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Title: The Heart's Compass
Author: [personal profile] icepixie
Rating: PG
Pairing: Ivanova/Delenn
Word Count: 9,870
Summary: Moments from the universe where Delenn chose Susan Ivanova as the other half of her soul.

Many thanks to rivendellrose for beta work, encouragement, and more than a few of the ideas in here.

* * *

Susan Ivanova was a hard egg to crack, as the humans said. The lieutenant commander had arrived on Babylon 5 almost a month ago, and Delenn had yet to exchange more than a few words with her. But she spied her in the Zocalo, heading for a transport tube, and hurried—she did not run; Minbari of her rank and status never ran unless engaged in fitness activities—to catch up to her. "Lieutenant Commander!" she called as the lift doors opened.

Ivanova turned, saw her, and held the door. Delenn gracefully slipped in beside her. "Green Fourteen," she said, though she had no particular desire to return to her quarters.

Once the lift was in motion, she said, "I have been hoping to speak to you for some time now. In my role as ambassador to Babylon 5, I feel it is my duty to learn all that I can about human culture, and to try and build bridges of understanding between our two peoples. Do you think I might have a few hours of your time to pursue that goal?"

Ivanova, she noticed, took a step back, bumping up against the wall of the lift. "I'm afraid my duties keep me very busy, Ambassador. Perhaps you could find someone else—"

"I would greatly appreciate it if you would join me for tea, Lieutenant Commander," she said smoothly. "Are you free any evening this week?"

"I..." She gaped for a moment. "I suppose...Thursday? My shift ends at 1700—five o'clock."

Delenn placed her hands in a triangle and bowed. "I will expect you then." The lift stopped then, the doors opening to Green Sector. Delenn stepped into the hallway, leaving a very confused young woman in her wake.

* * *

Prophecies are notoriously difficult to interpret, and it had taken Delenn some time to understand what this one demanded of her. When she did, it seemed an impossible task: discover the other half of her soul, the one out of all the humans in the galaxy who would help her show their peoples that they did not have to be enemies, that in fact they had more in common than any of them had ever guessed.

No one had ever said it would be easy.

And yet the first time she met the station's new executive officer, speaking stiltedly in her presence and apparently unsure of exactly what to do with her hands, that was exactly what it was. The moment was almost anti-climactic.

But the universe has a way of subverting expectations. The part she had expected to be simple turned out to be perhaps the most maddeningly difficult thing she had ever undertaken in her life. She had never dreamed it would be so challenging to simply keep the human woman in one place long enough to speak, much less earn her trust.

Nor, she thought during their third "tea and diplomacy" session, as Ivanova settled more easily into her usual chair, finally holding the cup as if it were a cup and not a ticking bomb—nor had she thought it would be so fascinating.

* * *

Ivanova was attacking a punching bag when Delenn walked into the gym, and she waited politely for the younger woman to finish before clearing her throat.

"Ambassador," Ivanova said, obviously taken aback by both her presence and her clothing, a fitted pair of trousers and a thin shirt rather than her usual heavy robes. "I didn't expect to see you here."

She bowed lightly. "I heard you were without a sparring partner." Actually, she'd heard that the lieutenant commander had frightened away all the potential partners among the humans. There was a rumor that she'd left the last one, Ensign Kalos, with four broken ribs, and he had sworn never to be in the gym with her again. "I thought I might offer myself as a replacement."

She could practically see Ivanova wondering how bad the repercussions would be if she managed to injure an ambassador. "You will not have to 'pull your punches,' as you say," she assured her. "The Minbari skeletal structure is much stronger than that of a human."

"Ambassador, I don't think that this would be..."

"You would do me a great honor," she insisted.

Ivanova's face fell. "I suppose it would be bad form for me to say no, wouldn't it?"

Delenn merely nodded.

They stepped onto the mat and began circling each other. She let Ivanova attack first; the other woman, she could tell, was holding back, afraid of hurting her. With three quick movements, she swept Ivanova's legs out from under her, pinned her to the mat with a knee to the chest, and jammed her forearm up under her chin. She almost laughed at Susan's wide-eyed stare. "As I said, Lieutenant Commander, you may treat me as you would any other opponent."

Delenn pinned her twice more before Susan finally managed to catch her unawares. She landed hard on her back, the breath knocked out of her, while Susan straddled her hips triumphantly. Delenn had never seen her smile like that before.

After a moment, Ivanova rolled off of her and drew herself upright, offering her hand. Delenn let her pull her up.

"Thank you, Ambassador," Susan said, still smiling broadly. "That was...extraordinary."

"I quite agree. Would you care to do it again sometime?"

She nodded. "Absolutely. The same time next week?"

"I will be here."

* * *

Ivanova had invited her over to her quarters to partake of something called "coffee." "And not that swill the cafes in Red Sector try to pass off as coffee, either," she had said. "This is the real stuff. My coffee plant ripened a few days ago."

She could hardly refuse an invitation as interesting as that.

Unfortunately, the brew itself was...well, "noxious" would be an insult to all other noxious brews out there. She couldn't help the face she made at her first sip.

Ivanova's laugh rang through the room. "I'm sorry. I forgot that it's something of an acquired taste even among humans. Here, I think I've got some sugar around here somewhere, and maybe even some milk..." She hopped off the couch and went into her tiny kitchen to rummage through the cabinets. After a moment, she returned with a small container of sugar crystals and a pint of reconstituted cow's milk. Taking Delenn's cup from her, she swiftly doctored it, turning the black liquid a creamy tan with the additives. "Try that, Ambassador."

Delenn paused before lifting the cup to her lips. "I think perhaps we are at the point where we can dispense with titles, are we not...Susan?"

Her eyes widened, but she gave no other sign that the question had surprised her. "I suppose we are. Delenn."

"Good," she said, and sipped her coffee.

"Well?" Susan asked. "Is it better?"

Truthfully, it was something she would do her best to never have to drink again, but at least she could choke down the rest of her cup. "Yes. It's sweet. Like kani A'fa'an."

