forward to it much." He paused, and swallowed. "Delenn, for your sake I'm truly sorry you're here - but I'm so glad you're with me now."
Delenn choked back a sob. "You must not speak so," she whispered urgently. "Sebastian was crazy. You are not going to die. Ivanova will come and we will get you out of here."
Sheridan shook his head soberly. "I think I'm bleeding inside," he said slowly. "I've seen it before. I don't know if I can last until Susan gets back." He looked away from Delenn, up to the wide starry sky visible through the ruined roof. "Kosh told me I would die here," he said, "but I was determined to find Anna and kill the Shadow first." His eyes gleamed, and a real smile transformed his drawn features. "Delenn, I did it! It might not be enough, but at least you have a chance now." In spite of his pain and weakness Delenn realised there was a glow of triumph about him, the age-old glamour of the warrior who has tasted a victory so sweet that even death itself cannot diminish it. In that moment he looked peaceful, fulfilled, almost happy.
Tears filled Delenn's eyes, and she didn't trust herself to speak. However, Sheridan seemed to want to go on talking. He drew his good leg up to his chin, clasped his arms around it and leaned his forehead on his knee. His breathing seemed to become a little easier, and Delenn felt a stab of unbearable hope.
"When Anna was alive, and I took command of the Agamemnon, we hardly saw each other for nearly a year." His voice was little more than a whisper, but it was perfectly clear. "I missed her a lot, but I knew she was there for me, and she knew I was there for her, we were both in the same universe. Then, four years ago, I lost her. These four years were terribly hard. I didn't know it was possible to be so alone among so many people. I know this isn't reasonable, but I feel very close to her now." He paused, and rested his head back against the wall.
"You know, I feel I should feel guilty about last night, as if I'd betrayed her, but I don't," he continued slowly. "I don't know why, but it doesn't seem as if she would have minded at all. And yet we promised each other.... I don't understand." He shook his head.
"You promised to be faithful to each other so long as you both lived," Delenn replied calmly. "I have seen the human marriage vows, and they are not unlike those of my own people. It is a great mystery, John, but it is one your race accepts as much as mine. Our souls themselves are neither male nor female. Being a man or a woman is an attribute of the body, the shell which reflects the soul when it is bound within this universe of space and time. The particular love between a man and a woman can only exist when both are incarnate, and if one dies the other is free from these promises. Sometimes the mind finds this difficult to accept, but the soul always understands. I know it was hard for you, believing for so long that she might still be alive, but now you are free of that torment."
Sheridan grinned again. "You're right, it's difficult," he admitted ruefully. "I know she's gone, but I still keep wanting to tell her things, and wondering what she would think about anything and everything." His face grew serious. "Oh, Delenn, I loved her so much." He turned his head away for a moment, but Delenn could see him biting his lip.
"And you will love her again," she said serenely. "In the great journey there are souls who are drawn to each other and who travel together through lifetime after lifetime." She laughed. "Mr Garibaldi called it a cosmic sewing circle. When two souls have such a great love for each other as you and your wife, you cannot be separated. Whether it be now," she dropped her eyes for a moment, "or in a little while, you will be with her again."
Sheridan didn't answer. His faith had nothing to say on the subject, but in the face of Delenn's complete certainty he had never had the courage to argue with her. He sighed, and shifted his position as best he could to ease the relentless pain in his side. Breathing was becoming more and more uncomfortable, torn muscles pulling ruthlessly against what felt like broken ribs. Finally, he spoke again. "I wish I could think so, Delenn," he confessed. "But it feels wrong, somehow. I shouldn't be thinking about Anna and my own selfish desires at a time like this, I should...." Again his voice tailed off as he gasped for breath.
"Be thinking of higher things?" Delenn finished with a smile. "Yes, of course. But you're human. The universe - God, if you like - doesn't expect you to do the impossible. The love you feel for others, including Anna, is not some dreadful sin to be repented of, it is the very reason he has created so many of us. Rejoice in that love, John."
Sheridan turned his head to face her directly where she sat by his side. "What about you, Delenn?" he asked with sudden intensity. "Can I hope to meet you again, after - afterwards?"
