Disclaimer: All of the usual stuff - Babylon 5 is owned by J Michael Straczynski, Babylonian Productions™ and Warners™.
Author's Note: The forth of five prompts, this is for vjs2259, who gave me 'Christmas Crackers' to work with.
'Well, that's not something you see every day.'
Ivanova followed Garibaldi's gaze and barely suppressed a smile. The paper crown was draped precariously over Lennier's head, the tip of his crest rising placidly above the gaudy peaks. By his side Londo laughed uproariously, evidently pleased with his handiwork. To say that they were friends would probably be stretching the point, but there was a certain sympathy between the young Minbari and the Centauri ambassador. One of the more unlikely associations - but then the station seemed to be a natural home to such things.
'All we need now is the mistletoe,' Garibaldi continued. Ivanova eyed him sceptically.
'For Londo and Lennier? I don't think that they're that close.'
He smiled, briefly. 'Nah. I mean in general.' He waved a hand.
She looked out across the gathering and one corner of her mouth curled upwards; Ivanova faced her colleague, sardonic humour sparkling in the depths of her eyes.
'I never would have had you down as such a romantic. What are you? Christmas Cupid?'
He put his eyebrows up. 'Are you kidding me? Listen, I've got nothing against romance but I was thinking more along the lines of funny things happen around mistletoe - and you never know when leverage and, shall we say, embarrassing photographs might come in handy?'
Ivanova laughed softly. 'Ah, now that sounds like the Garibaldi I know.'
He grinned at her. 'The original and best.' His eyes moved restlessly again, coming to rest on one corner of the room. 'And speaking of original: there's a sight that isn't.'
She already knew what it was before she looked; and, sure enough, there they were. The captain and Delenn, standing close together talking softly. Their friendship had been almost immediate and lately the amount of time they spent together had only increased. Garibaldi moved away and Ivanova leant against the balustrade, drink in hand and philosophical of mind. Londo was still enjoying his tormenting of Lennier and the Minbari looked as though all his powers of meditation were being called upon to prevent the eruption of a major diplomatic incident. And in their peaceful corner, Sheridan and Delenn were apparently oblivious to everything. At any given diplomatic function it was almost guaranteed that where you found one, the other would be close by. Ivanova had a theory that if you took both of them and left them blindfolded and disoriented, one at either end of the station, they would gravitate towards one another in under an hour.
The likelihood of that theory ever being tested was slim, but she stood by it nonetheless.
With Garibaldi otherwise occupied chatting to a pretty, young pilot with dark curls and dimples, Ivanova moved further into the crowd, bent on doing her duty by the station to all the other guests whom Sheridan was cheerfully neglecting. Not that any them seemed to mind or even notice - they were all far too concerned with their own enjoyment to worry about anyone else. In what must have been a lull in their conversation Delenn moved her head and Ivanova caught her eye; the ambassador returned the commander's smile and then her attention back to the captain.
Delenn had attended few social gatherings on board that were not primarily diplomatic in nature and while there was still a veneer of propriety and protocol, the difference now was marked. Humans were boisterous in their celebrations, she thought, and this as with most other things was marked with the cheerful inclusiveness that sought to draw everyone else in.
It made for a pleasant evening, though not without its unsettling moments. A sharp crack sounded and she started, her shoulders stiffening. It sounded like a faint retort from a weapon. It came gain; and again she started and wondered that no-one else seemed to share her concern.
'Are you all right?'
She looked up at Sheridan's face; there, at least, was concern but for a wholly different reason.
'Yes...' She drew herself up, the proud line of her jaw lifting. 'Yes, I am fine. I was wondering about that noise?'
He glanced around automatically, as though somehow he could see it. 'What noise?'
Delenn shook her head. 'It is nothing. But for a moment it sounded as though- There. That noise.'
'Oh...' He let out a sudden breath, his eyes crinkling. She had not realised how tense he had become until he relaxed again, the lines of his face softening as his eyes found hers. 'It's just people pulling some crackers.'
'Crackers? They are pulling food?'
He frowned again. 'What? No. Not- not that sort of cracker. Christmas crackers. It's...' His eyes moved past her to the gaily decorated tree. 'It's these things.' Sheridan reached down, straightened again and held up a bright cylinder with twisted ends. 'I'd advise against eating them.'
Delenn stared at it, that mix of fascination and solemnity that he always found mesmerising. He cleared his throat.
'See, you each take hold of an end and pull until it breaks in two; whoever gets the biggest piece gets to keep whatever's inside.'
She nodded. 'I see. This is a ritual for your people during this festival?'
'Uh, yeah, I guess.'
Her head tilted. 'What is its purpose?'
'Ah...' Sheridan inspected the gaudy cracker; it yielded nothing. 'I have no idea. I'm sorry. When it comes to someone to teach you about Human customs and cultures, I'm afraid you didn't choose very well.'
'I would not say that.' Her voice was soft.
They studied one another, then Sheridan held out the cracker to her. 'Want to give it a try? I'll even let you keep the prize, whatever happens.'
Her eyes gleamed with amusement. 'In that case I cannot refuse.'
She took firm hold, this time did not start when the snapper broke with a satisfying crack; she regarded the tattered shreds of cardboard and crepe paper in their hands. 'I believe that we are equal.'
'Looks like it - what did you win?'
Delenn examined the inside of her half. 'There is some paper...'
A party hat of bright pink tissue-paper and another slip printed with red; Sheridan took it from her, read the contents, suppressed a groan and shoved it into his pocket. 'Earth humour,' he told her, 'and pretty bad at that. What else?'
Something that glittered rolled out onto the palm of her outstretched hand. A thin silver band set with something masquerading as a gemstone. It was a pretty thing, Delenn thought; and she had noticed that Human women were very fond of such decorations. She slipped it onto a finger on her right hand and held it under the light until the prisms on the stone flashed red.
Sheridan watched her, the graceful movements of her hands and her slender fingers. She deserved a far better decoration than that, he thought, and felt himself on the edge of a precipice where he still wasn't certain he had any right to be. It was a strange feeling, an amplification of what he had felt before when looking at her, all the way back to that very first time. In retrospect he would, eventually, identify it as the the feeling of, at long last, having found his missing half.
He found her eyes again and she was smiling gently. 'I believe that we need another; it is not fair that I should be the only one with a prize.'
Sheridan cleared his throat. 'It's fine; I think that's already been enough excitement for one day.'
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