In the absence of any new fanfic, since everyone seems to have moved over the MA site, I post this. I think I have now finally accepted that I am completely obsessed by the whole 20 years and past, stuff. We all know I'm an old fashioned romantic (any more old fashioned and I'd be gathering dust and work on cylinders!), and I just HAD to do something for Delenn. The nice thing about the B5 universe is you can get away with this.
I can't explain some of what happened. This is simply the way the story told itself. Some of it doesn't make sense, but then, on the large scale, NONE of it makes sense, so I'm not going to quibble over details.
Usual disclaimers. Joe's characters, my plot, rest subject to change without notice.
The anniversary. A special one, of sorts. Twenty years since he had left her. Twenty years of carrying on without him. Twenty years. Delenn sighed and rolled over in the bed. The years weighed heavily. Just this once she would forego the dawn. She couldn't face it. Not this morning. She wrapped the sheets more tightly around her and closed her eyes, willing the day away. She had no meetings, no one to see and nothing special to do. Not that this had been organised, it had just happened that way. David was Captain aboard White Star 64, a ship he called (in memory of a book he had read as a child) The Dawntreader. Ivanova was at the Anlashok training camp for the ceremony to welcome the new rangers. There was no one else. A meeting she had thought would fall on this day had been cancelled when the matter had been resolved quicker than she could have hoped. More and more the worlds were pulling together. That, at least, the ISA had achieved. Without meetings, without the need for security beyond the basic guards outside the doors, she'd dismissed the staff. They'd earned a break. She was alone in the big house.
Delenn sighed and buried her head in the pillows. No dawn, not today. She wanted to feel him but not like that. It was good to speak to him each morning, but as the rays hit the balcony he vanished like the mist, a constant reminder that he had gone from her life.
Yet as the moment approached she found herself stirring. Habits died hard and twenty years of dawns tugged on her mind. She tried to ignore the call but she could not. Sighing she surrendered to the inevitable, rose, dressed quickly and walked out onto the balcony. She sky was already growing light and she composed herself on the bench. As she sat she felt his presence beside her. She sighed.
'I miss you.'
'Twenty years. When you were here it went so swiftly. Now each day without you feels like an eternity.'
'It's going to be a perfect day.'
She nodded as the sun slowly rose over the horizon. She turned to watch him fade but, amazingly, he didn't. Her heart skipped a beat as he turned to her and smiled.
'A perfect day,' he repeated.
'J..John?' She was confused.
'Don't ask. Let's not waste the time we have.'
Hesitantly, but with more and more assurance she touched him, pressed her shaking fingers against his arm, his chest, his face, her touches becoming more fevered as her hands reinforced what her eyes were telling her. She should have flinched when he proved solid. He was gone, she knew that, but not now. Not this day. He stood and, reaching out to her, took her hand in his own -- a warm, real touch. By some miracle he was with her, and she stood and let him pull her into his arms. She felt him hold her tightly to him. Her head buried against his chest heard the steady beat of his heart and felt the rising and falling as he breathed. She revelled in the feeling. She had experienced this in her dreams so many times. Was she still asleep? She hugged him tighter, inhaling the scent so unique to him. No dream had been this real, as much as she had wished them so. She pulled back and gazed wide-eyed in wonder, shaking her head and smiling while idly stroking her fingers across his Anlashok uniform.
'How long?' she asked at last, dreading the answer.
'Just for today. Just until the sun sets.' Tears welled up in her eyes and he gently wiped them away. 'It's not as long as I want, but it's all I could have. Is it enough?'
She nodded, not trusting herself to speak. It was more than she could have hoped for. She gently stroked her hand over his cheek. He turned his face into her palm, his eyes never leaving hers for a moment. The movement was so small, but she remembered, so many years ago, before she went into the Markab quarters, how he'd turned in just that way, knowing she was walking into danger. She ran her fingers over his lips and felt him kiss the tips. Gently he turned her in his arms and together they walked back into the building.
He paused in the lounge and looked around. 'You haven't changed a thing.'
'No. I liked it the way we had it. I saw no reason to change.'
He pointed to an old clock on the mantelpiece. 'I thought you hated that?'
'I hated the way it marked off the seconds of your life. Sometimes, when I was in here alone, the ticking seemed to drive nails into my mind.'
He walked over and looked at the clock. The hands were still. 'It's not wound up.'
'It stopped. Twenty years ago. I did try to wind it up once, but it refused to work. After a while I didn't want to change it. It seemed...right, somehow.' She smiled at a memory. 'David tried to fix it once. I wouldn't let him move the hands but he looked inside it for ages. He couldn't see anything wrong. It just didn't want to work anymore.'
He chuckled. 'It's a clock, Delenn. It doesn't have feelings. Probably some dirt in the mechanism you can't see.' He picked it up but she reached over and stilled his hand before he could open the front.
'Please, don't. I like it that way.'
He hesitated for a moment and then smiled indulgently and put it back, adjusting it so it occupied the very same position on the mantel. He took a deep breath and looked around. 'Just like I remember.'
'It hasn't changed, and neither have you.' She looked for a moment at her hands. The signs of age were creeping up on her. 'I have,' she said quietly.