"John, we have already travelled together for many lifetimes, on Minbar and, I think, on Earth," she said with absolute conviction. "You and I are old companions. Trapped here in space and time we do not remember these lives, but from the moment I first saw you in the Council chamber I knew that your soul and mine were inextricably linked. Perhaps we have more to accomplish together, or perhaps we have now completed our destiny. I do not know. One thing I do know, however. We will be together in the same place at the end of time, in the place where no shadows fall." An expression of great beauty transformed Delenn's face as she looked at him, her eyes filled with love.
Sheridan again fell silent. He seemed to be concentrating more and more simply on breathing, as his lifeblood slowly seeped from his veins and pooled uselessly in his belly. Delenn could now see beyond all doubt that he was worsening, and the knot of fear in her own belly tightened. For the hundredth time she wished she had something to ease his pain, but Londo had stripped her of all the medical supplies she had packed and she had nothing to give him. He began to cough again, but the effort was too much for him and he slumped back against the wall, his face set. His breath whistled painfully past cracked lips.
"Do you think I could have some more water?" he asked at length.
Delenn picked up the jug and gave it to him. He drank again, and finally gave it back to her almost three quarters empty. Perhaps it was the cold water, but she realised he was shivering. She sat back down beside him on the stone floor and put an arm around his shoulders.
* * * * * * *
In spite of her calm words Delenn's mind was a scream of pain and denial. A year ago she had given comfort as best she could as four thousand Markab people died around her of the Drafa plague, but the sorrow she had felt then had been nothing to the agonised grief of this solitary vigil over one dying human. Hardly able to admit it even to herself, she was deeply in love with John Sheridan - had been even before last night. Once again she damned Kosh and his cruel manipulation of them both, feeding John that forlorn hope that Anna might have survived, keeping the wound fresh. And now there was no time left. He had done what Kosh wanted him to do, possibly saved the entire galaxy, only to be thrown aside like a discarded toy.
The sight of his suffering was breaking her heart. The more laboured his breathing became the more each breath seemed to hurt him. He was no longer trying to speak; his teeth were gritted and she could see a film of sweat on his face. Delenn didn't speak either, there was nothing left to say, nothing left to do but to pray that Ivanova returned soon, and wait.
She embraced him gently, giving him the only comfort she could in the touch of her body against his own. With a deep sigh he laid his head against hers, and his shivering seemed to grow less.
For some time they sat together in silence, the only sound Sheridan's increasingly desperate breathing. The sky remained dark, and there was no sign of a ship. The air was cold and clear, sweet and fresh after the stale, recycled product on the space station, and curiously relaxing. In spite of her torment, or perhaps even because of it, Delenn felt her thoughts begin to wander. Her eyelids grew heavy and her head slid to the side, and eventually her mind found the only refuge it could, in sleep.
* * * * * * *
Sheridan kept his eyes open, in too much pain to sleep easily, and perhaps unwilling to waste the last few hours of his life in unconsciousness. Part of him was still floating on the euphoria of victory, a sense of pure triumph which lent him a strength beyond that of his broken body. But the price of that victory had been all he had, and more, and he knew the reckoning was still not complete.
For a long time he simply lay and watched the stars overhead with hopeless longing. And yet, if there was one place he would have chosen to be it was here, on the beautiful and terrible world where Anna's bones had been lying for the past four years. He had loved Anna almost beyond reason, and her death had left him desolate. His passionate declaration of intent to come here and find or avenge her had been met with Kosh's flat statement that if he did that, he would die. But fighting the Shadows was more than personal revenge, and in the end he had come with his eyes open. He had wished then that Kosh had kept his foreknowledge to himself. Now he began to understand what the warning had done for him. In his mind he had already been more than half prepared for this, and the letting go was just a little easier.
Hour by hour he grew weaker, and he could feel his life slowly ebbing away in his belly. He looked down at Delenn with affection. He hoped desperately that she was right, that in her belly another life was just beginning. He passionately wanted to live, to see her child - his child - born, to find out if he had made a difference, but as the time passed his last faint hopes of rescue slowly died. He knew now that even if Susan and David arrived at once, it would be too late for him. Breathing was taking all his strength; deep, hungry gasps as his body fought for oxygen, each one sending a stab of sickening pain through his side. His heart was hammering in his chest and he was growing colder and colder as his circulation gradually shut down. He was dreadfully thirsty again, but he had no strength left to reach the jug of water.
