GIRL TALK

By Frieda W. Landau

 

 

 

Hi,

   This is a sort of sequel to my story, Ranger Training. It was supposed to be a light and bawdy story of two women sitting around talking about sex and the men in their lives. But Delenn took over after the first section and the story changed direction. I can never win an argument with her!

   A little background information for those of you who haven't read my previous stories about Mayan: Mayan is involved with a human Ranger. The great love of her life was Neroon. This story takes place about a year and a half after the events in A Friend of the Family and Ranger Training. John and Delenn live on Minbar and David is 15 months old.

   I'd like to thank my beta readers. As always, they've been most helpful, especially when they're most critical. :-)

   I hope you enjoy the story. All feedback, positive and negative, is welcome.

 

 

 

 

*****

Mayan regarded the sleeping figure sprawled naked in the middle of her bed. Even after fourteen months, she still found it surprising that the male who was such a good companion, and in whose arms she found such joy, was human. Most definitely human, from his light grey eyes to the dark hair that grew even on his toes. Much to his amusement, and her own, she found that very un-Minbari like feature sexually arousing. There was something about the way the soft curls covered the sleek, muscular body of Ranger Jason Kendrick.... She smiled, shaking her head ruefully. Then, because it was so tempting, and she could never resist temptation, she gently smacked the buttocks that seemed to invite her. Before she could move away from the bed, Kendrick turned and pulled her down to him.

   "No," Mayan protested, laughing. "I don't have time for this, Anla'Shok. I am meeting your boss for lunch and you wouldn't want me to be late now, would you?"

   But her protests were only half-hearted. And he stopped them altogether by kissing her.

   An hour later than she had planned, she was escorted into the residence of the President of the Interstellar Alliance and Entil'Zha of the Rangers. Mayan watched her escort leave, then turned to the slight woman coming toward her.

   "That one is new to the house guards, isn't he?" Mayan asked. "I don't remember seeing him before."

   Delenn grinned. "Yes, I agree. He is pleasing to look at."

   Mayan widened her eyes in mock horror. "And you a properly mated female!"

   "Mayan, I am very happily mated, but I am not dead! I can still appreciate a sturdy body and a pleasing face." Both women laughed. "Come," Delenn said, linking her arm in Mayan's, "lunch is on the table."

   "I'm sorry I'm so late," Mayan started to explain, but Delenn interrupted.

   "I know why you are late. I'm surprised you came at all." Delenn smiled. "If John returned unexpectedly after a long absence, I would cancel all my appointments for the day."

   "How did you know? Jason arrived before dawn."

   "Mayan, he is a competent and conscientious Ranger. He turned in his report before he went off duty. In fact, I have been studying it while waiting for you."

   "Oh." Mayan looked a little crestfallen. "I thought he came directly to me."

   "He did. He sent his report by courier. Sit now and eat. I have all afternoon free to spend with you. That doesn't happen very often."

   Mayan smiled. "I know. That's why I didn't cancel. Even though I had every incentive. But what about the little one? Won't he be waking from his nap soon?"

   "I think the human is having a very deleterious effect on you. You are becoming most maternal." Delenn could not keep her expression stern. "You never even knew fifteen month old babies needed naps. David awoke over an hour ago. John took him to the temple to play in the park there. It's one of the few places he can go without attracting a mob. Don't look so forlorn. They will return before you leave. And you can give your nephew the bath he will surely need."

   "Then you will have to loan me something to wear afterward. The last time I bathed your son, I ended up with most of the water on me." Both women laughed.

   "I did warn you," Delenn reminded her. "David has picked up his father's habits. Last week he insisted on taking his socks into the bath to wash them 'like daddy.' Daddy, of course, thought it was very funny."

   Mayan laughed, and after a moment, Delenn did too. "So, Sheridan is still leaving wet socks around," Mayan said.

   "Only in his bathroom," Delenn replied acerbically. "I had a hard enough time explaining to the housekeeping staff. They thought John was dissatisfied with their services and took the socks as a personal affront. I finally persuaded them it was a human quirk, incomprehensible to any other race. John still wonders why the youngest one giggles whenever he is around. But never mind my husband's undergarments. Finish your lunch, and then we'll walk in the garden and talk."

   While they ate, Mayan told Delenn of Kendrick's homecoming. "How long will he be home this time? He hasn't said anything to me yet."

   "He has told you about his new posting?" When Mayan nodded, Delenn continued. "His new ship is still undergoing modifications. I do not expect it to be ready for at least another month." Mayan brightened visibly.

   Delenn looked at her thoughtfully. "Mayan, I could extend Kendrick's tenure at the training school. He is an excellent instructor. The other teachers like and respect him, and the students adore him."

