It was evening, but it was not as though one could tell when one lived in space, or at least not without looking at a clock. The light was one of the things Delenn missed most about home. The way that at just the right time of day, the sunshine bounced off of the great crystal towers of Yedor and sent a dazzling array of beams dancing through the streets below. She missed the warmth of the sun on her face, and the way it illuminated her beautiful world. She loved Babylon 5 and the people in it, along with the rather odd but nice sense of community it provided. And she would not trade living here with these people for anything. But she missed the light. And if she was to be entirely honest, she had never been particularly fond of the darkness.
She was winding her way through the halls of Green Sector, just a few corners away from her quarters, when the lights flickered, causing her to stop walking and stand still, looking around. And then, they went out entirely, and Delenn was alone in complete and impenetrable darkness.
Delenn stood, motionless, afraid to move a muscle. Even though she was perfectly aware that she was in the hallway and there was nothing there that could immediately hurt her, her inability to visually perceive anything around her gave her the impression that suddenly, anything was possible. And in her unsettled mind, most of those things were frightening. Her ears automatically tried to compensate for her lack of visual input, but all she could hear was the rapid pounding of her own heart.
She should not allow herself to become so afraid over this. Delenn closed her eyes so that she would not be so unnerved by not being able to see anything and took a deep, shaky breath.
It will be all right. It is not happening again. It was a long time ago, and you are safe now. You will be all right. But despite her attempt at reassuring thoughts, her heart continued to flutter wildly inside her chest, causing her breathing and hands to shake.
Just then, the emergency lighting came on. It was likely only a matter of seconds after the beginning of the blackout, but to Delenn, it seemed like an eon. The little fluorescent strips on the walls glowed an eerie green, doing little to puncture the darkness but allowing her to see just enough to get her bearings. To her mild surprise, she found that the blackout had stopped her just outside Lennier’s quarters. She had not even realized where she was until now.
Her own quarters were close, and she could now at least see sufficiently to walk to them. But it was likely dark there, too. And there was no one in her quarters. She would be alone. And she found she did not want to be alone just now.
She touched the button for the chime. A second later the door swung open, and Delenn was once again gazing into total darkness.
“Delenn?” She was unnerved enough already that Lennier’s slightly surprised voice startled her – she had not even seen him standing right in front of her. To him, she was likely backlit just enough by the emergency lighting from the hallway to make out who she was. But there were no lights at all in his quarters.
He stepped forward then, and she could finally discern his form. He wore his plainrobes, simpler and less elaborate than the many-layered traditional attire of the Religious Caste aide he wore in his capacity as her attaché. The lighter fabric made his silhouette look thinner to her.
“Delenn,” he said again, and she could hear concern in his voice this time. “Are you all right?”
She realized she had gone too long without answering him, and that she probably owed him some explanation as to why she had shown up at his door unannounced. But she found she had difficulty articulating herself, her fear not yet having dissipated.
“Yes, I…I was walking past and the lights…do you think I could come in?”
He blinked as though being woken from a trance.
“Yes, of course. Please.”
He turned and she followed him over the threshold, back into total blackness as the door swung shut behind them. She reached out and rested her fingertips on his back to avoid losing him in the environment that was less familiar to her than it was to him. He clearly felt her touch immediately, and he turned and gently grasped her arm in the crook of his own and laid his other hand over hers. Feeling him up next to her, warm and steady, made her heart feel just the tiniest bit calmer.
He led her through his quarters, moving slowly but confidently. Delenn did not trip on or bump into a single thing under his unwavering guidance. Finally, she felt him tentatively move one hand to rest behind her back, and then she was gently lowered onto the couch, soft and comfortable beneath her tense muscles.
“I will be right back,” Lennier told her in that soft, matter-of-fact tone he so often used. She supposed he meant to reassure her, but the implication that he was leaving her side for even a moment made her want to reach for his arm and pull him onto the couch with her so that she would not be alone in the dark again. She was being silly, she knew. She was not alone. Lennier was still there, only a few feet away from her in his small quarters, even if she could not see him. But she was having a difficult time listening to logic relating to this matter at the moment. She pulled her knees up to her chest and hugged them close to her body.
