A FRIEND OF THE FAMILY (II)

By Frieda W. Landau

 

 

 

The two women started laughing at the same moment. Mayan tried to hug her friend, but could not get close enough to put her arms around Delenn. They laughed even harder.

   Tears streaming down her face, Delenn gasped and flopped onto the couch, her body sprawled back and her legs spread wide. Mayan, who was regaining a measure of control, started laughing again. Finally, catching her breath, she said "that is a most undignified position for the First Lady of the Interstellar Alliance, and for Entil'Zha of the Rangers."

   Delenn nodded her agreement. She could not speak yet. She gestured for something to drink, and Mayan brought her some juice. Delenn responded to the concern in the other woman's face. "I am fine, Mayan. Really. It is good to see you again. Thank you for coming so quickly." She motioned for Mayan to take the seat opposite.

   "I'm sorry about what I said..." Mayan started to apologize when Delenn interrupted.

   "Don't be. I think that cruiser was a little smaller, actually. No, don't start me laughing again, or my son may be born right here, and John would never forgive me for giving birth without him. John says he always finishes what he starts. And since he won't be home until this evening...."

   Mayan smiled. "Actually, Delenn, you look fine. I don't think I've ever seen you look so contented. When will the birth be? If you want a proper ceremony, I'll need time to prepare."

   "In two standard weeks, according to the doctors, but David is becoming impatient. I think he will be born earlier than that."

   "David," Mayan said, carefully pronouncing the alien name. "Then you are going to name him David Neroon?"

   "Yes," Delenn said softly. "I did send a message at the time." Mayan nodded. There was a brief, awkward silence, then both women started to speak. Mayan told Delenn "you first."

   "Mayan, will you join us for dinner tonight? John is eager to meet you, and I am eager for you to meet him. I will send someone to guide you to our quarters. Our home is difficult to find if you are not familiar with the station."

   "Why don't you send that delightful Anla'shok Kendrick to escort me?"

   Delenn grinned at her friend. "I thought you would appreciate him. Dinner is at seven. Now, if you would help me get up, I will let you settle in while I attend an extremely boring meeting."

   "Sha'al Mayan, I am, uh, honored to, uh, meet you." The man's accent was atrocious, but his smile was warm.

   She took pity on him. "Thank you," she said in English. "But I am fluent in Earth Standard."

   Now the smile was sheepish. "It's that bad, huh? Well let me say it again. I am honored to meet you. Delenn's been helping me translate some of your poetry. It is very beautiful and very moving."

   "Thank you again." Mayan bowed. John Sheridan escorted her to the sitting area of the large room which was nearly twice the size of the standard accommodations.

   "Delenn will be out in a few minutes. It takes her longer these days. Can I get you something to drink, juice or tea? We have some zehtran juice. Delenn says it's your favorite." He was ill at ease, trying to cover his tension with words. He ran a hand through his hair.

   Delenn's voice interrupted. "John?"

   "Coming," he called, a note of relief in his voice. He started for the bedroom, when, remembering his guest, he said over his shoulder, "I'll be right back. Make yourself comfortable."

   Mayan smiled and waved him on. She rose and walked around the room. The sitting area was furnished with human style chairs and couches, and low Minbari tables. A counter with stools on each side separated the open kitchen from the dining area. An elaborate com system and two work tables occupied one corner. Candles and crystals of various sizes and colors were interspersed with wooden and metal sculptures, abstract and representational. The walls were hung with Minbari tapestries and human paintings. Rugs of both cultures served to differentiate the various functions of the room. A small shrine on one wall was flanked by shelves holding books with Minbari and English titles.

   She was examining these when she heard the bedroom door open.

   "I am sorry to keep you waiting," Delenn said, walking toward her, hands outstretched. Sheridan was at her side, his arm across her back, ready to catch her if she should stumble. The two women touched hands briefly.

   "This is a very pleasing room," Mayan said. She smiled and faced John. "I see Delenn hasn't lost her touch. She was always decorating our room in school. Half the time, I could never find anything, but the result was always beautiful."

   Sheridan grinned. "She's still doing it. I have to post a guard to keep her out of my office when I'm away."

   "If you two are through discussing me," Delenn said dryly, "dinner is ready."

