ALTERATIONS (I): THE MIND ALTERING

By Leyenn

 

 

 

This is what became of my thoughts on John's supposed death - i.e. I won't let him. I have a humungous problem with the fact that he'll die at all, but Joe Straczynski is a true sadist to give him only twenty years. AND I CAN'T HANDLE IT!

    But I think I took it all a little too far.

    Oops.

    Never mind, it was fun.

    This story is set just after the fourth season episode 'Epiphanies' (REMEMBER EPIPHANIES?! - see, I am a J&D fanatic).

    'We are starstuff. We are the Universe, made manifest.' - Delenn

    DISCLAIMER: I didn't hurt them, I promise! Don't get angry, I never said they were my characters... they belong to the wonderful world of Babylon 5, Warner Brothers, Joe Straczynski, and all the other people we dream of being.

 

 

 

 

 *****

For a moment when he awoke, John Sheridan thought his dreams had finally come true: he could hear Delenn's soft breathing beside him, the light touch of long hair and coolness of her Minbari crown on his shoulder; felt her cuddled into his side and the warmth of her body as her heart beat steadily against his skin. He smiled, tilting his head down to kiss her good morning. God, how long had he wanted this to happen? How long had it been since the first night of the Watching? A bloody long time, it seemed. Death and back stood between that time and now, but right at that moment he couldn't care - honestly, he couldn't remember. *Why is everything so fuzzy this morning?* He grinned. *Maybe it isn't a dream anymore.* The grin widened.

    And then he opened his eyes.

    She sensed something was wrong even before he awoke completely; the sharp gasp of breath and barely held scream only served to alert her already waking mind to the severity of the problem.

    "Delenn! Oh, God, I - I can't see you! I can't- where are you? I can't see-" Her hand touched his lips, quieting the sudden outburst of vulnerability as she gently stroked his cheek, her voice calm and soothing as he lay shaking in her arms.

    "Shh, I'm here, I'm right here, it's all right. Everything will be fine, just calm down. You'll only injure yourself, John, please, trust me. It's okay, I promise." He nodded shakily, casting nervous, unfocused eyes vaguely in her direction.

    "What... what happened? Why can't I see anything, Delenn? Why can't I see you?" The helpless, fearful tone in his words made her heart break, and her own voice shook slightly even with her reassurance.

    "It's all right, John, trust me. I know it's a shock, but the blindness is only temporary. How much do you remember of yesterday?"

    "Nothing... not after we were on the White Star with Bester and Lyta. We came out of hyperspace near Z'ha'dum, there was an explosion.... then, nothing." He paused. "Temporary?" There was hope in his voice, and she smiled.

    "Yes, only temporary. It should be no more than a week, perhaps less, until you will at least begin to see again." Sympathy was evident in her words. "The doctors did not think you would remember even Z'ha'dum." She laughed quietly. "I told them that you were more resilient than that. I am glad to see that you have once again proved my faith correct." Sheridan smiled uncertainly, trying valiantly to adjust to the situation. Okay, so this was going to be a memorable morning, if not for the reasons he wanted it to be. He had woken up to find half his memory of the previous day gone, along with his eyesight, Delenn asleep in his bed beside him - seemingly not having done anything as she was on the opposite side of the covers, but he could never be sure with his memory gone.

    Not exactly the greatest start to a morning.

    But hell, it had to get better, right?

    "John, perhaps I should tell you what happened yesterday." The tone of her voice made him doubt that idea. *Oh, please don't say we did anything. That's one memory I *don't* want to lose.*

    "Maybe you should." He spoke nervously, then retreated further onto the pillows. "We didn't, um, last night... Did we? That is, I don't remember anything, so..." His voice trailed away again, but she took pity on him and sat up to move closer. He felt the weight on the bed shift and lighten, reaching out in panic.

    "Delenn, don't go. I - I want you here, I need you, please stay." She smiled, touched by the sentiment but quickly realising it was more the reassurance of a friend that he needed than her love right now. Comforting, she knelt beside him on the bed, took his offered hand and kissed it lightly before lowering it back to the bed and squeezing gently in reassurance.

    "I was not going anywhere, John. I have been here all night, and I have cleared my schedule today to stay here and make sure you are resting. I will not leave until you are recovered; I have arranged to stay and watch over you-"

    "To catch me if I should fall." He smiled at the now very literal meaning, relaxing against the extra pillow she provided and suddenly noticing how stiff he felt. His left arm was in a plascast from the wrist down, but it didn't hurt much, only aching when he moved. The blindness and amnesia necessitated a head injury; as he reached up to touch it Delenn caught his hand again.

    "I do not think that would be a good idea, my love." She settled back down against his side, forcing him - not that it took much - to put his good arm around her and refrain from finding the wound. "You were injured yesterday, while we were escaping the blast at Z'ha'dum. I was worried... I stayed last night to make sure you would be all right. And no, we did not do anything... intimate." Her tone sparkled with mischief. "I thought you would be too tired for anything of that sort." Sheridan laughed.

    "My guardian angel, hmm, Delenn?" He found the familiar outline of her crown, feeling her shiver and nestle into his side as his fingers traced over the tip. "Make that my princess. What would I do without you?" Delenn smiled in satisfaction and cuddled closer, wrapping her arms securely around him.

    "I don't know..." She seemed about to say something further, but his hand on her crown distracted the thought and her topic changed abruptly. "John, I think you might want to know this; Minbari head bone can be very.... very sensitive, in certain situations." He knew her meaning without the quiet smile that accompanied it and stopped, afraid of offending her. She raised her head from his shoulder, frowning slightly. "You don't have to stop - I can imagine it must be reassuring to have something familiar here. And I, um..."

    He grinned, sensing her obvious embarrassment. "You like it?" She nodded against him; he felt her smile and laughed quietly. "That's not such a bad thing." He smiled, replacing light fingers on her crown. "And, well, if that's the case, I can't afford to upset Ranger One - which is what I suppose will happen if I stop, won't it?"

    "Mmm." The murmur was her only response; that and the shift in her body that brought her near enough to feel gentle breathing on his skin as she unintentionally brushed a hand across the nape of his neck, sliding one arm around his shoulders. He smiled at first, then scowled at the barrier between them; touching her shoulder, his frown deepened.

    "Delenn, this is going to sound like a strange question to be asking, but what are you wearing?" She looked up, lifting her head from his shoulder and he could hear the slight awkwardness in her tone.

    "I, ah, I am - I haven't changed since yesterday. I fell asleep," she confessed with a sheepish smile, remembering too late that he would not see it. It didn't matter: he heard it in her voice and smiled.

    "As you seem to have sequestered my company, and my quarters, until I'm healed, don't you think it would be a good idea if you got into something more comfortable?" he teased her. "It will be a few weeks, after all, and if we don't get to completely hate each other's company-"

    "I could never hate your company, John," she assured him softly, He smiled, finding her crest again for a moment and using it to guide his hand over her face, brushing his fingers across her lips.

    "It was a joke, Delenn. I'll never get tired of your company either. Hell, I asked you to marry me, didn't I? That does necessitate us living together at some point in time." She laughed gently, acceding the idea.