He took her hands in his own, letting his thumb slide over the backs of them. 'No, you haven't. Not where it counts. You're still the woman I fell in love with.' He pulled her into his embrace, linking his hands around her back and then looking down at her. 'I love you.'
Such simple words. Three words that meant more to her than anything else in the world. He pulled her against his body and rested his chin on her head.
For a moment they just stood there, until he felt she was shaking. He pulled back and looked at her, concerned.
'I don't understand. I must be dreaming. This cannot be real.'
He stroked her hair and held her again. 'Shh. It's real. I'm real. You're not dreaming.'
'No questions, remember?'
'Shh. Think of it...think of it as a version of the Brakiri Day of the Dead if that'll make it easier.'
'But you're not dead, are you?' It was less a question and more a statement. He shook his head.
'Not the way you mean it, no. Life is more than breaths in a body and heartbeats. There's so much more waiting for us. I've only just begun to explore.'
A thought struck her. 'Am I...? Is my time here?'
'No. Not yet. Not for a while.'
Her eyes reflected pain as she saw the years without him stretch before her. 'I can't do this, John. I try. Every day I get up, speak to you in the dawn light, and go about my business. And every night when I fall asleep I return to you in my dreams. I feel as though a part of me died when you went away. I'm just a shell waiting to finally lay down the burden. I get so tired. And so lonely. Even with David...He's always working with the Anlashok. We don't see each other much except over the comm links. There's no one I can talk to. Not the way we used to talk.' She looked over at a photograph on the mantel and John followed her gaze. David, proudly sporting his Anlashok uniform, probably from the day he was first commissioned. 'You'd be proud, John. He's so like you.'
'He must drive you crazy sometimes, then.'
She nodded. 'Sometimes.'
'You could find someone else, you know.' The second he said it he knew he shouldn't have. She stiffened in his arms and pulled back, shaking her head vehemently.
'Never, John. Don't...'
'I wouldn't mind. You should have someone. You shouldn't be alone.'
'I'm not, not like that. I miss the other half of my soul. No one could take your place.'
'I've seen your tears. I've wanted to hold you so many times. I had to find a way. But you've got to move on. You can't bury yourself like this.'
'Please. Let's speak no more of this. I can't do what you ask. You know that.'
He sighed and nodded. There was no point in arguing with her. Over the years he'd learned to see into her soul. The depth of love he found there frightened him. No one deserved to be loved so much. Yet he knew if she could see his own soul she'd find just as much there for her. He shook his head in wonder at the miracle that they'd found each other in a universe so vast. Some things, he decided, were just meant to be. He looked down into her eyes, dark with emotion, willing him to understand. He gave her a small smile. 'I know,' he said quietly, his voice a rumble in his chest. She clung to him. 'I know,' he repeated. 'Shh. I won't ask again.'
Another pause. Finally she pulled back and quickly wiped a stray tear from her cheek. 'I have some breakfast. If...'
'Good idea.' It would break the tension, and they didn't have time for anything that held them apart. Besides, he suddenly found the idea of real food inviting. He discarded his cloak, placing it over the back of the settee, and followed her.
They sat down in the dining room and Delenn served up the breakfast. Each time she turned away she was drawn back to him, fearing he would disappear when she turned her back, but he remained and over the meal she started to relax. He ate heartily and she shook her head in amusement.
'For someone who isn't really here, you're eating enough for a legion!'
'It's been a while. I didn't realise how much I missed food.' He looked up steadily. 'And I am here. Really here.'
She shook her head and sat down, drinking her tea. 'I know. I'll wake up and find I'm still in bed and this has been a wonderful dream. And I'm loving every minute of it.' She chuckled and sipped again.
Sheridan considered his plate for a moment. He finished the mouthful on his fork, took a gulp of coffee and then stood up, standing behind her chair. She looked up at him.
'Finish your tea.'
He nodded at the cup. 'Finish your tea,' he repeated, his tone almost a command. She downed the last of it and put the cup down, curious. As soon as she did so he pulled her to her feet, scooped her up in his arms and carried her to the bedroom.
'I'm going to prove to you I'm here.'
He laid her down on the bed and took off his uniform waistcoat and top. He undid her shoes and slipped them off, putting them on the floor to be joined by his own a few moments later. Gently he undid her broach and helped her out of her tunic and dress. She stared at him, not believing until at last they were in bed together and she could feel his body pressed against her own: warm, aroused and as exciting to her as she had always remembered.
Their lovemaking was gentle and slow. Not the impassioned headlong rush of their first years of marriage, nor the desperate touch of their last night together. These were the deliberate, tender rhythms of two people who know each other so well they move in symphony together. He awakened feelings and sensations she'd thought long past her capacity. She responded in kind, feeling the rush of joy as they came together in an orgasm that went beyond their bodies and took them into another world. When they had finished he waited until she had recovered herself and then made love to her again. After the third time she was laughing.
'All right! You're here!'
'Do you believe me now?' He was looking down at her, their bodies still joined and his chest glistening with the sweat of exertion.
She reached up and swept away a greying lock of hair that had fallen across his face, smiling in wonder. 'I believe you. I don't know how or why, but I believe you.' She felt him push deeper into her causing a spasm inside her.
'You're sure?' His eyes glinted with amusement.
She nodded, grinning broadly. 'Absofragginlutely!'