   Mayan grinned. "Especially the female ones." The grin vanished. "As much as I would like that, I cannot ask it of you. He is looking forward to his own ship, and he has more than earned his captaincy."

   "We are all sorry to lose him as a teacher, but, as you say, he certainly deserves his ship.

   No one can doubt that." Delenn pushed back her chair. "Leave the dishes."

   The two women strolled along the meandering path that led to the ornamental lake at the bottom of the garden. Delenn pointed out the additions to the flower beds since Mayan was here last. The new roses were thriving, as were the other Earth species mingled with Minbari flowers and shrubs. The sun was warm, but not unpleasant. The curved bench cut into the crystalline boulder on the shore of the lake was cool, shaded by the overhang of the boulder and the surrounding trees. Delenn sat and motioned Mayan to join her.

   "This is one of our favorite spots," Delenn said, sighing and leaning back against the cool, smooth rock. "John and I come here often, especially in the evenings after David is asleep. The moonlight on the water is beautiful." She smiled. "We even made love here one night.

   "Now then," Delenn said, turning toward her friend, "Tell me what you have been up to since I last saw you. I saw your latest performance on vid. It was very good. I liked the new pieces, especially the one on childhood. But then, your work is always at its best when you are in love."

   "I am not in love," Mayan protested.

   "Of course you're not," Delenn said soothingly, but spoiled the effect by grinning.

   "Well, perhaps I am, just a little," Mayan admitted.

   Delenn said nothing, she just continued to grin.

   "All right," Mayan conceded. "Maybe more than a little. But that wasn't my intention.

   "I didn't even think the attraction would last long enough to fall in love. And yet, it's been more than a year and we are still together. And it is still as good as in the beginning." She laughed suddenly. "What is it about human males that we find so exciting?"

   Delenn started to laugh, but realized Mayan was serious. "You really want to know, don't you?"

   "Yes," Mayan said firmly.

   Delenn sighed. "You are doing it to me again, Mayan. You know I'm not very good at these sorts of conversations." She smiled faintly. "But I will try. I can speak only about the one human male who excites me."

   "Does your husband know about him?"

   "Mayan...," Delenn warned, eyes flashing.

   "Okay, okay. I'll be good. Promise." She pretended to duck as Delenn aimed a mock blow at her head. "You are too easy to tease anyway."

   "I know," Delenn sighed. "John says the same thing. And even David is learning how to tease his mother. I shudder to think what will happen when those two plot together." She shook her head.

   "In school, you always said you wanted your life to be interesting," Mayan reminded her.

   "So I did. But you asked me a question." Delenn thought a moment.

   "I think what interested me most about John when we first met was his curiosity, his eagerness to learn and experience all he can. Right after he arrived to take command of Babylon 5, he determined to learn all he could about Vorlons. He told me he wanted to learn to think like a Vorlon, so he was taking lessons from Kosh. For all the time we worked with the Vorlons, followed their lead, trusted them, none of our people ever dreamed of learning to think like a Vorlon. But that was the first thing this human captain wanted to do. Just being with him, listening to him talk of his dreams, of what he wanted to do was more exciting than anything else.

   "You should have seen him when he commanded a White Star for the first time. He was like a child in a toyshop. Everything was new and marvelous and all his to explore. He was that way about that alien artifact that threatened the station right after the Shadow War. John knew it was potentially dangerous when he saw it, but his first reaction was that it was a gift especially for him to explore and examine. I teased him about it at the time."

   Delenn stopped talking. She smiled, as though remembering something. Mayan looked at her. Before she could say anything, Delenn laughed.

   "You know, John was the same way about me. He still is." She blushed, but continued.

   "He always says that exploring my body is a lifetime occupation. The first time he touched me, we had most of our clothes on. I forgot what John called it. He said it was adolescent, but fun sometimes."

   "Petting," Mayan said.

   "What?"

   "I said, it's called petting by humans. It's their equivalent of adolescent stroking and rubbing." Mayan grinned. "Jason and I compared notes one night."

   "Oh. Yes, that's what John called it. We had kissed for the first time earlier that day...."

   Mayan interrupted again. "On the bridge of a White Star. Jason was there. He says you severely tested the discipline of the crew with that kiss."

   Delenn laughed. "I never thought of that. It seemed so natural at the time. Afterward, John came to my quarters and we started to explore each other a bit." She blushed again.

   "I don't know why I'm telling you this, Mayan." Delenn smiled. "He was delighted with my reaction when he caressed my breasts for the first time. He had learned something new, something he didn't know about Minbari. I think he found that as pleasurable as anything we were doing to each other."