Delenn stirred in her sleep, her head sliding further down his chest, her arms tightening around his body as if to hold him with her forever. He knew he could wake her if things got too bad, but the comfort of her warm body against his own was too precious to relinquish and he left her undisturbed. A long strand of her dark hair had somehow draped itself across his jacket and become entangled in his status badge. He lifted a hand and gently stroked the hair, then the crest of Minbari shell on her head. He wasn't in love with Delenn, and yet he was desperately fond of her. Not for a moment did he regret having given in to her entreaties the night before. He had fully expected a disaster, himself celibate for over four years and Delenn a virgin, but it had been anything but. Quite a blaze of glory to go out on, really, to have known such soaring joy one last time, and seen Delenn's face transfigured by unimagined ecstasy. But she had chosen a hard road, and it looked set to become even harder. Neither Minbari nor human, rejected by both peoples, and carrying a human child. She was playing for high stakes. Maybe the Grey Council would never forgive her, but if there was light beyond these terrible days he hoped that she would find friendship, and somewhere to belong.
* * * * * * *
Perhaps his eyes closed, perhaps he slept for a few moments. Whatever the reason, he didn't see the flyer land. He heard uneven footsteps on the stairs and saw Susan Ivanova burst into the hall, her hair escaping from its plait, her jacket torn. Her right arm was hanging uselessly from her shoulder, and she held her PPG awkwardly in her left hand. She was alone. As her eyes took in the devastation, the scattered wreckage and the missing roof she gasped in astonishment. Then she saw Sheridan's deathly pallor and dreadful breathing, and turned pale in her turn.
Sheridan fought to calm his breathing. "Where's Lieu....tenant Corwin?" he managed to ask.
"David's dead." Her tone was abrupt, but her eyes were haunted by a memory of recent disaster.
Delenn started awake and stared disbelievingly at Ivanova. As the implications of the words sank in she pressed her knuckles to her mouth and choked back a sob. Sheridan's eyes closed in grief and regret. David Corwin had been young, bright and full of promise, and now he was dead at only twenty-three. Half his own age. Some tragedies were worse than others, it seemed.
Susan approached hesitantly. "How bad is it?" she asked in a low voice.
Sheridan was almost beyond speech, and after a moment Delenn answered. "Bad, I think," she said quietly. "I think he's bleeding inside. His right leg's broken as well."
Susan bit her lip, then stepped forward and knelt beside him. She didn't seem to be able to use her right arm, and Sheridan thought that was broken too. She put her PPG on the ground and began to prod around under his jacket with her left hand. He cried out in spite of himself, and turned his head away to hide the tears of pain.
"Ruptured spleen," Susan muttered, her face grave.
To Sheridan's immense relief she stopped prodding at his stomach. She took his icy hand in her own, then moved her fingers to his wrist, counting his racing, thready pulse. Finally she turned down an eyelid, assessing the colour.
"Oh, my God," he heard her mutter. She turned to Delenn. "How long since this happened?"
Delenn thought for a moment. "Six or seven hours, at least."
"Oh, my God," Susan repeated, appalled.
"Is there anything we can do for him?" Delenn asked.
"Here? No. His only chance is to get to a medical facility. He needs a transfusion and a splenectomy, in that order, now."
"How?" Delenn asked, already knowing the answer.
Susan looked from herself to Delenn to Sheridan and back again. Sheridan was tall, well over six feet, and solidly built. He probably weighed nearly as much as the two women put together. The thing was impossible. With four good arms between them they might have done it, in this low gravity. As things were - no. And not only that. They were still four or five hours from the White Star and its medical facilities, even at maximum burn. Sheridan didn't have four or five hours. She shook her head in despair. She knew she had no choice but to leave him and save Delenn, but with typical stubbornness she refused to accept it, casting round for ever wilder schemes to defy fate.
Sheridan's eyesight was still clear, and as he looked beyond Susan's head to the sky above he realised that the blackness was perceptibly less than it had been an hour ago. There wasn't much time left. He desperately wanted them to stay, not to be left alone, to have someone to touch at the last, but he knew it was too late for that. Delenn's safety, and Susan's too, were far more important than having someone to hold his hand for the next hour or two. He summoned up the entire remnants of his strength to speak to his second-in-command.
"Commander.... Ivanova...." he gasped, "I'm giving.... you a.... direct.... order. Take Am....bassador.... Delenn.... and get.... out.... of here. Now."
"Not without you!" she exclaimed in horror.
