By Deborah Baudoin




   "It has taken some time, but we have finally have the information."

   The second officer handed the data crystal to Shai Neroon with a low bow. She needn't have bothered. Neroon knew too clearly which ship had reached the site first. The Al-shii.

   Delenn's ship.

   He nodded to the second, hoping she would not wait for a response. Neroon hated the pleasantries that came with the position of Shai Alyt. Too many powerful families to woo. Too many concessions to the ways of the old and dying.

   But what of the young and alive? What of those who had fought, and won, in the War of Dukhat? The ancient families lent their support, yes, but the Starriders gave their blood.

   For what? To play diplomat. To bow to the ancients and relinquish the power which they had rightfully earned.

   And then there was Delenn. Of course, she was the first to make it to the site of the collapsed jumpgate. The entire civilized universe was racing to it, hoping to find some key to its mysterious destruction, to the treasures it might reveal.

   And Delenn, of the Family Mir, arrives first.

   Neroon leaned back in the command chair of his ship. The second had gone, content with his silence, returning to her work. Neroon turned the data crystal in his hands. It would wait. Even at maximum speed, it would take time to reach the damaged jumpgate.

   And Neroon needed time. Time to plan. Time to control his anger.

   Delenn. A thorn in his side since their first meeting. A child-priestess, playing grownup games in a grownup world. She should have been so easy. A moment of his time, and then...

   His thoughts wandered backwards in the darkness of his mind.

   <<"You should not be here."

   Neroon stood in the garden, admiring the delicate blooms which jutted upward from the crystal scupltures. "I like it here."

   Delenn looked up from her studies, eyes dark and serious. Always so serious. "I have given you my answer, Neroon. Is that not enough?"

   "No, Delenn. It is not enough." Neroon moved near to her, nearer than he'd ever dared before. Despite her apparent frailty, Delenn was power. She held the power of the Family Mir in those darkly serious eyes, and that was not to be taken lightly.

   They both knew that.

   But tonight was not before. Tonight, all the power in the universe could not make Neroon stand away from her. Those eyes, green and bottomless and mesmerizing, drew him to her. He took the book from her hands and lay it on the bench beside her, daring her with his nearness.

   Delenn sat motionless. He could not tell what held her there...anger, fear, what? Perhaps disbelief. The moment was weightless, timeless. Neroon could feel her energy, a palpable force, swirling and dangerous before him.

   Neroon could also be dangerous.

   He lifted his hand, raising it to her heart in the ancient way. The moment snapped. Her hand flew to his like a lightning strike, blocking his touch. In an instant, his larger hand wrapped around hers, an instant that drew them together, body to body, mouth to mouth.

   She struggled against him, her outrage fanned by ancient dignity. Neroon easily controlled her, his tongue pressing between her lips, inviting the taste of his own blood as she bit down in protest. He released her from the kiss, laughing as she wrested herself from his embrace.

   "Will you throw that away so quickly, little Flower of Mir?" he asked.

   Delenn's expression cut through him. "You will pay for this," she snarled.

   "Yes," he agreed. "The almighty Family Mir has inspired terror in my heart."

   "We will inspire more than terror." She stood, meaning to leave him there. Neroon was up in a moment, his hands pulling her back to his embrace. She began to protest.

   Neroon silenced her with another hard kiss. She moaned slightly as he pressed against her, loosening the folds of her gown. His hands found her skin, hot and silky, as they smoothed around her waist to draw her nearer.

   Delenn gasped in surprise. Despite her anger, Neroon's kisses were coaxing, tempting, devastating.

   He could feel her resolve fading. She was young. And innocent. Neroon knew he could have her. All he had to do...

   Was let go.

   He released her, a gust of cool air shocking her flushed skin. It was like stepping away from a flame, from Starfire.

   She stared at him, wild-eyed.

   He waited. One moment. Another. And then...

   "Neroon," she whispered hoarsely.


   Slowly, maddeningly, he lifted his fingers to her lips. She took them greedily into her mouth, licking the pads of his fingertips with a quick, darting tongue. As he freed his fingers from her mouth, she pressed kiss after kiss on his palm, his wrist. Neroon smiled, his hand abandoning her lips in order to caress the sweet curves of her headbone. He drew her into another kiss, soft this time, gentle. He would teach her. She would be a proper wife.

   She groaned, a low, primitive sound that encouraged him to deeper and more insistant investigation. As their bodies become more intimately acquainted, their clothes became more of a hindrance. Neroon began to remove Delenn's gown.