    "Yes, I had realised that. I really did not think you were being serious," she added in vague defence.

    "Yeah, I know. It's amazing how much you can pick up just by listening to people's voices, you know. For example, when a certain someone started talking about Centauri and their wedding arrangements..." he laughed as she pushed him away slightly in embarrassment, her own amusement mixing with his. Being blind suddenly didn't seem so bad with Delenn there, laughing and joking around: like schoolkids, almost. They often acted that way, he noticed belatedly; if it wasn't childlike jokes they shared, their conversations were vaguely resembling those of two young lovers, unsure of what to do or say around each other in case they caused offence or embarrassment.

    "So," he managed when they were both calmer, "are you going to move? I think we'd both be more comfortable, not to mention warmer, if you were to actually get into bed." He suddenly realised how that had sounded, how he had meant it to sound and rushed out an apology. Delenn smiled and kissed it away, but didn't move. After a while, he frowned at her still form and tilted his head to her, wondering as he was about to speak if she was awake and touching her crown for attention.

    "Delenn, are you going to get changed? I can't see anything at all, if you're self-conscious, and you must be tired - it was a late night, if I remember." He stopped. "Did you bring anything with you?"

    "No." Her voice was low, quiet, near his ear. "I had no intention of staying last night, but I could see you were not coping well and - well, I was glad to finally have an excuse for some time with you alone. Completely alone." He smiled at the addition, remembering Korell's unintended but rather sudden interruption to their embrace the day before. Thinking of that made his grin widen, but her words caught up with him and his brow furrowed into a half-frown.

    "Does anyone know where you are?" Her head shook against his shoulder and he grimaced. "Delenn, people are going to be looking for you and when they find out you've been here all night, well..." He trailed off, aware - somehow - of her passive scrutiny. "I just don't want you to be offended, that's all. I know we're going to be married, but we never discussed anything about... A lot of people are going to jump to conclusions about what we were doing-"

    "They will think we were making love, is that what you are trying to say?" He nodded, struck by her openness on the subject. "I do not mind the rumours, John. You and I know them to be false, that is all that matters. Although," she added with a sparkle in her tone, leaning close to his face and smiling, "I am hoping that perhaps they will not be merely false rumours for very much longer." Sheridan grinned, pulling her nearer and thanking her silently for having gotten so close already. The last thing he wanted was to start off a kiss by missing her mouth completely - although he had a feeling Delenn would never let that happen. She had always been the one to start anything between them, from that soft touch on his hand in the Gardens to her passionate, eager embrace on the White Star only a day ago.

    Their tender kiss lasted a long time, reluctant to end on either side as they came easily into a comfortable hold. Eventually Sheridan backed away, smiling instinctively despite the slight annoyance at his lungs for having to end it at all.

    "Delenn, you'll need to shower and sleep for a while - you're tired," he said sternly at her protests, "and the rumours are going to get a flying start if you leave here this morning in what you were wearing last night. If you want - if it won't offend you in any way - there's still some of Anna's things in the drawers over there." He gestured, knowing the place perfectly. "I don't know why I kept them, it's stupid, but you're more than welcome; it's not as if I have any use for them now." He was surprised, a little, at how easily that came out: but then it was incredibly easy to forget with Delenn around.

    "Are you sure? I don't want to intrude or to offend you, and your wife-"

    "Is sitting with me right now," he finished over her quieting objections. "Delenn, Anna is dead. Honestly and truly dead, along with the rest of Z'Ha'Dum. She isn't coming back again. I can finally leave her behind and get on with my life... and that includes you. I love you - otherwise why do you think I asked you to marry me? I'm not a bigamist, you know," he teased. "My wife Anna, the real Anna, has been dead for four years. That means that the only woman who comes anywhere near qualifying for the position is you." He reached out and pulled her nearer again for a long moment, savouring the feeling of having Delenn, his Delenn, in his arms. He'd come so close to losing that, losing *her*, that after the first second he couldn't bear the thought of letting her go. He had intended to get her moving after that short time: he'd been seriously wrong. That feeling weakened his resolve enough to need more energy than he anticipated to even ask her, and when her only response was a contented, incoherent murmur he decided that the real world would simply have to wait its turn.

    Consequentially, it was over an hour later when Delenn finally did move from her position in his arms - and then only due to her own insistent complaints that his bedroom was far too cold for her to remain out of bed any longer.

    "We never did discuss whether we were going to wait, you know," he thought aloud as he listened to her soft, padding footsteps across the room.

    "Hmm? Wait for what?" she asked innocently. Sheridan growled in mock annoyance, knowing instinctively that she was teasing him.

    "Don't play ignorant with me, Delenn, I know you far too well for that." Her laughter made him scowl half seriously, rising awkwardly to kneel in the centre of the bed. "If I could see where you are, I swear I'd-" the pressure on one side of the bed stopped him mid-sentence and he launched himself playfully at her back, pulling her down onto the soft covers. Delenn laughed joyously at his touch and it took him a moment to realise that she had already changed into something a lot more comfortable... and a lot more revealing.

    "Delenn," he whispered in her ear as they paused for a second, catching their breath, "what did you change into?" He knew she was smiling, answering;

    "Why don't you guess?"

    A low growl of teasing annoyance completed the conversation, turning her onto her back and tickling her impishly until she laughed again and squirmed out of his arms. He caught up with her as she tried to leave the bed, grabbing her tightly around the waist and drawing her smooth back against his chest. Delenn was still laughing when he nuzzled her hair, kissing her neck through the dark tresses and whispering soft comments under his breath. At one particular remark, she forced her amusement under control and looked back at him over her shoulder.

    "John, what does 'exasperating' mean?"

    He laughed. "I was just kidding, okay? I'm not serious." Delenn turned completely at those enigmatic words, seating herself comfortably in his lap.

    "Is it something bad?" Sheridan coughed abruptly, toying with the thin strap of her gown as she shifted nearer with curiosity.

    "Uh, no, not exactly. Well..." he yelped at her playful slap and nodded in admission. "Yeah, okay. It's kind of bad, a little... sort of. It just means you're annoying, that's all. Hey!" He bit down on a yell as she tilted him backward and the support fell out from under them both. Blind, it seemed an awfully long way until his back came into contact with the bed, and he was still trying to catch his breath when he heard Delenn's laughter. A moment later she clambered back into his lap, settling happily on top of him and stretching out with the lower half of her body along his side and her chest on his, one index finger tracing a light pattern on his shoulder.

    "Am I annoying you?" she asked contritely. Sheridan had the presence of mind to shake his head, as his mouth was suddenly otherwise occupied and couldn't answer... at least not in words.

   

    * * * * *

   

    "Are you *sure* you don't mind this?" It was the third time she'd asked him that exact same question, and Sheridan was beginning to wish Delenn would sit down - at least then he'd be able to shut her up. Instead he sighed tiredly, leaning his head against the picture frame above the bed and closing his eyes.