Laughing he carefully lowered himself onto her and then rolled her so they were on their sides. She hooked one leg over him and kissed his throat, rising to his lips to finish the joining of their bodies. The sensation of his tongue exploring her mouth, the taste and smell of him; whatever this was, however it had happened, it was no dream. She sighed and leaned back as he finally slipped from inside her.
He stroked his fingers tenderly over her throat and chest, rising to the swell of her breasts and then bent to kiss between them. She pressed his head to her, caressing the shorter hair at the back of his neck. As his lips moved across her body she arched her back in delight and then laughed.
'Enough! I said I believe you.'
His eyes sparkled as he looked up at her but he continued his ministrations. She shook her head.
'I'm exhausted, but I don't want to sleep. I don't want to waste any of our time together.'
He turned serious. 'A little while won't hurt. I'll still be here, and I'll wake you. I don't want to waste any time either.'
'You promise?' There was concern in her face.
'I promise. I'm selfish. I don't plan to squander a minute.'
She nodded and rolled over, sighing softly as he wrapped his arms around her and held her against him. Idly she stroked the hairs on his arm for a moment before closing her eyes and falling asleep.
He didn't sleep. He watched her, smiling at the glow of happiness that surrounded her. He could see it now. He could see so much more than he had before. He delighted in her presence and the familiar feel of her body against his. He let his eyes rove over her, imprinting ever dip and rise and unconscious movement into his mind. After a while he felt a familiar touch in his mind and smiled.
/Is it enough?/ the voice asked.
/It has never been done before./
/I know. Is that any reason why it shouldn't be done again?/
/You cannot come back./
/You said that before. It didn't stop me./
/The universe cannot tolerate so much interference./
/Then the universe shouldn't have brought us together./ The other voice sighed. /You said this was a 'remarkable illusion' as I recall. Does it look like an illusion to you?/
/It is remarkable, but, as you say, no longer an illusion./ He could almost see the First One smile and shake his head like an indulgent father to a recalcitrant but determined son. /You always break the rules./
/What are they for, but to be broken occasionally?/ He gently kissed her shoulder and felt her squirm in his embrace, snuggling more tightly against him.
/It will hurt her when you leave. It will be a long time before this can happen again, if ever. Do you want to hurt her so much?/
/She's been hurting since the day I left. If I can give her hope then the hurt will lessen. To love someone is to feel pain. We can't divorce the two, they're inseparable./
/You have learned that much?/
/A long time ago, my friend./
Sheridan held her and watched the sun rise in the sky through the window of the bedroom.
/Don't waste the time you have. It is little enough./
/I know. I'm not wasting it. Soon I'll wake her. She needs this as well./
/You are trying to fit a lifetime into a day./
/Greater miracles have happened./
/Be ready when the sun sets./
/I will be./
/She'll never be ready, but she knows. There's nothing she can't handle. And I'll be there in the dawn tomorrow. As you said, it's little enough, but it helps./
The mind of the First One faded and Sheridan looked down once more and gently stroked his fingers over her cheek. 'Delenn?'
She stirred but didn't wake. He smiled and shook her gently. 'I know you need to sleep, but I don't want your fury if you sleep too long.'
Her eyes shot open. 'How long...?' There was a hint of panic in her voice.
'Shh. Only a couple of hours. We've still got the day ahead of us, and you needed that. How about a walk in the private garden, hmm? It's been a long time since I walked there with you.' She nodded but her movements were reluctant. 'What?'
'Can we come back here, later?' Her voice was hesitant, almost like a child seeking permission. He grinned and kissed her soundly.
'I fully intended to, whether you wanted to or not!'
'As if I wouldn't!' She punched him playfully and for a moment they struggled together until he had her arms pinned above her head. The laughter turned serious and he paused and then slowly lowered his hands, releasing her and staring into her eyes. Suddenly, impulsively, he gripped her tightly, covering her with kisses that held a desperate edge to them. She responded but his anxiety frightened her. Between his kisses he murmured his love for her, how much he wanted to stay with her.
'John...John. Shh. Please.' Her hands were shaking. She felt him start to cry and she wrapped her arms tightly around him.
'I never wanted to leave you. You know that.' He fought to get the words out.
'I know. I never wanted you to go.'
'So much I still wanted to do...I tried to prepare. Tried to fit it all in...Too much...I knew there'd be a price. Kosh warned me, but I had to do it...I didn't want to hurt you...didn't want to leave you.'
'Shh.' She rocked him gently, trying to give him a strength she knew she didn't have. Her own tears fell. He hadn't let her grieve on the day he left and she'd fought to hold the tears in for his sake. Now she let them flow with his.
After a while he pulled himself together and just held her. Carefully wiping away the tears before she saw them, even knowing it was a pointless gesture, he pulled back and shook his head. 'I'm sorry. I shouldn't have done that. It's hard for both of us. Perhaps Lorien is right. Perhaps I shouldn't have come back...'
'No! I'm glad you did.' The vehemence with which she spoke left him in no doubt he'd made the right decision. 'Lorien was wrong. This is the best gift I could have had. And...' she hesitated and he waited for her to finish. There was a long pause and then... 'I never really forgave you, you know.'
'For not letting me go with you at the end. You turned off all the recorders as well. We didn't know what happened to you. All we found was an empty ship. Why, John? Why did you turn everything off?'