"Direct.... order. The Cen....tauri.... will be.... here any.... minute. GET.... DELENN.... OUT!" The last words were almost a shout. Susan's eyes widened in surprise, then narrowed as she focussed on him intensely. She was obviously scanning him. Consciously, he tried to push the pain and the fear to the back of his mind and concentrated on all the things he wanted to tell her - about Valen, Jeff Sinclair, the Vorlons, the Shadows, Jason Ironheart, and most of all about Delenn and the child, and how important it was that she should survive. It wasn't very coherent, but he saw comprehension dawn on her face. She turned spontaneously to Delenn, who was crying quietly to herself, and hugged her with her one good arm. Delenn buried her face in Ivanova's shoulder and sobbed inconsolably.
"We have to go," he heard Susan say quietly. "We've got to get out of this system before the Centauri arrive." Delenn didn't respond. "Delenn, he's dying. He's bleeding to death. We can't help him. He can't last another hour, whatever we do. Do you want to throw away your own life as well?" Delenn choked back her tears and shook her head.
Ivanova turned back to Sheridan and frowned in concentration as she scanned him again. This time he was less successful in concealing the agony and he saw from her face she had picked up more than he was comfortable with. She immediately bent down to the water jug and tried to offer it to him, awkwardly one-handed. Delenn took it from her and held it to his lips. Drinking was even more difficult than speaking, but his thirst was so great he managed to finish what was left in the jug, spilling very little. It wasn't really enough, but it helped.
Delenn remained for a moment kneeling beside him, until she was sure he could hear. "Goodbye, John," she said gravely. "I will see you in a little while, as I promised, in the place where no Shadows fall."
He could barely move, but suddenly he knew what he had to do, to give Delenn something of himself for the future, to acknowledge the baby she was carrying. He managed to get his frozen fingers to his jacket pocket, where Anna's wedding ring still nestled. He pulled it out and took hold of Delenn's left hand, fumbling it on to her ring finger. It was too big for her, but that made it easier to get on. When she realised his intention she pushed it over her knuckle herself, then clasped his hands in hers, her head bowed.
"Goodbye...." he whispered. The tears in his eyes were no longer entirely due to the pain. This was difficult. Why couldn't they just go? As if sensing his thought, Delenn silently stood up and turned towards Ivanova.
Goodbye, Captain. That was Susan, speaking directly to his mind for the last time as she almost bundled Delenn towards the stairs. A few minutes later he heard the engines of the flyer start up then saw it cross overhead, the pilot flying deliberately low in a final salute. In another moment it was gone.
* * * * * * *
He was alone. Sebastian had not been so wrong after all. But he did not feel deserted, or friendless. Ivanova and Delenn were two of the truest friends anyone could wish for, and the entirely unexpected gift of a future son or daughter was a joy in his heart. He realised that Ivanova had, by accident or design, left her PPG lying on the ground just beside his left hand. If the Centauri craft landed soon, it might be good to have a weapon. He knew there was another possible use for one, but pushed the thought away. He had managed to bear his last ordeal this far, and he could bear it to the end. He hoped it wouldn't be long now. The long struggle for breath had exhausted him and the unrelenting pain was wearing him down. He was terribly cold. He was glad he had lived to see Ivanova again, and know that Delenn was safely out of this place, but he had no desire to be found alive by the Centauri. There was probably very little they could do to hurt him now, but he simply didn't want to give Londo the satisfaction.
Dawn had begun in earnest. The jagged mountain peaks and the graceful spires of rock stood out black against the lightening sky. The stars were disappearing, forever. Sheridan began to pray, or perhaps he had been praying for some time, readying his soul for what was to come. He tried hard not to think about Anna, but it was impossible. Had she seen this planet's dawn before she died? The sky was a most beautiful turquoise blue, dotted with surreal cloud-shapes of pink and gold. As the yellow sun rose towards the horizon, long bars of white fire shot across the heavens. The desolate, beautiful landscape was bathed in morning light.
No longer fighting for breath, Sheridan lay and watched the cleft in the mountains where the sun would appear. The brightness grew and grew, until at last the edge of the blazing white disc rose into sight. It should have hurt him, but either his vision was fading at the last, or he was somehow able to stare into the heart of a star without pain. He seemed to see a bright form reaching out to him - nothing at all like Kosh, nothing like a Vorlon. Without effort he reached out and touched the fingers.
When the Centauri ships arrived on the planet an hour later to collect their prisoners they found only the body of Sheridan Starkiller, lying peacefully in the sunlight.
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