    "No, I don't mind. Look, will you for God's sake come and sit down? You're driving me nuts over here." Footsteps answered him and a second later, she was sitting at his side. "That's better," he acknowledged with a bright smile. "What's wrong, Delenn? Am I really making you that nervous?" At her silence, he lifted one hand and carefully found her crown, a reassuring caress bringing her closer. "I'm not trying to, honestly. If you tell me what's bothering you..." he left that door open for her, but silence reigned again until he sighed more heavily and sat up, reaching for her hands to assure himself that he was talking to the right place.

    "Delenn, what's the matter? Please tell me. Is it something about me, something I've done?" She shook her head, only remembering his blindness a second before he started to speak again, coaxing her to talk.

    "No, it's not you. I'm not really nervous-"

    "You're lying to me," he warned. She looked up at him, amazed that he could tell despite being slightly insulted at the directness of his accusation.

    "I do not lie," she informed him curtly.

    "Well, then you are giving me untrue information. Whatever it is, it's still making you uncomfortable and I still want to know what it is." She went silent again for a moment, glancing down, and he took her shoulders to get her attention. "Delenn, come on. We're going to be married, and we can't even have a decent conversation. Surely you can tell me?" Lifting her gaze, she smiled tenderly and placed a hand on his cheek to let him know she was listening. "Delenn." His voice was stern: she still hadn't answered and this was getting them both nowhere.

    "It's silly," she protested half-heartedly.

    "You can be silly," he teased with a smile. "Come on, love. Tell me. Hell, just say *something!*" She laughed at his playfully irritated tone and he grinned. "That's better. I was starting to think maybe you'd left without telling me." Their laughter was louder this time; John took advantage of it to introduce his fiancee to the wonderful art of tickling and she let out a cry of surprise, squirming out of his arms and across the bed to get away.

    "Blind man's buff," he muttered, catching her hand as she tried to leave the bed. "Hey, that's not fair! I can't chase you around the room, you know."

    "Why do you think I am standing over here?" Her voice held the hint of a smile; he returned it, gingerly finding his way to the edge of the bed and slowly standing upright. To her credit, Delenn didn't move - or at least he didn't hear her - until he began to walk in her general direction. Then she stepped hesitantly away: hearing her footsteps recede, however slightly, he stopped and frowned in very real confusion.

    "Delenn? Delenn, stop. Please don't run away from me, honey. See?" he edged backward and found the bed again, shifting quickly to the centre and seating himself firmly on the covers. "I'm not going to hurt you. Here," he patted the bed beside him, "come and sit down and tell me what's got you so uptight." Hearing her close the distance between them, he tried to lighten the mood a little further. "How do I know who to get angry at if I don't know what they've done?"

    "No one has done anything," she answered quietly. "It's me. Us. There's no one else here, I - you don't know much about Minbari custom and I - I was worried that you might-" she halted suddenly, shaking her head. "I told you it was silly." Sheridan smiled at her uneasy admission, rising to his knees and reaching out for her hand, gently leading her onto the bed.

    "There you go, it's not that difficult." He used his grip on her hand to find her shoulder, then her face, placing a tender kiss on her lips and lightly stroking her cheek. "Let me get this straight. You thought that because we're both here and no one's going to interrupt, and I don't know that much about Minbari, that I'd try... oh, Delenn. Did you really think I would do that to you?" She was silent; he felt the soft touch of her hair over his hand and sighed, tilting her head up with one hand. "You did, didn't you? No wonder you're so nervous. Christ, why didn't you say something?" He wrapped both arms around her, holding her tightly and absently stroking her hair. "I wouldn't force anything on you, honey. Never. You do believe that, hmm?" She nodded against his shoulder, raising her head after a moment to watch his reaction. It made her feel incredibly guilty to have thought that way about John, of all people: he'd never shown anything other than a gentle interest, even during the Watching ritual - which had been provocative enough for her, she had to admit. She blushed, suddenly realising how hypocritical she was being and glad that her companion couldn't see.

    "I can hardly find myself right now," he was murmuring in her ear. "How did you expect me to be able to do anything like *that*?" Delenn smiled, sliding her arms around his neck and absently brushing her fingertips through his hair.

    "I'm sorry, John. I should know better than to think that of you by now."

    "Glad we agree," he teased gently. "I love you, okay? I'll wait however long you need, until it's the right time for both of us. Just, um..." his voice trailed off in embarrassment; Delenn frowned curiously, sitting up a little straighter in his arms.

    "What?" It was his turn to be elusive now, quietly lying down and turning toward the movement that told him she was doing the same. He turned his head away slightly: she reached up and turned him back to her, smiling in reassurance despite knowing he would not see it.

    "John, what is it?" Sensing his hesitation was more embarrassment than any doubt about offending her, she smiled privately and quickly shifted closer. Sheridan jumped in shock at her playful tickling, trying to move away; she pushed him firmly down and placed one hand on each side of his chest, leaning over to trace teasing kisses over his face.

    "Delenn?" There was more curiosity in his voice than annoyance, and she smiled, dropping down onto his chest and tickling him again, forcing out laughter until he reached up to return the favour and neither of them remembered what he had been about to say.

   

    * * * * *

   

    "Come in," Sheridan called, trying to hide the impatience as he searched around in the cabinet. He'd never seen the need for order, always simply throwing things back wherever - but then he'd never seen himself blind and sharing his quarters with a half Minbari Ambassador, either. *And a bloody good-looking one at that.* He grinned to himself as the footsteps entered his rooms. *Funny how things change.* He smiled further at the thought of Delenn, but also in slight satisfaction at his retrieval of their breakfast. Rising slowly, feeling his way with one hand - it was strange how unfamiliar his rooms had suddenly become - while balancing the food on his plascast, all thought of it vanished on that voice.

    "Captain? Captain Sheridan?" Lennier, having obviously worked out the most likely place for Sheridan to be, was approaching the bedroom. The doors were open, an insistence Delenn had made for his convenience, and he heard the soft footsteps halt near the vicinity of the entrance.

    "Uh, Lennier..." His voice trailed away: he knew exactly what the young Minbari would be seeing, even though he himself could not. But he could imagine it - very easily. It seemed natural that Delenn should be asleep in his bed... He smiled, remembering the same feeling during the morning they had spent there together. He frowned awkwardly as Lennier made an indistinguishable noise between hurt and shock. The Minbari seemed frozen in place; even his breathing was slowed, fainter than usual. Sheridan winced as he remembered the last thing she had been wearing. *That thing should come with 'guaranteed to shock the hell out of Minbari' printed on the packaging.* Not exactly the most Minbari of styles, which was probably the problem: Delenn wasn't seriously shy about her body, once the initial uneasiness over her change had been sorted, but from the reaction he guessed that Lennier didn't feel quite the same way.

    "Is, uh... is she still asleep?" Lennier nodded, then seemed to realise Sheridan's handicap and coughed, trying to clear the lump forming in his throat at seeing Delenn like that.

    "Yes." Sheridan sagged against the doorframe, looking blindly at the other man.