She could hear Lennier on the other side of the room, rummaging through boxes. It sounded as though he was in his prayer area. After a mere few seconds, he spoke again. Hearing his voice calmed her racing heart just the tiniest bit.
“There is something to be said for being Religious Caste.” A tiny flame illuminated his face suddenly, and Delenn felt herself relax at the sight of his smile. “We always have plenty of candles.”
Delenn forced a small laugh. Lennier lit several candles and placed them on the little table in front of the couch so that just the little area in which Delenn sat was lit. He then came to sit beside her. She heard his breath hitch as he lowered himself onto the couch next to her, and even in the flickering candlelight she could tell he tried to stifle a wince. It had been less than three weeks since the end of the civil war that had torn apart their homeland, and only a few days longer since Lennier had needed an emergency lung lobectomy. Neroon’s physician had done the best he could with what he had had in the little sickbay on their ship, but a lack of specialized tools had meant that Lennier’s incision had needed to be much larger than it would have been had the procedure been done in a proper hospital. And the incredible strain and agony they had experienced during the bombings in Yedor – her beautiful Yedor – and the surrender and the events surrounding it meant that his body had had nowhere near the opportunity to heal that it needed. Lennier was still in pain, and she noticed that since his operation he seemed to have difficulty catching his breath if he exerted himself too much. Delenn was loath to think he should be suffering at all, especially since it had all been brought on by an act that had saved her own life and many others. And those hours she had spent waiting to hear word of his condition, frightened the whole time that she may never see him again…they were not hours she ever, ever wished to repeat.
“I wonder if the power is out all over the station,” Lennier mused, oblivious to Delenn’s troubled memories. “It is interesting that the door chime and the opening mechanism still work - they must be connected to the backup supply. At least the temperature maintenance system does not seem to have been affected. Of course, I suppose if it was, the temperature inside the station would have equilibrated with that of space by now, and we would not be having this conversation.”
A draft seemed to come from nowhere just then, and the candles on the table flickered and nearly went out. Delenn shivered and hugged herself even more tightly at the threat of being plunged into the darkness yet again. Lennier perceived her reaction and concern immediately leapt in his soft brown eyes.
“Delenn, are you sure you’re all right?”
Delenn sighed. She ought to have realized there would be no keeping her disquiet a secret from him. He was far too perceptive. They had not spoken much of the events on Minbar since their return. Lennier had, in his quiet, unwavering way, supported her as she dealt with the death of Neroon and the destruction of so much she had once held dear. She would not speak of that just now. But the deterioration of her nerves this night had begun long before she had been reminded of the war back home.
It was so long ago. But in the pitch-like blackness, alone in the hallway, it had seemed like it was happening all over again.
A sudden desire for physical reassurance overwhelmed her, and she reached out and laid her hand atop his where it rested on the couch. An earnestness that looked rather like hope flickered in his eyes like the flames of the candles. His movement tempered by the presence of the still-healing incision on his right side, he gingerly turned so that he could lay his other hand on top of hers, and pressed gently. He inquired of her with his gaze. He did not demand, did not beg, did not ask for his own benefit. All he did, he did for her own good.
Maybe he was right. She exhaled tremulously.
“It is silly,” she said, forcing a chuckle. He did not laugh with her. She felt him press just the slightest bit harder on her hand. It was not a painful pressure, but an encouraging one, a strengthening one.
“I’m sure it is not,” he said softly. He was holding her gaze for longer than usual, and she felt a glimmer of pride at how far her timid little aide – now so much more to her than only an aide – had come.
Breathe in. Now breathe out. They are only memories. Nothing more.
