He thought he knew what to expect when he took Babylon 4 into the past. He had been living on Minbar, had grown to love where he once hated. He knew he was trading one war for another, leaving everything behind, leaving himself behind and becoming something else. His time with the Rangers had taught him a lot. He didn’t exactly feel prepared for what it to come. He didn’t feel like a messiah, but at the same time, he was pretty sure that no one ever had. Saviors were just regular people who stood up and did something at a critical time. He had the upper hand over other saviors even, knowing ahead of time. After all, all he had to do is replicate what he knew already had worked. Of course, that sounded easier than it was. To do that, he was going to have to give up everything, everyone and everything he knew, even himself. Becoming Minbari, becoming Valen, was about more than changing his appearance or his name. Becoming Valen meant changing down to the core and becoming someone else.
He started the journey as Jeffrey Sinclair but he ended it as Valen.
The problem turned out to be that he didn’t really know who Valen was, and neither did anyone else in the time and place he had emerged. During the war it wasn’t so bad. War was war, no matter when or where. He was too busy to spend much time worrying about existential questions and the Minbari were too relieved to look a gift horse in the mouth... well most of them were. There was one who questioned absolutely everything he did and everything about him. She didn’t do it out of hatred or scorn; she wasn’t cruel about it. She simply asked cutting questions in a polite and gentle tone and waited for him to answer them.
This would be enough for her to get his attention. The Minbari were proud, stubborn, and yet even those who question his origins usually did it behind closed doors or through veiled implications. After all, he had saved them from almost certain destruction. She openly challenged him, often proving herself right once he reviewed her objections to his plans. Her questions made his plans succeed, because she forced him to work out the kinks he didn’t even see on his own. Again, this made her worth of his notice but he realized it was more that that. This woman’s face and voice might be strange, but he would have recognized the soul of Delenn even in the body of a Narn, even if he did not believe in the Minbari certainty regarding reincarnation. This made her the closest thing he could possible find to a familiar face.
With her accusatory help, he managed to make it through the war, driving back the Shadows. Unfortunately, that is the easy part, the part that is based on instinct and experience. Rebuilding the Minbari culture to resemble the Mimar he knew and loved was harder. Even just walking through an alien planet more alien than he could have expected, it took a toll. By now, everyone knew his name. Valen was a hero, if not a prophet. He didn’t feel like one, though, as he tried to correct the imbalances in Minbar’s power structure.
He had not seen her in a number of months on the day he encountered her on his way to go try and explain why the Minbari shouldn’t make him an all powerful oligarch. Her challenges had become more familiar over the course of the war, and he found he was overwhelmingly glad to see her, and even more pleased when she agreed to walk in the temple gardens with him for a while.
By the time they had wound their way through the lush scenery, he had convinced her to join his staff in the effort to set up the new government. Throughout the months he had spent on this Minbar he had constantly craved and yearned for Delenn’s advice. She wasn’t Delenn, this Minbari from a thousand years before the Earth-Minbari war, but at the same time her heart was the same: fierce, sophisticated, ruthless, and meditative. As he tried to remember the details that made Minbari society work so seamlessly, she poked holes in places where he inevitably realized he had run off course.
Being Valen still felt like a mask sometimes, like this boned and hairless head was not his own but simply on loan, like everyone was about to realize that he was an imposter. It was not dissimilar to when he was first put in command and felt like a child dressing up in his father’s clothes. He had always been quick witted, capable of thinking on his feet and of cutting reflection. Some days it was the only thing that saved him. However, back on Earth, someone once told him that if you wear a mask for long enough, it will be become your true face, if you act a role eventually it will become the truth.
Spending that time on Minbar back before he went back in time had started the process, and he slowly but surely began to think more like a Minbari. He admired the angles of Minbari women, the delicate patterns of their skin. He stopped imagining them with long flowing hair, instead of how they were. His sentence structure shifted to accommodate the new ways he was thinking. He carried himself differently, felt more natural walking down the streets, but never really got used to looking at his new self in the mirror.
He thought of Delenn, wondered how she felt when she looked at her reflection, considered whether she felt at home in her new body. Did she look at the humans of Babylon 5 differently now, as he did Minbari? Was that the point of her sacrifice? He wondered if she regretted it. He didn’t have the option. Without his choice there would be no future to go back to, at least not the one he knew.
She wasn’t there to ask: someone else was wearing her soul but not her memories or experiences.
He knew, of course, that Valen lived a long full life, with a wife and children. He hasn’t given much thought to this Minbari wife; he was too preoccupied with the big picture. In the end though, there really was only one person it could be and it seemed foolish to him that he had not realized this immediately. There was a certain symmetry to it. He had been their first human and she had been his first Minbari. Now she was once again his guide, and eventually it seemed inevitably when that role expanded past politics. How could he not have been attached to her unique blend of familiarity and mystery, to her brains, the way she stood up to him, the way she supported him only when she really meant it?
Of course, it took him embarrassingly long to realize how he felt. Preoccupied and disoriented, he had realized she was an ally but not that he she meant anything else to him. He and Delenn had grown to be dear friends and that is what he assumed their souls would always be. Of course, he was wrong. When he looked back on it later, he realized that he had begun to fall in love with her upon their first meeting, in the very instant where she challenged his authority with such a graceful calm. He might have persisted in the delusion that they were simply friends, had it not been for her decision to change things. Under the Minbari night sky, he looked at the not quite right sky, and was completely taken by surprise when she kissed him and even more so to discover that he had been waiting for her to without realizing it.
The Minbari of this age didn’t have the phrase “I love you”, so when he told her what he was thinking it didn’t mean anything until he translated.
“My soul is bound to yours...” he attempted to paraphrase, realizing that it was more true than he knew.
She smiled knowingly. Later she would tell their grandchildren how he never noticed the way that women looked at him and seeing this she had known that she would have to be the one to begin their courtship. She seemed to find it precious how unaware he had been, how she had had to guide him forward. For all his greatness, she would tell them, your grandfather could be oblivious like a child.
He was relatively sure that she never understood how little ownership of his body he felt until she taught him to love it. Although he had grown to admire, long for, and even love the Minbari form in others, he had never really grown comfortable or connected to his own. Her faith, her belief that he was desirable, eventually seeped into his consciousness after endless repetition.
To the rest of the world, he was a great leader and she was lucky to be his consort, but Valen could always be heard saying that she was the best part of him, that without her he was nothing and there would be no Grey Council, no great traditions. He meant every word.