ALTERATIONS (V): GOLDEN SPIRITS OF THE SUN

By Leyenn

 

 

 

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

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

   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.

 

 

 

 

 *****

Sheridan grinned at the sight of her, studiously hunting through a pile of documents on her desk and completely oblivious to his presence. Even through the bond they shared, anything that required a lot of concentration would often shut off thoughts of the other for a long period - especially now that they were both rested enough to be able to block properly. Korell, thank God, had taken over the introductions and explanations for their guests on the way back to the station, leaving both Sheridan and Delenn to catch up on some very well deserved sleep... among other things. Now the explaining and organising was over, for the most part: the Earth fleet had agreed to join up in the defence of Babylon 5, which was a welcome relief. Only the last documents needed to be signed now, before they could all get down to enjoying themselves for a few days before the next crisis. Everything was done, other than that. At least he couldn't think of anything else left... *oh, well. If there is it'll just have to wait its turn.* He smiled tenderly, slowly approaching the desk and surprised when Delenn didn't notice his presence.

   "Hey, beautiful." He slid his arms around her waist, pulling her backwards and affectionately nuzzling the side of her neck. "How's it going?"

   Delenn cried out softly when he touched her then smiled contently, leaning her head back against his shoulder.

   "Almost finished here. Give me ten minutes."

   "I can wait." He grinned. "Any excuse to spend my time with you." Delenn laughed quietly, taking his hands in hers and firmly twining her fingers through his own.

   "You spoil me," she teased, laughing. He smiled, lightly kissing her neck and trailing upwards when she laughed in pleasure.

   "You deserve it," was his amused answer, brushing his lips over her ear. "Besides, I have it on good authority that flattery  can get me anywhere."

   "Not with this Minbari," Delenn retorted in mock sobriety. He grinned mischievously, tightening his arms around her slim waist and lifting her easily from the floor. She yelped in surprise, turning her head to glare almost seriously in his eyes. Sheridan simply gave an impish smile, dropping onto her office couch and pulling her down into his lap.

   "You said you were finished."

   "I said I was *almost* finished," she corrected smoothly. She soon forgot and laughed in delight, however, when he leant over and caught her mouth firmly with his. "Though I think you may be right," she agreed with a smile as they parted. "Perhaps it is time for a break." He raised his eyebrows at her suggestive expression.

   "Are you sure we shouldn't go home to do this?"

   "Don't worry." Seeing his concerned features Delenn smiled, teasing him; "we can just lock the door. It is a private office, after all: no one will come in." His eyes widened at the idea and she laughed. "I'm only teasing, John. It wasn't serious." She smiled in amusement, reaching to pull his mouth back to hers. Her kiss was teasing, moving back after only a second to smile at her lover. He made a quiet complaint, catching her hands in his and guiding her to sit upright on his lap. He circled one arm firmly around her and cupped her face with the other hand, tilting her toward him. Delenn's eyes shone in anticipation: shifting from sitting princess-style to be facing him on his lap, she slipped both arms around his neck and smiled. The touch on his lips was firmer this time and Sheridan needed little encouragement to return her passion. A small part of him reminded them both of the unlocked door, but even that was swallowed up as Delenn brushed suggestively against his chest and her mind curled lazily around his. Their shields fell immediately, pulling her into him and closing easily around her, surrounding her mind.

   <I love you,> he murmured softly in her mind.

   <Mmm, I love you too.> Her thoughts were barely coherent; he realised she was tired and began to move slightly away. Delenn held him with a fierce embrace, refusing to allow their separation. <Don't go. I want you here, John, please stay with me.> He smiled, holding her close and gently stroking her hair, setting playful kisses on her lips.

   <I wasn't leaving. I just thought you should sleep, that's all. I know you're tired.> She started to protest, but he kissed her lightly another time and shook his head. "You can't hide it, honey, not from me and my curious mind." She smiled sheepishly, looking down.

   "You don't have to go. I can sleep with you here." She paused. "I need you to stay."

   Sheridan smiled. "Don't you think I'll be a little... distracting?"  