   "Then he is a very strange male," Mayan declared laughing.

   "Yes," Delenn agreed. "He is far from ordinary."

   She thought a moment. "Your Jason is curious about the world around him too, as I recall. I think it is a very human trait. Even people like Mr. Garibaldi and Captain Ivanova, who pretend they only want to know what they need to do their jobs effectively and no more, even those two cannot resist learning about something new."

   "That's all very well, but I don't believe you fell in love with Sheridan because of his mind," Mayan said dryly.

   "There were other reasons," Delenn allowed, straight faced. Then she grinned broadly. "And for all his brilliance in battle and skill in diplomacy, he can be very slow-witted sometimes. I wanted him to make love to me almost from the moment we met. And yet I had to make the first move. If I had left it up to him....He told me, just before David was born, that he was afraid I'd be offended if he made a pass, that's the right term, I think. He thought I was so reserved and dignified and self-assured, he was a bit in awe of me." She grinned again. "He's learned better since."

   "I don't doubt it," Mayan said dryly.

   Delenn laughed. "I think what surprised him the most was the Shan Fal. Not just the fact of it, that we would have such a ceremony, although that certainly startled him. He didn't want to go through with it when he saw the witnesses." She giggled. "I had to persuade him and then practically drag him into my bedroom.

   "No, what surprised him, shocked him even, was what I showed him I could do. I think he thought of me, at least until that night, as somehow virginal. He knew I had no human lovers before him, but I do not think he believed me when I told him I was not inexperienced." She shook her head.

   "Humans have such strange notions about sex," Mayan said.

   Delenn was silent for a while, wrapped in a memory of the second time she shared her husband's bed. The night he gave her the ring that wasn't what he wanted, but was the best he could get in the Zocalo. She had been so afraid that morning, afraid she had lost him, afraid he could never forgive her. And for one heartbreaking moment, her fears seemed true. And then all fear vanished and only love remained.

   She was afraid again when he told her the price of his return from the Shadow World. That fear would never vanish. But as long as the love endured, she could live with the fear.

   Delenn twisted the ring on her left hand. Then she stood up, smoothing her dress. "Walk with me. I am tired of sitting."

   The two women walked in companionable silence half way round the lake. Here and there on the lush, dark blue-green lawn, small clusters of silvery blooms shone like whitecaps on the waves. Three meters from the edge of the lake, the lawn abruptly gave way to sparkling sand made from crushed crystal stone quarried from the surrounding mountains. Delenn walked to the water's edge. She picked up a flat, crystal shard and hurled it side-armed into the lake. The stone skipped five times before sinking.

   "Very impressive," Mayan said behind her. "You've been practicing. Are you going to tell me what upset you back there?"

   "Why would you think I was upset?" Delenn asked without turning around.

   "Delenn...."

   "It's a good thing you aren't present at Alliance meetings." Delenn laughed nervously. "You would give away all my secrets."

   "I wouldn't care enough to reveal anything. Are you planning to stall for much longer?" Mayan walked over to her friend and gently placed her hand on Delenn's arm. "Delenn, something upset you. Tell me."

   Delenn continued to stare at the lake. "I was reminded of something I try very hard to forget," she said, finally.

   "I'm sorry," Mayan said softly. "Do you want to talk?"

   Delenn turned around. "It's not your fault that the happiest day of my life is inextricably bound with the worst blow of my life. Talking about the Shan Fal reminded me."

   She led the way toward a small stand of trees that grew at the edge of the lawn. The grey-green trunks rose straight and smooth to a tangle of thorny branches that formed a canopy. The lawn beneath was cool and dim after the brightness of the lake. Delenn sank down cross-legged, her skirts pooling around her. Mayan adjusted the knees of her trousers as she sat opposite.

   "This place reminds me of our special hideaway at school, that empty bell tower we used to go to whenever we wanted to be private or to talk." Mayan waved a hand around. "There is the same feeling here, of calm and quiet."

   "Yes," Delenn said. "I often come here for the same reasons. I suppose those things that remind us of our childhood are the most comforting when we are disturbed." She smiled. "And the friends of our childhood are the most comforting of all."

   "I have never thought of myself as comforting. I think I find the idea rather frightening," Mayan said dryly. Then she patted Delenn's knee. "Never mind. You want to talk. I will listen. Just like in school."