   "No!" she murmured. "Not here." Without another word, she took his hand, leading him through the maze of sculptures to a small door at the back of the garden. They entered a small gazebo, dimly lit, but comfortable. "Here we will not be disturbed." She stood there for a moment, a moment longer than was comfortable for Neroon. Then, slowly, she let her clothing drop to the floor.

   A smile spread over Neroon's features. "By the ancients, you're beautiful," he whispered.

   She stepped forward, closing the gap between them. "By the ancients, I am beautiful," she agreed. Her hands were already loosening the fastenings of Neroon's clothing. As his skin was revealed to her, she began to explore his body with her lips. Here, in the garden, there was no caste, no clan, no ancient families to stop them. Neroon lifted her face to his, a look of satisfaction in his eyes.

   The mighty Delenn had proved incredibly flexible. Best she learn now how to pleasure him, he thought. "Sit," he commanded, and she needed no further directions. Her lips trailed down his chest and stomach, fire burning on his skin. She removed the last of his clothing and was rewarded for her efforts. She smiled up at him, and he nodded.

   With only a momentary hesitation, she took his hardness between her lips, gently stroking and caressing the sensitive skin. Neroon closed his eyes, reveling in the touch as she pleasured him with her mouth. Such an easy victory. Almost unworthy of a warrior. His hands guided her, helping her to establish a suitable rhythm as she took more and more of him into her mouth.

   It seemed an eternity. Her mouth was warm, soft, but Neroon reluctantly withdrew. Tonight was important. Tonight, he had no time for amusements. He had to claim his victory, completely.

   Lifting her, he lay her on the gazebo's crystal bench. It was cool against their skin. He covered her body with his own, wrapping her slim legs around his waist. She gasped as he entered her, her cry muffled as she buried her face in his shoulder. Neroon took her quickly, decisively, bringing her to a swift climax. There would be time later for gentle explorations, for day-long journeys into passion.

   But tonight, he had claimed her. Tonight, the Starriders and the Family Mir had become one.

   At last.

   She looked up at him with a slow, drowsy smile.

   "Rest," he whispered. "And tomorrow, we can begin the Joining."

   "No," she whispered, just as calmly.

   Neroon laughed, sitting up beside her. "You want more, little flower?"

   "No," she repeated, gathering her clothing from the pile on the floor. "Tomorrow, we will not begin the Joining."

   For a moment, Neroon did not know what to say. He watched her pulling on her clothes, wondering if she had gone mad. "But, by the customs of my caste, we have become one."

   "And by the customs of my caste," she countered firmly. "We have not."

   Neroon was no longer amused. He pulled on his clothing quickly, following her back into the garden. "Delenn," he warned, putting his hand on her shoulder.

   She whirled to face him, the full power of the Family Mir apparent in her face. "What was I to do? Let you rape me?"

   "I would not have harmed you."

   "No, but you would seduce me," she replied. "The rituals exist for a purpose. You ignored the rituals. You ignored my wishes. Therefore, I will not allow the Joining."

   "You would not take part in the rituals with me." Neroon felt the fury rising to his heart, quickly replacing the passion which had lingered there only moments before. "You refused my requests again and again."

   "Silly of me. I wanted a mate who loved me, not my clan."

   He stood silently for a moment, glaring at her. "And if I force the issue?" he warned.

   And she responded quietly. "I will abide by the customs of your clan. I allowed myself to be seduced."

   He tilted his head slightly, waiting for the condition. "And?"

   "And my family will disown me. I shall become outcast in my clan. You will have my body, nothing more. The Starriders will never join with Mir. You will have nothing but a concubine. No power, no authority. Only dead weight."

   The fury threatened to overwhelm Neroon. The calmer Delenn was, the angrier he became.

   "Neroon, you have acted dishonorably. I have acted foolishly. We can take this for what it was--a moment of pleasure--or you can force me to your side." She glared at him, perhaps thinking he would do it just out of spite. "But I assure you, if you force me, I will never go willingly to you again. You will never know pleasure, only duty."

   She turned slightly, facing him dead on. "And I will never forgive you. The choice is yours, Neroon."

   Without another word, he turned and left the garden, never to return.>>

   Neroon loosened his grip on the data crystal. It had left a warm imprint in the palm of his hand. After all these years, he would finally see Delenn again.

   It was going to be interesting.





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