Lessons

By Laura Bellamy

Disclaimer: All of the usual stuff - Babylon 5 is owned by J Michael Straczynski, Babylonian Productions™ and Warners™.

Author's Note: Part of the on-going Valentine's Un-Challenge at the LJ community no_shadows_fall. This is a vignette following the events of There All the Honour Lies.

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‘I wished to thank you.’

‘What for?’

‘For what you did.’ Delenn’s fingers played with the chopstick that had been left on the table. ‘You protected the honour of Lennier and his entire clan. He too will wish to thank you, personally.’

Sheridan looked appalled at the idea, shifted in his seat. ‘That really- He doesn’t have to. I think it’s one of those things that’s best just left now. Don’t you?’ He liked the young Minbari well enough but the awkwardness, on both sides, that would arise from such an encounter was more than he could face. And he was certain that Lennier would not wish to be reminded that he was, in a manner, beholden to Sheridan. It was a position that neither relished.

‘Perhaps you are right.’ She studied him. ‘It was a good thing that you did. You did not have to do it.’

‘Well, it would have caused a lot of trouble. And I don’t see the point of punishing a whole lot of innocent people just because a handful have done something stupid.’

‘No.’ There was a strange expression across her face for a moment: something withdrawn and he knew that he had, however inadvertently, said something that distressed her. She dropped the chopstick but her fingers still moved restlessly.

When seating them the waiter had referred to their usual table. They had not been to the Fresh Aire often enough for a usual anything, surely. Twice before now, perhaps? This would make it their third at most. Or maybe the forth. There were lunches, of course, but they were purely business and never here. He looked forward to these encounters, he realised. Simple conversation with someone whose company he liked. More than liked, enjoyed. Even the silences were comfortable - and there had been plenty of silences tonight. With the crisis averted and the threat to his own reputation gone, Sheridan did not feel victorious; calm, yes, but he was aware of a sense of melancholia. He was no fool, he did not think that the past could simply be erased through good intentions and a willingness for tolerance. But he had, perhaps, overestimated the headway he had made with the Minbari. Not with individuals, perhaps, but as a race...

Delenn herself had been quiet. Subdued. It could not have been easy for her, he knew that; her attempt, however well-intentioned, to do right by both the Minbari and him would always have failed. Her final choice had left her own people open to censure - and in favour of an old enemy. But it seemed to be more than that troubling her. Her fingers reclaimed the slender piece of wood, twisting around it; there were still shadows behind her eyes.

He would have asked for her confidence had she been another woman, he thought. To Talia Winters he had offered help and he considered Delenn no less a friend than Talia. Perhaps more. No, not perhaps. And in that was one of only many differences: the instinct to protect, to help fix whatever was wrong, warred with the instinct to respect, to honour her culture that was so much more guarded, more reserved, than his own. But more even than that: he wanted her to want to confide in him.

'What you said earlier, about being alone in a crowd...' She looked at him, her chin lifting fractionally at his words. 'Everyone is, you know. Humans are pretty good at inventing things to join: gangs, groups, organisations - everything to make you feel like you're part of something more, something bigger. But in the end it's still just ... you. That's all a crowd is: just a bunch of people who are all alone. They're just all alone at the same time.'

Delenn was silent for a moment. 'That is not an easy concept.'

'No, it isn't. It sucks.'

'Sucks?'

'Yeah, I mean it blows.'

'It sucks and blows?'

Sheridan let out a breath edged with laughter, aimed at himself. 'Let's just leave the figures of speech alone for tonight, huh?'

Her eyes rested on the tabletop for a moment, unfocussed on what was there. 'Is it not possible for one person to find another in all of this solitude?'

'Oh yes, that's possible. It's damn hard to find, though.' And too easily lost, he thought.

His own fingers had been restless, he realised: he had been twisting his napkin between them until the threads were taut under the pressure.

The Fresh Aire, in its privileged position high above the gardens, was usually a welcome refuge; tonight it seemed stultifying and claustrophobic.

Sheridan threw the napkin down on the table.

'Look, why don't we get out of here?'

Delenn looked up at him and smiled.

They left behind the muted conversations, the light rush of waiters' feet and the chink of cutlery. The station was deceptively calm: most of the stalls on the Zocalo had packed up for the night; the gardens and great stretch of parkland were more in shadow than light, the air scented by night blooms that remained hidden in the darkness. They spent some time there, skirting the edges of the park; they had no destination, simply wandered aimlessly, still talking little.

'You know what I miss?' Sheridan said; Delenn turned her head to his. 'Being in the open. I miss seasons, you know? When you can feel the change in the air. We keep everything at a nice even temperature around here, but all of that the same day after day... It drives you crazy after a while.'

'The change in season is always a time of great reflection on Minbar; and a time of many festivals. That does not happen here; as you say - there is no change to mark.'

'Maybe I should change the settings on the temperature controls, give everyone a blast of winter - what do you think?'

Her eyes had regained some of their clarity, he thought. 'I do not think that it would prove popular.'

'No? I guess you're right. It's a pity ... can you imagine what this would look like in an autumn?' He gestured at the park. 'All the trees gold, copper leaves on the ground. We could have bonfires. Wouldn't that be something?'

'It would indeed.' Her voice was soft. Their gaze held for a moment, and they walked on.

'I, uh, I guess it's getting pretty late.' Sheridan glanced at her. 'May I walk you to your quarters?'

It was a strangely formal request, very different from his usual, more expressive speech; but for the male to escort the female at the conclusion of an evening such as this was part of the Human's ritual, she had learnt. 'Thank-you.'

They followed the route, Sheridan's hands clasped behind his back, Delenn lightly at his side, until their progress was halted when a door opened and a small knot of people emerged from a room leading off the corridor. They were notable for the brightness of their costumes - white was the favoured colour, but some in blue, and all covered in sequins that caught the light as they moved; and all with the same extravagant quiffs of black hair. Their leader was the last to appear, dark glasses shielding his eyes even in the dimness of the station's evening lights, his fingers laden with gold rings, and the heavily embroidered eagle's wings spread across the folds of his cape.

'Well, good-evenin', sir.'

Sheridan nodded. 'Good-evening. I hope that you're finding the facilities adequate.'

'We sure are, thank-you, thank-you very much. Ma'am.' He inclined his head to Delenn and followed his congregation away down the passage.

It took all sorts, Sheridan thought, and you saw all of them here. He glanced at Delenn and she was watching the garish figure thoughtfully.

'I have seen that group before - they are a church?'

They resumed their walk.

'Yes. They're the followers of Elvis.'

Her face cleared. 'Ah - your king?'

He stared at her. 'What?'

Delenn looked up at him. 'Elvis: I have heard this name - he was your great god-king, yes?'

There was a pause.

'Some people think so,' Sheridan replied levelly.

His face was serious, but it was there in his eyes. Delenn's narrowed slightly. 'This is one of those things that you are to explain to me later, is it not?'

'Oh, it's going on the list.'

'That is becoming a very long list.'

'Well, you have huge gaps in your education.'

His link chimed.

'It is well then that I have a good teacher.'

The link chimed again, and they had reached her door. Her eyes were not just clear, they were luminous. He was starting to resent that intrusive sound that demanded his attention. 'I have to get this. Sheridan, go.'

'Captain. I'm sorry, sir, but you're needed in C-n'-C.'

'I'm on my way; Sheridan out.' He looked at her. 'I have to go; I... Good-night, Ambassador.'

A smile touched her lips. 'Captain.'

The door slid closed, hiding her from him; and before Sheridan left to answer that insistent summons he reflected that he may have made more headway than he had thought.

Fin

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