   "I've never spoken about this to you before, "Delenn began. "I've never really discussed it with John either. At first we were too busy with the Shadow war, and then the war against Clark, and our own civil strife. Then, we were just so happy and grateful to be with each other and to be finally able to marry. Now, whenever I try to talk to him about this, he tells me we can discuss it when the time comes. I think that is his way of coping. He can only live with the knowledge of his shortened life span by ignoring it. Perhaps he is right. I don't know anymore. Most of the time I can push the fear to the back of my mind. Today doesn't seem to be one of those times." She smiled ruefully. "I'm usually not this self-indulgent. When the fear is bad, I usually try to immerse myself in work."

   "Then it is about time you shared your worries," Mayan told her sternly. "Everyone, even you, needs to talk to someone occasionally. You have kept this inside for too long." She shifted slightly to make herself more comfortable. "We have all afternoon."

   "I do not know if I can explain so that you understand, but I will try." Delenn paused. "You are right. I need to talk."

   Delenn took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "When John fell at Z'Ha'Dum, I tried to join him. I planned to die in an assault on the Shadow homeworld. After his return, after I learned the true cost of our victory, John asked me to promise that I would live on when he is gone. Mayan, I do not know if I can keep that promise."

   She paused. "I thought, as the years passed, it would be easier to accept that I would lose him. I was wrong. All I can see is a desolation of years stretching before me until we are united again."

   "Delenn," Mayan protested, "You have family, friends, those who love you...."

   Delenn interrupted. "It is not the same. You know that yourself."

   "Yes," Mayan said quietly. "I know."

   Delenn touched her friend's hand. "Now it is I who am sorry for distressing you."

   After a moment, she continued. "Ever since I realized the prophecies applied to me, I prepared myself to do what I must."

   For the next few minutes, Delenn told of the years of study to learn about the humans; of the battles with the Grey Council to stay on course; of her rejection of the leadership of the Council to remain on Babylon 5. She spoke also of her pain when Dukhat was killed. And of the anguish and guilt that overwhelmed her when she realized the horror her words of vengeance unleashed.

   "The first time I saw John, he was my prisoner," Delenn said.

   Mayan was incredulous. "Surely you are joking."

   Delenn smiled. "No, it is true. He was captured and brought to the Grey Council early in the war. I ordered his release. I never knew until years later when John told me. It was while I was carrying David. I was irritable and cranky and blaming John for my condition, saying it was all his fault I was pregnant." She laughed. "Which, of course, was true."

   Mayan grinned. "I should think so. David looks just like his father."

   "Yes. He does," Delenn said with pride. "John was usually very patient with me during those times, but that time I think I tried him too far. He said I could have spared myself if I hadn't freed him during the war. When he realized I had no idea what he meant, he explained. I was horrified. I came so close to allowing his execution. John, of course, thought it was very funny."

   "So do I," Mayan said laughing.

   Delenn glared at her.

   "Never mind," Mayan said.

   "Hmmph!" Delenn settled more comfortably. "I have never told John this part. Not at the time, and not later. He does not know.

   "When I entered the Chrysalis, I was prepared for the transformation. Or so I thought. It was not very hard to adjust to the physical changes. Even the hair, once I learned how to care for it. I even became resigned to the bleeding every month. After all, I was still Delenn, still Minbari. That had not changed. What I was not prepared for was the reaction of our people. Oh, I expected hostility from the Council. They had opposed my efforts all along. No, what I didn't expect was the reaction of my friends, my colleagues, my clan. Some of my friends, you and Rathenn especially, did not change. But you were on Minbar and I was on Babylon 5. Lennier also did not change because he worshiped me still. Most considered me outcast. Some still do." She paused. "Of course, they don't dare say that now because of my position and influence," she said dryly. "At least not openly."

   "You underestimate yourself, as usual," Mayan replied. "There are very few of our people who do not revere you."

   Delenn looked dubious. After a moment, she continued. "The human reaction was also mixed. Some were indifferent, especially the command staff. A great many were hostile, either because they did not understand or because they thought my transformation was an insult to their war dead. I did not fully realize this until ISN interviewed me as part of a program on Babylon 5. I nearly broke down then.

   "There was only one human who accepted me fully as I was; who saw me not as a symbol or alien or a freak. The new commander of the station, Sheridan Starkiller. From the beginning, he eased my loneliness and helped quash my doubts. For that reason alone, I could have loved him."

   "You are wrong," Mayan said. "Sheridan knew how isolated you felt."

   "That is impossible. And how would you know that?"

   "When I was on Babylon 5 before the birth of your son, your husband often talked to me about you. Especially about how you always keep your problems to yourself and never let him help you. He knew all along what you were going through."

   "I have tried," Delenn said. "I am getting better at sharing problems with John. No. Really."

   She rose and straightened her dress. "Come, let's walk a bit now. The sun will soon shine off the lake directly into this bower."