“When I was only about five cycles old, I was playing with my friend Mayan – you were off station when Shaal Mayan came to visit, weren’t you? I would love for you to meet her some time. Mayan and I have known each other since before either of us can remember. We were playing hide-and-go-seek in the woods near my father’s house outside Yedor. That day, we went deeper into the forest than we had ever gone. Well, it was my turn to hide, and Mayan’s turn to count. She told me she would count all the way to ninety-nine – nine times eleven*. I think it was all the higher either of us knew how to count at that time! I was so excited – I had plenty of time to find the perfect hiding place. She covered her eyes and I started running. I ran as fast as I could until I could not hear Mayan counting anymore. I glanced around wildly for a place to hide amongst the trees and cliffs. And there, as though sent by some higher power, was the entrance to a cave, embedded into the side of a cliff. Not knowing how much time I had left, I rushed in and kept running. I was so preoccupied with hiding from Mayan that I did not realize how lost I had become until it was too late. I rounded a bend, and suddenly, everything was completely black. There was no light at all. I had become so disoriented from running that I did not even remember from which way I had come. I stood completely still, unable to see anything at all. My whole body began to shake with fear, and I began to weep. And then, just when I thought it could not get any worse, I heard the most terrifying sound – a low, guttural growl. And then the sound of something very, very big, moving quite close to me. An Ingati**, and it was standing right next to me. I could feel its hot breath on my neck and on the top of my head. For a moment, I could do nothing – every part of me felt as though it were frozen. But then, I found my voice and I screamed as loud as I could and ran, ran away despite not being able to see a single thing. And then I heard Mayan scream in response from outside the cave, and I followed the sound of her voice until I could see light. The two of us ran faster than we had ever run in our lives until we reached my father’s house, never once looking back to see if the Ingati was chasing us. We never went back into the forest after that. And ever since that day, when everything is completely dark around me, I…” She broke off finally, shaking her head. “Like I said, it is silly. Of course there are no Ingati on Babylon 5. I had no reason to be afraid when the lights went out. The dark is something children fear.”
Delenn, it is not silly at all,” Lennier reassured her. “You had a very traumatic experience as a child. It is to be expected that reminders of memories associated with that trauma, such as when the lights went out while you were alone in the hallway, continue to elicit fear. It is nothing to be ashamed of.”
His voice was so gentle and convincing that he suddenly made her fears seem perfectly valid to her, not childish as they had but a moment before. She withdrew her hand from between his and placed it on his upper arm, turning her body so that they faced each other. She felt him tense briefly at this different touch, but then relax. His eyes, illuminated by the candlelight, met hers for a moment. His soft smile was reflected in the depths of his eyes - eyes that, like with all Minbari, seemed to show the workings of his very soul. Maybe that was why Lennier lowered his gaze so often – he was such a private person that perhaps he wished to conceal his thoughts and emotions from others. If that were the truth, then Delenn felt honored that she had gained enough of his trust as of late for him to hold her gaze more frequently and longer, as he did now. Deep affection mingled with concern as he watched her, relaxing a bit more into her touch as the moments went by.
“Thank you, Lennier,” she murmured. “It seems that all my life I have needed to put on one brave face or another. To impress Dukhat, to hold my own in the Gray Council meetings, and so much more recently to convince our people that even though my appearance has changed, my ideas are still for their own good. But with you, I find that I need not wear a mask. You know my darkest secret, and still you continue to offer your unwavering devotion. I wish I knew how to express the true depths of my gratitude for that. And even though the universe might laugh at my silly little fear of the dark, you reassure and comfort me. You are so very kind to do that.” She broke off harshly, the peace of the moment broken as she remembered once more the childishness of her fear.
“Not at all, Delenn.” The gentleness of Lennier’s voice mingled with a slight desperation, as though his world depended on making her see that she had nothing to be ashamed of. She smiled weakly at him, but she doubted he was convinced that she felt reassured on this matter. This was confirmed when he spoke again, more hesitantly this time.
“Would…would it make you feel better if I told you that I had a similar experience as a young child – one that left me with a fear others might consider juvenile?”
“The thought of you experiencing any kind of discomfort makes me feel the furthest thing from better, Lennier.” She heard more harshness in her own voice than she had intended. She saw pain flood Lennier’s eyes at the idea that his words had worsened things for her, and then his gaze dropped. She ought to have policed herself more carefully – Lennier was opening his heart to her, further baring his already sensitive soul. It was not fair to him for her to allow herself to ignore his need to protect her in all ways, despite her own misery.