    "This isn't what it seems, Lennier. I - she didn't - that is, we... oh, hell. We were sleeping, nothing else happened..." *Not what you're thinking, anyway-*

    "You do not need to justify yourselves to me, Captain," Lennier interrupted. "Delenn is an adult; she is perfectly capable of making decisions. Personal decisions. They do not concern me, although I would appreciate being informed of any.. repeat occurrences." Sheridan blinked at his words, then sighed and stood up straighter, reaching into the room.

    "Um, Lennier, I think maybe I should wake her, you know? She might, er, react badly if she sees you first...."

    "Of course." His voice was quiet, standing rigidly at the door. "Do you require assistance to reach your - her?" Sheridan heard the hesitation, gaining the idea the aide was having a major problem with his temporary 'lodger'. He shook his head in answer, tracing his way around the room with one hand until he reached her side, feeling the cool skin of her arm as he carefully perched on the bed.

    "Delenn," he murmured softly, leaning over and gently shaking her. Lennier's quiet footsteps faded into the main room and Sheridan silently thanked him as Delenn turned over and huddled closer, murmuring something in Minbari that he didn't think her aide would want to hear.

    "Delenn," he repeated louder, "Delenn, love, time to wake up."

    "Mm. What? John?" He smiled, feeling her hand find his to tell him she was awake and listening. Well, half awake. Maybe.

    "Lennier's here," he informed her quietly. The reaction was immediate: sleep was the last thing on her mind as she too remembered the last thing she'd been wearing, and her own first reaction to it. She sat up next to him, kneeling at his level to make sure she heard correctly.

    "What?"

    He grinned. "Lennier's here. Are you awake?" Delenn laughed quietly at the sarcasm in his voice, reaching forward to capture his mouth with hers. Her hand wrapped behind his head, leading him closer until he reluctantly pulled away at the sound of footsteps.

    "You're awake all right," he muttered, amused. She laughed again, teasingly caressing his face in answer. Her hand stopped suddenly, dropping down to his after a moment and he heard Lennier.

    "Apologies, Delenn. I will..." he coughed. "I will wait in the main room."

    "Thank you, Lennier." She smiled gratefully at her aide; he retreated from the room and Sheridan sank back onto the bed with Delenn at his side. She saw the expression on his face and glanced up in concern, touching his cheek.

    "Don't you like it when I kiss you?"

    He shook his head. "Oh, no, it's not that. I'm just not sure how to act with you around anyone else, when we're not working - and this is pretty informal, you have to admit." Delenn smiled in understanding, softly kissing his cheek.

    "You won't offend me, John. If that is what you're afraid of, then you have no need to worry."

    "I'm worried about offending Lennier," he confessed quietly as she rose from the bed. Turning in surprise, she saw the sincerity on his features and smiled lovingly. *Is there anyone who cares as much as he does?*

    "I'm sure Lennier will not mind, if we are both happy," she assured him gently with a sensual kiss, cupping his face in one hand as she stood. "Stay here while I deal with the problem - and don't complain," she added, laughing and stroking his cheek. He made a rude noise as she left, turning back in the doorway to reply and gaining a concerned glance from her aide.

    "Great. Blind, lovestruck and almost naked, with two Minbari in the cabin. *What a wonderful* day!" He flopped heavily back onto the bed with a sigh, smiling in relief at the sound of silent voices and then his outer door closing. When after a few minutes, Delenn still hadn't returned, his smile turned to a frown and he made his way out to the kitchen. Finding the couch didn't feel like a viable option right at the minute, so he took the more direct route and slowly found the counter. Footsteps sounded before he could manage to pour the tea, although he had organised two mugs and the boiling water by the time Delenn came up behind him and put both arms carefully around his waist.

    "Pain in the butt," she muttered playfully at his impatience. "Why couldn't you have waited for me?" He grinned, gingerly laying a teaspoon down on the counter and briefly lifting her hands from his stomach, kissing each one and returning to his slow task.

    "If you'd actually come back..." he muttered. "Where were you, anyway?"

    "Even Minbari use the bathroom," she informed him with some amusement. She smiled privately at his attempt to make their breakfast, watching him with hidden amusement through his - quite adequate - endeavours to find the tea. "John, if you do not stop doing everything for yourself - and taking twice as long - there will be no need for my presence here." He dropped the spoon, stepping dramatically away from the counter with as wide a flourish as he could manage with one arm in a cast.

    "Then please, go right ahead. I wouldn't want to give you any excuse to go," he half teased. Delenn smiled at his tone and stepped forward, resting a hand on his shoulder to reveal her position before she took over the tea-making.

    "I hope none of your rituals include needing to be a gourmet cook," Sheridan joked as she handed him a mug, closing his hand securely around it and leading him to the couch. Delenn smiled and then laughed softly, learning quickly how she could translate her often silent reactions for him to see.

    "No, there is no such requirement in our marriage rituals. Besides, I can cook quite adequately for both of us." He seemed a little insulted at that, turning toward her with a slightly piqued expression. Delenn smiled knowingly. "I did not say well," she added with a self-deprecating sparkle in her tone. "I must admit to being one of those people who can only cook a few dishes - and then only after years of practice."

    "Looks like we're going to be eating out a lot, then," he observed with a teasing grin. "Although we could try out some new recipes. You never know; with two of us it might not be so awful." He couldn't see her expression at that, but listening to the noise she made he could certainly imagine it. "Not a good idea, huh?"

    "Not a good idea," she confirmed adamantly.

    He shrugged. "Hell, it was just a thought. Anyway, you never did tell me what I will have to do for these rituals of yours. I'd like to know what I'm getting into - unless you're not supposed to tell me, I know there are some cultures that do that." Watching his face, Delenn wondered if he knew how obvious his displeasure at that idea was. She placed a reassuring hand on his, lowering her tea to hold his one hand in both of hers.

    "No, there's no reason why you shouldn't know. We don't have very much left to do now: the only problem is finding the time..." she trailed off, and he heard the despair in her voice.

    "Hey, we've got plenty of that right now. Is there anything we could be doing while..." At her uncomfortable pause, he smiled in understanding. "Or maybe we should wait." He sighed, tiredly rubbing one blind, unfocused eye. "Just don't tell me we have to do any more of that 'watching' stuff, okay? Now I will admit to not having had any action in that department for a long time," she laughed at that and he gave her a mock annoyed frown before continuing, "but there's no need to tempt fate that way again, right?" She smiled and leaned against him; he kissed her softly, staying close enough that his lips brushed hers as he whispered; "Do you *know* how gorgeous you look out of that 'uniform' of yours?" Delenn smiled demurely, unable to resist another kiss when he didn't move away.

    "I'm glad you asked about that tradition today, John."

    "Oh?" He smiled curiously, sliding one arm across her shoulders and carefully placing his mug on the table beside him with a small amount of help from Delenn, leaning across him to steady his uncertain hand. After a moment, she seemed to decide that being in his lap was preferable to sitting next to him and pulled herself comfortably into that position, curling her legs up across his and toying with the collar on his robe.

    "Happy now?" he teased, and she smiled contently.

    "Is it such a bad thing to want to be close to you?" Sheridan hastily shook his head; she laughed. "Then I am perfectly happy, thank you."