   Mayan got up, brushing the grass off herself and followed Delenn out to the shore of the lake. The sun glinted off the sand, turning everything painfully bright. The two women walked toward the house, taking a different path that would bring them to the back of the compound. The way was shaded by shrubs and trees of the same deep blue-green of the lawn. The hot sun intensified the heady cloves and ginger fragrance of the leaves.

   The path brought them to a sunken sand garden, sheltered from wind and sun by the large west wing of the house on one side and the foothills of the crystalline mountains on the other. A swift, flowing stream issued from the hills, over a rocky fall, to empty into the fountain at the center of the garden. Benches were scattered here and there among the patterns of sand and stone.

   "When did you add this garden?" Mayan asked. "The last time I was here, this was a barren patch."

   "The fountain was installed only last week," Delenn replied. "It is not quite finished. Some of the patterns are still incomplete."

   Mayan looked around. "It reminds me of the Zen garden on Babylon 5. Is that intentional?"

   "Yes." Delenn smiled. "It was John's idea. He wanted a reminder of the place where we first got to know each other."

   Delenn sat on the nearest stone bench and motioned Mayan to join her. "John and I would sometimes talk about the universe and its plans for us when we met in the garden," Delenn said. "John used to say the universe had a perverse sense of humor. I usually protested he was wrong. Now, I'm not so sure."

   Delenn stared down at the patterns of sand for a moment. Without lifting her head, she said, "My love for John and his for me are the very core of our being. And every milestone of that love is intertwined with death and darkness. Every joyous memory also involves danger and destruction."

   "You can't mean that, surely," Mayan protested.

   "Yes, I can." Delenn looked at her. "The first time John held me in his arms, it was to comfort me as I cried for the Markab children. He held me until I could no longer cry. When he let me go, I felt bereft. I think I realized I loved him then. I never said anything, of course. How could I? He would have been horrified that I could think of myself in such a situation.

   "The first night of watching him sleep occurred on a White Star, on our way to what could easily have been a suicide mission. I couldn't even tell him it was the first night. Neither of us had yet admitted our feelings to the other. I held his hand as he fell asleep.

   He was so tired, and so heartsick at having to fight against his own people. But all I could do to ease him was to tell the computer to play sounds of rain falling on a roof to help him sleep. Every time it rains, I picture him lying there, looking so young and innocent and trusting, grasping my hand to keep from falling, he said.

   "I cannot save him from the final fall," she whispered, as she looked down at her small, strong hands.

   Mayan covered her friend's hands with her own. "It is not your fault, Delenn. You must know that."

   Delenn gently squeezed Mayan's hands, then withdrew her own. "I know, Mayan. I know. John made that clear when he gave me this ring."

   She held out her left hand. "The pledge of his love and the token of his death." She smiled sadly. "I told you, joy and anguish, inseparable." She lowered her hand and fingered the ring as she continued.

   "The night he gave me this ring, John asked for my promise to stay alive after he dies. We were in bed, talking about the future, about children. John was sure we would have a son. He said it wouldn't be fair to the boy if both his parents died, one after the other, even if David were already a man at the time. And most likely, our son would be only half grown. I agreed. How could I not?"

   Delenn paused. She folded her hands in her lap. "Later that night, as I lay in his arms, John whispered that it would be easier for him in the end if he could be sure I would live on. He didn't know I was awake. I pretended I didn't hear him."

   The two women sat in silence, listening to the splash of the fountain. The late afternoon sun spun rainbows in the water, rainbows that were reflected against the white crystal stone of the house. In the distance, a bird trilled. A faint answer came from the hills.

   Mayan touched Delenn's shoulder. When she looked up, Mayan gestured at their surroundings. "Delenn, it is not such a terrible thing to be alive."

   Delenn looked startled. Then she laughed. "You are right. And I have depressed you long enough. Come into the house. We'll have some tea and you can tell me what is going on in your life now that you're in love again." Delenn smiled. "I've talked too much about myself. It's your turn now."

   "So," Delenn said as she handed Mayan a cup of the earth-style tea they both liked. "How are you getting along with my newest Ranger captain?"

   "We suit each other," Mayan answered.

   The two women were sitting in the large, upstairs study at the northwest corner. Like the rest of the house, the study was a pleasing blend of human and Minbari styles and furnishings. As Mayan sat on a soft chair near the tall windows, she felt something hard against her back.

   "Can I assume this is not a top secret mock-up of the latest class of White Stars?" Mayan asked as she held up a brightly colored toy ship.

   Delenn laughed. "David kept me company this morning while I was doing some routine paperwork. If I'm not doing anything that requires all my attention, I like to have him with me. Now, you were saying that you and Jason suit each other...?"