"What's that?"

"A dessert on my homeworld." She didn't add that, because of Adronato's tendency toward homophones, the phrase as spoken had another meaning: It's sweet. Like a girl I know.

* * *

She watched Susan and Talia Winters see Alisa off at the departure gate, unseen by any of them. When Alisa disappeared down the hall, Delenn approached the two human women. "...a drink?" she heard Miss Winters say.

"Lieutenant Commander," she said, startling both of them. "I apologize for interrupting, but I have a Council matter I must discuss with you at once."

Suspicion showed on Susan's face for the briefest moment before it passed, and she nodded. "Of course, Ambassador. Miss Winters, perhaps another time?"

"Of course." She nodded at both of them, curiosity obvious in the quirk of her eyebrows.

Delenn almost wrapped her fingers around Susan's elbow as they walked away, but stopped herself from reaching over. Not yet, she told herself. But soon.

* * *

Every cell in her body was on fire. She couldn't speak, could barely breathe as the cocoon wove itself around her, shutting out light, noise, and air. She thought of Minbar, of the humans' homeworld, and all the billions of souls she was doing this for, trying to ignore the feeling of her bones dissolving beneath her skin, which would soon liquefy as well. She had known in her heart that she was interpreting the prophecy correctly, doing the right thing at the right time, no matter what the others said. But soon this heart would no longer exist, and she would have a new form.

What would her heart know then?

* * *

When she walked into the Council chamber, revealing her new self to everyone, Delenn had eyes only for Ivanova's reaction. The expression on her face made at least some of the pain and uncertainly entirely worth it. Susan's eyes widened and her mouth dropped open a bit. Delenn had been reading about human sexual response, and she was gratified to see two spots of rose appear on Susan's cheeks.

* * *

"I have been hearing rumors," she told Susan a few days later as they walked out of another council meeting, "that I have variously grown fur, wings, and a tail."

Susan stifled a laugh. "Did you ever play—well, it's a game where one person whispers something in someone else's ear, and each person repeats what they heard to another person, and the last one in the chain tells their sentence to the group. Usually it's completely different from what it started out as. I think that might be what's happening now."

"We have something similar, yes." They turned a corner, passing several humans and aliens alike. Most of them stared at her. "I think it would be a good idea to let other people see me as I am now, to reassure them that I have not changed into a beast from a fairy tale, or from a zoo."

"I agree; it's a great idea." They were almost at the transport tube, where they would have to part ways as Susan ascended to C&C and Delenn continued to her quarters.

"So you will join me for dinner tonight, where many people will see us?"

Susan choked. "Excuse me?" she asked once she'd regained her breath.

"It would be arrogant to wander through public areas of the station purely so people can look at me. But if I am merely having dinner with someone, then other people seeing me is incidental."

A long moment of silence passed between them. "Are you always this logical when you want something, and I just haven't noticed?" Susan finally asked.

Delenn couldn't help but laugh at her peeved expression. Eventually, Susan smiled back, saying, "All right, I'll come."

* * *

She had not expected the feeling of Susan's fingers in her new hair to be so erotic. The strands were made of keratin, dead cells, or so the definition she read insisted, and yet every movement Susan made as she deftly braided the hair sent a flicker of electricity along her scalp. She wished she could see the human woman's face.

"There," Susan said, tying the end of the braid with one of the leather thongs she used in her own hair. "That'll keep it out of your face. Come and look." They walked over to the mirror, and Delenn looked at herself. With her hair pulled back and hidden from view, what remained of her bone crest was more prominent. Longing for her old body shot through her, an almost physical pain.

Somewhat hesitantly, Susan said, "You know, I think I liked it better loose."

Delenn forced herself to reach up and slide the thong off the end of the braid. "As did I." With Susan's help, she untwisted her hair, rearranging it so part of the mass fell over her shoulders, hiding the trace of her old self she had seen in the mirror.

She turned to look at Susan and touched her shoulder. In return for all that she had given up, surely she had a right to ask...

Susan's link beeped. She brought it to her mouth. "Ivanova."

She knew what the person on the other end would say. She almost mouthed it along with him. Sorry to interrupt, Commander, but you're needed in C&C.

"I'll be right there." She gave Delenn an apologetic glance. "Duty calls, I'm afraid."

"I understand." She bowed slowly. "Thank you for your help."

Susan bobbed her head and shoulders in a gesture that was too deep for a nod, not deep enough for a bow, but rather caught between the two. She had picked it up a few months ago, and used it, as far as Delenn could tell, only with her. "No problem. I was glad to help."

She left then, and Delenn stood staring at the door for a moment. She remembered too late that she still held Susan's hair tie in her hand, her fingers looped in the elastic, the leather ornament pressed against her palm.

* * *

Susan had come by to drop off a form which, once Delenn authorized it, would allow Minbari suppliers to continue trading with Babylon 5 for another year. She was persuaded to stay for a cup of tea.

But Delenn noticed that she couldn't seem to sit still. After only a few sips, she set her cup on the table and began to wander around the room, fixing her gaze on something—a set of crystals, a painting, the comm system attached to the desk—but never actually focusing on it.

Finally, Delenn approached her and asked what was wrong. Susan wouldn't look at her; Delenn had to catch her chin in her hand like a stubborn child's. She stroked her fingertips over Susan's cheek, imploring her again to explain what was bothering her.

"It's just...this ancient enemy. The Shadows. It's all so incredible; like something out of a child's story. But it's not, is it?"

Even for a human, Susan was so young. "No. No, it's not."

"And we have to fight them. We have to make sure they never come back." She swallowed hard. "I want to be strong enough for this, but there's so much I don't know."

Heedless of the restraint she had been trying to impose on herself since they'd met, Delenn slid her arms around Susan's shoulders and hugged her fiercely. "You are the strongest person I know. You will learn. And I will be by your side through all of it."