   "No." Delenn shook her head adamantly, huddling tighter into his chest. "I just want you here. I don't want to make you leave." She smiled contently and looked up, making him laugh with the innocent, playful expression on her features. "I don't want to, um... we don't have to do... anything, I..." He laughed louder, surprised at her sudden shyness.

   "This is the same woman who suggested making love on her office couch?" Delenn turned her face away in embarrassment at his laughter, smiling slightly in amusement even as she blushed.

   "I didn't actually mean it, though," she defended coyly, her voice muffled against his shoulder. He shrugged, kissed her crown and lightly buried his face in her hair. She turned a little to get more comfortable and then closed her eyes, placing each hand in his as Sheridan lay along the length of her couch and wrapped his legs around hers from behind, squeezing her shoulders as his arms tightened firmly around her. He could tell she was having difficulty staying with their conversation, feeling her relax into his embrace and leaning his chin briefly on her shoulder to whisper;

   "Delenn, honey, are you still awake?" A faint murmur was her only reply; Sheridan squeezed her hands gently and leaned down to kiss her cheek. Delenn shifted again to be nearer the warmth of him, but she was mostly asleep and barely coherent enough to answer. Tilting his head back and gazing down at her, Sheridan couldn't help but smile. If he could have just one memory from his life, no matter what supposedly heroic stunts he'd pulled in the past, a minute like this with Delenn would be all he needed. Holding her sleeping form in his arms felt so natural and perfect... he could barely believe that she really was his, exclusively his after all this time. Gentle fingers explored her hair, playing over the contours of her crown until he was convinced he knew that pattern as intimately as he knew the rest of her. She stirred at first when he touched her, but he remembered the tutoring she'd given him on the subject and carefully avoided the areas he knew were most sensitive - there would be plenty of time for that later and for now he wanted her to rest.

   Watching her sleep so peacefully, he was almost tempted into sleep himself. The thought of her unlocked door was enough to quell that notion, but Sheridan didn't really mind. He was content to hold Delenn while she slept, giving her the contact she wanted from him. Thinking about it, John had never known anyone - lover or otherwise - quite as tactile as Delenn. He didn't know many details of her family or background, but from the way she craved physical contact from those around her, especially him, he could guess it hadn't been a perfect childhood. Her mother leaving probably had something to do with that, he mused with slight annoyance. Delenn hadn't seemed to mind the absence, but for a young child it had to have been difficult at the time. And then having a sister she'd never met... and her brother's death... even the death of her father decades later had a profound influence on her, especially under the circumstances. They'd had a long talk on that subject, ending with him - finally - convincing her that she couldn't accept the responsibility for his death, even if she had played a part in starting the war. He couldn't imagine the amount of pain she'd gone through over that; had tried to, but she didn't seem to want to talk about it after their conversation and he respected her privacy - wherever possible. It was difficult, with the rapport they'd built up: images of his life on Earth had easily found their way into her mind - in fact Delenn seemed to search out those memories, but he suspected that had influenced her emphasis on privacy. He got the feeling that she thought her own life couldn't match what he'd had - there certainly hadn't been the amount of family and physical contact his own relations had. He shook his head slightly: he couldn't stand the thought of Delenn having to live anywhere that was less than perfect, less than what she deserved.

   Lennier had been the original focus for her 'attentions', so he remembered, but over the course of her growing relationship with him he had gradually taken the place of her aide - who seemed strangely glad, John thought, as if he didn't want the temptation anymore. Surprisingly enough, though, most of her physical attention wasn't sexual. Sometimes - always, in public - the need for him to hold her the way he was now overwhelmed the sexuality of their relationship. Sheridan was happy to comply with whatever she wanted; if Delenn wanted him to do that, he wouldn't deny her the right to her husband's arms. Truth be told, he often considered time with her just holding, kissing or touching to be more rewarding than making love.

   <Oh?> He felt the soft, warm touch on his mind, realising with chagrin that she had been listening to his thoughts. <Don't you enjoy making love with me?> She sounded hurt and he shook his head vehemently, leaning over to kiss her in reassurance.