   Sheridan escorted both women to the round table. He helped his wife settle into her seat. Mayan was about to sit when she remembered that it is considered polite for human males to assist females in seating. Yes, John pulled out her chair.

   The meal consisted of several human style dishes - various salads and grains. And, to her surprise, a large dish of flarn. She was about to help herself, when Delenn told her "John made the flarn." Mayan hesitated, serving spoon in hand. Which did not go unnoticed by Sheridan.

   He looked from Delenn to Mayan, and back to his wife. "Delenn, you didn't!" Mayan did not know if his distress was genuine or feigned.

   His wife laughed. She patted his arm and turned to her friend. "It's quite safe, Mayan. John has learned to properly prepare flarn."

   Mayan looked dubious, but tasted a small piece anyway. "It is good," she said, surprised. They ate and talked. John encouraged Mayan and Delenn to reminisce, interjecting an occasional comment. After Mayan told the tale of Delenn trying to tame a temshee with a broken wing, and the resultant chaos when it recovered, John told his cat story.

   When they finished eating, Sheridan insisted on clearing the table, refusing all offers of help. He made three cups of tea. He handed one to Mayan and sat down beside Delenn on the couch. She sniffed at the cup he handed her and made a face. Mayan, tasting her own tea, looked puzzled. The tea was a fine Minbari blend. Delenn took a sip of hers, grimaced and explained. "Doctor's orders. Why do those things that are supposed to be good for you always taste so bad?"

   After a second cup of tea for Mayan and Sheridan, and another round of "do you remember," John said, turning to his wife, "Honey, it's after ten. Mayan's had a long day. I'm sure she's tired."

   Delenn patted his knee and smiled fondly at her husband. "What he really means is it is time for me to sleep."

   Mayan stood up. "He is right, Delenn. I am a little tired. I will say good night now." Despite her protests that she could find her way, Sheridan accompanied her to her quarters.

   Mayan prepared for bed, thinking about the evening. She had not been so relaxed in a long time. The food was good and so was the company.

   She thought of the last time she and Delenn and a male shared a meal - three years before the war with the humans. Her reputation as a poet was well established, and everyone knew that Delenn would join the Grey Council as soon as there was a vacancy, and Branmer, the new leader of the religious caste, was about to become Delenn's former lover.

   Mayan was Delenn's attendant, as she had been at her friend's d'ar'sha'Na. Branmer chose to perform the rituals alone. Mercifully, the ceremonial meal was brief. When the candles were extinguished, the parting was completed. Delenn cried for weeks afterward.

   Mayan could not understand. It was Delenn who insisted on the parting. Branmer pleaded with her to reconsider, but Delenn was adamant, even though she obviously still loved Branmer.

   Mayan still did not understand.

   "Well, I am waiting."

   Mayan gave Delenn a wide-eyed innocent look. "Waiting for what? All right," Mayan said, responding to the look on her friend's face. "I admit that he seems well-suited to you. But you cannot expect me to have an informed opinion after only one meeting."

   The two women were in the Sheridan apartment, relaxing after a late breakfast. Delenn sprawled on the couch with her feet on a low table. Yet, Mayan noted, she still retained that air of competence and dignity she had even as a child. Suddenly she grinned, revealing the mischievous child that was also Delenn.

   "What's so funny?" Mayan, sitting in the facing armchair asked.

   "I was just thinking, " Delenn said, "This conversation is so like the ones we had in school, only this time I am the one who wants you to tell me how wonderful my beloved is, instead of the other way round. But you are not playing fair!"

   "You're right," Mayan admitted. "I guess I am not used to the reversal of roles. But if you insist. Let's see. He is pleasant to look at in a human fashion. He is well-spoken - except in Adronato. He seems intelligent. Is that enough?" Delenn pouted. Mayan laughed and continued. "He is a proven warrior and a seasoned diplomat. And he has a sense of humor. Satisfied?"

   "No, but it will have to do, " Delenn said, smiling.

   Mayan studied her expression. "In Valen's name, Delenn, was I as bad as that?"

   "Worse, but friends have to put up with those sort of things." Delenn shifted so she could look into Mayan's face. "Now, my friend. How is it with you? How long has this dry spell lasted?"

   "What makes you think I am having a dry spell?"

   "I am not blind, Mayan. When I was in your quarters yesterday, I did not see your writing tools in their accustomed place."

   "I had just arrived. I was still unpacking."