“But…it does help to know that I am not alone,” she amended. She took his hand and pressed it gently, and at the gesture he raised his eyes to meet hers again. “But I must admit that this admission surprises me, Lennier. I have rarely known you be afraid of anything, although of course I do not think less of you for being so.”
Lennier chuckled softly, the sound seeming out of place for the situation. “You were not aware of this particular…idiosyncrasy of mine because there are no thunderstorms in space, Delenn.”
“But they are frequent on Minbar,” she pointed out, seeing where this was going. He nodded, shifting position uncomfortably on the couch and then stifling a wince when the action jarred his painful side.
“I think I was approximately the same age as you were in the story you just told me. One of the monks took the youngest novitiates on a walk in the woods to learn the plants that grew there – which were for eating, which were for healing, and which were dangerous. We passed the ruins of an ancient temple, so old that the roof had long since caved in from the ravages of time. Our teacher told us it was over a millennium old. The forest had grown up around it and into it, and the crystal in the walls was dull from not having been polished in so long. But even as a young child, I was fascinated with history, and as I listened to my teacher I could not help but wonder what life must have been like so long ago. Did the children growing up in that temple one thousand years ago have the same experiences I did? Did they go for walks in the forest, too, and say the same prayers every day? I was desperate to see inside the ruins – maybe that would answer my questions. So when my teacher stopped to show the class some wild herbs growing next to the ruins, I saw my chance.
“I never intended to be gone for more than a couple of minutes. But once I stepped over that crumbling threshold, Delenn, it was like I had been transported back into another time. I looked around me and my imagination took over. I went from room to room, trying to guess what each had been used for, imagining that I lived there and studied in the time of Valen. But after quite a long while, I remembered what I was supposed to be doing. I ran outside, but my teacher and all of my fellow novitiates were gone. I was all alone, and I had no idea where I was. I ran through the forest, calling the names of my teacher and my friends. But they were nowhere to be found. Not knowing what else to do, I managed to find my way back to the ruins. Just as I reached them, the sky darkened and lightning streaked across the sky and thunder cracked so loudly that the whole of the ruins shook. Sobbing with terror, I ran inside just as the rain started to pour. But without a roof, it did no good. Within seconds I was soaking wet, and since it was late autumn, I soon took a terrible chill. I curled up, shivering, in a corner of the ancient temple; my play-place that had seemed so magical but minutes before was now terrifying, holding me prisoner. And with every bolt of lightning and crack of thunder my fear only intensified. I cried and cried, thinking I would never get back to my friends and teachers and temple. And I was so worried that if they did find me, my teachers would be angry with me for wandering off, and that made me feel all the worse.
“It turned out that once my teacher realized I was missing, every monk in our temple went out in the storm to look for me. By the time they found me, I was barely conscious. They carried me back to the flier and rushed me to the temple’s healing rooms, and it took the healers there nearly two hours to get my body temperature back up to normal. And then it just kept going up – I was ill for over a week after that with a fever and a terrible cough. Which was awful of its own accord, but what really made it horrible for me was that it meant I had to stay in bed and miss the next trip, which was to the history museum in Tuzenor. I was so upset, even though my friends came to visit me in the healing rooms and told me all about it afterward. The monks didn’t punish me for wandering off, though – between being ill and not being able to go on a trip I’d been looking forward to for months, apparently they thought I had done penance enough. Anyway, of course I recovered eventually, and we went back to the museum the next year. But every time there has been a thunderstorm since then – and they happen often on Minbar, as you said – I cannot stop myself from imagining I am back in those ruins, freezing and shaking and so terrified.” Lennier sighed shakily, and Delenn squeezed his hand.
“Oh Lennier, that sounds positively awful,” she murmured, imagining him as a frightened child, alone and cold and scared, and feeling her heart break. “But how could your teacher not have noticed you were missing?”
“I was a quiet child,” said Lennier simply, as though this was an acceptable explanation. Delenn felt anger mingle with sadness at the thought of little Lennier being left behind because of a personality trait. She wanted to argue that that was no excuse, but she realized there was no point. It was in the past, and obviously the fault had not been Lennier’s. He had lowered his eyes again, and his expression was a troubled one. He was obviously caught up in that terrible memory.