   "No, honey, it's not that. It's just that it's different with us - we don't need..." He sighed ruefully, stroking her cheek. <I can't explain it without sounding insulting to you.> Delenn smiled at his concern.

   <I think I know what you mean. We don't need to make love to be that close... but it is nice,> she added with a mental touch.

   <Nice? Is that all?> Sensing that he was teasing her, Delenn turned over and nestled her head under his chin with an equally teasing smile.

   <Mm-hmm. Well, perhaps good, on occasion...> She laughed as he tickled her in playful annoyance, forcing a more satisfying string of adjectives from her mind. He grinned as she returned the play, catching her gaze and stopping abruptly at the same second she did. He wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her toward him, shaking his head and waving off her distracted warning about the door. A second later their mouths met, ignoring the real world outside as they found better worlds to explore.

   Like most young Humans, John Sheridan had often wondered as a child what it might be like to be a telepath. He'd seen the ads, been to the testing centres once or twice, even met members of the Psi-Corps in school. Now, as an adult, he lived among telepaths: Lyta, Talia, Susan, Bester and myriads of others in the Army of Light as well as those in cryo storage. Each individual had their own unique personality, just as normals did, and their own unique talents and perspective on those talents. But not one of those he'd met had prepared him for the feeling of actually being inside someone else's mind. Every time he thought of Delenn, every time he touched her or kissed her and every time they made love, the bonding grew deeper and deeper until neither of them was sure where or if their minds were separated. They were trusting enough of each other to allow the bonding to take place, but John could still feel the slight apprehension building further in his lover's mind each time it happened. He kissed her tenderly, melting it away in the warmth of his mind.

   <You okay, sweetheart?> His thoughts reflected his concern: Delenn smiled.

   <I don't like being confused,> she confessed tiredly. <It worries me. I wish I could understand what's happened to us. Stephen... I know he means well, but->

   <I know. I'm not a scientist either.> He backed off a little from her, smiling and gently tracing a curl of dark hair across her cheek. Delenn smiled as he brushed it away and kissed her, a short, sweet kiss becoming something far more as he took her face in his hands and lightly touched the sensitive base of her crown at her temples. Delenn let out a quiet murmur as his mouth covered hers again and tightened her fingers in his hair. Her final shield relaxed around them, holding him totally in her mind as they merged almost completely... until there was no more of either of their thoughts, only the joy of one soul, incomplete, finally finding that which it had longed to find for so long...

   They had never been so close, so deep within each other before this - so far as to see through the thoughts and feelings and memories down to the very essence of their soul. It dawned rather belatedly on Sheridan that late in the afternoon on her office couch was a very odd place to have a revelation like this. He'd imagined this feeling - as much as he could have imagined something so profound - to come with making love to her, but that slight physical pleasure hardly compared to such intense joy. He gasped out loud without realising as his own final barrier fell away, leaving his soul unprotected and open to Delenn. Fear enveloped her own mind for that same instant: he reached to reassure her, wrapping his arms so tightly around her that it almost hurt as his soul, his half of their soul, reached for hers. Delenn eagerly came to him, her kisses more and more desperate as she suddenly tried simultaneously to pull away, unsure of which she wanted.

   <NO!> The scream rang through his mind, tearing at the forging bond between them. <Please, don't... it *hurts!* Please, John, I don't want this, I can't...>

   <Yes, you can.> His reassurance was instinctive: this was beyond pain now, almost agony, and he had no idea what was happening. <For me, Delenn. For us. You want us to be together, I know you do. It'll be all right, I promise you - I love you. I'd never let you be hurt.> She nodded weakly, more aware of their physical presence now as the burning light faded enough to dimly recognise their quarters. Barely coherent and certainly not enough to care, Delenn simply buried herself back in the warmth of his mind. Her body itself was shaking, utterly exhausted, and she could hear John's light, forced breathing next to her, knowing without listening to him that he was as tired as she was. Something was still happening, she was sure, but then as fast as it had come the pain was over with a final, soothing burst of light in their mind. Delenn forced her body still, but tension only made the shaking worse; a tender embrace surrounded her, calming her shattered emotions as she slowly, carefully reached up to return the gesture.