He shook his head. 'Too much noise. I was tired. I didn't want to hear the machines telling me I was dying. All those alarms and signals being sent off to call for help. There was no help for me by then. I just wanted to go quietly.' His voice dropped to a near whisper as he remembered that day. 'Just wanted to fall asleep.'
'What happened? Can you tell me now?'
'In the garden. Not here. I need to feel the sun on me and feel the ground beneath my feet. I'll tell you out there.' She frowned at him and he smiled a little sadly. 'Please?'
After a pause she nodded and together they dressed and walked into the garden.
This was the private section of the grounds, accessed only by passing through the public sections which were guarded, so there was no one to observe them as they walked. The guards were at the front of the building and patrolled the outer walls and, so far as they were aware, Delenn was alone today. She'd asked to be left that way when she learned the day was free, and they were determined she would get her wish. They all knew what day it was. She'd earned a little peace and quiet, just this once.
They walked arm in arm through the garden. Sheridan admired the plants, gasping when he saw how high a tree he'd planted 20 years before had grown. It was healthy and strong and, amazingly, in full bloom.
'What's going on?' he said, staring in amazement. 'I thought this thing should bloom in the spring?'
'It should, but it's always bloomed this time of the year. Like the clock, I think it misses you.' She smiled as he raised his eyebrows.
'Delenn...' he began, giving her one of those 'that's just plain silly' looks.
She pointed to the tree. 'You explain it, then.'
He shook his head. 'Beats the hell out of me.' He took a deep breath. 'A bit balmy for this time of year isn't it?'
'Yes. I'm glad. It wouldn't have been so pleasant walking out here otherwise.'
They settled onto one of the benches and he rested his fists on his knees and just drank in the sights and scents around him. She didn't say anything but he could sense her waiting and so, at last, he turned to her and took a steadying breath.
'I was fading. I could feel everything switching off piece by piece. It wasn't painful or anything. I just wanted to sleep. And...' he paused and looked at her, taking her hands in his own. 'You're gonna think this is strange but I could feel you with me. I knew I wasn't alone. Does that make any sense?' She nodded. 'You too?'
Another nod. 'I was in bed and it was so empty without you. Then I could sense you. I can't explain it. I just knew it was you.'
He gave her a half smile and squeezed her hands. 'I was ready. Everything was dark and I just wanted to stop. Then there was a light and Lorien was there.' He shook his head in wonder. 'I had a feeling he'd turn up, but I didn't want to bet on it. I was ready either way. But when he arrived I thought maybe...just maybe I can get back. Maybe there's a way. I asked him but he said no, that this journey was over and I had another one to begin. I didn't want to but, somehow, I knew it'd be OK. I just had to trust him. When I turned around there was light everywhere and I could look into it. It didn't hurt but I was looking into a sun, and really seeing it for the first time. It was one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen.' He shook his head. 'It's silly, because I know there's no sun there. Nothing close enough for that, but it was there. And then I just...' he shook his head again, trying to make sense of what he'd seen. 'I closed my eyes and then I wasn't there anymore. I didn't feel tired or worn out or anything like that. Everything just...changed.' He stopped and Delenn waited for a while to see what he would say next. When he didn't speak she nudged him.
'What happened next? Where did you go?'
'I can't explain it. I wish I could but you wouldn't understand. It's not like anything I can put into words. It just....*is*.' He shrugged his shoulders indicating he couldn't describe it any better than that. 'But you'll understand. One day we'll be together there. You'll see. The place where no shadows fall you called it. That's the best description I've ever heard. No shadows of any kind. Not physical, not mental, no secrets, no terrors...it all just makes sense. And I'm still learning. It's all there, I just have to look. I've seen a lot already but there's so much more. More than I could have imagined. You said to me once that we're the universe trying to figure itself out. You were right, but it's all wrapped up together. You can't separate things off. They all run into each other and yet, somehow, they're all independent as well. So many souls, so many parts but they're all the same part. All facets of the one thing.' He screwed up his face, struggling with the words. 'Does that make *any* sense?'
She nodded and smiled. 'Yes. Perfect sense.'
He snorted. 'I might have known you'd understand it better than I can. I understand it when I'm there...when I'm a part of it. It's not so clear here.'
'Everywhere. It's here and it's there at the same time, but there isn't any time. Not really.' He paused and rubbed his forehead. 'God, I sound like one of those mystics! Sorry.' He took her hands again and held her eyes. 'But I'm here with you, even when you can't see me. I'm always with you, Delenn. Always.'
'I know. Sometimes...sometimes it's as though I can feel you beside me, watching everything that's happening. When David graduated it was so strong I thought everyone but me could see you. I knew you were proud of him.'
'Always. Just like I'm proud of his mother.' He kissed her and wrapped his arm around her shoulders. 'Who I love very much.' They sat there for a time and then stood up as the wind blew chill. As they walked back to the house he saw a branch that had been carelessly snapped off the tree by someone passing. He bent down and picked it up, turning it in his fingers to admire the buds waiting to burst forth. Then he carefully dug a hole in the ground and stood the branch up in it, pressing the earth firmly around the base. 'It'll probably die,' he said, wiping the dirt from his hands, 'But you never know. If it grows it'll make a nice spot over here in the summer.' He took a last look around and together they walked back into the house.