“Thank you for sharing that story with me, Lennier,” said Delenn gently. “I can tell it was difficult for you to talk about, and I do not blame you in the least for continuing to feel discomfort during thunderstorms.”
“Did it help?” His eyes were wide in the candlelight, full of desperate hope that his vulnerability had benefited her. Delenn was not sure if it was how much he clearly cared for her, or the story he had just told, or her own discomfort in the still-dark room, but she suddenly felt the need to be very close to him. Moving very slowly to avoid jarring or compressing the area of his incision, Delenn leaned into Lennier. He seemed quite surprised for a moment, but then he wrapped his arm around her body and relaxed just the tiniest bit.
“It did help,” she whispered, nestling her cheek into the left side of his chest, the warmth he generated bringing comfort to her unsettled heart. She felt him draw a shaky breath – almost a gasp – as though he could not quite believe what was happening. But she did not expect him to resist, and she was right. After several seconds, he very slowly began to lower his head until she could feel his breath against her hair. He seemed to silently ask permission to continue with every inch he moved until he was resting his forehead against the top of her head. She felt him tense as soon as he reached this final position, as though he was expecting to be reprimanded or rejected. But she found she did not mind his forwardness – in fact, she welcomed it. Lennier had worked hard to best his engrained timidity because he knew she wanted him to overcome the constant reverence drilled into every Religious Caste Minbari. She returned the gesture by nuzzling his neck lightly, and she felt him sigh with bliss tempered by the slightest bit of remaining disbelief.
Just then, the ever-present mechanical hums of civilized life that were so easy to become accustomed to – the running of the refrigerator and the air recycling system – fractured the silence that had previously only been interrupted by their breathing. The sounds, normally so innocuous, seemed nearly deafening to Delenn. A fraction of a second later, artificial light flooded the little room. She squinted for a moment as her eyes became acclimatized to the sudden change.
“It appears as though Babylon 5’s maintenance crews have proved their industriousness once again,” she said. She felt an odd mixture of relief at the banishment of the darkness (and with it, her fear) and disappointment at the premature termination of what had been a rather lovely, and now that she thought about it, intimate moment. She sat up so she could look Lennier in the eyes, but to her sadness, she found that he had lowered his gaze, his moment of boldness chased away by the light.
“I…I suppose you will want to be getting back to your own quarters, now that the power has been restored,” he said softly, a heartbreaking despondency edging at his voice. He clasped his hands in front of him, his thumbs automatically finding their default triangled position.
Delenn almost agreed with him. She had, after all, been on her way to her quarters when the power had gone out. Had that unexpected occurrence not happened, she would never have even gone into Lennier’s quarters that night in the first place. The logical thing would be for her to leave and continue to her own quarters as planned. But recalling how safe and comfortable she had felt at Lennier’s presence and touch but moments ago, she suddenly found that she no longer wished to adhere to that plan. Moving slowly to avoid startling him, she reached out and laid her cupped hand ever so gently on Lennier’s cheek. He startled a bit at her touch, raising his gaze to meet hers once more. The hope in his eyes was unlike anything she had ever seen.
“On the contrary, if it is not an imposition, I think I would like to stay here for awhile with you, Lennier,” she murmured, regarding him with the smallest of smiles.
Lennier’s astonishment turned to joy as he processed what she had just said to him, and what it meant. His voice trembled nearly imperceptibly as he whispered,
“I would like that, too. Very much.”
Delenn laid her head on his chest once more, and after several moments she felt him begin to relax into her touch again, and he resumed resting his forehead against her hair. After a moment more, Delenn interlaced her fingers with Lennier’s. For just like their hands were joined, so were their hearts and souls. They were two people brought to the same place at the same time by fate. Together, they had accomplished much, and endured so much more. Delenn’s world had been torn apart again and again, and she had lost so much she held dear. More recently, Lennier had started down a similar path. Delenn did not know where the future would take them, but if the past was anything by which to judge, it was likely to bring them great suffering.
But tonight, they could just hold the dread and the worry and the uncertainty at bay. Because tonight, they each took comfort in the presence of the other, reminding them that they were not all alone in this dark night.