* * *

Once, she asked Lennier what he thought of her actions. "You are doing what you believe is right," he said, "as we all must."

She was reassured by what he said. Several years later, she realized she should've paid more attention to how he said it.

* * *

After she returned from her trip to the Grey Council's vessel, she attended to paperwork that had been neglected, proofread documents for trade agreements that would need to be renewed next year, and read several human novels in an effort to improve her understanding of English idiom. She was so busy, she had to take her meals in her quarters.

In other words, she hid. Given what had happened during her meeting with the Council, she thought it a reasonable enough reaction.

However, her work eventually required that she rejoin civilization, so several days after her return, she left her quarters for a meeting with the Brakiri ambassador. The last thing she expected was that she would run into Susan, and that the human woman would greet her in Adronato.

"I've been teaching myself Minbari," she said, unable to suppress a proud grin.

An unexpected warmth shot through her veins. "That's wonderful!" She took Susan's hand and squeezed it. "What else have you learned?"

She watched Susan take a deep breath. Though her accent was far from perfect, the meaning was quite clear. "May I have the honor of escorting a beautiful woman to dinner tonight?"

* * *

In all the times she'd rung the doorchime, Susan had never refused her entrance to her quarters. But this time, when Delenn identified herself, she received a curt, "Now's not the best time," in response.

Though her business wasn't urgent, Delenn decided an exaggeration was in both of their best interests—Susan's because she might be able to help, and her own because worry had started to thread through her, provoking a nervous movement of fingers along the seam of her dress. "I must speak to you now. It is a matter of some importance."

A long silence elapsed. Then, a sigh in her voice, Susan told her to come in.

The room was dim, only one lamp casting a weak glow. Susan was curled up in a corner of the couch, her hand wrapped around a small glass filled with clear liquid. Delenn had a feeling it was not water.

Dropping any pretense of business, Delenn hurriedly crossed the room and sat down next to her. "What has happened?"

Susan stared into her glass. "I'd rather not talk about it," she mumbled.

Unsure exactly what to do, Delenn simply waited. For Susan to talk or for her to throw her out, she wasn't sure.

"It's Kosh," Susan suddenly blurted. "I think he's done it before, but today he..." Her eyes glittered in the low light. "He was in my mind."

The connection eluded her for a moment. "Vorlons are all telepaths," she said, unthinking. "Kosh has been in my mind before as well."

Then the penny (whatever that was; she despaired of ever understanding human expressions) dropped. "Your mother," she whispered. Given her history, of course telepathy would be a sensitive subject.

Susan tossed the contents of the glass down her throat, closing her eyes as she leaned her head back. She swallowed, and after a long moment opened her eyes again. "My mother," she echoed. Finally, she met Delenn's gaze. "I need you to promise me something."


"This never leaves the room. You won't tell anyone."

Her stomach lurched. Once told, whatever secret Susan was about to admit wasn't going to return to its hiding place. "You have my word."

Susan set the glass on the table next to her and stared at her lap. "My mother often went into my mind. It was such an incredible sensation, to actually feel how much she loved me. I wanted so badly to be able to go into her mind, to give her what she'd given me." Her shoulders rose, tension rippling through the muscles. "When I was eleven, I discovered...I could."

Delenn felt her mouth fall open. "But you are not a member of the Psi Corps," she said, once she'd recovered. The human government, she knew, held quite strictly to its position that any telepaths among their species must give their lives over to the organization or face the alternatives of imprisonment or regular injections of telepathy-dulling drugs. From what Susan had told her of her mother's experiences with it, she did not think it a particularly healthy approach to the gift of knowing another's mind.

"That's right," Susan said. "And I'm not going to be." She looked at Delenn, who heard the unspoken message loud and clear. Her ability, as she went on to describe it, would not even draw notice on Minbar, but as Susan said, it was enough to require membership in the Psi Corps should they ever learn of it.

After her friend had finished speaking, Delenn said, "Susan, thank you for trusting me with this. I promise I will never repeat it." Susan nodded, looking so miserable that Delenn couldn't help but put her hand on her arm. Susan was as close to breaking as she'd ever seen her, and she had to hold her together somehow. "For what it's worth, I have trusted Kosh with many things, even my life, over the years. I do not think he will betray your secret."

"If he does..." Her eyes narrowed. "I won't let them do the same thing to me that they did to my mother." Steel edged each of her words.

Delenn almost bit back what she said next. The prophecy... Damn the prophecy, she thought. Strange how a year ago, such a thought would have never entered her mind. "If you wish him never to enter your mind again, I will ask him not to."

Susan seemed to curl in on herself, lowering her head, raising her knees against her torso. "He has to, doesn't he? To teach me what I need to know?"

Delenn's heart broke for the brave, scared young woman beside her, and she wished she could somehow comfort her, in whatever small way. She wished.... "I believe so, yes."

"Then I'll let him. But only when he absolutely has to."

"Susan," she started, but then realized she had no idea how to continue. "Thank you" seemed inadequate repayment for all that she was giving up. So Delenn reached up and caressed her cheek. Susan leaned into the touch, and Delenn's thumb slipped over her lips.

"Sheridan to Ivanova," the captain's voice suddenly rang out in the room, and his image filled the vidscreen. They jumped apart, as if stung.

Quicker than Delenn could blink, Susan's professional mask descended, and she stood to address Sheridan. "Captain?"

"I need you in C&C on the double. We've got a situation up here."

"I'll be there in five minutes."

"Make it four, if you can. Sheridan out."

Susan looked at her, a tired apology in her glance. "I have to go."

She nodded. "If you need to, please come see me. Any time."

The mask dropped a bit. "Okay," she said. Then they were out the door, and she was gone.

Delenn hoped it would not be for too long.

* * *

The day she introduced Susan to the Rangers, she thought pride might make her heart burst. After explaining that the other woman now held equal command over them, she watched with no small delight as Susan glanced around her in awe.

Later, when they were alone, Susan asked what she couldn't in front of her new subordinates. "Are you sure? I mean, it's such a great responsibility, and I've never..."