They ate a light lunch, chatting all the time. It wasn't so much a need to exchange stories -- John knew all that Delenn had been doing -- it was just the chance to talk and laugh together again. He didn't offer any further information about what had happened to him and Delenn didn't ask. He'd made it plain there was nothing more that could be said that would be understandable. There was one question, however, that she couldn't hold back.
'How are you here? You said Lorien told you this wouldn't happen. How did you do it?'
'You know me,' he said lightly. 'Never could take 'forget it' for an answer.'
'I know, I know. I waited and I learned, and after a while I learned that nothing is impossible if you want it enough. You taught me that before but I didn't think it could apply anywhere else. This just seemed too big. And in a way it is, but in another way it isn't. It just depends on how you look at it.' He gave her a half smile, indicating there wasn't much more he could offer that would make sense.
'Can this happen again?'
'Not for a long time. Maybe never. But I'll try. I promise you I'll try.'
'It's all I can ask.' She stared into her glass for a long time and Sheridan looked up with the fork halfway to his mouth. Seeing her look he lowered the fork and then dropped it back on the plate.
'What is it?' he asked.
'Could you...I was thinking about David. Is there any way you could talk to him? Let him know...?'
'I'm not sure any recording devices would pick me up.' He sighed. This was complicated. 'I AM real, Delenn, but I'm not real in the sense that, well, for instance this plate is real. It's all about energy. The plate is energy as well, but energy in a particular form, a form that the vid recorders and the rest can detect and record. I'm not in the same form.' He shook his head. 'I sound like I'm some kind of ghost!'
'But you're eating and you planted that tree outside.'
'The energy I'm using planted the tree, and it's transforming the food into the same form, but what you see is what your mind understands. The machines see what's to be seen under normal circumstances. These circumstances aren't normal.' He sat back and thought for a while. 'I don't think I can register on the vid screen, but the sound recorders I might be able to get working. Frankly, a pen and paper would probably work better. And it would use less energy. I've got a limited amount...not much room for manoeuvre. If I use it to send David an audio message I might not be able to stay here until sunset.' He looked hard at her. 'If you really want me to, I'll try, but...ah hell. He's my son and I miss him, but I came here to see you. I don't want to lose a minute of my time with you. I'm being selfish, I know.' He stared at his plate, shaking his head. Delenn quietly got up and stood behind him, crossing her hands over his chest.
'If that's being selfish, then I'm as selfish as you are. A letter would do. He'll understand I'm sure.'
'He'll think you've gone crazy.'
'Then I won't tell him when it was written. I'll just say you left it for him and now's the time to give it to him.' She kissed the top of his head. 'But I think it would help him, John. He watched all the vids you left him. He takes a copy of them with him everywhere. He misses you.'
Sheridan nodded. 'Get me something to write on, then.'
Delenn found some paper and John's favourite pen, given to him as a gift by the crew of Babylon 5 so many years ago. It still worked and John bent to his task, pausing sometimes to look at Delenn or gaze out of the window. When at last he was done he carefully folded the paper, put it in an envelope and addressed it, and then sealed it up. Delenn looked at him curiously. 'You'll get to read it, don't worry,' he reassured her with an enigmatic smile. He got up and rested the paper behind the clock and then turned to look out of the window. The afternoon sun was lowering in the sky. A few more hours at most. She followed his gaze and, when he reached out his hand to her, stood and joined him. Together they walked back to the bedroom. 'I keep my promises, Delenn,' he smiled, slipping her tunic from her.
When at last they finished they curled up together. This time Delenn refused to rest. With so little time left to them she wouldn't waste it in dreams. And so they lay in each other's arms, speaking in low voices not wanting to spoil the moment. As the sun lowered Sheridan sighed.
'It's nearly time.'
She nodded, suppressing the shudder of fear that passed through her. 'I know.'
'I'll come to you in the dawn. I'll always be here, Delenn. I'll never leave you. Meet me in the dawn?'
She nodded. 'Today, I almost didn't. You've given me the strength to carry on. I didn't want to. I even...' she paused, hesitant to admit what she had been considering. He turned and stroked his fingers through her hair.
'You even what?'
'I even thought about performing the Serach'dum.'
Sheridan stared in horror and then held her tightly to him, shaking his head. 'Don't. Don't even think about it. Promise me, Delenn. Promise me you won't.'
'PROMISE ME!' He pulled back, shaking her. 'Never. Don't even think about it.'
'It's painless, and I could be with you again.'
'What about David? What about all those who love you...who need you?'
'Don't I deserve some happiness?' Her eyes were sparkling with unshed tears. 'I've done my duty. More than my duty. Haven't I earned a little peace at last?'
'Yes, you've earned your peace, but not like that. The universe doesn't work that way. Oh dear god! Tell me my coming back didn't put this idea in your head.'
'No. I've been thinking about it for a while.'
'Well stop thinking about it. Please, Delenn. I didn't die, remember that. If you did that I don't know if I could ever find you again. Do you understand me?! We might never see each other again.' He pulled her against him again, his own tears falling onto her shoulder. 'Never again. I couldn't bear that. Promise me.'
'But I will die, one day. Will I never see you after that?'