   "Yes," Mayan said, putting the toy on the table beside her. "When he's away, I write. And when he's home, well..." She grinned broadly.

   "And he's not home enough to grow tiresome," Delenn said dryly. "You do realize, Mayan, that you've only lived with one person for any length of time, and that was me when we roomed together in school?"

   "Yes," Mayan said, just as dryly. "And I am not living with Jason. He comes and goes as he pleases."

   "I would say he comes more than he goes."

   Mayan laughed. "Marriage and motherhood definitely agree with you, Delenn. You never used to make bawdy puns."

   "I wasn't...oh!" Delenn giggled. "Then what would you call it since he has given up his quarters in the Ranger Compound and now lists your home as his address?"

   "An extended visit?"

   "Mayan..."

   "All right," Mayan agreed. "We are living together. He moved in just before he left on his last assignment. He was spending all his free time with me anyway and having to return to his quarters for fresh clothing and such was getting to be a nuisance. At least that's what he claimed."

   Mayan finished her tea and turned to face Delenn directly. "Seriously, I'm not sure how this arrangement will work out. As you pointed out, I have no experience living with a male full time. Not even with Neroon. We always kept separate residences. And I need solitude to work. How do you cope? Don't you need to be alone occasionally?" Mayan grinned suddenly. "Or are you and Sheridan still so besotted with each other that you can't stand to be apart?"

   Delenn laughed. "Our problem is finding opportunities to be alone together, especially now that David is walking. But I know what you mean. There are times when I need solitude. I usually go to that bower we were in earlier. Or to the chapel at the training camp. The temple with the statue of Valen in the courtyard," she explained at Mayan's inquiring look. "The human Ranger recruits took to calling it 'the chapel' and the name stuck."

   "And Sheridan understands your need to be alone?" Mayan asked.

   "Of course. There are times when he needs solitude also. He usually goes up into the hills, or takes a flyer out for a drive as he calls it. And when we need to get away from each other for a while...don't laugh like that, Mayan. It does happen. When we need some time apart, John usually works in his offices in the Alliance Building or I go to my office in the Ranger Compound.

   "Most of the time, though, we like to work near each other. Usually in this study. That's why John had that partner's desk shipped from earth. It's an antique, over three hundred years old."

   "It's very well made," Mayan said. "But I don't see how either of you can get anything accomplished in this room. Doesn't the view distract you? Tuzanor on one side and the mountains on the other. I'd spend all my time gazing instead of writing. The city looks like a child's toy from here, and the mountains seem close enough to touch."

   "It is lovely," Delenn agreed. "The view was one of the reasons we chose this place. Still, after a while you get used to it and take it for granted. Except at sunset."

   "Now that I believe," Mayan said. "Even I can't find the right words to describe the beauty of the mountains as the sun sets."

   "Now that I can't believe," Delenn said. "I have read your sunset pieces. They are more than adequate. Come on, I want to show you what John got me for the anniversary of my naming day."

   She led the way to her dressing room, part of the bedroom suite she shared with her husband. "Since becoming First Lady of the Alliance, my wardrobe has doubled. You would not believe the number of functions we have to attend, even here on Minbar. My clothes now take up as much room as my old bedroom on Babylon 5."

   Delenn pulled a translucent, dark blue nightgown out of the nearest wardrobe. The gown was cut low in front and back, with thin shoulder straps. It was totally devoid of all ornamentation. She held it against her body and twirled to show off the way the fabric shimmered and seemed to change hues as she moved.

   "Very nice," Mayan said. "Where do you wear something like that?"

   "Nowhere," Delenn laughed. "It's for sleeping."

   "I don't think you'll get very much sleep wearing that!"

   "That is the idea. John bought it because it reminds him of the one I wore on our wedding night."

   Mayan watched her as Delenn continued to twirl around. "You seem to have at least one memory that is not tainted by darkness."

   Delenn stopped and faced Mayan. She put the gown away and sat down on the bench next to her friend. "You are right. Our wedding night is a joyous memory." She turned to Mayan. "I still regret that you couldn't be there for the ceremony. Afterward, after the feast and the speeches, we went back to our cabin. We changed into our night clothes and went to bed. I didn't feel any different. Nothing had changed, really. The ceremony was a formality. We had mated in our hearts long before. "

   She paused, remembering. Mayan waited, silently.

   "I still don't understand, entirely," Delenn said. "When we kissed, when our bodies joined, I could feel a connection between us, a flow of energy that seemed to surround and bind us together." She laughed nervously. "It sounds absurd, I know. But that's the closest I can describe it. It was as though our souls merged. And they have stayed merged. Since then, I have often had the same feeling when we make love. John told me he felt the same thing. Neither one of us really understands, or wants to.