She placed her hand over Susan's, wrapping her fingers around her warmer, human ones. "We must do this together, or not at all. I believe you will surprise yourself by how well you rise to the occasion."

Susan looked deeply unsure about that, but she nodded, and squeezed her hand. "I can't keep this from the captain. We've got to start letting him in on all this."

Her Minbari nature rebelled at the idea, but she reminded herself for the thousandth time that humans were different; they built bridges between each other, not walls of silence and secrecy. And that was what they needed if they were going to win this war. "I agree," she managed to say.

* * *

Sheridan never would have believed it coming only from her, she could tell. An ancient enemy, known only from stories and legends; Shadows moving against the blackness of space; an organized force of Minbari and human fighters...it was fantastic. But with both Ivanova and Garibaldi lending their voices to the tale, he had no choice but to believe.

"I'll do whatever I can to help," he promised. "But we may soon have our own battle to fight." He exchanged a glance with Ivanova, who nodded once. Turning to look at Delenn, Sheridan sketched out the details Susan had been keeping from her for the past six months, all the corruption within President Clark's administration.

Delenn had known something was deeply wrong in the human government. The way Susan would sometimes stare into the distance, trouble clouding her eyes until a touch or a word brought her back, would have been enough, but she had also seen the black armbands some of the humans wore, and the posters denouncing sedition that had begun to appear on the walls.

Her heart fell as she learned about the magnitude of the problems on Earth. She had hoped to build a united front against the Shadows; between her own people and the humans, it seemed instead that they were heading into this war more fractured than ever.

* * *

"Delenn," Susan said a few days later while they were having dinner together. "I was talking to one of the Rangers this morning, and he mentioned something called the Grey Council. I asked him what it was, and he said that you would know more about it than he did."

For the tiniest moment, Delenn froze, her fork halfway to her mouth. She set it down before Susan had a chance to notice. "It is a governing body on Minbar, dealing with those few issues that affect more than one of the castes."

Susan furrowed her brow. "You aren't...part of it. Are you?"

"No," she said. "No, I am not part of it. My place is here, on Babylon 5." She paused for a moment, focusing on Susan's face. "And here also, at this table."

A blush flared on Susan's cheeks, and Delenn smiled at the sight. Their conversation drifted to other, safer topics. By the end of the evening, no trace of her earlier curiosity remained on the human woman's face.

* * *

It took her several days to fully recover from the ordeal with Sebastian. Just when she thought the effects had passed, a muscle would twinge or a nerve would misfire.

Susan, too, was afflicted for a while after it was over. She never showed it to a casual glance, but Delenn could tell from the set of her jaw or the slight crease in her forehead that she was, at times, in pain.

On the other hand, when he left the station, Sebastian's cane was no longer an affectation.

* * *

When she returned from Sigma 957, Susan practically bounded into Delenn's quarters. "We found them!" she exclaimed. "We got them to sign on."

It was the first unequivocal piece of good news they'd had about the war in months. Had she been prone to such things, Delenn might have gone weak in the knees. Instead, she threw her arms around Susan, and felt her return the embrace just as fervently.

For more than two years, she had worried she would try too hard to hold on, and wind up watching Susan slip through her fingers like so much water. With their bodies pressed together so tightly that she could feel the rise and fall of her chest with each breath, Susan had never seemed more solid. If now wasn't the right time, then that moment was never going to come.

Besides, if she waited any longer, Delenn felt certain she would break into a million pieces from repressed desire.

Turning her head slightly, she pressed her lips to the corner of Susan's jaw. Her human skin, always a couple of degrees warmer than Delenn's own, felt almost incandescent against her mouth.

Susan didn't stiffen, or jump away, or make any other sign that her action was unwelcome. She only whispered her name, a question in her voice.

Delenn drew back enough so that they could both see each other. Susan's gaze flicked over her face, and Delenn held her breath, waiting to see what she would do. She must have liked what she saw, because her right hand drifted from Delenn's shoulder to the nape of her neck, and she pulled her into a soft but nonetheless extremely thorough kiss.

Apparently there was something that could make her weak in the knees after all.

* * *

Paradoxically, breaking away from their government had made the humans, or at least Captain Sheridan, more willing to throw their weight behind this war she had heard more than one of them call unwinnable.

Some of their willingness to help was undoubtedly borne of Delenn's own aid in their rebellion. After her return from the Grey Council's ship, Susan had thanked her—in a rather restrained manner, since so many others surrounded them, though the force of her grip on Delenn's hand came near to breaking even half-Minbari bones—but had not asked how she had accomplished it, for which she was grateful.

Later, she learned that when Susan did not ask the obvious question was precisely when she should worry the most.

* * *

When they were alone in the observation dome, which had been set aside for the rebirth ceremony (for after all, the elements of life were born in the stars; what better place to hold it?), Susan, as she had expected, handed her a neatly-folded EarthForce uniform jacket. Delenn acknowledged it with a nod and placed it with the three given to her by Sheridan, Garibaldi, and Franklin.

"And now I have to tell you something I've never told anyone else."

"That is the second half of the ceremony, yes."

Susan looked away, apparently unable to figure out what to do with her hands. Delenn was reminded of the first time she had seen her, looking just as awkward and uncertain.

Finally, with a sigh of frustration, she spoke. "I've never been good with...relationships. I leave, or they leave, or one of us always screws things up too badly to be repaired. They never last." She started to pace, probably without even realizing it. "I've never gotten to a point where I felt like I could..." She looked at Delenn and trailed off, clenching her hand into a fist. "Ah, hell, maybe this'll be easier in your language. Delenn...." She took a deep breath, and then said, in perfectly-accented Adronato, "A'fel E'."

Had the station suddenly doubled its rotation speed? she wondered. It certainly felt like something had jumbled her internal organs, and surely a few words, even those words, shouldn't have that much of an effect. Should they? "Susan," she asked, "are you...entirely sure of the translation?"