   <Now I know what they mean by 'love hurts',> he whispered mentally. Delenn laughed... or would have done, had she had the energy to. Instead she tried to send him a silent smile, murmuring softly in surprise when it didn't work. <Hey, it did. Don't worry.> Sheridan kissed her gently, his own astonishment evident. <Except... I don't think you actually have to send it anymore. It's just kind of here.> He smiled, half content and half confused. <I love you, Delenn. And... I don't know how, but I->

   <-Can feel it. Something. I know... it's beautiful.> She smiled peacefully and relaxed into his arms, barely noticing the light cover one of them lifted kinetically to drape over them. <I never imagined anything so profound... I always thought...>

   "Never mind." He placed a light finger on her lips, even though she wasn't speaking aloud. The sound of his voice was soft, exhausted... and strangely seductive even in that simple phrase, forcing Delenn to push back the impulse to ask the impossible.

   <Not impossible, sweetheart. Never impossible with us. I love you; don't ever be afraid to ask me for anything - especially my love.> He laughed quietly, turning her gently onto her back. "I'm not that tired." Delenn smiled at his brief lapse into speech before he kissed her and returned to their more natural way of conversing. <Besides, I think this is last part of the bonding.> And he kissed her, and the rest of the world melted away under his tender caress.

   

* * * * *

   

Delenn toyed idly with the bedclothes covering her slim body, glancing over at her lover and unable to resist a smile. To call John her lover now seemed a pitiful name, despite taking into account that it was most certainly true. She liked the Adronato word, li'sha'na, but even that didn't want to fit her mental picture of them. Not after today, anyway. She wondered if the Vorlons had ever had a word that might work: somehow she thought that would be the most appropriate. *But then perhaps not.* She sighed, turning to face her sleeping companion. He'd fallen asleep around the same time she had, but trying to protect her from... from whatever had happened to them had taken more out of him than he realised. Even Delenn still felt more than a little tired... She yawned, almost laughing as she realised that it wasn't her at all, but John's resting mind that she had thought of as her own. It was strange; it felt as if half of her were still unconscious, her mind and senses dimmed while he slept. With one hand, she reached up and gingerly brushed a lock of dark blond hair from his forehead, smiling absently. No, it definitely didn't feel right to call him simply her love, or li'sha'na or anything else. But she had to find something; she couldn't just use his name every time she spoke to him, the way they had done before. Especially if they were going to live forever. *It would grow boring.* She laughed to herself at that thought. How they could both have simply accepted so easily that they would live forever, she had no idea. They were still unsure as to how they knew-

   <Delenn, honey?> He sat up a little, smiling sleepily. <How long have you been awake?>

   <Longer than you,> she retorted teasingly, pushing him back to the pillows and edging up beside him. Usually it was more comfortable to rest her head on his shoulder, but right now she wanted to talk and she knew that wouldn't happen if she got too close.

   <That,> he commented dryly as he turned on his side to face her, <is the most stupid thing I've heard all year. And completely impossible. We're already 'too close', as you put it: an extra few inches don't matter. An extra few *miles* don't matter.> Delenn laughed, admitting the truth in his statement.

   <John, I was just thinking...>

   <I know. I heard.> Delenn smiled in amazement.

   <But you were asleep!>

   He shrugged. <So? I still heard you.> He smiled, taking her right hand from her side and laying it gently on the pillow between them, linking his fingers through hers much as their minds were joined. <Still can't think of anything, huh?>

   <No.> She reached up to their joined hands with her left, sliding it under them both to hold his hand tightly in hers. <Nothing seems right, after everything that's happened. We can hardly be just engaged now, can we? It has to be something more than that.> Sheridan smiled in understanding, teasing her;

   <Does that mean we're not getting married now?> It got the reaction he'd hoped for: Delenn launched herself at him with a soft laugh, intent on assuring him that their wedding plans were definitely on.

   <We are already married, John. Far more, and you know it.> She laughed delightedly as he kissed her, amusement bubbling through and accenting her voice as his link chimed from the bedside table and Sheridan growled. He turned his back to her to find the link, unable to help a smile despite his annoyance as Delenn put her arms around him, cuddling against his back. <Tell them to go away,> she advised.