   "We didn't sleep. Finally, toward morning, we were so exhausted, we dozed off. Just before I fell asleep, I had the strangest feeling that the universe was watching us that night, and smiling." She shook her head. "John thought I was being fanciful, but I'm not so sure."

   Mayan smiled. "I think the universe would smile on your wedding night. I can't think of another couple who deserve a little happiness as much as you two." Mayan touched Delenn's arm. "You can't torture yourself with what will happen in the future. You have many good memories already, and you will have many more in the years ahead. Those memories will help you endure the lonely years. But now, just spend your time making those memories and let the future take care of itself."

   Delenn nodded slowly. She placed her hand over Mayan's and squeezed gently. "I will try, my friend. I will try. But the future still looks bleak."

   She rose and walked to the door. "John and David should be on their way home by now. Shall we walk down to the landing strip and meet them? "

   As they walked through the spacious interior courtyards that separated the private quarters from the rest of the house, Delenn casually acknowledged the salutes and greetings of the house guards who were changing shifts. Occasionally she would have a word with one, inquiring about a family member or asking if everything was all right. The women walked down the graveled path that lead from the staff quarters to the landing strip adjacent to the compound's outer wall.

   "Mayan," Delenn asked as she punched in the code to unlock the private exit to the strip, "would you like to stay for dinner?"

   "I can't," Mayan said. "Jason is cooking dinner tonight."

   "You trust him to cook?"

   "He's a very good cook," Mayan answered. "Much better than me. The only problem is convincing him to cook often enough."

   "Then by all means you have to be there to encourage him." Delenn's next words were covered by the noise of a flyer landing. "I said I try to discourage John's culinary efforts as much as I can, but it's no use. He still insists on cooking for me when we're alone."

   Mayan laughed. "I hope you have a large stock of digestive aids."

   The occupants of the flyer disembarked as technicians secured it. A tall, dirty, disheveled man carrying an equally dirty child walked toward the women.

   "John!" Delenn was horrified. "David is filthy. He's covered with mud, and so are you."

   "Hello Mayan," John Sheridan said smiling. "I'd give you a hug, but I don't want to get you all dirty."

   "He has no such qualms about his wife," Delenn laughed as her husband left a broad streak of dirt across her cheek as he kissed her. "You look like you've been rolling in a mud puddle. You are no more sensible than your son!"

   "You are observing, Mayan, the results of a close encounter with a very angry mother gok who did not appreciate my offspring playing with hers," Sheridan said in his best presidential voice. He grinned suddenly. "We had to make a rapid retreat through the fish pond and the vegetable garden." He turned to Delenn who was watching father and son with concern. "We're both okay, honest. The little guy is just exhausted. I'll take him into the shower with me and then put him to bed. He's fine. Really."

   He kissed his wife again, leaving another streak of mud. "Worrywart. Is Mayan staying for dinner? No? Too bad. Come back soon, and bring your Ranger with you. I'd like to get a first hand report of what's going on that no one thinks to tell the President about."

   Mayan laughed and waved as he walked off toward the house. She took a soft cloth from a pocket and handed it to Delenn. "Here, your face is all dirty. I can see life is never dull around here."

   "He is impossible," Delenn muttered as she cleaned her face.

   "And you wouldn't want him any other way," Mayan declared.

   Delenn laughed. "You are right. And he knows it," she said ruefully.

   "I think I'll say goodbye here," Mayan said. "Jason is waiting, and besides, I want to be out of range when the fireworks start."

   "What are you talking about?"

   "When you ask your husband how your son came to be playing with a baby gok in the first place."

   "I know how," Delenn said. "David was curious, what else. He is just like his father. What I don't know is why John didn't intervene before the mother gok returned."

   Delenn beckoned to a nearby guard. He nodded when she spoke to him and strode off toward the docking bays at the far side of the strip. Turning back to Mayan, Delenn said, "It will take a little while to have your flyer brought up. We'll be more comfortable in the house."

   She led the way back to a side door on the south wing that opened into the hallway leading to the largest ballroom. Mayan followed Delenn down a side hall into a small parlor.

   "John calls this the VIP departure lounge," Delenn said, standing near the antique Minbari sideboard under the window.

   "Are you sure I qualify?" Mayan asked.

   Delenn laughed. "No, but you can wait here anyway."

   "I'm sorry to miss spending some time with David," Mayan said as she made herself comfortable on a low chair. "But I'm glad I'm not the one who has to clean him up."

   "So am I," Delenn admitted. "John should have no problems, though. His shower is more than big enough for two."