   "You always unpack your writing case first, before you do anything else. And your pockets are empty of pen and notebook. I know the signs. Now, how long has it been?"

   Mayan sighed. She could never fool Delenn. "Three months now. And very little before that. I do not know what is wrong. Perhaps seeing you again will help. Or perhaps I have written everything I was destined to write. Who knows?"

   "That is nonsense," Delenn said fiercely. "You know that you do not believe that. You will write again! Now, if I can extricate myself from this couch, I will show you the nursery. It is time we started the preparations."

   As Mayan helped her stand, she asked "Where will the birth take place?"

   Delenn grunted as she got to her feet. "Medlab. John insists. He wants to make sure help is at hand in case of emergency. I have told him of our custom of giving birth at home, but he worries so, I do not have the heart to fight him."

   Delenn led the way through a door on the same wall as the bedroom. The nursery was small, but well proportioned. Minbari and Earth scenes hung on pale yellow walls. The carpet underfoot was a soft moss green, with a border that echoed the walls. One corner held an old wooden rocker flanked by a tall lamp and a low triangular table. There was an elaborately carved bureau that doubled as a changing table against the far wall, and something that looked like an open mesh cage filled with multi-colored fabric representations of all kinds of animals. What looked like an arched window, but was in reality a lightbox, illuminated the head of a Minbari infant bed set in the frame of a human crib.

   Delenn, following Mayan's gaze, said "The crib was used first by John and then by his sister and her children. Elizabeth sent it to us last month. We modified it so our son will become accustomed to Minbari beds." She smiled and added, "John says it will be easier for David that way."

   "I noticed your bed is flat," Mayan said with a wicked grin.

   "Yes," Delenn said demurely.

   "But isn't it uncomfortable?"

   "I manage."

   "I can see that." Both women laughed.

   Mayan walked around the nursery as though measuring the space, especially around the crib. She stopped to examine the red fruit growing in a small crystal container at the foot and the three glass shelves in the lightbox above the head of the bed. Thoughtfully, she fingered the rainbow colored crystal shapes on the two shelves and nodded. She picked up the crystal on the bottom shelf to inspect it. She had never seen anything like it. She held it out to Delenn.

   "John had it made. It represents an earth game of which he is particularly fond, called baseball. He has tried to explain it to me." Delenn pointed to the crystal. "That round object in the center is called a baseball. It is imbedded in the 'pocket' of a baseball glove, and the rounded stick across the top is, I believe, called a bat. You will have to ask John if you wish to learn their significance. He seems to think it is important that our son learn the game." She shrugged.

   Mayan replaced the strange crystal and walked back to the center of the room. "I don't see any problems about the rituals. There is enough room. I will need to purchase some items, though."

   "Make of list of what you need, and give it to Lennier. He will see to it."

   "Um, Delenn," Mayan hesitated briefly. "I would prefer not to work with Lennier."

   "I do not understand why you and Lennier are not friends," Delenn complained. "It would make my life easier if you two got along."

   Mayan sighed. "Delenn," she said gently, "Lennier is jealous of my friendship with you.

   He resents the time you spend with me."

   "Nonsense. If Lennier were jealous of anyone, it would be John. And he and John are friends."

   "Delenn, Lennier knows you love John and that will not change. But Lennier believes that he is closest to the part of you that is still Minbari. In his heart, I am a threat to that closeness."

   Delenn looked uncertain. "But that is foolish. You are both my friends. I will have to speak to him."

   "Please, Delenn, don't. It will only make him uncomfortable. We have an unspoken agreement to avoid each other while I am here. It is better that way."

   "Perhaps you are right. Never mind. Leave the list with me. I will arrange to obtain what you need. Now, if there is nothing else?"

   Mayan walked over to the far corner of the nursery. She pointed to the colorful mesh cage and its cargo of stuffed animals. "What is this...this...thing?! And why is it full of fabric animals.?"

   "It is called a playpen," Delenn told her. "Humans place their small children inside so they do not wander around. I agree, it is ridiculous. How can a child learn if he cannot explore? But it was a gift from John's mother, so we must keep it. It is a good place to store toys. Humans have a ceremony in which the mother is presented with gifts for the child, such as those animals."

   Mayan was incredulous. "They give gifts before the birth? How strange!"