   "Ambassador Delenn says would you- Hey!" She shoved him playfully forwards, bemused.

   <Excuse me? Don't use my name like that!>

   <Like what?>

   "Uh, Captain? Is everything okay?" It was Ivanova's voice, and so confused that neither Delenn or John could help laughing.

   "Everything's fine, Susan," Sheridan answered eventually over his companion's amusement, casting a mock-annoyed glare back to her.

   "Perfect," came Delenn's addition over his shoulder. "Was it anything important, Susan?" She smiled, a wicked idea surfacing in her mind, and lent over to whisper in her fiance's ear. He laughed, ignoring Ivanova's voice through the link for a moment to quickly zoom in on her position. Luckily for them both she was sitting in his office - and luckily for Susan, as she was suddenly surprised by the flickering of the viewscreen behind her before a picture formed, making her yelp in amazed embarrassment. She coughed politely, turning away and silently praying for the image to *please* not be there when she turned back?

   "I, uh, didn't know you had a viewer in your bedroom, John."

   *Polite, Susan, polite. Try not to show him how much you *hate* him for doing this to you.*

   "I, uh, didn't know you had a viewer in your bedroom, John." *Polite, Susan, polite. Try not to show him how much you *hate* him for doing this to you.*

   "I don't," Sheridan replied in an amused tone. Delenn, already close, leaned against his side and whispered something. He nodded, a soft gleam in his eye, and picked up the link from beside the bed. "Delenn just made a very good point that we're off duty, so unless this is an *exceptionally* important problem, you'll just have to deal with it." He grinned, knowing he'd won. "Is it?"

   "Uh, no. Sir," she added as an afterthought.

   "Good. Goodnight, Susan." She heard a noise that seemed to indicate the screen had gone blank, but it was at least five minutes before she got the courage to turn and check that they were actually not there any more - by which time John and Delenn had gotten over their laughter and were back to their earlier conversation.

   <So, can you think of anything?> Sheridan sighed playfully, rolling onto his back and lifting her firmly up to lie on his chest.

   <Is there something wrong with my name?>

   <No,> Delenn acceded sheepishly. <But if we are to live forever, some variety would be nice.> He laughed at that, pulling her down into a passionate kiss... one which ended abruptly as his link called insistently again. This time Delenn was the one to make an ugly noise at the intrusion, frowning at the small machine with a stare that, had Sheridan not broken her concentration, would probably have melted it into the table.

   <Do I have some kind of alarm system? Get within five inches of you and this damn thing goes off?> She laughed at his annoyance, seeing the funny side and nuzzling his shoulder before slowly moving lower.

   "Yes? Whoever this is, make it quick. I'm kind of in the middle of something here." <Like trying to kiss the most beautiful goddess in the Universe,> his mind added, and Delenn blushed. He let out a mental shout as she tried purposefully to distract him, her hand gliding seductively over his stomach and quickly moving lower. She continued to kiss him, laughing at the reaction as he made a soft noise of pleasure in her thoughts.

   "Ambassador Delenn says go away," he stated impatiently, tossing the link carelessly across the room in annoyance and crying out sharply at her half-angry punishment.

   <Don't say that!> He shrugged, grabbing her arms and lifting her back to his level for a desperate, passionate kiss. Delenn thought with amusement that he was trying to get it in before their next interruption came.

   <Mm, too right.>

   <Who was that, anyway?> she asked lazily as his kisses moved to her neck, her shoulders and then lower, making her smile.