The answer was immediate. "Yes."

She was just going to have to get used to the unsettled feeling those words caused, because she wanted to hear them every day for the rest of her life. She took a step forward and took Susan's hands in hers. "A'fel E' do'mith, Susan." I love you as well.

It was something she'd assumed she would say to a human at some point. She hadn't ever imagined she would mean it. The limits of her heart, it seemed, stretched further than she had ever known.

* * *

Patience was not one of Susan Ivanova's greatest virtues. "Three nights?" she said, dumbfounded. "Three nights before I can even...?" One hand reached toward her, unconsciously grasping.

"Yes," Delenn told her. "But after that..." After that, there were more rituals, ceremonies that if done properly should take more than two months.

As it turned out, patience was not one of Delenn of Mir's greatest virtues either.

* * *

The change had dulled her sight and hearing, compromised the strength of her Minbari skeleton, but it had given her skin the gift of tremendous sensitivity. Perhaps all humans felt the touch of another this keenly—if so, how did they live? Then again, maybe it was just those lucky enough to be touched by Susan Ivanova who felt like this.

As she started unzipping her dress, Susan raised her head from Delenn's neck, where she had spent the past several minutes kissing every bit of skin she could reach, thus prompting Delenn's increasingly fragmented musings about human biology. "Delenn," she said, looking somewhat embarrassed. "We are...compatible, aren't we?"

The corners of Delenn's lips gradually turned up as she slipped her hands underneath Susan's jacket, which she had just finished unbuttoning. Susan gasped, which only made her smile wider. "I have studied human anatomy extensively since my change. I think you will find we have all of the same relevant parts." She leaned forward and kissed her quickly, drawing her tongue along Susan's lower lip before breaking the bond. "Whether we are 'compatible,' I believe, is entirely up to our own imaginations."

"Really," Susan said, and something sly had entered her voice. She finished unzipping the dress, and like lightning, shoved it off Delenn's shoulders to puddle at her hips. Delenn easily shifted so that it fell from the bed to the floor. Without warning, Susan grabbed her shoulders and pushed her onto her back. Her weight pressing Delenn to the bed, she grinned. "Then we should get right on figuring that out."

* * *

These days, they were all so terribly busy with strategies and plans that simpler things like food and sleep had fallen by the wayside. In the few hours she and Susan had stolen together over the past two weeks, she had seen that laughter was something else which had been neglected.

Determined to set at least that much to rights, she entered the war room one evening and sat next to Susan, who was busy going over supply charts for the newest refugee colony. It took Susan a moment to notice her. "Hey," she said, actually putting her pen down. Delenn took this as a good sign. "Is there something you need?"

"Yes," she said. "I need to ask you something."

Susan tilted her head, looking both curious and apprehensive. "What?"

"How many Vorlons does it take to screw in a light bulb?"

Her eyebrows shot up, and she blinked in disbelief. "You came here to tell me a light bulb joke?"

Delenn was on the verge of laughing out loud, but she schooled her features into a serious expression. "Answer the question."

For a moment, she thought Susan would refuse, but eventually she sighed and said, "I don't know. How many Vorlons does it take to screw in a light bulb?"

"None. A Vorlon needs only to step out of its encounter suit, and then there is no need for a light bulb."

A long pause transpired, and then—"Delenn!" Susan groaned, though her eyes were mirthful. "That's terrible!"

She grinned back at her. "But it made you laugh, did it not?"

The laughter she was not quite able to conceal required her to concede the point. "Yes." Another giggle escaped before she managed to control herself. "Thank you." Though there were others in the room, Susan leaned over and pecked her cheek. "Now get out of here; I have work to do, and you are a distraction."

She stood up and pushed the chair in. "But I will see you later?"

"I'll come by when I'm done here. It shouldn't take much longer."

Were she not an ambassador, former Satai, and Entil'zha, she might have been said to skip up the stairs to the door. As she was all of these things, she merely climbed them. Just before she reached the door, Mr. Garibaldi barreled in, nearly knocking her over.

"Ivanova!" he cried, crashing down the steps. "Turn on your monitor." She did. Delenn waited on the mezzanine, her hands clutching the rail so tightly her knuckles turned white.

The spidery forms of Shadow ships appeared on the monitor, surrounding Andrala 5, one of the Rim worlds. She tried to count them, but quickly found it impossible; more appeared all the time, jumping in and immediately starting to fire on the defenseless colony below. She remembered the name; over a billion people lived on that world.

Had lived on that world. Nothing could survive that. Nothing at all.

Her steps heavy, she returned to the table for what was about to become an emergency session of the war council.

* * *

She was still struggling to wrap her mind around it all when they entered hyperspace on their way back from Babylon 4. The phrase "Minbari not born of Minbari" had worn a groove into her mind as it had all other Minbari's, but she had never expected that to mean that Valen was...or that she was his...or that she and he and Susan were all...

As she sat mulling this over on the bridge of the White Star, Susan approached her and leaned against the thin railing enclosing the station. "So was it just me," she said, "or did Zathras make absolutely no sense to you either?"

* * *

Had she known how to waltz, she would have done so as she entered the Zen garden several weeks later. Things were looking up: they had finally gotten all of the League races to sign on to the alliance against the Shadows, the first time they'd been united in anything. She had hoped to find Susan and celebrate somehow, and had thus tracked her to the garden.

However, her good mood evaporated when she saw Susan's expression. Her mouth was set in a narrow line, and her eyes were as cold and hard as glacier ice.

"Susan?" she asked, the faintest of tremors in her voice.

Susan's voice, on the other hand, rang with the clarity of steel on steel. "I heard a name today from one of the Minbari on the White Star. 'Dukhat.'"

Delenn felt her stomach fall through the deck.

"I'm no diplomat, but I can be fairly persuasive when I want to," Susan continued. "I learned that he died on the Rathili when our side fired on it. And that he was your teacher. He nominated you to the Grey Council."