'I'll find a way. There's always a way, but not if you do that. When the universe is ready it opens a door and I'll be waiting on the other side. But if you...' He couldn't say the word, it stuck in his throat. 'It's not the same. It doesn't work the same way. You lose yourself completely, scattered to the winds. I might never find enough of you to bring you back. Oh god what have I done?!'
'It's all right, John. I promise, I won't. Not now. You were right to come back. You stopped me. If you hadn't...' He was shaking and she held him trying to calm him. 'I won't. I promise you I won't. Never. Shh. I didn't want to frighten you. I didn't understand. Please...don't let's end like this. Not now.' She cursed herself. It had been a stupid thought, born out of loneliness and fear of the future. But now she could see her future and she found it didn't seem so bad any more. He was with her, would always be with her, and with that knowledge she could face anything.
She looked up and saw the sun nearing the horizon. So little time left. 'John. Listen to me. I'll be here, waiting for you, for as long as I have to. Promise you'll wait for me? Promise you'll be there when the door opens? Please?'
He nodded. 'I'll be there. I'll always be there for you. I'll wait as long as it takes.' He pushed her hair back and kissed her fiercely, savouring the touch. When he pulled back he looked over his shoulder, staring with a mixture of sadness and anger at the lowering sun. At last he sighed in acceptance and got up, putting on his clothes. She dressed quickly and followed him out onto the balcony. As the sun began to drop behind the crystal spires he pulled her into his arms for one final touch. 'I'll come back. One day, I promise you, I'll come back and we'll be together again. I love you. Never forget that.'
'I love you, and I'll wait for you.'
'Meet me in the dawn.'
'I will.' He crushed her to him and then began to fade until she was standing alone once more. 'John? JOHN!!!!!!!!!' She fell to her knees, sobbing as the sun finally set and the stars came out.
She knelt there in the evening chill for over an hour, crying for him. Ivanova, returning from her meeting, heard her sobs and rushed out to the balcony.
'Delenn? Oh my god, Delenn, what happened?!'
'John. He was here. He was here with me. I held him.'
Ivanova stared around her. The balcony was empty except for Delenn. She knelt by her friend and held her, summoning the guards. When one arrived she looked up sharply.
'Has anyone been here today?'
'No, Anlashok'na. No one.'
'Are you sure?'
'I'm sure. We've been on duty all day. No one has entered or left the building.' The guard stared in bewilderment at Delenn, still sobbing in Ivanova's arms. 'Anlashok'na, President Delenn, has something happened? I don't understand...'
Delenn struggled to get herself under control. This was wrong. She shouldn't be crying. Something wonderful had happened and now she was scaring people and spoiling what she'd had. She shook her head and took a deep breath.
'No. I'm sorry. I'll be all right.'
Ivanova stared at her. 'You're sure?'
She took another breath and nodded, smiling though her eyes were still blurred and her cheek damp with tears. 'I'm sure. Everything will be all right.' She stood with Ivanova's help and turned to the guard. 'I'm sorry, I shouldn't have behaved so poorly. Forgive me.'
'There is nothing to forgive.' The guard bowed and left quietly.
Ivanova wrapped her arm around Delenn's shoulders and guided her back into the lounge. She made some tea and offered a cup to Delenn who took it with shaking hands. Ivanova waited until her friend seemed to be more in control of herself before speaking.
'What happened?' she said at last.
'He was here, Susan. I swear to you.'
'The guard says no one entered today. You were alone.'
'No. Not alone. I'm never alone. I wanted to believe that before, now I'm sure. He's with me, Susan. Every day he's by my side. But today, today a miracle happened and for a short while we were together again. I could feel him, touch him.'
'Delenn. It's the anniversary. You've been working hard. Sometimes I think you work too hard.'
Delenn smiled. 'You think I'm mad.'
'No. Never that. I think you're over-tired. I think I shouldn't have left you alone today.'
'No. It was right. I'm not sure if...Perhaps he could only come because I was alone. We talked and walked in the garden, we made love. Oh Susan. It's been so long since he touched me, but it was all exactly as I remember it. We even ate together!' She laughed that such a simple act could mean so much. Ivanova looked over Delenn's shoulder at the dining room table, visible through the doors. The settings were laid out for two as usual -- Ivanova often ate with Delenn -- but there was no evidence that anyone had eaten there today. The plates were clean and the table undisturbed.
'Delenn. No one's eaten today. Not even you. Look.' She pointed and Delenn turned and saw the immaculate table. She shook her head.
'He was here. I didn't dream it.'
'Delenn...' The comm panel beeped and Ivanova waited to see if Delenn would answer it. When she made no move to accept the call Ivanova did so. It was David.
'Anlashok'na,' he bowed. Ivanova could never quite get used to David bowing to her, but the Anlashok discipline was deeply ingrained in him and she responded. 'Is my mother all right?'
'Yes, David. She's fine. A little shaken up by the day, I think. Why do you ask?'
'I just...' he shook his head. 'This is going to sound weird, but I just felt like I had to call. As though my dad told me to call her. I swear I heard him. I know I can't have but...'
Delenn had risen, slowly, and walked to the comm panel. 'What did he say, David?'
'He said...No, this is ridiculous. I must have imagined it. I'm sorry, mother. I didn't mean to worry you.'