   <Don't know, don't care,> was his simple reply. She shrugged: it didn't matter right now. *Ohhh, it definitely does *not* matter right now....*

   

* * * * *

   

Tiredly wondering if this was going to become a regular occurrence, Delenn turned onto her stomach and rested her chin on folded arms, tilting her head sideways to gaze at John Sheridan's sleeping face. For almost ten nights now she'd seen him sleep, including those first three, but this night was different. Now when she looked into his features, she couldn't see simply the man who had been there before: his expression was different, even more contented than when they'd slept in each other's arms on their first night together, and overlaid with his dreaming thoughts of her. She could see them in one half of her mind: gentle, loving dreams of them both... slightly erotic, but she didn't mind. It was flattering to see his impression of her, to know that whatever he said about her while awake was the truth: he honestly did see her that way. Although he was part of her now, as she was part of him... Thinking of that, she shivered a little: it was disorienting to think that she was  watching herself in some strange way. *No, not strange. Natural. So natural to be here, with you...* she spoke to him without realising, smiling as he answered incoherently somewhere inside her mind. The dreams faded very slightly - it was hard to do, but he was trying - and she smiled at his sensitivity, silently assuring him that she didn't mind, couldn't mind. *Don't hide anything from me, my love. I love you, all of you; there is nothing you could do to offend me.* Huddling against his shoulder, she gently urged him into sleep again. *You need the rest, li'sha'na. Sleep now for a little while.*

   Alone again, as much as she could be, Delenn tilted her head up to watch him and smiled happily. 'Love hurts', the Humans said, and they were right. It had been hard for her to believe that he would want her, of everyone he could have had: it had been incomprehensible to her that John Sheridan would see anything in her changed body and mind. Through their love she had gradually learnt that she was beautiful, if not as much as John - who readily admitted he was biased - told her, then certainly enough to be desirable... But it had taken time. After all, he was a handsome, intelligent and popular Captain, a war hero with a successful career and wonderful family: what could he possibly want with a guilt-ridden, half-breed Minbari? But he had wanted her, as much as she knew she wanted him, far earlier than either of them had admitted aloud - from the second they set eyes on each other and even before, although neither could possibly have known. Even though it might cost everything for them to be together, even though they would suffer immeasurably in the name of their love - Delenn's thoughts went back to her memory of his loss and despite the knowledge of his release from that burden, she couldn't help the silent tear that fell from her closed eyes.

   But they had come through everything, defeated every trial and stayed together, joined to each other forever and never apart. She had never heard of anything like what they had done that night, a bond so strong that they were truly one soul, one heart, one mind. And one body, it seemed at the height of their love. *Never apart,* her mind whispered to him, content when he answered with a soft murmur from the depths of sleep. *I love you, John; my soul, my heart, my one and only love. I never want to be with anyone but you.* And then she knew, somehow, the word that had been missing in her mind since their joining: a term as old as the Vorlons and older, of Lorien's race, that finally named that unnameable feeling. *Ki'anai, my reason for living...* "I love you."

   "I have noticed." The voice wasn't John, she knew that without question. But he was instantly awake, his arms surrounding her in protection from their unseen intruder.

   <Who is it?> She phrased the question carefully, not wanting to offend. <Lorien?>

   "Among others..." That made her frown slightly, her gaze finding Sheridan's and silently questioning. He looked down to her, shaking his head and instinctively holding her tighter.

   <Which others?> They felt the First One's gentle admonishing at their impatience.

   "Do you not recognise your old friend, Delenn? It has not been long since we saw each other, although longer than you imagine." Sheridan felt her start physically at that voice, unable to help a smile at the childlike excitement that sparked for an instant through her thoughts.

   <Jeff?> Her mental whisper was answered by strong laughter, beckoning her toward it.

   "You were always good with voices, my friend. Come. We will not harm you."

   Delenn smiled, but even tempted by his mind she turned to her lover for reassurance. <Ki'anai, I'm not sure...> He shrugged, a smile tugging at the edges of his mouth.

   <You want to go, don't you? And if anyone can tell us what's going on I'd think it would be Valen.> She laughed privately at that, closing her eyes and lifting from their physical surroundings without effort, despite their recent exhaustion.

   "Are you ready to learn? Do you want to know?"

   <Is that a stupid question?> Sheridan asked with a hint of amusement. He was rewarded by laughter and smiled inwardly in relief. <Well, at least we know they have a sense of humour.> Delenn returned the smile with a mental kiss, leading his equally curious mind out to join their visitors.