   "Which, no doubt, you've proved." Mayan said straight-faced.

   Delenn flashed a wicked grin. "Speaking of showers, how are you managing now that Jason is living with you?"

   "I join him after he has cleansed himself, of course," Mayan replied. Before Delenn could say anything, Mayan continued. "I know what you mean. I had a human style shower and bathtub installed after the first time Jason spent the night. He couldn't use my cleansers, of course, and the water for cooking and drinking was far from adequate. It was pitiful, really, to watch him try to manage." She wrinkled her nose. "And, as I do not find human sweat aesthetically appealing, I arranged for a shower that same day."

   Delenn smiled. "I know. After my transformation, I found it very difficult to accept that my body emitted such a foul fluid. I still don't like the feeling of being all sweaty."

   "If I had known the pleasure potential of human showers, I would have installed one years ago." Mayan grinned. "It's like making love in a waterfall, only you can control the temperature and the pressure."

   "You would know," Delenn said.

   "Yes, I would," Mayan responded, grinning even more broadly. "I'll spare you the details."

   "Thank you," Delenn said dryly.

   Both women started to laugh. Delenn moved over to sit cross-legged on the large ottoman near Mayan's chair. Reaching over to touch her friend's arm, Delenn said, "Come to dinner next week and bring your Jason with you. I promise David will be clean and presentable." She paused. "And so will John."

   Mayan grinned. "I have to check with Jason first."

   "Of course."

   "That seems odd," Mayan said. "I've never had to consider anyone else before when making plans."

   "You will get used to it," Delenn said, gently smiling.

   "Yes, I suppose I will. Who would believe a relationship between a human and a Minbari could last. Oh, you and Sheridan don't count! Neither of you are very typical of...."

   The beep-beep of a com system interrupted. Delenn pressed a hidden switch on the underside of the low table between them. The inlaid top retracted to reveal a com screen.

   A guard announced that Mayan's flyer was on the landing strip, ready to go.

   "I'll walk you out," Delenn said as she closed the com and stood up. When Mayan did not respond, Delenn touched her shoulder and repeated her words.

   "What? Oh, sorry," Mayan said. "I was just thinking. The literal meaning of your title, Entil'Zha, 'the shaper of the future,' is very appropriate. In recent years, you, together with Sheridan, have been at the heart of events that have shaped the future of the universe. I think I shall write about you. You are both becoming legends."

   "Nonsense!" Delenn insisted. "Besides, you never write about history and politics."

   "And I am not going to start now," Mayan declared.

   "Then how can you write about us?"

   "I am going to write about love," Mayan answered. "The love between you and Sheridan. Everything else flows from that."

   Delenn did not say anything as her eyes became shiny with tears.

   "Now I have upset you again," Mayan said, concerned.

   "No, no. I am not upset. You understand. If I could not love John, and he could not love me, everything would be meaningless." She paused and then touched her friend on the shoulder again. "Come, your flyer is ready."

   As they walked back to the landing strip, Mayan told Delenn to dry her eyes before she saw John, or she would not be able to ask him about the gok in the proper frame of mind.

   Delenn laughed. "I can't stay mad at him anyway. He just smiles that smile of his and I melt."

   "So I have noticed," Mayan said dryly. "Never mind. It is the same with me and Jason. Are all human males so charming, I wonder, or only the ones we love?"

   "I suspect love blinds us to everything but their charms."

   They said goodbye at the strip side of the door in the wall. As they pressed hands against each other and touched foreheads, Delenn said, "I miss you. Come visit more often. Letters and com chats are no substitute."

   "I will," Mayan said. "And I'll call you tomorrow about dinner."

   They touched hands and Mayan climbed into her flyer. Delenn waited until her friend was airborne before returning to the house and her family.

   Mayan docked her flyer and walked the short distance home. She stopped at her garden gate, as usual, to watch the sun go down on the mountains that separated her village from Tuzanor; the same mountains that contained the great bay on which the Interstellar Alliance Headquarters was built, high above the City of Sorrows.

   The lower shoulders of the great, crystalline range were aflame with the last rays of the dying sun. Minbar's twin moons, already high in the evening sky, bathed the peaks in a soft silver glow. The Alliance Compound seemed built not of stone and mortar and wood, but of light made substantial.

   "An abode of legends," Mayan thought. "A dwelling place of the gods. But the couple who live there are of flesh and bone and blood. And they had paid a terrible price."

   Mayan waited until the light of the sun faded completely. Then she turned her back on the silver mountains and hurried up the path to her front door. Calling out "I'm home," she walked into the house and into the waiting arms of her lover.

 

*****

 

 

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