"Yes," Delenn breathed.

"You were there, weren't you? You were part of the group that gave the order to fire on our ships. That's why you never told us what you did during the war." She didn't give her a chance to respond. "My brother died fighting your people!"

"And that is why I could not tell you!" she cried. "If we let this come between us now, twelve years after it ended, we will have no hope against the Shadows!"

Susan's eyes blazed. "You were going to keep this from me just because the timing was wrong?" she hissed. "When were you going to tell me? After the war was over? After we'd bound our lives together? Never?"

Even if she had had an answer, she didn't think she would have been able get it out through the tears choking her throat. She had never liked the ease with which her human biology resorted to them.

Except for Delenn's ragged breathing, all was silent for a moment before Susan delivered her parting shot. "They were right about you. Minbari never tell the whole truth."

Her boots rang against the stone floor, and then she was gone.

* * *

She saw no trace of Susan for the next three days, and the human woman also refused to answer four separate calls placed to her quarters.

Lennier tried to get her to eat, but Delenn merely shook her head every time he offered something. She stared at a candle flame, trying to meditate, but Susan's face, looking as it did in that horrible final moment, kept swimming in front of her eyes.

Well after midnight on the third night, she blew the candle out and ordered the comm system to start recording. When the red light started blinking, she shaped words to the voice of her heart. "If you believe nothing else I ever say, believe this: I love you."

* * *

Before heading to Downbelow to meet one of Marcus's informants, she stopped by Captain Sheridan's office and handed him a data crystal, asking that he give it to Susan as soon as possible.

He held it contemplatively before quirking an eyebrow at her. "Susan...hasn't seemed herself for the past couple of days. I got the impression it has something to do with you."

Shame flooded her, and she felt her face grow hot. A word echoed in her head: Starkiller. No; she'd sworn she would put it all behind her. She would keep that vow, unless she had no other choice.

"I believe that is for her to say, not me. Please see that she gets the crystal." Leaving Sheridan to his curiosity, she made a hurried exit.

She arrived at the dingy bar in Downbelow a little early for her meeting, so she requested a glass of water from the bartender and sat at a corner table, trying to look inconspicuous.

She failed.

"This place isn't for the likes of you, halfbreed," a rough voice said in her ear. Perhaps her reflexes were dulled by the turmoil in her heart; whatever the reason, she did not move quickly enough to prevent the human from jerking her upright and pressing a knife to her throat.

She quickly counted the men who had instantly closed a circle around them. Five, plus the one currently holding her captive. From what she could see, the rest of the bar's patrons were studiously ignoring the group in the corner.

The one holding her spoke again. "I think we should show this one where her kind belong." Nods and mutters of assent followed his words, and the group as a whole began to move toward the door. She looked for an opening, a way to move that would not immediately get her throat slit, but found none. Her best course of action seemed to be to let them take her wherever they were going, and try to strike once she was in a better position to do so.

Before that happened, she felt a syringe jab into her arm. She cried out once, and then the world went dark.

* * *

She woke up slowly, input from her various senses filtering in separately. There was cold metal under her back, probably an uncarpeted deckplate. Her hands and feet, she discovered when she tried to move them, were bound with strips of rolled cloth. She could smell human sweat and stale food odors, which meant they were likely still somewhere in Downbelow.

She didn't open her eyes, judging that she would have more options if her captors did not know she had woken. But as her head throbbed from the sedative, and a wet, sticky spot on her side began to pound a similar tattoo, she found it most difficult to keep from screaming in pain.

"I think we should just kill her now," one of her captors said, sounding about ten feet away. "We could always vid it—send the feed out to the station, then back home. They'll get the message."

"No!" the one who had held the knife in her throat back in the bar shouted. "This needs to be done right. We have to make sure they understand. We'll do it when Sheridan comes down to watch."

"Minbari-lover," another one spat. "Him and Ivanova both. The whole pack of 'em up there."

She gasped at Susan's name, and prayed none of them would notice. It seemed, for now, that they were too occupied by their discussion, which had turned to rather graphic speculation on the nature of Delenn's relationship with the rest of the command staff.

Right around the point where one of them introduced Mr. Garibaldi to the conversation, a door blew off its hinges.

The room exploded with the percussion of gunfire, the cacophony of shouts (from those merely surprised) and screams (from those who had caught a PPG blast), and the thudding of booted feet running into the room. Her eyes flew open, and she saw twelve black-suited, helmeted members of Security pouring through the door. Her vision was blurred from the drug and the pain, and she didn't entirely catch what happened after that; first the soldiers were at the door, then, like a swarm of kaf'na, they seemed to be everywhere at once. PPG fire and the sound of human voices, both pained and outraged, continued to echo in the confines of the room.

Delenn realized it would be prudent to present a smaller target for the energy blasts flying around the room. She tried to curl up on herself, and that finally brought the pain in her side to a level she could no longer endure. Her scream was loud enough to be heard over the fighting, which, given the uneven numbers, was quickly winding down in favor of the security team.

She'd closed her eyes again against the pain, but the sound of someone running toward her vibrated in her ears and body. Whoever it was knelt beside her. "Delenn?" she heard Susan's frightened voice ask, and she nearly fainted from relief. Warm human fingers pressed against her neck for a moment, and Susan must have found the thready pulse, because she murmured, "Oh, thank God," before shouting for a medic.

Delenn forced her eyes back open. The room swam; Susan's face, pale under her helmet, blurred before her. "Susan?" she whispered.

"I'm right here. I won't leave you, I promise."

Delenn couldn't make the same vow. Her eyes were already closing again, and the pain in her side was dimming all of her senses. It felt like someone had removed the deck plating and sent her drifting down, level by level, into a cold and unforgiving darkness.

She heard nothing else.

* * *

The next time she woke up, it was the to the quiet hum of machinery and the bright lights of Med Lab. And also to Susan, who slumped in a chair next to the bed, her eyes closed and face drawn. A bandage stretched over one temple. Her voice hoarse, Delenn called her name.