    "That's good to know," he murmured against her hair, gingerly resting his palm against her cheek to catch her expression."What did you mean about asking that question today?" It took a moment for Delenn to backtrack to their previous topic, but when she did he felt her smile next to his hand.

    "That's good to know," he murmured against her hair, gingerly resting his palm against her cheek to catch her expression. "What did you mean about asking that question today?" It took a moment for Delenn to backtrack to their previous topic, but when she did he felt her smile next to his hand.

    "As I told you, it is traditional for us to spend three nights together. For each night, the male will sleep and the female will watch-"

    "I sleep, you watch, I know," he interrupted. "I really am trying to be patient, Delenn, but do you have to be so mysterious?" Her only answer was a soft smile and her hand slipping into his on her face, gently squeezing. For some reason he took that as an apology, knowing that was how she meant it without quite understanding how he knew.

    "I have watched you sleep for three nights now," she said quietly.

    "Three?" Mentally counting them off, even including the previous, he was still at a loss for one of the required three.

    "Yes. On the White Star, the night before you left for Z'Ha'Dum, and last night."

    "The White Star," he muttered to himself in understanding. He'd forgotten that - how, he had no idea, but it hadn't immediately come to mind. "And have you decided whether or not you want to stay?" His question was partly teasing, though genuinely curious and vaguely impatient. She could hear the apprehension in his tone, see it in his face although she was almost sure he had no idea it was there. Part of her understood: she'd been worried over the ritual, unsure if it would work and honestly frightened that she would see something to destroy both their hopes. She knew there were people who objected to her performing the rituals with John, and she wanted so much to prove them wrong...

    "Yes." A quiet, nervous cough cleared her throat, about to complete her decision when he interrupted again, anxiety flooding his voice.

    "Is that yes, you've decided, or yes, you want to stay?"

    "A little of both," she admitted. He went silent; bringing his hand back to her face, she tenderly brushed his fingertips across her lips, feeling her smile. "It is difficult for me to say this, John, so please be patient with me."

    "Promise," he assured her gently, but couldn't help asking; "It's nothing bad, is it?"

    "I don't know." He started to interrupt, his mouth open for a second: he closed it again abruptly and nodded in controlled

    patience.

    "Go on." From that tone, she could tell he was waiting heavily on her answer.

    "John, you know that I love you. Even if I had decided not to continue this-"

    "You have?" The hope, the relief in his words made her smile even through his apology for the interruption, which made her smile widen as she continued in a slightly admonishing tone;

    "Even if I had decided not to continue this, I would still be in love with you. And, yes, I have made my decision - although I do not think you need me to tell you what it is." He stayed silent this time, but the smile on his lips said that he knew her answer. "I had not intended on staying last night," she continued in explanation, "but we have so little time... and I am sorry for beginning the ritual on the White Star without telling you," she added contritely.

    "Already forgotten," Sheridan answered sincerely. "But you can make up for it anyway, if you like. Tell me what we're supposed to do next. Or is it that you stay the two more nights?"

    "Um... No. No, that..." she cleared her throat, restarting the explanation. "Usually, that would happen. However, as we are not the most... usual of Minbari couples-" he couldn't help but laugh at that- "I have taken some liberties with what would usually happen."

    "And?" He gestured slightly with his free hand, placing the other on her cheek again rather than her lips and gently tracing her temple, sensing somehow that she needed the reassurance.

    "There are many rituals to follow during the joining, although some can be completed privately and I have already done so-" she smiled at his pleased reaction to that revelation- "but there are still some which are required of us. Which would usually be required of us, if we were a Minbari couple," she corrected herself, dimly aware that she was stalling on the point of their conversation.

    "But not now," he said gently. Delenn shook her head.

    "No, not now. The ceremonies need to be completed for our Joining..." He nodded, noting when she capitalised the word and knowing she referred to their marriage rather than the period they were passing through now. "But I have completed every tradition that can be done up to now, and I have decided that... that they are enough." There was shame in her voice, he noticed with a frown.

    "Are you sure about this, Delenn? You know I'll do anything you need me to do."

    "I'm sure." She was, he could tell, despite the slight uncertainty behind actually saying it aloud. "I had meant for us to complete everything, but... I realised when you were gone, on Z'Ha'Dum, that I'd lost you and it had been such a short time-" He laid a finger on her lips to silence the hurrying delivery.

    "Take your time, honey. I came back, there's no need to bring all that back up again." She nodded admittance, tiredly laying her head on his chest for a long moment before she began to speak again. The tone of her voice was more conversational now, he heard in relief. The last thing either of them wanted was to relive their memories of that time.

    "Yes, you came back to me. And that is what made me change my mind. We were interrupted once, John, and there is no guarantee that we would manage to complete everything which would allow us to be together without that happening again. I said that all of the rituals must be performed under normal circumstances," she lifted her head, tenderly caressing his cheek, "but these are not normal circumstances. We may not even live long enough to enjoy what we have if we do what Minbari would do now, and so..." She shrugged slightly. "I have only left two rituals for us to complete, other than our Joining."

    "That will need some preparation," Sheridan admitted ruefully with a smile.

    "Very true," Delenn agreed. "But I'm sure it will be worth it."

    "It already is," he whispered lovingly in her ear. "For what I have right now, anything's worth it." He paused to kiss her, settling her head back against his shoulder and idly running his fingertips through her hair. "So, what are the rituals we have to complete now?"

    Delenn smiled knowingly, shifting her position in his arms slightly. From Sheridan's point of view her demeanour changed entirely: he could feel the eager, almost child-like excitement, smiling at the difference between that and only a few moments ago.

    "I think you will like these," she informed him in a quiet voice. "I did not think it fair on you to choose anything too... Minbari, although that did prove difficult..."

    "I can imagine," Sheridan added through soft laughter.

    "Nonetheless, I managed to find something I think you will enjoy. The first is relatively simple - I suppose they both are, really - and is the most - the second most important tradition of the joining." Sheridan frowned very slightly. *What's the most important, then?* He asked her, but Delenn only laughed lightly and reached up to whisper seductively in his ear.

    "I didn't know there were words in your language to say things like that!" She laughed again, delighted to have surprised him.

    "There are words in my language to say quite a number of things."

    "I imagine there are," he muttered in amazement.

    "Not the least of which is...." her voice became a murmur against his skin, and despite himself he blushed slightly at her quite graphic description.

    "That's actually a ritual?" Delenn laughed, playfully nuzzling his neck.

    "Mm-hmm." She lifted her head at the incredulous sound he made. "Well, the basic principle is. I just thought you might like to know that I have done some... extra research, you might say."

    "Just so long as it was only theory," her fiance admonished firmly. She smiled, huddling her face into his neck and resting one hand on his other shoulder. "No practical, right?"

    "No, I left that for now." Sheridan grinned, turning to lean against the arm of the couch and pulling them both into a warm, tight embrace.

    "Now? As in right now?"

    She nodded earnestly. "Yes, now. On one condition, however." He groaned, tilting his head back in playful annoyance.