   Delenn nodded agreement and led the way back to the main room. "I have a Medlab appointment in a little while. Will you come with me? John will be happier if he knows I am not alone. He means well, but he thinks I will break or fall apart if I am left by myself during this time."

   Mayan laughed. "I thought you told me he knows you better than anyone. Doesn't he know your strength? This station will break before you do."

   "Impending fatherhood has made him forgetful."

   Mayan was fascinated by the doctor's examination of Delenn. Evidently, hair was not the only major change. Back in the Sheridan apartment, she asked Delenn about her mostly human body. Delenn explained the major differences: fuller breasts and hips, and hair on the pubic mound. And, of course, the bleeding. Did Mayan know about that? When she shook her head, Delenn tried to explain, but finally told her to look it up or ask one of the doctors.

   "One of the best things about pregnancy, " Delenn explained, "is that there is no bleeding until after the baby is born. If not for the general discomfort and inconvenience, I think I would arrange to be pregnant all the time, just to avoid the bleeding."

   "Somehow, I do not think your mate would approve of that solution."

   "Probably not," Delenn agreed. "But it would be fun to try."

   Mayan laughed. "I wouldn't know. I've never had a human lover. Speaking of which, there is something I have wanted to ask you for a long time. What is it like to make love to a human?"

   Delenn smiled. "I wondered when you would ask." She thought a moment. "It is the same, but different."

   "Typical Delenn answer!"

   "I will try to explain. The basic equipment is the same, and the techniques are the same. But the places are different."

   "Delenn, that is not an explanation."

   "I will try again." Delenn thought again. "Humans are sensitive in different places from Minbari, and males and females also vary in sensitivity." She paused. "Mayan, you know very well I am not good at this sort of conversation. And I do not have an extensive data base for comparison."

   Mayan laughed. "No, you don't." She leaned forward to take Delenn's hands. "But you are happy and content now, which is all that is important." Mayan released her hands and rose from the chair. "The doctor said you should take a nap. I will return in a few hours."

   "You are getting as bad as John," Delenn complained.

   "That is because we both love you. Now go to bed."

   "Very well. But you don't have to leave, Mayan. Stay here. Browse through those books you have been eyeing, or watch a vid or access the computer. I can only sleep for a little while anyway, before my son awakens me."

   Mayan helped her into the huge bed and adjusted the pillows that angled Delenn's body to the proper Minbari position. She waited until Delenn fell asleep before she softly closed the door and returned to the main room. She poured a glass of juice and settled onto the couch with a book of human poetry. Perhaps, it would inspire her.

   Many of the poems spoke of love. Mayan smiled. The book was well-thumbed, with comments written in two different hands and two different languages. She recognized Delenn's distinctive style, even in English. Sheridan's writing was large and bold. She could readily pick out their favorite verses.

   She grinned when she came across one of Shakespeare's sonnets: "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? Thou art more temperate...." John had annotated "temperate" with one word - HAH!. He obviously knew about Delenn's famous temper.

   Mayan learned early in their friendship to stay out of the way on the rare occasions when Delenn lost her temper. Even the old swordmaster of the Fire Wings, whose tongue was as sharp as his blades, could not match Delenn in full fury. Mayan had always thought that part of Delenn's anger at those times was directed at herself for losing control.

   Twice, Mayan had felt the force of that anger.

   The first time they were still in school. Mayan could never remember what had started the fight, why Delenn was so furious. By turns scornful and derisive, she berated her until Mayan ran off in tears. Later, a shamefaced Delenn apologized, but Mayan was still hurting. That night, when Mayan started crying again, Delenn got into bed with her and held her, stroking her back and begging forgiveness until the tears finally stopped. They stayed the whole night together in the too small bed, finally falling asleep before dawn, exhausted and talked out.

   Mayan did not want to think about the second time she faced Delenn's wrath. Their friendship barely survived. It was a few months after Delenn's parting from Branmer. That was part of the problem. Perhaps, at another time Delenn would not have been so angry, or at least tried to understand Mayan's point of view? But most likely not. No matter when it happened, she would still have been furious that Mayan had fallen in love with Delenn's worst enemy and greatest rival.

   Delenn had complained often enough of the warrior male who disagreed with all her policies and tried to thwart her at every turn. He was the warrior caste liaison between the Council of Caste Elders and the Grey Council. As Dukhat's chief aide, and a growing power in her own right, Delenn was forced to deal with Neroon almost daily.