Susan's eyes flew open. "Delenn!" she cried. "You're awake!" Her hand seemed to instinctively find its place in Delenn's own. "We weren't sure..."

Before she could finish, Dr. Franklin bustled into the room, shooing Susan out for a moment so he could perform whatever tests were apparently called for after someone was kidnapped, sedated, stabbed, and nearly murdered. No wonder her side had hurt the last time she'd been awake. She'd been in a coma for nearly two days while they put her back together, Franklin said, but now that she was awake, she should make a full recovery from her injuries.

She asked what had happened to the men who'd taken her. "Good riddance," he spat. "Four of them were killed in the firefight when Ivanova took the tac team in. The other two are in the brig waiting to be tried."

"Ivanova led the security team?" Shouldn't that have been Mr. Garibaldi's or Sergeant Allen's job?

Something knowing passed over his face. "You two really should talk," he said. "I'll give you half an hour, but then I want you resting and her back in her quarters doing the same." With that, he left the room.

A moment later, Susan came back in and returned to the chair beside the bed. Her eyes were still haunted, but she offered a tired smile.

Though a million possible words sprung to the tip of her tongue, Delenn let Susan speak first. As she did, her hand crept back toward Delenn's, and Delenn held onto it like a lifeline. Like a promise.

"I got your message," Susan said. "I was..." She looked away for a moment, but clasped Delenn's hand even more tightly. When she returned her gaze to the bed, her eyes had acquired a watery sheen. "Oh, God, I thought you were going to die thinking that I.... Delenn, I'm sorry."

She felt a pain in her chest that had nothing to do with her recent injuries. "It is I who should apologize. You were right; I should have told you." Human candor was a lesson she thought she might spend the rest of her life learning. "I will do my best not to make that mistake again."

Susan nodded once, a sharp jerk of her head up and down. Delenn knew that this was the last they would speak of it, at least for now. Perhaps unconsciously, Susan began rubbing her thumb over Delenn's knuckle, and changed the subject. "While I, uh, wasn't speaking to you, a man named Torin Qing came to see me."

The name startled her badly. "He was one of the..."

"Crew members of the Icarus. I looked him up after we talked."

She didn't want to have this conversation. "What did he want?" she asked anyway.

Susan stared at a point a few inches over her shoulder. "Funny. He asked me that same question."

Delenn felt her throat constrict, and her whole body grow rigid. The power of speech left her entirely.

"I told him I wanted information. I thought if I pretended to be interested in what he had to give, I could find out something useful."

Susan finally looked at her again, and Delenn knew that she never, ever wanted to learn exactly how easy it had been for her to feign interest in what Qing had to offer.

Susan kept talking, and both excitement and despair entered her voice. "I did find out something." She related what the Shadow agent—for of course he had to be; no one came back from Z'ha'dum without having entered their service—had explained, everything about the Shadows as agents of chaos, and the Vorlons as shepherds of order. Some of it, Delenn had known before; most of it was new to her.

"And there's more," Susan said. "Lyta has been saying for a while now that the new Kosh is...different. Dangerous. She thinks the Vorlons are up to something, and I'm starting to think she's right."

She didn't want to believe it. That the Vorlons, who had stood by them in the last great war and all the years thereafter, were now working against them was almost unfathomable. But the evidence was all too persuasive. "What do you think we should do?" she asked.

Susan was pensive. "Wait," she said. "See if it's true."

"Oh, it's true."

They both snapped their attention to the door, where Lyta Alexander and Marcus Cole stood. "It's started," Lyta continued, her voice breaking.

"I'm afraid she's right," Marcus said. "Computer, show footage of Giara 3."

The screen on the wall blinked for a moment, then replaced the Babcom options with video from the gun camera of a White Star. Something massive, and very obviously Vorlon, floated into the frame, and like an angry god, began hurling missiles down on the little blue planet.

"The Shadows have—had—a base there. The Vorlons have started bombarding any planets that have ever been touched by the Shadows," Marcus said.

Delenn stared at Susan, and watched her stare hopelessly back. The timetable for this war had just moved up. A lot.

* * *

Two days later, more bad news reached them. She had been discharged from Med Lab, and was making her way to the war room when Lennier caught up with her. Something in his face suggested she was not going to like what he had to say.

She was right. When they reached the war room and took seats at the round table, he quickly filled her, Ivanova, Sheridan, and Garibaldi in on what the other races had concluded about the Vorlons' actions.

"They believe that nothing can stop them. They wish to take their ships and return to their homeworlds; those whose planets have not been touched by the Shadows desire to guard against any potential encroachment, and those who have wish to...delay the inevitable. The most vocal are planning a rally in the Zocalo this afternoon to encourage all the members of their races currently staying on Babylon 5 to return home and fight."

Susan slammed her fist on the table. "The hell they are. Lennier, when is this rally taking place?"

"Two o'clock."

She pressed her lips together. "They aren't going to leave without listening to me." And woe befall those who tried, she might have added.

Delenn grasped her hand and squeezed it. "I will be there with you."

"So will I," said Sheridan.

"And me," said Garibaldi.

"I, too, will attend," Lennier added.

Susan looked around the table at them all, as if she couldn't quite believe that she had the good fortune to have them all there, ready to stand beside her. Finally, she smiled—a genuine one, not like the ghosts and whispers of smiles she had worn for the past several weeks. "Then, ladies and gentlemen, I believe we have a speech to write."

* * *

Their intervention went better than they could have hoped. The cheers and shouts of solidarity still rang in the Zocalo as they left, their spirits buoyed by the scene.

It had not started so promisingly. In fact, the crowd had been on the verge of breaking up, and the alliance of fracturing along with them, when Susan abandoned their script and laced her fingers with Delenn's, holding up their joined hands for the others to see. "Twelve years ago, our peoples were at war!" she shouted. "But look at what we've accomplished—look at what you've accomplished together! Look at what brought you all here to Babylon 5 in the first place! Can't you see that if you remove your ships and your people from this fleet, the Vorlons and the Shadows are just going to pick everyone off individually until there's no one left? The only chance we have of stopping them forever is to confront them as a united force!"