    "How did I know that was coming?"

    Delenn sighed, pushing herself away. "Oh, well if you don't want to..." Her hand trailed across his robe, teasing at the collar and making his skin tingle as he pulled her forcefully back to him.

    "Mmm, I didn't say *that...*"

   

    * * * * *

   

    "Am I understanding you right? Minbari actually *have* to make love before they can get married?"

    "Mm-hmm." She nodded honestly, smiling to herself as he interrupted the conversation with a low hum of pleasure.

    "That's good. Where did you learn to massage like this?"

    "I learnt," was her enigmatic reply. "And yes, it is a necessary part of the preparation that Minbari couples consummate their relationship before the marriage." She laughed gently. "I know that must seem strange to you, but then I have never understood the desire to wait until the ceremonies are completed. It always seemed to be a waste of time," she added as an afterthought, working out a particularly stubborn knot in the muscles on one shoulder.

    "Why didn't you tell me this five hours ago?" he teased half-seriously. "Or was that the other ritual?"

    "That was the other ritual," Delenn confirmed. "It is called Shan Fal - usually there are witnesses, but-"

    "Witnesses?" Sheridan swallowed hard, suddenly *veerrry* glad she hadn't decided on the traditional way of doing things. "You mean... other people actually watch... that?" She laughed at his shock, feeling the tension mount in his body and reaching forward to stroke his cheek with the back of her hand, calming him.

    "Don't worry, John. You didn't have to do that, did you?" He shook his head restlessly, turning back.

    "No, but..."

    "Then do not worry. Relax," she murmured lovingly with a gentle kiss before firmly turning him away and returning to her task. Sheridan sat cross-legged on the bed, while she knelt behind him; her robe was re-fastened after their ritual, but he wore only shorts rather than a bathrobe to allow her easy access to his taut muscles. The tension lessened as she lent forward and placed a tender kiss on each shoulder, sliding her arms around him and turning her face into his neck. But he was still uneasy with the idea and Delenn smiled a little curiously, wondering why. "They don't actually stay in the room during the ritual, John. Although I do not know if you would have noticed..." her voice faded suggestively, unable to resist teasing him even as he reacted and she felt his skin warm in embarrassment under her touch.

    After a long minute she went back to the massage, frowning. He was definitely tense over something...

    "Uh, Delenn?"

    "Yes?" Taking a quick glance at his face, her frown gave way to a smile. "What is it?" Although she had a good idea already.

    "This other... ritual. The last one." Removing her hands from his shoulders, Delenn rose to sit in front of him and took his hands in hers.

    "What about it?" He looked seriously uncomfortable, shifting against the bedclothes until he knelt in front of her rather than sitting. After waiting for a long while, Delenn sat up and placed both hands on his shoulders to stop the distracted movement. "John, the last ritual?" she reminded.

    "Uh, yeah. The last one. Um... what exactly does that... include, exactly?" Forcing down laughter over his unneeded anxiety, Delenn came forward and kissed him very gently on the mouth.

    "I have already told you this, my love. It is called Li'Shan, and you know what it will entail." She smiled softly, teasing; "Are you nervous?" His expression finally made her amusement emerge, shaking her head and tightening her arms around his neck before eventually releasing him from his discomfort. "There are no witnesses for Li'Shan, John. It is done very privately, between the two of us. Is that what you wanted to hear?"

    He nodded, making a not entirely melodramatic sigh of relief. "Don't worry me like that, Delenn."

    "Sorry," she answered with a smile, standing to return to massaging the tension - now at least double what had been there before - from his shoulders. They sat in comfortable silence for a long while: she concentrating on the tautness in his neck and shoulders, while he was obviously thinking something over and she knew better than to interrupt.

    "Delenn..." It was said slowly, after a long pause, and she frowned at the tone.

    "Hmm?" She looked up from the massage without stopping, a slightly irritated smile on her lips. "Was there something else you wanted to know about the ritual?" He shook his head silently, frowning. When he said nothing else, she released his shoulders as he turned to be face to face with her, shock and amazement on his features.

    "I - I can see you! I can't see, exactly, but I have a - a picture of you in my head." She shook her head, amused, and returned to her task.

    "I would hope so. I think you should remember what I look like by now," she teased with a smile. He shook his own head impatiently.

    "No, you don't understand. Hell, *I* don't understand. I can see you now, exactly the way you look right now! I was just - thinking about you, a moment ago, and then I thought you'd moved because I could see you, but I wasn't *looking* at you! And now- Delenn?" She was sitting in front of him, her hands resting in his, and he could feel, almost see the wonder in her thoughts.

    "Something else?" Her voice was quiet, leaning toward him and gently reaching out to touch his face, trying to comprehend.

    "I - I don't know. Can you do me a favour?" She frowned curiously: it was an odd question, but she nodded in agreement. Refusing John Sheridan had become a task far too difficult to perform.

    "Anything."

    "Remember something for me. Preferably not embarrassing, but it doesn't matter what."

    "Anything?" It had been a statement, an agreement: now she made the word a question, but he nodded.

    "A picture, a poem, someone you know, anything - so long as it's describable. Oh, and I don't know about it." She frowned dubiously, reassured a little by his smile. "I haven't gone mad, I promise you. Please?" Delenn sighed. She could never resist that look.

    "All right. A memory... anything at all?"

    "Anything at all," he confirmed. He saw, in his mind, her eyes close as she let out a slow breath to calm her thoughts. The confused, wondrous... he couldn't call it a thing, it wasn't really visible, more of a... mist, a feeling, disappeared to leave a distinctive haze - silver, if you wanted a colour - in his mind. It coalesced gradually, and he watched his 'picture' of her closely as his voice described the memory in her mind.

    "Mayan... is she a friend of yours? She's Minbari, obviously. Shaal Mayan - I remember reading that she visited the station a few years ago - she's a poet, isn't she? I was never one for Minbari poetry, honey. Sorry," he muttered apologetically. Delenn just shook her head, amazed and urging him to continue.

    "You're there - oh, God." She frowned, reaching out in concern,but he smiled assuringly. "I've never seen you as a full Minbari before. It took a minute to realise that was you." She smiled demurely, looking down. Half of her hadn't wanted him to see anything of her before her transformation: he felt her hesitation and tenderly kissed her hand, pressing her palm to his cheek in reassurance.

    "You're beautiful," he whispered softly. "Why didn't you want me to know what you looked like then? It's not a problem for me, love." He grinned slightly. "You certainly have nothing to be ashamed of." Embarrassment flared through her mind, making him smile again. "Delenn, where were you? It's a temple of some kind, I know that much, but there are no windows - I can't see outside. On Minbar? You're a little younger than you are now-" That brought laughter; he raised his eyebrows in surprise. "What?"

    "John, it was almost twenty years ago!"

    "Like I said, a little younger." He saw her laughing, grinning happily at the sight in his mind. "Mayan's there with you, that's why I saw her before. She looks different now, though, doesn't she? A mark of some kind, on her forehead. Home Guard," he muttered angrily as the explanation surfaced in her thoughts. "I'm sorry." The memories receded at that, bringing forward the temple surroundings again.