'You haven't. What did he say?'
He stared at her for a moment and then shrugged. 'He said there was a message for me. I know. It's silly.'
Ivanova shook her head but Delenn slowly turned to the mantel as a sound broke the silence of the room. The slow tick tock of a clock. 'Susan!' She touched Ivanova on the arm and pointed at the old clock. It was working again.
'Did you fix it?'
'No. John said it was probably some dirt or something but I told him to leave it alone.'
David frowned. 'Dad said? What's going on?'
Ivanova turned to the comm panel and shrugged, indicating she was as confused as he was and not a little worried about Delenn. As she reassured him she'd watch over his mother Delenn walked slowly to the mantelpiece and looked behind the clock. There, in the envelope addressed to David, was John's letter. With shaking hands she took it down. It was his handwriting, there was no question about it.
'Susan,' she whispered. Ivanova continued to talk to David. 'Susan,' she said more loudly.
'Hang on a minute, David.' She turned to Delenn. 'What's wrong?'
Mutely, Delenn held up the letter. Ivanova crossed the room quickly and took the letter from her hands. She recognised the handwriting, and she knew that letter hadn't been there before.
'Susan? Mother? What's happening?' They'd gone out of sight of the vid unit and he was staring at an empty room. In his confusion he inadvertently regressed into his old way of addressing Ivanova.
'Wait a minute, David,' Ivanova called over her shoulder, ignoring the lapse. Given what was going on it was hardly surprising. 'Delenn, where did this come from?'
'He wrote it, while he was here. He said the recording devices wouldn't be able to pick him up, but he could do this.' She was still staring at the letter. Ivanova was stunned and slowly walked back to the comm unit as Delenn sank onto the settee. She held the letter up for David to see.
'It's from your father.'
'What? But how...?'
'I don't know. Do you want me to read it to you?' He nodded slowly and Ivanova opened the envelope with shaking hands. Carefully she unfolded the sheet within and stared at the page.
'What does it say?' David asked. Delenn looked up, waiting to hear the words.
Ivanova cleared her throat which suddenly felt constricted. ' 'My dearest son. Please don't ask how this happened. Just accept that it did. Delenn asked me to write something to you. In all honesty I don't know what's left for me to say that I haven't already told you. I suppose I should tell you some great mystery, something I've learned since I've been gone, but there's nothing I could tell you that Delenn doesn't already know and can put far better than I can. She has always understood in ways I never could until now. What I can tell you is that I'm very proud of you. I know you've had to work hard to get where you are, and I know you'll always do what's right.
'I never wanted to lead some great army. I don't think I could have if it hadn't been for Delenn standing by my side. But as I watched you grow up I saw a strength and a wisdom and a patience I never had, and I knew that whatever you set your mind to, you'd get there. You've a long road ahead of you, and it won't be easy, but then I told you before it wasn't meant to be easy. I've watched you fall and I've watched you pick yourself up and try again. I think I can take credit for your stubbornness, if not for anything else.' ' Ivanova paused, laughing through her tears. She looked up and saw David too was smiling with tears flowing down his face. She turned to Delenn who nodded and motioned for her to continue. ' 'Delenn misses you. I know you have your duty, but try and visit once in a while. She needs you. I wish I could be here for both of you. I wish I hadn't had to leave. It was the price I had to pay, and I'm not sorry for what we won. But I wanted to watch you grow into a man and to be there when you needed me. I love you both and one day we'll be together again.
'Somehow, I have a feeling Susan will read this too at some point. Susan, don't push him too hard. You can be such a hard ass when you want to be! I can say that now and get away with it, but don't take it out on David, OK? I can almost see the look on your face. Susan, remember, you were always a sister to me and I know you understand. Delenn needs you and the Anlashok need you. You've done well, as I knew you would. I'm proud of you Susotchka (yes, I remember you telling me that name. Sorry if I didn't spell it right).
'Delenn, I hope by now I've said everything I wanted to say to you. But there are some things that can never be said enough. You and David were and are my life. I love you both. The mystery to me is that you loved me in return. I didn't deserve to be so lucky. I made a lot of mistakes in my life, but finding you and having David were the best things that ever happened to me.
'I could go on, but I want to spend more time with Delenn. I hope you'll forgive me for that. There's never enough time for all I'd like to do. I'm happy with what I've had, but when you've had as good a life as I did you find you don't want it to end.
'Take care of each other. Between you I don't think there's anything you can't do. I miss you, but I'll always be there, watching over you. Never forget that. One last thing, David. Tell Delenn to remember what I promised her. I'll find a way, someday.'
Love, John.' ' Susan stood, staring at the paper in her hand for a long time, then she slowly folded it and put it back in the envelope. She looked up into David's face as Delenn slowly rose from the settee and came over to the comm panel. Susan cleared her throat. 'I think John's right. Not about the hard ass bit, mind you. You've got some leave coming up. I know you wanted to put in some more training and go over for the ISA diplomatic meetings on Centauri Prime, but I can talk to Vir. It'd be good to see you back here for a while. The ISA can live without us all for a week.'
David nodded. 'Thanks. I'd like that.' There was silence again for a while and then David turned to someone off screen and nodded before turning back. 'I have to go. I'll see you all in about a month. Anlashok'Na.' He bowed and Ivanova returned it. Then David turned to Delenn. 'I love you. I didn't mean to be away so long.'