   She stopped suddenly, backing away with anxiety evident in her thoughts at the sight before them. Quite where they were and how they'd gotten there, they were never sure: all they knew was that it was *big* and it was *black*. Not ordinary, no-colour-there-so-it-has-to-be-black black, but *black*. Seriously dark, seriously big. Understating at its best. But even though it was so dark, a light seemed to be coming from somewhere.

   "No harm will come to you, either of you." The others felt the hesitation, Sinclair coming forward to reassure them both. "Trust me, Delenn. You trusted me once."

   <I still trust you,> she answered vehemently.  

   His voice was real, audible now. "Then what are you worried about?" A sheepish smile filled her thoughts, mentally looking away.

   <Nothing.>

   "Good. Then we can begin."

   <Please do,> was Sheridan's impatient reply. Delenn gave a private, teasing reprimand and he smiled slightly. <Sorry.>

   "It is no matter. Now, if you will please listen and try not to interrupt-"

   "Do not sound insulting," Lorien reminded the Other. "It is an age since there were visitors among us here, you will have to excuse our coarseness."

   <Of course,> Delenn conceded graciously with a mental bow. <Please, continue.>

   "Yes, of course. What we were about to say is that it would be better, and quicker for us all, if you withheld your curiosity. It will only frustrate us all if you begin to question, although we realise that it will be difficult for you not to do so now. There are many questions you wish to ask, are there not?"

   <Thousands,> Sheridan assured him wryly.

   "Then you wish us to begin?"

   <That would be nice,> Delenn answered sweetly.

   "Good. In your Galaxy, there are - were - many First Ones. In every Galaxy there are First Ones, who will eventually pass beyond the Rim to this place. We live for eons... forever. There are theories that our Universe will begin to contract and will eventually destroy itself. They are wrong. What is built by the Universe, what is the Universe, endures. As do we. And as do you. The Minbari believe, do they not, that the Universe is sentient?" The question, directed at Delenn, gained a swift answer. "That belief is correct, to some extent. All things in the Universe are not sentient, of course: the planets, the stars, they are unaware. But you, you are not."

   <Obviously,> Sheridan added dryly.

   "John, listen to us. This is important. It may be unbelievable to you at first, but-"

   <Oh, no way.> He grinned. <*Nothing* is beyond belief right now.>

   "Good," came the answer. It was Kosh, Delenn realised with delight. "Each race will evolve, slowly, and will grow to become like we are. There were races before us in our Galaxy who evolved, guided us, and then left. They are here, where all First Ones come when their purpose is fulfilled. But the Minbari are correct; that is why we have expressed such interest in your race. The Universe is sentient, and everything born which dies will be reborn as another part of that Universe." Pride showed through as Sinclair took up the narrative.

   "They - we - have never met a race who believed the truth so strongly. In that respect the Minbari are truly unique. But you? You are not Minbari. Or you are Minbari, but not fully." Confusion, almost panic surfaced in Delenn's mind and Sheridan struggled to calm her.

   <Are you saying I'm Human?>

   "No," Sinclair was laughing slightly at that, "you're not Human. Not completely. You are both Minbari and both Human, and both neither. You remember the prophecies, Delenn: that the two halves of your soul will unite in a war against the ancient enemy? Well, what enemy is more ancient that death itself?"

   Shock replaced the confusion, followed immediately by incredulity. <A war against death? That's crazy...> Sheridan's protests trailed off, finally understanding. <It's right, though, isn't it? The Shadows were never the enemy, or the Vorlons. They were just opposites. They weren't the real enemy here. There.> He shook his head. <Wherever. The real enemy is death, and that's what we're supposed to overcome.>

   <We already have.> Delenn continued the revelation, wonder in her tone. <The two halves of our soul are united now. Truly, physically joined. I never thought that was what it meant, but it's so obvious... We won the war, John. We defeated death together and fulfilled the prophecy.> She laughed joyously, adding privately, <This will take a lot of explanation back home.> He smiled, pushing down his own merriment and turning back to the Others.

   <What happens now?>

   "You are The One." Sinclair again. "You are One. I am a part of The One, but only in the sense that I am a part of you, your ancestor. But," now his voice held a note of sadness, mixed with pride, "you have a great responsibility. You are the first to win the war, you may live here or there, wherever you choose, but there is a price."