    "Oh, it's a ceremony! A Joining ceremony." He laughed, knowing why that reference had come up. "Is that what you want ours to look like? Mayan looks wonderful - and so do you," he added with a grin. "I didn't know Minbari had wedding dresses. I'm not sure that one would suit you, though; you have a better figure than she does, or did... oh, I hope that doesn't sound insulting," he realised suddenly. Delenn was far too shocked to come anywhere close to being offended, however, pushing back her memories to concentrate on her fianc‚.

    "Delenn," his spoke softly, unaware that it wasn't his language as the memories lingered despite her efforts. "Honey, that *was* real, wasn't it? Mayan was married before the war, to another acolyte, but you don't remember his name." She nodded, about to automatically qualify it with a 'yes' when he smiled. "I can see you, love. There's no need to say everything. Although I don't mind, I like hearing your voice..." He frowned sympathetically at her confused thoughts; there was something different there, something he couldn't quite put his finger on-

    And then it hit him, with considerably more force than Z'Ha'Dum had. *Why can I understand her at all? She doesn't think in English - does she? Certainly not that clearly.* Which only left one option...

    "Delenn," he asked slowly, carefully, almost as if afraid of the answer, "what language am I speaking?" She froze, listening. Her head snapped up suddenly at his accent, and he gasped: it was just like looking in a mirror. His picture of her was gone; instead he found himself looking at his own face through her eyes, dumbfounded - for both of them.

    "You..." she smiled vaguely, though neither was sure why, and he felt it in a strange, indescribable way. "You are not speaking your language, li'sha'na, my love. You're using mine. You're speaking in Adronato."

    "How is that possible? It's not, at least it shouldn't be - I don't *know* Adronato!" Delenn smiled wondrously, gently caressing his cheek and he smiled in return, glad to realise he could still feel his body as well as hers.

    "Listen to yourself, John. Make the Human part of you listen and you will know I'm telling you the truth." He clasped her

    hand tightly, shaking his head with a foolish grin. "I already know. Aside from the fact that you don't lie, I can... tell. There really isn't any other way of describing it." He dampened the grin, smiling an apology. "Sorry."

    "It's all right. I - I'm not sure..." she looked up at him, despair mixing with the wonder on her face. "What do I say now? I've never dealt with anything close to this before - you're telepathic, John! And it - it happened while I was watching you! How do I... How are we going to deal with *this?*" He smiled knowingly at her incredulous voice, shifting closer to put both arms around her shoulders and tip them both sideways onto the pillows.

    "Right now, I have a brilliant way of dealing with it. I don't know about you, but I am absolutely *exhausted*."

   

    * * * * *

   

    "We have to try and keep this a secret, Delenn. I don't want Psi Corps coming after either of us to find out how this happened, and the more people who know the more chance there is of word getting back to them." She frowned, incomprehension in her mind. They had begun this conversation, their most serious all day, after moving out into the living room - beginning to distract themselves and each other from the situation, they'd left the bed almost an hour ago - and they were no nearer a definite idea now than in the first minute.

    "How? You can't pretend you're still blind when you see everything I see, John. It won't work." He smiled knowingly.

    "Yes it will. It's very simple. I can learn to block you." That hurt, no matter how much she understood the necessity of it. The most intimate link he could have with her, and now he wanted to dispose of it completely?

    "Oh, no, Delenn, no. Not completely. How could I want that?" He pulled her closer, needing her to understand. "I love you, don't you know that? This is the most precious gift I could have. I just... it's necessary, at least when we're not alone. Although something tells me we'll be spending a lot more time alone now..." He grinned suggestively, then returned to the topic. "I'll try, once I get used to being inside your head as well as mine. Do you know how distracting this is?" She laughed, looking up at him, into his eyes. Still blind, unseeing... no, not blind. He *could* see her, albeit in a different manner. *Though perhaps a better one,* she thought quietly, startled when he smiled at the thought. She almost apologised, but he placed a finger on her lips to stop it.

    "They're still your thoughts, Delenn, even if I can see them. You can't apologise for what you think. And anyway, you are right. This is a better way to see you; though I miss being able to really look at you..." She smiled sadly, a little unsure of what to do. *What to say to someone who knows what you're thinking?* He laughed.

    "The first problem. One of many, I suspect. I'll ask Susan to teach me how to block you, or this is going to be chaos."

    "You're going to ask Susan?" That was not a good idea, in her opinion.

    "If you have a better one, I'm open to suggestions." He laughed at her expression. "Sorry. I'll try not to react to what you think, but it's difficult to separate between what's vocal and what's not."

    "Try listening to the language," she quipped. He winced playfully.

    "See, you do have better ideas than me. But I don't really know what your language sounds like-"

    "If you hear me say something that isn't in English, it has a good chance." She was teasing now, but he just smiled and settled into her gentle embrace, the smile involuntarily widening as he felt something else surface in her mind, something that needed no language to express itself.

    "I wish you could feel it, the way I can. I can *feel* what you think about me, how much you love me, everything. I want you to understand how it feels to *know*... I wish you could."  

    "I do. It may not be the same, but I can feel your love just as strongly." Delenn gently placed a hand on his cheek, caressing the smooth skin. "Every time you hold me, or look at me, or kiss me, I can feel it." He looked down, carefully reaching up and unerringly finding her hand on his face, removing it to hold tightly in his own. "John-"

    "Shh." He gently touched her temple, smiling fondly to her. "You're tired; you don't have to talk, just let me... listen for a while. Is it anything important?"

    <No.>

    He sighed, tenderly stroking her hair as they sat on his couch, curled up against each other. He really did listen now, not just to her thoughts; to the sound of her heart, to the soft intake of breathing as he felt her chest rise and fall against his own. Still, he could feel something wrong - she was tense, physically and mentally, reacting to him. For a moment he actually looked down at her, cursing quietly when he remembered his injury. Since managing to put the shield in place, it had been harder to 'look' at her; he had to focus more now to really be able to see her face and focusing was not high on his list of priorities right now.

    "Delenn, is something wrong? Please tell me, let me help. I want to." She sat up, pushing away his cry of protest at the loss of physical contact and standing, turned away from him.

    "You know what's wrong. You know everything!"

    "Don't make my ego any bigger than it is," he teased. She frowned, turning back with fire in her voice.

    "That is not what I meant, and you know it. I don't like it when you make fun of me - but then why am I telling you this? You already know everything there is to know about me." He frowned, unsure of where that idea had originated but wanting her to comprehend, wanting to comfort her.

    "Delenn, please, I know you're scared but this isn't helping us any. You have to let me explain-"

    "I'm not frightened," she said tersely. "Why do you think that?"

    He came up behind her slowly, breathing a soft murmur of relief as his hands found her shoulders and he whispered into her hair;

    "Because it's true. Please, love, let me explain. I can tell you're frightened of me, and I don't need to hear your thoughts to know it. But there's no reason to be-"

    "Oh, so now I'm being unreasonable. Is that-" He reached out and covered her mouth with his hand, gently kissing the tip of her crown.