   Mayan recalled her first meeting with Neroon. Although she chose to follow the religious caste, she was still close to her father, who was now a member of the Council of Elders. She had been visiting when Neroon burst into his office demanding to know what he was going to do about the latest problem before the Council. Her father introduced her, Neroon nodded curtly, continued his tirade, and stormed out. When Mayan left, a little while later, Neroon was waiting. He apologized for his rudeness. Could he buy her dinner as recompense? She could find no reason to decline. Within a week, they were lovers.

   That was when the trouble with Delenn started. The two women did not see much of each other during that time. Mayan was usually touring, and Delenn was busy with her duties. But they spoke frequently by com. Mayan did not talk about her new lover, but neither did she try to keep him a secret.

   Delenn had the codes to Mayan's house in the capital, for use on those rare occasions when Delenn took leave. It was spring, Mayan remembered, one of those perfect days when wind and sun and sky were at their best. Neroon had returned after a long absence.

   They had made love earlier and were debating whether to go out or back to bed. They were laughing when Delenn walked in.

   "You should change the door code," she said, her voice like ice, and walked out.

   Mayan started to go after her, but Neroon blocked her way. "Let her go. She will get over it," he said, his disdain for Delenn evident in every syllable. "And if not, it is not your problem."

   Mayan never knew how she lived through the next few weeks. Delenn refused to return her calls. Neroon, citing Council business, left for the Senna Outpost. Because she could think of nothing else to do, Mayan sought out Delenn's father. He refused to intervene, but did agree to tell Mayan when his daughter visited. It would have to do.

   Two months later, word came to Mayan. Delenn would attend the naming ceremony for her cousin's child.

   Delenn was sitting in the small meditation chamber adjacent to the main temple hall when Mayan walked in. She closed the door for privacy and stood watching her friend for a few moments. Delenn looked tired, older, thinner. Mayan was about to go to her, when Delenn said, still staring at the patterned floor, "We have nothing to say to each other Mayan. Please, go away."

   Mayan walked over to the stone bench to stand in front of Delenn. "We have known each other too long and too well to end like this. If you will not speak, you will listen. You know I would never do anything to hurt you, but I must follow my heart. I do not expect you to approve. I only ask you to understand. I am sorry I did not tell you myself."

   When there was no response, Mayan pleaded, "Delenn, please, try to understand. My coupling with Neroon has nothing to do with our friendship. That will never change for my part."

   "Nothing to do with our friendship?" Delenn mocked. "I cannot believe you are that naive. Neroon is using you to get at me!"

   "You cannot believe that!" Mayan was horrified. "He has always fought you openly. Delenn, you do not know him as I do. He has an honorable soul."

   "What would you know of a man's soul?" Delenn was scornful. "You care only if his body is strong and his face pleasing." She stood up. "I do not care to discuss this further."

   Mayan watched helplessly as Delenn walked out of the chamber.

   The estrangement lasted until the war with the humans. Twice, Neroon left, only to return to her. Once, she left him. When the war started, Neroon and Mayan quarreled viciously because the warrior's daughter opposed the war. Mayan chose to perform the parting ritual unattended.

   Then Delenn's father died. Mayan hesitated to go to the funeral. But he had always been kind to her, and made her welcome. She found Delenn in the clan temple, keeping watch the night before the burial rites. She was alone, standing before the altar, crying bitterly. Without a word, Mayan put her arms around her and held her close.

   "Oh, Mayan, I have missed you," Delenn gasped out between sobs. "I am so sorry."

   "Hush, Delenn, I am here now." The two women held on to each other until dawn, when the clan elders came to start the ritual.

   Mayan heard Delenn stirring in the bedroom. She went in to check on her. Yes, Delenn was awake. Mayan sat at the foot of the bed and regarded Delenn without saying anything for a while. Just as Delenn started to ask what was wrong, Mayan said, "What was the real reason you parted from Branmer? You told me you did not want to live apart from your mate, as you would have to when you joined the Grey Council. But you could have lived on Minbar when the Council was not in session, or he could have joined you on the Council ship. I want the truth, Delenn. You owe me that."

   "I knew I had to part from him, Mayan. I felt it in my soul. But I did not know why."