'I know. That wasn't entirely fair of your father. He's worried about me, but he needn't be. I'm all right now. I'll see you in a month.' She reached out and touched the screen and he returned the gesture, placing his fingers to mirror her position. 'I'm proud of you too, David, and I love you very much. Take good care of yourself and come home safely.'
'I will.' With a last look the connection was severed. Delenn turned to Ivanova who was still staring at the envelope.
'Hard ass. I'll give him hard ass!' she muttered. Delenn laughed, the first genuine laugh she'd had since the sunset. Ivanova looked up, annoyed, and then softened and grinned, shaking her head. 'He never changes, does he?'
'Would you want him to?'
'No.' There was a pause and then...'A sister to him.' It was said so quietly Delenn barely caught it, but she saw the look in Susan's eyes.
'John always loved you very much, Susan. He often spoke about you when you were still in Earthdome. He was worried about you. He knew you weren't happy. That's why he wanted you to take over the Rangers. He said you deserved better than you were getting.' She paused and gently touched Susan's arm. 'And I think he knew I'd need you too.'
'Thank you. For everything.' She looked around the empty room and shook her head. 'If he is here, I hope he keeps to your quarters and the main areas. I'm not sure I can cope with the thought he might have seen me, uh...'
'I think I can guarantee the only person he sees that way is me!' Delenn laughed and then yawned. 'I'm sorry,' she said, shaking her head. 'It's been a long day, and filled with more than I could have dreamed. I want to talk about this but not now. Tomorrow?'
'I'll be at breakfast. I've got a meeting at ten but I can free up the afternoon. I want to hear everything.'
'Not quite everything I hope!'
Susan grinned. 'Well, everything else!' Delenn nodded and walked slowly to the bedroom. Susan stayed in the lounge for a long time, silent and alone. At last, when she was sure no one could hear her except, perhaps, the one person she wanted to listen, she spoke.
'You were always like my big brother, John. I never told you how much I loved you, but I think you knew anyway. I don't know how you did this, but I guess if anyone could, you could. Take care of yourself, wherever you are. I miss you.' She turned and headed for her own room, hesitating at the doorway. 'I'm STILL gonna get you for calling me a hard ass, though!'
As she walked away she swore she heard a man laughing.
A few months later Delenn and Ivanova were walking in the private garden. Between weather and events this was the first time Delenn had returned to the garden since she'd walked there with John. As they walked they talked and, inevitably, the conversation veered to her time there with him.
'We sat, on that bench over there, and he tried to explain to me what happened when he left us.'
Ivanova nodded. 'I remember you telling me. Sounds to me like he's spent too much time with the Vorlons out there!'
'All your training with the Anlashok and still you don't understand?'
Ivanova shook her head. 'No. I understand all right. It's just, well, weird coming from John. And I sometimes try and imagine what it was like for him. I remember when we found the ship. I wouldn't let anyone else aboard until I got there. If he was dead I wanted to make sure he'd be treated properly. I couldn't bear the thought of some stranger manhandling his body out of there. But then, when we found nothing and all the airlocks sealed, well, it felt like the Marie Celeste or something. I can tell you they took that ship apart after they brought it back but there was nothing. Not so much as a hint of DNA in there. And I always wondered how that happened. When you told me what John said I tried to imagine it, tried to be there with him in my mind.' She snorted. 'I know, it's stupid of me. But it made me feel better somehow, knowing he finished his time with us so peacefully and then moved on to other journeys. He always was an explorer at heart. Never could resist the unknown. Gave Garibaldi nightmares when he went down to Grey sector that time. I thought Michael was going to have a cow when he found out!'
Delenn smiled and nodded. It was good being able to talk about John without pain or sadness. To laugh at the little things he did that could either make you want to hit him or hug him; to remember what he'd said and done and know that, somehow, he wasn't that far away. She knew John was happy too. He told her, in the dawn rays, and if he was happy, she was.
The wind whipped across the garden and Delenn pulled her tunic tighter around her. 'It's getting late. We should go in.'
Ivanova nodded and together they walked back towards the house. Suddenly, with a gasp, Delenn stopped in her tracks and stared.
'What? What's the matter?'
'That tree!' She pointed at the sapling that was bowing in the breeze, already taller than she could have imagined it would be. 'John planted it when he was here. He said he didn't think it would take root but if it did it would make a nice spot to rest under. And look at it!'
Ivanova bent to the sapling and stroked the leaves that covered its branches. It was healthy and strong. She smiled. 'Clocks and letters and trees.' She thought for a moment. 'Time and words and life. Seems appropriate somehow.' She turned to Delenn. 'Will he come back again, do you think?'
'He said he would. I trust him. He's never failed me yet.'
'Not soon, but one day. I'll wait for him. No matter how long it is.'
Ivanova nodded and, with a final look at the sapling, they turned and walked together into the house. Out in the garden the wind died down, but the sapling continued to sway to another touch. At the doorway Delenn hesitated and looked back. She smiled to herself as she seemed to hear a familiar voice promising her he would be there. Slowly she closed the doors and went into the house. The wind picked up again and rustled the leaves.
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