   <There's always a price,> Sheridan complained softly.

   "This one isn't so bad, John. After all, leading is what you're good at."

   Delenn frowned. <Leading? I don't understand.>

   <That makes one of us,> Sheridan quipped.

   "It is a simple arrangement," Lorien informed them both. "Valen, as the One Who Was, has led the First Ones for a thousand years. But even we have prophecies, my friends. Our traditions tell us that The One will Become, come to us over a thousand years and that The One lead us. You are The One, and if you choose to accept that you have won the war then you must also accept this."

   <Lead forever to live forever.> Sheridan turned to his soulmate, serious. <If we don't accept, we lose, don't we?> Lorien nodded silently. <Well, then I guess we don't have much of a choice. Besides, it doesn't sound so bad.>

   <A small price to pay,> Delenn agreed with a smile. <We accept, Lorien. We will lead you all - but there is a condition.>

   <Is there?> her lover asked quietly.

   "Name it." She didn't know this Other, but that didn't bother her.

   <We are immortal, yes?>

   "Yes."

   <Then will our children be immortal?> Sheridan knew he'd stopped breathing at that moment. He hadn't thought of that aspect: to live on, knowing their children would die...

   "Yes. They will be a product of your victory and your love. It may take years, they will grow for a time, but your children and your children's children will live as long as you do."

   He started breathing again. <Oh, thank God.>

   <You are God,> Delenn teased.

   "This is your condition?" It sounded derisive: Delenn frowned, a little angry.

   <I wanted to know.>

   "No one meant offence," Sinclair assured her. "It has been a long time since there have been offspring here, from what I understand." He sent her a gentle smile, a friendly kiss. "You will have more than one child, you know."

   <We gathered that,> Sheridan interrupted dryly. <It seems slightly obvious.>

   "Then it is done. You will lead us."

   <Wait a minute.> Sheridan held up a mental hand. <How can you be sure we *are* The One? I mean, I'm not doubting that we're something special - God, that sounds arrogant - but how do you know you're not waiting for someone else?>

   The answer was simple. "We have seen your soul. We know who you are."

   John shivered at that statement. Too close to his words, to Sebastian's words. <If you know who *we* are, then who are you?> he questioned. Delenn agreed, demanding an answer. The Others laughed.

   "We are. There is nothing else. You will understand, in time. You must be patient. Lorien is one of us. You know him, and you trust in his wisdom and honesty. So, do you believe in our wisdom?"

   "More importantly..." That was Lorien, and John smiled involuntarily. "Do you believe in your own wisdom? Do you believe in yourselves, and in each other?".

   John looked at her. Delenn turned her head and smiled.

   <Yes.>

   Lorien smiled. "Good." A pause, and then; "Do you know who you are?"

   Delenn looked at her lover, took his hand, and he smiled.

   <Yes.>

   The First One smiled again. "Then, do you know what you want?"

   They looked at each other, each standing before the other in their mind, and smiled together.

   <Yes.>

   Lorien nodded, giving a wide smile.

   "I knew. You are The One."

   The Others agreed. But there was one more test, one more bridge to pass.

   "Who are you?"

   They answered. <We are... One.>

   "What do you want?"

   They smiled. <Only what we have.>

   And the Others smiled back, and opened to them.

   "Then, you are."

   "Welcome."

   

* * * * *

   

Far from the Galactic Rim, far from the races and questions and decisions, sat a small girl on the grass outside her grandparents' farm, wondering which star her mother had gone to. She turned her head and glanced high up at the night sky, smiling at the sight above her.

   "Annie, what are you looking at?" She turned to see her brother behind her and grinned.

   "What are they?" She pointed to the sky, and the boy, in all his infinite thirteen year old wisdom, answered;

   "Shooting stars, silly. Haven't you ever seen them before?"

   "No." Annie frowned. "What are they made of?"

   Her brother sat down on the dew-sodden grass beside her and began, in all his infinite thirteen year old wisdom, to explain.

   And up in the sky, the First Ones danced.

 

 *****

 

 

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