The Eve of Battle
John had, as he might say, toughed it out: all through the ordeal of checking in on Susan, endured the well wishes of the fleet, of the crews who wanted to see for themselves that what had been taken from them was now returned, their quest for justice rekindled. John understood, had taken the time to allay concerns, until Captain James of the Agamemnon had sworn up a storm and told him to go to bed.
It troubled her, how far John had pushed himself, when his reserves of energy were so quickly drained; the extent of his exhaustion revealed in the deliberation with which he placed each foot before him, as she led him through the main arterial corridor toward the quarters set aside for her.
Meshann, her personal physician, awaited their arrival. John greeted the other man with a distracted nod, his attention arrested by the sight of the bed in the room. Clean, wide, and very, very flat.
John caught her eye, an eyebrow rising.
"Yes," she said. "The crew would be scandalised by such a brazen embrace of the horizontal, but Meshann is sworn to secrecy and I won't tell if you won't tell." In fact, under his perennially grave expression, Meshann was likely also dismayed, it was just that he was far too punctilious to let that discomfiture show.
John lowered himself onto the edge of the bed, his back rigidly straight, and she clamped her jaw tight. She knew how severely he'd been beaten; Stephen's communication had spared her few of the details, to the extent that she suspected Doctor Franklin was trying to enlist her in convincing John to postpone the final offensive, but Stephen was deluding himself, the storm was already upon them. Her thoughts strayed to Susan Ivanova. John could not spare others; he certainly would not spare himself.
On the eve of battle, all that remained was to make sure John gained all the rest, all the medical attention it was in her power to provide. She grabbed a handful of the sweater he wore and gently started to tug it over his head. He looked startled, almost shied away from her and she thought his intentions were to spare her the evidence of his injuries. She was bemused to realise that, even now, he was worrying about Minbari proprieties. She stroked his cheek and he lifted his eyes to meet hers, stopped resisting when he saw the absurdity of his actions reflected in her gaze. She bent down, removed his footwear, reached for the fastenings of his pants, but he pushed her hands away and stood up to take them off himself. He paused, as if gathering strength, stepped out of the pants with the studied concentration of the intoxicated or the worn out, and then folded onto the bed in a barely controlled slump.
Clad only in cotton shorts, the brutal evidence of what Clark's people had done to him was tallied in bruised and bloodied flesh. Part of her wanted to scream her pain and fury at the Universe, demand a price be exacted for this outrage. She was older now, wiser. So, when John saw her eyes cataloguing his injuries, she returned his gaze with measured calm. The only thing that threatened that equanimity was the disconcerting smell emanating from his skin; her nose prickled, assaulted with the astringent reek of medical cleansers, it was a smell she now associated with Susan Ivanova, with imminent loss.
"Captain Sheridan, Doctor Franklin advises it is time for another regen pack."
She had almost forgotten Meshann's presence.
John acquiesced and the physician exchanged a look with her; between the pair of them they manoeuvred John beneath the covers and Meshann installed the drip feed into his patient. "Captain, that's the third pack in less than twenty four hours. It may make you feel mildly nauseous. I am, however, assured by Doctor Franklin that such is quite normal."
John murmured something indistinct, burrowed deeper, seeking warmth and comfort. Meshann cast a scrutinising eye over a small handheld scanner, another over his patient and seemed satisfied by what he saw; he bowed to John, to her and left. John's eyes closed, she dimmed the lights to a low level, went to check on the crew and the fleet.
Everything was well.
Even now, stragglers were joining them, the latest a Drazi vessel rallying to their cause. An incoming communication from the Agamemnon conveyed last minute information about the disposition of Clark's forces, the latest intelligence of who might command the fleet opposing them. Captain James seemed disturbed by the news; she doubted it was a lack of faith in John's abilities. In the coming battle, there were those on the other side, with whom John and this man must have served together in less complicated times. The Agamemnon signed off and she stared at the forward display, her brain registering little of what was before her.
"Delenn, you are troubled?" Lennier.
"I was reflecting on war. John mentioned a quotation, months ago, when he launched the relief of Proxima 3. 'It is well that war is so terrible, else we should grow too fond of it.' I think it bears repeating, don't you think?"
"That is uncommonly gloomy for you," he said, his face cast in the sternest expression he could muster. "I venture to suggest that you also need rest."
She opened her mouth to say something and Lennier cut her off. "Captain Sheridan will be relying on you. To be at your best, you must sleep. I shall be on watch and I shall call you if there is a significant development with our forces." There really was no point in arguing with Lennier when he was right.
She went to her quarters, paused inside the doorway while she allowed her vision to adjust. From the cadence of his breathing she knew John was still awake, no longer lying on his side, but on his back, a little rigidly so. That he was in pain was hardly a difficult deduction to make. She stepped around the bed, replaced her daywear with a simple shift, and crawled under the covers with him. Her senses, and long habit, insisted that the bed was infelicitously flat, but she pummelled the thoughts into submission. John flinched for a moment, and she wondered if she had made a mistake, that she should find somewhere else to sleep, but he relaxed and his hand sought out hers under the covers. Careful of the regen drip, she tried to embrace him, but the deadweight of his exhaustion, her worries that she might cause him pain by touching battered flesh, simply the bulk of his larger frame, defeated her.
John snickered. He turned himself over carefully, faced her. "Yeah, that's not going to work. Roll over, onto your other side." She did as he asked and John engulfed her in an embrace from behind. He produced a drawn out sigh. "This is nice," he murmured into her ear.
She stroked the back of his hand, pleased with herself. Already, the pattern of John's breathing was beginning to change. She thought about Marcus and Susan and of what the next day might bring. She held tight to his hand and fell asleep to the sound of John's quiet snores.