Those who had been heading for the exits stopped, caught by the crowd's collective pause as they re-examined the choice in front of them. It took more reasoning and more rhetoric to fully win them back, but Delenn knew that Susan's words at that moment, and the image of the two of them, united, were what had turned the tide. When she spoke..."They saw in you a light that they could follow through the darkness."

"They can see me as a Malonian stinkbug just as long as they keep their forces committed." They walked a little further before Susan slid her gaze back to her. "What did you see?"

As humans said, that was an easy one. "What I have always seen. The answer to the calling of my heart."

* * *

Later, Susan called them all together again. She had a pile of flimsies and two data pads in front of her on the table, all with information about movements by Shadow and Vorlon forces, and about the planet called Corianna 6. "I have an idea," she said. "But I'm going to need everyone's help working out the details."

It was risky. By simply telling the other races about it, they might lose the support they had so recently regained. But as they all quickly realized, finally bringing the Shadows and Vorlons together was also the closest thing they had to a chance of ending this war.

* * *

In the end, in spite of all of their expectations, it came down to words rather than firepower. "We will not choose," Delenn told their enemies angrily in the mindlink Lyta facilitated. "We have come together against the forces of chaos which would tear us apart, yes, but everyone who has joined us has done so of their own free will, not because they were obeying an order we gave. While this alliance lasts, you will never win us to either of your sides!"

She believed the human expression was, "It was all over but the shouting."

* * *

On the way back to Babylon 5, exhaustion overtook both of them. Marcus took one look at them and insisted that they rest. When they refused, Lennier, gentler but no less insistent, convinced them, somehow, to retreat to White Star 2's empty dormitory.

"I think we've been snookered," Susan said once they were alone.

"Mmm," she agreed. But she was tired, and the beds did look inviting... First, though, there was something she needed to say. "Susan."


"On Minbar, we have a ceremony"—she saw Susan's lips turn up at that, but continued as if she hadn't—"to acknowledge that two people have decided to bind their lives together." She let the implied question hang in the air like a fragile, glittering piece of glass.

Susan reached out and rested her hands on her waist. Pulled her forward and kissed her softly. "We have a ceremony too."

* * *

Twenty-three years later:

Their schedules rarely left them time to see each other at lunch, though they worked only two buildings apart. However, on the last day of spring, they took their midday meal together next to the large garden at the back of the Anla'shok headquarters.

It had been a long morning, full of dull but necessary paperwork, and the break was more than welcome. She hated to see it end. Maybe it was the prospect of the forms that awaited her signature; perhaps it was the first breath of summer on the wind, or it might even have been the sight of Susan's face in the sun—at any rate, when Susan said that she ought to be getting back to her duties, and asked if Delenn would like to walk back together, something in her rebelled.

They were eighty-two and fifty-four years old, respectively, and far too mature for this sort of thing, but nevertheless, she said, "Yes. But you will have to catch me first!" and took off down a grassy garden path.

"What do you—" she heard Susan exclaim, and then the sound of her footsteps in pursuit. Completely delighted, Delenn let out a laugh, and looked back to see a smile on Susan's face as well.

Susan had relative youth, not to mention about three inches of height, on her side, and quickly caught up to Delenn, who stopped and turned to face her. Crying something wordless and triumphant, Susan tackled her, tumbling them both to the soft grass.

The fall hadn't exactly been gentle, but it hadn't winded Delenn enough to prevent the giggles that escaped her lips. Susan joined her, their laughter drifting through the trees and hedges on the warm afternoon breeze.

Abruptly, she took hold of Susan's wrists and flipped their bodies so that she lay on top of them, which surprised Susan into silence. "Now I have you exactly where I want you," Delenn said, dropping her head to kiss her.

"Delenn!" Susan hissed when she let her up for air, failing to look intimidating because of the smile that refused to leave her mouth. "We're in the middle of—"

"Shhhh," she said, kissing her once more. "Have I not yet taught you the importance of listening to the calling of your heart, no matter where it leads you?"

* * *

The calling of my heart guides my steps.
My heart compasses the whole of my desire.
I will follow. I will follow. I will follow.

– From an ancient Minbari scroll, dated 625 B.C. (human calendar)

This entry was originally posted at http://icepixie.dreamwidth.org/722570.html. It has comment count unavailable comments over there.


( 10 danced — Shall we dance? )
Sep. 14th, 2010 07:07 pm (UTC)

Absolutely beautiful. A truly lovely altverse for Delenn & Ivanova and it *works*. Lovely characterisation and a really sweet, romantic story. I love it!
Sep. 14th, 2010 07:28 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed it, and that felt realistic. :)
Sep. 15th, 2010 11:19 am (UTC)
wow it was great!
Sep. 15th, 2010 05:16 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
Sep. 15th, 2010 06:34 pm (UTC)
Great fic. Very sweet characterisation and a lovely play of this possible relationship around the events of the canon universe. I'll be imagining some of this AU when I next re-watch the series :-)

Sep. 15th, 2010 08:30 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed it so much. :)
Sep. 16th, 2010 04:39 am (UTC)
AUGH, sorry for the delay in finally commenting on this. I love the final version, especially of Delenn's waking and hearing her captors. The Teep conversation came out very, very well in the rewriting, too.

You've already heard all my fussing about this, but I love it so much! ♥ I'm so glad you wrote it.
Sep. 16th, 2010 05:27 am (UTC)
Yay! Thank you! You were totally the audience in my head when I was writing this, so I'm very happy that you like it so much.
Oct. 30th, 2010 03:06 pm (UTC)
This is amazing, I love it to pieces. What a perfect AU!
Oct. 30th, 2010 05:12 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I'm so glad you enjoyed it. :)
( 10 danced — Shall we dance? )

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