   "No more games, Delenn. Please."

   "I am not playing games. I loved Branmer, you know that. Parting from him tore my heart." She paused. "I am not like you, Mayan. My heart is not easily engaged. I was content with my life, serving Dukhat, preparing myself to serve our people. When Dukhat asked me to assist the new leader of the religious caste, I did not think Branmer would even remember me. You were touring then."

   Delenn stared at a point above her friend's head. Mayan waited for her to continue. The silence thickened around them. Finally, Delenn shook her head as if to clear it. Her smile was wistful as she told Mayan of those months working with Branmer, growing closer daily, until at last the work was finished.

   "I did not want to leave, Mayan, but what could I do, what could I say to him? A week after I returned to Dukhat, Branmer came to address the Grey Council. Afterward, he sought me out. He told me he loved me, and that he thought I returned his love, and it was time to do something about that. I had just enough wits left to agree.

   "The rest you know. The two years we spent together were happy ones. I loved him very much. But even then, the feeling grew in me that we were not meant to be together, that there was something 'out there' waiting for me if only I had the strength to seek it out."

   Delenn shifted on the bed so she was facing Mayan. "I came late to the d'ar'sha'Na. Later even than is common among the women of our caste. I knew what to do, of course." She grinned, "And you had told me often enough what it would be like." She was serious again. "But I was not prepared for the feelings afterward.

   "I haven't thought about this in years." She tugged at a lock of hair on her shoulder. "You and I, Mayan, have always been close, our hearts and minds together. It was the same with me and Dukhat, and later Sinclair. And, of course, John. When I worked with Branmer, our hearts and mind drew close.

   "When we became lovers, when our bodies were joined, we became part of each other in a way I did not believe possible. I craved that closeness. It was an addiction. I could not bear to be apart from him. I wanted only to touch him, caress him, and feel his touch, his caress."

   She paused, as a shadow of the old pain flickered across her eyes. "And yet, as much as I craved him, as much as I loved him, yet I knew I had to leave him. Do you wonder that I was not myself after the parting?"

   She held Mayan's eyes with her own. "This is very difficult for me to tell you. That day, when I walked into your house and saw you with Neroon, I was so angry. But not because you were with Neroon. I would have been angry at seeing you with any man. I was angry because you had what I no longer had, what I had relinquished for the sake of a future that might never happen. For the first time, I doubted Valen's prophecies. I cursed myself for a fool for even daring to believe the prophecies referred to me."

   Mayan rose to sit beside Delenn. Putting her arms around her friend, Mayan said softly "But you were right, the prophecies did apply to you. And you found a greater love."

   "Yes. Yes, I did." Her eyes were shining.

   Mayan was about to say something when Delenn belched. Startled, Mayan nearly fell off the bed. Delenn put a hand over her mouth and said, "Excuse me," and belched again.

   Eying her warily, Mayan stood up. "Are you all right, Delenn? Do you need anything?"

   Delenn laughed at the expression on Mayan's face. "The only thing I need is for this baby to be born!" Holding out her hand for help, Delenn rose from the bed. She picked up a brush from the small dressing table and started to detangle her hair.

   "May I do that?" Mayan asked. Delenn smiled and handed her the brush. Tentatively at first and then with more confidence when Delenn didn't complain, Mayan brushed the dark curls until they shone.

   "Mmmm," Delenn sighed. "That feels good. Sometimes when I am tired, John brushes my hair at night." She smiled at Mayan in the mirror. "You are as good as he is." She smiled again. "Almost!" Mayan grinned.

   "Careful," Delenn squeaked, "the crest is still sensitive!"

   "Sorry!" Mayan looked abashed, and Delenn laughed.

   "John found out the same way," Delenn told her. "Before we were lovers. We were sitting together in his office, after a meeting, relaxing. We had not yet progressed further than a few kisses. I was tired and rested my head on his shoulder. John was idly stroking my hair. I jumped. I don't know who was more embarrassed, John when he found out what he had done, or I when I had to tell him.

   "Now," said Delenn, "I am hungry. Let us, as John says, "raid the fridge! I believe there are some leftovers from last night's dinner."

   They sat at the counter, gossiping about old friends. In unspoken agreement, they avoided any topic that would revive strong emotions. While Mayan cleaned up, threatening Delenn if she tried to help, they discussed the preparations for the birth rituals.