    "No, I didn't mean it like that. You know I didn't, deep down. But you're too afraid of me, of what I can do, to see it." He sighed, feeling her turn to face him as he held her shoulders. For a moment it seemed she would move away, but she remained still and quiet, and he continued. "I understand why you're so uncomfortable, Delenn. I would be, if this were reversed. But I don't know why you're actually *frightened* of me. Have I done something, said something... Have I hurt you?" She silently shook her head, and he felt the movement of her hair over his hands. The silence remained for a long minute; tense, uncomfortable. He wasn't sure what else to ask. Finally, Delenn spoke, her voice quiet and devoid of the anger that had haunted him before.

    "I am frightened, but not of you.... of what you can do, of what you know about me. I've done some terrible things, John, things I don't want you to know about... I - I don't want to change your opinion of me." She sighed, stepping closer and resting her head on his shoulder. "I can't help it; I don't want to feel this way. It's just that I don't understand it - what's happening to you, it's confusing me..."

    "I'm still John Sheridan, no matter what my mind can do," he answered firmly as his arms encircled her, reassuring. "I'm still the man you love, Delenn - the man who loves you. Nothing will ever change that. I don't mean to make you nervous or to frighten you, I wouldn't."

    "I know." Her voice was quiet as she accepted his embrace, pulling closer. Her eyes closed, the anger gone - and then flew open again barely a second later, a deep frown on her features. He didn't notice, too glad to have calmed her down to feel the tension in her body as she tried to move away again. Sudden agony lanced through her mind, and she pulled back fearfully.

    "John, let me go. *Please.* John, don't - let go of me! Please, *please,* let go...." She began to cry, the strength of her barriers falling away to leave her unprotected from the onslaught. He took her gently into his arms again, despite the protests, wrapping himself securely around her as pain shot through her mind. He realised, suddenly, the trigger for her outburst: his unintentional intrusion into her mind, stripping the barriers easily without even considering it or consciously noticing.

    <How deep would you go?> Even her mental voice was tearful. <How far could you hurt me like this?> He closed his eyes, biting back anger at himself.

    <I'm so sorry, my darling. I didn't realise it was happening - I wouldn't hurt you deliberately, if I'd known.... I would never have done this, gone this deep. Oh, angel, I'm so, so sorry. I didn't want to hurt you, I didn't known what I was doing....>

    She clung to him now, listening, although it wasn't until a long time later that either of them realised, that night, that he had never spoken and much less in English. Tears of pain ran down her face, a pain as much mental as it was physical pounding in her head.

    <Freak.> The word was a memory, freed from the barriers to spark in her mind. Sheridan tensed angrily; it wasn't her voice, not even one voice, but a mixture of so many...

    <Freak. Human half-breed. You are no longer Minbari; you are foolish to have done this. You are not fit to lead with us. Go back to Babylon 5, and never return.>

    <How do you think people will feel when they see a Minbari, their enemy, with a Human face?>

    <Freak.>

    <Enemy.>

    <You are not one of us.>

    <No. I'm not one of you.> The last was Delenn, a memory from years before - entirely different, separate from the prejudice but twisted by her guilt, her shame and fear and hurt to mean what they wanted it to mean. A freak, an enemy, a half-breed fool.

    <Who are you, then?> This time he knew the voice. Sebastian.

    <I am Delenn,> came the reply from her memory.

    <Wrong answer.> Pain. <Who are you?>

    <Who are you?>

    <Who are you?>

    Tears fell against his chest as she cried. <I don't know!>

    <Then what are you?>

    <I don't *know!*>

    <Of course you do.> Sebastian again. <What are you?>

    <A - a freak.> His eyes closed in pain. <Your enemy.>

    <And who are you?>

    She didn't have an answer. But others did: the words reverberated in her mind, a chant of hatred.

    <Freak. Freak. Freak. Freak. Freak.>

    "No." His voice was thick with tears, barely audible through the pain. "No, no, never; never a freak, Delenn. You're beautiful, you'll always be beautiful...." He choked back the pain as she buried her face in his shoulder, sobbing pitifully through the memories. Slowly, carefully, Lord knew how, he got her to the couch and held her in his arms as she cried. He forced away his own pounding headache, refusing to give in to the weakness. He needed to be strong, for Delenn; but his heart was breaking, listening to her tears and hearing the memories. Leaving the chrysalis, frightened of what she was - that word rose again, unbidden, but he pushed it back with all the assurance he could give. Seeing him for the first time; talking in the Gardens; going out to dinner; but the looks from others, despising, prejudiced, hating her for what she was and cursing her for what she couldn't be - they hurt him more than he could have imagined. He forced the rising shields away, determined to stay and deal with her own barriers. Agony burned his mind, but there in hers was the thanks she gave for his support, for keeping her safe. And so he held her, rocking her tenderly through the tears until they dried on her cheeks and she simply sat trembling in his arms.

    "I'm frightened," she finally whispered. "I always tried to pretend, to make them think they couldn't hurt me... but they can, so easily, and they did. It hurt so much to be alone, and I couldn't tell anyone, there wasn't anyone to tell.... and then you came here, and I - I felt safe again, when you were holding me. But you went away, and I thought I'd lost you... I just wanted to die, it hurt so much. I thought - I thought I was going to be alone again... you were so angry with me, you scared me... I was so afraid I'd driven you away...." She collapsed into tears as he held her, stroking her hair.

    "Shhh, it's okay, it's okay, I'm here now. I would never have left you alone, Delenn; I would never leave you. I'll never go away again, honey, I swear it. Not ever."

    "Yes, you will," she forced out over the pain. "Twenty years-"

    "No." His voice was firm. "I'm making you a promise now, Delenn. I swear to God - I swear on all that's Holy that when that day comes, I'll stay with you. I'll stop it somehow; there's twenty years between now and then, that's plenty of time. We'll find a way, together, I promise. We'll find a cure, and then I'll never leave you again." She shook her head violently, angry at him for giving her that hope.

    "It's impossible. Lorien said-"

    "I don't care. Lorien's *wrong*. I love you, Delenn, and love can do anything in the Universe. Isn't it the Minbari who say that love is the most potent healer?" She nodded slowly - refusing to look up, but it was a start. "Then believe me. I've made a promise to you, I don't lie to you and I don't go back on my word. Do you believe me now?"

    Silence.

    "Do you believe me, Delenn?"

    Nothing.

    "Do you?"

    She looked up and gazed at him: a white light flickered in his mind and went out. Sheridan gasped involuntarily, feeling the instant of weakness as he realised in panic what it was. Then it was gone: a blissful smile crossed his face as another pinpoint of silver light, searingly bright against the back of his eyes and spreading out to cover his mind, replaced the whiteness. Where before it had been cold, impersonal, now the saviour in his mind was soft, warm and gentle as she looked straight into his eyes, seeing straight into his soul.

    "Yes." Her face broke into a wide smile as her delighted mind found his, and she reached up to pull his mouth eagerly to hers.

    <Yes, I do.>

 

 *****

 

 

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