   Mayan frowned. "Delenn, I will need the assistance of at least two females for part of the rites. Is there anyone you would like me to ask?"

   "There are Minbari women on the station, Rangers and civilians. I have no preference among them."

   "And what of non Minbari women?" Mayan asked.

   "You know me too well, my friend," Delenn answered. "Yes, there are two humans I would like to assist you. But neither is on Babylon Five at the moment, so you may choose whom you wish."

   "Perhaps, if they return in time, or you could send word?" Delenn shook her head. "Well, at least give me their names," Mayan said, "just in case."

   "Very well. Captain Susan Ivanova and Lyta Alexander. But," she added sternly, "they are both very busy so do not even think of trying to call them."

   "If you insist. Now, I should go and purchase what I still need. Anla'shok Kendrick has offered to escort me through the various markets."

   "Then I won't keep you any longer." Delenn walked Mayan to the door. "John has late meetings tonight. If you are not too tired, come keep me company."

   It was after ten when Mayan rang the bell of the Sheridan apartment. Delenn rose from one of the work tables to greet her. "Mayan, I am glad you came. If I read one more report tonight, I shall scream! Come, sit down and tell me how you have been undermining the discipline of one of my Rangers."

   Mayan laughed. "I think it is the other way round. He is very dangerous, that one!"

   While Delenn tidied her work area, Mayan made tea and told her about the shopping expedition with Kendrick. The Ranger took her to small shops in markets Down Below for delicate, hand-blown crystal cups and intricately wrought silver candle holders. He showed her where to find the sweetest smelling candles and the freshest fruit. They were exploring the Zocalo when he suggested they eat in one of the small cafes. The earth-style food, totally unfamiliar to her, was nevertheless delicious. Especially the final course. "Small hollow tubes of fried dough with a creamy white filling studded with what I think were dried bits of some sort of fruit," Mayan explained. "Delenn, you are going to have to send me a steady supply of those tubes when I return home!"

   Delenn smiled. "It seems you enjoyed yourself this evening." They were sitting in what had already become their accustomed places - Delenn on the couch and Mayan in the armchair opposite. The low table between held the remnants of their tea. "I was going to ask John to show you around the station, but apparently you have found a congenial guide."

   "Apparently," Mayan said. "I can't remember when I've spent a more enjoyable care-free evening. Not since before...." Her voice trailed off as an old pain filled her eyes.

   Delenn said gently, "If it will ease your heart to talk about him, I will listen." When there was no response, she continued softly, "I was wrong about him. I deeply regret I did not know this sooner." Still no response. Finally, with a touch of desperation in her voice, she said, "I did not know his worth until he tried to kill me."

   Mayan looked at Delenn who nodded and said "It is true. It was when I became Entil'Zha of the Rangers. Neroon opposed me, as usual. The details are unimportant, but I realized afterward his motives were honorable. We were becoming friends at the end, I think."

   Mayan said wistfully, "I would have liked that. He was very like you. Yes. He was. He had that same commitment to serve, although in different ways from you. He was heart sick when war broke out between the religious and warrior castes. That is why he agreed to your plan to end the fighting." Delenn looked at her sharply. "He told me," Mayan continued. "Before he rejoined his Shai, he came to see me. I will always be thankful for those last, brief, few hours."

   Delenn reached over to take Mayan's hands. For a little while they sat silently. Then, Mayan withdrew her hands. "I am all right. Really. It doesn't hurt any more." She paused and Delenn just looked at her. "Well, it doesn't hurt as much as it used to," Mayan admitted.

   "I never told you, but we were going to mate. We had completed most of the rituals, even the Shan Fal. Not that we had any doubts as to the location of each others pleasure centers! But Neroon wanted to do things properly. Just as you did. We planned to have the mating Na'fak'Cha when he returned. He told me he wouldn't object if I asked you to be my attendant."

   "Oh, Mayan! I am so sorry. If I had known, I would never have gone to him. I would have found another way."

   "Do not blame yourself, Delenn. There was no way you could have known what would happen. He died a warrior's death, defending his people and protecting his leader. Do not look so surprised! Surely you knew that at the end, his allegiance was to you. I told you he had an honorable soul."

   "Mayan, I have never regretted anything so much as those words to you," Delenn said. "I would give anything to unsay them."

   "I forgave you long ago." Mayan smiled ruefully. "And anyway, until I met Neroon, you were right. He was the first and only man to touch my soul as well as my heart." She looked at Delenn thoughtfully. "It is that way with you and Sheridan."

   "Yes. From the moment we met."

   "I thought so."

   The two women sat quietly for a little while, each thinking their own thoughts, remembering.

   "When did you and Neroon become lovers again? I thought you performed the parting rites," Delenn asked.

   "We did. After the war with the humans, we met every now and then, mostly by accident. We even made love occasionally, for old times sake we told each other. But the connection between us was always there, even though we refused to acknowledge it. About the time of your transformation, we finally came to our senses.

   "I was still living in the capital then. I was giving a series of performances at our old school. After the last performance, Neroon sought me out. He said my tee'la had evoked old memories and prompted the new idea that neither of us would be happy without the other. And since we were in a temple anyway, why didn't we declare our intention to mate and start the rituals immediately. His appointment to the Grey Council delayed our mating. But we didn't worry. We thought we had all the time in the universe...." She stopped. Delenn said nothing.

   Tears forming and voice breaking, Mayan said, "I told you once I had no regrets about my choices. I was wrong. I have one. All the time Neroon and I wasted, estranged from each other, when we knew we belonged together." She could not control the tears any longer.

   Delenn got up, and, clumsily, because of her swollen belly, pulled Mayan close and held her while she cried. When Mayan finally stopped, Delenn released her. She poured another cup of tea for Mayan and watched while she drank.

   "I'll be all right," Mayan said.

   "Are you sure?"

   "Yes."

   Delenn offered more tea, but Mayan shook her head. Delenn continued to regard her until Mayan said "I told you I'll be all right. I meant it."

   "I know you did," Delenn said.

   They were silent again until the com signaled an incoming message. It was John. A complication had developed. He would be in meetings all night. With luck, he should be home in time for breakfast. After Delenn reassured him she would be fine, she signed off. Turning to Mayan, Delenn said suddenly, "Mayan, why don't you spend the night here with me? We can pretend we're back in school."

   "All right," Mayan answered. "But only if you promise not to eat in bed. You were always getting crumbs all over. It's a wonder you were never caught by the housemaster."

   "Agreed," Delenn laughed. "You can borrow one of my night robes. The only one that fits me now is an old robe of John's."

   Mayan was puzzled. "I didn't know humans wear robes to bed."

   "They don't," Delenn explained. "It is called a bathrobe. Humans wear one over their nightclothes when they walk around before dressing properly. John has had this one for many years. The sleeves are much too long, and I keep tripping over the bottom, but it is the only one I can close around this belly. Why don't you prepare for bed while I clean up here. I will join you in a little while."

   Mayan yawned and stretched. A three hour nap was not a substitute for a good night's sleep. They had stayed awake talking and reminiscing until after two. Mayan was not used to a flat bed, and the pile of pillows only made it slightly less uncomfortable. She finally fell asleep, only to be awakened by a whimpering sound. Disoriented, it took her a few moments to turn on the bedside light. Delenn was fighting against an invisible adversary, who appeared to be restraining her, judging by her movements. She was flushed, the hair on her forehead matted with moisture. Mayan shook her gently to wake her, but Delenn only struggled harder. She was breathing harshly now and digging her nails into her own palms. She called out a name in desperation - "John!" Suddenly, Delenn's eyes opened wide. She started to sit up and fell back on the bed. "John," she called again, only softly this time.

   "Delenn, Delenn, wake up," Mayan urged her. "It's only a dream."

   Delenn shook her head, as if to clear it. Her eyes focused. "Are you all right?" Mayan asked.

   "Yes, yes, I'm fine. I am sorry I woke you."

   "You were so agitated," Mayan told her. "What were you dreaming?"

   "I don't remember. Go back to sleep."

   Mayan knew Delenn was lying. Whatever she had dreamed, disturbed her greatly. But now was not the time to press Delenn. Mayan turned off the light. She did not fall asleep again until she heard Delenn's steady breathing.

   Mayan woke for good at seven, when Delenn, trying not to disturb her, kept banging into things in the dark. When Delenn reassured her she would be fine, Mayan dressed quickly. On her way out, she found Sheridan asleep on the couch.

 

*****

 

 

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